David Bowie: ‘Toy – Box Set’ – Bowie’s Lost Album Finally Sees Official Stand-Alone Release

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OK, let’s get the monkey-boy, er I mean the elephant in the room out of the way right off the bat. This cover art is amongst the worst I’ve ever seen. The Rock Chick wandered in yesterday and said, “God that picture is freaky,” in an almost frightened voice. Bowie was a beautiful man, why he chose this cover art will just have to remain one of life’s mysteries. Please don’t judge this book by it’s cover. Now, on the with the post…

Last Monday, January 10th marked the sixth anniversary of rock n roll icon David Bowie’s passing. I’m still sad about that. Bowie was indeed a titan, a true rock star. His image can still be found everywhere. Every time there’s an art fair in town, whether it’s on the Plaza, Westport or Brookside, there are always works featuring Bowie’s visage. The most popular seems to be the image from the cover of Aladdin Sane, with the iconic blue/red lightning bolt drawn across Bowie’s face, his spiky hair deep orange. Bowie was a hero to all the misfits and outcasts. He sang from a real outsider’s point of view on songs like “Is There Life On Mars?” and “Changes.” He came out as bisexual when to do so could have ended his career. He blasted MTV in it’s early days for not featuring enough (or really any) black artists. Even though he’s gone I still see his face on t-shirts of young girls wandering Westport or painted on murals several stories tall. I can’t help but think, when I see people with Bowie shirts on, have they actually heard the music or is he just a symbol of something bigger?

I’m a huge Bowie fan. Now that he’s gone I look forward to his birthday, January 8th, every year as his team releases something new on or around that date annually. A few years ago it was the EP No Plan and last year it was the previously unreleased double-single, “Trying To Get To Heaven” with “Mother.” I will admit to you, I wasn’t always keenly watching for new Bowie releases. I grew up in the American midwest and frankly I was aware of Bowie but really knew very little about him. Our rock radio station (remember them?), KY102 would play select tracks. I remember hearing “Suffragette City,” “Rebel Rebel” and “Changes.” I think they’d occasionally play “Heroes.” His most played track in Kansas City was probably his duet with Queen, “Under Pressure.” If Bowie ever came up in conversation it was sort of like Elton John at the time – he was maybe gay so you had to keep your distance. Ah, the insecurity of the adolescent male. I’d like to say I was cool even in junior high and I was early on the Bowie bandwagon and bought Low or Hunky Dory at an young age, but alas, my journey to Bowie was slow and likely to most of his true fans, very uncool indeed.

I’ve written before about the fact that most people end up making their first purchase of an artist whose been around a while by buying whatever is then current. For example, my first Stones LP was the (at the time) recently released Some Girls. My first Who album was Face Dances, which I think only I like, because the first single “You Better You Bet” was played constantly on KY102 at the time. I can’t even claim being so cool that I did that with David Bowie. When I was in junior high he came out with Scary Monsters. I’d like to tell you I jumped on his bandwagon at that point and bought that album. I liked the song “Ashes to Ashes,” who didn’t, but it was my brother who bought that record. And he’s 3 years younger than I am. Even Scary Monsters would be a cool LP to begin your Bowie journey on… nope, not me. I was holding out.

I waited to make my first tenuous step into Bowie’s music until I was in college. Yes, it was the song “Let’s Dance” that brought me into the fold. Let’s Dance came out in 1983 and I think it’s Bowie’s most commercially successful album. Even worse than admitting “Let’s Dance” was my real entry point for Bowie, I was really enticed by the amazing video that was in high rotation on MTV. I loved the line from that song, “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.” After hearing “Modern Love” I broke down and bought the album which I’ll admit was a bit uneven but with Nile Rogers producing and on rhythm guitar and the then unknown Stevie Ray Vaughan on lead guitar, you couldn’t go wrong. I know Let’s Dance was shamelessly pop-friendly and not hipster, avant garde like say, Lodger, but I don’t care. I remember a friend from high school, Brewster, who had ended up in Lubbock sending me a Bowie bumper sticker he bought at the Bowie concert from the ensuing tour entitled The Serious Moonlight Tour so it appears I wasn’t the only one on the bandwagon after Let’s Dance. I still have that sticker in a box somewhere. Everything I own is in a box somewhere these days.

At that point I went out and bought his greatest hits package, Changesonebowie figuring that was all I needed of Bowie. I was playing “Space Oddity” one rare sober Friday night and I remember the guy across the hall asking me “Why I was playing Sunday morning music on a Friday night?” It was one of my roommates Drew who plunged into Bowie at that point, leaving me behind. He brought home Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Bowie’s masterwork, and I was at least moved to tape it onto cassette. That was the entire extent of my Bowie collection for the next fifteen years. I bought Tonight when it came out because I liked “Blue Jean.” But to me, it was a huge disappointment and I sold it quickly at the used record store. I was aware of the release in spring of ’87 of Never Let Me Down and the ensuing Glass Spider tour but I largely ignored it. After that Bowie retreated into his “side project” Tin Machine and floated out of my consciousness. In the 90s he went into this heavy electronic/industrial thing and even worked with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame. I had begun to think of Bowie as basically an artifact struggling for relevance. Although I loved the song, “I’m Afraid Of Americans” which was the only track that reached my ears during those days.

But then in 1999 something happened. I was listening to the radio and I heard a song “Thursday’s Child.” It was from a new album from Bowie, Hours… and I loved it. I know, another odd entry point back into Bowie, but I’m not a music snob. If a song hits my lower brain stem I’m in. Critics were lukewarm on the album, it was composed as a soundtrack for a video game and had a song with lyrics composed by a fan in a contest, but I really thought it was a return to his classic sound. It’s described in Wikipedia as the beginning of his “neoclassicist period,” whatever that means. It was only then, at the end of one millennium and the dawn of another that I plunged into Bowie. I went back and started buying all of his LPs, from The Man Who Sold The World up to Scary Monsters. I joyfully followed Bowie’s every twist and turn on that back catalog and that’s when I became a huge fan. I also realized how much I’d been missing out on… That newfound fandom was only solidified when Heathen came out in 2002. It’s an album everyone should own and it’s exactly the type of late-career type of LP B&V was founded on. He followed up with the brilliant Reality in 2003 and it was on that tour, that I finally joined my friend Brewster in actually seeing Bowie in concert. “Station To Station” was the highlight of the evening. The Rock Chick, sadly, was a bit baffled by the evening as she wasn’t as familiar with his stuff as I was… but marriage is a compromise.

It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that I discovered there was an unknown chapter to that fruitful 1999 to 2003 period. Apparently jazzed with how his backing band had sounded on the tour for Hours, Bowie decided to head into the studio. He was excited to have a band honed on the road, doing live shows and he wanted to capture that. On that tour he had decided to start revisiting songs from his early pre-fame period when he was just a struggling Mod in London. They were playing various tracks on the tour like, “You’ve Got A Habit of Leaving.” Bowie’s plan was to hole up with his touring band, Mark Plati (multi-instrumentalist/producer), Earl Slick (guitar), Gail Ann Dorsey (bass), Mike Garson (keyboards), and Sterling Campbell (drummer) and record an introspective version of Pin Ups his 70s LPs of cover songs that I featured on my list, B&V’s Favorite Cover Albums: Singing Other People’s Songs. While he covered other artists on Pin Ups, on this new album Toy he was going to go back over 30 years and cover himself. The plan was to do a surprise release of the album which is common now but way ahead of its time in 2000 but that’s Bowie for you… a visionary. Apparently there wasn’t the technology available yet to go from studio to release in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately the record company wasn’t as excited about Bowie revisiting his early catalog as he was, they wanted an album of new songs, and they rejected Toy. Let me just say, I doubt the cover artwork helped any. The sessions did lead to Heathen…so there’s that.

As I mentioned, a decade later in 2011 Toy was leaked to the internet and became a widely bootlegged album. I don’t condone bootlegging but I won’t lie I’ve been an owner of a number of bootlegs since I was in college. I had a copy of Toy on a CD that I got from sources that shall remain hidden. While most Bowie aficionados look down on this record, I think it’s damn good music and a hell of a lot fun. A couple of tracks from Toy had been released as b-sides for Heathen so some of it had seen the light of day. I loved that it was Bowie singing passionately with a band that does sound road tested and rocking these old songs. It was modern and yet it had that mid-sixties mod energy. Listening I felt like everyone involved was wearing a suit with a parka and riding a scooter while taking pills. With titles like “I Dig Everything” you definitely get a sixties vibe which is nothing but a good thing.

Toy was finally released in last year’s box set Brilliant Adventures (1992 – 2001). The running order and track list was slightly altered from the 2011 bootleg but the sound is better and I think it’s an even better version of Toy. The day before his birthday, last Friday, Bowie released Toy as a box set of its own with the original LP, a disc of alternative versions and a third disc entitled Unplugged And Somewhat Slightly Electric. The original Toy is all rock and roll. He was right his band was really tight. The track I’ve been obsessed with since it came out as b-side is “Conversation Piece.” It’s a melancholy rumination from the eyes of a young person wondering if they’ll ever amount to anything or connect with anybody. I think it ranks amongst his best deep tracks. “I Dig Everything” is a ferocious rocker and the perfect opening track. “You’ve Got a Habit Of Leaving” is an elastic rock song. “Karma Man” is my current obsession as it wasn’t on the bootleg. “Shadow Man” is a beautiful ballad. Most these tracks just rock, “Can’t Help Thinking About Me,” and “Let Me Sleep Beside You” are prime examples. This isn’t Bowie setting new directions, this his him rocking out and gads, having a great time doing so.

The second disc, full of alternative versions, might be the bootleg versions I had in 2011 although I can’t be positive. It kicks off with “Liza Jane” a great bluesy, harmonica tune that I just love because well, everything I dig can be traced to the blues. I think this may just be a remastered version of the 60s original although the vocals sound 2000 to me. I’m like most people, I’m not familiar with Bowie’s pre-“Space Oddity” work so this is all a new treat to me. There’s also a track “In The Heat Of The Morning” that’s a solid rock tune that’s not on disc one. Disc two is interesting but it’s probably for obsessives like me who ruminate over different tempos and guitar parts.

Disc three, the Unplugged & Somewhat Slightly Electric disc, is as advertised, Bowie’s band playing the Toy tracks in a more stripped down fashion. I don’t know if this disc was recorded in 2000 or Plati, who produced all of this just went in and re-recorded the backing tracks behind Bowie’s vocals like they did for the “updated” version of Never Let Me Down a few years ago. I like the stripped down versions of the Toy material, it’s like a lost Unplugged concert that we never got to see or hear (not that these performances are live). If you like Toy you’ll dig the Unplugged versions on disc 3.

Once again Bowie has a birthday and he gives us the gift of his music. I really think Toy is worth checking out for any Bowie fan. Especially if you dig his latter day work like Heathen, Reality or even the great LP The Next Day. It stems from a great period for Bowie and he had a great inspiration trying to capture the magic that a great band delivered live in a studio. I highly recommend pouring a nice glass of wine and kicking back with Toy, you will be rewarded.

Cheers!

‘McCartney 3,2,1’ Streaming Now On Hulu – Paul Talks Music With Producer Rick Rubin

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“Paul was one of the most innovative bass players that ever played the bass.” – John Lennon

I mentioned on a recent post on the great documentary Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) directed by Questlove, how disappointed the Rock Chick and I are about the dearth of new rock n roll coming out these days.  Well, at least a dearth in the rock n roll we’re interested in here at B&V. People kept saying that musicians, unable to tour in 2020 due to Covid, were holing up in studios and taking the time to write new stuff… I haven’t really seen that come to fruition yet in 2021. I will say, I do believe we’re on the cusp of a bunch of new music coming out – both new stuff and archival. Typically when we find ourselves in a bit of a lull on the new release front as we’ve been lately, I find myself turning to the television. After we wrapped up watching the aforementioned Summer Of Soul last weekend we turned to the new, limited series McCartney 3,2,1. Over the course of six, thirty-minute episodes Paul sits down for a candid, lengthy conversation with uber-producer Rick Rubin. As binge watches go, we burned through this one pretty quickly.

First, I’ve always been a big Rick Rubin fan. He’s produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Cult, the Black Crowes, the Beastie Boys, Metallica and AC/DC. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. He literally resurrected Johnny Cash who had been left for dead by the Country Music “establishment.” When producing Black Sabbath’s 13, he told them, “Pretend you’ve just recorded your first album. What comes next?” He’s clearly a vibe guy, not a technician. I saw a documentary about the Avett Brothers and Rick Rubin was producing them. I think he owns and maybe lives in the Malibu studio (named Shangri La) where the Avett Brothers doc was filmed. Bob Dylan and the Band recorded Planet Waves there. The man is a rock n roll Guru…and frankly looks the part.

I am also a huge McCartney fan. When you came of age in the mid to late 70s, McCartney was at a zenith and was most people’s favorite ex-Beatle. Lennon went into semi-seclusion in 1975 when he went into his “house-husband” phase after the birth of his son Sean. The late 70s saw the once promising careers of George Harrison and Ringo Starr sort of… fade. McCartney kind of became the de-facto “favorite” as he was the only one in the public eye in a big way at the time. I will say, even then my brother’s favorite Beatle was George… the Quiet Beatle. Which makes sense as I got the loud/obnoxious gene that he was able to avoid. Were I quizzed now, with the benefit of time and reflection I’d probably say John was my “favorite” Beatle. Although I absolutely love much of George Harrison’s solo output. And, I still love Paul McCartney. His late career stuff from Flaming Pie onward is the type of stuff that B&V was founded on – older artists making phenomenal, oft-overlooked new music. I loved his latest, last year’s McCartney III. Having just written all of that, I can’t help but think that maybe I don’t have a “favorite”… maybe I just like the Beatles.

A few years back I saw Black Sabbath on the tour for the aforementioned 13. I met a dude who plays the drums in a local band, the Sunset Sinners. The guy has been around music and musicians his whole life. We’ve had kind of an on-going dialogue about music and the creative process ever since. He has a term for certain bands, albums or songs. He says some stuff is too “musician-y.” Meaning, that the song or the band is so geared toward other musicians that it may not be popular on a broad scale. He once told me he thought the Queens of the Stone Age were too much of a “musician-y” band that they’d never reach a mass audience. (That was me using the term in a sentence for all you Spelling Bee fans.) It’s like when political commentators talk about conversations that are too “Inside the Beltway,” which I assume means its too “wonky” for most of us folks on the street. Or perhaps when a comedian tells an “inside joke.” Same concept, loosely speaking.

McCartney 3,2,1 finds Paul – and isn’t it cool after all these years we still know him by his first name – and Rick Rubin sitting in a studio (maybe it’s Rick Rubin’s Shangri La, I’m not sure). The show is filmed in black and white which classes everything up. McCartney has on what appears to be jeans, a white t-shirt and a cool jacket. After all this time McCartney, especially without hair-dye, is still the person with the coolest hair in the room. Rick Rubin looks like a beach bum who has wandered in off the strand. Rubin looks indistinct and rumpled. He’s got baggy shorts on with a t-shirt that I’d be willing to bet has food stains on it. He’s barefoot during most of the shoot. At times he sits down with his legs crossed and he really looks like a Rock N Roll Buddha. Buddha is always laughing but Rick Rubin is almost always smiling through his thick and unruly beard. He looks like a rock version of Yosemite Sam. I will say Rick is tan – that comes across even in black and white – and looks trimmer than he used to. The clothes, wild hair (whats left of it) and beard make Rubin look like some crazy, rock n roll aesthete or monk.

The Rock Star and the Producer spend the entire time talking music. It’s clear that Rubin is the fan here, smiling and geeking out at some of the things McCartney is describing. They sit, like in an interview show, but not for long. They’re often standing up as though so excited about the conversation and music that they can’t sit down which is understandable. They stand for the most part at a mixing console where Rubin summons up different songs from McCartney’s past. It’s mostly Beatles stuff but there are a few solo or Wings’ tracks that get played. They keep the conversation very lively although at one point I thanked the Rock Chick for hanging in there for six episodes because it’s basically watching two experts stand around and talk about their craft. It’s like being in a bar and overhearing people talk about their favorite sports team. When Rubin starts a track he usually turns elements of the song up loud and other elements down. He’ll break down the bass part or the drums. He likes to focus on guitar solo’s because, well, who doesn’t? He’s very interested in how the Beatles were able to do things in the studio that nobody had done before. Rubin is like a pupil with a master. I enjoyed that but I thoroughly understand that doing all of that, breaking down/analyzing songs is really well, musician-y. This is inside stuff. Most of us listen to the song on the radio and let the whole thing wash over us. Some of us put the headphones on and try to concentrate on the bass or the drums. These guys take that and blow it up to infinity. You won’t hear a complete song, with all parts played. It’s fascinating to hear how they put together a song but again… you gotta really love music which luckily I do. It really sheds light on a song when you strip it down to the studs.

By deconstructing all of these songs it does make you realize what an amazing bassist McCartney is. He talks about how the bass line in some of the tracks helped change the shape and sound of certain tracks. Nowhere is that more evident than on John’s “Come Together” which started as more of a Chuck Berry riff. McCartney talks a lot about the recording process and how the Beatles came up with certain sounds. He has nothing but praise for producer George Martin. They played a guitar solo and Rubin, who is obviously having the time of his life asks who played the solo. McCartney says, “I want to say I did because it was so bad.” That got a chuckle.

During the course of the six programs, while discussing certain songs and the piece parts of tracks McCartney does share some great Beatles stories. Although be prepared, the conversation is non-linear and they bounce all over the place. One could call it a rambling conversation. On one episode they’re talking Beatles and out of nowhere jump to “Band On the Run” which caused the Rock Chick to say, “Wait, I thought this was a McCartney solo song.” Some of the changes of subject matter may cause a little whiplash. Paul tells about the genesis of the song “Michelle” coming from his going to parties at Lennon’s place when John was in art school and pretending sing in French to get “the girls.” He mentions that Lennon was never complimentary of much but that he once told him he really liked one of Paul’s songs when they heard it during an album playback. You can just tell how much that meant to Paul. Rubin at one point reads a quote where the speaker talks about what a great bass player Paul is. Rubin asks him, “Do you know who said that?” Paul didn’t know but it was John who said all of it (excerpted above). It was a nice moment as you could tell that meant a ton to McCartney. He seemed a little flustered.

He also tells the story of the first time they played with Ringo on drums, “He elevated the whole band.” He also said that George was incredibly generous to “let” Eric Clapton play the guitar solos on Harrison’s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I’m guessing not a lot of people realized how in the Beatles they all played parts interchangeably on songs – McCartney exclusively played bass but Lennon, he and Harrison all played guitars including lead. Whoever had the hot hand in the band got to play the part. George Martin often jumped in on piano. They were so open to the creative process and that freedom and their confidence let them really do extraordinary things that other bands couldn’t do.

I thought all of this stuff was incredibly fascinating. If you’re a Beatles fan this is a “must see.” Although I will admit and warn everyone again, there are parts of this that are very, very “musician-y.” I watched it all in two sittings and maybe breaking it up a bit would be better if you’re not into the craft and details. Its certainly fun to watch Rick Rubin geek out in such a big way. Paul is still an amazingly charismatic and charming man. You might need to turn it up a little because, a) its the Beatles’ music which needs to be played loud and b) McCartney is prone to mumbling… especially in the scenes where he’s chewing gum. I really enjoyed this rare, up-close-and-personal candid conversation with one of Rock n Roll’s legends. I think you will too.

Cheers!

Something Different, 4th of July Memories: My Father-In-Law And Dirt Road Surprises

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In loving memory of R.A.S.

I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City, across the state line in Kansas in Johnson County. Growing up in the suburbs is like growing up in the slow lane. You lack that hipster vibe that you get when you grow up in a more urban, big city environment. I used to think, “At least I’m cooler than those farm kids…” And then I met the coolest farm kid ever, the Rock Chick. I was surprised to learn such a dazzling, stylish woman had grown up in more rustic surroundings on a farm. It was then that I realized that my upbringing in the suburbs not only lacked that big city hipness but a certain “country” self reliant vibe. People who grow up on a farm just know how to do stuff… change the spark plugs, check. Of course, when I went to college, at Kansas State University, I met a lot of people who grew up out in the country and those guys were insane. I’d never met people who partied with such gusto. Work hard, play hard, indeed. Growing up in the suburbs, you hung out at the mall. It was like Fast Times At Ridgemont High… Growing up in a rural environment was more like Beyond Thunderdome with beer and tractors. As far as I was concerned I didn’t know the difference between a John Deere riding mower and a combine. What does it mean to slice the milo?

As I see the calendar rolling towards the 4th of July, America’s Independence Day, and I lay in bed at night listening to various neighborhood miscreants lighting off midnight fireworks, I can’t help but think of my father-in-law. I was quite fond of my father-in-law, who I’ll call Billy. Billy sadly passed away about 11 years ago. I still miss the guy. He was a paraplegic. He was hurt in a farm accident when the Rock Chick’s mother was pregnant with her. She only saw her father standing in photos. Billy was an imposing figure, one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met. He had a way with the ladies, despite the wheelchair. When I went to ask him for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he made me sweat a little and then gave me his blessing. Then we drank a ton of beer and shot rifles at targets all afternoon. Like I said, he was cool. If you want cement a good relationship with your future father-in-law, take the time to honor the man and ask his blessing when you go to marry his daughter, but I’m off topic… Every 4th of July, the Rock Chick, her daughter and I would drive down to the Rock Chick’s sister’s farm. We’d meet Billy there and well, do what everyone in the Midwest does: drink beer, grille BBQ chicken, play a lot of loud country music and prime Bob Seger and blow shit up. By nightfall Billy would slip off back home and the rest of us would climbup on the roof to watch the panoramic sky full of small town fireworks displays.

Billy was a gun enthusiast, to say the least. He was also a collector of older, vintage trucks. When he retired from ranching, he was always on the internet seeking out parts for these dinosaur trucks he was building. The man almost always had a hidden agenda. We had a hot dog roast on his farm one time and when he lit the bonfire, I discovered he’d hidden a tire in the burning pile. He needed to get rid of it and it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was most decidedly not a good idea…the entire family was engulfed in poisonous, black smoke…at least Billy was amused. Even though I knew all of that about Billy, I was still surprised one 4th of July, when he pulled up to my sister-in-law’s farm and rather than get out of his van, he said to me in his cryptic, terse way, “Get in the truck.” It was more of a command really, he was used to telling people what to do. As I recall I was slightly hungover and was ready for cold beer and firecrackers and knew this “errand” likely involved trouble, at least for me…I could tell by his tone of voice. But then, I was generally wary when Billy asked me to do something. Billy had a way of getting people to do things for him even when they didn’t want to. I once strung Christmas lights on his roof during a downpour. He was bitching at me from the ground and I remember saying, “Do you wanna come up here and do it?” He just looked up from his wheelchair and laughed. I didn’t know quite how to respond to him that 4th, so I just said, only half-joking, “I knew this day would come… do we have to hide a body?” He finally smiled at me, but only with his eyes and said, “I need you to do something for me,” which was his usual way to ask for a favor. It’s like that scene in The Godfather when the Brando as Vito Corleone says, “Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.”

Reluctantly, I climbed into the passenger’s seat. I won’t lie, as I climbed into the vehicle, I did cast a sideways glance to the back of the van, just to make sure there wasn’t a human shaped tarp back there. I’m an outlaw, not a criminal… I mean, I couldn’t survive hard time, I’m from the suburbs. We drove down my sister-in-law’s gravel driveway and headed off down the two-lane black top highway. Billy wasn’t a big talker so we just rolled along in silence, the only sound was the wind blowing in the open windows of the van. I stared out the window, wishing I was blowing stuff up with my daughter and drinking the cold beer I’d expertly iced in the cooler… I trailed my hand along through the wind and became absorbed in the rural landscape slipping past me. We drove through a small town, twisting and turning through the narrow streets like we were trying to lose somebody. We drove past fields of wheat and corn turning brown in the hot summer sun. We drove past decrepit barns and stately farm houses just off the road shaded by copses of trees. We passed a couple of giant oil storage facilities. There was barely a word exchanged between Billy and I. It was no use asking questions now, I was in the van… I’d bought the ticket, so I had to just enjoy the ride.

Pretty soon we’d turned off the main, county roads. We were on roads that were much more narrow. Pretty soon even the asphalt fell away and we found ourselves driving down gravel roads. People often reference the middle of nowhere… I’ve been there. If someone wanted to live off the grid, I suspect this is where they’d go. The gravel roads continued to narrow until it was really just one lane… Luckily there was nobody else on this deserted “road.”
Billy muttered, a couple of times, “I think we’re headed in the right direction,” which wasn’t comforting. Being from the suburbs I’ve never been terribly comfortable out in the country. I mean, I’ve seen Deliverance. I suspected Billy was packing but I wasn’t sure that was a good thing. Finally we found ourselves creeping along the narrow gravel road up to a rather large farm house. Without warning, Billy swung the van into the driveway of potholes and stones. We had apparently reached our destination… although his comment, “I think this is it,” was not a confidence builder. If people live out in an isolated place like this, I’m guessing they’re not big on visitors, especially tall, goofy looking guys from the suburbs. I had mistakenly worn a Stones t-shirt and was worried I’d be considered a subversive out in this rustic setting. This was Billy’s world… I was an interloper, at best.

Billy turned in his driver’s seat toward me and squinted… “I think this man has a truck I wanna buy. I need you to go up and knock on the front door.” The big farm house was all in darkness. I wasn’t exactly dressed like an encyclopedia salesman or a Jehovah’s Witness so I hesitated. “Does he know we were coming? This doesn’t look like a very friendly house?” That was true enough. The house was large and somewhat forbidding. It didn’t look like a place with a doormat that read, “C’mon In Y’all.” To my query about the guy knowing we were coming Billy chuckled and said, “Not exactly.” Not exactly comforting. I slid out of the passenger side of the van slowly, like I was leaving the scene of an accident. I went crunching up the driveway like it was the Bataan Death March. It was like when I was a kid, my feet got heavy and I was walking very slowly, eyes furtively looking around, but always coming back to the front door. I was not happy.

It was then, from behind the house, I spotted the biggest German Shepherd I’d ever seen… and it was loping around the house, straight at me. I froze. So this was how I was going to die, killed by a German Shepherd miles away from any hospital or emergency care. I’d bleed out before the ambulance got here, I’m from the suburbs…if Billy even knew to call an ambulance. Thinking of Billy I turned slowly toward the van and realized I was half way up the driveway, too far to run from the giant beast who was looking at me like I was lunch and he missed breakfast. I glanced at Billy and my eyes were as big as Frisbees. He threw his hands up, gave an exaggerated shrug and I noticed… he was laughing uproariously. I wondered if he’d have to shoot the dog. I turned toward the dog and it was bearing down on me. I flinched, put my hands up… because… I have no idea why, I wasn’t going to fend him off. The German Shepherd launched himself up toward my throat and I knew it was over… His two big, dusty paws landed on my chest and I thought… that’ll look crazy in the autopsy photo, two paw prints on my shirt. I was looking the feral beast in the eyes as his face came even with mine… His giant jaw dropped, his mouth opened and… he licked my face. Yes, the dog was harmless.

Billy was now laughing so hard, I thought he’d fall out of the van. “That looked tense there, man.” No shit. After a quick spot-check to make sure I didn’t piss myself, I petted the dog and in a seriously high sounding voice muttered, “Good doggy.” I rang on the doorbell, wondering if this could go any worse. What was next, a shotgun blast? No one was home. We’d gone through all of this for naught. I was pissed at Billy at the time… but now I just look back on it as a funny story we could share. We drove slowly back to my sister-in-law’s farm where I grabbed two beers to calm my still shaky nerves.

To all of you out there this 4th of July, I hope you have a happy, safe time. We want all 10 fingers on Monday. I hope you all make some happy, danger-less weekends. Please remember its a celebration for most people but to your dogs and cats it’s Armageddon, take of your pets. Maybe get ’em some CBD. And to Billy, where ever you are… I miss ya buddy.

Cheers!

Guitar Legend Eddie Van Halen Gone Too Soon at 65, RIP Eddie, #EVH

*Photo taken by your heartbroken blogger of the inside album sleeve from ‘Fair Warning’

I am simply gutted by the news that I heard today. Eddie Van Halen, guitar legend and band leader has died after a long battle with throat cancer at the tender age of 65. I was just sitting down to read a chapter in Ted Templeman’s autobiography about Van Halen recording Diver Down when I saw on Twitter we’d lost Eddie. Eyes full of tears I couldn’t possibly read that story at this moment so I put the book down. I love Van Halen and I always have. Van Halen was the ultimate party, good-time band and Eddie Van Halen was like a God to many of us… a Guitar God. For those of us who came of age in the late ’70s/early 80s, Eddie Van Halen is our Jimi Hendrix. My heart goes out to his whole family and all of his fans out there. I was literally thinking this weekend, I wish Eddie would put out some music.

My love of Van Halen – the band and the guitar player – dates as far back as my love of rock and roll. His playing is a part of the rock n roll DNA for me. I think their debut, Van Halen, was like the second or third album I ever purchased (Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40). It was the first time I bought a band’s debut album when it was actually debuting. I’ve been on the bandwagon ever since. Everybody loved David Lee Roth’s class clown act but the real reason we liked that album was the guitar. We’d never heard sounds like that before. I think every guy in my junior high school owned that first Van Halen record… and anybody who didn’t, well you didn’t want to know them anyhow. I listened to that album continuously. I was drawn in by “You Really Got Me” but let’s be honest, it was “Runnin’ With the Devil” that caused me to finally buy the album. The song that made the Eddie Van Halen legend was track 2, simply and appropriately titled “Eruption.” It is perhaps the greatest guitar solo ever recorded. The sound was otherworldly. Nobody played that fast. We had all heard the rumors that when Eddie played he didn’t face the crowd, he was hiding his technique (which turned out to be true, he didn’t want anybody to see his revolutionary method of “finger-tapping” up the neck of the guitar which literally changed how the instrument was played). The power and menace of his playing is palpable. Van Halen is the perfect guitar record.

I have so many memories… I didn’t buy their second album (until later) but I had Woman And Children First on cassette. I’d blast that album in the car. I never realized Eddie was playing keyboards on “And the Cradle Will Rock…” until years later. I’m not sure any of us knew that Eddie played keyboards until “Jump” came out. Van Halen was the perfect blend of Eddie’s guitar (and keyboard) sound and Roth’s sense of humor… “His folks aren’t overjoyed” has always been a favorite lyric. Oddly enough, when my girlfriend and I would go to the drive-in with beer and pizza, I’d always take a boom box and Woman And Children First was the cassette I always played. Fond memories of that…”In a Simple Rhyme” is an under appreciated gem. Years later, the Rock Chick and I would love cranking up “Everybody Wants Some” and just reveling in the “awesomeness.”

Fair Warning was for me, simply a masterpiece. Eddie’s guitar playing was perhaps at it’s most muscular and menacing. The tour in support of that album was the first time I saw Van Halen in concert. I think after that the only tour I missed was the one for OU812 because I was in exile in Arkansas. I can still close my eyes and see the band playing “Mean Street.” We had great seats off to the side of the stage. Roth was standing an elevated platform on the opposite side of the stage. He went into the rap at the end… “Now a gun is real easy, in this desperate part of town…” and when he gets to the end and says “Lord, Strike that poor boy DOWN,” Roth fell to the floor like he’d been hit. Suddenly a spotlight flashes on and Eddie Van Halen is standing on the platform on my side of the stage. His playing was incendiary. That guitar solo is etched in my mind like it was last night. What he did to that guitar that night may be illegal.

Diver Down is an album I have always associated with summer. It came out the year I went to college and it was the soundtrack to my post-high school summer. It was rightly on my ultimate summer LPs list (Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer: Go-To Summer LPs (Beach Boys Need Not Apply)). 1984 is the album they’re probably most remembered for and it was an absolute classic. “Jump” their foray into keyboards was a wildly popular track but I always preferred the other keyboard track “I’ll Wait.” Only Eddie Van Halen could conquer both guitar and keyboards. That was the first tour that I saw Van Halen twice, once in Wichita and once in Kansas City. While they’d reached new levels of popularity, alas tensions with in the band – that began when Roth objected to Eddie marrying actress Valerie Bertintelli – erupted into open conflict and Roth and VH split.

Van Halen continued on with Sammy Hagar on lead vocals – commonly referred to as Van Hagar. I still dug them, In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist. I think they were fundamentally a different band, obviously, but still a great guitar sound. Eventually relations with Hagar soured as well and eventually Van Halen went silent. Now it appears the mighty guitar of Eddie Van Halen has been silenced forever. I saw them in 2012 on the reunion tour with Roth… Roth had mostly lost it but Eddie’s guitar was still razor sharp and worth the price of admission.

There will be debates about where he ranks in the pantheon of guitar greats. He’s top 2 or 3 to me. I never saw Hendrix but I did see Van Halen so I’m biased. Eddie absolutely changed the way lead guitar was played. Every rock and roll guitarist who came after him was influenced by Eddie Van Halen. There would have been no Randy Rhoads without him. Every guitar player in the 80s should be sending royalty checks to Eddie. Make no mistake the world has lost one of the greatest guitarists to ever play the instrument. Van Halen and Eddie’s guitar were and will always be a big part of my love of rock and roll. He brought great joy, excitement and beautiful noise into my life. So many beautiful notes… from “Spanish Fly” to “Cathedral” to the intro for “Little Guitars.” I am deeply saddened tonight, as I’m sure most rock fans are. The Rock n’ Roll flag will be at half mast here at B&V for quite a while… A part of my youth has died… As my friend Doug texted me, “Bummer… this feels really close.” I think we all feel that way.

It’s a dark ride folks, enjoy it while it lasts. RIP Eddie Van Halen, the greatest.

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!

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! 

Review: Bob Dylan, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ – The Spell-Binding 1st LP of All Originals In Eight Years

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“I fuss with my hair and I fight blood feuds…” – Bob Dylan summing up my life on “I Contain Multitudes”

What a week it’s been for music fans or perhaps more accurately for classic rock music fans. Not only did Neil Young pull Homegrown his “lost album” from 1975 out of the vaults (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years), but Bob Dylan also released his first album of all originals in eight years. I read somewhere that Dylan and Young are number 1 & 2 on the UK charts right now. Those Brits have always had better taste in rock n roll than anybody else, cheers mates! I locked myself down in the B&V labs and have been blissed out on this great music for about a week now… it might be time to take a shower… maybe eat something.

I’m on record as being a huge Dylan fan. One of my first posts was about Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide. It’s hard to believe there’s been three or four new Bootleg releases since I wrote that guide. Looking back on my Dylan fandom, it is perhaps odd that I became so enamored with his work. I always had a sense that he was “important.” And truth be told, I’ve always been intensely focused on lyrics. But when I had my rock and roll awakening, it was the late 70s. I actually discovered Dylan when he was in his Christian period. I thought “Blowing In The Wind” was a Peter, Paul and Mary song. Those were the “Puff The Magic Dragon” group for fucks sake. The first Dylan album I ever purchased was Slow Train Coming. I had no idea it was religious music. I just thought “Gotta Serve Somebody” was a great track with a lot of wisdom. Because in the end, everybody does have to serve somebody…”and it may be the Devil, and it may be the Lord…” although in my case it’s probably the Rock Chick. I’m not a religious person. At best I could be described as a hippy pagan dancing naked in deserted fields in the moonlight. But that album just clicked for me… well, maybe not “Man Gave Names to All the Animals.” How that led me to a lifelong love of Dylan is a mystery.

From Slow Train Coming (the title track is just as relevant today if you push out the religious implications), once I got to college and became “serious,” I started working backward through Dylan’s catalog. I bought the iconic Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits the single album compilation… as if his “hits” could be contained on one thin volume. After working backwards through his catalog I eventually sold that album because I didn’t realize “Positively 4th Street” wasn’t on Blonde On Blonde. Youth, sigh. It’s probably good that I was so backward focused in my collecting because the late 80’s and early 90s were perhaps Dylan’s weakest period. I was just getting into him and pretty much everything after Empire Burlesque was… terrible. I bought and actually still have a fondness for Knocked Out Loaded, his album released to try and cash in on his tour with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers backing him up. “You Wanna Ramble” is a great bluesy cover. I bought and promptly sold Down In the Groove. Other than “Silvio” cowritten by Robert Hunter and played with the Grateful Dead, that album was aaaaawful. Other than Oh Mercy there weren’t many albums that caught my interest in those dark Dylan days. And yet despite weathering a Christian period and Dylan’s creative nadir, I remained a devoted fan. I even told someone in the late 80s that only Dylan could save music. That might’ve been the vodka talking.

At that point I just figured Dylan’s career was over. He was one of those catalog guys, like the Beatles, whose old LPs would have to suffice. I completely lost track of Dylan. But then an interesting thing happened. Dylan recorded two albums of traditional folk tunes, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong. When things get weird for Bob he always goes back to his folky roots. Jimi Hendrix was the same way but with the blues. Folk was Dylan’s foundation. That reconnection with his roots sparked something in Dylan. His next LP was the Daniel Lanois produced Time Out of Mind. After almost 10 years in the wilderness Dylan pulls off the biggest comeback in rock n roll history (with the exception of perhaps the King, Review: Elvis Presley – ‘The Complete ’68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition’ – The Return Of The King). “Love Sick” from that album ended up on a Victoria Secrets’ ad which caused a lot of heartburn for some people. I just thought he was lucky to be there…

Dylan put out a string of phenomenal records in what can only be described as a late career renaissance. Time Out of Mind (97), Love & Theft (01), and Modern Times (06) were the best trio of albums he’d released since the late 60s. Together Through Life incorporated Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo’s accordion and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell’s guitar to wonderful effect. I particularly like the bluesy “My Wife’s Hometown.” In 2012 Dylan released Tempest another triumph but it was rumored to be his last LP. ‘The Tempest’ was Shakespeare’s last play. People have been reading stuff into Dylan’s stuff since The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. 

After Tempest, Dylan took another left turn in a career of left turns. He released Shadows In the Night, a collection of pre-rock tracks that are all associated with Frank Sinatra. I bought and really liked that album. It was like listening to a bar band at 2 a.m. in a seedy joint down by the border in Laredo or maybe El Paso. This wasn’t a Rod Stewart Great American Songbook exercise. Sinatra always had a boozy, late night, heartbreak group of tracks and Dylan fully inhabited those songs. But then he put out a second Sinatra-themed LP, Fallen Angel. And then another – a three disc album – Triplicate. I have to admit, I got off the train after the first one. I dig it, but not literally four discs worth.

I had begun to wonder if we’d ever get any original stuff from Dylan. Van Morrison has had quite a run doing mostly blues and jazz covers over the last few years. He finally put out an LP of originals last year to great success, LP Review: Van Morrison’s New, All Originals, ‘Three Chords & The Truth’ – A Laid Back Groove. A month or so ago, Dylan dropped a surprise almost 17-minute masterpiece, “Murder Most Foul” (Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul” My antennae immediately shot up. I quickly found out a new album was coming!

Rough And Rowdy Ways dropped last Friday and I’m simply blown away by Dylan’s continued late career genius. One can only compare him to perhaps Bowie for great music this far down the line. I read Jagger say in an interview once that the Stones’ latter work will never “acquire the patina” of their older stuff… and sadly he’s right. Although I think music fans will be talking about this album in 50 years. Dylan is backed by his road band and I was thrilled to see that guitarist Charlie Sexton has returned… he’s perhaps Dylan’s most sympathetic guitarist since Robbie Robertson. With Sexton in the band: drummer Matt Chamberlin, longtime bassist Tony Garnier, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron, and Bob Britt on guitar. Listed under the “additional musicians” list were among others, Heartbreaker keyboardist Benmont Tench, jazz pianist Alan Pasqua and Fiona Apple (!) who must be playing piano as we don’t hear her voice on the LP… seems like a squandered opportunity. I loved her duet with Johnny Cash on the American Recordings box.

The album’s first track “I Contain Multitudes” is a hushed affair. I get the vibe of a village elder sitting down to drop wisdom on me. The title is drawn from a Walt Whitman poem and it has the feeling of literary genius to it. The song, like the album is overflowing with cultural references. I found the track hypnotic… “I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones and those British bad boys the Rolling Stones.” He goes on in the same stanza to name-drop William Blake. Every song on this album is like an onion… so many layers.

The soul of this album – and I don’t mean the musical genre soul, I mean the soul – are two epic tracks. “Murder Most Foul” has been reviewed here. I won’t go back into that but it’s just grown and grown in my estimation. It’s one of the most important tracks Dylan has ever done and that says a lot. The other “epic” track is “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” a nine and half minute deep rumination on death. Key West seems to be a metaphor for the end of the road. You can’t go any farther. “Key West is fine and fair,
If you lost your mind, you will find it there, Key West is on the horizon line.” As we all get older, death appears on the horizon line… As a side note, I’ve been to Key West and uh, I’ve lost my mind there, but never really found it. Both tracks, “Murder Most Foul” and “Key West” are pretty amazing statements by Dylan.

If those two tracks are the “soul” of the album, the beating heart of this thing are a trio of blues based tracks that I loved immediately. “False Prophet” is a blues stomper that has been stuck in my head since I heard it. Dylan was so different from most folk artists in the 60s who were all doing “We Shall Overcome.” Dylan was doing acoustic country blues… on his first album he did “In My Time of Dying.” “False Prophet” is one of his best blues tunes to date. “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” is a great tribute to the blues artist. It’s the most rocking moment on the album. “I can’t play the record ‘cuz my needle got stuck,” is maybe my favorite lyric here… “Crossing the Rubicon” is a wonderful snarling blues number and statement of purpose.

The other tracks here are all knockouts. “My Own Version of You” is a ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ treatise on love. He references gangster characters of Brando and Pacino (The Godfather and Scarface) all the way to Freud and Karl Marx. It’s a great lilting track. “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You” is a lovely track that may have been influenced by eight years of singing Sinatra covers. “Black Rider” is a hidden little gem here…

This is another in a string of great original LPs from Dylan. At this stage of the game this all feels like hard won wisdom gained and now shared. The album, like the first single “Murder Most Foul,” is brimming with cultural references. It’s got elements that feel like commentary on the American situation and experience. Mortality is all over this record. “Black Rider” sounds like an argument with Death itself. This is a great, great album at a time when the world needed a great Bob Dylan album.

Perhaps, back in the 80s, sitting a bar called Auntie Mae’s, I was right when I said only Dylan can save music… “Black rider, black rider, all dressed in black, I’m walkin’ away, try and make me look back.” It’s a dark ride. Take care of each other out there…

New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”

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“If I want a party, it’s a party of one” – The Rolling Stones, “Living In A Ghost Town”

I’ve been under the weather this week. Thankfully it’s not anything COVID related (knock on wood). This is a malady I’ve encountered before. I realized it was happening and quickly got the right meds and am thankfully, on the mend. It is scary to be ill during a pandemic. I managed to talk my doctor into a script without any visits to his office or any hospital, ground zero for COVID. Basically I slept for 48 hours. I’m feeling a little like Rip Van Winkle today… I slept so long the Stones actually released a fabulous new song. If my being unconscious is the price we have to pay for a new Stones tune, I’m certainly willing to take one for the team.

I’ve been waiting and hoping for new Stones’ tunes (dare I pray for an album?) since before I started B&V. I’ve freely admitted in these pages that the Stones are my Alpha and Omega when it comes to rock and roll. I can’t believe it’s been since 2005 that their phenomenal late period album A Bigger Bang came out. That album should have got a lot more airplay than it did. They haven’t put out anything new since, except the two bonus tracks on their greatest hits package GRRR! in 2012, “Gloom and Doom,” and “One More Shot.” I think we can all agree, 15 years is too long to have only put out two tracks even though they are great songs. Sure, we lauded their blues album, Blue And Lonesome, but that brilliant LP was all covers (LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). At last, the Stones have put out a new original song, “Living In a Ghost Town,” and it is amazing. Blues-rock in a time of cholera…

People can say what they want about artists, but as I’ve seen in recent pandemic memes, what would you be doing now without movies, television, books and music? Art is indeed important. To paraphrase the famous 80s Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street,” “Art, for lack of a better word, is good.” I think our current circumstances have highlighted to all of us how important Art is (and yes, I’m capitalizing the word) in dark times. Picasso’s most famous painting ‘Guernica’ was done in the midst of the Spanish Civil war and is perhaps the greatest indictment of war ever put to canvas.

During America’s horrible nightmare on 9/11, it was Bruce Springsteen who first emerged with his brilliant album The Rising in response to the tragedy. It was a great source of solace for a lot of us. I still can’t hear the title track without a tear in my eye. I saw Springsteen the other night on the ‘Jersey4Jersey’ charity broadcast to raise money for the pandemic… great acoustic versions of “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl” with his wife Patti Scialfa on harmony vocals. During this current pandemic, it was Bob Dylan who first emerged with his 17-minute epic, “Murder Most Foul,” a brilliant allegory about America’s lost hope and loss of direction as a result of the JFK assassination (Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul”). It appears our older artists are the ones leading the way these days…

I awoke from an awful fever dream yesterday…sweating and confused, like you do when you’re ill. I peaked on social media to see what if anything had changed in my absence due to unconsciousness. Amongst the usual daily futility around the pandemic, I saw what I thought was a hallucination… “The Rolling Stones Release New Song.” I sprang to my feet and after some momentary dizziness, staggered to my computer and immediately downloaded “Living In A Ghost Town.”

On Instagram, Jagger, Richards and Wood all released videos talking about the new song. Charlie Watts is indeed, too cool for social media. Ronnie’s video was the usual, “Hey, check out our new song.” Keith seemed to indicate this track was recorded a year ago in Los Angeles. The basic track may have been, but the lyrics seem to indicate that Mick has tinkered with this more recently. With references to the “lockdown,” this is obviously fresh off the press. The Stones have been working on a new album for what seems like forever and this track was obviously in the mix there. Keith recently said the work they were doing on the new album was “basically like carpentry.” I love when Keith says, “Mick and I decided this one really needed to go to work right now.” Indeed, Keef, indeed.

I don’t typically read other reviews before I write my own, but I saw the Guardian describe this as a reggae tune… I don’t hear that. The bass line is insistent and perhaps a bit funky. It reminds me of the bass line on “Has Anybody Seen My Baby.” It’s a haunting, mid tempo number… Jagger starts off singing, “I’m a ghost, living in a ghost town.” He evokes a once vibrant world where music was everywhere and people were out enjoying themselves, “Once this place was humming, And the air was full of drumming, The sound of cymbals crashing, Glasses were all smashing, Trumpets were all screaming, Saxophones were blaring, Nobody was caring if it’s day or night.” But now all is quiet…”living in a ghost town.”

The sound of this track is vintage Stones. Jagger’s vocal is fantastic. He melds frustration and longing together seamlessly. Keith and Ronnie’s guitars circle each other, weaving together like smoke rising from a fire. There’s even a harmonica solo. I love it when Mick plays harmonica… he’s one of the best on the planet and it seems only Keith Richards realizes it. Charlie’s drums are the heartbeat of the track. I don’t know whose playing bass – whether its Darryl Jones, Keith or Ronnie but whoever is playing is killing it. There’s a great gang backing vocal that pulls the whole thing together. At one point the music falls to hush and only Jagger’s voice carries the tune forward… I got fucking goose bumps.

“Living In A Ghost Town” is what I hope to be the first track from a new stellar Stones album. I think we could all use a kick ass Stones album to get us through this dark time. While I wish this tune arrived under better circumstances, it gives me hope and it makes me grateful for whatever music we can get from these guys. It’s a big fucking deal when the Stones put out new music… and this song is a big fucking deal.

Cheers! Stay safe and healthy out there! I look forward to a time when I want a party and it’s a party of all my friends and loved ones.

 

 

RIP Ric Ocasek – Singer, Songwriter, Producer for New Wave/Rock Band The Cars Has Passed Away

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*Photo taken from the internet, from ABC News and likely copyrighted

Well this one is gonna leave a mark… more bad rock and roll news this past weekend when it was announced that the Cars’ lead singer, rhythm guitarist, songwriter and all around seemingly nice guy Ric Ocasek passed away peacefully in his sleep Sunday. On the heels of Eddie Money’s loss on Friday, it was a tough weekend. While my love of Eddie Money may have been singular to me, everybody loves/loved the Cars. My heart goes out to all his family and friends.

People tend to think of music in terms of “decades.” We often hear about the 60s or the 70s when people try to quantify and qualify music. I guess if you’re trying to get your head around a certain era or a certain sound it makes some sense. I don’t think music, music trends or the arc of certain bands’ careers fit neatly into those boxes. The Cars (and well, Eddie Money for that matter) certainly don’t fit neatly into the 70s or the 80s box. There was a decade in music from 1975 to 1985 that you can carve out, with it’s own distinct vibe and that’s where the Cars fit in (and really it’s more like 1978 to 1988). You could argue that with Van Halen, they may have ruled that “sub-decade.” Many of those bands started off as straight forward (for lack of a better description) 70’s rock bands and then morphed in the era of synths, drum machines and MTV to survive the first part of the 80s. No one made that musical transition more seamlessly than the Cars, helmed by Ric Ocasek.

My god, the music this band made was just phenomenal. The Cars sprang seemingly out of nowhere from Boston (although Ric Ocasek and bassist/vocalist Benjamin Orr had been knocking around in bands long before that). They were a quintessential Boston band. Hell, Ocasek had even hired David Robinson of the Boston band The Modern Lovers (Digging In Deeper: B&V Artists/Albums To Expand Your Music Collection – Don’t Be Afraid!) as his drummer… both Ocasek and Jonathan Richman (leader of the Lovers) were huge fans of the Velvet Underground whose music influenced both groups.  Inspired and excited with his new drummer, Ocasek responded with a batch of songs that would become the Cars’ (Ocasek, Orr, Robinson with keyboardist Greg Hawkes, and lead guitarist Elliott Easton) masterpiece debut album, The Cars. They should have named that album The Cars Greatest Hits because it is a perfect record – and one of the greatest debut albums of all time. They were able to fuse rock and roll and the blossoming New Wave sound into something uniquely their own.  The songs on that debut record… “Good Times Roll,” “Moving In Stereo,” “My Best Friends Girl,” “Just What I Needed.” Big rock with great, twitchy vocals. Ocasek and Orr’s vocals with Easton’s economical guitar solos and Hawkes ever present keyboards was the perfect mix.

They followed up in 1979 with what may be my favorite Cars’ LP, Candy-O. The Vargas painting on the front cover, with a beautiful woman on the hood of a muscle car… it’s iconic to me. There was no sophomore slump for the Cars. You couldn’t escape those first two albums, they were so huge…those records were the soundtrack to my high school years. They’d had so much success Ocasek was able to indulge his more experimental side with their third record, 1980’s Panorama. While that was a commercial and critical setback, it still had some great songs – “Gimme Some Slack,” “Touch And Go,” and a song I like to play for my wife, “Don’t Tell Me No.” I think that’s when I saw them play on Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow show, the closest I ever got to seeing them live… They rebounded in 1981 with the more “pop” album Shake It Up which has my all-time favorite Cars’ track, “Since You’re Gone.” As a brokenhearted teenager, post-breakup (my first), mooning over lyrics like “Since you’re gone, well, the moonlight ain’t so great” was habitual.

It was 1984’s Heartbeat City that blew the Cars into the stratosphere… they ruled the airwaves and MTV. With hits like “Drive” (sung beautifully by Orr), “You Might Think” and “Magic” the Cars were even bigger than in the early stage of their career – and believe me they were already huge. It was at that time when geeky looking Ric Ocasek ended up dating and marrying supermodel Paulina Porizkova, leading all of us nerds out here to think we had a shot with the prettiest woman in our lives. Any time I saw an average dude with a smokin’ hot lady, I’d say, “That’s the luckiest guy you’re gonna find, this side of Ric Ocasek.” There was a lot of conflict on Heartbeat City – Orr wanted to write more, Robinson was pissed as Ocasek used drum machines vs his drumming. They never quite recovered from that conflict… after the uninspired Door to Door the Cars split up for good. Orr and Ocasek never reconciled and Orr passed in 2000… sad indeed.

The thing that really set the Cars apart, for me, are the lyrics. Ocasek wrote more like the Beat poets he admired than a traditional songwriter who tells a story, like say, Springsteen. The lyrics for “Hello Again” read like a string of bumper stickers: “You might have forgot/the journey ends/you tied your knots/you made your friends/you left the scene/without a trace/one hand on the ground/one hand in space.” That’s a great way to start a song. Bowie is always heralded as the artist who was out there for the misfits. And yes, he was. But Ocasek ranks right up there with Bowie for all of us outcasts. He wrote songs about geeky guys lusting for the prettiest girl in school. It may comes as a surprise to readers of B&V, but I wasn’t exactly “popular” in high school… I blame the acne. Ocasek’s vision spoke to me. He wrote and sang with an icy coolness, a detachment that seemed to come from the outcast, the person sitting on the edge of the party, people watching. And yet, he still wrote with a vulnerability that was so honest. He did all of that while making us want to dance… the music of the Cars, like much of the music of that decade was just fun.

Ocasek went on to produce for a lot of different bands ranging from Suicide to Weezer, to name but a few. Everyone who worked with him raved about what a great guy he was. Ocasek even produced a couple of tracks for No Doubt which I never realized. He could make edgy music yet had a great ear to make songs radio friendly. He had to be amazing to work with in the studio. The Cars did reunite for one last album in 2011, which was sadly long after Benjamin Orr had passed… I wish he and Ocasek could have reconciled prior to Orr’s death… maybe now they can. The resulting 2011 album Move Like This, with the remaining members of the Cars save Orr was one of those unexpected treats and great, late-career albums that B&V was built on. I would recommend it to anybody. It wasn’t Candy-O, but it was a strong record. Sadly now that sound, that voice has been silenced. All I can think regarding Ric Ocasek is, “since you’re gone, well, nothings makin’ any sense.”

RIP Ric Ocasek. Your music will last forever… and not just because of Phoebe Cates’ topless scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, set to “Moving In Stereo.” Although I’m sure that won’t hurt…

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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!