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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sap (1992)

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

Jar of Flies (1994)

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

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

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

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay healthy and safe out there. Cheers!

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!