Playlist: Favorite Country Rock Songs – Rockers Going “Country-ish,” Hidden Rhinestone Gems

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*Image of Gram Parsons taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

If someone were to ask me today, what my favorite music is, I’d give the same answer I would have given when I was in my teens. I only hate two kinds of music – country and western. Especially today’s country. I mean I’ll admit as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten into Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline and the late, great Johnny Cash. I saw Merle Haggard open for Dylan and frankly he blew Bob off the stage. His voice is liked aged whiskey, amazingly smooth. I was probably aided in my journey toward older country music by my sister-in-law who happens to be a country singer in a gigging band. That said, today’s country music is nauseating to my rock n roll sensibilities. It all sounds like re warmed Bob Seger played with an insipid twang.

However, I have to admit some of the greatest rock and roll bands/artists ever have done country songs. Or at the very least “country-ish” songs. They’ve all done tracks that are either overtly country or heavily influenced by country. I’m not talking about Bon Jovi doing a country album as a career move. I’m talking about the Stones, the Byrds or Neil Young making country rock, well, fashionable. Country rock was established in the late sixties… bands from the Buffalo Springfield to the Stones incorporated country-tinged tracks on their albums. No one more than the Byrds who did a straight-up country album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. That album came out when country music was considered the property of red-necks and hicks. Which, let’s admit, it is. The Byrds actually played a show at the Grand Ole Opry… their long hair was met with sullen, menacing silence. Country rock was born!

I actually started out tangentially listening to country. My dad had a stack of singles from when he was young and cool. He had some great music in that old wire rack of his. My brother kind of took ownership of those singles and played them all the time. I remember hearing Dion, Elvis Presley and yes, Johnny Cash. Oddly though I never associated Cash’s music with country music. It sounded more fundamental to me. I thought of Johnny Cash along the same lines as Elvis, as early, earthy rock and roll. There wasn’t that much separation between Elvis and Johnny to my novice ears. It all had a steady beat. Years later during his American Recordings era I started to hear people describe Johnny as the world’s first punk rocker. Weirdly, I sorta get that.

While I was as staunchly anti-country music as I was a “Death Before Disco” guy, I was actually listening to rock acts doing country without realizing it. I can be a little thick. On the first album I ever bought, the Stones’ Some Girls, one of my favorite tracks was always “Far Away Eyes.” I loved that it lampooned people for using religion for more…temporal purposes. In the song Mick prays and sends a donation to a radio church for a girl with “far away eyes.” Praying for sex? It actually makes some sense. It was years before I realized that song was basically a country song. I finally started to realize how many great country tracks the Stones did. That was mostly from the influence of Keith Richards’ friend, Gram Parsons. Gram was the driving force in his brief period in the Byrds and got them to record Sweetheart of the Radio. Gram turned Keith onto country music and he started writing songs in that country vein. Jagger once said that while the band played straight up country he always sang it in a mocking style. Tongue in cheek (rather than sticking out through thick lips like their logo) and rolling eyes. He said he considered himself more of a blues singer than a country singer. Only later did he get into in a serious way with tracks like “Wild Horses.” Whether its blues, country or reggae (B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More) Mick can sing anything.

When I was in college I had a music addict (like me) for a roommate, Drew. Drew was the one who turned me onto Neil Young. Prior to meeting Drew I’d have said, eh, Neil, no thanks on that voice. In 1985 Neil went full on country with his album Old Ways. It was during a bit of a creative and commercial lull in Neil’s career. Geffen Records had actually sued him for purposely making “uncommercial music.” As a “fuck you” to the record company he went full on country on Old Ways. I think there’s even a duet with Willie Nelson. To this day, I’ve never heard that record. In ’85 having just been turned onto Neil and his great early catalog, I went and found Drew to announce the bad news… “Oh my God, Neil has gone country, can you believe it?” Drew, ever the wise rock and roller, shook his head and said, “Have you been listening to Neil? What do you think he meant by “Are You Ready For The Country”?” My god, he was right.

In the years since then I’ve branched out in many ways musically. I’m still not a fan of most country music but I can dig country rock. It’s, to my ears, a lot like folk rock. I’ve really gotten into the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and similar acts. One guy who was critical to the whole movement, pictured above, was Gram Parsons. Gram was in the Byrds when they did Sweetheart, as I mentioned above. He hung out with Keith at Nellcote in France, while the Stones were recording the basic tracks for Exile On Mainstreet. From the Byrds he went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Chris Hillman, another hugely influential band. He dreamt of an “Cosmic American Music” blending rock and country. Frankly I think ex-Byrd Gene Clark came closer than Gram did… As I started to piece this playlist together, I realized I had to represent all that great music.

I’ve attempted in this playlist to compile my favorite country rock tunes. Some of these are really full on country, some are just country influenced or tinged. I think there are some real hidden gems here. My hope, as with all of my playlists, is that you’ll hear a song you might not have heard – or haven’t heard in a long time. My dearest hope is you’ll think, man I love that song. There are probably great country/country-rock songs I’ve missed here. I’m not into say, Poco. So if I’ve missed something you dig, put it in the comment section and I’ll add it to the playlist which as always is on Spotify. This one is under “BourbonAndVinyl.net Favorite Country Rock Songs.” I always recommend pushing the “shuffle” button. Put on your cowboy hat, put a piece of grass between your teeth, grab your favorite moonshine and groove on these tracks…The link to the Spotify playlist is below.

  1. The Rolling Stones, “Far Away Eyes” – This is where it all started for me so I had to start here.
  2. Neil Young, “Are You Ready For the Country?” – Apparently in 1985, I was not ready.
  3. Bob Dylan, “Lay Lady Lay” – Dylan doesn’t get enough credit for starting the country rock craze with his seminal album Nashville Skyline. 
  4. The Little Willies, “Fist City” – Norah Jones’ side project doing a Loretta Lynn cover.
  5. Mick Jagger, “Evening Gown” – Great, great solo Mick… covered gamely by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  6. Dillard & Clark, “Train Leaves Here This Morning” – Former Byrd Gene Clark was an underrated genius. Bernie Leadon recorded this song again when he was in the Eagles.
  7. Eagles, “Tequila Sunrise” – Speaking of the Eagles, this is one of my favs. Drinking your broken heart away, something B&V knows a lot about.
  8. Bob Dylan, “I Threw It All Away” – Another great track from Nashville Skyline. I love this song.
  9. Sheryl Crow, “First Cut Is The Deepest (Country Version)” – I wanted to incorporate more female voices and I love this version of a song made famous by Rod Stewart.
  10. The Allman Brothers, “Blue Sky” – “You’re my sunny day…” Great track.
  11. Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, “Girl From The North Country” – I avoided any overtly “country” artists but I had to sneak Johnny on here somehow.
  12. Neil Young, “Comes A Time” – Title track from a great album.
  13. Eagles, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” – What we all need in these troubled times.
  14. Gin Blossoms, “Cheatin'” – “Its not cheatin’ if she reminds me of you…” Great lyric.
  15. The Black Crowes, “Garden Gate” – From the great double album, recorded live at Levon Helms’ place, Before the Frost…Until the Freeze. 
  16. The Byrds, “Hickory Wind” – Gram Parsons’ signature track. One of the few he sang.
  17. Mike Ness, “The Devil In Miss Jones” – I love Social Distortion and Ness’ first solo album Cheating At Solitaire. There’s a great duet with Springsteen on there as well.
  18. The Flying Burrito Brothers, “Wild Horses” – It may seem like blasphemy to not put the Stones’ version of this song on here but I had so many other tracks by them to choose from.
  19. Norah Jones, “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart” – Norah putting music to lyrics written by Hank Williams but never recorded.
  20. Hindu Love Gods, “I’m A One Woman Man” – Warren Zevon backed with 3/4 of R.E.M. doing an LP of great, eclectic covers.
  21. The Rolling Stones, “Dead Flowers” – Also on our heroin playlist, B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin.
  22. Neil Young, “Beautiful Bluebird” – From the great late period LP, Chrome Dreams II, seemingly a sequel to an album never released.
  23. Robert Plant, “If It’s Really Got To Be This Way”* – I put an asterisk here as its not on Spotify. If you haven’t heard this tune, seek it out somewhere.
  24. Fleetwood Mac, “That’s Alright” – By the time they reconvened for Mirage Stevie Nicks had become a solo sensation with Bella Donna. She made the band do a country tune for her father who loved country music. This track works for me.
  25. Gram Parsons, “Ooh Las Vegas” – He didn’t do a lot of solo stuff but what he did is worth checking out.
  26. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Southern Accents” – This is more “country-ish” than country, but Mike Campbell’s superb dobro playing puts this track on the list.
  27. Linda Ronstadt, “Love Is A Rose” – Linda always had great taste in songwriters, doing a Neil Young track here. (Documentary Review: The Sublime ‘Linda Ronstadt, The Sound Of My Voice’).
  28. Talking Heads, “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel (Country Angel Version)” – Weirdest track on here? Yes.
  29. Doobie Brothers, “South City Midnight Lady” – People forget the Doobies were HUGE. I love this song.
  30. Grateful Dead, “Box of Rain” – Easily for me, their best song (Lookback: Grateful Dead’s Americana 1970 – ‘Workingman’s Dead’/’American Beauty’).
  31. Neil Young, “From Hank To Hendrix” – Another great country track from Neil.
  32. Eagles, “Lyin’ Eyes” – Every time I put a Neil Young track on this list it appears I have to put an Eagles’ song too. Gram Parsons, like the Dude, hated the Eagles. He described them unflatteringly as “a dry plastic fuck.” Not sure what that means but it doesn’t sound good.
  33. The Rolling Stones, “You Win Again” – Great deep track from the Stones (Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks).
  34. Buffalo Springfield, “A Child’s Claim To Fame” – A dis track about Neil Young which caused him to write, “I Am A Child.” Musicians, what are you gonna do?
  35. John Fogerty, “Southern Streamline” – I could have gone with any number of CCR tracks but I like this Fogerty solo track.
  36. Randy Newman, “Rider In The Rain” – The Eagles sang back up on this standout track.
  37. Mudcrutch, “Orphan Of The Storm” – Great track from Petty, Campbell and Tench’s side project.
  38. Stephen Stills/Manassas, “Colorado” – One of the greatest country rock tracks ever.
  39. Doobie Brothers, “Black Water” – Another great Doobies track.
  40. The Rolling Stones, “Indian Girl” – “Little Indian girl, where is your faaaather?”
  41. The Little Willies, “Jolene” – Norah doing Dolly Parton this time.
  42. Lynyrd Skynyrd, “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” – Southern rockers had to be on here somewhere.
  43. CSNY, “Teach Your Children” – Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead’s pedal steel puts this track on the list.
  44. Rod Stewart, “What Made Milwaukee Famous” – Great cover of Jerry Lee Lewis.
  45. Elvis Costello, “Good Year For The Roses” – Elvis doing George Jones.
  46. Mike Ness, “Cheating At Solitaire” – The title track of his great first solo album.
  47. Stephen Stills/Manassas, “So Begins The Task” – Such a great double album, I had to double dip from it for this list.
  48. Grateful Dead, “Friend Of The Devil” – One of their best known tracks.
  49. Pete Townsend, “There’s A Heartache Following Me” – Pete covering Jim Reeves because it was his guru’s favorite song.
  50. Led Zeppelin, “Hot Dog” – I love this track from their last album.
  51. Sheryl Crow/Kid Rock, “Picture” – I despise Kid Rock but I dig Sheryl.
  52. Don Henley, “You’re Not Drinking Enough” – Advice I always follow.
  53. Eagles, “Girl From Yesterday” – Oddly most of the country rock tracks by these guys I’m drawn to were sung by Glenn Frey.
  54. Sting, “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” – Sting is a pretentious dick, but he captures the country ethos of my baby is gone and she took my dog here.
  55. Hindu Love Gods, “Vigilante Man” – A Hank Williams cover I believe.
  56. Peter Wolf (with Mick Jagger), “Nothing But The Wheel” – Great track with Mick on harmony vocals.
  57. Lucinda Williams with Elvis Costello, “Jailhouse Tears” – The funniest song on this list.
  58. The Rolling Stones, “Do You Think I Really Care” – Another great deep track.
  59. Elton John, “Country Comforts” – Also really well done by Rod.
  60. Stevie Nicks, “After The Glitter Fades” – All the pedal steel on here puts this track on the list for me.
  61. Social Distortion, “Like An Outlaw (For You)” – Full-on “cow-punk.”
  62. The Blues Brothers, “Theme From Rawhide” – If this song doesn’t make you smile, you’re on the wrong blog.

There ya go cowpokes! Enjoy! Stay safe out there!

Review: Showtime Documentary – ‘The Go-Go’s’… And How I Briefly Met Belinda Carlisle In 1984

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*Above image taken from the internet and likely copyrighed

I am not currently nor have I ever been a huge fan of the 1980’s girl group the Go-Gos. However, I think every woman who came of age in the early ’80s who likes music, loves the Go-Gos. I remember a girl I dated in high school who loved their debut album. It was one of the few albums she owned. Even now, all these years later, the Rock Chick digs the Go-Gos. I think she had their greatest hits CD when I met her. Every woman I’ve ever known loves that moment in “We’ve Got the Beat” when lead singer Belinda Carlisle yells, “Jump Back… Big Time!” I think it’s a chick thing. I have to admit, even though I’m not a die-hard fan of their music I was curious to see the new Showtime documentary creatively titled, The Go-Gos. When I hear their music these days, I admit I smile probably out of a hoary sense of nostalgia, but I smile nonetheless. Their music certainly evokes a specific time and place for me.

The concept of the “Girl Group” is as old as rock and roll itself. You can go back to the 50s to the Shirelles who may have been the first ever Girl Group, as far as I know. They launched a whole Girl Group movement, which ended up being a huge influence on, of all people, the Beatles. Most of the early girl groups were merely vocal groups, they didn’t play their own instruments. There was usually some shadowy producer in the background. Barry Gordy had the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas. Phil Spector had the Ronettes. The shadowy producer wrote the songs, hired the session musicians. The “girls” just had to show up and  sing. Oh and then go out on grueling tours to perform live.

The concept of an all female band, who played their own instruments came later. I’m sure it was also considered a bit of a novelty at the time as well. I just hear fans saying, “Look girls playing guitar and drums… it’s like a dancing bear.” I can’t help but think of the Runaways – with Cherrie Currie, Joan Jett and Lita Ford – as an early example. They still had the shadowy producer/Svengali in the background, Kim Fowley who wrote much of their early stuff. I think in a lot of ways, punk rock helped take the novelty out of the girl group. Punk attracted and yes, welcomed all the outcasts. It didn’t matter who you were, you could pick up an instrument and play punk rock. There were bands with men and woman members like the Talking Heads or X.

The Go-Gos were, to my ears, always pop or pop-rock. One of the revelations of the documentary for me, was that they formed and grew out of the L.A. punk scene. Lead singer Belinda Carlisle, guitarist Jane Wiedlin, lead guitarist Charlotte Caffey all met at the same L.A. punk club, the Masque. After replacing original bassist Margo Olavarria and original drummer Elissa Bello with Kathy Valentine and Gina Schock respectively, the band’s line up crystallized.

The documentary follows the usual rise and fall narrative. I didn’t realize how quick and one might say, meteoric the Go-Gos rise to prominence was. After touring England they came back to the U.S. and recorded their debut, Beauty And the Beast in 1981 and it was, to put it mildly, a smash hit. I liked that they wrote and recorded their own stuff, no mysterious Producer lurking in the background. The Go-Gos were one of those bands whose rise coincided with that of MTV. The Go-Gos and MTV were made for each other. Many times girl groups were presented as “saintly” or “good girls.” I like that the Go-Gos were never like that. Or at least, I don’t remember them that way. The documentary talks a lot about their drinking and drug use. In my high school mentality, I never thought of these women as cheerleaders, I always thought they were the chicks smoking, drinking and making out in the parking lot.

Eventually the relentless touring, fights over song-writing royalties, and the drinking and drugs took its toll on the interpersonal relationships in the band. Charlotte Caffey’s deepening heroin addiction increasingly became a problem. I was amused to hear how many times reporters asking the group how they were getting along. You never heard people ask the Who that question and they didn’t really get on that well. Reporters always injecting drama. Jane Wiedlin eventually quit in a dispute over song writing credits. The band didn’t last too long after that.

The documentary interviews every member of the Go-Gos from their prime line-up. They also go back and interview the past members. Paula Jean Brown who replaced Wiedlin (although she played bass, Valentine moved to guitar, her first instrument), was also interviewed. Their first manager and their latter day manger Miles Copeland of I.R.S. records are both interviewed. Hell, even Stewart Copeland of the Police, who the Go-Gos opened for early in their career gets his 2 cents in. The documentary came off to me as an advertisement to get the Go-Gos into the Rock Hall of Fame. They do come across cooler than I remembered… hey, if you have a band member on heroin you gotta score some cool points somewhere. I thought it was an interesting and well done documentary. I think its definitely worth watching for any rock and roll fan.

As I watched the documentary, I couldn’t help but think of the time I saw the Go-Gos and actually went backstage, and met Belinda Carlisle. I wish this was a more salacious story, but alas, it’s pretty tame. In the fall of 1984 I had just moved back to Manhattan, Kansas to start my next year in college. The weekend after Labor Day, most of the people in the place where I lived had left for a big, organized road trip. I wasn’t allowed to go on the trip because I was on some  sort of “social probation” for debauched acts of some sort, I don’t recall. I was like anybody else in college, I had my clique or my gang. But on this particular weekend, I was sort of all by myself.

There was a guy we all knew, who was a few years older than I was, who I’ll call Dan (named changed to protect the guilty). Dan was a track & field athlete and was actually quite exceptional at his event. He had actually gone to an Olympics. Since he’d gone to the Olympics, his ego was through the roof. In short, he was a colossal asshole. He once came out and played a game of tackle football with us drinking schlubs. Trying to tackle him was like trying to tackle a horse. His knees came up to my chin and at one point his knees treated my skull like a boxer working the speed bag… There was never a weekend where I would have imagined I’d hang out with Dan the Olympian. But, I was on my own, which was never good in those days… there was always trouble lurking. Dan, who liked to say things like, “We’re going to the club tonight, I’ll probably have chicks all over me because I’m an Olympian, you guys will have to fend for yourselves,” burst into the living room where I lived. “Who wants to go to the Go-Gos tonight in Kansas City?” I had nothing else to do so I tepidly raised my hand. The next thing I knew, I was in a van hurtling toward Sandstone Theater – an outdoor venue, referred to in the trade as a “shed.”

I remember drinking a ton of beer in the ride up to KC. I was in the back of the van and wasn’t driving. Dan was driving which was good because he was really straight-laced. It was like going to a rock concert with a narcotics agent. He apparently had an Olympian friend who was romantically linked to Carlisle and she set him up with tickets. True to his word, there were tickets and to my surprise backstage passes waiting for us. We were down in the middle, some 20 rows back from the stage. This was September 7th, 1984 so the Go-Gos would have been touring in support of Talk Show, their third album. They had to be exhausted. I remember Belinda Carlisle danced maniacally. The place was probably 2/3’s full, so even I was dancing in the aisle, there was plenty of room… of course that may have been because we were surrounded by girls. It was a heavy female crowd… which was fine with me.

After the show we went backstage. There was one room that was full of adoring fans. Dan barged into a smaller, empty room where there was a food table – the supermarket trays of veggies and cheeses. I was too afraid to touch anything, thank God. I suddenly realized, we were in the Go-Gos dressing room. When the five band members came into the room, the looked at us with a combination of disdain and exhaustion. If Dan had been cooler maybe there might have been some partying to do here… but we were a bit of a band of misfits. Belinda, very diplomatically, introduced herself and asked us to give the band some space.

We quickly left the dressing room, to the delight of the rest of the band, (Jane Wiedlin, most notably, was aggressively pleased we were leaving), and probably secretly to the delight of Belinda Carlisle. We drove downtown to KC, as directed by Belinda to the Crown Center hotel, a posh spot in midtown. We hung around the bar. A couple hours later, cleaned up and looking lovely, Carlisle appeared. I remember thinking how classy she looked. She was so nice to us and we were nobody. Dan the Olympian was buying in order to impress Belinda so I started ordering Jack & Cokes 2 at a time. You gotta strike when the iron is hot, folks. Sitting there listening to Dan and Belinda chat about their mutual acquaintances who were in Europe somewhere I couldn’t help but think, I’m sitting here with this Rock Star… what should I say? What should I ask her?

I was barely 20. I was young and dumb. I wasn’t a huge Go-Gos fan so I had nothing to ask. All I could think to ask her was, “Do you know David Lee Roth?” That was the best I could come up with? Sheesh! She smiled politely but I think she had to be thinking, who is this moron? “Yes, he’s really intelligent.” She quickly turned back to Dan. I think that was all she said to me. Looking back, knowing what I know now, there’s so much I would have asked about touring, the grind of the road and the music business. But alas, all I could think to ask was a question about Van Halen’s lead singer. I blame the Jack & Cokes. There was no drugs or sex in this story, just stupidity.

You know, come to think of it… I probably would vote for the Go-Gos to get into the Rock Hall… they deserve it just for putting up with Dan, me and our band of rock and roll misfits in Kansas City on a hot September night in 1984.

Hats off to all of you, Ladies! And yes, God Bless the Go-Gos. Check out this Showtime documentary, its B&V approved!

Cheers!

 

 

LP Lookback: AC/DC’s Masterpiece, ‘Back In Black’ Turned 40 Yrs Old June 25, 2020

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*Original ‘Back in Black’ vinyl, purchased in 1980 by your intrepid blogger

I saw that AC/DC’s landmark album Back In Back turned forty last Saturday, June 25th. I can’t believe it’s been 40 years since that LP came out. Its old enough for a mid-life crisis although shows no signs of one. I knew I had to post about my experiences with that album and I couldn’t help but think, we’re talking about the good stuff now! Looking back at this LP feels like putting out the Christmas dishes for a Tuesday dinner.

1980 was a very important year in heavy metal/hard rock. It was the year the genre re-established its foothold and signified that metal was here to stay. Just to put the monumental achievement of AC/DC in perspective, here’s a list of ten momentous hard rock albums that came out in 1980:

  • AC/DC, Back In Black
  • Black Sabbath, Heaven And Hell – The first album post-Ozzy with Ronnie James Dio on lead vocals.
  • Def Leppard, On Through The Night – Their debut LP. I saw them open for the Scorpions and Nugent on the ensuing tour, my first ever concert.
  • Judas Priest, British Steel 
  • Iron Maiden, Iron Maiden – Another great debut LP.
  • Motorhead, Ace of Spades 
  • Ozzy Osbourne, Blizzard of Ozz – Ozzy’s solo debut with the intrepid Randy Rhoads on lead guitar. And they thought Ozzy would wither and die outside of Sabbath.
  • Rush, Permanent Waves – Rush is probably hard rock and not heavy metal like most bands on this list but this is a kick ass album. “The Spirit of the Radio,” and “Freewill” are worth the price of admission. I also dig “Jacob’s Ladder.”
  • Van Halen, Woman & Children First – A sloppy but great third LP from VH. This was to be my second VH album purchase… I had to circle back later for Van Halen II. 
  • Metallica, Kill ‘Em All – At the time, an overlooked (at least by me) debut album.

Thats an impressive list of albums and yet Back In Black still stands head and shoulders above the pack. That just shows how amazing Back In Black really is. The Motorhead and Iron Maiden are the only 2 albums on this list I don’t own.

As the 70s came to a close I found myself finishing up junior high school (7th, 8th and Freshman years) and starting high school (sophomore, junior & senior years). In the middle of all that my friends and I had discovered and gotten (what we considered) heavily into rock and roll. While early on we thought we knew all there was to know about rock and roll, in reality we had only scratched the surface. Sure, we were into the big bands – Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and the Who. We were also heavily into Bob Seger because we were from the midwest so the “Heartland Rocker” cast a rather wide shadow. Some of the harder rockers amongst us were into Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and especially Van Halen. AC/DC really hadn’t punctured our consciousness as of yet in say, 1979. I remember someone asking if AC/DC was “bi-sexual slang.” Naive as I was, I said something brilliant like, “Huh?”

Although I must admit they’d started to break onto the radio, even in Kansas City. The album and especially the title track to Highway To Hell was a song everybody liked. I’m sure many of us thought Highway To Hell was their debut LP, so little did we know about them.  Every once in a while if you stayed up late enough to hear Vonn Mack, the late night KY102 DJ, you’d hear “Whole Lotta Rosie” which was like “Freebird” after a fistful of black beauties. We just didn’t know a lot about AC/DC. Of course after that big breakthrough success of Highway To Hell (Album Lookback: AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ Turns 40 – Bon Scott’s Bon Voyage), tragedy struck AC/DC and original lead singer Bon Scott passed way from “death by misadventure.” He choked on his own vomit, the way the classic rocks stars went out. Looking back I can say that I’m a huge fan of the Bon Scott years of AC/DC (and my favorite LP may be Powerage, LP Look Back: The Overlooked Gem, AC/DC’s “Powerage”). In 1980 I might not have been able to tell you who was singing an AC/DC song, Bon or his replacement, former singer for Geordie, Brian Johnson. The Rock Chick loves the Brian led AC/DC… I’m slowly getting her into the Bon stuff, starting with “Gone Shooting,” but that’s another story. Bon had a better sense of humor… and perhaps was a little more gravelly than Brian. I know the difference but can’t describe it.

After losing iconic, messianic lead singer Bon Scott, AC/DC – lead guitarist extraordinaire Angus Young, his brother rhythm guitarist and Riff Meister Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd – were at a crossroads. At first they considered breaking up. They held auditions and immediately discovered Brian Johnson, who I once heard Angus say in an interview Bon Scott had heard and liked. Of course Bon liked him… they sounded similar. They decamped to the Bahamas and recorded one of the best selling albums of all time, Back In Black. The entirely black album cover was to supposed to signify their grief over the loss of their comrade at arms, Bon Scott. Back In Black, like Highway To Hell was produced by (soon to be legendary) producer Mutt Lange. He had gotten them away from the blues-based stuff of the early records. Mutt always seems to have an ear for a hook and there are plenty on Back In Black. I don’t know if punk was an influence but the songs were shorter – no more long, long guitar solos, there were more economical solos – and for lack of a better word, the songs seemed punchier. After losing Bon just as they were ascending the world stage, AC/DC seamlessly found a new singer and were poised to break the entire planet wide open…

By the time Back In Black came out, I was in high school and had even gotten my driver’s license. How anybody thought it was a good idea to allow me to drive is a bit of a mystery. One thing that driving allowed me to do was to get a job. I went to Oak Park Mall, the closest shopping center to my house, and got a job at a place called York Steak House. York can only be described as “fast-food steak.” I was a busboy. Awful, filthy, mindless work but an honest wage. The guys who managed the place were all in their 20s. Rather than authority figures, these guys used to party with us. On break we’d all jump in the car and go get a 12 pack of beer and drink in the walk-in cooler. One of the managers, who I’ll call Ron, found a car stalled on the side of the highway and took the license plate and put it on his car. I can still remember the cops walking him out of the restaurant in handcuffs. Things were… loose at York Steak House. One might describe it as a den of thieves.

One warm, late-summer Saturday, one of these miscreant managers threw a keg party out at Lake Quivira, in western Shawnee, Kansas. Back in 1980, this was out in the boondocks. I seem to recall it was a gated-community so I have no idea how this guy got a bunch of drunken high school kids onto the property. I remember someone saying KC Royal George Brett lived out there… it was a wonder he didn’t come out and join us. I was likely one of the first to show up and I know I was one of the last to leave. But that night, out on that ritzy lake… on a little picnic area, someone put the cassette of Back In Black on the stereo and I was transfixed. Well, as transfixed as someone full of keg beers who kept falling down and hitting his head on the picnic table could be. It was not my finest hour. We just kept playing that tape over and over again until the beer ran out. The next day, at work, I remember asking the host of the party if that had been an AC/DC mix-tape or a greatest hits thing. There was no way every song on an ordinary album was that damn good…I heard that album at every single party I attended after that in high school. I remember it was playing when one of my friends vomited into the fire place at a guy named Kurt’s house. I’m sure his parents were thrilled. I went out my first chance and purchased the album pictured above. I’ve since also purchased it on CD. If you love rock and roll, you have to love AC/DC and Back In Black. Its the essence of rock… you don’t absorb the music through your ears, it comes in through your groin.

That first track, “Hells Bells,” with the actual church bell ringing was so ominous. The tolling of the bell… the slow build of sawing guitars. It was really a great way to kick the LP off. It quickly shifts to “Shoot To Thrill,” who some say was about heroin, but I’m not so sure. That track is fast and hard-driving. Which led to the admittedly misogynistic “What You Do For Money.” I shouldn’t extoll that track but I just love it. The hard rock duo of “Givin The Dog A Bone,” and “Let Me Put My Love Into You” round out a perfect side one. Side two is even better. “Back In Black” kicks off side two like a punch from a righteous fist. On any album without “Hells Bells” the title track would have opened the album. The huge hit, “You Shook Me All Night Long” that made “American thighs” famous is next. I never get tired of that song. One has to wonder if it’s still played in strip joints? One of the deep tracks that’s an unofficial theme song of B&V is the great, swinging “Have A Drink On Me,” with the great line, “with a glass I’m pretty handy.” “Shake A Leg” is another “race to the finish line” hard, fast rocker. I love the closer, “Rock N Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.” AC/DC fighting for the permanence of rock music and it was 1980. I think it was here to stay.

Phil Rudd’s drumming just swings on this record. He was such an important secret weapon. Angus’ lead guitar tangling with the great riffs coming from Malcolm… they’re just perfect. Like a hyped-up, Australian Keith and Ronnie from the Stones. Cliff Williams’ bass keeping everybody from completely descending into chaos… and Brian Johnson. He took the mantle from Bon Scott and kept the world-conquering momentum of AC/DC going. If they could reach a bunch of drunk high school kids in the boondocks suburbs of Kansas City, where could they not conquer? I think this record has been certified Platinum 25 times. Hearing that record right after it dropped is what people must have felt like in the early 70s when Zeppelin released a new album. I felt like I was a part of something.

Happy Birthday AC/DC’s Back In Black. It sounds just as good to me forty years on as it did that night at Lake Quivira. I guess it proves that you can take the rocker out of high school but you can’t get the high school out of my rock. Or something like that. I think you get what I’m talking about.

“Join me for a drink boys, we’re gonna make a big noise.” Indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribute: KC Public Radio DJ Bill Shapiro and His Saturday Show, Cyprus Avenue – Kept Me Company In My Bachelor Days

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*Photo taken from the internet, from KCUR’s website, and is likely copyrighted

**I usually address more general music topics here at B&V. Or perhaps better said, more universal topics. Today I’m bringing it home to Kansas City but I think the themes remain universal.**

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“Well, I’m caught one more time, up on Cyprus Avenue…” – Van Morrison, “Cyprus Avenue”

The Rock Chick put on a mask and slipped the confines of lockdown this weekend. She jumped solo into her car and headed for points West to see our daughter where they plan on an isolated, socially distanced weekend together. There will be hiking and sitting on the back patio but no shopping sprees in crowded malls or fancy dinners in small cafes on this trip…or so that’s what they’re telling me. Somehow this will still cost me a lot of money. While I’m happy for them this leaves me here at the house, “on my own…by myself” as Michael McDonald and Patti Labelle sang in a treacly way many years ago. Unfortunately the Rock Chick left me with an empty fridge, no ice, a full dishwasher and a hungry cat. Somehow I think this may have been by design… She did get me a bottle of Four Roses bourbon before she left… Mixed messages? Ah, marriage.

It didn’t take long after she left for me to start eating like a 13 year old. Dinner last night consisted of peanut butter and a bowl of Cheerios. As she was leaving I felt like quoting Bill Murray’s character in Stripes, “You can’t leave! All the plants will die.” I decided this weekend would be a clear-eyed, sober time for reading and reflection. In the past when the Rock Chick has left me she returned to find me slathered in bourbon, weeping while watching 1980 video of Springsteen and E Street Band muttering, “I can’t believe the Big Man is gone…” We don’t want another one of those. I hunkered down to read last night with the Royals’ game on but muted with the Stones on the stereo. Although I will admit, after a mere one chapter of a great new book I just started, I was at the fridge where I discovered the Rock Chick had left me a cold bottle of chardonnay… wine, that’s not really drinking, right? Of course the hungry cat woke me at 5 am this morning… He’s like my guilt, always lurking and making noise when I’m trying to sleep. I couldn’t help but think to myself, pull yourself together man you were a bachelor forever.

Although now it’s Saturday and I must admit, I’m at loose ends. I began to wonder what I used to do on weekends in my groovy, hipster bachelor days. Early on, there was always something happening on Saturdays. I had all these friends to hang out with. We were like a big, disorganized gang. But like the old song, “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Ol’ Gang of Mine,” all my buddies got married and many started pumping out children. Gone were those days of hanging in a bar all Saturday afternoon, watching sports, “probably playing poker, drinking,” as the Stones sang. While I like to romanticize my bachelor days, I was single until well into my 30s and there was a lot of “me” time, where I was just plain alone.

Oddly, those Saturdays puttering around by myself are the ones I tend to remember. I tried to inflict some sort of regimented routine that would help me kill the hours until I headed out for the usual Saturday night debauchery. On Saturday during the day I would run errands. I would go to the gym to sweat out Friday night’s poison. I’d go to the dry cleaners. I usually slept kinda late having been up most of the night prior so these “chores” occurred late morning or early afternoon. Somewhere along the line, I turned my radio down to the small numbered stations, to the public radio end of the dial. I discovered this radio show on KCUR 89.3 in Kansas City, hosted by Bill Shapiro, ‘Cyprus Avenue’ named after the Van Morrison track on Astral Weeks. I can’t remember, but it might have been my groovy hippy friend the Jean Genie who turned me onto ‘Cyprus Avenue’ but it was a long time ago.

While ‘Cyprus Avenue’ was a local KC show, I know at one time it was syndicated to at least 50 stations. Regardless, I think everyone can relate to a radio show or DJ that really hooked you. When I was growing up there weren’t many radio shows that were consistently on the air to tune into. I remember Sunday nights in high school listening to ‘The Dr. Demento Show.’ Every now and then a local station would broadcast ‘The King Biscuit Flour Hour,’ a live concert program. I remember hearing April Wine one night on that show but those broadcasts weren’t really consistent. I remember that whenever David Lee Roth was on ‘Rockline’ that was “appointment” radio. You had to hear Roth call a joint a “behavior modification device” to understand. Later as terrestrial radio faded from my life and satellite radio took over I did listen to Bob Dylan’s ‘Theme Time Radio’ and the late, great Tom Petty’s ‘Buried Treasure.’ Dylan once said on his show of Bob Seger, “many call him a poor man’s Springsteen, but I think of Springsteen as a rich man’s Bob Seger.” I don’t know why, but that just stuck with me.

While I was rambling around Kansas City on those, let’s admit it, lonely Saturdays, Bill Shapiro’s ‘Cyprus Avenue’ kept me company. In Shapiro I found a kindred spirit. He came on at noon. The first hour was always a new show with the second hour was an encore presentation of a previous show. Often I’d find myself driving around on purpose, detouring downtown or through the River Market, just to keep listening to whatever music Bill was playing. The man knew more about music than I can ever dream of. He was a lawyer by trade, but wow he was a music aficionado. He had approached KCUR at a fund raising event and they gave him a show. He broadcast ‘Cyprus Avenue’ for 40 years. He knew, played and spoke about some of the most obscure stuff I’d ever heard. He played rock n roll, jazz, blue grass, folk, country rock… literally everything.

I learned a shit ton about music from listening to ‘Cyprus Avenue.’ I’d heard about Sam Cooke but it wasn’t until I heard Shapiro play cuts from Sam’s The Man And His Music did I realize that all those hits were the same man. I only stopped my car after that show to stop at the record store and buy the album. The same could be said for Jimi Hendrix’s Live At the Fillmore East or Van Morrison’s vault collection The Philosopher’s Stone. I first heard both albums on ‘Cyprus Avenue.’ I first heard Neil Young’s Silver And Gold on the show and bought it the same day. Same goes for the Clash’s Sandanista! I can’t tell you which albums he played but I know he turned me onto some Dylan, Bob Marley and Buffalo Springfield. I’d never heard of Chuck Prophet until I heard him on ‘Cyprus Avenue.’ I knew who Gram Parsons was, but had never heard his music until I heard it on 89.3 KCUR on a Saturday afternoon.

Sadly, Bill Shapiro passed away in January of this year at the age of 82. A musical prophet slipped his mortal coil. The amount of musical knowledge that went with him is incalculable. I had heard the news – my friend the Jean Genie told me about it and said I should apply to replace him, high praise indeed – but with all the crazy stuff going on in 2020 I didn’t get around to saying anything in these pages, my bad. It had slipped my mind, which I’m embarrassed about until I realized that once again I was going to find myself alone on a Saturday afternoon. Only this time my old “friend” and radio companion wasn’t going to be around to turn me onto something new or something classic that I missed. And that is truly sad. I wanted to sit down and pay tribute to the man who turned me onto so much music. This post may not be read far and wide, but I felt it was an important one to do as Bill had such a big influence on me.

It’s a crazy world and things are nuts right now. I urge everyone to find those things that bring you joy and revel in them. Take care of each other out there. If you’re not driving, take a nip or two and turn up the stereo. I just wish today I could slip “one more time…up on Cyprus Avenue…”

RIP Bill Shapiro.

 

 

LP Review: Pretenders ‘Hate For Sale’ – A Late Career Classic With Attitude!

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“He’s got a curly tongue and a curly tail, but mostly he’s got hate for sale” – Pretenders, “Hate For Sale”

Could any of us expected, this far down the line, this gift of a fabulous Pretenders’ album? I, for one, needed this record!

I was an early adopter on the Pretenders. Their seminal debut album Pretenders came out when I was in high school and I bought it immediately. I think of the album cover as iconic. I have always considered the Pretenders to be a punk band, but since their first record didn’t come out until 1979 in the UK and 1980 in the US (and I’ll admit I thought it was 1978) perhaps they were post-punk or even New Wave or Next Wave? Labels be damned in this case. Ohioan guitarist/singer/songwriter Chrissie Hynde was living in London in the 70s immersed in the punk scene when she formed the original Pretenders’ with James Honeyman-Scott (guitar), Pete Farndon (bass) and her once and future drummer Martin Chambers (if I can sneak in a T.H. White reference).

The songs on that first album still blow me away. The Kinks’ cover, “Stop Your Sobbing” was the first single, but that isn’t the track that sticks out in my mind – although it is great. The opening salvo “Precious” was a call to arms. When she sang in “Tattooed Love Boys” the lyric “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for…” I was smitten. “Kid” and “Mystery Achievement” remain favorites today. Although I’m going to admit – with a touch of embarrassment – the song that drew me in was the big hit single, “Brass In Pocket,” an admittedly “pop” tune.

There’s a reason that song hooked me. I was a sophomore in high school and in my Study Hall (aka “free period”) there was a girl who was a senior. She was tall with long legs and dirty blonde hair that always seemed to be in a fashionable mess. As a lowly sophomore I never had the temerity to even look her in the eye let alone speak to her, she was a vaunted senior, high above me socially – such is the fear and inexperience of youth. There were two sides of Study Hall, the silent side for well, studying, and then the social side. I know this can’t be true but I have this memory that they played music on the social side of Study Hall. While it may be apocryphal, I have this memory of her walking toward me in an angora sweater, to her gaggle of friends – who I viewed with a mix of awe and fear – while that song played in the background…its like the whole world slowed down… My memory is like a scene from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. There’s just something about a strong woman like Chrissie Hynde singing and that senior who was also pretty damn strong that stuck in my psyche. Paging Dr. Freud.

The Pretenders’ success continued on their strong sophomore effort, creatively named Pretenders II, in 1981. “Message Of Love” and “The Adultress” continued the riff rocking theme established on the first album. Especially commendable is the guitar playing of James Honeyman-Scott. Then tragedy struck. The band fired Pete Farndon because of his drug addiction…namely heroin. I read somewhere that Honeyman-Scott was the one who insisted on Farndon’s dismissal but who really knows outside the band? Ironically, two days after sacking Farndon, Honeyman-Scott died from what Wikipedia calls “cocaine-intolerance,” which sounds like an O.D. Less than a year later Farndon drowned in his own bathtub. That’s Allman Brothers level tragedy. And then, as the saying goes, there were two – Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers.

Somehow, Hynde and Chambers were able to shoulder on. It took three years, but the follow up, 1984’s Learning To Crawl with Robbie McIntosh manning the guitar and Malcolm Foster on bass may have been their biggest album. It had the huge songs “Back On the Chain Gang,” and “Middle of the Road.” The latter song finds Chrissie confessing, “I’m going home, I’m tired as Hell, I’m not the cat I used to be, I’ve gotta kid I’m thirty-three.” I have to admit, after that stunning success, I sort of lost track of the Pretenders. I was always aware they were out there. I’d hear the occasional hit on the radio like “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” but I wasn’t paying the same level of attention to them. I also knew that there had been numerous line-up changes, including Chambers coming and going. When they were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame – Chambers thanked the “drummers who’d been keeping my seat warm” and Chrissie quickly jumped to the mic and said, “I had to remain true to the music.”

It would be easy to describe Hate For Sale as the Pretender’s best album since Learning to Crawl or quite possibly since Pretenders II. Its really that good – in this case, believe the hype. However, that does discount some of the fine music the Pretenders have put out since the early, salad days. Their last album, 2016’s Alone produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach felt more like a Chrissie Hynde solo project. The record companies like to press artists into “staying with the brand” and force people like Billy Corgan or Chrissie Hynde into putting out solo albums under the moniker of the old band. However, if you go back to 2006’s Breaking Up the Concrete you’ll discover a great Pretenders’ record. Despite Chambers being replaced by famous session drummer Jim Keltner, Concrete felt more like a “band” record.

That band feel carries the day on Hate For Sale. It’s really nice to see Martin Chambers back on the drum kit for the first time in ages – although he does play drums on tour, its nice to see him back in the studio with Hynde. I think they have a chemistry that can’t be duplicated. Joining Hynde and Chambers are James Walbourne on guitar, Nick Wilkinson on bass with Carwyn Ellis on keyboards. Hynde’s wit and wisdom are fully present in these lyrics. What I really like is that she cowrote all the songs with Walbourne which again, gives this more of a full band feel. The rockers are energetic and punchy. The ballads are beautiful and wistful. This is truly a complete Pretenders’ record without a dud on it.

The title track opens the record. They actually have a false start that they kept on the song. It sounds like a band jamming, losing the thread but being tight enough to pull it back together. I thought it was kinda cool. “Hate For Sale” is punky, energetic with a great riff. It’s the perfect kick off to this album… and even has some nice harmonica. “Turf Accountant Daddy” is another strong rocker with a big riff and galloping gait. “I Didn’t Know When To Stop,” with crashing drums and guitars (and again, harmonica) has a great guitar solo and simply rocks. I also liked the atmospheric “Junkie Walk,” with its fuzzed out guitars and heavy riff. I actually added that one to our Heroin playlist, B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin.

“The Buzz” was the first single from the album and it’s a great pop-rock tune. Hynde provides us with her typical great vocal on the track. The woman is a legend. It’s their best single in a long, long while. “Lightning Man” is a great reggae tune. I saw the Pretenders open for the Stones in Chicago years ago and Hynde said on stage, “The Stones have brought us a lot of great things but one of the best was spreading reggae to a bigger audience.” The Pretenders certainly deliver on this track – I put it on my Rockers Playing Reggae list, B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More. “Didn’t Want to Be This Lonely” may be my favorite track here. It just sticks in my head. It’s got a great rockabilly feel and Bo Diddley beat. I find myself mumbling “I didn’t want to be this lonely but losing you was a relief…” Ah, mixed emotions. “Maybe Love Is In NYC” is another bang up track. With all of these great songs, this record should be as big as Learning to Crawl. 

There are the classic, Chrissie Hynde ballads, sung with full emotion. “You Can’t Hurt A Fool” has another great Hynde vocal. “Crying In Public” is a heart wrenching track with Hynde singing over piano. Ballads aren’t for everybody, but I dig these two. The Pretenders do everything they do well perfectly on this album.

Hate For Sale is the kind of late-career gem that B&V was created to extoll. It’s just so great to hear a classic band pull it together and release something this vital and alive this far into their career. I’d love to see some of this played live, but alas, pandemic. I urge every rock fan out there – or Pretenders’ fans out there – to check out this rewarding album.

Be Safe!

 

 

 

Review: Bob Dylan, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ – The Spell-Binding 1st LP of All Originals In Eight Years

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“I fuss with my hair and I fight blood feuds…” – Bob Dylan summing up my life on “I Contain Multitudes”

What a week it’s been for music fans or perhaps more accurately for classic rock music fans. Not only did Neil Young pull Homegrown his “lost album” from 1975 out of the vaults (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years), but Bob Dylan also released his first album of all originals in eight years. I read somewhere that Dylan and Young are number 1 & 2 on the UK charts right now. Those Brits have always had better taste in rock n roll than anybody else, cheers mates! I locked myself down in the B&V labs and have been blissed out on this great music for about a week now… it might be time to take a shower… maybe eat something.

I’m on record as being a huge Dylan fan. One of my first posts was about Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide. It’s hard to believe there’s been three or four new Bootleg releases since I wrote that guide. Looking back on my Dylan fandom, it is perhaps odd that I became so enamored with his work. I always had a sense that he was “important.” And truth be told, I’ve always been intensely focused on lyrics. But when I had my rock and roll awakening, it was the late 70s. I actually discovered Dylan when he was in his Christian period. I thought “Blowing In The Wind” was a Peter, Paul and Mary song. Those were the “Puff The Magic Dragon” group for fucks sake. The first Dylan album I ever purchased was Slow Train Coming. I had no idea it was religious music. I just thought “Gotta Serve Somebody” was a great track with a lot of wisdom. Because in the end, everybody does have to serve somebody…”and it may be the Devil, and it may be the Lord…” although in my case it’s probably the Rock Chick. I’m not a religious person. At best I could be described as a hippy pagan dancing naked in deserted fields in the moonlight. But that album just clicked for me… well, maybe not “Man Gave Names to All the Animals.” How that led me to a lifelong love of Dylan is a mystery.

From Slow Train Coming (the title track is just as relevant today if you push out the religious implications), once I got to college and became “serious,” I started working backward through Dylan’s catalog. I bought the iconic Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits the single album compilation… as if his “hits” could be contained on one thin volume. After working backwards through his catalog I eventually sold that album because I didn’t realize “Positively 4th Street” wasn’t on Blonde On Blonde. Youth, sigh. It’s probably good that I was so backward focused in my collecting because the late 80’s and early 90s were perhaps Dylan’s weakest period. I was just getting into him and pretty much everything after Empire Burlesque was… terrible. I bought and actually still have a fondness for Knocked Out Loaded, his album released to try and cash in on his tour with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers backing him up. “You Wanna Ramble” is a great bluesy cover. I bought and promptly sold Down In the Groove. Other than “Silvio” cowritten by Robert Hunter and played with the Grateful Dead, that album was aaaaawful. Other than Oh Mercy there weren’t many albums that caught my interest in those dark Dylan days. And yet despite weathering a Christian period and Dylan’s creative nadir, I remained a devoted fan. I even told someone in the late 80s that only Dylan could save music. That might’ve been the vodka talking.

At that point I just figured Dylan’s career was over. He was one of those catalog guys, like the Beatles, whose old LPs would have to suffice. I completely lost track of Dylan. But then an interesting thing happened. Dylan recorded two albums of traditional folk tunes, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong. When things get weird for Bob he always goes back to his folky roots. Jimi Hendrix was the same way but with the blues. Folk was Dylan’s foundation. That reconnection with his roots sparked something in Dylan. His next LP was the Daniel Lanois produced Time Out of Mind. After almost 10 years in the wilderness Dylan pulls off the biggest comeback in rock n roll history (with the exception of perhaps the King, Review: Elvis Presley – ‘The Complete ’68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition’ – The Return Of The King). “Love Sick” from that album ended up on a Victoria Secrets’ ad which caused a lot of heartburn for some people. I just thought he was lucky to be there…

Dylan put out a string of phenomenal records in what can only be described as a late career renaissance. Time Out of Mind (97), Love & Theft (01), and Modern Times (06) were the best trio of albums he’d released since the late 60s. Together Through Life incorporated Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo’s accordion and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell’s guitar to wonderful effect. I particularly like the bluesy “My Wife’s Hometown.” In 2012 Dylan released Tempest another triumph but it was rumored to be his last LP. ‘The Tempest’ was Shakespeare’s last play. People have been reading stuff into Dylan’s stuff since The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. 

After Tempest, Dylan took another left turn in a career of left turns. He released Shadows In the Night, a collection of pre-rock tracks that are all associated with Frank Sinatra. I bought and really liked that album. It was like listening to a bar band at 2 a.m. in a seedy joint down by the border in Laredo or maybe El Paso. This wasn’t a Rod Stewart Great American Songbook exercise. Sinatra always had a boozy, late night, heartbreak group of tracks and Dylan fully inhabited those songs. But then he put out a second Sinatra-themed LP, Fallen Angel. And then another – a three disc album – Triplicate. I have to admit, I got off the train after the first one. I dig it, but not literally four discs worth.

I had begun to wonder if we’d ever get any original stuff from Dylan. Van Morrison has had quite a run doing mostly blues and jazz covers over the last few years. He finally put out an LP of originals last year to great success, LP Review: Van Morrison’s New, All Originals, ‘Three Chords & The Truth’ – A Laid Back Groove. A month or so ago, Dylan dropped a surprise almost 17-minute masterpiece, “Murder Most Foul” (Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul” My antennae immediately shot up. I quickly found out a new album was coming!

Rough And Rowdy Ways dropped last Friday and I’m simply blown away by Dylan’s continued late career genius. One can only compare him to perhaps Bowie for great music this far down the line. I read Jagger say in an interview once that the Stones’ latter work will never “acquire the patina” of their older stuff… and sadly he’s right. Although I think music fans will be talking about this album in 50 years. Dylan is backed by his road band and I was thrilled to see that guitarist Charlie Sexton has returned… he’s perhaps Dylan’s most sympathetic guitarist since Robbie Robertson. With Sexton in the band: drummer Matt Chamberlin, longtime bassist Tony Garnier, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron, and Bob Britt on guitar. Listed under the “additional musicians” list were among others, Heartbreaker keyboardist Benmont Tench, jazz pianist Alan Pasqua and Fiona Apple (!) who must be playing piano as we don’t hear her voice on the LP… seems like a squandered opportunity. I loved her duet with Johnny Cash on the American Recordings box.

The album’s first track “I Contain Multitudes” is a hushed affair. I get the vibe of a village elder sitting down to drop wisdom on me. The title is drawn from a Walt Whitman poem and it has the feeling of literary genius to it. The song, like the album is overflowing with cultural references. I found the track hypnotic… “I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones and those British bad boys the Rolling Stones.” He goes on in the same stanza to name-drop William Blake. Every song on this album is like an onion… so many layers.

The soul of this album – and I don’t mean the musical genre soul, I mean the soul – are two epic tracks. “Murder Most Foul” has been reviewed here. I won’t go back into that but it’s just grown and grown in my estimation. It’s one of the most important tracks Dylan has ever done and that says a lot. The other “epic” track is “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” a nine and half minute deep rumination on death. Key West seems to be a metaphor for the end of the road. You can’t go any farther. “Key West is fine and fair,
If you lost your mind, you will find it there, Key West is on the horizon line.” As we all get older, death appears on the horizon line… As a side note, I’ve been to Key West and uh, I’ve lost my mind there, but never really found it. Both tracks, “Murder Most Foul” and “Key West” are pretty amazing statements by Dylan.

If those two tracks are the “soul” of the album, the beating heart of this thing are a trio of blues based tracks that I loved immediately. “False Prophet” is a blues stomper that has been stuck in my head since I heard it. Dylan was so different from most folk artists in the 60s who were all doing “We Shall Overcome.” Dylan was doing acoustic country blues… on his first album he did “In My Time of Dying.” “False Prophet” is one of his best blues tunes to date. “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” is a great tribute to the blues artist. It’s the most rocking moment on the album. “I can’t play the record ‘cuz my needle got stuck,” is maybe my favorite lyric here… “Crossing the Rubicon” is a wonderful snarling blues number and statement of purpose.

The other tracks here are all knockouts. “My Own Version of You” is a ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ treatise on love. He references gangster characters of Brando and Pacino (The Godfather and Scarface) all the way to Freud and Karl Marx. It’s a great lilting track. “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You” is a lovely track that may have been influenced by eight years of singing Sinatra covers. “Black Rider” is a hidden little gem here…

This is another in a string of great original LPs from Dylan. At this stage of the game this all feels like hard won wisdom gained and now shared. The album, like the first single “Murder Most Foul,” is brimming with cultural references. It’s got elements that feel like commentary on the American situation and experience. Mortality is all over this record. “Black Rider” sounds like an argument with Death itself. This is a great, great album at a time when the world needed a great Bob Dylan album.

Perhaps, back in the 80s, sitting a bar called Auntie Mae’s, I was right when I said only Dylan can save music… “Black rider, black rider, all dressed in black, I’m walkin’ away, try and make me look back.” It’s a dark ride. Take care of each other out there…

Review: Dion, ‘Blues With Friends’ – He Continues His Hot Blues Winning Streak

Dion-Blues-With-Friends

I texted a friend of mine last Saturday, Drummer Blake. I wanted to alert him to a new song “Blues Comin’ On” by Dion that features Joe Bonamassa. Blake and I had seen Bonamassa a few years back (Concert Review: Joe Bonamassa & The 4 Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse Slight Return). I knew he’d like Bonamassa’s guitar work on the track. Blake is nothing if not a big guitar fan, he’s seen Yngwie Malmsteen for God’s sake. He responded the same way I did a few years ago when I heard Dion singing “New York Is My Home” with Paul Simon, “Dion is still alive?” Indeed he is, and he’s got the blues.

New York’s (or more specifically the Bronx’s) Dion DiMucci known simply by his first name was a big star in the late 50s/early 60s. He started off with his doo-wop back-up group the Belmonts but later went solo. He had a string of monster big hits including “Run Around Sue” and “The Wanderer.” He was big in that time period between Elvis Presley’s entrance into the Army and the British Invasion. His music occupies that same era as Sam Cooke’s prime. Since he’s from the Bronx the man is a huge influence for  many of the singers from New York who followed after him. Namely, Lou Reed, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen have all cited him as an influence. That’s pretty good company.

The guy has quietly had quite a career. It’s like he’s a smart, singing Forrest Gump. As I mentioned, he was big on the doo-wop, pre-British Invasion scene. His career lost some steam and he returned later in the 60s with earnest protest music like “Abraham, Martin and John.” In the 70s he recorded an album with Phil Spector like Leonard Cohen and John Lennon did. He even had a religious period like Bob Dylan. He may have left the white-hot spotlight of stardom, but he has always been around doing rockstar stuff.

My introduction to Dion came when I was a child. I found out about Dion’s music from the most unlikely of places, my mostly non-musical father. When I was a wee lad in grade school I had to share a room with my little brother. My parents weren’t even cool enough to provide bunk beds. We had two single twin beds crammed into different corners in a small room, like boxers in neutral corners. I think back about that now and about my brother and can’t help but think, that poor bastard had to share a room with me. We had a small black-and-white TV that was my dad’s when he was in the Army with the rabbit ears antenna so we could sort of watch snowy television. My brother also had a record player. And at some point, he rescued a small metal-wire rack of singles that my father had collected before he got married. Apparently marriage ended any infatuation with music that he’d had prior.

There were some amazing gems in that pile. He had Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock.” He had several Ray Charles and Johnny Cash singles. These records didn’t even have the paper dust sleeves on them, just naked vinyl. I don’t know whatever happened to those 45s, they were probably thrown out but there was probably some stuff worth some money in there, but I digress. Hidden in that pile of 45s was none other than Dion’s great song, “The Wanderer.” I don’t remember if dad had “Run Around Sue” but I have a feeling he did. But the song I just fell in love with was “The Wanderer.” I was just a kid but the lyrics just grabbed me, “I’m the type of guy who’ll never settle down, where pretty girls are, you know that I’m around.” Perhaps it was foreshadowing of how I was to live my 20s and early 30s…I should probably have worked that out with a therapist. I mean, I hadn’t even hit puberty and I was dancing around lip-synching “they call me the wanderer, yeah the wanderer, I roam around, around, around.” Emotional gypsies, apply here. Years later as adults my brother bought me that 45 for a birthday present. He had to listen to it every time I did, it was his record player so he knew how much I loved it.

Other than that single my brother bought me, which was placed in the shelves up by my albums, I forgot all about Dion. If asked about him I’d probably have guessed after his career cooled off he’d died of booze and drugs. Or moved back to the Bronx and become an electrician or a contractor or something. Maybe he had some kids and shows up at weddings and nostalgia shows and stuff like that. I figured if alive he probably lived in Florida where he yelled at kids for getting in his yard. I was completely unaware that he’d kept recording and performing music. It wasn’t until approximately four years ago that I rediscovered he was even alive when he released his haunting duet with Paul Simon, “New  York Is My Home.” I figured it was a one-off and never discovered there was an entire album by that name.

A few months ago I started to see advertisements and social media stuff about his upcoming album, Blues With Friends. It’s a guest-star laden album with a who’s who of guitarists and artists joining him. That’s probably why it’s getting the press it does which is great but it’s too bad that as I discovered, starting in 2000, he’s released a string of really great albums, mostly centered on the blues that should have garnered more attention. I really like 2011’s Tank Full of Blues. Its exactly as advertised, laid back blues. When I finally went back and listened to the entire album New York Is My Home I discovered another fabulous album. Hell, I even dug Bronx In Blue where it’s blues stripped down to just acoustic guitar and Dion’s voice, the way Muddy Waters used to play in the early days. I recommend perusing his catalog from Deja Nu forward. Although I will admit his propensity to be photographed w/ a beret on and a guitar in his hand can confuse you as to which album you’re listening to.

As I said this is a guest star laden LP. Usually those can really lack consistency. The guest artists styles tend to overwhelm the guy whose album it is. That’s not the case with Blues With Friends. There’s a couple of reasons this album hangs together so well. First and foremost, is Dion’s voice. He’s in his usual fine vocal form here… the guy has lost nothing vocally. And for the most part Dion is the only one who sings on the record. Since these tracks mostly aren’t duets, the continuity is there. Also, when you stay in the genre of blues you can play with a lot of different people and still maintain a consistent sound throughout.

There’s a ton to like on this record. “Blues Comin’ Down” with Bonamassa kicks things off and it’s great. It has a very tasty guitar solo. I really love the track with Brian Setzer on guitar, “Uptown Number Seven,” it just chugs along like a train and you know how I love train songs, “Playlist: The B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains – “that lonesome whistle blows…”). The guy who I’d never heard of who may have my favorite moment on the record is Sonny Landreth the “slydeco” (slide guitar played in the zydeco style) guitar wizard on “I Got the Gun.” Dion vibes on his energy. Dion and Samantha Fish tear the roof off the joint on the most upbeat track here, “What If I Told You.” “Way Down (I Won’t Cry No More)” with Steve Van Zandt on lead guitar is a treat. Van Zandt does so many things it’s easy to forget what a great guitarist he is. Dion conjures additional great moments with John Hammond and Billy Gibbons.

It’s not all electric blues. He does change it up a bit. There’s another duet with Paul Simon that I just loved, “Song For Sam Cooke.” I love Sam and this is a beautiful tribute song, complete with the “Chain Gang” backing vocals. Simon and Dion sing so well together they should form a duo. They could call it Simon and Dion-funkel, they’d make a fortune. “I Got Nothin'” finds Dion duetting with Van Morrison and I love that track too. Van sounds so much more laid back on this track than on his own stuff. Joe Louis Walker plays the lead on that track and it’s just pure blues heaven. “Told You Once In August” is a stripped down acoustic blues number with John Hammond on guitar with Rory Block on a harmony vocal, anther great track. “Hymn To Him” has Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa. Springsteen plays acoustic but Scialfa steals the show with her wordless backing vocals. She compliments Dion so well. The track almost has a religious vibe…hence the “Hymn” in the title.

As I’ve confessed before the blues are my Alpha and my Omega. All of the great rock and roll that I love is founded upon the roots of the blues. To see an artist with Dion’s history take up the blues and record yet another in a great string of albums just reaffirms my faith in the blues. Dion has always been a great vocalist. Everyone needs to check this disc out. It’s perfect for all you wanderers out there.

Cheers. Take care of each other!

 

 

Quarantine Diary: Seven Days of Albums… I Take An Alphabetic Tour Through My Music

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*Picture of a few of the albums in the B&V music library

I was always pretty reluctant to join my wife and daughter on the whole “social media” thing. I am not on Facebook nor will I ever be for much the same reasons that I never read those “Christmas Newsletters” (aka brag rags) that came with the Xmas cards. I don’t particularly care if little Timmy went to band camp. If you’re still sending those things out in your Christmas cards, you’re not “blessed,” you’re a blowhard. The reason I was drawn onto a few of the social media platforms was simple and probably easy to guess, rock and roll.

My wife and/or daughter were constantly showing me things that the Stones or the Cult were posting on Instagram or Twitter. It was mostly really cool band pics, but not exclusively. Many times it was an announcement of an impending tour or album. Having access to that kind of “inside information” was too intoxicating a draw for me. In the old days I read about these things in Rolling Stone, a magazine I let my subscription to lapse recently (I’d subscribed since my college days but there’s nothing of interest in there any more), or hear on my local radio. Max Floyd would come on the air and say, “We’ll have that new Springsteen record next Tuesday… we’ll play the whole thing at lunch time.” In the days of highly automated, overly controlled programming you’ll be lucky if they play a Springsteen song other than “Born To Run” on the radio.

As tends to happen on social media, you start getting followers and in turn start following people. Most of the folks I follow are like-minded rock and roll fans much like you, my esteemed readers. I’ve noticed many of these rockers like to post stacks of albums with the inevitable caption, “this weekend’s listening.” They must have very forgiving wives… I’ve never really done that here on B&V but it did give me pause. I listen to music on a lot of different platforms – vinyl (preferred), CDs (I still dig them), MP3s (because its mobile), and even now the dreaded Spotify. When I like something I hear on Spotify, I do go out and buy it, I wanna keep the artist whole. And currently I’m living in a rental house so a lot of my “stuff” is in boxes in storage which makes the ostentatious “stack of albums” display harder.

I have to admit, I do miss the old days when you’d start pulling records out of your record crate(s) and when it was all over you had a stack of records on the coffee table or on the speakers, a living monument to your listening activity. I guess how you listened to or how you made your album selections depended on how you stored your music. In the early days, I had so few records, I could sit and listen to my whole collection in one sitting. They were haphazardly arranged and stacked between my dresser and one of the speakers. It wasn’t hard to listen to Some Girls, Van Halen’s debut, ZZ’s Deguello, and the few other records I had all in order. Pretty soon that stack got bigger and bigger. I finally went to Peach’s records on 75th and Metcalf when I was in high school and bought my first record crate. I think for my generation, that’s when you knew you were a “serious” collector… “Yes, I’ve got a record crate, I’m serious.”

At first, like many people I know, the albums were randomly placed in the crate. But then my OCD kicked in… there had to be a better way to organize all of this rock and roll. I know people who arrange their albums chronologically (which I think is impossible, I mean, where do greatest hits go?), alphabetically and in some cases by genre. I’m a simple alphabetic arrangement guy… AC/DC, Ryan Adams, Aerosmith, Airbourne, Alice In Chains… all the way to Neil Young and ZZ Top. You get the picture. Not only do they have to be in alphabetic order, but each artist’s LPs have to be in chronological order. Highway To Hell in front of Back In Black followed by For Those About To Rock and so on. Pretty soon I’ll be washing my hands repeatedly and pissing into milk jars that I keep in my attic home office but until then, let’s rock… in a strangely organized way.

When I’d pull a stack of records there were no rules. As I flipped through the crate I’d randomly pull records that caught my fancy – new stuff, stuff I hadn’t listened to enough, or just something I felt I wanted to hear like, well, Van Halen’s debut. Somethings never change. Although, I have to admit, the alphabetic lay out of my album collection often led me to an alphabetic tour through my music, a habit that has stuck with me to this day. I’m not anal-retentive, one album from the A’s, one for the B’s, on to Z. I just grab from one letter and then move on until I find the next one.

Seeing all these guys on the social media, showing their stack of albums recently played and being in a quarantine lockdown, I decided to keep track of what albums I listened to over the last week… on a journey through my record collection. In truth I started this last Thursday, so it’s a touch more than a week, but whose counting? Many times I’m listening to my MP3 player on shuffle, as background when I’m working but for the most part I’m listening to a whole album. In the last week I embarked on one of my OCD alphabetic trips through my record/CD/MP3 collection of music to sample some stuff. And like I said before there were different reasons I picked these records – revisiting some new stuff, some old stuff and some just random stuff for the hell of it.

Since we at B&V are not ready to come out of our quarantine cocoon (I want to see how it goes before I head to a bar), I realized that listening to a stack of records might be all I have to do this rainy, long Memorial Day weekend. If not a stack of records, I can always fall back on my Memorial Day, start of summer playlist, Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer: Go-To Summer LPs (Beach Boys Need Not Apply) to put me in the summer mood.

Here’s my stack of records from the last week (8 days). I’ve put links to any accompanying posts for the selections, in case you’re bored this weekend and feel like reading:

A

B

  • The Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man – I’ve been really into the Byrds since I saw the documentary, ‘Echo In the Canyon’ (Movie Review: ‘Echo In The Canyon’ – Flawed, Enjoyable Look at Cali ’65-’67). This is their debut and it’s amazing folk-rock.
  • Black Sabbath, Vol 4 – Because sometimes you just need some fucking metal.
  • David Bowie, Diamond Dogs – I felt I needed to hear this one for some reason. The deep tracks “Candidate” and “Rock and Roll With Me” really jumped out at me which is sometimes why I do this exercise, spelunking for deep tracks.
  • Buffalo Springfield, Again – Another band I’ve gotten into since ‘Echo In the Canyon.’ Or better said, got back into.

C

  • Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas – I’ve been working my way through Cohen’s catalog in reverse chronological order. I really like his late work and this album is no exception. I urge everyone to check out Cohen’s last three or four albums (LP Review: Leonard Cohen’s Posthumous ‘Thanks For The Dance’ – A Haunting Elegy).
  • Eric Clapton, Just One Night – I really needed to hear a live album and this was the one I grabbed. It’s Clapton’s best live album in my humble or not so humble opinion.
  • Crosby, Still, Nash, Daylight Again – This one was probably another that grew out of ‘Echo In the Canyon.’ Crosby, Nash and Stills all feature in the documentary. Crosby was in such a state during the making of Daylight Again it was originally slated as a Stills/Nash album. They even brought in Art Garfunkel and Timothy B. Schmit of Eagles fame to sing Crosby’s high harmonies. The record company insisted Crosby be brought in and he comes up with one of my favorite songs of his, “Delta.”
  • Gene Clark, Gene Clark (aka White Light) – After hearing Gene’s phenomenal No Other (LP Review: Ex-Byrd Gene Clark, ‘No Other (Deluxe Edition)’, Forgotten 1974 Masterpiece), I had to start digging through his catalog. This one is remarkable.

D and E

I skipped D and E. Nothing by Dylan, Depeche Mode or the Eagles caught my eye… there’s more to choose from of course, but I kept moving. See, I’m not totally OCD.

F

  • Free, Fire And Water – The oft-overlooked  band (in America at least) that was a precursor to Bad Company. Paul Rodgers on lead vocals, Simon Kirke on drums with Andy Fraser on bass and the doomed but brilliant Paul Kossoff on guitar. This is their most well known record because of “All Right Now.” “Mr. Big” and the title track are pretty epic as well.
  • Peter Frampton, Frampton’s Camel – I really got into Frampton’s back catalog after hearing his All Blues (LP Review: Peter Frampton, ‘All Blues’). I don’t know why Camel wasn’t a bigger hit. It has all the ingredients that made Frampton Comes Alive the monster it became. I love the tone of his guitar.

G

H

  • Buddy Holly, Gold – Great package of 50 tracks from Buddy Holly. I just borrowed this from my father, of all people. Holly belongs with Elvis, Chuck Berry and the late, great Little Richard on the Rock and Roll Mount Rushmore. I’m blown away by how good Holly was and how long it took me to get around to listening to him.
  • George Harrison, Cloud Nine – My brother was always a huge fan of Harrison’s work. I’ve only gotten into him in the last few years. I should have gone for one of his older works, but I hadn’t heard this great LP for a really long time. The title track is a great bluesy thing w/ Clapton and Harrison trading licks.
  • Jimi Hendrix, People, Hell, Angels – They’re doing some really great work with Hendrix’s vault stuff.

I

Skipped it.

J

  • J. Geils Band, Nightmares…and Other Tales From the Vinyl Jungle – This album is like the soundtrack of a great 70s house party. Upbeat, fun and rocking, this is one of my favorite J. Geils LPs. “Must Of Got Lost” is my favorite track of theirs. And I can’t say enough about Magic Dick on harmonica.
  • Jane’s Addiction, Nothings Shocking – I forget how heavy this album is. “Ted, Just Admit It…” about Ted Bundy has always been a favorite.

K

Skipped it. Considered some Lenny Kravitz but didn’t go there for some reason…

L

  • Little Feat, Sailin’ Shoes – Phenomenal album… funky, slide guitar, Lowell George. One of the all time greats.
  • The Long Shot, Love Is For Losers – Billie Joe Armstrong’s busmen’s holiday. Boy, is he having fun here (LP Review: ‘Love Is For Losers’ From The Longshot, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s New Side Project). Great blast of energetic punk-ish rock with an Ozzy Osbourne cover thrown in for good measure.
  • Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Men Without Women – This album is a primer in rock and roll, soul and R&B. Essential listening.

M

  • Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers – Jonathon Richman’s debut album. Jerry Harrison later of Talking Heads as well as David Robinson later of the Cars are both in the band. This is a great overlooked band… critic’s darlings, though.
  • Van Morrison, Three Chords and the Truth – I never know, after it’s been a while, when I return to an album if it’s going to be as good as I remembered it when I reviewed it. This one is… LP Review: Van Morrison’s New, All Originals, ‘Three Chords & The Truth’ – A Laid Back Groove.

N

  • Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson – A masterpiece from an underrated singer.

O

P

Q

I skipped Q, although I did have a hankering for some Queen. As you’ve noticed the number of albums that I’ve pulled form the later letters were less than when I began. There was no plan, that is just how it happened.

R

S

T

  • Television, Marquee Moon – A shimmering guitar masterpiece.

U

  • U2, Songs of Experience – The second of two themed albums, I hadn’t returned to this since I wrote about it, LP Review: U2’s ‘Songs Of Experience,’ Battling Ambition and Expectations, which is usually a bad sign. I had to go back and hear it again… the critics excoriated this album but I think there’s some stuff to like. If Bono would get over his grasping for current relevance and just get back to rocking it’d cure a lot of ills. The Edge’s guitar is M.I.A. Plug the guitar into the amp, riff and sing, it’s easy. Bono’s soaring voice helps elevate a lot of this Coldplay-esque material. Bono’s current playlist, “Songs That Saved My Life” has that same malady – trying to be current and hip. There’s no way that anything that Kanye West has recorded saved Bono’s life. C’mon man.

V

Skipped it… although you’d have thought I’d be putting Van Halen’s debut album on, but I like to confound people.

W

  • Tom Waits, Swordfishtrombones – I’ve been working my way through Waits’ catalog (actually chronologically) as I was late to this party. This was the first of his really experimental albums and I was afraid it’d leave me cold. I loved it… especially on the headphones after a couple of drinks.

X

I like the L.A. punk band, X, but didn’t feel like listening on this pass through…

Y

  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Colorado – I can’t stop going back to this album. Neil is just always better with Crazy Horse. This is his best since Psychedelic Pill, which was naturally with Crazy Horse. I miss Frank Sampedro pushing Neil into epic guitar duels, but this album reminds me that Young is like pizza – when Neil is perfect his LPs will change your life. When he’s good, like he is here, he’s really fucking good.

Z

  • Warren Zevon, Transverse City – I will admit, this is one I added this morning as I was writing this. It’s a concept album but a great and oft overlooked LP in his catalog. Worth checking out.

That’s it folks. What are you listening to this weekend? Let me know! Stay safe and healthy out there. And, of course, Happy Memorial Day.

Cheers!

A Brief Word On The Passing of Bill Withers (1938-2020), RIP…”Ain’t No Sunshine”

Photo of Bill WITHERS

Man, I was bummed to hear that singer extraordinaire, songwriter, producer Bill Withers had passed away on March 30th. His family announced it yesterday. As we sat around last night in quarantine playing music, Bill was never far from my thoughts. Withers had walked away from the music business in 1985, just left it, after a 15 year career that saw him take home at least three Grammys.

The guy was one of a kind and simply one of the coolest people to walk the earth. He was born in Slab Fork, West Virginia which, forgive my saying this, sounds like a godforsaken spot if there ever was one. I think of my exile years in Arkansas and think, thank god I wasn’t in West Virginia. He enlisted in the Navy and served nine years. Afterwards he got a string of jobs in different factories in Los Angeles. He finally started singing and writing songs but refused to quit his day job. The album cover for his first album is a shot of him holding his lunch box outside the factory. We have to presume the record company man grabbed a photographer and drove to the factory to catch him on his lunch break. Fame came late to him and I don’t think he ever cared for it. Becoming famous at 32 didn’t change the man. He kind of remained, lunch box Bill.

I was always aware of Bill Withers without connecting the fact that all these hits I heard on the radio as kid were him. It was my friend Doug who first turned me on to Withers. He let me tape his Greatest Hits CD back in the late 80s and that connected the dots for me. Ah, cassettes… Bill sang the iconic “Lean On Me.” One of my favorites of his was “Lovely Day.” That is the most positive song you’re ever going to hear. But I liked Bill’s more… temporal songs. He liked to sing about love, baby. His second best song was the funky “Use Me.” It’s a song about a woman who treats him terribly but he’s ok with it as she uses him for sex. I guess that’s not a bad gig if you can get it. The song is so great that Mick Jagger, yes, Mick Jagger and Lenny Kravitz covered it on Jagger’s LP Wandering Spirit. 

His crowning achievement was the masterpiece “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I can’t believe that song is only two minutes long. It’s a great, great song but nowadays it makes me slightly nervous when he sings, “Hey, I oughtta leave young thing alone.” I mean, I know the 70s were a different time but let’s keep our hands off the kinder. Back then we called it “jailbait” but ahem, that’s not cool now. I mean we have to assume he’s singing about a woman in her 20s. I’ve heard Sting and Paul McCartney cover that song. McCartney did it live on his Unplugged album but I don’t think Sting ever released a version. It’s as soulful and sad a song as you’re ever going to hear. I truly believe that my wife’s cat has this song running in his head every time she leaves the house to go to the store…”and she’s always gone too long, any time she goes away.” I think he’s afraid I’ll forget to feed him which, let’s face it, might be true.

At my friend Matthew’s first wedding, I was best man. At the reception I tracked the band down on a break and asked if they knew “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I was kind of obsessed with the track during that time period. Naturally they did and they were gracious enough to indulge me. I actually asked Matt’s mother to dance with me, a memory that is hazy and clear at the same time. I think every band probably has a version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” worked up. If they don’t they should.

I remember Bill being inducted to the Rock Hall of Fame a few years ago. He came up on stage, looking cool as usual in a tux and he just stood there. A number of other artists were singing his songs, songs he wrote and he just hung out on stage. He didn’t sing or even approach the microphone until it was over. Then he grabs the mic and says a humble “thank you.” Bill personified cool, man.

And now at 81, Mr. Withers has left the building. My condolences to his two kids and his wife and all of us out here who dug his music. He wasn’t a titan of rock but man, he sure could have been. He was too cool to take the reigns. Rest In Peace Bill! There truly “ain’t no sunshine” today.

Stay safe, healthy and isolated out there people… If you need something to help fill your time, try this: B&V’s Pandemic Playlist – Rock n Roll To The Self-Isolation Rescue.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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