B&V Playlist: Songs For New York City

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*Photo taken from the internet, likely subject to copyright

Ah, New York…

I was on a plane the other day, gliding miles above the frozen, snow covered ground, headed for yet another far away city. (Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone). It’s been a grim and cold January. I had my Beats headphones on, as is my wont when on an airplane. I slap those on almost immediately upon fastening my seatbelt to avoid anybody trying to strike up a plane conversation with me… you can’t be too careful. I try to avoid those “Chatty Kathy’s” whenever possible. Plus the airlines typically seat me in the maternity section of the airplane so obviously blaring rock and roll music is preferable to the wailing and lamentations of the children. I remember when traveling was a tad more… elegant.

I wasn’t in the mood, musically speaking, for anything in particular so I just hit the “Shuffle” option. I figured, “why not,” I was probably just going to fall asleep anyway. I struggle with powerful insomnia and can barely get myself to sleep in a big, soft, restful bed in a dark, cool room. However, if you put me on a plane with a little music I’m asleep before the wheels are off the ground. Which, coincidentally also dissuades anybody from striking up a conversation with me, so there’s that bonus. As I sat there drifting off, I heard two songs, back to back, John Lennon’s “New York City” followed by AC/DC’s “Safe In New York City.” I often get my playlist ideas from random stuff that happens when I “shuffle” and I was quickly thinking about all the great songs written about New York. Perhaps I was on to something… and let’s face it, there’s no new music out right now, save for the Raconteurs, Review: The Raconteurs’ Great New Single, Jack White’s Original Side Project Delivers! so I figured I’d explore it.

When I was a kid growing up in the American Midwest, New York was like Oz, a fantasy city that only existed in movies or television. My all time favorite cop show was, of course, Kojak, and it was set in New York. Who wasn’t a fan of Kojak… “Who loves ya baby?” but I digress. The wide shots of the city always left me awe-struck. Of course, every third episode or so there was someone addicted to heroin. The frightful depictions of the addicts on that show probably kept me away from hard drugs, thankfully. The crime, the drugs, the gritty nature of the big city. I loved it all. Then there were movies like ‘The Warriors’ depicting young gangs running wild. New York was alluring and frightening all at the same time… kind of like pretty girls when you’re in junior high school. Mick Jagger and all the original cast of Saturday Night Live were all in New York hanging out at Studio 54, it seemed like the center of the “cool” universe. It was a beacon of hope to all of us misfits and people who didn’t quite fit in where we were…

As fate would have it, right after college I had the pleasure of living in Boston for a summer. I was working in a liquor store and didn’t have two nickels to rub together. One of the first weekends I was there, my roommate Matthew and I jumped in his Subaru, which always smelled like bong water, and drove into New York City. It was the first of many times I would ever visit. I still get goosebumps on my arms when I think of that first drive into NYC. We knew a woman from high school who worked for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and we crashed with her and her brother, an aspiring actor. We walked all over the city for two days. We couldn’t afford to do anything, we just walked. The highlight was riding the Staten Island Ferry, because it only cost a quarter. I spent the whole time staring up at the skyline… it’s a wonder we didn’t get rolled. We actually went to a party with the dancers from Alvin Ailey at someone’s apartment. If you don’t think two straight kids from the suburbs meeting a bunch of gay, black men who looked like they were chiseled out of marble wasn’t awkward at first… you’re wrong.

I’ve been back many times, for work and pleasure, but I’m still that wide-eyed twenty year old. Whether I’m drinking in McSorley’s with a work buddy or dining in some outrageously expensive restaurant with the Rock Chick, New York will always blow me away. I was lucky enough to see the Stones’ 50th anniversary show (in Newark, but I stayed in New York) where Springsteen, Lady Gaga, the Black Keys/Gary Clark, all jumped on stage and joined them. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over seeing Springsteen do “Tumblin’ Dice” with the Stones. Nothing like that ever happens where I live…

Because it’s so magical, I rooted through the B&V music inventory and came up with the following set of tracks celebrating the greatest city on the planet (with all due respect to Paris or London). When I first compiled this, I had over 50 songs and over 4 hours of music. I tried to trim it down to my usual 2 hour playlist. I mean, sure I love Dylan’s acoustic “Talkin’ New York” played after Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” but I didn’t want to get too sprawling. If you have suggestions or if there are any egregious omissions, please suggest the song in the “comments” section and we’ll get it added. As always the BourbonAndVinyl.net playlists can be found on Spotify. Just search on kcorsini64 if BourbonAndVinyl doesn’t work. As usual I’m all over the place stylistically, but that’s how we roll here at B&V. Enjoy!

  1. AC/DC, “Safe In New York City” – Does anyone feel safe anywhere any more?
  2. Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” – One of my all time favs by the Beasties!
  3. Ace Frehley, “New York Groove” – Laugh all you want at this selection, I certainly laugh every time I hear it, but there’s just something about it.
  4. Aerosmith, “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” – “Flatbush boy cruisin’ Sheephead’s Bay…” I don’t even know where those places are, but I love it, even though it’s a song about used condoms. With Aerosmith, the sleazier the better.
  5. Bruce Springsteen, “New York City Serenade” – Springsteen at his epic best. The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle will always be my favorite Springsteen album, and this is the best track there.
  6. The Cult, “New York City” – The Cult rockin’ out on Sonic Temple. For reasons unclear I like to quote the line “Hell’s Kitchen is a DMZ” to the Rock Chick at random, typically inappropriate moments.
  7. Ryan Adams, “New York, New York” – “I still love you New York…” Well said Ryan, well said.
  8. Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind” – We turn a little mellow here, but what a great, great song from Billy’s third album.
  9. Leonard Cohen, “First We Take Manhattan” – I typically like my Cohen with natural instruments and this ones a little electronic for me but I like the paranoid defiance.
  10. Bruce Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” – Sure, I know Bruce is from Jersey, and I’m not certain that he’s talking about Amsterdam Avenue here, but it sure feels like it.
  11. David Bowie, “New York’s In Love” – This track is from Bowie’s much maligned Never Let Me Down. I chose the newly imagined version from last year’s box set Loving the Alien (1983 – 1988). No one likes this album, but I like the guitar on this song.
  12. Black Keys, “Brooklyn Bound” – Dirty blues rock from the Keys’ debut album.
  13. Lou Reed, “Coney Island Baby” – I feel like Lou Reed is the living embodiment of New York. He’d have gotten my vote for mayor.
  14. Dion With Paul Simon, “New York Is My Home” – A couple hometown boys harmonizing about their city.
  15. Billy Idol, “Hot In the City” – Some may argue this isn’t about New York, but if you listen, toward the end he yells, “New York!” Yes, Billy, yes.
  16. Frank Sinatra, “Theme From New York, New York” – The Chairman of the Board singing the greatest song about New York ever written. It’s not rock and roll but it fits, baby.
  17. John Lennon, “New York City” – From the maligned album Somewhere in New York City this great track was a break from the political broadsides that made up the rest of the album. Sometimes you have to look a little deeper for the gems.
  18. Lou Reed, “Dirty Blvd.” – New York isn’t specifically named, but there is no doubt the Dirty Blvd is in NY.
  19. Lenny Kravitz, “New York City” – A great, soulful track with horns and guitar from Strut. 
  20. The Ramones, “53rd & 3rd” – You can’t have a playlist about New York without the Ramones and this infamous corner.
  21. Little Steven, “Down And Out In New York City” – Little Steven pulls out an epic track like his boss from his day job…
  22. Rolling Stones, “Shattered” – It could be argued the entire album Some Girls is about New York but this track especially… “Bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots.” God, I love the Stones. Very punky.
  23. Steely Dan, “Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More” – “Driving like a fool out to Hackensack…”
  24. Norah Jones, “Back To Manhattan” – Norah’s beautiful crooning belongs on every playlist.
  25. Sting, “Englishman In New York” – There isn’t a guy who has disappointed in his solo career to the degree Sting has but I always loved his second album, Nothing Like the Sun. 
  26. U2, “New York” – U2’s album All That You Can’t Leave Behind seemed to predict the 9/11 tragedy. This is one of the few upbeat moments on a somber album.
  27. Fleetwood Mac, “Empire State” – A great Lindsey Buckingham track that never got any attention.
  28. Steely Dan, “Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)” – An overlooked gem from Can’t Buy A Thrill with original lead vocalists David Palmer at the helm.

I pared it down to a mere 2 hours and I know there is much, much more that I could have added. But on a cold wintery day, listening to these tracks is a lot better than shoveling snow. Cheers and stay warm and dry out there.

 

 

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Review: The Raconteurs’ Great New Single, Jack White’s Original Side Project Delivers!

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Other than car trouble, I can’t imagine anything worse than moving. Physically packing up all of your shit and putting it in boxes, loading it in the car and then unloading it at a new location is just awful. When I was younger and single, I didn’t have any possessions. I never wanted to own anything I couldn’t carry to the car in the middle of the night if I had to avoid the law or some angry woman. I have spent almost every weekend since early December doing just that, carrying stuff to the car. It’s tough work to crate up all these albums and barrels of bourbon… Add to it the miserable, grey, snowy, cold weather and you’ve got a “seasonal affect” depression diagnosis that writes itself. Luckily, my local football team, the Kansas City Chiefs have been winning, so that kept me afloat. In the midst of all of this tedious moving, the Rock Chick burst in and said, “I have to play you something.” There’s only one or two things she could say to me that would fill me with more joy and anticipation… and I can’t really discuss those here, it’s a family blog. Who else will teach the children about rock and roll?

Much to my great surprise, when the Rock Chick hit “play” I heard a burst of pure, energetic rock and roll guitar. To my great pleasure, the Raconteurs have returned! And here I was wondering if there’d be any new rock and roll to write about before spring. I try to stay positive here on B&V, so I rarely write about music I don’t like. I try to use this blog as a place where I can shed a little light on music that may not make it to your local radio that I feel deserves more attention. If you can discover something you like here, then my job is more than done! However, it’s no secret that I didn’t like Jack White’s last solo album LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’. There’s a theory in history, known as the “great man theory,” that I actually think has some merit. It posits that history can be explained by the impact these so called “great men” had on the course of human events. I believe in this for rock and roll. And I think Jack White is certainly one of those great men. Unfortunately the experimentation and reaching for something completely different on Boarding House Reach left me cold. White had been on a hiatus prior to that release so that miss left quite a void.

I was frankly quite surprised to see that the Raconteurs had reunited. One has to look back over a decade to get to their founding. It was in 2006, in between the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump that Jack White, bursting with creativity, reached outside the power-duo outfit that made him famous for his first side project. White was on guitar and vocals and was joined by solo artist Brendan Benson (guitar, vocals) and former Greenhorns’ members Jack Lawrence (bass), and Patrick Keeler (drums). So full of music was Jack White he later formed a second side project, The Dead Weather, with Lawrence on bass and his main squeeze Alison Mosshart from the Kills on lead vocals. White actually played drums in that band, with a QOTSA veteran, Dean Fertita on guitar. White’s creativity truly seemed boundless.

But it’s been over a decade since the Raconteurs recorded anything. Back in the early part of this millennium, the Raconteurs released two albums. Broken Boy Soldiers, their 2006 debut was an interesting start. “Steady As She Goes” was a great lead single. “Blue Veins” was just a fabulous bluesy number. It was probably my favorite song on that album. But other than “Level,” there wasn’t much else on the record I could connect with. It sounded like old friends having a nice busmen’s holiday. By 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely, things had improved vastly. With Meg White becoming more reclusive, Jack turned a more serious eye toward his supergroup side project. That was a great record. I especially liked the “story song,” “Carolina Drama.” The mysterious ending…”go and ask the milkman” will always stick with me… There were so many great tunes on that record, “Salute Your Solution,” and “Top Yourself” spring to mind. Everyone should check out that second Raconteurs’ album.

So after a decade that found the members of the Raconteurs’ working on other things, they’ve reunited. Jack sounds enthused and re-energized on these tunes. The first new song is titled “Sunday Driver.” It’s a punchy, classic rocker. White’s solo’ing is off the charts. It has an almost Beatlesque, psychedelic bridge in the middle. The guitar riff is absolutely infectious. It’s muscular and frenetic rock and roll. To hear Jack rock out this freely is so refreshing. It’s nothing like the bizarre experiments of Boarding House Reach. 

The second track, “Now That You’re Gone,” is where things get really interesting. It’s a “my baby has left me, good riddance” tune. “What will I do, now that you’re gone…” It’s probably what my old neighbors are thinking about me now that I’ve moved… well, probably not. I tend to play loud music at odd hours… Anyway, “Now That You’re Gone” has got a wonderful burst of bluesy guitar that plays through out the song. This song sounds like a 60s girl group had a baby with an old bluesman. White is absolutely torturing his guitar through out this song, conjuring the pain and torment felt by a spurned lover. This is another home run of a track.

While the Raconteurs’ first record was a bit of a disappointment and the second one was strong, these two new tracks are just stellar. This could point to a very, very interesting album. Keep an eye and ear out for the Raconteurs. I highly recommend everyone purchase these songs immediately and play them as loud as your neighbors will allow.

Cheers!

Playlist: Memories of and A Requiem For Rock And Roll Radio

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“I like to listen to music, I like the way that it sounds on the radio…” – Joe Walsh, “The Radio Song”

When I was a young kid, before the hormonal-overdose party that is puberty began, I had a clock radio on my nightstand. I rarely, if ever, turned the “radio” part on. Well, that’s not really true. I was a huge KC Royals fan when I was a kid and in the summer I’d fall asleep listening to baseball games. I can remember using the Royals’ exploits as an excuse to get out of bed and walk to the landing on the stairs to tell my dad, “Amos Otis hit a home run!” “Shut up and go back to bed…” ah, dad. So my clock radio was merely the miserable howling siren that pulled me from sweet unconsciousness to a startled wakefulness that signaled, yes… it was time to load the “yellow death wagons” and head off to the dreaded “pit of misery”, er, I mean school. With that as a backdrop maybe it’s not so hard to understand why I never turned the radio on… classical conditioning, baby.

It wasn’t until a fateful day riding in my mother’s Oldsmobile when all that changed. Somehow, I ended up in the backseat and my brother was riding up front with mom. My brother had latched onto the Beatles (and later, tellingly about his personality, the quiet Beatle George Harrison), and was a huge rock and roll music fan. I was probably 13 around this time which means he was just ten. How the younger of us ended up in the front seat with me in the back is one of those unsolvable mysteries of my childhood. Anyway, my brother immediately commandeered control of the radio and was bouncing back and forth between the bubble gum pop of Q104 (with Johnny “Rockin'” Rollins, who is still around as a traffic-helicopter guy) which left me cold and the rock station, KY/102. I was only half paying attention when they played the Stones’ “Beast of Burden.” I remember lunging forward and saying, “Turn that up, man…” which surprised me almost as much as it did my brother. It’s kind of how I discovered sex, accidentally…it just sort of snuck up on me.

While my memories of radio are confined to where I grew up, I’m sure everybody had that favorite station in their hometown too… My clock radio, whose speaker beforehand had never been tested, was suddenly constantly tuned into KY/102 and cranked up loud. I realized I’d been missing out on a lot of really cool shit. Instead of a shrill alarm, my clock radio now awoke me to the sounds of rock and roll and morning DJs. That was one thing I really loved about radio, the DJs. KY had a great stable of talent who made me feel like I was part of a larger dysfunctional family. They had a comedy duo, Dick and Jay in the mornings. The afternoon guy was General Max Floyd of the Rock N Roll army. He’d use faux explosion noises while “blowing up” disco records. At night it was Katie McGuckin (sp?) who falsely announced that Rod Stewart had collapsed on stage and had to have his stomach pumped because… well, best leave that story aside, it was a slanderous lie. The overnight guy was named Vaughn Mack and he always sounded like the most stoned man on the planet. Vaughn was always famous for saying in his dull monotone, “Yeah man, uh, stay tuned, I’ve got some Boston, Van Halen and then some Stones coming right up…” and then he’d play everything but Boston, Van Halen and some Stones. Stay high Vaughn, stay high.

Suddenly instead of a shrill alarm, a portal to the world had opened up on my nightstand. Listening to the radio is where I got my PHD in classic rock. I learned about all the bands that had come before and all the bands that were current. I would leave the radio on even when I left my room and padded down the hall to shower and try to tame my crazy mane of feathered-hair… I didn’t want to miss a thing. Instead of dreading that morning wake up, at least now it had become a lot more tolerable. I can still hear a song today, all these years later, and close my eyes and see my old room from the vantage point of sitting on my bed, pulling my socks on. The wallpaper is more atrocious in my mind than it probably really was… It was from listening intently to the radio that I started to become interested in where this music came from… it inspired me to start buying vinyl and reading liner notes. It’s where I first heard there were these things called concerts, where the bands I was hearing on the radio actually performed, live in person. I could be in the same room as Mick Jagger for two hours (albeit very far away from him)? Fuck yes, sign me up.

Not only were my mornings transformed. The ride home from high school had completely changed. My buddy Brewster would generously drive me to/from school and the radio was always on. I can still remember hearing “Another Brick In The Wall” the day it came out, in the back back of Brewster’s car heading home from school. He was a hard working guy and always had a pocket full of coin and his car stereo was fucking amazing. If I’d ever had a heart attack you’d need only throw me on his speakers and crank the drum solo on “In The Air Tonight” and I’d recover. When I was looking for my first car, I went looking for wheels with my dad who would ask questions about mileage, price, condition of the car – all I wanted to know was if it had a stereo and could play cassette tapes. I also quietly wondered if two people could fit in the backseat, but I kept that to myself.

I listened to KY every night in my room while I did my homework. My dad yelled, “Turn that down” so often that I thought my parents had changed my name. When I went away to college, two hours down I-70 to Kansas State, my friends and I from KC were distraught we couldn’t get the KC rock radio stations. The radio in Manhattan, Kansas was all Top 40 – Madonna, Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul. God, how did we survive the 80s? When Rock Line with Bob Coburn came on, an interview show where rock bands would come on and talk about upcoming albums and tours, I can remember my roommate Matthew and I going up to a room on the top floor of our building where a guy we knew had strung a coat hanger as an antenna out onto the roof so we could get KY102 and hear Diamond David Lee Roth dispense his rare brand of wisdom… he lit a joint while the interview was going on and called it a “behavior modification device.” Huddled around the static-filled sound of our friend’s radio, we howled with laughter.

There was just so much joy we all associated with listening to the radio. Whether it was blasting tunes while driving down the highway or tuning in over lunch as the DJ put on the new album from Springsteen, there was so much we learned from radio. When I was driving back home, either from college or during my exile years in Arkansas, as soon as I heard KY, I knew I was home… But then, during the late 90s, early 00s, something happened. The FCC changed the rules and allowed big media companies to start consolidating radio station ownership. Everything went corporate. Budgets and playlists shrank. Radio stations had to adhere to strict formats. KY disappeared, they went off the air. The classic rock station in KC doesn’t even play new stuff by the older artists any more. You have to seek that out in other places. Any new rock in the 90s got classified as “alternative rock” for one station or “heavy metal/hard rock” for a different station. These days, if it weren’t for Satellite Radio, I wouldn’t even turn my car radio on. At the risk of sounding cranky like my grandfather near the end of his life, without the casual generational, casual racism, rock and roll radio just isn’t the same anymore. Radio isn’t the same anymore.

I heard a song the other day, that gave me one of those flashback moments. I was a high school kid and I was sitting on the edge of my bed. I could close my eyes and see my old bedroom…jeez, I forgot I had a bean bag chair… It made me miss those good ol’ days, listening to rock and roll. I’m like Joe Walsh, I like the way the music sounded on the radio. I put together the following playlist, as a way to honor those memories. My thoughts on the tracks below.

  1. 1. Autograph, “Turn Up The Radio” – A one-hit wonder that sums up that moment I discovered rock n roll radio.
  2. Rush, “The Spirit of Radio” – One of my all time favorite Rush tracks.
  3. The Clash, “Radio Clash” – A groovy missive from one of the greatest bands of all time.
  4. Ramones, “Do You Remember Rock And Roll Radio” – God, do I!
  5. Jet, “Rollover DJ” – I always wonder what happened to all those great disc jockeys.
  6. Cheap Trick, “Radio Lover” – A great tune from their last album. These guys are still putting out great music.
  7. Warren Zevon, “Mohammed’s Radio” – There’s also a great cover of this track by Linda Rondstadt.
  8. Smashing Pumpkins, “I Of The Mourning” – “Radio, radio, play my favorite song.”
  9. Green Day, “Kill the DJ” – A tad violent, but such a great tune.
  10. Talking Heads, “Radio Head” – The song Radiohead got their name from.
  11. The Firm, “Radioactive” – Paul Rodgers and Jimmy Page’s ill fated super group with their tongue firmly in their cheek.
  12. George Harrison, “Devil’s Radio” – George being preachy… still a great tune.
  13. Van Morrison, “Hey Mr. DJ” – Van grooving.
  14. ZZ Top, “Heard It On the X” – They pay homage to a great Houston radio station.
  15. Elvis Costello, “Radio, Radio” – It’s the point of the playlist.
  16. Hole, “Boys On the Radio” – Push through the crazy and Courtney Love put out some great stuff with Hole.
  17. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Last DJ” – From Tom’s “angry” album.
  18. Roger Waters, “Radio Waves” – No one likes this album but me…
  19. Journey, “Raised On Radio” – Who better to celebrate the anachronism of radio than this band.
  20. R.E.M., “Radio Free Europe” – The first track from their first album.
  21. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Supernatural Radio” – Petty on a slow jam from a soundtrack album.
  22. Cheap Trick, “On The Radio” – Another great, early track from Cheap Trick.
  23. Queen, “Radio Ga Ga” – Not my favorite Queen track, but I dug the performance at Live Aid in the movie…
  24. Jet, “Radio Song” – I loved that first album by Jet but then they disappeared… I probably shouldn’t have bought the t-shirt.
  25. R.E.M., “Radio Song” – “I can’t find nothing on the radio…” It’s how I feel these days.
  26. David Bowie, “D.J.” – “I’ve got believers, believe in me…”
  27. Green Day, “Revolution Radio” – The title track from their great, most recent record.
  28. Bruce Springsteen, “Radio Nowhere” – Great late period Springsteen where he laments the death of radio.
  29. Steely Dan, “FM” – “No static at all…” unless you’re on the top floor of a building in Manhattan, KS.
  30. R.E.M., “I’m Gonna DJ” – It seems R.E.M. are as obsessed with radio as I was.
  31. Joe Walsh, “The Radio Song” – Joe was kind of losing it by the time this track came out, but I was still drawn to it…

I probably forgot a few great radio-centric tracks so please feel free to add in the comments section. Cheers… signing off now…

 

Album Lookback: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’ June 4, 1984

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There aren’t many exact dates in my life where I can tell you where I was. Hell, I’m not sure where I was last Tuesday, let alone a random day in the 80s. When I was a kid I can remember my mom telling me she could remember where she was the day John Kennedy was shot… for the record, she was pregnant with me, ironing in her living room and watching ‘Days Of Our Lives’ when the network broke in to announce the sad news. I don’t have any of those momentous geopolitical days in my life where I remember where I was… I do vaguely remember I got up late and came downstairs to find that the Challenger had exploded…but I don’t remember much other than that. All that said, I know exactly where I was on June 4th, 1984.

It was summer time and I was home on break from college. In the summer, us folks who grew up in “olden times” had to find a summer job. I did a lot of different jobs, from temp work to bus boy to light construction. The summer of ’84 was a happier summer for me than the summer of ’83. In ’83 I’d gone through an embarrassing breakup and spent the summer as a man of leisure or more appropriately a man about town…the ladies of Kansas City were helping me grieve, with my eternal gratitude. By ’84 I was well past all that heartbreak and was desperately in need of money to fuel my beer and vinyl habits. My oldest and dearest friend Doug had a line on work… his father owned a small company that installed scoreboards and more importantly, built tennis courts. I was hired to help on the tennis court construction. Utterly difficult, filthy work in the hot sun, but it was an honest day’s work, unlike what I do now, and at the end of the day you didn’t really worry about the job, again unlike what I do now… Like the Cure, I submitted my unanswered prayers for rain every day… Every night after work I had to soak in hot tub to get all the grainy, hardened tennis court surface to slowly melt from the hair on my legs… it was that or pull out all of the hair on my leg with the tennis court goop. I’m a guy so I found that too painful… hats off to you ladies who pluck, shave and otherwise eradicate hair… but I digress. I was, in all senses of the word, a working stiff.

But on Monday, June 4th in 1984, and I don’t recall why, we weren’t out on a job. For some reason our foreman, I’ll call him Norman, had us working in the warehouse yard. We were moving large 55 gallon barrels of sludge around so they looked to be in some semblance of order. For some reason Norman put me in the giant one-ton truck and had me go pick up sand at a local quarry. I was instructed to hurry back and then he’d let me go to lunch. I can remember being in the cab of the one-ton, driving down Pflumm, headed back to the warehouse when the DJ on our local radio station, KY102 came on and said, “We just got the new Springsteen album and we’re going to put it on now…” This was huge to me… I’d been anticipating this record for weeks, since the single “Dancing In The Dark” had come out… I knew somewhere in Wichita, my college roomie Drew was equally anticipating this moment. When the first song “Born In The USA” came over the tinny speakers in that truck I got goose bumps and tears welled up in my eyes. The anguished cries of a Vietnam vet, who never turned his back on his country, although it seemed his country had turned its back on him, was one of those, music-hits-my-lower-brain-stem moments that bring me back to the turntable. After work, as filthy as I was, I drove straight to the nearest record store and bought the album. It was a big day.

The album by the same name, Born In The U.S.A was Springsteen’s biggest selling album. It’s the record where everything changed. The album spun off at least 7 singles, and sold a kajillion copies. This was where those of us who were in the relatively small (especially in Kansas) clique of people who liked Springsteen had to share him with the rest of the world. This album was Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau’s greatest dream. Making Springsteen a name that was uttered along with Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna. Me, I liked Springsteen already, this was just gravy. Springsteen managed to merge a modern sound, complete with synths, into his core sound seamlessly, a thing a lot of 70s acts had struggled with. Many believe that’s why the album was as popular as it was. Naturally I have a different theory. To understand why this album was so popular, you have to step back and look at Springsteen’s career up to that point.

When Springsteen released Born To Run he was christened the new Dylan, the savior or the “future of rock and roll.” He was on the cover of both ‘Time’ and ‘Newsweek’ the same week. The hype was almost too much. But then he ended up in a legal battle with his manager Mike Appel that drug on and on. He toured incessantly through 1976 and 1977 on tours dubbed “The Chicken Scratch Tour” and “The Paying the Rent Tour.” One has to wonder why there wasn’t a “Paying the Legal Fees” tour but I wasn’t there to consult with. Finally Springsteen made what was considered a come back in 1978 with Darkness On The Edge of Town an album that had harnessed his anger and frustration about his legal battles with the energy and feel of punk rock to great success. It had very little to do sonically with Born To Run, but it succeeded.

In order to publicize his return in 78, Springsteen allowed several radio stations in LA, NY, San Fran, and elsewhere to broadcast his concerts over the radio. These concerts were widely bootlegged and helped build Springsteen’s legend as a live act. Springsteen returned relatively quickly in 1980 with a double album, The River, which while uneven, to me was always the rightful successor of Born To Run. With all the hype of the bootlegged 78 concerts, they say that more people slept out for tickets on The River tour than actually saw him in 78. My friend Brewster was apparently on the bandwagon and bought 2 tickets but never asked me to go… It’s my belief that Shakespearean betrayal  is what caused his family to move to Houston, in shame. It was the only honorable thing to do short of cutting off a finger. By the time The River tour concluded Springsteen was huge… he was on the cusp of superstardom. So what’s he do… he releases, in 1982, the spartan, demo-sounding, acoustic record Nebraska. There might be more dour, depressing music out there, but one would have to go to some hippy coffee shop to find it. It was a shock. I get it, it’s a masterpiece, but it’s not an album you put on at a party.

If you take Nebraska out of the equation, it was actually a full 4 years between studio albums for Springsteen, much like the lapse between Born To Run and Darkness. The reason Born In The U.S.A. was such a smash, was the simplest reason – pent up demand. Yes, it’s a kick ass album, but the guy had been away for four-fucking years. That was an eternity back then. Especially for guys my age, who were too young to see the Darkness tour, we just had to settle for the bootlegs. Some of us had sadly missed The River tour – thanks Brewster. We were dying for new music from the Boss… we were dying to actually see this myth, this legend in concert. Which, we all did on this tour, I might add.

The album itself is amazing. Although I will admit I’ve always had a problem with the sequencing. The title track, which starts the record, is one of the greatest things Bruce has ever recorded. Max Weinberg’s drumming is monumental. He keeps the whole thing together. That leads us into another single, the great “Cover Me.” The next two songs, however, “Darlington County” and “Working On The Highway” both tell the same story. Both are about a guy working construction who gets busted for messing with underage girls. Although “Working On the Highway” was a great rockabilly song vs “Darlington County”‘s anthemic approach. The first ballad, and the second best song on the album, “Down Bound Train” also ends with the protagonist in jail. The 80s were a dark time… But again, the next song, which concluded side one is another ballad, ‘I’m On Fire.” Spread it out Bruce….

Side two starts with two songs about Little Steven. The recording of Born In The U.S.A. was fraught with it’s own Shakespearean drama… Springsteen’s side kick, Little Steven who always advocated for the music was pitted against, Iago, er I mean Landau who was advocating for a big, commercial record. Eventually Little Steven split for a solo career. Springsteen obviously wrote “No Surrender” and the next track, “Bobby Jean” about his dearest friend, Little Steven, who had left the band. The rest of the side 2, is a little better sequenced, finally ending on the beautiful ballad “My Hometown.”

Born In The U.S.A ended up being the titanic album that Landau and, it would appear, Springsteen wanted. The enormous fame and attention dwarfed anything Springsteen had experienced before… one might argue the success changed the trajectory of his career… but for this working stiff, on a hot June Monday, it was a game changer, so much so, I know where I was that day. It really is one of the greatest albums of all time.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Concert Review: Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul, Kansas City, 5/12/18

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*Blurry photo taken by your intrepid blogger on an admittedly inferior phone

Well, Kansas City, you missed an amazing concert last night…

I had the rare pleasure of seeing a couple of old friends last night. The first, was my old college roommate, Drew who came up to Kansas City from Wichita to see Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. I’ve been a fan of Little Steven since my early days of listening to Bruce Springsteen, so it felt like I was seeing another old friend by seeing him. This was, amazingly, my first time seeing Little Steven as a solo artist. Unfortunately for the rest of my home town, only about three or four hundred other folks were in the 1700 seat theater. It’s a shame, because last night’s show as a full-on rock and roll, soul revue.

Little Steven is out on the road supporting his last album, Soulfire (LP Review: Little Steven’s ‘Soulfire’ A Triumphant Return To His Solo Career). While many people either know Little Steven from his gig as Bruce Springsteen’s longtime friend/sidekick and 2nd guitarist, or from his acting stint on shows like “The Sopranos” or “Lilyhammer,” Little Steven has a much richer history. He wrote songs, played guitar and produced the early Southside Johnny And the Asbury Jukes albums. He wrote and produced music for Gary U.S. Bonds back in the late 70’s, early 80s which was nothing short of a resurrection for Bonds. Soulfire was a great album where Little Steven went back and revisited some of that material he’d written for other people but never recorded himself. In the early 80s Little Steven also launched a solo career of his own, while Springsteen put together Nebraska. I consider his first two albums to be essential listening, Men Without Women and Voice of America. 

The man must be doing this tour for the love of music. It certainly came across that way. He had, including himself on guitar, 15 people on stage. There 5 horn players and three back up singers. Marc Ribler was on guitar, Jack Daley on bass, Rich Mercurio on drums, Anthony Altamonte on percussion. He had not one, but two keyboard players, Andy Burton on the Hammond B-3 and Lowell “Banana” Levinger on synths/piano and mandolin. Everybody played their asses off. Each of the horn players came to the front of the stage at one point to play a solo. The sound was perfect.

Little Steven started off with the Arthur Conley cover, “Sweet Soul Music” and it was the perfect song to set the tone. Last night was all about soul. Little Steven who talked often about teachers and our need to support them (his big philanthropy is TeachRock which provides teachers with resources to teach music), said at one point, “tonight’s show is about the history of rock and roll…which just happens to be my life story.” I like to think I know a lot about music… not like Little Steven.

After “Sweet Soul Music” the band broke into “Soulfire” the title track from Little Steven’s latest. I had forgotten what a great lead guitarist Little Steven was. Often he and Marc Ribler would meet center stage for a guitar dual. And I don’t recall a show where I saw that many beautiful, vintage guitars. After “Soulfire” they hit us with the great Southside Johnny song (written by Little Steven and on Soulfire) “I’m Coming Back.” It was rock and roll Nirvana. “The Blues Was My Business (And Business Is Good)” was epic. I think everybody solo’d during that one. I was worried, since the crowd was so sparse that he’d cut the set list down, but he played almost the whole set he’s been playing elsewhere… he omitted an Electric Flag cover they’ve been doing, “Groovin’ Is Easy” but played a full 2+ hours. Little Steven veered away from his more political music and stuck pretty closely to the music from Soulfire and his first record, Men Without Women than say, “Voice of America.” It fit his message of coming together in the sanctification of rock and roll, soul.

It wasn’t all horns and soul. A track I wasn’t familiar with, “Salvation” rocked hard, all fuzzy guitars. It was like watching a local garage band made good. “Down And Out In New York City” was funky goodness. “Princess of Little Italy” was one of the rare quieter moments with Little Steven flanked by Burton on accordion, and Ribler on guitar. It was a beautiful reading of that song from his debut solo album. Little Steven even took the opportunity to thank Southside Johnny for keeping his music alive at one point, before the great “Some Things Just Don’t Change.” He did a beautiful doo-wop track, “The City Weeps Tonight” that blew me away.

Little Steven was charismatic on stage. At times funny, at times heartfelt especially during speeches about how we needed to leave all the craziness outside (the theater) and come together in celebration of music. Music is the only religion I understand.

Afterwards, Drew and I ended up in a little bar named Julep that has more whiskey than I can count. We toasted Little Steven, drank a few tumblers of dark, murky fluids and told stories of the old days. It was just a perfect evening. If you’re out there and you get a chance to see the Disciples of Soul… do yourself a favor, buy the ticket.

Thank you Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul for a wonderful rock and roll, soul education last night!

Robert Plant: “The May Queen,” The New Song From The Upcoming ‘Carry Fire’

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“It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen…” – “Stairway To Heaven,” Led Zeppelin

I am consistently amazed and impressed that artists can still surprise me. My corporate overlords had me traveling this week, as usual, and while suffering through the interminable wait for my flight home, I started checking out what the kids call, “the social media.” There were several indications that Robert Plant was up to something. His website had gone dark. It was literally just a black page. If you remained on the website long enough, letters started to rise to the surface, like a body floating to the top of a lake. Eventually the letters spelled out the phrase, “A Way With Words.” This was merely 48 hours ago…

The music press immediately began to buzz about a possible new album from Plant. I’ve been expecting a lot of new music over the coming few months – Beck, Van Morrison, maybe the Stones, Neil Young, Queens of the Stone Age – all have albums coming. I had no idea Plant was even in the studio, he wasn’t on my radar, and my radar is usually pretty good. We haven’t heard from Robert since 2014’s excellent, but alas, largely overlooked ‘lullaby… and the Ceaseless Roar.’ I couldn’t sleep last night, insomnia is my cross to bear, and so I got up and logged on. I was bouncing around the internet and realized, yes, Robert Plant is going to release a new album in October, entitled ‘Carry Fire.’

Best of all, a new single, “The May Queen” has been released as the first track. I downloaded it immediately. His backing band, like on his last album, are the superb Sensational Shape Shifters – Liam “Skin” Tyson, Justin Adams on guitar, Juldeh Camara on “West African” instrumentation, Dave Smith on drums, Billy Fuller on bass, and John Baggot on keyboards. These guys blend folk, rock and “world” music seamlessly. I bought a live record these guys did in Buenos Aires from 2012 and I just love it. Plant has been intent in the latter stages of his career in blending all sorts of different roots music – Celtic, Americana, African and even Welsh. It would appear he thinks all of this music springs from the same source, so why not mix it all together and see where it takes him. He’s quoted as saying he wants to blend his old music with something new. He’s certainly done that here. I love his sense of exploration. A lot of folks may be pissed that he’s not getting back together with Zeppelin (give it up folks, no means no), but I love what he’s doing at this stage in his career.

The new track, “The May Queen,” is a great start. I can’t find any writing credits on the web, although I searched extensively. With a name like “The May Queen” I thought it might be a traditional folk tune or a cover, but I believe Plant wrote this. The lyrics certainly seem Plant-ish and of course, The May Queen shows up in “Stairway To Heaven” so we have to assume this is Plant’s writing. The song is driven by a repeating acoustic guitar riff. There is some great African or “world” percussive elements. As has been case with most of his latter music, the vocals are front and center. Plant’s voice ages like fine wine, only getting better as time passes. There is a nice violin that accents the song as well. It feels folky and world beat all at the same time. The first line “Lay down in sweet surrender, your love’s so warm and tender,” embraces you like an affectionate hug from an old friend… I just love where his voice is right now.

This is a superb opening track, reminiscent of the first track from ‘lullaby,’ “Rainbow,” which was a track that is still in high rotation here at the house 3 years after it’s release. I highly recommend you check out this new Plant track. All these years later, he’s still exploring, digging through the past to find something new. It’s been a lot of fun to listen to. And, best of all, he’s released it just in time for his birthday, this Sunday August 20th. I look forward to spinning the new record when it arrives in October…

Happy Birthday Robert! Cheers!

Neil Young’s “Hitchhiker,” The Title Track From A Lost Album From His Archive

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“When I was a hitchhiker on the road, I had to count on you…” – Neil Young, “Hitchiker”

No one loves releases from an artist’s archives more than we here at BourbonAndVinyl. There are certain artists that have a treasure trove of unreleased material, recorded over the course of their career. Dylan, Springsteen and Neil Young are probably the foremost artists that spring to mind in this category. It almost sounds like the Rock N’ Roll Archive Law Firm of Dylan, Young and Springsteen… Dylan started the whole archive craze with his Bootleg Series. Actually to be completely correct, he probably started it all prior to that with his brilliant box set, ‘Biograph,’ which combined hits, album cuts, live cuts and unreleased material to tell the story of his career. ‘Biograph’ seemingly launched the box set business and showed record companies there is a strong market for these “vault” releases. I published a guide to Dylan’s Bootleg Series previously, ( Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide ).

Springsteen has released the box set, ‘Tracks,’ to clear out a small fraction of his unreleased studio stuff. Bruce also continues to release quality-sound live concert recordings ranging from ’74 to ’16 and just released the first ever soundboard from his 1977 tour… Don’t tell my wife, but that review will be coming soon. You could go bankrupt buying those old Springsteen concerts and she doesn’t need to know how much I’m spending… Speaking of concert recordings, The Grateful Dead, who have a long, storied bootleg history, have been releasing live concerts “from the vaults” even longer than Springsteen has, and deserve at least a mention here. However, I just can’t get into the Dead… that endless noodling drives me nuts, but if you’re into them, we don’t judge here at B&V. In my opinion, if you want jam band stuff, try Gov’t Mule or The Allman Brothers.

Neil Young got into the “vault” releases in a big, big way with his box set, ‘Archives Vol. 1,(1963-1972)’ released in 2009 which grew out of what was to be ‘Decade 2’ the follow up to the spectacular 1977 greatest hits package ‘Decade.’ As with anything Neil Young, he went way overboard and ‘Archives 1’ ended up being eight discs long, with interactive Blu-Ray versions and fabulous sound quality. No wonder it took almost 30 years to complete. While there were unreleased versions of songs, ‘Archives 1’ relied heavily on previously released material from his albums of the period. I didn’t purchase it, because I already had most of those albums excerpted from that time period. There were a number of live, concert albums contained in the box, that were released separately as stand-alone LPs. I bought ‘Live At The Fillmore East’ which was with the original Crazy Horse (Danny Whitten!), although it was only the electric half of that concert. I also purchased, from ‘Archives Vol 1,’ the ‘Massey Hall’ show and ‘Sugar Mountain: Live At The Canterbury House 1968,’ which were all acoustic performances. Neil is that rare artist that has two sides – roaring, rocking, electric distortion (usually with Crazy Horse) and quiet, sometimes spacey, acoustic songs. Often he performs both at shows, in different sets.

After ‘Archives Vol 1’ came out, we vault enthusiasts had to keep waiting as ‘Vol 2’ kept getting delayed. Now I’m hearing Neil is going to stream all of his material online… We’ll have to wait and see. While I’ve been waiting for ‘Vol 2’ to come out, I was happy to see a few years ago, Neil release ‘Live At the Bluenote Cafe’ from his ‘This Notes For You’ tour. That live album was reviewed on B&V and I still love listening to it, but I love the blues. ( Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live) ). One of the things that had me most looking forward to ‘Vol 2’ was the rumor that it would include a number of Neil’s “lost” albums. Neil is one of those rare artists who would go into the studio, cut a whole album worth of material and then pull it back and put it on the shelf. Prince was notorious for this as well.

There are several of these “lost” albums that I’ve heard of, and probably lots more in existence. ‘Chrome Dreams’ is one of the few studio bootlegs I have of Neil. There is purportedly an album from the late 90s/early 00s that Neil cut with Crazy Horse in San Francisco, in a studio famously used by John Coltrane, named ‘Toast.’ Another one I’ve heard of, but not a whole lot, was the all acoustic LP Neil shelved in 1976, ‘Hitchhiker.’ I was shocked the other day, when I saw it pop up on iTunes. Rather than wait until September 8th, the release date, I immediately ordered the single song available, the title track.

The ‘Hitchhiker’ LP was recorded in one long night, August 11, 1976, with just Neil Young on acoustic guitar and David Briggs, his friend/producer in a Malibu studio. Neil only took breaks as he labored all night for “beer, weed or cocaine.” Sounds like hazardous working conditions. Many of the songs on the track list are songs that have popped up on other albums (‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ ‘Comes A Time’) over the years. Some of these tunes were even on ‘Chrome Dreams’ which makes me wonder if that was merely a compilation of earlier tracks like say, ‘Freedom’ vs a newly cut album that didn’t get released.

I’ve listened to the title track “Hitchhiker” from this album almost non stop since yesterday. When I heard this was just Neil playing acoustic guitar, I thought the song would come off sounding like a demo. I was wrong, this is a fully realized song. It would be at home on side one of ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ or either side of ‘Comes A Time.’ It’s a hypnotic, tone poem of a song. There are so many levels to the autobiographical lyrics. On the surface it’s the story of Neil hitchhiking from Toronto to Los Angeles. However, I think it could be also read as his journey from obscurity to superstardom. He also, very honestly, chronicles his journey from hash to amphetamines to weed. He even gets valium, but he “still couldn’t close my eyes.” Sound-wise this song reminds me of “The Needle And the Damage Done.” I know he later released this song on the Daniel Lanois produced ‘Le Noise’ but this is the definitive version of this song.

If you’re a fan of Neil’s acoustic side, this is a must have. I can only hope this will bring more vault releases of Neil’s “lost studio albums” in the future. I’ll definitely have more about this when the album comes out, but for now, turn this on and ride the highway with Neil…

Cheers!