LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’

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It’s always a curious thing when a member of a well-known band decides to step out of the band and do a solo album. There are several reasons to do so. Sometimes, like Pete Townshend, the performer feels the songs are too personal to record with the band and so decides to do it alone. Sometimes the members of the band just need a break from each other. That was the onus of Freddie Mercury’s ‘Mr. Bad Guy,’ an album I still feel was a bad idea, despite the adoration of critics. The cover art could be considered Freddie’s declaration that he was gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that…it’s just that we never suspected, but that’s another story. Getting out on his own helped recharge Freddie and the resulting music he made with Queen seemed reinvigorated. And let me be clear, I’m a huge Freddie Mercury and Queen fan.

There was a time when audiences weren’t sophisticated enough to understand a “solo” career coinciding with a band they loved. The thought of a Beatle stepping out on his own surely meant the end of the band. Well, OK, that one might have been true. Rod Stewart was the first artist who really seemed to pull off the parallel solo/band thing. He’d release a solo album and a Faces album every year. Although to be truthful, the solo stuff and the success he saw there overshadowed the Faces stuff and eventually tanked that band. And, in truth, Rod had already signed a solo contract before joining the Faces so he really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Other early notable solo careers outside of a band would include Phil Collins at the height of Genesis’ popularity. Some might say Collins’ solo career helped fuel the success of Genesis… but Phil Collins, really? Even I feel like that’s a reach for this blog.

Nowadays, solo careers are pretty much the standard. Yes, they still sometimes mean the end of a band you love (I’m talking to you Gwen Stefani of No Doubt). Most of the time it’s just a chance for an artist to step outside the strictures of working with the same people, and maybe expand their musical palette. Having spent the last week or so listening to ‘Waiting On A Song,’ I can definitely say that is what Dan Auerbach has done. Of course, I’ve had to select my moments when I can put this album on… The Rock Chick is not a fan… I can only listen when she’s not around… and I’m supposedly “the head of the household…” but I digress.

Both the Rock Chick and I are what I would describe as “casual” fans of the Black Keys. I liked their early blues-punk stuff. I’ve always thought of the Black Keys’ early stuff as somewhat monochromatic, which isn’t a bad thing. Consider Picasso during his “blue period.” I thought the high point during that part of their career was the LP ‘Rubber Factory,’ an album both the Rock Chick and I both enjoy. I will say, in subsequent albums the Black Keys did open up their sound quite a bit. ‘Attack And Release,’ a favorite of the Rock Chick, incorporated a number of new sounds and directions. That’s one of the things I’ve really liked about the Black Keys, they keep expanding sonically. I think all of that came to beautiful fruition on their best album, ‘El Camino.’ I will admit, ‘Turn Blue’ left me decidedly cold. I did not like anything on that record. I seem to like every other Black Keys album.

I was aware that Auerbach had already released a solo album previously, but I’d mostly ignored that. Even if I’d listened to ‘Keep It Hid,’ I don’t think that or anything would have prepared me for how different ‘Waiting On A Song’ was than Auerbach’s day job. This is a shimmery, summery, light, upbeat 70s style record that in places borders on soul music or R&B. I heard the first single “Shine On Me,” reviewed here on B&V, and really liked it. It’s what the kids call, “my summer jam.” It’s all acoustic strumming with electric guitar accents. I still just love that tune.

With the Black Keys, it now appears to me, that the caveman, Meg White-like drumming of Patrick Carney drives the sound. Which, I know the Black Keys used to be considered a poor man’s White Stripes, and likely I risk Jack White punching me in the face with the Carney/Meg comparison, but oh, well, there it is. Auerbach couldn’t sound further removed from the Black Keys sound than he does here. There is a diversity of sound, and a difference that astounds me. With Carney behind the kit, Auerbach has to play a more aggressive, loud guitar as counterpoint.

With ‘Waiting On A Song,’ where to begin…. “Malibu Man” sounds like something from a 70s Bobby Darin album. It’s a great tune, all shimmery pop. “Livin’ In Sin,” a phrase I haven’t heard since my father forbid my uncle from sharing our guest room with his live-in girlfriend, now my aunt, is a great song. But even that phrasing, “Livin’ In Sin” has a 70s feel to it. This whole album feels like an homage to shiny, happy 70s rock and roll. “Never In My Wildest Dreams” is a beautiful little song, which starts out sounding like Jack Johnson. I never thought the guy behind the Black Keys would sound like Jack fucking Johnson, but it works.

The last track, “Stand By My Girl,” may even outpace “Shine On Me” for my favorite. He sings, “I’m gonna stand by my girl, because if I don’t she may kill me…” Which could be my theme song here at the house. “King of A One Horse Town” starts off like a funky, porn-movie riff, and then turns into a longing, sweetly sung chorus. It reminds me of my time living in Ft Smith, Arkansas… talk about your one horse towns…

I know Auerbach has worked with a wide selection of different artists. He’s clearly brought all that back with him into the studio for ‘Waiting On A Song.’ The title track is all about creating new music, which this guy does in spades here. I really like this record but be forewarned, this is nothing like the Black Keys. This is light and more pop-oriented. Frankly it’s a perfect album for summer and laying out by the pool with a cold beer in your hand, watching tanned bodies stroll by. Which frankly, doesn’t sound like a bad idea….Turn it up loud and be sure to use your sunscreen.

Cheers!

B&V iPod Playlist: Chris Cornell

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I don’t know about you, but here at BourbonAndVinyl we’re still pretty shell-shocked over the news about Chris Cornell’s passing. I don’t know why this one has hit me so hard. Perhaps it’s because I had just seen the man perform with Soundgarden three nights prior. Perhaps it’s because his music has always meant so much to me. Maybe it’s the mysterious way in which he passed.

I read recently that Cornell’s mother-in-law has been railing on social media (where else would someone rail these days) at Eddie Vedder for not making any public comment or reaching out to Chris’ widow. Vedder is launching a solo European tour in Amsterdam that starts tomorrow and apparently won’t be at Cornell’s memorial/funeral today in Los Angeles. We all grieve in our own way, folks. When my friend Larry committed suicide, I did not travel to Dallas to the funeral, which raised some eyebrows. When Hillel Slovak passed away Anthony Kiedis famously didn’t attend his funeral either. Anthony had to get away and tend to his grief in private, down in Mexico. It’s difficult to process things when a friend passes away, especially under strange and shocking circumstances.

Here at the house, we mourn the old fashion way – with bourbon and music. After a couple of stiff Woodford Reserves and some rumination last Saturday, I put together a playlist that attempted to encompass all of Chris Cornell’s career. I wanted to celebrate the man, the singer. It’s long at almost three hours and vast, but so was Chris Cornell’s career. I picked songs that were familiar and (as usual for me) some deep tracks. I also picked a few tracks that just have significant meaning to me. I’ll admit off the bat, Soundgarden’s pre-‘Batmotorfinger’ work is significantly under represented here.

I spent last Sunday on my patio, with the Rock Chick, listening to that wonderful voice, in all it’s forms. From hard rock to acoustic strummers the man could sing anything. The rock and roll world is a much dimmer place now… I would have included Cornell’s wonderful version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” on this list, but you can only stream that on YouTube… These songs are in no particular order, I went where the whiskey took me. I’m going to try and put this out on Spotify if I can ever figure it out… Here then, without further rambling, is my tribute to Mr. Chris Cornell, singer extraordinaire.

  1. Soundgarden, “Superunknown” – The title track from Soundgarden’s penultimate LP.
  2. Soundgarden, “Rusty Cage” – This song is so good Johnny Cash covered it.
  3. Audioslave, “Revelations”
  4. Audioslave, “Original Fire”
  5. Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” – A great song on Cornell’s wrongly maligned second solo LP.
  6. Temple Of The Dog, “Say Hello 2 Heaven” – Written for Andrew Wood, sadly now a fitting song for our current situation.
  7. Chris Cornell, “Higher Truth” – The title track from Cornell’s awesome final solo album. Check this record out.
  8. Chris Cornell, “The Keeper” – This beautiful acoustic ballad is toward the end of Cornell’s great live LP, “Songbook.” It’s a live LP, but this sounds like it was cut in a studio.
  9. Soundgarden, “Live To Rise” – This is a great lost Soundgarden track that was on a soundtrack of some movie. I just really liked it.
  10. Slash, “Promise (featuring Chris Cornell)” – Cornell’s track from Slash’s great solo LP where he paired himself with a bunch of different singers. I always thought this was one of the strongest tracks on the record.
  11. Audioslave, “Dandelion” – Possibly the Rock Chick’s favorite Audioslave tune. When it popped up on the speakers last Sunday, she asked if I’d put it on the list just for her. “No dear, it’s simply an awesome song, it belongs on this list.”
  12. Audioslave, “I Am The Highway” – This is the good stuff…
  13. Soundgarden, “Waiting For the Sun” – You can find this one on the great “odds & sods” collection, ‘Echo of Miles.’ The first time I saw Soundgarden, at Lollapalooza in Kansas City (back when it was still a traveling festival), opening for Metallica no less, Soundgarden opened with this song. It’s one of my favorite Doors’ tunes and Soundgarden does it in a wonderful heavy fashion.
  14. Temple of the Dog, “Hunger Strike” – Eddie Vedder and Cornell vocally shredding.
  15. Soundgarden, “Burden In My Hand” – This song has been running through my head for over a week now.
  16. Chris Cornell, “Billie Jean” – Cornell was savaged when he covered this tune, but I love it. He completely changes the song in the way he does it. He could grab an acoustic guitar and cover any song by any artist and make it new and unique. This is the perfect example of his abilities.
  17. Temple of the Dog, “Call Me A Dog” – Great ballad toward the end of the first half of the LP.
  18. Chris Cornell, “Dead Wishes” – Another beauty from ‘Higher Truth.’
  19. Chris Cornell, “Imagine” – Beautiful John Lennon cover from ‘Songbook.’
  20. Audioslave, “Doesn’t Remind Me” – This might have been a single, regardless, it’s a great tune.
  21. Soundgarden, “Pretty Noose”
  22. Soundgarden, “Spoonman” – Well, you knew this one was going to be on the list.
  23. Soundgarden, “Outshined” – A tune my good friend Steve turned me on to many, many moons ago.
  24. Audioslave, “Like A Stone” – The breakthrough hit for Audioslave.
  25. Chris Cornell, “Sunshower” – This is the first solo track Cornell ever did, to my knowledge, after Soundgarden broke up. It was another soundtrack tune.
  26. Audioslave, “Cochise” – On a side note, I’m thrilled the Kansas City Chiefs play this song right before the team takes the field on home Sundays.
  27. Soundgarden, “My Wave” – There are so many great songs on ‘Superunknown’ it’s easy to overlook this gem.
  28. Audioslave, “Sound of a Gun” – The riff on here is monstrous, the singing is even more so.
  29. Chris Cornell, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” – The single from ‘Higher Truth.’
  30. Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun” – Heavy metal, psychedelia.
  31. Chris Cornell, “Finally Forever” – A beautiful song Cornell wrote for his wife. Why this song isn’t played at every wedding is a mystery I don’t have time to solve. This is another song off of Cornell’s 2nd solo album.
  32. Chris Cornell, “Thank You” – I think Chris Cornell was born to cover Led Zeppelin.
  33. Chris Cornell, “Can’t Change Me” – The single from Cornell’s first proper solo album.
  34. Soundgarden, “Fell On Black Days” – The middle 90s were a tough time for me. This song helped pull me through those very “black days.” I wish it could have done the same for Cornell.
  35. Soundgarden, “Been Away Too Long” – The single from Soundgarden’s reunion album. It’s sad to think they were working on a follow up when Cornell passed.
  36. Audioslave, “Be Yourself” – “it’s all that you can do…”
  37. Chris Cornell, “Seasons” – I just love this beautiful song from the ‘Singles’ soundtrack.

I hope this selection of music helps you get through this horrible loss. It seems to be helping the Rock Chick and I. It’s a dark ride folks, take care of each other out there.

I Awoke To The Devastating News: Chris Cornell Has Passed Away, RIP

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*Picture taken by the Rock Chick, Sunday, May 14th, 2017

“I heard the news today, oh boy…” –The Beatles

I believe it was Robbie Robertson, guitarist of the Band who famously said, “The road has taken a lot of the great ones…” Sadly, we have one more name to add to that list.

I was awakened this morning by my wife, the Rock Chick, which usually doesn’t happen unless there is a task at hand, like “we forgot to put the recycling out.” I’m easily startled so nobody really likes waking me up before the alarm. She teared up as she gave me the devastating news that singer, guitarist, songwriter, father, husband, Rock Star Chris Cornell had passed away from an apparent suicide over night. I couldn’t believe it… surely there had to be a mistake here? My heart and thoughts go out to his family, his wife and two kids. I can’t imagine what they’re going through.

In a word, I’m devastated. This is made much worse for me as I just saw Chris and the rest of Soundgarden here in Kansas City on Sunday night at Starlight Theater and they were fantastic. When I was young, and I first started going to concerts, I realized that when you see a really great show there is a post-concert bliss or buzz, call it what you want, that can last for days. That Soundgarden post-concert high hadn’t even worn off for me yet. And now Chris is gone.

He prowled the stage like a prize fighter last Sunday. His voice was perfect. He sang all up and down the scale. His vocal was as strong as anything I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard everybody. He played more guitar than I thought he would and actually had some chops. The man was truly a Rock Star, with a capital R and S. He told a wonderful story about his grandparents, who he said lived in KC. His grandfather built Rolls Royce engines here, apparently. He said coming over the river and seeing Kansas City, the few times he visited, always made him feel good. It was a lovely moment in the show. I felt he’d really connected with the adoring audience. My God, he was only three months younger than I am.

I was a big Soundgarden fan. The first thing I connected with was Cornell’s voice. “Fell On Black Days” is a song that means so much to me, I don’t feel I can share it in these pages. I also bought the Temple of the Dog LP, a tribute to Chris’ fallen friend Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” from ‘Temple of the Dog’ is another of those songs that take me back to a very specific time in a very moving way. After Soundgarden broke up I bought his first solo LP, ‘Euphoria Morning’ which I didn’t connect with, although “Can’t Change Me” from that album is still in high rotation here at the house (I play it for my wife). I really loved his work with Audioslave. I have all three of those great albums. When he returned to his solo career I was back on the bandwagon when he released the live acoustic ‘Songbook’ album and the fantastic acoustic based studio LP, ‘Higher Truth,’ reviewed on B&V. I can truly say I was a fan of most, if not all, of this guy’s work. ‘Higher Truth’ will be playing in my house all day.

I was happy a couple of years ago when Chris got back together with his mates in Soundgarden and they put out ‘King Animal,’ and was thrilled to see them Sunday night. I wanted to see him when he got back together with Temple of The Dog for a brief tour and I pray someone taped those shows. He even played with Audioslave at a benefit a couple of months ago… It seems he’d reunited and made peace with everybody. That is some comfort, I guess.

My friend, drummer Blake, said via text, “Only Eddie Vedder is left from the big 4 Grunge bands of the 90s…” It hadn’t occurred to me we’ve lost Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Layne Staley (AIC), and now Chris Cornell. Soundgarden was purportedly working on a new album that I think we all were looking forward to…

This is just a fucking tragedy. I am distraught. If you’re out there, and you’re having a hard time, reach out to somebody. Don’t let it get to this point.

I had a dear friend commit suicide back in the early 90s. It left a mark on me that remains to this day. I can’t help but feel this particular artist, going out in this particular way is going to leave a similar mark on a lot of people.

It’s a dark ride folks, take care of each other. RIP Chris Cornell, Rock Star.

Concert Review: Soundgarden, Kansas City May 14, 2017

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*Photo taken by your intrepid blogger

My friend’s younger brother, who I call Young Goodman Brown for no good reason, emailed a couple of months ago. He lives in Tulsa now and is a successful orthopedic doctor. And here I remember him as high school kid with a bleach blonde mullet. Time passes quickly, folks. Young Goodman Brown was excited about this year’s line-up for Rocklahoma, the annual hard rock/heavy metal festival held out in some field in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma. He’s always trying to convince his brother and I to come down there. After using “the Google” to find the line up, I too was impressed. The Cult was playing this year and you know how much I dig the Cult. I was surprised to also see Soundgarden on the line-up. It’s always great when a band gets back together. At the time it was the only gig they had scheduled but I knew they’d have to be doing some sort of spring/summer tour. Nobody goes out for just one gig.

To my delight and Young Goodman Brown’s disappointment, I found out that Soundgarden was indeed touring more extensively and better yet, coming to Kansas City. There would be no heavy metal camping in Oklahoma for me this year. I was a little shocked a band as heavy as Soundgarden was playing at Kansas City’s venerable Starlight Theater – it’s usually the host of Broadway type musical theater, my parents have season tickets every year, but not so last night. Right before I left for college my parents took me out there for the first time to see Elton John, which was actually awesome (much to my surprise at the time) which tells you Soundgarden isn’t the usual Starlight fare. The Rock Chick, my old friend Steven and I snapped up tickets as soon as they went on sale and Ubered out there last night. I even saw my stereo guy out there and he’s a bigger music junkie than even I am. I knew this would be a special evening.

I will say, the evening started off with the opening act, The John Dillinger Escape Plan and it was not a good start. It was three guys pounding their instruments while the lead “singer” screamed at the crowd. I literally told the beer guy I felt like I’d done something wrong and was in trouble. The lead singer was that angry… It’s hard being Catholic. It’s best to spend the time the opening act is on stage in the beer garden like I did last night. In the interest of full disclosure, I did take ear plugs out there… I knew this was going to be a loud evening.

I’m embarrassed to admit, I forget how heavy and how hard rocking Soundgarden is. I tend to think of them along with the other great grunge bands like Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. And while all those guys rocked hard with an almost punk sensibility, none of them rocked as hard as Soundgarden. I remember thinking back in the 90s that they were the Sabbath of the grunge movement. My buddy Steven told me last night he heard someone say that on MTV so my “Sabbath” analogy may not be purely original, although I sure thought I came up with it. These guys rock with a fucking vengeance. Why they’re not in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame is a mystery and perhaps even a scandal.

I knew Chris Cornell was a great front man, that’s expected. His vocals are simply amazing live. I was blown away by his singing. I went out there thinking, “Well, Cornell is awesome, but Thayil will be the hero of the evening.” Kim Thayil, the lead guitar player is one of those great, great guitar gods you never hear anything about. He’s quiet, unassuming, and just shreds. He was laying thick slabs of monster riffs in the most laid back manner. He also plays some intricate, beautiful solos. The guy is the definition of virtuoso. However, I wasn’t nearly as impressed with him as I was with drummer Matt Cameron, which is saying a lot. Cameron is the engine that drives this band. After seeing last night I must say he ranks up there with Neal Peart or Tommy Lee, two of my favorite hard rock drummers. His back beat with Ben Shepherd’s loud, insistent bass guitar was the rock-bed, solid foundation from which Cornell and Thayil soar. Their chemistry is fabulous. Cornell kept having issues with his ear buds and at one time had to run backstage. The first time that happened, Cameron played a great, brief drum solo to cover for Chris. The second time it happened, the whole band joined in on a improvisational jam. I like the moments when things fuck up on stage almost as much as the precision moments.

The opening track, “Incessant Mace,” was a track I was not familiar with. My history with these guys only goes back as far as ‘Batmotorfinger,’ so the opening track wasn’t in my memory bank. Usually when I see a show, I’m such a completist I know every tune they’re playing, which I will say, helps me enjoy the show more. “Incessant Mace” is a slow rolling heavy rock number. I didn’t know it but I really enjoyed it. They played a couple other tunes I didn’t know, which I enjoyed, but then they hit their stride when they played “Spoonman.” Cameron really had the chance to shine on that one. They actually opened with the beginning of “Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” which I wish they’d played in it’s entirety.

After “Spoonman” they launched into “Outshined,” a muscular, slow dirge-y “Black Hole Sun,” and then the hard “By Crooked Steps” from the great, overlooked comeback LP, ‘King Animal.’ The band played tunes from their entire career. It’d be easy at this point for them to come out and play most of ‘Superunknown’ and phone it in. These guys played all over their catalog and played with passion. “Rusty Cage” is a Rock Chick favorite and I can now say it’s one of my favorite since I heard it in all it’s glory last night. Steven turned to me last night after “Jesus Christ Pose,” and said, “I never really liked that tune until this very moment, seeing it live.” Support live music folks, it’ll change your perspective of the music and the songs. You haven’t experienced a song until you’ve heard it live.

“Fell On Black Days” was a particularly high point for me. The song came out when I was going through some bad shit, and the song means a lot to me personally. I’d announced it’s the only tune I’d be disappointed not hearing. They did not disappoint. It was built around Cornell’s fabulous vocal. I was blown away. It was truly the high point in an exceptional concert. Cornell actually played a lot more guitar than I expected last night and I have to admit, he can play. Cornell said at one point, before the encore, that his grandparents lived in Kansas City and it was always a special place to him. I don’t know if it’s true, but it seemed genuine and it was a really nice moment. Then they launched into the encore tune, “Slaves and Bulldozers,” which Cornell said was named by a 5 year old. If you want a hard rock/heavy metal clinic, put on “Slaves and Bulldozers.” It led to a feedback frenzy as each band member slowly left the stage.

This was an exceptional night and an exceptional performance. These guys are just astonishingly good. From guitar solos to vocals to drums, there were so many jaw-dropping moments. It was so heavy and so loud I felt like I was in college again. Never underestimate master musicians practicing their craft. If you’re in a city lucky enough to be on this Soundgarden tour, do yourself a favor and get a ticket. Buy the ticket, enjoy th ride! Hell, I might even go down and camp in Nowhere, Oklahoma to see them again… and that’s saying something.

Cheers!

iPod Playlist: B&V Murder And Mayhem Songs, Inspired By the Rock Chick

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As those of you who are familiar with BourbonAndVinyl know, I’m always looking for an excuse to cull through my vast musical collection and put together a playlist. My dear, dear, late friend Nancy once brought over a book of playlist ideas and we poured over it for hours while drinking martinis. I miss that woman dearly. That book is what gave me the idea for thematic playlists. I used to make my own “greatest hits” tapes for certain artists. Even as far back as my earliest vinyl and cassette days I was always putting together the dreaded mix tapes. Arkansas Joel, who always had a great car stereo but no records, used to request tapes of my music but that was a long time ago. My wife, the Rock Chick, can put together the best playlists, either by an artist or just tunes that go well together. She has a great Van Halen mix, all Roth of course. I’m not as skilled as she is in the art of the playlist.

However, as with most things I write or do, the Rock Chick is my muse. She inspires me in ways I didn’t know were possible. Lately, I’ve been a little worried about her. My Corporate Overlords have me traveling so much it’s been exhausting. When the road finally bends back towards home, I usually return to find the Rock Chick watching the Investigation Discovery Channel. She seems addicted to shows about what I’ve nicknamed, “murder and mayhem.” She loves to recount the countless stories of people who have committed murder. I think she missed her calling and should have looked into a career in forensic science. Vanity Fair Confidential, Dateline (with that pretentious Keith Morrison) and 20/20 reruns on OWN are in high rotation on our TV. She recounts these murder stories with great enthusiasm… almost too much enthusiasm. Luckily we have a cat that I use as a food taster just in case the Rock Chick gets any ideas about antifreeze cocktails.

I started musing on all this murder and mayhem the other night. I realized there are some great classic rock tunes about killing and murder and what not. Using the Rock Chick’s musical taste as my guide, I narrowed my playlist idea down to the following twenty-five songs. Sure, there are other tunes that would fit… Lou Reed has a great song called “The Gun” that nobody but me has heard but unfortunately the Rock Chick agrees with my friend Doug who says, “Every punk rocker knows Lou Reed is a dick.” And yes, I could have just filled up my playlist with Tupac and Biggy songs where they threaten each other, but this is a blog dedicated to the joys of classic rock and roll, not hip hop.

I must admit, post Kentucky Derby Day, I almost wish someone would kill me. The curse of bourbon is upon me.  Perhaps a little hair of the dog and these fine 25 rock tunes about murder might cure what ails me… By the way, I will admit I was as surprised as anyone that Green Day had so many murder and mayhem tunes.

  1. Rage Against The Macine, “Killing In The Name” – Yes, this song has broader, geopolitical ramifications but killing is killing.
  2. The Power Station, “Murderess” – Great, deep track from Robert Palmer, drummer Tony Thompson and a couple of dudes from Duran Duran. I’m hoping my wife never becomes the title character.
  3. The Kills, “Doing It To Death” – Not a bad way to go…
  4. The White Stripes, “Death Letter” – Jack White owns this old blues tune for me. Mellencamp did a pretty good version of this one too.
  5. Green Day, “Murder City” – “Desperate but not hopeless.”
  6. AC/DC, “Night Prowler” – Was anyone in rock and roll more menacing as a singer than Bon Scott when he turned nasty?
  7. Duran Duran, “View To a Kill” – I’m not a huge Duran fan, but I always liked this one and it’s a Rock Chick favorite. I think I like it so much because it was used in that James Bond film… I love James Bond films, but who doesn’t?
  8. The Clash, “Somebody Got Murdered” – Ph D courses could be taught about the Clash’s brilliant but flawed album ‘Sandinista!’
  9. Motley Crue, “Looks That Kill” – This song certainly describes the Rock Chick…
  10. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” – Is it that he’s singing in French that makes it creepy or is David Byrne just creepy by definition?
  11. The Police, “Murder By Numbers” – Not a Rock Chick favorite, but I had to have this song on the list.
  12. Queen, “Killer Queen” – The loss of Freddie Mercury is still felt, people.
  13. Echo And The Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon” – What I’ve gathered from all of these murder shows is that jealousy and spouses and murder are all tied up together. This is a great song about jealousy.
  14. The Rolling Stones, “Midnight Rambler” – The Rock Chick didn’t realize this was about a murderer. Killer slide guitar by Mick Taylor who had just joined the band.
  15. Audioslave, “Sound of a Gun” – “Running from the sound of a gun, til I’m weary.”
  16. Green Day, “Bang Bang” – Harrowing story told from the viewpoint of a mass shooter. Green Day is as relevant as ever.
  17. Mick Jagger, “Gun” – Jagger’s solo work always gets slagged but ‘Goddess In The Doorway’ was a killer record and this is a great cut. “Why don’t you just get a gun and shoot it through this heart of mine…” I should have entitled this playlist “Murder, Mayhem and Marriage.”
  18. U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” – A great U2 track that I believe was used in a Batman film. Don’t hold that against it.
  19. Green Day, “Kill the DJ” – Who doesn’t want to kill the DJ? Live music, not DJ’s, make the world go around.
  20. Alice In Chains, “Killer Is Me” – I prefer the live version on the unplugged LP because you hear Layne Staley say at the end, “I could hug you all, but I won’t.” Layne probably could have used a hug. Tragic story, or in the vernacular of today, #Sad.
  21. Depeche Mode, “Barrel of a Gun” – You knew these dark bastards would have to be on here. I can’t wait to see them on tour this year.
  22. Social Distortion, “Machine Gun Blues” – Mike Ness reimagining Social Distortion as Pretty Boy Floyd’s old time-y gangsters on a shooting spree. Lots of bullets fly.
  23. Bruce Springsteen, “Murder Incorporated” – One of Springsteen’s most rocking tunes with a fabulous guitar solo and naturally a great Clarence Clemons sax solo. All Hail the mighty Big Man!
  24. AC/DC, “Big Gun” – If you’re going to kill someone, bring a big gun. Not as menacing as Bon Scott’s tune, but a great rock tune none the less.
  25. Rage Against the Machine, “How I Could Just Kill A Man” – We leave where we came in, with Rage. Tom Morello uses his guitar like a machine gun. What’s not to love on this great tune.

If you come home and your spouse/significant other is watching shows about murder, turn them toward the stereo. There’s nothing good on TV…

The BourbonAndVinyl List of Rock’s Best “Side Projects”

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In the early days of rock and roll, listeners weren’t very sophisticated. As a musician it was easy to get pigeon-holed… you were either in a band or you were a solo artist. You were either Bob Dylan, all alone or The Beatles, four lads from Liverpool. If an artist in a band put out a solo album the general consensus was that the band was breaking up. You were either on the bus or the bus was coming after you…

The first artist I can remember who defied that paradigm was Rod Stewart. After he left the Jeff Beck Group to go solo, quickly followed by Ronnie Wood, he didn’t stay solo very long. He joined The Faces with Ronnie. But then he did something audacious that no one had never done before… he continued his solo career. He’d release a solo album and then a Faces album every year. Back and forth, back and forth. Fans, in the early 70s were clearly confused. Some concert venues went so far as to bill the Faces as “Rod Stewart and The Faces,” like the Faces were Stewart’s version of Wings… his back up band. That probably got a little awkward in the dressing room. There were always accusations from the band that Rod was keeping his best material for his solo albums. I think  we all know where that led. And likely, dividing his time between projects diluted the finished product on one end…

These days doing solo stuff outside the setting of your established band is pretty much expected. It’s not the death knell of a band when the lead singer or the guitar player branch out and do something solo. Well, unless we’re talking about Aerosmith and Steven Tyler who suddenly turns into the village idiot and decides to promote “his own brand” vs the band, but again that ain’t normal. All of this is well and good with me, artists should express themselves as they wish. But it occurred to me the other day, there is a third category outside of band projects and solo projects… the infamous “side project.” Many times, instead of going full-on solo, a band member will do a one-off project with other musicians. Maybe it’s the artist’s attempt to stick his toe into the solo realm. Or maybe it’s just a musical vacation away from the usual mates in the band to work with some other friends or just some new, different musicians to test the creative boundaries. Think of it as a vacation only with instruments. I’m not talking about a guest shot on someone else’s album, I’m talking about a full on diversion from one’s career to do something else. I don’t think anybody has really celebrated the best of these, so after some bourbon and a lot of thought.. here are the best Rock N Roll Side Projects…

  1. The Traveling Wilbury’s – George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty all between albums convene at Lynne’s house and end up striking pay dirt with Vol. 1. After Orbison’s death they actually did a second album, but the second side project record is usually not as good as the first one.
  2. The Notting Hillbillies – Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits gets together with some old mates and does the underrated, mellow strummer, “Missing…and Presumed Having a Good Time.” “Your Own Sweet Way” was the stand out, but don’t under-estimate the charm of the other guys in the band’s turns on lead vocal.
  3. Mad Season, ‘Above’ – Mike McCready, the guitarist from Pearl Jam, says he got together with Layne Staley (among others) to show Layne that you could create music while sober. This record is murky but “River of Deceit” is one of Staley’s greatest vocals.
  4. Chickenfoot – Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Joe Satriani, & Chad Smith got together for not just one LP, but 2, much like the Traveling Wilbury’s. I actually thought both of these records were great, but the second record, named Vol 3, just never caught on…
  5. Power Station – Robert Palmer took a break from his solo career to get together with a couple members of Duran Duran and the incredible Tony Thompson on drums as a lark to record the old T Rex song, “Bang A Gong.” Things got rolling in the studio and they knocked out an entire LP. I love, love “Some Like It Hot,” with the immortal line, “She wants to multiply, are you gonna do it?” Unfortunately this led the lead singer of Duran Duran, Simon Le Bon, to do the misguided Arcadia project… Oh, well. Palmer refused to tour behind the smash hit and went back to his solo career. That’s why it’s called a side-project, people.
  6. The Hindu Love Gods – Warren Zevon backed by REM. REM had been tapped as Warren’s backing band on the superb ‘Sentimental Hygiene.’ I’m not sure why but the band (sans Michael Stipe) went back into the studio with Zevon and punched out this LP of covers as diverse as Hank Williams, Muddy Waters and of all things, “Raspberry Beret” by Prince. They sure sound like they’re having a great time. It’s relaxed and awesome. Highly recommend this LP.
  7. Tin Machine – David Bowie decides to chuck the solo career for the anonymity of a band project. They actually did two albums, but the first one is the gem. “Under the God” is a great song, but check out their electrified cover of Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.” Pretty amazing stuff.
  8. Stills/Young Band, ‘Long May You Run’ – Originally an attempted CSNY reunion, early in the sessions Crosby and Nash exited. Since the CN part of the equation had done well with their collaboration LPs, it only seemed natural that the SY part would follow suit. Critics decried this album for a lack of songwriting, but my college roomie Drew turned me onto this superb LP and I love it. The title track is great but so is Stills’ ode to scuba diving “Black Coral.” Recorded in Miami, this is like a much, much cooler Buffet album. Young split early in the tour for this album to get back to solo records… too bad. I love these two collaborating.
  9. The Little Willies – Norah Jones doing country covers and originals with a bunch of New York buddies of hers. They’ve done two full LPs, and contrary to the rule, they both kick ass. But as usual, I have to say, Norah could sing the phone book and I’d listen in… But be aware, the other guy sing selected tracks too. I have to admit I love the humorous song “Lou Reed.”
  10. The Foxboro Hottubs – Green Day in disguise. On this superb LP, they’re doing punky, surf-rock tunes while taking a break from doing rock operas. This is a great gem of a record.
  11. Temple of the Dog – Chris Cornell of Soundgarden uniting with most of Pearl Jam for a tribute LP for the former lead singer of Mother Lovebone, Andrew Wood. I love this record. These guys actually just reunited for a short series of concerts on the coasts. I’m hoping for a live LP document of those shows.
  12. Mudcrutch – Tom Petty and several Heartbreakers reunite with other original members of Mudcrutch as Petty explores his first pre-Heartbreakers band. They’ve done two full LPs, and again, unlike the normal rule, both kick ass. Petty is more laid back and jammy with Mudcrutch. These are must have LPs for any fans of Petty’s.
  13. The Raconteurs – Jack White’s first side project outside of The White Stripes, followed shortly by the Dead Weather project. I prefer the Raconteurs. It doesn’t matter what Jack White does, it’s typically brilliant. I actually like the second LP they did better than the first. Check out the epic “Carolina Drama.”
  14. The Firemen – Paul McCartney’s fabulous side project with electronica producer Youth. They’d done a full-electronica album prior to “Electric Arguments” but “Arguments” is the record to buy. Youth told McCartney, “I want chords and vocals this time” and McCartney delivered. Paul always seems to come alive when alleviated from the pressure of the McCartney name… This album brings out the best of McCartney’s experimental side. Weird, quirky – yes. Excellent, yes.
  15. The New Barbarians – Ronnie Wood needed a backing band after his wonderful solo LP, “I’ve Got My Own Album To Do,” and Keith Richards volunteered to go out on the road with him. I think they actually did two tours, but I’m not positive. There’s a limit to even my knowledge… They never actually released anything, but how much fun would this have been to see? Lots of white powder consumed on this tour… I think they finally did a live LP years later…

This list isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list but these are some of the greatest “side-projects” done by some of the greatest musicians of all time. You’ve got a couple of Beatles and a couple of Stones on the list, so it can’t be half bad! Do a little spelunking and chances are if you like a band their members have done something creative on the side! Look outside the box and you may just be rewarded!

Cheers!

 

 

 

Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys): “Shine On Me,” The First Single From His New Solo LP

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Last week while I was checking out the new single from the upcoming Lindsay Buckingham/Christine McVie album, I happened to notice that Dan Auerbach has a new solo album coming out, his second one. I also noticed the first single, “Shine On Me” had been released. I couldn’t help but think, as the bourbon drinking cynic in me popped out, “just what the world needs, another Dan Auerbach solo album….” Despite my initial reservations, as your intrepid musical spelunker, I felt compelled to check this new tune out.

I’ve always run a little hot and cold on the Black Keys. I really dug ‘Rubber Factory,’ but then ‘Magic Potion’ left me cold. ‘Attack and Release’ grabbed me, and I probably like that record more than ‘Rubber Factory.’ Early on I would have said the Rock Chick was more into ‘Attack and Release’ but now I think the tide has turned and she’s more into ‘Rubber Factory.’ I will admit, I would probably say ‘El Camino’ was my favorite Black Keys’ album. But yet again, the follow up, ‘Turn Blue’ did absolutely nothing for me. At the end of the day, I guess I just have to admit I’m more of a White Stripes guy than a Black Keys guy. Not that I’m trying to get in on that feud. This doesn’t have to be a Stones vs Beatles thing… you can dig both. There’s no Superman vs Batman thing going down here at BourbonAndVinyl… we’re lovers not fighters.

I picked up this Dan Auerbach song, “Shine On Me,” and damn if it’s not catchy. This is nothing like the sludgy, bluesy stuff I’ve come to expect from the Black Keys, his day job. This song is as close as you can get to capturing sunshine in a recording studio. It immediately hit me on the lower brain stem. With its ringing acoustic guitars and insistent electric guitar counterpoint, I have to admit, it sounded more like “Go Your Own Way” era Fleetwood Mac than Lindsay Buckingham’s new song. I know one thing for sure, it’ll get your foot tapping and possibly get you up out of your chair, moving around. If this isn’t the rock song of the summer, I don’t know what a summer rock song sounds like any  more.

I think Auerbach is a very talented guitar player, but his vocals in the Black Keys are usually a little obscured or blurred. Not so on “Shine On Me,” he’s full out singing and it sounds like he’s overdubbed himself on the vocals. He sounds better on this song than almost anything I’ve heard him do in the band. The chorus is enormous. It explodes from the speakers. This song may be a little saccharine for the usual BourbonAndVinyl musical tastes, but when I hear a great song, I just have to tell somebody about it.

Uncover the pool, sweep out the leaves, crack some Mexican beer and turn this one up loud. I have no idea how the rest of the album is going to be and I’m not even sure I’ll check it out but everybody should have this single on their summer playlist. Well everybody except those Goth folks… they don’t like to get in the sun anyway.

“Shine On Me” definite purchase! Cheers!

LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic

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It’s early, but the album of the year may have come out on St Patrick’s Day this year… namely, Depeche Mode’s new amazing album, ‘Spirit.’ I’ve waited to post this review because I was so blown away I wanted to spend a good long time with this record to make sure I wasn’t overstating that… I am not.

During the 80’s and 90’s I was still focused on more traditional classic rock. I was into blues rock, heavy metal and hard rock (well, and Fleetwood Mac, blame Stevie Nicks). Sure, in the 90’s I stretched out to grunge, punk and “alternative rock,” but it was from the same school of music. Dark, synth-rock with songs containing themes that seemed to indicate behaving very badly with drugs or a lover could be deeply seductive and alluring hadn’t punctured my consciousness quite yet. I don’t know, maybe I’m a late bloomer….Heaven knows, I was familiar with that ethos, but those records are sealed. With that backdrop, I will admit I wasn’t that into Depche Mode. I knew who they were, a few tracks had penetrated my more “traditionalist” rock bubble, “I Feel You,” or “Personal Jesus.” Most likely the stuff that had distinctive videos were the songs I was familiar with.

All that changed when the Rock Chick entered my life. Depeche was always a favorite of hers. She was slow to turn me onto them, telling me one time, “you have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” Maybe she just thought I wasn’t ready yet… I was immediately pulled into Depeche by the seductive voice of Dave Gahan, the group’s front man and lead singer. However, just as seductive and alluring were the musical soundscapes guitarist/songwriter Martin Gore created. The 1990 LP ‘Violator’ is largely seen as their “magnum opus,” their creative high point. I will say, the latter half of these guys career has been more fruitful than most bands with half their lifespan. Their latter work is one of the reasons I started B&V.

In this millennium, 2001’s ‘Exciter’ was a fantastic record, almost on par with ‘Violator.’ While their ’05 LP ‘Playing the Angel’ wasn’t as good, it contained one of my all time favorites songs (that’s songs, not just Depeche Mode songs) “Precious.” That song never gets old. I enjoyed ‘Songs of the Universe’ but was really into ‘Delta Machine’ which introduced a more bluesy element to their music, especially Martin Gore’s guitar sound. Martin doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a guitarist. His playing is very atmospheric, almost like U2’s the Edge. Needless to say, excitement was running high when I heard they would be returning in 2017 with this new LP ‘Spirit.’ It will become cliche, I think, in most reviews to say that ‘Spirit’ is “the best DM album since ‘Violator.'” In my opinion ‘Spirit’ may be just as good as ‘Violator’ which is pretty amazing for a group this far in.

We live in very troubled political times, from Trump in the US to Brexit to Nationalist movements across Europe. I wondered if, like the Sixties which were tremendously turbulent, music and art would incorporate that unrest. I don’t have to wonder about that any more. ‘Spirit’ is nothing if not a political broadside. The turbulence in the world seems to have really inspired Depeche. Although, this is not a totally political record. Don’t be fooled, there are still some great, rocky, sexy tunes.

The first 1/3 of the album is a fantastic, political statement. “We’re Going Backwards,” followed by “Where’s the Revolution” set the tone right off the bat. Both songs have an almost martial feeling, like you could turn it up and march in the streets to the music. Yes, indeed there will be dancing at this Revolution. “The Worst Crime” could be interpreted as an indictment of those of us out there who didn’t get involved in the political process and allowed some of this unprecedented shit to happen. “Scum” is a great guitar/distorted challenge, “Pull the trigger” growls Gahan in a distorted voice. It’s a great song. “Eternal” reads to me like a father promising a son to protect and love him forever, no matter what comes next… or maybe he’s talking to a lover. The point’s the same, we need to stick together. “Cover Me” is another great song that builds and builds. When, in “Cover Me,” Gahan sings, “We better take cover, will you cover me…” it sends chills up my spine.

“You Move” is just a great Depeche song that’ll get you moving… It drops the political themes and gets you up on your feet. “Poison Heart” is a great upbeat break-up song, if there is such a thing. “So Much Love” can be seen as defiance from the downtrodden, “you can’t shake me, you can despise me,” or just a statement of hope, “there is so much love in me…” The track near the end, “Poorman” picks up the political and the personal again, with the lyrics “Corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make,” but makes it personal, when pointing out the Poorman of the title, “he’s on the street, laying in the snow and sleet.”

This is heady, politics mixed with personal, music. There are so many layers lyrically and musically. It’s truly a work of brilliance. The political themes of the record come off with an almost joyful defiance. The only songs where I truly hear despair, or perhaps a flagging of hope, are “Eternal” and the final track, “Fail.” I look at those songs as almost a warning to not give up the fight.

When most people think of music like this they think of Dylan with an acoustic guitar and searing harmonica. This couldn’t be farther than that. It still has the smart, thought provoking lyrics but with that great Depeche template of moody guitars and swelling synths. I can’t say enough about the interplay of Gahan’s beautiful voice and Martin Gore’s atmospheric guitar playing. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention keyboardist extraordinaire Andrew Fletcher.

I was somewhat surprised to hear some of these dark political themes on a Depeche album… but when I think about their history of dark music with heavy themes, maybe this shouldn’t have been such a surprised. Maybe the darkness in the world just finally caught up with Depeche Mode.

This is a very strong recommendation to buy this record immediately. Play it loud, groove to the music but be sure to listen closely to the lyrics…

It’s a dark ride out there folks. Stick together and take care of each other… “The train is coming, so get on board…”

Depeche Mode: “Where’s The Revolution,” The First Single From ‘Spirit’

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 “Who’s making your decisions, you or your religion, Your government, your country, you patriotic junkies” – “Where’s The Revolution” Depeche Mode

Finally a new album in 2017 I can get excited about, Depeche Mode’s upcoming March 17th release, ‘Spirit.’ I won’t lie, I was beginning to think no interesting music was going to be released this year. In my defense, it’s been pretty grim around here this year…

It was the Rock Chick who turned me onto Depeche Mode, like so many other bands. She really has phenomenal musical tastes. I was wandering the house one Saturday, early in the marriage, indentured like my step daughter, to clean the house. On Saturdays my wife is a lot like Strother Martin’s character in the movie Cool Hand Luke. She’d assemble us in the living room and force us to dust and vacuum things. I can still almost hear her instructing us, “What we have here, is a failure to clean up after yourselves…” 

The one caveat to all of this “cleaning” was that I was allowed to choose and play whatever music I wanted to. I wrote that into my wedding vows… The Rock Chick and her daughter went upstairs when I stumbled upon a double Depeche CD entitled, ‘The Singles, 1986-1998.’ Intrigued, I dropped the first disc into the stereo. Almost immediately, the Rock Chick came bounding down the stairs to veto my selection (which actually happened more times than I’d care to admit). “You have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” she exclaimed and then almost as suddenly disappeared.

After that I went back to ignoring them. A few years later, over some wine, my wife finally put the greatest hits package back on the stereo. I was surprised at how much I liked these guys. They’re definitely “alternative rock” and synth based, which is outside my blues-based template but they’re just great. The thing that jumped out at me initially was Dave Gahan’s voice. The guy is a top notch crooner. The lyrics are also great. Martin Gore, the principle song writer includes a lot of darkness, which appeals to me, especially late at night drinking bourbon.

For Christmas this year, Santa brought the Rock Chick the blu-ray, ‘Depeche Mode: Video Singles Collection’ and it spent the holiday season on high rotation. I was amazed that, like the Stones, Depeche has remained very close to a basic sound, but have been able to do so much, so differently with that sound. Watching their videos got me primed and ready for this new, upcoming album.

I’ll save my praise for their latter day LPs for my full album review, but needless to say, their last few albums, dating back to 2001’s ‘Exciter’ have been very strong LPs and if you’re a fan of their earlier work, I advise you to check those records out post haste. This is a band that unfolds for you like a flower… I will say, their latter day work is an example of why I started BourbonAndVinyl in the first place, to put a spotlight on veteran groups making outstanding music. You’re not likely to hear this great new music on any radio, so I need to spotlight it for you here…but I digress.

I had also been a huge fan of Gahan’s solo work with the Soulsavers (reviewed in an earlier post on B&V) but even so I was excited to read last year that Depeche were in the studio recording a new album. The results of that recording, as mentioned earlier, comes out next month. For now, we have the fantastic new single “Where’s the Revolution.”

I wondered if the current political climate was going to effect art and music in a similar way the turbulent late 60s and early 70s music was effected. For example, I had heard U2, who have mostly completed their new album, were heading back into the studio with some new songs inspired by the current political climate. I have to ask that question, whether today’s politics are going to effect music, no longer… “Where’s The Revolution” is a political broad side. I love the lyrics.

It starts off as mid tempo in the verse, Gahan’s voice over syncopated synth and percussion. The song has a galloping feel, almost like a march, as an underpinning.  When the chorus kicks in, with tortured guitar, the song gets louder. You can feel the call to arms when Gahan howls, “where’s the revolution, come on people, you’re letting me down…” His vocal is urgent, slinky and sexy all at a the same time. All the elements of this song come together to make this a classic Depeche Mode tune. The Rock Chick has it on high rotation on the Sonos… This is the most political song I’ve heard Depeche ever do. When the song starts to wind down, they slow it down a bit and Gahan issues his invitation, “the train is coming, the train is coming, get on board, get on board…” Oh, yes this is a train I wanna be on.

Let the “Revolution” begin today people… “the engine is humming, the engine is humming, get on board, get on board…” Oh, I’m on board alright… All the way to the finish line.

I urge everyone to check this new single out. It gets a high B&V recommendation. I hope the rest of the album is this strong… If recent Depeche history is any indicator, I think listening to this new record when it comes out on St Patrick’s Day is going to be very special…

It’s dark out there people. Pour something strong, dark and murky, and “get on board.”

Cheers!

Artist Lookback: The Runaways, A Guilty Rocking Pleasure

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One of the great things about being married to the Rock Chick is the enormous amount of music she’s turned me onto over the years. Among other bands, early on she turned me onto an all female band, The Donnas. I had never even heard of the Donnas until the Rock Chick put on the LP “Spend The Night” one night and man, these chicks “rawked!” Their song “5 O’Clock In the Morning” was on high rotation at the house for quite some time and boasts one of the most hot-shit guitar solo’s you’re ever going to hear. All female bands were somewhat of a novelty for me when I was growing up. In fact, there wasn’t really any female band I paid much attention to when I was growing up. There was Heart (who had 2 women and 3 men), but after 1980 they went all slick pop and lost my interest. “Barracuda” by them was a descent track. Of course Heart had to suffer through spurious rumors of lesbian incest. Chicks never got their due back in the day. Most of us owned a bunch of heavy metal and hard rock albums and then one or two Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks albums and that was the extent of what we knew about “chicks who rock.”

The Rock Chick has been extolling me to write a post on “Chicks Who Rock” for quite a while now. I had to tell her, beside reminding her of her lifetime reading ban of B&V due to undue criticism of my sentence structure, that I don’t take requests at B&V even if you are sleeping with the writer. That said, the Donnas’ “5 O’Clock In the Morning” popped up on the iPod shuffle the other day and I started doing some reading about them on the inter-web. They cited a band called The Runaways as one of their major influences. I knew I’d heard of The Runaways but couldn’t quite place them. Suddenly it occurred to me that when Joan Jett was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, she mentioned that she’d got her start in The Runaways. I had always thought The Runaways were like Menudo, with interchangeable parts… perhaps I was wrong. Intrigued, I knew I had to do more musical spelunking.

Another great thing about being married to the Rock Chick is that she’s willing to dedicate an entire evening to listening to music. The same evening I put on Big Star’s “#1 Record” we listened to an assortment of new music including The Record Company, The Shelters and yes, The Runaways. I figured The Runaways’ music, since they were put together by skeezy producer Kim Fowley as a novelty act, would be awful. I was very pleasantly surprised. These chicks rocked hard with a punk sensibility that I had not expected. Even the Rock Chick dug The Runaways’ first album and she has very discerning taste. Clearly more research was necessary.

I was too young for The Runaways. They put out their first album in 1976 when I was still collecting baseball cards and only lasted through roughly 1979. They were formed around the core members of Joan Jett on rhythm guitar and some lead vocals, Sandy West on drums and of all people, Lita Ford on lead guitar. When I found out Heavy Metal Maven Lita Ford was in this band with Joan Jett I knew I was onto something. They went through a number of bass players including a chick who ended up in the all female pop band The Bangles. I never had much use for the Bangles… so I consider that the one blight on the Runaways’ otherwise spotless pedigree. For their first two studio albums The Runaways also had Cherrie Currie on lead vocals. Apparently there have been documentaries and biographical movies made about these gals, but I’ve never seen any of them. I understand there was a lot of conflict and drama around the band – but what band doesn’t have conflict and drama. It sounds like this Kim Fowley guy who was their producer and manger was pretty rapey around these young teenage girls. The back story all sounds pretty awful. However, I’m not here to talk about all of that. I just like the music. They never really caught on in America but were, as the cliche goes, “big in Japan.”

The Runaways music is, as I mentioned, a blend of hard rock and punk. These are sleazy songs about misbehavior. These are the dirty girls my mother warned me about and I soooo loved from adolescence to my thirties. Oh, who am I kidding, I still love the bad girls. The debut album is probably the pick of the litter, simply titled “The Runaways.” “Cherry Bomb” was “the hit” that they are most remembered for. Its all dirty riffs and Lita Ford’s screaming leads. I’ll admit some of the lyrics are juvenile but that’s what I’ve always loved about rock and roll. “You Drive Me Wild” has a dirty riff with possibly Lita’s best guitar solo. “Is It Day Or Night” a question I’ve often asked myself when I wake up, is a big loping rocker. They even cover Lou Reed and the Velvet Undergrounds’ “Rock And Roll” with a lot of cowbell. Oh my God is that song so 70s. “American Nights” is an anthem that should have been played all summer in every small town in the U.S. The album ends with a baffling mini-opera kind of song, “Dead End Justice” which utterly lost me. Other than that misfire, “The Runaways” is dirty, rock and roll fun.

The second record, and Cherrie Currie’s last record with the band before going solo was “Queens Of Noise.” They start off right where they left off on the debut record, all hard rock and dirty girl lyrics. The title track comes from a lyric on “American Nights.” They sing in the chorus, “do whatever you want to me.” God, I love these girls. “Take It Or Leave It” is one of my favorite tracks on this record, sung by Joan Jett, and is cowritten by none other than Jagger/Richards. I have to assume Mick was sniffing around the girl band which makes me love the guy that much more. “Neon Angels On The Road to Ruin,” and “Born To Be Bad” continue the basic Runaways themes. I will say the song “Midnight Music” is a more sophisticated tune. “California Paradise” which boasts some interesting drumming and “Hollywood” are better “California sunshine” songs than anything those pussies the Beach Boys put out. “Johnny Guitar” the closing track has some of Lita Ford’s most epic guitar soloing of her career.

The third record, “Waiting For the Night,” I really enjoyed despite the exit of Cherrie Currie. I like “Waiting For the Night” almost better because Joan Jett does all the singing. I just dig her voice more. You could tell the band was pulling in two different directions, punk vs hard rock. Song like “Little Sister” and “Wasted” feel more punky to me than hard rockers. And, “Fantasies” and “Trash Can Murders” are more metalish music than punk. “Gotta Get Out Tonight” has a poignant urgency as does “Wait For Me.” This is all very solid rock and roll. “School Days” has a break neck riff that Aerosmith would be jealous of.

Although they did put out another studio album, by “Waiting For the Night” The Runaways were a spent musical force. Inter-band struggles finally tore these guys apart. Apparently Joan wanted to go more punk with Sandy West and Lita Ford lining up against her, pushing for a more heavy metal direction. They split ways for the oldest reason in the rock and roll books – “creative differences.” Lita went on to be an 80s Heavy Metal Chick. Sandy West had her own band but alas succumbed to cancer in 2006. Cherrie Currie, whoever everyone thought would soar as a solo artist, never really found success. And Joan Jett, well, everybody knows that story. Had I known about The Runaways when I wrote my post about bands who had members who went on to bigger fame, I’d have included these guys. The Runaways are more than a novelty band, they’re a guilty rock and roll pleasure. At the very least everyone should hear their debut album.

Chicks who Rock are very, very powerful… take my word for it. I married one.

Cheers!