RIP Ric Ocasek – Singer, Songwriter, Producer for New Wave/Rock Band The Cars Has Passed Away

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*Photo taken from the internet, from ABC News and likely copyrighted

Well this one is gonna leave a mark… more bad rock and roll news this past weekend when it was announced that the Cars’ lead singer, rhythm guitarist, songwriter and all around seemingly nice guy Ric Ocasek passed away peacefully in his sleep Sunday. On the heels of Eddie Money’s loss on Friday, it was a tough weekend. While my love of Eddie Money may have been singular to me, everybody loves/loved the Cars. My heart goes out to all his family and friends.

People tend to think of music in terms of “decades.” We often hear about the 60s or the 70s when people try to quantify and qualify music. I guess if you’re trying to get your head around a certain era or a certain sound it makes some sense. I don’t think music, music trends or the arc of certain bands’ careers fit neatly into those boxes. The Cars (and well, Eddie Money for that matter) certainly don’t fit neatly into the 70s or the 80s box. There was a decade in music from 1975 to 1985 that you can carve out, with it’s own distinct vibe and that’s where the Cars fit in (and really it’s more like 1978 to 1988). You could argue that with Van Halen, they may have ruled that “sub-decade.” Many of those bands started off as straight forward (for lack of a better description) 70’s rock bands and then morphed in the era of synths, drum machines and MTV to survive the first part of the 80s. No one made that musical transition more seamlessly than the Cars, helmed by Ric Ocasek.

My god, the music this band made was just phenomenal. The Cars sprang seemingly out of nowhere from Boston (although Ric Ocasek and bassist/vocalist Benjamin Orr had been knocking around in bands long before that). They were a quintessential Boston band. Hell, Ocasek had even hired David Robinson of the Boston band The Modern Lovers (Digging In Deeper: B&V Artists/Albums To Expand Your Music Collection – Don’t Be Afraid!) as his drummer… both Ocasek and Jonathan Richman (leader of the Lovers) were huge fans of the Velvet Underground whose music influenced both groups.  Inspired and excited with his new drummer, Ocasek responded with a batch of songs that would become the Cars’ (Ocasek, Orr, Robinson with keyboardist Greg Hawkes, and lead guitarist Elliott Easton) masterpiece debut album, The Cars. They should have named that album The Cars Greatest Hits because it is a perfect record – and one of the greatest debut albums of all time. They were able to fuse rock and roll and the blossoming New Wave sound into something uniquely their own.  The songs on that debut record… “Good Times Roll,” “Moving In Stereo,” “My Best Friends Girl,” “Just What I Needed.” Big rock with great, twitchy vocals. Ocasek and Orr’s vocals with Easton’s economical guitar solos and Hawkes ever present keyboards was the perfect mix.

They followed up in 1979 with what may be my favorite Cars’ LP, Candy-O. The Vargas painting on the front cover, with a beautiful woman on the hood of a muscle car… it’s iconic to me. There was no sophomore slump for the Cars. You couldn’t escape those first two albums, they were so huge…those records were the soundtrack to my high school years. They’d had so much success Ocasek was able to indulge his more experimental side with their third record, 1980’s Panorama. While that was a commercial and critical setback, it still had some great songs – “Gimme Some Slack,” “Touch And Go,” and a song I like to play for my wife, “Don’t Tell Me No.” I think that’s when I saw them play on Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow show, the closest I ever got to seeing them live… They rebounded in 1981 with the more “pop” album Shake It Up which has my all-time favorite Cars’ track, “Since You’re Gone.” As a brokenhearted teenager, post-breakup (my first), mooning over lyrics like “Since you’re gone, well, the moonlight ain’t so great” was habitual.

It was 1984’s Heartbeat City that blew the Cars into the stratosphere… they ruled the airwaves and MTV. With hits like “Drive” (sung beautifully by Orr), “You Might Think” and “Magic” the Cars were even bigger than in the early stage of their career – and believe me they were already huge. It was at that time when geeky looking Ric Ocasek ended up dating and marrying supermodel Paulina Porizkova, leading all of us nerds out here to think we had a shot with the prettiest woman in our lives. Any time I saw an average dude with a smokin’ hot lady, I’d say, “That’s the luckiest guy you’re gonna find, this side of Ric Ocasek.” There was a lot of conflict on Heartbeat City – Orr wanted to write more, Robinson was pissed as Ocasek used drum machines vs his drumming. They never quite recovered from that conflict… after the uninspired Door to Door the Cars split up for good. Orr and Ocasek never reconciled and Orr passed in 2000… sad indeed.

The thing that really set the Cars apart, for me, are the lyrics. Ocasek wrote more like the Beat poets he admired than a traditional songwriter who tells a story, like say, Springsteen. The lyrics for “Hello Again” read like a string of bumper stickers: “You might have forgot/the journey ends/you tied your knots/you made your friends/you left the scene/without a trace/one hand on the ground/one hand in space.” That’s a great way to start a song. Bowie is always heralded as the artist who was out there for the misfits. And yes, he was. But Ocasek ranks right up there with Bowie for all of us outcasts. He wrote songs about geeky guys lusting for the prettiest girl in school. It may comes as a surprise to readers of B&V, but I wasn’t exactly “popular” in high school… I blame the acne. Ocasek’s vision spoke to me. He wrote and sang with an icy coolness, a detachment that seemed to come from the outcast, the person sitting on the edge of the party, people watching. And yet, he still wrote with a vulnerability that was so honest. He did all of that while making us want to dance… the music of the Cars, like much of the music of that decade was just fun.

Ocasek went on to produce for a lot of different bands ranging from Suicide to Weezer, to name but a few. Everyone who worked with him raved about what a great guy he was. Ocasek even produced a couple of tracks for No Doubt which I never realized. He could make edgy music yet had a great ear to make songs radio friendly. He had to be amazing to work with in the studio. The Cars did reunite for one last album in 2011, which was sadly long after Benjamin Orr had passed… I wish he and Ocasek could have reconciled prior to Orr’s death… maybe now they can. The resulting 2011 album Move Like This, with the remaining members of the Cars save Orr was one of those unexpected treats and great, late-career albums that B&V was built on. I would recommend it to anybody. It wasn’t Candy-O, but it was a strong record. Sadly now that sound, that voice has been silenced. All I can think regarding Ric Ocasek is, “since you’re gone, well, nothings makin’ any sense.”

RIP Ric Ocasek. Your music will last forever… and not just because of Phoebe Cates’ topless scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, set to “Moving In Stereo.” Although I’m sure that won’t hurt…

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Friday New Music DJ’ing & Greta Van Fleet’s New Single, “Always There”

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This past Friday was a lot like other Friday’s here at the B&V labs. I had returned from a long week of travel in the service of my corporate masters that found me in Phoenix and St. Louis. I’m usually pretty burned out after all of that “work” and I’m typically anxious to seek the comfort of my own home, my own bar and more importantly my own stereo. The American Royal BBQ was taking place this weekend, and the Rock Chick and I could have headed down there, but it’s only fun if you know someone whose actually competing so you can get free samples of freshly smoked beast. Otherwise you’re just hanging around in a smokey parking lot. I get that experience at Arrowhead Stadium 8 times a year…oh yes, I get my fill on smokey parking lots.

One of the great things about a Friday at home with the Rock Chick is our propensity to start doing some musical exploration. Many a Friday, I’ll turn the DJ duties over to my intrepid wife, the Rock Chick, and she’ll serve up a host of classic rock and alternative tracks that lasts well into the wee hours. Gone are the days where we had our drunken dance parties… now we just drink and rock, and let’s face it, I never danced so much as convulsed. I’m rhythmically challenged on the dance floor.

Lately the DJ parties have gotten even better since we now have Spotify here at the house. We can now actually explore outside the confines of our own music collection. After a long and respectful homage to the late Eddie Money who passed FridayRIP Eddie Money, B&V Mourns The Loss of the “Money Man”, I actually took the DJ helm and found a Spotify playlist, “New Rock.” Pretty straightforward on the title there… Not a hugely creative bunch down there at Spotify… I started paging through all the new music that’s come out and damned if I wasn’t a tad surprised at all the stuff that’s already out or coming out.

After wading through some music I should have avoided (the Goo Goo Dolls are still around? Puddle of Mudd?), I discovered there’s a whole lot of music coming out that I’m excited about. I had heard that Liam Gallagher, erstwhile singer of Oasis had a new album coming but I had no idea he’d put five songs out already. The Who have released their first song from their impending album, which I was thrilled about. It’s been 12 years since their last LP and all I can say is, it’s about time. After that I found a playlist entitled “New Alt” and quickly turned the DJ duties over to my wife… that music is more in her wheel house. I did hear some great new stuff…and yes, eventually we’re going to have talk about this new Iggy Pop album.

All of that said, there was a method to my madness in pulling up the New Rock playlist. I was looking for (and found) the new track from millennial Zeppelin fans Greta Van Fleet. I had heard it and wanted to play it for the Rock Chick. Much has been said and much has been complained about in regards to Greta Van Fleet. Me, I’m a fan. I tend to agree with PNW Bob who says, “they don’t deserve the hype or the backlash.” I still can’t believe it’s been two years since the Rock Chick burst into my office and said, “I don’t know who this Greta Van Fleet chick is but she sounds like Zeppelin…”

The new track, which I’ve read was a surprise, is entitled “Always There.” It was cut for a soundtrack to some movie, “A Million Little Pieces” which I will profess to knowing nothing about. I don’t know whose in the movie, nor do I care. All I care about is new GVF. I actually knew they were in the studio making new music and had heard there might be another album, the follow up to last year’s Anthem of a Peaceful Army, but maybe they just cut this single. I certainly hope we’re treated to more new Greta… I’m seeing them in concert next Saturday with my friend, Drummer Blake and I must say, excitement is brewing here at the B&V labs. Naturally, I will dutifully report in with my thoughts after the concert.

As will be no surprise to recurring readers of B&V, I really like “Always There.” The track starts off as a bit of a strummer… with Jake Kiszka melding acoustic and electric guitars. Josh’s vocal starts nuanced before later turning on the Plant-banshee wail. The real star on this track is Sam Kiszka on bass. His lilting, rolling bass carries the song along and takes it to “Over the Hills And Far Away”-classic territory. Danny Wagner’s drum fills are a perfect compliment to the rolling bass line. At about the half way point Josh turns up the vocal volume and a choir like backing vocal comes in to elevate the whole thing to 11.   Nobody makes music like this any more, especially at their age. I think they’re slowly finding their own voice (despite my “Over the Hills…” comparison, I just can’t stop doing that). I look forward to whatever these guys do next, and I can’t say that about a lot of bands these days.

Do a little musical spelunking next weekend… see if you find something you didn’t know about, it’s good for the soul. And check out this new GVF track, its something that you will definitely enjoy.

Cheers!

RIP Eddie Money, B&V Mourns The Loss of the “Money Man”

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*Photo by your intrepid blogger, of our B&V Eddie Money vinyl collection

All of us here at B&V were stunned when we heard the news today, oh boy, that 70s/80s Rockstar, singer Eddie Money passed away today at the age of 70 from esophageal cancer. I knew he was in ill health and had cancelled his summer tour, but I had no idea it was this serious. My condolences to his family, fans and friends… While most of the headlines today are going to read something along the lines of “Singer of “Two Tickets To Paradise” and “Baby Hold On To Me” has passed away,” there was a lot more to Eddie Money than those two seminal tracks from his debut album. He started as a New York cop and ended as an international rockstar… I’ll never forget his trade mark style of singing out of the side of his mouth. When I took my latest driver’s license photo, right before they snapped the pic, I said out of the side of my mouth, “are you going to take the pic?” When I saw the photo I said to the Rock Chick, “Look, I’m Eddie Money…”

Now many of you may be scratching your head and thinking, Eddie Money? We at B&V are on the record as fans of the Money Man, Humor – The Song Stuck In My Head From Vacation: “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” . For many of us who came of age in the late 70s/early 80s, we remember just how kick ass Eddie Money was. From 1977 to 1986, or 1988 if I’m being generous, Eddie released a series of great, straight forward rock and roll records. Never as important as Springsteen or as popular as Tom Petty, Money was just fun! Bruce may be lurking in the Darkness On The Edge of Town, but Eddie was asking, “Hey, man, uh, Where’s the Party? From Eddie Money to Can’t Hold Back, Eddie’s albums delivered… well, with the exception of Where’s The Party, which after the title track didn’t have much to recommend itself…although my buddy Dennis used to swear by the track “The Big Crash.”

While the two tracks I mentioned above, “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Baby Hold On” were big there were so many great deep tracks from Eddie Money. His cover of “You Really Got a Hold One Me” was definitive, in my opinion. I can pick a deep track on almost each of his albums that should have been a hit: “So Good To Be In Love Again,” “Life For the Taking,” the reggae tinged “Running Back,” “No Control,” “Club Michelle,” or “Calm Before the Storm,” are all great tracks everybody should check out. The man just rocked… not metal, just meat-and-potatoes, soaring rock and roll.

I got on the bandwagon early, in 1978 when I picked up both Eddie Money and his second album, Life For the Taking. Some might complain that Eddie faced the sophomore slump and I’ll admit the debut was better, but with the title track, “Can’t Keep A Good Man Down” (later covered by Joe Walsh), “Rock And Roll the Place” and the best track on the album, “Gimme Some Water,” Life For The Taking is still an amazingly strong album… “Slap my horse in the ass, with my last dying gasp, my brother could hear me say… gimme some water…” Hell, yes!

Eddie had his demons… mostly drink and drugs. I think some of the success probably went to his head and his third album while still strong was a step down from those first two. Although I’ll always be fond of Playing For Keeps because of the track “Trinidad.” It was his fourth album, which benefitted from a boost from MTV and some funny videos that really broke Eddie world wide, No Control. “Think I’m In Love” was the big hit and remains a track I love. I was a freshman in college and that song still evokes memories of that troubled year… My favorite track was the rockin’ opening track, “Shakin’.” He wrote a great tribute track to the then just-deceased John Belushi, “Passing By the Graveyard,” that could have been a warning to himself.

I had tickets to see Eddie on that tour, with April Wine opening for him no less, but due to circumstances beyond my control I didn’t see it. I had to wait to see him live until Eddie’s “comeback album,” Can’t Hold Back, which followed the commercial disappointment of Where’s the Party. I saw him twice on the Can’t Hold Back tour… once in KC with my roommates Drew and Dennis, and once on the Boston Commons with my buddy Matthew while I was living in Boston during the summer of ’87. Eddie did not disappoint in concert. Watching him rock out with the Boston skyline in the background is a definite concert highlight.

Sadly, after that I lost touch with Eddie Money. I was vaguely aware of the song “Walk On Water,” but the magic after that seemed to disappear. Grunge came and all music fundamentally changed. Music like Eddie’s was relegated to the classic rock stations in towns and cities across the country. But every now and then I found myself putting “Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star” on my stereo and turning it up loud…

Rest in Peace Eddie… You were a big part of my junior high to college  years and I’ll always be fan…Tonight, with a tall tumbler of vodka… I may just be turning that song up again… “My mother says I’m lazy, my girlfriend thinks I’m crazy, but I wanna be a rock n roll star…”

 

B&V Returns From Vacation With A Playlist: Songs of Home

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“Home is where the heart is…” – Pliny the Elder

The Rock Chick and I share a love for the open road. There’s nothing like jumping in the car and driving long distances with music blaring and the wind and sun flowing in the windows. I just have that Jack Kerouac ‘On the Road’-jones, I suppose. While I’ve spent most my life in Kansas City, there’s a gypsy soul in my heart and I love to keep moving. Last week the Rock Chick and I jumped in the car and headed out to points West, to the mountains, to see our daughter and have a little vacation. Things get stressful here at the B&V labs and sometimes you gotta get away… see different stuff, talk to different people, try on different clothes.

Now, I’ll be the first person to admit what a privilege it is to be able to go on a vacation. Not everybody can take off work and actually travel. I will also be the first person on the planet to profess his undying love for my wife and child. We are typically a very good squad to travel with, a very tight-knit group. Those caveats aside… after about three days on the road with my family, I just can’t wait to get back home. I miss my own bed and pillow. I like sitting on my couch in front of my TV drinking my bourbon. Paying $14 a drink didn’t help things. And whilst I love my family, no matter what group you’re traveling with, eventually you’re gonna hit a wall. What starts off nice turns, well, for lack of a better word, crabby. Three people in a confined space doesn’t always work. I travel for my work so my time at home is sacred. Naturally on the back end of my vacation, after spraining my ankle by stepping in a hole, whilst gazing up at the beautiful mountain scenery (because I love the mountains and they hate me… I just don’t perform well at altitude), my thoughts turned to home… which then turned to rock and roll songs about home.

When I got back home last week, I found that we’d finally sold my wife’s deceased father’s home. It’s out in the country, literally in the middle of nowhere. The guy who was renting the place moved out and left a mess. Even at the zenith of my bachelorhood, I couldn’t have imagined living in the filth this guy did. We gathered a squad of intrepid friends  who went above and beyond the call of duty and helped us clean out the two barns. It was a dystopian nightmare in those fucking barns, but we cleaned it all up. My thanks to all of them. As I was going through all of my late father-in-law’s belongings, it felt bittersweet. I was close to him. I was glad to be cleaning up the place but kind of sad to let go of this last vestige of “him.”

I have to admit, the sheer volume of stuff in that barn made me think of George Carlin’s definition of home, as just “a place for your stuff.” My father-in-law was a bit of a hoarder. He had over 200 guns. I’m not a gun guy… I’m still baffled by that. More confusing still was his collection of over 180 large, semi-trucks. These were adult Tonka toys. He had a full size road-grader. He had several fire trucks. He needed a really big place for his stuff. As I cleaned out his barn, under a sign that read, “Free Beer… Tomorrow,” I couldn’t help but think about mortality and the passing of time. But more importantly, having just returned home from a brief vacation, I thought about the nature of “home.”

Is “home” just a place for our stuff? Here was this big farm, actually a ranch since he ran cattle on the land, full of big trucks and guns but at the end of the day my father-in-law lived by himself. He always seemed to have a girlfriend, but I never really got to know any of them because as soon as I learned their names, they were gone. I think he was a happy man but do we ever know the mind of others? We got down to see him as much as we could but he lived in a pretty remote area. Is life really about who dies with the most toys wins? Do we just stack up our money and stand on top of it to decide who has the most value?

The only thing that I could come up with as I pondered these deep thoughts in a cavernous barn full of refuse, is that “home” is more than just a building where we keep our stuff. It’s a feeling. I gazed over the group assembled in that barn, three close friends and my wife, and reflected on seeing my wonderful daughter the week before and I realized, “home” is not a building. It’s not what Carlin thought it was, “a place for my stuff”… it’s this network of friends and family. I think Billy Joel sings it best in the song “You’re My Home,” when he sings the line “Well I’ll never be a stranger and I’ll never be alone, wherever we’re together, that’s my home.” Not to be maudlin folks, but as my friend Alfonse always says, “it’s all about love.”

I hope that where you are you are surrounded by family and friends, that you are truly home and happy… As always you’ll be able to find this playlist on Spotify under the title “BourbonAndVinyl.net Songs of Home.” I will add any suggestions to the playlist made in the Comments section… I have to admit, I was surprised at the number of really sad songs about home… what is it about home that causes such longing? There are a host of emotions in these songs… but doesn’t home always evoke a host of emotions? From longing to get back home to longing to hear from someone whose left home… it’s all here.

  1. Aerosmith, “Home Tonight” – The ending track from Rocks, I love the guitar coda.
  2. Cinderella, “Coming Home” – These guys were the bluesiest of the hair bands. I’ve always dug them.
  3. Genesis, “Home By the Sea” – An epic, almost creepy track from them.
  4. Paul McCartney, “Eat At Home” – Ok this song is about sleeping with your spouse, but the metaphor works.
  5. The Beatles, “When I Get Home” – Great deep track by the Beatles.
  6. Neil Young, “Homegrown” – Great track that finally got released on American Stars N Bars. 
  7. Silvertide, “Ain’t Comin’ Home’ – Great little hard rock song from a band the Rock Chick turned me onto.
  8. Roger Daltrey & Wilko Johnson, “Going Back Home” – Title track from an overlooked gem of an album.
  9. Led Zeppelin, “Bring It On Home” – Bluesy, bluesy Zep.
  10. Chuck Berry, “Thirty Days (To Come Back Home)” – Chuck issuing an edict to his woman to get on back home. We all miss somebody out there on the road.
  11. Bush, “Baby Come Home,” – From the great late period record, The Sea of Memories. 
  12. Scorpions, “Coming Home” – For the Scorpions, home was the stage!
  13. Eric Clapton, “Lonesome And a Long Way From Home” – From his first eponymous solo album. Great track.
  14. Boston, “Let Me Take You Home Tonight” – Lame come-on, or great song. I’m leaning toward the latter.
  15. Delaney and Bonnie, “Comin’ Home” – With sizzling lead guitar by Clapton.
  16. CSNY, “Our House” – “With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard…”
  17. Ozzy Osbourne, “Mama, I’m Coming Home” – Great Ozzy track from a great album.
  18. The Allman Brothers Band, “Please Call Home” – I love this song. I love both their first two albums Artist Lookback: The Allman Brothers’ First Two Albums, 1969-1970.
  19. Phil Collins, “Take Me Home” – Phil gets a bad rap, but who doesn’t dig this song?
  20. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Hometown Blues” – I have these all the time… but when I leave I just end up coming back.
  21. Joe Walsh, “Home” – Laid back, longing from his Barnstorm era.
  22. Eddie Money, “Take Me Home Tonight” – I hear the Money-man is ill. Here’s to a speedy recovery!
  23. Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, “Got To Be A Better Way Home” – From Asbury Park’s other great export…
  24. Bruce Springsteen, “My Hometown” – Speaking of New Jersey…
  25. Jackson Browne, “The Naked Ride Home” – Title track from a great Jackson Browne LP…in which he convinces a young lady to ride home with him, naked. I could never pull that off.
  26. Little Steven, “I Don’t Want To Go Home” – From the great Soulfire LP, LP Review: Little Steven’s ‘Soulfire’ A Triumphant Return To His Solo Career.
  27. Paul McCartney, “(I Want To) Come Home” – The saddest, sweetest song on here.
  28. White Stripes, “There’s No Home For You Here” – The Stripes say good bye to somebody.
  29. B.B. King, “Nobody Home” – B.B. doing a great kiss off song. It’s a shame when you can’t go home.
  30. Bruce Springsteen, “All The Way Home” – From the great Devils And Dust album.
  31. Tom Petty, “Home” – From the deluxe edition of Highway Companion. 
  32. Billy Joel, “You’re My Home” – The best description of my vacation…
  33. Gregg Allman, “I Believe I’ll Go Back Home” – Great blues from his next to last solo album, Low Country Blues. 
  34. Motley Crue, “Home Sweet Home” – Classic song by the Crue.
  35. J. Geils Band, “I’ll Be Coming Home” – I still can’t believe these guys weren’t bigger in the 70s. What a great, overlooked band.
  36. Blind Faith, “Can’t Find My  Way Home” – “Cuz I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home…” I think we’ve all been there.
  37. Elvis Presley, “Stranger In My Own Home Town” – The King, returning to Memphis and finding himself a stranger.
  38. Iggy Pop, “Home” – From the great, Brick By Brick. 
  39. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Country Home” – A quintessential 7-minute jam from Neil and most importantly, the Horse!
  40. Rod Stewart, “Oh God, I Wish I Was Home Tonight” – Rod doing the “call my girlfriend back home” song.
  41. The Vaughan Brothers, “Long Way From Home” – Stevie Ray and Jimmie laying it down.
  42. Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Comin’ Home” – Good ol’ southern rockers, headed home.
  43. David Byrne, “Everybody’s Coming To My House” – A song in which David invites everyone to his house, and then sings, “And I’m never going home.” Hysterical.
  44. Robert Cray, “I Can’t Go Home” – People forget how big the bluesman became in the late 80s.
  45. Led Zeppelin, “Baby Come On Home” – Early track that only came out on an album on Coda. 
  46. Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home To Me” – The best voice in the world, doing one of the best songs in the world.
  47. Simon & Garfunkel, “Homeward Bound” – The folkies best song in my opinion.
  48. The Allman Brothers, “Leave My Blues At Home” – Steppin’ out and leaving your blues at home… God knows we all need to get out more.
  49. Roger Waters, “Home” – “Everybody has a place, they call home.”
  50. Buffalo Springfield, “On The Way Home” – This upbeat Neil Young track sums up how I feel when we load the car for the trip home…
  51. U2, “A Sort of Homecoming” – Epic, earnest… “I am coming home…”
  52. Stephen Stills, “Go Back Home” – Gut bucket blues… I seem to be drawn to bluesy numbers for this playlist.
  53. Bruce Springsteen, “Long Walk Home” – One of his finest late period songs. About geopolitics but it works.
  54. Foreigner, “Long, Long Way Home” – Epic rock song.
  55. Steely Dan, “Home At Last” – Steely Dan chronicling Odysseus’ famous trip home from the Trojan Wars.

There it is folks! Hug a loved one. Cheers!

 

B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs

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As a kid growing up, my parents didn’t even have basic cable. All the TVs at the house had the old rabbit-ear type antenna. When there were multiple football games being broadcast on New Year’s Day, my dad would bring three TVs down to the living room and watch all three major networks (yes, only three) to catch every game. If one of the TV’s screens was out of wack, I’d often have to stand in the corner, one hand on the TV set, one hand in the air, just to make the picture clear. I was the Human Antenna. Thankfully in those days I wasn’t facing the New Year’s Day hangover… that didn’t come until later.

Eventually, shamed by other parents, my parents got basic cable so we kiddos could watch Sesame Street to build our young minds. We had the most bare-bones cable package you could get. My father, who closely modulated the thermostat to save cash, wasn’t about to “piss away money” on cable TV. There was no HBO or Showtime at the house. If I wanted to see any R-rated stuff, I had to do it the old fashion way, sneak into a theater (thank you Bo Derek for 10). The neighbors had HBO and on a sleepover I once saw Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman, in a biker movie and she was topless. It was like “discovering plutonium” as they say on Seinfeld. I couldn’t help but think, at that tender age, “fuck yes, I’m getting HBO when I’m on my own…I’ll never leave the house.”

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered there was something called MTV, short for Music Television. My buddy Matthew and I went up to Kansas State to visit some older friends of ours who were already up at University. As I was wandering around the labyrinth of the dorm filled with hallways and separate rooms (it was like walking in a human-sized ant farm), I came upon a room with like 5 guys crammed around a TV. They invited me in and lo and behold, they were watching MTV. Back then MTV was like radio with videos, one after another… Mostly the videos were crude concert footage with low grade effects, but I thought it was really cool.

Eventually, much to everyone’s surprise I graduated from high school and was accepted to a state university. Where I lived, they had the opposite philosophy as my father and bought the most expensive cable package available. We had every channel on the planet, save for pornography, on the TV in the common room. Invariably, late at night on weekends, I’d end up in the basement in front of the TV with a few of the other drunken, lonely heart’s club types and we’d watch MTV videos until the sun came up. The crowd down there got thicker during finals week… we all needed something mindless after exams so after drinking we’d end up watching countless videos. Of course, there were great videos and then crappy, pop music type videos. I can always remember thinking, “Ok, if the next video sucks, I’m going to bed…” Invariably one more decent video would come on and I’d be stuck for another thirty minutes. It was so relaxing it could be described as mind erasing.

When I moved into exile in Arkansas, there was literally no rock and roll radio. MTV, who had begun to schedule some regular broadcast shows into their programming was still predominantly playing videos. Nowadays you’re more likely to see a music video n the weather channel… MTV got me through the tough years down there. MTV is where I discovered Guns N Roses, the Black Crowes and many other bands. They certainly weren’t playing that music on the radio in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. It was around that time, I believe in 1989, that MTV began what may be their greatest legacy, the ‘Unplugged’ series. I’d always heard they were inspired by a video awards show where Jon Bon Jovi, looking coke-addled (he always looked that way to me) and Richie Sambora got on stage with only two acoustic guitars and played “Wanted, Dead Or Alive.” That was cool, lets do a show like that… The concept was simple, put a band on stage, give them acoustic guitars and let them play stripped-down versions of their tunes.

They started the series with some minor to semi-big bands. I think Squeeze was on once. But it wasn’t until 1991 when Paul McCartney performed on ‘Unplugged’ that the show took on some “next-level” kind of rock and roll credibility. McCartney took the next step and actually released his performance as an album (well, as a CD), the first artist to do so. It was a limited edition of only 500,000 copies and I had one in my hand in a record store in Warrensburg, Mo but didn’t have the cash and passed up buying it, which I obviously regret to this day. After that it was Katie-bar-the-door. Everybody was on ‘MTV Unplugged’ after that. Strangely though, not all the artists released the results on an album/CD.

There were all manner of performances on ‘MTV Unplugged’ from the sublime to the questionable. It got to the point where ‘MTV Unplugged’ became “appointment television” for me and my friends. If there was a band we really loved, we’d make sure we were together, beer iced down, in front of the television ready to watch. I remember I was flying back from St. Thomas the night Robert Plant and Jimmy Page did their Unledded episode of the show but I got stuck in a hotel in Atlanta and missed the show. I was in the only hotel on the planet without MTV. I was pissed.

Thinking about those ‘Unplugged’ shows I decided to compile a list of the B&V favorite ‘Unplugged’ albums. This is not a list of the best performances from the show – many acts chose not to release an album after being on ‘Unplugged.’ But, for the ones who did, and there were many, these are the 10 albums I find myself going back to after all this time. Again, we’re only talking about actual LPs here, not performances on MTV. Yeah, they’re a little mellow, but who cares, a good acoustic evening is just what the doctor orders sometimes.

Honorable Mention

  1. Pearl Jam – Eddie Vedder was simply unhinged on this performance. He writes “Pro-Life” on his arm in magic marker while teetering on a very unstable bar stool. They put a blu-ray disc of the performance in the rerelease of Ten, but have yet to release it as an album. I wish they would.
  2. Aerosmith – I have a bootleg of this performance and it’s awesome. They were still bluesy and sounding like the old 70s Aerosmith at this point. Huge mistake not to release this one.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Stripped – The Stones never deigned to be on MTV’s ‘Unplugged,’ but they went ahead and recorded their own, predominantly acoustic album and it’s one of their better live documents.

The BourbonAndVinyl Top 10 ‘Unplugged’ Albums

  1. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged In New York – This is simply the best MTV Unplugged ever. This was a sublime performance. Stripped of the sturm und drang, Cobain’s brilliance as a songwriter and dare I say, writer of melodies rises to the fore. This is not only a great acoustic concert it’s just a great concert. Bittersweet as it was released after Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.
  2. Alice In Chains, MTV Unplugged – I love AIC when they’re heavy, like on “Man In A Box” but I always loved the acoustic based Jar of Flies. This performance was a perfect extension of that. While I’m the first to admit nobody probably needed an acoustic version of “Frogs” there are some great versions of “Killer Is Me,” and “Over Now” just to name a few. It would be Layne Staley’s last concert.
  3. Paul McCartney, Unplugged – I love McCartney in this stripped down show. Like his recently released Amoeba Gig (Live) album (LP Review: Paul McCartney, ‘Amoeba Gig (Live)’ – His Best Live Album?), playing in front of a small audience brings out the best of him. Beatles tunes, solo hits, and rare covers make this a special performance.
  4. R.E.M., Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions – This album only got released in 2014 and I’m hoping it serves as an example to all those bands who held back on releasing their performances. R.E.M. was a very strumming/acoustic based band to start with… They’re perfect for the ‘Unplugged’ setting. I probably lean more toward the 1991 session, which was when they were touring for Out of Time. However, the 2001 set, when they were touring behind Reveal has some beautiful and melancholy moments that are irresistible. Obviously, I’d play one disc at a time.
  5. Rod Stewart, Unplugged…And Seated – Rod has always had that perfect melding of acoustic and electric, folky and rocker. The thing I love about this album is he brings back Ronnie Wood, his erstwhile band mate in the Faces and they return to Rod’s best period, when he was on the Mercury label, and tear it up! I believe there was a lot of drink involved.
  6. Eric Clapton, Unplugged – McCartney may have given ‘Unplugged’ it’s credibility, but Clapton showed that these albums could be a commercial juggernaut. This thing sold a ka-jillion copies. At the time we all loved the acoustic version of “Layla,” done here as a shuffle… It kind of got worn out. I like the older blues covers he throws in here. Chuck Leavell who plays with the Stones now is on piano and he has a fabulous solo in the song, “Old Love.”
  7. Page/Plant, No Quarter (aka Unledded) – These guys turned the whole concept of ‘Unplugged’ on its head. Some tracks are live, electric versions of their old Zeppelin tunes. Some are straight up acoustic and some are just great experiments, fucking with their sound, i.e. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The spirt of experimentation ran through three new tracks released on this album, the first Page/Plant collaborations since Zeppelin broke up. It would have been nice to see John Paul Jones here too, but that’d have upped the pressure.
  8. Eagles, Hell Freezes Over – I may be fudging a little here… this started off as an ‘Unplugged,’ but there is really only one acoustic take on a classic, on a sublime version of “Hotel California.” This was the first time in 14 years the Eagles got together, if they want to plug the electric guitars in and go for it, why not… It’s certainly what Springsteen did on his ‘Unplugged’ with much less spectacular results.
  9. Bob Dylan, MTV Unplugged – People will scoff at this entry. Dylan was coming off two great, unappreciated folk/acoustic records when he did this ‘Unplugged.’ He’s engaged and playing faithful versions of classics here. It was, for me, the beginning of his recording come back. It seemed like he cared for the first time in a long time. There are great versions of “Shooting Star” and “Dignity” on this record too.
  10. 10,000 Maniacs, MTV Unplugged – I’m like most guys from this era. I don’t have any 10,000 Maniacs, I never liked the 10,000 Maniacs, I never bought their albums. However, almost every woman I dated, and there were a few, had this or some of their other albums. After  hearing a few times… because I was a bit of a man about town in those days, I realized Natalie Merchant’s vocal performance makes this the only 10,000 Manaics album you need. I love the cover of “Because the Night” written by Springsteen but made famous by Patti Smith.

Cheers!

 

LP Review: Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Live At Woodstock’ – Released 50 Years Later

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As time passes by here at the B&V labs, I begin to feel more and more like Jeff Bridges’ character in the movie The Big Lebowski, The Dude. Famously, the Dude’s car is stolen from the parking lot of his local bowling alley. He reports it stolen along with his briefcase that was in the car. When asked by the cops who show up at his house, if there was anything valuable in the car, the Dude replies, “Yeah, uh, a tape deck, some Creedence tapes and uh, my briefcase.” The cops, deeply amused, say they don’t hold much hope for finding the tape deck… or the Creedence tapes… and then burst into uproarious laughter. I feel like I’m the last person alive who is willing to admit I still dig Creedence, other than the Dude. Ironically I was a league bowler at one time… but that’s another story.

I guess it’s easy now, after all this time to dismiss CCR. John Fogerty (guitar/vocals/songwriter), his brother Tom Fogerty (guitar), Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums) had been playing together since 1959. It wasn’t until 1967 that they changed their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival. They’d broken up by 1972 after a brief five years and did so with an acrimony only rivaled by that of the Beatles. Tom Fogerty had actually quit the band a year prior to the break up. None of them were getting along. They sued their record label, they sued each other. John Fogerty is famously one of the most pissed off men in rock and roll, or he was. For years, as a solo artist, he refused to play Creedence songs on stage because he didn’t want his former record company to get any royalties. He was once sued by the label for plagiarizing himself. It wasn’t until Dylan told him he needed to start playing those CCR songs again, “unless you want people to think “Proud Mary” is a Tina Turner song,” that Fogerty relented and started doing the CCR songs again.

All of that bad energy has seemingly combined to erase the legacy of CCR. We tend to forget they were, for a brief time, the biggest band on the planet, except for the Beatles. It’s like Bruce Springsteen said when he inducted them into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, “they weren’t the coolest band around, but they were the best.” I think that comment may have been a reference to the band’s habit of dressing like lumberjacks and John Fogerty’s bowl cut hair. They were from San Francisco, but they sounded like they had come out of the swamps of Louisiana or Mississippi. There was so much hoodoo voodoo vibe in their music they sounded like a southern rock band. Their music was very “meat and potatoes,” straight up rock and roll, just two guitars, a bass and drums. A lot of “chooglin'” in that music…no psychedelic period for these guys.

They had an amazing run. In 1969 alone, they released three fantastic albums: Bayou Country, Green River and finally (my favorite of their albums) Willy And The Poor Boys. They toured and recorded constantly. They had a string of hit singles that rivals any band you can name. John Fogerty wrote one of the greatest protest songs ever, “Fortunate Son” that has been covered by Pearl Jam and Bob Seger, to name a few. It’s probably the most enduring protest song of the 60s. There are just some artists, like Bob Dylan who are cultural antennas, they pick up on the tension and angst of their time and translate it into music or literature or poetry. The late-Sixties were a heavy time in the U.S. with Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and gads, Richard Nixon. The songs John Fogerty wrote reflect those times. Songs like “Commotion,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Effigy” crystalized those difficult times into song. While he denies it, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” is one of my favorite songs about drugs. “There’s a giant doing cartwheels, a statue wearing high heels,” c’mon John, you were high. CCR’s version of Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine” is one of the most epic ten-plus minute jams ever. John doesn’t get his due as a guitarist, he’s amazing.

I was introduced to CCR when I was in college. My friend and at the time and future roommate Drew came bursting into my room and said, “You’ve gotta get out to Walmart. They’ve got Creedence Clearwater Revival’s double-LP, greatest hits album on sale for $5.” Who could resist an offer like that? I was familiar with CCR, but didn’t know that much about them. I trusted Drew’s musical advice implicitly. I went out immediately and purchased Chronicles Vol 1, and I was amazed at the number of great songs these guys had. I think everyone I ever met who dug Creedence started with that greatest hits package. Drew, naturally, slowly amassed all of their individual records and he let me tape them on cassette but they’ve long since disappeared. So yes, I too am missing my Creedence tapes. I don’t hold much hope of finding them…

CCR was always a ferocious live band. Despite that, during their brief career they really didn’t have a seminal live album. They put out the much maligned Live In Europe in 1973. It was recorded on the tour for their last album, Mardi Gras which was also viewed rather dimly so that probably effected the critical reaction to the live album. Finally, in 1980 they released The Concert a show from Oakland in 1970. As “research” for this post, I went back and listened to it. It’s a really great live album. For some reason you don’t ever see it on any “best of” list of live records… not even my own, BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums, although it certainly deserves consideration. Now, after leaving it mouldering in the can for fifty years, CCR has finally released the tape of the full set they played at the historic Woodstock Festival, aptly titled Live At Woodstock. CCR, much like Neil Young, refused to be a part of the film or sound track album so this was big news to me.

The reason it took so long for any of this music to see the light of day: John Fogerty didn’t like it. Big surprise there… He’s described the performance as “sub-par.” Well, if this is Creedence on a bad night, one has to wonder how explosive they were on a good night, because this is an awesome concert document. Creedence was slated to play Saturday night, August 16th. Unfortunately they were following the Grateful Dead. While most bands played fifty to sixty minute sets, the Dead played over an hour and a half. They ended their set with a 50-minute version of “Turn On Your Love Light.” They played 1 song that lasted the length of everyone else’s complete set. That performance pushed Creedence’s start time to 12:30 am on Sunday the 17th and Fogerty was pissed. He said the Grateful Dead put everybody to sleep and compared what he saw in the crowd to something out of Dante’s Inferno. Bitter, John? I imagine when they hit the stage, CCR was pissed, well at least John was.

Despite that, or perhaps because of that Live At Woodstock is a fabulous live album. John Fogerty’s guitar playing in particular is unhinged. His guitar is literally worth the price of admission on this album. Oddly the set list is similar to the one on The Concert, they both open with a fiery version of “Born On the Bayou” and then “Green River.” CCR were such a touring machine, they must have kept a consistent set list, only updating it as new  music came out. They play the big hits, and play them well I might add, like “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising.” I love the version of “Commotion” here, it sort fit the setting. They also play some great deep tracks like, “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do),” and “Bootleg.” They play all of this with great passion. I can’t believe anybody slept through this set.

The show ends with not one, but two, epic ten-plus minute jams. They end the main set with a fantastic “Keep On Chooglin'” that includes some epic harmonica. Again, John’s guitar is phenomenal. The encore is equally as epic, an almost 11-minute version of “Suzie Q,” their first big hit. When CCR decide to stretch out, they don’t do that endless noodling thing the Dead did, they just flat our rock. I can’t believe they left this epic performance in the can for 50 years.

I know they were pissed about how late they had to play that day… but when you look at it, the Who didn’t play until 5 am… the Jefferson Airplane didn’t come on until 8am the next morning. It was Woodstock, go with the flow, baby. This is a testament to how great some of the playing at Woodstock really was, despite the adverse conditions. This is a great live album for all fans of CCR, like the Dude and me or for fans of rock and roll everywhere. Not to mention this is a historically important rock and roll artifact from the most famous musical festival ever. Turn it up loud.

Cheers!!

It Was 42 Years Ago Today… The Loss Of The King… Elvis Presley. Where I Was…

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I can’t believe it was 42 years ago today, we lost the King. Elvis Presley died. I remember where I was when I heard the news.

I was a kid in junior high school. I played in a YMCA sponsored football league. We had already started practicing three times a week, with games on Saturday. My coach, Coach Taylor, who drove a blue Mercury, would come and pick me and my neighbor Jeff up. His son Paul was always already in the car. We must have looked like something else driving down the road in a blue Mercury. This older dude with big side burns driving a car full of helmets and shoulder pads.

Coach had just picked me up when the announcer on the radio came on and announced that “Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll has died at his Graceland home in Memphis.” The Coach was so shaken he had to pull the car over to the side of the road. He looked at his son in the passenger seat and then back to Jeff and I in the back seat as if searching to see if this was real. It was clear he thought he was in a bad dream. He stammered, barely verbal…”Elvis… gone… he was my age?”

It was a weird football practice. I remember running a lot. I don’t think Coach came out of the fog until long after that practice was over…

I remember the next few days watching all the mourners on television. There were so many crazy Elvis fans. I remember watching the funeral procession on TV. My parents, who were always more a product of the 50s than their younger siblings (who were clearly more influenced by the 60s), were very shaken. My father didn’t own many albums, but he had Elvis: Live From Hawaii and I remember that album being played quite a bit around that time.

I was just starting to get into music. The Stones and the Beatles and Zeppelin were more my thing. It took years for me to return back to the man who had influenced so many, Elvis Presley. He has so much brilliant music out there. Everyone should own any of the myriad greatest hits packages he’s got out there. From Elvis In Memphis should be required listening for everyone. If you can get your hands on his debut album on vinyl, Elvis Presley, do so immediately. Being older now, and realizing what a tragic, preventable loss this was really brings the tragedy home. A few years earlier, Barbara Streisand had asked Elvis to play the male lead in her version of A Star Is Born. The Colonel had Elvis turn it down. He was done in the movies…the Colonel was going to work him on a Vegas stage until he dropped like an old mule… I always wonder if taking that movie role might have turned Presley around. He’d have had to lose weight and ween off the chemicals. Sadly, we’ll never know.

As Americans we can argue about who should be President all day long… but I think we can all agree, especially on this anniversary of that sad day, there was only one King… Elvis.

It’s a long dark ride out there folks. Take care of each other. Especially someone suffering like Elvis did, hooked on opioids.