B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums

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“Down in a hole and I don’t know if I can be saved, See my heart I decorate it like a grave” – Alice In Chains, “Down In A Hole”

A few weeks ago I posted a playlist about heroin, entitled “Chasing the Dragon,” B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin. When I was compiling that playlist I ended up thinking a lot about Alice In Chains and their best album Dirt. Yes, I’m with everybody else in thinking that Jar of Flies was their creative peak, but that was an EP like Sap (another great bit of music), not a full blown album. When doing a playlist about heroin it’s hard not to think about Alice In Chains and their late lead singer Layne Staley who died of an overdose. When I put that list together I realized that I had put not one but two Alice In Chains tracks on it, both from Dirt. I really dug those two tracks on the playlist, “God Smack” and “Junkman.” I hadn’t listened to that whole album in quite a long time and so with those two tunes bouncing around my skull, I had to put it on. I love that record, but I realized about halfway through…this is an unrelentingly dark album. Why they didn’t just name it Smack I’ll never know.

It slowly began to dawn on me, I really like music on that dark edge. It wasn’t always that way. When I first started listening to rock and roll on KY/102 and then later when I started actually buying and consuming music, my tastes ran to the more upbeat. I wanted something that “RAWKED!” Van Halen, Boston and ZZ Top were amongst my early purchases. I wanted that good time, party music. I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to listen to anything acoustic. I think most of my friends’ musical tastes ran in that same direction. We were all young, testosterone driven maniacs. What’s that phrase, “young, dumb and full of cum.” My friend Drew and I used to joke that our pal Matthew’s record collection when he got to college was all heavy metal with one Fleetwood Mac album thrown in. His fixation on Kiss back then still baffles me. For my  part, heavy metal did play a big part in all of my early listening from Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to AC/DC.

I have to admit, looking back, that even then I was a sucker for a good ballad. I would have never admitted to liking sad songs back then… no, no, give me songs about chicks with a guitar solo. My first Springsteen album purchase was The River and while I loved “The Ties That Bind,” “I’m A Rocker” and “Out In The Street,” I was really, really into “Drive All Night.” The mellow tunes drew me to that album as deeply as the rockers. It’s hard to explain. You could say I was always secretly drawn to great lyrics, hence my early interest in Dylan, but I don’t think that tells the whole story. I was that odd person who could relate to songs about broken hearts and sad endings to relationships before I’d even kissed a girl let alone had a girlfriend. Maybe I was slightly depressed as a kid and thus I had this feeling that my heart was already broken from a very early age. No one ever really wants to share the dark parts of themselves, especially when you’re young. There are just some of us who feel things more deeply and life itself can break your heart sometimes…

In college I started to branch out in terms of musical tastes and that’s when I started to buy some of the darker music in my collection. I mean, in truth,  it’s not all “dark,” some of it is just sad or melancholy music. It seems even at that tender age I was like Tom Waits who famously said, “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” In the old days, when things weren’t going well, I’d put on some mellow, generally sad songs and hearing these artists sing about their heartbreak and losses made me feel, well, less alone. Someone else out there had been through what I was going through now and survived. Of course, you can take the sadder end of the musical spectrum too far sometimes. After one break up, my friend the Accountant (who lived three floors below me at the time) came up to my apartment and I was listening to some funeral dirge, moping about when he said, “Say man, uh, maybe all this downer music is affecting your mood… do you have any Van Halen you can put on?” The Rock Chick used to pretend to weep every time she caught me listening to Ryan Adams.

I realize that now may not be the time to share this particular list of albums. Many of us are feeling isolated and alone (B&V’s Pandemic Playlist – Rock n Roll To The Self-Isolation Rescue). If you’re prone to depression, I would suggest maybe avoiding these albums until we’re all free to walk outside without looking like extras on the set of the television show ‘E.R.’ I know the Rock Chick feels like I do, stuck at home and slightly bored. I take my life into my hands every time I go downstairs… like they say about a blowout football game when the teams start taking cheap shots at each other, it’s getting a little chippy down there. I have always either found solace in these records, or they’re just kick ass albums that everyone should hear. Take the gold where you can find it.

  1. Alice In Chains, Dirt – I’ve already talked about this album above, but it’s truly AIC’s finest full length album. “Down In A Hole,” “Rain When I Die,” and “Them Bones” are all great tunes. It’s clear the theme of this album is heroin. The only lighter moment is the song “Rooster” about Jerry Cantrell’s father surviving the Vietnam War…if you can consider that upbeat?
  2. Nirvana, In Utero – This album was certainly Cobain’s reaction to being named the “voice of his generation.” They were trying to shrink the size of their fan base by recording some really abrasive music. You don’t record a song like “Rape Me” if you’re trying to bring people onto the bandwagon. “Heart Shaped Box” was the tune that actually turned me around on Nirvana. Something clicked for me when I heard it. I still love that song even with lyrics like, “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black.” While some of the tracks on this LP are impenetrable, “All Apologies,” and “Pennyroyal Tea” are amongst their best. The art work told you all you needed to know about this record. I bought it in a used CD store downtown by the bar Harlings and it took me to the rest of their catalog.
  3. Pearl Jam, Riot Act – I may be wrong about this but at one time this was Pearl Jam’s worst selling record. It’s no coincidence that the first three albums on this list come from the Grunge era. That generation came of age on lithium (hence the SiriusXM station by that name that plays the music of that era). This is a later record by PJ and I’ve always considered it a bummer from start to finish. There are a few light moments like the humorous “Bushleaguer” about George W. Bush (“born on third, thinks he got a triple,” a line I use often). I’ve been listening to this album again and while it’s intense, it’s still a damn good Pearl Jam record.
  4. Big Star, Third/Sister Lovers – Big Star’s Alex Chilton was so disillusioned about the music business and Big Star’s failure to connect with a larger audience, he holed up and recorded this set of despondent songs. It wasn’t released until years after they broke up. There still isn’t an agreed to, official running order of the songs. “Thank You Friends” drips with sarcasm. “Holocaust” is despair exemplified. Big Star was a band I didn’t discover until after in life, but man I’m glad I did.
  5. John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band – Lennon’s first proper solo album after the implosion of the Beatles. He’d been going to Primal Scream therapy and the vocals bear that out. He often goes from a whisper to a scream. “Mother” is haunting. Songs like “Isolation” and “Working Class Hero” reveal a pretty jaundiced world view. I love the song “God,” where he lists the litany of things he doesn’t believe in any more… until he ends with just he and Yoko…”I believe in me, Yoko and me.” I like this album significantly more than Imagine, but that may say more about me than John Lennon.
  6. Nick Drake, Pink Moon – Drake was another artist I came to later in life. In his short tragic life he only recorded three albums. Pink Moon was his third album and it was a departure from his two power-pop albums that proceeded it. Pink Moon is just Drake’s vocal and an acoustic guitar. He was despondent his career didn’t take off but he largely refused to ever play live… He died shortly after this album came out from an overdose on antidepressants. I think that says it all.
  7. Neil Young, Tonight’s The Night – One of Young’s famous “Ditch Trilogy.” This is one of my absolute favorite Neil Young albums, if not my favorite. Drowning in despair, guilt and tequila after he fired original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, who then died of an overdose, this is Young at his most raw and emotional. This album knocked me out the first time my friend Drew played it for me and it continues to do so today.
  8. Elton John, Blue Moves – People forget how huge Elton was from 1970-1975. This album isn’t dark but it’s certainly laced with a ton of melancholy. Many people feel it was Elton feeling sorry for himself after the backlash he got for admitting he was Gay. The 70s were at once a freewheeling and closed-minded time. I think he was just feeling some fatigue after 5 tumultuous years. He was bound to have some kind of let down… It’s not a great album but it’s a good one. It’s a double-LP and probably suffers in the shadow of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that preceded it by two years. The second album is particularly down. This album has the saddest song ever recorded, “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word.” I’ve got my own story about that song…but again, we can’t share all the darkest parts of ourselves.
  9. Lou Reed, Berlin – This is the bleakest, most despondent thing I’ve ever heard. Reed’s concept album about a couple (Jim and Caroline) who are German drug addicts. It’s got some great songs, “How Do You Think It Feels,” and “Caroline Says I” amongst them. But this is hard one to get through. It has grown on me significantly over the years but there is no fairy tale ending here… I dare you to listen to the song “The Kids” and not be haunted by it…
  10. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska – I was a huge Springsteen fan in high school. I had all of his albums up to that point. The River had hooked me. Then I went away for that difficult freshman year in college. I struggled my first semester due to some self-inflicted wounds (love gone wrong). I got home at Christmas and was in the mall when I saw that he had a new album out. Ignoring the stark imagery of the front cover, I thought, here we go The River 2.0. When I dropped the needle on the album and heard the stark, depressing title track I remember having the opposite feeling of the joy I felt when I heard The River for the first time. I liked “Reason To Believe” and almost immediately dug “Atlantic City,” but it took me years and years to come to appreciate this collection of songs about outlaws, losers and outcasts. Everybody feels left outside of society here. It’s a masterpiece, but I’d sure like to hear the “Electric Nebraska” – the version of the album recorded with the E Street Band… maybe we can hope for a boxset…

There you have it, my top bleak, depressing albums. Sometimes you’ve got to go dark. Again, if you’re prone to depression, you might wanna wait on these records. I’ve always loved these albums and I hope you do too. If there are albums like this that you’re into, please let me know and I’ll check them out! Otherwise, sit back, put one of these on, pour something dark and murky and contemplate…

Stay healthy and safe out there. Cheers!

Playlist: An Old Friend Inspires The BourbonAndVinyl 30 Day Song Challenge

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In my early 20s I was living in exile…in Arkansas no less. I had moved there for that first corporate job out of college. I couldn’t stand it and as Bob Dylan once sang, “one day the axe just fell.” I walked in and quit. On a random Tuesday. My father was utterly distraught. I don’t remember specific conversations with him but I seem to remember rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth. His anger was biblical in scope. I used to joke I could never get a date while I lived in Arkansas as I didn’t have any relatives down there. That probably goes a long way in explaining why Arkansas wasn’t a fit for me… or maybe vice versa. I had to get out of there and my father never understood that. I did what many post-college kids in their twenties do, I showed up at my parents front door in a U-Haul with all my earthly possessions and moved into their guest room. I don’t think that event ever made my parent’s Xmas newsletter. It’s never a proud milestone: moving back in with your parents.

After about a year of living with my parents, during which time my father rarely spoke to me, I finally got a job. Yes, I was unemployed for a year which was also a big hit with my “parental units.” The tension dropped after I got a job for a dubious medical supply company out of Chicago. I think they did most of their recruiting at prisons…”So, it says here on your application that you assaulted someone…did you happen to steal anything too?” One afternoon, I was in a cramped corner of my father’s home office where I’d carved out a small space as my “home” office doing some paperwork. The office door burst open. My father had this strange ability to come through a doorway without turning the knob which is a skill I wish I had, but I digress. It was startling, his sudden appearance in the office as he never came upstairs. He looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. His eyes finally rested on me…his face screwed up with that familiar distaste he registered when he spoke at me…”I know this woman from work, she’s a friend of mine. She knows a lot of people. You’re meeting her for drinks tomorrow.” I was sitting frozen in the position I was in when the door burst open, paralyzed with surprise and could only mutter, “Huh?”

Apparently my father had taken it upon himself to help my social life. Perhaps he was concerned about me hanging out with all my old college friends who were, as Jackson Browne sang, “the fools a young fool meets.” (I still love those guys, don’t get me wrong). I faced this meeting with great trepidation. In my paranoid young mind I assumed this woman was being sent in as a spy, to inform my father of my miscreant ways. I drove down to the dreaded meeting at the Levee, a bar in midtown. The woman in question, who I’ll call the Jean Genie (to protect the guilty), was sitting at an upstairs table nursing a longneck. And lo and behold, we clicked. I mean, it took me a while to trust that she wasn’t a spy but rather quickly we became good friends. She was like the sister I never had. Who’d have thought after my father’s rough intro that it would end up this way.

We’ve had a lot of rock and roll moments, the Jean Genie and I. From drinking until two on her thirtieth birthday… on a Wednesday no less, to celebrating St Patrick’s Day together in Chicago with my good friend Doug we cut a wide swath. The Jean Genie married a wonderful man who happens to be a huge Neil Young fan. When she was pregnant, and I mean like 8-months in, her husband had a work conflict and she called and asked if I wanted to be his stand-in at a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert. Yes, please. Of course I’ve never gotten over the hateful stares of people who thought I’d drug my very pregnant wife out to a concert. Judgmental bastards.

Needless to say, the Jean Genie’s rock and roll bonafides are in place. When we became mired in our current quarantine, I saw that the Jean Genie was doing a 30-Day Song Challenge. Every day you have to go out and pick a song that fits into that day’s theme. One day it was about color, one day it was a song with a number in the title… you get the drift. The only caveat or rule – you can’t pick the same band twice. I found myself looking forward to her selections each day. What else do I have to do? Last Friday in a vodka-fueled frenzy, trying to kill time in quarantine, the Rock Chick and I decided to take the 30 day challenge in one night. Well, I was vodka fueled anyway. The Rock Chick would pick a song on the assigned theme and then I would do mine and so on through all thirty songs. That’s sixty songs between us for you math people out there. We actually played all sixty songs while we were choosing them. It made for a great, long evening.

I will now share with you the Rock Chick’s choices (annotated as “RC”) and then my choices (annotated as BV) in order. Below are our selections, with my usual commentary. I’ll post the B&V list and also link in the Rock Chick’s list as she’s already posted hers. I encourage everyone to Google “30-Day Song Challenge” and try this yourselves, either day by day or all at once. It’s fun and what else do you have to do? With my thanks to my dear friend the Jean Genie as inspiration! Some of these categories are hard… Good luck!

Day 1: A song you like with a color in the title

  • RC: U2, “Red Hill Mining Town” – The Rock Chick has always dug side 2 of The Joshua Tree
  • BV: Porno For Pyros, “Black Girlfriend” – Perry Farrell’s other band.

Day 2: A song you like with a number in the title

  • RC: Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, “Zero” – Technically, zero is not a number but I’m not going to overrule the Rock Chick on a playlist… ever.
  • BV: The Beatles, “The Two of Us” – One of my favs off of Let It Be. They were doing a riff on the Everly Brothers and I love it.

Day 3: A song that reminds you of summer time

  • RC: 311, “Sunset In July” – The Rock Chick’s selections are much hipper and more current than mine.
  • BV: Van Halen, “Ice Cream Man” – “I’m usually passing by right around eleven o’clock…I never stop…”

Day 4: A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget

  • RC: Boston, “Don’t Look Back” – A song about not looking back under the category of forgetting someone… The Rock Chick’s selection here blew my mind for the depth of the symbolism. She’s an onion, soooo many layers.
  • BV: Don Henley, “You Don’t Know Me At All” – “You took my breath away and now I want it back, you should have killed me, you always looked so good in black.”

Day 5: A song that needs to be played loud

  • RC: Motley Crue, “Primal Scream” – Perfect again for the theme. The Rock Chick was on fire during this process.
  • BV: Dio, “Last In Line” – Dio’s best track.

Day 6: A song that makes you want to dance

  • RC: Michael Jackson, “Rock With You” – A fine choice.
  • BV: Bee Gees, “Stayin’ Alive” – Nothing will ever make me want to dance. Ever. When pressed I went to a primordial disco track from my childhood… and yes, I like this song. I don’t know why.

Day 7: A song to drive to

  • RC: Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Passengers” – Superb Iggy Pop cover.
  • BV: The Allman Brothers, “Ramblin’ Man” – Clearly my heart remains stuck in the 70s… like my musical tastes.

Day 8: A song about drugs or alcohol

  • RC: Social Distortion, “Drug Train” – The Rock Chick’s favorite Social D track.
  • BV: AC/DC, “Gone Shootin'” – Bon Scott singing about his woman’s heroin addiction.

Day 9: A song that makes you happy

  • RC: The Go-Gos, “Our Lips Are Sealed” – A good time track from the 80s.
  • BV: Bob Marley, “Three Little Birds” – Bob Marley’s music makes me happy.

Day 10: A song that makes you sad

  • RC: Ryan Adams, “To Be Without You” – Ryan Adams, the king of sad songs.
  • BV: Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” – Cribbed from the Jean Genie’s list, yes. Reminds me of those tragic, melodramatic break up days…sitting in my car staring up at the moon.

Day 11: A song you never get tired of

  • RC: The Cult, “She Sells Sanctuary” – Her favorite song from her favorite band.
  • BV: Bruce Springsteen, “The Ties That Bind” – Every time I hear this song it takes me back to high school and the first time I dropped the needle on the vinyl…

Day 12: A song from your preteen years

  • RC: Queen, “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” – Yes, technically this is two tracks, but I felt you have to play both. Her big brother owned the album.
  • BV: Elvis Presley, “Jailhouse Rock” – This takes me back to my brother playing my dad’s old singles in our shared bedroom.

Day 13: A song you like from the 70s

  • RC: Jerry Rafferty, “Right Down the Line” – A truly great song and an inspired choice, yet again from the Rock Chick.
  • BV: Jim Croce, “Operator” – I love almost everything from the 70s except disco… This was a song by an artist my parents owned not one but two albums by. He just reminds of that era.

Day 14: A song you’d love to be played at your wedding

  • RC: Whitney Houston, “Your Love Is My Love” – The song the Rock Chick wanted to play for our first dance but never told me… I wish she had.
  • BV: Rod Stewart, “Have I Told You Lately” – Rod singing Van… and the song my wife humored me with for our first dance at our wedding.

Day 15: A song you like that’s a cover by another artist

  • RC: Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Higher Ground” – Great Stevie Wonder track from the Peppers.
  • BV: U2, “Paint It Black” – U2 doing the Stones!

Day 16: A song that’s a classic favorite

  • RC: AC/DC, “Back In Black” – Living up to her nickname…
  • BV: Led Zeppelin, “Stairway To Heaven” – After several vodka drinks, it just seemed that if I was going to pick a classic favorite, it needed to be the classic favorite.

Day 17: A song you’d sing a duet with someone on karaoke

  • RC: Johnny & June Carter Cash, “Jackson” – Their greatest duet.
  • BV: Kenny Rodgers & Dolly Parton, “Islands In the Stream” – First off, like dancing, singing karaoke is something that will never happen again. Kenny Rogers just died so I picked this one. Blame the vodka.

Day 18: A song from the year you were born

  • RC: Tom Jones, “It’s Not Unusual” – I love Tom Jones.
  • BV: The Rolling Stones, “It’s All Over Now” – This one took some internet research, I won’t lie. I’m glad I saved the Stones for this one.

Day 19: A song that makes you think about life

  • RC: Bruce Springsteen, “You’re Missing” – From the phenomenal LP, The Rising. 
  • BV: Jackson Browne, “Sleeps Dark and Silent Gate” – OK this song is actually about death but what makes us think more about life than death?

Day 20: A song that has many meanings to you

Day 21: A song you like with a person’s name in the title

  • RC: Steve Winwood, “Valerie” – A great tune. I never pegged the Rock Chick as a Winwood fan… You learn a lot when you’re putting music lists together.
  • BV: The Cars, “Candy-O” – Title track from my favorite Cars LP.

Day 22: A song that moves you forward

  • RC: Oasis, “Champagne Super Nova” – Their best track.
  • BV: Triumph, “Fight The Good Fight” – Gets me up and going.

Day 23: A song you think everybody should listen to

  • RC: Green Keepers, “Lotion” – Its not very many bands who can put dialogue from ‘Silence of the Lambs’ into song…
  • BV: Iggy Pop, “James Bond” – I wish everyone listened to Iggy Pop.

Day 24: A song by a band you wish were still together

  • RC: The White Stripes, “Hello Operator” – Meg White, come home, we need you.
  • BV: The Faces, “Ooh La La” – Written by Ronnie Lane, sung by Ronnie Wood. Rod’s best music was when he was with the Faces.

Day 25: A song you like by an artist no longer living

  • RC: INXS, “The One Thing” – The one and only Michael Hutchence.
  • BV: Tom Petty, “Breakdown (An American Treasure version) – This version was released to radio stations only as a promotional deal. It was the version KY/102 played when I was growing up.

Day 26: A song that makes you want to fall in love

  • RC: Sonny & Cher, “I Got You Babe” – Like I said… you learn a lot about someone playing music on a Friday night.
  • BV: Frank Sinatra, “The Way You Look Tonight” – If you’re gonna talk about love, you’ve gotta talk about Frank.

Day 27: A song that breaks your heart

  • RC: Nirvana, “Something In the Way” – I’m especially fond of this track in it’s Unplugged incarnation.
  • BV: Neil Young, “Out On the Weekend” – “Woman I’m thinkin’ of, she used me all up and I’m so down today…”

Day 28: A song by an artist whose voice you love

  • RC: Eurythmics, “Love Is A Stranger” – Annie Lennox has a sublime voice.
  • BV: Norah Jones, “Come Away With Me” – The voice of an angel. I’m looking forward to her upcoming album.

Day 29: A song you remember from childhood

  • RC: Elvis Presley, “Suspicious Minds” – The King singing to Priscilla…
  • BV: Peter, Paul & Mary, “Blowin’ In the Wind” – My parents fucking loved these guys and I don’t know why. This track takes me back to that time.

Day 30: A song that reminds you of yourself

  • RC: Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Yes, indeed they do. And the Rock Chick and I had a lot of fun with this playlist.
  • BV: Mick Jagger, “Wandering Spirit” – “I’m a wandering spirit, yes I am a restless soul.”

For those of you interested, here is the B&V playlist on Spotify:

And, the better of the two, here is the Rock Chick’s Spotify playlist:

I hope all of you enjoy our picks and hope you will also take this challenge… I mean, again, what else do you have to do? Stay safe, stay healthy, stay away from people. Let’s all social distance now so we can see each other at concerts later.

Cheers!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts

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I have to admit, up front, that I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan. I subscribe to the great man theory of rock and roll and I think Eddie Vedder is one of those great men, so to speak. But it hasn’t always been that way.

In the old days, I was always slow to get into new things. I didn’t buy in on Guns N Roses until I heard their third single, “Paradise City.” In my defense, Appetite For Destruction came out during my Exile Years, when I was living in Arkansas. My exposure to GnR was strictly via MTV and every band sort of looked the same. It was hard to get my attention and besides I was deeply into the Allman Brothers and the Band at the time. It wasn’t until I heard “Paradise City” from the other room – without the visuals – that I thought… wait a minute, these guys are something special.

It was the same with the Grunge era bands. I was always suspicious of these new “movements”… call me paranoid. I always thought the bands that were lumped into this new “Grunge” thing were wrongly characterized. Nirvana was a punk band in my mind… certainly that’s where their influences were. The first time I heard Soundgarden I remarked to a friend, “this is the new version of Black Sabbath…” They were a metal band in flannel. I really didn’t have a description for Alice In Chains, they were perhaps uniquely Grunge.

In the early ’90s I had just returned from my exile in Arkansas. I was living in an apartment by the highway where I’d lay in bed at night listening to the sound of trains in the distance behind the constant buzz of semi’s barreling north and south. It certainly contributed to my feeling of restlessness. My musical tastes were somewhat rootless as well. At the dawn of the ’90s there was a new radio station in town that specialized in “alternative rock” which was, at the time, Grunge bands. I’d tune in to that station looking for something “new” and I kept hearing these songs I liked…”Black” was  especially a favorite. “Even Flow,” “Alive,” and this song “Jeremy” were amongst my favorites as well. I hadn’t realized all of those songs were by the same band until I started dating this woman – whose boyfriend lived out of town – who loaned me Ten. I was listening to it for the first time while I worked out and with every song that played I thought, “Wait, that’s Pearl Jam too?” How could all these kick ass songs be on the same album. I became one of the converted… When we ended the affair I kept that CD for a long time… until the young lady came by and forcibly retrieved it. It was all very friendly but she was having none of my absconding with her Pearl Jam disc. Apparently I’m the only one who loses CDs during a breakup. Remarkably, I danced with her at her wedding, sadly not to Pearl Jam.

I was amongst those who were at the record store the day Vs and later when Vitalogy came out. Pearl Jam was the Grunge band who were so firmly rooted in classic rock, how could I not become a huge fan? They had so many soaring anthems – “Even Flow,” “Jeremy,” “Go,” “Animal,” “Rearview Mirror,” “Better Man,” and “Not For You.” I could go on. They could also go acoustic and just slay it – “Daughter,” or “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town.” Vedder’s vocals were amongst the best I’d ever heard. He conveys so much emotion when he sings, from despair to simmering rage. I thought rock and roll would last forever with these guys. I happened to be lucky enough to see them at Red Rocks on the Vitalogy tour, a personal concert highlight for me. From the machine gun blast of the opening number (fittingly), “Go” until the last strains of “Yellow Ledbetter,” it was an amazing night. They even started the encore with “Leaving Here,” a cover song made famous by the Who.

As inevitably happens, Pearl Jam decided to stretch out in new musical directions by the time No Code came out. I liked that album but for many fans it was a creative stumble. So much so the follow up Yield was seen as a comeback (an album I loved but the critics didn’t). After Yield it seemed that Pearl Jam was content to just record straight-up rock and roll to please themselves rather than connect with their audience. Binaural and Riot Act were grim, mirthless albums. Although I must admit, both albums grew on me over time, especially Binaural. Listening to their archival release Lost Dogs, its clear those albums could have been less… intense. It wasn’t until 2006’s eponymously titled album that they seemed to even want to connect with an audience. For me that album was somewhat overshadowed by the Chili Pepper’s Stadium Arcadium. A friend remarked to me at the time, “If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be more into a Peppers album than a Pearl Jam album, I’d have told you were crazy.” By then Pearl Jam was considered a premier live act, but there was never a ton of enthusiasm for their studio stuff anymore. Which is a shame because both Backspacer and Lightning Bolt were, in my opinion, exceptional. The ballad “Sirens” on the latter album is one of my all time favorite Pearl Jam tunes. There seem to be two kind of Pearl Jam fans anymore: the fans of their epic early records who have stuck around for the live shows and then fans who stuck around for the latter day studio stuff. I’m kind of both.

It stuns me that Pearl Jam waited seven years to put out another album. Lightning Bolt came out in 2013 which seems like another lifetime. I had heard they were struggling to come up with new material and had a couple of stillborn attempted starts at recording new music. That all might explain why the new album Gigaton sounds well, so different. The title refers to the gigaton of ice lost by the polar ice caps. The theme here is clearly around climate change. You hear a lot about water, oceans, rising oceans, and rivers on this album. If anybody needs something to channel some good ol’ fashion Pearl Jam anger, climate change is as good as any. I think it helps Gigaton hang together. The politics of this record are more subtle than most bands, like say vintage John Lennon. And I will say, there are plenty of songs that sound, dare I say, hopeful.

I will say, at the outset of my comments about the album, this one is a grower. My first taste was the first single, “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” which I reviewed (Pearl Jam: New Song, ‘Dance of the Clairvoyants.’ Old Dog With New Tricks?). That track was like nothing I’d ever heard from Pearl Jam. I won’t go back into it as I’ve written about it before, but it sounds so much like the Talking Heads that David Byrne must be drawing royalty checks. That made me think, “Mmm, this might be a tad more experimental than I’m emotionally prepared for.” The next track I heard on satellite radio was “Superblood Wolfmoon.” That track, at first, sounded like the Vedder barking vocal style that he adopted after befriending the late Johnny Ramone in an attempt to sound “punk” (“Mind Your Manners” or “Can’t Deny Me” for example). After my first listen to the entire album, I will tell you, I hated it. After seven years I wanted a big, epic, arena-rock album. The Rock Chick rejected the album immediately. I wasn’t even going to post about it. But there were a couple of tracks that had stuck with me… I couldn’t leave it alone. I’ve spent the last week with this album, giving it repeated spins and I’ll tell you, I like this record. It’s not going to change the top of a “Pearl Jam Albums Ranked Best To Worst” list but it’s a damn fine rock and roll record. We all want that endorphin hit we got when we first dropped the needle into the groove and “Once” burst out of the speakers and went right to our lower brain stem…it just doesn’t happen that often any more.

The album kicks off with one of my favorites, the rocking “Who Ever Said.” It’s an old fashion, Pearl Jam, turn it up rocker. That leads to the aforementioned “Superblood Wolfmoon” that has grown on me. I will say that Mike McCready is an all-star lead guitarist. He should be mentioned more often in the great guitarist conversations. His solo’ing is exceptional on this album, like always. “Never Destination” is another great rocker about climate change denial. It hits hard and again McCready shines. “Quick Escape” is another great rock tune but it’s guitars and vocals are distorted. The song is about an immigrant’s journey away from his home. Rather than singing a song about immigration, Vedder narrates the song from the personal perspective of the immigrant and it hits so much harder. It’s always best to make a political point by making it personal. The distortion of the vocals and guitar almost generate the feeling of fear and being upended that the lyrics depict. “Take The Long Way” was written by drummer Matt Cameron and it sounds like Soundgarden (in a good way). I can’t help it, that’s what I hear.

For me, Pearl Jam has always done exceptional ballads. If I have a complaint about Gigaton, it’s that the last four tracks are ballads. The back end just mellows out. My favorite of the mellow tracks is “Seven O’Clock” the most political track here. He gives the current occupant of the White House his Native American name, “Sitting Bullshit.” The song penned by bassist Jeff Ament, “Alright” is also a highlight. Rhythm guitarist extraordinaire, Stone Gossard’s penned “Buckle Up” almost sounds like a lilting children’s tune until Vedder, over loping drums and acoustic guitar, sings the first line, “I got blood, blood on my hands…” Happy music delivering disturbing words… Tom Waits would be proud. “Comes Then Goes” is a simple vocals over acoustic guitar track. Who does that any more? Vedder plays an old time pump organ on the closing track, “River Cross.” “Retrograde” is a lament about how the world is falling apart.

If you’re a fan of the early, early Pearl Jam, you might want to skip this one and just buy the concert ticket, if concerts ever happen again. But for those of us who have been along for the whole ride, this is an exciting, mature effort by one of the world’s greatest bands. I’ve never faulted any artist who wants to expand the aperture on what and how they create – I’ve always loved David Bowie and latter day Paul Simon, just to name a few examples. Simon’s last album (Review (Full LP): Paul Simon’s “Stranger To Stranger”) was as far away as you can get from “Still Crazy After All These Years.” I hope this new found experimental mood sparks some creative burst from these guys and we don’t have to wait until 2027 for the next Pearl Jam album. It may not be what everybody wanted, but it’s great to have a rock and roll album to be excited about in 2020, arguably the suckiest year in my lifetime.

Cheers!

 

 

Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul”

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“It was a dark day in Dallas, November ’63…” – Bob Dylan, “Murder Most Foul”

I always look forward to Fridays for all the usual reasons, mostly bourbon. But beyond the end of the workweek and the free time the weekend brings, I look forward to Friday because that’s when all the new music gets released. In the old days albums came out on Tuesdays in an attempt to game the charts. Charts came out on Mondays so labels wanted the max amount of time for an album to rack up sales before that next chart ranking came out. Last night I went to bed like I do on every other Thursday night, looking forward to whatever new music was going to be released today. Actually last night, I was specifically thinking about Pearl Jam and their new album Gigaton. Leave it to Bob Dylan to completely derail my listening…

Much to my surprise, Bob Dylan has released a new single today, “Murder Most Foul.” I had heard rumors that Dylan might be putting out a new album this year and if this song is a hint, I hope that’s true. On his website and several social media platforms Dylan released the following message: “Greetings to my fans and followers with gratitude for all your support and loyalty across the years. This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you. Bob Dylan”

Might find interesting? Hell, yes!

I’ve been a Dylan fan since I began listening to rock and roll. My rock and roll awakening took place in the late 70s, so I was a little late to the game, but the first Dylan album I bought was the first of his Christian trilogy Slow Train Coming, and I’m not religious. From there I went to his iconic, first Greatest Hits with the photo of him shot closeup from the side, playing the harmonica. Slow Train was full of apocalyptic, wrath of God like songs (the title track, “Change My Way of Thinking”) and I’ve always considered its a good introduction to Bob’s darker visions of the world. In college I found myself purchasing all of his great, great, classic records: Blonde On Blonde, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Desire. Hell I even have Knocked Out Loaded on vinyl…I’ve stayed with Dylan up through his last studio album of original material, 2012’s Tempest. Since then, he’s been doing albums of Sinatra tunes as done by a border town bar band. I am thrilled to see a new Dylan original.

After I got over my first shock at seeing the Dylan release, I was equally surprised when I saw the song was just shy of seventeen minutes at 16:55. There are very few tracks in my collection that last that long. Well, studio tracks. Sure the Allman Brothers clocked in at over thirty minutes on “Mountain Jam.” Neil Young has “Driftin’ Back” at over twenty-seven minutes or “Ordinary People” over eighteen minutes. Those longer songs tend to be jam-oriented tracks. This is not that. Although Dylan is no stranger to longer epics. Time Out of Mind had a track “Highlands” that lasted over 16 minutes. And that last album of originals, Tempest had the title track that clocked in at almost fourteen minutes.  All I know is the Rock Chick is not going to like this one…

The track itself is mesmerizing. I can’t stop listening to this and have been doing so since I got up. The music is hushed. It’s a piano being quietly played over (very) muted percussion. Doug Herron’s violin plays along as a beautiful accent. There’s no jam or big guitar solo that tears up 10 minutes like CCR playing “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The focus is all on Dylan’s voice – which sounds much less gravelly here than he’s sounded on his latter day albums. He’s singing in a less fierce, more melancholy way so maybe that’s why it isn’t so scratchy. He’s not whispering but it’s like a secret being murmured. The music is almost ethereal. It reminds me, like it will many, of something from Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, or “Listen To the Lion.” There’s an almost spiritual or holy vibe.

The focus on Dylan’s vocals are key because the lyrics of this song are mind blowing. The theme, on the surface at least, is the assassination of JFK in November of ’63. Leave it to Bob Dylan to write a song about one of the darkest chapters of America’s history during the current dark period of America’s history. This will fill up at least a few days of quarantine for me, analyzing these lyrics. They’re like an onion… so many layers. Its poetry set to music… it feels like I’m hearing ‘The Iliad’ recited in the original Greek by a campfire on Crete while my flock lays down for the night. The title, “Murder Most Foul” is from Shakespeare, no stranger to telling epic historical tragedies. One thread is a surreal, fever-dream imagining of JFK’s thoughts/conversation after he’s shot. There are mentions of the “grassy knoll,” the “three tramps” and to Governor Connally’s wife saying “Don’t say Dallas don’t love you, Mr. President” right before he was shot. I got goose bumps, man.

But the lyrics seem to point to a bigger story than just JFK’s assassination. When he sings “The day they killed him someone said to me, “The Age of the Antichrist has just only begun,” we get the feeling there’s more to this song. The song plays more like a travelogue through the last fifty years of culture… It’s more a commentary of how things were never quite right in America after JFK was killed… “For the last fifty years they’ve been searchin’ for that, Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me, I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free” Heavy!!

As Dylan sings, in what seems to be a stream-of-consciousness way, he makes so many cultural references. From movies “Nightmare on Elm St” (believe it or not!) to “Play Misty For Me.” Every line has a reference to some other cultural touchpoint. “Gower Street” seems to point to Warren Zevon. He mentions many songs by their titles or artists’ by name including Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Billy Joel and Lindsey and Stevie Nicks. Is this a darker, better written “We Didn’t Start the Fire?” Not hardly. I’m guessing there are already playlists on Spotify generated simply from the list of tracks in this song. You could almost suggest that Dylan is painting a picture here that JFK wasn’t the only one who died on that grim November day in Dallas.

This one is a stone-cold classic. I know a lot of people use Dylan’s vocal decline as an excuse to dismiss his music, but this is a reason to continue to listen to the man. It’s wonderful when rock and roll transcends the format and becomes art. Dylan’s music has always had the power to move me. This song is no exception.

Cheers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

B&V’s Pandemic Playlist – Rock n Roll To The Self-Isolation Rescue

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“The sun has to shine on my guitar someday” – Derek & the Dominos, “Got To Get Better In A Little While”

Has 2020 been a drag or what? Well, except for the little matter of the Kansas City Chiefs winning the Super Bowl for the first time in fifty years. I can literally say I’ve been waiting for that to happen my whole life. But other than the small percentage of the population who were excited by the Chiefs victory, for everyone else it’s been a real drag of a year. Everything is cancelled. Bars and restaurants are closed. Californians have been ordered to “shelter in place,” an order usually reserved for the aftermath of earthquakes. While I’m not under any order to stay at home like in California, I can say that all work travel – a key component of my job (Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone) – has been cancelled by corporate. My email in-box is virtually empty. Needless to say, it’s quiet out there… too quiet.

Like many of you out there, I’ve gone into “self-quarantine.” I am practicing what the new nomenclature is calling “self-isolation.” I’m just thrilled I got type the word “nomenclature.” Anyway, I should be good at self-isolation, it’s how you could describe dating in my twenties… although that wasn’t entirely voluntary on my part. But like those days I have, as Styx once sang, “too much time on my hands.” Luckily I’m not all alone. I can only imagine what those of you who live alone out there in this time of social distancing are going through. I imagine there are a lot of people talking to their plants and their pets. I am here sequestered with the Rock Chick, which helps a lot. Well, it helps me a lot. I couldn’t help but notice at dinner last night, after six days of fierce “togetherness” that at a few times during our discussion her hand hesitated over her steak knife just a few seconds too long… I’m not sure why there were steak knives on the table, we were eating salads. Am I in danger? Probably. I wouldn’t want to be locked away with me for weeks at a time.

Every time I cough I think, “COVID… is that you? You finally found me… I knew this day would come.” I find myself asking the Rock Chick if she thinks I have a fever every couple of hours. My daughter was home last weekend. We actually went out to dinner Friday night… and then hit a jazz club for an hour. Since everything around St Patrick’s Day (the only religious holiday I still observe) were cancelled, we did a little pub crawl of our own last Saturday. All of that social interaction looks insane now, like a crime spree. Fortunately nobody in my world is ill with the virus or any other cold and flu. For those of you out there who are sick, my thoughts are with you. Fingers crossed on a quick recovery.

I’ve never seen anything like this. While many of us are complaining about the loneliness of this isolation, we should just be thanking our lucky stars we’re still healthy. I’ve never seen so much confusion and added anxiety in society due to the lack of preparation or crisis management skills at the top. I’m still confused as to why people are hoarding toilet paper. It’s like having the stomach flu and hoarding throat lozenges. As a man whose pretty regular, I’m starting to get nervous. I can see rationing here at the house coming soon… Toilet paper may become the new currency in the post-apocalyptic world we may find ourselves in. Sadly, in that vision of the world, I may be broke.

I have to say a big thank you to all doctors, nurses and medical personnel out there. They’re on the front lines of this battle and I thank heaven they are. As a person who spends a lot of time in bars, restaurants, and live music clubs I am deeply concerned about all of the bartenders, waitresses, cooks and others who work there. Many of those people rely on tips to pay their rent and generally have no health care. I worry about smaller, local band who rely on shows to stay alive. Please keep those folks in your mind when you’re thinking about charity and donations. We’ve got to keep those folks afloat. It’s a dark time and we can only beat crap like this if we stick together. If you haven’t talked to an old friend – pick up the phone. If you know someone whose all alone, Skype them. Reach out, it’s more important than ever. I realize phone calls are, “primal” now…but let’s get back to that. I have found, like a t-shirt I have says, “whiskey helps.” Or, as a woman yelled at me from a car when I was on vacation with that shirt on, “So does vodka.” I do believe this will get better… this will pass.

With all the aforementioned time on my hands, besides worrying about the sick or the out of work, my thoughts turned to, yes, rock and roll. Music has not only accompanied the happy times in my life, it’s helped get me through a lot of the dark times. I started thinking about “end of the world,” sickness, isolation and doctors – happy thoughts, right? I started collecting songs and suddenly I realized I had a playlist. The original meaning of some of these songs might not actually fit a pandemic, but for our purposes of helping kill two-and-a-half hours, they work just fine. I am not, in any way, trying to minimize the outbreak or to make fun of it. I’m just trying to entertain. This is the most serious health challenge I’ve seen in my lifetime.

This playlist could have lasted several days instead of several hours but these are the tracks I latched onto. As always if you have suggestions on adds, please put them in the comments section and I’ll add them to the Spotify playlist, “BourbonAndVinyl.net Pandemic Playlist.” See the link, below.

  1. The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter” – One of the Stones greatest tracks which invokes a real sense of danger and menace. Perfect for these times.
  2. Talking Heads, “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” – “Home… is where I want to be…” Clearly being ironic as we’re all stuck at home.
  3. Jack White, “Alone In My Home” – Many are… if you know someone, call them.
  4. Prince, “1999” – If it’s the end of the world, lets make it a party.
  5. Cinderella, “Sick For The Cure” – Great song about wanting to be free, which many of you who have been cooped up may relate to.
  6. Iggy Pop, “Sickness” – I hope none of you or your loved ones face this.
  7. Queen, “Keep Yourself Alive” – Yes, please do people.
  8. Van Halen, “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” – Hopefully you’re not a hypochondriac like me who walks around yelling this randomly.
  9. The White Stripes, “The Nurse” – Toughest job in the world.
  10. The Rolling Stones, “Dear Doctor” – A song about heartbreak, of which there is plenty connected to this thing.
  11. Pete Townshend, “Exquisitely Bored” – A song about being stuck in rehab but aren’t we all stuck right now?
  12. David & David, “Being Alone Together” – I’m lucky to have the Rock Chick here with me… she’s not so lucky.
  13. The Clash, “Armigideon Time” – The Clash doing a reggae cover about the end of the world.
  14. Lindsey Buckingham, “End of Time” – A pretty little ditty about the end.
  15. The Police, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” – Seriously, six feet apart folks.
  16. Robert Palmer, “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)” – Hopefully none of you have a case of anything.
  17. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, “Isolation” – Even if it’s self-isolation, it’s isolation.
  18. Alice In Chains, “Sickman” – A little heavy rock to keep this moving.
  19. Aerosmith, “Livin’ On the Edge” – We certainly are. We need to be more thoughtful about the leaders we elect around here, people.
  20. Pink Floyd, “Empty Spaces” – A bit of connective tissue from The Wall. It seemed to fit as we’re all basically separated right now.
  21. The Rolling Stones, “Doom and Gloom” – “All I hear is doom and gloom…” Indeed.
  22. John Hiatt, “Alone In the Dark” – Many are… keep them in your thoughts. Use your phone.
  23. The Beach Boys, “In My Room” – Where I’m spending my time these days. This is one of the few songs by the Beach Boys I can stand to listen to.
  24. Ray Charles (*I had to sub in Humble Pie’s version, Ray’s isn’t on Spotify), “I Don’t Need No Doctor” – One of Brother Ray’s best tracks. Rocked out to its max by Humble Pie. And, I hope you don’t need a Dr.
  25. The Police, “When the World Is Running Down” – It certainly is running down…
  26. Little Feat, “Rock And Roll Doctor” – That’s us here at B&V, serving as your rock n roll doctor!!
  27. Warren Zevon, “Splendid Isolation” – Yes, some of us enjoy being alone.
  28. Iggy Pop, “Isolation” – I hope some of you come out of this as Iggy Pop fans. While you’ve got time, explore the fringes of rock and roll, why not?
  29. Black Crowes, “Hotel Illness” – The lyric, “This room smells like Hotel Illness” could very well describe my home office. I spend too much time up here.
  30. Pearl Jam, “Alone” – Great B-side.
  31. Bob Dylan, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” – Well, if you’re smart you’re not going anywhere.
  32. U2, “Until The End of the World” – Let’s hope it’s not…
  33. R.E.M., “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” – Although, it may very well be…might as well rock out.
  34. Aerosmith, “Sick As A Dog” – “Cat got your tongue?”
  35. Jackson Browne, “Doctor My Eyes” – I forget how kick ass Jackson Browne’s early music is…
  36. Starcrawler, “Home Alone” – Again, I hope you’re not alone right now… But I have to ask… what is she doing while all alone?
  37. The Rolling Stones, “Rock And A Hard Place” – While we find ourselves between the two places in the title, we can get through this. I know my friend Doug will say, “too many Stones tracks…” but I love the Stones.
  38. The Cult, “Stand Alone” – We may be alone, but we will stand up against this bullshit.
  39. Journey, “When You’re Alone (It Ain’t Easy)” – No it’s not, but hang in there, this too shall pass.
  40. George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass” – Even this will pass.
  41. Derek & the Dominos, “Got To Get Better In A Little While” – This thing may last longer than we think, but it will get better. It’s got to.
  42. Warren Zevon, “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” – Ending with this hymn from Warren. And yes, please don’t let us get sick. None of you.

Stay healthy, stay isolated and be careful out there. I can see all the different countries where my readers come from. It’s fun to look at the map and think people on the other side of the globe are reading this… so I mean it when I say this – wherever you are – I hope you stay healthy and safe. This will get better if we all do our part. I hate the idea of social distancing but you can still be social with all the technology available to us. Take care to stay way from the elderly. Take care of everybody.

Cheers!

Editor’s Note: It dawned on me after I posted this that I’d forgotten some great songs that fit the theme:

  1. The Police, “Message In A Bottle”
  2. Bruce Springsteen, “The Fever”
  3. Elvis Presley, “Fever”
  4. Judas Priest, “Fever”
  5. James Brown, “Cold Sweat”