Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years

image

It was a little too personal…it scared me.” – Neil Young on not releasing Homegrown

While I’m like most of you out there – a huge music fan – there is something about the inner music geek in me that gets really pumped for the release of a “lost album.” By lost album I mean a record that an artist has recorded and for whatever reason decided to keep in the vault instead of release to the public. There’s a lot of reasons for shelving an album that’s already “in the can,” as the saying goes. Usually it’s the record company… the dreaded suits. It almost always gives the unreleased record an enormous amount of mystique. Ryan Adams completed Love Is Hell and when his record company refused to release it the word on the street was that it was “too dark.” Naturally that led the music geeks and Ryan Adams’ fans to clamor for its release…too dark, yes please! The record company finally relented and it was released. It’s a really good record… but uh, I’ve heard darker albums. Put on Big Star’s third album if you want bleak.

Typically an artist (or a band) will gather to write and record a group of songs. When they have enough tunes or perhaps better said, a cohesive group of songs, they release an album and go on tour. Rinse, repeat. There are those artists who are so prolific they record more than enough songs for the album. They record until the creative well is dry before stopping and going on tour. They pick the best tracks and leave the rest in the vault or save them for the next album. The aforementioned Ryan Adams is merely one of those type of artists. There are several others like Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young who had such an overflowing creative font that they have vast amounts of unreleased music. All of that unheard music leaves the music geek in me wondering… what’s going on in that vault and how do I get in there to listen? I’ll bring my own beer… These deep and full vaults are what bootleggers live for.

While there are many artists with a ton of unreleased tracks in their vaults it’s still a bit more rare for an artist to go through the entire creative process to record a full album – finished production and completed down to the track listing – and then rescind the record. Springsteen sent a single disc version of The River to the record company and changed his mind and pulled it back. While most of those songs got on the final 2-LP album, the original single disc version was still of interest because of the unreleased track “Cindy” and the rockabilly version of “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).” Prince pulled The Black Album and released the tepid Lovesexy. The Black Album, which was eventually released, was purportedly too X-rated to be released. It was widely bootlegged and finally saw release.

While pulling back an entire LP is rare, I would have to say the king of recording an entire album only to put it on the shelf is Neil Young. He’s got more unreleased full albums than any artist you can name: Chrome Dreams, Toast with Crazy Horse, Homefires, and Oceanside Countryside to mention but a few. Finally, through his superb Neil Young Archives, he’s started releasing some of these albums. The famous Hitchhiker recorded in 1976 just came out in 2017 (LP Review: Neil Young’s Album From His Vault, ‘Hitchhiker’). It seems at long last one of Neil’s most famous unreleased albums, 1975’s Homegrown has been released after 45 years of sitting in the vault. It was worth the wait.

Now as a “warning label” I have to echo a comment I got a few weeks ago on my post on the first single “Try” (New Single: Neil Young’s “Try” From the Long Awaited Vault LP, ‘Homegrown’), from a reader, “Introgroove.” Neil is about to release his second box set of vault material, Archives, Vol. 2 in late summer/early fall. He’s teased the release of this follow-up to 2009’s Archives, Vol 1 for quite a while, so we’ll see if it comes out… As a warning, some of these archival releases are probably going to be included in Archive Vol 2. During the build up to Vol 1, Neil released a series of previously unreleased live LPs which I snapped up. When Vol 1 came out I was crestfallen to find that all 3 LPs I’d purchased (including Live At Massey Hall, Live At the Fillmore East with Crazy Horse, and Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury Hall) were all in there. I wasn’t going to buy them twice. We’re 11 years down the line and I’m willing to take the leap for the studio stuff, but I wanted everyone to know these will probably be in the box set if you want to wait. The inner music geek in me won this current argument and I’ve been turning up Homegrown since last Thursday.

Homegrown has a storied history. It was recorded toward the end of Young’s darkest period marked by the three albums known as “the Ditch Trilogy.” Hearing Homegrown makes me wonder if we’re going to need to recalibrate that to The Ditch Foursome. Neil became a world wide superstar after the release of his landmark country-rock album Harvest. Neil didn’t react very well to his new found fame. He hired a band of mostly session musicians who he didn’t get along with, took them on the road, turned it up loud and recorded his next album, the first of the Ditch Trilogy, Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP). Prior to the tour, he had to fire guitarist Danny Whitten, his only friend in the band, because Whitten’s drug use was out of control. A day later, Whitten was dead from a lethal combination of drugs and booze. Young was guilt-ridden and depressed… and he did what artists do, he turned his grief and anger into music… while drinking a ton of tequila. I avoid tequila. I’m either gonna fight you or kiss you when I’m on tequila… and possibly both at the same time…

It’s been said that the Ditch Trilogy was a reaction to his new found fame and his inability to deal with that success. It was certainly also a chronicle of the personal problems he was going through including but not exclusive to Whitten’s death. In many ways the music could also be seen as a metaphor for the angst felt by the 60s generation as they watched their ideals and idealism slowly die away as the greed and narcissism of the 70s took over. The greatest artists always seem to be an antenna for what’s going on in the world (subconsciously or not) and one has to wonder if Young was just overly tuned into that.

In ’73 Young recorded the masterpiece Tonight’s the Night but the record company didn’t want to release it. It is a truly bleak record but I love it. In early 1974 he released On the Beach which isn’t much more cheerful. That summer he went on tour with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for a stadium reunion tour. At the end of ’74 and early ’75 he recorded what would become Homegrown. The album is all about the end of his relationship with Carrie Snodgress who’d inspired many of his great songs including “A Man Needs A Maid.” They’d had a child together, Zeke. But things had finally ended and Neil recorded Homegrown to chronicle his heartbreak. At the last minute, Young pulled Homegrown and decided to release Tonight’s the Night instead. I’ve heard two stories on why he made that decision: a) he had a listening party and people liked Tonight’s the Night better or b) Rick Danko of the Band told him he should release Tonight’s the Night instead of Homegrown. I can’t imagine a group of people at a listening party picking the former so my money is on the Danko story. Neil has always said Homegrown was “too personal” to be released.

Homegrown then sat in the vaults for 45 years. For once we can say that Neil was holding on to a true masterpiece. Even on the first listen this record had the feeling of an instant classic. That may be because we’ve heard some of these tracks before as Neil put many of them out on other records “as is” or slightly altered. “Homegrown” rerecorded with Crazy Horse and “Star of Bethlehem” (as is) both came out on American Stars N Bars. “Love Is a Rose” came out on the compilation album Decade. “Little Wing” came out on Hawks And Doves. I really like hearing these songs in this album setting which is what Neil originally intended. Making Homegrown, for me, an essential Neil Young album.

The break up theme is established immediately on the opening track “Separate Ways.” It’s a mellow, acoustic track that reminds me of “Out On the Weekend.” Levon Helm of the Band plays drums on this track and he’s just extraordinary. “We go our separate ways lookin’ for better days sharin’ our little boy who grew from joy back then…” Heartrending stuff. The next track, “Try” strikes a more hopeful tone and has quotes from Snodgress’ quirky mother throughout. “Mexico” is a stark ballad set to piano, where Neil tells his son goodbye as now he’s a “travelin’ man.” “Love Is A Rose” sounds like a sweet ballad but really is a “swearing off love” song. “Little Wing” and “Star of Bethlehem” make more sense as the last two tracks on this album vs the way they were sort of tossed onto other LPs. “Kansas” is a short, acoustic song where Neil seems to be singing to a groupie with whom he’s sought some comfort. As someone who was a fool for love and suffered through more than what I consider my fair share of breakups, I’m knocked out that Neil could put almost a full album worth of heartbreak together and make it so emotionally affecting. (Or is it effecting? I never know…)

There are lighter moments. The title track, an ode to growing your own pot isn’t as heavy as the version on Stars N Bars and has a more rustic feel here. “We Don’t Smoke It” is a bluesy vamp of a track… I’m sure it’s fun to hear live. “Vacancy” is probably the heaviest rockin’ tune on the album but it does carry that break up theme. It’s the one angry moment in a collection of classic Neil laments. “I look in your eyes and I don’t know what’s there.” He goes on to sing, “You come through in the weirdest ways.” True frustration seeps into the core of that song. “White Line” a track that was rerecorded with electric guitars by Crazy Horse is acoustic here with a fantastic bit of guitar work by the Band’s Robbie Robertson. You forget how virtuoso all those guys in the Band were. I love this quieter version of the track.

The only track here that should have been left off is “Florida.” It’s a weird fever dream of a song. Its a spoken word piece where Neil rambles about hang gliders in a downtown area of a city in Florida… maybe Miami? As he’s speaking someone is dragging a wet finger over the rim of a glass. While I don’t dig it, my wife’s cat got up, meowed at me and left the room when it came on… I think he hates it and he’s pretty open-minded. I can’t imagine dogs liking that track either. Including “Florida” here just gives us a snapshot of where Neil’s head was at back then. He would soon come out of his funk with the release of Zuma in 1975. Although with tracks like “Stupid Girl” and “Drive Back” perhaps by Zuma his grief had merely morphed to anger.

I’m certainly glad we got this important document from one of Neil’s darkest and yet most interesting periods. Somehow as we all face these current heavy times, it makes me feel better to get this dark little postcard from Neil…like the post office just discovered it and finally all these years later delivered it. It’s as if it’s saying to me, it was dark back then but it got better. It always gets better… it can’t get worse?

Be safe out there. Wear your masks. Cheers!

 

 

Review: Norah Jones ‘Pick Me Up Off The Floor’ – Yet Another Brilliant LP

image

“I sing my songs, I hope someone sings along…” – Norah Jones, “I’m Alive”

When I was just beginning my rock and roll journey as a middle-teenager, maybe all of thirteen years old, it was sort of an unwritten rule that you didn’t buy music that didn’t “rock.” It was all Zeppelin, Sabbath, Rush and Van Halen back then. Anything outside of that was considered weak. It was all about the power and majesty of the guitar solo. Guys my age wouldn’t even admit to liking Elton John back then because he played piano. You didn’t want to appear “soft” or a worse fate, to be branded as an admitted pop music fan. It was all about street “cred” back then. And sadly, I don’t know if it was some sort of nascent sexism but as a young teenage boy you generally didn’t buy music by women artists.

By the 70s there were plenty of cool women artists out there. Janis certainly was cool but other than “Mercedes Benz” you didn’t hear much of her on the radio, which was odd because you heard plenty of Hendrix and Doors from that same era on rock stations. Pat Benetar had some credibility in the rock and roll circles. I bought one of her albums at the mall but I had to wear a fake mustache and glasses to feel comfortable doing so. Fleetwood Mac was cool and by extension Stevie Nicks won us over with Bella Donna. Of course with Stevie there may have been more… visceral reasons we were drawn to her, one can never tell about teenage boys. Of course in middle America you never heard of Patti Smith or the Runaways… well, not when you were in high school at least. Nobody knew what to make of Blondie.

It wasn’t until college that any of us had the confidence to walk into the record store and come out with Horses or a Joni Mitchell album. Naturally, we were all still buying Stevie Nicks albums… I think as you grow from, literally, boys to men you just become more confident in who you are and what you like. As a friend once said to me, “Fuck ’em.” From college I’ve branched out in all sorts of different directions and to different artists. I’ve even discovered (and really like) jazz. I’m not sure what 13 year old me would say about my music collection these days… I think jazz would have made my 13-year old head explode. If I know my teenage self, I’d probably call me a lurid name. I was not a nice kid.

As many long time readers here now know, I am past that teen-machismo-angst and openly embrace a lot of music and artists, including (yes, 13-year old me) women (Women In Rock: My Search For Female Singers Leads to the Rock Chick’s Top 10). Almost from the earliest days of B&V I’ve been on the record as a Norah Jones fan. Her voice is, in my opinion, an all time great. She’s up there with Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday or Joni Mitchell in my opinion. One of our earliest pieces was to laud her great 2016 LP Day Breaks, LP Review: Norah Jones’ “Day Breaks,” The Piano Strikes Back!I was thrilled to see last Friday her new album was out, Pick Me Up Off The Floor. 

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have a career like Norah Jones? Her first album was an immediate classic and sold 11 million copies in the U.S. alone… I think it sold over 27 million copies world wide (per Wikipedia). Many established bands struggle with success like that (Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame). The massive success of Hotel California or Rumours fundamentally knocked the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac off their trajectories. It’s hard to be that big. But for Norah, it was on her first album! One could argue the same thing happened to Guns N Roses, and that didn’t turn out exactly great. Of course, Norah was a solo artist vs a band with all the egos that entails.

Norah has responded by simply putting out a string of superb albums. Instead of trying to please people she clearly took the momentous early success for what it was: Freedom. She’s often experimented and has taken her music in different directions. She’s collaborated with a lot of different artists and really done it her way. But her way ended up being a perfect course for her. She branched out and changed to a more “pop” sound on The Fall. From there, she really expanded upon that pop direction on the Danger Mouse produced …Little Broken Hearts. She’s formed a country-rock side project with other liked minded musicians called the Little Willies (apparently named for Willie Nelson, in case you’re wondering). I especially loved her duets album of Everly Brothers’ covers with Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day fame, Foreverly. Well, in truth I’ve followed her through all the twists and turns. In the middle of it all is that spectacular voice.

After all of that, in 2016 she released the aforementioned Day Breaks. That album was a return to the rootsy, jazz-based, piano driven sound of her first couple of albums. After the tour for that album I read that Norah was going to collaborate with other artists and just put out singles. Those were finally collected on the EP, Begin Again (EP Review: Back On The Mellow End With Norah Jones’ New ‘Begin Again’). I loved that she was taking a more spontaneous approach, releasing singles as she recorded them. I will say the EP left me wanting a whole album. Apparently during those sessions there were a number of songs that were “left over,” or perhaps, “left on the floor,” so to speak. Norah has collected those songs and fashioned another in a string of superb albums.

I put this album on the first time with the Rock Chick. I wanted her to hear it with me. She does not share my devotion to Norah, although she likes her. This music and this album is a return to that early jazz-based sound from Come Away With Me that Norah returned to so successfully on Day Breaks. The music on this album transports me. I feel like its late at night and I’m on an avenue, perhaps in Paris. This music could be coming out of a cafe where cigarette smoke still fills the air and the ashtrays crowd the tables with empty glasses and bottles. There’s no doubt I’d loosen my tie while listening. There’s an immediate sensual aspect to Norah’s music on this album.

The album starts off with a trio of sexy tracks. “How I Weep” starts slowly but its simple vocals, piano, strings arrangement immediately draws me in. “Flame Twin” is a an aptly named torch song with the vocals and piano underscored with an organ. I love the lyrics, “I’m your twin, I’m on fire, come put me out…” Oh indeed! “Hurts To Be Alone” just chugs along keeping the momentum up.

The heart of the album, for me, was the two tracks in the middle, “This Life” and “To Live.” When she sings “This life as we know it is over,” one has to wonder if she’s talking about a break-up or society at large. “Heartbroken, Day After” has a nice pedal steel and sounds like something a country star could have done or perhaps the Little Willies. “Say No More” has a subtle horn section and I completely relate to her lyrics when she sings, “Maybe I’m deranged.” “Were You Watching” is another stand out track with a haunting violin weaving in and out of the piano/vocals. Another stand out is “Stumble On My Way” which could have fit right in on Come Away With Me. Jeff Tweedy collaborated with her on the acoustic strummer “I’m Alive.” A little subtle electric guitar mixes in perfectly on that track.

There’s so much to like on this album. I heard Tom Petty say once the reason the Heartbreakers and he weren’t “bigger” was because they had such a high quality and consistency on the albums they put out. He said people might have taken them for granted somewhat. He wasn’t bitter, just trying to explain his career. I wonder sometimes if people are taking Norah Jones and the high quality of her music for granted. Don’t be like 13-year old me and do that – Pick Me Up Off The Floor is a great album that everyone should hear. It’s sitting on the couch with someone and a tumbler of whiskey good…

Cheers!

 

 

 

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

Dion-Blues-With-Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers. Take care of each other!

 

 

Playlist: Songs of Protest And Hope – We Stand With the Protesters, #BLM

BLM-solid-1200x630

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King,Jr

2020 has been one of the most extremely awful years in my lifetime. It wasn’t enough that a global pandemic is killing people around the world including over 100,000 in the United States. Now, the U.S. has been torn in two by long term, systemic racism. As a white person I can’t begin to assume to know what black people go through in their lives. I can say that watching the news these days has me simply heartbroken. There’s no other word for it. I was too young to remember 1968. I remember the Rodney King riots after the police who beat him senseless were acquitted. It’s hard to believe that was thirty years ago and we’ve made almost no progress. I had hoped Obama’s election was a sign that we’d moved forward but as Depeche Mode sings, “We’re going backward…”

The recent unrest in the U.S. was sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. I don’t care who you are and what you’ve done, no police officer gets to put his knee on your neck, effectively becoming cop, judge and sadly executioner. While the officer in question has been charged with second degree murder and the officers with him were charged with accessory to murder, this is just another in a long line of blacks who have been killed at the hands of the police. Breonna Taylor was recently killed by cops and those men continue to walk free (as of this writing). Ahmaud Arbrey was hunted down by an ex-cop and executed. I keep hearing politicians referring to the Black Community as being “frustrated” with law enforcement in this country. Uh, I think they have every right to be not only frustrated but really pissed.

When I was in high school a few of us were leaving a keg party… the police had come to break up the rather unruly affair. Tempers were running high. One of my close friends was black. This isn’t one of those, “I have a black friend, I’m not a racist” stories. Anyway, we were getting into the car to get out of there and the cops attacked my black friend as he was about to get in the car. He pushed back and things got ugly. He was highly agitated and I think it was because one of the cops said something shitty to him. I’ve never known what was said, I was already in the car. We grew up in a predominantly white suburb of Kansas City and looking back that had to be very hard on my friend. Nobody hassled me on the way to the car and I’d probably had more beer than anybody involved. We never really talked about it, my friend didn’t want to, but that had to be pretty traumatic. It left me with the sense that you can’t be non-racist in this world, you need to be anti-racist. You have to actively combat it. We aren’t born that way – it’s learned behavior.

Many people in this country feel strongly enough to go out and protest this police aggression. I am in 100% support of all of these people who are out protesting. It’s an American tradition to protest injustice. If it weren’t for Covid, I’d be protesting with them. It’s wonderful that we’re free to do so. Most of these protests have been peaceful. In Kansas City, the protests have been centered in the Midtown area in the Plaza neighborhood. It’s surreal to see my old neighborhood, where I lived for much of my adult life overrun with cops in full riot gear surrounding protestors. I was fried and went to bed early last Saturday night only to wake up to find out that the cops dropped tear gas on the protestors down there… because they were walking in the street. Wow. I realize some of the protesters were throwing some things (water bottles, milk jugs) out of sheer frustration… but the cops were in full riot gear? The reaction seems… harsh? Overblown? Tear gas two blocks from where I used to live…just, wow.

The whole nation is feeling very “Kent State” to me right now. Because everyone has a phone I keep seeing scenes of different cops hitting people or knocking them down. The cops in Buffalo knocked an elderly peaceful protester on his ass and cracked his head open. Even the press has been seemingly targeted for beatings or shot at with rubber bullets by cops. “Protect And Serve” is supposed to include everybody… Curfews have been instigated across the country and even in Kansas City. Maybe if the cops took a lighter touch these peaceful protests wouldn’t erupt… As Martin Luther King, Jr also said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Maybe a little more empathy and a little less tear gas? I think a lot of people are conflating the protesters with the looters that are taking advantage of the resulting chaos, as inevitably happens. It also appears that white supremacists are infiltrating the protests to insight violence. Don’t let those fuckers confuse you – these are mostly peaceful protesters that are legally exercising their right to assemble. Where was this police reaction when those nut jobs showed up to protest Covid-19 lockdowns?

Where do we look for solace in dark times like these? The current occupant of the White House won’t be offering any, that’s always been obvious. There are no sports yet… Hell, even Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints is out there saying stupid stuff and I used to be a fan of his. For me, the only solace I can find is where I always find it, music. I couldn’t sleep last night, the heartbreak has been washing over me when the sun goes down. As I lay there ruminating on peaceful protestors in Washington D.C. being tear gassed for a photo op, I thought of my favorite line from CSNY’s “Ohio,” written by Neil Young, “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, we’re finally on our own.” These days feel eerily similar. Other protest songs began to pop into my head and before I knew it, I was putting together a playlist. Not all of these are classic “protest songs,” but are songs whose theme I feel fit these current troubled songs. And some of these songs have a notably hopeful message. I’m a sucker for hope. These are some of my favorites but per usual it’s not meant to be exhaustive. I mean, Gail Gadot ruined “Imagine” for everyone so I left it off and there was no way I was putting “Ebony and Ivory” on here (I love Paul McCartney but not even I can support that cheesy track).  If you have suggestions, make them in the comments section and I’ll add your song to the playlist on Spotify.

Some things in this world really need to change. I’ll admit, I don’t know what to do about racism but I’m going to do everything I can to educate myself on what I can do to help. And above all I urge everyone hungry for change to do the most effective thing you can do to make it happen – VOTE. If you’re out there protesting, stay safe, be careful. Here are some songs I thought might help get us through. As always you’ll find this playlist on Spotify under the title, “BourbonAndVinyl.net Songs Of Protest And Hope – Black Lives Matter.” And, as usual, I’m all over the map from Bob Dylan to Hip Hop to Jazz. If the music can be diverse, so can we.

  1. Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come” – This song is one of the greatest songs ever. Sam was inspired by Bob Dylan to sit down and write this track. It went on to be a key track for the Civil Rights Movement.
  2. Aretha Franklin, “Respect” – Written by Otis Redding and owned by Aretha, the Queen of Soul. Respect is the name of the game. Respect your fellow man.
  3. Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit” – Haunting song about lynchings. I don’t think I’ll ever get over this track.
  4. The Rolling Stones, “Street Fighting Man” – This one is for all of you out there on the mean streets of the cities and towns around the world. Be careful out there.
  5. The Doors, “Five To One” – “They got the guns, but we got the numbers.”
  6. Aerosmith, “Livin’ On the Edge” – The lyrics on this Aerosmith rocker can sometimes be awkward, but you can’t fault a song that starts with the lyric, “There’s something wrong with the world today…” Indeed there is.
  7. Bob Marley & The Wailers, “No More Trouble” – Isn’t that what we all want, no more trouble? I think we’re all getting a little tired.
  8. Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ In the Wind” – So many have recorded this song, but I like the original. “How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?”
  9. Nina Simone, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” – I’m just now getting into Nina Simone, but what an amazing, important artist and an amazing, important song. I like her preamble in this live version.
  10. Warren Zevon, “Disorder In the House” – From his final album, The Wind. Springsteen plays a savage lead guitar on this track. The line, “helicopters hover over rough terrain” grabbed my attention as I’ve been watching helicopters hover over Kansas City all week.
  11. The Doobie Brothers, “Takin’ It To The Streets” – Laugh if you want because Michael McDonald sings this song, but it makes me wanna get out in the street.
  12. Grand Master Flash, “The Message” – “Don’t push me cuz I’m close to the edge…”
  13. Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth” – “There’s a man with a gun over there
    Telling me I got to beware”
  14. Bruce Springsteen, “The Ghost of Tom Joad (Electric Version) – I like the original, but this version from High Hopes features Bruce exchanging verses with guitarist extraordinaire Tom Morello. “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy… look for me Ma, I’ll be there.”
  15. Lenny Kravitz, “Black And White America” – Title track from another great Lenny Kravitz album.
  16. Stevie Wonder, “Living For the City” – I just felt this playlist needed some Stevie Wonder.
  17. Marvin Gaye, “What’s Goin’ On” – The genius title track from what was known as his “protest” album. I could have put half the record on here… seek that LP out.
  18. Little Steven, “Justice” – This is the crux of why all of the people are out in the streets. “No peace, no justice.”
  19. U2 with The New Voices of Freedom, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Live)” – I went with the live version from Rattle And Hum since they brought in the New Voices of Freedom a Harlem choir. Beautiful, moving stuff. We’re all searching for justice and freedom.
  20. Depeche Mode, “Where’s the Revolution” – From the amazing record Spirit (LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic).
  21. U2, “”40″” – Adapted from the 40th Psalm. A moment of hope.
  22. Bob Dylan, “A Hard Rain Is A-Gonna Fall” – If we don’t solve the problems of racism and an unequal justice system a hard rain will be coming… I almost put “Slow Train” on here because of the chorus, “there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend.”
  23. James Brown, “Say It Loud (I’m Black I’m Proud)” – Wisdom from the Godfather of Soul.
  24. Pearl Jam, “Can’t Deny Me” – The protesters give me this vibe. They won’t be denied. I love Pearl Jam doing angry music.
  25. CSNY, “Ohio” – The greatest protest song ever. With all the guys in military gear surrounding the protesters I’m getting that Kent State, they’re shooting as us vibe. “We’re finally on our own…”
  26. Bruce Springsteen, “American Skin, (41 Shots)” – Springsteen took a lot of shit from police organizations when this came out. It seems he was right as the song is as relevant today as it was when it came out.
  27. Neil Young, “Southern Man” – Sadly this song about racism in the south now applies everywhere.
  28. Bruce Springsteen, “We Shall Overcome” – I probably should have gone with Pete Seeger’s original version but I just don’t like his voice. Bruce puts a little more oomph into this classic protest hymn.
  29. Elvis Presley, “If I Can Dream” – The King wanted a song with a strong message about racial and national unity to end the “68 Comeback Special.” I’d say he succeeded.
  30. The Clash, “Know Your Rights” – “A public service announcement…with guitars.”
  31. Green Day, “American Idiot” – For the man in charge…
  32. Depeche Mode, “Going Backwards” – Another great track. Can’t believe it’s been four years since Spirit came out.
  33. Elvis Costello, “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding” – I’m not a huge Costello fan but I love this one.
  34. Public Enemy, “Fight the Power” – Indeed, fight the power… just be careful out there. I love this song.
  35. John Lennon, “Power To the People” – Lennon was dinged for being too political by his old Beatles fans. His music has transcended time.
  36. U2, “I Threw A Brick Through A Window” – I am in no way condoning violence but I chose this song to acknowledge that due to frustration the urge to throw something can be very strong.
  37. Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin'” – I never realized how fond of adding an “A-” to words Dylan was. Title track from his great third album.
  38. Lenny Kravitz, “It’s Enough” – Great track where Lenny channels his inner Marvin Gaye (Lenny Kravitz: New Single, “It’s Enough,” His Inner City Blues Are A Smooth Groove).
  39. The Beatles, “Revolution” – Great rock and roll… turn this one up loud. It hasn’t lost its power and punch in all these years.
  40. The Clash, “Guns On the Roof” – I see cops everywhere. They even had snipers up on the roof of some of the Plaza buildings this last week. I never thought I’d see that.
  41. The Impressions, “People Get Ready” – Curtis Mayfield’s classic has been done by others like Rod Stewart/Jeff Beck but the original was the best fit here.
  42. CSNY, “Find the Cost of Freedom” – “Buried in the ground…” I wish these guys could get along and record some new protest music for us.
  43. Rage Against the Machine, “Killing In the Name” – “Some of those who work forces are the same that burn crosses.” Heavy track. I could have literally put their whole catalog out here… Everyone should be blasting Rage right now.
  44. CSNY, “Stand And Be Counted” – Great David Crosby track. Please do stand but more importantly be counted – VOTE.
  45. Lenny Kravitz, “Mr. Cab Driver” – From Lenny’s debut album. It’s a song about a situation a lot of black people face every day.
  46. Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Get Up Stand Up” – From the original Soul Rebel. Now is the time to get up and stand up for your rights.
  47. Scorpions, “Under the Same Sun” – Odd choice but such a hopeful song. I had to add it… some times the songs are just for me.
  48. U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” – For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  49. Bob Dylan, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol” – Recounting the story of a rich white man killing a working class black woman.
  50. Sly and the Family Stone, “Everyday People” – A happy song about inclusion. I needed some light.
  51. Tracy Chapman, “Talkin’ About a Revolution” – “Poor people gonna rise up…”
  52. Patti Smith, “People Have the Power” – Poet, rocker, protester.

These are some of my favorite protest tracks. I wasn’t trying to insult anybody’s sensibilities here, political or otherwise. I just think music has an amazing way to bring us together.

These are dark times. Be careful, be good and take care of each other out there.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Documentary, ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’

220px-Mystify,_Michael_Hutchence_film_poster

I’m probably late to the game on this but I only just saw the documentary ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’ detailing the life and times of the late INXS singer last night. I remember hearing about this movie a year or so ago but then it slipped my mind. One of the good things about not going out on weekends anymore is I can catch up on all of the rockumentaries that I’ve missed over the last few years. It had been a very long short week and I poured myself a tumbler of vodka and was sitting out on my patio enjoying being outside for a change. As it got dark we moved inside and the Rock Chick pulled up Netflix and I saw that ‘Mystify’ was posted… I had to see it. Apparently it’s been out for just over a year. I don’t know how this slipped by me.

Australia’s INXS burst onto the scene when I was in late high school and early college. I don’t think they pierced my consciousness until I was in college. They were, at the time, kind of a “college radio” band. Meaning, they were kind of weird, foreign and not being played by mainstream radio. R.E.M., the Red Hot Chili Peppers and INXS were all bands I became aware of by my rare trips down the radio dial the to the small numbered stations. I also seem to remember a grainy video on MTV for “Don’t Change,” the first INXS track that really ever grabbed my attention. I remember thinking, “who is this band with the weird name?”

By 1987 I had graduated from college and entered my Arkansas Exile… the dark time. I met a beautiful woman who lived in Shreveport, only a short four hour car ride away. Or at least when I was young I thought a four hour drive on a two-lane black top road through the rural south of Arkansas and Louisiana was a short drive. Being from Kansas City, I was probably only a flat tire away from being surrounded and beaten with axe  handles. But, the Shreveport belle’s parents were both from Thailand… she had the local southern accent and she was worth the risk.

While my fortunes  were looking rather down in 1987, things couldn’t have been better for Michael Hutchence and his mates in INXS. They released their monster album Kick which built on the strong momentum of the previous album, Listen Like Thieves. I can remember loving all those tracks – “New Sensation,” “Devil Inside,” and of course “Need You Tonight” – all of which had videos on MTV which is where I predominantly heard music in those days. Ft Smith, Arkansas didn’t have a rock radio station. (Could I have chosen a worse place to land?). I was hesitant to buy the album as I was concerned they were a “chick band.” Sometimes if the lead singer in a band was too pretty I’d shy away from them back in those days. What knocked me over the edge is when I saw the iconic video for “Never Tear Us Apart.” The depth of that ballad – and admittedly, I’m a sucker for ballads – blew me away. I actually bought the album on cassette, a huge mistake. I wish I had it on vinyl. Kick immediately went into high, constant rotation on my car’s cassette deck. I listened and listened to that album while tearing up and down Highway 71 to and from Shreveport. I can’t hear that music without being transported back to that bittersweet time and place. My fate just lay elsewhere.

By the time INXS had finally followed that album up with the calendar had rolled to 1990 and I was back home in Kansas City. I was “in between opportunities” at the time and living with my parents. I can remember hearing “Suicide Blonde” on the radio but so much time had passed I’d kind of lost touch with INXS. I liked what I heard on the radio from them but never really felt the connection I had with Kick. By then Michael Hutchence was almost a household name and was seen in tabloids dating the fabulous Helena Christensen.

Time kept on slippin’, slippin’ into the future and in the blink of an eye it was 1997. In Kansas City they had a huge concert at the foot of the World War I Memorial, aka the Liberty Memorial and called it Spiritfest. Headlining the show was none other than INXS. I had completely lost touch with this band by then. I remember thinking, these guys are almost an oldies band…a relic of the “MTV Era.” Grunge had taken over, tastes had moved on. Somewhere during the 90s Hutchence had given an award in Europe to Oasis guitarist and douche bag extraordinaire Noel Gallagher who called Hutchence a “has-been” in his acceptance speech, crushing Hutchence’s feelings. Burn in Hell, Noel, burn in Hell.

If tastes had moved on from INXS the band certainly didn’t act like it that hot August night in Kansas City. They came on and tore the roof off the place (even though it was an outside venue). They opened with “New Sensation” and it grabbed me. They played “Elegantly Wasted” and hearing it live may be the first time I’d ever heard it. By the time they finished the main set with “Devil Inside,” “What You Need,” and finally “Suicide Blonde” the place was going nuts. Hutchence, in an effort to stir up the crowd, had climbed up some scaffolding on the left side of the stage (left as I was facing the stage, his right) and got pretty high up there. I remember thinking a couple of things: I hope he doesn’t fall and secondly, he didn’t look good. He took his shirt off and from my spot way in the back he looked pale and a little bloated. I thought perhaps a life of excess might be getting to him…

Less than 90 days later, he was dead. He’d hung himself in a hotel room in Sydney. I remember thinking about how far away that was… but for him I guess he was home. Sad stuff. When I finally met the Rock Chick three years later, she turned me back onto INXS and I’m glad she did… I heard a lot of the post-Kick LPs through her and realized they’d put out a lot of great music. I only had a Greatest Hits package I bought after seeing them in 97. I never watched that TV show where they looked for a new lead singer. As a friend of mine said at the time, “You don’t replace a messianic lead singer with some guy you found on a game show.” Hutchence was INXS in my mind… sorry Farriss Brothers.

Needless to say, I’m a fan. Watching last night’s ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’ was a bit of a bittersweet treat. The documentary is chock full of “never seen” or “rarely seen” archival footage of Hutchence, mostly taken by friends or former lovers. They interviewed his family/friends/lovers, but you don’t see them on screen, they just play the video of the interviews over the footage. That approach, to me, gave it a more haunting effect. The documentary follows the career and rise of INXS. It brought back a lot of memories for me.

The biggest revelation in the film to me was that while bicycling in Copenhagen with Helena Christensen, Hutchence got into a fight with a taxi drive who pushed him down and he hit his head on a curb. After being rushed to the hospital he demanded to leave and refused treatment. As a result of the head injury his temperament and personality changed. He became more aggressive and angry. He was prone to depression. It wasn’t until his autopsy that they discovered he’d suffered brain damage in two spots. What a tragedy. It changed everything about him including his music. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to equate the downward turn of INXS’ fortunes to the damage done to Hutchence’s brain. I don’t know if there would have been any treatment for him to improve the situation, but what a damn shame. Maybe this news came out when they did the autopsy and I just didn’t catch it but this was a revelation to me. It explains everything.

The documentary tracked through a lot of his relationships – from Kyle Minogue to Helena Christensen and to Paula Yates. I don’t understand the attraction on that last relationship, but they had a beautiful daughter together which makes Hutchence’s death that much more tragic. Bob Geldof, or Saint Bob as he’s known, was a real dick to Hutchence and Yates which couldn’t have helped Hutchence’s damaged psyche. I know a lot of people think Hutchence died in some spectacular sexual misadventure playing with autoerotic asphyxiation, but it’s pretty clear he’d become an unhappy man and killed himself. Again, sad stuff.

I think any fans of INXS or Hutchence will enjoy this documentary. Is it the end all, be all definitive statement on the subject? Probably not, but it’s certainly an affecting watch. I certainly recommend it. I’m certainly cycling through all my INXS records today…

It’s a dark ride out there folks. These are dark times and many of us are feeling frustrated, discouraged and outright down. It all just confirms that it’s a dark ride, folks. Take care of each other. Reach out to someone if you’re worried. Be safe.

Cheers!

New Single: Neil Young’s “Try” From the Long Awaited Vault LP, ‘Homegrown’

image

I must admit, I was delighted to hear that Neil  Young was dipping into the vaults again to release another one of his “lost albums,” the legendary Homegrown. This release follows 2017’s vault release of Hitchhiker (recorded in 1976) which we just loved down here at B&V, LP Review: Neil Young’s Album From His Vault, ‘Hitchhiker’. I highly recommend any Neil Young fans out there to check out his excellent Archive website https://neilyoungarchives.com where you can stream literally anything from his vast catalog. It’s free during the Pandemic Lockdown although in normal times there’s a subscription fee. Homegrown comes out next month in June but in the meantime Neil has released the first track from the upcoming album, “Try.” I had actually expected to have Homegrown in my hands already and was holding off writing about “Try” because I’d expected this record in April… and then in May. I’m pretty sure the June date is a good one.

Neil Young is, if anything, a confounding artist. Where so many artists struggle to come up with material and wait years and years between albums, Neil has numerous albums that he recorded and then decided to shelve. The list of these “lost albums” that have either circulated as bootlegs or merely been whispered about is long: Homegrown, Chrome Dreams, and Homefires just to name a few. Neil was even so unhappy with his original taping for MTV’s Unplugged, that he went in and recorded a second one which was eventually released. No one knows what happened to the original recording… sitting in the vaults with all the other ones I suppose.

Homegrown was recorded in a very fertile patch for Neil, 1974-1975. He released the superb On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night, although admittedly the latter was recorded in 1973. He also toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in the summer of 1974, put out Zuma with Crazy Horse in ’75 and recorded Long May You Run with Stephen Stills as kind of an answer to Crosby-Nash putting out a series of LPs (Artist Lookback: Crosby, Stills, Or Nash – The Essential Solo and Duo Albums). That’s a hell of a lot going on.

Unfortunately for Neil, at the time he recorded Homegrown in 1974-75, his relationship with his then girlfriend Carrie Snodgress was coming to an end. He pulled Homegrown from release and put out Tonight’s the Night instead as he felt Homegrown was “too personal.” While many of the tunes on Homegrown have come out in other forms – rerecorded with Crazy Horse or with slightly different arrangements – it’ll be fascinating to hear these tracks as he originally intended them. Like Hitchhiker I suspect that most of these songs will be acoustic based.

Considering this was an album recorded during a break up and Young described it as “too personal,” I figured everything on it would be, well, dark. But as I said, Neil can be confounding. The superb “Try” sounds almost hopeful. It’s a bit of a jaunty tune. It starts with a lazy drum and bass. The opening lyrics grabbed me, “Darlin’ the door to my heart is open, and I’ve been hopin’ that you won’t be the one to struggle with the key…” A man open heartedly asking for a reconciliation, I can relate to that. The song is light and airy. Over strumming acoustic Neil doesn’t sound forlorn at all. He quotes little sayings from Snodgress throughout the track. I love the lyric, apparently something Carrie said, “I’d like to take a chance, but shit Mary I can’t dance.” This is a great song, the melody just bores into me. Considering he released versions of many of the songs on Homegrown over the years, it’s hard to understand how this one stayed in the can.

If anything, this little taste, “Try” has whetted my appetite for even more from Homegrown. Neil seems to really be opening up the archives and that is a very good thing indeed… After last year’s great reunion LP with Crazy Horse, Colorado (LP Review: ‘Colorado’ the Return of Neil Young & Crazy Horse With Nils Lofgren!) this looks to be a great year for all of us Neil Young fans.

 

 

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

unnamed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A

B

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

C

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

D and E

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

F

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

G

H

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

I

Skipped it.

J

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

K

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

L

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

M

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

N

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

O

P

Q

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

R

S

T

  • Television, Marquee Moon – A shimmering guitar masterpiece.

U

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

V

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

W

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

X

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

Y

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

Z

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

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

Cheers!

I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990

unnamed

Since none of us will be seeing any concerts soon, I thought I’d reflect on the biggest show I ever attended…

After college, as I’ve often complained about in these pages, I took a job for a mammoth corporation who sent me, yes, to Arkansas. I’ll be the first to admit that Kansas City isn’t Paris, but Arkansas felt like exile, especially in the beginning when I was placed in a small town named Ft. Smith, Arkansas. More like Ft. Hell, Arkansas. Back then no one under forty should have been stationed in Ft. Hell. It felt like the most remote corner of the universe, although admittedly it was only 5 hours from everywhere (Dallas, KC, Shreveport, Memphis). There was a guy in the office who loved Ft. Smith. He had been born there, married there, raised kids there and for all I know he died there. I get it, he was a native son and he loved it. He also used to pull his suit pants up to his nipples…no accounting for taste as the saying goes. He used to stand at my desk and espouse the virtues of his hometown… I always just kinda mumbled, quoting Muddy Waters, “Yeah man, but, uh, “I Can’t Get No Grindin’.”” I guess I was too much of a “yankee.”

By 1989 they’d moved me to Fayetteville, Arkansas, a move I believe that was made out of pity rather than cold profit and loss. That place was infinitely better. There was a college and a groovy little entertainment area on Dixon Street. My friend Ross and I used to pub crawl that street but those memories are more than a little blurry. The only good thing about Arkansas was befriending Ross, who remains a dear friend to this day.  I remember sitting on the used hide-a-bed couch in my apartment (with its lovely cigarette burn) watching the Berlin Wall come down that November. That was a cool part of history to watch happen. However, from Arkansas I thought I was watching it all unfold from another planet. Despite Fayetteville being a better place for a young man, I knew I had to get out of there. History was taking place and I was missing it.

I decided that November, watching the Wall fall that I was done with Arkansas and the mammoth corporation. No more working for the man! I would finish the year, cash any check they gave me and hightail it out of there. In February of 1990 I came careening into my parent’s driveway in my U-Haul with my meager possessions and moved back in with them. They were thrilled. My father didn’t talk to me for six months. It was a pretty hostile atmosphere so I didn’t really hang around at my folks’ house much. Instead I hit the road. I drove to see friends I hadn’t seen in a few years. I was “On the Road.” I went from Kansas City to Dallas to Louisville where I attended the Kentucky Derby, something every bourbon lover should do. Mint Juleps for everyone. All that Jack Kerouac’ing around was fun, but in my heart of hearts, I wanted to go to Europe. Many of my friends had gone, either with siblings or alone and I wanted to tour the continent as well.

A guy I knew, with the unfortunate nickname Flytrap, loaned me his giant backpack which was really nice. When I went over to pick it up, he said, “You know Roger Waters is going to perform The Wall at the Berlin Wall… surely you’re gonna go?” Actually I’d heard but no, I wasn’t planning on it. “You’ve got to!!” exclaimed Flytrap. Apparently I wasn’t the only one watching the Berlin Wall come tumbling down. Roger Waters in an interview had said flippantly to a reporter, “I’ll perform The Wall when the Berlin Wall comes down.” Originally, Pink Floyd had only performed The Wall in the States at 10-gig stints in New York and another in Los Angeles. In the lawsuit against his former mates in Pink Floyd, Waters had won the rights to The Wall and the band got to carry on… The Wall was expensive to stage and not practical in an arena. He was doing it to raise money for the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief, so it was for a good cause.

The Wall is one of those seminal albums for me. It was the first Floyd album to come out after I’d turned on to rock and roll. I can remember riding in my buddy Brewster’s Mazda, he had a great stereo, and cranking “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. 1)/The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick In the Wall (Pt. 2).” After hearing “Comfortably Numb” in that same car, I went out and plunked down the then hefty investment of $16 to buy the double-album. Sonically I had heard nothing like it. I had Dark Side of the Moon, but this rock opera/concept album blew my mind… But actually attending the performance with 350,000 strangers…in Berlin? I was too small minded to think it was even possible. But somehow, I had to make it happen. There was no internet back in those caveman days so I would have to figure out how to get tickets once I got over to Europe. At least now I had a mission.

I left the United States on July 3rd and arrived in Rome, Italy on July 4th. I guess I’m not a Yankee Doodle Dandy, leaving my country on its birthday. When I arrived in Rome they were experiencing a 100 year heat wave. I didn’t sleep on the plane and after securing my hotel room I got lost looking for it… the street signs were up on the buildings in that ancient city, not on the stop lights and I couldn’t navigate. I was, to say the least, addled. I was accosted by a group of gypsies, but before anything weird could go down, in frustration I let out a giant Ginsberg-ian “Howl.” That scared them and calmed me down… I found the street signs and breezed to my hotel. It was a wobbly start.

Rome was a hot, hazy blur but by the time I moved on to Florence, I’d gotten my travel legs. Eventually I went on to Venice and then to Munich. I remember pulling into the train station in Munich and someone was blaring AC/DC. I love Germany. I found a phone number to buy tickets to the impending Waters concert (billed as Roger Waters and Special Guests) on a poster and called and bought a ticket. They said it would be at “will-call,” which I never found. Luckily the concert wasn’t sold out and I was able to buy another ticket, pictured above, the day of the show. By the time the concert rolled around I was an old-pro, hardened veteran at the whole traveling by train thing.

I was hanging in Amsterdam prior the concert. There were no hotel rooms in Berlin. I’d actually been in Berlin prior to that and had gotten the lay of the land before coming to Amsterdam. My plan was to take an overnight train into Berlin, find a locker for my backpack and go to the show. There was no train out of Berlin until the next morning and I figured I’d do what I’d seen so many travelers do, sleep at the train station on a bench. When I got to Berlin on the 21st, all the lockers were taken in the train station. I didn’t want to lug the enormous backpack to the concert… I was starting to panic when at the last second I spotted an open locker. Another American was standing there and when I exultantly threw my backpack into the locker he looked at me and said, “Do you realize how lucky you are to have gotten that locker? It’s probably the last one in Berlin.” Indeed I am my friend, indeed I am.

The stage was set up on a patch of ground between Potsdamer Platz and the famous Brandenburg Gate. The area was known as “No Man’s Land” as it was a patch between East and West, between Communism and Democracy. Many people had been shot trying to escape tyranny on that very spot… This was hallowed ground indeed. The gates opened at 2pm in the afternoon and after rebuying another ticket, I was in line when they opened. I had never been that early for a show… or that sober. I didn’t even sniff a beer before the show. I had never seen a crowd this big in my life. I was able to get relatively close to the stage, but it was far enough that I thank God they had video screens.

I bought a bottle of water in a crush of people at the concession stand and took up my spot in the middle a fair ways back but still able to see everybody on stage… they weren’t so tiny I couldn’t make out who was who. I remember an Irish band playing, it might have been the Chieftans. Then the Hooters came on… I was not impressed with the Hooters. But then, the Band came out and did a set. Obviously Robbie Robertson wasn’t there (and Richard Manuel was sadly already gone) but Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm were all there. They even drug Ronnie Hawkins out to recreate his “Who Do You Love” from The Last Waltz. That was truly great. I’d have rather seen Dylan pop out than Ronnie Hawkins but dirty travelers can’t be choosers.

I don’t know why but there was a moment that has always stuck with me from that dusty afternoon surrounded by people. In between acts, they were playing music over the PA system. They put on Prince’s “Sign ‘O’ the Times” and the crowd went nuts. It was the first time I’d ever heard the song… I’d kind of lost track of Prince after Around The World In A Day. Maybe it was the huge cheer of the crowd, or the great sound system, but I’ve loved that song ever since…

Finally, the main event began. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the “Special Guests” and I was wondering who might show up. When the show started and Waters’ back up band, the Bleeding Heart Band launched into the opening track, “In the Flesh,” I realized that Germany’s own, the Scorpions were on stage. I love Klaus Meine and he was really into it. This was going to be something very different. I will say all the guest stars Waters brought on stage made this feel like the Who’s Tommy movie. I enjoyed the spectacle but it made me wish Gilmour, Wright and Mason were there instead… It was like a photo copy of the Mona Lisa. It was still a great, great show… but I’m a purist.

As the performers sang, the crew slowly built the wall around them. There’s the sound of a helicopter early on the album and for this performance Waters flew over in a real helicopter… knowing the history of that patch of land it sort of gave me goosebumps. My memory of specific guest stars is spotty… I remember Cyndi Lauper coming out for “Another Brick In the Wall (Pt 2)” and she was awful. Apparently Joni Mitchell was there and I have no recollection of that. Sinead O’Connor was great during “Mother.” They brought Bryan Adams out for the rocking “Young Lust” and I guess that was an appropriate choice at the time. I read later that Rod Stewart was the original choice so I look back at that performance as a bit of a missed opportunity. Jerry Hall did the “Are all these your guitars?” monologue and it was the low moment in the performance… her reading was as flat as a pancake, truly cringe-worthy.

The highlight for me was naturally “Comfortably Numb.” The Bleeding Heart Band did a great job with the material and by the time they were playing from behind the actual wall, I was only slightly still missing Gilmour. When they played “Comfortably Numb” taking the Gilmour vocal was none other than Van Morrison. I love Van the man. That was truly a great moment to witness. “The Trial” was over the top… The ultimate moment for me came at the end of “The Trial,” when the crowd was chanting (along with the band), “tear down the wall, tear down the wall.” The crowd of lusty Germans were screaming so loud you could feel it in your chest. Right before the wall fell, they projected an image of the actual Berlin Wall’s graffiti onto the giant white space that was “The Wall.” A crowd that was loud before got even louder, their ecstatic cries practically lifting me off my feet. I felt like I was floating, it was an ecstatic moment…and then the wall fell and it was fucking pandemonium. People were suddenly hugging me. I had tears in my eyes.

Waters and the entire company came out and did his solo track, “The Tide Is Turning” from Radio K.A.O.S., and it was the perfect choice. For the first time since sitting on the couch watching the Berlin Wall fall while exiled in Arkansas, I felt like I was alive again. I was back in the middle of something great.

Was it the greatest concert ever? I can’t say it was, but it was a very special show at a very special location at a very special point in time and history. I’m glad I got that gentle nudge from Flytrap that helped spur me to go. By the end of the show, I’d floated backwards and when it was over I fled to the train station where I discovered they’d scheduled a midnight train to Amsterdam to get rid of some of the concert goers. I jumped on that packed train and by the next day was sitting in a bar named the Bull Dog where I debated the Waters vs Pink Floyd issue with some guy from Cleveland.

Needless to say, it was quite a trip. As I like to say, buy the ticket, see the show. Always!

Cheers!

Lookback: Alice In Chains, The EPs – ‘Sap’ and ‘Jar of Flies’

0001386236

I don’t know why, perhaps it’s the bleak times we find ourselves in, but I have been really drawn to Alice In Chains’ music lately. Since these aren’t the sunniest of times, I’m perhaps making a mental-health tactical error listening to so much Alice In Chains but I’m doing it anyway. Don’t get me wrong I’ve always liked Alice In Chains, this isn’t a sudden epiphany or anything. I think it was when I assembled my smack-inspired playlist B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin that I reconnected with AIC. I picked a number of songs from their landmark album Dirt for that playlist and those songs sounded so great to me (it had been a while), I couldn’t help plunging back into the Layne Staley-era catalog. And by catalog I mean the three proper albums and the two EPs they released before he sadly passed. (I’m skipping We Die Young as I consider it an extended single…)

Of course Alice In Chains road into our consciousness on that early 90s Grunge wave. At the time, I thought Grunge would be like punk rock in the late 70s. Punk emerged to challenge the rock establishment who’d gotten fat and happy and yes, overblown. Punk stripped rock and roll back down to its primal roots. For the most part, the established bands merely absorbed the energy of punk and got back to a more lean and rocking sound (How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s). I figured Grunge would just be the next generational kick in the ass. Unfortunately, Grunge killed everything that came before it. On our first date, the Rock Chick commented on Cobain killing all the 80s bands she dug, hence her name the Rock Chick. It’s how I knew we’d be together. When Grunge petered out, there was no one left standing which is why we’re subjected to a bunch of synth-based pop stars who masquerade as rock and roll now. I never Panic and I’m never At The Disco.

I remember watching VH1 (not to date myself as old), and they did a retrospective on Grunge’s impact on the 80s stars. They had Mike Reno, the lead singer of Loverboy (gads) and he was lamenting that Kurt Cobain killed his career. I think Loverboy was already headed down the tubes, Mike. Reno is swollen and fat on the show. He looks like someone who swallowed Mike Reno vs the actual Mike Reno. My favorite 80s star interviewed on that show was Lita Ford. She was sitting on the patio of her home on the beach – clearly she got out of the 80s having done pretty well for herself – wrapped in a blanket and she said something like, “Yeah Kurt Cobain killed all the 80s bands… what a drag.” What a drag indeed. On this VH1 show, they had someone from a hair band, I don’t recall which one, who said he’d asked the record company about ditching the big hair and spandex, maybe wearing jeans on stage and the record company told him it was “off brand.” He said the next time he was in his record company’s office, there was a giant poster of Alice In Chains behind the receptionist and they didn’t have big hair and were wearing jeans. I guess we should always act on our instincts…

I always considered AIC to be one of the four “big” or “most important” Grunge bands… Perhaps through the lens of Lita Ford or Mike Reno we might describe them as the Four Horsemen of the 90s Rock Apocalypse: Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. I always thought of Alice In Chains as being distinctly Grunge. The other three bands have, to my ears, influences that they wear on their sleeves – PJ (classic rock), Nirvana (punk), and Soundgarden (soaring heavy metal). However, having gone back and listened to all three of the Layne LPs, you can hear kind of a death metal, atonal thing happening in the music. I love Jerry Cantrell’s heavy slabs of guitar and Sean Kinney’s drumming. That gloomy, moody sound certainly helps underpin the lyrics – depression, despair, isolation and addiction are common themes for AIC.

Alice In Chains were a big band – Dirt was 3x platinum and Alice In Chains was 2x platinum – but I always felt like they sort of underachieved a bit. The problem they had was, well, Layne Staley’s heroin addiction. They had to cancel out of much of the tour for Dirt. His addiction was so bad they didn’t even try to tour after Alice In Chains. I always wondered if the cover art on that latter album, a three-legged dog, was a swipe at Staley by his three other band members… kind of a “where are you?” message. They started off with a strong debut, Facelift. “Man In A Box” from that LP is one of the best songs ever. “Sea of Sorrow” and “Bleed the Freak” are amongst my favorites from AIC. Dirt was (with one exception) their critical and their commercial peak. The final Staley LP, the eponymously titled one aka “Tripod,” felt like a bit of a missed opportunity. Staley had deteriorated too far by that point. I still like that album but songs like “Frogs” and “Sludge Factory” just sort of miss the mark for me.

Eventually, the addiction claimed Layne Staley’s life. His story is perhaps the saddest I can think of. He’d locked himself in his Seattle condo and become utterly reclusive. His weight dropped down to a reported 86 lbs. He was emaciated and pale. His friends, bandmates and family continued to reach out to him and he wouldn’t respond. In April of 2002 he overdosed on a “speedball” a combination of heroin and cocaine. His body wasn’t discovered for two weeks. It was an awful end…

Beyond all of that, and beyond the three Layne Staley-era LPs, Alice In Chains did something interesting in those early days. Between each proper LP, they released an EP. For those not familiar with that vernacular, LP means “long player” aka, a full album length record. EP stands for “extended player” which means it’s longer than a single, with perhaps 3,4 or a few more songs, but not quite an album length disc. AIC’s two EPs from that era were different from the their main body in work as they were more acoustic based. There’s still some electric guitar to be found there but it’s more of an accent. There is an increased focus on Layne Staley and guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Jerry Cantrell’s harmonies. To me, the EPs they put out are their most brilliant work. Everyone should seek both of these out if you haven’t already. If you are familiar with these records, and  most people are, they are absolutely worth rediscovering.

Sap (1992)

Of the two EPs, I think Sap was the most surprising one. No one expected, after Facelift, to hear AIC go acoustic. There are 5 songs on the EP, but the last one is an untitled joke of a song so I really don’t consider that in the mix here. “Got Me Wrong” is probably the best known track and it’s great, but all three other tracks are phenomenal. The opener, “Brother” which they played on their exceptional Unplugged album (B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs) sends the message that this EP is going to be something completely different from them. This music is so much more nuanced and layered than anything on the debut. Although, admittedly “Got You Wrong” could have been on Facelift or Dirt and I wouldn’t have been surprised. “I Am Inside” is haunting brilliance. I had completely forgotten that “Right Turn” has a Chris Cornell & Mark Arm cameo… it’s a great song that no one ever talks about. Everybody talks about the next EP… but this one is sublime.

Jar of Flies (1994)

This was the EP that brought me into the Alice In Chains fold. Back in the early/mid 90s I had this friend, Walt (name changed to protect the guilty) who when we were partying, invariably around four in the morning would say, “Hey, put on Jar of Flies.” His father was a principal where I went to high school and once threatened to pull out my rib cage if I didn’t stop terrorizing my Geometry teacher… the guy was an awful instructor and wasn’t engaging me mentally, but I digress. I stopped acting up, I’ll tell you that. Anyway, Jar of Flies is simply brilliant. The moody, atmospheric “Rotten Apple” opens the EP and the Cantrell/Staley harmonizing is hypnotizing. There’s not a bad moment on this thing. I think they released every song as a single – “Nutshell,” “I Stay Away,” “No Excuses” and “Don’t Follow” are all great tracks that follow the same template. I even like the instrumental, “Whale & Wasp.” Staley was fully engaged here and wrote the lyrics for four of the 6 tracks (I’m not counting the instrumental track here, obviously). To me this disc represents the height of Layne Staley’s abilities. While this EP is hugely popular and well-known, in these dark times it just felt right to highlight it as a “must-hear.” Its certainly earned a rediscovery.

Layne Staley was a great singer and a true talent. Alas, heroin snatched another artist. Alice In Chains with him in front were like a comet… they burned bright and broad only to snuff itself out way too soon. Alice In Chains has gone on since then with a new singer, William Duvall, who I saw open for the Stones. They’re still a solid band and a few tracks have caught my attention, “Your Decision” springs to mind, but they haven’t fully captured my ear the way the classic line up did. If you’ve got the emotional stability in these dark times, I urge you all to put these two brilliant, acoustic EPs on and turn them up loud.

With things “reopening” please be smart and keep yourself protected. Me, I’m going to continue my “Boo Radley” from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ impersonation and stay hidden in the attic until things clear up.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

B&V Playlist: Happy Mother’s Day Playlist… Probably Safest To Not Play For Mom

 

unnamed

“I hear “Mama” sounds the same in any tongue” – David Gilmour, “In Any Tongue”

I see that the calendar has rolled around to yet another “Hallmark Holiday,” namely Mother’s Day. I don’t know how this thing sneaks up on me every year. I’ll have to make the annual rush trip to the card shop, decked out in a mask and gloves… This year I’ll have to mail mom her card even though she lives in the same city as I do. Such is life in a pandemic.

I know there are all kinds of moms out there. Good ones, bad ones, tall ones, short ones, all kinds. When I refer to my mother, I tend to refer to her as “my sainted mother.” A lot of people say that about their mothers, but in this case, I really mean it. My mother is one of the nicest human beings you’re ever going to meet. If by chance I meet someone who knows my parents, inevitably the person says something along the lines of, “You’re mother is the sweetest person.” Which is probably confusing for most people  who meet me when they are forced to ponder how such a wonderful person (and she is wonderful) produced such a miscreant.

My first memory of my mother, and I’m willing to admit this may be apocryphal in nature, is riding in the back seat of a police car. No, I wasn’t arrested. I was probably two, which makes me think the memory was implanted in my head by hearing the story so many times. I was learning to tie my shoes. My mother was pregnant with my brother. For some reason my parents took me to the hardware store. They were looking for something and I wandered off. My shoe was untied and I swear in my mind I can see my tiny foot as I placed it on a stack of paint cans to tie my shoe. My father says he heard a crash, glanced down the aisle and all he could see were my legs sticking out from a pile of paint cans. I had a huge gash in my forehead, blood everywhere. My mom grabbed me and the cops grabbed my mom and rushed me to the hospital. I remember looking up at my mom’s face, bathed in the siren’s red glare as she tried to soothe me on the ride to the hospital. Maybe that’s why I’ve always thought of my mother as an angel. Paging Dr. Freud.

I feel bad for my mom. She had to play shuttle diplomat most of her life. She still does. She was the lone female in a small family surrounded by my father, me and my brother… none of whom got along particularly well in the old days. She would have to wander our house between whatever neutral corners that we’d all retreated to in order to avoid each other. I remember one Mother’s Day asking my dad what he was getting her for Mother’s Day… His reply always stuck with me, “Nothing…she’s not my mother.” There was none of that gross calling your wife “mother” at my house… Which, let’s face it, is super creepy.

I realize that the whole dynamic of mothers and daughters are completely different. Early in my tenure as the Evil Stepdad, I would drive my daughter to school every day. To torture her, I would tune the radio to NPR and make her listen to talk radio the bane of a junior high kid’s existence. I was the Evil Stepdad after all, so why not educate the child in the car. She would retaliate by wearing an entire bottle of perfume which was tough to stomach in a small car. One day on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ they had an author of a book about “mothers and daughters.” She was going on and on about mothers saying the most horrible things to their daughters because they thought they were “helping.” Stuff like, “I really liked your hair better when it was long,” or “Why in the world did you get bangs?” Usually when I pulled up to the school my daughter would spring from the car like she was being shot out of a cannon. On that day, as this lady author spun tales of mothers doing and saying horrible things, my daughter stayed in the car and turned up the volume. She and the Rock Chick were extremely tight even in those difficult adolescent days. I guess mother/daughter relationships are weird in their own right, maybe weirder.

In honor of all of you out there with complicated relationships with your mom (and whose isn’t?) we’ve compiled some of our favorite songs about moms. This isn’t going to be like a country song where it’s all sentimental misty-eyed love for mom. This playlist explores a lot of the more complicated emotions that are associated with moms. Some of my choices may leave you scratching your head, so I included an explanation of why I included it below. In some songs the mother might only be a part of a story with a broader meaning. I was surprised at how many songs about moms consist of conversations between sons/daughters and the mothers… maybe its the fact that so many of them are giving advice all the time, wanted or not. Maybe we just all have things we want to say to our mothers. There were a lot songs with “mama” in the title but they were mostly from the 70s where dudes called their girlfriends (or more appropriately their “main squeezes”) mama. I left those off the list, it was too close to that calling your wife “mother” thing. Creepy. In some of these songs the mother is only a peripheral figure in the story but if the vibe fit, I went for it. Again, these are just some of our favorites and it’s not meant to be definitive we’re just trying to put a smile on your face.

As always you can find our playlist on Spotify under the title “BourbonAndVinyl.net Mother’s Day Playlist…Probably Safest To Not Play for Mom.” As usual I’m all over the place here from country to heavy metal. Here’s the link, with our explanations below.

**Technical Difficulties Prevent Posting the Spotify Link**

  1. The Rolling Stones, “Mother’s Little Helper” – What mother doesn’t need a little “help” now and again?
  2. The Beatles, “Julia” – A song John Lennon wrote for his mother, Julia, who died when he was 17 when she was hit by a drunk driver… it was an off duty cop, no less.
  3. Norah Jones, “Tell Yer Mama” – A track in which Norah suggests to an ex that he should tell his mother he was raised wrong. Tough break-up tune. Mom is only a suggestion here, but it felt right.
  4. The Vaughn Brothers, “Baboom/Mama Said” – Where Jimmy and Stevie Ray trade guitar licks over the voice of their mother…
  5. Tracy Bonham, “Mother Mother” – I think Ms. Bonham captures the sometimes volatile nature of mother-daughter relationships here… but what do I know?
  6. The Rolling Stones, “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby” – I’ve never understood completely why this mother was hiding in the shadows. It’s perhaps a mystery only Mick Jagger can solve.
  7. Cowboy Junkies, “Musical Key” – Beautiful song about both parents really. “My mother sang the sweetest melody, although she never sang in a musical key.” An ex of mine, back in the day, wrote these lyrics down in a homemade Mother’s Day card and that stuck with me…
  8. Bruce Springsteen, “The Wish” – Bruce wrote so many (angry) songs about his dad, I guess it was finally his mom’s turn. He did this in his On Broadway show so it must be important to him (Review: Netflix’s ‘Springsteen On Broadway’ – The Artist’s Dialogue With Fans Comes to the Great White Way).
  9. Cream, “Mother’s Lament” – Cream “taking the piss” in a little humorous sing-a-long that I like to imagine was sung in taverns in England back in the day.
  10. Tom Petty, “Southern Accents” – Weird choice here, I know. Mom only makes a cameo but what a powerful image: “There’s a dream I keep having, where my momma comes to me And kneels down over by the window, and says a prayer for me…” One of Petty’s most evocative tunes.
  11. Joe Walsh & Barnstorm, “Mother Says” – I love Joe Walsh’s guitar playing. His solo stuff deserves more attention.
  12. Queen, “Tie Your Mother Down” – I’m not sure why mom needs to be tied down, but what Freddie Mercury wants, Freddie Mercury gets.
  13. Danzig, “Mother” – I think this song is hysterical. Glenn Danzig singing to someone’s mother, “and if you wanna find hell with me…” just kills me. It was either going to be this song or that crazy song of the same name by the Police, but I hate that one.
  14. Paul McCartney, “Only Mama Knows” – Great, late period rocker from McCartney.
  15. Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried” – My favorite song by Hags.
  16. John Lennon, “Mother” – A truly harrowing song where Lennon employs techniques he learned in scream therapy.
  17. David Crosby & Graham Nash, “Mama Lion” – It was written about Joni Mitchell, but I like it on this list anyway. Whose mother out there wasn’t a lion when it came to protecting you?
  18. Social Distortion, “Mommy’s Little Monster” – A song best used to describe me or my wife’s cat.
  19. Warren Zevon, “Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded” – The mother here was his maternal grandmother who was not crazy about Warren’s father.
  20. Randy Newman, “Mama Told Me Not to Come” – Mothers are always giving advice. Too bad we rarely listen. Three Dog Night had a hit with this but I prefer Randy’s original version.
  21. U2, “Iris (Hold Me Close)” – Bono writing about his late mother. It all reminds me of how lucky I was to have my mom.
  22. Ozzy Osbourne, “Mama, I’m Coming Home” – A phone call from a lonely pay phone that I made in college to my own mother springs to mind when I hear this song.
  23. Pink Floyd, “Mother” – “Mother should I build a wall?” A song about a, shall we say, overprotective mother?
  24. Dave Matthews Band, “Mother Father” – A nice little political rocker from DMB where the protagonist asks his mother & father, how did the world get into such a state? More relevant today than when it came out.
  25. Paul Simon, “Mother and Child Reunion” – Named after a dish in a restaurant that had both chicken and egg. Catchy, prime, rhymin’ Simon.
  26. Ozzy Osbourne, “Flying High Again” – This song sums up my entire adolescence…”Mama’s gonna worry, I’ve been a bad bad boy, no use sayin’ sorry, it’s something that I enjoy.” Perfect.
  27. James Brown, “Mother Popcorn” – I won’t even venture a guess as to what Soul Brother No. 1 is talking about here.
  28. David Gilmour, “In Any Tongue” – The best, most important track on this list. See the quote above.
  29. Metallica, “Mama Said” – Great deep track off of Load. 
  30. Elvis Presley, “That’s Alright” – Written for his mother. His first hit, I believe.
  31. Eric Clapton, “Motherless Child” – I think this is the first of two distinctly different versions of this song Clapton did. Or maybe both songs are from the same traditional song. I feel badly for those without a mother.
  32. Bob Seger, “Momma” – Great Seger from before Live Bullet made him famous.
  33. Bruce Springsteen, “The Hitter” – Another conversation with mom song. A burned-out boxer returns home and is trying to talk his mom into letting him in.
  34. Eric Clapton, “Motherless Children” – This one is from his comeback 461 Ocean Boulevard. 
  35. Neil Young, “New Mama” – “New mama’s got a sun in her eyes, no clouds are in my changing skies…”
  36. Aerosmith, “Mama Kin” – Steven Tyler’s favorite of their songs.
  37. Talking Heads, “Mommy, Daddy, You and I” – A disturbing tale of what sounds like a family of refugees heading north to escape… what?
  38. David Crosby & Graham Nash, “Carry Me” – This time it’s David Crosby writing about his newly deceased mother.
  39. Elvis Presley, “Mama Liked The Roses” – Hearing Elvis sing about his mama is almost as moving as hearing the man sing gospel.
  40. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Mommy Where’s Daddy?” – Goofballs singing a goofball song. I always laugh when I hear this song.
  41. The Beatles, “Your Mother Should Know” – She should… and she often does know, just ask her.
  42. The Who, “Squeeze Box” – Why does the mother have a squeeze box? Why does she play it all night? What is happening in this household? So many questions.
  43. Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” – Epic song. So much more than a song about his mother, but I couldn’t resist. It’s another track where there’s a conversation between an artist and his mother.
  44. U2, “Mothers of the Disappeared” – A political track about the mothers under Pinochet’s cruel rule, dancing in the village square to symbolically shame the regime into freeing their sons who were “disappeared.”
  45. Van Morrison, “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” – Van Morrison closing us out on a soulful rendition of what may be the same song Clapton did… A perfect reminder of how happy we should be with having any mother at all.

I’m sure you all have a favorite song that makes you think about your mother. Or a song that reminds you of her… Let me know what it is in the comments and I’ll add it to the playlist on Spotify. I hope you all have a safe, healthy, socially distanced Mother’s Day out there… Hint though, you’ll probably have a better day if you avoid playing this playlist for mom…

Cheers!