B&V’s Favorite Cover Albums: Singing Other People’s Songs

0000831734

“You took the words right out of my mouth…” – Meatloaf

I read on-line the other day that Paul Simon has an album, In The Blue Light, coming out in September. It’s yet another artist who is teeing up a new album for next month. It’s going to be a busy September down in the B&V Labs. I look forward to sipping a nice Buffalo Trace, enjoying the slow fade of summer and the sweet decay of autumn with all this new rock and roll. I’ll be watching football in my underwear, tumbler in hand, with the volume muted and cranking tunes all month. The Rock Chick will likely travel to points west to escape that torture… The fact that Paul Simon was putting out an album caught my eye. It’s only been two years since his last album, the wonderful Stranger To Stranger Review (Full LP): Paul Simon’s “Stranger To Stranger”. Simon typically takes half a decade between studio albums so this seemed awfully quick for him. A little further digging and I realized that Simon is revisiting some of his more obscure tracks from his back catalog and redoing them on the new LP. I saw he’s even re-cutting “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor.”

I have to admit to being a tad surprised by all of this Paul Simon news. I have seen artists revisit songs before, but never an entire album of their past material. Artists typically want to move forward creatively. Sting likes to go back and redo Police tracks, like “Shadows In The Rain.” Phil Collins redid “Behind The Lines,” a Genesis track, on his debut album. Yes, Phil Collins… don’t give me any shit, everybody had that first album because of “In The Air Tonight.” Robert Plant went back to a Page-Plant track, “Please Read The Letter” and redid it with Alison Krauss and frankly, I liked that version better. Sometimes a song just isn’t done. There are different ways to approach a song and sometimes a reassessment, or if you will, a look back is worth taking and the results can be more satisfying. Keith Richards always says that Stones tunes are never really finished in the studio, and they always continue to evolve on the road.

All of this got me thinking about cover songs. A cover song is where an artist, usually an established artist, sings/performs a song written by another artist. Think of a cover song as a two-for-one…you get a taste of both the performer and the original artist. Often times the artist doing the cover finds something in the song that the writer/original performer might have missed. Think, “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley versus Leonard Cohen’s original version (although I prefer Cohen’s version, the rest of the planet dug the Buckley version). Or perhaps Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect” which is definitive, instead of Otis Redding’s original. Most artists do prefer to write their own stuff. Typically every band/artist starts as a cover artist… every bar band I’ve ever seen typically does other people’s stuff until they can establish their own music. If an established artist chooses to do cover songs, they typically limit it to one or two tracks on an album. However, there are a number of cases where an artist does an entire album of cover songs, or as I like to call it, a “covers albums.” Unlike Paul Simon, these cover albums tend to cover other artists, not the artist’s own back catalog, but Paul Simon gonna Paul Simon.

Over the years I think the cover album has gotten a bad reputation. The reaction from fans usually runs along the lines of questioning whether the band has run out of ideas. Is the band getting lazy? Sometimes the cover album is considered a contract filler, much like some of the lesser live albums out there tend to be. Cut a covers album, hand it in to the record company to fulfill the specified number of albums in the contract and sign a new deal. And I’ll be the first to admit, there have been some really bad covers albums. The Band, who weren’t getting along, and couldn’t really function put out Moondog Matinee in an attempt to recapture their early, bar-band days. They missed the mark pretty widely… Although I dug their version of “Mystery Train.” Annie Lennox’s Medusa left me stone cold, and I love her voice. And, while most people would disagree with me, I loathed Springsteen’s album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. I can’t even listen to that record and I think everybody knows I’m a Springsteen fanatic.

All that aside, when the right artist is paired with the right material, a covers album can be something quite special. I think the following records are examples of those rare occasions where the artist chose material that was perfect for them. Whether it’s an artist returning to the roots music that originally turned them on or the artist’s take on some of their contemporaries tracks, there are plenty of examples of great covers albums. These are my favorites.

  1. Aerosmith, Honkin’ On Bobo – Arriving three years after the over-produced Just Push Play, this album was a welcome return to Aerosmith’s sleazy, bloozy, early sound. It was touted as a blues covers album but it’s more like covers of songs by groups who covered the blues… but I’m splitting hairs here. Aretha’s “I Never Loved A Girl,” “Baby Please Don’t Go” and a rockin’ version of “Road Runner” are some of the highlights. I haven’t been a fan of much that Aerosmith has done since Permanent Vacation, but this one is a fun record.
  2. Gregg Allman, Low Country Blues and Southern Blood – Gregg’s 2011 LP, Low Country Blues was a T. Bone Burnett produced blues album that I just loved. It’s the perfect pairing of material and artist. Gregg was made to sing the blues. His 2017 follow up, Southern Blood was supposed to feature all new material, but alas, Allman was overcome by cancer. Both of these albums were late career gems… My thoughts on the latter, LP Review: Gregg Allman, ‘Southern Blood’: A “Brother’s” Beautiful Farewell.
  3. Billie Joe Armstrong & Norah Jones, Foreverly- Billie Joe Armstrong heard an old Everly Brother’s album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, a covers album the Everly’s did after they got famous. As a master stroke he brought in Norah Jones to sing the harmony vocal that Phil sang. I love “Roving Gambler,” “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” and of course, the old standard “Barbara Allen.” This is a quiet, laid back, rootsy treat.
  4. David Bowie, Pin-Ups – This album was considered at the time to be Bowie in a holding pattern. It’s basically Bowie doing a bunch of late-60s blues based covers. He also does a Springsteen track, “Growin’ Up” and an early Syd Barret Pink Floyd track, “See Emily Play.” I love the song selection and Bowie rocks on this album.
  5. Johnny Cash, American Recordings – Rick Rubin pulled Johnny Cash out of career oblivion and exile to record this fabulous set of covers, including songs by Danzig, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. It still sends chills up my spine to hear The Man In Black return. His follow-up, cut with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was another gem, Unchained. If you dig those albums, I also highly recommend the box set of out-takes, Unearthed, that has some mind blowing stuff including Cash singing Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” backed by the Chili Peppers (sans Anthony Kiedis). This is essential listening.
  6. Eric Clapton, From The Cradle – Clapton returning to where it all began for him, the blues. The critics suggested he was a tad too reverent on some of these blues chestnuts, but who wouldn’t be reverent with a song like “Hoochie Coochie Man,” a track written by Willie Dixon and first done by Muddy Waters? Clapton sounds more engaged on this record than anything he’s done since Layla.
  7. Bob Dylan, Shadows In the Night – The world’s greatest song writer doing covers from the great American songbook that are all related in some way to Frank Sinatra? This should be a disaster but it just works. He went on to record four more discs worth of these covers,which like Rod, was overdoing it. I still love this one though…
  8. The Hindu Love Gods, The Hindu Love Gods – R.E.M. (sand Michael Stipe) backed Warren Zevon on his album, Sentimental Hygiene. They had some extra studio time and decided to bang out this grab bag of covers. They’re mostly old blues or country standards but he also did “Raspberry Beret” which became a surprise hit. I don’t think this music was ever supposed to see the light of day and it’s release soured Zevon’s relationship with R.E.M., which is too bad because this is a great record.
  9. Alison Krauss & Robert Plant, Raising Sand – Another T. Bone Burnett produced gem. T. Bone paired Plant and Krauss at a benefit and Plant was so enthused by the harmonizing, they decided to cut an album. I always wished they’d come back in and recorded some original stuff, but this covers album is super. Oh, and I think it won a Grammy or two.
  10. John Lennon, Rock ‘N’ Roll – Lennon returning to the music of his youth, the music that turned him onto rock n roll in the first place. This music is so joyful. I think people were put off by this album when it came out, but I think it’s aged very well. Lennon owns “Stand By Me.”
  11. Paul McCartney, Run Devil Run – Dylan always returns to folk music in troubled times… McCartney always seems to return to the music of his youth, early rock n roll when he’s facing tough times. This was the first album he cut after the loss of his beloved wife Linda. David Gilmour plays guitar. What’s amazing are the three originals McCartney penned sound like oldies… I didn’t realized he’d written them until later.
  12. Metallica, Garage, Inc. – This started as a five song cassette tape and evolved into a sprawling two disc opus. They cover a lot of early British heavy metal from bands I’d never heard of. They also do a great job on Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey In a Jar.” They even throw in “Turn the Page” by Seger and “Tuesday’s Gone” by Skynyrd for good measure. Wild, heavy good times.
  13. Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Sings Newman – Harry Nilsson’s voice was one of the most amazing of the 70s singer/songwriter genre. He was, to put it lightly, eccentric. He was a huge fan of Randy Newman, also a tad idiosyncratic. Harry did Randy’s “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear” and became so enamored with Newman he did a whole album of his songs. Harry is largely credited with breaking Newman to the rest of the world. I love this record. The vocal overdubs are the thing of legend.
  14. Robert Plant, Dreamland – After pairing with his old guitarist for the Page & Plant albums and tours, Plant re-emerged as a solo artist with a covers album of old blues tracks and sixties songs he liked/admired. Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” sounds like it was written for Plant. I love his take on “Hey Joe,” which has more in common with the original than Hendrix’s cover version. “Darkness Darkness” and “Morning Dew” are definitive here. I also saw Plant on this tour and his voice was sublime.
  15. Rage Against the Machine, Renegades – Rick Rubin pushing a band to do covers, who’d have thought? At least this wasn’t his usual acoustic approach. Tom Morello’s guitar dive bombs through Zach de la Rocha’s vocals on some great tracks from “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (Springsteen), to “Maggie’s Farm” (Dylan) to “Down On The Streets” (Iggy & The Stooges). RATM never did a bad album.
  16. The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome – The Stones going back to their blues roots… It’s like hearing them in London at the Marquee Club in 1965. This album was, again, the perfect pairing of artist and material. This is essential listening for Stones fans, blues fans and fans of rock n roll. I would recommend their album, On Air, a compilation of live takes from their early days on the BBC, as a companion piece. My thoughts on Blue & Lonesome, LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle and On Air, LP Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’ – An Exciting Look Back To The Early BBC Performances.
  17. Bob Seger, Smokin’ O.P.s – The title purportedly was supposed to mean “smokin’ other people’s songs.” Seger takes on oldies, “Bo Diddley” to takes on contemporaries, Stephen Stills “Love The One Your With,” and Tim Rice’s “If I Were a Carpenter.” This is an upbeat rocking album, and a must for fans of Seger’s rockier stuff.

That’s it folks! If I missed an album of covers by an artist you know and love, let me know in the comments. I recommend everybody check out or buy these albums. If you’re thinking there’s a lot to love here, well, “you took the words right out of my mouth…”

 

 

Advertisements

Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone

red-706-telephone

When I was a kid, my dad and his friends used to tell Traveling Salesmen jokes because, well, they were traveling salesmen. I didn’t really listen to much that my father said when I was young, so there’s not one of those jokes I could tell you today. I guess I should have been listening, because for some unfathomable reason I followed in my father’s footsteps. I didn’t want to be a doctor, too much blood. My father told me to be an orthodontist, “that’s where the money is, son,” but I didn’t want to have my hand in people’s mouth all day, tightening wires, although I could see where a sadist could get into that. I think I lean a little more on the masochistic side of the equation… for all you Dominatrix out there… ahem. I considered teaching, but I didn’t want to starve or worse drive a cab. Sales is where all the wretched refuse end up. The folks who don’t have that crystal clear vision when they’re 10 of what they want to be when they grow up, the people who’s major gets selected randomly, they all end up in sales. I’ve met more Psych majors, former teachers, and architects in sales than in psychology, teaching or architecture. You eventually reach that stage in life where you decide to, as Jackson Browne once sang, become “a happy idiot, and struggle for the legal tender.” Sales pays the bills. But sales also requires travel… lots and lots of travel.

For the last few weeks my life has been, in a nutshell, Planes, Trains And Automobiles. I’ve been in Austin, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I’ve been home just long enough to unpack and repack and head back out on the road. This week is no different. I’m here just long enough to annoy the Rock Chick and then I’m off to Denver for meetings. The problem with being a traveling sales guy or gal, is that your spouse most likely sits at home at night with the kids or in my case, a cat. When you get home from the road, (and I must say, the Allman Brothers were right, “the Road” truly does “go on forever”), all you want to do is lay down on the couch and eat a sandwich. Well, you should probably sit up while you eat, but to each their own, I don’t judge. I had the inevitable conversation with my bride just last Friday. She copped to being a little bored sitting at home while I’m out on the town in some faraway city and wanted to go out for drinks. This is the fallacy of work travel. No matter where I go, as much as I like the people I work with, my travel isn’t fun despite what my wife thinks. There is nothing glamorous about going to yet another restaurant to eat and drink with strangers whom you’re trying to convince to give you money. I will admit, there are rare occasions when I get to dine or have a few drinks and talk a little treason with a friend, like my buddy RK in Chicago, but those nights are few and far between.

Unfortunately all of this travel has kept me away from B&V and music in general. Sure, I have my phone or my iTouch, because it’s really hard to get the turntable into the overhead compartment on the plane, but it’s not the same as being here in the B&V lab, listening to obscure R.E.M. b-sides. Being on the road with my iTouch does give me time to reflect on playlist ideas. What else am I going to do on the noon flight from San Fran to Orange County. I will say, having my smart phone has changed my life. I get emails and texts so I can get up to the minute updates. Although in the old days, when my travel was just driving around from small town to small town peddling medical supplies, it was nice to get away from the constant noise and be “unreachable,” a concept that is sadly gone now. The phone is so much more these days – a camera, a virtual radio station’s worth of music and a forum for the social media… It wasn’t always that way.

Phones have become a uniquely personal experience. “Where’s my phone” are words uttered around here every day… It used to be “where’s the phone.” Even at concerts, people tend to view the live action through the lens of their phones – something that Jack White and I both deplore – rather than just being in the moment and being a part of the experience by actually watching and absorbing what’s happening on the stage. I mean, sure, even I, your intrepid blogger will snap a few photos at a concert, but that’s because I need a pic for B&V – if I don’t do it, who will teach the children about rock and roll? Anything for the people… Anyway, my point is, everyone has their own phone. We take our phones everywhere. I even heard a guy in a bathroom stall in O’Hare Airport taking a business call…he was sitting down. I’ll let you do the math on that whole scenario. I won’t be borrowing that guy’s phone any time soon. I watched two college kids eating at the Shake Shack in LAX (and lets all admit what an awful, primitive airport that is… I think I saw someone trying to board a plane with a live chicken under their arm), and these two kids were sitting across from each other and they were both in their phones, not just on the phones. I don’t think they even looked at each other.

In the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the phone was not a personal experience, it was a shared experience. Most homes had a phone, but it was on the wall. A rotary phone with a really long cord was a must have in every kitchen… you could cook or sit at the kitchen table and talk on the phone at the same time. You had to share the phone with your whole family, from parents to any siblings that were hanging around. I remember being on the phone talking to a girl and my brother, the insolent bastard, kept picking up the line because, in all likelihood he wanted to call a girl too. I seem to recall all of this inability to share the phone line leading to fisticuffs but that’s water under the bridge. My mother put time limits on us for how long we could use the phone at night. When school started everybody got a directory with the home phone of every student… it made dating easier. Or at least, in my case, trying to date easier.

If you lived in a rural area, the phone was even more of a shared experience. The Rock Chick lived so far out in the country she had to have what was called a “party line” where it wasn’t just you on the phone, you shared it with your neighbors. If Edna, down the road was talking to Enid, gossiping about the bowling league, you had to wait for her to finish so you could make a call. I can’t imagine what that was like. You were literally blocked from calling anybody until the neighbor got done. I can’t fathom the eavesdropping that went on in that small town. No secrets… I try to picture my daughter in that scenario. She would have run away from home.

If you were expecting a call, you couldn’t leave the house, to continue to live your life. You had to stay home, hanging on the telephone line, as they used to say, waiting for the phone to ring. If you were out in public you had to have a dime, and later a quarter, then you had to find a pay phone to make a call. I remember being a freshman in college, I had to leave the place I lived, we were all on top each other, so I could talk to my girlfriend in private. I had to walk two blocks to the convenience store, get change for a dollar, and call from the phone booth outside. I spent hours standing in phone booths back in those days. There was something romantic about that… late at night, standing in a small glass booth, making that long distance call… I think I was on a first name basis with the operator. Nowadays, I just text my wife when I’m traveling. It’s just not the same…

I was in a hotel room recently, shuffling on my iTouch, when I heard back-to-back songs about being on the phone. The songs took me back to those old days of late night calls from phone booths along the highway to either some place I’d been or to some place I was going. Even David Lee Roth said that the entire time he was in Van Halen, he’d known that it would end with him in a lonely hotel room, with nothing but a busy signal on the other end of the line… (Note to Millennials, if you didn’t want to talk to someone, you took the receiver off “the hook” of the phone, and it would produce a busy signal). I’ve been in that hotel room… I’ve heard that busy signal.

So without further adieu, here is my Hanging On The Telephone Line playlist. As with all my playlists, which I finally posted on Spotify,  this playlist will be posted there as well. Go out and search on BourbonAndVinyl.net and you’ll find it… And as always, stylistically I’m all over the map here, but that’s what makes music fun… Enjoy.

  1. The White Stripes, “Hello Operator” – Visceral blues-rock with Meg White pounding out the insistent rhythm like an impatient caller on the line.
  2. Bob Dylan & The Band, “Long Distance Operator” – This is a Band song that Robbie Robertson grafted on the original 2 album release of The Basement Tapes. That doesn’t make it a bad tune…
  3. Robert Cray, “Phone Booth” – This one takes me back… many a night I spent in a phone booth.
  4. Kiss, “Beth” – “Beth I hear you callin’…”
  5. Blondie, “Call Me” – The theme song from American Gigolo. My mother once said to me, “I don’t know what all this talk about Richard Gere is, you’re just as handsome as he is….” Thanks mom, but I have a mirror.
  6. The Allman Brothers, “Please Call Home” – “…if you change your mind.” Sublime blues.
  7. B.B. King, “Waiting For Your Call” – We’ve all been there.
  8. Rod Stewart, “Oh, God I Wish I Was Home Tonight” – Rod imagines calling his girlfriend, from his neighbors apartment, which I’m pretty sure was breaking and entering and petty theft. Great song, tho.
  9. The Pretenders, “The Phone Call” – My friend Drew turned me back onto the Pretenders… those first two albums are priceless.
  10. The Kinks, “Long Distance” – What playlist is complete without the Kinks?
  11. Muddy Waters, “Long Distance Call” – The King of Delta Blues calling from far away…
  12. X, “You’re Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not” – Kick ass, funny, Southern-California punk rock.
  13. Foreigner, “Love On The Telephone” – This is one of the two tracks that inspired me to write this screed…
  14. The Beatles, “No Reply” – This is really a song about an ex-boyfriend stalking his ex… which is not cool, but the Beatles were so cute people dug it still.
  15. Al Green, “Call Me” – Al Green did not record one sad song, even this plea for a lover’s call.
  16. The Vaughn Brothers, “Telephone Song” – Stevie Ray and Jimmy tearing it up. What a loss Stevie Ray was…
  17. Billy Idol, “Crank Call” – Is your fridge running? Yes… You better catch it, it’s getting away. Ah, innocence lost.
  18. Blondie, “Hanging On The Telephone” – Parallel Lines is essential listening, and this is a key track.
  19. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Call Me Back Again” – A jammy, rocky, big horns track from Sir Paul, Linda and Denny Laine.
  20. Lou Reed, “New York Telephone Conversation” – As brief as I would imagine a conversation in NY going.
  21. Chuck Berry, “Memphis, Tennessee” – Also done beautifully by the Faces. “Long distance operator can you put me in touch with…” Fabulous song.
  22. Cheap Trick, “She’s Tight” – A song where our hero receives a call from his girlfriend whose parents are apparently gone for the evening… ahem… I think we’ve all been there. Youth is sometimes not wasted on the young.
  23. ELO, “Telephone Line” – My friend Doug takes umbrage when I describe them as being derivative of the Beatles, so I’m going to say it, they’re derivative of the Beatles. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a great song.
  24. Jim Croce, “Operator” – The saddest, best song on this list.

Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while and just say, hello. It’s worth the quarter…

 

HBO’s Documentary, ‘Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind,’ Tearjerker

12_robin

I laughed, I cried, I was moved…

When I became a teenager in the ’70s, comedians were as important to me as rock stars. It was truly a golden age of comedy. David Letterman, Steve Martin, the original cast of Saturday Night Live (Belushi, Aakroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray), Gary Shandling, Elaine Boosler, Jerry Seinfeld were all exploding on TV (on Carson, SNL, Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas’ shows) and at the movies. Steve Martin was probably my first comedy crush but the guy who was the white-hot sun in this universe of stars was Robin Williams.

In the late ’60s and all through the ’70s comedians would release albums. That was how they made most of their money. Bill Cosby was never a big hit at the box office, he built his quaalude empire by selling comedy albums from concerts he’d recorded. George Carlin, Cheech and Chong and many others were introduced to us the way rock and roll was, by dropping a needle on a vinyl album on the stereo. The apex of the comedy album was probably the late 70’s. Steve Martin had two monster albums, 1977’s Let’s Get Small and 1978’s A Wild And Crazy Guy. I’d seen Martin on SNL and loved him. Before my first proper album, Some Girls by the Stones, my actual first vinyl album purchase was Wild And Crazy Guy. I saw Steve Martin as my first concert at Kemper Arena, a 15,000 seat stadium. My friend, Stormin said that everybody in his high school, and he is from a tiny little village out on the plains of Kansas, would listen to that album, memorize the lines and do the bits at school for the chicks. All of us in the suburbs of Kansas City were doing the same goddamm thing. “And she had the best pussy….” If you weren’t athletically gifted, but you could be funny, a girl might actually turn her head toward you…

One of my early, early album purchases was Robin Williams’ first album, 1979’s Reality…What a Concept. It remains a cherished item in my collection. We were all Williams’ fans from his sitcom, ‘Mork and Mindy,’ but with his first comedy album, he was allowed to step away from the role of Mork and unleash his wild, comedic id. On side two of the album he improvises a fake Shakespearean play based on suggestions from the crowd. At one point, during a soliloquy he’s trying to make a decision and the crowd is yelling suggestions… and he cries out in mock despair, “Assholes do vex me…” It’s a line I use to this day, especially at work. It was sheer genius, his ability to create characters and put them in hilarious scenarios. The man’s brain worked on a warp speed most of us can’t get to.

After ‘Mork and Mindy’ Williams did a number of comedy specials through the ’80s, which were released on tape and later DVD, I recommend all of them. Eventually he transitioned to the movies. There were so many great ones, ‘Dead Poet Society,’ ‘Good Morning Vietnam,’ and of course later ‘Good Will Hunting.’ Eventually the movie thing started to sputter. He returned to television to do a series again, ‘The Crazy Ones,’ a sitcom that apparently only I liked. And then three years ago came the heartbreaking news that he’d committed suicide. He had Parkinson’s disease, which none of us knew.

I took the news hard. I think the reason I loved Robin Williams as much as I did, was because no matter how manic the comedy or how serious the drama he was acting in, hiding behind any performance was this big, giant heart. You could see it in his eyes. There was a quality, maybe it was sadness, maybe it was a longing to connect, that lingered behind those big blue eyes. He could make me laugh while making me want to put my arm around him at the same time. I still find it hard to believe he’s gone.

Last night, fittingly on the eve of what would have been Robin’s 67th birthday, I got home from a week of keeping Austin Weird, and finally got the chance to sit down and watch HBO’s superb ‘Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind.’ That line, “come inside my mind,” was from that first comedy album I purchased, Reality…What a Concept, during a bit where Williams would invite the audience into the mind of the comedian, into what he was thinking. At the end of the bit he screams, “fuck you, what do you want from me anyway?” Look it up, it’s fucking funny.

I laughed my ass off during the first few minutes of the documentary. It starts with an excerpt from his hysterical performance on ‘Inside The Actors Studio’ (another must see), and cut to a few other performances. But oddly, and maybe I’m just getting sentimental, I found myself tearing up during much of the two hours. The documentary takes you through his whole life, from his lonely childhood and intense relationship with his mother to Julliard, to stand up and then stardom with ‘Mork and Mindy.’ For a man who made so much of us laugh, he was, as the Rock Chick noted last night, a very troubled man. He actually was briefly with Belushi at the Chateau Marmont the night Belushi died. The late 70s, early 80s were a hard partying time. Part of me wishes I’d been old enough to party with these guys and part of me is relieved I never did.

There are cameos from many of Robin’s friends who happened to be comedy geniuses. Billy Crystal, David Letterman and Elaine Boosler are all part of the documentary. I love what Letterman says, “I was just standing on stage hanging onto the microphone for dear life, and here’s Robin wandering out into the crowd.” It’s obvious how close a friendship Billy Crystal and Robin had. I think the most heartbreaking interview sequences are the ones with Pam Dawber, who played Mindy. I had always heard that the two didn’t get along. It’s obvious that was totally wrong. She teared up a couple of times… and so did I.

This is the second superb HBO documentary I’ve seen this year about a comedian. Unlike the one about Gary Shandling (HBO Documentary: The Must-See, Moving Tribute, ‘The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling’) that I found fascinating because I knew so little about the man, this Robin Williams documentary literally moved me to tears. I don’t know why, I just have a special place in my heart for Robin. The comedy universe is a little less bright with him gone. I recommend any fan of comedy or Robin Williams to see this documentary immediately… You might want to bring a handkerchief.

It’s a dark ride folks, laugh as much as you can.

 

BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums

MI0000014805

You don’t see a lot of live albums any more. Back in the 70s and 80s, when dinosaurs with guitars roamed the Earth, spitting fire and lighting their guitars on fire and well, there was just a lot of fire, live albums could be a big deal. I say “could be” because often times “live in concert” records were just throwaways. Bands would put out a live album as a way to fulfill contract terms. If a band owed a record company four albums and they only had 1 more album due to fulfill the contract, they’d pump out often uninspired, rote, live album so they could sign with another record company and get a big signing-bonus check. Sure, there were more creative ways to get out of a record contract – The Stones famously submitted a single to their record company entitled, “Cocksucker Blues,” a slow, bluesy number about, well, a guy who…nevermind, you get the picture. The record company guys were so horrified by the Stones they released them from their contract for purely moral reasons. Ah, the 60s.

Because so many bands put out “contract fulfilling” live albums, the live album as an art form gets a bit maligned. Tom Petty used to call those live albums, “greatest hits played faster” albums. Not unfairly… However, in the hands of a committed artist, a live album can be something special. There are many cases of a live album being the key that actually broke an act nationally – Bob Seger, Peter Frampton, and Cheap Trick are all great examples of that. The live album choice was a way to capture those band’s on-stage magic, that up to that point they’d been unable to find in the studio. I’ve always felt to be a truly classic rock and roll artist, you’ve got to be able to bring it live. With that thought in mind, it’s no surprise, that many acts on this list would be on anybody’s “greatest of all time” lists. Great bands tend to do great live albums.

I’m not fond of just putting out lists of things. “It’s not really writing, it’s just typing” as Truman Capote once said. But every now and then I have to submit a summer listening list to the B&V faithful. I have arranged this list in alphabetic order. Some of these acts have more than one essential live album so I have tried to list only the pick of the litter. Although in some cases, I couldn’t make up my mind and just listed all of them. In many cases, it’s us in the audience and our wild cheering that can make the music that much more magical…and yes, I’ll be the first to admit, that many times, the band in question heavily overdubbed the vocals or the guitar parts…

  1. Aerosmith, Live Bootleg – Before they looked like the Real Gypsie Housewives of Rock N Roll, Aerosmith used to be menacing, gypsy drug addicts who could rock. This is a great document of that time.
  2. The Allman Brothers, Live At the Fillmore East – Blues with a jazz improvisational twist.
  3. Gregg Allman, The Gregg Allman Tour – Joined by Allman Bros Jaimoe (drums), and Chuck Leavell (piano), Gregg is more soulful/R&B-ish than with the main band. His backing band Cowboy even gets one side to show off their stuff.
  4. The Band, Rock of Ages or The Last Waltz – Either of these are great, I lean toward Waltz as it’s like a drunken wake for the 60s as the Band play with influences to contemporaries.
  5. The Beatles, Live At the Hollywood Bowl – The Beatles were such studio wizards, it’s nice to get a different view of the legends. This album puts a little meat on the bones of the myth. Live at the BBC iis also a great listen, just without an audience.
  6. David Bowie, Live in Santa Monica ’72 – Bowie and the Spiders from Mars… Mick Ronson almost outshines Bowie… almost.
  7. James Brown, Live At the Apollo – Soul Brother #1’s greatest album.
  8. Jackson Browne, Running On Empty – A concept album about the road, recorded on the road. His last classic record.
  9. Johnny Cash, Live at Folsom Prison – The man in black, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die…” A young inmate in the audience went on to some fame… his name was Merle Haggard.
  10. Cheap Trick, Live At Budokan – This takes me back to riding to high school in my buddy Brewster’s car, listening to this on 8-track.
  11. Eric Clapton, Just One Night – The definitive version of J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine.”
  12. Leonard Cohen, Live In London – About what other artist can you say: After years spent in a Buddhist monastery, he emerged to find out his manager had ripped him off. He had to tour to fund his legal fees. It was a treat to hear how warmly he’s greeted by his fans.
  13. Sam Cooke, One Night Stand: At the Harlem Square Club – Greatest. Singer. Ever.
  14. Chris Cornell, Songbook – Sentimental choice here… An acoustic run through solo, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave tunes.
  15. CSNY, Four Way Street or 1974 – I probably lean toward 4-way, but 1974 is a 3-disc, superbly curated (by Graham Nash) look at the tumultuous ’74 tour.
  16. Dire Straits, Alchemy – The definitive version of “Sultans of Swing” and my buddy the accountant’s favorite live album.
  17. Bob Dylan, Bootleg Series Vol 4, Live 1966 – Mislabeled as being from The Royal Albert Hall. Dylan backed by the Band (sans Levon) before they were the Band. The most combative live album ever – his folk-y fans resented his electric turn.
  18. Bob Dylan and the Band, Before the Flood – During a career lull for both acts in 1974 Dylan and his erstwhile backing band reunited for Planet Waves and this incendiary live album.
  19. Peter Frampton, Comes Alive – After a series of great solo records, it took this monster to break Frampton to the world.
  20. Free, Live Free! – Perhaps their best album.
  21. Grateful Dead, Live/Dead – So many to choose from, ’72 is also great… but I love how muscular they sound here. Pigpen’s keyboards are epic. They were never this experimental/innovative again, in my humble opinion.
  22. George Harrison, Concert for Bangladesh – My buddy Ron was there and says it was as epic as it sounds.
  23. Jimi Hendrix, Band of Gypsies – So many choices… I went with this one because it was the only one released while he was alive. Winterland, the box set is also a must have for The Jimi Hendrix Experience at their peak.
  24. Humble Pie, Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore – Frampton’s last album with Humble Pie.
  25. J. Geils Band, Blow Your Face Out – Before the sleek, synth pop of “Freeze Frame” the J. Geils Band were a soul, blues extravaganza, documented here. They also have a single disc live album, Live, Full House that’s exceptional.
  26. Billy Joel, Songs From The Attic – After hitting it big, Joel turns back to his early material and rerecords it with his road band, bringing the sometimes lifeless studio renditions to life. A rare case of an artist reflecting on his past.
  27. Elton John, 11-17-70 – Buy this just for the essential version of “Bad Side of the Moon” but stay for the rest. No hits, just rock.
  28. Journey, Captured – Greg Rollie’s last album with Journey and the last thing they did before becoming corporate sell-outs.
  29. B.B. King, Live At the Regal – B.B. and his rapport with his audience makes this great performance even more special.
  30. The Kinks, One More From the Road – Great Kinks arena-rock.
  31. Kiss, Alive – Heavily overdubbed, yes. Excellent, yes. Alive II was also a fan fav.
  32. Led Zeppelin, BBC Sessions – Zeppelin never really recorded a great live concert album. I liked How The West Was Won, but BBC is really the pick of the litter. Don’t forget their reunion live LP, Celebration Day.
  33. Little Feat, Waiting For Columbus – Internal dissension was tearing them apart, but you couldn’t tell listening to this great live document.
  34. Bob Marley, Babylon By Bus – You could equally pick Live! or Live At the Roxy. Marley and the Wailers were money on live albums.
  35. Dave Matthews Band, Live At Red Rocks – The best of many choices. I like this one since it focuses on the early DMB albums.
  36. Paul McCartney, Wings Over America – Derided as a “tour souvenir” I still like this record. It’s the first one I can think of with an acoustic set in the middle.
  37. Van Morrison, It’s Too Late To Stop Now – The Caledonian Soul Orchestra!
  38. Nirvana, Unplugged In New York City – Stripped off all the strum and drang, Cobain’s beautiful songwriting and sense of melody pop out at you.
  39. Ozzy Osbourne & Randy Rhoads, Tribute – Ozzy’s fine tribute to Randy, RIP.
  40. Pearl Jam, Live In Seattle, November 6, 2000 – My favorite from their bootleg series. This is a powerhouse show in front of the hometown fans.
  41. Tom Petty, The Live Anthology – A box set that is the ultimate statement on Petty and the Heartbreakers live… RIP Tom.
  42. Otis Redding, Live At the Whiskey A Go Go – I like this one better than Live In Europe, it’s more raw and immediate to me.
  43. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Live In Hyde Park – Overlooked gem of a live LP… Frusciante and Flea are on fire.
  44. Lou Reed, Rock N Roll Animal – Ferocious live solo and Velvet Underground cuts.
  45. R.E.M., Live At the Olympia – I don’t know if Michael Stipe was ever this engaging on stage ever again.
  46. The Rolling Stones, Get Your Ya Ya’s Out – The Stones have started a wonderful live Vault Series, but this is still their quintessential live album.
  47. Rush, All The World’s A Stage – This one came early in their career and it’s a powerhouse… although they medley up on “Working Man,” which is too bad.
  48. Bob Seger, Live Bullet or Nine Tonight – I’d give the nod to Live Bullet here only because it’s the sound of a funky, rock and roll bar band, The Silver Bullet Band to be specific, conquering the world.
  49. Bruce Springsteen, Live 75 to 85 (Box Set) or 1978 Cleveland – The box set captures Springsteen at the peak of his popularity, but really anything recorded on the iconic ’78 tour from his bootleg series is worth the price. I also like Live At the Hammersmith Odeon from the Born To Run tour. You really can’t go wrong with live Springsteen.
  50. Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense – Also get the DVD, visually entertaining too.
  51. Thin Lizzy, Live and Dangerous – True on both counts.
  52. U2, Under a Blood Red Sky – Before they were world spanning titans… they just simply rock Red Rocks outside of Denver.
  53. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Live at Carnegie Hall – SRV had to self finance this thing to get it recorded. Thank God he did.
  54. Velvet Underground, Live With Lou Reed, Vol 1 &2 – Rough sound quality but essential for any rock and roll fan.
  55. Muddy Waters, Live at Newport – Muddy launching the blues revival in America at the iconic Newport Festival.
  56. The Who, Live At Leeds – The power and the glory of “maximum R&B.” They’ve got a great BBC collection as well.
  57. Neil Young, Live Rust – On tour for one of his most popular albums, this live album is split between an acoustic and an electric performance. Neil has put out a number of excellent concert recordings in his vault series, from Massey Hall to Tonights The Night Live that are all worth checking out.
  58. Warren Zevon, Stand In The Fire – Sober but still unhinged. Zevon never gets his due…

There it is rock and roll fans. A nice list of live records to pour over during your summers by the pool… call it your summer homework assignment. If there’s something I left out, just post it in the comments. I’m always open to ideas! Hold those lighters in the air and celebrate the majesty of rock and roll played live!

 

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

BruceBorn1984

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone

image1 2

*Brilliant photo taken from the inside album sleeve of ‘Damn The Torpedoes’

As far as Mondays go, yesterday was one of the worst. I’ve never liked Mondays… I awoke to the horrible news that some nut job had shot up a music festival in Las Vegas. Add to that, the usual Monday work “horrible-ness” brought on by my Corporate Masters and it was already shaping up to be a bad day. But then the unspeakable happened. My friend the Jean-Genie texted to tell me the devastating news that Tom Petty, music icon, songwriter, singer/guitar player, legend had suffered a massive heart attack and was in critical condition. I was out at the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium when the news he had passed came…then, weirdly, it came out that maybe he wasn’t dead, that he was fighting. I could hear Petty’s music all over the parking lot. Perhaps there was hope… Alas, it was false hope. I just can’t believe Tom Petty is gone…. too soon, too soon. He was only 66. I just saw him on the 40th Anniversary Tour in June… (Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2107)

Tom Petty was one of only a handful of artists I can say have written the soundtrack to my life. I own every album, box set, live box set, literally everything that Petty ever put out. His music is a constant in my life, like the North Star. Petty always said that the reason the Heartbreakers weren’t “bigger” was because they were always so consistent. I would argue with Tom a little on that point… I think Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were spectacular. My heart goes out to his family, his band and all of my fellow Petty fans out there. Its going to be a tough few days…this one is gonna leave a mark. In his honor, I will be shuffling his entire catalog…which might take a while…

It was awful to lose David Bowie a couple of Januarys ago, but Bowie was always so “otherworldly” that he seemed distant. Tom Petty felt like a friend… someone you could sit next to at a bar. He wrote about things that everybody understood: love, loss, driving real fast and of course the South. While he was a part of the 70s southern-California music scene that included the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, Petty and his Heartbreakers always remained firmly rooted in the Florida south they grew up in… and lets face it, they also rocked a lot harder.

So many memories…. so many. I will share but of a few of my own memories…I know all of us have similar memories of the man and his music.

I can still remember being in Junior High School and buying my first Petty LP, ‘Damn The Torpedoes,’ his first masterpiece. I would just stare at his picture, above, on the inner sleeve and wonder, where did this cool, long-blonde-hair guy, smoking a cigarette come from? I’ve always loved that picture. I figured he was the coolest person in the world… “Don’t Do Me Like That,” and “Refugee” were the big hits, but as a skinny kid with acne, “Even The Losers” was the tune that felt like it was my anthem. KY/102 used to have this bootleg of “Breakdown” that sounded like it was recorded in a bar, not even a club, a bar… that was for me the definitive version of that song. I’d do anything to get a copy of that, I’ve never been able to find it. After ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ and hearing that version of “Breakdown” I bought his first two, fantastic albeit overlooked LPs, ‘Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,’ and ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ and I’ve been buying his albums on the day they came out ever since.

‘Hard Promises’ was his second masterpiece and was the album he was going to name ‘$8.98′ after his dumb ass record company threatened to charge $9.98 for “premium” artists’ albums. He always fought for his fans… I can remember breaking up with my high school girlfriend when I went to college to the strains of “You Got Lucky” and “Change of Heart,” songs which still evoke those memories (I was the one who was lucky, and it was her that had the change of heart). His music has literally been that much a part of my life. It was during those college years, that I finally got to see Petty and the Heartbreaks live, on the “Pack Up The Plantation Tour” in support of ‘Southern Accents,’ which is a flawed but still essential Petty record and one of my favorites… “Rebels” and “Dogs On The Run” are always in high rotation here at B&V. That was the beginning of a lifelong series of Tom Petty concerts for me… I even got to see Tom and the Heartbreakers backing up Bob Dylan at Sandstone Amphitheater… I thought the solo Petty/Heartbreaks portions of the show were the best parts.

I was living in exile, in Arkansas, when ‘Full Moon Fever’ came out, Petty’s first “solo” album. I hated living there and I hated my very challenging job… every morning I’d put on “I Won’t Back Down” and that song gave me the strength to get in my car and drive to work each day. By the time Petty was touring for that LP, I’d moved back to KC (I guess I did “back down” after all). My friend Stormin’ and I weren’t going to go to the show, we were both broke, but our friends who had tickets convinced us to go down to Kemper and scalp tickets. Some guy sold us 10th row tickets for below face value. Our seats were better than our pals… The show was amazing, but up in the top deck, in a hallway in the roped off section of the arena behind the stage, a couple in silhouette danced to the music…. they were better stage props than even the wooden Indian and those two seared the memory of that show into my mind.

“Wildflowers” was such a masterpiece, it remains in high rotation for the Rock Chick and I to this day. “You Wreck Me” is such a great rock song. I was thrilled that at the 40th Anniversary show in June, he played a small, acoustic set from that record. There’s not a bad moment on there… They should hand that LP out at every music appreciation class on every college campus out there.

After ‘Wildflowers’ one could say that Petty’s star started to fade a bit. There were still sold-out concert tours, but radio had changed and classic rock guys weren’t getting played on the radio any more. I always loved the dark, rocking album, ‘Echo,’ but it didn’t do as well as ‘Wildflowers’ and Petty reacted with the angry, ‘Last DJ,’ an album I still own… there are some good tracks on that record, like all of his records…”Dreamville” and “Like a Diamond” are great songs… That’s just it, even on his rare weaker moments, there were always great songs on those records.

Petty’s last three records, ‘Highway Companion,’ ‘Mojo,’ and ‘Hypnotic Eye’ rank up there amongst his best work. Alas, without the broad radio airplay that artists used to enjoy in the old days, I’m not sure those albums ever got the exposure they so richly deserve. When you take those records and add in the two albums he did with his superb “side-project” Mudcrutch, his latter body of work is incredible. I urge everyone to check those albums out, they’re essential Petty listening. That late career hot streak is one of many, many reasons Petty’s untimely, early demise is such a tragedy. The man had so much more music in him.

I know this post has meandered a bit and that I’ve indulged in my own personal memories and experience with the man and his music. I remain devastated. I will cherish the memory of the many of his concerts I saw over the years. I’m so glad my friend Stormin’ helped me get tickets to his final KC show this June… I fear I might have missed it if he hadn’t reached out. I wish I’d taken my daughter to see him when I had the chance… like my friend Stormin’ did for his daughter, I turned mine onto Petty early on… These rock stars who come through town, I’m telling ya, buy the ticket, they might not come back… especially these days. We all share his wonderful body of work which will live on for generations… But make no mistake, the world is a dimmer place today without Tom Petty than it was yesterday.

It’s a long, dark ride. Take care of yourselves and those you love…

“I’m gonna free fall, out into nothing, gonna leave this world for a while…” I miss the man already….

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

MI0001784407

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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