Mick Jagger: “Get A Grip/England Lost,” The New Politically Charged Singles

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I was beginning to wonder what I was going to do this weekend… the Rock Chick decamped last night for points West to visit our daughter. Our daughter recently changed apartments and it appears this cross-town move has precipitated the need for my wife to fly out to help “decorate the new, bigger place.” I have an image of the two of them racing down a desert highway, lifting off the ground, Thelma And Louise style. Oh well, anything for my daughter. In the words of Severus Snape, “…Always.”

Anyway, I was wondering what I would do with myself this weekend. In the old days, the moment my wife announced she was leaving me to my own devices, I would have been icing down beer and loading up on bottles of whiskey. My friends, or as I refer to them, the Troops, would be assembled. E-mails and texts would have been exchanged. Liquor, taxi cabs, grapefruits and lots of ice would be procured. In the really old days, perhaps a pack of Marlboro Lights too, but those days are long, long gone. I was never a real smoker. My wife normally would have returned to find me slathered in bourbon and take-out food… She returned home one time to find me holed up in the basement watching an old video of the E Street Band weeping over the fact that Clarence Clemons, “The Big Man” had passed. I kept saying, through my tears, “The Big Man, honey, The Big Man is gone…” In my defense, I was never really allowed to mourn properly and it had been a helluva weekend.

This weekend, I merely drew the blinds and pulled up the drawbridge. Last night I read Jo Nesbo’s excellent The Leopard in it’s entirety…while listening to Hendrix’s entire catalog… It appears I’m in a Greta Garbo stage. The Rock Chick has been gone for almost 24 hours and I haven’t spoken to anyone outside of work. Well, I did speak to the barista at my local coffee shop. Despite leaving strict instructions about watering plants and feeding her cat, the Rock Chick left literally nothing for me to eat here. So, in truth, I did speak to the folks at the coffee shop to order a scone. Dinner tonight will be a Rubik’s Cube for me to figure out… but who cares.

As I sat pondering my starvation, I saw on social media that Mick Jagger had released not one but two surprise singles. “Gotta Get A Grip” backed with, or as they used to say in the old days “b/w,” “England Lost.” As everyone knows, for us here at B&V, the Stones are our Alpha and Omega, so I was intrigued that Jagger had surprisingly “dropped” these two new songs. Suddenly, my weekend had purpose. Naturally, I purchased the tunes immediately.

Now, I realize that many people have been critical of Mick’s solo work. No one more than say, Keith Richards. Frankly, I love Keith, but he needs to shut his pie-hole on Mick’s solo work. ‘Wandering Spirit,’ produced by Rick Rubin and ‘Goddess In The Doorway’ were both superlative albums. Mick played to his strengths on those records and they’re must-haves, in the opinion of B&V. I’m probably in the minority here, but I also dug his side-project, Superheavy with Dave Stewart of Eurythmic’s fame and Joss Stone and a few others including a son of Bob Marley. I like when Mick explores his experimental side outside of the Stones. Nothing will match the push-pull of Mick and Keith and the Stones, but hey, Mick makes great music.

Artists are an interesting bunch. I’ve always aspired to that title, “artist,” but I have no musical talent (or frankly talent, period). I certainly can’t paint. The one novel I wrote was in a word, horrible. But I have always respected and admired true artists. They’re almost like human antennae in that they seem to sense and feel the zeitgeist of any particular moment and are able to translate that into music, like Dylan doing “A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall,” seemingly prescient that the Cuban Missile Crisis was near at hand, or in paintings, like Picasso during WWII with Guernica. Reportedly, when asked by the Gestapo, about the painting, “Did you paint this?” Picasso replied, “No, you did.” As they say, “no one called Pablo Picasso an asshole, not in New York…” but I digress.

I’ve never thought of the Stones as overtly political. The Beatles had Lennon, who in their later years was increasingly outspoken politically and anti-Vietnam War. The Stones’ greatest political stance was an antipathy toward authority… which I’ve always shared. Question authority, at all times, people. However, on their last album of original songs, I noticed they slipped a political broadside, “Sweet Neo Con” onto the album. “How could you be so wrong, sweet Neo Con?” was the chorus. Keith, interviewed at the time, was nervous about Mick’s political statement… Perhaps Mick was going to be more vocal about his beliefs, musically….

Mick has dropped two songs this week that almost perfectly capture the mood of everyone I know. I realize that anything political from an artist will automatically divide the crowd. Half will love it, half will be offended. Well, when I think about rock music fans, that percentage may be a bit lower on the offended end… In a statement about the tunes, Mick said he didn’t want to wait for a year or so when the songs might not be as relevant. He felt the immediacy of these songs and having heard them, I completely agree.

These songs are a reaction to the bat-shit crazy way the world has turned upside down. I hear these songs as Mick’s reactions to Brexit. However, they could easily be the reactions of people I know here in the States to the current “Administration.” Mick has said he wanted to capture the anxiety of not knowing where things are going. If that was his goal, he has certainly hit the nail on the head.

I played both tunes for the Rock Chick and she immediately liked “Gotta Get A Grip.” “The world is upside down, run by lunatics and clowns…” what a great lyric to start with… Mick keeps singing, “Beat it with a stick…” There’s a great drum beat and a muted groovy guitar riff that turns ferocious as the song moves toward the chorus. It’s the funkier of the two songs. Mick’s vocals are slightly distorted as though they’re someone shouting through a bullhorn to a crowd of protestors. “Intellectuals shut your mouth, beat ’em with a stick, gotta get a grip…” This is priceless stuff, man. If you’re on this side of the equation, this is extremely stirring.

The other tune, “England Lost” is the one I liked best. Using the metaphor of fans at an English football (soccer for us Americans) game, it’s the perfect anthem for Brexit. “I went to see England but England lost, everyone said we were all ripped off…” Mick even breaks out the slightly Cockney accent at one point (like I’m an expert on English accents…yes, I’m guessing). The song is more mid tempo. It’s no sad ballad about England losing. It’s someone who is angry but not “burn a car” angry. “I’m tired of talking about immigration.” If you listen to these lyrics, punctuated by (as usual from Mick) fantastic harmonica, they are as charged as an electrical storm. The metaphor of sports fans, frustrated by the results/outcome of a contest is brilliant. It’s one of Jagger’s finest moments as a lyricist.

I love these songs. However, like Roger Waters’ new LP, ‘Is This The Life We Really Want?’ your political persuasions may color your opinion. I think this is a great couple of tunes by a man, nay, an artist, expressing his opinion. And no matter what your  political stripe, expressing your opinion is an important, vital and wonderful thing. There are the dreaded remastered versions of these songs out there, but I prefer Mick’s rockier, original versions… Turn it up loud and head to the barricades, people! And oh yes, there will be dancing at the revolution if these songs have anything to do with it…

Take care of each other out there…

 

 

U2’s Ten Greatest Non Album Tracks & 5 Best Covers, In Honor of Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary

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Excitement is brewing here at the B&V Labs in anticipation of U2’s tour to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their landmark album, ‘The Joshua Tree,’ swinging through town. I can’t believe it’s been thirty years since that album came out. When it was released in March of 1987, I was near the end of my time at university. I had purchased ‘War’ on vinyl and had ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ on, of all things, cassette. Mistakes were made, people, mistakes were made. I thought cassettes would be around longer than vinyl and I could play them in my car. I was, naturally, mistaken. I can remember laying on the floor of my room at my parent’s house, on spring break, listening to my brother’s cassette copy of ‘The Joshua Tree’ on a Sony Walkman and mistakenly thinking, after only 1 low-fi listen, that there was nothing as big and catchy as “Pride (In The Name of Love).” Obviously, subsequent listens cleared up that misconception. Of course the night I first listened to my brother’s cassette, I believe there had been some beer consumed which likely clouded my judgment.

By the fall of 1987 I had gone to work for my corporate overlords, and in their wisdom they sent me to live in Ft Smith, Arkansas. I consider those years, my time in exile. I was banished from civilization the way Dante was kicked out of Florence. Instead of turning to writing epic poetry, I turned to rock n roll. It was in exile that I met my dear friend Arkansas Joel. He was an even bigger U2 fanatic than I was. By that fall I had ‘The Joshua Tree’ on vinyl and it was in high, high rotation. And yes, I taped it so I could listen to it in my car. We all did that in those days. The sound of cassettes was always inferior to vinyl…

As fate would have it, Joel and I found ourselves in Atlanta, where all the corporate training was done, at the same time. It just so happened that the ‘Joshua Tree’ tour was in Atlanta while both Joel and I were there. When he found out, Joel sought me out on the campus and said, “We’ve gotta see this show… we can scalp some tickets.” At the time, I was enamored with one of my classmates, a young woman whose parents had migrated from Thailand to Louisiana. She was full blooded Thai but spoke with a sugar-sweet, southern accent. What can I say, I was smitten. The class I was in was having a party that night, at this young lady and her roommates’ place. And, sadly, like Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting, I just shook my head at Joel and said, “I’ve got to go see about a girl…” Mistakes were made, people, mistakes were made. Joel frowned, he can be hostile at times, and said, “This will be a mistake you will regret for the rest of your life…” But, he knew I’d made up my mind. Chicks before guitar licks? The shame, the shame.

Naturally, Joel was right. The U2 show that night was spectacular. U2, wearing disguises, actually opened up for their opening act, and played country music. It wasn’t until they broke into one of the country songs from the early set that Joel realized it had been them all along. That’s a story you can tell your grandkids. And naturally, the Louisiana-Thai woman has long since left me behind. In my defense we did date for a year, but those records are sealed until twenty-five years after everyone who was involved is dead…

So while I missed it the first time around, I am going to see the U2 30th Anniversary ‘Joshua Tree’ tour come hell or high-water. Besides, the Rock Chick would never forgive me if we didn’t attend. Like Arkansas Joel, she’s kind of a U2 fanatic. It was their LP, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ that we bonded over when we first started dating. As my buddy Steve likes to say, “U2 is the soundtrack of my life, man.” Me too, Steve, me too.

To commemorate this auspicious date, ‘The Joshua Tree’ turning 30, I put together a short list of their best deep tracks. Most of these songs aren’t on their proper albums. Some have come out on greatest hits/b-side collections. Some of these tracks came out on extended anniversary editions of older albums. These are 10 choice deep cuts that every U2 fan should own… After that I put a brief list together of their best cover songs. Seek these tunes out… Learn them, love them. And never, never choose a girl or boy over a concert… concert memories  last, relationships, well….

  1. “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)”; ‘The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition)’ – This great outtake from ‘The Joshua Tree’ is an homage of sorts to Patti Smith. It’s of similar quality to all the stuff they put out on the original ‘Joshua Tree’ album.
  2. “Miss Sarajevo”; ‘The Best of 1990-2000’ – This was originally from a side project that U2 called The Passengers, where they invited other musicians to collaborate. Pavarotti’s vocal here is epic. Believe it or not, George Michael does a great cover of this record, a sentence I never thought I’d type.
  3. “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”‘ ‘The Complete U2’ – A great, forgotten track from a forgotten soundtrack…
  4. “Lady With the Spinning Head (UV1)”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides and Bonus Tracks’ – I have to wonder how this song missed the cut for ‘Achtung Baby.’ There are several versions of this song out there, make sure you get the one off this album.
  5. “Blow Your House Down”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – I think they started work on this during the sessions for ‘Rattle and Hum.’ This is a great rocking tune. I turned the Rock Chick onto this one over the weekend and it’s in high rotation here at the house.
  6. “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad”; ‘The Complete U2’ – When ‘The Joshua Tree’ hit number 1 on the album charts, Edge and Bono went to see Sinatra in Vegas. He announced that they were in the audience, along with the fact they’d just topped the album charts. He then said, in his characteristic way, “Well, I don’t what they’re spending their money on, but you can tell it’s not their clothes.” I love Old Blue Eyes. Purportedly, they wrote this song specifically for Frank. Sadly, he never got around to recording it.
  7. “Fast Cars”; ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’ – This was a bonus track on the rocking 2002 album. If you didn’t get the bonus edition of the album, go back and pick up this track.
  8. “Ordinary Love”; ‘Mandela – Long Walk To Freedom (Soundtrack)’ – Rolling Stone magazine just did a “top 50” list of U2 songs. Inexplicably this soaring ballad was left off the list.
  9. “Invisible (RED) Edit Version”; single – They only released this song as a hidden track on the disappointing ‘Songs of Innocence.’ If you can still find this version, snap it up.
  10. “Lucifer’s Hands”; ‘Songs of Innocence+’ – After the debacle of the Apple release of this album, they released the ‘+’ which featured some extra tracks and some acoustic versions of songs from the album. This song was better than most of the stuff from the actual album.

And just for fun, kids, I thought I’d provide the Top 5 U2 Cover songs. I love U2, but I really love it when they do cover tunes. They seem to relax more when they’re covering other people’s music. They’ve got a bunch of good ones, but these are the B&V favorites…

  1. “All Along the Watchtower”; ‘Rattle And Hum’ – They tear into this Dylan cover. Sure, Hendrix’s version is definitive, but this is a great version…”three chords and the truth” baby!
  2. “Dancing Barefoot”; ‘B-Sides 1990-2000’ – Great Patti Smith cover. Great guitar work from Edge.
  3. “Night and Day”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – U2 turning Cole Porter upside down.
  4. “Paint It Black”; “Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – Well, I love the Stones and “Paint It Black” is a great song. These guys do it proud.
  5. “Satellite Of Love”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – I finally did see U2, with Arkansas Joel, but it wasn’t until the Zoo TV tour. And, to my amazement they did this Lou Reed song live that night. This is the studio version but it’s great too!

Enjoy! I hope all of you get to see U2 on this upcoming tour. It’ll certainly be fun for those of us who missed it 30 years ago because we were, well, stupid.

 

LP Review: Little Steven’s ‘Soulfire’ A Triumphant Return To His Solo Career

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Well they certainly don’t make ’em like this any more…

Part of the joy of listening to albums, for me, back in the old days was reading the liner notes. I’ve talked about this many times on B&V. While other kids were reading Sports Illustrated, the Royals box scores on the sports page of the KC Star and Playboy, I was reading Rolling Stone, liner notes and well, Playboy. Reading liner notes is where my journey of musical spelunking began. From the liner notes I’d figure out who was playing what on an album or who produced a certain album I liked. I soon discovered that many of the producers and musicians I’d dug before were making the new music I also liked. I tend to follow members of bands or players into their other careers or projects.

One of the semi-unsung heroes of rock for me has always been Little Steven. These days  the fate of rock n roll is such that more people probably know Little Steven from his acting in The Sopranos or Lilyhammer than for his music. Sigh… I’m old enough to still remember when he was Miami Steve… The guy has more nicknames than Deion Sanders. Little Steven rose to prominence as Bruce Springsteen’s second guitarist in the E Street Band. Only Clarence Clemons played a bigger on-stage role for Bruce than Little Steven. To this day Little Steven and Bruce do the “meet me at the microphone” thing to co-sing lead on songs like “Out In The Street” or “Glory Days.” Little Steven actually didn’t join the E Street Band officially until the tour for ‘Born To Run.’ He actually produced the horns on “10th Avenue Freeze Out.” Bruce couldn’t get the horn sound he wanted, he has said it kept coming out sounding like Chicago. Little Steven came in and sang the horn parts to the players and they nailed it. “Time to put this guy on the payroll…” was Springsteen’s reaction. Little Steven was given a “production assistance” credit on ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’ and a full producer’s credit on ‘The River.’ He really shaped a lot of the music from the era of Springsteen I love the most, the 70s.

What many people don’t know, or perhaps have forgotten. is that Little Steven was a producer long before he joined the Bruce and the E Streeters. His most famous production work was probably with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. I’ve read that he helped form the group but it’s never been clear to me whether he was a full fledged member or not. Regardless, he wrote a lot of their early music and produced their first three albums. I always thought of Southside Johnny as the B-team from the Jersey Shore. Springsteen would farm a couple tunes out to him for each of his early records. He never made much impact in Kansas City. As I got older I discovered his music and it’s really great, especially the LP ‘Hearts of Stone.’ Little Steven not only produced those early records, he wrote a lot of the songs that Southside Johnny performed. Again we find it was Little Steven shaping that Jersey shore sound. He went on to produce other artists from Darlene Love and Gary U.S. Bonds to the Arc Angels.

When Springsteen retreated to his home studio to labor over the solo, acoustic, dour album ‘Nebraska,’ Little Steven and the rest of the E Street Band were at loose ends. Springsteen didn’t tour after ‘Nebraska’ so that really left the band with nothing to do. Clarence Clemons even did a solo album with the Red Bank Rockers. Little Steven, whose popularity had been established with Springsteen in his live shows was approached about doing a solo album. The result, ‘Men Without Women’ has been described as the greatest Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes LP that they never made. I just remember sitting in my room in college when my roomie Drew came in with that album. It was a revelation. It was a soul rock classic. Drew turned me on to a lot of great music… but I digress.

Growing up on the Jersey Shore, in the 60s, must have been a unique time in music. You could hear literally everything on the radio back then. Soul music, like Otis Redding, Motown, the Beatles, Stones and British invasion bands. Listening to Little Steven’s work over the years you can tell all of that music stuck in his head. He has this unique way of blending both soul music, with big horns and the garage rock sound of early Beatles and Stones with heavy guitar. ‘Men Without Women’ was the perfect synthesis of all those sounds.

After that album, I followed Little Steven pretty closely. After the solo debut, he returned to work on Bruce’s ‘Born In The USA’ and then bowed out prior to the tour. I was really surprised when he left the E Street Band. There have been rumors it was because of conflict between him and Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau who wanted to take Bruce to over-the-top stardom. Little Steven was said to be the dissenting voice in the room who wanted Bruce to stay truer to the music vs the fame. Who knows? I’ve also read Little Steven say that he joined the E Street Band to help Springsteen “make it” and when he did he felt he could move on to his own solo career. While Springsteen toured the world on ‘Born In the USA’ Little Steven put out his second solo album, the decidedly political ‘Voice of America.’ I love that record but the production is very much of the 80s – tinny and too much synthesizer. The songs “Undefeated” and “I Am A Patriot” are still in high rotation here at the B&V lab some 30 years later…

In the early 90s, Springsteen disbanded the E Street Band. He spent the decade mostly in the wilderness. Finally at the end of the 90s Springsteen reunited the E Street Band, mostly to tour. It wasn’t until his 2002 masterpiece, ‘The Rising’ that Bruce got the band back in the studio together. During Springsteen’s wilderness period Little Steven did a couple more solo albums, but by then I’d lost touch with his music. I was heavily into Pearl Jam and Soundgarden in those days… 1999, when Springsteen reunited the E Street Band, marked Little Steven’s final solo album, or so I thought. The almost constant touring and the acting kept him busy in the interim.

I was delighted to see that Little Steven was returning to his solo career with this year’s ‘Soulfire.’ Gone are the political trappings that dominated much of his work from ‘VOA’ to his Sun City protest stuff. He’s back to doing what he does best – combining soul music, with the big horns and garage rock guitar. I really love this record. It’s so much fun to hear this sound. You just don’t hear records like this any more. This is a bit of a weird album for me as it’s mostly Little Steven covering his old material he wrote for other people, from Southside Johnny to Gary U.S. Bonds. So almost all the songs on this record may seem familiar to those of us who were fans of that Jersey Shore sound. Part of me thought that was cheating, but hey, they’re his songs. I wasn’t upset when Springsteen released his version of “The Fever,” why would I begrudge Little Steven reclaiming his old songs.

The horns on this record are huge. At first listen the album may seem a little monochromatic, but the more I listen the more nuanced stuff starts to jump out at me. Each new listen reveals something new to me. The album starts off with the title track, which starts with a funky little guitar that could have been cribbed from a Supreme’s record. Then the horns take off. Some may grouse about Little Steven’s vocals. Give me a guy who sings with heart and emotion over a perfect-pitch Steve Perry any day. Those same people are the ones I’ve heard complain about Neil Young’s vocal. It’s about feel, people, not hitting a perfect C.

The thing that jumped out at me almost immediately from this record is the Little Steven’s lead guitar playing. The solo on “I’m Coming Back” is Jeff Beck-ian. When Little Steven returned to the E Street Band it was really as 3rd guitarist behind Springsteen and the virtuoso Nils Lofgren so you don’t really get to hear him play those mean leads any more. I think he saved up all his great licks for this record. I love the way he plays the guitar on the blues stomper “The Blues Is My Business.” It’s bluesy but it cleaves to that horns/guitar template the whole album is built on.

There are changes of pace. The doo-wop song “The City Weeps Tonight” is just great. It’s a song the Shirelles could have done. The ballad, “Some Things Don’t Change” builds and builds to the climax at the end. I love the Byrds-y guitar that starts off the Springsteen co-written “Love On The Wrong Side of Town.” All of Little Steven’s influences can be heard on this record. The centerpiece of this record, for me, is “Down And Out in New York City.” It starts off with that funky was-wah guitar sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an Isaac Hayes or James Brown record. It’s an epic soul jam and perhaps my favorite song on this record. It even boasts a trumpet solo in the end, which I was frankly, not expecting. The beginning of “Standing In The Line of Fire” sounds like the soundtrack to a spaghetti western. There are subtle shadings like that all over this record.

I highly recommend this album to any fan of big, soulful, epic, fun, rock and roll. This is a great time from start to finish. Often in B&V I read myself typing “this is not an album you’d put on at a party.” Not so, this time around. ‘Soulfire’ is the kind of enormous music you’d want to play at a party. Turn this one up loud!

Cheers!

The B&V List of Essential “Hybrid” LPs – Part Live/Part Studio Albums

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I recently posted a review of the fabulous new Cheap Trick LP, ‘We’re All Alright’ and it prompted a number of emails and text messages from friends of B&V. The messages were all very similar in nature. To paraphrase, most of the messages were something like, “Enjoyed the review, I used to listen to Cheap Trick’s ‘At Budokan’ all the time.” It seems that all of us of a certain age remember and love that live album. It truly was a huge record. It was to Cheap Trick what ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ was to Peter Frampton or what ‘Live Bullet’ was to Bob Seger. Simply put, it was a career defining live album.

Since I spend way too much time thinking about and listening to music I began to think about great live albums and ponder compiling the B&V list of essential live albums. It’s an idea I’ve been toying with for a long time. However, the list in my head would probably be a little unwieldy. I’m not sure I could fit it all into one blog post. I can be, well, a little wordy.

As I was thinking about this list of live albums, I began to realize that there’s some great live music that’s been released over the years, but not necessarily on the full-on, classic double-live-LP format. In many cases, there have been what I call “hybrid” albums released by some of rock’s greatest bands. By “hybrid,” I mean part studio album, part live album. Think of these albums like a hybrid car, part combustion engine, part electric. I’m not talking about albums with a bonus live cut, or the stray live song like the Stones’ ‘December’s Children” or the Faces’ ‘Long Player.’ I’m talking about albums that are split between live and studio cuts.

I’ve always struggled to categorize the Hybrid albums. In the early days it felt a little like cheating, to augment studio recordings with live cuts. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that in many cases, combining the energy of a band’s live shows with additional studio tracks actually makes sense. Sometimes bands struggle to capture the lightning they generate on stage in the studio. Besides, art is art, who am I that I should view music so narrowly? I will say, when I eventually (and it is inevitable) get around to writing the essential live LPs list, I won’t include these Hybrid records… I am a flexible, but I remain a purist at heart.

Here then, are the B&V list of Essential Hybrid Live/Studio LPs:

  1. Cream, ‘Wheels Of Fire’ – This Cream masterwork is probably the granddaddy of the whole hybrid concept. This would have been a classic album if it had just been the single LP of studio cuts. Songs like “Politician” and “White Room” were instant classics. The blues covers, “Sitting On Top Of The World” and “Born Under A Bad Sign” remain amongst my favorite. Cream, always a legendary live act, included a second album of live cuts and holy shit, are they amazing. They take the song “Spoonful” made famous by Howlin Wolf and written by Willie Dixon and stretch it to almost 17 minutes. The Ginger Baker drum solo “Toad” is also of a similar length and paved the road John Bonham and Neil Pert would travel.
  2. The Allman Brothers Band, ‘Eat A Peach’ – The Allmans, reeling from the loss of founder and leader Duane Allman cobbled together studio cuts recorded with Duane, new studio cuts and leftover cuts from the Fillmore East. That may sound like a patchwork, but this is one of the Allman’s best albums. “Mountain Jam” is a monumental Duane Allman/Dickey Betts jam and I love that it took up side 2 and side 3 of the vinyl album. This was a fitting farewell for Duane. The studio cuts include the sad, acoustic “Melissa” and one of my favorite Gregg songs, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.”
  3. U2, ‘Rattle And Hum’ – U2 took a ton of critical backlash when this LP followed their masterpiece, ‘The Joshua Tree.’ Frankly, I think that criticism was horse shit. This is the sound of a great band discovering their roots and their inspirations and paying tribute to them. There are some great, great songs on this album including “Desire,” “All I Want Is You” and “Angel of Harlem.” The live stuff stands up amongst their best – the covers “All Along the Watchtower,” and especially “Helter Skelter” are both great. The live version of “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” augmented by a choir is transcendent. “Silver and Gold” live is the definitive version of the song… even though Bono is a little confused about what the blues were…
  4. Cream, ‘Goodbye’ – On their farewell album, Cream return to the format that served them so well on ‘Wheels of Fire.’ Although in this case, it’s a single album with one side dedicated to live stuff and the other to studio cuts. The most famous track from the studio album is “Badge,” co-written by Clapton and George Harrison. I love the live stuff, especially the take on “Politician.”
  5. Guns N Roses, ‘Lies’ – The band has always said that side one of this album was recorded live and released on an indie label as ‘Live Like a Suicide.’ There has been a lot of question about the veracity of that. I still like this album. The cover of “Mama Kin” helped Aerosmith make their comeback. “Move To the City” is just a dirty boogie. The second side, ostensibly the studio side, has the great tune, “Patience.” Although I must admit, there was quite a bit of controversy, deservedly so for the use of a racial slur and a homophobic slur on “One In A Million.” It’s cringe worthy, yes. Axl has apologized but that doesn’t make “One In A Million” any less problematic. That aside, the acoustic version of “You’re Crazy” may be the definitive one. And I like the dark humor of “Used To Love Her,” but then I had a lot of bad relationships back in the day…
  6. Genesis, ‘Three Sides Live’ – I hesitated to include this album, as it’s a full on live album, well for three sides, with an entire side of studio cuts. What separates it from say, the Stones’ ‘Flashpoint’ which had 2 studio tracks at the end of the live performance, is the volume of studio cuts. Plus the song “Paperlate” is one of Genesis’ best tunes.
  7. Page/Plant, ‘No Quarter: Unledded’ – When Robert Plant decided to join the long list of artists who did MTV’s Unplugged series, he decided to follow up what Rod Stewart did when he brought in his old partner Ronnie Wood. Plant brought in Jimmy Page. While most unplugged projects were all live performances, Page and Plant augment some of the great acoustic live stuff with reworked versions of old songs. “Nobody’s Fault” and “No Quarter” are given complete reworkings in the studio. They augment the classics with three great new songs that even include some world music elements on “Yallah” and “City Don’t Cry.” One of the better unplugged recordings out there.

I recommend all these records, although I’ll admit GnR’s “Lies” isn’t for the PG-13 crowd. I’d probably skip the tune “One In A Million.” These albums represent some of the best stuff these bands have done, and while you might not find them on my essential live LP list, they certainly boast some great live cuts.

LP Review: Cheap Trick’s ‘We’re All Alright!’ – Pure, Rock Delight

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I know what you’re thinking… Cheap Trick? Really? Many of you are probably amazed they’re still around, although just last year they were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. And many others of you are thinking, Cheap Trick, why bother? But if you’re like me, you remember the latter half of the 70s when Cheap Trick were huge. They were the soundtrack of my junior high school years.

Their early records, ‘Cheap Trick,’ ‘In Color,’ and ‘Heaven Tonight’ are all exceptional, must-have records. Although it wasn’t until their fourth record, the epic ‘Live At Budokan’ that they hit it big. I can remember late junior high school/early high school, when every day my buddy Brewster would come to pick me up in his tan Chevy Monza. He had, of all things, an 8-track player and each morning without fail we listened to Cheap Trick’s ‘Live At Budokan.’ It took years for me to know the exact playing order of the record because the 8-track bounced around in a seemingly random way. I never understood that technology… Anyway, everywhere you went in those days you’d hear “Surrender” or “I Want You To Want Me.”

Cheap Trick always had a bit of a split personality to me… Maybe it was the divide in the band of two good looking guys and two goofy looking guys that gave me that impression. At least they were smart enough to keep guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos on the back of most of their early album covers. Put the pretty members in front of the tent to draw the chicks in… On one hand, Cheap Trick had a garage rock feel to me. Now that I’ve discovered Big Star and their exceptional LP, “#1 Record” (reviewed earlier on B&V The Music of Cinemax’s Quarry Led Me To Big Star’s “#1 Record” ) I now realize the huge debt Cheap Trick owes them. Big Star was always described as power pop, but Cheap Trick were always a little heavier. That said, their early career couldn’t be possible without the song “Don’t You Lie To Me” from Big Star.

The other side of Cheap Trick for me was their intense Beatles fetish. Not that there’s anything wrong with a Beatles fetish… If you’re going to emulate a band, it might as well be one of the greatest. The zenith of their Beatlesque tendencies was the follow up to ‘Budokan,’ the George Martin produced ‘Dream Police.’ You can’t get more Beatles than George Martin. Two members of Cheap Trick actually played on the John Lennon ‘Double Fantasy’ sessions. For me, I always appreciated the rockier side of Cheap Trick vs the overblown Beatles-esque stuff. At their best however, they were able to blend the best of both sides. They did a nice rocking re-work of George Harrison’s “Taxman” as early as their first record.

After ‘Dream Police,’ as suddenly as they had ascended, Cheap Trick’s commercial fortunes started to fade. Maybe they should have stuck with the rockier, Big Star side of their personality. It got so bad the movie “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” made fun of them as “kiddy music.” If I’m using a cultural sub-reference as deep as “Fast Times…” you know these guys have been around a long time, but I digress. To Cheap Trick’s credit, they shouldered on. The 80s and 90s were particularly tough on them. Bass player, Tom Petersson even left during that tumultuous time, only to return later. Even though they were no longer the creative/commercial juggernaut they’d been in the 70s, it seemed every so often, they’d put out a great song. “She’s Tight” caught my ear in the early 80s as did “The Flame” later that decade. So in a way, I was always aware they were around.

I figured they were making the concert circuit, a good “greatest hits band” and that was all there was to it. But then came the surprisingly great 2006 album, ‘Rockford.’ There was life left in these guys after all. It’s the kind of late career gem that B&V was created for. ‘The Latest’ in 2009 was another solid album, if not quite up to ‘Rockford.’ They were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame last year and released another solid record in ‘Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello.’ Somehow I missed reviewing that one… too much going on. I was sorry to see that original drummer Bun E. Carlos had been booted out by that time… to paraphrase the “Big Lebowski,” “I didn’t like to see Bun E go out that way…”  And here we are a year later and they’ve already put out their next album, ‘We’re All Alright,’ a title that harkens back to their heyday and their biggest song, “Surrender.” Putting out an album a year? This really does feel like the 70s.

‘We’re All Alright’ is another late career triumph for Cheap Trick. This is a great album. I would definitely suggest the deluxe edition, as it has three strong, additional tunes. The triptych opening of the swaggering “You Got It Going On,” my favorite tune “Long Time Coming,” and the punky “Nowhere” rock with a joyful abandon. Singer Robin Zander sounds almost unhinged on “Long Time Coming” in a very, very good way when he sings “Shake, shake, shake it…”  “Radio Lover” and “Lolita” are also great Cheap Trick songs. The track, “She’s Alright” is driven along by a great Tom Petersson bass line, which is a nice change of pace tune. Rick Nielsen is just shredding on lead guitar. He’s the star of this record in my mind, although Robin Zander’s vocals are pretty amazing too. While the album rocks from start to finish, they do mix it up the sounds a bit to give this album a lot of flavor. The aforementioned “She’s Alright” and “Floating Down,” a soaring, mid-tempo ballad help break up the full on rock assault. They do find time to indulge their inner Beatles fetish on “Blackberry Way” which sounds like it could have been an outtake from the ‘Sgt Pepper’ sessions. “Rest of My Life” is another standout mid-tempo track. “Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo” is a fun, almost Motley Crue-ish tune.

If like good, ol’ fashion, guitar rock and roll, this is a must have record. Something has really kicked these guys into gear. Maybe it’s Nielsen’s son on the drums now, but these guys are on fire on this record. Even the Rock Chick strolled into the lab here at B&V and said, “Is this that new Cheap Trick, it’s great.” I suggest putting this record on, turned up to 11, with a nice glass of rye whiskey.

Happy 4th of July! Keep all your fingers safe out there folks!

 

 

BourbonAndVinyl iPod Playlist: 4th of July, American Independence Day

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Ah, the 4th of July… When I was a kid, we’d travel down to southeast Kansas to visit my grandparents. Outside of town, there was a rock quarry or the remnants of a coal strip-mining site with a huge piles of rocks. It was like a desolate alien landscape from a bad sci-fi movie. We’d climb the rock hills and throw firecrackers off the top. Well, my grandfather wouldn’t throw the fireworks, he’d light them with his Camel filterless, and drop it at his feet. When the firecracker went off, he’d shrug his shoulders as if to say, “that’s all you’ve got?” He really was part of the greatest generation… but I digress. We were like any other American family – on 4th of July – we blew shit up. It’s what you do. It’s like drinking tequila on Cinco De Mayo.

When I finally, at a later age than most, found myself in a family with the Rock Chick and my stepdaughter, I carried the tradition of 4th of July pyrotechnics with me. We’d pile in the car, drive south of the city, stop at a fireworks stand (that Missouri is so famous for) and load up with explosive goodies. The Rock Chick, I was soon to find out, loves fireworks. If I truly consider her penchant for books and TV shows about murder and mayhem along with her hysterical laughter while lighting fire works, I might start to become anxious about the length of my existence, but that’s for me to worry about. We’d drive out into the country, to my sister-in-law’s farmhouse and by the time we were done, her back porch looked like a scorched battle site. The husks of burned out rockets and smoke bombs littered the yard. We’d cap the day, as the sun faded, sitting on the roof of the farmhouse, which was on small hill. From the roof we could see each fireworks display from every small town between us and Kansas City. The sky was a a panorama of bright, multi-colored sparks. The rocket’s red glare, as the saying goes…

Being an American is a complicated thing. It means a lot of different things to different people. We’re the freest nation on earth yet we were founded by Puritans. For every good time, there’s someone to guilt us about it. It’s quite a party… To me, I just love my country. I’m not some sort of neo-nationalist. I’m the classic American mutt. In the words of Bill Murray in ‘Stripes,’ “my ancestors were kicked out of every other descent country on the planet.”

In all seriousness, my great-grandfather left his home in Modena, Italy and traveled all the way across the world to southeast Kansas. I groused about having to move to Arkansas when I graduated from college… I kind of feel guilty about that when I think about what he must have gone through. He came to America at a time when Irish and Italian immigrants were flocking to the U.S. for work. This didn’t sit well with a lot of the current inhabitants of America at the time because the Irish and the Italians were Catholic. Southern Europeans weren’t exactly welcome. And yet my great-grandfather managed to travel here, get a job in a coal mining outfit and thrive. When it was time for him to get married, he went back to Italy, found  a bride and brought her back over here.

My grandfather, who was a mechanical genius, never went to college but could overhaul a car by the age of thirteen. He spent most of his life working as a clerk in an auto-parts store. Eventually the owner offered to sell him the store. He bought it and then opened another. I often wonder, where else in the world could the son of an immigrant with an Italian surname, rise from relative obscurity to a solid member of the middle class. He even joined the Rotary. He made enough money to send my father and his two siblings to college.

My father paid that forward for me… That’s why I love this country. That’s why I load up the car every year, head out to the country and light off fireworks. I do it to honor my immigrant past. There’s a lot of debate about who should and who shouldn’t be allowed to move to the U.S. these days. Since we’re a nation of immigrants, and I include myself in that number, I figure it’s best to make room for the next bunch of folks who are traveling here, looking for a better life. I know that scares some people, but fear is not what the Founding Fathers built this nation on. I choose to believe in the best parts of ol’ U.S.A.

As I was thinking about all of this, I began to consider all the great, conflicted rock music that’s been written about America. As I’m blowing things up this year, in the midst of the mayhem, I realized I needed some rock and roll. So here is my take on a 4th of July, Independence Day playlist. There’s nothing like a little guitar to go along with the sound of exploding stuff. This is a classic rock blog, so you’re not going to find any of that jingoistic Toby Keith crap here… I know I will have left some songs off, so please recommend additions in the comments. Also, some of these songs may rankle you, but spirited debate is always a critical thing in a democracy. So, as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler says on the great live album, “Live Bootleg,” at a show on Independence Day, “Happy Birthday Everybody!” I tend to shuffle this playlist, but I always start with the first track… it’s essential to do that, it’s only right…the rest is all just random.

  1. Jimi Hendrix, “The Star Spangled Banner” – You’ve gotta kick off the party with some Hendrix from Woodstock.
  2. John Mellencamp, “R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A.” – Cheesy, perhaps, but this song just explodes out of the speakers like, well, a firecracker.
  3. Steve Miller Band, “Livin’ In The USA” – Groovy late 60s/early 70s blues.
  4. Chuck Berry, “Back In The USA” – Believe it or not, Linda Rondstadt does a nice little version of this too, if you prefer. I prefer Chuck, always.
  5. The Clash, “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” – I don’t think anybody is bored with us these days…
  6. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, “Ah, Mary” – Wait to the end… it’ll make sense. With my thanks to my pal Doug for this one…
  7. U2, “Bullet the Blue Sky” – Perfect soundtrack for exploding fireworks.
  8. David Bowie, “I’m Afraid of Americans” – Well, technically I’m only afraid of half of them… well, really only 35% of them.
  9. Bruce Springsteen, “Born In the U.S.A.” – Well, this one is just obvious. The story of a Vietnam vet, left behind economically by his country, still crying out his allegiance… It still brings goosebumps, all these years later.
  10. The Runaways, “American Nights” – Bad girls Joan Jett and Lita Ford’s early band celebrating American bad girls.
  11. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Plan B” – We all need a plan B right now…
  12. Bruce Springsteen, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” – An epic song for an epic holiday.
  13. John Mellencamp, “Justice and Independence ’85” – I generally hate allegory but this song rocks and swings all at the same time. I still don’t know what Mellencamp’s trying to say here.
  14. Jackson Browne, “For America” – One of my favorite from Jackson.
  15. Paul McCartney, “Freedom” – Written in the aftermath of 9/11, I hated this song when I first heard it, but it’s actually really catchy. There’s a great little guitar solo at the end.
  16. John Mellencamp, “Pink Houses” – “Ain’t that America…” And, yes, I’ll admit there’s a lot of Mellencamp here, but the guy has a ton of songs about our country. There are several I left off. The guy’s obsessed with America, what can I say.
  17. Lenny Kravitz, “Black And White America” – Great title track from one of my favorite overlooked LPs from Lenny.
  18. The Guess Who, “American Woman” – Dedicate one to the ladies…
  19. Randy Newman, “Political Science” – “No one likes us, I don’t know why, we may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try…” The man is a genius and this song is funny.
  20. David Bowie, “Young Americans” – “She wants the young American…”
  21. Bruce Springsteen, “Land of Hope And Dreams” – America certainly was this for my family…
  22. Elton John, “Philadelphia Freedom” – Cheesy, yeah, it is, but I couldn’t resist.
  23. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Girl” – Another one for the ladies…
  24. Eurythmics, “King and Queen of America” – I just love this song.
  25. Dave Matthews Band, “American Baby” – A quiet, understated ballad from Dave and the guys…
  26. The Cult, “American Horse” – Some hard rock, yes please!
  27. The Kinks, “Help Me Now I’m Falling” – Ray Davies images America as Captain America on a bad day… More relevant now than ever.
  28. The Cult, “Wake Up Time For Freedom” – It certainly is a wake up time…
  29. Green Day, “American Idiot” – A Bush (W) era chestnut that resonates more now.
  30. Sammy Hagar, “Eagles Fly” – Sammy goes solo and hoists the flag.
  31. Little Steven, “I Am A Patriot” – I think I put this on every playlist I do…
  32. U2, “The Hands That Built America” – Great soundtrack cut from U2.
  33. Jimi Hendrix, “Freedom” – That’s what its’ all about.
  34. Neil Young, “Rockin’ In The Free World” – One of Neil’s greatest rock tunes.
  35. Ray Charles, “America The Beautiful” – Who doesn’t enjoy hearing Brother Ray put some true soul and love into this patriotic standard…it’s the perfect end.

Happy 4th of July everyone. Be careful out there… Don’t blow off any fingers or get burned. We don’t want another Jean Pierre-Paul on our hands… Drink something strong, only after you’re done blowing shit up, pause and reflect on the principles this country was founded on. We need true patriots right now… Enjoy!

p.s. This playlist can now be found on Spotify under BourbonAndViny.net 4th of July

Enjoy!

My Beatles Weekend: ‘Eight Days A Week’ Documentary & Classic Album Sundays, ‘Sgt Pepper’

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Weekends this summer have been pretty quiet since my daughter visited us over Memorial Day. The Rock Chick and I have been laying low, as the saying goes. There’s nothing wrong with laying low, but every now and then you need a good old fashioned rock and roll weekend. Usually this involves strong, dark, murky brown fluids. In the case of this weekend that meant a lot of Templeton Rye. And of course, you need some loud music and the accompanying debauchery that implies…

The Rock Chick and my musical tastes are very aligned. I’ve probably never known anybody whose rock proclivities match mine this closely. It’s important that you marry someone who likes good music. What to do if you were to come down one morning to find your spouse listening to Neil Diamond? Grounds for divorce? I think so… As closely aligned as my wife and my musical tastes are, they are the classic Venn Diagram. Two large circles that partially overlap (or in my case, significantly overlap) but leaving some music outside our shared likes. One blind spot for the Rock Chick has always been, surprisingly, The Beatles. I consider this a failure of classic rock radio but I don’t want to get started on that…

I think it was my friend, Drummer Blake, who alerted me that the excellent Ron Howard documentary, ‘Eight Days A Week’ was now streaming on Netflix. While I bought the live LP that was released at the same time, ‘Live At The Hollywood Bowl’ (reviewed on a previous post), I never got around to watching the related documentary. As you would expect from Ron Howard the documentary is exceptional. What doesn’t that guy do well? The focus of the film is on the Beatles touring years, when they were still a working, concert band. Saturday night, I pulled it up and screened it for the Rock Chick… and to my delight she really enjoyed this film. We ended up listening to several early Beatles records after that, including ‘Rubber Soul’ (my favorite) and ‘Help!’

When the Beatles decided in the fall of 1966 to stop touring it was a pretty big deal. There were all kinds of rumors that they were breaking up. It came as a bit of a surprise, since the road was where they made most of their money. However, watching this documentary made me wonder why anybody would be surprised that the Beatles quit touring. It was utter madness. Beatle-mania should have been called Beatle-mayhem. The crowds were crazed and in some cases menacing. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for the four lads from Liverpool, hiding in a bathroom at the Plaza Hotel in New York, staring at each others, mouths agape, wondering what they had unleashed.

If you contrast the beginning of the film, the Beatles triumphant arrival in New York, with how they look towards the end of the touring years, you can see how haggard they were. That first press conference at the airport in New York, they were fresh, bright eyed kids. They joked with the reporters and you could feel the love they had inspired. They showed an excerpt from a press conference on the last tour and to quote the Rock Chick, they sounded “snarky.” The difference in their appearance was arresting. They were clearly exhausted and tired of the circus. John had inadvertently compared the Beatles popularity to that of Jesus and that made the religious right, especially in the Southern part of the U.S., go a little crazy. The film of the organized burning of Beatles albums reminded me of Nazi book burnings. At one point during the latter press conference a reporter asked how the Beatles felt that their upcoming concert wasn’t sold out… Lennon sneered, “Rich,” as a response. Why do the press always want to tear people down?

After a few months off, the Beatles barricaded themselves in Abbey Road studios and decided to focus on recording albums with George Martin. The last image from the touring years was the cover of ‘Sgt Pepper’s.’ Quitting touring allowed the Beatles to really stretch out and stretch the boundaries of what had been done before in the idiom of rock and roll music. The movie did fade out with shots of the Beatles iconic last show from the roof of Apple. Quitting touring, while momentous to the concert world, meant even bigger things to come from the Beatles in the  studio.

Coincidentally, after watching the documentary, the next day was ClassicAlbum Sundays and the featured album was ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ It’s the 50th anniversary, and despite the album of the month actually being ‘Exile On Mainstreet,’ our local host chose to do ‘Sgt Pepper’ instead. It turned out that watching ‘Eight Days a Week’ was the perfect lead up for the ClassicAlbum Sunday’s fare. Once a month, intrepid music fans in Kansas City (and other cities across the globe) gather at a local pizza joint, like early Christians in the catacombs, to hear the greatest albums ever recorded. This Sunday was the June presentation.

As usual, our host had a superb collection of music. He curated a fantastic afternoon of music. I wondered if he would do a history of the Beatles or more of a snapshot of 1967. He actually did a little of both. He played selections from the Beatles prior albums, ‘Rubber Soul,’ and ‘Revolver’ which were the records that really set the stage for ‘Sgt Pepper.’ Alongside that he played several cuts from bands from Northern England from that time period, The Hollies and Gerry and the Pacemakers. It gave you a real feel for the Mersey Sound.

From there we heard a host of contemporary cuts from 66 and 67. Beach Boys, Otis Redding, Spencer Davis Group, Jimi Hendrix and even the Monkees. Particularly inspired choices were Pink Floyd’s ‘Arnold Layne’ and  Frank Zappa’s ‘Hungry Freaks, Daddy.’ Zappa’s LP ‘Freak Out’ had heavily influenced McCartney and ‘Pet Sounds’ by the Beach Boys had heavily influenced John Lennon. The way the afternoon was curated it really gave you a feel for the musical landscape that helped birth ‘Sgt Pepper.’ It also made you realize how revolutionary it was. The sound, as usual, was spectacular. You could have heard a pin drop as the last, long piano chord was struck. They played the newly released, Giles Martin produced, stereo version of the album which surprised me, as I thought they’d go with the mono version. However, the choice was a good one, as this new stereo version is spectacular.

While McCartney was clearly the driving force behind ‘Sgt Pepper,’ the sheer quality of Lennon’s work on this LP, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” and “A Day In The Life” just to name two, is simply astonishing. These guys did things in the studio that had never been done before and will likely never be done again. Yesterday merely underscored for me what I already knew… ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ is the absolute greatest rock and roll album ever released.

And more importantly, to me at least, the Rock Chick now digs the Beatles. A splendid time, was indeed, had by all…

Cheers!

Review: Prince’s ‘Purple Rain – Deluxe Collector’s Edition’ – Is It Worth It?

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Like most white, suburban kids coming of age in the early 80s I was blissfully unaware of who Prince was. All of that changed my freshman year in college. Mid-year I transferred colleges for the oldest and stupidest of reasons, a girlfriend. I spent the back half of my freshman year at the University of Kansas in what I now refer to as “The Dark Semester.” No mystery, the girlfriend and I broke up, we were kids, it was stupid of me to transfer colleges. I was fucking miserable at KU surrounded by “frat bros” and douche bags. My dearest friend Doug and a whole lot of rum got me through those horrid months. The notable exception to my misery were the two black guys who lived across the hall from my dorm room. As my relationship with my girlfriend and my roommate slowly dissipated (my roomy was dating my ex’s best friend), I found myself spending more and more time across the hall with Brian and Robert.

Those guys were always listening to this brightly colored purple record. It was a giant double album full of some of the most inventive music I’d ever heard. The artist was marrying funk/soul and a Hendrix-like guitar style. I can still remember the first time I picked up the purple album cover and read the name – Prince. The album of course, was ‘1999’ and I was hooked. Perhaps it was the misery I was going through at the time, but the music was dirty and fun and it was just a great way to escape. Many a time people would glance in the room to see Brian, Robert and I dancing around the room to “DMSR” my new favorite song. I’m sure I looked slightly out of place, as I should never dance in public (and the Rock Chick would add, I should never dance in private either). The only reason that I mention I was a white suburban kid and the guys across the hall from me were black, which doesn’t and shouldn’t matter, is to illustrate how segregated music was in the 80s. Until Michael Jackson came along with ‘Thriller’ and all those iconic videos black artists didn’t even get played on MTV, the then new music channel, let alone rock radio. David Bowie even called MTV out for it in an interview, which is just another reason to love David Bowie.

My sophomore year, back at Kansas State, the fact that I’d play ‘1999’ raised a few eye brows. I had bought the album while still at KU. Then, in 1984 along came ‘Purple Rain.’ I bought the album before I’d even seen the movie, because I’d heard and immediately dug “When Doves Cry” and hey, I’d been listening to Prince for years folks, catch up… or at least that was my attitude. I actually bought ‘Purple Rain’ the day it came out, and listened to side one on my way out to a “drink and drowned” at a local bar. Since I only had the chance to listen to side one, I actually heard “Purple Rain,” the title track, for the first time ever that night in the bar, since it was the closing track on side two. That song hadn’t even been played on the radio and here it was on the day of it’s release being played in a bar full of beer soaked white kids. A barrier had come down. I remember thinking, “I’ve gotta get home and turn that fucking record over…”

Prince was a giant artistic talent and simply a pure genius. The overwhelming popularity of ‘Purple Rain’ stunned even him, I’d guess. It’s hard to follow up that kind of success… just ask Fleetwood Mac about ‘Rumors.’ So like most people, I was an intense fan of Prince’s music, but only from 1982 to 1986. He’d put out the occasional single I’d like. I bought his ‘Hits and B-Sides’ but ‘Purple Rain’ ended up being my last Prince LP purchase. Well, that’s not entirely true, I bought ‘Around the World In A Day’ on the day it came out and sold it about a month later. It was too out there for me…

All these years later Prince has released a deluxe repackaging of ‘Purple Rain.’ When my pal Erica told me it was coming out June 23rd it dawned on me that I’d never purchased ‘Purple Rain’ on CD… I quickly ordered my copy of this Ultimate Collector’s Edition. The question is, is it worth it? The original is remastered in this package. There are also additional discs of B-sides and the dreaded 7″ dance mixes. The real gold in the mine for me is the CD of unreleased tracks from Prince’s mysterious vaults. And, also there is a DVD (not a blu-ray) of a 1985 concert in Syracuse.

Let me pause for a moment to say, I’m a huge fan of archival releases. I love anything that an artist recorded and for whatever reason chose not to release. They put the tapes in the vault and finally, years later decide to release it. Dylan has released a lot of material that is so good one has to wonder why he didn’t release the songs on some of his lesser 80s albums. Springsteen is notorious for writing way more songs than he needs for each of his album projects and he finally cleared a lot of that backlog out in the excellent ‘Tracks’ box set. Van Morrison released two great discs of unreleased stuff on ‘The Philosopher’s Stone.’ All of those archival releases should be checked out by any fan of those artists. It tells a unique, different story than the officially released stuff. Sometimes it augments what you’ve already heard. Sometimes it shows an entirely different creative direction the artist could have gone in. Vault releases always bring out the musical spelunker in me…

Which leads me to ‘Purple Rain.’ Yes, it was long overdue for me to purchase the original album on CD. The remastering on this version is spectacular. I read somewhere that Prince himself, before his untimely, tragic death oversaw the remastering. And, yes, ‘Purple Rain’ is his masterpiece. It’s one of the most brilliant albums ever. Everyone should own this album. However, in this case, it’s the bonus stuff that interested me in this deluxe set.

The B-sides and 7″-singles disc is mostly filler. Does anyone really need “Let’s Go Crazy (Special Dance Mix)?” The answer for me, is no. However there are a couple of choice B-sides here. “Erotic City” is naturally here but that’s been available on greatest hits packages for a while. “17 Days” and “Another Lonely Christmas” are both superb songs. I’m surprised he waited this long to put those out. Less successful was the B-side “God.” An entire disc and only three songs of listenable music… hmmm this is trending bad.

The disc I was most excited about was the unreleased stuff. I have to say, I was a little disappointed. There is a lot I just can’t connect with here. “The Dance Electric” is an eleven and half minute exercise in repetition. There’s another superfluous version of “Computer Blue” here which could have stayed in the vaults. “Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden” is baffling. About half this stuff left me decidedly cold. However about half this material is superb. “Love and Sex” is a great Prince rocker. “Electric Intercourse,” “Wonderful Ass” (which I dedicated to the Rock Chick in what can only be described as a “smooth move”), and “Velvet Pussy Cat” are all great songs. “We Can Fuck” is Prince at his delightfully vulgar best… Overall I’d say the Vault/Unreleased stuff here is, well, meh. Frankly I’d recommend purchasing selectively off iTunes or where ever you buy music. Listen and decide for yourself which tunes are worth having.

Finally, the other piece that led me to this deluxe edition was the DVD. It’s an amazing, inspired performance. The Revolution were a great band. I know Prince played most every instrument in the studio, but on stage he lets the Revolution jam. His guitarist, Wendy, is who really shines for me during the concert footage. Prince is amazing as a performer. It’s like Little Richard and James Brown had a baby. He’s all over the stage, grinding, sliding down a stripper pole and dancing. There are more costume changes than my wife getting ready for a fancy dinner. When Prince comes out at the end, to play the most epic version of “Purple Rain” ever, he’s dressed in a hooded robe, like some sexy, mystic monk from the Church of Purple. It’ll give you goose bumps. If you ever doubt Prince’s ability with a guitar, check out this footage or the YouTube of him playing “My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the RnR Hall of Fame… He was an amazing shredder. That all said, however, there are flaws here. The footage is grainy. For reasons possibly only understood by Prince himself, he refuses to use a main spotlight. For most of the show he’s shrouded in shadow or purple backlighting. It’s hard to see him play some of the magical solos he lays down. There are long musical interludes that stretch on too long to give him a chance to change clothes, which got annoying pretty quick. “When Doves Cry” is filmed like the video, with the left side of the screen mirroring the right side of the screen which only made me dizzy. I enjoyed the show, but with the horrid lighting, I’m not sure it’s a video I’m going to go back to and watch again.

Overall, while I love Prince and ‘Purple Rain’ particularly, I have to say this ‘Ultimate Collector’s Edition’ is for completists and true fans only. There’s some interesting stuff here, but you have to dig to find it.

Happy Summer, folks! Stay cool and stay hydrated… there’s bourbon to drink later…

Queens Of The Stone Age Release New Single, “The Way You Used To Do,” And Save Rock n Roll

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“But it doesn’t matter now
Just come and love me how
Like the way you used to do
Yeah”

Well, just as I went on record as saying Dan Auerbach’s light, strummy tune, “Shine On Me” was my “jam,” as my daughter would say, for the summer, The Queens Of the Stone Age come storming back with their new single “Like You Used To Do.” I have bad news for Mr. Auerbach… I have a new summer song, er I mean, “jam.”

We last heard from the Queens Of The Stone age in 2013 when they released the amazing album, ‘…Like Clockwork.’ I was actually driving in my car when a local DJ, Afentra on 96.5 the Buzz played the whole album the day it was released. That was so old school, my respect for Afentra jumped off the scale. Nobody plays an entire new album on the radio any more. I was impressed. And this from a man who believes terrestrial radio is dead. I immediately bought ‘…Like Clockwork’ and it remains one of my favorite records. It’s a dark record, written after leader Josh Homme had suffered a near death experience in the hospital. It’s powerful stuff. I can point to a number of strong songs on it, but I like to listen to it the way I discovered it, as a piece. It’s like a Pink Floyd record in that the themes and tone of the music hold together so well, you can listen to the entire album all at once.

In the long, four year interim since ‘…Like Clockwork’ Josh Homme has not been idle. He co-wrote and produced the astounding late-career gem ‘Post Pop Depression’ for Iggy Pop, reviewed earlier on B&V. QOTSA also provided the backing band for Iggy on that record and I highly recommend it. Josh was also part of the Eagles of Death Metal’s return to Paris to play the Bataclan. In the HBO documentary, ‘Mon Amis’ Josh and Jesse Hughes’ friendship is front and center to the story. My respect for Josh doubled, if that was even possible.

After all of that activity, Josh finally pulled the QOTSA back together for their new album, out in August, ‘Villains.’ The first single, “Like The Way You Used To Do” came out this last Friday and I love this song. It’s built around a nasty, greasy, fuzzy riff, bass drum and hand claps (if you can believe it). This would be a great song to play as a football team comes out on the field. Or when a futbol team hits the field… pick your sporting event. There’s always that moment right before the game starts or before the team hits the field when your individual excitement joins that of the collective crowd excitement and your heart soars… that’s the moment for this song. When I hear that riff and those hand claps, I find myself suddenly on my feet, moving around the room.

I love the lyrics as well. The song is about a relationship… it sounds like a modern day Bonnie and Clyde who met in high school… I love the line, “Is love mental disease or lucky fever dream?” I’ve often asked myself that same question. Well, until I met the Rock Chick, that is.

There’s been some great new music that’s come out lately but I needed some hard rock music for the summer and nothing really scratched that itch. I heard this song and the first words out of my inarticulate mouth were, “Fuck, yes!” I can always count on the QOTSA to save rock and roll! My drummer friend Blake says they’re way too much of a  musician’s musicians band, but I defy you put on “Like The Way You Used To Do” and not feel the power of rock n roll!

Put this one on, turn it up to 11, and enjoy this by the pool! I can’t wait for ‘Villains’ out late August.

Cheers! (and please use sunscreen folks, tan skin is not healthy skin).

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

dan-auerbach-waiting-on-a-song

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!