LP Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’ – An Exciting Look Back To The Early BBC Performances

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They say it’s your first love that leaves the deepest impression. As far as relationships are concerned, I’m not so sure that’s true (I met the Rock Chick when I was 36…my personal records prior to that are sealed up tighter than the JFK files), but in the realm of rock and roll, for me, The Stones were my first love and definitely left the deepest impression on me. My musical tastes and record collection have grown and branched out in every conceivable direction over the years, but the roots have always been with the Stones. Everything that I really love has a solid basis in the blues. I wouldn’t even know what the blues are if it weren’t for the Stones.

I wasn’t really a fan of music as a kid, music was my brother’s thing. My brother and I tend to be polar opposites. I was but a child for most of the 70s and the only time I turned on the radio was to listen to a Royals baseball game, back when I still cared about baseball. My brother had a stereo and had started a record collection long before I ever did. I’d always wander by his room and hear the sound of guitar and drums pouring out from behind his locked door and just shake my head and keep walking. My brother was a big Beatles fan. Later he followed that up by getting deeply into George Harrison’s solo work. It took me years to get into George Harrison’s solo music, which is amazingly rewarding… but my brother, who also plays guitar, was so far ahead of me, he was cranking up Living In the Material World when he was 10.

All of this changed, of course, when I first heard the Rolling Stones 1978 LP, Some Girls. I asked my parents for a stereo for Christmas – back then you could get a turntable/cassette player/receiver and a couple of speakers for pretty cheap – and dipped into my lawn-mowing money to buy my first ever album, Some Girls. I practically wore that album out… I do remember the first time I listened to the whole album on the headphones, in my sainted Grandmother’s living room, and Mick sang that notorious lyric about women who wanted to “fuck all night…” I was staring at my Grandmother and I just about did a back flip when Mick sang those words, I was so stunned. Luckily the headphones protected Grandma from that… But besides that rather startling moment, hearing Some Girls for the first time was like having someone attach jumper cables to the base of my brain and pump the gas for 45 minutes. I was hooked. I’d sing along to “Shattered” at full (and off-key) throat.

One of the things I loved about Some Girls was the interplay of Keith Richards’ and Ronnie Woods’ guitars – “the ancient art of weaving” as Keith calls it – the guitars played off and around each other like they were sawing down a tree. As my lawn mowing income grew, I continued to buy more Stones’ albums. I started with the Ronnie Wood-era… Black and Blue and Love You Live were early additions to my record collection. When Emotional Rescue came out in ’80 I bought it the day it came out. Say what you want about some of the disco-leaning songs on that record, I still loved it… and there was a great, great blues tune on that record, “Down In The Hole.” And who wouldn’t love the lyric, “riding on a fine Arab chaaaaarger…”

I eventually discovered the Mick Taylor-era of the Stones music which is largely regarded as their “golden-era.” Mick Taylor had been a guitar virtuoso with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and when he joined the Stones, he largely took over the blistering leads and allowed Keith to become, as he calls himself, “the riff-miester.” Those albums, including Exile On Main Street and Sticky Fingers were some of the greatest albums ever recorded. After experiencing those albums, my Stones spelunking slowed down… For whatever reason, when it came to the early, Brian Jones-era Stones, I stopped after Beggars Banquet and Aftermath. I had some of that early music on a greatest hits album, but I never delved any further into the Stones early years. While I dug the blues, I viewed the Stones early stuff as “formative”…. there were too many blues covers and not enough original material for my immature tastes.

Naturally, I was wrong. Years later, I corrected this egregious mistake and bought all those early Stones records, which I consider as utterly essential for any rock fan… I went from England’s Newest Hitmakers all the way through Between the Buttons. While Mick Taylor gets the accolades for his guitar work with the Stones, I don’t hear a lot of people talk about Brian Jones much anymore. The guy could play slide guitar like a Chicago-born bluesman. His work on “Little Red Rooster” is all the resume Brian Jones ever needed… Many people, like I did when I was a teenager, dismissed the Stones as a blues-cover band during their early years. That may be true, but doing that blues-cover apprenticeship was the crucible for everything that came after it.

I was thrilled last year when the Stones returned to their roots and recorded a full on blues-cover album, the sensational Blue And Lonesome (reviewed: LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). While that album was heralded as a “return” to their roots, this week the Stones actually released the actual roots… On Air (Deluxe) compiles 30 songs (on the 2 CD version) from the Stones early appearances on the BBC. These appearances have been largely bootlegged over the years, but this is the first official release. The sound quality is better here than on the bootlegs I’ve heard, but some of the tunes are rough enough to give the project a bootleg vibe.

The ‘Live At the BBC’ series has seen some great albums compiling the live performances of many great groups on that venerable radio station. I was always a huge fan of the Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions, it was truly revelatory. The other albums from the series that are must-haves are from The Who and, of course, The Beatles. The Beatles Live At the BBC for me, was an important and under represented part of the Beatles story – The Beatles as a live, performing band… For whatever reason the Stones decided not to title this album BBC Sessions, much like when they did their own ‘Unplugged’ and called it Stripped. When you’re the Stones, I guess you do your own thing. The album is subtitled “A BBC Recording.”

Like those early, Brian Jones-era albums, On Air is an essential purchase for Stones fans, and fans of rock/blues rock in general. It’s so much fun to listen to these scruffy, dirty kids play the blues. The song selections on here, other than “Satisfaction” are largely covers. You hear blues, a healthy amount of Chuck Berry covers, Bo Diddley-covers and some R&B. These recordings crackle with an electricity and energy of youth. Charlie Watts’ drums in particular grabbed me. He is truly the engine of this band. Mick’s (and probably occasionally Brian’s) harmonica is sensational. I hadn’t really noticed but Brian and Keith Richards guitars intertwine in much the same way that Keith and Ronnie’s did a decade or so later. Brian Jones’ guitar on “I Wanna Be Your Man” is a raw, ragged slide guitar masterpiece.

Of the 30 performances captured here, eight of the songs are tracks that the Stones never committed to tape in a studio. It’s great to hear “Memphis, Tennessee” and their take on “Roll Over Beethoven.” All of the performances here hail from 1963 to 1965, before I was born… I don’t know if there will be a second release for the years 1965 to 1967, but I sure hope so. Anybody who wants to understand where that great late-60s, early 70s Stones music came from, look no further than here… (With the exception of some of the country stuff Gram Parsons introduced the band to, but I digress… ) Blues, big riffs, harmonica. It’s all here. Jagger sings a razor line on each of these tunes. The whole band just sounds great.

If you’re looking for something special for the stereo this year to drowned out the odious Christmas music, this is your solution. The Rolling Stones original line-up, before the arenas, before the massive tours, before the squabbles – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones (when he was just as important as Mick), Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were indeed a force of nature and something to behold… Rock and roll school is open, and class is in session. Turn this one up loud.

 

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LP Review: U2’s ‘Songs Of Experience,’ Battling Ambition and Expectations

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Expectations can tough for anybody. I was a league bowler as a kid and I can still remember the pressure I felt when the team needed a strike to win the tournament. It felt like the whole bowling alley was watching me… The expectations and pressure were such that I rolled a gutter ball. I can’t imagine what the pressure on a band like U2 or Bruce Springsteen must be like. U2 is a group whose music is so transcendent, whose music has lifted the world up and whose music is so important to so many people it’s gotta be hard to live up to that. They are, as my friend The Accountant and I say, the soundtrack to our lives. With every new U2 album the expectations for a masterpiece rise to a dangerous level. It’s like the entire bowling alley is watching them… I know, in particular, Arkansas Joel and the Rock Chick always have such high expectations that U2 can’t possibly fulfill them. Their love for U2 is so intense that they are naturally set up for a disappointment with every new release that isn’t The Joshua Tree. 

Ambition is also a tricky thing. I love that line from one of U2’s songs, “Ambition bites the nails of success.” Make no mistake, U2 is a very ambitious band. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard different members of the band say, “we don’t want to be a crap band,” whatever that means. Their entire career can be looked at as the conflict between their ambition for popularity and their artful tendencies. Every album is almost a reaction to the last album’s reception. After the criticism that accompanied Rattle And Hum (which was overblown, that was a great album and “Heartland” remains one of my favorite songs), they retreated to Berlin and took an artistic left turn for Achtung Baby. They were still the serious rock band they’d always been, but they painted over it with a veneer of irony. Unfortunately the irony got carried away on Pop, which was one of their few weak albums. So, they reacted – they recorded the very serious All That You Can’t Leave Behind – an album that is always associated with 911, but was actually recorded before that. It was their reaction to the death of their friend Michael Hutchence of INXS and they’d purposely stripped away the irony because of the reaction to Pop. “Beautiful Day” is one of their best tunes and they almost left it off the album because it sounded “too much like a U2 song.” Thank God for Larry Mullen, Jr who intervened and insisted it be put on the album. Every band needs a Larry Mullen, Jr.

Part of the problem with U2’s ambition is that in order to gain the popularity they seek, they try too hard to be current vs doing what they do well, which is rock. How else can anybody explain the presence of Kendrick Lamar on two tracks here. His rap at the end of “Get Out of Your Own Way” and the beginning of “American Soul” are not only unnecessary but distracting. I’m not adverse to hip hop, I’m not that old, but it just didn’t make sense here. The list of producers on this album is longer than the stationary of most law firms. One can’t help but think U2 are trying too hard. I’ve heard the sound of this album compared to Imagine Dragons (and unfavorably at that). I can also hear a little Cage The Elephant here, but that’s probably just me. That’s the problem with multiple producers – they influence the sound of the band instead of the reverse of that. I’d like U2 to lock themselves in a room with Steve Lillywhite who produced their early stuff and just rock. If I was producing U2, I’d unplug most of the Edge’s effects pedals and turn his guitar up. When he flat out plays guitar he lifts the music beyond the ordinary much as he did on U2’s last masterpiece, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

Bono’s lyrics on Songs Of Experience are nothing short of remarkable. The album has that same All That You Can’t Leave Behind sense of despair, hidden under big, sing-along choruses. Bono had a brush with death and it’s informed his lyrics. I even found the liner notes he wrote to be moving. Like Leave Behind, I think Songs of Experience happens to capture the current zeitgeist of most the world. Things are turning dark out there and these ruminations fit that mood. Bono has said these lyrics/songs were written as letters to those he cared about, or perhaps more accurately described, love letters.

With all of that said, I will say this is a good U2 album. It is not a masterpiece, but it’s good, probably very good. I think time will be very kind to this album. It’s flawed, as I said. The attempts at currency are a misstep, but when he occasionally plays his guitar, the Edge drives the music to fantastic places. “You’re The Best Thing About Me” remains my favorite song here. But I also really like “American Soul,” Bono’s love letter to America. “The Blackout” is a rocky, slinky affair that conjures thoughts of Achtung Baby. These guys are so good when they just rock out. I even like “The Showman (Little More Better)” a groovy little acoustic driven number. Its a joyful moment.

There are two great songs that address the refugee issue in Europe, “Red Flag Day” and “Summer of Love.” They are in the middle of the album and provide it with a real emotional center. There is a lot of love on this album… Of the ballads, I really like “The Little Things That Give You Away.” I think every musician whose ever made it from Motley Crue and GnR to U2, had a woman who let them sleep at her place… Bono chronicles his experience in a great song to his wife, “Landlady,” where he sings, “you always paid the rent…” I also found “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In It’s Way” to be particularly moving but I’ve always liked U2’s serious ballads.

So what are my complaints here? The album is on the mellow end. The Rock Chick, like most people, likes her U2 loud and rocking. And when they do – “Best Thing About Me,” and “American Soul” she was all in. But for the most part these songs are rumination on love and death and they are on the downbeat side. Other than “The Blackout” I’m not sure I could play much of this album at a party, which isn’t necessarily the measure of a good album, but I think most people get what I mean. The production is a little too glossy for me. And, as I’ve mentioned, I would have liked to have heard the Edge’s guitar featured more prominently on this record. U2 shouldn’t be aiming to get played in clubs, they should be looking to get blasted out of the t-top of a Camaro. U2 need to ignore what is current, and stop grasping to compete with Taylor Swift on the charts. If they’d return to their core skills as a rock band, they’d find what they seek. I remember when Mick Jagger’s first solo album came out. Keith Richards savaged it, rightly so. Keith said Mick was throwing away his critical reputation by shaking his ass and wanting to compete against Madonna or Prince. Sage words, Keith, sage words.

U2 has all it needs to conquer the world again. And while this album probably won’t do that for them, it will fill stadiums and get people singing along. If I was U2, I’d just listen to anything Larry Mullen, Jr suggested as a musical direction. Follow the drummer, people. What I’d tell U2 is, “Free yourself to be yourself, if only you could see yourself.” If only…

 

LP Review: Bob Seger, ‘I Knew You When (Deluxe)’ – A Near Miss

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I grew up in the American midwest, so Bob Seger was an early and immediate member of my rock and roll firmament. Seger is to the midwest as Springsteen is to the northeast. I think it was Bob Dylan, on his Theme Time Radio Hour, who said it best when he said, “A lot of people consider Bob Seger a poor man’s Bruce Springsteen, but I always considered Bruce Springsteen a rich man’s Bob Seger.” I never thought Seger would do anything I would review on B&V but last Friday saw the release of his new album, I Knew You When. I sprung for the deluxe version and the three extra bonus tracks. My wife, the Rock Chick, despises Seger, so I literally had to listen to and review this album in secret…

Seger’s early career was marred by shoddy production and non-existent support from his record companies. Despite his mammoth talent, the guy couldn’t catch a break. He put out a string of really strong albums, from Mongrel (1970) to Back In ’72 (1972, duh), Seven (1974) and Beautiful Loser (1975). None of which ever really broke him outside of his home base of Detroit. He appears to want to forget about all those great albums as they remain unavailable for purchase anywhere. I’ve mused as to why he won’t release those early records in these very pages, Conspiracy Theory: Who Is Holding Bob Seger’s Early LPs Hostage?. It wasn’t until Seger’s monumental live LP with his backing band The Silver Bullet Band, Live Bullet (1976), that Seger finally broke nationally. After that he released a string of albums that cemented his legacy as one of the great ones: Night Moves (1976), Stranger In Town (1978), Against The Wind (1980) and The Distance (1982). He even had time to squeeze out another fantastic live album with The Silver Bullet Band, Nine Tonight (1981).

Stranger In Town was the album where I got on the bandwagon. My sainted grandmother on my mom’s side bought me the album for Christmas. I’d had it on my wishlist. She had a number of records to choose from and she chose Stranger In Town because she said Bob Seger had nice eyes. I don’t know about that, but the music on that record was simply phenomenal. I saw Seger for the first time on the Against The Wind tour (Bob Seger’s KC 1980 Concert, Jack Daniels, & My Mom’s Knee). It was an amazing show and I’ll never forget the virtuoso playing of the Silver Bullet Band’s lead guitarist Drew Abbott. It’s rare I’m lucky enough to catch an artist at his zenith but I did that night.

Unfortunately, the 80s seemed to confuse Seger, as it did a lot of artists. Synthesizers crept into his music for the first time on Like A Rock (1986). That was the first album that showed some cracks in Seger’s impeccable songwriting. There were still some great tracks but the album as a whole was pretty uneven. The best song on that whole album was a B-side cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” (Seger’s straight ahead rock has much in common with CCR, so it was a fit). The Silver Bullet Band was also pretty fractured by that time. Only keyboardist Craig Frost, bassist Chris Campbell and intrepid sax player Alto Reed remained in the band. Everybody else had quit or had been fired. After Like A Rock, the wheels really came off. If the 80s had been bad to Seger, the 90s were worse. The Fire Inside (1991) was just plain bad, and worse it was judge-y and preachy in places. It’s a Mystery (1995) was stunningly awful and was for the most part, unlistenable. I’m not sure what went wrong.

Seger went into semi-retirement. He stopped recording or touring for over a decade. It wasn’t until 2006 that he re-emerged with what was described as a “comeback” album, Face The Promise. I picked that album up and it’s where I gave up on Seger once and for all. Despite all the celebratory “comeback” talk, there was nothing on that album that I could connect with. The odious presence of Kid Rock and Patty Loveless didn’t help either. Seger’s voice just didn’t seem the same. It wasn’t the ragged instrument that say, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen’s voices became in their later careers, but something was off. It only got worse when Ride Out came out three years ago. I listened once, and moved on.

In large part for me, Seger’s music was resigned to the patina of the past. But then, a few months back, he put out a tribute single for his old friend from Detroit, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey Bob Seger’s Tribute Single For Eagles’ Glenn Frey: “Glenn Song”. And while it wasn’t a great, great song, Seger admitted it was never meant to be commercial, I thought it was a lovely gesture. Those guys had been friends for a long time. Frey plays the awesome guitar solo on “Til It Shines” from Stranger. It sparked my interest in Seger again, and that hadn’t happened in a long time. I knew an album was coming but I really didn’t pay that much attention. I mean, it’s been thirty years since I cared.

But then I was riding in my car and I heard the first single from I Knew You When, and I was stunned to hear Seger covering Lou Reed’s “Busload of Faith,” from Reed’s masterpiece New York. If anybody had told me thirty years ago that Seger would be covering Lou Reed, I’d have laughed at you. And I will admit, despite the fact I thought I was done with Seger, that single pulled me back in. In the interest of full disclosure, Seger changed the lyrics. He deleted an entire verse about murder, rape and abortion, which, who can blame him. There’s a line in Reed’s original version that goes, “You can’t depend on any churches, unless there’s real estate you want to buy,” which was a confusing swipe at the rapaciousness of most churches (I guess, I mean it’s Lou Reed, who knows). Seger changed it to “You can’t depend on the President, unless there’s real estate you want to buy,” which is an obvious swipe at our current POTUS. Seger gets a bad rap from the rock press because his fan base is from the “red states.” Just because his fans hail from out here in fly over country doesn’t mean ol’ Bob Seger is anything but an old hippy. He’s never been as outspoken as Bruce Springsteen or Jackson Browne, but by covering this song, I think he’s letting us know where he stands. I like the song. Seger does a strong version. Nobody will ever match the venom of Lou Reed’s original, but it’s a great track.

After hearing “Busload of Faith,” I really wanted to love this album. Unfortunately I’d compare it to John Mellencamp’s last album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies. There’s some good music here, but as a whole the album doesn’t quite click for me. Seger recorded the album with a bunch of Nashville studio guys. Gone are the days when he recorded half an album with the Silver Bullet Band and half with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. And I don’t know, maybe it’s because he’s using studio pros, some of these performances just seem bloodless. Many of the rockers, like “The Sea Inside” or “Runaway Train” are plodding. In the latter track, he makes the ill-advised decision to break into a spoken word section… never a good idea, unless you’re Elvis Presley. Seger’s production oddly doesn’t put enough air into the rockers, they don’t have space to breath.

I will say, the opening cut, the rocker “Gracile” which is a word I had to look up on Webster’s Dictionary site, is a great start. There is even a nice guitar solo. For some reason it conjured memories of cuts off of Mongrel, which in my opinion was Seger’s hardest rocking album. “Gracile” leads into “Busload of Faith” and then into a song “Highway” which is another of the better rock tunes. Seger is in finer voice than I’ve heard him in a long time. Maybe he finally quit smoking. The title track, like “Glenn’s Song” is clearly another tribute to his lost friend, Glenn Frey a man with “dangerous charisma.” It’s an “Against The Wind” type acoustic, mid tempo song and it’s the best thing here. His sense of loss over his friend is palpable. It’s a beautiful song, sung beautifully.

Alas, after those first four tracks, the album starts to lose steam. The ballad, “I’ll Remember You” is overly-labored and somewhat dull. Ballads used to be Seger’s stock in trade, so I was a little surprised that this one left me cold. He covers Leonard Cohen’s song “Democracy” and it’s complete with fiddle, fife and drum. It’s a confusing choice to me. It’s not bad, it’s just not something I could connect with. If you’re going to cover Leonard, you need to bring something special to the tune. “Marie” is another ballad, this time with a Spanish flair, and it’s better than “I’ll Remember You,” but I’ve heard so many better Seger ballads.

The first half of this record is the best stuff Seger has put out in years. Unfortunately the album loses momentum in the back half. Of the bonus tracks, you’ll find “Glenn’s Song” and another good upbeat track, “Forward Into The Past,” which might have been a better title for the album… “Blue Ridge” has some interesting instrumentation. Overall I’d say the bonus tracks are worth the purchase. While I can’t recommend this album as a whole, I will say, there is more to be interested in here than anything Seger has done in years. This might be his swan song, or it might be the sign of a rebirth. Don’t get me wrong, I realize most of these songs were written years ago but if the guy has some strong material in the vaults and wants to record it, I’m all ears. Besides, when I think about it, maybe Grandma was right… Seger still has nice eyes…

Cheers!

BourbonAndVinyl’s Rock Chick’s AC/DC Playlist, “This ones for you, Mal”

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If you’re like me, the sad news of the passing of AC/DC’s co-founder, rhythm guitar player, and songwriter Malcolm Young hit you hard. AC/DC has always been a big favorite of mine and I never thought Malcolm got the credit he deserved. The Rock Chick has always shared my proclivity for AC/DC and as documented, AC/DC was our first concert together. Alas, that was the last time I saw AC/DC. It’s another sobering message from the cosmos that came in loud and clear – always, always buy the ticket and go see the show. Pretty soon we won’t have the option to buy the ticket… but as usual I digress.

Needless to say, the Rock Chick and I were both down yesterday after hearing the news. I saw there were a tremendous number of great condolence statements from all across the music world. The quiet, unassuming Malcolm was quite a force in hard rock. So like everybody else, I went to the stereo to put on some AC/DC. It would have been easy to just slip Back In Black on the turntable and turn it up. But that seemed too perfunctory.

Then I realized, The Rock Chick had put together an AC/DC playlist years ago. It’s one our favorite playlists. We’ve played it at parties and it always goes over well. I couldn’t help but think it would be a more fitting tribute to Malcolm to listen to a broader spectrum of his music than just one album. And I must say, turning this music up loud was the balm my soul needed.

Now, like everything in marriage, music is a compromise. I’ve often described my musical tastes and the Rock Chick’s as being a classic Venn Diagram, the famous overlapping circles. And even though we both love AC/DC, inexplicably, my wife doesn’t like the Bon Scott-era. She’s all in for Brian Johnson. I chuckle to think that when I first got into AC/DC I couldn’t tell the difference between the two. As my listening became more sophisticated, I realized that Bon had a raspier, bluesier vocal style. I’d also say Bon had a better sense of humor, but the Rock Chick might debate me on that topic. I don’t always subscribe to the theory of “happy wife, happy life,” but in the case of this playlist, I pick my battles.

The Rock Chick’s playlists are always better than anything I can come up with. Her party playlists always get somebody running up to me to ask what these songs are… my playlists tend to get people running up to me to ask if we can change the music. “Yes, Rich, we have some Oasis we can put on…” The Rock Chick tends to avoid songs that were over-played or that were big hits (like say, “You Shook Me All Night Long,” a great tune but we’ve all heard it 1000 times). She goes to the deeper album tracks. There always seems to be the right mix of popular tracks and deep cuts. This playlist is heavy on Brian Johnson tracks, and on their later albums, which is what BourbonAndVinyl is all about in the first place. I am slowly bringing The Rock Chick over to the Bon Scott stuff… track by track she’s getting into Highway To Hell. And I play the criminally overlooked LP, Powerage as often as I can get away with it…(LP Look Back: The Overlooked Gem, AC/DC’s “Powerage”) It was bound to seep in.

So for those of you who were saddened by yesterday’s Malcolm Young news, I will share this, the Rock Chick’s AC/DC playlist. It’s meant to help the healing. I have put it out on Spotify under the title, BourbonAndVinyl.net The Rock Chick’s AC/DC Playlist. As mentioned, you’re not going to find “You Shook Me All Night Long” or much Bon Scott. But as I listened to this yesterday it gave me a real appreciation of Malcolm and his brother’s work across the latter part of their career. It’s not meant to be a complete, best-of, kind of retrospective. It’s just something that gave me solace and I wanted to share it in these sad days.

Without further adieu, here are the Rock Chick’s AC/DC Playlist tracks. This one’s for you Mal:

From Back In Black:

  1. Hells Bells
  2. Shoot To Thrill
  3. Back In Black
  4. Have A Drink On Me  (Something I did in Malcolm’s honor)
  5. Shake A Leg

From Ballbreaker:

  1. Hard As A Rock
  2. The Furor  (I realize this was banned in Germany, but it’s a wicked good track)
  3. Hail Caesar
  4. Whiskey On The Rocks (The perfect BourbonAndVinyl track)

From Black Ice:

  1. Rock ‘N Roll Train
  2. Skies On Fire
  3. Anything Goes

From For Those About To Rock:

  1. For Those About To Rock
  2. Put The Finger On You
  3. Let’s Get It Up
  4. Evil Walks
  5. C.O.D.

From Highway To Hell

  1. Shot Down In Flames
  2. If You Want Blood (You Got It)

From The Last Action Hero Soundtrack or Backtracks (Box Set)

  1. Big Gun

From Powerage:

  1. Gone Shootin’

From Razor’s Edge:

  1. Thunderstruck
  2. The Razor’s Edge
  3. Are You Ready
  4. Shot of Love
  5. Let’s Make It

From Rock Or Bust:

  1. Rock or Bust
  2. Play Ball
  3. Sweet Candy

From Stiff Upper Lip:

  1. Stiff Upper Lip
  2. Hold Me Back
  3. Can’t Stand Still
  4. Give It Up

From Who Made Who:

  1. Who Made Who
  2. Sink The Pink

 

RIP Malcolm Young, Rhythm Guitarist Extraordinaire of AC/DC

MALCOLM YOUNG

Oh man, not another one. I awoke this morning to the sad news that Malcolm Young, the extraordinarily talented rhythm guitarist for AC/DC, one of the world’s (and one of my) favorite hard rock bands, had passed away. He had been suffering from dementia and had to retire from the band prior to the tumultuous recording of their last record, Rock Or Bust. Dementia claimed my maternal grandmother and it’s a tough way to go. By every account that I’ve read, statements from other musicians, Malcolm was described as being a “sweet” guy. Being that talented and that nice are some pretty great things to be remembered for. He was preceded in death by his older brother George Young, who was in the Easy Beats, an early Aussie rock band and who was later a producer for AC/DC. Tough couple of months for the Youngs.

It had to be somewhat difficult for Malcolm. He’s always been a bit overshadowed by his brother Angus on lead guitar who, in his school uniform, was the visual symbol of the band. He was also probably overshadowed by the lead singers – who wouldn’t be overshadowed by larger than life Bon Scott and later Brian Johnson. The front man always gets the attention and the chicks. Yet, Malcolm cowrote every song they did with Angus and Bon Scott and later with just Angus. I would say Malcolm was more important than anybody on the microphone to AC/DC. His riffs were the foundation of every tune they put out. Even though he retired prior to the recording of their last album, Rock or Bust, Angus said most of the song ideas and basic riffs were written by and demo’d by Malcolm. He was as important to rhythm guitar as Keith Richards. That bedrock rhythm guitar allowed his brother Angus to soar on so many great solos.

One of the first albums I remember buying was AC/DC’s Back In Black. I was working as a bus boy at a steak joint named York Steak House in Oak Park Mall out in the suburbs of Kansas City. The crew I worked with there was one of the funnest, most degenerate group of people I’ve ever met. And believe me, I know a lot of degenerates, but these guys took the cake. One of the managers had a big keg party for the employees, most of whom were underage for drinking, but why split hairs over silly rules. We were out at some lake in western Johnson County. Somebody dropped the Back In Black cassette into the boom box and it was like an explosion in my head. My life had changed. Listening to that album, and marveling at the monster guitar riffs, I thought it was some band’s greatest hits album. I remember we were so fiercely air-guitaring I fell and hit my head on a park bench… maybe that’s why I remember that party so clearly… it was literally jarring. Talk about your head banging, I lived it, baby.

It was shortly after almost wearing out Back In Black, that I started researching AC/DC. It was then that I realized that they had just replaced their lead singer Bon Scott with Brian Johnson. I thought it was Brian singing on Highway To Hell, their vocals were so similar. Now, I can hear the difference clearly. One of the reasons their sound stayed so consistent was Malcolm and Angus’ monster riffage. I remember going to the mall and for some inexplicable reason I bought Highway To Hell on cassette instead of vinyl. The mistakes of youth… I think I wanted to play it in the car. That album underscored to me, it doesn’t matter whose up front singing, it’s the guitars that power that band.

I saw AC/DC on the Ballbreaker tour with my buddy, The Accountant, and they were just so spectacular. A lot of that was due to Malcolm’s perfectionist tendencies. He was so committed to the fans. He even quit AC/DC in the 80s to go to rehab to quit drinking. He’d realized his playing was suffering and he loved guitar more than booze. That’s commitment.

I had drifted away from AC/DC, even after seeing that great Ballbreaker show. It wasn’t until I met the Rock Chick and she turned me onto some of their great later albums, The Razor’s Edge, Stiff Upper Lip, that I reconnected with this great band. The Stiff Upper Lip tour was the first concert I ever took the Rock Chick to, chronicled on this very blog, AC/DC’s Stiff Upper Lip Concert – I Discover I’m Dating The Rock Chick. I’m very glad I saw that show, and glad that Rock Chick reintroduced me to this wonderful band. AC/DC remains and will remain in high rotation here at the B&V home.

Today the rock and roll world has lost another foundational player. We down here at the B&V lab will be flying the rock flag at half mast. Me, I’m going to pour a tumbler full of something strong, brown and murky and turn on the Rock Chick’s fabulous AC/DC play list. RIP Malcolm!

 

Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP

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Once again my corporate overlords had me traveling most of this week. I returned home from California just in time to watch the Rock Chick pack her car and abscond to points out west to meet our daughter for some sort of “Thelma and Louis” adventure. Actually, our daughter is moving and the Rock Chick felt compelled to help her find a new apartment in her new city. In the old days, when I was left to my own devices, to a “bachelor’s weekend,” I’d end up face down, slathered in bourbon and pizza sauce. The Rock Chick came home one weekend to find me weeping over the death of Clarence Clemons. It had been a tough weekend…and perhaps I’d overdone it. Luckily, this weekend I discovered that those Led Zeppelin-obsessed youngsters, Greta Van Fleet, have released a new album, er, I mean a double EP, whatever that is, entitled, From The Fires. At least I’ll have something upbeat to listen to all weekend… and yes, I did stop by the store for a fresh bottle of Bulleit rye and ordered a pizza, so I’m ready to rock.

I reviewed their first EP, Black Smoke Rising,  a few months ago (Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP). And as those of you who read that know, I love these kids. Yes, I described watching their YouTube videos as like watching really hip baristas running amuck, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. It was actually the Rock Chick who first came into the B&V Lab and said, “I don’t know who this Greta Van Fleet chick is, but she sounds like Zeppelin.” Hearing these four new songs – inexplicably From The Fires contains all 4 songs from Black Smoke Rising – I believe the Rock Chick is going to be very happy. My friend West Coast BG says the versions of the first four tracks are more polished versions here, but I did what I think most people did – I bought the four new songs and added them to the old ones.

After reading my review of Black Smoke Rising, my dear friend Doug wrote, in the comments section, “I’m surprised Led Zeppelin isn’t getting royalties from these guys…” (or something like that), and yes, they do sound like Led Zeppelin. My friend in Salina, Drummer Blake, when I went to see his new band said, “I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and ask if I’ve heard these kids that sound like Zeppelin, Greta Van Fleet.” Drummer Blake is more fond of Rival Sons, but we’re splitting hairs here. Even my friend West Coast BG sent me an enthusiastic note about GVF. He compares them to the young energy (not the sound) of Def Leppard when they first came out. We both saw Def Leppard open for Nugent back in the day and Greta Van Fleet does bring back memories of that youthful exuberance both of Def Leppard and us. I mention all of this because there are many people out here who have been yearning to hear some new, kick ass rock and roll and the word on GVF is getting out!

I don’t want to rehash the review I put out for the four songs that were contained on Black Smoke Rising, but I will say these kids really are channeling Zeppelin. You can listen to those four songs and literally play the which-Zeppelin-song-is-this game. My favs are probably the galloping “Highway Tune” and the title track. “Safari Song” starts off with a banshee wail that Plant would envy. I will say, someone is going to have to get lead vocalist (and one of three brothers in the band) John Kiszka a glass of hot tea with honey and a shot of Gentlemen Jack in it to help him sooth his vocal chords. As my friend West Coast BG said, “someone needs to tell him to reign it in, he’s going to shatter his vocal chords.” But damn if I don’t love this kid’s shrieking vocals. I can’t say enough about his brother Jake on lead guitar. I can understand how a vocalist can sound like Robert Plant, but this Jake kid makes guitar sounds that I’ve only heard on Zeppelin records, and I mean that as a huge compliment.

If I was going to say one thing about GVF, to me they’re in the larval stage (I was corrected by BG when I said “larva stage”). They’ve got the chops and the skill, but they can only survive as an act if they can develop their own sound and write their own distinctive songs. I remember so many bands in the 80s, including Kings X and Jason Bonham’s band (creatively named, Bonham) who were hailed as the second coming of Zeppelin but flamed out pretty quickly. I think these guys have the tools to be a long term force in rock and roll but someone, maybe Jason Flom, needs to do what Andrew Loog Oldham did for Mick and Keith – sit them down in a room and force them write and write and write. I think given time these guys will develop into something special, I just hope they hew closely to this swaggering, hard rock sound.

Of the new batch of material, my favorite might be the cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Again, kudos to John Kiszka for the lead vocal. The band brought in some gospel-y background singers, which is a perfect accent. The first time I heard GVF’s version of the tune, I thought, these guys sound too joyful for this track, but I think I misread it. It’s anguished and triumphant all at the same time. And hats off to any band with the balls to tackle one of the greatest songs of all time. It shows they have really good taste in music.

“Edge of Darkness” is a crunchy rocker. I love John Kiszka’s riffage on this song. And, just to play the, which-Zeppelin-tune game, I get a real “What Is And What Could Never Be” vibe from this tune. The guitar time changes and different riffs, just evoke that song for me. “Meet Me On the Ledge” brings to mind “Our Time Is Gonna Come.” It starts with a heavy riff, then vocals/acoustic guitar that builds to the chorus. It’s rocky and spacey. I mention the influences just to underscore what these tracks sound like, not as a jab at GVF. The guitar solo at the end of “Edge of Darkness” is a unique, crazy flurry of guitar that points the way to great things for Greta Van Fleet. The last of the four new tracks is “Talk On The Street,” a baby I’m hearing bad things tune. It reminds me of a less bluesy “When the Levee Breaks.” I know I shouldn’t do the Zeppelin comparison, but I can’t help it.

When I listen to all eight songs on From The Fires I will admit to being baffled by the whole “double EP” thing. Why not just call these eight tracks your debut album. Houses of the Holy only had four tracks per side, eight in total. Take the homage all the way, baby. Anyway, this is a great slab of rock and roll. Turn it up loud, grab a slice of pizza and some bourbon and try not be weeping when your spouse gets home….

Cheers!

 

Review: U2’s Two New Songs from ‘Songs Of Experience’

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As happens this time of year, my corporate overlords have kept me out on the road all week. Traveling has taught me one thing: Civility and good manners are dead, folks. Anyway, I wearily returned home to find the great news that U2 have made a number of announcements in regard to their upcoming album, Songs of Experience, the “sequel” to 2014’s Songs of Innocence. It’s all so very William Blake of them… “Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night.” We have a release date of December 1 for the full album, just in time for Christmas. And, in other great news, U2 have announced a short spring tour through the United States beginning in May and running through June. Sadly it looks like I’ll have to fly somewhere to see them. Hopefully the early dates are just a framework from which they can hang additional dates in additional cities on to.

The build up for Songs of Experience has been impressive. I think this album is going to be an important one for U2… After two rather lackluster records, No Line On The Horizon (2009) and Songs of Innocence (2014) one gets the sense that U2 is bearing down to re-take over the world. These guys are like Muhammad Ali, they always seem to be fighting to regain the World Title. One could view their recent tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their landmark album, The Joshua Tree, as a concerted effort to reconnect with their fans and reignite the passion they so often inspire. (That tour was reviewed in B&V, Concert Review: U2 with Beck, Kansas City, Sept 12, 2017: A “Night of Epic Rock And Roll” – Bono, #U2TheJoshuaTree2017).

They released the first single a month or so ago. That song, “You’re The Best Thing About Me” is simply put, sensational and the best first single they’ve put out since “Vertigo.” I reviewed that single (U2: “You’re The Best Thing About Me,” The Strong New Single From ‘Songs Of Experience’) and it gives me a lot of hope for this new album. Never count U2 out, especially if they feel they have their backs against the wall. The announcements they made this week were accompanied by the album art, the track list and the release of two new songs. Looking at the track list, I don’t see much on the “Deluxe” version to recommend it, the bonus material appears to be all remixes. I say new songs, but one, “Get Out of Your Own Way,” they apparently debuted on The Joshua Tree Tour and the other, “Blackout” was out on YouTube and other social media platforms.

“Get Out of Your Own Way” is a mid tempo, ballad type track. It’s got big choruses. I usually love U2’s ballads, but this one is going to have to grow on me. The track fades in a little bit like “Where The Streets Have No Name.” I think my biggest obstacle on this song are the drums. They sound tinny or metallic. I think Larry Mullen, Jr is U2’s secret weapon so I’d like to see them let that guy go a little more. He does pick it up in the middle of the track. There is some good, signature Edge guitar in the middle and a nice but brief solo. The track is more polished than “You’re the Best Thing About Me.” There’s some audio tape of someone, a rapper, a preacher or somebody at the end that I could have done without. Like I said, not a great track,  but not bad.

“Blackout” is just a great song. The Rock Chick was in the B&V Lab when I played the two tracks and she took to this one immediately. It’s catchy and has some good guitar. I especially like Bono’s impassioned vocal on this track. I love the lyrics, “In the darkness is where you learn to see…” It’s a slinky, funky affair. I think you could dance to it or rock out to it and I mean that in a good way. If “Blackout” and “You’re the Best Thing…” are any indication, this album is headed in the right direction. Although, I will caveat that by saying, it’s hard to take a handful of songs and hear them out of the context of the full album and make any kind of guess about the overall package. I only have my hope for this album to go on and I haven’t had that on a U2 album since How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

Keep your fingers crossed for a great U2 album! Cheers!