Album Lookback: AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ Turns 40 – Bon Scott’s Bon Voyage

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Not all heroes wear capes, people… Some don’t even wear shirts or if they do they cut the sleeves off and keep them completely unbuttoned, hairy chest out, gold chains proudly displayed, blues jeans pulled up to their navel to accentuate their…well, this is a family blog. There wasn’t a shirt out there that could contain the magnetism of Bon Scott. And in my case, I prefer my heroes a little sleazier and “bloozier” than Superman. As an aside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Rock Chick does a fabulous impression of Bon Scott…

I can’t believe AC/DC’s masterpiece, and sadly Bon Scott’s swan song, Highway To  Hell turns 40 this month. I think it was Bob Dylan who once sang, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.” I was in junior high school when this album came out. Although, admittedly, like most people in the United States, I was probably only aware of the title track, which was the only song the local radio station played by AC/DC. We knew “Highway to Hell” was a great song by a band whose name was slang for bisexuality but that was about it. Who were these crazed Vikings? From Australia no less?

It wasn’t until 1980’s Back In Black came out that we all discovered AC/DC for real. I’m frankly embarrassed to admit that it took us all a while to discover that there was a new lead singer in the band, so closely did replacement singer Brian Johnson sound like Bon Scott. Well, at least to our untrained ears. When Back In Black came out, I was old enough to drive but was rarely allowed to do so because of, well, beer. My friends and I were into sneaking out of our houses. We’d be home by curfew, wait an hour and then I’d hear rocks at my window signaling Brewster and Robert (names changed to protect the guilty) were outside ready for some miscreant bullshit. Those guys had sliding glass doors which made it easy to get out. I had to tip toe down creaky stares and unlock and open a back door whose hinges sang like a church choir. I remember one Saturday when some late night show as showing crude, grainy videos of AC/DC doing “You Shook Me All Night Long” and a few other tracks. I had to tell Brewster and Robert there was no way I was coming out. It was Brewster who said, “You know that’s a new lead singer right?” Revelations come in the darkness.

To this day, the Rock Chick prefers Brian Johnson AC/DC to Bon Scott AC/DC. The only album with tracks she likes with Bon on vocals is, not coincidentally, Highway To Hell. Although admittedly, I’m working hard to get her into Powerage, an overlooked gem of an album (LP Look Back: The Overlooked Gem, AC/DC’s “Powerage”). Like me, she loves the song, “Gone Shootin’.” In her defense, there is a real difference between the two singers. Brian comes across as a dirty old man. I always felt that Bon had a better sense of humor. He also brought a certain menace and bluesy vibe that is clearly distinguishable from latter day AC/DC. And let’s admit it, Bon does come across infinitely sleazier which for some reason I find appealing. The fact that the Rock Chick’s favorite Bon tracks are “Shot Down In Flames” and “If You Want Blood (You Got It)” fills me with pride. And she does a wonderful, comic impression of Bon Scott, gleaned from watching old video clips of him that I just love but I’m getting off topic here.

Bon was actually the band’s chauffeur when original singer Dave Evans quit AC/DC. Bon was quickly promoted to lead singer, quite a jump upward in stature. After Bon took over the lead vocals, AC/DC never looked back again. Bon was originally born in Scotland but his family migrated to Australia, exactly like the Young brothers, Angus and Malcolm, which instantly gave them something in common. After their first album, High Voltage, they became popular in Australia. With each succeeding album they got bigger and bigger around the world. The only seeming stumble on the road to superstardom was the aforementioned Powerage, which was a dark, little album. While Bon’s death after Highway To Hell has always imbued that album, and especially the title track with the mystique that Bon was prescient about his own death, I think Powerage was the signal he was in a dark place. The themes are all about desperation, drugs and poverty.

The album and the title track certainly got them a lot more exposure in the U.S. The band had gone to England to record the follow-up, this time with producer Mutt Lange when tragically Bon’s life was cut short. After a night out drinking, he passed out in the backseat of a friends car. His lifeless body was discovered the next day. The police ruled that he died of alcohol poisoning and called it a “death by misadventure,” which if you’re Bon Scott, is really the only way to go… the Rock Star way to go. There have been conspiracy theories about his death and how much of Back In Black he might have written ever since. Some questions, we’ll just never have answers to.

His final album as AC/DC’s lead singer was indeed his crowning achievement. The title track is one of the greatest rock songs of all time. There’s nothing like turning up “Highway to Hell” and driving down the interstate. Perhaps that’s why, inexplicably, I never purchased the album on vinyl. I bought it on cassette because I had to have it in the car. Years later I bought it on CD, remastered with beautiful sound. I have to put this on the list of used vinyl to look for.

We all loved that album, even the deep tracks. “Girls Got Rhythm” was always a favorite, with Bon’s usual flare for lyrics, “she’s got that backseat rhythm.” Which was sadly where most of us had our assignations with women back then…ah, high school. “Shot Down In Flames” could have been my college theme song. “Touch Too Much” has always been my secret favorite on that album. It was almost a pop song and the closest thing you’ll find to a ballad here. Bon didn’t do ballads, he only did blues tunes. Speaking of which, “Night Prowler,” the epic six and half minute track that ends the album, is a bluesy, “Midnight Rambler,” track about a serial killer that only Bon could come up with. “If You Want Blood (You Got It)” should be played in every football locker room before every game. It gets you up and ready for fighting.

This is simply one of the greatest albums ever. Every one should own this record and play it loud. From “Love Hungry Man” to “Get It Hot” there is not a bad track on this album. The fact that AC/DC found another great lead singer, and in a matter of months released the epic Back In Black in honor of Bon Scott is staggering. It’s the only album in their catalog that trumps Highway To Hell. 

This is an album whose fortieth anniversary should be heralded as a major rock and roll milestone. Me, I might put this album on, turn it up, drink a little bourbon and sneak out after curfew for some miscreant bullshit… I wonder what Brewster and Robert are up to these days…”’cause I’m the night prowler, I sleep in the day…”

Cheers!

 

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Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks

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Well this post may be my magnum opus because to call me a Stones fan doesn’t really do my love for them justice. I’m more of a Stones Fanatic. If I ever had the crazy idea to get a tattoo, it’d probably be the lips/tongue Stones logo, but hey, if Jagger doesn’t have tattoo I don’t need one. I’ve got the whole aging hipster thing down without a tat. Anyway, I’ve seen the Stones on every tour of the United States they’ve done since Tattoo You. Frankly, most tours I’ve seen them twice or three times. I’ve travelled as far and wide as New York (for their 50th Anniversary show, a personal highlight in a lifetime of concerts), Little Rock, Arkansas and Dallas, Texas to see them. I stood in the rain in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin for the Steel Wheels tour, so, yeah, I’m in the fan club.

On B&V, I try to focus on older bands, the ones I grew up listening to, who continue put out new music. Alas in the short time I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve only had the opportunity to write about the Stones twice. They put out the superb blues album, Blue And Lonesome LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle which I absolutely loved. And they went back into the archives for On Air, a compilation of their early performances on the BBC, LP Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’ – An Exciting Look Back To The Early BBC Performances. It’s a shame they’ve only put out one album of all new original material in the last 25 years, the superb A Bigger Bang. I saw recently Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac said, in essence, why record a new album? No one buys them, anyway. Which is a damn shame. Maybe that’s why the Stones stopped recording regularly. As Elton said once, “would anybody have the balls to have walked up to an older Muddy Waters and told him to stop recording?” I think not.

What they seem to be content with these days is just repackaging up the old greatest hits. There was Forty Licks, which at least had four new songs on it. That was followed by GRRR! which had two new tracks. Recently, in advance of the latest leg of the never ending ‘No Filter’ tour (which, yes I saw), they put out Honk. There were no new studio tracks on that one, but they included some interesting live duets they’d done whilst on tour. Beyond that, the Stones release a live album after every tour or significant show (like the one in Havana or the one at Hyde Park). I hear they’re working on a new album, but it wasn’t up to their usual high standards so they’ve gone back into the studio to tidy it up… Keith Richards described it as “being more like carpentry now, than anything.”

A few weeks ago, in honor of Elton John’s Retirement Tour, I did a playlist of some of my favorite deep tracks of his, Playlist: B&V’s Favorite 20 Elton John Deep/Album Tracks. I was pleased at how well received the playlist was by people. It garnered a number of comments which are always welcome down here at B&V. One of my favorite rock and roll people, Dr. Rock commented, “I was hoping you’d do one of these deep track lists for the Stones.” Eureka, I thought… why haven’t I done one for the Stones? They’re my Alpha and Omega… and with all these Greatest Hits packages they’ve flooded the market with, people may have lost touch with their brilliant back catalog and the very deep tracks that I love. This task, I knew, was going to take some time…time and bourbon.

I was in junior high school when the Stones’ classic Some Girls came out and changed my life. It kicked off my life-long addiction to rock and roll. I loved the way Keith and Ronnie’s guitar played off each other. Keith calls it “the ancient art of weaving,” which is an accurate description, they would literally weave their guitar parts around each other. They really are the most symbiotic guitar duo out there… with only Angus and Malcolm Young even close. I’ve always been a huge fan of all the music that the Ronnie Wood-era Stones did. I love the dirty 70s and the 80s.

I had taped my brother’s copy of Hot Rocks, that I eventually wore out so I didn’t really buy the Mick Taylor (Ronnie’s predecessor on guitar) era Stones stuff, known as their “golden period” until I got to college. There was so much to love there. Mick was a virtuoso soloist and it allowed Keith to become the riff-meister we all know and love. And while this period of the Stones produced their most well known songs, if you dig a little deeper on albums like Exile On Main Street or It’s Only Rock And Roll and you’ll find rock and roll gold.

As I dug deeper, and moved backward in time, through the Stones catalog, inexplicably I stopped at Their Satanic Majesties Request. I didn’t go back to the early stuff, with Brian Jones on the lead guitar. He was a tortured soul, but goddammit he could play the slide guitar. I had always thought of the Stones in the early days as a blues covers band, the anti-Beatles. I was, as usual, wrong. All of those early Stones albums, which did begin as being heavy on blues and Chuck Berry covers, are essential listening. Buying all those albums, from England’s Newest Hitmakers, 12×5 to Between The Buttons and immersing myself in that music was one of the most satisfying musical experiences of my life. I urge you all to do the same, it’s worth it.

I started compiling this list over a tumbler of dark and murky fluid. It was truly a labor of love. When I was done I had close to 150 songs. I knew that wasn’t going to fly. I have edited the list down quite a bit. I’m sad to say, that 5 of the songs on the list are not on Spotify. I will highlight them in my comments below. You can find the playlist on Spotify under ‘BourbonAndVinyl.net Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks.’ You can also search under ‘recorsini.’ This list isn’t, as always, meant to be definitive. These are just songs that I love. They may be familiar to you. You may think when you hear these, “Oh, yeah I forgot about that track.” I hope you discover something you’ve either not heard or had forgotten about. If you have a favorite that you’d like to highlight, please do so in the comments section. Here’s the list with my thoughts on each track below.

  1.  “Little By Little” – An early track from their debut album. A perfect way to start this party.
  2. “Around And Around” – The Stones do Chuck Berry almost better than Chuck does…almost. This is one of my favorites of their many covers by him.
  3. “What A Shame” – One of the earlier Jagger/Richards penned tunes that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
  4. “I Can’t Be Satisfied” – The Stones doing Muddy Waters. This track is sublime.
  5. “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” – The Stones taking the piss out of a record company dork.
  6. “The Spider And the Fly” – “My, my said the spider to the fly…”
  7. “I’m Free” – A track that found new life after the Stripped acoustic live record. I think it’s sadly on a credit card commercial… sigh. Everything is for sale.
  8. “Gotta Get Away” – Jagger/Richards continue to develop as songwriters.
  9. “Out of Time” – Great deep track from Aftermath, the first album they did with no cover tunes.
  10. “Back Street Girl” – Love this song, and the cover Social Distortion did too.
  11. “2000 Light Years From Home” – A track I was unaware of until I saw them do it live on the Steel Wheels tour. I wish they’d do more deep tracks like this one on tour.
  12. “No Expectations” – Brian Jones’ slide guitar on this album is absolutely sublime. It’s perfect. Alas, it was to be his last significant contribution to a Stones tune.
  13. “Stray Cat Blues” – An utterly inappropriate blues track about the charms of young girls.
  14. “You Got the Silver” – One of my favorite tracks with Keith on lead vocal. Although I’ve always been partial to Keith’s songs. It’s great live.
  15. “Monkey Man” – This track is a bit more well known, but it’s one of the Rock Chick’s favorite Stones tracks. Saw them play this live in Chicago with her and she fell in love with it.
  16. “Jiving Sister Fanny” – From the odds and sods album Metamorphosis. I’m not even sure if all the Stones are on this album.
  17. “I’m Going Down” – Not the Freddie King classic, but a dirty little seventies Stones track.
  18. “Moonlight Mile” – The most beautiful ballad on Sticky Fingers.
  19. “All Down The Line” – One of my all time favorites.
  20. “Ventilator Blues” – Epic blues track.
  21. “Plundered My Soul” – A bonus track from the superb “deluxe” edition of Exile. 
  22. “Coming Down Again” – A beautiful junkie lament from Keith.
  23. “Winter” – An epic ballad. I love this song, always have.
  24. “If You Can’t Rock Me” – “Somebody will…” Love me or leave baby, kind of track.
  25. “Crazy Mama” – An overlooked gem of a rocker from Black And Blue, Ronnie’s debut with the band.
  26. “Memory Motel” – My favorite ballad in their entire catalog. Keith has a nice, small vocal part. “She drove a pickup truck, painted green and blue…” Lost love in the Memory Motel… we’ve all stayed there.
  27. “So Young” – From the deluxe edition of Some Girls. Keith had been busted in Canada for heroin possession and intent to distribute. Serious jail time loomed. They holed up in a Paris studio and recorded the bulk of what would become their next three albums. I love this randy little tune.
  28. “Keep Up Blues” – They rock, they do reggae, they disco, but they always come home to the blues.
  29. “Summer Romance” – Another great rock song that the Stones make look so easy. One of all time favorites.
  30. “Down In The Hole” – Another great blues tune. Blues is in these guys’ pores.
  31. “Indian Girl” – “Little Indian girl, where is your father?” A country song about Castro, Che Guevara and their African military adventures.
  32. “If I Was A Dancer (Dance Pt. 2)” – Sequel to a disco song on Emotional Rescue. Yeah, yeah, I know, “Death Before Disco,” but I dig the Stones when Mick gets his groove on. I couldn’t find this one on Spotify. It’s on Sucking In the 70s if you’re interested.
  33. “Neighbors” – A rocker with some truth.
  34. “Black Limousine” – Bluesy rocker, “we used to ride, ride, ride around in black limousines.”
  35. “It Must Be Hell” – This overlooked rock song has a monster riff from Keith.
  36. “One Hit To The Body” – Great opening track to the overlooked Dirty Work, which happens to be a great album.
  37. “Had It With You” – I love Ronnie’s guitar on this track.
  38. “Winning Ugly” – Another great Dirty Work track.
  39. “Continental Drift” – Brian Jones got the Stones interested in the music of Morocco. On their return album, after a short break-up, Steel Wheels, they returned to Morocco to record this track… the circle of life.
  40. “Hearts On Fire” – Great bluesy rocker.
  41. “Terrifying” – I have never understood why this wasn’t a hit.
  42. “Highwire” – The Stones get a little political on this studio rock track, tacked onto the end of the live, Flashpoint. 
  43. “Sparks Will Fly” – “When I get myself back on you baby.” Another randy, little track.
  44. “Brand New Car” – Voodoo Lounge was such a great fucking album.
  45. “Out of Control” – Another great track that is even better live. They still dust this one off every now and again in concert.
  46. “Don’t Stop” – A classic Stones track that will never get its due. It’s a perfect Stones song.
  47. “Fancy Man Blues” – From an album I bought in a Starbucks, sigh, Rarities. I couldn’t find this song on Spotify, nor could I find the next two, from the same album, but they’re all tracks worth checking out if you can find them.
  48. “Let It Rock” – A live take on Chuck Berry’s classic.
  49. “Wish I’d Never Met You” – More blues from Rarities. 
  50. “Rain Fall Down” – A great track from A Bigger Bang, an album that proved the Stones still had it. They could still deliver. I wish they’d kept recording.
  51. “Under The Radar” – Another track I couldn’t find on Spotify. Its only available on the deluxe version of Bigger Bang. It’s actually on the bonus material on the Blu-ray. I can not fathom why this hasn’t been released to the general public.
  52. “Infamy” – Keith’s great track from Bigger Bang. A play on words, “You’ve got it in for me” (in for me – slurred to infamy).
  53. “Doom And Gloom” – A great “state of the union” track from GRRR! 
  54. “One More Shot” – The last studio track these guys released. Let’s hope they correct that soon.

Pour something strong and enjoy an afternoon of blues-rock by the men who invented and perfected the form.

Cheers!

 

 

Playlist: B&V’s Favorite 20 Elton John Deep/Album Tracks

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You’d have to be living under a rock to not know that Elton John’s new biopic Rocketman came out on Friday. In the interest of “full disclosure,” I have not seen the movie. I’m not even sure I want to see the movie. I really liked the Queen/Freddie Mercury flick, Bohemian Rhapsody but it has some historical flaws… stuff that admittedly only a rock and roll obsessive would notice  (Movie: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – The Story of Freddy Mercury and Queen). I pushed through that and enjoyed the movie. Then Motley Crue’s The Dirt came out and other than the four new tracks on the soundtrack there was nothing to like about that movie, which was a real missed opportunity (Review: Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ – Movie and Thankfully, A Soundtrack). That movie was painful. So much so that it may have turned me off of rock and roll biopics for good, the same way that Keith Richards’ biography Life turned me away from rock biographies for good.

I’m sure it’s a great story. From 1970 to 1975 Elton John owned rock and roll. He was the biggest thing on the planet. He was what Elvis was to the late 50’s, the Beatles were to the mid to late 60s. Yes, Led Zeppelin was huge in the early 70s, but Elton John had a more pop sensibility to his music. Zeppelin was this behemoth of blues, rock and folk. Elton rocked, not quite as hard, but he wrote hits. He was played on both AM and FM radio. Pink Floyd had all the stoners, Elton had everybody. He’s got as many greatest hits albums as the Stones do, albeit the Stones never really had “hits” as much as songs that got played on the radio. Elton released three greatest hits albums before 1985, each of which had different songs on them and this was before the giant two and three disc CD sets became fashionable.

Elton could and still can, really do it all. He could do rockers, ballads and even country. He had one of the most talented bands in rock history and nobody ever talks about those guys. I would be remiss if I didn’t start off by mentioning Bernie Taupin, his superb lyricist and songwriting partner, although not technically “in” the band. Davey Johnstone on guitar is one of the most underrated anywhere. Nigel Olsson on drums and the late, great Dee Murray on bass were a rock solid rhythm section. He often augmented that core band with Ray Cooper on percussion and various second keyboardists. Those guys could play anything. I had the honor of seeing that line up in 1982 at Starlight Theater and it remains a highlight of my concert career, Elton’s Retirement From Touring Takes Me Back to His KC Starlight Theater Show July 6, 1982.

While Elton had a lot of big hits, he was also an album artist as well. If you look at his albums from 1970 to 1975 there are a lot of classic LPs that you can listen to from end to end. For those of you questioning if Elton was rock and roll, he released what I consider to be the essential thing for rock act – the double-studio-LP – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and what an album that was… it’s truly his magnum opus. He had so many great albums: Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, 17-11-70 (a brilliant, overlooked live album), Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player and of course, Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy. Captain Fantastic is kind of like a Pink Floyd record, you have to listen to the whole thing at once. It works a piece…

While we tend to focus on Elton’s early work, unfortunately many of us have missed out on his late career renaissance. Starting with 2001’s Songs From the West Coast Elton has put out a string of really strong albums. While he doesn’t have the radio exposure that he had in the ’70s, he should have, there’s some great music on these albums. He did a fabulous album with the late Leon Russell, The Union. If you’re fond of piano playing, I would urge you to check out The Diving Board from 2013. His late catalog is very worthy of exploration. And yes, I’ll admit it’s skewed toward the mellow end of the spectrum, unlike so much of his early work, but it’s still beautiful music.

While Elton is known for all of his hits, with that many great albums, you know there has to be a ton of deeper, album tracks that are just as outstanding. Many of which you’ve heard on your radio over the years  – “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” the brilliant first track from Yellow Brick Road, or “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters,” the brilliant Honky Chateau track. While I was sitting around reading all of this press around the new movie and a few “best of” song lists in different magazines, I realized all we were talking about were the hits. If you dig a little deeper into Elton’s catalog you will be rewarded. I assembled this brief list of 20 songs and built a playlist on Spotify to celebrate the B&V favorite deep tracks by Elton. I truly tried to span his entire career, including those great late career records I mentioned before. I was hoping to stay away from songs everyone has heard… although there were a few I couldn’t resist. This is not meant to be definitive, but it’s a damn good listen. If you have favorites that aren’t on this list, by all means please mention them in the comments. Everyone has that hidden, Elton deep track… “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” has some sentimental meaning for me from an episode long ago in a galaxy far away, but I didn’t include it as it’s too well known.

And yes, Elton John is a rockstar. Hell, you can even call him a superstar. But as you dig deeper into his records, you realize, he’s also one hell of a musician.

  1. “Empty Sky” – The title track from Elton’s forgotten first album is an epic, low key rocker. It’s a template he would return to. I’ve always liked this song.
  2. “Bad Side of the Moon” – A classic from the Elton John album (with a great live version on 17-11-70). I can’t believe this song didn’t get more radio play.
  3. “Take Me To the Pilot” – Also from Elton John. This is probably more familiar to most people, but it’s one of my all time favorites, despite lyrics that are at best… confusing.
  4. “Country Comfort” – A track Elton gave to Rod Stewart to record first (and Rod does a nice job with it). This is just a great example of Elton doing a country rock song. The Eagles could have done this song. It’s one of my favorites.
  5. “Friends” – A beautiful ballad from a forgotten movie soundtrack extolling the virtues of having friends.
  6. “Madman Across The Water” – The title track from the 1971 album. A brooding, dark opus that runs almost six minutes. This was a true FM, non-hit favorite of mine.
  7. “Elderberry Wine” – Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player was dinged because it was such a sprawling mix of styles and songs. Elton is really testing his voice on this album. This has always been a favorite of mine and as it’s a drinking song, it belongs on B&V.
  8. “Midnight Creeper” – Also from Don’t Shoot, I may take crap for including this Stones-inspired rocker, but I just dig it.
  9. “All The Girls Love Alice” – A rocking, tragic tale detailing the short life of a young lesbian.
  10. “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” – The greatest kiss-off, go fuck yourself song ever. It even gets quoted by Axl Rose (no stranger to angry break ups) in a Guns N Roses’ “You Could Be Mine.”
  11. “Tell Me When the Whistle Blows” – From Captain Fantastic. While I’ve always approached this album as a suite, this track and the next one on this list alway jumped out at me. I love the guitar tone by Johnstone. Drenched in strings, it’s almost soulful.
  12. “Captain Fantastic And the Brown Dirt Cowboy” – This is another of my favorite country-rock songs from Elton. It’s a mostly acoustic driven number that builds steam as it goes on.
  13. “I Saw Her Standing There” – A duet with John Lennon, sadly from Lennon’s last live performance. From the live album, Here And There. Elton had duetted with Lennon on the track “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.” He said, when he was leaving the session, “when this hits #1, you have to sing it with me at Madison Square Garden.” When it topped the charts, Lennon complied.
  14. “Tonight” – The longest, saddest song on this list. An epic ballad about battling lovers, in a relationship that isn’t going well… One lover asking his partner to “approach with less defiance.” It’s so striking, I had to include this Blue Moves track.
  15. “Song For Guy” – I love Elton John’s piano playing. This is a rare instrumental that I always loved for that very reason.
  16. “Kiss The Bride” – A punchy, later period rocker. And who hasn’t been there?
  17. “Orignal Sin” – The first of two tracks I included from Songs From the West Coast. This is the best song from a great album.
  18. “Love Her Like Me” – Again from West Coast. This one is a little more upbeat, albeit still on the mellow end.
  19. “Gone to Shiloh” – A very affecting duet with Leon Russell. If that’s not enough, Neil Young shows up in the middle to provide some additional vocals.
  20. “Home Again” – I ended up on a  slightly melancholy note, but this track from The Diving Board has some beautiful piano and deeper vocal approach from Elton. The song jumped off the album for me the first time I heard it so I included it.

I know I’m all over the place stylistically here, but so is Elton if you think about it. There are so many more songs I could have included but I drew the line at 20 to force myself to try and net it out. Admittedly I chose nothing from Honky Chateau, but I wanted to spread this out over Elton’s entire career. I still wonder if I should have included “Blues For Baby And Me” instead of “Midnight Creeper.” That’s the joy in Elton’s catalog… so many choices and options. For those of you who go to the movie, enjoy. For those who don’t, I advise you to listen to as much Elton John as you can.

Cheers!

Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks

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Truth be told, I don’t think Keith Richards ever wanted to do a solo album. His first and foremost love was always the Stones. That’s why we love Keith down here at B&V.

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Mick and Keith were close friends… thick as thieves you might say. The seeds of discord were sown by many things: fame, fortune, who gets credit for being the genius in the band (something they should both share). I’ve always felt Mick pushes Keith to explore and Keith keeps Mick grounded in their roots… yin meet yang. I’m not sure which of them brought reggae into their repertoire but I’d like to think it was both of them. The mutual animosity is a little like the squabbling between Lennon and McCartney regarding the Beatles’ legacy. I think the thing that killed any true “friendship” between the two comes down to one woman… Anita Pallenberg.

Anita Pallenberg, model-actress and 60s “It”-girl entered the Stones’ orbit as the girlfriend of original lead guitarist Brian Jones. On an ill-fated trip to Morocco, Brian was eased aside and Keith and Anita were suddenly together. Eventually Brian spiraled out of the band. Jagger was cast as one of the lead roles in the movie ‘Performance’ in 1968 and coincidentally so was Pallenberg. Keith has always believed and went so far as to claim in his autobiography (the unreadable ‘Life’) that Mick and Anita “hooked up” on the set of the movie. Pallenberg denied that claim the rest of her life. Mick has denied it as well. If it happened, Mick probably saw her go from Brian to Keith and thought it was all fair game… it was the freewheeling 60s after all. What people don’t realize about Keith is that under the outlaw core, he’s really a softy. I think he writes a majority of the Stones’ ballads. Anita and Keith stayed together until 1980 and had three kids. Friends before chicks, Mick… you just never know whose going to stay together.

Anita and Keith were a toxic combination. They both got heavily into heroin. At first Mick and Keith were still able to work together and create magic. But as the 60s waned and the 70s dawned, Keith’s addiction kept getting worse. Once partners at the helm, suddenly Mick found himself without Keith. Mick had to take control of the Stones to keep them afloat. Unfortunately, I think Mick learned that he liked control.  Keith’s heroin addiction reached its low point in 1977 when Keith was arrested for possession and intent to traffic in Canada. The trafficking charge was leveled because of the sheer volume of heroin they found on Keith, so prodigious was his appetite for smack. Keith was facing some serious weight in terms of fines and prison time. It appeared the Stones’ very future was at stake.

Keith and Anita went in for electro-acupuncture rehab therapy to kick heroin. The Stones decamped to Paris and recorded as much music as they could in the fear that Keith would be put away in a Canadian grey-bar hotel. The music they recorded made up not only the album Some Girls but most of Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You as well. Luckily, the rehab “took” and the Canadians let Keith off with a fine and an agreement to play two charity shows to benefit the blind. As Keith tells it, at that point, he was ready to return and join Mick to help in the steering of the Stones. It appears Mick had grown too accustomed to driving the ship and didn’t feel he needed the help… the old animosities were refreshed and deepened.

By the 80s everybody was used to the two of them sniping at each other. While Tattoo You and the ensuing tour were seen as career highlight for the Stones, 1983’s Undercover was only met with lukewarm reviews and response from fans. An invigorated Keith wanted to tour behind the album, the man does love to take the Stones out on the road, but Mick refused. Mick committed the ultimate treason in Keith’s eyes, he had signed a solo contract and was going off to do his first album on his own. I remember when it came out in 1985, I was totally a Mick guy at the time, and I was really looking forward to it. To say that She’s The Boss was a disappointment is an understatement. I liked the first single,  the reggae tinged “Just Another Night” but the rest left me cold. I found “Lucky In Love” to be the most embarrassing moment, but most of the rest of the album was forgettable. Mick got the control he wanted in the studio, but lost the magic. He was trying too hard to be current vs doing what he did well, which was rock and roll.

When Keith corralled the Stones back together in 1986 to record again, the band was a mess. Ian Stewart, long time keyboardist and tour manager passed away. Keith was particularly shaken by that loss. Charlie Watts who had survived the 60s and 70s without  any major problems had become a heroin addict. And worst of all, Mick wasn’t terribly interested in doing another Stones album, let alone touring. He was working on his second solo album. Perhaps he felt some pressure to erase the failure of She’s The Boss. The resulting album Dirty Work has become a bit of an orphan. I still think its got some great stuff on it, but it stiffed with the public. The video for “One Hit To The Body” (a kick ass tune, by the way, one of many on that LP), showed Mick and Keith practically coming to blows. Keith has said that the band would work on the tracks and Mick would show up, not even remove his coat, rush through his vocals and leave. When Mick refused to tour, like he did for Undercover, it appeared the Stones might finally be over.

1987 found Mick putting out an even worse solo album than his debut in Primitive Cool. The video for “Let’s Work” is better left never seen… Keith was at loose ends so he assembled a band for a documentary celebrating one of his heroes, Chuck Berry, entitled ‘Hail, Hail Rock And Roll.’ Charlie started a jazz combo. Bill Wyman opened a London restaurant and Ronnie Wood opened a Miami nightclub. When Jagger decided to tour Asia and Australia for Primitive Cool, Keith finally decided to do the thing he had never wanted to do… he decided to record a solo album. He’d done a few one off singles and sat in with both the Faces and Ronnie Woods’ New Barbarians, but he’d never wanted to go solo.

Rather than go the Jagger route and assemble a bunch of session guys to back him up, Richards, the more natural musician vs Jagger, chose to put together a band. Although in Mick’s defense his back up band did have Joe Satriani at one point… Anyway, having met drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Charlie Drayton during the Chuck Berry film, Keith quickly recruited them to join him in the band. They recruited Ivan Neville, son of Aaron, to play keyboards. Keith had found a bedrock rhythm section to go with his riffing rhythm guitar. All he needed was a lead guitarist to play against… Brilliantly he recruited Waddy Watchel, who had played with Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne and at the time, Stevie Nicks. I remember seeing Keith interviewed and saying, “Yeah, Waddy had been playing with chicks for too long, he needed to come play with the boys.” Steve Jordan was not only a drummer, he was someone who could co-produce and more importantly write songs with Keith. Early in the recording process Keith caught the band hiding behind the drum riser, passing a bottle of Chateau Lafite. Richards immediately dubbed them, the Xpensive Winos, which I just love.

Most people, I think, kind of groaned when they heard that Keith was putting out a solo album. I’m a rare breed of guy. I’m one of the few folks that when a Stones album came out, I’d drop the needle on it and peruse the liner notes looking for the Keith song. I always seemed to love the tracks he sang. Whether it was “Before They Make Me Run,” “Coming Down Again,” or even his brief bit in “Memory Motel,” I just loved it when Keith was at the microphone. I was thrilled when I heard that Talk Is Cheap had finally come out. However, in 1988 I was in my self-imposed Arkansas exile. It wasn’t until the video for the first single, “Take It So Hard” came out that I got to hear any of it. As soon as I heard that riff, and then the band kicked in, I knew this album was something special. To the record store I went.

When I dropped my new copy of Talk Is Cheap on the turntable in my lonely, hovel of an apartment in Ft Smith, Arkansas those many years ago, I realized I was hearing something special and also suddenly realized I was dancing around. This was the raw sound and grit of the Stones that I’d been missing. When the first song, “Big Enough” blared through the speakers I realized this was going to be a groove album, heavy on riffs and sloppy on structure. That’s what Keith brings to the Stones. It’s hard not to hear many of the songs on this album, “Take It So Hard,” “Big Enough,” and especially “You Don’t Move Me” as being specifically addressed to his old bandmate and friend, Mick. I remember years later dancing around my friend Doug’s kitchen with his buddy Kurt – a man who can still drink more martinis than I ever could – and Kurt saying, “This is fucking rock and roll!”

There’s an old boogie woogie number, “I Could Have Stood You Up” that features Chuck Berry’s original pianist Johnnie Johnson. Sarah Dash comes on to do a lovely duet on “Make No Mistake,” a clear eyed ballad that manages not to be mushy or sentimental. There are a few other guests – Maceo Parker does some sax, Bootsy Collins plays bass on a track, even old Stone Mick Taylor shows up on a cut – but the bulk of this album was just Keith and the Xpensive Winos. Every track grooves or moves and the album is a triumph. This is an album every rock and roll fan should own… In some ways, I think Keith’s solo success forced Mick back toward the band.

Now we have the 30th Anniversary “Deluxe” edition out. And what a great celebration it is. It is, as you would expect, newly remastered. More importantly for us at B&V, it has a handful of bonus tracks. The thing the bonus tracks does for me, more than anything, is show the mood of the recording sessions. You can tell Keith and the band are having a great time. There are a couple of instrumental jams, “Blues Jam,” and the 10-minute “Slim” that showcase what a great band this really was. The best new tracks from those sessions are “My Babe” and “Big Town Playboy” a couple of old blues covers Keith puts his heart into. “Mark On Me” sounds more like a true outtake as does the other instrumental “Brute Force,” as opposed to the band jamming or playing around on some old covers. There’s not a ton of bonus material here but what there is is high quality. The instrumental stuff is probably more for fans only but I’d recommend the covers highly.

This is a great celebration for a 30th anniversary of an important solo work of one of the greatest rock and rollers of all time. Cheers!

 

Review: Netflix “DocuSeries” ‘Remastered’ – Interesting But Uneven

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Winter has been a bear this year. Between snow and ice storms, I rarely leave the house. The Rock Chick and I joined a gym… no, it wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution, we moved and were forced to find  new place to work out. I can’t even get over to this new place due to inclement weather… well that and utter sloth, but I’ll blame the weather. I find myself with intense cabin fever these days so I end up watching a ton of TV. And with the football season ending recently, and badly, there’s really nothing that holds my interest.

Recently I flipped over to Netflix. Mind you, I only found out recently that the slang term “Netflix and chill” was a euphemism for hooking up, so I’m hopelessly non hip. I always thought Netflix and chill meant, well, watching Netflix and relaxing. A few months ago, I came across what I thought was a one-off documentary about Bob Marley, entitled ‘Who Shot The Sheriff? A Bob Marley Story.’ We’re huge Bob Marley fans here at the house (Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad). I already knew a lot about Bob Marley and had hoped this ReMastered would shed some new light on his story. The entire focus of the show was on the December 1976 assassination attempt on Marley. He was set to play a concert for Jamaican unity, ‘Smile Jamaica,’ and was caught between two different, warring political factions. The result was Marley relocating to London for a number of years. The focus of the documentary was that narrow – it was all about the assassination attempt. If you’re looking for a deep dive into Marley and his life/career, this is not the place to start. I thought the documentary was interesting if a little repetitive.

It wasn’t until this latest cold spell had me trapped inside that I realized the Marley ReMastered wasn’t a stand alone effort, it was one in a series of documentaries. They’ve come out with a number of them since I caught ‘Who Shot The Sheriff.’ Each of the documentaries is centered around one artist and like the Marley episode, something in that artist’s career that is tied to politics. It’s an interesting point of view. Many of the artists covered had strong ties to politics, Marley the “Soul Rebel” maybe most of all. The series has covered Sam Cooke, Johnny Cash, Grand Master Jay, and someone from Chile named Victor Jara who they describe as the Chilean Bob Dylan. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t watch the one on Jara, although I intend to, and I will probably never watch ‘Who Killed Jam Master Jay.’ I’m sure there’s reasons to care about Jam Master Jay, I just don’t know what they are.

I watched the Sam Cooke episode next, after the Marley episode. I love Sam Cooke. His singing has influenced everyone who came after him – Aretha, Otis Redding, Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones. He was a towering talent. Like many soul singers of that era, he got his start singing in church. He went on to join a Gospel group, the Soul Stirrers and later went out on his own as a pop artist. A brilliant man, he quickly figured out the business end and formed his own record label and publishing company… unfortunately he got con artist to the stars Allen Klein involved but I’ll let you watch the show for that story. As most people know, Sam was killed under shady circumstances in a seedy hotel in the Watts area of Los Angeles. Sam had become involved in the Civil Rights movement and was friends with not only Muhammad Ali but Malcolm X. The subject of his episode, ‘The Two Killings of Sam Cooke’ centers around his murder. As became more independent from a business standpoint, which was unheard of for a black man in this times, it was feared he was a danger to the white establishment. He was inspired by Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind” to write the Civil Rights staple, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” That also made him a threat. While I don’t think the FBI or the cops had anything to do with his murder – he got stuck in a shake down that went bad – I do think they didn’t investigate as thoroughly as they should have. This episode is the best one of the three I’ve watched. If you’re only going to spend 1 hour with this series, this is the one to see.

The third one I watched centered on Johnny Cash, the Man In Black. It’s entitled ‘Tricky Dick and the Man In Black.’ Obviously, the Tricky Dick in question is none other than Richard “Dick” Nixon. This was, I must admit, depressing television. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of wooing rural, and yes I’ll say it, red neck voters is kind of what we’re seeing repeated, writ large, in America today. He was basically lying to these people. In the interest of pulling those folks, who he thought loved country music, he invited Johnny Cash to perform at the White House. He wanted Johnny to sing some really right wing-y songs. “Welfare Cadillac” was particularly obnoxious. But Johnny being Johnny, he not only sang what he wanted to, he sang a new song, “What Is Truth,” which I was not familiar with. Again, that song rings true more now than it ever did. It was an interesting episode if a tad dull in spots. This highlights the sad fact that we really haven’t come that far in America…

If you’re like me, and you’ve got cabin fever and are pulling  your hair out with boredom, check out a few of these. Treat it like a smorgasbord and pick and choose carefully. This isn’t going to be revelatory to true fans of these artists, but it’s an interesting chapter in each of their lives.

Stay warm out there everybody.

B&V Playlist: Beatles vs Stones Covers? No, Our Favorite Beatles AND Stones Covers!

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*Image of Jagger, Wyman & the McCartneys (and unidentified groovy chicks) taken from the internet, and likely subject to copyright

The world has become a really divisive place. Whatever the issue, there always seems to be disagreement these days. Politics, don’t get me started. Religion, I’m not qualified to talk about. For every opinion in the universe there exists an equally strong, opposite one. Meat eaters vs the vegans, hedonists vs the devout, drinkers vs the sober, and I could go on and on. I believe it was Sir Isaac Newton, that groovy cat with the apple and gravity, who stated in his Third Law, that for every action there is an equal, opposite reaction. For example, I would like to quit my job and sit around listening to rock and roll records all day. Perhaps I would occasionally take a break from that strenuous activity to head down to the used record store to check out some additional vinyl, only to return home and hang out. My wife has the opposite reaction to this idea and wants to work me like one of the old mules from the farm she grew up on until I collapse. Marriage, it seems, like life is a compromise.

However, we shouldn’t pretend that these disagreements are a new and modern convention. I remember, as a child in the 70s, there were similar fault lines amongst the population. I remember there was a fierce, Superman vs Batman thing. You were either a fan of the man from Krypton or you were on team Caped Crusader, and you couldn’t dig both. Me, I was a Batman fan. Ironically I later roomed with a guy whose nickname was Batman. We’d get crank calls in the middle of the night from his friends asking for Batman… When I’d say he wasn’t home they’d ask to leave a message from the Joker, or Commissionor Gordon. Real fuckin’ funny guys at 3 am. I think which Super Hero you dug said a lot about your personality. You were either the ideal of virtue and the perfect man or you were a troubled guy who hung out late at night looking for bad situations. Hmmm.

Anyway, one of the fiercer battles in the old days revolved around the Beatles and the Stones. The Beatles were huge. They were, well, the Beatles. In the late sixties the Stones began to get tagged with the nickname, “The Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World.” I don’t know if it was the nickname, but suddenly the debate was real. The feud began even before Led Zeppelin came along, so all you Zep fans, stay calm and keep reading. There was suddenly a Superman-Batman type of line drawn. You were either a Beatles fan or you were a Stones fan and never shall the twain meet, as they say. It was the 60s version of East Coast vs West Coast, without the guns. Lennon claimed once that everything the Beatles did the Stones would do six months later. While you might cite Their Satanic Majesties, the Stones ill-fated trip into psychedelic music (after the Beatles Sgt Pepper album) as proof, I think after that the Stones forged their own bluesy, rootsy road.

But once a feud always a feud. I have often thought of my brother and I as polar opposites, which isn’t true, but we all have stories we tell ourselves about our families. My brother, who got into music way before me was a solid Beatles guy. He had the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks, perhaps the best “greatest hits” package ever released, but he had every Beatles album out there. I think he had UK and US versions of each album, although I could be wrong about that. I bet he’s sitting on a stack of very valuable vinyl. Anyway, my first love, of course, was the Rolling Stones. I can’t say that fueled any tension between he and I, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

Eventually, I realized feuds were silly. I like both the Beatles and the Stones. They’d both be on my greatest bands of all time list… although the Stones will always be #1 for me. That doesn’t mean I can’t love the Beatles too. Hell, Keith Richards once said, about John Lennon, that he wasn’t as “hen-pecked” by Yoko in his latter days as people say… he said whenever the Stones were in New York he and Lennon would party their ass off. Now that’s something I wish I’d have gotten in on. How much fun would that be? Lennon, Richards, I wanna party with you guys. Alas, I was just a kid in junior high school.

I was noodling around with some playlist ideas and I came across the idea of doing a playlist of Stones covers, of which there are too few. Then I started thinking of doing a list of covers of Beatles tunes, of which there are myriad artists to choose from. I was thinking of battling playlists, this could potentially be a B&V thing. But then a weird thing happened. I combined the two playlists and frankly I really enjoyed the results. Since it’s a slow time musically right now, I thought I’d share it with all of you. This is not a comprehensive or complete list of Beatles or Stones cover songs, it’s just a list of my favorites. As always you can find this playlist on Spotify by searching on kcorsini64 or BourbonAndVinyl (at least I sure hope so). Enjoy… and if you have any additions you think I missed, please mention them in the comments and I’ll add to the Spotify list. My comments on each tune below this link. And I’ll say again, there are always more Beatles covers than Stones covers… oh, well.

  1. Aerosmith, “Come Together” – What a great place to start. Lets all come together over the Beatles and the Stones.
  2. Black Keys, “She Said, She Said” – I love this song. I never figured the Keys to cover the Beatles but they do so beautifully.
  3. Peter Frampton, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – I like the live version and the studio version.
  4. Linda Ronstadt, “Tumbling Dice” – My favorite song of hers, save anything she covered by Warren Zevon or Lowell George.
  5. David Bowie, “Let’s Spend The Night Together” – Bowie’s frenetic take on the classic Stones track.
  6. Soundgarden, “Everybodys’ Got Something To Hide (Except Me and My Monkey) – God do we miss Chris Cornell.
  7. Fiona Apple, “Across the Universe” – Great track from a soundtrack. A track also nicely done by Bowie… but he’s already on here.
  8. Phil Collins, “Tomorrow Never Knows” – Say what you want about Collins but it took some real balls to cover this song.
  9. Montrose, “Connection” – Great, slowed down version of the Stones track.
  10. Cheap Trick, “Magical Mystery Tour” – Was any band more influenced by the Beatles than Cheap Trick? Well, besides ELO?
  11. Billy Joel, “A Hard Days Night (Live)” – Ok, maybe Joel was as influenced by the Beatles as Cheap Trick. It’s probably a coin toss.
  12. Social Distortion, “Backstreet Girl” – Social D doing a a down and dirty Stones cover. Whats not to love?
  13. Siouxsie And The Banshees, “Dear Prudence” – I almost like this version more than the Beatles original.
  14. Joe Cocker, “A Little Help From My Friends” – This one was a huge hit for Joe.
  15. The Allman Brothers Band, “Heart of Stone” – From their last studio album.
  16. U2, “Paint It Black” – One of their best covers!
  17. Lindsey Buckingham, “She Smiled Sweetly” – Buckingham recreates a whole band just plucking an acoustic guitar.
  18. Johnny Winter, “Stray Cat Blues” – A lot of blues guys cover the Stones.
  19. Motley Crue, “Helter Skelter” – A lot of folks have done this one, but this is my nasty favorite.
  20. Ray Charles, “Eleanor Rigby” – Also done beautifully by Aretha.
  21. Aerosmith, “I’m Down” – Great track from Permanent Vacation. 
  22. Billy Joel, “I’ll Cry Instead (Live) – Like I said, he rivals Cheap Trick in his love of the Beatles.
  23. Luther Allison, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – Obscure blues track but I love it.
  24. Guns N Roses, “Sympathy For the Devil” – From the ‘Interview With A Vampire’ soundtrack, believe it or not. This was the best thing to come out of that movie.
  25. The Who, “Under My Thumb” – Yep, the Who covering the Stones…worlds collide.
  26. Otis Redding, “Satisfaction” – The Rock Chick always laughs at me when I play this. I think it’s all the horns. Otis was soulful…
  27. Elton John, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” – As a youngster I liked this track better than the original. What fools these mortals be…
  28. CSNY, “Blackbird” – Love the version on CSNY 1974. Stills takes the lead vocals, but those harmonies kick in, oh, man!
  29. Rod Stewart, “Get Back” – An outtake from the Tonight’s the Night album.
  30. Taj Mahal, “Honky Tonk Woman” – Stripped down to vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica, it’s like a porch blues jam.
  31. Tom Petty, “Taxman” – Petty covering his friend George.
  32. Cheap Trick, “Day Tripper” – They do the Beatles rockier stuff so well.
  33. Rage Against the Machine, “Street Fighting Man” – I chose this version to show the diversity of groups who cover these two bands.
  34. The Longshot, “As Tears Go By” – Billie Joe Armstrong’s side project on a nice Stones’ cover.
  35. Dhani Harrison, Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – From the Rock Hall of Fame ceremonies… Prince’s guitar solo is on fire. If you’ve seen the video, the other guys just stand there with their jaws dropped as Prince shreds… If Clapton was there I trust he snuck out quickly.

I may have dug deeper in some areas than most folks would have expected. I may have dug a little too shallow in other areas. But in the end, my Spotify playlists are for anybody whose interested. I add songs from the comments suggestions to the playlist all the time. Enjoy and I hope you all find this as an enjoyable a listen as I did! Beatles + Stones… Peace and Love, baby!

 

 

Review: Elvis Presley – ‘The Complete ’68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition’ – The Return Of The King

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My parents weren’t very musical. They didn’t even own a stereo until we moved to Kansas City when I was five. I don’t know why they even bought a stereo, they only owned a handful of albums. I never actually remember the stereo being turned on, other than once a year for Christmas music. Later, when I started collecting vinyl my father once asked me why I had so many different albums. Uh, there are different bands with different music on each record, dad. I don’t know what had happened to my father. When my dad was a kid, he collected a bunch of 45s that my brother, who was turned onto rock and roll long before I was, snatched up and probably still owns. There’s some cash in that little singles rack. But during my youth there was no evidence of my father’s early interest in music… sports had supplanted everything. My dad was one of those set-up-three-tv’s on New Years Day to watch every college Bowl game simultaneously kinda guy. Dad didn’t want to spring for cable.

My parents were very much a product of the 50s. My uncle who was three years younger and my aunt who was seven years younger than my father (I think), were very much a product of the 60s. Think of it this way: my parents were very Eisenhower, my aunt/uncle were very JFK. My parents are only moderately into music even now, despite having two music addicts as kids. Every once in a while they’ll add a Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison greatest hits album to their Christmas list. I shudder when I think about them dropping Roy in the CD player and attempting to dance and shuffle around in the basement on wobbly knees and bad ankles. At least no hospital has called me yet…”Sir, your parents have fallen victim to boogie fever.”

Of those handful of albums my parents owned (for their dusty and unused turntable), one of course, was Elvis. The thing that was mind boggling about it was that the lone Elvis album they had was Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, which, lets face it, isn’t Elvis’ greatest album. I mean, it was a live album. Don’t get me wrong, I still remember being huddled around the TV in 1973 to watch Elvis perform via satellite (which was unheard of technology back then) from Hawaii and being mesmerized…but an obscure live record for the King of Rock and Roll? No greatest hits album? They at least had the blue Beatles greatest hits album, entitled 1967 to 1970. I always preferred the red one, 1962 to 1966.

All that said, it’s clear my exposure to Elvis was fairly limited. It wasn’t until that fateful day in August of 1977 – when I was in the backseat of Coach Taylor’s car, on the way to football practice with two other guys on the team, when we heard Elvis had died – that I realized his impact. I remember Coach Taylor turning to us and saying, “He’s my age…” with tears in his eyes. NBC re-aired the original 1968 special, which had been dubbed “the Comeback” special and that’s when I was hooked. It didn’t hurt that the special broadcast was hosted by Ann Margaret. It was then that I circled back to my brother’s room and started listening to some of those early singles. “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog” and of course, my favorite, “Jailhouse Rock.” It was during that sad summer of ’77 that I realized we may all disagree on who the President should be, but we could at least all agree there is but one King. Elvis brought us together in our grief. What a tale his was…

Elvis’ life was an epic story, worthy of being written by a Greek tragedian like Sophocles or Euripides or perhaps by Shakespeare. There was our Hero, who rose from the Mississippi Delta town of Memphis, Tennessee, the walking embodiment of all the music that had come before him: rhythm and blues, soul, country and of course gospel. And of course every tragedy has to have a villain, in this case it was Colonel Tom Parker. Elvis’ career began at the famous Sun Studios after being discovered by producer Sam Phillips. Phillips sold his contract to RCA and Col Parker, a two-bit concert promoter who stepped forward to take Elvis as his only client. From then on it was Elvis the artist controlled by the Colonel (our Iago in this story) who was driven by nothing more than commerce.

Presley was becoming a phenomenon in the south when his contract was sold to RCA… it was then that he broke nationally. The world had never seen success like Elvis’. From 1956 to 1958 he absolutely dominated the new American art form known as rock and roll. No one sounded like Elvis. Strip away the image and just sit and listen to those early records… what a voice… the voice of the Delta with a dash of gospel. And when he performed live, nobody moved like Elvis. Of course that caused some backlash from the prudes and puritans of the era. Then, inexplicably, (although it was probably to control him), Elvis was drafted into the Army. Colonel Parker, rather than have Elvis record a bunch of material to keep him in the public eye, released music only sporadically during the two years Elvis was in the Army ’58-60… It was John Lennon who said, “that was the end of Elvis, when he went into the Army.”

When he finally got back in early 1961, he apparently surrendered all control of his career to the Colonel. After the smash success of his first studio album, Elvis Is Back! the Colonel turned his eye to Hollywood. Why every rock star wants to be a movie star and vice versa is a mystery I’ll never unravel. Elvis even stopped doing live shows after 1961. From ’61 to ’68 Elvis was seemingly trapped in formulaic, crappy rom-com musicals. Each movie had the inevitable soundtrack. The movie drove people to buy the soundtrack and the soundtrack drove ticket sales for the flick… rinse and repeat. Eventually what had been a very profitable enterprise fell victim to the law of diminishing returns. When you think about ’61 to ’68, a lot of things happened in music. The Beatles and the British Invasion changed everything. Motown and soul had become very prominent. It appeared that the music scene had completely passed Elvis by. He was a has-been, marginalized. The King, it seems, had been dethroned.

It was then that NBC approached Elvis about doing a TV special. The Colonel wanted it to be a Christmas special. He wanted Elvis to do a Christmas album. Elvis steadfastly refused. TV producer Bob Finkel suggested to Elvis that the network would be willing to do whatever Elvis wanted to creatively… Suddenly, like in the Lord of the Rings when Gandalf frees the King of Rohan from the evil machinations of Wormtongue, Elvis was freed from the Colonel, if only momentarily. He took complete control of the special, including the music. He did concede to the Colonel’s wishes to perform one Christmas song, “Blue Christmas,” which is one of the few Christmas songs I can actually listen to without screaming. The special was conceived as Elvis on a sound stage performing songs. While they were rehearsing and filming, the music producer on the special, Steve Binder went to Elvis’ dressing room where Elvis was sitting around with the musicians, goofing around and loosely jamming on some of his old stuff. It was so powerful and natural Binder realized, that a concert had to be a part of the show.

Immediately they decided to intersperse live concert footage of Elvis on a small, square stage surrounded by a small crowd in the special. The Colonel, who really was a fuckstain, was supposed to send out tickets to fans across the country but didn’t do so. There was a pretty small crowd lined up for the actual show, so the producers went across the street to a local diner and convinced some people to come over and watch Elvis perform. The Colonel was unhappy about it, but Elvis chose to wear fantastic, tight, black leather from head to toe. The Colonel always tried to down play Elvis’ powerful sexual charisma.  To make sure Elvis felt completely confident they brought back some of his early band, Scotty Moore on guitar and DJ Fontana on drums. The thought was to have Elvis come out and talk about the old days while he played in a real loose setting.

There was only one problem. Elvis wouldn’t come out of the dressing room. He wanted to cancel the concert scenes. He hadn’t been on a stage since 1961… his confidence was gone. The King had surrendered his throne. Binder insisted… Imagine being Elvis in that dressing room in that moment. He hadn’t performed live in 7 years, his confidence had been shaken. His last few records had flopped. The Beatles ruled the world now. He’d been hiding away in a Hollywood bubble… the self-doubt, the fear of failing. I wonder to this day what went through his mind. Finally, with a nod, Elvis agreed to Binder’s pleading and walked out on the stage… and something magical took place.

It’s a common trope in movies, especially bio pics, to have the hero rise, then fall and then rise again. This is that one uncommon case where it actually happened that way in real life. Elvis relaxed immediately upon taking the stage. He was sexy, he was powerful, he was self-deprecating (about his past, the Elvis the Pelvis stuff, about his movies) and it just worked. In one powerful performance, we as a nation witnessed not just rock and roll history, we witnessed a King retaking his throne. John, Paul, George and who? This was Elvis, baby, as big as America, as big as the fucking world.

The show was originally broadcast on NBC on December 3rd, 1968, exactly fifty years from tomorrow. While the concert footage is my favorite and the most powerful part of the show, the producers and writers had written a song specifically for Elvis to reflect how he felt about the world. America in 1968 was a tumultuous place… RFK and MLK had been assassinated. Elvis was particularly disturbed by MLK’s murder as it happened in his hometown of Memphis. Elvis was that rare breed of southerner who was completely color blind. He’d grown up listening to black musicians his whole life, including black church gospel. For me, the center-point of the special, beyond the concert stuff is the great, great track “If I Can Dream.” It’s a song meant to unify and bring people together and I believe it to be one of Elvis’ most towering achievements.

I heard Bruce Springsteen talk about the “Comeback Special,” as it has come to be known. He said the whole family was looking forward to watching it, but he confessed to being nervous. Could Elvis pull it off? Did he still have “it?” The answer, of course, is yes.

Now, on it’s 50th anniversary they’ve released The Complete ’68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition. It’s pretty spectacular. It’s everything. The original sound track is here. They even include the raw concert recordings. They even have the recordings of the rehearsals here. Everyone out there should own a copy of the Comeback Special in some format. It’s a really important chapter in the life of the King and in the story that is rock and roll.

After the success of the special, riding high, Elvis told the Colonel he wanted to get back on the road. He also decided to return to Memphis, his home to record there. The sessions from Memphis produced two landmark albums, From Elvis In Memphis and later Back In Memphis. It also produced the smash single, “Suspicious Minds.” You can easily find all the Memphis sessions combined on 1 or 2 CDs. I’ve always recommended The Memphis Record as the definitive one. After the special, the success of “Suspicious Minds,” and the album From Elvis In Memphis, the King had returned.

This new box set is likely the definitive version of the Comeback Special. I highly recommend it and the Memphis stuff recorded right after… I said earlier that we could all agree that Elvis was the undisputed King of rock and roll. When he was asked by a reporter at a press conference about being the King of Rock N Roll, Elvis shook his head and said, “I’m not the King, he is…” and pointed to Fats Domino who happened to be there. So I guess I can’t really say he was the undisputed King…

Long Live the King!