Review: Ozzy’s ‘Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary Expanded’ – Is It Worth It?

I recently wrote a piece reflecting back on my first Led Zeppelin LP purchase (LP Lookback: In Praise of Led Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’). In it, I discussed the uphill battle I faced trying to catch up with all the great music that had come out in the twenty years before my “rock awakening” in the late 70s. It’s not like I could stream back then. I was busy buying what was current and trying to selectively and quickly build an album collection of all those great, older records at the same time. I will admit, the emphasis of my purchases back then was more slanted toward what was current. I had the Stones’ Some Girls, Van Halen’s debut LP and ZZ Top’s Deguello, to name but a few. I didn’t realize it at the time, but most of what I was drawn to in the early stages was blues based. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I even had the Blues Brothers’ (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) LP, Briefcase Full of Blues. That was a great backing band – Steve Cropper and Matt “Guitar” Murphy on guitars. 

I don’t know why but I was very slow on the uptake when it came to a genre that I absolutely love now, Heavy Metal. Certainly the Van Halen album I had qualified as Heavy Metal, but not much else in the record crate really came close. Metal was where the link between blues and rock and roll was permanently severed, so maybe that was what caused my early hesitancy. My mother had a friend who I’ll call, “Mrs. Smith,” whose kids were the same age as my brother and I. My brother had been buying music for several years prior to my getting into music and I was always taping stuff from his collection. It was a cheap way to build my own music collection. I remember taping and subsequently wearing out Hot Rocks, the Stones greatest hits package that my brother owned. Mrs. Smith heard I was monastically up in my room taping any music I could get my hands on and kindly volunteered to bring a stack of her kids’ records over for me to tape. I’m sure my mom was down in the kitchen complaining about me being “music crazy,” when I should have been, in her mind, “girl crazy.” Mom probably wasn’t wrong. 

A few days later when Mrs Smith dropped by, and she always seemed to be dropping by, she had a stack of records with her. I thought I was open to anything and hauled them up to my room with some blank cassettes. I started glancing at some of these records and I will say, they gave me pause. I recall scratching my head when I looked at the cover art for the first album in the pile, Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath: 

“What the Hell is this? Is that a 666? What is going on at the Smith house?” I wondered aloud. Anybody who knew me when I was younger would probably tell you, I was a bit of a wild child. Actually people would probably say that about me now as well. Most people would have assumed I’d see that album cover with its ghoulish images and been all in on Sabbath. Oddly, I had enough exposure to the Catholic church that the whole thing freaked me out a bit. I’m not proud of that. When I dropped the needle on the LP, I quickly stopped taping the album. The music sounded like an invading army. The lead singer, whoever that was (I had no idea who this Ozzy Osbourne was), sounded like he was in pain. The next record was Judas Priest’s British Steel and I’m sad to admit, it didn’t fare much better to my young, tender ears. It was too fast, too hard. I don’t think I taped any of those albums that day. 

As fate would have it, only a few months later I was in the car and heard this great track, “Neon Nights” on the car radio. Who is that? That’s a great track. I mean, this couldn’t have been more than six months after Mrs. Smith’s album visit and now I was into metal? I bought that great Black Sabbath LP, Heaven And Hell, their first with amazing vocalist Ronnie James Dio almost immediately after that (Artist Lookback: Black Sabbath, 1980-1981, The Superb Dio Era). The cover art on that album didn’t inspire fear in me… it made me smile. Oh, how soon I was corrupted! I’m not even sure I realized that I’d held an LP from the “classic” line-up of Black Sabbath merely six months earlier. In fact, with the change of vocalists I’m not sure I even knew they were the same band. Dio was so much more…operatic than Ozzy and I was a clueless teenager. 

Ozzy, mired in alcoholism and drug addiction had been fired from Black Sabbath. Living in a hotel, drinking and drugging, a record company guy Don Arden sent his daughter Sharon out to sign Ozzy. She would later become his manager… and his wife. Ozzy quickly formed a band that was supposed to have been a new group named Blizzard of Ozz. The record company wanted to call it “Sons of Sabbath,” which Ozzy rejected. Somehow Ozzy found one of the greatest guitarists ever, Randy Rhoads to lead the band (Artist Lookback – Ozzy & Randy Rhoads: A Match Made In 80s Metal Heaven). The guy played nothing like Sabbath’s Tony Iommi. He was powerful yet nimble… more in the Eddie Van Halen style. He also recruited Bob Daisley to play bass and Lee Kerslake (who just passed away, sadly) to play drums. Rhoads and Daisley wrote a majority of the songs that would appear on Blizzard of Ozz while Ozzy continued drinking and drugging (and mostly sleeping under the drum riser during rehearsals). The results were nothing short of spectacular. Blizzard of Ozz became the name of the album, not the band, and when released it was released as an Ozzy solo album. He was the name, but it’s a shame they couldn’t hold the band concept together. 

I was over at a friend’s house when he put Blizzard of Ozz on his mom’s stereo. I had heard “Crazy Train,” and for whatever reason didn’t take it seriously. Through out the years I was guilty of not taking Metal acts, songs or albums seriously, a malady I’m gladly over now. All I knew about Ozzy was this “wild and crazy guy” act. Yeah, we get it Ozzy, you’re crazy. But then I heard the album. It is simply one of the landmark Metal LPs of all time. “I Don’t Know,” “Mr. Crowley” and “Crazy Train” were radio staples and stone cold classics. “Goodbye to Romance” was a surprisingly great ballad, meant as a farewell to his former bandmates in Sabbath. It’s the deeper tracks that hooked me though… “Suicide Solution” about the late Bon Scott drinking himself to death was great had showed some depth. “No Bone Movies” was actually an anti-porn song. “Revelation (Mother Earth)” is probably the first Heavy Metal track about the environment. After hearing the album at my friend’s place… yes, I taped the album. Sadly, my first actual Ozzy LP purchase was to be the follow-up, the equally majestic Diary of a Madman. 

I find it hard to believe that it’s been forty years since this legendary album came out. In that time the LP has seen its share of controversy. Sharon Osbourne being the ghoul that she is tried to minimize Daisley and Kerslake’s contribution – going so far as to release the album with new bass/drum parts recorded by other musicians. A sin she fixed in the 30th anniversary edition. Daisley had to sue to get credit as a songwriter. Both Daisley and Kerslake helped write Diary of a Madman and played on the LP – but weren’t credited on the album sleeve, they weren’t even in the photos. Thanks Sharon. Those four guys – Rhoads, Daisley, Kerslake and Ozzy had an amazing chemistry. It would have been nice to see what would have happened if it’d been allowed to continue… Sharon’s greed and Randy’s untimely death will keep us all wondering it seems. 

To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Blizzard of Ozz Ozzy had released an “Expanded Edition.” A momentous album of this stature deserves a big 40th anniversary package… If you don’t already own this album – by all means, purchase it immediately! However, if you do, and most of us do own this record, the question remains, is there anything in this package that would drive you to rebuy it? I have to say, no. There is a B-side track, “Looking At You, Looking At Me,” that’s been out for years that everyone should check out. There’s a live track “You Said It All” that was released previously on an Ozzy live EP. There’s a couple of studio outtakes that were included in the 30th Anniversary Edition. Then there is a handful of six live tracks from the Blizzard tour. They’re nice tracks but its all a bit disjointed. There just isn’t that much new material or compelling reasons to rebuy this 40th Anniversary package. It seems like this is Ghoul Sharon’s latest cash-in. I would have hoped they’d have an entire show from the Blizzard tour to include here, the way the Stones included Brussels Affair in the latest Goats Head Soup box. That would have been worth the price of admission here. I hear Daisley has some tapes but Sharon didn’t want to have to pay for them… I think she’s hurting Ozzy’s legacy. 

Regardless of Sharon’s shady financial motives, Blizzard of Ozz remains one of my favorite Ozzy albums and one of my favorite albums period. This is one to play extremely loud… maybe with a pint of something strong to nip at while you’re flying your Devil Horn hands in the air! 

Cheers! And be safe out there! RAWK from an acceptable, safe distance folks. 

 

 

 

 

New Single: Springsteen’s “Letter To You,” The 1st Track From New LP & A Look At His 1st Singles ’80-’20

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As I’ve often documented in these pages, before I heard the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls the only time I turned on the radio was to hear a Royals’ baseball game. Then I heard “Miss You,” and later “Shattered” and then “Beast of Burden” and suddenly I wanted a stereo for Christmas. I consider that moment when I first heard the Stones on the car radio, riding with my mother no less, as my rock and roll awakening. It was late 1978 when all this happened and by then rock and roll was a good 20 years along. When you step into the middle of something, it’s really hard to catch up. 

Most of the rock and roll acts I dig (by 1978) were deep into their careers. There had been a lot of great music released in the previous 10 years, let alone the previous 20 years. I was newly into my teens and on a weekly allowance of $10 it’s really hard to purchase the entire back catalogs of rock bands/artists (especially with the constant refrain of, “You didn’t clean your room son, no allowance this week…”). In high school, my fledgling vinyl collection – and I was all vinyl, don’t give me those 8-tracks or cassettes – consisted of the albums that were being released at the time, the current stuff. My first Who album was Face Dances. My first Zeppelin album was In Through the Out Door. And while many of you rock aficionados may hold your nose for those records, they will always have a place in my heart (B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?). 

While Springsteen’s landmark album Darkness On The Edge Of Town also came out in 1978, some how I missed it. I lived in Kansas City and it was never a huge Springsteen town. I did hear “Prove It All Night” and “Badlands” on the radio but I’m not sure I even knew they were both by Springsteen. There was just so much to absorb it was hard to keep track. All of that changed in late 1980 with the release of The River. I remember the first single “Hungry Heart” caught my attention. It was pure ear candy. Bruce had originally written it for the Ramones but his manager told him he best keep that one. I didn’t rush out and buy The River however because its was a double-album. Twice the music but alas, at twice the price. That was a major financial commitment on my allowance. I hadn’t even bought The Wall yet due to similar financial constraints and it had been out a year by then… Plus I didn’t know much about Springsteen… was he cool? did he rock? You had to be sure you didn’t buy any lame artists and I was always cautious. I had seen too many of my friends buy Kiss albums and I considered them suspect at the time. I feared history would not treat them well… naturally I was wrong. I was 13, what did I know?

Luckily, the local rock radio station started playing more deep cuts from the album. After hearing the title track, “Point Blank” and “Out In the Street” I knew Springsteen delivered the goods. He was a special kind of artist. I plunked down the hard earned dough and bought it. I nervously dropped the needle on side 1 of the first album not knowing what to expect. I can still remember the rush I felt when “The Ties That Bind” burst out of the speakers. It hit me in my lower-brain stem and I knew I wanted more rock and roll… nay, I knew I needed more rock and roll. It was that moment I knew I was bonded with this artist. Sadly, he came to KC in February ’80 and played Kemper Arena. They say more people slept out in line for tickets than had seen him on the Darkness tour but how would they measure that?The Kansas City Star described it as “the concert of the year” and again… it was only February. My dear friend Brewster had also secretly gotten into Springsteen and assuming I wouldn’t like him, after buying two tickets… took someone else. After all these years… yes, I have forgiven him… I haven’t forgotten… some wounds don’t heal completely. 

Even though I was a newly minted Springsteen fan, I didn’t go crashing through his back catalog. I’d heard “Born To Run,” “Jungleland,” and “Rosalita” – those were about the only older tracks they played in KC – but I didn’t even know what albums to look for. I thought “Blinded By The Light” was a Manfred Mann tune. About a year after I bought The River a friend of mine and I met two older, senior girls in our Study Hall. Somehow these fetching young women ended up sitting with us and on the surface, seemed to enjoy our geeky-ness. They invited my friend and I to meet them at that year’s Senior Skip Day party. It was where all the seniors blew off school and someone had a keg of beer, insanity ensued. We weren’t seniors but oh yes, we were in. I remember drinking a beer and talking to one of these beautiful girls and it was going great, at least I think it was… when I heard over the speakers propped up on the back deck…”The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves…” I was mesmerized…”Is this Springsteen?” Nothing happened with the girls and it may have been my utter distraction from hearing the masterpiece Born To Run for the first time. I was gobsmacked. I bought that record the next day. Who thought Springsteen could “cock block” me?

I’ve been a big Springsteen fan ever since. I’ve followed him from big, anthemic albums with the E-Street band to acoustic, introspective solo records to detours like Western Stars (LP Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ – Born To Bacharach?). I have live albums and official live bootlegs. I’ve seen him a number of times in concert. I’ve even gotten the Rock Chick slightly into him…she’ll never be counted amongst the converted but she does have a ‘Bruce’ playlist she likes to crank up. I was thrilled to hear during this awful year, that Springsteen had a brand new album coming out. God, how we need new music! I was even more thrilled to hear the E Street Band would be on the album. I figured the new LP, Letter To You, would probably come out around Christmas. Thankfully I was wrong. I was pumped to see that the first single dropped last Friday with the album coming October 23rd.

I have to admit to you, and this will be no surprise, I really like “Letter To You.” The E Street Band is such a sympathetic medium for Springsteen to bring his songs to life. The song finds Springsteen looking back and writing a letter to his first band, the Castiles. Living in isolation, who doesn’t welcome a letter or an email from an old friend. After all these years, the sound of Bruce and the E Street band still gives me chills. It’s like an unexpected call from someone you’d like hear from but haven’t. It’s an upbeat track but I might call it mid tempo. Springsteen’s vocal is particularly inspired. The entire album was recorded live in the studio over five days, supposedly without any overdubs. This is their classic sound, dripping with earnestness and strength. When the band kicks in during the early part of the song, goose bumps, baby. It only lacks a sax solo from the Big Man’s nephew, Jake Clemons. The song is catchy and it sticks with me. It’s not a big anthemic thing like “Born To Run” or “Dancing In the Dark” but it will seep into your brain. 

I reflected on what this might mean for the new album. As I did I found my mind wandering back to 1980 and “Hungry Heart.” Eventually I found myself mulling over every Springsteen first single since The River in an effort to predict what the new LP might be like. I thought I’d share my thoughts on this music travelogue through those singles and my experiences with them… what it means for the new album – probably nothing but it was a fun thing to keep me occupied in mind-numbing times…I skipped the Pete Seeger thing because I despise Pete Seeger and struggle to even acknowledge that Bruce recorded that thing. 

  • The River, “Hungry Heart” – One of Bruce’s signature songs. It was very pop oriented but it heralded one of his greatest albums ever. It’s still a fun sing-a-long at concerts if you’re into that sort of thing. 
  • Nebraska, “Atlantic City” – I was home for Christmas break during my very awful freshman year of college. I was walking past the record store when I spotted a display with Nebraska albums stacked up to the ceiling. I left my then girlfriend standing there and went lunging into the store. I didn’t even know Springsteen had a new album out. I bought it and went home immediately. I was stunned at the difference between the sound of this dour album compared to The River. It’s one of the most grim listens ever (B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums). Even the video for “Atlantic City,” which does not feature Bruce is grainy and black and white. No sunshine to be found here… However, the single, “Atlantic City” will always be one of my favorite Bruce tracks. The Band did a nice little cover of it as well. 
  • Born In The U.S.A., “Dancing In the Dark” – The song that made Springsteen a superstar. I can still remember how starved, after the grim Nebraska, we all were for a new rock album from Bruce. We were all so thrilled that we might get to see an actual concert vs listening to bootlegs. I remember partying all night and sitting  up at dawn just to see the video. 
  • Tunnel of Love, “Brilliant Disguise” – By this time I was living in Ft Smith, Arkansas. I can remember the first time I heard this track, driving into the office on a cold, winter morning. I knew he’d gone back to the more introspective Nebraska style. This album featured more instrumentation and remains a favorite of mine. One of his greatest songs. 
  • Human Touch/Lucky Town, “Human Touch”/”Better Days” – Two Springsteen albums released on the same day. We’d been waiting for what seemed like forever. He’d disbanded the E Street Band and we didn’t know what to expect. “Human Touch,” at six and a half minutes is a big epic track. It’s much maligned but I still like it. “Better Days” is grittier, more immediate. It remains a favorite from a rather discounted period of Bruce’s career. 
  • The Ghost of Tom Joad, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – Another from Springsteen’s grim solo projects. This is my least favorite Springsteen album but the title track remains one of my favorites of his. Rage Against the Machine have redone this track as well. It’s a perfect song even today. 
  • The Rising, “The Rising” – The title track from the 911-centric album that saw the return of the E Street Band. I got tears in my eyes the first time I heard this epic title track. It ranks up there with “This Land Is Your Land” as a populist anthem. This song and the album it came from are American treasures. 
  • Devils And Dust, “Devils And Dust” – I’ve noticed that Springsteen likes to release the title track as the first single of most of his albums. Good marketing if you think about it. This album is ripped from the headlines. It sounds like an update from the front lines. One of Springsteen’s best solo tracks and albums. 
  • Magic, “Radio Nowhere” – One of the more rocking first singles of Springsteen’s career. I really liked Magic but I think many critics were divided on it. It’s a great, late-period E Street album. And who could argue with the theme on this song of radio slowly dying (Playlist: Memories of and A Requiem For Rock And Roll Radio). 
  • Working On A Dream, “Working On A Dream” – Another title track! This song has an irresistible melody. It’s as catchy as the old Motown singles. While the album itself was uneven, this single ranks amongst Bruce’s best. 
  • Wrecking Ball, “We Take Care of Our Own” – Another great rocking song with a spectacular message. Springsteen is the quintessential American artist. I remember he played this song on the Grammys. That night I had an old friend who I’ll call, “The Bat Cat” who had dropped by with his family. His daughter wanted to watch the Grammys. When Springsteen came on, Bat Cat paused and said, “Hey, I like that, it sounds like Darkness. Indeed it does. Classic Springsteen. 
  • High Hopes, “High Hopes” – The only cover song Springsteen has released as a single. He’d done it once before on an EP but I like this version best. High Hopes was a reimagining of songs Springsteen had previously written for earlier projects. I think critics discounted it for that reason but there are great songs on this album and I include the title track in that number. 
  • Western Stars, “Hello Sunshine” – The rare ballad as a first single. It was a true harbinger of what the album was like. This beautiful song quickly became one of my all time favorites (LP Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ – Born To Bacharach?). 

What does this tell us about the new Bruce album? “Letter To You” is another title track as first single for Bruce, but other than that, we’ll just have to anxiously await late October. 

Be safe out there! 

 

Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set

“Can you hear the music? Can you feel the magic hangin’ in the air?” – The Rolling Stones, “Can You Hear The Music?”

It seems like only yesterday that I cajoled a friend of mine with some connections into helping me get tickets to the see the Rolling Stones’ 50th Anniversary concert at Newark’s Prudential Center in December of 2012. Springsteen jumped on stage to perform “Tumbling Dice” with the band. The Black Keys and Gary Clark, Jr each did a blues number with them. Lady Gaga even impressed me on “Gimme Shelter.” It was a truly exceptional evening. I just realized we’re creeping up on their 60th anniversary in 2022… Hopefully we’ll get an album of new stuff before then. They released a great new single during this global pandemic, New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”, to tide us over but it only whetted my appetite for more.

When you have a career that spans six decades it gets hard for rock historians or music critics to get their arms around it. Inevitably they tend to break up the Stones career into three phases based on who was playing lead guitar. There’s the early, blues-cover centric era with Brian Jones on lead. There’s what is considered their “golden” or “classic” period when they did most of their biggest and best music with Mick Taylor (formerly of John Mayall & the Blues Brothers, Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967). And finally there’s the current period with their longest tenured lead guitar player, Ronnie Wood. I love the Ronnie Wood-era of the Stones – and I’m in the minority here – but that’s who was playing for them when I first got into rock n roll. Some Girls was my gateway drug into rock and roll. I love the way Ronnie and Keith practice what Richards calls “the ancient art of basket weaving,” by intertwining the two guitars.

If we buy into this categorization, the rock intelligentsia has also made a point that the Mick Taylor era is the ultimate era of the Stones. And true, the  Stones penultimate period began as Brian Jones was drinking and drugging his way out of the band. Starting with Beggars Banquet (Jones on lead when he showed up…brilliant slide on “No Expectations) and stretching through Let It Bleed (when Taylor joined), Sticky Fingers and their magnum opus Exile On Main St, the Stones were indeed the most brilliant rock band in the world. With Taylor taking over all the exceptional lead guitar during his tenure he allowed Keith to become, again in his words, a “riff-meister.” When rock critics talk about the Stones’ golden period they actually mean these four albums.

While all these guys laud the Taylor-era of the Stones, they are all also of a mind that the Stones creativity failed them after Exile On Main St. In truth, Mick Taylor stuck around after the arduous process of recording that classic double album for two more records, Goats Head Soup (73) and It’s Only Rock N Roll (74). The common claim is that these albums, despite the presence of the guitar-wizard Mick Taylor, signal the moment when the Stones stopped being true rock artists and became arena-filling, sell-out rock stars. Mick became a jet-setter and Keith a full blown addict. We tend to build up our heroes only to tear them down on this planet. I will admit, I always thought – before the internet – that It’s Only Rock N Roll came out after Exile and before Goats Head because I always felt It’s Only was the stronger album. The more I listen to Goats Head today I’m not sure what I was thinking.

Despite all the critical haters, when Goats Head Soup came out in 1973 it hit number 1 in the U.S. The lead single, “Angie” also hit number one. It was produced by Jimmy Miller who had done all of their albums from the “classic” period. The album sold well. The Stones were continuing their “tax exile” status and were living outside the U.K. at the time. Keith Richards drug problems were increasing and there weren’t many countries where they could record so they ended up recording a lot the album in Kingston, Jamaica. It was the only place they could get in if you believe Keith. Marshall Chess who was leading Rolling Stones Records (the group’s own record label) was stunned to find out the band hadn’t played together in six months. He rented out a studio in Kingston for months at a time so the band could just jam. He said after only a few minutes they locked into that “Stones synergy” as if they’d been playing together every day.

I think the reason for the collective critical “meh” – Lester Bangs famously hated Goats Head Soup like it was a personal betrayal – was that anything the Stones did after Exile was bound to be a letdown. The sessions for Exile had drug on forever. Keith was ensconced at Nellcotte in the south of France and while Mick had as much input it was clearly Keith in control of that record. For the follow-up Mick wasn’t interested in doing that again. On Keith’s part, with his heroin problem worsening, he wasn’t capable of a leadership role with the band. Mick took over. He wanted to explore some different avenues with the band so we have a lot more ballads on Goats. Critics always laud Blood On the Tracks from Dylan as a requiem for the Sixties. It was actually an album about the end of a marriage. They like to describe The Last Waltz as the drunken (or coke-fueled if you’re Neil Young), Irish wake for the Sixties. To my ears, Goats Head Soup sounds much more like a requiem for the hippy idealism of the Sixties. It’s the come down record… like the day after the party. “Comin’ down again, where are all my friends?” as Keith sings.

There are great rockers on this album – “Dancing With Mr. D” about dancing with the Devil which may be slightly silly but it’s still a great track, “Silver Train” covered so nicely by Johnny Winter, and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo, Heartbreaker,” a track everybody  loves. “The police in New York City, they chased a boy right through the park, and in a case of mistaken identity, they put a bullet in his heart,” sounds like something that could have been written for today’s long, hot summer. “Star Star” (aka “Starfucker”) is a wonderfully vulgar Chuck Berry-style track. But for me, it’s the ballads on this record that shine. Keith’s vocal turn on “Coming Down Again” is one of my favorites. “Winter” is spectacular and ended up on my Stones deep tracks playlist (Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks). “Angie” was the monster hit.

For me Goats Head Soup and that time is the iconic era of the Stones. They were the personification of and the album is about decadence and decay –  perfect for the 70s. This album is the Keith Richards, long-hair, shirt off, teeth rotting-out best. I wanna take my shirt off, grow my hair long and dance around playing air-guitar with a broom for a lot of this material. When rock bands imitate the Stones it’s this era they’re looking at. Mick may have steered them in a more down beat direction, but damn it worked. And his partner was holed up with Anita Pallenberg doing smack.

Last weekend, the Stones released a “Deluxe” version of Goats Head Soup. I wasn’t going to buy it but the Rock Chick said, “You know you want it, get it.” It’s nice to be married to a woman who encourages your decadent tendencies. The question is – is it worth it? For me it was but it has a hefty price tag. I like the hard-bound book that came with it. The concert posters in the box will be framed and hung in the B&V lab. For the first time ever on B&V, my recommendation for everyone who isn’t a Stones’ addict, is to eschew the physical box – either vinyl or CD – and definitely go the download route. The box is $150 and in these dark times that’s a lot to ask. Especially with boxes from Petty, Prince, U2 and Lou Reed coming.

From a bonus material perspective, you’re probably thinking, $150 for 3 new tracks? True there are only 3 new, unreleased tracks, but they’re all fantastic tracks. “Criss Cross” was reviewed here a few weeks ago, The Rolling Stones New Single From The ‘Goats Head Soup’ Sessions – “Criss Cross”. “Scarlett” is another groove track that obviously grew out of a jam and features Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. I’d have loved to been a fly on the wall for those sessions. The final unreleased track, “All The Rage” has a great riff and is just classic Stones. The rest is probably for completists, but I love the piano/vocals demo of “100 Years Ago,” its more haunting that way. I like the alternative version of “Hide Your Love,” Mick Taylor’s lead is more prevalent. There’s a couple of instrumentals that are a fascinating glimpse into the creative process but the three tracks labeled “Glyn Johns 1973 Mix” add nothing to the party.

The real reason to buy the box (download), is the widely bootlegged live album The Brussels Affair. Because of Keith’s drug issues/arrests stemming from his days at Nellcote (Anita Pallenberg and Bobby Keys the Stones’ sax player had similar issues), the Stones had to play in Belgium instead of France. While many people have this album in bootleg form, I know many people don’t. And if you don’t, it is their best live album – better than Get Your Ya Ya’s Out. I played the boot for my friend Stormin’ once and he declared the version of “Gimme Shelter” as the definitive. I think the Stones released this as a download-only in their “Live Archive” series, but I’m not sure if it’s still available. For me, it’s worth the price of the download for this live LP only. The entire package is like $25 on Apple… Lots to love here at that price.

As summer winds down and beloved football begins, please be safe out there. Wear a mask, stay six feet away from each other and crank up this album… Me, I’m still out here on the edge, “down in the graveyard where we have our tryst, the air smells sweet, the air smells sick…”

Cheers!

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

*Image likely subject to copy right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be safe out there, Cheers! 

 

LP Lookback: In Praise of Led Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’

*Picture of my original vinyl of Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’ taken by your intrepid blogger

I like to think that I had to be drug onto social media. I am not nor will I ever be on Facebook even though I think it would help spread the word on B&V. A number of years ago my father called and asked if I remembered a girl I’d dated in college who I’ll call Tisha (name changed to protect the guilty, ie, me). “Why yes dad, of course I do, why?” He replied in the chilling words, “She hit my Facebook page.” At the time my father was 72. I don’t know what surprised me more, that Tisha would have reached out (it ended…poorly) or that my father would be on Facebook? A week later my father called me again and said, “Do you remember a woman from San Francisco named Karen (name changed to protect, well, me)?” I couldn’t help but reply,”Let me guess dad, Facebook?” Apparently the woman in question had left the message, “I only know one person with this name…” My father, ever the wit, replied, “Now you know two.” I think that sufficiently frightened the poor woman but I had to tell my father to either a) close this portal to my past, I’m married now or b) put a much clearer picture of yourself out there so these woman stop thinking I’m a 72 year old man. I mean I’ve lived hard, but not that hard…

All that was enough to keep me off Facebook forever… it’s a jungle out there. But when my daughter was old enough she started to dip her toe in the water on social media which, as night follows day, led my wife to a number of social media outlets. After a couple of hundred instances where my wife waived her phone in front of me to show me a picture of the Stones, I realized, ok maybe I should relent and get on a few of these things. So the actual reason I got on social media was to follow the bands I loved. It’s always rock n roll that drives me. Many bands would announce new music or new tour dates on Twitter or Instagram. It was just an alternative way to keep up with rock and roll now that terrestrial radio has all but died. As a side effect of being on social media, you can never really get away from the anniversaries of key events – birthdays, death anniversaries, album anniversaries, etc – of your favorite bands, albums, and rock stars. The month of August has been a momentous one: Springsteen’s Born To Run turned 45 last week and the anniversary of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tragic passing was this week (Lookback: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lost 30 Years Ago, Aug 27, 1990), all of which was duly noted, celebrated and memorialized on social media. I could have written something nice for Born To Run but the album whose release date was August 15th, a few weeks ago, is the one that caught my eye: Led Zeppelin’s final studio album In Through The Out Door. 

This blog is usually focused on new or vault releases from bands that have been around for a while. There are a lot of bands that I love who just haven’t released anything since I started this endeavor. Suffice it to say, I’ve never written anything about Led Zeppelin and I admit it might seem strange that I’d pick In Through The Out Door as a starting place, but this album will always hold a special place in my heart. I included it on my “Dirty Dozen” list of albums that only I seem to love, B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?. The album came out on August 15, 1979 just as I was beginning my rock and roll journey. I had only been buying albums for about a year. In Through The Out Door was the first Zeppelin album I ever bought. If that’s how I started my actual journey through Zeppelin’s catalog why shouldn’t it be my first Zeppelin post here? When I was 13 I didn’t have a big back catalog of albums. And Zeppelin were always kind of mysterious to me… I knew “Stairway to Heaven,” “Dazed And Confused,” and “Whole Lotta Love” but not much else about them. A guy named Matt showed me a picture of Robert Plant in Biology class and I said, “Who’s that?” In Through The Out Door was the first record released after I’d started buying music so naturally it was my first Zeppelin purchase. I’m just happy I was alive when Zeppelin, the Who and so many other bands were still active. I wasn’t “all in” on Zeppelin yet, but in August of ’79 that was all about to change…

I remember in the summer of 1979 my parents got a new ‘Time’ magazine. I’d always flip through the pages. For once, that summer they had an actual rock and roll article and I was always starved for knowledge about this powerful new music that had changed my life. I remember the article cited a slump in album sales in ’79 and all the hopes of the record companies were pinned on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk (which came out in Oct ’79) and Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door. It’s odd what I remember. Fleetwood Mac were coming off the mega-success of Rumors and expectations were running high. Tusk ended up being a somewhat bloated double album and Lindsey Buckingham took them in an experimental direction. The album was considered a bit of a disappointment (not to me, I love that flawed, brilliant album) but it sold 4 million copies which is amazing. Granted, it probably pales in comparison to Rumors’ sales of a kajillion records. 

The Zeppelin story is a bit more complicated. I remember the Chili Peppers’ video for “Scar Tissue” where it looked like someone had beaten the shit out of the band. It made for a great video, but in the case of Led Zeppelin, by the time In Through The Out Door came out, that was virtually their exact situation. By 1979 it had been three years since they’d put out an album, 76’s heavy rock album Presence. Prior to Presence, Zeppelin were riding high on 1975’s double-album Physical Graffiti. On hiatus before a second sold-out tour of America, Robert Plant and his wife Maureen were involved in a car crash in Greece and Plant broke his ankle (which inspired the lyrics for the epic “Achilles Last Stand”). The band, really frustrated they couldn’t return to the States and the adulation and groupies went headlong into the studio and recorded that pent-up frustration on what became their heaviest album, the aforementioned Presence. 

Finally back in America for a tour in support of Presence, the band got the tragic news that Robert Plant’s son Karac had died of some mysterious disease. That was a tough blow. The rest of the tour was cancelled and Plant returned home to grieve. The mighty Zeppelin went silent for three years which was a huge absence at the time. A lot changed in music from ’76 to ’79. Punk had come to the fore. The Punks singled out Zeppelin in particular as “bloated, dinosaurs.” People were actually wondering if Zeppelin would return at all. There were rumors that Page was going to replace Plant with Roy Harper, a singer who Page had produced an album for (and Plant sang about on “Hats Off To Roy Harper”). 

When Plant finally came out of seclusion he was keen on taking Zeppelin in a new direction. He was deeply effected by the criticism of the Punks. I should have included Zeppelin on my post about rock bands who reacted to punk (How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s), because Zeppelin were a band who did react to Punk in a big way. Things within Zeppelin had also changed. Drummer extraordinaire John Bonham’s alcoholism had deepened to the point where it was becoming a problem. Jimmy Page’s heroin addiction had also gotten a lot worse. There had been a time of tax exile as well that had stressed the band. Cue up my “Scar Tissue,” video reference. This band was in a bad place. 

I tend to think about Presence and In Through the Out Door as the yen and yang of Led Zeppelin. Presence was heavy, hard rock, helmed by Page and Bonham. In Through The Out Door was lighter, experimental (almost art) rock, helmed by Plant and in a first, John Paul Jones. This was the first album where Jones had a writing credit on most of the songs. The sound had fundamentally changed as well on this record. In Through… didn’t sound like any of the previous Zeppelin albums. That’s partially because Plant was energized and pushing for a new direction but it’s mainly because neither Bonham or Page showed up very often in the studio, bogged down by their addictions. John Paul Jones had a new keyboard, the Yamaha GX-1 synthesizer and he and Plant sat around writing songs, playing with the synth. 

While long time Zeppelin fans were disappointed with this album it did single-handedly save the music industry in ’79. It sold 1.7 million copies right out of the gate and went on to sell six million copies. It was a number 1 album for Zeppelin. Despite all that, Bonham and Page had said that on the next album, they were going to take over again and the mighty Zeppelin would rock again… alas, that never came to be. 

The first track that ever got played in Kansas City from the album was the single, “All of My Love.” People may consider it lightweight but I always dug that ballad. Zeppelin didn’t do many ballads. I was always told that the person Plant was singing about wasn’t a woman but his late son, Karac. I don’t know if that’s true, but I bought that rumor. It made it a more poignant song for me. Yes, it’s synth washed but it’s a great ballad. I didn’t buy the record immediately though, when you’re 13 you have to buy macho albums with macho songs… I had to wait for the second single, “Fool In The Rain.” It had something Zeppelin rarely had – a sense of humor. This was Bonham’s shining moment on this album for me. Sure the small drum solo isn’t “Moby Dick,” but it showed for me that he could still be captivating. 

The track that makes this album a must-have for me is the epic opener, “In The Evening.” When I told the Rock Chick I was writing about this album she crinkled her nose and said, “Its an OK album but I do love “In the Evening.”” Indeed. It’s got a great riff and an infectious melody. Having started with a great track the album also ends on a great song, the bluesy “I’m Gonna Crawl.” I have to admit, “I’m Gonna Crawl” sounds like the only track Page was fully engaged on. He seems kind of checked out for the most part on the record, I’ll fully admit. But when he did show up he kills it. 

A lot of people don’t dig “Hot Dog” a rockabilly, country rock throw away but it always makes me smile (Playlist: Favorite Country Rock Songs – Rockers Going “Country-ish,” Hidden Rhinestone Gems). “South Bound Suarez” may not be “Rock And Roll” but it’s a solid a rock and roll tune. The only track on this album that leaves me slightly cold is “Carouselambra” but that’s probably because it’s such a long track. I can remember my buddy Matthew playing his cassette copy of the album at the drive-in theater at a “Row Party” we had out there and just cranking “Carouselambra.” It’s a fond memory… 

There were other great songs that came out of the sessions for In Through… that they held back and eventually came out on Coda. “Wearing And Tearing” was directly addressed to the Punks, “Ozone Baby” and “Darlene” were all tracks that would have fit in well on the album. I remember reading in ‘Hammer of the Gods’ Plant wanted to release an EP with those three tracks prior to the actual album coming out. I think that’d would have been interesting. 

In Through the Out Door isn’t Zeppelin’s finest album. I think it can be seen as a transitional album. Zeppelin was leaving their blues rock past and heading in some new and exciting directions. It is a very forward looking album. The roots of Plant’s early solo work can be certainly heard here. The sad part of the story is we never got to hear where Zeppelin would have taken this next. During the rehearsals at Jimmy Page’s house for the American tour to support this album, John Bonham consumed a superhuman amount of vodka and died. The band couldn’t see a way forward without their mate. John would have been really hard to replace. 

While this album might not be anybody’s favorite Zeppelin album it’s still a worthy selection from their great, great catalog. I urge everyone to put this on and evaluate – or probably more accurately re-evaluate – this great album. 

Be safe out there. Cheers! 

Lookback: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lost 30 Years Ago, Aug 27, 1990

*Image of SRV taken from the internet and likely subject to copyright

August 27th, 1990 will always be, for me, if I may paraphrase FDR, a day that will live in Blues Rock infamy… B&V has always focused on new or vault releases from established rock artists who have been around for a while. I like to turn people on to stuff they might not be aware of, its easy to lose track of certain artists. Doing that though has meant there are a lot of artists that I love that I haven’t had the chance to write about. The grim 30 year anniversary of the loss of the magnificent Stevie Ray Vaughan compels me to write about the guitar legend…

I remember when I was a kid all the “adults” who were my parents’ age would occasionally talk about where they were the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. My mother, for those interested, was watching ‘As The World Turns’ while ironing in the living room of my parents’ apartment. Although, in truth, that was probably what she could be found doing on most days. I wasn’t alive yet when JFK was assassinated but I can relate to that “I remember where I was when…” vibe (It Was 42 Years Ago Today… The Loss Of The King… Elvis Presley. Where I Was…).

The year 1990 was a momentous one for me. In mid January, I marched into the office of my corporate masters and resigned my position in Arkansas. My last day was February 1st. I arrived home at my less-than-ecstatic parents’ house in a U-Haul with my meager possessions and a slight hangover. I have a vague memory of a box of Playboy magazines tumbling out of the U-Haul at the feet of my Sainted Mother during the move-in with one magazine falling open to the provocatively posed centerfold, a rather awkward moment… My poor, long suffering mother. What can I say, Arkansas was a lonely place. I had moved my stuff into my parents’ spare room, but to say I was “staying there” is a bit of a misnomer. I left there more often than I was actually there. I went to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, went to see friends in Chicago and even returned to Arkansas to see the friends I’d made there. Living under the constant disappointed glare of my father was getting uncomfortable so eventually I decided I was going to go to Europe for a couple of months… travel the Continent. Perhaps write the Great American novel… or the decent American blog, years later.

I left on July 3rd of that year, but by the time I landed in Rome it was the 4th of July. I’ve been in Rome exactly twice in my life and both times they’ve had a record heat wave. Next time I go, it’ll be in a random winter month. Anyway, I transversed the continent from Italy to Germany to Spain and France and then to the British isles. It was a great, life-altering trip. I even got to see Roger Waters in Berlin (I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990). I finally ran out of money and travelled back to Kansas City in mid-to-late August. I had gotten in the habit of walking around all day while I was in Europe (where I’d lost some weight too), and to keep that “exercise-regimen” up, I’d get up in the mornings and walk this four mile trek I’d laid out near my folks’ place. By August 27th, I couldn’t have been home for more than maybe a week? It started off like most of my unemployed days that year, I got up, grabbed my radio “Walk-man” and took off down the trail.

I was listening to the local rock and roll station when they announced there had been a helicopter crash outside of the Alpine Valley amphitheater, out in the boondocks between Chicago and Milwaukee. I knew the theater as my friends Doug and RK had taken me out there less than year before that, the previous September, to see the Rolling Stones on the Steel Wheels tour. The DJ mentioned that Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan had both played the night before and no one had been able to locate either one of them but it was believed that one of the performers had been killed. My walk slowed to a crawl as I took this in. I remember standing on the trail when I had this horrible thought at the time – and I’m not proud of this at all – I hoped it was Clapton and not Stevie Ray. It’s not that I wanted either of them dead nor did I wish Clapton any particular ill-will but if I had to choose at that point in time I wanted Stevie Ray to survive.

Clapton, by 1990, was pretty much a spent force, or so I thought. He’d go on to record a few interesting albums, but for the most part he’s chosen to fade away vs burn out… good for him. But any creative fire from Clapton was going to be, well, few and far between. But Stevie Ray Vaughan… he was, in my mind the future of blues rock guitar. I had been an early adopter on SRV and his fabulous backing band – Chris “Whipper Layton on drums, Tommy Shannon on bass and later Reese Wynans on keyboards. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble did a lot to usher in the blues/blues rock revival that happened in the 80s/90s. There would be no Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Jeff Healy with out Stevie Ray… The venerable bluesman Robert Cray had a big success in 1986 with Strong Persuader a great album but one has to wonder if he’d have had that success without Vaughan blazing the trail before him. You have to remember, this was the 80s – synth rock, New Wave bands were everywhere… and the bands that weren’t post-punk, new wave, were Hair Metal bands. Stevie didn’t wear make-up or put hair spray on his head, he wore a hat reminiscent of Zorro. And that guitar – the tone, the sound, the amazing solos. Old school blues played that ferociously was definitely swimming up stream in the 80s. 

I bought, and still own (on vinyl), SRV’s debut, landmark album, Texas Flood (1983). The album was steeped in the blues which always seemed to be at the root of all the music I loved. Double Trouble had played the Montreux Jazz Festival to great aplomb in ’82. They blew everybody in the audience’s mind including David Bowie who invited Vaughan to play on his LP, Let’s Dance, which was a commercial resurgence for Bowie thanks to SRV’s awesome leads. When Stevie Ray backed out of the ensuing tour in order to record his debut it caused quite a stir. All publicity is good publicity I guess. When I first put on Texas Flood, I was blown away. You could hear the influences – Howlin Wolf, Willie Dixon, Albert Collins and Freddie King – but you knew this was a guitarist who was going to make the blues his own. The title track remains a favorite of mine. I even love the track “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” a live favorite, originally arranged by Buddy Guy. “Love Struck Baby,” and “Pride and Joy” are blues rock staples. It’s maybe my favorite of his records.

The two ensuing follow-up albums, while not as towering an achievement, are must-have albums. Couldn’t Stand The Weather (the title track had a great video) was criticized for too few originals, but Vaughan had the balls to tackle Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and it is epic! “Tin Pan Alley” was a first take. The follow-up LP, Soul To Soul contains some of my favorite SRV tracks – “Change It,” “Little Sister,” and “Lookin’ Out My Window” are all great tracks. The final track, “Life Without You” is one of his finest, underrated songs. It’s a great, my baby has left me songs. Stevie played the blues but man could he rock. 

Unbeknownst to many of us outside the world of musicians, Stevie had some demons. He had started drinking when he was a little kid – stealing nips from his alcoholic dad’s bottles. As and adult he’d added cocaine to the mix. I remember reading that he’d mix the cocaine into the whiskey and that he had an ulcer. We like whiskey around here but please folks, don’t add Coke of any kind to your bourbon, it spoils the taste… I know he collapsed on stage one night in Europe and I always assumed that was the ulcer, but everything I read said it was dehydration. 

Finally, he went to rehab. And he came out clean. And, perhaps this is why I had that awful thought on August 27th of 1990, hoping it was Clapton and not SRV in the helicopter. After getting clean Stevie put out the best, most rocking album of his career, 1989’s In Step. He was attacking rock n roll/blues rock with an all new ferocity and energy. Songs like “The House Is Rockin'” or the lead single, “Crossfire” were great rock n roll songs. There were great blues too like “Leave My Little Girl Alone,” and Howlin Wolf’s “Love Me Darlin’.” He had finally straightened out his life and was making the best music of his career and then, tragedy struck and as I learned on that lonely trail in 1990, it was Stevie Ray Vaughan in the helicopter. I was crushed. I know it’s cliche and they always say about an artist who dies  young, that the artist was on the verge of something new, some different direction. But in the case of Stevie Ray, I believe that may be true. I cite as proof, the last song on In Step, the epic “Riviera Paradise.” Clocking in at almost 9 minutes, it’s like nothing Stevie Ray had done before. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music that I’ve ever heard. It points in so many directions that Stevie Ray could have taken, if only… 

One of my greatest regrets is I never saw Stevie Ray Vaughan live. I know my college roommate saw him open for Huey Lewis & the News… the balls on Huey Lewis to invite those guys to open? Wow. There’s a blues roadhouse that I used to like to go to every now and then, especially on Sunday nights, B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ. On one wall behind where the bands usually set up is a giant mural of all the blues greats. B.B. and Muddy are in the center. Off to the right, down in the corner is the image of SRV, kneeling with the hat and poncho from the In Step album cover. If you look around, you can see a concert poster for a show he and Double Trouble played at a small blues club that used to be downtown, the Grand Emporium… admission was like $4. Oh to have been in the Grand Em that night… for only 4 bucks. 

I can’t believe it’s been 30 years to the day that we lost Stevie Ray. Where’d all that time go… I urge all fans of B&V, blues and rock n roll to check out Stevie Ray’s body of work. There were a couple of posthumous LPs released (one with his brother Jimmie) and a great live LP, Live At Carnegie Hall that I didn’t mention above that merit attention from everyone. 

Stay safe out there and remember, no Coke in your bourbon, folks. R.I.P to the one of the greatest of all times, Stevie Ray Vaughan, thirty years down the line. 

 

Tom Petty: New Vault Song, “There Goes Angela” From The Upcoming ‘Wildflowers’ Box

It’s no secret here at B&V how much I love Tom Petty (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). From the moment I purchased Damn The Torpedoes shortly after it came out, I’ve been on the Petty bandwagon. I’m still shook by his loss. He and his backing band The Heartbreakers – Mike Campbell on guitar, Benmont Tench on keyboards, Ron Blair (and later Howie Epstein followed by Blair again) on bass and Stan Lynch (later Steve Ferrone) on drums – were one of the most formidable rock and roll bands in the world.

It would be very, very difficult for me to pick a favorite Petty album. But, like most people, I’d have to say Petty’s second “solo” album Wildflowers would be on the list of nominees. While it was called a solo album, like Full Moon Fever before it, most of the Heartbreakers save for drummer Stan Lynch played on the album. Petty and producer Rick Rubin wanted more flexibility than working within the confines of the 5-piece Heartbreakers so they categorized this as a solo project. I guess Petty felt freer in that atmosphere. Stan Lynch could be a bit rigid in the studio, or so I’ve read. Sometimes you gotta shake up the chemistry, the vibe. Steve Ferrone played drums on Wildflowers and basically took over on drums for Stan Lynch after this album. Years and years later Ferrone would still be known as “the new guy.”   

Wildflowers was released in November of 1994 which seems like a lifetime ago now. That year, 1994, was an amazingly tumultuous year for me. I had a “milestone” birthday and as I much as I hate to admit it, I think it freaked me out. I felt my youth was slipping away. I was at loose ends. I was working for a medical supply company, a criminal outfit out of Chicago… I think they did most of their recruiting from prisons, a history of theft was considered an attribute… and I wasn’t making any money. I kept thinking my career was over. Emotionally I’d remained so walled off I had stayed unmarried while most my friends were “married with children,” as Frank Sinatra sang. Being a gypsy from an emotional standpoint was beginning to get old. It kept me protected but it also made me isolated. I was spending more and more time alone. 

Eventually that led me to a very, very destructive relationship. Looking back, if I was being honest about it, I have to admit that I was as bad or worse for the woman I was seeing than she was for me. I own my part of it. Sometimes we choose to jump into relationships for all the wrong reasons. There were breakups, betrayals, heartbreak and money lost. It ended up consuming two years of my life that would have been better spent working on “me” a little bit. I hope wherever that person ended up, she’s in a better place. I certainly know I am. 

In the midst of all that, Tom Petty dropped Wildflowers. I remember being blown away by the album. There were some great Heartbreaker style rockers that I just loved and that rank amongst Petty’s best tunes – “You Wreck Me,” “Cabin Down Below,” and “Honey Bee.” But perhaps because of where I was in the midst of my “mid-life crisis” (I hope it wasn’t a mid-life crisis, if that was the  midpoint of my life I’m gonna die pretty young), but I was really drawn to some of the quieter more introspective moments on the album. The title track remains one of my favorite Petty tracks. “Time To Move On” is a great song that should have been a sign from the Rock N Roll Gods, that yes, it was time for me to move on from where I was at. “Crawling Back To You” contains my all time favorite Petty lyric, a phrase that could sum up my entire adult existence, “Most things I worry about, never happen anyway.” Every track on that album was a standout. 

Little did I realize at the time, but Petty’s original concept for Wildflowers was for it to be a double album. Petty, before he died, mentioned all the leftover music from the sessions and his plans for releasing all the additional material in a package he was going to call Wild Flowers: All The Rest. Unfortunately Petty tragically passed before he could see that project come to fruition. And, as happens too often with rock stars, there was a legal battle over his estate. His daughters and his second wife sued each other for control of the estate and the back catalog. All of that legal crap has prevented us from hearing any of this “leftover” material. I do have a bootleg copy of the B-side track, “Girl On L.S.D.” that I’ve been hoping to see officially released. It’s a funny song. I think I included it in my Petty deep tracks playlist, Playlist: The B&V Best Tom Petty Album/Deep Tracks

Back in 2015 Petty actually released a song that was teased as single from the “soon to be released” expanded Wildflowers, “Somewhere Under Heaven.” Then of course, tragedy struck, legal battles, etc etc. Apparently juris prudence has prevailed, legalities have been settled and the long-awaited deluxe package is finally going to see release this October. To tease the box, they’ve released an early version of “You Don’t Know How It Feels (Home Recording)” which is fitting as that was the first single from the original album. Recently they also released “Wildflowers (Home Recording)” an early roughed-out version of the title track. Those tracks are interesting to obsessives like me, but I wanted to hear something I hadn’t heard before… 

Earlier this month, the Petty camp released a song, “There Goes Angela (Dream Away) [Home Recording}.” Seeing that “[Home Recording]” on the title made me think, ah, another demo. And yes, this probably should be considered a demo but it’s more fully realized than most demos. Petty was in fine voice during the Wildflowers session and this track is even more evidence of that. I love his plaintive vocal. The track is a ballad in line with “Wildflowers.” I played it for the Rock Chick and she had the same response that I did upon hearing it. She said, “Wow, that’s really pretty.” It’s quiet, strummed guitar, beautiful vocals punctuated with harmonica. I think this track would have fit nicely on the original album without any additional production or instrumentation. I love the lyric, “Have a dream on me…” 

I am delighted to see this long awaited box coming in October. And I have to say, I’m delighted by how great a song “There Goes Angela” is. I think this is going to be a fascinating look at the creative process Petty took in creating Wildflowers but this song is proof that there’s also going to be some great, unheard music on this thing. I urge everybody to check this track out, post haste. 

Be safe out there. 

 

Playlist: Favorite Country Rock Songs – Rockers Going “Country-ish,” Hidden Rhinestone Gems

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*Image of Gram Parsons taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

If someone were to ask me today, what my favorite music is, I’d give the same answer I would have given when I was in my teens. I only hate two kinds of music – country and western. Especially today’s country. I mean I’ll admit as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten into Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline and the late, great Johnny Cash. I saw Merle Haggard open for Dylan and frankly he blew Bob off the stage. His voice is liked aged whiskey, amazingly smooth. I was probably aided in my journey toward older country music by my sister-in-law who happens to be a country singer in a gigging band. That said, today’s country music is nauseating to my rock n roll sensibilities. It all sounds like re warmed Bob Seger played with an insipid twang.

However, I have to admit some of the greatest rock and roll bands/artists ever have done country songs. Or at the very least “country-ish” songs. They’ve all done tracks that are either overtly country or heavily influenced by country. I’m not talking about Bon Jovi doing a country album as a career move. I’m talking about the Stones, the Byrds or Neil Young making country rock, well, fashionable. Country rock was established in the late sixties… bands from the Buffalo Springfield to the Stones incorporated country-tinged tracks on their albums. No one more than the Byrds who did a straight-up country album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. That album came out when country music was considered the property of red-necks and hicks. Which, let’s admit, it is. The Byrds actually played a show at the Grand Ole Opry… their long hair was met with sullen, menacing silence. Country rock was born!

I actually started out tangentially listening to country. My dad had a stack of singles from when he was young and cool. He had some great music in that old wire rack of his. My brother kind of took ownership of those singles and played them all the time. I remember hearing Dion, Elvis Presley and yes, Johnny Cash. Oddly though I never associated Cash’s music with country music. It sounded more fundamental to me. I thought of Johnny Cash along the same lines as Elvis, as early, earthy rock and roll. There wasn’t that much separation between Elvis and Johnny to my novice ears. It all had a steady beat. Years later during his American Recordings era I started to hear people describe Johnny as the world’s first punk rocker. Weirdly, I sorta get that.

While I was as staunchly anti-country music as I was a “Death Before Disco” guy, I was actually listening to rock acts doing country without realizing it. I can be a little thick. On the first album I ever bought, the Stones’ Some Girls, one of my favorite tracks was always “Far Away Eyes.” I loved that it lampooned people for using religion for more…temporal purposes. In the song Mick prays and sends a donation to a radio church for a girl with “far away eyes.” Praying for sex? It actually makes some sense. It was years before I realized that song was basically a country song. I finally started to realize how many great country tracks the Stones did. That was mostly from the influence of Keith Richards’ friend, Gram Parsons. Gram was the driving force in his brief period in the Byrds and got them to record Sweetheart of the Radio. Gram turned Keith onto country music and he started writing songs in that country vein. Jagger once said that while the band played straight up country he always sang it in a mocking style. Tongue in cheek (rather than sticking out through thick lips like their logo) and rolling eyes. He said he considered himself more of a blues singer than a country singer. Only later did he get into in a serious way with tracks like “Wild Horses.” Whether its blues, country or reggae (B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More) Mick can sing anything.

When I was in college I had a music addict (like me) for a roommate, Drew. Drew was the one who turned me onto Neil Young. Prior to meeting Drew I’d have said, eh, Neil, no thanks on that voice. In 1985 Neil went full on country with his album Old Ways. It was during a bit of a creative and commercial lull in Neil’s career. Geffen Records had actually sued him for purposely making “uncommercial music.” As a “fuck you” to the record company he went full on country on Old Ways. I think there’s even a duet with Willie Nelson. To this day, I’ve never heard that record. In ’85 having just been turned onto Neil and his great early catalog, I went and found Drew to announce the bad news… “Oh my God, Neil has gone country, can you believe it?” Drew, ever the wise rock and roller, shook his head and said, “Have you been listening to Neil? What do you think he meant by “Are You Ready For The Country”?” My god, he was right.

In the years since then I’ve branched out in many ways musically. I’m still not a fan of most country music but I can dig country rock. It’s, to my ears, a lot like folk rock. I’ve really gotten into the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and similar acts. One guy who was critical to the whole movement, pictured above, was Gram Parsons. Gram was in the Byrds when they did Sweetheart, as I mentioned above. He hung out with Keith at Nellcote in France, while the Stones were recording the basic tracks for Exile On Mainstreet. From the Byrds he went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Chris Hillman, another hugely influential band. He dreamt of an “Cosmic American Music” blending rock and country. Frankly I think ex-Byrd Gene Clark came closer than Gram did… As I started to piece this playlist together, I realized I had to represent all that great music.

I’ve attempted in this playlist to compile my favorite country rock tunes. Some of these are really full on country, some are just country influenced or tinged. I think there are some real hidden gems here. My hope, as with all of my playlists, is that you’ll hear a song you might not have heard – or haven’t heard in a long time. My dearest hope is you’ll think, man I love that song. There are probably great country/country-rock songs I’ve missed here. I’m not into say, Poco. So if I’ve missed something you dig, put it in the comment section and I’ll add it to the playlist which as always is on Spotify. This one is under “BourbonAndVinyl.net Favorite Country Rock Songs.” I always recommend pushing the “shuffle” button. Put on your cowboy hat, put a piece of grass between your teeth, grab your favorite moonshine and groove on these tracks…The link to the Spotify playlist is below.

  1. The Rolling Stones, “Far Away Eyes” – This is where it all started for me so I had to start here.
  2. Neil Young, “Are You Ready For the Country?” – Apparently in 1985, I was not ready.
  3. Bob Dylan, “Lay Lady Lay” – Dylan doesn’t get enough credit for starting the country rock craze with his seminal album Nashville Skyline. 
  4. The Little Willies, “Fist City” – Norah Jones’ side project doing a Loretta Lynn cover.
  5. Mick Jagger, “Evening Gown” – Great, great solo Mick… covered gamely by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  6. Dillard & Clark, “Train Leaves Here This Morning” – Former Byrd Gene Clark was an underrated genius. Bernie Leadon recorded this song again when he was in the Eagles.
  7. Eagles, “Tequila Sunrise” – Speaking of the Eagles, this is one of my favs. Drinking your broken heart away, something B&V knows a lot about.
  8. Bob Dylan, “I Threw It All Away” – Another great track from Nashville Skyline. I love this song.
  9. Sheryl Crow, “First Cut Is The Deepest (Country Version)” – I wanted to incorporate more female voices and I love this version of a song made famous by Rod Stewart.
  10. The Allman Brothers, “Blue Sky” – “You’re my sunny day…” Great track.
  11. Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, “Girl From The North Country” – I avoided any overtly “country” artists but I had to sneak Johnny on here somehow.
  12. Neil Young, “Comes A Time” – Title track from a great album.
  13. Eagles, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” – What we all need in these troubled times.
  14. Gin Blossoms, “Cheatin'” – “Its not cheatin’ if she reminds me of you…” Great lyric.
  15. The Black Crowes, “Garden Gate” – From the great double album, recorded live at Levon Helms’ place, Before the Frost…Until the Freeze. 
  16. The Byrds, “Hickory Wind” – Gram Parsons’ signature track. One of the few he sang.
  17. Mike Ness, “The Devil In Miss Jones” – I love Social Distortion and Ness’ first solo album Cheating At Solitaire. There’s a great duet with Springsteen on there as well.
  18. The Flying Burrito Brothers, “Wild Horses” – It may seem like blasphemy to not put the Stones’ version of this song on here but I had so many other tracks by them to choose from.
  19. Norah Jones, “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart” – Norah putting music to lyrics written by Hank Williams but never recorded.
  20. Hindu Love Gods, “I’m A One Woman Man” – Warren Zevon backed with 3/4 of R.E.M. doing an LP of great, eclectic covers.
  21. The Rolling Stones, “Dead Flowers” – Also on our heroin playlist, B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin.
  22. Neil Young, “Beautiful Bluebird” – From the great late period LP, Chrome Dreams II, seemingly a sequel to an album never released.
  23. Robert Plant, “If It’s Really Got To Be This Way”* – I put an asterisk here as its not on Spotify. If you haven’t heard this tune, seek it out somewhere.
  24. Fleetwood Mac, “That’s Alright” – By the time they reconvened for Mirage Stevie Nicks had become a solo sensation with Bella Donna. She made the band do a country tune for her father who loved country music. This track works for me.
  25. Gram Parsons, “Ooh Las Vegas” – He didn’t do a lot of solo stuff but what he did is worth checking out.
  26. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Southern Accents” – This is more “country-ish” than country, but Mike Campbell’s superb dobro playing puts this track on the list.
  27. Linda Ronstadt, “Love Is A Rose” – Linda always had great taste in songwriters, doing a Neil Young track here. (Documentary Review: The Sublime ‘Linda Ronstadt, The Sound Of My Voice’).
  28. Talking Heads, “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel (Country Angel Version)” – Weirdest track on here? Yes.
  29. Doobie Brothers, “South City Midnight Lady” – People forget the Doobies were HUGE. I love this song.
  30. Grateful Dead, “Box of Rain” – Easily for me, their best song (Lookback: Grateful Dead’s Americana 1970 – ‘Workingman’s Dead’/’American Beauty’).
  31. Neil Young, “From Hank To Hendrix” – Another great country track from Neil.
  32. Eagles, “Lyin’ Eyes” – Every time I put a Neil Young track on this list it appears I have to put an Eagles’ song too. Gram Parsons, like the Dude, hated the Eagles. He described them unflatteringly as “a dry plastic fuck.” Not sure what that means but it doesn’t sound good.
  33. The Rolling Stones, “You Win Again” – Great deep track from the Stones (Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks).
  34. Buffalo Springfield, “A Child’s Claim To Fame” – A dis track about Neil Young which caused him to write, “I Am A Child.” Musicians, what are you gonna do?
  35. John Fogerty, “Southern Streamline” – I could have gone with any number of CCR tracks but I like this Fogerty solo track.
  36. Randy Newman, “Rider In The Rain” – The Eagles sang back up on this standout track.
  37. Mudcrutch, “Orphan Of The Storm” – Great track from Petty, Campbell and Tench’s side project.
  38. Stephen Stills/Manassas, “Colorado” – One of the greatest country rock tracks ever.
  39. Doobie Brothers, “Black Water” – Another great Doobies track.
  40. The Rolling Stones, “Indian Girl” – “Little Indian girl, where is your faaaather?”
  41. The Little Willies, “Jolene” – Norah doing Dolly Parton this time.
  42. Lynyrd Skynyrd, “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” – Southern rockers had to be on here somewhere.
  43. CSNY, “Teach Your Children” – Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead’s pedal steel puts this track on the list.
  44. Rod Stewart, “What Made Milwaukee Famous” – Great cover of Jerry Lee Lewis.
  45. Elvis Costello, “Good Year For The Roses” – Elvis doing George Jones.
  46. Mike Ness, “Cheating At Solitaire” – The title track of his great first solo album.
  47. Stephen Stills/Manassas, “So Begins The Task” – Such a great double album, I had to double dip from it for this list.
  48. Grateful Dead, “Friend Of The Devil” – One of their best known tracks.
  49. Pete Townsend, “There’s A Heartache Following Me” – Pete covering Jim Reeves because it was his guru’s favorite song.
  50. Led Zeppelin, “Hot Dog” – I love this track from their last album.
  51. Sheryl Crow/Kid Rock, “Picture” – I despise Kid Rock but I dig Sheryl.
  52. Don Henley, “You’re Not Drinking Enough” – Advice I always follow.
  53. Eagles, “Girl From Yesterday” – Oddly most of the country rock tracks by these guys I’m drawn to were sung by Glenn Frey.
  54. Sting, “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” – Sting is a pretentious dick, but he captures the country ethos of my baby is gone and she took my dog here.
  55. Hindu Love Gods, “Vigilante Man” – A Hank Williams cover I believe.
  56. Peter Wolf (with Mick Jagger), “Nothing But The Wheel” – Great track with Mick on harmony vocals.
  57. Lucinda Williams with Elvis Costello, “Jailhouse Tears” – The funniest song on this list.
  58. The Rolling Stones, “Do You Think I Really Care” – Another great deep track.
  59. Elton John, “Country Comforts” – Also really well done by Rod.
  60. Stevie Nicks, “After The Glitter Fades” – All the pedal steel on here puts this track on the list for me.
  61. Social Distortion, “Like An Outlaw (For You)” – Full-on “cow-punk.”
  62. The Blues Brothers, “Theme From Rawhide” – If this song doesn’t make you smile, you’re on the wrong blog.

There ya go cowpokes! Enjoy! Stay safe out there!

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

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*Above image taken from the internet and likely copyrighed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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