B&V Playlist: Happy 4:20 To All!

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*Image from the internet and likely subject to copyright

I must admit, straight away, that I’ve never been a big fan of the hookah. I chose my poison long ago and it’s in the form of a dark and murky fluid, an elixir known as bourbon. However, while I’m not a fan of the hookah, I’ve always been a friend of the hookah. Call me, pot adjacent. I always liked the stoners in high school and enjoyed hanging out with them. They were generally more laid back than most teenagers. They were also typically more intelligent and quite frankly they had a better sense of humor. I can’t count the times those stoners turned me on to great music. It would have taken me years to find Pink Floyd without those guys. Those few attempts to be a groovy, turnt guy, smoking weed, ended in paranoia and fear. However, the Rock Chick is a big fan of 420. After all these years, I find myself again, pot-adjacent. Even her cat’s birthday is 4/20.

I feel like pot is pretty pervasive these days. It wasn’t always that way, or so it seemed. I remember watching the comic, David Steinberg, on Johnny Carson one night when I was a kid. He told a story about his only pot smoking experience without mentioning the words “pot” or “smoking” so fearful was he about being censored. It was a funny story. He was at a party where people were smoking pot so he partook in an attempt to look hip. He was a little paranoid so he jumped in his car to drive home. This was before Uber people, we all drove impaired, sadly. A cop pulls him over and asks Steinberg, “Do you know how fast you were driving?” A stoned Steinberg, gripped with the fear, responded, “I don’t, maybe 80 miles per hour?” The cop, now apparently amused, responded, “No sir, you were going 8.”

I remember David Lee Roth coming on Rockline, the weekly rock and roll interview show that was on back in the day. My roommate and I went up to the top floor of the building we lived in and rigged a home made antenna so we could hear the KC radio station, KY/102 since they didn’t have any rock stations in Manhattan, Kansas. Roth referred to a joint as a “behavior modification device” and smoking pot as “burning local herbs for strictly medicinal purposes.” Those immediately became part of our vernacular. Ah, Roth was cool, once upon a time.

The first time I ever tried to be cool and smoke pot ended in disaster, at least emotionally.  A friend of mine, who I’ll call Nately procured a joint from his big brother. He and another friend of ours, who I’ll call Orr (names changed to protect the guilty) sat on Nately’s back porch and smoked it. We could see a family eating dinner like a Normal Rockwell painting, in the house behind Nately’s which we found hysterical for reasons, well, unclear. Suddenly, in the distance we heard a police siren. We joked that it was coming for us, that the Norman Rockwell family had called the cops. Oh, that was hysterical alright… until the siren got louder and louder and louder. We all reached the same conclusion at the exact same time – Jesus, the cops are coming for us. We all three scrambled in different directions. I remember Orr dove under the deck. I seem to recall punching Nately’s cat, who had snuck up on me, and diving into a bush. At some point I just panicked and ran the two miles to my parents house, where I promptly locked myself in my room and hid under the bed until my stoned friends showed up to retrieve me.

After that I just stuck to beer. Pot left me a mute, catatonic, fearful, drooling moron. But since I hung out with stoners I was always approached with different sales pitches on different types of pot that I should try. Edibles, that’s the answer to your weed anxiety, it’s a different high. My one pot eating experience resulted in me vomiting on the shoes of a sober person and yelling, “Eating pot sucks.” Hash, you’ve got to try hash, it’s a different high. Yes, hash is different, it’s more terrifying. I made the mistake of listening to the Velvet Underground after hash and again, I ended up under my bed, convinced Lou Reed’s voice was the voice of Satan. What you need is indica, that will relax you. Nope. Nowadays people always seem to recommend CBD, which is the non THC component of pot. I have bad news for you folks it’s all the same high. I haven’t touched a hookah in over 25 years. But I will drink and toast those who are getting toasted. Like sexual preference, practice that which makes you happy, just don’t try and convert me.

When I realized today was 4/20, I felt compelled to do something for our herbal enthusiasts out there. There are so many great songs about pot. I was thinking Neil Young’s “Roll Another Number” or Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” While I think I could have cobbled something enjoyable for our B&V stoner fans out there, I just felt I was out of my element. We’ve never had a guest contributor here at B&V but I turned to the foremost weed enthusiast I knew, the Rock Chick and asked her to compile some music for this, the National Holiday for Weed Smokers. Below, you will find her list. You can find it on Spotify under BourbonAndVinyl.net 420. Enjoy burning your local herbs for strictly medicinal purposes today and please, don’t get in your car and drive 8 miles an hour some place. And always… don’t bogart that thing, pass it around.

  1. “Legalize It” – Peter Tosh. I do think pot should be legal everywhere, not just a few states. Even if it’s just to allow medical experts to study it for help in PTSD, anxiety and depression.
  2. “Kaya” – Bob Marley. You knew Bob was going to be here and the name of this song, says it all.
  3. “Hits From the Bong” – Cypress Hill. This one, like many of the Rock Chick’s brilliant selections was new to me. This is hysterical.
  4. “Young, Wild And Free” – Snoop Dogg (with others) – Well, like Bob Marley, you knew Snoop would be here.
  5. “One Draw” – Rita Marley. I was glad to hear a little something from Bob’s wife.
  6. “Smoke Two Joints” – Sublime. When one is not enough and three is too many.
  7. “Officer” – Slighty Stoopid. This is a band I might have to do a lot more investigating into.
  8. “Indo Smoke” – Mista Grimm. This song is guaranteed to make even the most hard core pot smoker laugh his ass off.
  9. “Cheeba Cheeba” – Tone-Loc. This is a great song with a wonderful Stevie Wonder sample. To think I thought of Tone as a one hit wonder.
  10. “The Next Episode” – Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg. Dre and Snoop, together again. It’s money.
  11. “Smoke The Weed” – Snoop Lion, Collie Buddz. “Smoke the weed, not the seeds.” It seems like sound advice, but what do I know?
  12. “I’ve Been High” – Khia. I think we all have. Don’t trust anybody who hasn’t at least tried weed.
  13. “Let’s Go Get Stoned” – Sublime. I think Ray Charles has a song with the same title. I don’t think he’d fit in on this list, though.
  14. “Easy Skanking” – Bob Marley. Today I’ll be “Skanking it slow…”
  15. “Bowl For Two” – The Expendables. A track for all of you romantics. “I packed a bowl for two.” Share a bowl with the one you love?
  16. “Mile High” – The Movement. Having just been in Denver, where the smell of weed is pervasive, this song is perfect. And my beloved whiskey gets a shout out here too. Everybody wins.
  17. “Gin and Juice” – Snoop Dogg (with others) – A story as old as time… your mom is out, you’re  having a party with the ho’s and drinking gin. Your friend shows up with some “bubonic chronic” and “yeah, I’m fucked up now.”
  18. “Fat Spliffs” – Slightly Stoopid. The only way to roll one, I presume.
  19. “Blueberry Yum Yum” – Ludacris, Sleepy Brown. I’ve loved Luda since “One More Drink.”
  20. “Who’s Got the Herb” – 311. I’ve seen these guys in concert and they’re a great band.
  21. “I Got 5 On It” – Luniz, Micheal Marshall. I don’t know where she finds this music, but I’m glad the Rock Chick is out on that wall…
  22. “Smokin’ Love” – Stick Figure, Collie Buddz. This Collie Buddz keeps showing up on songs about weed… Could it be the name?
  23. “Legal Dub” – Sublime. I fear our next cat may be named “Legal Dub.”
  24. “Kush – Main” – Dr Dre and Snoop. Dre and Snoop are like peanut butter and jelly. They just belong together.
  25. “My Medicine” – Snoop Dogg. This is my favorite song on here. It’s Snoop doing a country track that he dedicates to Johnny Cash, a personal hero of mine. This is the funniest track on here.
  26. “This Joint” – Slightly Stoopid. Perhaps if they didn’t smoke so much weed, they’d be slightly smarter?
  27. “Burn By Myself” – The Dirty Heads. Where our hero laments the fact that he has to smoke his pot by himself.
  28. “Because I Got High” – Afroman. Is there a message in this song? I seem to remember my wife and daughter both being fans of this one back in the day… Hmmm.

Sure, there are probably hundreds of 420 play lists out there but none of them have that touch of the Rock Chick’s magic. And I know that stoners probably don’t have the stick-to-it, gung-ho urge to search this stuff out, but before you light that bowl, dial up Spotify and enjoy!

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Record Store Day 2019: Reflections On Going To The Record Store…

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Life comes at you fast and furious anymore… I knew it was Record Store Day today but I was on the road all week for, yes, the dreaded work. I went out to the websites of two of my favorite local record stores to check their store hours. On the surface, you’d think they’d have posted that they had special hours for Record Store Day, it’s their national holiday after all. But when you think about it, the folks that work and own record stores are probably a tad more… casual… about updates to their website. Had I been in town, I’d have driven by each of the places and learned that they both opened at 7am, not the usual 11am today. By the time I got to the record stores today, any hope of picking up any of the exclusive releases that were available had long since faded… I felt, frankly, embarrassed. I even drug the Rock Chick out today, for the first time in quite a while, to join me at the record store. She’s the one who’s saved the day by picking out two great posters, pictured above (which represent the sum total of my haul), about which she said, “These will look great framed.” The woman has a sophisticated eye.

Ah, going to the record store. It was such a joyful ritual for me, really my entire life. I’m glad they have Record Store Day every year, and that so many artists participate by releasing rare or previously unreleased albums, but it’s also kind of sad they have to do so. I will admit, the crowds at both Records With Merritt and Josey’s Records were higher than usual today. In the old days, those crowds would have been there anyway. I had left with high hopes of finding Dylan’s vinyl release of the recreation of his original acetate recording of Blood On The Tracks (which he quickly withdrew) or perhaps, the first ever vinyl release of Robert Plant’s Fate Of Nations, but alas, on Record Store Day, the early bird gets the worm. I hate it when work interferes with great rock n roll, and especially great vinyl.

The first few albums I received as a child were gifts. They were comedy albums by Steve Martin and Robin Williams. When I first began my music collection, I had to save my allowance and/or lawn mowing money and beg a ride to the mall with my mother in order to buy a record. As soon as she needed some make up, or a blender, or a flouncy blouse or something I’d bum a ride and she’d stroll off through the mall and I’d hit one or both of the two record stores – Musicland or Camelot Music – located in the mall. One was on the top floor, the other was on the bottom. Oak Park Mall, our local mall, was big, but I’m still a tad staggered that it could support two record stores. I’d spend as much time as I could perusing the new vinyl, looking for the records I wanted to add to my collection. It was there that I bought Some Girls by the Stones, my first purchase. I had gone into the store that day with what can only be described as a grim, focused determination to come away with that album. Other trips were more exploratory in nature. Pouring over the album covers, looking at the songs listed on the back, trying to determine if the album I was holding was worthy of parting with the 9 bucks it would take to buy it. I could usually only buy 1 or 2 albums at a time. I was never so stressed out as when I had to decide if I wanted to invest in a double album… and yes, The Wall and The River were both worth it. Eventually, my mother would appear at the store front, tapping her watch, indicating it was time to go.

When I got my drivers license I was stoked, as most of us are. I could finally drive and didn’t have to depend on others for rides. I could drive to a friend or a girls’ place without having to ask my mother. Most importantly, no one knew where I was. For me, though, there was the added blessing of being able to drive to the record store and not have to hurry because mom was waiting. By then, while I still went to the mall – I had a job as a bus boy at York Steak House, it was hard to avoid – I realized there were other, larger record stores in the suburbs where I grew up. All during high school, I’d make the long trek up Metcalf Avenue, to Peaches Records. It was a virtual cornucopia of vinyl. I was so blown away by the expansive selection. That was where I bought my first album crates, emblazoned with the Peaches logo. I wish I still had those damn things. The Rock Chick tossed them, along with everything else I owned onto the bonfire of my past, when we moved in together. I also discovered there was an independent record store, closer to home, at the intersection of 95th and Antioch – Tiger’s Records. Tiger was supposedly mobbed up and the albums were purportedly stolen, but I still shopped there. It was said you could buy bootlegs there… but those records are sealed. I do know you could buy concert tickets there. I waited out for Van Halen tickets outside Tigers… they opened at midnight and let us into the store to buy our tickets early…some of the best seats I ever had for a show. “Someone shouted “fair warning!”…”

These bigger, or more independent record stores were to me, the coolest places on the planet. There were rows and rows of albums, music blaring on their turntable, and racks full of posters. They had everything from porn stars, to black velvet Elvis to rock star posters. I think that’s where I picked up the iconic Farrah Fawcett in an orange bikini poster. There was the smell of incense and perhaps pot emanating from the folks that worked there. They were some of the most knowledgable music people you were ever going to meet. I felt like I’d joined a very exclusive club that I was not cool enough to be a part of. I’d spend hours in these places, looking for records by the bands I heard on the radio.

When I went away to college, I found a kindred spirit in my buddy/roommate Drew. He and I would drive down to the heart of Aggieville in Manhattan, Kansas where we’d spend hours perusing the selection there. It was tucked in amongst all the restaurants and bars in the entertainment area, which we also frequented, but the record store was the place we spent most of our time. For us, the record store was a communal place where we would bond over great rock and roll. I can remember all of us who lived together going down there the day that Springsteen’s Live 1975 to 1985 box set came out and we each bought a copy. Going to the album store when a big record came out was an event! It was around that time that I discovered “used” record stores. Just behind the Peaches on Metcalf, was a little place next to the Roxy Bar that sold used records. That was a revelation to me as well… you could sell albums you didn’t connect with and still buy great albums at a reduced price. It’s where I found the Faces Oo La La. Used record stores are even cooler and stonier than the retail chains were. I felt like I was getting deeper and deeper into a secret society… The place behind the Roxy, whose name I can’t find on the internet, was where my buddy Drew found the rare copy of Time Fades Away. The summer I spent in Boston, I found a place called In Your Ear, a used record store and it was there I found the rest of the Faces’ catalog. I was in heaven.

Eventually I graduated from college and went into exile, living in Arkansas. I lived in both Ft. Smith and Fayetteville. Or as I called them, Ft Hell and Fayette-nam. Each one had but 1 record store, located on their respective main drags and at times of deep depression and loneliness, of which there were many, that’s where I would go. I made a new friend, Joel, and he and I would go and hang out at the record store. He turned me onto the Allman Brothers, the Band and U2. It was during that time I finally made the transition from vinyl to CD… it was tough, but bands just stopped issuing vinyl.

Finally, I’d had enough of fucking Arkansas and I moved home. After a brief stint living with my parents – every parents’ dream for their kids – I moved to Kansas City’s midtown. They had a big record store in the heart of Westport, a bar area down there. It was all CDs, but it still had that stoney, record store vibe. The basement was full of jazz and blues discs. I remember arguing with one of the guys who worked there about Randy Rhoads and his legacy as a guitarist. It was friendly but where else are you going to get to have that debate. I signed up for their frequent flier or frequent buyer club and when I filled out the form, as my salutation, instead of “Mr.” I checked “Reverend,” which only confused some drunk neighbors of mine who thought I could marry them. It was during this time period I started taking women on dates to record stores… it was fabulous being able to share a passion for music, go home, drink wine and share some, well, passion.

Alas, eventually all these places disappeared. Peaches turned into, I think, a bowling alley. The place by the Roxy, the used record store, became a futon store. The Penny Lane spot in Westport became a bar, the Ale House, catering to snotty college kids. I began to despair that the experience of going to the album store was over. Thank god, vinyl began to make a come back. I discovered a couple of really cool used vinyl places that helped keep the fire alive. Now, all these years later, these places sell used records and new vinyl by current artists. It appears we’re coming full circle. I just hope the experience, the sheer enjoyment of going and hanging out at a record store, perusing through vinyl albums comes back on the level I enjoyed when I was growing up. I certainly encourage as many people who read this to get to your local record store to pick up some vinyl and to just hang out. Support your local record stores folks!

I doubt we ever see a day when there are two record stores at your local mall. Hell, the way things are now, with everything on-line, I doubt we see your local malls any more. We’re trying to save coal miners’ jobs, how about saving retail jobs. Anyway, with a little luck and perhaps some better planning, maybe next year and the years beyond, just maybe, I’ll get up early enough to buy a Stones album in a special, orange-colored vinyl edition…

Long live Record Stores!

 

 

 

Review: Elvis Presley – ‘The Complete ’68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition’ – The Return Of The King

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My parents weren’t very musical. They didn’t even own a stereo until we moved to Kansas City when I was five. I don’t know why they even bought a stereo, they only owned a handful of albums. I never actually remember the stereo being turned on, other than once a year for Christmas music. Later, when I started collecting vinyl my father once asked me why I had so many different albums. Uh, there are different bands with different music on each record, dad. I don’t know what had happened to my father. When my dad was a kid, he collected a bunch of 45s that my brother, who was turned onto rock and roll long before I was, snatched up and probably still owns. There’s some cash in that little singles rack. But during my youth there was no evidence of my father’s early interest in music… sports had supplanted everything. My dad was one of those set-up-three-tv’s on New Years Day to watch every college Bowl game simultaneously kinda guy. Dad didn’t want to spring for cable.

My parents were very much a product of the 50s. My uncle who was three years younger and my aunt who was seven years younger than my father (I think), were very much a product of the 60s. Think of it this way: my parents were very Eisenhower, my aunt/uncle were very JFK. My parents are only moderately into music even now, despite having two music addicts as kids. Every once in a while they’ll add a Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison greatest hits album to their Christmas list. I shudder when I think about them dropping Roy in the CD player and attempting to dance and shuffle around in the basement on wobbly knees and bad ankles. At least no hospital has called me yet…”Sir, your parents have fallen victim to boogie fever.”

Of those handful of albums my parents owned (for their dusty and unused turntable), one of course, was Elvis. The thing that was mind boggling about it was that the lone Elvis album they had was Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, which, lets face it, isn’t Elvis’ greatest album. I mean, it was a live album. Don’t get me wrong, I still remember being huddled around the TV in 1973 to watch Elvis perform via satellite (which was unheard of technology back then) from Hawaii and being mesmerized…but an obscure live record for the King of Rock and Roll? No greatest hits album? They at least had the blue Beatles greatest hits album, entitled 1967 to 1970. I always preferred the red one, 1962 to 1966.

All that said, it’s clear my exposure to Elvis was fairly limited. It wasn’t until that fateful day in August of 1977 – when I was in the backseat of Coach Taylor’s car, on the way to football practice with two other guys on the team, when we heard Elvis had died – that I realized his impact. I remember Coach Taylor turning to us and saying, “He’s my age…” with tears in his eyes. NBC re-aired the original 1968 special, which had been dubbed “the Comeback” special and that’s when I was hooked. It didn’t hurt that the special broadcast was hosted by Ann Margaret. It was then that I circled back to my brother’s room and started listening to some of those early singles. “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog” and of course, my favorite, “Jailhouse Rock.” It was during that sad summer of ’77 that I realized we may all disagree on who the President should be, but we could at least all agree there is but one King. Elvis brought us together in our grief. What a tale his was…

Elvis’ life was an epic story, worthy of being written by a Greek tragedian like Sophocles or Euripides or perhaps by Shakespeare. There was our Hero, who rose from the Mississippi Delta town of Memphis, Tennessee, the walking embodiment of all the music that had come before him: rhythm and blues, soul, country and of course gospel. And of course every tragedy has to have a villain, in this case it was Colonel Tom Parker. Elvis’ career began at the famous Sun Studios after being discovered by producer Sam Phillips. Phillips sold his contract to RCA and Col Parker, a two-bit concert promoter who stepped forward to take Elvis as his only client. From then on it was Elvis the artist controlled by the Colonel (our Iago in this story) who was driven by nothing more than commerce.

Presley was becoming a phenomenon in the south when his contract was sold to RCA… it was then that he broke nationally. The world had never seen success like Elvis’. From 1956 to 1958 he absolutely dominated the new American art form known as rock and roll. No one sounded like Elvis. Strip away the image and just sit and listen to those early records… what a voice… the voice of the Delta with a dash of gospel. And when he performed live, nobody moved like Elvis. Of course that caused some backlash from the prudes and puritans of the era. Then, inexplicably, (although it was probably to control him), Elvis was drafted into the Army. Colonel Parker, rather than have Elvis record a bunch of material to keep him in the public eye, released music only sporadically during the two years Elvis was in the Army ’58-60… It was John Lennon who said, “that was the end of Elvis, when he went into the Army.”

When he finally got back in early 1961, he apparently surrendered all control of his career to the Colonel. After the smash success of his first studio album, Elvis Is Back! the Colonel turned his eye to Hollywood. Why every rock star wants to be a movie star and vice versa is a mystery I’ll never unravel. Elvis even stopped doing live shows after 1961. From ’61 to ’68 Elvis was seemingly trapped in formulaic, crappy rom-com musicals. Each movie had the inevitable soundtrack. The movie drove people to buy the soundtrack and the soundtrack drove ticket sales for the flick… rinse and repeat. Eventually what had been a very profitable enterprise fell victim to the law of diminishing returns. When you think about ’61 to ’68, a lot of things happened in music. The Beatles and the British Invasion changed everything. Motown and soul had become very prominent. It appeared that the music scene had completely passed Elvis by. He was a has-been, marginalized. The King, it seems, had been dethroned.

It was then that NBC approached Elvis about doing a TV special. The Colonel wanted it to be a Christmas special. He wanted Elvis to do a Christmas album. Elvis steadfastly refused. TV producer Bob Finkel suggested to Elvis that the network would be willing to do whatever Elvis wanted to creatively… Suddenly, like in the Lord of the Rings when Gandalf frees the King of Rohan from the evil machinations of Wormtongue, Elvis was freed from the Colonel, if only momentarily. He took complete control of the special, including the music. He did concede to the Colonel’s wishes to perform one Christmas song, “Blue Christmas,” which is one of the few Christmas songs I can actually listen to without screaming. The special was conceived as Elvis on a sound stage performing songs. While they were rehearsing and filming, the music producer on the special, Steve Binder went to Elvis’ dressing room where Elvis was sitting around with the musicians, goofing around and loosely jamming on some of his old stuff. It was so powerful and natural Binder realized, that a concert had to be a part of the show.

Immediately they decided to intersperse live concert footage of Elvis on a small, square stage surrounded by a small crowd in the special. The Colonel, who really was a fuckstain, was supposed to send out tickets to fans across the country but didn’t do so. There was a pretty small crowd lined up for the actual show, so the producers went across the street to a local diner and convinced some people to come over and watch Elvis perform. The Colonel was unhappy about it, but Elvis chose to wear fantastic, tight, black leather from head to toe. The Colonel always tried to down play Elvis’ powerful sexual charisma.  To make sure Elvis felt completely confident they brought back some of his early band, Scotty Moore on guitar and DJ Fontana on drums. The thought was to have Elvis come out and talk about the old days while he played in a real loose setting.

There was only one problem. Elvis wouldn’t come out of the dressing room. He wanted to cancel the concert scenes. He hadn’t been on a stage since 1961… his confidence was gone. The King had surrendered his throne. Binder insisted… Imagine being Elvis in that dressing room in that moment. He hadn’t performed live in 7 years, his confidence had been shaken. His last few records had flopped. The Beatles ruled the world now. He’d been hiding away in a Hollywood bubble… the self-doubt, the fear of failing. I wonder to this day what went through his mind. Finally, with a nod, Elvis agreed to Binder’s pleading and walked out on the stage… and something magical took place.

It’s a common trope in movies, especially bio pics, to have the hero rise, then fall and then rise again. This is that one uncommon case where it actually happened that way in real life. Elvis relaxed immediately upon taking the stage. He was sexy, he was powerful, he was self-deprecating (about his past, the Elvis the Pelvis stuff, about his movies) and it just worked. In one powerful performance, we as a nation witnessed not just rock and roll history, we witnessed a King retaking his throne. John, Paul, George and who? This was Elvis, baby, as big as America, as big as the fucking world.

The show was originally broadcast on NBC on December 3rd, 1968, exactly fifty years from tomorrow. While the concert footage is my favorite and the most powerful part of the show, the producers and writers had written a song specifically for Elvis to reflect how he felt about the world. America in 1968 was a tumultuous place… RFK and MLK had been assassinated. Elvis was particularly disturbed by MLK’s murder as it happened in his hometown of Memphis. Elvis was that rare breed of southerner who was completely color blind. He’d grown up listening to black musicians his whole life, including black church gospel. For me, the center-point of the special, beyond the concert stuff is the great, great track “If I Can Dream.” It’s a song meant to unify and bring people together and I believe it to be one of Elvis’ most towering achievements.

I heard Bruce Springsteen talk about the “Comeback Special,” as it has come to be known. He said the whole family was looking forward to watching it, but he confessed to being nervous. Could Elvis pull it off? Did he still have “it?” The answer, of course, is yes.

Now, on it’s 50th anniversary they’ve released The Complete ’68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition. It’s pretty spectacular. It’s everything. The original sound track is here. They even include the raw concert recordings. They even have the recordings of the rehearsals here. Everyone out there should own a copy of the Comeback Special in some format. It’s a really important chapter in the life of the King and in the story that is rock and roll.

After the success of the special, riding high, Elvis told the Colonel he wanted to get back on the road. He also decided to return to Memphis, his home to record there. The sessions from Memphis produced two landmark albums, From Elvis In Memphis and later Back In Memphis. It also produced the smash single, “Suspicious Minds.” You can easily find all the Memphis sessions combined on 1 or 2 CDs. I’ve always recommended The Memphis Record as the definitive one. After the special, the success of “Suspicious Minds,” and the album From Elvis In Memphis, the King had returned.

This new box set is likely the definitive version of the Comeback Special. I highly recommend it and the Memphis stuff recorded right after… I said earlier that we could all agree that Elvis was the undisputed King of rock and roll. When he was asked by a reporter at a press conference about being the King of Rock N Roll, Elvis shook his head and said, “I’m not the King, he is…” and pointed to Fats Domino who happened to be there. So I guess I can’t really say he was the undisputed King…

Long Live the King!

 

 

Movie: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – The Story of Freddy Mercury and Queen

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*Image from a drawing I bought at an art fair that hangs in my office, artist’s name illegible

I think it was Lou Reed, on a song from his landmark late-80s album New York, who sang about the “duality of nature, human nature, godly nature splits the soul.” I’m not sure I knew what he was talking about when I was listening to that song in my car on cassette, driving around Northwest Arkansas. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to piece that together a little better. For example, on a superficial level, I can tell you that autumn is my favorite time year (“autumn’s sweet, we call it fall” as the Chili Peppers sang). At the same time I can tell you that I hate this time of year. The faceless corporation I work for does most of it’s business in December so autumn and early winter are always insanely busy. My travel goes up, my time to listen to rock and roll goes down. The only thing that throws the balance of autumn to the positive is football and well, it is bourbon season.

Being so busy this time of year has prevented me from my favorite past time – holing up in the B&V labs and scribbling about the music that shaped my life. I’m long overdue for a post, but enough about me. I got home from one of my interminable business trips this Friday, dropped my suitcases in an exhausted heap and learned that the Rock Chick had bought us tickets to see the new bio-pic about Freddy Mercury and Queen, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.” This was quite a delightful surprise. She was not keen to go see this movie. Earlier in the week, there had been an intense negotiation around which flicks we would be seeing in the near term. In exchange for her going to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ I fear I may have committed to go to ‘A Star Is Born.’ Say what you want about Lady Gaga, (and while I think she’s talented, I’m not a fan…not my style), Kris Kristofferson and Streisand own that movie for me… Little known fact, Streisand originally asked Elvis to play the part of the druggy, burned-out rock star… He (or more likely, the Colonel) turned her down. They speculate that taking the role could have saved his life. He’d have had to sober up and get in shape. At least Baabs tried. What might have been…?

Last night, I finally got to do something other than work and we went to see ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ The movie stars Rami Malek as Freddy Mercury, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon (or Deacon John as we knew him back in the day), and finally Gwilym Lee as Brian May. Gwilym? This kid’s parents must have been hippies or had a strange sense of humor. Not enough can be said about the performance of Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Freddy’s long time friend and briefly, his wife. I will be the first to admit, this movie is flawed. The timeline as to which songs or which albums were released was way off. Probably only an OCD rock fan with a blog would notice but I kept muttering about it to the Rock Chick. I think Freddy was probably a tortured soul and struggled with his own “duality of nature” if you will, and I think Rami Malek captures that well. However, I think there was a lot of joy in Freddy’s life and I don’t think they captured enough of that. Freddy always looked like he was having a great time to me. All of that aside, as a rock fan, I really liked this movie. But then, I really love Queen.

Queen were already international rock stars when my own rock and roll awakening took place in 7th or 8th grade. My parents weren’t musical, they never played the radio, but somehow there were just certain songs or groups that seemed to pierce my consciousness. I can distinctly remember going to the pool in the summer, which was literally my only exposure to pop music when I was a kid (except those rare times I went into my brother’s room, he was far more advanced musically than I was), and being aware of hearing “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac and “Killer Queen” by, of course, Queen. I was literally aware of Queen before I was aware of rock and roll.

My first vinyl Queen purchase was 1977’s News Of The World. It was one of the first rock albums I’d purchased. You couldn’t get away from the lead singles “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” The “Champions” part was Freddy’s snarky reply to the punks, and probably the best reply by a “classic” rock band other than “Who Are  You?” Who would have dreamed a band fronted by a gay man would pen a song that would be played in every arena and stadium at every macho sporting event for the rest of recorded time. I simply loved that album. It had a little bit of everything. People forget that Queen started as a hard rock band with prog rock influences. While they rocked, they could certainly roll too. Freddy, very early on, cited Robert Plant as a singing idol. Metallica has covered some of their early stuff… News Of the World had plenty of hard rock (“It’s Late” is my perennial favorite), but it also had piano ballads (“My Melancholy Blues”), disco (“Get Down Make Love”) and epic arena rock (“Spread Your Wings”).

After News, I was on the bandwagon. Queen was on top of the world at that time. 1978’s Jazz which was described in Rolling Stone magazine as “fascist,” and had nothing to do with the musical genre it’s named after. It was all rock and roll. That was followed by their oft overlooked live album, Live Killers that always seemed to be playing at keg parties I went to. It was always that album and Rush’s 2112 that somebody put on. Queen finally reached their second career zenith (the first being, of course, their masterpiece, A Night At the Opera) with 1980’s The Game. The lead single was “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and it still knocks me out. I was too young to realize that Freddy was doing Elvis.

The Game always conjures a bit of a bittersweet reaction in me. Queen came to Kansas City on that tour. My friend Matthew and his hot girlfriend Debbie tried to talk me into going to the show. By then, I was a “Death Before Disco” guy and didn’t like “Another One Bites the Dust.” I hate to admit it, but I think there was more to it than that. For The Game Freddy had cut his hair short, grown a mustache and was dressed like a butch biker. All the time we’d been listening to Queen, we’d all say, “he’s not gay, he’s just English, they’re more flamboyant,” with all apologies to every Englishmen out there. I fear I was part of the backlash against Queen and I didn’t go the show. I wish I’d seen these guys, I blew it. My friend Matthew sadly passed out as they came on stage and only regained consciousness when they were saying goodnight. I think we’ve all had nights like that…mine was Neil Young and Crazy Horse… what happened?

It was then that Queen began to “lose” America. Their next album, Hot Space was their worst… I shudder when I think about the lead single, “Body Language.” Not even the presence of David Bowie and “Under Pressure” could save that record. There was more to it – I don’t know if it was gay backlash. I know at the time of The Game I was an adolescent kid who didn’t know much about the world. I was still forming. An in your face gay Freddy was more than we could handle. I’m ashamed of that now. Now I’d say it doesn’t matter who you’re fucking, what matters is the music… Despite all that, we all still made sure we were home when Queen were on Saturday Night Live. I can still remember being thrilled to see them perform “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Under Pressure.” That was back when SNL was “appointment” television. You’d make sure to get home to see the skits, and more importantly for me, the bands.

While it wasn’t until much later that I picked up 1984’s The Works, I certainly got back on the bandwagon for their album, A Kind of Magic, which was basically the soundtrack to one of my all time favorite movies, ‘Highlander.’ I can remember Matthew saying at the time, “Brian May needs to take control of this band,” which probably shows our lack of understanding as to how Queen operated. Queen went on to have a very strong late career. The highlight of which, and the climactic moment in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ was their performance at Live Aid. I remember watching them on TV and being blown away. Forget all the reunions – Zeppelin, CSNY, Mick and Tina Turner, Black Sabbath – Queen stole the show. The final scene in the movie, which is a spot-on recreation of Queen’s Live Aid set (slightly edited) put tears in my eyes. When I got home from the theater I had to pull up the YouTube video and marveled at how kick ass Queen was that day. Mercury was warned by doctors he could lose his voice if he sang that day, and he still went on. The fans at Wembley went certifiably nuts… As I watched the YouTube footage, again, tears welled for a friend lost too early, Freddy Mercury.

Fans of rock and roll, fans of Queen, fans of the human experience, the “duality of nature, human nature…”, all of you should go and see this movie. It’s not a perfect biography but it was a fun and enjoyable movie. The thing that you’ll enjoy the most is the power and majesty of the rock and roll Queen and Freddy made. It’s certainly better than that mess Oliver Stone made about the Doors. After you’ve seen it, run home and drop Sheer Heart Attack on the turntable, pour something dark and murky and marvel… Long Live the Queen!

 

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

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“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…”

 

 

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

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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

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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.