Playlist: Missing Going To The Movies?: Our Favorite Soundtrack Songs

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*Image from the internet and likely subject to copyright

I was musing in last week’s post regarding a local/regional band (Sunset Sinners: Poised For Big 2021, New Music On The Way) about how much I miss live music. I don’t just miss going to arenas and stadiums for big time shows, I also miss going to the local pub and hearing someone busking in the corner for tips. I haven’t checked out a lot of the stuff that artists are doing online via Zoom during lockdown, alas. I hear Sammy Hagar and the Circle did some cool covers (Who, Zeppelin) last year and are going to release a compilation album of those tracks this year. While all that online stuff sounds cool, nothing replaces the experience of being in a hot, sweaty room with a crowd of people in front of the altar of rock n’ roll, the stage. I don’t care if its Arrowhead Stadium or a dive bar, there’s just something about looking the artist in the eyes (even if it is on a big screen) and seeing them perform the music I love that hits my lower brain stem. Like Pavlov’s dogs you hit a guitar chord and I drool.

I know that live music is a luxury for many of us. I realize there are a lot of people who are suffering – they miss having a job, paying rent or having enough money to feed their families. My heart goes out to those people and I do not mean to make light of anything in these pages, we’re merely here as a distraction from the grim reality of this point in history. That said, there are many other things that I have missed in this interminable lockdown other than concerts. I miss seeing friends of mine especially the ones who have dispersed far and wide. I miss being able to travel to see people. Hell, you could say I just miss travel for travel’s sake. Road trips in the car seem like a remote memory. I used to love to look out the passenger window as the Rock Chick drove at her preferred excessive speed and watch the landscape fly by… it felt like I was leaving the ground, although that may be the bourbon flask talking… Hell, I’ve only driven out to see my sainted mother two or three times since last March. I will say, I don’t miss shaking hands – I’m not a germaphobe, its just archaic. I certainly miss having things to do on weekends. Even I have a limit to how long I can sit on the couch and watch TV… well, at least that’s what I’m telling the Rock Chick. During my annual Dry January, boredom seems to affect me more than it has in the past few months.

One of the things that I seem to miss most these days is the time honored tradition of driving down to the local  mall, wandering through the crowd to the cineplex and buying tickets to a movie. Before they started doing the whole “reserved” seats thing we would have to leave really early to be there to dash through the darkened aisles to get to that perfect seat – right in the middle, 2/3 of the way back from the screen – the Rock Chick has very…exact… coordinates for these things. I will admit that ever since the local theaters stopped selling my favorite go-to candy Hot Tamales, movies have lost a little bit of their luster. I typically had consumed the entire box before the “coming attractions” started. I don’t know why they stopped selling those, but if you work at a theater and are reading this, please do something about that. I don’t like Milk Duds, they stick to my teeth but I digress.

I’ve been a fan of movies since I was a little kid. When you went to the theater and they dimmed the lights you would be transported (if the movie was any good) anywhere from a “long time ago in a galaxy far away” to the gritty streets of New York or Paris or London. The movies could take you into the future or backward into some mysterious past. Only books have had more of an effect on my imagination and enjoyment of the world than the movies. You could see cowboys, astronauts, Jedi, spies, heroes, villains, wizards… anything you can think of, or as a kid, anything you wished you could be. I love those epic stories – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, anything that has multiple chapters. No matter how good, bad or indifferent life was, two hours in a dark theater was just the break your brain needed from the humdrum of day to day existence. I could be moved from laughter to tears to being anxiously perched on the edge of my seat all in the course of 2 hours. Ah, to be entertained.

My father is a big James Bond fan. I can still remember him loading my mother, my brother and me into the car and heading out to the Twin Drive-In, out off I-35 near Olathe. My brother and I were in our pj’s, since we’d likely fall asleep during the second movie of the double feature. We’d find our spot and pull the speaker into the car and watch James Bond foil the designs of bad guys like Goldfinger or Dr. No. These movies had probably been out for years at the time, but my dad would always attend a James Bond double-feature, no matter when or where. Of course, later in life the Drive-In became a den of iniquity for me and whoever I could miraculously talk into being my date. We’d swing by the liquor store to get some beer, maybe take a pizza out there… those records are sealed. I will say one summer I went to the movie Tron at the drive-in four times and to this day I have no idea what happens in that movie? I’ve never seen it. 

As I got older, besides the whole misbehavior at the drive-in thing, I discovered an entire subculture at the midnight movies! None of that PG stuff at midnight… we all wanted that rated R stuff, the “good” stuff. The first time I talked my parents into letting me attend a midnight movie I saw Blazing Saddles. I laughed so hard I almost had to leave the theater. There were other great, subversive flicks like Kentucky Fried Movie. Who can forget “Catholic High School Girls In Trouble?” It was at the midnight movies that I faced the seminal experience of my generation in the Rite of Passage that all rock n roll stoners, er I mean high school kids go through when I saw the epic Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same. Critics may have hated that movie but for high school kids it was high art…those fantasy sequences, simply mind blowing back then! There may have been drink or herbal remedies involved in that whole Zeppelin situation. There was all manner of cool shit at the midnight movies from (believe it or not) porn to rock n roll to comedy. My love of Monty Python movies stems from those midnight flicks. I loved the midnight movies and all the skeevy folks who were there… like me and my friends.

One of my fondest midnight movie experiences was the animated flick, Heavy Metal. It was a bizarre, fantasy rock and roll cartoon. I think it might have been based on a graphic novel-magazine (comic book) of the same name. There was so much music in that cartoon. They had not one but two acts do different theme songs – Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” and Don Felder’s “Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride).” Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick and believe it or not Grand Funk Railroad all have songs in this movie… for reasons unclear, even Stevie Nicks shows up with a solo track. I guess that movie would qualify as a musical – a movie format that I loathe. Perhaps because it was rock n roll I didn’t realize what was happening. Either way, I’m not sure if it was that movie that gave me an appreciation of great music in movies or if that appreciation was always there. Regardless, over the years I’ve always kept my ears keenly attuned to hear any rock and roll that might be included in a movie. I don’t buy soundtracks as a general rule, but every now and then you hear a song by an artist that isn’t on an LP that you know you’ve gotta have. It’s easier now with streaming and MP3s… but as a youngster, the struggle was real. Who wants to buy a whole soundtrack album for one song? I remember hearing Jackson Browne singing “Somebody’s Baby” in Fast Times At Ridgemont High and thinking, that’s a great song, what album is that on? Alas, it wasn’t on any Jackson Browne album at the time…

As I pondered the snowy, grey and cold expanse of January, my least favorite month, I started to put together a list of tracks in my head that I’ve always liked that debuted on soundtrack. If I can’t go to a movie I’ll listen to music from movies… I’m not talking about a great song used well in a movie. Yes, Say Anything had a great use of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” but that song had already been out for a while on Gabriel’s So. Who can forget the fabulous use of Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some” in Better Off Dead, when a cheeseburger plays guitar? But that song had already been out on Women And Children First prior to that. What I’m talking about are songs that were either written specifically for the movie (ie, the two Heavy Metal tracks above) or were originally used and heard in a movie. If a track an artist contributes to a movie becomes a hit, yes the track usually ends up on a Greatest Hits or compilation package, but for purposes of this playlist I’m talking songs that debuted, if you will, in a movie. What I like about artists doing movie tracks is they often take chances. They’ll do an odd cover song. It’s a one-off track and they seem to add a little extra to those songs. Sometimes the band is just inspired or moved by the story in the movie and they dig deeper. There have been a ton of good rock tracks in the James Bond series – and I’m not talking that Shirley Bassey, jazzy/horns stuff like “Goldfinger” or “Diamonds Are Forever.” Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that – I can often be heard belting out either of those tunes from the shower… For years I thought she sang “The Man With The Golden Gun” too, but I guess that was Lulu. I do have several Bond tracks on my list because hey man, BourbonAndVinyl is licensed to kill… with rock and roll. 

As I compiled this list I also included songs from movies that the bands filmed, which seems like cheating. The Beatles did two movies. Elvis did an infinite number of flicks, curse you Colonel Tom. I included some tracks that would have been hits by Prince anyway but they were in his movies. Queen did a couple of soundtracks. I think I even have a track from Motley Crue’s The Dirt on here. If there are other great tracks that made their debut in a film, please mention them in the comments and I’ll add it to the Spotify playlist, BourbonAndVinyl.net Missing The Movies: Favorite Soundtrack Songs, linked below. Like all of our playlists this isn’t meant to be exhaustive… it’s just our favorites. It’s always best to hit “shuffle” or “random” when playing these playlists, in my humble opinion. I will admit, fully, I’m disappointed that many of my choices for this – about half a dozen – were not available on Spotify and so I omitted them here. 

  1. The Blues Brothers, “She Caught the Katy” – Such a great opening song from the movie. I love this blues song. 
  2. Elvis Presley, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – The King… I could have chosen dozens of songs or just done a list of his movie songs, but I limited myself to only two…this one had to be one of them. 
  3. U2, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet – From the obscure flick, The Million Dollar Hotel. One of their all time great deep tracks (U2’s Ten Greatest Non Album Tracks & 5 Best Covers, In Honor of Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary ). 
  4. The Beatles, “Help!” – They did two films, one in color, one in black and white. This was the color film. 
  5. Queen, “Princes of the Universe” – From the great Highlander film that I watched 1000 times in college. 
  6. Joe Walsh, “In the City” – Before he recorded it with the Eagles Joe did a solo version of this track and it played over the opening sequence of Warriors during a shot of a ferris wheel lighting up on Coney Island. 
  7. Sammy Hagar, “Heavy Metal” – This was on Standing Hampton but I will always insist I heard it in the Heavy Metal midnight movie. 
  8. Motley Crue, “The Dirt (Est 1981)” – Title track from the biopic (Review: Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ – Movie and Thankfully, A Soundtrack). 
  9. David Bowie, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – You have to get the original version from the soundtrack, not the reworked version on Let’s Dance.  
  10. Prince, “Kiss” – From Under the Cherry Moon, the less successful follow up to Purple Rain
  11. Stevie Nicks, “Free Fallin'” – Never heard of this movie but fitting that Nicks, an honorary member of the Heartbreakers, would cover it. 
  12. Metallica, “I Disappear” – Great track from one of the twenty or thirty Mission Impossible movies. 
  13. The Donnas, “Dancing With Myself” – The all girl group tackles the Billy Idol classic. 
  14. Bruce Springsteen, “Missing” – This version is from a movie Sean Penn directed, The Crossing Guard and it shares a title with a similar song from The Rising. This is a different and fabulous track. 
  15. Bruce Springsteen, “Streets of Philadelphia” – The Boss won an Oscar for this track. 
  16. Pearl Jam, “Love Reign O’er Me” – Like I said, a lot of great covers on this list. 
  17. Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed” – One of his great late career tracks. It has one of my favorite Dylan lines, “don’t get up gentlemen, I’m just passing through…”
  18. Elvis Presley, “Viva Las Vegas” – Covered by ZZ Top and Springsteen among many others, still owned by the King.
  19. Paul Simon, “One Trick Pony” – Title track from the movie. I could have chosen “Late In the Evening” but this song has always appealed to me. 
  20. Lenny Kravitz, “American Woman” – Another Austin Powers highlight that ended up on later, expanded versions of Lenny’s LP, 5.
  21. U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” – Paging Batman… 
  22. Prince, “When Doves Cry” – The first hit from Purple Rain
  23. Duran Duran, “A Time To A Kill” – Finally some Bond action here! 
  24. Paul McCartney, “No More Lonely Nights” – Awful movie, awful soundtrack but I like David Gilmour’s lead guitar on this song. 
  25. Bob Dylan, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – From Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Covered by GnR, Warren Zevon and Clapton to name but a few. 
  26. Blondie, “Call Me” – From American Gigolo, a movie I’m proud to admit I snuck into whilst underage. 
  27. Fiona Apple, “Across the Universe” – Apple’s understated yet supple version… can’t beat a Beatles’ cover. 
  28. Soundgarden, “Live To Rise” – I know nothing about the movie this came from but what a great Soundgarden song. 
  29. Jackson Browne, “Somebody’s Baby” – Shamelessly pop, but I’ve always loved this track about the underdog asking the pretty girl on a date… maybe to the drive-in to see Tron? 
  30. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Soul To Squeeze” – Technically this was released as a B-side before its inclusion on The Coneheads soundtrack but that inclusion is what got it noticed. 
  31. AC/DC, “Big Gun” – From an Ahnold Schwarzenegger film. 
  32. Guns N Roses, “Sympathy For The Devil” – From Interview With A Vampire… I never thought Tom Cruise made a convincing Lestat, for the record. 
  33. Jon Bon Jovi, “Blaze Of Glory” – I’m not a huge Bon Jovi fan but I always liked this solo track from a western. 
  34. Steely Dan, “FM” – “No static at all….” 
  35. Eddie Vedder, “Hard Sun” – From a soundtrack LP the Rock Chick gave me for my birthday one year. 
  36. Bob Seger, “Understanding” – Another great Seger track. 
  37. The Donnas, “Roll On Down The Highway” – Appropriate cover for the remake of Herbie (the love bug). 
  38. Greta Van Fleet, “Always There” – A track I wrote about, Friday New Music DJ’ing & Greta Van Fleet’s New Single, “Always There”
  39. The Beatles, “Hard Day’s Night” – From the black and white movie… 
  40. David Bowie, “As The World Falls Down” – A weird little track from Labyrinth that I always liked. 
  41. Don Felder, “Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride)” – Ah, take me back to those midnight movies… 
  42. Starcrawler, “Pet Semetary” – Ramones cover from my favorite new band! 
  43. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Live And Let Die” – The greatest of all Bond film theme songs. 
  44. Mick Jagger, “Old Habits Die Hard” – From the Alfie remake. 
  45. Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” – Cornell could literally everything. From acoustic to metal to this… Can’t believe he’s gone. 

That’s my list folks. Again, if you have any adds, hit me in the comments and I’ll add it to the Spotify playlist.

It’s been a crazy start to 2021, but I’m hoping things mellow out and I see you all at concerts and record stores in the near future. Cheers! 

Review: Mike Campbell’s New Band The Dirty Knobs, ‘Wreckless Abandon”

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While I could – on a very personal level – argue that 1994-1995 were my worst years, I believe I’m safe in saying that on a more universal level 2020 has been the worst year of all our lives. With all the general suck-iness and downright awful shit that has happened in 2020 I have to admit… and I don’t say this about many years… it’s been a great year for rock and roll. I looked back at some of my old “best of” lists for past years and more than once I fell into quoting Don Henley, “it was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock and roll.” I certainly can’t say that about 2020. Unable to tour, many bands from AC/DC to Springsteen & the E Street Band put together new albums. If there wasn’t new music, many artists from Neil Young to the Stones put out great stuff from the archives. I’ve been so awash in new music (or vault stuff) that I’ve found myself writing twice a week this fall… which is probably better for me than the folks who actually read B&V… 😉

Lately, one vault release I find myself returning to most often is Tom Petty’s box set for his landmark album Wildflowers, entitled All The Rest, Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited. It’s an easy box to get caught up in. While Wildflowers was a Petty “solo” album, just like all his other “solo” stuff, Petty’s “co-pilot” and main collaborator was guitarist Mike Campbell. Campbell can play pretty much any stringed instrument he chooses to pick up. I remember the first time I got to see Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert. It was June 26th of 1985 on the Southern Accents tour and man was I blown away. In retrospect the Confederate flag as a back drop was an awful mistake… I’m not sure we all understood the bad symbolic importance of that particularly odious flag. Also, Petty had those awful lamb chop sideburns. I heard his wife at the time offered to donate money at Live-Aid if he’d shave those off. I’m with her on that, I promised my sainted grandmother I’d never grow facial hair, but I digress. That hot June night in 1985 I was mesmerized by not only Petty but the tall, skinny guy with the curly hair standing to his right, Mike Campbell. When Campbell played the guitar solo on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” I almost swooned and I’m a pretty rugged guy or at least I like to think so.

That concert was the first time Campbell’s greatness really crystalized for me. I recognized him from, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, watching videos on MTV. I had most of Petty’s back catalog at the time and saw that Campbell co-wrote a lot of the best songs but I’m not sure I realized what a force of nature he was until actually seeing him “light the sky on fire” as my friend Stormin’ says. I quickly realized that night, all those great riffs (like on “You Got Lucky” a synth laden track where the guitar is the star) were courtesy of Mike Campbell. People talk about the great collaborators in rock and roll: Paul McCartney and John Lennon or Mick Jagger and Keith Richards but people ought to speak more about Petty and Campbell. I don’t think you could find two people with more synergy than those two guys. I’m not sure Petty realized what a truly valuable collaborator Campbell was until Mike co wrote “Boys of Summer” with Don Henley. It was a bigger hit than anything off of Southern Accents and at that point I think Petty decided to expand Campbell’s creative input. I’m just guessing on that. Rolling Stone magazine has Campbell at number 79 on their list of 100 best guitarists and frankly I think that’s low. Way low.

I wondered what would happen to Mike Campbell after the tragic death of Tom Petty (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). Mike is truly one of the most talented, important guys in rock and roll and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s an “unsung” hero, he should be getting more attention than he does. It was with some surprise that I heard that Campbell joined Fleetwood Mac after they’d cut ties with Lindsey Buckingham (Bummer News: Fleetwood Mac Tells Lindsey Buckingham To Go His Own Way). Campbell’s long association with Stevie Nicks probably made that a no brainer. I was excited to hear Campbell talk about playing some of that old Peter Green stuff from the Mac. Alas, it doesn’t look like this latest configuration of Fleetwood Mac will be doing any recording. Instead, Campbell has released a new album with a band he’s had as a side project for quite a while, the Dirty Knobs. I love the name. This isn’t Campbell’s first band on the side… The Rock Chick discovered and played me the great LP by the Blue Stingrays. It’s a surf rock gem, Friday Night Music Exploration With the Rock Chick: Blue Stones, Blue Stingrays, although Campbell and the rest of the Heartbreakers chose to remain anonymous on that album.

In the run up to the release of the Dirty Knobs’ new album, Wreckless Abandon, Campbell had said that this was a heavier, more raw-boned album than the Heartbreakers stuff. While that is mostly true, so alike were Campbell and Petty in their style and approach that it’s hard not to listen to this and hear an echo of the Heartbreakers. Well, the Heartbreakers without the keyboards, this is a guitar record. It would be easy to think of this as a recording of stuff that Campbell would turn over to Petty as a demo tape, not that there is any sort of an unfinished aspect to any of this great music. Even the Rock Chick said, upon playing this album, “Wow, he really sounds like Petty.” The Dirty Knobs, besides Campbell on vocals/guitar are guitarist Jason Sinay, drummer Matt Laug, and bassist Lance Morrison. One of them sings with Campbell on “Loaded Gun,” but I’m not sure who.

The album begins with the first single and title track, “Wreckless Abandon.” The track starts with a sitar and then the band kicks in with a great rocking groove. I will admit up-front that Campbell’s voice is a little thin and perhaps even reedy in a few places. I still like the vocals on this record. I know a lot of people get nervous when the guitar player steps up to the microphone. A lot of people head for the beer line when Keith Richards gets to the mic, but his tracks are always my favorites on Stones’ albums. I know that only I feel that way… well, me and my old roommate Drew. “Wreckless Abandon” is the kind of great rock and roll you just don’t hear anymore, sadly.

The band quickly goes country-rock for the duet with Chris Stapleton on “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” It’s a down home bunch of fun. It’s right back to the rock and roll for “Sugar.” “Sugar” is probably the heaviest song on this album. It reminds me a touch of “Honey Bee” by Petty. I love the lascivious chorus, “She’s got the sugar, oh yes she does…” As I tell the Rock Chick, I didn’t marry you because you could cook… ahem. “Southern Boy” is another great rocker. I’m considering adding it to our playlist about trains (Playlist: The B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains – “that lonesome whistle blows…”). “I Still Love You” is another heavy rocking track with some big riffs. I’ll say it again for emphasis, this is a guitar album!

Perhaps my favorite song on the record is, perhaps not surprisingly, the ballad “Irish Girl.” I love the acoustic guitar and harmonica. I had a girlfriend in college who told me one time that I was always drawn to ballads because I was a basically sad person but you can’t always trust your girlfriends. Certainly not that woman… Another personal favorite is a song that runs through my head every day at work – “Fuck That Guy.” Sure it’s funny and Campbell mostly speaks the lyrics vs singing them, but it’s just such an appropriate song for these days when civility has died. The world weary manner that Campbell says the title…”yeah fuck that guy” is priceless. “Don’t Knock The Boogie” is another spoken word track and is a bluesy tribute to John Lee Hooker. It’s really just an excuse to let Campbell riff and I’m ok with that. “Ana Lee” is another sweet, acoustic ballad. “Loaded” is another heavy rocker. This album is just loaded with guitar, as you would expect from Campbell.

If you’re like me and you’re missing Tom Petty, Wreckless Abandon may just scratch that itch. But more broadly than that, if you like guitar, riff-rock this is your album. There’s a lot of rock and roll but there’s also some blues, ballads and a little bit of country rock. It’s basically all the things Mike Campbell does well which turns out to be everything. Enjoy this one with the volume turned up to 11.

Cheers, and as always be safe out there folks. It’s a dark ride, take care of each other this holiday season, which for me is a season to be endured.

Playlist: Rock Songs About Dancing – For All The Wallflowers Like Me Who Can’t Dance

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“Just like you I’m wonderin’ what I’m doing here, just like you I’m wonderin’ what’s going on, wallflower, wallflower won’t you dance with me…”

 I saw an article on-line the other day about common phobias. I was always under the impression that public speaking was the most commonly cited fear. I know the Rock Chick and my daughter would rather be scalded with boiling oil than stand in front of a crowd of people and say something. I do that all the time at work, well, I used to before becoming Boo Radley and hiding in my attic for a year. I’ve given speeches at work, wedding toasts and to date one eulogy in front of 100s of people. Public speaking wasn’t even on the list. Actually, the number one thing people fear is heights. I can understand that. I get a twinge of vertigo when I’m up high. They say that vertigo is really a fear you’ll jump rather than a fear you’ll fall which I find wonderfully dark. The only thing I would describe myself as “phobic” about wasn’t even on the list… it’s dancing.

Webster’s defines “wallflower” as “a person who from shyness or unpopularity remains on the sidelines of a social activity (such as a dance).” That pretty much describes me. I’ll even admit the “unpopularity” part of it hits closer to home than I’d care to admit. Dancing, in public anyway, was never much of an issue for me until I reached the seventh grade. When I was growing up, 7th grade through 9th grade was split off as junior high school. When we all reached junior high at the ripe old age of thirteen, they paraded us all into the cafeteria, which had been cleared of all the dining tables, and announced it was “the 7th Grade Dance.” They’d brought in a few girls from the 9th grade to “get the party started” as they say. These Amazonian women – and make no mistake there was a huge difference between 13 and 15, these weren’t girls in our eyes, they were young women – started knifing into the crowd like dobermans chasing a shoplifter searching for 7th grade boys to drag onto the dance floor. Sure, they were enticing but we ran like we’d just escaped a chain gang. I’d never seen boys scatter like that. I hid in the game room most of the day playing foosball. The last time I peeked into he dance hall, the majority of my class was just walking in a circle clapping rhythmically. It was traumatizing.

It was during those Junior High years that I discovered rock and roll. Sadly those years were the disco era. The Bee Gees and Donna Summer ruled the world. As a rock and roller and an unsure pubescent boy I wanted to avoid anything that was uncool or worse feminine. Disco was decidedly uncool. There were guys walking around with “Death Before Disco” t-shirts on and back then, they meant it. I remember seeing on the news some DJ up in Chicago did a “Disco Destruction” night at Comiskey Park in 1979. Seventy-thousand people showed up to blow up disco records. It turned into a riot and the White Sox had to forfeit the game. I was firmly with the rioters on that whole disco issue. I don’t know if that experience along with the horror of the 7th grade dance sealed my fate as a non-dancer or not. You can never be sure about these things. If you were as anti-disco as I was, it stands to reason that I’d be anti-dancing. I didn’t dance because I knew I couldn’t look cool doing it, not because I was a Baptist or anything weird.

Somewhere during those early junior high years – and I’m not proud of this – my friends and I discovered the joys of drinking beer. After one rather raucous night of beer drinking, which my parents caught me doing, I awoke hungover to discover my grandparents had arrived. No one had mentioned it but we had a family wedding to go to. I wanted to go out with my friends and run around the Ranchmart area and well, drink more beer and try to impress girls. I didn’t wanna hang out with my family. Once we got to the reception, my grandfather slipped me a glass of champagne. “One glass won’t hurt, you deserve this after your beer drinking adventure.” A short time later my grandmother dropped by and gave me another glass. “One glass won’t hurt.” To my surprise my mother came by and gave me a glass as well…”One glass won’t get you drunk,” At that point, I was smashed. I went up to the bar to get a coke and the cowboy dickweed bartender asked, “don’t you want some rum in that?” He later told the hostess that I’d been ordering drinks from him all night and he didn’t know they were for me. I had indeed ordered a number of rum and cokes, but hey, he started it.

The next thing I knew, I was on the dance floor, “cutting a rug.” I remember a lot of the extended family laughing. At one point I was up on stage with the band. They were playing some sunny pop tune and I was shouting the words to “Roll Out the Barrel.” The band did not dig me. I could see my father at the other end of the dance floor, red-faced glaring at me. I jumped back into the dance crowd and grabbed some guy’s stogie. I promptly burned a woman on the ass. I awoke the next day in my own vomit with my mother crashing into my room to announce I’d “disgraced my father and her in front of the entire family.” I had to go live at my grandparents for a week to avoid being flayed. I took shit about that for years, especially my “dancing.” Ironically, two years later, at the first family wedding I was allowed to attend again, I watched this young girl who was maybe 13 sucking down champagne. She hit the dance floor just like I had. She was spinning around in circles. I knew it was a matter of time… When she vomited, oh yes, it was explosive. She cleared the dance floor which was something I hadn’t been able to do and I’d literally scarred a woman’s ass with a cigar. The next day her parents were laughing about it. There’s a reason I call my dad “the Hard Guy.”

Being viscerally opposed to all forms of dancing really hurt me socially. I was single until I was 36 and not being able to dance was not an asset when trying to meet women. Every time I tried to dance it looked like I was running in place trying to gnaw my lower lip off. Either that or I’d only move my upper body, with my legs rooted to the ground like trunks of sequoia trees. I always moved with the grace of someone who had blown a hamstring. I half expected medical staff from the club I was dancing in to rush out, secure my neck and spine area, tie me to a board and drive me out of the bar on the back of a lawns keeping cart. I’d wave heroically to the crowd… The Rock Chick refuses to dance with me and I sense there was a time when she really did enjoy dancing.

All of that said, there are a lot of great rock tunes about dancing or dancers. Most of those tunes were not written with dancing in mind. Sure, there are a few you could probably dance to if you were, well, not me. I do think everything Motley Crue wrote and performed was likely intended to be played in strip clubs for exotic dancers. And yes, I get that many of these are merely thinly veiled euphemisms for sex. For the most part these tracks about dancing are upbeat, harder rocking tunes. I discovered a playlist I used to run to of about fifteen like-minded tracks about dancing. I blew that up here and extended it to sixty tracks that I believe actually hang together pretty well. As always with my playlists, it’s best to hit shuffle when you’re playing them. I have some recognizable tracks but as always I’m trying to expose folks to the deeper, album cuts that I’ve always liked in the hopes that I expose you to something new. As always you can find this playlist on Spotify under the title: BourbonAndVinyl.net Rock Songs About Dancing. If you have any suggested additions, please add them in the comments section.

  1. Aerosmith, “Same Old Song And Dance” – This may not exactly be about dancing but it was always the first track on my running dance playlist.
  2. Dire Straits, “Twisting By The Pool” – I’m reminded of a girl I met in junior high whose parents had a pool.
  3. John Lennon, “Do You Wanna Dance?” – From the covers LP Rock N Roll (B&V’s Favorite Cover Albums: Singing Other People’s Songs).
  4. Don Henley, “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” – Great little rock tune.
  5. The Rolling Stones, “Harlem Shuffle” – I love this track although I know many people do not. “Let your momma show you how,” indeed.
  6. Lenny Kravitz, “Dancin’ Til Dawn” – Somehow I don’t think Sexy Lenny is singing about dancing.
  7. Joan Jett, “I Love Rock And Roll” – Every girl in my high school would go nuts when this song came on. “Put another dime in the jukebox baby and dance with me.”
  8. The Traveling Wilbury’s, “Wilbury Twist” – Well now I’m just getting silly here.
  9. Van Halen, “Dance The Night Away” – I’m still not over the loss of Eddie Van Halen (Guitar Legend Eddie Van Halen Gone Too Soon at 65, RIP Eddie, #EVH).
  10. Motley Crue, “Dancing On Glass” – For the strippers out there.
  11. Sam Cooke, “Twistin’ The Night Away” – Rod does a really great version of this song, but you can’t beat the original.
  12. Mick Jagger, “Dancing In the Starlight” – From the great Goddess In the Doorway. 
  13. Tom Petty, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” – “She had a good lookin’ mama who never was around.”
  14. The Donnas, “Better Off Dancing” – I love this girl band.
  15. Bob Seger, “Mainstreet” – Bob goes out and stalks a stripper in a melancholy manner.
  16. The Cult, “Dance The Night” – From the amazing Hidden City (Review: The Cult, ‘Hidden City’, A Late Career Gem). Looking forward to new music from these guys in 2021.
  17. The Rolling Stones, “Dancing With Mr. D” – Who doesn’t like a little dance with the Devil every now and again (Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set).
  18. Neil Young, “When You Dance You Can Really Love” – Great, great Neil Young track.
  19. The Eagles, “Hollywood Waltz” – “So give her this dance, she can’t be forsaken…” Beautiful stuff.
  20. T. Rex, “Cosmic Dancer” – I’ve only recently started getting into Marc Bolan and T. Rex and I like what I’ve heard.
  21. Van Halen, “Dancing In The Street” – Nobody does this song better than VH.
  22. Bob Dylan, “Wallflower” – One for me…
  23. David Bowie, “John, I’m Only Dancing” – “It turns me on…”
  24. The Cars, “Shake It Up” – I actually am worried that I have “two left feet.”
  25. John Mellencamp, “Dance Naked” – Ok, now I’m interested.
  26. Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Shake Your Money Maker” – Good ol’ blues to shake your ass to.
  27. Fleetwood Mac, “Tango In The Night” – Again, probably not talking about dancing here… Epic guitar solo from Lindsey Buckingham.
  28. David Byrne, “I Dance Like This” – I loved American Utopia (LP Review: David Byrne, ‘American Utopia,’ A Surprise Gem).
  29. Patti Smith, “Dancing Barefoot” – Also done quite nicely by U2.
  30. Paul McCartney, “Dance Tonight” – One of my all time favorites by one of my all time favorite acts.
  31. Warren Zevon, “Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School” – From his great, first comeback album.
  32. The Faces, “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, or…” – Rod, Ronnie Wood and the rest of the gang. They had more great singles that should have been on albums than anybody else out there.
  33. Robert Plant, “Angel Dance” – A roots-y cover of a Los Lobos tune.
  34. Paul McCartney, “Ballroom Dancing” – From the great Tug Of War. 
  35. Motley Crue, “Come On And Dance” – More stripper soundtrack stuff from the LA bad boys.
  36. The Rolling Stones, “Shake Your Hips” – If I shook my hips I’d need a hip replacement.
  37. Thin Lizzy, “Dancing In the Moonlight” – Borderline disco but catchy as hell.
  38. Led Zeppelin, “Dancing Days” – Funky Zeppelin?
  39. The Rolling Stones, “Dance Little Sister” – Great, great riffage from Keith.
  40. Van Morrison, “Moondance” – Again, probably not the type of dancing I’m thinking of…
  41. Robert Plant, “Dancing In Heaven” – Great late period Plant.
  42. Bruce Springsteen, “Dancing In The Dark” – The song that made him a superstar.
  43. The Beatles, “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” – I never was…
  44. Pearl Jam, “Dance Of the Clairvoyants” – From their latest album, Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts.
  45. Steve Miller Band, “Dance, Dance, Dance” – The title says it all in this down home, front porch-y tune.
  46. David Bowie, “Let’s Dance” – Probably the most danceable of all the songs here. I love the line, “put on your red shoes and dance the blues.” Great Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar work.
  47. Billy Idol, “Dancing With Myself” – Early big hit. Originally done with Generation X.
  48. Otis Redding, “Shake” – Fabulous soul music.
  49. Pete Townshend, “Face Dances Pt. 2” – I’m too much of a fanatic for Pete’s solo work… I had to include this weird song.
  50. Bob Dylan, “Shake Mama Shake” – I love his raspy voice. I know it’s a lot like olives, an acquired taste.
  51. The J. Geils Band, “Southside Shuffle” – Funky, dirty, kinda bluesy.
  52. John Mellencamp, “A Little Night Dancin'” – From when he was still John Cougar. A great deep track.
  53. Joe Walsh, “Spanish Dancer” – I love Joe’s guitar work on this late period deep track.
  54. INXS, “Dancing On the Jetty” – Great early track from these guys.
  55. Lou Reed, “I Love You Suzanne” – “You broke my heart and you made me cry, when you said I couldn’t dance.” But, I can’t.
  56. The Ramones, “Let’s Dance” – Short, fast and hard.
  57. Rod Stewart, “She Won’t Dance With Me” – Containing the poetic line, “I’ve got a hard-on honey and it hurts like hell.” Ahem. Good Chuck Berry riff.
  58. The Beatles, “Twist And Shout” – Iconic.
  59. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Fat Dance” – A bonus track from Californication that I read Anthony Kiedis describes as “fuuuunky.”
  60. Elton John, “Your Sister Can’t Twist, But She Can Rock N Roll” – Elton plays so fast we must suspect amphetamine usage.

There you have it folks A little something to wile away the hours over your upcoming Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. In the words of Neil Diamond, “some of you may have the guts to stand, but how many of you have the guts to dance?”

Review: U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind (20th Anniversary Edition)’

I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since U2’s (Singer Bono, guitarist the Edge, drummer Larry Mullen, Jr and bassist Adam Clayton) monumental LP All That You Can’t Leave Behind came out. At the time, people tend to forget that U2 had been knocked back on their heels a bit. It was a comeback of sorts for them. I think I’ve always been fond of this record because on a personal level, I had a comeback of my own in those days. 

I like to think I was an early adopter on U2. I purchased War (on vinyl) when it came out when I was in college. I taped a copy of The Unforgettable Fire which at first had disappointed me – it was a bit of a stylistic left turn from the straight-up rock of War and I was small minded. I guess I wasn’t ready for “Produced by Brian Eno” when I was 20. I can still remember listening to my brother’s cassette of The Joshua Tree on my Sony Walkman, laying on the floor of my bedroom in the dark, illuminated only by the light streaming in my door from the hallway. Oddly, I thought it was a stronger album than The Unforgettable Fire, but felt it lacked the kind of anthem that the previous LP had, like “Pride (In The Name of Love).” The more I listened to it back then, the more I realized I was wrong. I think every track on side one of the album was released as a single. The Joshua Tree changed everything for U2, it was simply put, a masterpiece. I can still remember looking at their earnest, serious gazes staring at me from the album cover. I think after that album came out they were so big they were probably on postal stamps in some of the smaller countries around the world. Deservedly so. 

For the follow-up, while touring in the U.S. they filmed a documentary. They intended to record a live album along with the doc but ended up recording new music. Rattle And Hum was, to my ears a brilliant “hybrid” album – part live, part studio (The B&V List of Essential “Hybrid” LPs – Part Live/Part Studio Albums). The critics however, were a bit more savage in regard to their indecision, live vs studio. There were great songs on that record and they shouldn’t take any shit for it from anyone. It was, to me, the sound of a band finding their roots. They’d formed around Larry’s parents kitchen table when Bono had never sung before and the Edge was learning guitar. They were a blank page. Rattle And Hum seemed to chronicle the band absorbing America and rock and roll all at once. Stung by the criticism of R+H, they did what I now view as a very U2 thing… they retreated for 3 years and completely changed their sound. They released yet another masterpiece, Achtung Baby. They’d included electronica, dance and alternative rock elements to their music. Grunge wasn’t gonna kill U2 they just adapted and got stronger. 

The ‘Zoo TV’ tour was my first time seeing U2 in concert. I had a chance to see them in late ’87 in Atlanta on the tour for The Joshua Tree but declined. Arkansas Joel tried to talk me into going down and scalping tickets at the Forum. But, like ‘Good Will Hunting,’ I said no… “I had to see about a girl.” I dated her for a year but like most of my relationships back then it didn’t work out. On the upside, my relationship with Arkansas Joel has lasted 35 years. And to be clear, he never let me forget that bad decision, what are friends for? While in the middle of touring Europe on the ‘Zoo TV’ tour, they decided to keep that tour momentum up and duck into a studio. At first they were just going to record an EP but it ended up turning into a full fledged album, Zooropa. I loved that record but it felt like an EP. It didn’t seem to match the usual epic scope of a Joshua Tree or an Achtung Baby. I don’t know why but everyone seemed to feel that way. Zoopropa while great, just confused people. Because of that the expectations for their next album were huge. We all wanted a big, bad ass, new U2 album. We didn’t want it, we needed it. And, it fit their up/down pattern – Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum to Achtung Baby/Zooropa. 

When it took four years, until 1997, to get the follow-up expectations were driven through the roof. When Pop finally dropped, it was a huge disappointment. Even though it took that long to finish, the band had set some aggressive deadlines and its completion was rushed. The first single “Discotheque” didn’t give us a lot of hope. I have to admit, all these years later, stripped of those mammoth expectations Pop is a much better record than anybody gave it credit for being. The ensuing tour, called Pop-Mart, saw U2 playing to stadiums that were not full. I’d seen the ‘Zoo TV’ tour in Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs play and it was packed to the rafters. There were empty seats in the upper deck on Pop-Mart. Starting with Achtung Baby, rather than continue their earnest, serious approach, U2 began to immerse themselves in irony. It worked at first but on Pop no one got the joke. U2 had been in the south of France partying with Michael Hutchence of INXS and supermodels and, as Bono said at the time, they “wanted to capture the party but they only captured the hangover.” 

Once again, U2 retreated. While they were recording All That You Can’t Leave Behind, their good friend Michael Hutchence died under strange circumstances in Australia. They had already largely stripped their songs of the irony they’d tried on, but his death affected this album deeply. As U2 typically does, when their back is against the wall, they emerged with one of their greatest albums… 

As the 90s waned, the wheels were starting to come off my gypsy lifestyle. I changed jobs in ’96 but my career had basically sputtered to a halt. I didn’t have much money to show for the effort. I started dating a woman in 1997 who was simply wonderful… but unfortunately wasn’t the right person for me. We were locked in this death knell of being together, breaking up and then reuniting… rinse, repeat. Towards the end we were bringing out the worst in each other. Finally, I made the difficult choice to end the affair for good. I had to work on myself. I finally got out of that relationship, which caused a lot of pain, and started a more inward focus. Within a few months I had a better job with more pay. And a few months later… I met the Rock Chick. When I first met her, on our first date, we both enthused about this new U2 song, their first new single, “Beautiful Day.” It was a return to the earlier, rocking sound. There were rumors that they’d almost rejected it because it was “too U2 sounding.” Luckily those guys have a sensible man like Larry Mullens, Jr in the band who put his foot down and insisted on releasing the song. 

The Rock Chick and I broke up after a few months. She had a daughter and I was still rather untethered to adulthood. I was pretty gutted but then All That You Can’t Leave Behind came out and as usual U2 helped me get through it. I ran into her one night in one of my favorite watering holes…we had both been looking forward to the new U2 and I had wondered what she thought about it. Naturally, after a few awkward exchanges we started talking about how much we both loved the new record… “Wild Honey,” a rare sunny moment on the album, a driving acoustic number, was a favorite of both of us… One thing led to another and the Rock Chick and I were back together. A new job, a well-propertied woman… things had finally changed for me. We played this U2 album incessantly and it remains a personal favorite to this day. 

The first single was spectacular and remains one of their biggest hits. “Beautiful Day” was a great way to announce their return. Bono had joked about ATYCLB that U2 was “reapplying for the job as best band in the world.” “Beautiful Day” was a great resume builder in that regard. “Elevation” was another great rock song that proved the Edge hadn’t forgotten how to play guitar. “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” was written for Hutchence and is another favorite. “Walk On” was another hit single. The lack of irony, the straightforward way they sang about grief and loss would prove to be universal after the tragic events of 9/11. It was almost as if U2 had felt something sad coming… I saw this tour with the Rock Chick, we were living together by then on November 27th 2001 in Kansas City and it was one of the best shows of theirs I’ve seen. 

Now the band is looking back with a box set “20th Anniversary Edition” of the album. The original album is remastered and expanded with a great track that wasn’t on the original LP in the U.S., “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” which has always been one of my favorite U2 deep tracks (U2’s Ten Greatest Non Album Tracks & 5 Best Covers, In Honor of Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary). It was originally released on the soundtrack to a film Bono and the Edge were involved in when recording ATYCLB, entitled ‘The Million Dollar Hotel.’ If you haven’t heard it, you definitely should. Spacey and sexy it’s one of their greatest tracks. Salmon Rushdie wrote the lyrics. 

The box also contains a disc of bonus tracks. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not purchased this box set – I already have everything that was on the bonus disc. I joined their fan club somewhere along the way and when I did they sent me a “fan club exclusive” double CD, U2 Medium, Rare and Remastered” that contained six of the tracks contained here. I already owned the original LP, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” and six of these tracks. There are some great tracks on the bonus disc. “Levitate” starts things off… it’s a bit of a woozy number but kicks in towards the end. There’s an early version of “Summer Rain” later released on a compilation. “Big Girls Are Best” is an upbeat danceable number. “Stateless” was one of the few tracks I hadn’t heard and it’s a meandering ballad. I love the acoustic version of “Stuck In A Moment” here. “Flower Child” is a great, hippy acoustic love song. “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” is a Johnny Cash cover…reimagined as an almost reggae song. Its rather curious. 

There is also a complete concert from the 2001 tour from Boston. Again, I bought the DVD when it came out 19 years ago so… while this is a superb concert, I already own it in one form or another. It did remind me of what a force they were on that tour. They had a giant, heart-shaped catwalk that surrounded most of the floor. Towards the end of the show they projected the names of all the souls lost on 9/11 and it was one of the most moving concert experiences of my life. Hearing this concert again I’m reminded how remarkably aggressive and spectacular the Edge’s guitar playing is. U2 continues to grasp for relevancy or current popularity… if the Edge would play guitar like this where they sound like, well, U2… they wouldn’t have to worry anymore. I love the acoustic version of “Stay Faraway” on the live disc. If you don’t already own it, this concert is reason enough to buy this box set. 

While this is a beautifully packaged (from what I’ve seen) commemoration of a masterpiece album, it wasn’t worth it for me as I own almost every component of the box set. Well, I don’t own the remix disc but that’s always crap anyway, no matter who the artist. However, if you haven’t heard this concert, it’s worth the price of admission here – much like the Stones’ recent box for Goats Head Soup (Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set). If you don’t own the bonus tracks, the ones I mentioned above are all tracks you’ll want in your U2 collection. 

Be safe out there… these are turbulent times. I’d love to see all of us pull together as a country and a planet like we did in the wake of 9/11. We are always stronger together, when we’re united… Hang in there, people.. we’re merely “stuck in a moment,” but we will get out of it. 

 

Movie Review: ‘David Byrne’s American Utopia On Broadway’

In junior high when I started listening to rock and roll music, the Talking Heads were not in high rotation. At least they weren’t in Kansas City. This is the heartland where Foghat, Styx and Journey ruled the day. I’m sure the radio moguls in town considered the Talking Heads music to be… well, “subversive.” That said, I’ve often stated that music evokes very powerful memories in me and vice versa. I woke up every morning to my clock radio which was tuned to the local station KY/102. I would leave it on while I drug myself zombie-like out of bed and into the shower. Music would be playing in the background while I got dressed and feathered my hair (oh yes, it was glorious). Because of the evocative effect of music on my memory, I can still remember the first time I heard the Heads’ version of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River.” I was sitting on the edge of my bed, pulling my socks on… if I close my eyes I can see the old garish green shag carpeting and striped wall paper (my room was decorated in a manner that makes me suspect my mother was mad at me). Those drums, that voice. It was like nothing I’d ever heard. It made me realize that maybe the world was a little bigger than we’d all realized… there was something that cool out there, somewhere. There was such a lack of Talking Heads on the radio, I was convinced “Take Me To the River” was from their debut album until I was in college. Their debut, Talking Heads: 77 got no love from Kansas City radio. “Take Me To The River” was from their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, which still sort of surprises me. 

It’s still astounding to me that music as important as the Talking Heads first two albums were all but ignored in my home town. Perhaps that’s why lead singer/guitarist/songwriter David Byrne wrote a song like “Heaven” where he sang, “The band in Heaven, they play my favorite song, they play it once again, they play it all night long.” That sounds an awful lot like the place I grew up. It wasn’t until college that the Talking Heads pierced my consciousness again. MTV had taken over the world and when Speaking In Tongues came out the Heads were all over it with the video for “Burning Down the House.” In one scene Byrne stands in front of a video tape of a crowd. I dug the song but I remember a roommate of mine saying, “They had to use a videotape because the Talking Heads can’t draw a crowd.” There’s one in every group of friends… I will say the Talking Heads were made for MTV. Their videos are iconic. 

All that said, I didn’t buy my first Talking Heads LP until the live album, Stop Making Sense came out. A friend of mine who I’ll call Rambert had that album and played it once when I was at his place. That album and the movie it came from were in my mind as iconic as their music videos. The film version, directed by the late, brilliant Jonathan Demme, was truly ground breaking. The show starts with just David Byrne, dressed in his big suit, singing over a boom box and slowly builds as they add instruments for each song… they roll out the drummer, next track here comes the bass player. By the end, there’s nine people on stage. I just watched it again in the early stages of lock down… the Rock Chick had never seen it. 

When Little Creatures came out, I was ripe for a Talking Heads takeover. I heard “Road To Nowhere” and it immediately resonated for me. After hearing “And She Was” that was it, I was hooked. It took me a long time but I finally purchased every single Talking Heads LP. They rank amongst my all-time favorite bands. The band broke up rather acrimoniously a long time ago and I don’t think that rupture will ever be repaired. David Byrne is more of an “artiste” really. I can’t imagine he wants to go backwards. This is the guy who at the height of their popularity pulled Brian Eno in to produce the Talking Heads. When you’re at that stage of your career where you collaborate with Eno (Bowie, U2, Roxy Music)  you’ve reached the next level in artistry. 

Byrne’s solo career has been much less visible than his work with the Talking Heads. Much like Robert Plant (who also won’t reunite with his band) Byrne follows his muse where it takes him. His first solo LP, a collaboration with Eno, was My Life In the Bush of Ghosts. Likely not an album a lot of you have heard. His first “proper” solo album was the Latin-flavored Rei Momo that I just love. Check out the track “Dirty Old Town.” I will say that I am familiar with a number of the albums Byrne released as a solo artist but I’m like most people, I haven’t followed them as religiously as I should have. A few years ago, he put out a great LP, that we loved here at B&V, LP Review: David Byrne, ‘American Utopia,’ A Surprise Gem. It had come as a surprise to me because I wasn’t paying attention. 

Afterwards, much like Springsteen, he took his show to Broadway. When did musical theater get to be so cool? I’ve never been a fan of musical theater. Early in my marriage the Rock Chick took me to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’ where I promptly fell asleep which is still a point of contention in my marriage. I won an award at the corporation where I work and they flew me to New York. My flight was delayed and by the time I got to the hospitality suite they only had tickets to ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ all the ‘Spamalot’ tickets had been snapped up. It was enjoyable but its hard for me to get my head around a scene where there’s action happening and suddenly everyone breaks into song… “the Jets are gonna winnnnnn.” Recently over Christmas, I saw ‘The Book of Mormon’ and I may be turning around on the whole musical theater thing but I digress. 

Springsteen and now Byrne are putting some rock and roll into the “Great White Way.” After a wildly successful run on Broadway, Byrne invited director Spike Lee into film the performance. Spike does a really great job with this. It’s clear that ‘American Utopia’ is the spiritual descendent of the Talking Heads’ ‘Stop Making Sense.’ The stage is bare, very spartan. Byrne, and the rest of his backing band, are all in identical grey suits. At least the suit fits him this time. Lee does a great job of capturing close-up shots juxtaposed with wider shots to capture the movement and energy on the stage. There is no drum kit, there is no keyboard set up. The instruments are all carried by Byrne’s on-stage band so everyone is mobile, all the time. There are a few overhead shots, straight down on the stage that I felt were very effective. Despite the monochromatic stage and outfits, I found this movie very enticing to the eye. There was something very striking visually to the look and all the choreography and Spike Lee captured it perfectly. It was also certainly fun to see Broadway fans on their feet, rocking out in a venerable old theater. 

The songs Byrne selected to play are a mix of Talking Heads songs and solo tracks. It’s not the entire American Utopia album although there are a generous number of tracks from that record. Byrne pulls tracks from all over his catalog and yet, they cohere into a story. There’s a socially conscious message Byrne is conveying through this selection of songs and it comes across without being preachy. I was actually truly blown away by this show. He has brief spoken word intervals between a number of the songs where he covers a range of subjects: Dadaism, fascism, racism, television and the human brain, just to name a few. If I was going to suggest an overarching theme, it’s simply, connection. We are all connected. We all need to come together to make this world a better place. When Byrne, “a white man of a certain age” and his band perform a Janelle Monae cover, “Hell You Talmabout” it hits with the force of a blow. 

Other highlights for me were “Lazy,” because, well, I am. “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” has always been a favorite of both mine and the Rock Chick. The speech leading up to “I Should Watch TV” is just fabulous as is the performance. The Talking Heads’ chestnut “Blind” was also a personal favorite. Byrne is charismatic and at turns serious and funny. He can be self-effacing which I would not have expected. There is so much to love in this film and on this sound track. I haven’t bought the album of the cast-performance yet but I’m planning on it. This is a great performance but what makes its exceptional in to me, was it was also a very thought-provoking performance. 

When the show is over, Byrne, after exchanging a few awkward hugs with his bandmates, gets on his bicycle and rides off into the New York city night time, headed for home like the true citizen of the world he is… I urge everyone to check this movie out. If you can’t see it, give the live-LP from the soundtrack a spin. It’s time well spent. 

Be careful out there… be safe. Stay connected. Open your minds and you’ll find that “every day is a miracle.” 

 

 

New Single: Greta Van Fleet Return With “My Way, Soon”

I’d like to think there are at least some positives that have come out of being quarantined and semi-locked down the last nine months. I guess I am working out more… I think I’ve been reading more. I’m almost done with super-producer Ted Templeman’s autobiography. I’ve actually started reading magazines again, ‘Uncut’ and ‘Classic Rock Magazine’ were new discoveries for me… I need to get out more, if only we could. And while rock bands are all on hiatus from performing live in front of crowds, we’re starting to see the fruits of being off the road blooming as many acts are releasing music. Older bands with nothing new to share are going into the vaults and releasing archival material – U2, Lou Reed, Elton John and Neil Young all have box sets coming. Many acts have actual new albums coming out – Springsteen, the Smashing Pumpkins and (thank heaven) AC/DC all have new stuff on the way. October and November are going to be great rock n roll months – and when was the last time we said that? Today I’ve been staring out the window like the guy in the song “Please Mr. Postman.” I’m not waiting for a letter from a lover but for my Tom Petty Wildflowers & All The Rest box set. I was thrilled and surprised last week to discover that Zeppelinesque, Michigan rockers Greta Van Fleet have a new single out, “My Way, Soon,” heralding a new album that will be “coming soon.” 

The fun part of writing about music is, naturally, listening to music as “research.” Well, at least that’s what I’m calling it when the Rock Chick asks why I haven’t mowed the lawn…”I’m doing very important research, my dear.” I know it looks like I”m just laying on the couch with headphones on because, well, that’s actually what I’m doing. As I prepped to write about this new GVF single, I went back and listened to their EPs – Black Smoke Rising  (Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP) and From The Fires (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP). I loved those EPs… I still remember the moment the Rock Chick famously burst into my office and said, “I don’t know who this Greta Van Fleet chick is, but she sounds like Zeppelin.” 

I put on their first “proper” album, Anthem Of A Peaceful Army and was somewhat surprised how much I dug it. I went back and looked at my review and it was sort of lukewarm, Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’. As I listened to the LP over the last few days, I remembered my responses to it but I quickly remembered that the album did grow on me. Admittedly, it had been a while since I’d listened to the whole thing but damn if it’s not a great album. I love the ecological theme of the whole thing. It’s very groovy hippy stuff which is surprisingly up my alley. I pondered the disconnect between what I was hearing and what I’d written. First, I’ll admit, I think Anthem was what we call a “grower,” it didn’t wow on first listen but opened itself up after repeated listening. But I think the main problem was I fell victim to the evilest influence of all – expectations. 

I think all of us bring certain expectations into most the situations we face. We expect certain events to go certain ways. Whether it’s a first date or a work of art – a movie or a play – we think we know how it’s going to go. Or we try to predict how it’s going to go. Nowhere do I see the insidious expectations interfere more than with music. My dear friend, Arkansas Joel was the biggest U2 fan when I met him. This was during the Joshua Tree era so it wasn’t hard to be on that bandwagon. Since then, every time they’d be ready to put out a new album his expectations were so heavy that whatever they did, he’d be disappointed. He didn’t like How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.  He wanted that thrill of hearing “Where the Streets Have No Name” for the first time… I get it we all want that. The Rock Chick suffers from this same malady. If the music doesn’t hit her lower brain stem on that first listen, she deems the record a failure. I’ve played U2’s last LP for her and she kept saying, “Hey, that’s a good song, I don’t remember that?” As was said in ‘The Big Chill,’ “sometimes you just have to let art… flow over you.” 

When I went to play “My  Way, Soon” I tried to release myself from any expectations. GVF have been flogged for being “derivative” of Led Zeppelin and I suspected they’d be evolving their sound some this time around. I hadn’t heard anything from them since I saw them live (Concert Review: Greta Van Fleet, Kansas City’s Starlight Theater, Sept 21, 2019). They did release a great single on a soundtrack, “Always There” that I really dug (Friday New Music DJ’ing & Greta Van Fleet’s New Single, “Always There”), but I’m not sure it got much attention. It’s definitely worth checking out. 

“My Way, Soon” is a great rock and roll track. It’s got everything you’d expect from these guys, crunchy guitars from Jake Kiszka anchored by the solid rhythm section of Danny Wagner (drums) and Sam Kiszka (bass). I especially like Sam’s bass line. I would describe it almost as a shuffle. It’s got a “Misty Mountain Hop” vibe – I know, I know, I’m too quick to go to the Zeppelin comparison. I’m a huge fan of vocalist Josh Kiszka. He was amazing live as was the whole band. What’s not to love here – great, crunchy riff, rollicking rhythm section and wailing vocals. It’s got a great guitar solo as well. I love the whole “I’ve packed my bags, I’ve got my freedom,” out on the road ethos of the track. We need to be encouraging and supporting kick ass rock and roll like GVF or Dirty Honey or Starcrawler. I can’t wait for this album. 

I think this bodes very well for the new album. I can’t wait to crank this track up later this afternoon when work is done and I’m watching for the postman…”stop, wait a minute…”

 

 

 

AC/DC Returns With “Shot In The Dark” From The Upcoming LP ‘Power Up’

They say that timing is everything…

On November 22, 1963 the American President John F. Kennedy was famously assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The youthful President seemed to embody a bright and energetic future for the American nation and people were hopeful in a scary world. The entire nation mourned his death like a family member had passed. We were once a united nation… Even my Sainted Mother can tell you where she was the day John Kennedy died. So could Lou Reed, apparently…the only thing Lou and Mom have in common. Nobody in America knew at the time but there were four lads in Liverpool who were about to change the world. By February 1964 when the Beatles arrived in America they had exploded onto the American consciousness like nothing else before or since. A grieving nation looking for something happy and hopeful grabbed onto the Beatles like a man about to fall off a ledge reaching for a railing. I’m not saying JFK’s assassination made the Beatles as popular as they were, but  you gotta wonder if it helped?

I was sitting on my back patio this Tuesday when the surprising news that rock and roll guitar legend Eddie Van Halen had passed away reached me (Guitar Legend Eddie Van Halen Gone Too Soon at 65, RIP Eddie, #EVH ). I guess I should have seen that coming, he’d been battling cancer for five years. I just hadn’t heard that news about his cancer returning. I foolishly thought he’d beaten it. Prior to that news, I knew that AC/DC had a new single coming out and I was excitedly waiting for that to happen. They released it at noon on Wednesday. The new track, “Shot In the Dark” (it’s original, not to be confused with an old Ozzy tune of the same name) is from the upcoming AC/DC album Power Up. It’s no surprise, but I love this new AC/DC song. I’m guessing I would have loved it anyway, but like the Beatles coming after JFK, I do wonder if the Eddie news affected me? I can say, that after Tuesday, I was in the mood for some good-time, up beat, old school, fucking rock and roll!! Who else but AC/DC to deliver the goods!?!

I’m on record as a huge AC/DC fan. They were the first band I took my wife to see in concert when we’d just started dating (AC/DC’s Stiff Upper Lip Concert – I Discover I’m Dating The Rock Chick). I will admit that while the Rock Chick and I share a love of AC/DC she’s firmly in the (leader singer) Brian Johnson camp while I straddle both worlds. I love Brian but I will always be on the original singer Bon Scott’s bandwagon. As an aside, the Rock Chick does a fabulous impersonation of Bon Scott on stage, but I’m getting off track here. It was indeed the Rock Chick who reconnected me with AC/DC after I’d lost track of them during the period after For Those About To Rock. The mid to late 80s were not the prime of AC/DC in my opinion. But starting with the great “comeback” album Razor’s Edge AC/DC returned to form. Frankly, everything they’ve done since has been fabulous.

I do owe this band an apology. After 2008’s Black Ice, AC/DC ran into some issues. Sadly, rhythm guitarist and founding brother Malcolm Young succumbed to dementia and eventually passed away (RIP Malcolm Young, Rhythm Guitarist Extraordinaire of AC/DC). Shortly after that, founding drummer Phil Rudd – who had left AC/DC after 1983’s Flick Of the Switch and returned on 1995’s Ballbreaker – ran afoul of the Australian legal system. He participated in the recording of Rock Or Bust but wasn’t able to tour. Rock Or Bust was the first AC/DC album recorded without Malcolm… Angus Young (lead guitarist) was able to replace Malcolm for that album and tour with their nephew Stevie Young on rhythm so he kept it “in the family.” During that tour it, Brian Johnson was diagnosed with a severe hearing disorder and was told if he played one more show, he’d be deaf for the rest of his life. Believe it or not, old friend of the band Axl Rose took over the lead vocals for AC/DC so they could finish the tour. It was at that point – Malcolm had passed, Brian was going deaf, Phil Rudd was likely going to prison – that in a post on bands who should call it “quits,” I named AC/DC as one of those bands (BourbonAndVinyl List of Bands Who Sadly, Should Call It Quits). In my defense, even bassist Cliff Williams had indicated he was going to quit since his road partying buddy Brian was gone. I was clearly not alone in thinking AC/DC were over.

Late last year, which seems like another lifetime pre-COVID, I started to hear rumors that Angus Young and nephew Stevie Young were up in Vancouver recording… Further, I heard that bassist Cliff Williams, despite threats to quit, was also with them. Soon I heard stories in the press that not only Brian Johnson had been spotted in Vancouver but Phil Rudd was with him too. “We’re getting the band back together,” flashed through my mind. I had wondered if Axl might pop in to sing until I heard that Brian had undergone an “experimental procedure” to cure the hearing problem. You know it’s never going well in any medical situation when they start talking about experimental medicine, but I guess in this instance, it worked. On the “Rock And Roll Albums to Purchase Soon” list I carry around in the back of my brain – I don’t dare write it down in fear that the Rock Chick will realize how much I’m spending on music – I added AC/DC to the top of the list. Then I guess I just filed it away…

About a week ago on “the social media” I started seeing these cryptic posts from AC/DC. It was just a neon lightning bolt (stylized to look like the bolt they use between the AC and the DC on their logo). The light was off and the it popped and hissed into life, fully lit up in red. I knew, as most people did, the time had come. The new AC/DC was almost here. AC/DC actually put up a billboard outside the school that Angus Young attended (sort of) as a child with the words “Power Up” on it so we almost immediately knew what the album’s title would be. Now we just had to wait for the tunes…

First singles from this band tend to be some of the greatest songs in rock and roll history. Even if you just look at them since the comeback, their lead singles have been great, great songs:

  • Razors Edge, “Thunderstruck” – An iconic Angus Young riff and a great track.
  • Ballbreaker, “Hard As A Rock” – After sort of ignoring AC/DC for 10 years, I loved this track so much I actually went to see them on this tour. I’ll never forget Brian carrying Angus around on his back while the latter solo’d.
  • Stiff Upper Lip, “Stiff Upper Lip” – This album is where I fully got back on the AC/DC train. Great track that always takes me back to a great concert. I’ve gotta thank the Rock Chick for buying this album on one of our first dates… she played it and I thought, “Hey, wait a minute, this is awesome.”
  • Black Ice, “Rock N Roll Train” – One of the greatest AC/DC late-career anthems. If this song doesn’t bring you to your feet with devil horns extended on both hands, well then you’re not a rock and roll fan. And you might wanna check yourself for a pulse.
  • Rock Or Bust, “Play Ball” – I love this track despite the fact they let Major League Baseball use it on commercials. It’s just solid rock and roll.

I couldn’t wait to hear “Shot In the Dark.” There is nothing greater than dropping the needle, or in this case pushing “play” on the Spotify app and hearing that great riff-age come blasting out of the speakers. Angus teases out a signature little guitar when suddenly the band kicks in with full force. Even the Rock Chick looked up at me and said, “Oh man, that’s really good.” Phil Rudd is the only drummer that should ever play in this band… he’s right in the pocket and his drums, as always help drive “Shot In the Dark.” He’s not the fanciest drummer, but there’s so much rock n’ roll swagger in his drumming. And let me just say, it’s great to hear Brian Johnson back on the microphone. It’s a big chunky riff and Angus’ guitar solo is quick and incisive. “A shot in the dark, beats a walk in the park,” indeed.

AC/DC long ago found out that they do one thing but they do it to perfection. Hard ass rock and roll. I think this will probably be their swan song but I am very optimistic that in this dark world, AC/DC’s Power Up will be that rock and roll rescue we all need.

Turn this one up loud!! 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: Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times – Deluxe Edition’ – An Embarrassment of Riches

At the faceless corporation where I work, I used to know this guy who, like me, was a big music fan. That’s pretty rare where I work. Potentially there are more people there that are into music but nobody really discusses it much. The guy I’m thinking about used to actually ask interviewees what music they listened to when he was hiring. I really believe how they answered that question impacted whether he hired the person or not. We were talking about music one day and I said, “What do you think about Prince?” He answered, “I really only like his “Hendrix-y” stuff.” I don’t know why every black man who plays guitar eventually gets compared to Hendrix – well, I know why but its too sad to articulate – I think Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page have more in common with Hendrix than anybody from Vernon Reid to Gary Clark, Jr, but I digress. This was probably in the late ’90s/early 00’s so I’m not sure why Prince even came up… by that time I had largely lost track of him. But I think my work colleague’s response is the way a lot of fans of Prince’s ’80s music would respond. We all dug his stuff that was more rock oriented than his later focus on dance music or soul. 

I’m on record as a huge Prince fan. I was deeply saddened at his loss (Another Giant Gone, RIP Prince). I’ve recounted several times how I discovered Prince during what I call “the dark semester” when I was at KU my freshman year when some guys turned me onto 1999 (Box Set Review: Prince, ‘1999 (Super Deluxe)’ – A Tour De Force, Must Have ). For once I was ahead of the maddening crowd. It wasn’t really until the video for “Little Red Corvette” came out that everybody started getting on Prince’s band wagon. To follow up 1999 Prince, realizing the value of “video,” put out the full length movie and LP to support it, his masterpiece, Purple Rain (Review: Prince’s ‘Purple Rain – Deluxe Collector’s Edition’ – Is It Worth It?). I don’t even think Prince was prepared for how big that record became. It spawned two number one singles and booted Springsteen’s Born In the USA out of the number one spot on the album charts. Suddenly everybody dug Prince. “Oh, I’ve been listening to Prince for yeeeears,” I’d tell people. 

That kind of fame affects an artist or a band. Many artists will retreat from the sound that made them that famous and successful as a natural reaction probably out of fear of needing to outdo that success (Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame). Prince and his great backing band, The Revolution (Wendy Melvoin on guitar, Lisa Coleman on keyboards, Brown Mark on bass, Matt “Dr” Fink on keyboards and Bobby Z. on drums) retreated to Minneapolis to record Around The World In A Day. There was no press and there were no singles released to promote the album. It just appeared one day in the record stores. And on that day, yes, I purchased the album excited there was more Prince in the world. I remember the brightly colored, psychedelic-tinged cover art gave me pause but it did not prepare me at all for what inside. Prince had largely abandoned his trademark sound and gone… psychedelic? Odd sounds and weird melodies permeated that album. I remember thinking, “what is this shit?” I liked “Raspberry Beret” but that was about it. I did everything I could to connect with that record, but eventually sold it at the Used Record store.

Needless to say, I was shook. When an artist disappointed me back in those days it was hard to get me back on the bandwagon. So when Prince followed up Around The World In A Day with Parade, another soundtrack, I had largely moved on. I heard “Kiss” on the radio and thought it was catchy but by then like a lot of people (I suppose) I thought Prince had lost his mind. I saw the movie, ‘Under the Cherry Moon,’ or more appropriately, I saw the first thirty minutes of the movie before walking out and it didn’t do a lot to restore my confidence in Prince. The fame and success had clearly gone to his head. 

By the time March of 1987 rolled around I was on the verge of graduating from college and there was just a lot going on for me. I’m not even sure I was aware Prince had released his second double-studio album, Sign O’ The Times. By fall of that year, I’d been exiled to Arkansas and lost touch with all music. I can vaguely remember seeing the video of “You’ve Got the Look” a duet with Sheena Easton but I wasn’t drawn back to Prince. I also remember hearing “I Can Never Take the Place Of Your Man” and thinking, hey, maybe Prince still has something left in the tank. I loved the guitar solo at the end. It wasn’t until 1990 when I was taking the Grand Tour across Europe and ended up in Berlin at the Roger Waters’ performance of The Wall (I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990) when I heard the track “Sign O’ The Times” over the PA system before the show started. I was absolutely mesmerized. Granted, it was a hell of a sound system, but Prince giving us his grim state of the union address over minimal but hypnotic guitar was when I thought, perhaps I needed to give this album another look. Naturally, I didn’t investigate it for thirty years. 

At the end of the tour in support of Parade tensions were running high between Prince and the Revolution. I have never satisfactorily discovered why… Prince was dating guitarist Wendy Melvoin’s sister Susannah and they had broken up. Maybe it’s that simple. I’ve read where some theorize that the Revolution was getting too much credit for Prince’s success, they were the only thing keeping him from the bad impulses that created Around The World. I’ve heard the opposite, that Prince and his grand genius were being held back by the limitations of the Revolution. I don’t think that’s true, the Revolution was Prince’s most sympathetic backing group but then I never dug the New Power Generation. Prince had brought in other players for Parade, notably Sheila E. on percussion, Miko Johnson an additional guitarist and a horn section. Maybe that destabilized things. 

Prior to their dismissal, Prince had been working with the Revolution on a new album tentatively titled Dream Factory. I say working with them but as usual, Prince was playing all the instruments in the studio. At the same time he was working on a weird concept album where he speeded up his vocals to sound like a woman, Camille. “Camille” was his female alter ego. I don’t know why anybody thought that was a good idea. He sounds more like he’s on helium to me. Prince always wrote great songs for women (The Bangles, Bonnie Raitt, Vanity 6, Sheena Easton, the list goes on) maybe he thought he’d go ahead and sing the songs himself…as a chick. He scrapped both of those projects, fired the Revolution and recorded a triple album called Crystal Ball. Much of what was recorded for Dream Factory  and some of what was recorded for Camille (“If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “Housequake”) ended up on Crystal Ball. His record company rejected the idea of a triple-album and so Prince edited it down to a double album and voila, Sign O’ The Times was born. 

Last Friday Prince dropped a “Super Deluxe” edition of Sign O’ The Times and I’ve been in the B&V lab voraciously absorbing this thing. The Rock Chick walked by the lab yesterday and said…”You’ve been listening to Prince non-stop for like a week now?” Indeed I have…I may not be a “Sexy M.F.” but I am a funky one. This is an embarrassment of riches. First and foremost, the original album Sign O’ Times is a tour de force and certainly Prince’s magnum opus. To my ears its his last masterpiece. He’s all over the place like the Beatles’ White Album. There’s rock, soul, funk and under currents of jazz on this album. As I listen it feels like I’m at the greatest after hours party ever. To see someone work on that level and take so many chances is breathtaking. The title track, “You’ve Got the Look,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend” were the most well known hits but there is so much more here. “Strange Relationship” is now amongst my Top 5 favorite Prince tracks. “Baby I just can’t stand to see you happy, Yeah, I hate to see you sad,” may sum up every bad relationship I’ve ever had. “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” is another brilliant, brilliant track. “Slow Love” is a classic soul ballad. He could literally do it all.  How I didn’t include this on my list of essential double-albums is a mystery, The BourbonAndVinyl Essential Old School Double Vinyl Albums

The bonus material, like the 1999 Super Deluxe is copious. There’s so much here to absorb. The first disc of extras is the remixes and edited singles, really nothing to hear there. It felt a little like filler, although I did like “Shockadelica.” Following that there are three discs with 45 tracks. There’s some amazing stuff that Prince left in the vault. It all starts with an earlier 1979 version of “I Can Never Take the Place of Your Man” which serves to show how much that tune developed up to 1987. To underscore Prince’s jazz leanings at the time, Miles Davis shows up on “Can I Play With U?” There are so many great, funky tracks here – “Witness For the Prosecution” (in 2 different versions), and “Blanche” are highlights. There’s a great pop-rock track with that trademark Prince guitar on “Cosmic Day” which has that “Camille” voice… I wish he’d sang it in his normal voice but it’s still a great track. “Walking In Glory” touches on gospel. There is just so much and it’s all such high quality music. 

To round out the “Super Deluxe” set is a live concert from the tour supporting the LP, recorded in Utrecht. Prince only toured Europe for Sign O’ The Times largely because Parade had actually been a bigger hit there than in the U.S. Sheila E. had graduated from percussionist to drummer and I really dig this concert. Prince could certainly deliver. After running through some of the material from the LP, they go through the hits. This is the only live version of “Purple Rain” I think I have and it’s a killer. He manages to deliver the falsetto in “Kiss” in an impressive fashion as well. It’s a strong and aggressive performance even without the Revolution. If all of his shows were this good, I’ll take all the live Prince I can get. 

The ultimate question I always ask for a box set is, “Is it worth it?” For any fans of ’80s Prince or this album in particular, it’s a must have. I will admit, freely and up front, the price tag on this package is a little staggering. There are a lot of box sets coming in 2020 – U2, Lou Reed, and Neil Young all have big packages coming. Because of that I went with the download vs the CD version of this box. The price on the vinyl was so high it gave me a nose bleed. I understand in these hard times that this would be a hard pill to swallow but I urge all fans to at least go out and stream this stuff it’s a must hear. There is literally something for everyone in this box. 

Cheers! Stay funky people but be safe doing so. 

 

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!