Review: Fleetwood Mac ‘Live (Deluxe Edition)’ – Revisiting The Expanded Double-Live 1980 LP

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*Photo of Fleetwood Mac’s original, vinyl 1980 LP ‘Live’ taken by your intrepid blogger

There was a time, believe it or not, before the internet. In those dark ages, the only places to buy a ticket to a concert was the box office of the theater/stadium or to go to an “authorized” ticket selling outlet. Usually the places that sold concert tickets were record stores which was convenient since even I knew where they were and I was pretty geographically challenged in those days. I knew where places were located, but I didn’t know street numbers. I had to give directions based on landmarks. “Drive straight on the street by the school until you see the big gnarly tree then turn right…” and so on. I was in high school, what did I know? While I had become a huge music fan in the late 70s, it wasn’t until June of 1980 that I was able to attend my first concert. Def Leppard opened (their first tour), the Scorpions were next (“The Zoo” was the only track I knew) and finally Ted Nugent in a loin cloth was the headliner. Needless to say, I was hooked on live music from that moment on, despite the hearing loss caused by Mr. Nugent… For that show, I bought the ticket from my friend Matthew who had a conflict of some sort and couldn’t attend.

Generally, that’s how I got tickets early on. I bought them from friends. It wasn’t until 1981 that I got the experience that every concert goer went through at least once back in the 70s/80s, I camped out overnight for tickets. Concert tickets generally went on sale at 8am the morning of whatever pre-chosen date they announced on the radio, usually months before the show. People would start to form a line for tickets the night before they went on sale. They’d have sleeping bags, food, lawn chairs… likely some beer and there was always weed. Once again, it was my friend Matthew and I who somehow convinced our parents that late summer of ’81 to sleep out for Van Halen tickets. We hadn’t seen them yet and when Fair Warning dropped, we knew we had to see this band. We were camped out in front of Tiger’s Records in the suburbs of KC with a nefarious looking, “unwashed and slightly dazed” crowd waiting for the record store to open so we could get our “choice” Van Halen tickets (and boy, we did). There was this old hippy in line behind us… I say old, but I was a teenager, the guy could have been 25 for all I know. He certainly looked old to my teen eyes. We started chatting over a couple of beers and I asked the codger, “What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen? What band is best live?” His answer evoked quite a bit of surprise in me, when he responded without hesitation “Fleetwood Mac.” And this guy had supposedly “seen everybody.” I didn’t think to ask which tour he saw them on… The Mac may seem mellow to some ears, but my college roommate had all heavy metal albums with a couple of Fleetwood Mac LPs so they couldn’t have been that mellow.

Fleetwood Mac’s story is the thing of legend now. The Mac was formed by former members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: guitar legend Peter Green with a rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass). Green was the star – he was the singer/guitarist – but he named the band after the rhythm section… prescient as they are the only members who stayed for the entire Mac career. Green, who sadly passed away last year, eventually left and that led to a revolving door of singers and guitarists. Eventually Christine Perfect joined on keyboards and vocals… and then married John McVie. After their then current guitarist Bob Welch split to go solo, the McVies and Mick Fleetwood were left to look for yet another replacement. They discovered a little band creatively named Buckingham-Nicks with guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks. Their debut album didn’t sell many copies (although I do have one on vinyl) but attracted the remaining members of Fleetwood Mac because of the album’s producer, Keith Olsen. They were not only shopping for a guitarist, they were shopping for a producer. He gave them the Buckingham-Nicks LP as a “resume” of sorts. They hired him and offered Buckingham the job of singer/guitarist… he refused to accept unless they included Nicks in the band…

That lineup: Buckingham/Nicks/Fleetwood/J. McVie/C. McVie, known as their “classic lineup” now I suppose, was an almost instant hit. The first LP, which McVie refers to as “the white Fleetwood Mac album” yielded the hits “Rhiannon,” “Over My Head,” and “Landslide” amongst others. They say when a band does a self-titled LP in the middle of their career it’s usually symbolic of a “rebirth” for the band… I’d say that was definitely the case here. They were bigger than they’d ever been. The success wasn’t without cost however. During the recording of the follow-up, one of the best selling LPs of all time, Rumours, Buckingham and Nicks who were a couple broke up. The McVies’ marriage also ended. All of those crazy passions and breakup recriminations found their way onto the album in songs like “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way” and perhaps more positively on “Don’t Stop.” It was beyond a smash hit. I actually traded my brother Supertramp’s Breakfast In America for his copy of Rumours. I think we both won on that trade.

What to do next? That kind of success usually breeds a lot of pressure to repeat it and I think Buckingham decided to take a creative left turn to avoid the pressure of that success. He was also highly influenced by punk rock and that also fueled his decision to make some changes to Fleetwood Mac’s sound. The resulting LP Tusk was a surprise to a lot of people expecting Rumours 2.0. Tusk was (in my opinion) a sprawling masterpiece of a double-LP. While Nicks and Christine McVie continued to write and perform songs in the vein of the previous two albums, Buckingham went for a more experimental sound. Nowhere is that more evident than on the title track. The album didn’t reach the successful sales numbers of Rumours, how could it have, and the other members of Fleetwood Mac were pretty upset with Buckingham who had helmed the project and even recorded some songs at home in his bathroom. The LP still sold 4 million copies – one to my brother who was always way ahead of everybody when it came to music – which sounds like a success to me.

The Fleetwood Mac tour for Tusk rolled through Kansas City a mere two months after my first concert (Nugent/Scorpions/Def Leppard) at the exact same place, Kemper Arena in the West Bottoms. Sadly, I did not see them on that tour. I still don’t know if the hippy outside of Tiger’s was talking about that particular show as his greatest concert. The review in the paper said they looked tired and only Buckingham and Fleetwood, who they said played off each other, were able to generate any excitement. They said it looked like Christine McVie was about to fall asleep at the piano. Cruel indeed, but let’s remember you can’t always trust the newspaper. I have to admit, I’ve never seen Fleetwood Mac in concert and that pains me. The closest I ever got was seeing Stevie Nicks solo on her Wild Heart tour with no less than Joe Walsh opening. She sang “Rhiannon” as an encore and it was sensational.

But lucky for me, Fleetwood Mac like many bands who have spent a lot of time and money in the studio recording an album, decided to follow Tusk with a double live LP, creatively titled, Live. I’m on record here at B&V for loving live albums. Many people have a differing view of live LPs… I had a college friend who complained to me once, in response to hearing Springsteen’s Live 1975-85, that the live songs didn’t sound enough like the studio versions. I said, “Uh, Stew, you should be looking for a greatest hits LP, not a live LP.” Even Tom Petty said a live LP was just “your greatest hits sped up.” But for me, the 70s and even the early 80s was the golden era of the double-live LP. Not every live LP broke a band wide open like Kiss’ Alive or Frampton Comes Alive. Not every live LP made the list of “greatest live albums ever.” But there were so many great double live albums where the band could stretch out a little and it gave you the experience of seeing them live. Everybody did double live LPs in those days from Skynyrd to Neil Young. LPs like Aerosmith’s Live Bootleg or Fleetwood Mac’s Live were solid, if not occasionally spectacular live documents of a point in time in the life of a band. I never bought into the critics who dismissed live albums as merely “tour souvenirs. 

When I first bought Live in 1980, on vinyl, I was thrilled that they had some new songs on the album. “Fireflies” written by Stevie Nicks is one of their best tunes. She wrote it about the struggles and battles the five members had in creating Tusk. The band didn’t breakup because of splits in the romantic entanglements but it almost did over the writing and recording of Tusk. Buckingham resurrected a Buckingham-Nicks chestnut, the rocking, “Don’t Let Me Down Again” which sent me on a journey to find their debut LP. Christine McVie contributed the (somewhat typical for her) ballad “One More Night” which sounded like it was done in a studio. Likewise their Beach Boys’ cover “Farmer’s Daughter” also sounded like a studio outtake (turns out it was)… But I was so into Fleetwood Mac I was just happy to have those new tracks. 

While Live wasn’t a live album that was going to change your life like say, the Allman Brothers Live At the Fillmore East, it was a really good live document of one of the world’s greatest bands at or near the peak of their popularity. Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar skills on this album are insane! On songs like “I’m So Afraid” the solo’ing is mad good. He stretches out a Tusk track, “Not That Funny” to 9 minutes. I also have to say Mick Fleetwood’s drumming is amazing as well. He’s really under appreciated. I don’t know if that KC Star newspaper review helped make those two performers jump out at me, but they leave an impression. I love that they do “Oh, Well” a track recorded before Lindsey and Stevie joined the band. There’s a great selection from the three previous LPs this line up had put out from “Dreams,” and “Over My Head,” to “Over and Over” and “Sara.” This lineup of the band always sounded so good and this LP is no exception. And as a bonus for me, “Over My Head” was recorded at Kemper Arena in KC… I probably know people that were in the audience. Hell my friends Bob G and Brewster were probably there and didn’t tell me. 

Today the Mac released a Deluxe Edition of Live and you know how we love our “deluxe editions” here at B&V. I’ve spent the last 8 hours doing nothing but listening to this version of the album and I really like it. For all the tracks on the original album – and the selection was great – there were so many more you could have wished for and they’re now all on this expanded version. There’s another 15 songs and there’s no overlap (save one song), these are all different songs than the original. It elevates Live from a mere double-live album to something more akin to the aforementioned Springsteen Live 1975-85 or Petty’s Live Anthology. It should be noted that there not only tracks from the 1980 tour, but a smattering of songs from as early as 1975 and as late as 1982 found here. 

The deluxe stuff starts with maniacal version of “Second Hand News” with Lindsey and Stevie doing harmonies. “The Chain” is epic here… I always wondered why it wasn’t on the original. They even go back to the early Fleetwood Mac stuff with “The Green Manalishi With The Three Pronged Crown,” a track later covered by Judas Priest. What a great nod to Peter Green. Another Tusk track that I always liked, “What Makes You Think You’re the One” sounds great live. “Gold Dust Woman,” “Angel” and “Sisters Of the Moon” rank amongst my favorite tracks from Stevie Nicks and they’re all on this expanded edition. Finally Stevie gets her “live” due. “Tusk” was always a hard track to pull off live, without a marching band, but I dig the version here even though it’s accordion driven. Maybe all those old guys at the family reunions playing polkas paid off… 

Christine McVie plays a very affecting version of “Brown Eyes.” Her 1982 performance of “Hold Me” from Mirage may seem out of place here but man, I like it. Her track, “Songbird” is as beautiful live as it was in the studio. Call me a softy but I love that song. As an added bonus there are two more tracks recorded in Kansas City… I know, I can be a geek sometimes about stuff like that… The only song that seems superfluous is an extended version of Stevie’s “Fireflies” that I’m not sure was necessary. 

If you’re a fan of live music and miss concerts or just a fan of Fleetwood Mac, you must check out this expanded edition. There’s a chance many of you haven’t heard the original so I believe this will be a treat for you. In this age of streaming, everyone should be going back and revisiting those classic, fabulous double-live LPs and this is no exception. Pour a glass of something you enjoy, turn this one up loud, close your eyes and maybe, just maybe you’ll feel like you’re at the show…and if you really feel it, hold that lighter up over your head and sing along. 

Cheers! 

 

Playlist: B&V Epic Big Bad Rockin’ Blues – Our Favorite Rock Artists’ Blues Songs

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*Photo of “master bluesmen practicing their craft” taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

As a young fan of rock and roll, I’m not even sure I knew what “the blues” were. I had always associated the term “blues” with depression, i.e. “he was in a blue mood” or “I’ve got the Monday blues.” I associated the music with old guys singing songs about heartbreak and despair with some great guitar work thrown in for good measure. At the age of 15 I would have insisted that I wasn’t into the blues and didn’t know anything about them but at the same time I was listening to the Stones, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Aerosmith and AC/DC. I was a blues fan and didn’t even know it. When the aforementioned bands played blues tunes like “Down In The Hole” (Stones) or “A Fool For Your Stockings” (ZZ Top) I just thought those were kind of slower, more intense, “change of pace” kind of songs… almost ballads. But make no mistake, I loved those bluesy numbers. I was so young and naive I hadn’t learned (yet) about the immense influence the blues had on all that great 60s and 70s rock and roll I was devouring.

Believe it or not it was the Blues Brothers who first really brought blues music into focus for me. The Blues Brothers, Joliet Jake and Elwood, were actually John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. They debuted the band on Saturday Night Live. During the filming of Animal House Belushi had been turned onto a bunch of old blues records and decided he wanted to play some music. Since they debuted this music on SNL I thought it was a spoof. But I really dug the first single “Hey Bartender.” I couldn’t bring myself to buy the album because you couldn’t be caught dead with music that was “uncool.” And I’ll admit “Rubber Biscuit” left me cold. But they had some great musicians in that band: Matt “Guitar” Murphy, bassist Duck Dunn, guitarist Steve Cropper and future uber-producer Steve Jordan on drums. I was intrigued but didn’t make a move in terms of a purchase…

I came to the blues the way I came into many things in my life… through a woman and an unrequited crush…which sounds like a perfect setup to a blues tune. One Friday night I went over to one of the half dozen or so friends of mine whose name was Steve’s house. Steve had a big sister who was a senior, two years or three years older than us. She was buxom and we all thought she was attractive but we were 15, everybody was attractive. She was indeed one of the “popular” kids in the neighborhood in that high school way, so her opinion meant something to us. The girl drove a Trans Am, for heaven’s sake, she was cool. She was getting ready for a Friday night party and she was blasting… Briefcase Full Of Blues, the debut LP from the Blues Brothers. If Stacy (named changed to protect the guilty) who was cool was listening to these guys, then they were by extension of high school logic “cool.” I hate to admit to being subject to that kind of peer pressure but I was just a teenager, all hair and testosterone with no brains. I bought the album on my next trip to the record store and the light bulb finally went off… I finally realized virtually every band I listened to was influenced or inspired by the blues. That’s when I realized the Stones had basically started off as a blues cover band.

The blues had sprung from the fertile soil of the Mississippi river, invented by the freed slaves after the Civil War. Originally just vocals and acoustic guitar (or diddly bow) the music was influenced by spirituals and work songs. There was a lot of call and response. When juke joints – bars where Black people could gather and socialize – began to proliferate so did the blues. Legends like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson roamed the earth playing songs that bands still cover today. The blues made its way up the Mississippi River and to its spiritual home, Memphis. A young man named Elvis probably heard a lot of that music growing up there… The blues wasn’t all sad music, there was a lot of innuendo in that music. It didn’t take long until Preachers, unnerved at the effect this music was having on women, began to denounce it as “the Devil music.” That had to just draw more people in… it always does. Sabbath’s career was completely founded on that Devil stuff.

Eventually, during the Great Migration, the blues headed north to Detroit and more importantly Chicago. I didn’t actually see a live blues performer until I was out of college. I flew to Chicago to see my best buddy Doug and we went directly to the legendary blues bar, the Kingston Mines…where I saw Magic Slim and the Teardrops. Life changing! But I digress… The blues went through that Golden Era with Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter and Willie Dixon and so many others. Alas this music didn’t hit it big in the U.S. Thankfully a bunch of post-war British teenagers were listening and they loved the stuff. Alexis Korner and John Mayall were spreading the word on blues music. Pretty soon you had the Stones, the Animals, the Yardbirds and the Bluesbreakers all playing blues covers like “King Bee” and “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.” Eventually during the British Invasion the English bands brought the blues back home, like a disciple returning to the temple. Pretty quickly American bands like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doors and later Aerosmith popped up in the wake of those British acts.

You could argue about the Brits and “cultural appropriation” but this is a music blog not a political one. The early bands who started covering the blues had a reverence for the blues and the Blues Masters who played it, and frankly I share that awe and worship. This was more of an imitation is flattery thing. It does say something that this wonderful American art form, nay, African American art form had to go to Britain and then come back to make it to the mainstream in America…kind of like Jimi Hendrix. There are some who would argue that in the 80s rock and roll severed its close ties to the blues and that’s when rock music went into decline. I’m a lover not a fighter so I’m going to veer away from all of that. All I can say about it, and as I’ll probably repeat in this post, I just love the blues and the rock and roll it inspired. I love phrases like, “my tears they fall like rain” and “my baby she shakes like a willow tree” and the Rock Chick can testify I sprinkle those throughout my conversation even now. I still have people tell me they don’t dig the blues but love Cream… Um, then you dig the blues, you just don’t know it.

Since the inventor of the cassette tape passed away a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about all those old mixtapes I used to make for my car. I used to have this great tape of different bands playing blues songs. They were mostly slower tunes so the tape held together for a great listen. Using that as a base I decided to expand the list and share some of our favorite bands playing some of our favorite songs in our favorite genre, the blues. I wanted to highlight different artists than just the Stones/Zeppelin/Clapton continuum to demonstrate just how far and wide the influence of the blues is and was. Artists as diverse as James Taylor and Harry Nilsson to Sam Cooke and Aretha have done blues tracks. I just love the blues and the raw emotion and  the strength of the singing on many of these tracks moves me to this day. It’s my hope that they’ll move you too. I love that so many different artists took the blues, adapted and changed it and yet it remained the blues. With Easter and Passover coming up this weekend and all the family that entails, let’s face it we’re all gonna need some rockin’ blues to get through this thing. These are just our B&V favorites… and just the tip of the iceberg… Always remember though, if you get into the blues, as John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison sang, you’ll “Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive.” You’ll be a fan for life.

Here is our list of some of our favorite blues tunes by rock artists. I tried to limit this to at most 2 or 3 songs by one artist but believe me that called for some hard choices. I could have made this just all Stones tunes but I limited myself to some of their latter day stuff. I tried to weave in covers of songs by Blues Masters with some of these great band’s original songs. I just started with what I could remember from that old mixtape and blew it up large. As always this playlist can be found on Spotify (“BourbonAndVinyl.net Epic Big Bad Rockin’ Blues”) and can be shuffled or played as is. If you have a blues rock tune that isn’t here, please mention it in the comments section and I’ll add it to the Spotify list… it’s a bluesy dialogue people.

  1. Eric Clapton, “The Sky Is Crying” – Many have done this Elmore James’ tune but few as well as Clapton. Stevie Ray Vaughn did a nice version. This whole list could be Clapton tunes…
  2. ZZ Top, “A Fool For Your Stockings” – From the first ZZ Top LP I ever purchased… and yes, I’m still a fool…
  3. The Rolling Stones, “Back of My Hand” – Great latter day Stones’ blues tune. It was just Mick, Keith and Charlie in the studio when they were recording this song. Keith went to take a nap and thought he was dreaming about Muddy Waters. Actually he was just hearing Mick work out this song… he told Mick they weren’t overdubbing anything, “Leave it like it is, it’s done.” As usual, Keith was right.
  4. Led Zeppelin, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” – This may be the greatest blues rock song of all time. Titanic blues.
  5. Derek & the Dominos, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” – Clapton under the cover name Derek slips back onto the list with a great Jimmy Cox tune.
  6. The Doors, “Back Door Man” – People tend to think of the Doors’ music as psychedelic, acid jazz. They forget what a great blues band these guys were.
  7. Warren Zevon, “Rub Me Raw” – An artist you don’t associate with the blues delivering a spectacular blues track on his final LP, The Wind. That’s Wichita’s own Joe Walsh playing the lead guitar which may just melt your face off at certain high volumes.
  8. Billy F. Gibbons, “Standing Around Crying” – A great blues cover from Billy’s last solo LP, Big Bad Blues. 
  9. Peter Wolf, “Too Close Together” – A great duet with Keith Richards. Wolf has some really great solo LPs everyone should check out.
  10. The Rolling Stones, “Down In The Hole” – A blues tune I loved before I knew what the blues were…
  11. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “U.S. 41” – Petty got into the blues late in his career. Nowhere is that more evident than on the great Mojo. 
  12. Big Brother & the Holding Company, “Turtle Blues” – Janis Joplin’s first and best band. This is just a piano and Janis’ voice, the way God intended you to hear the blues.
  13. Harry Nilsson, “Early In the Morning” – Like the previous tune, just a fabulous voice and a keyboard. I saw Randy Newman interviewed about Harry and he said he was never confident in his singing which blows my mind. This song is proof of his vocal talents.
  14. The Black Crowes, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” – From their masterpiece second LP, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. 
  15. U2 & B.B. King, “When Love Comes To Town” – I’ve devoted this list to rock bands but it was an absolute pleasure to sneak blues royalty B.B. King onto the list.
  16. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Feelin’ Blue” – A nice little shuffle.
  17. The Jeff Beck Group, “You Shook Me” – The Zeppelin version of this song is more well known but Jeff, Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood did it first so its the version I included here.
  18. Cream, “Born Under A Bad Sign” – Probably my favorite Cream tune. A sweet Albert King cover.
  19. Neil Young and the Bluenotes, “One Thing” – I may be the only one who loves this album. It signaled the beginning of a creative resurgence for Young. I even bought the live LP from this tour, released years later, Bluenote Cafe. 
  20. John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” – How many great guitar players did John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers have? I chose this track, vs the Zeppelin version, to highlight a pre-Stones Mick Taylor on lead guitar.
  21. The Black Crowes, “Seeing Things” – As long time readers know, I’m currently still obsessed with the Crowes’ first LP. 
  22. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Walkin’ Blues” – One of the finest bands to ever come out of Chicago originally done by Robert Johnson.
  23. Free, “Goin’ Down Slow” – From Free’s debut LP, their most bluesy effort, Tons Of Sobs. 
  24. Fleetwood Mac, “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long” – I felt it imperative that I include a blues tune featuring Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac, who passed last year.
  25. James Taylor, “Steamroller Blues” – Laugh, but this is a great tune and underscores my premise that so many rock acts play the blues… and yes, I know I’m stretching when I call Taylor “rock.”
  26. The Allman Brothers Band, “Jelly Jelly” – I’ve always described the Allmans as a blues band who played with a jazz band ethos. This is a fine, fine straight-up blues tune.
  27. Sam Cooke, “Little Red Rooster” – I could have included so many other versions of this track from the Stones to Tom Petty but Sam was one of the world’s greatest singers and its nice to hear him sing a blues track.
  28. Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, “Leave My Girl Alone” – From one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Gone too soon.
  29. The White Stripes, “Little Bird” – Epic punky blues. I was lucky enough to see them play this track live.
  30. Lucinda Williams, “Still I Long For Your Kiss” – Lucinda really feels the blues on this song. When she wails, “I goooo down tooooown” you almost physically feel her pain. It’s my absolute favorite vocal performance by her.
  31. Paul Rodgers and Buddy Guy, “Muddy Water Blues” – An acoustic blues tribute to Muddy with Buddy Guy on guitar.
  32. George Harrison, “Cloud 9” – A nice little bluesy number with George’s friend Eric Clapton noodling on guitar along with him.
  33. The Beatles, “For You Blue” – Another Harrison track… The Beatles didn’t play the blues often, but man is it fun when they did.
  34. Steve Miller Band, “Mercury Blues” – When people think about the Steve Miller Band they tend to think of his more ethereal 70s hits which is a shame. He actually started as a blues guy and does a phenomenal job on this one, just to remind us of that.
  35. Bruce Springsteen, “The Fever” – I don’t know if this is technically the blues or not but it has a languid, rolling bluesy feel. Clarence Clemons’ sax is remarkable. One of my all time favs.
  36. Rod Stewart, “I’d Rather Go Blind” – Rod’s best blues tune… a cover of Big Mama Thornton if I’m not mistaken.
  37. Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, “Texas Flood” – I don’t remember whether I included this on my Rain playlist or not. I hope I did.
  38. Pete Townshend, “Secondhand Love” – A nice little blues scorcher from Pete… and a song that I only recently discovered the Rock Chick loves. Marriage is a journey of discovery.
  39. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Red House” – Jimi never moved too far away from the blues.
  40. The Doors, “Cars Hiss By My Window” – On their last two LPs the Doors got back to being that great blues rock band they started as…
  41. Blind Faith, “Sleeping In The Ground” – This great blues tune didn’t even make the only LP they did. Winwood’s piano and vocals are exceptional.
  42. The Animals, “Dimples” – A John Lee Hooker cover from another great English band.
  43. J. Geils Band, “Serves You Right To Suffer” – Speaking of great John Lee Hooker covers.
  44. The Rolling Stones, “Keep Up Blues” – A great outtake from the Some Girls sessions.
  45. Gary Clark, Jr, “When My Train Pulls In” – This guy gives me hope for the future of the guitar. I hope this is on my Train playlist.
  46. Peter Frampton, “She Caught The Katy” – From his great LP, All Blues
  47. Bob Dylan, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” – Dylan doesn’t get the credit for being a great blues guy.
  48. John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, “A Hard Road” – Another great Peter Green tune from his work before forming Fleetwood Mac.
  49. Little Steven, “Blues Is My Business” – Springsteen’s right hand man out on his own covering an Etta James tune on his great LP Soulfire.
  50. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Mellow Down Easy” – Another great tune from Chicago’s finest. The Black Crowes also did a live version of this song with Jimmy Page that’s worth checking out.
  51. Aretha Franklin, “I’ve Never Loved A Man” – The Queen handing down the blues. Aerosmith actually had the temerity to cover this song.
  52. The Yardbirds, “I Ain’t Got You” – Speaking of songs Aersomith covered… The Yardbirds are famous for having at different times, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page on guitar.
  53. Aerosmith, “Reefer Head Woman” – Well, I kept mentioning them, you knew they had to have a bluesy track here.
  54. David Lee Roth, “Sensible Shoes” – Again, like the Springsteen song above, I’m not sure this is blues, but it sure feels like it. And it’s Diamond Dave, what’s not to love?
  55. Led Zeppelin, “I’m Gonna Crawl” – The last track from the last album and they went back to the blues…
  56. Cream, “Sitting On Top Of the World” – I love it when bands cover Howlin Wolf.
  57. Humble Pie, “Rollin’ Stone” – Such a great overlooked band… and on this tune Peter Frampton was still in the group and playing lead guitar.
  58. Gregg Allman, “I Can’t Be Satisfied” – Gregg Allman, a man with a voice that sounds like eternity calling singing a song by a man whose voice sounded like…well, eternity calling, Muddy Waters.
  59. John Fogerty, “A Hundred And Ten In The Shade” – I feel hot and sticky just listening to this track.
  60. Mick Jagger, “Checkin’ Up On My Baby” – From a great blues album that Jagger did with L.A. blues band the Red Devils that remains on the shelf save for this great tune. I wish Mick would put out the whole thing.
  61. Van Morrison, “Roll With the Punches” – The title track from one of Van’s latest LPs.
  62. ZZ Top, “Blue Jean Blues” – It was going to be this or “Sure Got Cold When The Rain Came.”
  63. Bob Dylan, “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” – From Dylan’s fabulous studio LP last year, his first in 8 years, Rough And Rowdy Ways. 
  64. Faces, “Love In Vain (Live)” – The Faces doing a Robert Johnson tune via the Stones. Ronnie Wood on lead guitar, Rod feeling it.
  65. The Raconteurs, “Blue Veins” – Great blues track from Jack White’s first side project.
  66. The Jeff Beck Group, “Blues De Luxe” – Their most epic track. I don’t know why they dubbed in the audience. Rod’s vocals are sublime.
  67. Jimi Hendrix, “Hear My Train a Coming” – I chose the version on People, Hell and Angels but there are quite a few versions of this tune to choose from by Jimi.
  68. Van Halen, “Apolitical Blues” – I probably should have chosen the original Little Feat version but I couldn’t resist putting the late Eddie Van Halen on this playlist…
  69. Robert Cray, “I Wonder” – Simply a wonderful blues tune. Maybe a little outside the parameters of this playlist but Strong Persuader had such great crossover success I felt I could include it.
  70. Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – Yes, Nirvana doing the blues. Cobain was a big Huddie Leadbetter fan… It’s the perfect song to end on to underscore my point that all great rock bands play some blues.

I hope you guys have as much fun listening to this playlist as I did compiling it. My greatest hope is that over this Passover, Easter weekend this playlist will get you a little farther down the road in the direction you’re heading. Pour something strong, light something up if you’re in New York, turn this one up loud and enjoy!

Cheers!

Third Time’s The Charm: The Artists Whose Third Album Was The Breakthrough

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*Only 5 LPs photographed because most of your intrepid blogger’s property is still in storage…

I don’t know if this is true or not, but it sure seems like bands have a lot more avenues to get their music out these days especially when compared to how they used to do it in the 70s or 80s… I’ve been sitting in the cheap seats watching my friend Drummer Blake work to establish his latest band the Sunset Sinners and those guys are a marketing machine. I don’t think they’re any different than any new band out there today. There are so many tools at a band’s disposal. Bands now have YouTube where they can release videos of live performances or just old school videos like Dirty Honey‘s latest. There’s so much more a band can do with social media today. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter new bands have a way of communicating directly with fans so when a record company comes calling, the band already has a built in fan base that can literally span the globe. And now with Tik Tok that social media reach may have even gotten broader… at least that’s what my friend James tells me, he loves Tik Tok. I’m only on a few social media platforms and Tik Tok ain’t one of them. Not yet anyway. I only got on Instagram to follow the bands I love…well that and to watch videos of cats and dogs doing adorable things. I’m like everyone else in that regard. 

In the old days a band’s social media consisted of the guys in the band wandering around downtown stapling cheap copies made at Kinkos to telephone poles to announce a gig. I think there was a scene in Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ where they’re doing just that which had to be hot and exhausting in all that spandex. Typically to start a band a few like minded musicians who liked the same music might huddle together in a garage and start playing cover tunes. After a while and usually a few line up changes – often that involved someone answering an ad in the newspaper like Ace Frehley – the band might start doing gigs in front of actual people, not just distressed family members. A school dance here, a keg party there, it all helped the band to start to create a following. The band’s repertoire would expand and eventually they’d start to create their own, original music. Eventually some enterprising bar owner would let the band play on their stage… or perhaps give them a residency. Maybe Gene Simmons would show up and pay for a demo tape like he did for Van Halen…probably not but somehow  demo tapes would get made. If fortune and luck shone on the band, a record company would extend a contract… Oh, and a manager probably showed up somewhere in this process to take 10%.

When the record company would offer the band a contract you’d think all their dreams were answered. It’s the Cinderella story. Record companies today seem to only want bands who can deliver that mega-million dollar selling debut LP. Maybe record companies have always been that way? But for some bands that debut album fails to connect. Not every debut can be Boston or Appetite For Destruction (Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums). Some really classic debut LPs from the world’s biggest bands have been commercial failures. In meetings, the record company guys all act supportive, but the pressure is really on now. To make matters worse, there’s the sophomore slump that hangs over a lot of bands. Bono, in his Rock Hall of Fame speech was talking about being in a band and described the 2nd album (and he was speaking generally) as “the difficult second album.” The old saying, “You have your whole life to write your first album, and only a few months to write your second,” holds some truth. Even for bands whose debut LP had a hit single or two and sold well, a weak second album only brings more pressure. And there are a lot of weak second albums out there… U2’s October is a prime example. 

For a band whose first two albums hadn’t sold in big numbers, I can only imagine that the third album was a “make or break” situation. Today, I don’t think any current label would keep an act longer than two LPs if neither sold well. We live in an instant gratification world, and if a band’s first or second album doesn’t explode, it’s time to move on. Back in the 70s and even the 80s, record labels seemed to be slightly more patient. They would let a band develop, mostly by playing a shit ton of concerts on the road, but also in the studio and as songwriters. Sometimes all that was needed was a new producer. Maybe the band tweaks the line up. It just felt, without all the social media to help build in that fanbase, that record companies back in the day gave artists’ more time or a little more leash, if you will. 

Some of the world’s most renown artists took an entire three albums to break into that world wide fame and commercial success. If these bands were coming out today I’m not sure any record company would have stuck with them until that third album and that would be a damn shame. Here is my list of phenomenal third records that made the bands who recorded them famous. I consider each of these records essential rock and roll listening. 

Aerosmith, Toys In The Attic

While Aerosmith had the hit “Dream On” on their debut, the album didn’t make a dent. They moved in together so they could rehearse constantly and brought in renown producer Jack Douglas for their second LP Get Your Wings, which sold better. At that point Aerosmith became road warriors. They toured incessantly behind the 2nd LP which helped build their fan base but also improved their songwriting and chops. With the big singles “Walk This Way” (later redone with Run D.M.C. during their “comeback”) and my favorite “Sweet Emotion” Aerosmith became superstars. This, to me, is Aerosmith’s peak album. Even the deep tracks like “Uncle Salty” and “Adam’s Apple” kick ass. I love the first two Aerosmith LPs, but I can understand how this is the one that broke them wide and far. It’s telling that they re-released “Dream On” during this time period to try and boost sales of that debut. 

Lenny Kravitz, Are You Gonna Go My Way

While Lenny’s debut is now considered a classic, you never heard much of it on the radio. Every woman I met in the 90s, even casually, put his debut on for me to hear. Despite his unending support among 20-something aged women, his second LP, Mama Said was pretty much invisible. Then suddenly, the title track of this album exploded on to radio and MTV with an iconic video of Lenny rocking in a circular room and flinging his dreds everywhere. There are so many classic tunes on this album – “Believe,” “Heaven Help,” “Black Girl,” and “Just Be A Woman” to name a few. Yes, Lenny tends to wear his influences on his sleeve, but he distills all of them into a fantastic album here. I’m not sure he ever did anything as good as this essential third LP. 

No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom

I had no doubt back in the day that I didn’t like this band. Then the Rock Chick took me to see them live on their reunion tour and I was blown away by them. Guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal, and drummer Adrian Young were lean and muscular. I wasn’t prepared for how hard they rocked. Front woman Gwen Stefani who went on to totally disappoint me on her solo career was charismatic and energetic on stage… I was mesmerized by her performance…but I’m getting off topic. After that show, I went out and bought all their albums. Their eponymous debut LP got zero support from their record label and they asked to be dropped from their contract which the label refused to do. Their 2nd album, Beacon Street Collection can be thought of as songs about hating their record company. Finally on the third LP, they pierced the grunge consciousness of the era with Tragic Kingdom. Listening to this LP all these years later, it’s a staggering leap forward from the first two records. “Just A Girl” is a woman’s empowerment anthem for the ages and it actually rocks. From that to the ballad “Sunday Morning” this album is just about perfect. 

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Damn The Torpedos 

Petty’s first two albums had classic songs and hits – “Breakdown,” “American Girl,” “I Need To Know” and “Listen To Her Heart.” Listening to those albums today you could tell this was a band who was on the verge of breaking big. Damn The Torpedoes was that quantum leap forward and coincidentally the first Petty LP I ever purchased. My brother had it before I even did. “Here Comes My Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee” were all monster hits but I like some of the deep tracks. “Even the Losers” (a personal anthem) and “You Tell Me” are stellar. I even dig “Louisiana Rain.” One of the greatest albums of all time. 

The Police, Zenyatta Mondatta 

Maybe some day someone will explain the title to me… I was in junior high when the Police’s debut album Outlandos D’Amor came out. We all loved “Roxanne.” I remember singing it like Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours, loudly, high-pitched and out of tune in study hall much to the chagrin of the teacher in charge. Outlandos was a classic despite the French title, but I didn’t know anybody who owned it. The second album, Regatta De Blanc boasted the hits “Walking On the Moon,” and “Message In A Bottle” but it didn’t seem to resonate with as many people. Frankly I thought both those tracks were on the debut. After a world wide tour, much like Aerosmith, that honed their playing and songwriting skills they returned with Zenyatta Mondatta and suddenly everyone was on the Police bandwagon. “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” about the nonsensical nature of speeches by politicians, teachers and lawyers was the first single and despite probably not understanding that, we all loved that song. I think my friend Doug saw the Police on this tour. Every song on this album could have been a hit. Between the Police and Aerosmith I think it could be argued every new band should be sent on the road for at least a year to play as many shows as they can. 

Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run

Springsteen’s first album Greetings From Asbury Park is now seen as a classic. Groups from Manfred Mann to Bowie to Greg Kihn have covered tracks from this album. Commercially though, it was largely ignored. His second disc, The Wild, The Innocent And the E Street Shuffle, which gave his backing band its name, is my favorite Springsteen album. Oddly, the great epics on that album like “Incident On 57th St,” “Rosalita,” or “New York City Serenade” were largely ignored. With his back to the wall, Springsteen wrote his greatest batch of songs. He wanted lyrics like Dylan with Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” I’d say he checked both those boxes! Like Damn The Torpedoes this is one of the greatest albums of all time. I’m just glad Columbia Records let Bruce have a third shot at an album. They would have dropped him if this record failed… 

Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells A Story 

After his brief stint as “vocalist extraordinaire” for the Jeff Beck Group, Stewart recorded his debut, The Rod Stewart Album, or as it was known in the UK, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down. It was part folk, part rock n roll which would set the template for the rest of Rod’s best work. It didn’t take off so he joined the Faces as their lead singer and after that, he’d release an album with the Faces and a solo album every year. It wasn’t until his third LP, Every Picture Tells A Story that he broke it big when a DJ in Cleveland flipped over the first single “Reason To Believe” to play the B-side, a little ditty named “Maggie May.” Rod became a superstar which was great for him, not so great for his mates in the Faces. I still hope Rod, Ronnie Wood and Kenny Jones can get a semi-Faces reunion together and do something. Rod was always better when he was working with a strong guitar player like Wood. 

U2, War

Boy, U2’s debut boasted the fabulous song “I Will Follow” that they still play in concert but it only made a little dent on the charts. The “difficult second album,” October didn’t do them any favors. Like Springsteen, with their backs against the wall, they retreated to Hawaii and recorded their breakthrough album. Sure, they had bigger and perhaps better albums, but War is the LP that broke them wide open… it’s also the first LP from them I purchased. The anthems “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” moved them in a political direction that I always loved. It’s amazing how many of these third LPs ended up being some of the greatest music ever recorded… Maybe it’s the pressure? 

The White Stripes, White Blood Cells 

Like a majority of people, this was the LP where I first discovered the White Stripes. I ended up going back and buying their previous 2 LPs almost immediately upon buying White Blood Cells. The eponymous debut was all garage-rock, meaning it sounded like it was recorded in a garage. It was raw and ferocious, naturally I loved it. Even I will admit however, I can see why that wasn’t an international sensation. Their second LP, De Stijl was, like Springsteen’s E Street Shuffle, my favorite Stripes album. It’s bluesy and punk… its blues punk. However, it also failed to resonate far and wide. White Blood Cells had the big hits that made them famous “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With A Girl” that likely drove a lot of people like me to their first two records. They may have had bigger albums but this one is almost perfect. “We’re Going To Be Friends” is the best acoustic track they ever did. “I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman” has always been a personal fav. The Stripes just released a wonderful Greatest Hits album if you’re not obsessive about owning every LP but White Blood Cells is the perfect place to start with the Stripes. 

 

Most, if not all of these bands went on to storied, long careers. They all had “bigger,” better selling albums but these are such critical pieces of that later success. These are some of the greatest albums ever. I urge everyone who hasn’t heard these “third” records to do so immediately. Because as we’ve just learned, sometimes the third time is the charm. 

Cheers! Be safe out there, we’re getting closer every day to being able to some of this great rock n roll played live! 

 

 

Album Lookback: Triumph’s ‘Allied Forces’ – Canada’s Other Power Trio’s Greatest LP

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Over time I have often cited what the source of my inspiration for a particular post was. Most often I think I’m prone to writing about what inspired me when I do a playlist, like the one I recently did about songs that can only be found on soundtracks. A few weeks ago I put Canadian power-trio Triumph’s LP Allied Forces on the stereo and thought to myself, I’ve got to write about this sensational album. It’s a record that will always hold a special place in my rock n roll heart… After that initial thought, like magic (or perhaps more appropriately like “Magic Power”) almost immediately I started seeing posts that 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of Allied Forces and there’s an anniversary box set coming out. I never made that 40-year connection… Dylan is right, “Time is a jet plane, it moves so fast.” Also, and I thought this was weird, the day I started writing this post someone on the music forum I’m a member of started a Triumph thread. I couldn’t help but think maybe I was right and the time to write about this album was at last at hand. This was inspiration in reverse. The universe was telling me, “Crank the Triumph, son.” Why argue with that?

In the early 80s rock n roll dominated the radio. Well, it dominated the radio in any room or car I was in. Unlike today there were so many rock bands to choose from. I guess looking back pundits or critics would classify certain bands as “top tier” or “tier 1.” I’m not sure I ever really thought about it like that. I don’t know if people consider Triumph a top tier band or not but I always really liked them. I’m guessing they were huge in Canada. And let’s all admit, Canada has produced some fantastic rock bands. Everybody talks about Rush but Triumph was a great band and frankly I always liked April Wine. I’m not even getting into the Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell thing. Triumph was Rik Emmett on guitar/vocals, Mike Levine bass/keyboards and Gil Moore on drums and vocals. They were a power trio like Rush and they had a singing drummer like Genesis… what’s not to love here? Although I will admit right up front I preferred the songs when guitarist Rik Emmett was the lead singer. Emmett also wrote most of their bigger songs. 

As soon as I got into rock n roll I feel like I was always aware of Triumph. They got airplay on KY/102 my local rock station. The first thing I really remember hearing from them was a great cover of Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way,” from their LP Rock N Roll Machine. I always thought that was a weird choice of a tune to cover but they pulled it off. My old roommate Stormin’ loved that album, or so I seem to remember him telling me he did. Triumph were indeed a power trio and they played powerful, hard rock. I’ve seen them characterized as heavy metal, but I always thought they were too melodic to be thought of as strictly metal. I also think they had just a touch of prog rock in their sound. Any band with a song title divided by Roman numerals checks the prog rock box for me… They just played great, straight up rock n roll. They really started to take off and to pierce my teenage consciousness in 1979 with Just A Game. There were two stellar tunes on that LP that got a lot of airplay in KC, “Hold On” and my personal favorite “Lay It On the Line.” “Hold On” starts off acoustic, almost a ballad, and then builds to a soaring rock song. “Lay It On the Line” is just straight up riff rock. Emmett’s playing on that song was exceptional. 

It was fall of 1981 that I started hear about “this new Triumph album,” Allied Forces. I was fairly new to collecting albums and back then I was never completely sure what songs were on what albums until I was holding the record in my hand in the record store. I was under the impression that “Lay It On the Line,” which was still getting heavy airplay, was on Allied Forces a mistake I continue to make to this day. The song had been around for 2 years, I’m not sure how that mistake got written in stone in my mind. The title track was the first single, but I don’t remember ever hearing that on the radio. It was the second single “Magic Power” that grabbed me and sent me to the record store to buy this album on vinyl. I always loved the silver flying-V guitar on the cover. When I play air-guitar, that’s the guitar I’m playing. And yes, I still air guitar, much to the Rock Chick’s disgust and amusement. 

I not only bought the vinyl, I put this thing on cassette so I could listen to it in the car. I was about to leave high school and start that difficult transition to adulthood and college. When you’re a senior in high school you’re at the top of the food chain. When you become a freshman in college – or you start a new job out of high school – you’re the low man on the totem pole. It’s a narrow, slippery bridge we cross to transition to adulthood. Its a transition many people struggle with and I was no exception.  In fact, I struggled so mightily my freshman year you might say, I was the prime example of failing to launch. It was my own damn fault. By the end of my freshman year I was pretty demoralized. I remember getting in my car to head home from college, ready to turn the page and move on when I spotted that Triumph cassette. I plugged it in and as cheesy as this sounds, the “Magic Power” lyric, “I’m young, I’m wild and I’m free” really hit me. The song transported me away from my despair. I was indeed young and if you were to ask my mother she’d probably testify to how wild I was back then. She probably did have to testify for me, but uh, those records are sealed… Little did she know… Most importantly, I was free. Free from all the self-inflicted pain and heartbreak I’d caused myself. I still smile when I hear that great, great rock song. It’s one of those moments in life when certain rock and roll comes along and can not only lift you up, it can literally save you. I know Allied Forces helped lift me out of a dreadful mindset. 

There’s so much more on this record beyond “Magic Power.” Side 1 (on vinyl anyway) not only had that song, it had a great rocker as an opening track “Fool For Your Love,” which is an apt description of me at the time. Drummer Gil Moore sings on that track and it reminds me of “Lay It On the Line” in that it’s straight up riff-rock. The title track was also on the first side of the record. It’s preceded by a sound effects/keyboard thing, “Air Raid” which again is evidence of a little bit of prog rock in the wood pile. “Allied Forces” was a great rock n roll statement of purpose. Lets band together international rockers and “take control.” The first side concludes with another big rocker in “Hot Time (In The City Tonight)” that starts with a riff that is reminiscent of Chuck Berry. It quickly turns to a heavy rock thing but man is Rik Emmett ever nimble on guitar. And yet we never talk about Emmett when discussing great guitar players? 

The second side kicks off with “Fight The Good Fight” which was another song that resonated with me. It’s probably one of the most encouraging rock songs ever recorded. It became my roommate’s and my pre-exam tune. After cramming for a test, no matter what subject, when it was time to leave and head to campus, we’d crank “Fight The Good Fight” for luck. I love Emmett’s vocal on this song. Its followed by the quasi-politcal epic “Ordinary Man” that starts with what sounds like a choir. I’m telling you, these guys were more prog than I realized. “Ordinary Man” had lyrics I could really relate to, “You want to think you’re different, but you know you never can, You’re just another ordinary man.” God knows I never wanted to be “ordinary.” It goes on to get topical, calling out politicians and the media. After a brief acoustic guitar solo a’la Eddie Van Halen (“Petit Etude”), comes my other favorite track, “Say Goodbye.” It’s a classic, babe you’ve done me wrong and I’m leaving song. While I had actually gone through a brutal break up, for me “Say Goodbye” was more about leaving behind some bad circumstance than an actual person. Although, I won’t lie the lyric “but now the party’s over… and you just don’t sound the same,” certainly resonated on a more visceral level back then… but all of that is a foggy, distant memory. It’s a big strummer type of a tune. The chorus is almost a sing along. It’s the most upbeat break up song of all time and the perfect ending for this album. 

I got to see these guys on the tour for this album. They played Arrowhead Stadium at a very rainy Summer Jam that featured Foreigner, 38 Special and yes, Loverboy. They killed it and were by far my favorite performer of the day. I saw them again on the tour for the follow up LP, Never Surrender. That LP didn’t grab me in the same way as Allied Forces but a few years later I was back on the bandwagon for The Sport of Kings. I don’t know if Rik Emmett or Triumph ever got their due praise and attention. But for almost a year I listened to this album virtually non-stop. If you haven’t checked out Triumph, I urge you to start with this album. Any track of Triumph I mentioned in this post is definitely worth a spin. The world needs more solid hard rock bands like Triumph these days…

Turn this one up loud! Cheers!  

 

Lookback: My Mixtape Days – Inventor of the Cassette Tape Dies at 94

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I got up one day last week, as I thankfully do every day, and I checked the news. I’m not a morning person so there’s no TV involved. I prefer a lot of silence in the morning so I just checked on-line. I was scrolling through headlines and I noticed a Dutch gentlemen named Lou Ottens had died at the age of 94. He was a scientist and inventor for the Philips company. In my still sleep riddled mind I couldn’t help but think, big deal some scientist passed in the Netherlands. I kept scrolling, still half-asleep drinking hot coffee as quickly as the scalding liquid would allow, when I stopped and went back to the Ottens’ article. It was then that I saw that Lou was the inventor of the cassette tape. Oh man, that took me back. In this age of streaming and MP3s people forget what a revolution cassettes were. Portable music was a reality. We weren’t all chained to the home stereo any more. 

Prior to Mr. Ottens’ invention, other than vinyl the only way to consume music was on those bulky reel-to-reel tapes, but lets be honest only beatnik, jazzbo types owned reel-to-reel tapes. I have an image of groovy dudes in black turtlenecks and shades even though they’re indoors, smoking joints and talking about Miles Davis’ feel as In A Silent Way spools through the reel-to-reel player. Although as I type that sentence I’m reminded that my father-in-law owned a reel-to-reel player and as a rancher/farmer he was only into country music like C.J. McCall…”Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy…” Gads. His reel-to-reel gear was long gone by the time I came along but I would have loved to hear what that sounded like. 

In an attempt to make music more portable, the industry had tried a more “compact” tape version of the album on the now legendary 8-track tape. If you couldn’t get a turntable into a car, by God, lets try 8-tracks. A lot of people jumped on the 8-track bandwagon, thankfully I was not one of them. First of all, I never thought they were very compact. They were the size of a small paperback novel. My buddy Brewster had an 8-track player in his car and we’d listen to Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan all the time. I thought it was because Brewster loved that album but looking back it may have been the only 8-track he owned. I could never figure out 8-tracks. It was years before I learned what the actual playing order of that Cheap Trick live album was. 

Enter Mr. Ottens and his magic cassettes. I’ll be honest, I was a vinyl guy from the start. I only purchased two albums on proper cassettes. I purchased AC/DC’s Highway To Hell on cassette because I wanted to listen to that album in the car. I actually bought that LP on cassette for the reason they were invented – so you could take your music anywhere and you were free from having to have a turntable which would have been hard in the car considering what a reckless driver I was (am?). I also bought Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass on cassette prior to that because I saw that was how a lot of people were buying albums and I thought I was missing out on some sound sensation. Was there something I was missing? Well, no but it was still a nice portable way to consume music. If you were tired of your local radio station – or if you lived in a godforsaken place like Ft. Smith, Arkansas with terrible radio – you could just pop in a cassette and magically you were listening to your own music, arranged how you wanted it. 

The real magic in cassettes were the blank cassettes that allowed you to record anything you wanted to. It was indeed, a blank canvass. There were so many different brands of cassette tapes. Early on I purchased strictly TDK brand but quickly “upgraded” to Maxell who had an infinite number of different types of cassette tapes, each one of a higher quality than the last. Cassettes would hold 90 minutes of music – 45 minutes on each side. The average album back then was around 40 minutes, usually less. If it was a Van Halen album it was more likely 30 minutes long. You could put 1 album per side and leave the last bit of tape blank or you could add your own “bonus tracks” by the same artist at the end. Each tape had a small lead tape that wouldn’t hold music but was there to protect the cassette when fully rewound. You had to be careful if you were recording on vinyl that you’d gotten past those 10 seconds of lead tape or you’d cut off the first few seconds of the first track. The struggle was as real as the skills you needed to create a good tape recording. 

In the early days of my cassette taping, I was merely trying to collect music that I hadn’t purchased (for free). Cassette tapes were the early Napster, I suppose. My brother who had a crate full of albums before I’d even purchased my first album was my first source. I remember going into his room and plugging a cassette into his stereo – it was a turntable/radio/cassette tape all in one – and declaring I was going to tape some Beatles, but only the “good songs.” After filling up two whole cassettes to quote the movie Jaws, I realized, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” My mother had a friend, who  I’ll call Mrs. Smith, who had kids my age and my brother’s age. She brought over a stack of albums for me to tape that her kids owned. I’m still unsure why that happened. I think Mrs. Smith was trying to be cool. She appeared one day holding a can of beer with a cigarette dangling from her lips and handed me a stack of the heaviest metal I’d ever heard. Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Judas Priest… it was all too heavy. I was listening to blues rock… the Stones, ZZ Top, Foghat. I’ve always wondered what the hell was happening over at the Smith’s house. It was extraordinarily nice of her to share her kids’ music even though they were probably using it during human sacrifices, or so I wondered back then. I’ve grown to love metal but hey, I was 13 years old. 

After cannibalizing other people’s albums on cassette the thing that probably accelerated my cassette use was the Sony Walkman. I got a Walkman for Christmas one year and it really changed the way I listened to music. I had headphones on my home stereo, but to be able to pop a cassette in the Walkman and actually leave my room to wander around while tunes played was mind blowing back then. I remember walking around in a snow storm, we’d been let off school, and listening to Yes (The Yes Album) and feeling my brain expand. 

Pretty soon, with my cassettes I realized you didn’t have to be so linear in your thinking. You could mix up artists or songs from one artist on the cassette. You could mix music… ie, the mixtape finally occurred to me. My music collection had expanded to the point where I had enough Aerosmith LPs or Skynyrd LPs that I could cherry pick the tracks I liked from them from each album and put them on 1 cassette. I was making my own “greatest hits” album. I remember sitting in front of my first stereo, surrounded in a semi-circle of albums resting gently on their sleeves and rotating albums on and off the turntable as I carefully hit “record” or “stop.” If a band had a double-live LP, I’d typically use that as my guide to building a 2-sided 90 minute collection of their music. I had friends who made copies of my “greatest hits” mix tapes as by then the cassette industry had created the dual tape deck that allowed you to copy a cassette to another cassette… 

Eventually, even rock and roll nerds get girlfriends. By the time I was in college I was making the dreaded mixtapes for girlfriends. You always tried to find a song that said what you didn’t have the courage to say yourself. “You’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel…” as the movie says. Mind you, my mixtapes were never terribly sappy. Often times it was just stuff I knew the lady liked. She’s into Sting, here’s a mix of Sting and the Police. I often tried to turn women onto the music I dug. It was always important. If she rejected my music, wasn’t she rejecting me? I know people think they’re doing much the same when they were burning CDs or putting together playlists on Spotify, but there was nothing like the engineering the perfect mixtape. There was no shuffle. The order you put the songs in was really, really important. I’ve always loved the scene from the movie High Fidelity where John Cusack explains the theory behind a great mixtape because it’s so accurate…

Nick Hornsby who wrote the novel this movie is based on is a real hero to the music nerd in me. 

I have an ex out there somewhere who now teaches yoga who occasionally emails me to thank me for turning her onto good music. I did a lot of that with the dreaded mixtapes. I actually used a mixtape to break up with someone in the early 90s… As I recall I started that tape with B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” Not my finest moment. I’ve even made tapes for some friends of mine way back when. I have a friend I met when I first moved to Arkansas who had no money and coveted my deep album collection. I’d tape stuff I thought he’d dig – Clapton, the Band, the Allman Brothers – and so on… I wonder what ever happened to those things… Although if I had one of those mixtapes, I couldn’t play it. As times have changed and technology has shifted, the Rock Chick forced me to finally give up the cassette player. The only cassettes I still own are some Springsteen bootlegs from the way back machine. Oh, but I do miss those wonderful afternoons in front of the stereo with a stack of vinyl on the floor and a blank cassette in the stereo… Simply glorious. 

I’m glad Mr. Ottens came along and invented the cassette. It gave me many countless happy hours. I try and share music now via playlists but there was something so intimate and personal about sharing your music with someone back when I was younger and the mixtape was my medium. The mixtape was the way I took something that was so personal – listening to music – and turned it into something more public to be shared, to help bring me closer to people, friends and lovers. Maybe I was just practicing for this blog. The mixtape will always be a part of my rock and roll experience and enabled me to start sharing music and my experiences with it that I will hold onto fondly for as long as I’m able to hit “play.” 

R.I.P Mr. Lou Ottens. Cheers! 

Review: Dirty Honey, New Track “California Dreamin'” – Crunchy Hard Rawk!

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I was delighted to see this week that it appears there might be a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel we find ourselves in and for once I’m beginning to believe it’s not an on-coming train. While we all need to exhibit caution, perhaps even an abundance of caution, we might actually have a summer this year. I can’t believe it was a year ago this very weekend that we realized “the shit has hit the fan,” to quote Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” It was one year ago this weekend that my daughter and her beau came back to Kansas City for our annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, a big deal here in town. We’d all heard of the dreaded Covid, but nobody clearly understood what was happening. At the last minute they cancelled KC’s famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which was a painful, personal blow to me and I’m not even Irish, not an ounce. Despite that, St. Patty’s is the only religious holiday I still observe. Wearing green and drinking in the streets is a critical “Rite of Spring.” That Sunday, a year ago, is when the news broke that we needed to start distancing ourselves and that we had a real problem on our hands… I quickly retreated to my attic, where I have remained ever since.

As 2020 passed into the history books I couldn’t help but reflect on what a great year for music releases it had been (B&V’s Best of 2020: New LPs And Live/Vault/Archival Releases, Bad Year/Good Music). But in truth my focus even as 2020 waned was on the future. I was banking on the fact that 2021 was going to give us a slew of new releases. All of these bands couldn’t tour, I was hoping they were writing and recording. I think we’re beginning to see some of my hopeful thinking confirmed with some strong vault releases from Neil Young and the Black Crowes, reviewed in earlier posts. I know those particular releases were scheduled for 2020 but who knew what would happen with the delays. As we shrug off the brutal winter and ease into spring, I’m starting to see some new releases popping up for us. Just a few weeks ago Cheap Trick dropped a single “Light Up The Fire” from their new upcoming album. We loved their last LP (not counting live stuff or that Xmas LP) We’re All Alright’

I discovered last weekend while I was listening to Petty’s new vault song “You Saw Me Coming” that a band I stumbled across in the depth of the pandemic Dirty Honey has released a new single, “California Dreamin’.” And no, this is not a Mamas and the Papas cover song. Last summer when I was never leaving the house, I finally ran out of reading material and convinced myself to risk a trip down to Barnes & Noble where I found something called ‘Classic Rock’ magazine. I was attracted to the the magazine because of a cover article on the Black Crowes. As I poured over every page, I stumbled upon this L.A. based band Dirty Honey: Marc Labelle on vocals, John Notto on guitar, Justin Smollen on bass and finally, Corey Coverstone on drums. I don’t why drummers always get listed last… I’ve gotta work on that. These guys are an old school guitar rock band. You just don’t hear new bands playing this great kind of music any more. They’ve got a real Guns N Roses or Aerosmith feel to them. I was absolutely knocked out by their EP released in 2019, which I quickly snapped up after reading about them, simply entitled ‘Dirty Honey – EP’. I had heard they were recording a new LP for 2020 but I’m sure they were forced to slow their plans up like, well, the rest of the planet did.

I’ll admit right off, a new LP from Dirty Honey is one of our most anticipated LPs down here at B&V. And, it appears last week they’ve dropped their new single, “California Dreamin'” and it’s another, great crunchy rocker. This L.A. band really takes me back to the Sunset Strip. “California Dreamin'” starts with a small drum roll and then the riff kicks in. I really like Labelle’s voice. The guitar solo reminds me of Slash, Notto shreds here. I think the lyrics capture the existential angst we all feel, “I’m California dreamin’, and it’s tearing us apart, it’s paranoia season, it’s in our minds and our hearts.” Amen, brother. And besides, who isn’t dreaming of travel right now… I’d love to jump in my car with the top down (if I had a convertible), crank up this tune and tear across a desert only to end up in California. While Dirty Honey get compared to Aerosmith, I get a real GnR vibe from these guys. It might be the trippy video they’ve released for the song which reminded me of GnR’s video for “Estranged.” Well, if “Estranged” had been made by happy, well adjusted people. As the band rocks out, we follow a fetching young woman through a magical doorway…

While this song didn’t grab me as hard as “Dirty 7s” or some of the other stuff on their EP, it did grab me. The more I listened to this the more I like it. I mean, who doesn’t love good ol’ guitar rock n roll. The album doesn’t come out until April, so we’ll have to just crank this tune as part of our B&V spring soundtrack until then. I would also tell you they’ve recently released a pretty faithful version of Aerosmith’s “Last Child” that is also quite tasty! I urge you all to check this tune out and turn it up!!

Happy St Patrick’s Day and stay safe out there! Rawk on!

Tom Petty: New Single The Sublime “You Saw Me Coming” From The “Upcoming” ‘Finding Wildflowers’

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As long time readers of B&V know, I am a huge fan of Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers. I’m not sure any of his true fans are really over his sudden, tragic passing (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). Heaven knows, I’m not over it. And, as many of you know, all of us down here at B&V were anxiously awaiting for the Petty camp, his daughter and the band, to release the expanded version of Wildflowers, (Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited). The box set, for a time anyway, became my “White Whale” as it seemed like I’d never get my hands on it…

As early as its November 1994 release, Petty had made comments in the press that he had originally intended Wildflowers to be a double album. His first marriage was crumbling and there had been conflict between Petty and some of the members of the band (notably drummer Stan Lynch but also bassist Howie Epstein) over Petty’s decision to “go solo” in recording Full Moon Fever. All of that turmoil led to a creative tsunami for Petty. He holed up in a studio with producer Rick Rubin and guitarist Mike Campbell with Benmont Tench close by and recorded what could arguably be called his greatest album. From quiet acoustic tracks like the title track to explosive rockers like “You Wreck Me” it covers the Petty waterfront. It is probably my favorite Petty album in a career chock full of great albums.

As the Heartbreakers neared their 40th anniversary, Petty began to talk more and more about how he wanted to revisit and release all the material from Wildflowers in its original double-LP configuration. I heard an interview during the 40th anniversary tour, which I was lucky enough to see (Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2017), and he mentioned it even then. I could feel it, the expanded Wildflowers was getting close to becoming a reality! At the time the only track I had from those sessions, outside the original LP, was a bootleg version of “Girl On L.S.D.” It’s a novelty song, much like “Boy Named Sue,” but it always makes me smile. It’s lighthearted and funny. I wanted an official copy of that and I wanted whatever other brilliant songs he’d left in the can… and then, sadly Tom left us.

As seems now typical with rock stars, I don’t think he had his estate properly buttoned up. After his first marriage ended he remarried… the second wife thing often causes conflict on these music estates. His daughter got into the fray as well and thus the box set for Wildflowers was again pushed out… so close, so out of reach. Finally, in 2019, all of the legal issues were settled. Petty’s daughter Adria was at the helm of his catalog and along with a great box set, American Treasure (LP Review: Tom Petty, ‘An American Treasure’ – A Different Path Through a Brilliant Career) it appeared Wildflowers – All The Rest was set to finally see the light of day. Singles began to trickle out and I was delighted. I placed my order for the big 4-CD package and sat waiting by the mailbox staring at the postman like he was bringing me a birthday card from my grandmother, which was usually stuffed with currency. The due date for my box came and went and nothing… It turns out the US Postal Service delivered my box to the wrong address and the scoundrels who got it, kept it. I can’t begrudge them too much, it’s rock n roll. The second order came in scratched… completely unplayable. I should have gone with vinyl but for some reason I wanted this on CD… maybe because I’d bought the original on CD…

Eventually, I finally got a workable copy of the album and really loved it. I was surprised that the All The Rest disc was a mere 10 songs. When I realized the studio version of “Girl On L.S.D.” was not on the album I was distraught all over again. There was a fine live version where Petty chuckles as he introduces the song, but it wasn’t that studio version I was hoping for. There were a couple of other tracks I was familiar with, notably “Drivin’ Down To Georgia,” that were also missing. It was then that I found out that there was a 5-CD version of All The Rest. Despondent, I couldn’t help but think, “Fuck, I can’t win for losing here.” The 5-CD thing was an extra $100 and I couldn’t help but think, Tom Petty who once threatened to name an album ‘$8.98’ when his record company threatened to increase the LP price a dollar to $9.98 would not have stood for this douche fuckery. I had heard he’d wanted to make the bonus material available for purchase without having to re-buy the original, but that might just be rumor. Regardless, in the ‘Super Deluxe,’ 5-CD version of All The Rest the fifth disc, entitled Finding Wildflowers had 16 additional songs on it. And yes, for those of you keeping score, “Girl On L.S.D.” is on the fifth disc. So is “Drivin’ Down To Georgia” among others. I was so close, and yet I’d purchased the wrong version. I put the music in and let it soothe my rattled nerves over the experience. I really did love the disc of live tracks from All The Rest so I just turned that up loud.

This week, I’m slowly coming out of my Black Crowes (Review: The Black Crowes, ‘Shake Your Money Maker – 30th Anniversary’ – Revisiting Their Classic Debut) and Neil Young (Review: Neil Young, ‘Archives Vol. 2 (1972 – 1976)’ – An Epic Deep Dive Into The Ditch Trilogy And Beyond) immersive, addictive fog and discovered that the Petty camp has relented and is releasing the fifth disc as an album in its own right, Finding Wildflowers. It seemed at first to me to be a cash grab. But if its only $20 instead of the additional $100 the 5-CD version of All The Rest would have cost me, I figured, why argue with this? As part of this last bit of Wildflowers they’ve released a new song “You Saw Me Coming” and holy crap, after about 20 listens this afternoon, I felt compelled to write about this song immediately. It’s amazing.

I ran down and played this song for the Rock Chick and she looked over at me and said, “This song is amazing… how did they leave it off the original album?” I married well above my station folks, a truly brilliant woman. This song has an almost ethereal quality to it. The drums/bass drive the song forward. It’s not hard rocking, it’s not mellow… its just intense. There’s a guitar figure that Mike Campbell plays through out the song that bores into your ear and seemingly into your soul. “You saw me coming… then you watched me go…” Ben Tench’s piano insistently plays throughout the track. It’s a classic “good riddance” track. If you like Petty or you dug Wildflowers but did’t jump in on the box set, I urge you to check this track out. It comes with a beautiful video of landscapes – desert scenes, ocean scenes etc – but no images of Petty or the band. I’ll leave it here so you can take it in and hear the track:

It’s unclear to me why the label “alternative version” is slapped on each of the tracks on Finding Wildflowers as there are a handful of tracks that have never been released, but hey, who am I to quibble. The album comes out in early April but I hope you spend your beautiful early spring day with this tune cranked up.

Cheers!

Review: Neil Young, ‘Archives Vol. 2 (1972 – 1976)’ – An Epic Deep Dive Into The Ditch Trilogy And Beyond

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“Heart of Gold – This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.” – Neil Young, from the liner notes of his superb greatest hits LP, Decade.

I have been extremely impressed with some of the archival releases we’ve seen over the last few years doing B&V. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful sets we’ve seen from Tom Petty and Prince who both released some great stuff from “the vaults” last year – Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited and Review: Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times – Deluxe Edition’ – An Embarrassment of Riches respectively. However, with Petty and Prince there’s the sad undercurrent that both artists passed recently in an untimely, surprise fashion which has allowed the guardians of their estates to cull through the archives for those releases. With all due respect to those artists, nobody has an “Archive game” like Neil Young. I love what Springsteen has released over the years, in particular Tracks and all the live vintage concerts he’s released (especially from 1978). Similarly, Dylan’s Bootleg Series has been full of spectacular finds (Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide). All of that has been great, but Neil Young’s archive stuff truly ranks right up there with them, if not above them. The thing that is astounding to me is that all three of those artists – Bruce, Bob and Neil – are still alive to curate the archives which makes it more fascinating. We get their perception and take on their history.

Springsteen has, of late anyway, been focused on releasing vintage concerts in their entirety from 1974 to the 2010s. There are rumors that Tracks 2 is in the works for 2021 in lieu of a tour. Dylan has done that as well, releasing singular concert documents but he’s also released batches of unreleased material usually covering a certain time period in his career. I actually think Neil started all of this with his superb “greatest hits” package Decade from 1977. Neil eschewed any formulaic “greatest hits” record and turned it into a 3-LP vinyl set that was more career retrospective than greatest hits. It culled tunes from almost every LP he’d done up to that point, over the previous decade (hence the name) with the Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, with Crazy Horse and solo. He included deeper albums cuts but more importantly he included a handful of unreleased tracks. I have Decade on vinyl… I bought in college as it seemed like the right place to start my Neil Young collection and I cherish it. I think the make-up of Decade is what inspired Dylan to put out his first box set, the brilliant Biograph, which was made up of hits, deep cuts, unreleased stuff and live tracks… hmmm, sound familiar? And, as I’ve said before, Biograph launched the “box set” industry. It begat Crossroads (Clapton) which begat Storyteller (Rod Stewart)…but perhaps I’m getting off track here. Suffice it to say you wouldn’t have Clapton combining his work with the Yardbirds, John Mayall, Cream and Blind Faith on one big box if Young hadn’t given him the idea on Decade. 

There were rumors dating back to the early 80s that Young was going to do Decade II. For years I’d heard he was “working on it.” I think at some point the technology changed and the ability to pack a box set with 10 or 12 CDs appealed to Neil. It allowed him to really dig into telling the retrospective story of his career. Eventually he shelved the whole Decade II project in favor of his Archives series. Eventually he even launched an archive website, https://neilyoungarchives.com, that is simply astounding in the depth and breadth of material. There’s a subscription fee, but if you’re into Neil, it’s worth it. Finally in 2009 Neil released The Archives Vol 1 1963 – 1972. It not only contained discs dedicated to one concert but it also, like Decade, had previously released cuts – “hits” and deep cuts – alongside previously unreleased material. It’s kind of a blended approach of Springsteen (concerts) and Dylan (previously unreleased/released from a specific period) mentioned above. The sound quality is so good it may induce weeping… Vol 1 had stuff from his first band, the Squires…but I was disappointed it didn’t have any material from the Minah Birds, his Motown cover band that featured Rick James. It covered much of the same time period of Decade. I was excited about Vol 1, but in the lead up, he kept releasing live albums and I kept snapping them up (Live At the Fillmore East (with Crazy Horse), Live At Massey Hall and Live At Canterbury House) and when it came out I was surprised and disappointed to see they were all included in the box set. I didn’t want to double buy all of this… (The same thing happened with Vol 2 and I failed to warn people about this to my shame, but I’d forgotten). I was also slightly turned off by all the previously released stuff. I owned all of that already. Vol 1 covered some of Neil’s most popular work including stuff with CSNY and his biggest selling LPs, After the Gold Rush and Harvest. In the end, I chose not to buy Vol 1. The hefty price tag was also an inhibitor at the time.

While it could be argued that Vol 1 covered the period that was really Neil’s commercial zenith, I was always more attracted to his work in the 70s that came after that. I was eagerly awaiting a follow up that covered the mid 70sNeil is not a man who worries about deadlines so it took 11 years for him to release the next major set, Vol 2. Some of you may be wondering why I’m only writing about this now as the release date was Nov 20th, 2020. Yes he put out Vol 2 last year but it was a limited “collector’s” release of 3000 copies for $250. I love Neil Young, but hey man, even I have a limit. On March 5th he’s actually releasing a more reasonably priced (but still expensive) “retail” version. Only then will everybody have a chance to buy the physical copy or download music from the box set. Seeing the track list, I bit the bullet and purchased the physical copy, which I’m still waiting for but it came with a download. I’ve spent the last two weeks in a Neil Young 1972 to 1976 haze. Vol 2 didn’t cover the 10 year time frame of Vol 1, such was Neil’s huge output in the 70s, it only goes from 72 to 76, but what years those were.

Vol 2 picks up right where Vol 1 left off, the latter half of 1972 right after Harvest. Neil did not react well to the enormous, breakout success of Harvest (Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame), it freaked him out. He formed a band of session musicians in New York to tour behind Harvest. Drummer Kenny Buttrey demanded $100k in payment, to make up for missed sessions and the rest of the band followed suit. Neil said, in the original, deleted liner notes of Decade, “Money hassles among everyone concerned ruined this tour and record for me but I released it anyway so you folks could see what could happen if you lose it for a while.” He’d hired Crazy Horse’s guitarist Danny Whitten to join the band – he probably needed a friend in the band – but Whitten was lost to drug addiction and couldn’t pull it together, he couldn’t remember the songs. Neil fired him and a day later Whitten died from mixing booze and valium (not quaaludes as Rolling Stone reported at the time). Neil, freaked out about being a superstar, feeling intense guilt about Whitten and at odds with his backing band made for an… explosive tour. Young had discovered tequila, which even I refuse to drink. Add to that the angst of the death of the ideals of the hippy dream and Nixon’s reelection and it made for a heavy time for Neil. On the tour, instead of an evening of laid back country rock like “Heart of Gold,” Young was rocking out to tracks like “Time Fades Away” with it’s famous opening line, “Fourteen junkies too weak to work…” Naturally Neil brought along a tape recorder and that’s how he recorded the follow up to Harvest, a unique approach.

That’s exactly where Vol 2 starts, with the material from Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP). It was recorded in 72, released in 73 and it is the first in what is now called “The Ditch Trilogy” based on Neil’s quote (above) from Decade. Neil has never really liked Time Fades Away, and I think it’s telling there’s only really one song from that album on disc 1 of Vol 2. There are a number of unreleased songs on the first disc, subtitled ‘Everybody’s Alone.’ “Letter From Nam” opens the set (a track he redid and released as “Long Walk Home” on Life). He does a great acoustic version of “L.A.,” that perhaps he should have subbed in for the version on the album. “Come Along And Say You Will,” and “Goodbye Christians On The Shore” are two great unreleased tracks. The disc ends with a version of “Human Highway” with Crosby, Stills & Nash singing backup from their aborted studio followup to Deja Vu. Supposedly, in 1976 when they made another attempted stab at a new studio album,  Neil became frustrated and was said to have erased Crosby & Nash’s backing vocals on this track and the others they recorded… it’s the thing of legend but apparently that’s not true. I have to wonder if there’s been any interest from that camp to try and reassemble that album, which was tentatively titled Human Highway… I can dream. Disc 2 is the previously released concert album from the Time Fades Away tour, Tuscaloosa, reviewed here, LP Review: Neil Young & The Stray Gators’ Live ‘Tuscaloosa’ From the Archives. Including the live album with the unreleased material really gives us a feel for where Neil was as 1972 waned.

Disc 3, subtitled ‘Tonight’s The Night’ is just that – tracks from the album Tonight’s The Night. The angst and despair Neil expressed on this album is irresistible to me. While Time Fades Away and Tonight’s The Night were sort of designed to destroy his commercial standing and the expectations that went with it, they’re still stunning records, favorites amongst his fans. Although they sold abysmally. I’ll willingly admit here that “Albuquerque” and “Roll Another Number” rank among my favorite Young tunes. There is a tasty unreleased track where Joni Mitchell shows up and Neil and the boys play her “Raised On Robbery.” Why it’s here is anybody’s guess. I’m the rare fan whose not crazy about Joni, but I dig the track. Disc 4 keeps the focus on the Tonight’s The Night period with another live concert, Tonight’s The Night Live At The Roxy, Review: Neil Young’s ‘Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live’. While Neil recorded the album in 1973, his record company refused to release it until 1975 but the fans react enthusiastically to all the tunes and Neil almost sounds… happy?

Disc 5, subtitled ‘Walk On’ takes us to 1973-74 and the sessions for the third installment of the Ditch Trilogy, and another of my favorites, On The Beach. He throws in the Decade track “Winterlong” which was recorded at the time but not included on the album. There’s also a great version of the unreleased track “Traces.” Like Tonight’s The Night, this album didn’t sell very well so it makes sense that he’d include most the tracks from the album with this box. There’s always been this feeling that all truly brilliant art comes from pain. I would suggest that this album is proof of that. I like that this disc is entirely dedicated to the sessions for On The Beach. While it’s received a positive critical reevaluation, it’s time it gets a commercial one as well. Again, there isn’t a Neil Young fan worth his salt who doesn’t revere this album.

Disc 6, subtitled ‘The Old Homestead’ focuses on 1974. Neil reunited with Crosby, Stills and Nash for what was at the time the biggest stadium concert tour ever. They spent most of the money they made on coke, but it was a great tour. There are a couple of tracks from the tour here that didn’t make the great live album they put out a few years ago, 1974. For the most part though, this disc is all stuff that Neil recorded by himself with an acoustic guitar or piano. Towards the end we find a reconstituted Crazy Horse with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro on second guitar. I love the way Sampedro and Young’s guitars intertwine. This disc may be my favorite, there’s so much unreleased here. Or versions that were unreleased like “Homefires” and “Love/Art Blues.” “L.A. Girls and Ocean Boys,” one of his more famous unreleased songs, about his break up with actress Carrie Snodgress is here as well. Neil goes through all of the emotional hell of the Ditch Trilogy only to find his girlfriend/baby mama has cheated on him and they break up. The guy couldn’t get a break in the 70s but man did it fuel some of his greatest music. None of the solo, acoustic stuff here sounds like a demo, these are fully realized songs.

Disc 7 is the recently released vault album that Neil pulled in favor of releasing Tonight’s The Night entitled Homegrown (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years. Again, I don’t know how I didn’t include a warning that this album was going to end up in the next box set when I reviewed it so if I enticed someone to buy an extra copy of the album, I’m sorry. I do love this album and wish it had been released a long time ago… we might be saying Ditch Quartet. Undecided whether to release this album or Tonight’s The Night, Neil played both for a group of friends and on the advice of the Band’s Rick Danko he chose Tonight’s…

Disc 8, subtitled ‘Dume’ focuses on 1975 and the great Zuma album. This was another great record that was a commercial disappointment but it showed signs that Neil was moving on from grief. He’s got Crazy Horse along for the ride on most the tracks. There’s an early version of “Ride My Llama” which eventually appeared on Rust Never Sleeps in a completely different version. Its interesting to hear tracks that were released later in different forms. Every session for each album has a distinct sound and the songs that are recorded and rerecorded tend to take on the sound of the sessions for which the versions are recorded which is an interesting glimpse into Neil’s creative process. Another “famous” unreleased track, “Born To Run” is here… no, it’s not Springsteen’s track. An early version of “Powderfinger” is here. I like the Rust version better, it’s truly definitive. There’s a full band version of “Pocahontas” here and again I think the acoustic version is definitive. I think Neil generally makes the right decision as to when a song is finally right. Zuma is at heart a break up album with tracks like “Drive Back,” “Pardon My Heart” and “Stupid Girl.” Neil was moving on from grief but it appears he chose anger as his next predominant emotion.

Disc 9, subtitled ‘Look Out For My Love’ is another great collection of songs. Many stem from the Stills-Young album. There are versions of the tracks I mentioned above, that have Crosby and Nash singing harmonies that Neil legendarily purportedly erased, notably “Ocean Girl,” “Human Highway” (again) and “Midnight On the Bay.” I have to admit, I like these versions even more than the ones that Neil released with Stills. “Like A Hurricane” one of Neil’s most epic guitar jams is here…recorded but unreleased until 1977. There are a number of tracks who wouldn’t see the light of day until Comes A Time. It’s another favorite disc in this collection of 10 CDs of music.

Disc 10, the final disc, subtitled ‘Odeon Budokan’ is a live album of sorts. The first half, all acoustic Neil, recorded at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. The second half, with Crazy Horse and full on rocking, was recorded in Budokan, Japan. I love all live Neil and I think this music has been widely bootlegged. I was glad it was included but couldn’t help but wish that maybe Neil would have included an additional disc of studio stuff… 1977, anyone?

I’ll admit you have to be a bit of a Neil Young fanatic to dive into this 10 disc boxset, but man is it rewarding. It’s an immersive way to get into and understand Neil as an artist from 1972 to 1976. I highly recommend this set to any Neil fan but to those who are more novice Neil fans, this is a way to learn about him. To me it’s his most tumultuous, rawly emotional period but also one of his most rewarding. While I love his Gold Rush/Harvest stuff, I guess I’m just more fascinated being in the ditch… you really do meet more interesting people there. I can’t wait until Vol 3 where we’ll ride out the 70s and the dawn of the 80s…

Stay safe and more importantly stay warm. If you’re in Texas, my thoughts are with you.

Sequel: Pleased To Meet You 2 – Our Epic List of Debut Solo Albums, “Let Me Re-introduce Myself”

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As long time readers know, a few weeks ago I posted about our B&V favorite debut albums, Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums. As I was compiling the list of all the great debut albums out there, well, the list began to get a little unwieldy. I was somewhere around 80 albums when I realized I needed to put some rules around the thing to thin it down to something manageable. How I settled on 40 albums and not 50, I’m unclear about. One of the first rules I laid out for myself was to exclude any solo debuts. If a singer or guitar player had been in a band, and was thus an established artist, it seemed like cheating to include them on the debut list. When Ozzy went solo and recorded Blizzard of Ozz he had already established himself as the Prince of “fucking Darkness” (his words, not mine) through his work with Black Sabbath. It seemed unfair to compare that album with say, R.E.M.’s Murmur. When Michael Stipe and company were recording that album they were a bunch of pimply faced kids and certainly no competition for the Dark Lord. 

The Rock Chick was the first person – since she’s always the first person to see what I write, despite her life long ban from reading B&V due to her unfair grammatical criticism, to cry foul on the rule barring solo debuts from the list. In her view a debut is a debut. As I sat staring out at the frozen tundra that is Kansas City in February watching dry, powdery snow flutter through the sky like some giant human had shaken my city like a snow globe, my thoughts as always turned to rock n roll. I had to admit the Rock Chick’s argument was persistently tugging at the edge of my mind. I had excluded a lot of really great solo debut albums from the list. Since the high temperatures this last week were in the single digits with -15 degree wind chills, I had a lot of time on my hands. I was already hiding in my attic from Covid… now bitter cold has me pinned in my attic as well. 

Going solo can be a dicey proposition. In the late 60s and early 70s audiences often struggled with the whole concept of doing a solo record. You were either in a band or you were on your own and apparently never the twain shall meet. If you did your own album it meant you were leaving the band. When Paul McCartney put out McCartney, his homespun, lo-fi debut it was considered the announcement that the Beatles were over… which perhaps contributed to the critical backlash at the time. It was Rod Stewart who was the first artist to juggle the whole solo vs band career when he was a member of the Faces. He’d do a Faces album and then six months later he’d do a solo record. I think his solo stuff ended up overshadowing one of the world’s greatest bands, the Faces, and that’s a shame. People thought the Faces were just his back up band, which utterly rankled the other guys, especially Ronnie Lane. Rod was the first to try the split career but based on the fact his solo albums sold so much better I can’t say it was a screaming success. There’s always the constant allegations that you’re saving your best stuff for the solo albums. 

Rod’s career does underscore the fact that chemistry matters. When an artist is in a band its a collective. There’s a give and take. The guys in the band interpret what you’ve written. When you go solo you’re captain of the ship. Where as in a band some of your worst instincts as an artist may be curbed by the members of the band when you go solo there’s no one to say, maybe you shouldn’t have a spoken-word interlude in the middle of a rock song, Mick. I think Lennon always made McCartney tougher and McCartney always made Lennon not softer but perhaps more melodic, less caustic. When you go solo you’re putting your reputation on the line. You’ve established a brand and going solo can really tarnish your reputation. I think about Sting in this realm. We all loved Sting until Dream of the Blue Turtles came out. Looking back it wasn’t that awful of an album but that jazz-lite stuff induced a lot “what the hell is this shit?” moments. His solo career has been largely a disappointment for a lot of people. If I never hear “Love Is The Seventh Wave,” it’ll be too soon. 

Sometimes though, the risk of going solo is worth it. In many cases the artists on this list were kicked out of their bands or the bands broke up. A solo project was thus inevitable. I remember Mick Jagger, when asked in the 80s whether he’d ever do a solo record, saying something about doing a solo album when he had enough material that the band thought was “too stupid” to record. Who knew he was actually telling the truth there. Some of the artists on my list below had great solo careers, some only had this one great debut album. This is in no means a commentary about the solo careers of these artists it’s merely about their debut album as a solo artist. For example, the aforementioned Mick Jagger’s solo debut was, by any stretch of the imagination bad, he has put out a few great records. 

For the purposes of this list, which is randomly laid out, I’ll list it like this: Solo Artist Name (Former Band Name), Debut Album Title. If there’s a great debut solo LP you’re into, let me know what that is and I’ll check it out. I hope there are a few gems on this list of 25 that if you haven’t come across them, you’ll discover something you like. 

  1. Gregg Allman (The Allman Brothers Band), Laid Back – I just repurchased this one on vinyl! Frustrated with inter-band conflict, especially with Dickey Betts, Allman recorded this solo gem while also recording Brothers And Sisters with the band. More soulful and less guitar-centric, Allman even redid “Midnight Rider” and turned it on its head and into a classic on its own right. 
  2. Jeff Beck (The Jeff Beck Group), Blow By Blow – Tired of squabbling with lead singers, Beck pulled in George Martin of Beatles fame to produce and put out one of the only instrumental albums outside of jazz that I can listen to. There is such a rich and beautiful tone Jeff pulls out of his instrument. This is a fascinating listen. 
  3. Robbie Robertson (The Band), Robbie Robertson – It had been almost a decade since the Band had broken up and Richard Manuel had recently committed suicide when Robbie finally put out his solo debut. He had a lot of help from producer Daniel Lanois, U2, Peter Gabriel, and members of the Bodeans but the songwriting on this record is all Robertson. “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” is my favorite song here. “Testimony” is an epic statement of purpose. 
  4. Jack White (The White Stripes), Blunderbuss – Listening to the White Stripes’ greatest hits LP makes me miss that band and Meg White even more (Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career) but Jack White really comes through on his solo debut. He’s one of rock’s most important artists. 
  5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles), McCartney – Depressed as the Beatles imploded McCartney retreated to his home and invented DIY, indie rock. I love this little lo-fi gem. It’s heavy on instrumental jams but as usual with McCartney the melodies bore into my brain. He just released his second sequel to this one, Review: ‘McCartney III,’ A Homespun Gem, the perfect lockdown project. 
  6. Joe Walsh (The James Gang), Barnstorm – I know that Barnstorm was considered an actual band but I think of this as Joe’s solo debut anyway. I left Dio’s Holy Diver off the list because I actually did consider them a band not a solo artist so perhaps I’m bending the rules a bit. I had to include this album as the song “Turn To Stone” which is the greatest riff in the history of guitar makes it debut. It’s a surprisingly laid back affair which makes his joining the Eagles makes sense.
  7. Rod Stewart (The Jeff Beck Group), The Rod Stewart Album – With that title it’s pretty easy to see this as Rod introducing himself to the world post-Jeff Beck Group, pre-Faces. With his sidekick Ronnie Wood on guitar this album has always seemed like an interview for the job as Faces lead singer. He does some great interpretations on covers (“Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Street Fighting Man”) but the originals are just fantastic. The passionate “Blind Prayer” has always been a personal favorite. I think he should have stuck to the original title, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down.
  8. George Harrison (The Beatles), All Things Must Pass – The single greatest Beatles’ solo album. Harrison had been largely stifled as a songwriter in the Beatles – they typically gave him only 2 songs per album (if that) and he had a huge backlog of great material as evidenced by the original 3-vinyl LP package. (Yes, I’m ignoring his Wonderwall project). 
  9. Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath), Blizzard of Ozz – Everybody thought Ozzy was finished after Sabbath fired him for being out of control on booze and drugs. Along came Randy Rhoads and the rest was history (Review: Ozzy’s ‘Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary Expanded’ – Is It Worth It?). 
  10. John Lennon (The Beatles), Plastic Ono Band – I tend to ignore those 2 awful records he did prior to this with Yoko. For me this is his first solo album. Fresh from primal scream therapy Lennon delivered this, his most raw, brutally honest album. “Mother” sears itself into your memory. He’s exercising every demon in his soul here. Riveting listen. 
  11. Eric Clapton (Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith), Eric Clapton – After playing in virtually every British blues-rock band ever, Clapton finally put his solo debut LP out. He recorded this with members of Delaney and Bonnie who he’d met when they opened for Blind Faith on their tour. “Bottle of Red Wine” is a personal fav. 
  12. Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Stephen Stills – Stills, alongside Neil Young, had established himself as a guitar hero but surprisingly he leaves the solo’ing to his guest stars – Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix on his last studio recording. This is just a great, great eclectic record. The rest of his solo career was up and down but he was on the money here. 
  13. Paul Simon (Simon & Garfunkel), Paul Simon – Surprisingly, I don’t think this little gem of an album sold that well. “Mother And Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” hint at his world music influences that we’d eventually see blossom on Graceland. 
  14. Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Songs For Beginners – I considered David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name but left it out as I feared it sounded like too much of a hippy clambake for most people. Nash is probably my least favorite songwriter of the CSNY family (Artist Lookback: Crosby, Stills, Or Nash – The Essential Solo and Duo Albums), but I love this album. Its informed largely by his recent searing heartbreak from his split with girlfriend Joni Mitchell which is what makes this one so poignant to me. As I’ve often admitted, I’m a sucker for recent searing heartbreak. Well, I was until I met the Rock Chick… but those records are sealed. 
  15. David Lee Roth (Van Halen), Eat ‘Em And Smile – Kicked out of Van Halen for making a solo EP and wanting to make a movie, Roth’s split with Eddie is probably one of rock’s ugliest divorces. He recruited some top notch musicians – Billy Sheehan on bass and most notably Steve Vai on guitar wizardry – and actually treated this like a band project. After this it looked like Roth would be the one with the long, more successful career, not his former band. Alas, on his next record his megalomania took over and he started indulging his worst instincts. 
  16. Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac), Bella Donna – I love this album. Every man of a certain age has/had a crush on Stevie. Sure she had help from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Don Henley but this is a uniquely Stevie album. This thing was so big I’m still surprised she returned to Fleetwood Mac. The disappointing sales figures for Tusk is what drove her to record solo, not the break up with Buckingham which I always found fascinating. 
  17. Gram Parsons, (The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers), G.P. – Gram never met a band he couldn’t quit. He bounced from band to band in an almost Clapton-esque fashion. This, his final LP before his death is a country-rock masterpiece. The Eagles were clearly listening…
  18. Peter Frampton (Humble Pie), Winds of Change – When compared to Humble Pie’s boogie rock classic Smokin’, which was their first album without Frampton and this largely acoustic album it’s easy to see that Peter was moving in a different direction than the band. I don’t know why his pre-Frampton Comes Alive studio albums aren’t more popular. This is a really engrossing listen. 
  19. Liam Gallagher (Oasis, Beady Eye), As You Were – When Liam’s band Beady Eye, which was basically a Noel-less Oasis, imploded I remember reading Noel saying, “Liam needs to put out a solo album, put his own name on something, put it all out there.” I guess Liam was listening. I described this album as a pleasant surprise from an unpleasant man. As much as I dislike Liam, I love his solo stuff, LP Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘As You Were’ A Pleasant Surprise From an Unpleasant Man
  20. Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), Pictures At 11 – We were all still pretty raw that John Bonham had passed and Led Zeppelin had broken up. I remember guys in my high school were renting a bus to see them in Chicago when the news of Bonham’s death broke. This was such a great album and it helped us all move on. Phil Collins showed up to play drums and help Plant figure out how to produce an album. Plant seems embarrassed by his early albums but this is a classic. “Burning Down One Side” is an absolutely fantastic track. 
  21. Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs), Tigerlilly – I hated the 10,000 Maniacs, they never made any sense to me. But this solo debut from Natalie Merchant was a stunner. A friend of mine described the guitar work on this record as “smokey.” I even saw her on the ensuing tour for this record. This, for me, is the lone gem in her solo catalog. 
  22. Van Morrison (Them), Astral Weeks – Brilliant, poetic, transcendent, Celtic mysticism. One of the greatest albums of all time. 
  23. Mike Ness (Social Distortion), Cheating At Solitaire – If you dig the “cow punk” of Social Distortion, you’ll love this record. The duet with Bruce Springsteen, “Misery Loves Company” is a classic. I remember texting the Rock Chick, who turned me onto Social D, “worlds collide, Springsteen/Ness together!” The whole record blows me away. 
  24. Iggy Pop (The Stooges), The Idiot – Iggy and Bowie on the loose in Europe recording Iggy’s classic first solo album. Some say Bowie’s influence is too pronounced here but that’s just crazy talk. Iggy comes through on classics like “China Girl” and “The Dum Dum Boys.” 
  25. Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones), Talk Is Cheap – The solo record Keith never wanted to make. Tired of trying to get Mick interested in the Stones again, Keith put together a great band with Steve Jordan (drums) and Waddy Watchel (guitar) and put out a classic (Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks). 

Stay safe but more importantly stay warm if its cold where you are. I don’t think the son is going to shine again here until late next week. I’ll be gritting my teeth to get through it… Hopefully some of this classic rock and roll will help keep you warm! 

Cheers! 

Cheap Trick: Incendiary New Single, “Light Up The Fire” From the Upcoming LP ‘In Another World’

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In the late 70s when Cheap Trick was at their true zenith, I was in junior high school. As the 80s dawned, I began my mostly mediocre high school years. When I was in junior high school everybody rode the bus to school. I suppose there were some kids who were close enough to walk, but my junior high was way over by the Kansas-Missouri border and so every day I begrudgingly boarded the bus. Finally as summer of 1979 waned, I became a high schooler. The main difference between junior high and high school, other than the sheer size of the place, at least for me at the time was that you didn’t have to ride the bus. You could drive a car, catch a ride with someone else in their car, or I suppose you could ride a bike if you were that sort of person…and I didn’t know that sort of person when I was in high school. 

I desperately wanted to drive to school. There was only one small problem. My parents wouldn’t let me get near a car. I knew how to drive, I’d been driving their car for years. It wasn’t like they’d have me drive up to the convenience store for beer and cigarettes or anything weird like that but we’d go out to the country when visiting relatives and they’d let me drive. In those years, especially oddly in junior high I was a bit of a…well… hellion. I’d actually mellowed out a little bit by high school, but I’d never get any credit for that from my parents… not now and especially not then. Since my misadventures typically involved beer drinking of some sort my parents were extremely apprehensive about allowing me to drive a car, any car. Looking back I secretly suspect my father just didn’t want to help me buy a car. I still wonder if they thought I was going to down a six-pack on the way to school… I mean, who drinks beer in the morning in high school? That’s clearly a college level gig. 

This situation left me sadly standing at the bus stop when high school rolled around. I’m not ever going to say only “losers” rode the bus because well, I was riding the bus, but it was a tough crowd. I watched two guys get into a fist fight on the bus one day… they were arguing about whether or not Hendrix, were he still alive, would have gone “jazz” and abandoned rock n roll. While the fight was crazy, I have to admit it was a subject worth fighting for. There was a guy at my bus stop who later went down for murder. Seriously, he killed a guy. That was the bus stop. I’m a lover not a fighter, I was lost in that crowd. A few weeks into high school this guy I knew, who I’ll call “Jimbo” stopped in his green VW bug and said, “What are you doing, get in.” And like that, I was rescued from the yellow hell. He came by my house every day and drove me to school. Alas, Jimbo moved to Oklahoma early in that sophomore year. That wasn’t before we’d wrecked the green VW bug… because of well, beer.  Don’t drink and drive folks. Learn from Springsteen’s mistake. 

Luckily, I had another friend, an industrious guy who always had a job, who I’ll call Brewster. Brewster owned a Monza. I think he bought it with his own cash. Shortly after Jimbo moved I was leaving my house one morning, bummed out, headed back to the bus stop and back to the yellow exile. I was quietly  hoping that there’d be no Hendrix “discussions” that morning as I was tired. When to my surprise, up pulls Brewster in his Monza. He’s got a couple other dudes in the car. Our friend RW was there and I think there were like seven guys named Steve who road along too. That’s how I remember it but that would have had to have been a huge Monza. In my defense, 90% of the people I knew in high school were named Steve so I get confused. After that, Brewster picked me up every school day morning. Oddly there was never a discussion about it. There was never a, “Hey, you can ride with me,” or “Get in” moment like with Jimbo. Every now and again my mom would slip me cash and I’d give it to Brewster for gas money. These were the “Cash, grass or ass” days so I wanted to get that money on the table early. Since there was never a discussion, occasionally if Brewster was sick, I’d be left standing at my front door. My mom was always super pissed, “Can you guys not communicate this stuff?” Alas, Brewster was never a wordy type of guy back then. 

Most days found me riding along happily in the Monza. I was tall so they’d let me ride up front most days. RW and the Steves would all ride in back. The best part of riding to school in the Monza was Brewster had sprung for a good stereo that played 8-track tapes. For those you unfamiliar with 8-tracks, Google them. They were the most confounding musical delivery system ever. Brewster had a recently new live album that we’d listen to almost every day on our way to school by a band called Cheap Trick. The album was called Cheap Trick at Budokan. We all knew it simply by the title “Live At Budokan.” I had only been vaguely familiar with Cheap Trick up to that point but man did we love that live LP. Although since we were listening on 8-track tape, it was years before I actually knew the running order of the songs on the record. It was like it was on random. I never figured that thing out. “I Want You To Want Me,” and “Surrender” were the big tracks but there wasn’t a bad moment on that LP… it easily made my list of “Essential Live Albums,” BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums

Needless to say I was a big Cheap Trick fan early on and remained so even after that late 70s – early 80s heyday. By the early 90s their albums had become a tad inconsistent. They always seemed to have a stray hit or two, even in the low points. Since then there have been a number of albums that were hailed as their “comeback album.” Starting with 2006’s Rockford, which was superb, I found myself interested again. After all these years Cheap Trick still has almost all of their original members: Robin Zander on lead vocals, Rick Nielsen on guitars and Tom Petersson on bass. Original drummer Bun E. Carlos has left the band rather acrimoniously and was replaced with Nielsen’s son Daxx. At least they kept it in the family. Their last album (not including a xmas album) We’re All Alright! was another triumph (LP Review: Cheap Trick’s ‘We’re All Alright!’ – Pure, Rock Delight

Cheap Trick have returned in 2021 with a new single, “Light Up The Fire” from an upcoming album In Another World. I’ve gotta tell you, I love the new track. “Light Up The Fire” just simply rocks. I was playing it one day and the Rock Chick wandered into the B&V Lab and said, “Wow, these guys are rocking.” Cheap Trick do so many things well. There’s obviously a Beatles’ influence in a lot of their music. I would say, now that I’ve discovered Big Star, there is also a huge influence there as well. Call it power pop or rock that feels pop-y, call it whatever you want Cheap Trick can do it. But one thing I don’t think they get enough credit for is how much they just flat out rock. I hated to see Bun E. Carlos go, but ever since Daxx Nielsen has taken over the kit, these guys have leaned a little harder into the rocking stuff.

I would be remiss not to call out Zander’s almost unhinged lead vocal. That was what first caught the Rock Chick’s ear. The track starts off with a fuzzy bass and then the drums and guitar kick in. Its’ galloping along when Zander’s yelp comes in. “So light up the fire, but don’t burn my love to the ground.” Oh, hell yes. Nielsen does his usual manic guitar work here. The solo feels buttery slippery but powerful and its all anchored by such a solid rhythm section. Daxx and Tom aren’t flashy but they’re in the pocket. This is a full-out, fun, race me to the finish line rocker. If you like Cheap Trick’s harder rocking stuff, this will fill the bill. 

I am extremely  hopeful this is a great kick off to a great album and what could be a great 2021 musically. I’d heard rumors they had this album done a year ago but held off release because of Covid. If so, I’m glad its finally seeing the light of day. It’s great to hear the Rock Hall of Fame stalwarts come out guns blazing to start off our year. It’s certainly a hopeful sign for the Rock New Year. I’ll be keeping my eye out for this album, for sure! 

Be safe out there! Cheers!