I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990

unnamed

Since none of us will be seeing any concerts soon, I thought I’d reflect on the biggest show I ever attended…

After college, as I’ve often complained about in these pages, I took a job for a mammoth corporation who sent me, yes, to Arkansas. I’ll be the first to admit that Kansas City isn’t Paris, but Arkansas felt like exile, especially in the beginning when I was placed in a small town named Ft. Smith, Arkansas. More like Ft. Hell, Arkansas. Back then no one under forty should have been stationed in Ft. Hell. It felt like the most remote corner of the universe, although admittedly it was only 5 hours from everywhere (Dallas, KC, Shreveport, Memphis). There was a guy in the office who loved Ft. Smith. He had been born there, married there, raised kids there and for all I know he died there. I get it, he was a native son and he loved it. He also used to pull his suit pants up to his nipples…no accounting for taste as the saying goes. He used to stand at my desk and espouse the virtues of his hometown… I always just kinda mumbled, quoting Muddy Waters, “Yeah man, but, uh, “I Can’t Get No Grindin’.”” I guess I was too much of a “yankee.”

By 1989 they’d moved me to Fayetteville, Arkansas, a move I believe that was made out of pity rather than cold profit and loss. That place was infinitely better. There was a college and a groovy little entertainment area on Dixon Street. My friend Ross and I used to pub crawl that street but those memories are more than a little blurry. The only good thing about Arkansas was befriending Ross, who remains a dear friend to this day.  I remember sitting on the used hide-a-bed couch in my apartment (with its lovely cigarette burn) watching the Berlin Wall come down that November. That was a cool part of history to watch happen. However, from Arkansas I thought I was watching it all unfold from another planet. Despite Fayetteville being a better place for a young man, I knew I had to get out of there. History was taking place and I was missing it.

I decided that November, watching the Wall fall that I was done with Arkansas and the mammoth corporation. No more working for the man! I would finish the year, cash any check they gave me and hightail it out of there. In February of 1990 I came careening into my parent’s driveway in my U-Haul with my meager possessions and moved back in with them. They were thrilled. My father didn’t talk to me for six months. It was a pretty hostile atmosphere so I didn’t really hang around at my folks’ house much. Instead I hit the road. I drove to see friends I hadn’t seen in a few years. I was “On the Road.” I went from Kansas City to Dallas to Louisville where I attended the Kentucky Derby, something every bourbon lover should do. Mint Juleps for everyone. All that Jack Kerouac’ing around was fun, but in my heart of hearts, I wanted to go to Europe. Many of my friends had gone, either with siblings or alone and I wanted to tour the continent as well.

A guy I knew, with the unfortunate nickname Flytrap, loaned me his giant backpack which was really nice. When I went over to pick it up, he said, “You know Roger Waters is going to perform The Wall at the Berlin Wall… surely you’re gonna go?” Actually I’d heard but no, I wasn’t planning on it. “You’ve got to!!” exclaimed Flytrap. Apparently I wasn’t the only one watching the Berlin Wall come tumbling down. Roger Waters in an interview had said flippantly to a reporter, “I’ll perform The Wall when the Berlin Wall comes down.” Originally, Pink Floyd had only performed The Wall in the States at 10-gig stints in New York and another in Los Angeles. In the lawsuit against his former mates in Pink Floyd, Waters had won the rights to The Wall and the band got to carry on… The Wall was expensive to stage and not practical in an arena. He was doing it to raise money for the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief, so it was for a good cause.

The Wall is one of those seminal albums for me. It was the first Floyd album to come out after I’d turned on to rock and roll. I can remember riding in my buddy Brewster’s Mazda, he had a great stereo, and cranking “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. 1)/The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick In the Wall (Pt. 2).” After hearing “Comfortably Numb” in that same car, I went out and plunked down the then hefty investment of $16 to buy the double-album. Sonically I had heard nothing like it. I had Dark Side of the Moon, but this rock opera/concept album blew my mind… But actually attending the performance with 350,000 strangers…in Berlin? I was too small minded to think it was even possible. But somehow, I had to make it happen. There was no internet back in those caveman days so I would have to figure out how to get tickets once I got over to Europe. At least now I had a mission.

I left the United States on July 3rd and arrived in Rome, Italy on July 4th. I guess I’m not a Yankee Doodle Dandy, leaving my country on its birthday. When I arrived in Rome they were experiencing a 100 year heat wave. I didn’t sleep on the plane and after securing my hotel room I got lost looking for it… the street signs were up on the buildings in that ancient city, not on the stop lights and I couldn’t navigate. I was, to say the least, addled. I was accosted by a group of gypsies, but before anything weird could go down, in frustration I let out a giant Ginsberg-ian “Howl.” That scared them and calmed me down… I found the street signs and breezed to my hotel. It was a wobbly start.

Rome was a hot, hazy blur but by the time I moved on to Florence, I’d gotten my travel legs. Eventually I went on to Venice and then to Munich. I remember pulling into the train station in Munich and someone was blaring AC/DC. I love Germany. I found a phone number to buy tickets to the impending Waters concert (billed as Roger Waters and Special Guests) on a poster and called and bought a ticket. They said it would be at “will-call,” which I never found. Luckily the concert wasn’t sold out and I was able to buy another ticket, pictured above, the day of the show. By the time the concert rolled around I was an old-pro, hardened veteran at the whole traveling by train thing.

I was hanging in Amsterdam prior the concert. There were no hotel rooms in Berlin. I’d actually been in Berlin prior to that and had gotten the lay of the land before coming to Amsterdam. My plan was to take an overnight train into Berlin, find a locker for my backpack and go to the show. There was no train out of Berlin until the next morning and I figured I’d do what I’d seen so many travelers do, sleep at the train station on a bench. When I got to Berlin on the 21st, all the lockers were taken in the train station. I didn’t want to lug the enormous backpack to the concert… I was starting to panic when at the last second I spotted an open locker. Another American was standing there and when I exultantly threw my backpack into the locker he looked at me and said, “Do you realize how lucky you are to have gotten that locker? It’s probably the last one in Berlin.” Indeed I am my friend, indeed I am.

The stage was set up on a patch of ground between Potsdamer Platz and the famous Brandenburg Gate. The area was known as “No Man’s Land” as it was a patch between East and West, between Communism and Democracy. Many people had been shot trying to escape tyranny on that very spot… This was hallowed ground indeed. The gates opened at 2pm in the afternoon and after rebuying another ticket, I was in line when they opened. I had never been that early for a show… or that sober. I didn’t even sniff a beer before the show. I had never seen a crowd this big in my life. I was able to get relatively close to the stage, but it was far enough that I thank God they had video screens.

I bought a bottle of water in a crush of people at the concession stand and took up my spot in the middle a fair ways back but still able to see everybody on stage… they weren’t so tiny I couldn’t make out who was who. I remember an Irish band playing, it might have been the Chieftans. Then the Hooters came on… I was not impressed with the Hooters. But then, the Band came out and did a set. Obviously Robbie Robertson wasn’t there (and Richard Manuel was sadly already gone) but Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm were all there. They even drug Ronnie Hawkins out to recreate his “Who Do You Love” from The Last Waltz. That was truly great. I’d have rather seen Dylan pop out than Ronnie Hawkins but dirty travelers can’t be choosers.

I don’t know why but there was a moment that has always stuck with me from that dusty afternoon surrounded by people. In between acts, they were playing music over the PA system. They put on Prince’s “Sign ‘O’ the Times” and the crowd went nuts. It was the first time I’d ever heard the song… I’d kind of lost track of Prince after Around The World In A Day. Maybe it was the huge cheer of the crowd, or the great sound system, but I’ve loved that song ever since…

Finally, the main event began. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the “Special Guests” and I was wondering who might show up. When the show started and Waters’ back up band, the Bleeding Heart Band launched into the opening track, “In the Flesh,” I realized that Germany’s own, the Scorpions were on stage. I love Klaus Meine and he was really into it. This was going to be something very different. I will say all the guest stars Waters brought on stage made this feel like the Who’s Tommy movie. I enjoyed the spectacle but it made me wish Gilmour, Wright and Mason were there instead… It was like a photo copy of the Mona Lisa. It was still a great, great show… but I’m a purist.

As the performers sang, the crew slowly built the wall around them. There’s the sound of a helicopter early on the album and for this performance Waters flew over in a real helicopter… knowing the history of that patch of land it sort of gave me goosebumps. My memory of specific guest stars is spotty… I remember Cyndi Lauper coming out for “Another Brick In the Wall (Pt 2)” and she was awful. Apparently Joni Mitchell was there and I have no recollection of that. Sinead O’Connor was great during “Mother.” They brought Bryan Adams out for the rocking “Young Lust” and I guess that was an appropriate choice at the time. I read later that Rod Stewart was the original choice so I look back at that performance as a bit of a missed opportunity. Jerry Hall did the “Are all these your guitars?” monologue and it was the low moment in the performance… her reading was as flat as a pancake, truly cringe-worthy.

The highlight for me was naturally “Comfortably Numb.” The Bleeding Heart Band did a great job with the material and by the time they were playing from behind the actual wall, I was only slightly still missing Gilmour. When they played “Comfortably Numb” taking the Gilmour vocal was none other than Van Morrison. I love Van the man. That was truly a great moment to witness. “The Trial” was over the top… The ultimate moment for me came at the end of “The Trial,” when the crowd was chanting (along with the band), “tear down the wall, tear down the wall.” The crowd of lusty Germans were screaming so loud you could feel it in your chest. Right before the wall fell, they projected an image of the actual Berlin Wall’s graffiti onto the giant white space that was “The Wall.” A crowd that was loud before got even louder, their ecstatic cries practically lifting me off my feet. I felt like I was floating, it was an ecstatic moment…and then the wall fell and it was fucking pandemonium. People were suddenly hugging me. I had tears in my eyes.

Waters and the entire company came out and did his solo track, “The Tide Is Turning” from Radio K.A.O.S., and it was the perfect choice. For the first time since sitting on the couch watching the Berlin Wall fall while exiled in Arkansas, I felt like I was alive again. I was back in the middle of something great.

Was it the greatest concert ever? I can’t say it was, but it was a very special show at a very special location at a very special point in time and history. I’m glad I got that gentle nudge from Flytrap that helped spur me to go. By the end of the show, I’d floated backwards and when it was over I fled to the train station where I discovered they’d scheduled a midnight train to Amsterdam to get rid of some of the concert goers. I jumped on that packed train and by the next day was sitting in a bar named the Bull Dog where I debated the Waters vs Pink Floyd issue with some guy from Cleveland.

Needless to say, it was quite a trip. As I like to say, buy the ticket, see the show. Always!

Cheers!

Lookback: Alice In Chains, The EPs – ‘Sap’ and ‘Jar of Flies’

0001386236

I don’t know why, perhaps it’s the bleak times we find ourselves in, but I have been really drawn to Alice In Chains’ music lately. Since these aren’t the sunniest of times, I’m perhaps making a mental-health tactical error listening to so much Alice In Chains but I’m doing it anyway. Don’t get me wrong I’ve always liked Alice In Chains, this isn’t a sudden epiphany or anything. I think it was when I assembled my smack-inspired playlist B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin that I reconnected with AIC. I picked a number of songs from their landmark album Dirt for that playlist and those songs sounded so great to me (it had been a while), I couldn’t help plunging back into the Layne Staley-era catalog. And by catalog I mean the three proper albums and the two EPs they released before he sadly passed. (I’m skipping We Die Young as I consider it an extended single…)

Of course Alice In Chains road into our consciousness on that early 90s Grunge wave. At the time, I thought Grunge would be like punk rock in the late 70s. Punk emerged to challenge the rock establishment who’d gotten fat and happy and yes, overblown. Punk stripped rock and roll back down to its primal roots. For the most part, the established bands merely absorbed the energy of punk and got back to a more lean and rocking sound (How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s). I figured Grunge would just be the next generational kick in the ass. Unfortunately, Grunge killed everything that came before it. On our first date, the Rock Chick commented on Cobain killing all the 80s bands she dug, hence her name the Rock Chick. It’s how I knew we’d be together. When Grunge petered out, there was no one left standing which is why we’re subjected to a bunch of synth-based pop stars who masquerade as rock and roll now. I never Panic and I’m never At The Disco.

I remember watching VH1 (not to date myself as old), and they did a retrospective on Grunge’s impact on the 80s stars. They had Mike Reno, the lead singer of Loverboy (gads) and he was lamenting that Kurt Cobain killed his career. I think Loverboy was already headed down the tubes, Mike. Reno is swollen and fat on the show. He looks like someone who swallowed Mike Reno vs the actual Mike Reno. My favorite 80s star interviewed on that show was Lita Ford. She was sitting on the patio of her home on the beach – clearly she got out of the 80s having done pretty well for herself – wrapped in a blanket and she said something like, “Yeah Kurt Cobain killed all the 80s bands… what a drag.” What a drag indeed. On this VH1 show, they had someone from a hair band, I don’t recall which one, who said he’d asked the record company about ditching the big hair and spandex, maybe wearing jeans on stage and the record company told him it was “off brand.” He said the next time he was in his record company’s office, there was a giant poster of Alice In Chains behind the receptionist and they didn’t have big hair and were wearing jeans. I guess we should always act on our instincts…

I always considered AIC to be one of the four “big” or “most important” Grunge bands… Perhaps through the lens of Lita Ford or Mike Reno we might describe them as the Four Horsemen of the 90s Rock Apocalypse: Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. I always thought of Alice In Chains as being distinctly Grunge. The other three bands have, to my ears, influences that they wear on their sleeves – PJ (classic rock), Nirvana (punk), and Soundgarden (soaring heavy metal). However, having gone back and listened to all three of the Layne LPs, you can hear kind of a death metal, atonal thing happening in the music. I love Jerry Cantrell’s heavy slabs of guitar and Sean Kinney’s drumming. That gloomy, moody sound certainly helps underpin the lyrics – depression, despair, isolation and addiction are common themes for AIC.

Alice In Chains were a big band – Dirt was 3x platinum and Alice In Chains was 2x platinum – but I always felt like they sort of underachieved a bit. The problem they had was, well, Layne Staley’s heroin addiction. They had to cancel out of much of the tour for Dirt. His addiction was so bad they didn’t even try to tour after Alice In Chains. I always wondered if the cover art on that latter album, a three-legged dog, was a swipe at Staley by his three other band members… kind of a “where are you?” message. They started off with a strong debut, Facelift. “Man In A Box” from that LP is one of the best songs ever. “Sea of Sorrow” and “Bleed the Freak” are amongst my favorites from AIC. Dirt was (with one exception) their critical and their commercial peak. The final Staley LP, the eponymously titled one aka “Tripod,” felt like a bit of a missed opportunity. Staley had deteriorated too far by that point. I still like that album but songs like “Frogs” and “Sludge Factory” just sort of miss the mark for me.

Eventually, the addiction claimed Layne Staley’s life. His story is perhaps the saddest I can think of. He’d locked himself in his Seattle condo and become utterly reclusive. His weight dropped down to a reported 86 lbs. He was emaciated and pale. His friends, bandmates and family continued to reach out to him and he wouldn’t respond. In April of 2002 he overdosed on a “speedball” a combination of heroin and cocaine. His body wasn’t discovered for two weeks. It was an awful end…

Beyond all of that, and beyond the three Layne Staley-era LPs, Alice In Chains did something interesting in those early days. Between each proper LP, they released an EP. For those not familiar with that vernacular, LP means “long player” aka, a full album length record. EP stands for “extended player” which means it’s longer than a single, with perhaps 3,4 or a few more songs, but not quite an album length disc. AIC’s two EPs from that era were different from the their main body in work as they were more acoustic based. There’s still some electric guitar to be found there but it’s more of an accent. There is an increased focus on Layne Staley and guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Jerry Cantrell’s harmonies. To me, the EPs they put out are their most brilliant work. Everyone should seek both of these out if you haven’t already. If you are familiar with these records, and  most people are, they are absolutely worth rediscovering.

Sap (1992)

Of the two EPs, I think Sap was the most surprising one. No one expected, after Facelift, to hear AIC go acoustic. There are 5 songs on the EP, but the last one is an untitled joke of a song so I really don’t consider that in the mix here. “Got Me Wrong” is probably the best known track and it’s great, but all three other tracks are phenomenal. The opener, “Brother” which they played on their exceptional Unplugged album (B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs) sends the message that this EP is going to be something completely different from them. This music is so much more nuanced and layered than anything on the debut. Although, admittedly “Got You Wrong” could have been on Facelift or Dirt and I wouldn’t have been surprised. “I Am Inside” is haunting brilliance. I had completely forgotten that “Right Turn” has a Chris Cornell & Mark Arm cameo… it’s a great song that no one ever talks about. Everybody talks about the next EP… but this one is sublime.

Jar of Flies (1994)

This was the EP that brought me into the Alice In Chains fold. Back in the early/mid 90s I had this friend, Walt (name changed to protect the guilty) who when we were partying, invariably around four in the morning would say, “Hey, put on Jar of Flies.” His father was a principal where I went to high school and once threatened to pull out my rib cage if I didn’t stop terrorizing my Geometry teacher… the guy was an awful instructor and wasn’t engaging me mentally, but I digress. I stopped acting up, I’ll tell you that. Anyway, Jar of Flies is simply brilliant. The moody, atmospheric “Rotten Apple” opens the EP and the Cantrell/Staley harmonizing is hypnotizing. There’s not a bad moment on this thing. I think they released every song as a single – “Nutshell,” “I Stay Away,” “No Excuses” and “Don’t Follow” are all great tracks that follow the same template. I even like the instrumental, “Whale & Wasp.” Staley was fully engaged here and wrote the lyrics for four of the 6 tracks (I’m not counting the instrumental track here, obviously). To me this disc represents the height of Layne Staley’s abilities. While this EP is hugely popular and well-known, in these dark times it just felt right to highlight it as a “must-hear.” Its certainly earned a rediscovery.

Layne Staley was a great singer and a true talent. Alas, heroin snatched another artist. Alice In Chains with him in front were like a comet… they burned bright and broad only to snuff itself out way too soon. Alice In Chains has gone on since then with a new singer, William Duvall, who I saw open for the Stones. They’re still a solid band and a few tracks have caught my attention, “Your Decision” springs to mind, but they haven’t fully captured my ear the way the classic line up did. If you’ve got the emotional stability in these dark times, I urge you all to put these two brilliant, acoustic EPs on and turn them up loud.

With things “reopening” please be smart and keep yourself protected. Me, I’m going to continue my “Boo Radley” from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ impersonation and stay hidden in the attic until things clear up.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

B&V Playlist: Happy Mother’s Day Playlist… Probably Safest To Not Play For Mom

 

unnamed

“I hear “Mama” sounds the same in any tongue” – David Gilmour, “In Any Tongue”

I see that the calendar has rolled around to yet another “Hallmark Holiday,” namely Mother’s Day. I don’t know how this thing sneaks up on me every year. I’ll have to make the annual rush trip to the card shop, decked out in a mask and gloves… This year I’ll have to mail mom her card even though she lives in the same city as I do. Such is life in a pandemic.

I know there are all kinds of moms out there. Good ones, bad ones, tall ones, short ones, all kinds. When I refer to my mother, I tend to refer to her as “my sainted mother.” A lot of people say that about their mothers, but in this case, I really mean it. My mother is one of the nicest human beings you’re ever going to meet. If by chance I meet someone who knows my parents, inevitably the person says something along the lines of, “You’re mother is the sweetest person.” Which is probably confusing for most people  who meet me when they are forced to ponder how such a wonderful person (and she is wonderful) produced such a miscreant.

My first memory of my mother, and I’m willing to admit this may be apocryphal in nature, is riding in the back seat of a police car. No, I wasn’t arrested. I was probably two, which makes me think the memory was implanted in my head by hearing the story so many times. I was learning to tie my shoes. My mother was pregnant with my brother. For some reason my parents took me to the hardware store. They were looking for something and I wandered off. My shoe was untied and I swear in my mind I can see my tiny foot as I placed it on a stack of paint cans to tie my shoe. My father says he heard a crash, glanced down the aisle and all he could see were my legs sticking out from a pile of paint cans. I had a huge gash in my forehead, blood everywhere. My mom grabbed me and the cops grabbed my mom and rushed me to the hospital. I remember looking up at my mom’s face, bathed in the siren’s red glare as she tried to soothe me on the ride to the hospital. Maybe that’s why I’ve always thought of my mother as an angel. Paging Dr. Freud.

I feel bad for my mom. She had to play shuttle diplomat most of her life. She still does. She was the lone female in a small family surrounded by my father, me and my brother… none of whom got along particularly well in the old days. She would have to wander our house between whatever neutral corners that we’d all retreated to in order to avoid each other. I remember one Mother’s Day asking my dad what he was getting her for Mother’s Day… His reply always stuck with me, “Nothing…she’s not my mother.” There was none of that gross calling your wife “mother” at my house… Which, let’s face it, is super creepy.

I realize that the whole dynamic of mothers and daughters are completely different. Early in my tenure as the Evil Stepdad, I would drive my daughter to school every day. To torture her, I would tune the radio to NPR and make her listen to talk radio the bane of a junior high kid’s existence. I was the Evil Stepdad after all, so why not educate the child in the car. She would retaliate by wearing an entire bottle of perfume which was tough to stomach in a small car. One day on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ they had an author of a book about “mothers and daughters.” She was going on and on about mothers saying the most horrible things to their daughters because they thought they were “helping.” Stuff like, “I really liked your hair better when it was long,” or “Why in the world did you get bangs?” Usually when I pulled up to the school my daughter would spring from the car like she was being shot out of a cannon. On that day, as this lady author spun tales of mothers doing and saying horrible things, my daughter stayed in the car and turned up the volume. She and the Rock Chick were extremely tight even in those difficult adolescent days. I guess mother/daughter relationships are weird in their own right, maybe weirder.

In honor of all of you out there with complicated relationships with your mom (and whose isn’t?) we’ve compiled some of our favorite songs about moms. This isn’t going to be like a country song where it’s all sentimental misty-eyed love for mom. This playlist explores a lot of the more complicated emotions that are associated with moms. Some of my choices may leave you scratching your head, so I included an explanation of why I included it below. In some songs the mother might only be a part of a story with a broader meaning. I was surprised at how many songs about moms consist of conversations between sons/daughters and the mothers… maybe its the fact that so many of them are giving advice all the time, wanted or not. Maybe we just all have things we want to say to our mothers. There were a lot songs with “mama” in the title but they were mostly from the 70s where dudes called their girlfriends (or more appropriately their “main squeezes”) mama. I left those off the list, it was too close to that calling your wife “mother” thing. Creepy. In some of these songs the mother is only a peripheral figure in the story but if the vibe fit, I went for it. Again, these are just some of our favorites and it’s not meant to be definitive we’re just trying to put a smile on your face.

As always you can find our playlist on Spotify under the title “BourbonAndVinyl.net Mother’s Day Playlist…Probably Safest To Not Play for Mom.” As usual I’m all over the place here from country to heavy metal. Here’s the link, with our explanations below.

**Technical Difficulties Prevent Posting the Spotify Link**

  1. The Rolling Stones, “Mother’s Little Helper” – What mother doesn’t need a little “help” now and again?
  2. The Beatles, “Julia” – A song John Lennon wrote for his mother, Julia, who died when he was 17 when she was hit by a drunk driver… it was an off duty cop, no less.
  3. Norah Jones, “Tell Yer Mama” – A track in which Norah suggests to an ex that he should tell his mother he was raised wrong. Tough break-up tune. Mom is only a suggestion here, but it felt right.
  4. The Vaughn Brothers, “Baboom/Mama Said” – Where Jimmy and Stevie Ray trade guitar licks over the voice of their mother…
  5. Tracy Bonham, “Mother Mother” – I think Ms. Bonham captures the sometimes volatile nature of mother-daughter relationships here… but what do I know?
  6. The Rolling Stones, “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby” – I’ve never understood completely why this mother was hiding in the shadows. It’s perhaps a mystery only Mick Jagger can solve.
  7. Cowboy Junkies, “Musical Key” – Beautiful song about both parents really. “My mother sang the sweetest melody, although she never sang in a musical key.” An ex of mine, back in the day, wrote these lyrics down in a homemade Mother’s Day card and that stuck with me…
  8. Bruce Springsteen, “The Wish” – Bruce wrote so many (angry) songs about his dad, I guess it was finally his mom’s turn. He did this in his On Broadway show so it must be important to him (Review: Netflix’s ‘Springsteen On Broadway’ – The Artist’s Dialogue With Fans Comes to the Great White Way).
  9. Cream, “Mother’s Lament” – Cream “taking the piss” in a little humorous sing-a-long that I like to imagine was sung in taverns in England back in the day.
  10. Tom Petty, “Southern Accents” – Weird choice here, I know. Mom only makes a cameo but what a powerful image: “There’s a dream I keep having, where my momma comes to me And kneels down over by the window, and says a prayer for me…” One of Petty’s most evocative tunes.
  11. Joe Walsh & Barnstorm, “Mother Says” – I love Joe Walsh’s guitar playing. His solo stuff deserves more attention.
  12. Queen, “Tie Your Mother Down” – I’m not sure why mom needs to be tied down, but what Freddie Mercury wants, Freddie Mercury gets.
  13. Danzig, “Mother” – I think this song is hysterical. Glenn Danzig singing to someone’s mother, “and if you wanna find hell with me…” just kills me. It was either going to be this song or that crazy song of the same name by the Police, but I hate that one.
  14. Paul McCartney, “Only Mama Knows” – Great, late period rocker from McCartney.
  15. Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried” – My favorite song by Hags.
  16. John Lennon, “Mother” – A truly harrowing song where Lennon employs techniques he learned in scream therapy.
  17. David Crosby & Graham Nash, “Mama Lion” – It was written about Joni Mitchell, but I like it on this list anyway. Whose mother out there wasn’t a lion when it came to protecting you?
  18. Social Distortion, “Mommy’s Little Monster” – A song best used to describe me or my wife’s cat.
  19. Warren Zevon, “Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded” – The mother here was his maternal grandmother who was not crazy about Warren’s father.
  20. Randy Newman, “Mama Told Me Not to Come” – Mothers are always giving advice. Too bad we rarely listen. Three Dog Night had a hit with this but I prefer Randy’s original version.
  21. U2, “Iris (Hold Me Close)” – Bono writing about his late mother. It all reminds me of how lucky I was to have my mom.
  22. Ozzy Osbourne, “Mama, I’m Coming Home” – A phone call from a lonely pay phone that I made in college to my own mother springs to mind when I hear this song.
  23. Pink Floyd, “Mother” – “Mother should I build a wall?” A song about a, shall we say, overprotective mother?
  24. Dave Matthews Band, “Mother Father” – A nice little political rocker from DMB where the protagonist asks his mother & father, how did the world get into such a state? More relevant today than when it came out.
  25. Paul Simon, “Mother and Child Reunion” – Named after a dish in a restaurant that had both chicken and egg. Catchy, prime, rhymin’ Simon.
  26. Ozzy Osbourne, “Flying High Again” – This song sums up my entire adolescence…”Mama’s gonna worry, I’ve been a bad bad boy, no use sayin’ sorry, it’s something that I enjoy.” Perfect.
  27. James Brown, “Mother Popcorn” – I won’t even venture a guess as to what Soul Brother No. 1 is talking about here.
  28. David Gilmour, “In Any Tongue” – The best, most important track on this list. See the quote above.
  29. Metallica, “Mama Said” – Great deep track off of Load. 
  30. Elvis Presley, “That’s Alright” – Written for his mother. His first hit, I believe.
  31. Eric Clapton, “Motherless Child” – I think this is the first of two distinctly different versions of this song Clapton did. Or maybe both songs are from the same traditional song. I feel badly for those without a mother.
  32. Bob Seger, “Momma” – Great Seger from before Live Bullet made him famous.
  33. Bruce Springsteen, “The Hitter” – Another conversation with mom song. A burned-out boxer returns home and is trying to talk his mom into letting him in.
  34. Eric Clapton, “Motherless Children” – This one is from his comeback 461 Ocean Boulevard. 
  35. Neil Young, “New Mama” – “New mama’s got a sun in her eyes, no clouds are in my changing skies…”
  36. Aerosmith, “Mama Kin” – Steven Tyler’s favorite of their songs.
  37. Talking Heads, “Mommy, Daddy, You and I” – A disturbing tale of what sounds like a family of refugees heading north to escape… what?
  38. David Crosby & Graham Nash, “Carry Me” – This time it’s David Crosby writing about his newly deceased mother.
  39. Elvis Presley, “Mama Liked The Roses” – Hearing Elvis sing about his mama is almost as moving as hearing the man sing gospel.
  40. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Mommy Where’s Daddy?” – Goofballs singing a goofball song. I always laugh when I hear this song.
  41. The Beatles, “Your Mother Should Know” – She should… and she often does know, just ask her.
  42. The Who, “Squeeze Box” – Why does the mother have a squeeze box? Why does she play it all night? What is happening in this household? So many questions.
  43. Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” – Epic song. So much more than a song about his mother, but I couldn’t resist. It’s another track where there’s a conversation between an artist and his mother.
  44. U2, “Mothers of the Disappeared” – A political track about the mothers under Pinochet’s cruel rule, dancing in the village square to symbolically shame the regime into freeing their sons who were “disappeared.”
  45. Van Morrison, “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” – Van Morrison closing us out on a soulful rendition of what may be the same song Clapton did… A perfect reminder of how happy we should be with having any mother at all.

I’m sure you all have a favorite song that makes you think about your mother. Or a song that reminds you of her… Let me know what it is in the comments and I’ll add it to the playlist on Spotify. I hope you all have a safe, healthy, socially distanced Mother’s Day out there… Hint though, you’ll probably have a better day if you avoid playing this playlist for mom…

Cheers!

Review: Fiona Apple, ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ – Genius Unleashed

image

Since it had been eight years since the last Fiona Apple album, 2012’s The Idler Wheel, I’d never have dreamed she’d drop the ultimate lockdown album a few weeks ago. While most of these songs were written prior to our current world situation, with its themes of breaking free, it’s perfect for right now. I think we’re all feeling a little confined these days… It’s like U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, an album the band wrote (in part) about the loss of Michael Hutchence. The themes of loss and sadness became universal after 9/11. I think Apple’s new album will come to define this time period in much the same way. The new album, Fetch The Bolt Cutters, even features several tracks where you hear dogs barking in the background. Now that I work from home, I can’t tell you how many conference calls and Zoom meetings I’ve been on where someone’s barking dogs in the background are the star of the call. My wife’s cat even meowed on a call I was hosting yesterday… such is our new reality.

It may surprise some of our faithful readers to find out that I’m a fan of Fiona Apple. More accurately, I’m a big fan of hers. I got on her bandwagon almost from the beginning. In 1996 I was dating the last in a series of psychopathic women and we finally ended the dismal affair that fall. Believe me, I wasn’t the most stable person at the time and I was attracting a certain type. I own my piece of the whole thing, but I digress. I remember going to the CD store with my friend’s younger brother. At that stage of the game, on the end of each row of CDs, the store had a “listening station” where you could actually hear an album before purchasing it. It was what we thought was cutting edge at the time. It certainly helped keep me from buying some duds back then.

I was standing at one of the listening stations, listening to tunes in an attempt to stave off my latest broken heart. Music and booze were my salves even then (bourbon and vinyl to the rescue). While the latest breakup was a very good thing, I had enjoyed the summer of going to my cruel and deranged ex’s lake house… always look for the upside. My friend’s younger brother walked up and handed me Fiona Apple’s debut CD, Tidal. “You’ve got to listen to this…” Her album was loaded on the listening station so I switched over to it. While I gazed into those beautiful, haunted blue-grey eyes, “Sleep To Dream” exploded into my ears and hit my lower brain stem. Oh, yes! I walked out of the store that day with that album in my stack of CDs. That album probably has her biggest hit, “Criminal,” but for me her signature song has always been another track on the disc, “Shadowboxer.” The image of someone punching the air in anticipation of an opponents next move was indelible…”Once my lover, now my friend, what a cruel thing to pretend.” This (then) 19-year old was a genius. This is what I’d imagined an album by Sylvia Plath would sound like had she been a singer and not a novelist/poet. ‘The Bell Jar’ set to piano? I felt like I was reading her diary. And… in the situation I found myself in back then, it was like she’d read my diary too.

By 1999, when her second album, whose title set a Guinness Book World Record for length which I’ll abbreviate here to When the Pawn… came out, Apple was a well known artist. Some of her public behavior had caused quite a stir. By that time I had taken control of my own life and had exorcised a lot of my own demons which included not dating unstable women. I enjoyed When the Pawn… which again explored the themes of relationships, failed and otherwise, in songs like “Get Him Back,” “Limp,” or “Get Gone.” That album disappeared somewhere… and perhaps because I was in a happy place, I never replaced it which is a shame. I went back and listened to it again and it was remarkable. I don’t think Apple has ever put out a bad album.

It was six years later when Apple came out with Extraordinary Machine. I fell in love with the title track. By the time the album came out I was happily married to the Rock Chick and in a great, great place. A friend burned me a copy of that album but looking back I think it was the original version… Fiona had gone into the studio with Jon Brion, who produced her first two records, and didn’t like the sound. She went back into the studio with a different producer to recut the tracks. However, someone leaked the original Brion production and I think that’s what I had. Having listened to both recently, the official release was indeed definitive. I remember Dave Matthews having a similar issue around the material that became Busted Stuff. The Napster era was indeed a weird time.

After that, I became oblivious to Apple’s work. I wasn’t even aware, or at best was only vaguely aware of 2012’s The Idler Wheel (another long poem title, abbreviated here). As prep for this post, I went back and listened to it for the first time and was blown away. It’s a quiet album, mostly featuring her voice and piano with Charley Drayton providing some interesting percussive elements. I had never heard any of this – proof that radio has failed us all. I will admit, hearing the whole album I couldn’t help but think of what Petty sang years ago, “The A&R man said, “I don’t hear a single”…” I get it, you gotta have a hook to get played on the radio. It’s a brilliant record nonetheless and certainly worth everyone’s time.

And now, Apple has released what is perhaps is her masterpiece. The title comes from the television cop show, ‘The Fall’ featuring a rather fetching Gillian Anderson… love the accent. She recorded the album in her home. I can’t tell if she produced it or she produced it with her talented backing band: Sebastian Steinberg (bass), Amy Aileen Wood (drums), and David Garza (vibes). Every member of the band plays multiple instruments, but I only listed their primary one. And as I mentioned, this is an album of a troubled soul looking for freedom. It’s certainly breathtaking. There is a lot of “homemade” percussion here. I think they were rapping on any surface they could strike here. There are times when even the piano sounds like it’s being used as a percussive instrument. I realize that a lot of you will struggle with the sound of some of this album. The more I listen to this album, the more it makes sense to me. Nothing will really prepare you for the aggressive sound of this record – it’s certainly not The Idler Wheel – especially the vocal gymnastic Apple goes through.

The opening track, “I Want You To Love Me” starts off as a lovely piano based ballad but Apple descends into an almost Yoko Ono like screeches and chirps. It’s your first hint that this is going to be a different album. “Shameika” is a great song about bullying. I love the chorus, “I’m pissed off, funny and wrong.” The song is a whirl which feels like the fear of being bullied set to sound. I also particularly like the line, “Sebastian says I’m a good man in a storm,” inspired by a band drug bust. What’s cooler than a band drug bust? On the title track, the lyrics just spill out of Apple, like she’s just freed herself after a long captivity… she’s in a hurry to impart the message… “fetch the bolt cutters I’ve been in here too long.”

There are so many tracks I love here. “Under the Table” recounts a dinner party Fiona made a bit uncomfortable for some inappropriate asshole, “Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up.” Thank God she won’t!! “Relay” features lyrics she wrote when she was 15, “Evil is a relay sport, when the one whose burned turns to pass the torch.” It reminds of a Springsteen lyric, “poison snake bites you, you’re poison too.”

There are a number of stand out tracks on the back end of this record. My favorite, and perhaps my favorite on the album is “Ladies.” I love the way she sings the title over and over…”Ladies, ladies, ladies…” “Heavy Balloon” is one of the greatest songs about depression that I’ve ever heard. “Cosmonauts” is an intense emotional track, which ends with Apple screaming. It’ll grab your attention. “For Her” gets the prize for the most arresting lyric, “You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.” Wow, that’s raw. The emotion is palpable.

I highly recommend everyone hear this album. This woman is an absolute genius which sadly means some won’t get it. I’m not saying you have to be a genius in order to get it – God knows, I’m no fucking genius. This album is at turns challenging, inspiring and believe it or not, funny. I know Apple has a lot of demons, nothing I want to go into, but I hope this album signals she’s in a better place. She’s more than a pop artist, she’s an important artist. People will be listening to this album, deciphering it, analyzing it in a 100 years.

Stay safe out there folks. Me, I’m filling a tumbler of vodka and fetching the bolt cutters…

 

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

Living In A Ghost Town - Single

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums

0001047882

“Down in a hole and I don’t know if I can be saved, See my heart I decorate it like a grave” – Alice In Chains, “Down In A Hole”

A few weeks ago I posted a playlist about heroin, entitled “Chasing the Dragon,” B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin. When I was compiling that playlist I ended up thinking a lot about Alice In Chains and their best album Dirt. Yes, I’m with everybody else in thinking that Jar of Flies was their creative peak, but that was an EP like Sap (another great bit of music), not a full blown album. When doing a playlist about heroin it’s hard not to think about Alice In Chains and their late lead singer Layne Staley who died of an overdose. When I put that list together I realized that I had put not one but two Alice In Chains tracks on it, both from Dirt. I really dug those two tracks on the playlist, “God Smack” and “Junkman.” I hadn’t listened to that whole album in quite a long time and so with those two tunes bouncing around my skull, I had to put it on. I love that record, but I realized about halfway through…this is an unrelentingly dark album. Why they didn’t just name it Smack I’ll never know.

It slowly began to dawn on me, I really like music on that dark edge. It wasn’t always that way. When I first started listening to rock and roll on KY/102 and then later when I started actually buying and consuming music, my tastes ran to the more upbeat. I wanted something that “RAWKED!” Van Halen, Boston and ZZ Top were amongst my early purchases. I wanted that good time, party music. I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to listen to anything acoustic. I think most of my friends’ musical tastes ran in that same direction. We were all young, testosterone driven maniacs. What’s that phrase, “young, dumb and full of cum.” My friend Drew and I used to joke that our pal Matthew’s record collection when he got to college was all heavy metal with one Fleetwood Mac album thrown in. His fixation on Kiss back then still baffles me. For my  part, heavy metal did play a big part in all of my early listening from Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to AC/DC.

I have to admit, looking back, that even then I was a sucker for a good ballad. I would have never admitted to liking sad songs back then… no, no, give me songs about chicks with a guitar solo. My first Springsteen album purchase was The River and while I loved “The Ties That Bind,” “I’m A Rocker” and “Out In The Street,” I was really, really into “Drive All Night.” The mellow tunes drew me to that album as deeply as the rockers. It’s hard to explain. You could say I was always secretly drawn to great lyrics, hence my early interest in Dylan, but I don’t think that tells the whole story. I was that odd person who could relate to songs about broken hearts and sad endings to relationships before I’d even kissed a girl let alone had a girlfriend. Maybe I was slightly depressed as a kid and thus I had this feeling that my heart was already broken from a very early age. No one ever really wants to share the dark parts of themselves, especially when you’re young. There are just some of us who feel things more deeply and life itself can break your heart sometimes…

In college I started to branch out in terms of musical tastes and that’s when I started to buy some of the darker music in my collection. I mean, in truth,  it’s not all “dark,” some of it is just sad or melancholy music. It seems even at that tender age I was like Tom Waits who famously said, “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” In the old days, when things weren’t going well, I’d put on some mellow, generally sad songs and hearing these artists sing about their heartbreak and losses made me feel, well, less alone. Someone else out there had been through what I was going through now and survived. Of course, you can take the sadder end of the musical spectrum too far sometimes. After one break up, my friend the Accountant (who lived three floors below me at the time) came up to my apartment and I was listening to some funeral dirge, moping about when he said, “Say man, uh, maybe all this downer music is affecting your mood… do you have any Van Halen you can put on?” The Rock Chick used to pretend to weep every time she caught me listening to Ryan Adams.

I realize that now may not be the time to share this particular list of albums. Many of us are feeling isolated and alone (B&V’s Pandemic Playlist – Rock n Roll To The Self-Isolation Rescue). If you’re prone to depression, I would suggest maybe avoiding these albums until we’re all free to walk outside without looking like extras on the set of the television show ‘E.R.’ I know the Rock Chick feels like I do, stuck at home and slightly bored. I take my life into my hands every time I go downstairs… like they say about a blowout football game when the teams start taking cheap shots at each other, it’s getting a little chippy down there. I have always either found solace in these records, or they’re just kick ass albums that everyone should hear. Take the gold where you can find it.

  1. Alice In Chains, Dirt – I’ve already talked about this album above, but it’s truly AIC’s finest full length album. “Down In A Hole,” “Rain When I Die,” and “Them Bones” are all great tunes. It’s clear the theme of this album is heroin. The only lighter moment is the song “Rooster” about Jerry Cantrell’s father surviving the Vietnam War…if you can consider that upbeat?
  2. Nirvana, In Utero – This album was certainly Cobain’s reaction to being named the “voice of his generation.” They were trying to shrink the size of their fan base by recording some really abrasive music. You don’t record a song like “Rape Me” if you’re trying to bring people onto the bandwagon. “Heart Shaped Box” was the tune that actually turned me around on Nirvana. Something clicked for me when I heard it. I still love that song even with lyrics like, “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black.” While some of the tracks on this LP are impenetrable, “All Apologies,” and “Pennyroyal Tea” are amongst their best. The art work told you all you needed to know about this record. I bought it in a used CD store downtown by the bar Harlings and it took me to the rest of their catalog.
  3. Pearl Jam, Riot Act – I may be wrong about this but at one time this was Pearl Jam’s worst selling record. It’s no coincidence that the first three albums on this list come from the Grunge era. That generation came of age on lithium (hence the SiriusXM station by that name that plays the music of that era). This is a later record by PJ and I’ve always considered it a bummer from start to finish. There are a few light moments like the humorous “Bushleaguer” about George W. Bush (“born on third, thinks he got a triple,” a line I use often). I’ve been listening to this album again and while it’s intense, it’s still a damn good Pearl Jam record.
  4. Big Star, Third/Sister Lovers – Big Star’s Alex Chilton was so disillusioned about the music business and Big Star’s failure to connect with a larger audience, he holed up and recorded this set of despondent songs. It wasn’t released until years after they broke up. There still isn’t an agreed to, official running order of the songs. “Thank You Friends” drips with sarcasm. “Holocaust” is despair exemplified. Big Star was a band I didn’t discover until after in life, but man I’m glad I did.
  5. John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band – Lennon’s first proper solo album after the implosion of the Beatles. He’d been going to Primal Scream therapy and the vocals bear that out. He often goes from a whisper to a scream. “Mother” is haunting. Songs like “Isolation” and “Working Class Hero” reveal a pretty jaundiced world view. I love the song “God,” where he lists the litany of things he doesn’t believe in any more… until he ends with just he and Yoko…”I believe in me, Yoko and me.” I like this album significantly more than Imagine, but that may say more about me than John Lennon.
  6. Nick Drake, Pink Moon – Drake was another artist I came to later in life. In his short tragic life he only recorded three albums. Pink Moon was his third album and it was a departure from his two power-pop albums that proceeded it. Pink Moon is just Drake’s vocal and an acoustic guitar. He was despondent his career didn’t take off but he largely refused to ever play live… He died shortly after this album came out from an overdose on antidepressants. I think that says it all.
  7. Neil Young, Tonight’s The Night – One of Young’s famous “Ditch Trilogy.” This is one of my absolute favorite Neil Young albums, if not my favorite. Drowning in despair, guilt and tequila after he fired original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, who then died of an overdose, this is Young at his most raw and emotional. This album knocked me out the first time my friend Drew played it for me and it continues to do so today.
  8. Elton John, Blue Moves – People forget how huge Elton was from 1970-1975. This album isn’t dark but it’s certainly laced with a ton of melancholy. Many people feel it was Elton feeling sorry for himself after the backlash he got for admitting he was Gay. The 70s were at once a freewheeling and closed-minded time. I think he was just feeling some fatigue after 5 tumultuous years. He was bound to have some kind of let down… It’s not a great album but it’s a good one. It’s a double-LP and probably suffers in the shadow of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that preceded it by two years. The second album is particularly down. This album has the saddest song ever recorded, “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word.” I’ve got my own story about that song…but again, we can’t share all the darkest parts of ourselves.
  9. Lou Reed, Berlin – This is the bleakest, most despondent thing I’ve ever heard. Reed’s concept album about a couple (Jim and Caroline) who are German drug addicts. It’s got some great songs, “How Do You Think It Feels,” and “Caroline Says I” amongst them. But this is hard one to get through. It has grown on me significantly over the years but there is no fairy tale ending here… I dare you to listen to the song “The Kids” and not be haunted by it…
  10. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska – I was a huge Springsteen fan in high school. I had all of his albums up to that point. The River had hooked me. Then I went away for that difficult freshman year in college. I struggled my first semester due to some self-inflicted wounds (love gone wrong). I got home at Christmas and was in the mall when I saw that he had a new album out. Ignoring the stark imagery of the front cover, I thought, here we go The River 2.0. When I dropped the needle on the album and heard the stark, depressing title track I remember having the opposite feeling of the joy I felt when I heard The River for the first time. I liked “Reason To Believe” and almost immediately dug “Atlantic City,” but it took me years and years to come to appreciate this collection of songs about outlaws, losers and outcasts. Everybody feels left outside of society here. It’s a masterpiece, but I’d sure like to hear the “Electric Nebraska” – the version of the album recorded with the E Street Band… maybe we can hope for a boxset…

There you have it, my top bleak, depressing albums. Sometimes you’ve got to go dark. Again, if you’re prone to depression, you might wanna wait on these records. I’ve always loved these albums and I hope you do too. If there are albums like this that you’re into, please let me know and I’ll check them out! Otherwise, sit back, put one of these on, pour something dark and murky and contemplate…

Stay healthy and safe out there. Cheers!

Playlist: An Old Friend Inspires The BourbonAndVinyl 30 Day Song Challenge

Screen Shot 2020-04-03 at 1.15.02 PM

In my early 20s I was living in exile…in Arkansas no less. I had moved there for that first corporate job out of college. I couldn’t stand it and as Bob Dylan once sang, “one day the axe just fell.” I walked in and quit. On a random Tuesday. My father was utterly distraught. I don’t remember specific conversations with him but I seem to remember rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth. His anger was biblical in scope. I used to joke I could never get a date while I lived in Arkansas as I didn’t have any relatives down there. That probably goes a long way in explaining why Arkansas wasn’t a fit for me… or maybe vice versa. I had to get out of there and my father never understood that. I did what many post-college kids in their twenties do, I showed up at my parents front door in a U-Haul with all my earthly possessions and moved into their guest room. I don’t think that event ever made my parent’s Xmas newsletter. It’s never a proud milestone: moving back in with your parents.

After about a year of living with my parents, during which time my father rarely spoke to me, I finally got a job. Yes, I was unemployed for a year which was also a big hit with my “parental units.” The tension dropped after I got a job for a dubious medical supply company out of Chicago. I think they did most of their recruiting at prisons…”So, it says here on your application that you assaulted someone…did you happen to steal anything too?” One afternoon, I was in a cramped corner of my father’s home office where I’d carved out a small space as my “home” office doing some paperwork. The office door burst open. My father had this strange ability to come through a doorway without turning the knob which is a skill I wish I had, but I digress. It was startling, his sudden appearance in the office as he never came upstairs. He looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. His eyes finally rested on me…his face screwed up with that familiar distaste he registered when he spoke at me…”I know this woman from work, she’s a friend of mine. She knows a lot of people. You’re meeting her for drinks tomorrow.” I was sitting frozen in the position I was in when the door burst open, paralyzed with surprise and could only mutter, “Huh?”

Apparently my father had taken it upon himself to help my social life. Perhaps he was concerned about me hanging out with all my old college friends who were, as Jackson Browne sang, “the fools a young fool meets.” (I still love those guys, don’t get me wrong). I faced this meeting with great trepidation. In my paranoid young mind I assumed this woman was being sent in as a spy, to inform my father of my miscreant ways. I drove down to the dreaded meeting at the Levee, a bar in midtown. The woman in question, who I’ll call the Jean Genie (to protect the guilty), was sitting at an upstairs table nursing a longneck. And lo and behold, we clicked. I mean, it took me a while to trust that she wasn’t a spy but rather quickly we became good friends. She was like the sister I never had. Who’d have thought after my father’s rough intro that it would end up this way.

We’ve had a lot of rock and roll moments, the Jean Genie and I. From drinking until two on her thirtieth birthday… on a Wednesday no less, to celebrating St Patrick’s Day together in Chicago with my good friend Doug we cut a wide swath. The Jean Genie married a wonderful man who happens to be a huge Neil Young fan. When she was pregnant, and I mean like 8-months in, her husband had a work conflict and she called and asked if I wanted to be his stand-in at a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert. Yes, please. Of course I’ve never gotten over the hateful stares of people who thought I’d drug my very pregnant wife out to a concert. Judgmental bastards.

Needless to say, the Jean Genie’s rock and roll bonafides are in place. When we became mired in our current quarantine, I saw that the Jean Genie was doing a 30-Day Song Challenge. Every day you have to go out and pick a song that fits into that day’s theme. One day it was about color, one day it was a song with a number in the title… you get the drift. The only caveat or rule – you can’t pick the same band twice. I found myself looking forward to her selections each day. What else do I have to do? Last Friday in a vodka-fueled frenzy, trying to kill time in quarantine, the Rock Chick and I decided to take the 30 day challenge in one night. Well, I was vodka fueled anyway. The Rock Chick would pick a song on the assigned theme and then I would do mine and so on through all thirty songs. That’s sixty songs between us for you math people out there. We actually played all sixty songs while we were choosing them. It made for a great, long evening.

I will now share with you the Rock Chick’s choices (annotated as “RC”) and then my choices (annotated as BV) in order. Below are our selections, with my usual commentary. I’ll post the B&V list and also link in the Rock Chick’s list as she’s already posted hers. I encourage everyone to Google “30-Day Song Challenge” and try this yourselves, either day by day or all at once. It’s fun and what else do you have to do? With my thanks to my dear friend the Jean Genie as inspiration! Some of these categories are hard… Good luck!

Day 1: A song you like with a color in the title

  • RC: U2, “Red Hill Mining Town” – The Rock Chick has always dug side 2 of The Joshua Tree
  • BV: Porno For Pyros, “Black Girlfriend” – Perry Farrell’s other band.

Day 2: A song you like with a number in the title

  • RC: Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, “Zero” – Technically, zero is not a number but I’m not going to overrule the Rock Chick on a playlist… ever.
  • BV: The Beatles, “The Two of Us” – One of my favs off of Let It Be. They were doing a riff on the Everly Brothers and I love it.

Day 3: A song that reminds you of summer time

  • RC: 311, “Sunset In July” – The Rock Chick’s selections are much hipper and more current than mine.
  • BV: Van Halen, “Ice Cream Man” – “I’m usually passing by right around eleven o’clock…I never stop…”

Day 4: A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget

  • RC: Boston, “Don’t Look Back” – A song about not looking back under the category of forgetting someone… The Rock Chick’s selection here blew my mind for the depth of the symbolism. She’s an onion, soooo many layers.
  • BV: Don Henley, “You Don’t Know Me At All” – “You took my breath away and now I want it back, you should have killed me, you always looked so good in black.”

Day 5: A song that needs to be played loud

  • RC: Motley Crue, “Primal Scream” – Perfect again for the theme. The Rock Chick was on fire during this process.
  • BV: Dio, “Last In Line” – Dio’s best track.

Day 6: A song that makes you want to dance

  • RC: Michael Jackson, “Rock With You” – A fine choice.
  • BV: Bee Gees, “Stayin’ Alive” – Nothing will ever make me want to dance. Ever. When pressed I went to a primordial disco track from my childhood… and yes, I like this song. I don’t know why.

Day 7: A song to drive to

  • RC: Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Passengers” – Superb Iggy Pop cover.
  • BV: The Allman Brothers, “Ramblin’ Man” – Clearly my heart remains stuck in the 70s… like my musical tastes.

Day 8: A song about drugs or alcohol

  • RC: Social Distortion, “Drug Train” – The Rock Chick’s favorite Social D track.
  • BV: AC/DC, “Gone Shootin'” – Bon Scott singing about his woman’s heroin addiction.

Day 9: A song that makes you happy

  • RC: The Go-Gos, “Our Lips Are Sealed” – A good time track from the 80s.
  • BV: Bob Marley, “Three Little Birds” – Bob Marley’s music makes me happy.

Day 10: A song that makes you sad

  • RC: Ryan Adams, “To Be Without You” – Ryan Adams, the king of sad songs.
  • BV: Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” – Cribbed from the Jean Genie’s list, yes. Reminds me of those tragic, melodramatic break up days…sitting in my car staring up at the moon.

Day 11: A song you never get tired of

  • RC: The Cult, “She Sells Sanctuary” – Her favorite song from her favorite band.
  • BV: Bruce Springsteen, “The Ties That Bind” – Every time I hear this song it takes me back to high school and the first time I dropped the needle on the vinyl…

Day 12: A song from your preteen years

  • RC: Queen, “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” – Yes, technically this is two tracks, but I felt you have to play both. Her big brother owned the album.
  • BV: Elvis Presley, “Jailhouse Rock” – This takes me back to my brother playing my dad’s old singles in our shared bedroom.

Day 13: A song you like from the 70s

  • RC: Jerry Rafferty, “Right Down the Line” – A truly great song and an inspired choice, yet again from the Rock Chick.
  • BV: Jim Croce, “Operator” – I love almost everything from the 70s except disco… This was a song by an artist my parents owned not one but two albums by. He just reminds of that era.

Day 14: A song you’d love to be played at your wedding

  • RC: Whitney Houston, “Your Love Is My Love” – The song the Rock Chick wanted to play for our first dance but never told me… I wish she had.
  • BV: Rod Stewart, “Have I Told You Lately” – Rod singing Van… and the song my wife humored me with for our first dance at our wedding.

Day 15: A song you like that’s a cover by another artist

  • RC: Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Higher Ground” – Great Stevie Wonder track from the Peppers.
  • BV: U2, “Paint It Black” – U2 doing the Stones!

Day 16: A song that’s a classic favorite

  • RC: AC/DC, “Back In Black” – Living up to her nickname…
  • BV: Led Zeppelin, “Stairway To Heaven” – After several vodka drinks, it just seemed that if I was going to pick a classic favorite, it needed to be the classic favorite.

Day 17: A song you’d sing a duet with someone on karaoke

  • RC: Johnny & June Carter Cash, “Jackson” – Their greatest duet.
  • BV: Kenny Rodgers & Dolly Parton, “Islands In the Stream” – First off, like dancing, singing karaoke is something that will never happen again. Kenny Rogers just died so I picked this one. Blame the vodka.

Day 18: A song from the year you were born

  • RC: Tom Jones, “It’s Not Unusual” – I love Tom Jones.
  • BV: The Rolling Stones, “It’s All Over Now” – This one took some internet research, I won’t lie. I’m glad I saved the Stones for this one.

Day 19: A song that makes you think about life

  • RC: Bruce Springsteen, “You’re Missing” – From the phenomenal LP, The Rising. 
  • BV: Jackson Browne, “Sleeps Dark and Silent Gate” – OK this song is actually about death but what makes us think more about life than death?

Day 20: A song that has many meanings to you

Day 21: A song you like with a person’s name in the title

  • RC: Steve Winwood, “Valerie” – A great tune. I never pegged the Rock Chick as a Winwood fan… You learn a lot when you’re putting music lists together.
  • BV: The Cars, “Candy-O” – Title track from my favorite Cars LP.

Day 22: A song that moves you forward

  • RC: Oasis, “Champagne Super Nova” – Their best track.
  • BV: Triumph, “Fight The Good Fight” – Gets me up and going.

Day 23: A song you think everybody should listen to

  • RC: Green Keepers, “Lotion” – Its not very many bands who can put dialogue from ‘Silence of the Lambs’ into song…
  • BV: Iggy Pop, “James Bond” – I wish everyone listened to Iggy Pop.

Day 24: A song by a band you wish were still together

  • RC: The White Stripes, “Hello Operator” – Meg White, come home, we need you.
  • BV: The Faces, “Ooh La La” – Written by Ronnie Lane, sung by Ronnie Wood. Rod’s best music was when he was with the Faces.

Day 25: A song you like by an artist no longer living

  • RC: INXS, “The One Thing” – The one and only Michael Hutchence.
  • BV: Tom Petty, “Breakdown (An American Treasure version) – This version was released to radio stations only as a promotional deal. It was the version KY/102 played when I was growing up.

Day 26: A song that makes you want to fall in love

  • RC: Sonny & Cher, “I Got You Babe” – Like I said… you learn a lot about someone playing music on a Friday night.
  • BV: Frank Sinatra, “The Way You Look Tonight” – If you’re gonna talk about love, you’ve gotta talk about Frank.

Day 27: A song that breaks your heart

  • RC: Nirvana, “Something In the Way” – I’m especially fond of this track in it’s Unplugged incarnation.
  • BV: Neil Young, “Out On the Weekend” – “Woman I’m thinkin’ of, she used me all up and I’m so down today…”

Day 28: A song by an artist whose voice you love

  • RC: Eurythmics, “Love Is A Stranger” – Annie Lennox has a sublime voice.
  • BV: Norah Jones, “Come Away With Me” – The voice of an angel. I’m looking forward to her upcoming album.

Day 29: A song you remember from childhood

  • RC: Elvis Presley, “Suspicious Minds” – The King singing to Priscilla…
  • BV: Peter, Paul & Mary, “Blowin’ In the Wind” – My parents fucking loved these guys and I don’t know why. This track takes me back to that time.

Day 30: A song that reminds you of yourself

  • RC: Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Yes, indeed they do. And the Rock Chick and I had a lot of fun with this playlist.
  • BV: Mick Jagger, “Wandering Spirit” – “I’m a wandering spirit, yes I am a restless soul.”

For those of you interested, here is the B&V playlist on Spotify:

And, the better of the two, here is the Rock Chick’s Spotify playlist:

I hope all of you enjoy our picks and hope you will also take this challenge… I mean, again, what else do you have to do? Stay safe, stay healthy, stay away from people. Let’s all social distance now so we can see each other at concerts later.

Cheers!

 

Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts

image

I have to admit, up front, that I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan. I subscribe to the great man theory of rock and roll and I think Eddie Vedder is one of those great men, so to speak. But it hasn’t always been that way.

In the old days, I was always slow to get into new things. I didn’t buy in on Guns N Roses until I heard their third single, “Paradise City.” In my defense, Appetite For Destruction came out during my Exile Years, when I was living in Arkansas. My exposure to GnR was strictly via MTV and every band sort of looked the same. It was hard to get my attention and besides I was deeply into the Allman Brothers and the Band at the time. It wasn’t until I heard “Paradise City” from the other room – without the visuals – that I thought… wait a minute, these guys are something special.

It was the same with the Grunge era bands. I was always suspicious of these new “movements”… call me paranoid. I always thought the bands that were lumped into this new “Grunge” thing were wrongly characterized. Nirvana was a punk band in my mind… certainly that’s where their influences were. The first time I heard Soundgarden I remarked to a friend, “this is the new version of Black Sabbath…” They were a metal band in flannel. I really didn’t have a description for Alice In Chains, they were perhaps uniquely Grunge.

In the early ’90s I had just returned from my exile in Arkansas. I was living in an apartment by the highway where I’d lay in bed at night listening to the sound of trains in the distance behind the constant buzz of semi’s barreling north and south. It certainly contributed to my feeling of restlessness. My musical tastes were somewhat rootless as well. At the dawn of the ’90s there was a new radio station in town that specialized in “alternative rock” which was, at the time, Grunge bands. I’d tune in to that station looking for something “new” and I kept hearing these songs I liked…”Black” was  especially a favorite. “Even Flow,” “Alive,” and this song “Jeremy” were amongst my favorites as well. I hadn’t realized all of those songs were by the same band until I started dating this woman – whose boyfriend lived out of town – who loaned me Ten. I was listening to it for the first time while I worked out and with every song that played I thought, “Wait, that’s Pearl Jam too?” How could all these kick ass songs be on the same album. I became one of the converted… When we ended the affair I kept that CD for a long time… until the young lady came by and forcibly retrieved it. It was all very friendly but she was having none of my absconding with her Pearl Jam disc. Apparently I’m the only one who loses CDs during a breakup. Remarkably, I danced with her at her wedding, sadly not to Pearl Jam.

I was amongst those who were at the record store the day Vs and later when Vitalogy came out. Pearl Jam was the Grunge band who were so firmly rooted in classic rock, how could I not become a huge fan? They had so many soaring anthems – “Even Flow,” “Jeremy,” “Go,” “Animal,” “Rearview Mirror,” “Better Man,” and “Not For You.” I could go on. They could also go acoustic and just slay it – “Daughter,” or “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town.” Vedder’s vocals were amongst the best I’d ever heard. He conveys so much emotion when he sings, from despair to simmering rage. I thought rock and roll would last forever with these guys. I happened to be lucky enough to see them at Red Rocks on the Vitalogy tour, a personal concert highlight for me. From the machine gun blast of the opening number (fittingly), “Go” until the last strains of “Yellow Ledbetter,” it was an amazing night. They even started the encore with “Leaving Here,” a cover song made famous by the Who.

As inevitably happens, Pearl Jam decided to stretch out in new musical directions by the time No Code came out. I liked that album but for many fans it was a creative stumble. So much so the follow up Yield was seen as a comeback (an album I loved but the critics didn’t). After Yield it seemed that Pearl Jam was content to just record straight-up rock and roll to please themselves rather than connect with their audience. Binaural and Riot Act were grim, mirthless albums. Although I must admit, both albums grew on me over time, especially Binaural. Listening to their archival release Lost Dogs, its clear those albums could have been less… intense. It wasn’t until 2006’s eponymously titled album that they seemed to even want to connect with an audience. For me that album was somewhat overshadowed by the Chili Pepper’s Stadium Arcadium. A friend remarked to me at the time, “If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be more into a Peppers album than a Pearl Jam album, I’d have told you were crazy.” By then Pearl Jam was considered a premier live act, but there was never a ton of enthusiasm for their studio stuff anymore. Which is a shame because both Backspacer and Lightning Bolt were, in my opinion, exceptional. The ballad “Sirens” on the latter album is one of my all time favorite Pearl Jam tunes. There seem to be two kind of Pearl Jam fans anymore: the fans of their epic early records who have stuck around for the live shows and then fans who stuck around for the latter day studio stuff. I’m kind of both.

It stuns me that Pearl Jam waited seven years to put out another album. Lightning Bolt came out in 2013 which seems like another lifetime. I had heard they were struggling to come up with new material and had a couple of stillborn attempted starts at recording new music. That all might explain why the new album Gigaton sounds well, so different. The title refers to the gigaton of ice lost by the polar ice caps. The theme here is clearly around climate change. You hear a lot about water, oceans, rising oceans, and rivers on this album. If anybody needs something to channel some good ol’ fashion Pearl Jam anger, climate change is as good as any. I think it helps Gigaton hang together. The politics of this record are more subtle than most bands, like say vintage John Lennon. And I will say, there are plenty of songs that sound, dare I say, hopeful.

I will say, at the outset of my comments about the album, this one is a grower. My first taste was the first single, “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” which I reviewed (Pearl Jam: New Song, ‘Dance of the Clairvoyants.’ Old Dog With New Tricks?). That track was like nothing I’d ever heard from Pearl Jam. I won’t go back into it as I’ve written about it before, but it sounds so much like the Talking Heads that David Byrne must be drawing royalty checks. That made me think, “Mmm, this might be a tad more experimental than I’m emotionally prepared for.” The next track I heard on satellite radio was “Superblood Wolfmoon.” That track, at first, sounded like the Vedder barking vocal style that he adopted after befriending the late Johnny Ramone in an attempt to sound “punk” (“Mind Your Manners” or “Can’t Deny Me” for example). After my first listen to the entire album, I will tell you, I hated it. After seven years I wanted a big, epic, arena-rock album. The Rock Chick rejected the album immediately. I wasn’t even going to post about it. But there were a couple of tracks that had stuck with me… I couldn’t leave it alone. I’ve spent the last week with this album, giving it repeated spins and I’ll tell you, I like this record. It’s not going to change the top of a “Pearl Jam Albums Ranked Best To Worst” list but it’s a damn fine rock and roll record. We all want that endorphin hit we got when we first dropped the needle into the groove and “Once” burst out of the speakers and went right to our lower brain stem…it just doesn’t happen that often any more.

The album kicks off with one of my favorites, the rocking “Who Ever Said.” It’s an old fashion, Pearl Jam, turn it up rocker. That leads to the aforementioned “Superblood Wolfmoon” that has grown on me. I will say that Mike McCready is an all-star lead guitarist. He should be mentioned more often in the great guitarist conversations. His solo’ing is exceptional on this album, like always. “Never Destination” is another great rocker about climate change denial. It hits hard and again McCready shines. “Quick Escape” is another great rock tune but it’s guitars and vocals are distorted. The song is about an immigrant’s journey away from his home. Rather than singing a song about immigration, Vedder narrates the song from the personal perspective of the immigrant and it hits so much harder. It’s always best to make a political point by making it personal. The distortion of the vocals and guitar almost generate the feeling of fear and being upended that the lyrics depict. “Take The Long Way” was written by drummer Matt Cameron and it sounds like Soundgarden (in a good way). I can’t help it, that’s what I hear.

For me, Pearl Jam has always done exceptional ballads. If I have a complaint about Gigaton, it’s that the last four tracks are ballads. The back end just mellows out. My favorite of the mellow tracks is “Seven O’Clock” the most political track here. He gives the current occupant of the White House his Native American name, “Sitting Bullshit.” The song penned by bassist Jeff Ament, “Alright” is also a highlight. Rhythm guitarist extraordinaire, Stone Gossard’s penned “Buckle Up” almost sounds like a lilting children’s tune until Vedder, over loping drums and acoustic guitar, sings the first line, “I got blood, blood on my hands…” Happy music delivering disturbing words… Tom Waits would be proud. “Comes Then Goes” is a simple vocals over acoustic guitar track. Who does that any more? Vedder plays an old time pump organ on the closing track, “River Cross.” “Retrograde” is a lament about how the world is falling apart.

If you’re a fan of the early, early Pearl Jam, you might want to skip this one and just buy the concert ticket, if concerts ever happen again. But for those of us who have been along for the whole ride, this is an exciting, mature effort by one of the world’s greatest bands. I’ve never faulted any artist who wants to expand the aperture on what and how they create – I’ve always loved David Bowie and latter day Paul Simon, just to name a few examples. Simon’s last album (Review (Full LP): Paul Simon’s “Stranger To Stranger”) was as far away as you can get from “Still Crazy After All These Years.” I hope this new found experimental mood sparks some creative burst from these guys and we don’t have to wait until 2027 for the next Pearl Jam album. It may not be what everybody wanted, but it’s great to have a rock and roll album to be excited about in 2020, arguably the suckiest year in my lifetime.

Cheers!

 

 

Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul”

Unknown

“It was a dark day in Dallas, November ’63…” – Bob Dylan, “Murder Most Foul”

I always look forward to Fridays for all the usual reasons, mostly bourbon. But beyond the end of the workweek and the free time the weekend brings, I look forward to Friday because that’s when all the new music gets released. In the old days albums came out on Tuesdays in an attempt to game the charts. Charts came out on Mondays so labels wanted the max amount of time for an album to rack up sales before that next chart ranking came out. Last night I went to bed like I do on every other Thursday night, looking forward to whatever new music was going to be released today. Actually last night, I was specifically thinking about Pearl Jam and their new album Gigaton. Leave it to Bob Dylan to completely derail my listening…

Much to my surprise, Bob Dylan has released a new single today, “Murder Most Foul.” I had heard rumors that Dylan might be putting out a new album this year and if this song is a hint, I hope that’s true. On his website and several social media platforms Dylan released the following message: “Greetings to my fans and followers with gratitude for all your support and loyalty across the years. This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you. Bob Dylan”

Might find interesting? Hell, yes!

I’ve been a Dylan fan since I began listening to rock and roll. My rock and roll awakening took place in the late 70s, so I was a little late to the game, but the first Dylan album I bought was the first of his Christian trilogy Slow Train Coming, and I’m not religious. From there I went to his iconic, first Greatest Hits with the photo of him shot closeup from the side, playing the harmonica. Slow Train was full of apocalyptic, wrath of God like songs (the title track, “Change My Way of Thinking”) and I’ve always considered its a good introduction to Bob’s darker visions of the world. In college I found myself purchasing all of his great, great, classic records: Blonde On Blonde, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Desire. Hell I even have Knocked Out Loaded on vinyl…I’ve stayed with Dylan up through his last studio album of original material, 2012’s Tempest. Since then, he’s been doing albums of Sinatra tunes as done by a border town bar band. I am thrilled to see a new Dylan original.

After I got over my first shock at seeing the Dylan release, I was equally surprised when I saw the song was just shy of seventeen minutes at 16:55. There are very few tracks in my collection that last that long. Well, studio tracks. Sure the Allman Brothers clocked in at over thirty minutes on “Mountain Jam.” Neil Young has “Driftin’ Back” at over twenty-seven minutes or “Ordinary People” over eighteen minutes. Those longer songs tend to be jam-oriented tracks. This is not that. Although Dylan is no stranger to longer epics. Time Out of Mind had a track “Highlands” that lasted over 16 minutes. And that last album of originals, Tempest had the title track that clocked in at almost fourteen minutes.  All I know is the Rock Chick is not going to like this one…

The track itself is mesmerizing. I can’t stop listening to this and have been doing so since I got up. The music is hushed. It’s a piano being quietly played over (very) muted percussion. Doug Herron’s violin plays along as a beautiful accent. There’s no jam or big guitar solo that tears up 10 minutes like CCR playing “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The focus is all on Dylan’s voice – which sounds much less gravelly here than he’s sounded on his latter day albums. He’s singing in a less fierce, more melancholy way so maybe that’s why it isn’t so scratchy. He’s not whispering but it’s like a secret being murmured. The music is almost ethereal. It reminds me, like it will many, of something from Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, or “Listen To the Lion.” There’s an almost spiritual or holy vibe.

The focus on Dylan’s vocals are key because the lyrics of this song are mind blowing. The theme, on the surface at least, is the assassination of JFK in November of ’63. Leave it to Bob Dylan to write a song about one of the darkest chapters of America’s history during the current dark period of America’s history. This will fill up at least a few days of quarantine for me, analyzing these lyrics. They’re like an onion… so many layers. Its poetry set to music… it feels like I’m hearing ‘The Iliad’ recited in the original Greek by a campfire on Crete while my flock lays down for the night. The title, “Murder Most Foul” is from Shakespeare, no stranger to telling epic historical tragedies. One thread is a surreal, fever-dream imagining of JFK’s thoughts/conversation after he’s shot. There are mentions of the “grassy knoll,” the “three tramps” and to Governor Connally’s wife saying “Don’t say Dallas don’t love you, Mr. President” right before he was shot. I got goose bumps, man.

But the lyrics seem to point to a bigger story than just JFK’s assassination. When he sings “The day they killed him someone said to me, “The Age of the Antichrist has just only begun,” we get the feeling there’s more to this song. The song plays more like a travelogue through the last fifty years of culture… It’s more a commentary of how things were never quite right in America after JFK was killed… “For the last fifty years they’ve been searchin’ for that, Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me, I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free” Heavy!!

As Dylan sings, in what seems to be a stream-of-consciousness way, he makes so many cultural references. From movies “Nightmare on Elm St” (believe it or not!) to “Play Misty For Me.” Every line has a reference to some other cultural touchpoint. “Gower Street” seems to point to Warren Zevon. He mentions many songs by their titles or artists’ by name including Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Billy Joel and Lindsey and Stevie Nicks. Is this a darker, better written “We Didn’t Start the Fire?” Not hardly. I’m guessing there are already playlists on Spotify generated simply from the list of tracks in this song. You could almost suggest that Dylan is painting a picture here that JFK wasn’t the only one who died on that grim November day in Dallas.

This one is a stone-cold classic. I know a lot of people use Dylan’s vocal decline as an excuse to dismiss his music, but this is a reason to continue to listen to the man. It’s wonderful when rock and roll transcends the format and becomes art. Dylan’s music has always had the power to move me. This song is no exception.

Cheers!

B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?

0

“This is no social crisis, this is you having fun…” The Who, “Another Tricky Day”

We’ve all made mistakes in our lives and we’ve all had to learn to live with those bad decisions… Here it is, only day 2 of the enforced “Stay At Home” order and I suddenly feel the need to unburden myself of all my sins. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t left my house since nine days ago and the only sins being confessed to here are musical in nature. All other sins… well, those records are sealed until 25 years after I’m gone and forgotten. While I was always someone who people confided in, I must say this confessional mood seems to be catching. I’m hearing all sorts of sordid things. I just had a friend admit to me that he saw the Little River Band in concert. Everybody loves the Little River Band but no one will ever admit to it. Ironically, I happen to have an almost sentimental attachment to their song “Reminiscing.” There, now I’m on record as an LRB fan…more confessions. The Rock Chick admitted to me this morning, for the first time in our marriage, that she saw Molly Hatchet in concert but doesn’t remember much of it… We’ve all been there (The 10 Concerts I Should Have Skipped). I’m still trying to wrap my head around her being at a Molly Hatchet concert but that’s my issue to contend with.

We’ve all made those musical mistakes. You’re standing in the record store and you have Pat Benetar’s Precious Time in your left hand and Beggars Banquet in your right hand and you end up leaving the store with the Benetar “saving” the Stones’ classic for another day. That is sadly based on a true story. Sigh. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pat Benetar but I didn’t buy Beggars Banquet until I was in college, years later (and I’m the Stones freak?).  We all have albums that we’re perhaps embarrassed about now. Maybe the album is “of its time” so to speak. I actually had a Bryan Adams record (Reckless) for a long time that I bought in the 80s. Or perhaps a relationship or friendship led you to a bad choice. I had a TLC’s CrazySexyCool for a while based on the recommendation of an adamant squeeze I had back in the day. Not every woman I dated had the Rock Chick’s impeccable taste in music.

For the most part, as a “serious” collector I’ve culled through my collection and weeded out the outliers. I try to keep everything, vinyl or CD, that I’ve ever owned but being married has forced me to thin the herd. Every time we move I find myself selling at the Used Record store vs buying… although I’m usually a sucker for that “store credit” gambit. I sell off a certain number of albums and come home with a few new ones… it’s just the circle of life. Being cooped up at home these last few nights has sent me looking through my vinyl collection yet again. I discovered a few albums that, I must confess, I just love but have less than stellar reputations. Either the critics were “meh,” or fans didn’t buy the albums but I did. Since I only write about stuff I like – God knows there’s enough negative bullshit in the world – I am often accused of being a tad “over positive” about certain artists and albums. I have to tell you, I’ve really enjoyed listening to these albums over the last few nights. These just might be albums that need a reappraisal. I asked the Rock Chick if she had any albums she loved and no one else did and she said, “I love Oasis and let’s face it nobody but me and (her friend) Rich likes them.” Rich is the one who always asks me at parties I throw to “put on some Oasis.” Although oddly, on those occasions I’ve been at his house, he never seems to play Oasis.

While only one of these albums is truly embarrassing, the rest are solid if not spectacular as some of the entries in the respective artists’ catalogs. Not every album can be Every Picture Tells A Story or Who’s Next. If you’re a career type of artist – one worthy of following an entire catalog – there will be ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys. Since nobody is really going anywhere for a while, put one of these on and dig a little deeper into the catalogs of these great artists. We all have guilty pleasures… these are mine.

  1. The Who, Face Dances -I will always be fond of this, my first Who album. “You Better You Bet” was huge on radio and I bought this record on the spot. With Kenny Jones (formerly of the Faces) on drums and Townsend’s guitar seemingly missing this doesn’t really sound like anything that came before it but I still love this album. “Another Tricky Day” is the perfect antidote for today. “Daily Records” is the nicest statement of purpose in all of rock and roll. “How Can You Do It Alone” about masturbating is funny. The Entwistle songs, “You” and “The Quiet One” both rock with that Who grit. There’s a lot to like here.
  2. Fleetwood Mac, Mirage – Sure, this was a pretty good seller, but after the epic success of Rumours and wild experimentation of Tusk this album seems like a retreat. I am drawn to the melodies and harmonies on this record. Stevie Nicks’ tracks are the gold, from the hit “Gypsy” to the country-rock of “That’s Alright” to the shimmery, sexy track “Straight Back” she could do no wrong. While none of the Buckingham tracks were “hits” I really like a lot of what he’s doing here on tracks like “Empire State,” and “Oh, Diane.” It’s a quiet little pleasure.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Black And Blue – This is basically a recording of the auditions being held for Mick Taylor’s replacement. While many guitarists tried out for the Stones – Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck amongst others – they finally settled on Ronnie Wood. This album is criticized for being a bunch of jams and reggae stuff but that’s what I like about it. The two ballads, the only tracks that required them to actually write a song, are two of my favorite Stones’ deep tracks – “Fool To Cry” and especially “Memory Motel.” In college a friend asked me if this album was any good and I said, no. I would amend that answer to yes, if your expectations for another Exile On Main Street are properly leveled. This is a fun record and “Hand of Fate” is an awesome rock song I’d love to hear live.
  4. Rush, Caress of Steel – I don’t know why this album doesn’t get more love. It’s really the precursor of 2112. All of side 2 is one track, “The Fountain of Lamneth.” It’s a fabulous epic. My all time favorite Rush deep track ends side one, “The Necromancer.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted that song…”weakening the body and saddening the mind.” The playing is impeccable. “Bastille Day” became a mainstay of their live act. This is a great Rush album that the critics savaged.
  5. Led Zeppelin, In Through The Out Door – It had been almost three years since Zeppelin had put out Presence and in that time my rock and roll awakening had occurred. I already owned Led Zeppelin II and IV (or Runes) and was eager to hear new, contemporary Zeppelin. The record industry was pinning its hopes on this album and Tusk to bolster lackluster sales. I think a lot of people were disappointed in this record but I wasn’t. Presence was such a heavy album – really shepherded by Bonham and Page – but both of those guys were in the serious throes of addiction by the time they recorded In Through the Out Door that Plant and Jones took over. The result was a mellower, more synth/keyboard oriented album. “In The Evening” is one of my all time Zep favorites. “Fool In The Rain” showcases Bonham’s still formidable drumming. I love the bluesy last track, “I’m Gonna Crawl.” God knows where they could have gone from this… alas.
  6. Rod Stewart, Blondes Have More Fun – Ok, I’m embarrassed I still like this album. I actually sold the vinyl, thus was my shame. But then I bought it again on CD. It’s a truly guilty, guilty pleasure. It’s Rod’s disco album, the record that burned the bridges with his old fanbase. I didn’t buy it for the disco camp of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” I liked “Ain’t Love a Bitch,” I was always a sucker for ballads. “Dirty Weekend” and the title track are Chuck Berry/Rolling Stone riff rockers. I dig Rod. This is my big confession today.
  7. Jackson Browne, Lives In The Balance – After the failure of Lawyers In Love, Browne decided to get deadly serious about politics. Set that aside, these are great songs. “For America” remains a favorite of mine. The title track, “Soldiers of Plenty,” and “Lawless Avenues” all sound like dispatches from the nightly news set to guitar. The one intimate love song, “In The Shape of a Heart” is one of Browne’s most endearing songs. This isn’t for everyone, it kind of depends on your political feelings…
  8. Eric Clapton, Behind The Sun – People will shudder when I say Phil Collins produced this album. Well, he did the initial sessions but the record company rejected it. They brought in some songwriters and Ted Templeman to shore it up. That troubled history sounds like a disaster, but I dug this record. “Forever Man” remains a huge favorite. “Tangled In Love” is a great rock tune. “Same Old Blues” is an epic at over 8 minutes long. I even like the cover of “Knock On Wood.” Blasphemy? Perhaps.
  9. Neil Young & The Bluenotes, This Note’s For You – The 80s were terrible for Neil Young. He first showed signs of creative life on 1987’s Life with Crazy Horse. Then he did a 180 and put out a horn driven blues album. The blues has always been a great showcase for guitar and I love Neil’s playing on this album. I even bought the live album of this tour, put out 30 year later (Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live)). “One Thing” is the ultimate breakup song. “Married Man” is a funny upbeat track. Whether he’s playing a mellow, sad blues or a horn-drive rave up, this is a fun record. The blues will always win out for me.
  10. Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S. – My college roommate Drew and I may be the only two people in the world who bought this album. I really dug the title track. Clapton plays guitar on this album and joined the tour as well. If you ignore the bizarre narrative, you can really get into songs like, my favorite, “Who Needs Information,” or “Home.”
  11. Queen, A Kind Of Magic – My college roomies and I were big fans of the Sci-Fi thriller, ‘Highlander.’ This is basically the soundtrack to that film with the addition of “One Vision” which I think was from anther movie. Queen was on the downturn in America, but this is a bunch of great music. “Who Wants to Live Forever” is a great ballad. The production is very much “of its time” but this was the first sign Queen would come back from Hot Space. 
  12. CSNY, American Dream – Neil Young committed to CSN that he’d record another album with them, the first since the live album Four Way Street, if Crosby could get clean. After the much publicized police chase and incarceration, Crosby emerged clean. The bill came due for Neil. People’s expectations were for Deja Vu 2.0 and yes, this album disappoints from that perspective. I loved the title track and bought the album. Crosby’s “Compass” is a wonderful, confessional track. I love Stills and Young working together and have since the Buffalo Springfield. They spark up a little guitar battle in “Drivin’ Thunder.” Stills shines for me on “Glad That You Got It Made.” Graham Nash’s “Never Say Goodbye” is a tune that used to make me mist up. It’s gorgeous.

I get that many of these might not be your cup of tea. You never know… you might discover something you like in this pile of records. If there are “guilty pleasure” albums for you out there, let me know what they are in the comments as I may want to check those out. I’m open to anything during this time of social distancing!

Stay safe and healthy out there! And remember, as the Who sang, “this (really) is no social crisis…this is you having fun” listening to music.