Playlist: The B&V Favorite Covers of Chuck Berry Songs – A Tribute To His Immense Influence

chuck-berry-birthday-retrospective-e27defee-fb69-453e-8672-b785652b2f60

*Picture from the internet and likely copyrighted

“If you were to try and give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry” – John Lennon

As longtime readers know, I spent much of the last week and half listening to the 50th anniversary edition of Elton John’s Madman Across The Water. As I listened to that beautiful rock and roll album I couldn’t help but ruminate on the future of rock n roll. Will anyone ever make music like that again? And as usually happens when I think about the future of rock n roll, my mind kept returning to rock’s history, where it’s been. While Elvis is universally hailed as the King of Rock n Roll, although he was uncomfortable with the title and used to say, “Fats Domino, he’s the King of Rock n Roll,” a guy that ought to be in that discussion is Chuck Berry.

I was surprised that it’d been over five years since we lost Chuck Berry. And yes, I wrote my usual tribute/”obituary” (RIP Chuck Berry – Hail, Hail Rock’n’Roll), but I don’t feel I properly honored the man. I think you could argue that the Beatles and the Stones are greatest rock n roll bands ever. Sure, there’s the Zeppelin and Pink Floyd fans and I dig those bands too, but the influence the Stones and especially the Beatles had on popular music is enormous. The thing that people don’t seem to remember is those bands had influences as well and one of the biggest influences on both of them was Chuck Berry. As much as Paul McCartney wants to describe the Stones as a “blues cover” band, they also played a ton of Chuck Berry in those early days.

Speaking of the Beatles, I’m reminded of when I was just a little kid or as Tom Petty sang, “a boy in short pants.” I hated elementary school which seemed like a bad prank my parents played on me. Like the Godfather’s sang, “Birth, school, work, death.” I’m not a morning person, and even at that very tender age I was stunned I had to wake up, get out of bed, put clothes on and go to what seemed like a prison for the day with people I didn’t like. What I really liked, besides summer vacation, was to be sick and stay home. I had a Charlie Brown poster on the back of my door that read “Happiness is being too sick to go to school but not too sick to watch TV.” Savage honesty from Peanuts.

I remember – and I was in the single digits, age wise – being sick a couple of days and my Sainted Mother made a bed on the couch for me. Day time TV was different back then. The local station showed an old, old movie in the morning and there was Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas in the afternoon. There was no Oprah or Ellen back then. The shrews on “The View” were just someone else’s nightmare back then. I turn on the Mike Douglas show that first sick day and his cohost that week – he’d have a different one each week as I recall – was John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. I was so young I only had a vague idea who the Beatles were – they were a  music group my brother liked – and I was pretty sure John had been in the Beatles. It was a crazy week of TV. Mike was stunningly very welcoming to John & Yoko who were counterculture icons by this point. They had a Black Panther on, they had George Carlin on. It was wonderfully subversive TV, and in-color! But the thing I remember most is Lennon bringing on Chuck Berry. His love and admiration was on full display in this clip. And mind you this is after Chuck had sued Lennon for lifting a few lyrics from him for “Come Together,” (“Here comes ol’ flattop he comes groovin’ up slowly”).

Lennon clearly worshiped the guy. So did McCartney although I sense he was more of a Little Richard fan. And this underscores my point about Chuck’s influence on rock n roll. He was really the first “guitar hero” rock star. Elvis would wear a guitar around his neck sometimes but he was a singer. Fats Domino, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis all sat behind a piano. Buddy Holly played guitar but he wasn’t as aggressive a player as Berry. Berry was a precursor to Hendrix. He was out front, singing but also playing the guitar at the same time. His duck walk, pictured above, was as iconic as Michael Jackson’s moonwalk.

Most of Chuck’s tunes were up-beat rockers. He would just find a riff and ride it until the end. It was very guitar forward rock n roll. He would play blistering, albeit brief solos. It was the sound of freedom and rebellion. You could tell Chuck was probably misbehaving. He wrote more songs about under age girls than perhaps he should have…Everybody that you can think of – all the great bands and artists – cover Chuck. From the aforementioned Beatles (and both Lennon and McCartney) to the Stones (and Keith solo) to the Kinks, the Animals, the Everly Brothers and even Elvis covered Chuck Berry. Even if a band you love didn’t cover Chuck, they can probably play one of his tracks live. Keith Richards even did a documentary in honor of Chuck, Hail! Hail! Rock N Roll. There are so many great tunes that are based on the Chuck Berry formula: the Stones’ “Star Star” and Bob Seger’s “Get Out Of Denver” to name but a few. He’s all over rock n roll.

If you’ve never really listened to Chuck Berry – and you’ve probably heard his music but didn’t realize your favorite band was playing Chuck – I would recommend his compilation LP The Great Twenty-Eight, as a starting point. There are probably bigger or more complete “greatest hits” packages but The Great Twenty Eight covers the cream of the crop all in one disc. Artists in the 50s and 60s were more singles focused instead of album focused so compilations of those singles are the best way to experience artists like Chuck or Buddy Holly. My father had a bunch of singles from Elvis, Johnny Cash and Ray Charles but oddly no Chuck Berry…

I decided to compile a playlist based on The Great Twenty Eight. I did something similar with Robert Johnson’s King Of the Delta Blues album. I find my favorite versions of covers of the songs on the album and put them on my play list. I also threw in a few bonus tracks of versions of songs that are too good to ignore. One thing I found and this is weird to me – is that there are so many blues or blues rock guys that covered Chuck Berry. It’s like he’s a missing link between the blues and rock and roll. Maybe it’s because he was so guitar focused. His songs were riff, riff, solo, riff. And that is kind of similar to blues. But when you see Johnny Winter, George Thorogood and Foghat on a list you start to think, hmmm the blues and Chuck Berry must have had some synergy. If you’ve got a great Chuck Berry cover, put it in the comments and I’ll drop it in the playlist. As usual you can find my playlist on the dread Spotify.

  1. AC/DC, “School Days” – AC/DC rock this one. I’ll say again it’s interesting how bands with a great blues base always seem to find Chuck. I love Angus’ solo but then I love all of his solos.
  2. The Rolling Stones, “Come On” – I could have just filled this list with Stones’ tunes. I love this mono version of the Stones’ very first single. I mean, very first ever.
  3. Faces, “Memphis” – This is the ultimate version of this song in my opinion and one of my favorite songs from Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane and the gang. Woody just takes the band on a little slide guitar jam before the song kicks in. Sublime.
  4. Bob Seger, “Let It Rock” – If Seger’s early music was out there I’d have included the studio version of this track from Smokin’ O.P.s but this epic live version will do. It’s amazing that Seger and the Silver Bullet Band could take a three minute Chuck Berry song and turn it into their epic show ending last encore for the balance of their career. You hear a snippet of “Little Queenie” as well. “Get Out of Denver” from Bob might be the best Chuck Berry song not done by Chuck.
  5. The Animals, “Around And Around” – The Stones also did this track on their second LP but I feel like the Animals – who were a solid blues rock outfit in their own right – deserve some love from B&V.
  6. The Rolling Stones, “Bye Bye Johnny” – Another Berry cover, another single. The devotion was real!
  7. The Kinks, “Too Much Monkey Business” – Sure I could have gone with the Elvis version but I couldn’t resist this version by the Kinks. The Yardbirds did a spirited version of this track as well.
  8. John Lennon, “You Can’t Catch Me” – One of several Chuck Berry covers Lennon did on his oft overlooked 1975 LP Rock N Roll an album of early rock covers which made our list of favorite “cover albums.”
  9. Linda Ronstadt, “Back In The U.S.A.” – One of my all time favorite Chuck Berry covers and one of my favorite songs from Ronstadt. Everything she did was amazing (Documentary Review: The Sublime ‘Linda Ronstadt, The Sound Of My Voice’).
  10. The Everly Brothers, “Maybellene” – I actually was torn between this version and the Foghat version so I’ve put both on this playlist. I feel like they vary enough I could get away with it.
  11. REO Speedwagon, “Little Queenie” – Again, I could have used the Stones’ version but what’s the fun in an all Stones’ playlist? This was from their 1972 second LP back when they still rocked and before they became sell out hacks. “Little Queenie” is one of Chuck’s more oft covered tracks.
  12. Stray Cats, “Beautiful Delilah” – I love the Stones’ version, especially on the On Air – Live At the BBC album but I’ve always kind of dug the Stray Cats. I saw them live by accident once at, of all places, Worlds Of Fun. Brian Setzer on guitar is the real deal.
  13. The Beatles, “Roll Over Beethoven” – I’m stunned it’s taken me this long to get around to a Beatles’ version of a Chuck song! ELO did a version but c’mon, you’re never gonna beat the Beatles doing Berry.
  14. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Carol (Live)” – In his later years Petty got into the blues and unsurprisingly it led him to Chuck Berry.
  15. Rod Stewart, “Sweet Little Rock n Roller” – From his oft wrongly maligned LP Smiler which marked the end of his fruitful Mercury years. This song is worth the price of the album alone.
  16. Johnny Cash & Carl Perkins, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” – There are so many fabulous version of this track from Buddy Holly to Paul McCartney but you can’t beat two legends taking a turn on this one.
  17. The Rolling Stones, “Talkin’ About You” – Well, I didn’t say I was going to avoid all the Stones’ covers did I? Another great track.
  18. John Lennon, “Sweet Little Sixteen” – Lennon back with another Chuck song about a young girl… I sense a pattern here from Mr. Berry.
  19. The Beatles, “Rock And Roll Music” – The young Beatles at their ferocious best. Primal rock n roll here.
  20. Johnny Winter, “Thirty Days” – The legendary blues man doing a raucous version here. Johnny deserves more love… we just reviewed his brother Edgar’s tribute LP for Johnny, a must listen for fans of the blues. It’s like Johnny was meant to cover Chuck Berry.
  21. Santana, “Havana Moon” – Never has a song and a band been a more perfect match.
  22. The Pretty Things, “Oh Baby Doll” – One of Bowie’s favorite bands doing Chuck here. I’ve just recently gotten into these guys and they are awesome.
  23. Dave Clark Five, “Reelin’ And Rockin” – Was there any 60s era band that didn’t take a crack at a Chuck Berry song?
  24. Jimi Hendrix, “Johnny B Goode (Live At Berkley)” – This is a really manic version of this song but it works. Guitar God Jimi Hendrix giving a nod to the first real Guitar God, Chuck Berry. What’s not to love?
  25. Lovin’ Spoonful, “Almost Grown” – A great band that also deserves more love here at B&V. I’ve had several readers post their tracks as suggestions for our other playlists… I thought I’d beat them to the punch!
  26. John Hammond, “Nadine” – A new discovery for us here at B&V but love this track.
  27. George Thorogood & the Delware Destroyers, “No Particular Place To Go” – This song takes me back to high school and college, Thorogood’s heyday. He’s another example of a blues guy – who turned a John Lee Hooker tune into a hit (“One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”) – doing Chuck Berry.
  28. Foghat, “Maybelline” – Call me a product of the 70s but I will always love Foghat… especially that famous picture of them in front of the Holiday Inn marquee…
  29. The Band, “Back To Memphis (Outtake)” – I’ve been jamming on the Band’s album Cahoots for the last few weeks now I’m thinking I’ll have to dig into Moondog Matinee now too.
  30. Jerry Garcia Band, “You Never Can Tell (C’est La Vie)” – Seger did this song on a greatest hits compilation but I was just so delighted to be able to slip Jerry Garcia on this list. I’m sure there are countless Greatful Dead covers that rage on for 45 minutes but this one is a short and sweet track.
  31. Keith Richards, “Run Rudolph, Run” – This is a bonus track for all you Christmas music folks. Keith just loves Chuck.

I have to admit, I had to make some really tough choices. There are so many bands who did so many good versions of Chuck’s songs that it was hard to pick just one. And well, with “Maybellene” I couldn’t pick just one. At only 2 hours this is one rollicking, rocking playlist. The songs all hold together so well because Chuck had a magic formula. Lots of guitar.

Hopefully we’ve turned you on to Chuck Berry with this playlist, if you hadn’t already been into him. Or at the very least hopefully you’ve heard something new. Either way, I hope this rocking playlist helps get you through the summer heat.

Cheers! Stay cool out there… stay hydrated.

New Song Review: Jack White, “If I Die Tomorrow,” From His Second LP of 2022, ‘Entering Heaven Alive’

512816-if-i-die-tomorrow

“If I die tomorrow, could you find it in your heart to sing?” – Jack White, “If I Die Tomorrow”

As longtime readers of B&V know, I’m a huge fan of Jack White. I think the man is a genius. He’s one of the best guitarists of his generation. Like most people I got on his bandwagon during his time in the White Stripes. But I also followed him over to the Raconteurs, his first “proper” side project. I even kept an eye on the Dead Weather such was my “fandom” of Mr. White and he was just the drummer in that band. But, I have to admit, when I heard he had a new song out, “If I Die Tomorrow,” I hesitated a second. Over the last few albums Jack has made me feel a little like Charlie Brown from my dad’s favorite cartoon, Peanuts.

When Jack finally went solo in 2012 I absolutely loved that first album Blunderbuss. I was equally enthusiastic about the follow up Lazaretto. Naturally my anticipation around his third solo album was, shall we say, “fever-pitched.” I was crushingly disappointed with 2018’s Boarding House Reach and wrote about it here on B&V, LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’. I applauded his creativity and his striving for something new, but the album just left me cold. When he reunited with the Raconteurs for 2019’s Help Us Stranger I was delighted. I felt his being back in a real band gave some structure to his creative impulses and said so, LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’.

I read late last year, or perhaps early this year that Jack had not wasted his time in pandemic lockdown and would be issuing not one new LP, but two. After the positive experience with Help Us Stranger I couldn’t help it, I let my excitement and anticipation get a little out of control. The first single did nothing to staunch that excitement. I thought the song “Taking Me Back” was a great first salvo (and even liked the softer version, “Taking Me Back (Gently)”). But then I heard the entire LP Fear Of The Dawn and I didn’t even review it. There’s enough negativity in the world, if I don’t like something I don’t generally review it (the ol’ “if you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing at all”). It sounded like nails in a blender to me, nothing but odd sound experiments. I would have never guessed that both Jack White and the Black Keys would put out albums and it’d be Dropout Boogie that’d be the better album. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Black Keys and don’t mean to compare them to Jack or the White Stripes, I think they’re consistently fantastic, but Jack is my “O.G.” on that bluesy, punky, rock. But the Black Keys simply delivered on Dropout Boogie.

This week as I was getting back on my feet again after the Memorial Day holiday and my annual summer cold (the cold leaves, the cough stays until the 4th of July), I saw that Jack had another new song out, the lead single from his upcoming 2nd LP of the year, Entering Heaven Alive. And this, faithful readers, is where I hesitated. In the aforementioned cartoon Peanuts, Charlie Brown is kind of an “everyman” and some might say a loser. He has a neighbor, Lucy, who brings over her football every fall and says she’ll hold the ball and Charlie can kick it, like a field goal. Every year he hesitates because he knows at the last minute Lucy will pull the football away and Charlie will fly through the air and land on his ass. You’ll have to forgive me, but after Boarding House Reach and Fear Of The Dawn, I’m starting to think of Jack White as Lucy with the football. I just don’t want to work myself up like Charlie and end up flying through the air and landing on my ass again.

With all my mental health issues around rock n roll anticipation aside, I have to say, I’m quite taken with this new song, “If I Die Tomorrow.” While Fear Of The Dawn was a rock and roll album, Entering Heaven Alive was billed as being a more “folky” set of songs. I took that to mean more acoustic. Who doesn’t love Jack White acoustic? One of his earliest popular tunes was the beautiful “We’re Going To Be Friends.” With the new song, he’s released this video:

I don’t usually comment on videos, I’m here for the music, but that’s a pretty cool video. It’s surreal enough to fit the subject matter. I feel like this is the kind of video I’d have sat up late on a Friday night in college, into the wee small hours, drinking beer and waiting to see again.

In terms of the song, from the first cymbal, strummed acoustic guitar and violin a sense of drama envelops the song. The singer asks for us to look after his mother if she “weeps in sorrow.” He asks us to even mix her a double of her favorite drink, apparently lemon flavored. Who doesn’t love a lemonade and vodka, but I’m off topic. It’s an acoustic song but it’s not laid back at all. It actually has a slow burn intensity that I keep coming back to. The guitar solo sounds almost jumbled like something off of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” like they sliced the tape up and tossed it in the air and then re-assembled it, if that makes sense. It’s not a searing guitar solo, its more surreal which befits the song and the subject matter. Jack’s vocal is at once sad and hopeful.

While this may be the thoughts of a dying man, I can’t help but feel warm when I hear the sentiment of the last verse:

If I die tomorrow
Will you let me know I left in peace?
I begged and I borrowed
Everybody’s love, and they gave for free
And I wish that I could give it back to them
So, if I die tomorrow
Will you give them all the love they lent to me?

That last line sounds oddly hopeful to me and these days when so much grim shit is going down, I could use a little sharing of love to boost me up. Pay it forward, as they say.

I love this song. However, I am taking a much more cautious approach to what Entering Heaven Alive might bring us. All I know is this a great tune, especially to listen to during some late night, whiskey in a tumbler rumination.

Cheers!

Pink Floyd: First New Single Since 2014 – “Hey, Hey, Rise Up (Featuring Andriy Khylvnyuk)” For Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief

pinkfloydriseup-e1649351543767

I had to rub my eyes when I started seeing the stuff on line… A new song by legendary band Pink Floyd? That can’t be right. Perhaps it could be early on-set dementia catching up with me? Pink Floyd hasn’t done anything since 2014’s The Endless River, a mostly instrumental tribute to their then-recently passed keyboard player Rick Wright. And the songs on that album were crafted from jams they did when recording The Division Bell back in 1994. They just went in and did some creative editing and a little bit of addition to come up with the album. I dug The Endless River as it harkens back to that Floyd period after founding guitarist/vocalist Syd Barrett departed and before the massive fame that came with Dark Side Of The Moon. And let’s face it, Pink Floyd was always at their best when lamenting a departed band member be it Syd Barrett, Roger Waters or Rick Wright. But after The Endless River, David Gilmour announced, that’s it, Pink Floyd are done.

Hence my shock when I saw that there was a new Floyd song on the way. It turns out Gilmour has gotten Pink Floyd back together for the most noble of reasons. The song is for charity, namely Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief. All proceeds go to that. Gilmour could have released this as a solo track, but obviously he realizes that the creative/commercial reach of using the Pink Floyd name is far wider than just his solo stuff. Pink Floyd has always stood on the side of Peace and this is a perfect use of their clout. Joining Gilmour (guitar) is Nick Mason on drums – and if Gilmour and Mason are involved it’s Pink Floyd to me – with Guy Pratt whose played bass for Pink Floyd for a long time and Nitin Sawhney on keyboards. Gilmour’s daughter-in-law is Ukrainian so he obviously has a personal stake in all of this.

On vocals it’s Andriy Khlyvnyuk from the Ukrainian band Boombox. Gilmour sat in with Boombox a few years ago, although Andriy was absent that night, visa issues. More recently Boombox was touring, I believe in America, when the Russians launched their unprovoked invasion. He flew back to Kyiv to help defend his country. After being there a few days he posted a video on social media singing a Ukrainian song “The Red Viburnum In The Meadow.” It’s a “we will rise” kind of song. Very stirring. It was then that Gilmour got the idea of pulling Pink Floyd back together. Mason was immediately keen on the idea. Gilmour was quoted as saying, in a self-deprecating manner, “All I had to do was go in and play the “guitar god” part.” And he certainly does. There is also a very affecting video on YouTube, seen here:

I thought, “Charity single ok, I’m in,” but I didn’t expect to like this song as much as I do. Andriy’s vocal is as impassioned as you’d think it would be. I loved when U2 did that side project as The Passengers and did that song with Luciano Pavarotti, “Miss Sarajevo” so I found hearing someone sing in Ukrainian quite moving. And Gilmour’s guitar is, well quite inspired. He’s one of those guitar players who when I hear him, I know it’s him. His style of playing is so distinctive. He does not sing at all on the song, it’s all Andriy on vocals.

There are some who may argue whether this is “really” Pink Floyd. But it was the line up of Gilmour and Mason who were credited as Pink Floyd on A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Rick Wright played on the album but wasn’t an “official” band member so he could avoid the hassles brought on by Roger Waters lawsuit against the band… which he eventually lost. So if you want to get caught up in the debate of whether this is Pink Floyd or not, go right ahead. But here at B&V this is Pink Floyd.

This is a great song put together for an even greater reason, Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief. Anything that can help is positive. I love that Gilmour cranked up Pink Floyd in the cause of humanitarian relief. The Russians atrocities get worse every day. I can’t believe we’re seeing a war in Europe in 2022. If this great song can shine more light on it, I’m in. Come for the noble cause, stay for the impassioned vocal and searing guitar solos. And as we used to say in high school, “It’s Pink Floyd, man.”

“All we are saying is give Peace a chance” – John Lennon!

Cheers!

Review: Keith Richards’ Second Album, ‘Main Offender – 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition’

image

I’ve always loved Keith Richards. Oh sure, when I was a young teenager just getting into rock n roll and I bought my first LP, the Stones’ Some Girls, I wanted to be Mick Jagger. As a kid you always wanted to be the lead singer, they get the “chicks.” As I got older and saw more vintage footage of the Stones – and actually saw them live at Kemper Arena on the Tattoo You tour – my attention started to shift to Keef. Before I met the Rock Chick I had a great old pic of Keith that I tore out of a magazine and haphazardly taped to my bathroom mirror… I think there was drink involved with hanging that thing. Keith’s role in the band was so integral – he was out front leading the band with Mick but he mostly played rhythm guitar which tied him to Charlie Watts (RIP) in the back. His riffage was what propelled the band. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to diminish Jagger’s contribution to the band. They’re always stronger together.

Speaking of “stronger together,” and sitting here thinking about the Mick vs Keith feud of the late 80s really takes me back. It looked like we were going to be living in a world without the Stones and what a grim world that would have been! Keith never really wanted a solo career, he was content in the Stones and occasionally sitting in with friends like Tom Waits. When Jagger refused to tour for Dirty Work (a wrongly maligned album) and went to record his second solo LP, Primitive Cool, I think Keith was backed into a corner regarding a solo career. He was downright pissed. He knew he likely couldn’t replace Watts but he knew he needed a strong “engine” to fuel whatever solo music he was going to come up with. He got Steve Jordan to play drums and co write with (who is now replacing Charlie on drums for the Stones as they embark on their 60th anniversary tour) and Charlie Drayton who played bass. That was a damn strong rhythm section. Keith knew he wanted a band and he knew to build it from the bottom up. He then pulled in Ivan Neville to play keyboards and in a real coup he pulled in Waddy Wachtel (Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon, the Every Brothers) to play lead guitar. He added Sarah Dash for harmony and backing vocals and the X-Pensive Winos were complete.

Keith’s first solo LP, 1988’s Talk Is Cheap is nothing short of a masterpiece. Fueled by his anger with Mick and excited by the power of the band he’d discovered in the X-Pensive Winos he let loose. Shortly after that he reunited with Mick – who’s Primitive Cool had been a commercial and critical flop, especially when compared to Talk Is Cheap – and they recorded the amazing Steel Wheels which I consider a late-period Stones masterpiece. It also happens to be the Rock Chick’s favorite Stones’ album. She’s into the Ronnie Wood period and has impeccable taste but I digress. After being comforted that the Stones could still function together and seemingly O.K. with the concept of he and Mick doing solo stuff and then returning to the band, Keith decided to do a second album with the X-Pensive Winos.

The second album Main Offender came out in 1992. Like I said, a lot had happened in between it and Talk Is Cheap. The Stones had reunited, recorded an album and toured – very successfully I might add. Keith was no longer supremely pissed at Mick. While I really dug Main Offender it did lose some of the intensity without Keith’s anger that made Talk Is Cheap crackle. Main Offender is more of a groove album in my mind, a little like the Stones’ Black And Blue where the band just finds a riff and rides it out. That method can yield some great results – the opening track “999” is one of my all time favorite Keith songs. There’s a moment in the song where he sings, “Don’t panic…” In the early 90s I was going up to Chicago to see my friends a lot and my buddy who I’ll call R.K. used to randomly tilt his head back while sitting at the bar and yell, “Don’t panic…” in much the same way as Keith. Ah, the good ol’ days. But there are degrees to how far the groove approach can take you. Songs like “Yap Yap” and “Body Talks” are merely riffs that they ride for almost too long.

There is some wonderful reggae on Main Offender. “Wicked As It Seems” is a great, muscular reggae song. So is “Words of Wonder” which is all groovy reggae. “Eileen” was a great single and great song. It verges on pop rock. The album’s last track is one of the prettiest ballads Keith has ever written, “Demon.” That one was my theme song for quite a while… “Demon in me… I can’t live without it.” Yeah, those were some dark times. “Hate It When You Leave” is a great song that verges on soul. There is a lot to love on this album and if you’ve never heard it or owned it, this new 30th-Anniversary version is a must have.

For those of us who already own Main Offender, the question is as it always seems to be, is the bonus material worth it? Much like the Talk Is Cheap – Deluxe Edition, this deluxe set includes a concert from London in 1992. The X-Pensive Winos are such a great band. The first sound you hear on the show’s opener, “Take It So Hard” is Keith’s rhythm guitar which reached out and grabbed me. They do tracks from both of Keith’s solo records and dip ever so slightly into the Stones’ catalog with a gloriously sloppy “Gimme Shelter,” “Happy,” and “Before They Make Me Run” from the beloved Some Girls album. For me, I think any opportunity to hear the X-Pensive Winos play is worth the price of admission. I will admit though, this live stuff is likely for true Keef/Stones fans only. It’s a great concert document with great, crunching guitars and wonderful drums, but I don’t know how often I’ll return to it… well, who am I kidding, I’ll return to it, it’s live Keith, but normal people might not return to it that often.

If you’ve never experienced Main Offender or you’re a huge live Keith fan, this Deluxe set is for you. I heard Keith got the Winos together for a @LoveRocksNYC charity concert. Well he had Wachtel, Ivan Neville, Jordan all there… I think Will Lee from Letterman’s old band played bass. It’s always great to see those cats back together and jamming. I highly urge everyone to give this Main Offender 30th Annviersary a spin at maximum volume. Just hearing this live stuff makes me want to tie a head scarf on and unbutton my shirt a few buttons… maybe put on some dark eye make up…

Cheers!

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

image

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

McCartney 3,2,1

“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

IMG_1192

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!