Review: The Black Keys’ LP of Blues Covers, ‘Delta Kream’ – Goin’ Down South To The Mississippi Hill Country

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Despite the heavy influence of the blues on just about every band I was into through college – the Stones, Zeppelin, Clapton, Aerosmith, etc – it wasn’t until after college when I was sent into corporate exile in the lonely state of Arkansas that I actually saw my first blues band in an actual blues club. Don’t be confused, it wasn’t in Arkansas that I saw my first blues band. Every week I spent in Arkansas I was usually figuring out how to get out of Arkansas by the weekend. Early in my southern desolation a group of friends of mine were convening in Chicago for various, nefarious reasons. It was my sainted mother who said to me, in regards to actually flying to Chicago to join them which I was hesitating on, “Buy the ticket son, enjoy your life.” On the appointed weekend I drove from Ft. Smith to Tulsa, the closest functioning airport, and flew to Chicago. It was like getting a three day furlough.

By the time the wheels touched down in Chicago and I made it to my friend’s waiting car, someone had thrust a beer into my hand. I knew this was indeed going to be a great weekend. Before I knew it, I was down on Halsted standing in front of the legendary Kingston Mines. I seem to recall not being able to get in and so we went across the street to the B.L.U.E.S. bar… It was there that I saw Magic Slim and the Teardrops, my first blues band. After that performance, my musical universe made a lot more sense. I spent a lot of time after returning to KC hanging in blues clubs like the Grand Emporium, alas now defunct. One of my first dates with the Rock Chick I took her to B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ, an old school roadhouse. I can still remember watching her swaying to the blues music on her barstool with a half-eaten rib in her hand. I was…mesmerized. 

Despite my love of the blues I had no idea when I posted my rockers playing the blues playlist a few weeks ago what a huge part of 2021 the blues were going to be. That post grew out of another post I’d done about old school cassette mix tapes not any preternatural sense the blues were going to be a big part of spring. But before I knew it Mick Fleetwood released the soundtrack to his blues jam in honor of Peter Green. And now, the Black Keys have released an entire album of blues covers. A blues album from those guys totally make sense. Like the White Stripes they’ve always had that bluesy sound to go along with the garage rock swagger. It’s often that you hear a band do a cover song, but an entire cover album isn’t as common as you think…but that’s another post. 

I got into the Black Keys on their third LP, Rubber Factory. For some reason that LP just didn’t click with me. Months later though, the Rock Chick discovered it and it went into high rotation for her. After hearing it a few times I realized I’d missed something on my initial listens. She not only picked up Attack & Release she went all the way back to their debut LP, The Big Come Up. Since then I’ve had an odd relationship with the Keys. I seem to like every other LP they put out. Rubber Factory, yes. Magic Potion, no (although in their defense I’m not sure I gave that one a thorough enough listen), Attack & Release, yes. It wasn’t until this week, in anticipation of the new blues LP, Delta Kream that I picked up Brothers. They had quite a run there with Attack & Release, Brothers, and El Camino. They’ve branched out from their early garage-rock bluesy roots but they always return to them eventually and that’s the stuff I like the best. 

Delta Kream is not the first time the Black Keys have done a strictly blues thing. They did an EP in honor legendary Mississippi bluesman Junior Kimbrough, Chulahoma. The Keys also covered Kimbrough’s “Do The Rump” on their debut. The influence is definitely ingrained in their music. They’ve stated that Delta Kream is an album to honor Hill Country Blues and the musicians who played it – Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, Missippi Fred McDowell, to name but a few. Hill Country blues generally refers to a type/style of blues played in the northern part of Mississippi near the Tennessee border. It has a “strong emphasis on the rhythm and percussion and a heavy emphasis on groove.” I just love that description from Wikipedia…I had to quote it verbatim. Hill Country blues has also been described as “hypnotic boogie.” It’s like cool bluesy trance music. With Patrick Carney on drums, he’s tailor-made for Hill Country Blues. 

The Keys convened shortly after their tour for their last LP, the superb “Let’s Rock.” The chemistry between singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney is so strong that they entered the studio and recorded this album in 2 days… approximately 10 hours. There was apparently no plan or rehearsal, they just set up and eyeball to eyeball played the blues. They’re like me and my friend Drew, it can be 10 years since we last spoke but when we see each other it’s like it was just yesterday… I think we all have friends like that. To augment their rootsy two-piece sound they rounded out their sound on this LP by bringing in Eric Deaton who was R.L. Burnside’s bassist and Junior Kimbrough’s sideman Kenny Brown on exquisite slide guitar. You can’t get more authentic blues sound than bringing those guys in. To emphasize the percussion, so important in the Hill Country blues they also added Sam Bacco on percussion. Brown was a critical add as his and Auerbach’s guitar snake around each other like Clapton and Duane Allman did on Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. 

Knowing my proclivity for the blues, it’s no secret that I love this LP. I listened to it all day yesterday and last night on the headphones after the Rock Chick was asleep. This is the kind of music that just seeps into your pores. I can feel dirt on my hands when I hear this stuff. The first track on the LP which was coincidentally the first single is “Crawling King Snake” which I first heard the Doors do on L.A. Woman. It’s a track they played early on but Morrison couldn’t convince the band to include it on their debut. It was previously made famous by none other than the legendary John Lee Hooker. I love what the Keys do here with it – they cleave pretty tightly to the Junior Kimbrough version of the song – it’s swampy. “Louise” a Mississippi Fred McDowell tune is next up and I’ll just quote the Rock Chick when she first heard it last night, “That’s a great tune.” Indeed. 

“Poor Boy A Long Way From Home” is another favorite… it’s been done by several artists but I really dig this version. It’ll put a hitch in your giddy-up as a friend of mine used to say. These guys make these tunes sound fresh and new and somehow ancient at the same time. I feel like I’m getting wisdom when I listen to old blues tunes. “Stay All Night” which I seem to remember asking the Rock Chick after seeing her eat ribs and groove to the blues, is a slow burner of a tune. When you think about the blues, this is the type of music  you think of. “Going Down South,” which helped me name this post is a bit of a twist as Auerbach sings in a high falsetto. It’s a nice change of pace. “Coal Black Mattie” a Ranie Burnette track is another stand out. It just jumps up and grabs you with a thick riff, insistent drumming and stabs of slide guitar. I like to imagine I’m in a roadhouse down at the crossroads, washing down the dirt from a hard day working with a cold, affordable beer when I hear this stuff. 

There are so many great tunes here – and most of these blues tunes are ones I hadn’t heard before, which was a surprise. “Sad, Lonely Nights,” and “Walk With Me” are tracks I’d never heard covered. I used to think there were maybe twelve blues tunes and artists just passed those around. Obviously, that was wrong. There are some who will probably criticize the Keys for being too reverent and clinging too closely to the original versions of these songs, although I think in most cases they make these tunes their own. I remember Clapton’s great blues LP From The Cradle being criticized for not taking enough creative license with the songs. I feel like that’s hollow criticism. If you’ve got the chops to get up and make me feel something, I’m good with that. In the case of the Black Keys they’re exposing me to blues music and artists I would have otherwise not known and that is the greatest support you can show other artists, especially bluesmen. I know I immediately turned to Junior Kimbrough’s catalog to check that cat out. I will likely continue spelunking into Hill Country blues having heard this LP. 

I highly recommend Delta Kream. This is a swampy, bluesy treat of an album. When the Black Keys are on their rootsy game they can literally compete with any band on the planet. It’s just so fantastic to hear this kind of blues music still being recorded in 2021. I’ve always feared it’s going to be like what Elwood Blues once said, “some day the music known as the blues will only be available in the classical music section of your local library.” With albums like this one, that day looks like it’s been pushed a little further down the road. Thank God. 

Cheers! 

Surprise Single: Mick Jagger With Dave Grohl Deliver Lockdown Lament, “Easy Sleazy,” Pure Punk Energy And Humor

What a nice surprise yesterday, on a Tuesday no less…

I’m on record as hating Mondays. And Tuesday is always a bit of a “meh” day for me. Just another day punching the clock get to Friday when all the new music comes out. For most people, Friday kicks off the weekend but who am I kidding… my weekends tend to start on Thursday, “weekend-eve.”

I took a brief coffee break from “workin’ for the  man,” doing my usual corporate Tuesday stuff when I noticed on “the social media” that Mick Jagger had released a surprise song. I’ll admit my initial response was, “Wait a minute… I was hoping for a new Stones album in 2021…” After getting over that initial hissy fit, I read his statement about the song:

I wanted to share this song that I wrote about eventually coming out of lockdown, with some much needed optimism – thank you to Dave Grohl for jumping on drums, bass and guitar, it was a lot of fun working with you on this – hope you all enjoy Eazy Sleazy !

As I wondered why I wasn’t hearing a new Stones song I began to think back to Mick’s last surprise single, “Get A Grip”/”England Lost.” It seems when Mick has something topical to say, politically urgent if you will, he doesn’t wait to put a song through the Stones laborious creative process. Although I suppose “Sweet Neo-Con” is an exception. So was the Stones’ “Living In A Ghost Town.” I’ve seen some venerable rock stars releasing some songs about lockdown and the pandemic that I considered kind of… stupid (I’m talking to you Van Morrison and you Eric Clapton). But when I saw that part of Mick’s statement about “much needed optimism” I knew I had to check it out.

I don’t think I’ve heard Mick do anything this infused with humor since “Far Away Eyes.” His tongue is obviously firmly in his cheek as he makes fun of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists in the line “Bill Gates is in my blood stream.” He literally sums up the world’s collective lockdown experience with lines about gaining weight, drinking too much, cleaning the sink and pacing in the yard. Zoom even gets a mention. This is the kind of light hearted, rocking tune we need to kick off spring. Especially this particular spring which shows us all some signs of hope.

And speaking of “rocking,” this tune does. Mick plays rhythm guitar and vocals and he’s joined by that Fighter of Foo, Dave Grohl. Grohl plays drums – exceptionally I might add – and bass and lead guitar. I’ve never dug the Foo Fighters. I had their first LP but sold it at the used record store and never really got back on the bandwagon but I’ve always liked Dave Grohl. He seems like one of the nicest guys in rock n roll. And again, he’s a phenomenal drummer. He and Mick clearly work well together.

This song has a great punk energy I haven’t heard from Mick or the Stones since Some Girls. When punk came along it challenged the established rock authorities and well, the authorities in general, but the Stones managed to absorb that punk energy. When grunge came along it merely destroyed all that came before it. Established rock bands didn’t know how to react… It shows the full circle of rock n roll that Grunge Survivor Dave Grohl is playing with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones who managed to survive punk.

Topical songs don’t tend to have a long shelf life. But I have a feeling “Easy Sleazy” will stick with me for quite a while. Heaven knows memories of lockdown certainly will. As Mick says, “it’ll be a memory you’re trying to remember to forget.” I would urge anybody who needs a blast of punk energy and good laugh and a smile to check this tune out.

Cheers!

Lookback: My Mixtape Days – Inventor of the Cassette Tape Dies at 94

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I got up one day last week, as I thankfully do every day, and I checked the news. I’m not a morning person so there’s no TV involved. I prefer a lot of silence in the morning so I just checked on-line. I was scrolling through headlines and I noticed a Dutch gentlemen named Lou Ottens had died at the age of 94. He was a scientist and inventor for the Philips company. In my still sleep riddled mind I couldn’t help but think, big deal some scientist passed in the Netherlands. I kept scrolling, still half-asleep drinking hot coffee as quickly as the scalding liquid would allow, when I stopped and went back to the Ottens’ article. It was then that I saw that Lou was the inventor of the cassette tape. Oh man, that took me back. In this age of streaming and MP3s people forget what a revolution cassettes were. Portable music was a reality. We weren’t all chained to the home stereo any more. 

Prior to Mr. Ottens’ invention, other than vinyl the only way to consume music was on those bulky reel-to-reel tapes, but lets be honest only beatnik, jazzbo types owned reel-to-reel tapes. I have an image of groovy dudes in black turtlenecks and shades even though they’re indoors, smoking joints and talking about Miles Davis’ feel as In A Silent Way spools through the reel-to-reel player. Although as I type that sentence I’m reminded that my father-in-law owned a reel-to-reel player and as a rancher/farmer he was only into country music like C.J. McCall…”Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy…” Gads. His reel-to-reel gear was long gone by the time I came along but I would have loved to hear what that sounded like. 

In an attempt to make music more portable, the industry had tried a more “compact” tape version of the album on the now legendary 8-track tape. If you couldn’t get a turntable into a car, by God, lets try 8-tracks. A lot of people jumped on the 8-track bandwagon, thankfully I was not one of them. First of all, I never thought they were very compact. They were the size of a small paperback novel. My buddy Brewster had an 8-track player in his car and we’d listen to Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan all the time. I thought it was because Brewster loved that album but looking back it may have been the only 8-track he owned. I could never figure out 8-tracks. It was years before I learned what the actual playing order of that Cheap Trick live album was. 

Enter Mr. Ottens and his magic cassettes. I’ll be honest, I was a vinyl guy from the start. I only purchased two albums on proper cassettes. I purchased AC/DC’s Highway To Hell on cassette because I wanted to listen to that album in the car. I actually bought that LP on cassette for the reason they were invented – so you could take your music anywhere and you were free from having to have a turntable which would have been hard in the car considering what a reckless driver I was (am?). I also bought Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass on cassette prior to that because I saw that was how a lot of people were buying albums and I thought I was missing out on some sound sensation. Was there something I was missing? Well, no but it was still a nice portable way to consume music. If you were tired of your local radio station – or if you lived in a godforsaken place like Ft. Smith, Arkansas with terrible radio – you could just pop in a cassette and magically you were listening to your own music, arranged how you wanted it. 

The real magic in cassettes were the blank cassettes that allowed you to record anything you wanted to. It was indeed, a blank canvass. There were so many different brands of cassette tapes. Early on I purchased strictly TDK brand but quickly “upgraded” to Maxell who had an infinite number of different types of cassette tapes, each one of a higher quality than the last. Cassettes would hold 90 minutes of music – 45 minutes on each side. The average album back then was around 40 minutes, usually less. If it was a Van Halen album it was more likely 30 minutes long. You could put 1 album per side and leave the last bit of tape blank or you could add your own “bonus tracks” by the same artist at the end. Each tape had a small lead tape that wouldn’t hold music but was there to protect the cassette when fully rewound. You had to be careful if you were recording on vinyl that you’d gotten past those 10 seconds of lead tape or you’d cut off the first few seconds of the first track. The struggle was as real as the skills you needed to create a good tape recording. 

In the early days of my cassette taping, I was merely trying to collect music that I hadn’t purchased (for free). Cassette tapes were the early Napster, I suppose. My brother who had a crate full of albums before I’d even purchased my first album was my first source. I remember going into his room and plugging a cassette into his stereo – it was a turntable/radio/cassette tape all in one – and declaring I was going to tape some Beatles, but only the “good songs.” After filling up two whole cassettes to quote the movie Jaws, I realized, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” My mother had a friend, who  I’ll call Mrs. Smith, who had kids my age and my brother’s age. She brought over a stack of albums for me to tape that her kids owned. I’m still unsure why that happened. I think Mrs. Smith was trying to be cool. She appeared one day holding a can of beer with a cigarette dangling from her lips and handed me a stack of the heaviest metal I’d ever heard. Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Judas Priest… it was all too heavy. I was listening to blues rock… the Stones, ZZ Top, Foghat. I’ve always wondered what the hell was happening over at the Smith’s house. It was extraordinarily nice of her to share her kids’ music even though they were probably using it during human sacrifices, or so I wondered back then. I’ve grown to love metal but hey, I was 13 years old. 

After cannibalizing other people’s albums on cassette the thing that probably accelerated my cassette use was the Sony Walkman. I got a Walkman for Christmas one year and it really changed the way I listened to music. I had headphones on my home stereo, but to be able to pop a cassette in the Walkman and actually leave my room to wander around while tunes played was mind blowing back then. I remember walking around in a snow storm, we’d been let off school, and listening to Yes (The Yes Album) and feeling my brain expand. 

Pretty soon, with my cassettes I realized you didn’t have to be so linear in your thinking. You could mix up artists or songs from one artist on the cassette. You could mix music… ie, the mixtape finally occurred to me. My music collection had expanded to the point where I had enough Aerosmith LPs or Skynyrd LPs that I could cherry pick the tracks I liked from them from each album and put them on 1 cassette. I was making my own “greatest hits” album. I remember sitting in front of my first stereo, surrounded in a semi-circle of albums resting gently on their sleeves and rotating albums on and off the turntable as I carefully hit “record” or “stop.” If a band had a double-live LP, I’d typically use that as my guide to building a 2-sided 90 minute collection of their music. I had friends who made copies of my “greatest hits” mix tapes as by then the cassette industry had created the dual tape deck that allowed you to copy a cassette to another cassette… 

Eventually, even rock and roll nerds get girlfriends. By the time I was in college I was making the dreaded mixtapes for girlfriends. You always tried to find a song that said what you didn’t have the courage to say yourself. “You’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel…” as the movie says. Mind you, my mixtapes were never terribly sappy. Often times it was just stuff I knew the lady liked. She’s into Sting, here’s a mix of Sting and the Police. I often tried to turn women onto the music I dug. It was always important. If she rejected my music, wasn’t she rejecting me? I know people think they’re doing much the same when they were burning CDs or putting together playlists on Spotify, but there was nothing like the engineering the perfect mixtape. There was no shuffle. The order you put the songs in was really, really important. I’ve always loved the scene from the movie High Fidelity where John Cusack explains the theory behind a great mixtape because it’s so accurate…

Nick Hornsby who wrote the novel this movie is based on is a real hero to the music nerd in me. 

I have an ex out there somewhere who now teaches yoga who occasionally emails me to thank me for turning her onto good music. I did a lot of that with the dreaded mixtapes. I actually used a mixtape to break up with someone in the early 90s… As I recall I started that tape with B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” Not my finest moment. I’ve even made tapes for some friends of mine way back when. I have a friend I met when I first moved to Arkansas who had no money and coveted my deep album collection. I’d tape stuff I thought he’d dig – Clapton, the Band, the Allman Brothers – and so on… I wonder what ever happened to those things… Although if I had one of those mixtapes, I couldn’t play it. As times have changed and technology has shifted, the Rock Chick forced me to finally give up the cassette player. The only cassettes I still own are some Springsteen bootlegs from the way back machine. Oh, but I do miss those wonderful afternoons in front of the stereo with a stack of vinyl on the floor and a blank cassette in the stereo… Simply glorious. 

I’m glad Mr. Ottens came along and invented the cassette. It gave me many countless happy hours. I try and share music now via playlists but there was something so intimate and personal about sharing your music with someone back when I was younger and the mixtape was my medium. The mixtape was the way I took something that was so personal – listening to music – and turned it into something more public to be shared, to help bring me closer to people, friends and lovers. Maybe I was just practicing for this blog. The mixtape will always be a part of my rock and roll experience and enabled me to start sharing music and my experiences with it that I will hold onto fondly for as long as I’m able to hit “play.” 

R.I.P Mr. Lou Ottens. Cheers! 

Sequel: Pleased To Meet You 2 – Our Epic List of Debut Solo Albums, “Let Me Re-introduce Myself”

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As long time readers know, a few weeks ago I posted about our B&V favorite debut albums, Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums. As I was compiling the list of all the great debut albums out there, well, the list began to get a little unwieldy. I was somewhere around 80 albums when I realized I needed to put some rules around the thing to thin it down to something manageable. How I settled on 40 albums and not 50, I’m unclear about. One of the first rules I laid out for myself was to exclude any solo debuts. If a singer or guitar player had been in a band, and was thus an established artist, it seemed like cheating to include them on the debut list. When Ozzy went solo and recorded Blizzard of Ozz he had already established himself as the Prince of “fucking Darkness” (his words, not mine) through his work with Black Sabbath. It seemed unfair to compare that album with say, R.E.M.’s Murmur. When Michael Stipe and company were recording that album they were a bunch of pimply faced kids and certainly no competition for the Dark Lord. 

The Rock Chick was the first person – since she’s always the first person to see what I write, despite her life long ban from reading B&V due to her unfair grammatical criticism, to cry foul on the rule barring solo debuts from the list. In her view a debut is a debut. As I sat staring out at the frozen tundra that is Kansas City in February watching dry, powdery snow flutter through the sky like some giant human had shaken my city like a snow globe, my thoughts as always turned to rock n roll. I had to admit the Rock Chick’s argument was persistently tugging at the edge of my mind. I had excluded a lot of really great solo debut albums from the list. Since the high temperatures this last week were in the single digits with -15 degree wind chills, I had a lot of time on my hands. I was already hiding in my attic from Covid… now bitter cold has me pinned in my attic as well. 

Going solo can be a dicey proposition. In the late 60s and early 70s audiences often struggled with the whole concept of doing a solo record. You were either in a band or you were on your own and apparently never the twain shall meet. If you did your own album it meant you were leaving the band. When Paul McCartney put out McCartney, his homespun, lo-fi debut it was considered the announcement that the Beatles were over… which perhaps contributed to the critical backlash at the time. It was Rod Stewart who was the first artist to juggle the whole solo vs band career when he was a member of the Faces. He’d do a Faces album and then six months later he’d do a solo record. I think his solo stuff ended up overshadowing one of the world’s greatest bands, the Faces, and that’s a shame. People thought the Faces were just his back up band, which utterly rankled the other guys, especially Ronnie Lane. Rod was the first to try the split career but based on the fact his solo albums sold so much better I can’t say it was a screaming success. There’s always the constant allegations that you’re saving your best stuff for the solo albums. 

Rod’s career does underscore the fact that chemistry matters. When an artist is in a band its a collective. There’s a give and take. The guys in the band interpret what you’ve written. When you go solo you’re captain of the ship. Where as in a band some of your worst instincts as an artist may be curbed by the members of the band when you go solo there’s no one to say, maybe you shouldn’t have a spoken-word interlude in the middle of a rock song, Mick. I think Lennon always made McCartney tougher and McCartney always made Lennon not softer but perhaps more melodic, less caustic. When you go solo you’re putting your reputation on the line. You’ve established a brand and going solo can really tarnish your reputation. I think about Sting in this realm. We all loved Sting until Dream of the Blue Turtles came out. Looking back it wasn’t that awful of an album but that jazz-lite stuff induced a lot “what the hell is this shit?” moments. His solo career has been largely a disappointment for a lot of people. If I never hear “Love Is The Seventh Wave,” it’ll be too soon. 

Sometimes though, the risk of going solo is worth it. In many cases the artists on this list were kicked out of their bands or the bands broke up. A solo project was thus inevitable. I remember Mick Jagger, when asked in the 80s whether he’d ever do a solo record, saying something about doing a solo album when he had enough material that the band thought was “too stupid” to record. Who knew he was actually telling the truth there. Some of the artists on my list below had great solo careers, some only had this one great debut album. This is in no means a commentary about the solo careers of these artists it’s merely about their debut album as a solo artist. For example, the aforementioned Mick Jagger’s solo debut was, by any stretch of the imagination bad, he has put out a few great records. 

For the purposes of this list, which is randomly laid out, I’ll list it like this: Solo Artist Name (Former Band Name), Debut Album Title. If there’s a great debut solo LP you’re into, let me know what that is and I’ll check it out. I hope there are a few gems on this list of 25 that if you haven’t come across them, you’ll discover something you like. 

  1. Gregg Allman (The Allman Brothers Band), Laid Back – I just repurchased this one on vinyl! Frustrated with inter-band conflict, especially with Dickey Betts, Allman recorded this solo gem while also recording Brothers And Sisters with the band. More soulful and less guitar-centric, Allman even redid “Midnight Rider” and turned it on its head and into a classic on its own right. 
  2. Jeff Beck (The Jeff Beck Group), Blow By Blow – Tired of squabbling with lead singers, Beck pulled in George Martin of Beatles fame to produce and put out one of the only instrumental albums outside of jazz that I can listen to. There is such a rich and beautiful tone Jeff pulls out of his instrument. This is a fascinating listen. 
  3. Robbie Robertson (The Band), Robbie Robertson – It had been almost a decade since the Band had broken up and Richard Manuel had recently committed suicide when Robbie finally put out his solo debut. He had a lot of help from producer Daniel Lanois, U2, Peter Gabriel, and members of the Bodeans but the songwriting on this record is all Robertson. “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” is my favorite song here. “Testimony” is an epic statement of purpose. 
  4. Jack White (The White Stripes), Blunderbuss – Listening to the White Stripes’ greatest hits LP makes me miss that band and Meg White even more (Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career) but Jack White really comes through on his solo debut. He’s one of rock’s most important artists. 
  5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles), McCartney – Depressed as the Beatles imploded McCartney retreated to his home and invented DIY, indie rock. I love this little lo-fi gem. It’s heavy on instrumental jams but as usual with McCartney the melodies bore into my brain. He just released his second sequel to this one, Review: ‘McCartney III,’ A Homespun Gem, the perfect lockdown project. 
  6. Joe Walsh (The James Gang), Barnstorm – I know that Barnstorm was considered an actual band but I think of this as Joe’s solo debut anyway. I left Dio’s Holy Diver off the list because I actually did consider them a band not a solo artist so perhaps I’m bending the rules a bit. I had to include this album as the song “Turn To Stone” which is the greatest riff in the history of guitar makes it debut. It’s a surprisingly laid back affair which makes his joining the Eagles makes sense.
  7. Rod Stewart (The Jeff Beck Group), The Rod Stewart Album – With that title it’s pretty easy to see this as Rod introducing himself to the world post-Jeff Beck Group, pre-Faces. With his sidekick Ronnie Wood on guitar this album has always seemed like an interview for the job as Faces lead singer. He does some great interpretations on covers (“Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Street Fighting Man”) but the originals are just fantastic. The passionate “Blind Prayer” has always been a personal favorite. I think he should have stuck to the original title, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down.
  8. George Harrison (The Beatles), All Things Must Pass – The single greatest Beatles’ solo album. Harrison had been largely stifled as a songwriter in the Beatles – they typically gave him only 2 songs per album (if that) and he had a huge backlog of great material as evidenced by the original 3-vinyl LP package. (Yes, I’m ignoring his Wonderwall project). 
  9. Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath), Blizzard of Ozz – Everybody thought Ozzy was finished after Sabbath fired him for being out of control on booze and drugs. Along came Randy Rhoads and the rest was history (Review: Ozzy’s ‘Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary Expanded’ – Is It Worth It?). 
  10. John Lennon (The Beatles), Plastic Ono Band – I tend to ignore those 2 awful records he did prior to this with Yoko. For me this is his first solo album. Fresh from primal scream therapy Lennon delivered this, his most raw, brutally honest album. “Mother” sears itself into your memory. He’s exercising every demon in his soul here. Riveting listen. 
  11. Eric Clapton (Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith), Eric Clapton – After playing in virtually every British blues-rock band ever, Clapton finally put his solo debut LP out. He recorded this with members of Delaney and Bonnie who he’d met when they opened for Blind Faith on their tour. “Bottle of Red Wine” is a personal fav. 
  12. Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Stephen Stills – Stills, alongside Neil Young, had established himself as a guitar hero but surprisingly he leaves the solo’ing to his guest stars – Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix on his last studio recording. This is just a great, great eclectic record. The rest of his solo career was up and down but he was on the money here. 
  13. Paul Simon (Simon & Garfunkel), Paul Simon – Surprisingly, I don’t think this little gem of an album sold that well. “Mother And Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” hint at his world music influences that we’d eventually see blossom on Graceland. 
  14. Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Songs For Beginners – I considered David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name but left it out as I feared it sounded like too much of a hippy clambake for most people. Nash is probably my least favorite songwriter of the CSNY family (Artist Lookback: Crosby, Stills, Or Nash – The Essential Solo and Duo Albums), but I love this album. Its informed largely by his recent searing heartbreak from his split with girlfriend Joni Mitchell which is what makes this one so poignant to me. As I’ve often admitted, I’m a sucker for recent searing heartbreak. Well, I was until I met the Rock Chick… but those records are sealed. 
  15. David Lee Roth (Van Halen), Eat ‘Em And Smile – Kicked out of Van Halen for making a solo EP and wanting to make a movie, Roth’s split with Eddie is probably one of rock’s ugliest divorces. He recruited some top notch musicians – Billy Sheehan on bass and most notably Steve Vai on guitar wizardry – and actually treated this like a band project. After this it looked like Roth would be the one with the long, more successful career, not his former band. Alas, on his next record his megalomania took over and he started indulging his worst instincts. 
  16. Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac), Bella Donna – I love this album. Every man of a certain age has/had a crush on Stevie. Sure she had help from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Don Henley but this is a uniquely Stevie album. This thing was so big I’m still surprised she returned to Fleetwood Mac. The disappointing sales figures for Tusk is what drove her to record solo, not the break up with Buckingham which I always found fascinating. 
  17. Gram Parsons, (The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers), G.P. – Gram never met a band he couldn’t quit. He bounced from band to band in an almost Clapton-esque fashion. This, his final LP before his death is a country-rock masterpiece. The Eagles were clearly listening…
  18. Peter Frampton (Humble Pie), Winds of Change – When compared to Humble Pie’s boogie rock classic Smokin’, which was their first album without Frampton and this largely acoustic album it’s easy to see that Peter was moving in a different direction than the band. I don’t know why his pre-Frampton Comes Alive studio albums aren’t more popular. This is a really engrossing listen. 
  19. Liam Gallagher (Oasis, Beady Eye), As You Were – When Liam’s band Beady Eye, which was basically a Noel-less Oasis, imploded I remember reading Noel saying, “Liam needs to put out a solo album, put his own name on something, put it all out there.” I guess Liam was listening. I described this album as a pleasant surprise from an unpleasant man. As much as I dislike Liam, I love his solo stuff, LP Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘As You Were’ A Pleasant Surprise From an Unpleasant Man
  20. Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), Pictures At 11 – We were all still pretty raw that John Bonham had passed and Led Zeppelin had broken up. I remember guys in my high school were renting a bus to see them in Chicago when the news of Bonham’s death broke. This was such a great album and it helped us all move on. Phil Collins showed up to play drums and help Plant figure out how to produce an album. Plant seems embarrassed by his early albums but this is a classic. “Burning Down One Side” is an absolutely fantastic track. 
  21. Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs), Tigerlilly – I hated the 10,000 Maniacs, they never made any sense to me. But this solo debut from Natalie Merchant was a stunner. A friend of mine described the guitar work on this record as “smokey.” I even saw her on the ensuing tour for this record. This, for me, is the lone gem in her solo catalog. 
  22. Van Morrison (Them), Astral Weeks – Brilliant, poetic, transcendent, Celtic mysticism. One of the greatest albums of all time. 
  23. Mike Ness (Social Distortion), Cheating At Solitaire – If you dig the “cow punk” of Social Distortion, you’ll love this record. The duet with Bruce Springsteen, “Misery Loves Company” is a classic. I remember texting the Rock Chick, who turned me onto Social D, “worlds collide, Springsteen/Ness together!” The whole record blows me away. 
  24. Iggy Pop (The Stooges), The Idiot – Iggy and Bowie on the loose in Europe recording Iggy’s classic first solo album. Some say Bowie’s influence is too pronounced here but that’s just crazy talk. Iggy comes through on classics like “China Girl” and “The Dum Dum Boys.” 
  25. Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones), Talk Is Cheap – The solo record Keith never wanted to make. Tired of trying to get Mick interested in the Stones again, Keith put together a great band with Steve Jordan (drums) and Waddy Watchel (guitar) and put out a classic (Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks). 

Stay safe but more importantly stay warm if its cold where you are. I don’t think the son is going to shine again here until late next week. I’ll be gritting my teeth to get through it… Hopefully some of this classic rock and roll will help keep you warm! 

Cheers! 

Mental Jukebox: Songs In My Head When I Wake Up – January 2021… Come Inside My Mind

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*Image above from the internet and likely subject to copyright. 

According to the Urban Dictionary, the term “mental jukebox” refers to:

“the effect of a random song playing in your head for no reason, often followed by another song completely unrelated to the first, much like a jukebox on random. For example, “Why the hell was Rick Astley just playing in my head? I haven’t heard any of his music in ages! I had Slayer playing before that! Wtf!””

I’m not sure anybody has ever come up with a better encapsulation of the concept of the “mental jukebox” than the Urban Dictionary. I mean, when you describe a musical swing from Rick Astley to Slayer you’ve managed to capture the essence of the random, wild shifts the brain can take you through musically. I am no stranger to the mental jukebox. In fact, sleep or perhaps better described as my attempts to sleep, seems to be the trigger for my brain’s music center. I awake every day with a fresh, new song in my head. I don’t know if this is a common phenomenon, but I do know my friend Doug has the same thing happen to him. I can awake with the biggest hit from U2 or the Beatles to a deep album cut from the Black Crowes to a jingle from a commercial playing in my mind. I’ve awakened to the sound of show tunes ringing in my head and trust me, I despise musicals of any kind. I have to turn on music in the morning merely to cleanse my brain, much like mouthwash especially if I’m hearing “Oklahoma” in my mind. I never know what song I’ll wake up to in my head. I have no control over any of it. I seem to be at the mercy of my brain. As George Harrison once said, “It’s all in your mind.”

The mind or (if you will) man’s capacity for reason is what separates us from the other mammals. I’ve been reading, or rather trying to read, Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations. Marcus, if I’m reading him correctly, seemed to think that our reason was the godly part of us. He had a lot of thoughts about well, thinking. “You have the power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” I dig that, but I don’t think I have any power over the mental jukebox. Marcus also said, “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” Apparently we can all think ourselves happy according to Marcus… I think Oporah believes in this line of reasoning. Somehow I think it’s more complicated than that. I guess I’m less a Stoic like Marcus and more of a Hedonist. I certainly spend more than my fair share of time thinking about rock music. One quote I’ve always liked about the mind is Plutarch, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”

I have a friend who is into reading books about the structure of the brain. He likes to explain a lot of human behavior as being a function of the different parts of your brain reacting to stimuli. Of course he was an early adherent to the whole “evolutionary psychology” thing. I have begun to suspect that my friend reads so many books about brain chemistry because he’s trying to explain and rationalize some of his own behavior. Sometimes we do things because we want to… not because our hypothalamus is driving us to. Although in these pages I have often joked that music has hit me in the lower brain stem. I get it, brain structure and especially the frontal lobes can affect the way we think and behave but there has to be more to the story. We’re not just human lab rats with automatic or learned reaction to stimuli.

All of that said, I don’t think the mental jukebox is of the rational, conscious mind. I certainly don’t think it has anything to do with brain structure. There’s not a tiny little bar hidden in my cerebellum with a great jukebox in the corner. I like to imagine that if there is a bar hidden in my brain it’s the coolest dive bar you can find, with dark wood and peanut shells on the floor and a cool but gruff barkeep…maybe a menu with only hot wings. My thoughts are cluttered, why shouldn’t my imaginary brain bar be as equally messy? I’m getting off topic here… Since the mental jukebox is not structural or of the rational mind the only answer is that it stems from the unconscious mind. While he didn’t coin the term “unconscious mind” Sigmund Freud certainly made the concept popular. I was once bored in an airport waiting for a delayed flight when I picked up Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. I enjoyed the book, although it became a bit of a slow slog in the back half. It gave me my first real insights into the unconscious mind that I’d had since college psychology. Freud believed that things like verbal slips (aka Freudian slips) or dreams come from that uncontrolled, unconscious part of the mind where all of our hidden wishes and desires reside. Even Cinderella said “A dream is a wish your heart makes…” Oh God, I hope I don’t wake up with that song in my head tomorrow…

I will say, that reading Freud’s book on dreams has helped me interpret some of the wilder, more disturbing dreams my unconscious mind seems to conjure. I have a recurring nightmare where I’m visited from someone from my past. The nightmare always comes during times of great stress or loss. Freud’s book helped me realize that the person in the nightmare is merely a manifestation or symbol of pain and loss and has nothing to actually do with the person I’m seeing in the dream. It’s really helped me to shake off that particular nightmare. I wake up and realize my brain is trying to tell me I’m suffering and struggling and I just need to bear down. Even in the resolution of that nightmare, I’m not controlling the unconscious mind, I am merely using it as a tool to navigate obstacles in my life.

That all said, I wondered if the mental jukebox was trying to send me a similar message to ones that my dreams do? Is there some message or theme to the music that pops up in my head every morning? If so, what is my mind trying tell me? I decided to keep what I’m going to call a “Song Journal” during the month of January. Every morning when I woke up and some random tune assailed my brain I would stagger down the hall to my office – before even going for coffee – and I’d write down the song and any impressions of where it came from. Usually I had no idea but sometimes I’d merely heard the track the day before. While I hoped that this process would help me get to a deeper understanding of where my head is at, in the end I think it just tells me what I already know… I’m really into music. While I may not have discovered any fundamental truths about myself, it was an interesting process. I will say that I participated in my usual Dry January which may or may not have influenced how vivid the songs were and how varied the music selection was. I guess I’ll never know.

Here then, is my Song Journal from January 2021 chronicling every song I heard in my head every morning. I considered a playlist, but thought it was too disjointed, even for my disparate tastes. Most of these tracks came out of nowhere unless otherwise noted.

  • Jan 1st – Robert Plant, “Angel Dance” – I had actually heard this track the day before, so no real mystery.
  • Jan 2nd – Black Crowes, “Only A Fool” – I’ve been a little obsessed with the Crowes since I heard Shake Your Money Maker 30th Anniversary was coming out. This track is on a later LP, not sure where it came from.
  • Jan 3rd – AC/DC, “Big Gun” – From the soundtrack of a Schwarzenegger movie, something I was working on a post for…Playlist: Missing Going To The Movies?: Our Favorite Soundtrack Songs.
  • Jan 4th – The Police, “King of Pain”
  • Jan 5th – Stills-Young Band, “Long May You Run”
  • Jan 6th – Genesis, “I Can’t Dance” – I’m not crazy about this tune… I’d had a nightmare about a wedding I was being forced to attend. Could there be a connection?
  • Jan 7th – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, “Blue On Black”
  • Jan 8th – Eagles, “Too Busy Being Fabulous” – I’d read about this song online the day before. I think we can safely draw a straight-line between that and hearing it in my head.
  • Jan 9th – Steve Winwood (with Joe Walsh on guitar), “Split Decision”
  • Jan 10th – Foo Fighters, “My Hero” – I’m not a huge fan of the fighters of Foo and had to actually search to find the title of this track. Totally random stuff.
  • Jan 11th – Lindsey Buckingham, “Holiday Road” – Despite the holidays being well past me, this one popped into my head. Lingering issues over Xmas?
  • Jan 12th – Bruce Springsteen, “High Hopes”
  • Jan 13th – Beatles, “Across the Universe” – This track pops up often. It seems to be on regular repeat.
  • Jan 14th – U2, “Stuck In A Moment”
  • Jan 15th, Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Roadtrippin'” – Great acoustic track about friends on a road trip… I’d had a dream about some friends of mine from the old days.
  • Jan 16th – Elvis Costello, “Alison” – Was listening to LPs for my post on debut albums, Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums. This had to be a connection to that.
  • Jan 17th – Bruce Springsteen, “Ghost of Tom Joad” – Dreamt I was a cop investigating a murder at the inauguration the night before… Strange connection if there is one?
  • Jan 18th – Fiona Apple, “Extraordinary Machine” – I’d just repurchased this album, the title track seems to have lodged itself in my brain.
  • Jan 19th – Avett Brothers? “There Was a Dream”? – There’s a song that sounds like the Avett Brothers used in an insurance commercial that I see a few hundred times each night. I woke up with it in my head. Not sure if its the Avett Bros or what the name is. Ironically, I have no idea which insurance company.
  • Jan 20th – Pink Floyd “Not Now John” – The previous day I’d posted about “The Gunner’s Dream,” Roger Waters: New Recording/Video OF “The Gunner’s Dream” Originally From ‘The Final Cut’, and had listened to the whole album. This track stuck. Great riff, it came to me first.
  • Jan 21st – Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Come On Baby Lets Go Downtown” – Danny Whitten from Crazy Horse on vocals.
  • Jan 22nd – Pink Floyd, “Gunner’s Dream” – This track stuck with me a few days. One of my all time favorites.
  • Jan 23rd – Moody Blues, “Lucky Man” – I despise the Moody Blues and this song. How this ended up in my head is a mystery. I’m just glad it wasn’t “Knights In White Satin.”
  • Jan 24th – U2, “Mysterious Ways” – Another common track I wake up with… I don’t know why but it may be Edge’s riff.
  • Jan 25th – Van Halen, “Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now” – Been thinking a lot of Eddie Van Halen lately.
  • Jan 26th – Black Crowes, “Welcome To the Good Times” – Same LP as Jan 2nd’s entry… no connection.
  • Jan 27th – Rod Stewart, “Man of Constant Sorrow” – From his debut. It was our first snow of the year… which always make me feel well, sorrowful.
  • Jan 28th – Blind Melon, “No Rain”
  • Jan 29th – Sam Cooke, “Chain Gang” – I’d to tell you this stems from the movie One Night In Miami but I haven’t seen it yet.
  • Jan 30th – Frank Sinatra, “New York, New York” – Perhaps feeling some little town blues since I can’t travel.
  • Jan 31st – Led Zeppelin, “Candy Store Rock” – The music came to me first and while I was laying in bed the lyrics finally popped in.

That’s my Song Journal for January. No real patterns of thinking that I can discern. My mental jukebox doesn’t seem to want to tell me anything, I guess it just wants to rock. I had hoped perhaps for some existential insight but as always that seems to elude me. As we move into February I wish all of you pleasant dreams and great music when you wake up. I know this post was something a little different but it’s winter and I figured, why not?

Cheers!

Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums

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*Picture of assorted debut LPs by the intrepid Rock Chick, who has an eye for this sort of thing…

Maybe it’s the way the cold, grey winter settles in on the midwestern plains, but I’ve always perceived January as a long continuation of that whole New Year’s Eve period of self contemplation. I’m not talking about the New Year’s Eve party here, I’m always a sucker for a good party… I mean the whole resolutions and goal setting that goes on. The new year always greets us with a fresh set of months, or if I may lapse into a sports/football analogy, January is like a new set of downs…first and ten to go. This year 2021 sort of started off with a bang, and not in a good way, but the second half of the month has been a bit of a slow slog. Maybe it’s my insistence on doing dry January every year that leads to my navel gazing. During this stretch I began to contemplate the meaning of the new year and all it could become. January always feels like its greeting me with opportunity and possibility.

As usual, when contemplating anything, my thoughts quickly turned to rock and roll. When I sat gazing out in my mind’s eye on the new possibilities held in January’s frosty greeting, I couldn’t help but start pondering rock n roll’s great “greetings.” By “greetings,” I mean the great debut albums that have been released over the years. For some reason I’ve always had a soft spot or call it a fondness for an artist’s first album. I have an old college roommate who is referred to in these pages as Drew who shares my love of the debut album. I especially love the debut album when it was a record I picked up when it actually, well, debuted. Like Van Halen… I was in junior high school when Van Halen came out and I jumped on that bandwagon early. Later it was Pearl Jam’s Ten that I bought as it came out. More recently I picked up Starcrawler’s eponymously titled debut. If it’s a band whose career I’ve followed since their first album they tend to stick with me longer. Don’t get me wrong, there were great debut albums that came out before my rock n roll “awakening” that I went out and purchased as well, and you’ll see some of those on here a well.

The debut album is a band or artist’s chance to make that very important first impression. As Will Rogers used to say, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Although perhaps Kafka said it better, “First impressions are always unreliable.” Kafka must have dated as much as I did, trust me Kafka knew what he was talking about… If we look at the rock and roll “first impressions,” they range in as many categories as you can imagine. For most bands they’re the blueprint for everything that comes after. In some cases they’re widely ignored except for a few hard core fans and the critics. Many of those debut albums that were ignored get some retrospective appreciation and in some cases belated commercial success. Occasionally the first record a band puts out is so big and popular they struggle to ever do anything that big again. There’s an old saying in rock n roll, that you get your whole life to write your first album and only a matter of months to write your second. In the old days, so many bands didn’t hit it “big” until their third album – one could think of Springsteen, U2 or the Police – that debut albums were seen as a mere beachhead towards bigger and better things. Bands were given more time to develop and record companies weren’t looking for that immediate, enormous success. The labels were willing to invest time and money in music…

All of that said, there are a ton of really great first records. When I started contemplating this topic, as I usually do, I started putting a list together in my head. When I sat down and put pen to paper, or more accurately, stylus to iPad, I had close to 80 titles. While nothing would have made me happier to list all of those records here like I did for the list of essential live albums (BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums), I felt some editing was necessary… something I rarely engage in, editing. I decided to set some boundaries on the list this time. First and foremost, I limited myself to only 40 albums. Also, if an artist was in a band, especially if they were successful, and then embarked on a solo career, those debuts are not included. Think Robert Plant or Ozzy, those guys were established artists in Zeppelin and Sabbath before going solo. It would feel like cheating to compare Blizzard of Ozz to some newly minted band slogging away in a small independent studio, self producing some DIY project to a guy who’d already been dubbed the Prince of Darkness. I could put McCartney or All Things Must Pass on here except Paul McCartney and George Harrison had been um, sort of popular in their original band. You won’t see my beloved Faces here because half the band was in the Small Faces who were established already and Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood had been in the Jeff Beck Group (Artist Lookback: The (Original) Jeff Beck Group – Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood). Perhaps I’m being too strict here but hey, its my list.

It is my goal, as always, to turn you onto something new. If you’ve only experienced a band through their greatest hits, or their most famous records, maybe I’ll give you something to check out. If there is a great debut that isn’t on this list – as I said, I limited myself to just 40 – please mention it in the comments. These are merely my favorite debut albums. Enjoy!

  1. The Allman Brothers Band, The Allman Brothers Band – Their epic Live At the Fillmore East gets all the attention on the “greatest albums of all time lists,” but this is one of the great blues/blues rock albums of all times. They set the template for southern rock. I love both their first two LPs, Artist Lookback: The Allman Brothers’ First Two Albums, 1969-1970.
  2. The Band, Music From Big Pink – Recorded while hanging out with Dylan in Woodstock… some albums are legendary because they deserve to be.
  3. The Beatles, Please Please Me – The birth of Beatlemania. It starts with “I Saw Her Standing There” and ends with “Twist And Shout.” The beginning of a love affair with the world that has lasted almost 60 years.
  4. Big Star, #1 Record – Criminally ignored upon its release, for years I thought they were a disco band. I have no idea where I got that notion. Such a huge influence on so many bands including Cheap Trick, this is a great overlooked album, The Music of Cinemax’s Quarry Led Me To Big Star’s “#1 Record”.
  5. Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker – I am currently obsessed with the Black Crowes and their debut. Great Stonesy album that I bought when I heard “Jealous Again.” (Black Crowes: New Song “Charming Mess” From The 30th Anniversary ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ Expanded Edition.
  6. Boston, Boston – Rock snobs and critics would snort at this one, but this is an awesome, arena rock masterpiece.
  7. Jackson Browne, Jackson Browne aka Saturate Before Using – Jackson’s first four albums are an amazing body of work. “Doctor My Eyes” was the big hit on this one but I love the quiet “Something Fine” and the rowdy “Rock Me On the Water.”
  8. The Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man – 2020 saw me finally getting into the Byrds. I’d always thought they were a Dylan cover band… I was wrong. Gene Clark’s songwriting is their secret weapon. I was turned onto this band through Movie Review: ‘Echo In The Canyon’ – Flawed, Enjoyable Look at Cali ’65-’67.
  9. The Cars, The Cars – Rick Ocasek was perhaps correct when he joked, “We should have named the first album The Cars Greatest Hits.” 
  10. The Clash, The Clash – Not to sound like the aforementioned rock snobs, but I prefer the original U.K. version of this album vs the later altered U.S. version.
  11. Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True – This might actually be my favorite Costello record. This was before he started recording with the Attractions.
  12. The Doors, The Doors – If you went through your teens without a rebellious phase where you idolized Jim Morrison and listened to this album constantly, did you really go through puberty? “This is the end my friend…”
  13. Foreigner, Foreigner – Give me all the shit you want about this album being on the list, but its fantastic and I know my friend Stormin’ agrees with me. I love “Headknocker” and “Long Long Way From Home.” “Fool For You Anyway” and “The Damage Is Done” are downright additive ballads.
  14. Guns N Roses, Appetite For Destruction – Epic, amazing, hard rock. I never get tired of this momentous album.
  15. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced? – The world’s greatest guitarist ever putting on a psychedelic blues extravaganza.
  16. Norah Jones, Come Away With Me – I realize I’m straying out to the mellow end, but this woman’s voice is just mesmerizing. This jazzy, traditional, gorgeous album only sold a kajillion copies. I love it still when I’m feeling mellow. You can’t listen to GnR all the time, or can you?
  17. Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule – There was a time when every woman I went out with would play this record for me. Eventually I had to buy it myself and am I glad I did. “Mr. Cab Driver” and the title track are my favorites.
  18. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin – This was the foundation of everything they did afterwards. They stretched blues and rock n roll until you’d have thought it’d break. This was the first LP of theirs I bought… after I’d purchased In Through The Out Door (LP Lookback: In Praise of Led Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’), I wanted to start at the beginning.
  19. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd – The Allmans may have established southern rock as a thing but Skynyrd took it to the next level with three lead guitarists. “Freebird,” indeed.
  20. Metallica, Kill Em All – One of the best heavy metal albums ever committed to tape.
  21. Pearl Jam, Ten – I’m still in love with this album. I was super jazzed when they finally released their ‘Unplugged’ from this era last year, Review: Pearl Jam Release ‘MTV Unplugged’ (Finally!).
  22. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – It took until the third LP for these guys to become household names (Damn the Torpedoes) but if you were listening closely it’s all here on their debut. “Breakdown” and “American Girl” are the staples of their greatest hits but there isn’t a bad song on this record.
  23. The Police, Outlandos D’Amour – This was their punkiest, punchiest album. “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “So Lonely” are such great songs. They have more popular, probably better records, but this is a highlight for me.
  24. Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley – An iconic from the King. RCA recorded some new tracks and gathered a few from his days at Sun Studios. It’s amazing.
  25. The Pretenders, The Pretenders – Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders’ masterpiece. Such a great punk record.
  26. The Ramones, Ramones – One of punk rock’s landmark albums. Harder, faster… the whole record doesn’t last 30 minutes.
  27. Otis Redding, Pain In My Heart – Such a huge influence on all that came after, including the Stones and Rod Stewart. This is an epic soul record.
  28. R.E.M., Murmur – Still, to this day, my favorite album by R.E.M., and I love R.E.M.
  29. The Rolling Stones, England’s Newest Hitmakers aka The Rolling Stones – When they were the anti-Beatles… a rough and ready blues band. I’d have loved to seen them in the Marquee Club.
  30. Smashing Pumpkins, Gish – Siamese Dream got more attention but this is one of the best debuts of the grunge era.
  31. Patti Smith, Horses – Poet, punk, rocker, female shaman, sorceress – it’s all on display for this record.
  32. Bruce Springsteen, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. – This album didn’t sell well but everybody knew the songs were awesome as evidenced by how many people covered them – from Bowie to Manfred Mann.
  33. Steely Dan, Can’t Buy A Thrill – The only Dan album with vocalist David Palmer. He only sang “Brooklyn” and “Dirty Work” but they’re great songs. This whole record is fabulous. “Change of the Guard” may be my favorite.
  34. Talking Heads, Talking Heads ’77 – The early stuff is so twitchy and anxious. This is before all the poly-rhythmic stuff. It’s simple but extremely affecting music.
  35. U2, Boy – They didn’t break it big until War but this is a great start. “I Will Follow” and “Twilight” are such great songs.
  36. Van Halen, Van Halen – I won’t expand on what I put in my post about this LP, Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40.
  37. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Texas Flood – One of the all time great guitar, blues albums.
  38. Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground & Nico – The first night I owned this LP, I was drinking tequila and feeling paranoid. It was dark and stormy… I put this album on and ended up hiding under my futon. Despite that it’s one of the greatest albums of all time.
  39. Tom Waits, Closing Time – I’ll quote my friend Drew, who turned me onto Waits, “Waits’ first album ruins all his other albums and they’re all great.”
  40. The Who, My Generation – The birth of Maximum R&B. Heavy, spirited, I love the Who.

There it is folks. I hope this sends you to the turntable… god knows its too cold to go outside. Let me know if you’ve got any debuts that you just love and I’ll check ’em out.

Take care of one another out there. Cheers!

Playlist: Missing Going To The Movies?: Our Favorite Soundtrack-Only Songs

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*Image from the internet and likely subject to copyright

I was musing in last week’s post regarding a local/regional band (Sunset Sinners: Poised For Big 2021, New Music On The Way) about how much I miss live music. I don’t just miss going to arenas and stadiums for big time shows, I also miss going to the local pub and hearing someone busking in the corner for tips. I haven’t checked out a lot of the stuff that artists are doing online via Zoom during lockdown, alas. I hear Sammy Hagar and the Circle did some cool covers (Who, Zeppelin) last year and are going to release a compilation album of those tracks this year. While all that online stuff sounds cool, nothing replaces the experience of being in a hot, sweaty room with a crowd of people in front of the altar of rock n’ roll, the stage. I don’t care if its Arrowhead Stadium or a dive bar, there’s just something about looking the artist in the eyes (even if it is on a big screen) and seeing them perform the music I love that hits my lower brain stem. Like Pavlov’s dogs you hit a guitar chord and I drool.

I know that live music is a luxury for many of us. I realize there are a lot of people who are suffering – they miss having a job, paying rent or having enough money to feed their families. My heart goes out to those people and I do not mean to make light of anything in these pages, we’re merely here as a distraction from the grim reality of this point in history. That said, there are many other things that I have missed in this interminable lockdown other than concerts. I miss seeing friends of mine especially the ones who have dispersed far and wide. I miss being able to travel to see people. Hell, you could say I just miss travel for travel’s sake. Road trips in the car seem like a remote memory. I used to love to look out the passenger window as the Rock Chick drove at her preferred excessive speed and watch the landscape fly by… it felt like I was leaving the ground, although that may be the bourbon flask talking… Hell, I’ve only driven out to see my sainted mother two or three times since last March. I will say, I don’t miss shaking hands – I’m not a germaphobe, its just archaic. I certainly miss having things to do on weekends. Even I have a limit to how long I can sit on the couch and watch TV… well, at least that’s what I’m telling the Rock Chick. During my annual Dry January, boredom seems to affect me more than it has in the past few months.

One of the things that I seem to miss most these days is the time honored tradition of driving down to the local  mall, wandering through the crowd to the cineplex and buying tickets to a movie. Before they started doing the whole “reserved” seats thing we would have to leave really early to be there to dash through the darkened aisles to get to that perfect seat – right in the middle, 2/3 of the way back from the screen – the Rock Chick has very…exact… coordinates for these things. I will admit that ever since the local theaters stopped selling my favorite go-to candy Hot Tamales, movies have lost a little bit of their luster. I typically had consumed the entire box before the “coming attractions” started. I don’t know why they stopped selling those, but if you work at a theater and are reading this, please do something about that. I don’t like Milk Duds, they stick to my teeth but I digress.

I’ve been a fan of movies since I was a little kid. When you went to the theater and they dimmed the lights you would be transported (if the movie was any good) anywhere from a “long time ago in a galaxy far away” to the gritty streets of New York or Paris or London. The movies could take you into the future or backward into some mysterious past. Only books have had more of an effect on my imagination and enjoyment of the world than the movies. You could see cowboys, astronauts, Jedi, spies, heroes, villains, wizards… anything you can think of, or as a kid, anything you wished you could be. I love those epic stories – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, anything that has multiple chapters. No matter how good, bad or indifferent life was, two hours in a dark theater was just the break your brain needed from the humdrum of day to day existence. I could be moved from laughter to tears to being anxiously perched on the edge of my seat all in the course of 2 hours. Ah, to be entertained.

My father is a big James Bond fan. I can still remember him loading my mother, my brother and me into the car and heading out to the Twin Drive-In, out off I-35 near Olathe. My brother and I were in our pj’s, since we’d likely fall asleep during the second movie of the double feature. We’d find our spot and pull the speaker into the car and watch James Bond foil the designs of bad guys like Goldfinger or Dr. No. These movies had probably been out for years at the time, but my dad would always attend a James Bond double-feature, no matter when or where. Of course, later in life the Drive-In became a den of iniquity for me and whoever I could miraculously talk into being my date. We’d swing by the liquor store to get some beer, maybe take a pizza out there… those records are sealed. I will say one summer I went to the movie Tron at the drive-in four times and to this day I have no idea what happens in that movie? I’ve never seen it. 

As I got older, besides the whole misbehavior at the drive-in thing, I discovered an entire subculture at the midnight movies! None of that PG stuff at midnight… we all wanted that rated R stuff, the “good” stuff. The first time I talked my parents into letting me attend a midnight movie I saw Blazing Saddles. I laughed so hard I almost had to leave the theater. There were other great, subversive flicks like Kentucky Fried Movie. Who can forget “Catholic High School Girls In Trouble?” It was at the midnight movies that I faced the seminal experience of my generation in the Rite of Passage that all rock n roll stoners, er I mean high school kids go through when I saw the epic Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same. Critics may have hated that movie but for high school kids it was high art…those fantasy sequences, simply mind blowing back then! There may have been drink or herbal remedies involved in that whole Zeppelin situation. There was all manner of cool shit at the midnight movies from (believe it or not) porn to rock n roll to comedy. My love of Monty Python movies stems from those midnight flicks. I loved the midnight movies and all the skeevy folks who were there… like me and my friends.

One of my fondest midnight movie experiences was the animated flick, Heavy Metal. It was a bizarre, fantasy rock and roll cartoon. I think it might have been based on a graphic novel-magazine (comic book) of the same name. There was so much music in that cartoon. They had not one but two acts do different theme songs – Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” and Don Felder’s “Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride).” Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick and believe it or not Grand Funk Railroad all have songs in this movie… for reasons unclear, even Stevie Nicks shows up with a solo track. I guess that movie would qualify as a musical – a movie format that I loathe. Perhaps because it was rock n roll I didn’t realize what was happening. Either way, I’m not sure if it was that movie that gave me an appreciation of great music in movies or if that appreciation was always there. Regardless, over the years I’ve always kept my ears keenly attuned to hear any rock and roll that might be included in a movie. I don’t buy soundtracks as a general rule, but every now and then you hear a song by an artist that isn’t on an LP that you know you’ve gotta have. It’s easier now with streaming and MP3s… but as a youngster, the struggle was real. Who wants to buy a whole soundtrack album for one song? I remember hearing Jackson Browne singing “Somebody’s Baby” in Fast Times At Ridgemont High and thinking, that’s a great song, what album is that on? Alas, it wasn’t on any Jackson Browne album at the time…

As I pondered the snowy, grey and cold expanse of January, my least favorite month, I started to put together a list of tracks in my head that I’ve always liked that debuted on soundtrack. If I can’t go to a movie I’ll listen to music from movies… I’m not talking about a great song used well in a movie. Yes, Say Anything had a great use of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” but that song had already been out for a while on Gabriel’s So. Who can forget the fabulous use of Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some” in Better Off Dead, when a cheeseburger plays guitar? But that song had already been out on Women And Children First prior to that. What I’m talking about are songs that were either written specifically for the movie (ie, the two Heavy Metal tracks above) or were originally used and heard in a movie. If a track an artist contributes to a movie becomes a hit, yes the track usually ends up on a Greatest Hits or compilation package, but for purposes of this playlist I’m talking songs that debuted, if you will, in a movie. What I like about artists doing movie tracks is they often take chances. They’ll do an odd cover song. It’s a one-off track and they seem to add a little extra to those songs. Sometimes the band is just inspired or moved by the story in the movie and they dig deeper. There have been a ton of good rock tracks in the James Bond series – and I’m not talking that Shirley Bassey, jazzy/horns stuff like “Goldfinger” or “Diamonds Are Forever.” Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that – I can often be heard belting out either of those tunes from the shower… For years I thought she sang “The Man With The Golden Gun” too, but I guess that was Lulu. I do have several Bond tracks on my list because hey man, BourbonAndVinyl is licensed to kill… with rock and roll. 

As I compiled this list I also included songs from movies that the bands filmed, which seems like cheating. The Beatles did two movies. Elvis did an infinite number of flicks, curse you Colonel Tom. I included some tracks that would have been hits by Prince anyway but they were in his movies. Queen did a couple of soundtracks. I think I even have a track from Motley Crue’s The Dirt on here. If there are other great tracks that made their debut in a film, please mention them in the comments and I’ll add it to the Spotify playlist, BourbonAndVinyl.net Missing The Movies: Favorite Soundtrack Songs, linked below. Like all of our playlists this isn’t meant to be exhaustive… it’s just our favorites. It’s always best to hit “shuffle” or “random” when playing these playlists, in my humble opinion. I will admit, fully, I’m disappointed that many of my choices for this – about half a dozen – were not available on Spotify and so I omitted them here. 

  1. The Blues Brothers, “She Caught the Katy” – Such a great opening song from the movie. I love this blues song. 
  2. Elvis Presley, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – The King… I could have chosen dozens of songs or just done a list of his movie songs, but I limited myself to only two…this one had to be one of them. 
  3. U2, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet – From the obscure flick, The Million Dollar Hotel. One of their all time great deep tracks (U2’s Ten Greatest Non Album Tracks & 5 Best Covers, In Honor of Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary ). 
  4. The Beatles, “Help!” – They did two films, one in color, one in black and white. This was the color film. 
  5. Queen, “Princes of the Universe” – From the great Highlander film that I watched 1000 times in college. 
  6. Joe Walsh, “In the City” – Before he recorded it with the Eagles Joe did a solo version of this track and it played over the opening sequence of Warriors during a shot of a ferris wheel lighting up on Coney Island. 
  7. Sammy Hagar, “Heavy Metal” – This was on Standing Hampton but I will always insist I heard it in the Heavy Metal midnight movie. 
  8. Motley Crue, “The Dirt (Est 1981)” – Title track from the biopic (Review: Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ – Movie and Thankfully, A Soundtrack). 
  9. David Bowie, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – You have to get the original version from the soundtrack, not the reworked version on Let’s Dance.  
  10. Prince, “Kiss” – From Under the Cherry Moon, the less successful follow up to Purple Rain
  11. Stevie Nicks, “Free Fallin'” – Never heard of this movie but fitting that Nicks, an honorary member of the Heartbreakers, would cover it. 
  12. Metallica, “I Disappear” – Great track from one of the twenty or thirty Mission Impossible movies. 
  13. The Donnas, “Dancing With Myself” – The all girl group tackles the Billy Idol classic. 
  14. Bruce Springsteen, “Missing” – This version is from a movie Sean Penn directed, The Crossing Guard and it shares a title with a similar song from The Rising. This is a different and fabulous track. 
  15. Bruce Springsteen, “Streets of Philadelphia” – The Boss won an Oscar for this track. 
  16. Pearl Jam, “Love Reign O’er Me” – Like I said, a lot of great covers on this list. 
  17. Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed” – One of his great late career tracks. It has one of my favorite Dylan lines, “don’t get up gentlemen, I’m just passing through…”
  18. Elvis Presley, “Viva Las Vegas” – Covered by ZZ Top and Springsteen among many others, still owned by the King.
  19. Paul Simon, “One Trick Pony” – Title track from the movie. I could have chosen “Late In the Evening” but this song has always appealed to me. 
  20. Lenny Kravitz, “American Woman” – Another Austin Powers highlight that ended up on later, expanded versions of Lenny’s LP, 5.
  21. U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” – Paging Batman… 
  22. Prince, “When Doves Cry” – The first hit from Purple Rain
  23. Duran Duran, “A Time To A Kill” – Finally some Bond action here! 
  24. Paul McCartney, “No More Lonely Nights” – Awful movie, awful soundtrack but I like David Gilmour’s lead guitar on this song. 
  25. Bob Dylan, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – From Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Covered by GnR, Warren Zevon and Clapton to name but a few. 
  26. Blondie, “Call Me” – From American Gigolo, a movie I’m proud to admit I snuck into whilst underage. 
  27. Fiona Apple, “Across the Universe” – Apple’s understated yet supple version… can’t beat a Beatles’ cover. 
  28. Soundgarden, “Live To Rise” – I know nothing about the movie this came from but what a great Soundgarden song. 
  29. Jackson Browne, “Somebody’s Baby” – Shamelessly pop, but I’ve always loved this track about the underdog asking the pretty girl on a date… maybe to the drive-in to see Tron? 
  30. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Soul To Squeeze” – Technically this was released as a B-side before its inclusion on The Coneheads soundtrack but that inclusion is what got it noticed. 
  31. AC/DC, “Big Gun” – From an Ahnold Schwarzenegger film. 
  32. Guns N Roses, “Sympathy For The Devil” – From Interview With A Vampire… I never thought Tom Cruise made a convincing Lestat, for the record. 
  33. Jon Bon Jovi, “Blaze Of Glory” – I’m not a huge Bon Jovi fan but I always liked this solo track from a western. 
  34. Steely Dan, “FM” – “No static at all….” 
  35. Eddie Vedder, “Hard Sun” – From a soundtrack LP the Rock Chick gave me for my birthday one year. 
  36. Bob Seger, “Understanding” – Another great Seger track. 
  37. The Donnas, “Roll On Down The Highway” – Appropriate cover for the remake of Herbie (the love bug). 
  38. Greta Van Fleet, “Always There” – A track I wrote about, Friday New Music DJ’ing & Greta Van Fleet’s New Single, “Always There”
  39. The Beatles, “Hard Day’s Night” – From the black and white movie… 
  40. David Bowie, “As The World Falls Down” – A weird little track from Labyrinth that I always liked. 
  41. Don Felder, “Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride)” – Ah, take me back to those midnight movies… 
  42. Starcrawler, “Pet Semetary” – Ramones cover from my favorite new band! 
  43. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Live And Let Die” – The greatest of all Bond film theme songs. 
  44. Mick Jagger, “Old Habits Die Hard” – From the Alfie remake. 
  45. Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” – Cornell could literally everything. From acoustic to metal to this… Can’t believe he’s gone. 

That’s my list folks. Again, if you have any adds, hit me in the comments and I’ll add it to the Spotify playlist.

It’s been a crazy start to 2021, but I’m hoping things mellow out and I see you all at concerts and record stores in the near future. Cheers! 

B&V’s Best of 2020: New LPs And Live/Vault/Archival Releases, Bad Year/Good Music

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I can’t believe 2020 is almost over. Most years I blink and the year is gone. I can’t really say that about this year. In a matter of two days I’ll be scribbling a “1” over the “0” in the date column on my checks… “Oh it’s 2021 not 2020, sorry.” Yes, I still use checks… you kids and your “apps.” At least this year, in Christmas cards, I didn’t have to read everybody’s not-so-humble bragging about what they did in 2020. This year we’re all just glad we survived. While 2020 was a long slow slog in most areas, it was actually quite a nice year for music. I find myself, in my prior year end retrospectives quoting Don Henley, “It was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock n roll.” I certainly can’t say that this year. I will say there is one glaring exception to my 2020 rosy music view: concerts. I miss live music so much I can’t stand it. I’m hopeful, like I never was at the beginning of 2020 about anything, that in 2021 I will be standing in a darkened room in front of a band with my hands in the air, screaming wildly. If Springsteen and the E Street Band’s SNL performance is any indication… I think these musicians are ready to go and are going to come out firing once “the coast is clear” as they say.

It was, if I may say so, a great year at BourbonAndVinyl. I want to say a big Thank You to all the readers, commenters, and followers out there – both those joined us this year and to all of you have been around a while as well. I started this thing with a dialogue with fellow music (and bourbon) lovers in mind and this year that concept came to fruition. With musicians off the road this year, so many acts chose to put out new music or cull through their archives. I found myself writing a lot more than in previous years… sorry if that was a little overwhelming… I get excited about music and I have to share. If you’ve enjoyed B&V this year – tell a friend. All music lovers are welcome. Hopefully I’ve turned you on to something you might have missed which is our goal here at B&V.

There were huge losses this year in rock n roll, too many to enumerate. I was saddened to see Bill Withers pass away this year. “Ain’t No Sunshine” is still one of my favorite tracks. I’ve been hearing “Lovely Day” a lot on commercials lately. Glad to see Bill get some recognition. I was rocked this year by the loss of two titans of rock n roll in the B&V universe. Losing drummer/lyricist Neil Peart of Rush really rocked me. I can still remember the first time I air-drummed to 2112 in junior high school. Rush was so huge here in the heartland, Peart’s loss reverberated through everybody. Making things worse, this year we lost one of the greatest guitarists to ever strap on the instrument, Eddie Van Halen. That one left a mark. Van Halen’s music is such an integral part of my listening as young man it’s almost a part of who I am. Hard, edgy and yet funny at the same time. I loved that band from Van Halen to Fair Warning to 1984 to For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Eddie’s guitar playing was always the price of admission for me. He redefined the instrument and that doesn’t happen much, perhaps once every generation or so. His presence, warmth and smile will be missed.

So plentiful was music in 2020 it’s hard to think of an artist who didn’t put out something new or something from the archives. I barely scratched the surface this year. Elton John put out a box set entitled Jewel Box that was a 10 hour journey through demo’s, deep album tracks and rarities. It was great, albeit mellow, but I felt it was for fans only so I didn’t write about it. The King, Elvis Presley put out a 4-disc box Elvis In Nashville (clearly a play on the title his big LP Elvis In Memphis) that collected all of the country/country rock tracks that Elvis recorded over the course of 3 days in Nashville in 1970. Those songs made up the bulk of three albums including the wonderful Elvis Country. The first two discs had all the actual songs, without any studio sweetening but with the second two discs being demo’s – I love the studio chatter of Elvis hanging with musicians – it felt like a fans only kinda thing. It’s a rare year where I can pick/choose the stuff I write about… skipping Elton and Elvis, wow what a year.

There were some fun singles too. The Black Crowes re-released their Christmas classic “Dirty Santa.” I can only hope the brothers Robinson will record a new album in 2021. B&V favs Starcrawler released their cover of Petty’s “I Need To Know” with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell joining in. Greta Van Fleet released their first single “My Way, Now” from their upcoming album… All this is points toward a good 2021!

Here are my favorites from 2020. The first list is new music, stuff that musicians newly recorded. Below, I’ll furnish my list of vault/archive/live albums – where artists either went back and dug out previously recorded material or compilations and also any live albums that caught my attention. I wrote about a lot more than I’m listing here, these are just my favorites. They aren’t in any particular ranked order, it’s pretty random. Enjoy!

B&V’s Favorite New Albums of 2020

  1. Ozzy Osbourne, Ordinary Man – Ozzy returned after a decade’s absence with a great new record. With producer/guitar whizz Andrew Watt helming the project and RHCP’s Chad Smith on drums, GnR bassist Duff McKagan on bass as the backing band, you knew this would be great. Cameos by Slash and Elton John were icing on the cake, Review: Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Ordinary Man’ – A Simply Extraordinary Album!.
  2. Pearl Jam, Gigaton – Like Ozzy, it had been a long time since these guys had released anything (7 years). I was a touch lukewarm on this record when it came out. It is definitely a “grower.” The more I listen to it the more I like it. The second half of the record gets a little mellow but those are some of my favorite songs. I’d love to see these guys live again, it’s been years, Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts.
  3. Fiona Apple, Fetch The Bolt Cutters – It had been 8 years since genius Fiona Apple had released an album – I’m seeing a trend here in 2020 – but Fetch The Bolt Cutters was worth the wait. I think it may be the perfect “lockdown” album, thematically at least, Review: Fiona Apple, ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ – Genius Unleashed.
  4. Bob Dylan, Rough And Rowdy Ways – Another artist with a huge gap since his last studio record – 8 years. Dylan had been releasing Sinatra cover LPs for much of that time so it was nice to hear self-penned stuff again. It was preceded by the mesmerizing 18 minute long “Murder Most Foul.” Great, late-period Dylan, Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career.
  5. Pretenders, Hate For Sale – Original drummer Martin Chambers returns and he and Chrissie Hynde deliver the goods on this punchy, rocking album, LP Review: Pretenders ‘Hate For Sale’ – A Late Career Classic With Attitude!.
  6. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Letter To You – Bruce contemplates his own mortality, inspired by the death of the last surviving member of his first band, the Castiles. I loved Western Stars, his 70s southern California noir but it’s great to hear him back with the E Street Band, Review: Springsteen’s ‘Letter To You’ – Contemplating Mortality On E Street.
  7. AC/DC, Power Up – I would have never thought Angus would be able to pull Brian Johnson, Phil Rudd, and Cliff Williams back into the fold and record another spectacular album. Power Up may be my pick for album of the year – if I still picked albums of the year… Review: AC/DC’s Spectacular Return, ‘Power Up’.
  8. The Dirty Knobs, Wreckless Abandon – Former Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ guitarist and “co-captain” and current member of Fleetwood Mac, Mike Campbell’s side project finally releases their debut album. There are a lot of echos of Petty here but make no mistake, this is a guitar album. It’s a lot of fun, Review: Mike Campbell’s New Band The Dirty Knobs, ‘Wreckless Abandon”.
  9. Chris Cornell, Nobody Sings Like You Anymore, Vol 1 – I was tempted to put this in the “vault” list but this is all unreleased stuff that was recorded and sequenced by Cornell. He obviously planned to release it but alas didn’t live to do so. All well chosen covers, this LP underscores what a tragedy it was when his voice was silenced, Review: Chris Cornell Posthumous Release, ‘No One Sings Like You Anymore, Vol. 1’ – A Nice Surprise From An Old Friend.
  10. Paul McCartney, McCartney III – A homespun gem more in the manner of McCartney than McCartney II. This felt like a really welcome Christmas gift, Review: ‘McCartney III,’ A Homespun Gem.

B&V’s Favorite Vault/Archive/Live Albums of 2020 

  1. Neil Young, Homegrown – Another brilliant 70s era “forgotten” album from Neil. This guy has more unreleased classic albums than most artists have actual albums. This is included in the upcoming (for general release, it’s already been released to collectors) box set Archives II. If you can’t spring for the whole box set, this is worth picking up on its own, Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years.
  2. Liam Gallagher, Unplugged – The former lead singer of one of the Rock Chick’s all time favorite bands Oasis, Liam Gallagher finally redeems himself in the Unplugged genre with a great little live album, Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘MTV Unplugged (Live At Hull City Hall)’ – Unplugged Redemption?.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Goats Head Soup Deluxe – The Stones revisit one of their sleazy-rock 70s classics. Light on bonus studio stuff it contains the great live concert recording Brussels Affair, a must for Stones fans, especially you Mick Taylor-era nuts out there, Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set.
  4. Tom Petty, Wildflowers…and All The Rest – Petty’s vision of Wildflowers as a double LP finally realized. Some lovely stuff was left in the can, Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited.
  5. Prince, Sign O The Times Deluxe – Prince’s creative peak? Maybe… There are so many great tunes that never saw the light of day in this box, it’s perhaps his last masterpiece, Review: Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times – Deluxe Edition’ – An Embarrassment of Riches.
  6. Ozzy Osbourne, Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary – In my review I quibbled about the lack of unreleased studio tracks (really just one new track) and disjointed live stuff, but this is such a landmark album, everyone should check this out. Leave it to Ozzy to appear on both these lists in 2020, Review: Ozzy’s ‘Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary Expanded’ – Is It Worth It?.
  7. Lou Reed, New York – One of Lou Reed’s true masterworks. If you don’t have the album, you need this. If you do, you need this for the live tracks – the entire album played live, Review: Lou Reed ‘New York: Deluxe Edition’.
  8. U2, All You Can’t Leave Behind 20th Anniversary Box – An album with special meaning for the Rock Chick and I… I already had the bonus tracks but if you don’t they’re definitely worth a listen. The concert included from the tour, in Boston is incendiary, Review: U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind (20th Anniversary Edition)’.
  9. Pearl Jam, MTV Unplugged – Only 7 songs long but soooo worth it. I’ve waited and hoped for years that Pearl Jam would finally release this spectacular performance, recorded shortly after their debut album. This is such a legendary performance…Review: Pearl Jam Release ‘MTV Unplugged’ (Finally!).
  10. Keith Richards, Live At the Hollywood Palladium – Keef takes his wonderful backing band, The X-Pensive Winos out on the road. This expanded edition gives us three additional tracks recorded that night. It’s just a great, live album, Review: Keith Richards + The X-Pensive Winos, ‘Live At the Hollywood Palladium’ Box Set.

If there is an album I missed on these list in your opinion, please share in the comments. I’m always open to new music and I do hate to think I missed something…

I hope everybody held it together during this rough and tumble 2020. Hopefully our little B&V corner of the rock n roll universe helped keep you moving down the road this year. I wish everyone a happy, safe New Year. I don’t think we’re out of the dark yet, but I think there is light at the end of the tunnel… and with any luck, it’s not an oncoming train.

It’s a dark ride, take care of each other out there. I’m certainly looking forward to a better 2021.

Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career

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I sometimes wonder if I’d have ever discovered any new music after the turn of the millennium if I hadn’t met the Rock Chick. I could see myself today, twenty years down the road, still thinking Pearl Jam was the last great band to emerge. While she reconnected me with bands I was already into like AC/DC, Green Day and Motley Crue, she also brought me out of my rock and roll exile and turned me onto new bands as well. For a very brief time we had the illegal download site Limewire at our disposal. Limewire was like the early Napster, basic file sharing. It was the Rock Chick who downloaded Limewire… at first my response was, “You kids and your fancy apps,” but once I started finding rare, hard to find b-sides it was like giving an addict the keys to the pharmacy. I stopped and deleted Limewire after I heard R.E.M.’s Mike Mills say that Napster/Limewire was tantamount to going down the local record shop and shoplifting their latest CD. Michael Stipe said he didn’t care, but I still didn’t feel good about it. In my defense, I only used Limewire in the same way I use Spotify today – to discover new music and then immediately purchase the stuff I liked. Still, it wasn’t cool. And I realize the difference between Spotify and Limewire… I pay for Spotify.

It was late 2001 or maybe even early 2002 when I saw this strange band, it was just a duo actually, the White Stripes on the MTV video awards show, if my memory serves me (and it rarely does these days). They were the final live performance on the show and I recall a bunch of balloons fell on them or a bunch of people rushed the stage. I noticed there was a woman on drums. I was intrigued. I checked out what I’d heard were the hits – “Dead Leaves On the Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With A Girl.” At the time the rock intelligentsia were hailing a new era of “garage rock” (that never really materialized). After doing some discovery over on Limewire, I realized that maybe these White Stripes were what they were talking about. They not only rocked but they could go acoustic like they do on “We’re Going To Be Friends” a track that immediately resonated with me. I quickly went out and purchased what I soon found out was their third LP, White Blood Cells. I was immediately taken with these guys. It’s quite an album.

Jack White was the singer/guitarist/keyboardist and songwriter. He is one of the most gifted guitar players not only of his generation but perhaps ever. I kept extolling his amazing guitar skills to my a friend of mine. It wasn’t until he saw Jack solo that he started comparing him to Hendrix. I was like, dude, I’ve been talking about this guy for 15 years. The drummer, Meg White, who Jack was introducing as his sister at the time was actually his ex-wife. Jack said he came up with the “sister” thing to avoid any Fleetwood Mac type drama. Much has been made of Meg White’s cavewoman style of drumming but I think she’s fabulous. She hits those skins like she’s mad at ’em. Her very basic drumming is, in my opinion, what allowed Jack White to soar on guitar. They call what Social Distortion does, combining country influences with punk rock, “cow punk.” With the White Stripes there was real strong blues influence/vibe to go with the punk or garage rock ethos they had. At the time I was describing them as blues punk or punk blues, whichever you’re comfortable with. As longtime readers know, I love the blues so it was natural I’d love the White Stripes.

In early 2003 the Stripes dropped their fourth album Elephant. While White Blood Cells broke them to a wider audience, it was Elephant‘s first single, “Seven Nation Army” that really made them stars. It’s an epic rock track and it was literally everywhere. I bought that album the day it came out. That tour was to be my first time to see the White Stripes. On June 28th of 2003 they played this smallish hall over in Kansas City, Kansas… Memorial Hall. Oh my god they were absolutely fantastic that night. They had a big body guard in a three-piece suit escort them onto the stage. They opened with “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground” and from there they were off. Jack White hopped around the stage like a bunny on meth. He’d come to the front of the stage and sing and them bounce back to the drum kit where he and Meg would jam. I swear Meg was hitting the drums so hard she was levitating off her seat. Three or four tracks in they played a Dolly Parton track, “Jolene.” I turned the Rock Chick and said, “pinch me, am I dreaming?” At one point Jack pulled out a battered, old, grey wide body guitar and played the fiercest blues licks I’d ever heard. The track was “Death Letter,” a song I discovered the next day when I went out and bought their second – and in my opinion their best – album De Stijl. After that amazing show it’s a wonder I didn’t hang a poster of them on my wall like I was  junior high kid. 

Every two years they’d put out a new album and I would snap it up the day it came out. Both Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump were triumphs that saw them stretching out their trademark blues punk sound. I got to see them a second time on the Get Behind Me Satan tour, this time at the slightly larger venue, Starlight Theater. Jack was dressed as a matador. I was in the fifth row and its one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. They played over thirty songs that night. Seeing Meg White up close left me smitten… I’ve always been susceptible to rock and roll crushes. She didn’t sing at this show like she did the first time I saw them but she made her presence known. They had a very charismatic stage presence. 

Sadly, after Icky Thump the White Stripes didn’t tour extensively. They played a handful of shows at weird locations. I want to say they filmed it for a documentary I remember seeing late at night. It was said that Meg didn’t want to tour. She’d grown tired of the road. At the time she’d done a little modeling and had gotten married. I think the rock and roll life and being Jack’s sidekick had lost its allure. After releasing a great little gem of a live album Under Great Northern Lights the White Stripes called it quits. Meg has become reclusive. I have often said in these pages and it bears repeating – come back Meg, please. The world needs the White Stripes. I love what Jack does with the Raconteurs and solo but you’ll never find a band as purely bad ass as the White Stripes. 

I can’t believe it’s been 13 years since the White Stripes last studio album. I feel like the Stripes were big but as they never played the big arenas or stadiums I wonder how big they really were. I own every album they put out but how many people do? I fear that if you’re a little older you may have missed out on this supernova of a band. Jack White has put together what I can only describe as a lovingly curated collection of their “best of” on the newly released The White Stripes Greatest Hits. I don’t usually write about “greatest hits” packages but there are a lot of iconic ones out there. I think this album will be on that list of super greatest hits albums out there. If you aren’t a White Stripes fanatic like me, this Greatest Hits package is the perfect introduction to their catalog. I love that Jack spread the 26 tracks on this album evenly over their six studio records. Their debut The White Stripes which is a really raw and primal album – it’s so garage rocky that you can almost smell oil and gasoline when you play it – is represented with as many songs as Elephant or Icky Thump. This is truly a great retrospective look at their catalog. There are two tracks that weren’t on albums, “Jolene” and “Let’s Shake Hands.” 

I love that the set opens with “Let’s Shake Hands,” which in non pandemic times was what you did when you met someone. It’s like Jack saying, “nice to meet you.” The second track establishes these guys as Detroit rockers with “The Big Three Killed My Baby” from their debut. What a great start! The epic rocking big hits are all here like “Seven Nation Army” (that ends the album), “Icky Thump” and “Blue Orchid.” There are quieter acoustic moments like “We’re Going to Be Friends” and their trade mark bluesy romps like “Ball And A Biscuit,” “Death Letter” and “I Fought Piranhas.” It’s safe to say that everything the White Stripe do well is represented on this greatest hits package. Listening to it just brings it home. 

Again, if you missed these guys in the early 2000s or you never paused to pick up their albums this is the perfect way to start listening to the White Stripes. I literally own every single song on this package and you should to. This album would be a perfect primer for a college level Rock And Roll 101 class. Turn this one up loud. 

Cheers! 

Review: Chris Cornell Posthumous Release, ‘No One Sings Like You Anymore, Vol. 1’ – A Nice Surprise From An Old Friend

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‘Tis the season, as the saying goes… not for the holidays but for hearing from old friends. I staggered out to the mail box recently to find a Christmas card from a friend I hadn’t heard from in a long time. It came as quite a surprise. It’s not that there had been a rift between my old friend and I or anything melodramatic had happened…like I’m typically prone to. It’s just day to day life has a way of getting in the way of relationships. You mean to call or email or reach out but then another work crisis arises and you put it off. In the old days I knew a few people who would send out those “family newsletters” in their Xmas cards. Let’s call those what they are, brag rags. “This year our family traveled to Mexico and Colorado… little Johnny won a spelling bee.” Please, you went to Cabo and went skiing and the trophy was probably a participation prize. I guess that sort of braggadocio is reserved for Facebook these days… I wouldn’t know I’ve never been on Facebook. 

I had a similar feeling of surprise when I found out yesterday Chris Cornell’s widow Vicky had posthumously released an entire album of cover songs that Chris had put together and sequenced prior to his death. What a holiday gift! As longtime readers know I was a huge fan of Chris Cornell and was quite shaken by his passing (I Awoke To The Devastating News: Chris Cornell Has Passed Away, RIP). In my defense, I had seen Soundgarden in concert merely a few nights prior to Cornell’s death (Concert Review: Soundgarden, Kansas City May 14, 2017). The surprise new album is called No One Sings Like You Anymore, Vol 1 and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title. That voice…

As I sat up late last night listening to this album repeatedly into the wee hours with a tumbler of good bourbon, I tried to reach back through the misty memories in my mind to the first time I heard Cornell’s voice. I remember seeing a video of Soundgarden circa Louder Than Love. I think it was on that MTV Sunday night (?) show ‘120 Minutes.’ I have a vague memory of muttering to myself, these guys are the grunge Black Sabbath. They had that heavy, sludgy sound and the operatic vocals of a man I knew simply as, the handsome guy with really long black hair. Having fled Arkansas and moved back to Kansas City in 1990 I may or may not have been aware of a couple of Soundgarden tracks from Badmotorfinger that got some airplay in KC, “Rusty Cage” and the glorious track “Outshined.” 

If I’m being honest, I probably first became aware of Cornell when I heard the Temple of the Dog album. I was particularly enamored with “Hunger Strike” but I think that track drew me more to Eddie Vedder who duetted with Cornell on the song. When I heard “Say Hello To Heaven” was probably the moment I jumped on the Chris Cornell bandwagon. That is a great song, perfectly sung. A few months later, Soundgarden released their landmark album Superunknown. “Spoonman” and the psychedelic tinged “Black Hole Sun” were favorites but it wasn’t until I heard “Fell On Black Days” that I bought the album. My god, I love that song. It’s one of my all time favorites. “Whatsoever I feared has come to life, whatsoever I fought off became my life.” That line pretty summed up my existence in 1991. 

From there I followed Cornell through the end of Soundgarden (and through their reunions) to Audioslave and even into his solo career. I’ll admit to being disappointed by his debut solo record, Euphoria Mourning. There were a couple of tracks on that album that I still listen to today but overall it left me cold. I loved all three Audioslave LPs and am proud to say I saw them live. Cornell paced the stage like a panther. It was at Lollapalooza and I left after Audioslave played, they were why I was there. In retrospect I should have stuck around for the headliners… Jane’s Addiction. I get tunnel vision sometimes. Never leave a gig early. 

Cornell’s solo career was a bit of a mixed bag. I loved his final proper solo record, Higher Truth and reviewed it on B&V, Review: Chris Cornell’s “Higher Truth” – Finally He Comes Through. To me, it was his solo breakthrough. But lets admit, his solo stuff was highly eclectic. He did a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that was excoriated by the critics (and probably fans too) but I really liked it. I included it on my Cornell playlist I put together in the wake of his tragic loss, B&V iPod Playlist: Chris Cornell. I will say, that same eclectic approach can be heard in the songs that Cornell selected for this wonderful new album, No One Sings Like You Anymore. And in fact, that eclecticism is what makes this so great. 

I’ll admit again, this album was a complete surprise to me. Even though, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, they’d released a single a number of weeks ago, “Patience,” a GnR cover with no explanation and I bought it. I thought it was a one-off and didn’t dig into why it had been released. I actually forgot I purchased it. In my defense, there has been a shit ton of music that has come out this year. When I found No One Sings had been released yesterday, it was like that day I staggered to the mailbox and found that Christmas card from my long absent friend. I put this album on with that same delighted surprise I’d felt standing at the mailbox. It is indeed nice to hear from our old friend Chris. 

Cover songs are an interesting thing in popular music. It’s like two-for-one night down at the bar. A song you already know, that possibly was a hit for someone else, sung by an artist you like… what’s not to love? If you pair the right cover song with the right artist you might just have a sure-thing hit. Aretha Franklin owns Otis Redding’s “Respect.” Jimi Hendrix owns “Hey Joe.” I can’t even tell you who did the original on that one. Doing an entire album of covers is an even more rare animal. We shared our favorite “cover albums” on B&V a while ago, B&V’s Favorite Cover Albums: Singing Other People’s Songs. I reread that post and I stand behind every record on that list. Covers can be done very reverently, no messing with the formula or the artist can completely reinterpret the song in a new way. I think Cornell does a little of both on this new album. 

I love that he chose such a diverse group of artists to cover. The album opens with a cover of a track that Janis Joplin made famous, “Get It While You Can.” Cornell totally reinterprets the track. I had to go back and listen to the Joplin track to make sure it was the same song. The track sets the tone for the musical journey ahead. Wisely, Cornell’s vocals are the star here. Later on the album he does a couple different obscure soul tracks, “Stay With Me Baby” originally done by Lorraine Ellison and “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love” by Carl Hall. I love both those tracks. They were such a pleasant surprise. I was amazed at how soulful a delivery Cornell has on “Stay With Me Baby.” He feels that soulful heartache baby. There’s even an organ on that song.

“Patience,” one of my favorite GnR ballads is very well served here in Cornell’s hands. I saw that his cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a Prince track that I had purchased from a “best of” package earlier is on here as well. I love his version of the song – he really lays out the vocal – but I’m starting to wonder how many times I’m going to have to buy that song, heh heh. I was surprised and utterly delighted to see Cornell cover Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire.” The space-age version Cornell does is a great update. He also, and again this was a surprise choice, covers Nilsson’s drinking buddy John Lennon’s song “Watching the Wheels” from Lennon’s final record Double Fantasy. Its a nice laid back acoustic strummer here and just wonderful. My favorite track on the album is a song called “Sad Sad City” originally done by a band I’d never heard of, Ghostland Observatory. “Sad Sad City” could have easily been nestled onto Higher Truth and I’d have thought it was a Cornell original. I love the insistent, driving drum, the acoustic riff and the great backing vocals. Cornell sings that one like he owns it. I also love his total reinterpretation of ELO’s “Showdown.” Nothing will touch the original on that one (even though I find ELO terribly derivative of the Beatles, they had their moments) but Cornell’s version keeps my interest. It doesn’t create quite the tension of ELO’s original but its a cool cover. 

The album is entitled Vol 1 which to me implies there is more in the vault that he did. I know that Cornell and Soundgarden were working on a new album. I hear that, much like Petty, there is a dispute between the band and Vicky Cornell about the future of those tracks. So I guess we wait for the lawyers to sort that one out. Regardless this is a nice addition to the Cornell canon and highly recommend this for his fans. I do really hope there is more out there. This man’s vocals were so special, I have to hope we hear more in the coming years. 

It’s the holidays folks and for some of us that’s a darker time… With people staying at home this year and keeping distance it may be a dark time for a whole lot more of us this year. Reach out, stay in touch with your loved ones. Take care of each other out there folks. Be safe. 

Cheers!