BourbonAndVinyl iPod Playlist: 4th of July, American Independence Day

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Ah, the 4th of July… When I was a kid, we’d travel down to southeast Kansas to visit my grandparents. Outside of town, there was a rock quarry or the remnants of a coal strip-mining site with a huge piles of rocks. It was like a desolate alien landscape from a bad sci-fi movie. We’d climb the rock hills and throw firecrackers off the top. Well, my grandfather wouldn’t throw the fireworks, he’d light them with his Camel filterless, and drop it at his feet. When the firecracker went off, he’d shrug his shoulders as if to say, “that’s all you’ve got?” He really was part of the greatest generation… but I digress. We were like any other American family – on 4th of July – we blew shit up. It’s what you do. It’s like drinking tequila on Cinco De Mayo.

When I finally, at a later age than most, found myself in a family with the Rock Chick and my stepdaughter, I carried the tradition of 4th of July pyrotechnics with me. We’d pile in the car, drive south of the city, stop at a fireworks stand (that Missouri is so famous for) and load up with explosive goodies. The Rock Chick, I was soon to find out, loves fireworks. If I truly consider her penchant for books and TV shows about murder and mayhem along with her hysterical laughter while lighting fire works, I might start to become anxious about the length of my existence, but that’s for me to worry about. We’d drive out into the country, to my sister-in-law’s farmhouse and by the time we were done, her back porch looked like a scorched battle site. The husks of burned out rockets and smoke bombs littered the yard. We’d cap the day, as the sun faded, sitting on the roof of the farmhouse, which was on small hill. From the roof we could see each fireworks display from every small town between us and Kansas City. The sky was a a panorama of bright, multi-colored sparks. The rocket’s red glare, as the saying goes…

Being an American is a complicated thing. It means a lot of different things to different people. We’re the freest nation on earth yet we were founded by Puritans. For every good time, there’s someone to guilt us about it. It’s quite a party… To me, I just love my country. I’m not some sort of neo-nationalist. I’m the classic American mutt. In the words of Bill Murray in ‘Stripes,’ “my ancestors were kicked out of every other descent country on the planet.”

In all seriousness, my great-grandfather left his home in Modena, Italy and traveled all the way across the world to southeast Kansas. I groused about having to move to Arkansas when I graduated from college… I kind of feel guilty about that when I think about what he must have gone through. He came to America at a time when Irish and Italian immigrants were flocking to the U.S. for work. This didn’t sit well with a lot of the current inhabitants of America at the time because the Irish and the Italians were Catholic. Southern Europeans weren’t exactly welcome. And yet my great-grandfather managed to travel here, get a job in a coal mining outfit and thrive. When it was time for him to get married, he went back to Italy, found  a bride and brought her back over here.

My grandfather, who was a mechanical genius, never went to college but could overhaul a car by the age of thirteen. He spent most of his life working as a clerk in an auto-parts store. Eventually the owner offered to sell him the store. He bought it and then opened another. I often wonder, where else in the world could the son of an immigrant with an Italian surname, rise from relative obscurity to a solid member of the middle class. He even joined the Rotary. He made enough money to send my father and his two siblings to college.

My father paid that forward for me… That’s why I love this country. That’s why I load up the car every year, head out to the country and light off fireworks. I do it to honor my immigrant past. There’s a lot of debate about who should and who shouldn’t be allowed to move to the U.S. these days. Since we’re a nation of immigrants, and I include myself in that number, I figure it’s best to make room for the next bunch of folks who are traveling here, looking for a better life. I know that scares some people, but fear is not what the Founding Fathers built this nation on. I choose to believe in the best parts of ol’ U.S.A.

As I was thinking about all of this, I began to consider all the great, conflicted rock music that’s been written about America. As I’m blowing things up this year, in the midst of the mayhem, I realized I needed some rock and roll. So here is my take on a 4th of July, Independence Day playlist. There’s nothing like a little guitar to go along with the sound of exploding stuff. This is a classic rock blog, so you’re not going to find any of that jingoistic Toby Keith crap here… I know I will have left some songs off, so please recommend additions in the comments. Also, some of these songs may rankle you, but spirited debate is always a critical thing in a democracy. So, as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler says on the great live album, “Live Bootleg,” at a show on Independence Day, “Happy Birthday Everybody!” I tend to shuffle this playlist, but I always start with the first track… it’s essential to do that, it’s only right…the rest is all just random.

  1. Jimi Hendrix, “The Star Spangled Banner” – You’ve gotta kick off the party with some Hendrix from Woodstock.
  2. John Mellencamp, “R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A.” – Cheesy, perhaps, but this song just explodes out of the speakers like, well, a firecracker.
  3. Steve Miller Band, “Livin’ In The USA” – Groovy late 60s/early 70s blues.
  4. Chuck Berry, “Back In The USA” – Believe it or not, Linda Rondstadt does a nice little version of this too, if you prefer. I prefer Chuck, always.
  5. The Clash, “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” – I don’t think anybody is bored with us these days…
  6. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, “Ah, Mary” – Wait to the end… it’ll make sense. With my thanks to my pal Doug for this one…
  7. U2, “Bullet the Blue Sky” – Perfect soundtrack for exploding fireworks.
  8. David Bowie, “I’m Afraid of Americans” – Well, technically I’m only afraid of half of them… well, really only 35% of them.
  9. Bruce Springsteen, “Born In the U.S.A.” – Well, this one is just obvious. The story of a Vietnam vet, left behind economically by his country, still crying out his allegiance… It still brings goosebumps, all these years later.
  10. The Runaways, “American Nights” – Bad girls Joan Jett and Lita Ford’s early band celebrating American bad girls.
  11. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Plan B” – We all need a plan B right now…
  12. Bruce Springsteen, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” – An epic song for an epic holiday.
  13. John Mellencamp, “Justice and Independence ’85” – I generally hate allegory but this song rocks and swings all at the same time. I still don’t know what Mellencamp’s trying to say here.
  14. Jackson Browne, “For America” – One of my favorite from Jackson.
  15. Paul McCartney, “Freedom” – Written in the aftermath of 9/11, I hated this song when I first heard it, but it’s actually really catchy. There’s a great little guitar solo at the end.
  16. John Mellencamp, “Pink Houses” – “Ain’t that America…” And, yes, I’ll admit there’s a lot of Mellencamp here, but the guy has a ton of songs about our country. There are several I left off. The guy’s obsessed with America, what can I say.
  17. Lenny Kravitz, “Black And White America” – Great title track from one of my favorite overlooked LPs from Lenny.
  18. The Guess Who, “American Woman” – Dedicate one to the ladies…
  19. Randy Newman, “Political Science” – “No one likes us, I don’t know why, we may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try…” The man is a genius and this song is funny.
  20. David Bowie, “Young Americans” – “She wants the young American…”
  21. Bruce Springsteen, “Land of Hope And Dreams” – America certainly was this for my family…
  22. Elton John, “Philadelphia Freedom” – Cheesy, yeah, it is, but I couldn’t resist.
  23. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Girl” – Another one for the ladies…
  24. Eurythmics, “King and Queen of America” – I just love this song.
  25. Dave Matthews Band, “American Baby” – A quiet, understated ballad from Dave and the guys…
  26. The Cult, “American Horse” – Some hard rock, yes please!
  27. The Kinks, “Help Me Now I’m Falling” – Ray Davies images America as Captain America on a bad day… More relevant now than ever.
  28. The Cult, “Wake Up Time For Freedom” – It certainly is a wake up time…
  29. Green Day, “American Idiot” – A Bush (W) era chestnut that resonates more now.
  30. Sammy Hagar, “Eagles Fly” – Sammy goes solo and hoists the flag.
  31. Little Steven, “I Am A Patriot” – I think I put this on every playlist I do…
  32. U2, “The Hands That Built America” – Great soundtrack cut from U2.
  33. Jimi Hendrix, “Freedom” – That’s what its’ all about.
  34. Neil Young, “Rockin’ In The Free World” – One of Neil’s greatest rock tunes.
  35. Ray Charles, “America The Beautiful” – Who doesn’t enjoy hearing Brother Ray put some true soul and love into this patriotic standard…it’s the perfect end.

Happy 4th of July everyone. Be careful out there… Don’t blow off any fingers or get burned. We don’t want another Jean Pierre-Paul on our hands… Drink something strong, only after you’re done blowing shit up, pause and reflect on the principles this country was founded on. We need true patriots right now… Enjoy!

p.s. This playlist can now be found on Spotify under BourbonAndViny.net 4th of July

Enjoy!

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iPod Playlist: B&V Murder And Mayhem Songs, Inspired By the Rock Chick

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As those of you who are familiar with BourbonAndVinyl know, I’m always looking for an excuse to cull through my vast musical collection and put together a playlist. My dear, dear, late friend Nancy once brought over a book of playlist ideas and we poured over it for hours while drinking martinis. I miss that woman dearly. That book is what gave me the idea for thematic playlists. I used to make my own “greatest hits” tapes for certain artists. Even as far back as my earliest vinyl and cassette days I was always putting together the dreaded mix tapes. Arkansas Joel, who always had a great car stereo but no records, used to request tapes of my music but that was a long time ago. My wife, the Rock Chick, can put together the best playlists, either by an artist or just tunes that go well together. She has a great Van Halen mix, all Roth of course. I’m not as skilled as she is in the art of the playlist.

However, as with most things I write or do, the Rock Chick is my muse. She inspires me in ways I didn’t know were possible. Lately, I’ve been a little worried about her. My Corporate Overlords have me traveling so much it’s been exhausting. When the road finally bends back towards home, I usually return to find the Rock Chick watching the Investigation Discovery Channel. She seems addicted to shows about what I’ve nicknamed, “murder and mayhem.” She loves to recount the countless stories of people who have committed murder. I think she missed her calling and should have looked into a career in forensic science. Vanity Fair Confidential, Dateline (with that pretentious Keith Morrison) and 20/20 reruns on OWN are in high rotation on our TV. She recounts these murder stories with great enthusiasm… almost too much enthusiasm. Luckily we have a cat that I use as a food taster just in case the Rock Chick gets any ideas about antifreeze cocktails.

I started musing on all this murder and mayhem the other night. I realized there are some great classic rock tunes about killing and murder and what not. Using the Rock Chick’s musical taste as my guide, I narrowed my playlist idea down to the following twenty-five songs. Sure, there are other tunes that would fit… Lou Reed has a great song called “The Gun” that nobody but me has heard but unfortunately the Rock Chick agrees with my friend Doug who says, “Every punk rocker knows Lou Reed is a dick.” And yes, I could have just filled up my playlist with Tupac and Biggy songs where they threaten each other, but this is a blog dedicated to the joys of classic rock and roll, not hip hop.

I must admit, post Kentucky Derby Day, I almost wish someone would kill me. The curse of bourbon is upon me.  Perhaps a little hair of the dog and these fine 25 rock tunes about murder might cure what ails me… By the way, I will admit I was as surprised as anyone that Green Day had so many murder and mayhem tunes.

  1. Rage Against The Macine, “Killing In The Name” – Yes, this song has broader, geopolitical ramifications but killing is killing.
  2. The Power Station, “Murderess” – Great, deep track from Robert Palmer, drummer Tony Thompson and a couple of dudes from Duran Duran. I’m hoping my wife never becomes the title character.
  3. The Kills, “Doing It To Death” – Not a bad way to go…
  4. The White Stripes, “Death Letter” – Jack White owns this old blues tune for me. Mellencamp did a pretty good version of this one too.
  5. Green Day, “Murder City” – “Desperate but not hopeless.”
  6. AC/DC, “Night Prowler” – Was anyone in rock and roll more menacing as a singer than Bon Scott when he turned nasty?
  7. Duran Duran, “View To a Kill” – I’m not a huge Duran fan, but I always liked this one and it’s a Rock Chick favorite. I think I like it so much because it was used in that James Bond film… I love James Bond films, but who doesn’t?
  8. The Clash, “Somebody Got Murdered” – Ph D courses could be taught about the Clash’s brilliant but flawed album ‘Sandinista!’
  9. Motley Crue, “Looks That Kill” – This song certainly describes the Rock Chick…
  10. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” – Is it that he’s singing in French that makes it creepy or is David Byrne just creepy by definition?
  11. The Police, “Murder By Numbers” – Not a Rock Chick favorite, but I had to have this song on the list.
  12. Queen, “Killer Queen” – The loss of Freddie Mercury is still felt, people.
  13. Echo And The Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon” – What I’ve gathered from all of these murder shows is that jealousy and spouses and murder are all tied up together. This is a great song about jealousy.
  14. The Rolling Stones, “Midnight Rambler” – The Rock Chick didn’t realize this was about a murderer. Killer slide guitar by Mick Taylor who had just joined the band.
  15. Audioslave, “Sound of a Gun” – “Running from the sound of a gun, til I’m weary.”
  16. Green Day, “Bang Bang” – Harrowing story told from the viewpoint of a mass shooter. Green Day is as relevant as ever.
  17. Mick Jagger, “Gun” – Jagger’s solo work always gets slagged but ‘Goddess In The Doorway’ was a killer record and this is a great cut. “Why don’t you just get a gun and shoot it through this heart of mine…” I should have entitled this playlist “Murder, Mayhem and Marriage.”
  18. U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” – A great U2 track that I believe was used in a Batman film. Don’t hold that against it.
  19. Green Day, “Kill the DJ” – Who doesn’t want to kill the DJ? Live music, not DJ’s, make the world go around.
  20. Alice In Chains, “Killer Is Me” – I prefer the live version on the unplugged LP because you hear Layne Staley say at the end, “I could hug you all, but I won’t.” Layne probably could have used a hug. Tragic story, or in the vernacular of today, #Sad.
  21. Depeche Mode, “Barrel of a Gun” – You knew these dark bastards would have to be on here. I can’t wait to see them on tour this year.
  22. Social Distortion, “Machine Gun Blues” – Mike Ness reimagining Social Distortion as Pretty Boy Floyd’s old time-y gangsters on a shooting spree. Lots of bullets fly.
  23. Bruce Springsteen, “Murder Incorporated” – One of Springsteen’s most rocking tunes with a fabulous guitar solo and naturally a great Clarence Clemons sax solo. All Hail the mighty Big Man!
  24. AC/DC, “Big Gun” – If you’re going to kill someone, bring a big gun. Not as menacing as Bon Scott’s tune, but a great rock tune none the less.
  25. Rage Against the Machine, “How I Could Just Kill A Man” – We leave where we came in, with Rage. Tom Morello uses his guitar like a machine gun. What’s not to love on this great tune.

If you come home and your spouse/significant other is watching shows about murder, turn them toward the stereo. There’s nothing good on TV…

iPod Playlist – Springsteen’s ‘Human Touch’/’Lucky Town’ LPs at 25: The B&V Single LP Edit

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I saw over the weekend that Bruce Springteen’s two simultaneously released 1992 LPs had turned 25 years old. ‘Human Town’ and ‘Lucky Town’ were highly anticipated back in ’92. We hadn’t heard anything from Springsteen since 1987’s ‘Tunnel of Love’ and back then five years between albums was a luxury only afforded to those nut jobs in Boston. In the interim, since ‘Tunnel of Love,’ much had occurred in Springsteen’s life. He’d gotten divorced, married again and started a family (good for him). On the music end of the ledger he’d severed ties with his long time backing band, The E Street Band (bad for him). Bruce had decided it was time to go solo.

At the time, I remember hearing or reading an interview with Springsteen where he said his music and the story he was trying to tell had all been building from ‘Greetings From Asbury Park’ all the way through ‘Born In The USA.’ He felt that ‘Born In The USA’ was the culmination of that story and it was time to find a new direction. He’d attempted to do that very thing with ‘Tunnel of Love,’ although my thoughts on that LP were that it was a reaction to the unheard of fame that resulted from ‘Born In the USA’ and it was Springsteen’s attempt to slow that hysteria down a bit. Often when an artist gets bigger than they expected, they release a quiet, introspective or “arty” work so they can avoid the massive expectations they’ve set up for themselves.

At the time, I remember thinking, “new direction,” my ass. The fame has given him “the fear.” But all these years later, when I listen to the classic live shows he’s been releasing on his website, damn if I don’t hear the progression. The live LPs I’ve heard from 1975 through 1984 all do actually build upon each other. He had the skeleton of his live shows and with each succeeding LP he added certain pieces here, took away pieces there. ‘Born In the USA’ really was an end point for Springsteen. He’d gone from rhyming boardwalk poet on ‘Greetings From Asbury Park’ to working class hero for the universe on ‘Born In the USA.’ It now makes sense to me what he was trying to do. His work, more than almost any other artist I can think of is, as he describes it to be, a dialogue.

Despite Springsteen’s best efforts to escape the expectations set by his past, with the long wait between records and firing the E Street Band, the expectations were still running very high in 1992 from his rabid fan base, yours truly included. Only Guns N Roses had released two albums on one day, although in their case I actually considered ‘Use Your Illusions’ to be a double album released separately to command a higher sales price. When the news that Springsteen was releasing two albums on one day leaked, we all went nuts. The first thought was, well this explains the long absence, he’s polished off two records. Then word came out that he’d been toiling over the first record, ‘Human Touch’ for years but had been hit with a burst of sudden inspiration and knocked out the second record, ‘Lucky Town’ in a matter of weeks, a rarity for Bruce.

When the two albums came out, I liked them. I have to admit in retrospect, I was carried away by sheer enthusiasm and momentum, I was young. It was obvious ‘Human Touch’ was labored over and ‘Lucky Town’ was pounded out by Bruce in a room with a guitar and only a drummer helping him. After repeated listens I began to realize these albums lacked the musicality of his previous LPs with the E Street Band. I soon realized that I was pretty disappointed. The critical reception to the album was tepid at best and savage at worst. Only Springsteen’s ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ (despite the excellent title track) has received a more savage critical response. It appeared that Springsteen had lost “it.” Maybe a life of happy domestic bliss had blunted his creative edge?

There’s an old adage in rock and roll, that in every double LP there is a great single LP lurking. Certainly there are exceptions to that rule where the double LP stands on it’s own. ‘Exile On Mainstreet,’ ‘The Beatles,’ ‘1999,’ ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ all stand out as masterpiece double LPs, which I covered in a previous post. But on the whole, you can take many double LPs, edit them down to a single LP and you’d have a better, more cohesive work and likely a more commercial album. Not that anybody should care about the commerciality of the LP. Art is art, people, follow the muse. As someone who once tried to write a novel, believe me, editing is good, folks.

Over the weekend, one of my favorite websites, UltimateClassicRock.com had four different critics attempt to test the “in all double LPs there lurks a great single LP” rule. Each critic took a shot at taking ‘Human Touch’ and ‘Lucky Town’ and combining tracks from each to create a new, single LP. I usually don’t tailgate on anybody else’s idea but this was an exercise that I’d attempted several times over the years, since the advent of MP3’s made doing so easy. And frankly, all four of the critics got it wrong. They mostly limited the new single disc to 10 to 12 tracks. Clearly the critical disdain for these two LPs remains to this day… There are more than 10 good songs on these records.

Here is the official B&V version of ‘Human Touch’/’Lucky Town’ edited down to a single record. I have this on my iPod as a playlist as editing vinyl is a little difficult. I took the liberty of expanding my play list to 14 songs, (of a potential 24 songs on over both records, I didn’t include anything left out and released on ‘Tracks’). In returning to these discs I realized that there’s a lot more to like here than to loathe. Don’t get me wrong, these are some of Springsteen’s weaker efforts, but if he’d combined them and done his usual scrupulous editing I think this would have been a lot more acceptable to longtime fans, despite the missing musicality of the E Street Band…I did labor over the exact order of these tunes… to make it more cohesive… The original LP is denoted in parentheses, LT = ‘Lucky Town, HT = ‘Human Touch.’

Side One:

  1. Lucky Town (LT)
  2. Local Hero (LT)
  3. Human Touch (HT)
  4. Soul Driver (HT)
  5. Better Days (LT)
  6. Gloria’s Eyes (HT)
  7. If I Should Fall Behind (LT) – the beautiful, acoustic ballad to end side 1…
  8. Roll Of The Dice (HT) – a rocker to start side 2…
  9. 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On) (HT)
  10. Leap of Faith (LT)
  11. I Wish I Were Blind (HT)
  12. Living Proof (LT)
  13. All Or Nothing At All (HT)
  14. My Beautiful Reward (LT)

This would have represented, in my mind here at B&V a much tighter, more cohesive LP. Each side starts off with some up beat, rocking tunes and ends with a beautiful ballad. If I’ve left out a tune or you have an alternative version, I’m all ears. I think revisiting these LPs on their 25th Birthday with a tumbler of something strong is well worth the adventure and the time.

“I’m a thief in the house of love and I can’t be trusted….”

Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame

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*Photo shamelessly borrowed from the Internet, gettyimages, Paul Bergen

I just love this photograph of Pearl Jam from their early days. The only guy who looks happy is the drummer, in the middle, and they fired him. Likely on the HR form it read something like: Reason for Dismissal: Cheerfulness or Enjoying the Fame.

My corporate overlords are asking me to travel quite a bit more and I haven’t been able to write as often as I’d like, my apologies. It has given me a lot more time to think about music… and lately I’ve been thinking about fame. Ah, Fame, it’s such a cruel, fickle beast. Bands often form, write music, tour and work hard to achieve financial stability and yes, fame. But once it happens many bands/artists don’t know how to deal with it. There are certain levels of fame that nobody is ready for. Not everybody can be the Beatles, who not only embraced their fame, seemed energized by it. Well, McCartney anyway, Lennon seemed somewhat unnerved by it all.

Fame has all kinds of effects on an artist and not always good ones. Many artists, feeling the pressure to repeat earlier heights of record sales crumble under the pressure. Many artists turn to drugs, alcohol or just plain break up the band. Or sometimes the effects of fame are even worse…bad juju indeed. There are as many reactions to fame as there are artists, I suppose.

Lately, I find myself thinking about those artists/bands who decided to take control, take the bull by the horns as they say, and purposely change the trajectory of their artistic arc. The artists who, commercially speaking, tried to take a dive. The goal seemed to be to thin the herd of rabid fans, hanging on every word. These acts literally altered their art (in my opinion) to reduce their fame…

Bob Dylan: After a two year period that saw Dylan “go electric” and record three classic masterpieces: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisted,” and “Blonde On Blonde” Dylan retreated to upstate New York to Woodstock (pre-festival fame Woodstock). This creative burst is beautifully documented on the box set, “The Cutting Edge” reviewed earlier in B&V. Dylan just wanted to get away, rest and spend some time with his wife and new family. Then, he had a motorcycle accident. Or did he? I’m not usually a “second shooter on the grassy knoll” guy, but I wonder if Dylan faked the whole thing to get a break in his crazy schedule. The guy was being touted as the “voice” of his generation. He was the appointed leader of the Hippy movement… heavy responsibility for a guy who is really just a singer… or a poet, depending on your outlook. After secluding himself in upstate NY and hanging out in a basement for a year with the Band, recording some pretty amazing music, but not really sharing it, Dylan emerged with a quiet, acoustic based “John Wesley Harding.” While considered a classic by critics, it was quite a dramatic departure from his three prior albums. It’s like Dylan rewrote the book on a career in music. He went on to record a country album, “Nashville Skyline.” He really didn’t recover commercially until “Blood On the Tracks” by which time his rabid audience had diminished and mellowed out.

Neil Young: Neil Young’s trajectory was similar to Dylan’s, perhaps without the messianic overtones… the 70’s were a more cynical decade after all. Young released “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” and then “After the Gold Rush” and joined CSNY. He was poised to explode. I don’t think he realized how big he was going to get when he delivered the mellow, extremely popular “Harvest.” You couldn’t get away from “Heart of Gold.” Neil said, on the liner notes of the excellent greatest hits package “Decade,” that he found himself in the middle of the road after “Harvest” and decided to steer his career into the ditch…he said he’d meet more interesting people there. He dismantled his following by delivering the live LP, “Time Fades Away,” which oddly seemed to declare war on his fans. Young was exorcising demons, but his fans were left to exorcise Neil.

Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen’s career has been a study in the art of controlling your fame. He released “Born To Run” and ended up on the cover of Time and Newsweek… after a 4 year absence due to legal issues with his management, he delivered the grim classic “Darkness On the Edge of Town.” Punk was prevalent and so he probably rode that wave, plus he was pissed about the court stuff and the four year absence. Finally, in 1979 he released “The River” which gave him his biggest seller to date… rather than capitalize on that success he retrenched with “Nebraska” an album I still struggle to listen to without being put on suicide watch. He finally reached his peak potential when he released “Born In the USA” but quickly retrenched to “Tunnel of Love.” Release something that makes you huge, follow up with a quiet personal album to make the crowds go away…it’s the best of both worlds.

Fleetwood Mac: Nobody saw the huge success of “Rumors” coming. Lindsey Buckingham, fueled by the punk movement took control of their next album and drove the band in experimental, weird directions. Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie apparently didn’t get the memo and continued to record solid mid tempo rock songs causing a very disjointed approach.”Tusk” is a masterpiece in my mind but it was heralded as a huge disappointment upon it’s release. I see it for what it was – Buckingham responding to the pressure of repeating “Rumors” by taking the band in a less commercial, artsy direction. When the LP doesn’t sell as much as the last one, you just say the audience didn’t “understand your creative vision.” It’s a great strategy really. Although Mick Fleetwood did drive out to Lindsey’s house after the reviews were in to say, “you blew it, mate.”

Prince: “1999” was such a breakthrough record for Prince. He, along with Michael Jackson, were one of the first black artists to breakthrough to a broad white audience. He followed up with the movie/LP “Purple Rain.” Prince, a control freak, whose goal had always been world domination, and who actually accomplished it, responded with the quirky, artsy “Around the World In a Day,” an album I bought the day it was released and sold a week later. Yeah, I was one of the fans Prince exiled from his fan base with that record. Prince never really regained his commercial/artistic mojo. That’s the risk when you purposely try to kill off your fame… sometimes you’re successful.

Nirvana: Kurt Cobain, almost 30 years after Dylan, was also tagged with that “voice of his generation” tag. Based on Dylan’s response to that in the 60s and what happened to Kurt, you might want to avoid that tag. After “Nevermind” seemingly destroyed everything that came before it and revolutionized music in a way that punk only dreamed of, Cobain felt painted into a corner. He had wanted to only be as big as say, Sonic Youth, not bigger than the Beatles. In response to the world-wide worship, Cobain and Nirvana delivered the abrasive album “In Utero” an album that was such an obvious attempt to drive fans away and yet it was still wildly popular. “Heart Shaped Box” is still my favorite Nirvana tune. Sadly Kurt never reconciled his fame and for a myriad of reasons ended up sadly ending his own life… the most tragic tale I’m gonna tell.

Pearl Jam: I read an interview with Eddie Vedder once, and he said they were playing a bar that had a free hamburgers in the parking lot while they were set to play. He got on stage in front of an empty room (everyone was eating outside), closed his eyes and when he opened them, the entire bar was full of enthusiastic fans. He went on to say that was how Pearl Jam’s world wide fame happened, seemingly in the blink of an eye. “Ten” was such a huge album and it’s follow up “Vs” despite the “us vs you” implied by the title, was just as popular. Finally PJ put out “Vitalogy” which I consider a classic but like “In Utero” it was a clear attempt to “thin the herd.” You only have to take one look at the picture above and you can tell these guys were uncomfortable with the fame that had resulted from their music. Eddie took these guys down a path that saw them stay a solid live draw, but their music has never sold like it did early in their career and I think that’s how Eddie wants it… Vedder’s only proper solo album was a ukele album…clearly not a guy looking for wide commercial success or additional attention…

That’s it for now folks. Did I miss anybody on this list? Please add your thoughts in the comments if you’re so inclined.

Have a great weekend! Cheers!

Springsteen: The River Tour, Kansas City 4/7/2016

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I must pause in the writing to acknowledge the passing of a legend… RIP Merle Haggard. I saw the Hag with Dylan about 10 years ago and frankly I enjoyed Merle more than Dylan. His voice was craggy velvet on whiskey. Haggard and Johnny Cash are all anybody needs to know about country music. Everything after them isn’t worth the effort to drop the needle onto the vinyl….. On with the review…

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I went down to “The River” last night and I knelt to pray and I was cleansed. I haven’t had a chance to write much lately because my corporate overlords have been making life a living Hell. Nothing solves that work-despair like a good, old fashioned, rock and roll show. Especially when that concert involves the legend, the myth, Bruce Springsteen.

In the midwest in 1979-1980 you were hard pressed to find a Bruce Springsteen fan. A few of his tunes would make it to the radio but he wasn’t a wide spread phenomenon like he probably was in say, Philadelphia. I grew up in the provinces people. I like to think of myself as a drunken, much less talented Mark Twain. I remember February of 1980, getting up and scouring the paper for a review of the previous night’s Bruce Springsteen concert in support of his new album, “The River.” The reviewer said, “without a doubt we’ve seen the concert of the year and it’s only February.” I went to school and saw my buddy Brewster and lamented that we hadn’t gone to the show. Brewster and I would always go to shows together. He said, “Uh, Ken, uh, you might not have gone, but I went. I didn’t know you were into Springsteen… it was amazing.” It may have fundamentally altered Brewster and my friendship. Bitter, party of 1, your table is ready. Ironically Brewster was in from The Tall City, Texas last night and at the show and whilst his wife managed to keep us from speaking we were texting each other during the show.

“The River” album conjures so many memories. Unlike most people, “The River” not “Born To Run” was my first Springsteen album. (I bought “Born To Run” after sneaking into a Senior Skip Day party when I was a sophomore and making out with a beautiful girl… I had to stop to ask her what music was playing…”Born To Run” you idiot…”) “The River” was the first double LP I ever purchased, which was a huge commitment of lawn-mowing money back then. It was 12 bucks, much more than the usual 8 you’d plunk down for a single LP. Oh, my God, was it worth it. It’s a sprawling masterpiece. Springsteen said last night that he was attempting to capture the E Street Band’s mammoth live show on a record. I would say he succeeded. What I loved about “The River” was that Bruce let Little Steven (harmony/backing vocals/guitar) and Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons (saxophone) run wild on this album. The album was big but felt intimate. It was like listening to the world’s greatest bar band explode like a nuclear bomb. There was so much more joy on “The River” than “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” that it’s hard to think both albums came from the same group of guys.

The show opened up with a muscular version of the outtake “Meet Me In the City Tonight”, which like “Thunder Road” is a great invitation to an adventure. My buddy SB said, “Hey, which album is this on?” There are so many great Springsteen songs that no one has heard, but I digress. (Everyone needs to buy the box set “The Ties That Bind”, the outtakes are worth it, trust me). Then Bruce gave a nice preamble speech about “The River” and what it meant to him as an artist. As the band launched into “The Ties That Bind” I must admit, and not to be a chick about it, a tear welled up in my eye. Clearly this album meant a lot to me as a listener too. I can still remember, nervously dropping the needle on the vinyl for the first time, wondering if my huge investment in a double album by this “Springsteen guy” was worth it. I was taking a huge risk. When that riff burst out of the speakers it was like what I imagine heroin hitting the brain pan, my temples exploded with joy. I was hooked on Bruce and haven’t given up the habit yet.

The band was leaner last night – no back up vocalists, no full horn section – it was just the basic band, albeit with an extra guitarist, Nils Lofgren and a violinist Suzee Tyrell who weren’t with Bruce on the original “River”tour that Brewster caused me to miss (did I mention I’m still bitter). And, predictably, I have to say that Jake Clemons is a big dude, but he’s no Big Man. His uncle Clarence, whose loss still brings tears to my eyes, was a much more powerful player than Jake. But I will give Jake an A for effort.

As always with me, it was the ballads that were the most arresting moments of the concert. “Independence Day” which comes early in the show, (and closes side 1 of the vinyl LP) was particularly moving. It’s what Bruce described as a conversation between two people at a kitchen table. If you’ve ever had a problem with your father, this is the Springsteen song for you. People talk about “Adam Raised a Cain” as his ultimate “father” song, but “Independence Day” is a heart wrenching, moving song that sums up everybody’s relationship with their dad or at least my relationship. Eddie Vedder used to leave his house with his acoustic guitar and slip down to the park and play that song as a form of escape. I wish I’d been hanging around because Vedder and I seem to like the same music. The version of “Point Blank” with a long piano driven preamble was the highlight of the night. It was the most amazing version of an amazing song that I’ve ever heard. It was gripping and live music at it’s very best. You should buy a ticket to this show just for that song. The version of “Stolen Car” they played last night will haunt me, in a good way, for the rest of my life. “Drive All Night” has always been a personal favorite of mine, and last night’s version did not disappoint me. It’s the greatest love song ever written. I only wish Clarence was here to play that beautiful sax solo, but again Jake did fine, I’m knit picking.

The set after “The River” was explosive and fantastic. He managed to play over half of “Born To Run” including a fabulous version of “She’s The One”. It’s the songs you don’t hear on the radio from that album that make it so special. “Backstreets” was sprawling, rocking and amazing all at once. I had two firsts last night, “Because The Night” and finally after all these years “Rosalita” which I’ve waited a life time to hear. Late in the set they broke into “Tenth Ave Freeze Out” and again, when Bruce sang, “the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band” I felt tears well up in my eyes again. I toasted Clarence with a large, deep tumbler of rye after the show. “Tenth Ave Freeze Out” is a gentle reminder that the E Street Band is more than a band, more than a group of musicians, it’s a brotherhood. And the magic of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is that on any given night, even out in the provinces of Kansas City, they can make you feel like you’re a part of that brotherhood.

Do yourself a favor. If you live in a city that Bruce is coming to in the next month or so, get a ticket and see his show. Dance in the aisle, sing along and for a beautiful 3 hours, forget you have to go to work the next day. Love life like it’s 1979 again and your buddy Brewster has called with tickets to the big show…..

Cheers!

The Rock’n’Roll Concerts That Got Away

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Like Sinatra when he sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, ” I’ve had a few regrets when it comes to concerts I could have attended. Well, that and a few women I’ve known, but those records are sealed. But I feel like Frank when he went on to sing about those regrets, “But then again, too few to mention”. But then again, here I am on a Saturday night, brooding and mentioning those regrets. AC/DC is in town this weekend and I didn’t even make an effort to attend, something 13 year old me would have been pissed about, but I digress. The shows I missed out on aren’t concerts like, “Oh, I wish I’d seen Hendrix in Golden Gate Park…” I wasn’t even “potty trained” at that time. These are shows I could have actually attended without the miracle of Time Travel. These are the 6 shows that I missed by sheer stupidity. I think we’ve all been there… the chance to see a show, the ticket in our hand or dangled in front of us, but for some inexplicable reason, we didn’t go… Here’s a tribute/list of shows that I could have seen…. oh, if only, as the Faces sang, “I knew then what I know now…”

  1. U2, The Joshua Tree Tour, 1987. Arkansas Joel and I were in Atlanta for some corporate training and it just so happened U2 was playing there. Arkansas Joel and I were big U2 fans, but Joel knew more than I did that they were a band for the ages. He wanted to go down and get tix. I wasn’t familiar with Atlanta and was worried about the price. More embarrassing, I was in “love” with a girl in my class… It was a lot like that scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ where he said, “sorry boys, I’ve got to go see about a girl.” HUGE mistake. U2 actually dressed in disguise and opened for the opening act as a country band. This may be the greatest concert I ever missed. The girl and I dated for a year. That concert would have stuck with me for a life time.
  2. The Who, Face Dances Tour, 1981. ‘Face Dances’ was the first Who album I bought. It’s a much maligned album but it still resonates with me. You can hear Pete struggling with drug addiction. My friend Brewster and I spent every dime on our tickets. We were supposed to go with some buddies of ours, Steve and Evan. We didn’t have enough money to fill up Brewster’s gas tank to get to the show. It was our ill-advised idea to siphon gas from several folks in the neighborhood… (Crime does not pay kids). We actually snuck out at 2 a.m. to do so… Brewster’s dad caught him on the return, sneak-in to the house which led to a 3 a.m. call to my folks. “What mom, I was asleep, what are you talking about gas for…” Needless to say, no Oscars were awarded that night. My dad was so mad he grounded me and forbid me to go to the concert. Like Brewster I gave my tix to Evan and Steve who sold them and used the cash to buy weed instead of reimbursing us. Douche bags. At least that led me away from the life of a miscreant… well, sort of.
  3. Neil Young, Life Tour, 1986. Neil Young’s most troubled decade was the 80’s. He finally reunited with Crazy Horse for the tepid album ‘Life’. They went on tour billed as “The Third Best Garage Band In The World”. As “Third”, there was no pressure. First place has the pressure to defend the throne. Second place has the pressure to take over first place. But in third place, you were just cool and didn’t have anything to prove. I started drinking before we left for the show, which was a two hour drive. By the time Neil took the stage I’d already thrown up and made out with the girl in front of me. Thankfully her boyfriend didn’t notice. She was pretty wasted too. I was at the show but couldn’t tell you a thing about it. I rushed the floor, from the lower deck, but actually fell over the barricade and was led out by security. I couldn’t face Drew and Dennis, my comrades that night for weeks. They continue to rave about that show but they might just be fucking with me out of spite.
  4. Queen, The Game Tour, 1980. Matthew’s beautiful high school girlfriend actually sang “Another One Bites the Dust” directly to me to entice me to go to the show with them. She ended up going to Michigan or Ohio State to study brain surgery. I know she wasn’t hitting on me, but sweet Jesus, what if she was, but I digress. Queen at their last real high point. What was I thinking? It’s not like I was a homophobe. At the time none of us believed Freddy Mercury was gay, we just thought he was British, Monty Python in drag and all of that…not that there’s anything wrong with being gay. How did we not know? Anyway, people talked about that show for weeks.
  5. Led Zeppelin, In Through the Out Door Tour, 1980. They announced the US leg of their successful comeback tour of Europe in support of ‘In Through…’ There was a guy in my high school who was arranging to charter a bus and get a group of us up to Chicago for that show, they weren’t coming to KC. I was already working the, “Mom, I’m a straight A student” angle when John Bonham died… So, this one isn’t explicitly my fault…
  6. Springsteen, The River, 1979-80. Springsteen was playing Kemper Arena in KC in February of 1980. ‘The River’ was my first Springsteen album I purchased with my own money. It was a double album which took a lot more of my lawn mowing salary. I thought Springsteen was a secret I alone held. Unfortunately my pal Brewster was also a huge fan but kept it to himself. He went to the show with some dude named “Mack” and never considered inviting me. It was February and the KC Star said, “without a doubt, this is the concert of the year.” FUUUUUCK. You just can’t get some things back.

Folks, if you have a chance to see a show but have to scrape the money together. If you have to take a bus. If you have to skip school. No matter what you have to do, trust me, I know what I’m talking about here – do it and GO TO THE SHOW. Always, always, GO TO THE SHOW. If you have to steal a car, well don’t do that or anything else illegal, trust me again, I know what I’m talking about, but try to get to the God damn show. You’ll regret it if you miss it.

Sigh… I’m glad I got that off my chest. I can now put the cork back in the bourbon and sleep. Advice, Free.

Cheers!

Springsteen’s Winter-Storm Jonas Gift: Thank You Bruce

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 When Winter Storm Jonas rolled through the Northeast last weekend, wreaking havoc, one of the by-products was the cancellation of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s concert at Madison Square Garden Sunday, January 24th. As a free gift to make up for the cancellation Bruce released his previous show ‘Chicago January 19th’ as a free MP3 download for a two day period. Naturally I jumped on that gift, and let me say, Thank you Bruce. I’ve already written about Springsteen’s archival downloads in another blog post, but I’m not sure if I mentioned he’s now releasing every show as a live download through his website like Pearl Jam has been doing for 15 years or so. I downloaded his Capetown, South Africa show from his last tour. He finally found a way to beat the bootleggers. Springsteen and the E Street Band are out on the road to support last year’s box set ‘The Ties That Bind’ which celebrates the anniversary of Bruce’s epic double album, ‘The River’. I would be writing about ‘The Ties That Bind’ but there was a mix up at Christmas and despite the box set being at the top of my Christmas list, here I sit in January with no present. Apparently it’s “on it’s way”. Sigh, Christmas…

As part of this tour Bruce is performing ‘The River’ in it’s entirety, from start to finish. Ah, the album playback-centric concert. It can be dicey. Playing an album as it was released can often produce mixed results. I saw Motley Crue do ‘Dr Feelgood’ a few years back and left disappointed. I saw the Cult do ‘Love’ and ‘Electric’ and those shows were amazing. Of course the Cult is a hard rock band (and could really be defined across genre’s) so there is a cohesion on those records that lend themselves to a concert treatment. Of course, for the ‘Electric’ show I was drinking vodka with the Rock Chick and my buddy Stormin’ in Denver and I actually got a VIP package and met the band so that may have influenced my feelings about that show.

‘The River’ was my first Springsteen album purchase. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City, in Kansas so Springsteen was a bit foreign to me. He didn’t get a ton of airplay out here. I had only recently switched my radio from Royals’ games to KY/102 the lone rock station in town. I’d heard some Bruce but wasn’t that familiar with him. “Hungry Heart” was literally the first “hit” he had out here. I can still remember standing in the record store, the smell of incense in the background clutching the double vinyl album wondering if it was worth the investment. A double album in those days could be close to $15 which was a fortune on a lawn mower/bus boy wage. In those days, if I liked the first single on an album I’d wait until I heard a second then a third song. If I liked all three it was deemed “purchase-worthy”. What can I say, cash was in short supply when you spent half of it on beer and gas. I can say, all these years later, thankfully I made the buy.

I remember the jolt I got when the needle found the groove and “The Ties That Bind,” the opening track, jumped out of the speakers. It was like a jolt of amphetamine. I realized I’d made a very sound investment. Springsteen had been kept out of the studio for 4 years after ‘Born to Run’ and then had been very selective on what he put out on ‘Darkness On the Edge of Town’ so he had a back log of great songs that he’d been playing live (and being bootlegged) for some time. He had originally submitted a single album but wisely pulled it back in favor of this sprawling, masterpiece. Over the course of 20 songs the Bruce and the E Streeters do everything – rockers, rockabilly, ballads, politics, love, breakups, a wreck on the highway, literally everything. Every double album that comes along gets compared to ‘The White Album’ but this one may actually earn that description. The title track to ‘The River’ is one of Springsteen’s finest achievements as a songwriter: he captures the political ramifications of an economic downturn in the most personal way, and it’s much more effective for it.

It appears on this tour Bruce is opening with a song from ‘The Ties That Bind’ box, “Meet Me In the City Tonight”. How did this song not see proper release long ago? I can only hope that some day I’ll actually get my Xmas gift and hear the studio version (Damn you Santa). “Meet Me In the City” is an awesome opener. It just shows the depth and quality of the material Bruce was writing at that time. From there the E Street Band takes you through ‘The River’ in it’s entirety. It’s an amazing start to this concert (and I do mean “start” the show is 3 1/2 hours long). ‘The River’, with the way the album was paced, is a great album to play in concert. It’s music and moods are varied enough to withstand a concert treatment. Bruce tells a nice story before “Independence Day” which was a song I listened to constantly in my “angry-at-my-father” stage of life (does everybody go through that?). “Drive All Night” may be my favorite Springsteen love song. “Baby, I’d drive all night, just to buy you some shoes” is the line that always gets me and the way my wife buys shoes ended up being somewhat prophetic for me.

After they complete ‘The River’ album playback, it’s party time. I’ve looked at the set lists from other shows and they vary wildly. On the ‘Chicago’ show he plays several songs from ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Born In the USA’ (including “Cover Me”, “Dancing in the Dark” and “No Surrender” where Bruce blows the intro twice). He also plays “Human Touch” a song I’ve never heard live and was surprised to hear. Bruce even does a nice acoustic/violin version of “Take It Easy” as a tribute to Glenn Frey which is understated and powerful (although I would have loved one of Bruce’s patented pre-song stories about, say, Warren Zevon and Frey and he hanging out, but those records are probably sealed). After a towering run through “Rosalita” the party comes to an end with the old R&B tune, “Shout”. I’ve heard Springsteen, Billy Joel, and Tom Petty all do this song, and frankly no one will ever top Otis Day and at the Knights from the movie “Animal House” but the E Street Band do a great version.

The vocals on this live show are right up front. The Capetown show I purchased, the vocals were down in the mix, which was disappointing. Not so on this album, the sound is terrific. Since Clarence Clemons passed away Bruce has augmented the band with an entire horn section. For ‘The River’ Tour he’s paired it down to only Jake Clemons, The Big Man’s nephew. I must say, I was impressed with Jake’s playing. No one will ever play with the distinct power of Clarence, but his nephew does him proud. I like this stripped down version of the horn section. I am also very happy to see Bruce’s wife Patti back on rhythm guitar and vocals, she’s been missing the last couple of tours. Little Steven, who co-produced ‘The River’ is up front and appears to have replaced Clarence as Bruce’s main on-stage foil. I think we all love Little Steve, so this is good news. The sound of this recording is really great.

I don’t think ‘Chicago January 19th’ is still being offered for free, but it’s certainly worth the purchase price. My advice is to look at the set lists for his different shows, pay particular attention to the songs after song 21 where ‘The River’ concludes and pick the set of tunes you like. This is an epic tour and it appears Bruce is working on yet another “solo” project so it may be a while before you hear the whole band perform together again. Fans of “Live Music” recordings, look no further.

Enjoy and as always, Cheers!