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! 

 

 

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: Smashing Pumpkins’ – ‘CYR’ – An Exhausting Slog With The Dark Lord of the Synth

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When I started BourbonAndVinyl I vowed to myself I’d try to be positive. There is so much negativity out there, especially online. Twitter is a cesspool of anger and grievances. At least Instagram is out there for pictures of people’s cats and what they’re eating. I joined Instagram to follow rock bands and I ended up following a bunch of cats and restaurants, but I digress. B&V was founded in order to throw light on older bands, artists who have been around for a while that are putting out new music that probably isn’t making it to your car radio (Bourbon and Vinyl: Mission Statement). I try to write about albums that I like, that excite me about rock and roll. At times, I fear that ethos has made me sound overly positive, which if you knew me is pretty ironic. 

I have indeed been critical in the past. I subscribe to the “important man (person)” theory of rock n roll. Important artists do big things. So when one of those “important” artists puts out a record that misses the mark, I have in the past felt compelled not only to comment but to be less than positive (LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’). I’m hopeful that this post will not come across overly negative. However, as always, I’m going to give you my honest opinions here. 

I consider Billy Corgan, leader of the Smashing Pumpkins, to be one of those “great men” of rock and roll. Anyway you slice it, the guy has done some amazing work. However, even I must admit that Corgan, well, doesn’t lack self-confidence. No artist, if they’re being truthful, has enough ego to actually want to be the “voice of their generation.” Dylan struggled with that tag in the 60s. In the 90s that tag literally helped drive Kurt Cobain to suicide. Heavy weighs the crown. I saw Corgan interviewed years ago about Cobain and how he brought Grunge to the mainstream, changing music forever. Corgan said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that there were a lot of artists pushing rock and roll’s new sound, grunge or alt rock, and Cobain ended up getting credit for it. I got the sense watching him, that Corgan was actually kind of disappointed he wasn’t tagged with that “voice of his generation” thing because I truly think he believes he was the voice of that generation and not Cobain. It’s like he feels gipped. Who knows… he did date Courtney Love so he shares that in common with Kurt, maybe he was the voice all along. I can’t adjudicate that but the guy has had a chip on his shoulder for a long time. 

I’m on record stating that I’m a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan. I was a big fan of Siamese Dream after my friend Doug gave me that disc for my birthday many moons ago. It began a lifetime of fandom for me. I love the grandiosity of the epic Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. I followed the band through the radical shift to electronica on Adore. That album remains amongst my favorite of their work. After the band fell apart following Machina/The Machine of Gods I followed Corgan (and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin) on their next band, Zwan. I actually dug that album but I think I’m in the minority there. When Billy rebooted the Smashing Pumpkins I didn’t get back on the bandwagon until Oceania. I liked Monuments To An Elegy that featured Tommy Lee on drums. By that point Corgan was the only original member left. When it was announced that original members James Iha (guitar) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) were rejoining, I was excited at the guitar rock possibilities. Admittedly, I’d liked to see original bassist D’Arcy back but I’ll take what I can get. 2018’s Shiny And Oh So Bright Vol 1 was not the hard rock reunion I was expecting, but I still liked it (LP Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Iha’s Surprisingly Tentative Return ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright’. I figured they were just taking their time to re ignite the chemistry. 

The Pumpkins have finally returned with the follow-up(?), not with “Shiny And Oh So Bright Volume Two” but with what’s being billed as a double-album CYR. And in classic Billy Corgan fashion, with the chip securely on his shoulder, he’s delivered an album no one would have expected. Instead of the classic guitar-epic music we’d expect, he’s delivered a keyboard heavy album. It’s as if Billy has decided to join the dark side… The Dark Lord of the Synth, he’s Darth Keyboards. The first time I heard this record I thought I’d accidentally played a Flock of Seagulls’ disc from 85. I will say, his vocals still have that immediacy, that urgency you would expect, it’s just the music is such a surprise. What makes this all the more confounding is that drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and guitarist James Iha are purportedly playing on this record, just like the last one. Chamberlin is one of the more aggressive drummers ever and on this record he’s mostly confined to being a metronome, he’s totally neutered here. If James Iha is playing guitar on this record it’s like a “Where’s Waldo’s Guitar.” Even Jeff Schroeder who plays bass and guitar is seemingly awol. This is the sound of one man who spent way too much time playing with the latest technology. The only proof that anybody but Corgan contributed on this record are the female backup singers. 

Practically half of these tracks were released as singles… I only posted about the first two, Review: Smashing Pumpkins Release 2 New Songs, “Cyr,” “The Colour of Love”. I have to admit those two tracks have grown on me. I especially like the title track, “Cyr.” Corgan sings “I’m on the verge” so many times I have no choice but to believe him. There are other good moments here. “Confessions Of A Dopamine Addict” is actually interesting… I think it actually has some real drums. “Dulcet In E” is a nice Corgan ballad. The two tracks that generate the most heat, for me, were the curiously titled “Anno Santana” and the overly affected title of “Wyttch” (ie, Witch). Both have a bit of actual guitar. Neither is “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” 

I’m not faulting the guy for wanting to go in another direction. I loved Adore. But by the second half of this album, washed in all the cold keyboards and synths it all sort of turns into white noise. The songs are just not that memorable, especially on the second half of the record. Corgan has always written great hooks and there just aren’t any here. While this is described as a double-LP it just feels like a boring, long single disc. If Corgan is this ambivalent about songwriting and the songs he’s putting out, why wouldn’t we be too? To call this album monochromatic doesn’t do it justice… at least Picasso’s “Blue Period” was interesting. 

This album is, in a few words, a huge disappointment. I think we were all waiting for a great Smashing Pumpkins’ album. Sadly, this isn’t it. I can’t imagine Iha and Chamberlin will stay on with the Pumpkins if all they’re going to do is pose for publicity photos. This one is a hard pass for me. 

Cheers! 

Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited

Editor’s Note: Never have I struggled so hard to acquire music. I ordered the 4 CD version of All The Rest only to later discover there was a 5 CD version. It was an extra $100 so I probably would have stuck with the 4 CD version but more on that later. This box set came out on October 16th but mine wasn’t scheduled to ship until 10/20. It was delivered to the wrong house and never recovered. The second, replacement set arrived scratched. Finally, on the third try I finally got my copy… only last Friday. Hence it took me a while to live with this music long enough to write about it. I know this all sounds like “First World Problems,” but it was frustrating, I’ve got nothing else to do. Thank you for your patience. 

I remember hearing an interview of Tom Petty some years back and he was discussing his and the Heartbreakers’ career. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that the Heartbreakers had always been so consistently good nobody noticed when they were really great. I would argue with Tom, were I still able, that the Heartbreakers were more than consistently good, I think they were consistently great. There really aren’t any bad Tom Petty records. Some might argue that Southern Accents was a bit of a mess, but I like all the different directions producer Dave Stewart (the Eurythmics) took the band. I’d also suggest that when they were great, they were exceptional and everybody took notice. I would say over a great career that Petty recorded three stone cold masterpieces: Damn The Torpedoes, Full Moon Fever and finally, Wildflowers. Don’t get me wrong, there were other really great LPs, like Hard Promises, or Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, just to name a few. If you’re uncomfortable with the moniker “masterpiece” then perhaps you’d agree with me that those three albums mentioned above are perhaps his most beloved albums.

Wildflowers was Petty’s second “solo” album, his first being Full Moon Fever in 1989. While Petty has albums he described as solo albums, Mike Campbell (guitar) and Benmont Tench (keyboards) of the Heartbreakers were both involved in his solo efforts. Back in 84/85 Petty was recording what he wanted to be his “great southern album,” Southern Accents, and he punched a wall. Sadly, he hit a stud and broke his hand. Never punch an inanimate object, folks, there’s no upside. There was some question of whether he’d play guitar again. While he was convalescing, Mike Campbell wrote and recorded “Boys of Summer” with Don Henley. Henley’s album Building the Perfect Beast did a lot better than Southern Accents and I think Petty began to realize how valuable a collaborator Campbell was. The Heartbreakers then ended up backing up Bob Dylan on a tour – which I think came out of a chance meeting at a Farm Aid – and during that tour they managed to record the Stonesy, Exile On Main Street style LP, Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough. Petty always said that backing Dylan on that tour – which I saw at Sandstone Amphitheater…where Dylan dedicated a track to all the men serving sentences at Leavenworth prison up the road – taught him how to be a member of a band and not “the leader.”

During this whole Southern Accents… backing Dylan… Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough period Petty started to really come into conflict with Heartbreakers’ drummer Stan Lynch. Stan was always pushing the band and had rather narrow ideas of how they should sound. Weary of the struggle, Petty huddled up with producer Jeff Lynne and Mike Campbell and recorded Full Moon Fever with a more relaxed, laid back approach. The atmosphere was looser without Lynch and Petty responded with a great album. Howie Epstein came in to sing harmony vocals on a song, he was also pissed about the solo album thing, and complained that he didn’t like the new material. The song he was going to sing on was “Free Fallin’.” Sorry Howie, not buying it. Lynch was the only Heartbreaker who didn’t play on Full Moon Fever and I don’t think he and Petty’s relationship ever recovered. Petty enlisted Jeff Lynne again to produce the follow-up, Into the Great Wide Open, which was a full Heartbreakers album but it wasn’t as successful and at that point the writing was probably on the wall.

As a follow-up to Great Wide Open Petty announced he was going to do another solo album, this time produced by uber producer Rick Rubin. He said he wanted to do a solo album to “escape the confines” or limitations of a 5-piece band. Of course, it ended up being basically a 5-piece band recording it… so you reach your own conclusion. In the middle of recording the album that would become Wildflowers Rubin produced two new tracks for Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits compilation, “Something In the Air,” and “Last Dance With Mary Jane.” Those two tracks were to be Lynch’s final songs with the band. Campbell and Tench both play extensively on Wildflowers but like Full Moon Fever, bassist Howie Epstein was relegated to harmony vocals. I know Ringo Starr and Beach Boy Carl Wilson both made cameos as well, but it was really Petty/Campbell/Tench. Since Lynch wasn’t involved they brought in drummer Steve Ferrone who ended up staying with Petty for the rest of his career. Obviously they picked the right guy.

While recording Wildflowers Petty’s first marriage was starting to come unraveled. I was going through something similar with a girlfriend in 1994/95 and maybe that’s why I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this album (Tom Petty: New Vault Song, “There Goes Angela” From The Upcoming ‘Wildflowers’ Box). That relationship was almost bookended by Wildflowers and the box set Playback. The original LP is probably my favorite Petty LP – although admittedly it’s hard to pick a favorite. It’s a timeless classic. It’s genuine, sincere music recorded with real instruments – acoustic guitars, electric guitars and real drums – not synths and drum machines and that instrumentation brings heft to this music. The lyrics have always grabbed me. They’re like onions, there’s just depth upon depth in these songs. My all time favorite lyric, and one that I apply to my life daily is from “Crawling Back To You.” It’s brilliant – “Most things I worry about, never happen anyway.” I love the mellow acoustic stuff like the title track, “To Find A Friend,” and “Don’t Fade On Me.” But this isn’t a wholly mellow album. The rockers are epic. “Cabin Down Below” and “Honey Bee,” a monster blues stomper are amongst my favorite. “You Wreck Me” is both mine and the Rock Chick’s favorite. This is simply the quintessential Petty album.

As far back as I can remember, perhaps even when it came out, I heard Petty say his original intention for Wildflowers was for it to be a double-album. Don’t get me wrong – I love all this unearthed vault material for what would have filled out that second disc – but this may be a perfect case for the old adage that every double-LP has a classic single disc hiding within. I think it would have been a great double-LP but its a perfect single disc. Before he died I heard Petty say he was working on packaging up the material for that Wildflowers double album but alas, he passed tragically early (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). Unfortunately his estate wasn’t buttoned up as tight as it should have been and his daughter Adria sued his second wife Dana. It took seemingly forever but at last the legal tussles that prevented this fabulous music from being heard has been settled.

All The Rest is a loving look back at this landmark album. Disc 1 is the original album. Disc 2 is the All The Rest piece meant to be that second, unreleased disc. There is a lot to love across these 10 tracks. I will say, a handful of these tracks were released (in different versions) on the follow up LP, Songs And Music From the Motion Picture She’s The One. “Hung Up And Overdue,” “California,” and “Climb That Hill” will all be somewhat familiar to you completist like me out there. The first track, “Something Could Happen” is a lovely, wistful ballad that would have been perfect on the original album. It’s that good. I love the original version of “Leave Virginia Alone,” one of the few tracks that Petty gave to another artist to record before he did, in this case Rod Stewart. Petty’s version is superior because of the wonderful Mike Campbell guitar work, especially at the end of the track. “Henry Green” is a beautiful character story and a wonderful tune. It sounds like something Dylan would have written. Henry apparently “kept a redneck from kicking my ass.” “Confusion Wheel” is dark, driving, acoustic number. “Somewhere Under Heaven” is a mid tempo, lilting love story. It’s all great stuff.

I have but one beef with the All The Rest box. I didn’t realize there was a Super Deluxe version of this box that was also available. It has a fifth disc entitled Finding Wildflowers. It looks like a bunch of demos. However, they kept the studio versions of “Girl On LSD” a beloved, long sought after B-side and “Drivin’ Down to Georgia,” a barrel-house rocker, previously only released in live versions to the damn fifth disc. Pulling those two tracks and a third, “You Saw Me Coming,” that I’ve never heard, off the All The Rest second disc  and putting on the fifth disc of the Super Deluxe version that’s $150 vs $50 seems like a money grab by Adria Petty. I don’t think you can tell the entire story of the double-album without those tracks. Sure, “Girl On LSD” is a novelty song akin to Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue” or “One Piece At A Time” but I defy you to find anybody who doesn’t love that track. Maybe Petty’s instructions were to leave “LSD” off the second disc…however, I’m mystified if he wanted “Drivin’ Down To Georgia” left off. A small knit, but it still bugged me. Like I said, I’m nothing if not a completist.

The third disc in the box is labeled Home Recordings. You can read that as “demos” but quite a few of these are fully realized. “There Goes Angela (Dream Away)” is still my favorite. I can’t believe he didn’t finish that one. “A Feeling Of Peace” is another highlight here. All of these songs on Home Recordings are the proverbial “glance inside the creative process” of Tom Petty. He’s such an important artist, all of this stuff will fascinate. I like how this box takes you from the demo/home recording phase, to the studio and then on to live versions, fully realized. 

And speaking of live versions, the last (fourth) disc is all live versions of the tracks on Wildflowers. I was surprised that only a handful of the tracks overlap (albeit different live versions) with the 5-disc Live Anthology that Petty & the Heartbreakers put out a few years ago. For most people these are live versions that you haven’t heard before and any live Petty is good Petty. They do put a live version of “Girl On LSD” on here and even Petty laughs while performing it. It’s a nice moment. These live songs may all come from different concerts and sources but because they’re Wildflowers tracks the live disc holds together very well. I can listen to any live version of “It’s Good To Be King” out there. It’s like a jazz song, they do it different each time.

Overall this is a wonderful, loving look back to one of Tom Petty’s most popular, beloved and successful works. Its an important album for all fans of rock and roll. Beautifully produced by Rick Rubin and beautifully performed by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Ben Tench and company. This is definitely something any fan of Petty or of Wildflowers will have to check out.

Cheers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

They say that timing is everything…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn this one up loud!! Cheers!

Review: Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times – Deluxe Edition’ – An Embarrassment of Riches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers! Stay funky people but be safe doing so. 

 

New Single: Springsteen’s “Letter To You,” The 1st Track From New LP & A Look At His 1st Singles ’80-’20

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As I’ve often documented in these pages, before I heard the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls the only time I turned on the radio was to hear a Royals’ baseball game. Then I heard “Miss You,” and later “Shattered” and then “Beast of Burden” and suddenly I wanted a stereo for Christmas. I consider that moment when I first heard the Stones on the car radio, riding with my mother no less, as my rock and roll awakening. It was late 1978 when all this happened and by then rock and roll was a good 20 years along. When you step into the middle of something, it’s really hard to catch up. 

Most of the rock and roll acts I dig (by 1978) were deep into their careers. There had been a lot of great music released in the previous 10 years, let alone the previous 20 years. I was newly into my teens and on a weekly allowance of $10 it’s really hard to purchase the entire back catalogs of rock bands/artists (especially with the constant refrain of, “You didn’t clean your room son, no allowance this week…”). In high school, my fledgling vinyl collection – and I was all vinyl, don’t give me those 8-tracks or cassettes – consisted of the albums that were being released at the time, the current stuff. My first Who album was Face Dances. My first Zeppelin album was In Through the Out Door. And while many of you rock aficionados may hold your nose for those records, they will always have a place in my heart (B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?). 

While Springsteen’s landmark album Darkness On The Edge Of Town also came out in 1978, some how I missed it. I lived in Kansas City and it was never a huge Springsteen town. I did hear “Prove It All Night” and “Badlands” on the radio but I’m not sure I even knew they were both by Springsteen. There was just so much to absorb it was hard to keep track. All of that changed in late 1980 with the release of The River. I remember the first single “Hungry Heart” caught my attention. It was pure ear candy. Bruce had originally written it for the Ramones but his manager told him he best keep that one. I didn’t rush out and buy The River however because its was a double-album. Twice the music but alas, at twice the price. That was a major financial commitment on my allowance. I hadn’t even bought The Wall yet due to similar financial constraints and it had been out a year by then… Plus I didn’t know much about Springsteen… was he cool? did he rock? You had to be sure you didn’t buy any lame artists and I was always cautious. I had seen too many of my friends buy Kiss albums and I considered them suspect at the time. I feared history would not treat them well… naturally I was wrong. I was 13, what did I know?

Luckily, the local rock radio station started playing more deep cuts from the album. After hearing the title track, “Point Blank” and “Out In the Street” I knew Springsteen delivered the goods. He was a special kind of artist. I plunked down the hard earned dough and bought it. I nervously dropped the needle on side 1 of the first album not knowing what to expect. I can still remember the rush I felt when “The Ties That Bind” burst out of the speakers. It hit me in my lower-brain stem and I knew I wanted more rock and roll… nay, I knew I needed more rock and roll. It was that moment I knew I was bonded with this artist. Sadly, he came to KC in February ’80 and played Kemper Arena. They say more people slept out in line for tickets than had seen him on the Darkness tour but how would they measure that?The Kansas City Star described it as “the concert of the year” and again… it was only February. My dear friend Brewster had also secretly gotten into Springsteen and assuming I wouldn’t like him, after buying two tickets… took someone else. After all these years… yes, I have forgiven him… I haven’t forgotten… some wounds don’t heal completely. 

Even though I was a newly minted Springsteen fan, I didn’t go crashing through his back catalog. I’d heard “Born To Run,” “Jungleland,” and “Rosalita” – those were about the only older tracks they played in KC – but I didn’t even know what albums to look for. I thought “Blinded By The Light” was a Manfred Mann tune. About a year after I bought The River a friend of mine and I met two older, senior girls in our Study Hall. Somehow these fetching young women ended up sitting with us and on the surface, seemed to enjoy our geeky-ness. They invited my friend and I to meet them at that year’s Senior Skip Day party. It was where all the seniors blew off school and someone had a keg of beer, insanity ensued. We weren’t seniors but oh yes, we were in. I remember drinking a beer and talking to one of these beautiful girls and it was going great, at least I think it was… when I heard over the speakers propped up on the back deck…”The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves…” I was mesmerized…”Is this Springsteen?” Nothing happened with the girls and it may have been my utter distraction from hearing the masterpiece Born To Run for the first time. I was gobsmacked. I bought that record the next day. Who thought Springsteen could “cock block” me?

I’ve been a big Springsteen fan ever since. I’ve followed him from big, anthemic albums with the E-Street band to acoustic, introspective solo records to detours like Western Stars (LP Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ – Born To Bacharach?). I have live albums and official live bootlegs. I’ve seen him a number of times in concert. I’ve even gotten the Rock Chick slightly into him…she’ll never be counted amongst the converted but she does have a ‘Bruce’ playlist she likes to crank up. I was thrilled to hear during this awful year, that Springsteen had a brand new album coming out. God, how we need new music! I was even more thrilled to hear the E Street Band would be on the album. I figured the new LP, Letter To You, would probably come out around Christmas. Thankfully I was wrong. I was pumped to see that the first single dropped last Friday with the album coming October 23rd.

I have to admit to you, and this will be no surprise, I really like “Letter To You.” The E Street Band is such a sympathetic medium for Springsteen to bring his songs to life. The song finds Springsteen looking back and writing a letter to his first band, the Castiles. Living in isolation, who doesn’t welcome a letter or an email from an old friend. After all these years, the sound of Bruce and the E Street band still gives me chills. It’s like an unexpected call from someone you’d like hear from but haven’t. It’s an upbeat track but I might call it mid tempo. Springsteen’s vocal is particularly inspired. The entire album was recorded live in the studio over five days, supposedly without any overdubs. This is their classic sound, dripping with earnestness and strength. When the band kicks in during the early part of the song, goose bumps, baby. It only lacks a sax solo from the Big Man’s nephew, Jake Clemons. The song is catchy and it sticks with me. It’s not a big anthemic thing like “Born To Run” or “Dancing In the Dark” but it will seep into your brain. 

I reflected on what this might mean for the new album. As I did I found my mind wandering back to 1980 and “Hungry Heart.” Eventually I found myself mulling over every Springsteen first single since The River in an effort to predict what the new LP might be like. I thought I’d share my thoughts on this music travelogue through those singles and my experiences with them… what it means for the new album – probably nothing but it was a fun thing to keep me occupied in mind-numbing times…I skipped the Pete Seeger thing because I despise Pete Seeger and struggle to even acknowledge that Bruce recorded that thing. 

  • The River, “Hungry Heart” – One of Bruce’s signature songs. It was very pop oriented but it heralded one of his greatest albums ever. It’s still a fun sing-a-long at concerts if you’re into that sort of thing. 
  • Nebraska, “Atlantic City” – I was home for Christmas break during my very awful freshman year of college. I was walking past the record store when I spotted a display with Nebraska albums stacked up to the ceiling. I left my then girlfriend standing there and went lunging into the store. I didn’t even know Springsteen had a new album out. I bought it and went home immediately. I was stunned at the difference between the sound of this dour album compared to The River. It’s one of the most grim listens ever (B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums). Even the video for “Atlantic City,” which does not feature Bruce is grainy and black and white. No sunshine to be found here… However, the single, “Atlantic City” will always be one of my favorite Bruce tracks. The Band did a nice little cover of it as well. 
  • Born In The U.S.A., “Dancing In the Dark” – The song that made Springsteen a superstar. I can still remember how starved, after the grim Nebraska, we all were for a new rock album from Bruce. We were all so thrilled that we might get to see an actual concert vs listening to bootlegs. I remember partying all night and sitting  up at dawn just to see the video. 
  • Tunnel of Love, “Brilliant Disguise” – By this time I was living in Ft Smith, Arkansas. I can remember the first time I heard this track, driving into the office on a cold, winter morning. I knew he’d gone back to the more introspective Nebraska style. This album featured more instrumentation and remains a favorite of mine. One of his greatest songs. 
  • Human Touch/Lucky Town, “Human Touch”/”Better Days” – Two Springsteen albums released on the same day. We’d been waiting for what seemed like forever. He’d disbanded the E Street Band and we didn’t know what to expect. “Human Touch,” at six and a half minutes is a big epic track. It’s much maligned but I still like it. “Better Days” is grittier, more immediate. It remains a favorite from a rather discounted period of Bruce’s career. 
  • The Ghost of Tom Joad, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – Another from Springsteen’s grim solo projects. This is my least favorite Springsteen album but the title track remains one of my favorites of his. Rage Against the Machine have redone this track as well. It’s a perfect song even today. 
  • The Rising, “The Rising” – The title track from the 911-centric album that saw the return of the E Street Band. I got tears in my eyes the first time I heard this epic title track. It ranks up there with “This Land Is Your Land” as a populist anthem. This song and the album it came from are American treasures. 
  • Devils And Dust, “Devils And Dust” – I’ve noticed that Springsteen likes to release the title track as the first single of most of his albums. Good marketing if you think about it. This album is ripped from the headlines. It sounds like an update from the front lines. One of Springsteen’s best solo tracks and albums. 
  • Magic, “Radio Nowhere” – One of the more rocking first singles of Springsteen’s career. I really liked Magic but I think many critics were divided on it. It’s a great, late-period E Street album. And who could argue with the theme on this song of radio slowly dying (Playlist: Memories of and A Requiem For Rock And Roll Radio). 
  • Working On A Dream, “Working On A Dream” – Another title track! This song has an irresistible melody. It’s as catchy as the old Motown singles. While the album itself was uneven, this single ranks amongst Bruce’s best. 
  • Wrecking Ball, “We Take Care of Our Own” – Another great rocking song with a spectacular message. Springsteen is the quintessential American artist. I remember he played this song on the Grammys. That night I had an old friend who I’ll call, “The Bat Cat” who had dropped by with his family. His daughter wanted to watch the Grammys. When Springsteen came on, Bat Cat paused and said, “Hey, I like that, it sounds like Darkness. Indeed it does. Classic Springsteen. 
  • High Hopes, “High Hopes” – The only cover song Springsteen has released as a single. He’d done it once before on an EP but I like this version best. High Hopes was a reimagining of songs Springsteen had previously written for earlier projects. I think critics discounted it for that reason but there are great songs on this album and I include the title track in that number. 
  • Western Stars, “Hello Sunshine” – The rare ballad as a first single. It was a true harbinger of what the album was like. This beautiful song quickly became one of my all time favorites (LP Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ – Born To Bacharach?). 

What does this tell us about the new Bruce album? “Letter To You” is another title track as first single for Bruce, but other than that, we’ll just have to anxiously await late October. 

Be safe out there! 

 

Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set

“Can you hear the music? Can you feel the magic hangin’ in the air?” – The Rolling Stones, “Can You Hear The Music?”

It seems like only yesterday that I cajoled a friend of mine with some connections into helping me get tickets to the see the Rolling Stones’ 50th Anniversary concert at Newark’s Prudential Center in December of 2012. Springsteen jumped on stage to perform “Tumbling Dice” with the band. The Black Keys and Gary Clark, Jr each did a blues number with them. Lady Gaga even impressed me on “Gimme Shelter.” It was a truly exceptional evening. I just realized we’re creeping up on their 60th anniversary in 2022… Hopefully we’ll get an album of new stuff before then. They released a great new single during this global pandemic, New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”, to tide us over but it only whetted my appetite for more.

When you have a career that spans six decades it gets hard for rock historians or music critics to get their arms around it. Inevitably they tend to break up the Stones career into three phases based on who was playing lead guitar. There’s the early, blues-cover centric era with Brian Jones on lead. There’s what is considered their “golden” or “classic” period when they did most of their biggest and best music with Mick Taylor (formerly of John Mayall & the Blues Brothers, Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967). And finally there’s the current period with their longest tenured lead guitar player, Ronnie Wood. I love the Ronnie Wood-era of the Stones – and I’m in the minority here – but that’s who was playing for them when I first got into rock n roll. Some Girls was my gateway drug into rock and roll. I love the way Ronnie and Keith practice what Richards calls “the ancient art of basket weaving,” by intertwining the two guitars.

If we buy into this categorization, the rock intelligentsia has also made a point that the Mick Taylor era is the ultimate era of the Stones. And true, the  Stones penultimate period began as Brian Jones was drinking and drugging his way out of the band. Starting with Beggars Banquet (Jones on lead when he showed up…brilliant slide on “No Expectations) and stretching through Let It Bleed (when Taylor joined), Sticky Fingers and their magnum opus Exile On Main St, the Stones were indeed the most brilliant rock band in the world. With Taylor taking over all the exceptional lead guitar during his tenure he allowed Keith to become, again in his words, a “riff-meister.” When rock critics talk about the Stones’ golden period they actually mean these four albums.

While all these guys laud the Taylor-era of the Stones, they are all also of a mind that the Stones creativity failed them after Exile On Main St. In truth, Mick Taylor stuck around after the arduous process of recording that classic double album for two more records, Goats Head Soup (73) and It’s Only Rock N Roll (74). The common claim is that these albums, despite the presence of the guitar-wizard Mick Taylor, signal the moment when the Stones stopped being true rock artists and became arena-filling, sell-out rock stars. Mick became a jet-setter and Keith a full blown addict. We tend to build up our heroes only to tear them down on this planet. I will admit, I always thought – before the internet – that It’s Only Rock N Roll came out after Exile and before Goats Head because I always felt It’s Only was the stronger album. The more I listen to Goats Head today I’m not sure what I was thinking.

Despite all the critical haters, when Goats Head Soup came out in 1973 it hit number 1 in the U.S. The lead single, “Angie” also hit number one. It was produced by Jimmy Miller who had done all of their albums from the “classic” period. The album sold well. The Stones were continuing their “tax exile” status and were living outside the U.K. at the time. Keith Richards drug problems were increasing and there weren’t many countries where they could record so they ended up recording a lot the album in Kingston, Jamaica. It was the only place they could get in if you believe Keith. Marshall Chess who was leading Rolling Stones Records (the group’s own record label) was stunned to find out the band hadn’t played together in six months. He rented out a studio in Kingston for months at a time so the band could just jam. He said after only a few minutes they locked into that “Stones synergy” as if they’d been playing together every day.

I think the reason for the collective critical “meh” – Lester Bangs famously hated Goats Head Soup like it was a personal betrayal – was that anything the Stones did after Exile was bound to be a letdown. The sessions for Exile had drug on forever. Keith was ensconced at Nellcotte in the south of France and while Mick had as much input it was clearly Keith in control of that record. For the follow-up Mick wasn’t interested in doing that again. On Keith’s part, with his heroin problem worsening, he wasn’t capable of a leadership role with the band. Mick took over. He wanted to explore some different avenues with the band so we have a lot more ballads on Goats. Critics always laud Blood On the Tracks from Dylan as a requiem for the Sixties. It was actually an album about the end of a marriage. They like to describe The Last Waltz as the drunken (or coke-fueled if you’re Neil Young), Irish wake for the Sixties. To my ears, Goats Head Soup sounds much more like a requiem for the hippy idealism of the Sixties. It’s the come down record… like the day after the party. “Comin’ down again, where are all my friends?” as Keith sings.

There are great rockers on this album – “Dancing With Mr. D” about dancing with the Devil which may be slightly silly but it’s still a great track, “Silver Train” covered so nicely by Johnny Winter, and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo, Heartbreaker,” a track everybody  loves. “The police in New York City, they chased a boy right through the park, and in a case of mistaken identity, they put a bullet in his heart,” sounds like something that could have been written for today’s long, hot summer. “Star Star” (aka “Starfucker”) is a wonderfully vulgar Chuck Berry-style track. But for me, it’s the ballads on this record that shine. Keith’s vocal turn on “Coming Down Again” is one of my favorites. “Winter” is spectacular and ended up on my Stones deep tracks playlist (Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks). “Angie” was the monster hit.

For me Goats Head Soup and that time is the iconic era of the Stones. They were the personification of and the album is about decadence and decay –  perfect for the 70s. This album is the Keith Richards, long-hair, shirt off, teeth rotting-out best. I wanna take my shirt off, grow my hair long and dance around playing air-guitar with a broom for a lot of this material. When rock bands imitate the Stones it’s this era they’re looking at. Mick may have steered them in a more down beat direction, but damn it worked. And his partner was holed up with Anita Pallenberg doing smack.

Last weekend, the Stones released a “Deluxe” version of Goats Head Soup. I wasn’t going to buy it but the Rock Chick said, “You know you want it, get it.” It’s nice to be married to a woman who encourages your decadent tendencies. The question is – is it worth it? For me it was but it has a hefty price tag. I like the hard-bound book that came with it. The concert posters in the box will be framed and hung in the B&V lab. For the first time ever on B&V, my recommendation for everyone who isn’t a Stones’ addict, is to eschew the physical box – either vinyl or CD – and definitely go the download route. The box is $150 and in these dark times that’s a lot to ask. Especially with boxes from Petty, Prince, U2 and Lou Reed coming.

From a bonus material perspective, you’re probably thinking, $150 for 3 new tracks? True there are only 3 new, unreleased tracks, but they’re all fantastic tracks. “Criss Cross” was reviewed here a few weeks ago, The Rolling Stones New Single From The ‘Goats Head Soup’ Sessions – “Criss Cross”. “Scarlett” is another groove track that obviously grew out of a jam and features Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. I’d have loved to been a fly on the wall for those sessions. The final unreleased track, “All The Rage” has a great riff and is just classic Stones. The rest is probably for completists, but I love the piano/vocals demo of “100 Years Ago,” its more haunting that way. I like the alternative version of “Hide Your Love,” Mick Taylor’s lead is more prevalent. There’s a couple of instrumentals that are a fascinating glimpse into the creative process but the three tracks labeled “Glyn Johns 1973 Mix” add nothing to the party.

The real reason to buy the box (download), is the widely bootlegged live album The Brussels Affair. Because of Keith’s drug issues/arrests stemming from his days at Nellcote (Anita Pallenberg and Bobby Keys the Stones’ sax player had similar issues), the Stones had to play in Belgium instead of France. While many people have this album in bootleg form, I know many people don’t. And if you don’t, it is their best live album – better than Get Your Ya Ya’s Out. I played the boot for my friend Stormin’ once and he declared the version of “Gimme Shelter” as the definitive. I think the Stones released this as a download-only in their “Live Archive” series, but I’m not sure if it’s still available. For me, it’s worth the price of the download for this live LP only. The entire package is like $25 on Apple… Lots to love here at that price.

As summer winds down and beloved football begins, please be safe out there. Wear a mask, stay six feet away from each other and crank up this album… Me, I’m still out here on the edge, “down in the graveyard where we have our tryst, the air smells sweet, the air smells sick…”

Cheers!