U2’s Ten Greatest Non Album Tracks & 5 Best Covers, In Honor of Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary

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Excitement is brewing here at the B&V Labs in anticipation of U2’s tour to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their landmark album, ‘The Joshua Tree,’ swinging through town. I can’t believe it’s been thirty years since that album came out. When it was released in March of 1987, I was near the end of my time at university. I had purchased ‘War’ on vinyl and had ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ on, of all things, cassette. Mistakes were made, people, mistakes were made. I thought cassettes would be around longer than vinyl and I could play them in my car. I was, naturally, mistaken. I can remember laying on the floor of my room at my parent’s house, on spring break, listening to my brother’s cassette copy of ‘The Joshua Tree’ on a Sony Walkman and mistakenly thinking, after only 1 low-fi listen, that there was nothing as big and catchy as “Pride (In The Name of Love).” Obviously, subsequent listens cleared up that misconception. Of course the night I first listened to my brother’s cassette, I believe there had been some beer consumed which likely clouded my judgment.

By the fall of 1987 I had gone to work for my corporate overlords, and in their wisdom they sent me to live in Ft Smith, Arkansas. I consider those years, my time in exile. I was banished from civilization the way Dante was kicked out of Florence. Instead of turning to writing epic poetry, I turned to rock n roll. It was in exile that I met my dear friend Arkansas Joel. He was an even bigger U2 fanatic than I was. By that fall I had ‘The Joshua Tree’ on vinyl and it was in high, high rotation. And yes, I taped it so I could listen to it in my car. We all did that in those days. The sound of cassettes was always inferior to vinyl…

As fate would have it, Joel and I found ourselves in Atlanta, where all the corporate training was done, at the same time. It just so happened that the ‘Joshua Tree’ tour was in Atlanta while both Joel and I were there. When he found out, Joel sought me out on the campus and said, “We’ve gotta see this show… we can scalp some tickets.” At the time, I was enamored with one of my classmates, a young woman whose parents had migrated from Thailand to Louisiana. She was full blooded Thai but spoke with a sugar-sweet, southern accent. What can I say, I was smitten. The class I was in was having a party that night, at this young lady and her roommates’ place. And, sadly, like Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting, I just shook my head at Joel and said, “I’ve got to go see about a girl…” Mistakes were made, people, mistakes were made. Joel frowned, he can be hostile at times, and said, “This will be a mistake you will regret for the rest of your life…” But, he knew I’d made up my mind. Chicks before guitar licks? The shame, the shame.

Naturally, Joel was right. The U2 show that night was spectacular. U2, wearing disguises, actually opened up for their opening act, and played country music. It wasn’t until they broke into one of the country songs from the early set that Joel realized it had been them all along. That’s a story you can tell your grandkids. And naturally, the Louisiana-Thai woman has long since left me behind. In my defense we did date for a year, but those records are sealed until twenty-five years after everyone who was involved is dead…

So while I missed it the first time around, I am going to see the U2 30th Anniversary ‘Joshua Tree’ tour come hell or high-water. Besides, the Rock Chick would never forgive me if we didn’t attend. Like Arkansas Joel, she’s kind of a U2 fanatic. It was their LP, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ that we bonded over when we first started dating. As my buddy Steve likes to say, “U2 is the soundtrack of my life, man.” Me too, Steve, me too.

To commemorate this auspicious date, ‘The Joshua Tree’ turning 30, I put together a short list of their best deep tracks. Most of these songs aren’t on their proper albums. Some have come out on greatest hits/b-side collections. Some of these tracks came out on extended anniversary editions of older albums. These are 10 choice deep cuts that every U2 fan should own… After that I put a brief list together of their best cover songs. Seek these tunes out… Learn them, love them. And never, never choose a girl or boy over a concert… concert memories  last, relationships, well….

  1. “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)”; ‘The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition)’ – This great outtake from ‘The Joshua Tree’ is an homage of sorts to Patti Smith. It’s of similar quality to all the stuff they put out on the original ‘Joshua Tree’ album.
  2. “Miss Sarajevo”; ‘The Best of 1990-2000’ – This was originally from a side project that U2 called The Passengers, where they invited other musicians to collaborate. Pavarotti’s vocal here is epic. Believe it or not, George Michael does a great cover of this record, a sentence I never thought I’d type.
  3. “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”‘ ‘The Complete U2’ – A great, forgotten track from a forgotten soundtrack…
  4. “Lady With the Spinning Head (UV1)”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides and Bonus Tracks’ – I have to wonder how this song missed the cut for ‘Achtung Baby.’ There are several versions of this song out there, make sure you get the one off this album.
  5. “Blow Your House Down”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – I think they started work on this during the sessions for ‘Rattle and Hum.’ This is a great rocking tune. I turned the Rock Chick onto this one over the weekend and it’s in high rotation here at the house.
  6. “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad”; ‘The Complete U2’ – When ‘The Joshua Tree’ hit number 1 on the album charts, Edge and Bono went to see Sinatra in Vegas. He announced that they were in the audience, along with the fact they’d just topped the album charts. He then said, in his characteristic way, “Well, I don’t what they’re spending their money on, but you can tell it’s not their clothes.” I love Old Blue Eyes. Purportedly, they wrote this song specifically for Frank. Sadly, he never got around to recording it.
  7. “Fast Cars”; ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’ – This was a bonus track on the rocking 2002 album. If you didn’t get the bonus edition of the album, go back and pick up this track.
  8. “Ordinary Love”; ‘Mandela – Long Walk To Freedom (Soundtrack)’ – Rolling Stone magazine just did a “top 50” list of U2 songs. Inexplicably this soaring ballad was left off the list.
  9. “Invisible (RED) Edit Version”; single – They only released this song as a hidden track on the disappointing ‘Songs of Innocence.’ If you can still find this version, snap it up.
  10. “Lucifer’s Hands”; ‘Songs of Innocence+’ – After the debacle of the Apple release of this album, they released the ‘+’ which featured some extra tracks and some acoustic versions of songs from the album. This song was better than most of the stuff from the actual album.

And just for fun, kids, I thought I’d provide the Top 5 U2 Cover songs. I love U2, but I really love it when they do cover tunes. They seem to relax more when they’re covering other people’s music. They’ve got a bunch of good ones, but these are the B&V favorites…

  1. “All Along the Watchtower”; ‘Rattle And Hum’ – They tear into this Dylan cover. Sure, Hendrix’s version is definitive, but this is a great version…”three chords and the truth” baby!
  2. “Dancing Barefoot”; ‘B-Sides 1990-2000’ – Great Patti Smith cover. Great guitar work from Edge.
  3. “Night and Day”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – U2 turning Cole Porter upside down.
  4. “Paint It Black”; “Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – Well, I love the Stones and “Paint It Black” is a great song. These guys do it proud.
  5. “Satellite Of Love”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – I finally did see U2, with Arkansas Joel, but it wasn’t until the Zoo TV tour. And, to my amazement they did this Lou Reed song live that night. This is the studio version but it’s great too!

Enjoy! I hope all of you get to see U2 on this upcoming tour. It’ll certainly be fun for those of us who missed it 30 years ago because we were, well, stupid.

 

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LP Review: Little Steven’s ‘Soulfire’ A Triumphant Return To His Solo Career

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Well they certainly don’t make ’em like this any more…

Part of the joy of listening to albums, for me, back in the old days was reading the liner notes. I’ve talked about this many times on B&V. While other kids were reading Sports Illustrated, the Royals box scores on the sports page of the KC Star and Playboy, I was reading Rolling Stone, liner notes and well, Playboy. Reading liner notes is where my journey of musical spelunking began. From the liner notes I’d figure out who was playing what on an album or who produced a certain album I liked. I soon discovered that many of the producers and musicians I’d dug before were making the new music I also liked. I tend to follow members of bands or players into their other careers or projects.

One of the semi-unsung heroes of rock for me has always been Little Steven. These days  the fate of rock n roll is such that more people probably know Little Steven from his acting in The Sopranos or Lilyhammer than for his music. Sigh… I’m old enough to still remember when he was Miami Steve… The guy has more nicknames than Deion Sanders. Little Steven rose to prominence as Bruce Springsteen’s second guitarist in the E Street Band. Only Clarence Clemons played a bigger on-stage role for Bruce than Little Steven. To this day Little Steven and Bruce do the “meet me at the microphone” thing to co-sing lead on songs like “Out In The Street” or “Glory Days.” Little Steven actually didn’t join the E Street Band officially until the tour for ‘Born To Run.’ He actually produced the horns on “10th Avenue Freeze Out.” Bruce couldn’t get the horn sound he wanted, he has said it kept coming out sounding like Chicago. Little Steven came in and sang the horn parts to the players and they nailed it. “Time to put this guy on the payroll…” was Springsteen’s reaction. Little Steven was given a “production assistance” credit on ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’ and a full producer’s credit on ‘The River.’ He really shaped a lot of the music from the era of Springsteen I love the most, the 70s.

What many people don’t know, or perhaps have forgotten. is that Little Steven was a producer long before he joined the Bruce and the E Streeters. His most famous production work was probably with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. I’ve read that he helped form the group but it’s never been clear to me whether he was a full fledged member or not. Regardless, he wrote a lot of their early music and produced their first three albums. I always thought of Southside Johnny as the B-team from the Jersey Shore. Springsteen would farm a couple tunes out to him for each of his early records. He never made much impact in Kansas City. As I got older I discovered his music and it’s really great, especially the LP ‘Hearts of Stone.’ Little Steven not only produced those early records, he wrote a lot of the songs that Southside Johnny performed. Again we find it was Little Steven shaping that Jersey shore sound. He went on to produce other artists from Darlene Love and Gary U.S. Bonds to the Arc Angels.

When Springsteen retreated to his home studio to labor over the solo, acoustic, dour album ‘Nebraska,’ Little Steven and the rest of the E Street Band were at loose ends. Springsteen didn’t tour after ‘Nebraska’ so that really left the band with nothing to do. Clarence Clemons even did a solo album with the Red Bank Rockers. Little Steven, whose popularity had been established with Springsteen in his live shows was approached about doing a solo album. The result, ‘Men Without Women’ has been described as the greatest Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes LP that they never made. I just remember sitting in my room in college when my roomie Drew came in with that album. It was a revelation. It was a soul rock classic. Drew turned me on to a lot of great music… but I digress.

Growing up on the Jersey Shore, in the 60s, must have been a unique time in music. You could hear literally everything on the radio back then. Soul music, like Otis Redding, Motown, the Beatles, Stones and British invasion bands. Listening to Little Steven’s work over the years you can tell all of that music stuck in his head. He has this unique way of blending both soul music, with big horns and the garage rock sound of early Beatles and Stones with heavy guitar. ‘Men Without Women’ was the perfect synthesis of all those sounds.

After that album, I followed Little Steven pretty closely. After the solo debut, he returned to work on Bruce’s ‘Born In The USA’ and then bowed out prior to the tour. I was really surprised when he left the E Street Band. There have been rumors it was because of conflict between him and Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau who wanted to take Bruce to over-the-top stardom. Little Steven was said to be the dissenting voice in the room who wanted Bruce to stay truer to the music vs the fame. Who knows? I’ve also read Little Steven say that he joined the E Street Band to help Springsteen “make it” and when he did he felt he could move on to his own solo career. While Springsteen toured the world on ‘Born In the USA’ Little Steven put out his second solo album, the decidedly political ‘Voice of America.’ I love that record but the production is very much of the 80s – tinny and too much synthesizer. The songs “Undefeated” and “I Am A Patriot” are still in high rotation here at the B&V lab some 30 years later…

In the early 90s, Springsteen disbanded the E Street Band. He spent the decade mostly in the wilderness. Finally at the end of the 90s Springsteen reunited the E Street Band, mostly to tour. It wasn’t until his 2002 masterpiece, ‘The Rising’ that Bruce got the band back in the studio together. During Springsteen’s wilderness period Little Steven did a couple more solo albums, but by then I’d lost touch with his music. I was heavily into Pearl Jam and Soundgarden in those days… 1999, when Springsteen reunited the E Street Band, marked Little Steven’s final solo album, or so I thought. The almost constant touring and the acting kept him busy in the interim.

I was delighted to see that Little Steven was returning to his solo career with this year’s ‘Soulfire.’ Gone are the political trappings that dominated much of his work from ‘VOA’ to his Sun City protest stuff. He’s back to doing what he does best – combining soul music, with the big horns and garage rock guitar. I really love this record. It’s so much fun to hear this sound. You just don’t hear records like this any more. This is a bit of a weird album for me as it’s mostly Little Steven covering his old material he wrote for other people, from Southside Johnny to Gary U.S. Bonds. So almost all the songs on this record may seem familiar to those of us who were fans of that Jersey Shore sound. Part of me thought that was cheating, but hey, they’re his songs. I wasn’t upset when Springsteen released his version of “The Fever,” why would I begrudge Little Steven reclaiming his old songs.

The horns on this record are huge. At first listen the album may seem a little monochromatic, but the more I listen the more nuanced stuff starts to jump out at me. Each new listen reveals something new to me. The album starts off with the title track, which starts with a funky little guitar that could have been cribbed from a Supreme’s record. Then the horns take off. Some may grouse about Little Steven’s vocals. Give me a guy who sings with heart and emotion over a perfect-pitch Steve Perry any day. Those same people are the ones I’ve heard complain about Neil Young’s vocal. It’s about feel, people, not hitting a perfect C.

The thing that jumped out at me almost immediately from this record is the Little Steven’s lead guitar playing. The solo on “I’m Coming Back” is Jeff Beck-ian. When Little Steven returned to the E Street Band it was really as 3rd guitarist behind Springsteen and the virtuoso Nils Lofgren so you don’t really get to hear him play those mean leads any more. I think he saved up all his great licks for this record. I love the way he plays the guitar on the blues stomper “The Blues Is My Business.” It’s bluesy but it cleaves to that horns/guitar template the whole album is built on.

There are changes of pace. The doo-wop song “The City Weeps Tonight” is just great. It’s a song the Shirelles could have done. The ballad, “Some Things Don’t Change” builds and builds to the climax at the end. I love the Byrds-y guitar that starts off the Springsteen co-written “Love On The Wrong Side of Town.” All of Little Steven’s influences can be heard on this record. The centerpiece of this record, for me, is “Down And Out in New York City.” It starts off with that funky was-wah guitar sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an Isaac Hayes or James Brown record. It’s an epic soul jam and perhaps my favorite song on this record. It even boasts a trumpet solo in the end, which I was frankly, not expecting. The beginning of “Standing In The Line of Fire” sounds like the soundtrack to a spaghetti western. There are subtle shadings like that all over this record.

I highly recommend this album to any fan of big, soulful, epic, fun, rock and roll. This is a great time from start to finish. Often in B&V I read myself typing “this is not an album you’d put on at a party.” Not so, this time around. ‘Soulfire’ is the kind of enormous music you’d want to play at a party. Turn this one up loud!

Cheers!

The B&V List of Essential “Hybrid” LPs – Part Live/Part Studio Albums

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I recently posted a review of the fabulous new Cheap Trick LP, ‘We’re All Alright’ and it prompted a number of emails and text messages from friends of B&V. The messages were all very similar in nature. To paraphrase, most of the messages were something like, “Enjoyed the review, I used to listen to Cheap Trick’s ‘At Budokan’ all the time.” It seems that all of us of a certain age remember and love that live album. It truly was a huge record. It was to Cheap Trick what ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ was to Peter Frampton or what ‘Live Bullet’ was to Bob Seger. Simply put, it was a career defining live album.

Since I spend way too much time thinking about and listening to music I began to think about great live albums and ponder compiling the B&V list of essential live albums. It’s an idea I’ve been toying with for a long time. However, the list in my head would probably be a little unwieldy. I’m not sure I could fit it all into one blog post. I can be, well, a little wordy.

As I was thinking about this list of live albums, I began to realize that there’s some great live music that’s been released over the years, but not necessarily on the full-on, classic double-live-LP format. In many cases, there have been what I call “hybrid” albums released by some of rock’s greatest bands. By “hybrid,” I mean part studio album, part live album. Think of these albums like a hybrid car, part combustion engine, part electric. I’m not talking about albums with a bonus live cut, or the stray live song like the Stones’ ‘December’s Children” or the Faces’ ‘Long Player.’ I’m talking about albums that are split between live and studio cuts.

I’ve always struggled to categorize the Hybrid albums. In the early days it felt a little like cheating, to augment studio recordings with live cuts. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that in many cases, combining the energy of a band’s live shows with additional studio tracks actually makes sense. Sometimes bands struggle to capture the lightning they generate on stage in the studio. Besides, art is art, who am I that I should view music so narrowly? I will say, when I eventually (and it is inevitable) get around to writing the essential live LPs list, I won’t include these Hybrid records… I am a flexible, but I remain a purist at heart.

Here then, are the B&V list of Essential Hybrid Live/Studio LPs:

  1. Cream, ‘Wheels Of Fire’ – This Cream masterwork is probably the granddaddy of the whole hybrid concept. This would have been a classic album if it had just been the single LP of studio cuts. Songs like “Politician” and “White Room” were instant classics. The blues covers, “Sitting On Top Of The World” and “Born Under A Bad Sign” remain amongst my favorite. Cream, always a legendary live act, included a second album of live cuts and holy shit, are they amazing. They take the song “Spoonful” made famous by Howlin Wolf and written by Willie Dixon and stretch it to almost 17 minutes. The Ginger Baker drum solo “Toad” is also of a similar length and paved the road John Bonham and Neil Pert would travel.
  2. The Allman Brothers Band, ‘Eat A Peach’ – The Allmans, reeling from the loss of founder and leader Duane Allman cobbled together studio cuts recorded with Duane, new studio cuts and leftover cuts from the Fillmore East. That may sound like a patchwork, but this is one of the Allman’s best albums. “Mountain Jam” is a monumental Duane Allman/Dickey Betts jam and I love that it took up side 2 and side 3 of the vinyl album. This was a fitting farewell for Duane. The studio cuts include the sad, acoustic “Melissa” and one of my favorite Gregg songs, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.”
  3. U2, ‘Rattle And Hum’ – U2 took a ton of critical backlash when this LP followed their masterpiece, ‘The Joshua Tree.’ Frankly, I think that criticism was horse shit. This is the sound of a great band discovering their roots and their inspirations and paying tribute to them. There are some great, great songs on this album including “Desire,” “All I Want Is You” and “Angel of Harlem.” The live stuff stands up amongst their best – the covers “All Along the Watchtower,” and especially “Helter Skelter” are both great. The live version of “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” augmented by a choir is transcendent. “Silver and Gold” live is the definitive version of the song… even though Bono is a little confused about what the blues were…
  4. Cream, ‘Goodbye’ – On their farewell album, Cream return to the format that served them so well on ‘Wheels of Fire.’ Although in this case, it’s a single album with one side dedicated to live stuff and the other to studio cuts. The most famous track from the studio album is “Badge,” co-written by Clapton and George Harrison. I love the live stuff, especially the take on “Politician.”
  5. Guns N Roses, ‘Lies’ – The band has always said that side one of this album was recorded live and released on an indie label as ‘Live Like a Suicide.’ There has been a lot of question about the veracity of that. I still like this album. The cover of “Mama Kin” helped Aerosmith make their comeback. “Move To the City” is just a dirty boogie. The second side, ostensibly the studio side, has the great tune, “Patience.” Although I must admit, there was quite a bit of controversy, deservedly so for the use of a racial slur and a homophobic slur on “One In A Million.” It’s cringe worthy, yes. Axl has apologized but that doesn’t make “One In A Million” any less problematic. That aside, the acoustic version of “You’re Crazy” may be the definitive one. And I like the dark humor of “Used To Love Her,” but then I had a lot of bad relationships back in the day…
  6. Genesis, ‘Three Sides Live’ – I hesitated to include this album, as it’s a full on live album, well for three sides, with an entire side of studio cuts. What separates it from say, the Stones’ ‘Flashpoint’ which had 2 studio tracks at the end of the live performance, is the volume of studio cuts. Plus the song “Paperlate” is one of Genesis’ best tunes.
  7. Page/Plant, ‘No Quarter: Unledded’ – When Robert Plant decided to join the long list of artists who did MTV’s Unplugged series, he decided to follow up what Rod Stewart did when he brought in his old partner Ronnie Wood. Plant brought in Jimmy Page. While most unplugged projects were all live performances, Page and Plant augment some of the great acoustic live stuff with reworked versions of old songs. “Nobody’s Fault” and “No Quarter” are given complete reworkings in the studio. They augment the classics with three great new songs that even include some world music elements on “Yallah” and “City Don’t Cry.” One of the better unplugged recordings out there.

I recommend all these records, although I’ll admit GnR’s “Lies” isn’t for the PG-13 crowd. I’d probably skip the tune “One In A Million.” These albums represent some of the best stuff these bands have done, and while you might not find them on my essential live LP list, they certainly boast some great live cuts.

B&V Goes Out Drinking, Supports Live Music: Kansas City’s Amanda Fish

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Anymore I find myself staying home more often than not. My Howard Hughes-hermit-loner phase is getting stronger. I haven’t quite got the point where I’m urinating into milk bottles, but I’m sure that’s coming. I seem to forget to shave for days on end but at least I do bathe regularly. The problem for the Rock Chick and me is that our friends are all married with children. Usually we just end up alone, sitting on the deck, sipping something strong.

However, work does occasionally pull me out of the house. I had one such evening a couple of Wednesdays ago. A guy who works for me, who I’ll call Ned, came to Kansas City so we could do some “second half planning,” which means eat BBQ and drink. After a rigorous afternoon spent in the office where surprisingly to me we actually did some work, Ned and I headed out to one of Kansas City’s premier BBQ joints, Q39. It may possibly be the best BBQ I’ve ever had and I’ve had a lot. The place is always packed. Although I must admit I was terribly disappointed they’ve removed the burnt ends from the appetizer menu, but this isn’t the place to air my grievances.

After feasting on perfectly smoked beast, Ned and I sat at the bar sipping whiskey. After a quick Google-Map search, I saw that he was staying at a downtown hotel, near a couple of bars I used to frequent prior to meeting the Rock Chick. While I don’t go out or drink on weeknights anymore, sometimes when I do, the wind just sort of pushes me along, I never know where I’ll find myself. I end up bouncing from bar to bar, talking to strangers, in the old days bumming cigarettes and making people laugh. I’m like Tyrion Lannister, “I drink and I know things.” I’m out spreading joy folks, one bar, one drink at a time. Although now it’s without the cigarettes.

We quickly Uber’ed down to John’s Big Deck on Wyandotte. We went bounding up the stairs, which I had trouble finding (I really need to get out more) and went up to the big deck a few flights up. John’s Big Deck boasts, as you would expect, a giant deck on the roof that has a magnificent view of KC’s skyline. The sign by the stairs reads, “Can You Handle Our Big Deck.” It was just that kind of night. Ned is from a “Red” state and I’m not sure he was emotionally prepared for the mix of hipsters, bohemians, and gay off-duty waiters in the crowd up there. We sat at the end of the bar and I educated the youngsters around me on the politics of income inequality. It didn’t take long before it was just Ned and I sitting at the end of the bar… I suppose you should never talk a little treason on a Wednesday night in Kansas City…

I was restless, as I’m prone to be, and after a few rounds, it was time to walk up a block or so to the Phoenix, a piano bar on 8th street. I briefly dated, more like “hung out with,” a woman who lived in that neighborhood, many moons ago, and we drank at the Phoenix quite a bit. The Rock Chick and I actually took our dear friend Rhonda, who is newer to town, down there one Saturday afternoon this spring. I always loved the Phoenix. There was a bald piano player, whose name escapes me, who might have owned the place at one time and he used to play there almost every night. Any more, you never know what you’ll find there. Most of the time it’s a small jazz trio/combo. I’ve heard some great singers in the Phoenix and since we were close, I felt Ned deserved the full Kansas City experience – BBQ and jazz.

We quickly bellied up to the bar and I noticed the crowd was a little thin. I was a tad worried there’d be no music. Suddenly a young woman, who looked vaguely familiar to me, but whom I couldn’t place, sat down behind the piano with an acoustic guitar. She started strumming the guitar and singing. I thought, “Oh, great, some college chick has come in to warble tortured romantic folks songs.” I put my nose in my beer and Nate and I chatted about sports. Every now and then, the singer’s voice would pierce through the fog the boilermakers were creating around my head and I’d think, “Wow, what a strong voice this chick has.” I quietly imagined her as busker on some street corner who had wandered into a great gig at premier jazz bar.

After a few acoustic guitar songs, the singer turned and pulled up an electric guitar. “Well, this just got interesting,” I said to Ned… The gal sang a few blues tunes but she really caught my attention when she played “Angel,” a Jimi Hendrix song. It was also covered by Rod Stewart, which I mention because it actually comes into play later in this story. Ned leaned over and said, “The music this gal is playing just keeps getting better… I don’t think it’s the booze.” Indeed, I don’t think we were drinking this gal’s music pretty, as the saying goes… she was incredibly talented. Ned and my conversation soon halted as we listened to this woman sing. “Who is this talented woman,” I kept muttering. I knew I’d heard her voice before.

Almost as quickly as she’d discarded the acoustic guitar, she put aside the electric guitar and turned to the piano. I couldn’t help but think, this woman is like Prince, there’s no instrument she can’t play. She belted a perfect rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” I was all in now. I had turned away from the bar and was staring straight at her, trying to place her face. It was starting to get late and I knew Ned was ready to crash but I had to stay for one more song. She broke into the old Etta James’ tune, “I’d Rather Go Blind.” As she finished, Ned tabbed us out and we lurched toward the door. I had to speak to this woman… I pulled all the loose cash I’d accumulated over an evening of drinking and said to her, “Miss, this is a feeble tip considering the amazing music you’ve played here tonight,” and dropped the money in the tip jar.

She smiled and thanked me. I had to ask, “That version of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” was that inspired by the Etta James version or the Rod Stewart version? It was spot on.” The singer asked me, “Rod Stewart did that song?” I said yes, with Ronnie Wood. And this is the moment I embarrassed myself… She asked, “With the Faces?” I’m old, and deaf and thought she said, “on the bass?” I’m sure I looked puzzled when I replied, “No, Ronnie played guitar.” In my defense, not many young people know about the Faces. She was laughing at me now, when she repeated loudly, “The Faces, I know Ronnie plays the guitar.” I smiled as the Faces reference finally registered, as everyone knows, I love the Faces. Rod’s version was recorded by the Faces but released on one of his solo albums.

And, since I hadn’t embarrassed myself enough, I said, “What is your name, you’re super talented…” Ned was holding something just outside of my peripheral vision, but I was locked in on the singer’s face. She looked a tad astonished that I’d asked. “I’m Amanda Fish…” I glanced to my left and Ned was holding her CD, with her name printed on it just out of my vision. Amanda Fish! I almost swatted my hand upon my forehead. The Blues Gods should have smote me dead on the spot. If you haven’t heard Amanda Fish yet, you soon will. She’s an amazing talent. If you dig raw blues, pick up her LP ‘Down In The Dirt’ immediately. I’d seen her several times, but I was always in the back of a room, and she was always on stage with a band. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize her close up. I blushed when I saw and heard her say her name. I wanted to crawl into a hole… at least the whiskey helped…

This, people, is why I don’t go out anymore. But then again, maybe this is a cautionary tale, a sign, telling me I should get out more… it’s hard to know how to read this sign.

If you get the chance to see live music, especially the blues or rock and roll, and especially if it’s Amanda Fish, do yourself a favor and buy the ticket. Take the ride!

Cheers!

LP Review: Cheap Trick’s ‘We’re All Alright!’ – Pure, Rock Delight

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I know what you’re thinking… Cheap Trick? Really? Many of you are probably amazed they’re still around, although just last year they were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. And many others of you are thinking, Cheap Trick, why bother? But if you’re like me, you remember the latter half of the 70s when Cheap Trick were huge. They were the soundtrack of my junior high school years.

Their early records, ‘Cheap Trick,’ ‘In Color,’ and ‘Heaven Tonight’ are all exceptional, must-have records. Although it wasn’t until their fourth record, the epic ‘Live At Budokan’ that they hit it big. I can remember late junior high school/early high school, when every day my buddy Brewster would come to pick me up in his tan Chevy Monza. He had, of all things, an 8-track player and each morning without fail we listened to Cheap Trick’s ‘Live At Budokan.’ It took years for me to know the exact playing order of the record because the 8-track bounced around in a seemingly random way. I never understood that technology… Anyway, everywhere you went in those days you’d hear “Surrender” or “I Want You To Want Me.”

Cheap Trick always had a bit of a split personality to me… Maybe it was the divide in the band of two good looking guys and two goofy looking guys that gave me that impression. At least they were smart enough to keep guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos on the back of most of their early album covers. Put the pretty members in front of the tent to draw the chicks in… On one hand, Cheap Trick had a garage rock feel to me. Now that I’ve discovered Big Star and their exceptional LP, “#1 Record” (reviewed earlier on B&V The Music of Cinemax’s Quarry Led Me To Big Star’s “#1 Record” ) I now realize the huge debt Cheap Trick owes them. Big Star was always described as power pop, but Cheap Trick were always a little heavier. That said, their early career couldn’t be possible without the song “Don’t You Lie To Me” from Big Star.

The other side of Cheap Trick for me was their intense Beatles fetish. Not that there’s anything wrong with a Beatles fetish… If you’re going to emulate a band, it might as well be one of the greatest. The zenith of their Beatlesque tendencies was the follow up to ‘Budokan,’ the George Martin produced ‘Dream Police.’ You can’t get more Beatles than George Martin. Two members of Cheap Trick actually played on the John Lennon ‘Double Fantasy’ sessions. For me, I always appreciated the rockier side of Cheap Trick vs the overblown Beatles-esque stuff. At their best however, they were able to blend the best of both sides. They did a nice rocking re-work of George Harrison’s “Taxman” as early as their first record.

After ‘Dream Police,’ as suddenly as they had ascended, Cheap Trick’s commercial fortunes started to fade. Maybe they should have stuck with the rockier, Big Star side of their personality. It got so bad the movie “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” made fun of them as “kiddy music.” If I’m using a cultural sub-reference as deep as “Fast Times…” you know these guys have been around a long time, but I digress. To Cheap Trick’s credit, they shouldered on. The 80s and 90s were particularly tough on them. Bass player, Tom Petersson even left during that tumultuous time, only to return later. Even though they were no longer the creative/commercial juggernaut they’d been in the 70s, it seemed every so often, they’d put out a great song. “She’s Tight” caught my ear in the early 80s as did “The Flame” later that decade. So in a way, I was always aware they were around.

I figured they were making the concert circuit, a good “greatest hits band” and that was all there was to it. But then came the surprisingly great 2006 album, ‘Rockford.’ There was life left in these guys after all. It’s the kind of late career gem that B&V was created for. ‘The Latest’ in 2009 was another solid album, if not quite up to ‘Rockford.’ They were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame last year and released another solid record in ‘Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello.’ Somehow I missed reviewing that one… too much going on. I was sorry to see that original drummer Bun E. Carlos had been booted out by that time… to paraphrase the “Big Lebowski,” “I didn’t like to see Bun E go out that way…”  And here we are a year later and they’ve already put out their next album, ‘We’re All Alright,’ a title that harkens back to their heyday and their biggest song, “Surrender.” Putting out an album a year? This really does feel like the 70s.

‘We’re All Alright’ is another late career triumph for Cheap Trick. This is a great album. I would definitely suggest the deluxe edition, as it has three strong, additional tunes. The triptych opening of the swaggering “You Got It Going On,” my favorite tune “Long Time Coming,” and the punky “Nowhere” rock with a joyful abandon. Singer Robin Zander sounds almost unhinged on “Long Time Coming” in a very, very good way when he sings “Shake, shake, shake it…”  “Radio Lover” and “Lolita” are also great Cheap Trick songs. The track, “She’s Alright” is driven along by a great Tom Petersson bass line, which is a nice change of pace tune. Rick Nielsen is just shredding on lead guitar. He’s the star of this record in my mind, although Robin Zander’s vocals are pretty amazing too. While the album rocks from start to finish, they do mix it up the sounds a bit to give this album a lot of flavor. The aforementioned “She’s Alright” and “Floating Down,” a soaring, mid-tempo ballad help break up the full on rock assault. They do find time to indulge their inner Beatles fetish on “Blackberry Way” which sounds like it could have been an outtake from the ‘Sgt Pepper’ sessions. “Rest of My Life” is another standout mid-tempo track. “Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo” is a fun, almost Motley Crue-ish tune.

If like good, ol’ fashion, guitar rock and roll, this is a must have record. Something has really kicked these guys into gear. Maybe it’s Nielsen’s son on the drums now, but these guys are on fire on this record. Even the Rock Chick strolled into the lab here at B&V and said, “Is this that new Cheap Trick, it’s great.” I suggest putting this record on, turned up to 11, with a nice glass of rye whiskey.

Happy 4th of July! Keep all your fingers safe out there folks!

 

 

BourbonAndVinyl iPod Playlist: 4th of July, American Independence Day

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Ah, the 4th of July… When I was a kid, we’d travel down to southeast Kansas to visit my grandparents. Outside of town, there was a rock quarry or the remnants of a coal strip-mining site with a huge piles of rocks. It was like a desolate alien landscape from a bad sci-fi movie. We’d climb the rock hills and throw firecrackers off the top. Well, my grandfather wouldn’t throw the fireworks, he’d light them with his Camel filterless, and drop it at his feet. When the firecracker went off, he’d shrug his shoulders as if to say, “that’s all you’ve got?” He really was part of the greatest generation… but I digress. We were like any other American family – on 4th of July – we blew shit up. It’s what you do. It’s like drinking tequila on Cinco De Mayo.

When I finally, at a later age than most, found myself in a family with the Rock Chick and my stepdaughter, I carried the tradition of 4th of July pyrotechnics with me. We’d pile in the car, drive south of the city, stop at a fireworks stand (that Missouri is so famous for) and load up with explosive goodies. The Rock Chick, I was soon to find out, loves fireworks. If I truly consider her penchant for books and TV shows about murder and mayhem along with her hysterical laughter while lighting fire works, I might start to become anxious about the length of my existence, but that’s for me to worry about. We’d drive out into the country, to my sister-in-law’s farmhouse and by the time we were done, her back porch looked like a scorched battle site. The husks of burned out rockets and smoke bombs littered the yard. We’d cap the day, as the sun faded, sitting on the roof of the farmhouse, which was on small hill. From the roof we could see each fireworks display from every small town between us and Kansas City. The sky was a a panorama of bright, multi-colored sparks. The rocket’s red glare, as the saying goes…

Being an American is a complicated thing. It means a lot of different things to different people. We’re the freest nation on earth yet we were founded by Puritans. For every good time, there’s someone to guilt us about it. It’s quite a party… To me, I just love my country. I’m not some sort of neo-nationalist. I’m the classic American mutt. In the words of Bill Murray in ‘Stripes,’ “my ancestors were kicked out of every other descent country on the planet.”

In all seriousness, my great-grandfather left his home in Modena, Italy and traveled all the way across the world to southeast Kansas. I groused about having to move to Arkansas when I graduated from college… I kind of feel guilty about that when I think about what he must have gone through. He came to America at a time when Irish and Italian immigrants were flocking to the U.S. for work. This didn’t sit well with a lot of the current inhabitants of America at the time because the Irish and the Italians were Catholic. Southern Europeans weren’t exactly welcome. And yet my great-grandfather managed to travel here, get a job in a coal mining outfit and thrive. When it was time for him to get married, he went back to Italy, found  a bride and brought her back over here.

My grandfather, who was a mechanical genius, never went to college but could overhaul a car by the age of thirteen. He spent most of his life working as a clerk in an auto-parts store. Eventually the owner offered to sell him the store. He bought it and then opened another. I often wonder, where else in the world could the son of an immigrant with an Italian surname, rise from relative obscurity to a solid member of the middle class. He even joined the Rotary. He made enough money to send my father and his two siblings to college.

My father paid that forward for me… That’s why I love this country. That’s why I load up the car every year, head out to the country and light off fireworks. I do it to honor my immigrant past. There’s a lot of debate about who should and who shouldn’t be allowed to move to the U.S. these days. Since we’re a nation of immigrants, and I include myself in that number, I figure it’s best to make room for the next bunch of folks who are traveling here, looking for a better life. I know that scares some people, but fear is not what the Founding Fathers built this nation on. I choose to believe in the best parts of ol’ U.S.A.

As I was thinking about all of this, I began to consider all the great, conflicted rock music that’s been written about America. As I’m blowing things up this year, in the midst of the mayhem, I realized I needed some rock and roll. So here is my take on a 4th of July, Independence Day playlist. There’s nothing like a little guitar to go along with the sound of exploding stuff. This is a classic rock blog, so you’re not going to find any of that jingoistic Toby Keith crap here… I know I will have left some songs off, so please recommend additions in the comments. Also, some of these songs may rankle you, but spirited debate is always a critical thing in a democracy. So, as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler says on the great live album, “Live Bootleg,” at a show on Independence Day, “Happy Birthday Everybody!” I tend to shuffle this playlist, but I always start with the first track… it’s essential to do that, it’s only right…the rest is all just random.

  1. Jimi Hendrix, “The Star Spangled Banner” – You’ve gotta kick off the party with some Hendrix from Woodstock.
  2. John Mellencamp, “R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A.” – Cheesy, perhaps, but this song just explodes out of the speakers like, well, a firecracker.
  3. Steve Miller Band, “Livin’ In The USA” – Groovy late 60s/early 70s blues.
  4. Chuck Berry, “Back In The USA” – Believe it or not, Linda Rondstadt does a nice little version of this too, if you prefer. I prefer Chuck, always.
  5. The Clash, “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” – I don’t think anybody is bored with us these days…
  6. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, “Ah, Mary” – Wait to the end… it’ll make sense. With my thanks to my pal Doug for this one…
  7. U2, “Bullet the Blue Sky” – Perfect soundtrack for exploding fireworks.
  8. David Bowie, “I’m Afraid of Americans” – Well, technically I’m only afraid of half of them… well, really only 35% of them.
  9. Bruce Springsteen, “Born In the U.S.A.” – Well, this one is just obvious. The story of a Vietnam vet, left behind economically by his country, still crying out his allegiance… It still brings goosebumps, all these years later.
  10. The Runaways, “American Nights” – Bad girls Joan Jett and Lita Ford’s early band celebrating American bad girls.
  11. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Plan B” – We all need a plan B right now…
  12. Bruce Springsteen, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” – An epic song for an epic holiday.
  13. John Mellencamp, “Justice and Independence ’85” – I generally hate allegory but this song rocks and swings all at the same time. I still don’t know what Mellencamp’s trying to say here.
  14. Jackson Browne, “For America” – One of my favorite from Jackson.
  15. Paul McCartney, “Freedom” – Written in the aftermath of 9/11, I hated this song when I first heard it, but it’s actually really catchy. There’s a great little guitar solo at the end.
  16. John Mellencamp, “Pink Houses” – “Ain’t that America…” And, yes, I’ll admit there’s a lot of Mellencamp here, but the guy has a ton of songs about our country. There are several I left off. The guy’s obsessed with America, what can I say.
  17. Lenny Kravitz, “Black And White America” – Great title track from one of my favorite overlooked LPs from Lenny.
  18. The Guess Who, “American Woman” – Dedicate one to the ladies…
  19. Randy Newman, “Political Science” – “No one likes us, I don’t know why, we may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try…” The man is a genius and this song is funny.
  20. David Bowie, “Young Americans” – “She wants the young American…”
  21. Bruce Springsteen, “Land of Hope And Dreams” – America certainly was this for my family…
  22. Elton John, “Philadelphia Freedom” – Cheesy, yeah, it is, but I couldn’t resist.
  23. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Girl” – Another one for the ladies…
  24. Eurythmics, “King and Queen of America” – I just love this song.
  25. Dave Matthews Band, “American Baby” – A quiet, understated ballad from Dave and the guys…
  26. The Cult, “American Horse” – Some hard rock, yes please!
  27. The Kinks, “Help Me Now I’m Falling” – Ray Davies images America as Captain America on a bad day… More relevant now than ever.
  28. The Cult, “Wake Up Time For Freedom” – It certainly is a wake up time…
  29. Green Day, “American Idiot” – A Bush (W) era chestnut that resonates more now.
  30. Sammy Hagar, “Eagles Fly” – Sammy goes solo and hoists the flag.
  31. Little Steven, “I Am A Patriot” – I think I put this on every playlist I do…
  32. U2, “The Hands That Built America” – Great soundtrack cut from U2.
  33. Jimi Hendrix, “Freedom” – That’s what its’ all about.
  34. Neil Young, “Rockin’ In The Free World” – One of Neil’s greatest rock tunes.
  35. Ray Charles, “America The Beautiful” – Who doesn’t enjoy hearing Brother Ray put some true soul and love into this patriotic standard…it’s the perfect end.

Happy 4th of July everyone. Be careful out there… Don’t blow off any fingers or get burned. We don’t want another Jean Pierre-Paul on our hands… Drink something strong, only after you’re done blowing shit up, pause and reflect on the principles this country was founded on. We need true patriots right now… Enjoy!

p.s. This playlist can now be found on Spotify under BourbonAndViny.net 4th of July

Enjoy!

My Beatles Weekend: ‘Eight Days A Week’ Documentary & Classic Album Sundays, ‘Sgt Pepper’

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Weekends this summer have been pretty quiet since my daughter visited us over Memorial Day. The Rock Chick and I have been laying low, as the saying goes. There’s nothing wrong with laying low, but every now and then you need a good old fashioned rock and roll weekend. Usually this involves strong, dark, murky brown fluids. In the case of this weekend that meant a lot of Templeton Rye. And of course, you need some loud music and the accompanying debauchery that implies…

The Rock Chick and my musical tastes are very aligned. I’ve probably never known anybody whose rock proclivities match mine this closely. It’s important that you marry someone who likes good music. What to do if you were to come down one morning to find your spouse listening to Neil Diamond? Grounds for divorce? I think so… As closely aligned as my wife and my musical tastes are, they are the classic Venn Diagram. Two large circles that partially overlap (or in my case, significantly overlap) but leaving some music outside our shared likes. One blind spot for the Rock Chick has always been, surprisingly, The Beatles. I consider this a failure of classic rock radio but I don’t want to get started on that…

I think it was my friend, Drummer Blake, who alerted me that the excellent Ron Howard documentary, ‘Eight Days A Week’ was now streaming on Netflix. While I bought the live LP that was released at the same time, ‘Live At The Hollywood Bowl’ (reviewed on a previous post), I never got around to watching the related documentary. As you would expect from Ron Howard the documentary is exceptional. What doesn’t that guy do well? The focus of the film is on the Beatles touring years, when they were still a working, concert band. Saturday night, I pulled it up and screened it for the Rock Chick… and to my delight she really enjoyed this film. We ended up listening to several early Beatles records after that, including ‘Rubber Soul’ (my favorite) and ‘Help!’

When the Beatles decided in the fall of 1966 to stop touring it was a pretty big deal. There were all kinds of rumors that they were breaking up. It came as a bit of a surprise, since the road was where they made most of their money. However, watching this documentary made me wonder why anybody would be surprised that the Beatles quit touring. It was utter madness. Beatle-mania should have been called Beatle-mayhem. The crowds were crazed and in some cases menacing. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for the four lads from Liverpool, hiding in a bathroom at the Plaza Hotel in New York, staring at each others, mouths agape, wondering what they had unleashed.

If you contrast the beginning of the film, the Beatles triumphant arrival in New York, with how they look towards the end of the touring years, you can see how haggard they were. That first press conference at the airport in New York, they were fresh, bright eyed kids. They joked with the reporters and you could feel the love they had inspired. They showed an excerpt from a press conference on the last tour and to quote the Rock Chick, they sounded “snarky.” The difference in their appearance was arresting. They were clearly exhausted and tired of the circus. John had inadvertently compared the Beatles popularity to that of Jesus and that made the religious right, especially in the Southern part of the U.S., go a little crazy. The film of the organized burning of Beatles albums reminded me of Nazi book burnings. At one point during the latter press conference a reporter asked how the Beatles felt that their upcoming concert wasn’t sold out… Lennon sneered, “Rich,” as a response. Why do the press always want to tear people down?

After a few months off, the Beatles barricaded themselves in Abbey Road studios and decided to focus on recording albums with George Martin. The last image from the touring years was the cover of ‘Sgt Pepper’s.’ Quitting touring allowed the Beatles to really stretch out and stretch the boundaries of what had been done before in the idiom of rock and roll music. The movie did fade out with shots of the Beatles iconic last show from the roof of Apple. Quitting touring, while momentous to the concert world, meant even bigger things to come from the Beatles in the  studio.

Coincidentally, after watching the documentary, the next day was ClassicAlbum Sundays and the featured album was ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ It’s the 50th anniversary, and despite the album of the month actually being ‘Exile On Mainstreet,’ our local host chose to do ‘Sgt Pepper’ instead. It turned out that watching ‘Eight Days a Week’ was the perfect lead up for the ClassicAlbum Sunday’s fare. Once a month, intrepid music fans in Kansas City (and other cities across the globe) gather at a local pizza joint, like early Christians in the catacombs, to hear the greatest albums ever recorded. This Sunday was the June presentation.

As usual, our host had a superb collection of music. He curated a fantastic afternoon of music. I wondered if he would do a history of the Beatles or more of a snapshot of 1967. He actually did a little of both. He played selections from the Beatles prior albums, ‘Rubber Soul,’ and ‘Revolver’ which were the records that really set the stage for ‘Sgt Pepper.’ Alongside that he played several cuts from bands from Northern England from that time period, The Hollies and Gerry and the Pacemakers. It gave you a real feel for the Mersey Sound.

From there we heard a host of contemporary cuts from 66 and 67. Beach Boys, Otis Redding, Spencer Davis Group, Jimi Hendrix and even the Monkees. Particularly inspired choices were Pink Floyd’s ‘Arnold Layne’ and  Frank Zappa’s ‘Hungry Freaks, Daddy.’ Zappa’s LP ‘Freak Out’ had heavily influenced McCartney and ‘Pet Sounds’ by the Beach Boys had heavily influenced John Lennon. The way the afternoon was curated it really gave you a feel for the musical landscape that helped birth ‘Sgt Pepper.’ It also made you realize how revolutionary it was. The sound, as usual, was spectacular. You could have heard a pin drop as the last, long piano chord was struck. They played the newly released, Giles Martin produced, stereo version of the album which surprised me, as I thought they’d go with the mono version. However, the choice was a good one, as this new stereo version is spectacular.

While McCartney was clearly the driving force behind ‘Sgt Pepper,’ the sheer quality of Lennon’s work on this LP, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” and “A Day In The Life” just to name two, is simply astonishing. These guys did things in the studio that had never been done before and will likely never be done again. Yesterday merely underscored for me what I already knew… ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ is the absolute greatest rock and roll album ever released.

And more importantly, to me at least, the Rock Chick now digs the Beatles. A splendid time, was indeed, had by all…

Cheers!