Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts

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I have to admit, up front, that I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan. I subscribe to the great man theory of rock and roll and I think Eddie Vedder is one of those great men, so to speak. But it hasn’t always been that way.

In the old days, I was always slow to get into new things. I didn’t buy in on Guns N Roses until I heard their third single, “Paradise City.” In my defense, Appetite For Destruction came out during my Exile Years, when I was living in Arkansas. My exposure to GnR was strictly via MTV and every band sort of looked the same. It was hard to get my attention and besides I was deeply into the Allman Brothers and the Band at the time. It wasn’t until I heard “Paradise City” from the other room – without the visuals – that I thought… wait a minute, these guys are something special.

It was the same with the Grunge era bands. I was always suspicious of these new “movements”… call me paranoid. I always thought the bands that were lumped into this new “Grunge” thing were wrongly characterized. Nirvana was a punk band in my mind… certainly that’s where their influences were. The first time I heard Soundgarden I remarked to a friend, “this is the new version of Black Sabbath…” They were a metal band in flannel. I really didn’t have a description for Alice In Chains, they were perhaps uniquely Grunge.

In the early ’90s I had just returned from my exile in Arkansas. I was living in an apartment by the highway where I’d lay in bed at night listening to the sound of trains in the distance behind the constant buzz of semi’s barreling north and south. It certainly contributed to my feeling of restlessness. My musical tastes were somewhat rootless as well. At the dawn of the ’90s there was a new radio station in town that specialized in “alternative rock” which was, at the time, Grunge bands. I’d tune in to that station looking for something “new” and I kept hearing these songs I liked…”Black” was  especially a favorite. “Even Flow,” “Alive,” and this song “Jeremy” were amongst my favorites as well. I hadn’t realized all of those songs were by the same band until I started dating this woman – whose boyfriend lived out of town – who loaned me Ten. I was listening to it for the first time while I worked out and with every song that played I thought, “Wait, that’s Pearl Jam too?” How could all these kick ass songs be on the same album. I became one of the converted… When we ended the affair I kept that CD for a long time… until the young lady came by and forcibly retrieved it. It was all very friendly but she was having none of my absconding with her Pearl Jam disc. Apparently I’m the only one who loses CDs during a breakup. Remarkably, I danced with her at her wedding, sadly not to Pearl Jam.

I was amongst those who were at the record store the day Vs and later when Vitalogy came out. Pearl Jam was the Grunge band who were so firmly rooted in classic rock, how could I not become a huge fan? They had so many soaring anthems – “Even Flow,” “Jeremy,” “Go,” “Animal,” “Rearview Mirror,” “Better Man,” and “Not For You.” I could go on. They could also go acoustic and just slay it – “Daughter,” or “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town.” Vedder’s vocals were amongst the best I’d ever heard. He conveys so much emotion when he sings, from despair to simmering rage. I thought rock and roll would last forever with these guys. I happened to be lucky enough to see them at Red Rocks on the Vitalogy tour, a personal concert highlight for me. From the machine gun blast of the opening number (fittingly), “Go” until the last strains of “Yellow Ledbetter,” it was an amazing night. They even started the encore with “Leaving Here,” a cover song made famous by the Who.

As inevitably happens, Pearl Jam decided to stretch out in new musical directions by the time No Code came out. I liked that album but for many fans it was a creative stumble. So much so the follow up Yield was seen as a comeback (an album I loved but the critics didn’t). After Yield it seemed that Pearl Jam was content to just record straight-up rock and roll to please themselves rather than connect with their audience. Binaural and Riot Act were grim, mirthless albums. Although I must admit, both albums grew on me over time, especially Binaural. Listening to their archival release Lost Dogs, its clear those albums could have been less… intense. It wasn’t until 2006’s eponymously titled album that they seemed to even want to connect with an audience. For me that album was somewhat overshadowed by the Chili Pepper’s Stadium Arcadium. A friend remarked to me at the time, “If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be more into a Peppers album than a Pearl Jam album, I’d have told you were crazy.” By then Pearl Jam was considered a premier live act, but there was never a ton of enthusiasm for their studio stuff anymore. Which is a shame because both Backspacer and Lightning Bolt were, in my opinion, exceptional. The ballad “Sirens” on the latter album is one of my all time favorite Pearl Jam tunes. There seem to be two kind of Pearl Jam fans anymore: the fans of their epic early records who have stuck around for the live shows and then fans who stuck around for the latter day studio stuff. I’m kind of both.

It stuns me that Pearl Jam waited seven years to put out another album. Lightning Bolt came out in 2013 which seems like another lifetime. I had heard they were struggling to come up with new material and had a couple of stillborn attempted starts at recording new music. That all might explain why the new album Gigaton sounds well, so different. The title refers to the gigaton of ice lost by the polar ice caps. The theme here is clearly around climate change. You hear a lot about water, oceans, rising oceans, and rivers on this album. If anybody needs something to channel some good ol’ fashion Pearl Jam anger, climate change is as good as any. I think it helps Gigaton hang together. The politics of this record are more subtle than most bands, like say vintage John Lennon. And I will say, there are plenty of songs that sound, dare I say, hopeful.

I will say, at the outset of my comments about the album, this one is a grower. My first taste was the first single, “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” which I reviewed (Pearl Jam: New Song, ‘Dance of the Clairvoyants.’ Old Dog With New Tricks?). That track was like nothing I’d ever heard from Pearl Jam. I won’t go back into it as I’ve written about it before, but it sounds so much like the Talking Heads that David Byrne must be drawing royalty checks. That made me think, “Mmm, this might be a tad more experimental than I’m emotionally prepared for.” The next track I heard on satellite radio was “Superblood Wolfmoon.” That track, at first, sounded like the Vedder barking vocal style that he adopted after befriending the late Johnny Ramone in an attempt to sound “punk” (“Mind Your Manners” or “Can’t Deny Me” for example). After my first listen to the entire album, I will tell you, I hated it. After seven years I wanted a big, epic, arena-rock album. The Rock Chick rejected the album immediately. I wasn’t even going to post about it. But there were a couple of tracks that had stuck with me… I couldn’t leave it alone. I’ve spent the last week with this album, giving it repeated spins and I’ll tell you, I like this record. It’s not going to change the top of a “Pearl Jam Albums Ranked Best To Worst” list but it’s a damn fine rock and roll record. We all want that endorphin hit we got when we first dropped the needle into the groove and “Once” burst out of the speakers and went right to our lower brain stem…it just doesn’t happen that often any more.

The album kicks off with one of my favorites, the rocking “Who Ever Said.” It’s an old fashion, Pearl Jam, turn it up rocker. That leads to the aforementioned “Superblood Wolfmoon” that has grown on me. I will say that Mike McCready is an all-star lead guitarist. He should be mentioned more often in the great guitarist conversations. His solo’ing is exceptional on this album, like always. “Never Destination” is another great rocker about climate change denial. It hits hard and again McCready shines. “Quick Escape” is another great rock tune but it’s guitars and vocals are distorted. The song is about an immigrant’s journey away from his home. Rather than singing a song about immigration, Vedder narrates the song from the personal perspective of the immigrant and it hits so much harder. It’s always best to make a political point by making it personal. The distortion of the vocals and guitar almost generate the feeling of fear and being upended that the lyrics depict. “Take The Long Way” was written by drummer Matt Cameron and it sounds like Soundgarden (in a good way). I can’t help it, that’s what I hear.

For me, Pearl Jam has always done exceptional ballads. If I have a complaint about Gigaton, it’s that the last four tracks are ballads. The back end just mellows out. My favorite of the mellow tracks is “Seven O’Clock” the most political track here. He gives the current occupant of the White House his Native American name, “Sitting Bullshit.” The song penned by bassist Jeff Ament, “Alright” is also a highlight. Rhythm guitarist extraordinaire, Stone Gossard’s penned “Buckle Up” almost sounds like a lilting children’s tune until Vedder, over loping drums and acoustic guitar, sings the first line, “I got blood, blood on my hands…” Happy music delivering disturbing words… Tom Waits would be proud. “Comes Then Goes” is a simple vocals over acoustic guitar track. Who does that any more? Vedder plays an old time pump organ on the closing track, “River Cross.” “Retrograde” is a lament about how the world is falling apart.

If you’re a fan of the early, early Pearl Jam, you might want to skip this one and just buy the concert ticket, if concerts ever happen again. But for those of us who have been along for the whole ride, this is an exciting, mature effort by one of the world’s greatest bands. I’ve never faulted any artist who wants to expand the aperture on what and how they create – I’ve always loved David Bowie and latter day Paul Simon, just to name a few examples. Simon’s last album (Review (Full LP): Paul Simon’s “Stranger To Stranger”) was as far away as you can get from “Still Crazy After All These Years.” I hope this new found experimental mood sparks some creative burst from these guys and we don’t have to wait until 2027 for the next Pearl Jam album. It may not be what everybody wanted, but it’s great to have a rock and roll album to be excited about in 2020, arguably the suckiest year in my lifetime.

Cheers!

 

 

B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?

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“This is no social crisis, this is you having fun…” The Who, “Another Tricky Day”

We’ve all made mistakes in our lives and we’ve all had to learn to live with those bad decisions… Here it is, only day 2 of the enforced “Stay At Home” order and I suddenly feel the need to unburden myself of all my sins. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t left my house since nine days ago and the only sins being confessed to here are musical in nature. All other sins… well, those records are sealed until 25 years after I’m gone and forgotten. While I was always someone who people confided in, I must say this confessional mood seems to be catching. I’m hearing all sorts of sordid things. I just had a friend admit to me that he saw the Little River Band in concert. Everybody loves the Little River Band but no one will ever admit to it. Ironically, I happen to have an almost sentimental attachment to their song “Reminiscing.” There, now I’m on record as an LRB fan…more confessions. The Rock Chick admitted to me this morning, for the first time in our marriage, that she saw Molly Hatchet in concert but doesn’t remember much of it… We’ve all been there (The 10 Concerts I Should Have Skipped). I’m still trying to wrap my head around her being at a Molly Hatchet concert but that’s my issue to contend with.

We’ve all made those musical mistakes. You’re standing in the record store and you have Pat Benetar’s Precious Time in your left hand and Beggars Banquet in your right hand and you end up leaving the store with the Benetar “saving” the Stones’ classic for another day. That is sadly based on a true story. Sigh. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pat Benetar but I didn’t buy Beggars Banquet until I was in college, years later (and I’m the Stones freak?).  We all have albums that we’re perhaps embarrassed about now. Maybe the album is “of its time” so to speak. I actually had a Bryan Adams record (Reckless) for a long time that I bought in the 80s. Or perhaps a relationship or friendship led you to a bad choice. I had a TLC’s CrazySexyCool for a while based on the recommendation of an adamant squeeze I had back in the day. Not every woman I dated had the Rock Chick’s impeccable taste in music.

For the most part, as a “serious” collector I’ve culled through my collection and weeded out the outliers. I try to keep everything, vinyl or CD, that I’ve ever owned but being married has forced me to thin the herd. Every time we move I find myself selling at the Used Record store vs buying… although I’m usually a sucker for that “store credit” gambit. I sell off a certain number of albums and come home with a few new ones… it’s just the circle of life. Being cooped up at home these last few nights has sent me looking through my vinyl collection yet again. I discovered a few albums that, I must confess, I just love but have less than stellar reputations. Either the critics were “meh,” or fans didn’t buy the albums but I did. Since I only write about stuff I like – God knows there’s enough negative bullshit in the world – I am often accused of being a tad “over positive” about certain artists and albums. I have to tell you, I’ve really enjoyed listening to these albums over the last few nights. These just might be albums that need a reappraisal. I asked the Rock Chick if she had any albums she loved and no one else did and she said, “I love Oasis and let’s face it nobody but me and (her friend) Rich likes them.” Rich is the one who always asks me at parties I throw to “put on some Oasis.” Although oddly, on those occasions I’ve been at his house, he never seems to play Oasis.

While only one of these albums is truly embarrassing, the rest are solid if not spectacular as some of the entries in the respective artists’ catalogs. Not every album can be Every Picture Tells A Story or Who’s Next. If you’re a career type of artist – one worthy of following an entire catalog – there will be ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys. Since nobody is really going anywhere for a while, put one of these on and dig a little deeper into the catalogs of these great artists. We all have guilty pleasures… these are mine.

  1. The Who, Face Dances -I will always be fond of this, my first Who album. “You Better You Bet” was huge on radio and I bought this record on the spot. With Kenny Jones (formerly of the Faces) on drums and Townsend’s guitar seemingly missing this doesn’t really sound like anything that came before it but I still love this album. “Another Tricky Day” is the perfect antidote for today. “Daily Records” is the nicest statement of purpose in all of rock and roll. “How Can You Do It Alone” about masturbating is funny. The Entwistle songs, “You” and “The Quiet One” both rock with that Who grit. There’s a lot to like here.
  2. Fleetwood Mac, Mirage – Sure, this was a pretty good seller, but after the epic success of Rumours and wild experimentation of Tusk this album seems like a retreat. I am drawn to the melodies and harmonies on this record. Stevie Nicks’ tracks are the gold, from the hit “Gypsy” to the country-rock of “That’s Alright” to the shimmery, sexy track “Straight Back” she could do no wrong. While none of the Buckingham tracks were “hits” I really like a lot of what he’s doing here on tracks like “Empire State,” and “Oh, Diane.” It’s a quiet little pleasure.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Black And Blue – This is basically a recording of the auditions being held for Mick Taylor’s replacement. While many guitarists tried out for the Stones – Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck amongst others – they finally settled on Ronnie Wood. This album is criticized for being a bunch of jams and reggae stuff but that’s what I like about it. The two ballads, the only tracks that required them to actually write a song, are two of my favorite Stones’ deep tracks – “Fool To Cry” and especially “Memory Motel.” In college a friend asked me if this album was any good and I said, no. I would amend that answer to yes, if your expectations for another Exile On Main Street are properly leveled. This is a fun record and “Hand of Fate” is an awesome rock song I’d love to hear live.
  4. Rush, Caress of Steel – I don’t know why this album doesn’t get more love. It’s really the precursor of 2112. All of side 2 is one track, “The Fountain of Lamneth.” It’s a fabulous epic. My all time favorite Rush deep track ends side one, “The Necromancer.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted that song…”weakening the body and saddening the mind.” The playing is impeccable. “Bastille Day” became a mainstay of their live act. This is a great Rush album that the critics savaged.
  5. Led Zeppelin, In Through The Out Door – It had been almost three years since Zeppelin had put out Presence and in that time my rock and roll awakening had occurred. I already owned Led Zeppelin II and IV (or Runes) and was eager to hear new, contemporary Zeppelin. The record industry was pinning its hopes on this album and Tusk to bolster lackluster sales. I think a lot of people were disappointed in this record but I wasn’t. Presence was such a heavy album – really shepherded by Bonham and Page – but both of those guys were in the serious throes of addiction by the time they recorded In Through the Out Door that Plant and Jones took over. The result was a mellower, more synth/keyboard oriented album. “In The Evening” is one of my all time Zep favorites. “Fool In The Rain” showcases Bonham’s still formidable drumming. I love the bluesy last track, “I’m Gonna Crawl.” God knows where they could have gone from this… alas.
  6. Rod Stewart, Blondes Have More Fun – Ok, I’m embarrassed I still like this album. I actually sold the vinyl, thus was my shame. But then I bought it again on CD. It’s a truly guilty, guilty pleasure. It’s Rod’s disco album, the record that burned the bridges with his old fanbase. I didn’t buy it for the disco camp of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” I liked “Ain’t Love a Bitch,” I was always a sucker for ballads. “Dirty Weekend” and the title track are Chuck Berry/Rolling Stone riff rockers. I dig Rod. This is my big confession today.
  7. Jackson Browne, Lives In The Balance – After the failure of Lawyers In Love, Browne decided to get deadly serious about politics. Set that aside, these are great songs. “For America” remains a favorite of mine. The title track, “Soldiers of Plenty,” and “Lawless Avenues” all sound like dispatches from the nightly news set to guitar. The one intimate love song, “In The Shape of a Heart” is one of Browne’s most endearing songs. This isn’t for everyone, it kind of depends on your political feelings…
  8. Eric Clapton, Behind The Sun – People will shudder when I say Phil Collins produced this album. Well, he did the initial sessions but the record company rejected it. They brought in some songwriters and Ted Templeman to shore it up. That troubled history sounds like a disaster, but I dug this record. “Forever Man” remains a huge favorite. “Tangled In Love” is a great rock tune. “Same Old Blues” is an epic at over 8 minutes long. I even like the cover of “Knock On Wood.” Blasphemy? Perhaps.
  9. Neil Young & The Bluenotes, This Note’s For You – The 80s were terrible for Neil Young. He first showed signs of creative life on 1987’s Life with Crazy Horse. Then he did a 180 and put out a horn driven blues album. The blues has always been a great showcase for guitar and I love Neil’s playing on this album. I even bought the live album of this tour, put out 30 year later (Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live)). “One Thing” is the ultimate breakup song. “Married Man” is a funny upbeat track. Whether he’s playing a mellow, sad blues or a horn-drive rave up, this is a fun record. The blues will always win out for me.
  10. Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S. – My college roommate Drew and I may be the only two people in the world who bought this album. I really dug the title track. Clapton plays guitar on this album and joined the tour as well. If you ignore the bizarre narrative, you can really get into songs like, my favorite, “Who Needs Information,” or “Home.”
  11. Queen, A Kind Of Magic – My college roomies and I were big fans of the Sci-Fi thriller, ‘Highlander.’ This is basically the soundtrack to that film with the addition of “One Vision” which I think was from anther movie. Queen was on the downturn in America, but this is a bunch of great music. “Who Wants to Live Forever” is a great ballad. The production is very much “of its time” but this was the first sign Queen would come back from Hot Space. 
  12. CSNY, American Dream – Neil Young committed to CSN that he’d record another album with them, the first since the live album Four Way Street, if Crosby could get clean. After the much publicized police chase and incarceration, Crosby emerged clean. The bill came due for Neil. People’s expectations were for Deja Vu 2.0 and yes, this album disappoints from that perspective. I loved the title track and bought the album. Crosby’s “Compass” is a wonderful, confessional track. I love Stills and Young working together and have since the Buffalo Springfield. They spark up a little guitar battle in “Drivin’ Thunder.” Stills shines for me on “Glad That You Got It Made.” Graham Nash’s “Never Say Goodbye” is a tune that used to make me mist up. It’s gorgeous.

I get that many of these might not be your cup of tea. You never know… you might discover something you like in this pile of records. If there are “guilty pleasure” albums for you out there, let me know what they are in the comments as I may want to check those out. I’m open to anything during this time of social distancing!

Stay safe and healthy out there! And remember, as the Who sang, “this (really) is no social crisis…this is you having fun” listening to music.

 

B&V’s Pandemic Playlist – Rock n Roll To The Self-Isolation Rescue

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“The sun has to shine on my guitar someday” – Derek & the Dominos, “Got To Get Better In A Little While”

Has 2020 been a drag or what? Well, except for the little matter of the Kansas City Chiefs winning the Super Bowl for the first time in fifty years. I can literally say I’ve been waiting for that to happen my whole life. But other than the small percentage of the population who were excited by the Chiefs victory, for everyone else it’s been a real drag of a year. Everything is cancelled. Bars and restaurants are closed. Californians have been ordered to “shelter in place,” an order usually reserved for the aftermath of earthquakes. While I’m not under any order to stay at home like in California, I can say that all work travel – a key component of my job (Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone) – has been cancelled by corporate. My email in-box is virtually empty. Needless to say, it’s quiet out there… too quiet.

Like many of you out there, I’ve gone into “self-quarantine.” I am practicing what the new nomenclature is calling “self-isolation.” I’m just thrilled I got type the word “nomenclature.” Anyway, I should be good at self-isolation, it’s how you could describe dating in my twenties… although that wasn’t entirely voluntary on my part. But like those days I have, as Styx once sang, “too much time on my hands.” Luckily I’m not all alone. I can only imagine what those of you who live alone out there in this time of social distancing are going through. I imagine there are a lot of people talking to their plants and their pets. I am here sequestered with the Rock Chick, which helps a lot. Well, it helps me a lot. I couldn’t help but notice at dinner last night, after six days of fierce “togetherness” that at a few times during our discussion her hand hesitated over her steak knife just a few seconds too long… I’m not sure why there were steak knives on the table, we were eating salads. Am I in danger? Probably. I wouldn’t want to be locked away with me for weeks at a time.

Every time I cough I think, “COVID… is that you? You finally found me… I knew this day would come.” I find myself asking the Rock Chick if she thinks I have a fever every couple of hours. My daughter was home last weekend. We actually went out to dinner Friday night… and then hit a jazz club for an hour. Since everything around St Patrick’s Day (the only religious holiday I still observe) were cancelled, we did a little pub crawl of our own last Saturday. All of that social interaction looks insane now, like a crime spree. Fortunately nobody in my world is ill with the virus or any other cold and flu. For those of you out there who are sick, my thoughts are with you. Fingers crossed on a quick recovery.

I’ve never seen anything like this. While many of us are complaining about the loneliness of this isolation, we should just be thanking our lucky stars we’re still healthy. I’ve never seen so much confusion and added anxiety in society due to the lack of preparation or crisis management skills at the top. I’m still confused as to why people are hoarding toilet paper. It’s like having the stomach flu and hoarding throat lozenges. As a man whose pretty regular, I’m starting to get nervous. I can see rationing here at the house coming soon… Toilet paper may become the new currency in the post-apocalyptic world we may find ourselves in. Sadly, in that vision of the world, I may be broke.

I have to say a big thank you to all doctors, nurses and medical personnel out there. They’re on the front lines of this battle and I thank heaven they are. As a person who spends a lot of time in bars, restaurants, and live music clubs I am deeply concerned about all of the bartenders, waitresses, cooks and others who work there. Many of those people rely on tips to pay their rent and generally have no health care. I worry about smaller, local band who rely on shows to stay alive. Please keep those folks in your mind when you’re thinking about charity and donations. We’ve got to keep those folks afloat. It’s a dark time and we can only beat crap like this if we stick together. If you haven’t talked to an old friend – pick up the phone. If you know someone whose all alone, Skype them. Reach out, it’s more important than ever. I realize phone calls are, “primal” now…but let’s get back to that. I have found, like a t-shirt I have says, “whiskey helps.” Or, as a woman yelled at me from a car when I was on vacation with that shirt on, “So does vodka.” I do believe this will get better… this will pass.

With all the aforementioned time on my hands, besides worrying about the sick or the out of work, my thoughts turned to, yes, rock and roll. Music has not only accompanied the happy times in my life, it’s helped get me through a lot of the dark times. I started thinking about “end of the world,” sickness, isolation and doctors – happy thoughts, right? I started collecting songs and suddenly I realized I had a playlist. The original meaning of some of these songs might not actually fit a pandemic, but for our purposes of helping kill two-and-a-half hours, they work just fine. I am not, in any way, trying to minimize the outbreak or to make fun of it. I’m just trying to entertain. This is the most serious health challenge I’ve seen in my lifetime.

This playlist could have lasted several days instead of several hours but these are the tracks I latched onto. As always if you have suggestions on adds, please put them in the comments section and I’ll add them to the Spotify playlist, “BourbonAndVinyl.net Pandemic Playlist.” See the link, below.

  1. The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter” – One of the Stones greatest tracks which invokes a real sense of danger and menace. Perfect for these times.
  2. Talking Heads, “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” – “Home… is where I want to be…” Clearly being ironic as we’re all stuck at home.
  3. Jack White, “Alone In My Home” – Many are… if you know someone, call them.
  4. Prince, “1999” – If it’s the end of the world, lets make it a party.
  5. Cinderella, “Sick For The Cure” – Great song about wanting to be free, which many of you who have been cooped up may relate to.
  6. Iggy Pop, “Sickness” – I hope none of you or your loved ones face this.
  7. Queen, “Keep Yourself Alive” – Yes, please do people.
  8. Van Halen, “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” – Hopefully you’re not a hypochondriac like me who walks around yelling this randomly.
  9. The White Stripes, “The Nurse” – Toughest job in the world.
  10. The Rolling Stones, “Dear Doctor” – A song about heartbreak, of which there is plenty connected to this thing.
  11. Pete Townshend, “Exquisitely Bored” – A song about being stuck in rehab but aren’t we all stuck right now?
  12. David & David, “Being Alone Together” – I’m lucky to have the Rock Chick here with me… she’s not so lucky.
  13. The Clash, “Armigideon Time” – The Clash doing a reggae cover about the end of the world.
  14. Lindsey Buckingham, “End of Time” – A pretty little ditty about the end.
  15. The Police, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” – Seriously, six feet apart folks.
  16. Robert Palmer, “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)” – Hopefully none of you have a case of anything.
  17. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, “Isolation” – Even if it’s self-isolation, it’s isolation.
  18. Alice In Chains, “Sickman” – A little heavy rock to keep this moving.
  19. Aerosmith, “Livin’ On the Edge” – We certainly are. We need to be more thoughtful about the leaders we elect around here, people.
  20. Pink Floyd, “Empty Spaces” – A bit of connective tissue from The Wall. It seemed to fit as we’re all basically separated right now.
  21. The Rolling Stones, “Doom and Gloom” – “All I hear is doom and gloom…” Indeed.
  22. John Hiatt, “Alone In the Dark” – Many are… keep them in your thoughts. Use your phone.
  23. The Beach Boys, “In My Room” – Where I’m spending my time these days. This is one of the few songs by the Beach Boys I can stand to listen to.
  24. Ray Charles (*I had to sub in Humble Pie’s version, Ray’s isn’t on Spotify), “I Don’t Need No Doctor” – One of Brother Ray’s best tracks. Rocked out to its max by Humble Pie. And, I hope you don’t need a Dr.
  25. The Police, “When the World Is Running Down” – It certainly is running down…
  26. Little Feat, “Rock And Roll Doctor” – That’s us here at B&V, serving as your rock n roll doctor!!
  27. Warren Zevon, “Splendid Isolation” – Yes, some of us enjoy being alone.
  28. Iggy Pop, “Isolation” – I hope some of you come out of this as Iggy Pop fans. While you’ve got time, explore the fringes of rock and roll, why not?
  29. Black Crowes, “Hotel Illness” – The lyric, “This room smells like Hotel Illness” could very well describe my home office. I spend too much time up here.
  30. Pearl Jam, “Alone” – Great B-side.
  31. Bob Dylan, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” – Well, if you’re smart you’re not going anywhere.
  32. U2, “Until The End of the World” – Let’s hope it’s not…
  33. R.E.M., “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” – Although, it may very well be…might as well rock out.
  34. Aerosmith, “Sick As A Dog” – “Cat got your tongue?”
  35. Jackson Browne, “Doctor My Eyes” – I forget how kick ass Jackson Browne’s early music is…
  36. Starcrawler, “Home Alone” – Again, I hope you’re not alone right now.
  37. The Rolling Stones, “Rock And A Hard Place” – While we find ourselves between the two places in the title, we can get through this. I know my friend Doug will say, “too many Stones tracks…” but I love the Stones.
  38. The Cult, “Stand Alone” – We may be alone, but we will stand up against this bullshit.
  39. Journey, “When You’re Alone (It Ain’t Easy)” – No it’s not, but hang in there, this too shall pass.
  40. George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass” – Even this will pass.
  41. Derek & the Dominos, “Got To Get Better In A Little While” – This thing may last longer than we think, but it will get better. It’s got to.
  42. Warren Zevon, “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” – Ending with this hymn from Warren. And yes, please don’t let us get sick. None of you.

Stay healthy, stay isolated and be careful out there. I can see all the different countries where my readers come from. It’s fun to look at the map and think people on the other side of the globe are reading this… so I mean it when I say this – wherever you are – I hope you stay healthy and safe. This will get better if we all do our part. I hate the idea of social distancing but you can still be social with all the technology available to us. Take care to stay way from the elderly. Take care of everybody.

Cheers!

Editor’s Note: It dawned on me after I posted this that I’d forgotten some great songs that fit the theme:

  1. The Police, “Message In A Bottle”
  2. Bruce Springsteen, “The Fever”
  3. Elvis Presley, “Fever”
  4. Judas Priest, “Fever”
  5. James Brown, “Cold Sweat”

BourbonAndVinyl: The Best of 2019, New LPs and Box Sets/Vault & Live LPs

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It was Bob Dylan in “You’re a Big Girl Now” who sang “Time is a jet plane it moves so fast, oh but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last.” There’s more poetry on Blood On the Tracks than in most freshman lit classes but I’m getting off topic. That line, “time is a jet plane” has been stuck in my head lately. It always seems to pop up around this time of year. That line and Jackson Browne’s “I’ve been aware of the time passing by, they say in the end it’s the wink of an eye.” Each passing year seems to go by faster than the last. It seems like just yesterday I was moving to a new living space… but that was last January.

I can’t believe the NFL regular season is over already. I’ve only got about four or five more weeks before I have to go into sports hibernation until fall 2020. I really need to figure out hockey so I have something to do during the football off-season. At least I have rock and roll… And speaking of 2020, I can’t believe we’re up to 2020… when I was a kid I used to calculate how old I’d be in 2000… I never imagined adding the big 20 to it. All my trusty old concert t-shirts are getting even closer to being considered “vintage.” A guy at the car lot Saturday was fawning all over my Pearl Jam Vitalogy concert shirt.

If I have any regrets about 2019 it’s that I didn’t go to many concerts. I had foot surgery in May and that curtailed my concert going quite a bit. We missed the Cult’s Sonic Temple tour and the Rock Chick may never forgive me. I guess if I wanted to say it more positively, it’s my “New Year’s Resolution” to see more concerts next year. I’m not a big resolution guy… hence the bourbon part of this thing. It was a good year for me in terms of looking backward and expanding my musical horizons. I got into the Byrds and Modern Lovers (finally) this year. I went deeper into the Buffalo Springfield than I’d been previously. I continued to expand my working set of Tom Waits albums. The man is phenomenal. You haven’t lived until you’ve listened to the original version of “Jersey Girl” at three a.m. in New York city, drunk on gin.

I don’t know what to expect out of 2020 but we’ve already got a little bit of good news that John Frusciante has rejoined the Chili Peppers, a reunion I predicted would never happen (Rock N Reunions We’d Love To See But, Alas, Will Never Happen), which made it inevitable. There’s a Netflix documentary on Linda Rondstadt coming that I’m sure you’ll be reading about in these pages. And while 2020 will likely be a politically charged one – I saw political flags at the Chiefs game yesterday which was a first – I choose to hope for the best. Hell, the Stones may finally release that record they’ve been polishing for a couple of years. So much to look forward to.

But of course, the purpose of this post is not to look forward, this is our annual look backward to 2019. I think I’ve dropped the Don Henley quote, “It was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock and roll,” into every annual recap I’ve done, but I’m not saying that this year. 2019 actually saw some really great music from some of our favorite B&V artists. I’ve compiled a list of our favorite new albums and then below, our favorite box sets, live albums and miscellaneous vault type releases.

I hope over the last year this blog has brought some good music into your lives out there. I truly hope that each of you have a great and truly happy New Year. This New Year’s Eve I’ll probably be home and in bed by 10… and not in a good way. New Year’s Eve used to be bloodsport for me but now I see it as Amateur Hour… not like St Patrick’s Day where the pros show us how to drink all day. Ahem… Have a great New Year out there everyone! Make it special – reach out to an old friend you haven’t seen in a while, put on an old LP you haven’t heard since way back when, pour a nice strong drink and lets make 2020 even better than 2019. A poet once said, people are like flowers. It’s been a pleasure sharing this garden with you…

2019 B&V Top New LPs 

  1. Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars – Springsteen channels Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach and early Glenn Campbell on this fabulous solo record. “Hello Sunshine” ranks amongst his greatest songs.
  2. The Black Keys, “Let’s Rock” –  The Keys triumphant return full of fuzzy guitar and stomping drums. Great, great garage rock.
  3. The Raconteurs, Help Us Stranger – Jack White returns to his first side project, the Raconteurs and delivers a more structured set of tracks. Another great garage rock album.
  4. Van Morrison, Three Chords And the Truth – Van delivers his first set of all originals for his sixth album in four years. Laid back, Celtic soul.
  5. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Colorado – Neil gets Crazy Horse back together, subs in Nils Lofgren for Frank Sampedro and delivers his best album in years.
  6. The Who, WHO – This might be my favorite album of the year. A truly spectacular return.
  7. Peter Frampton, All Blues – Frampton going back to his roots in Humble Pie to deliver a spectacular album of blues covers. My favorite track may be his Miles Davis cover, “All Blues.”
  8. Starcrawler, Devour You – Arrow de Wilde and the gang show up with a strong, strong sophomore LP. Go see these guys live wherever you are. They’re amazing.
  9. Liam Gallagher, Why Me? Why Not. – He’s a confounding man who once mocked my air-guitar skills, but damn if he doesn’t put out fabulous solo records.
  10. Norah Jones, Begin Again – At 7 tracks, more of an EP than an LP, but I just love this woman’s singing and songwriting. It’s on the mellow end, but we can’t all listen to “In-A-Gadda-Davida” every day.
  11. Leonard Cohen, Thanks for the Dance – Beautifully produced by Cohen’s son based on notes the late singer left behind, this was a great posthumous release. His voice more haunting than ever… He’s not afraid to get political with “Puppets,” but its on the songs of heartbreak that he was most affecting.
  12. Iggy Pop, Free – I doubt my constant praise of Iggy is winning any converts but everyone should listen to “James Bond” and do the twist.

2019 B&V Favorite Box Sets, Live & Vault LPs

  1. Prince, 1999 Super Deluxe Box Set – A deluxe treatment of a double-LP. There is so much great bonus material, it actually eclipses the deluxe treatment Purple Rain got.
  2. The Beatles, Abbey Road 50th Anniversary Box – Everything you’d ever want to hear out of the Abbey Road sessions. True collectors will find the original running order of the side 2 medley a must have.
  3. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Live At Woodstock – If this is CCR on bad night, where Fogerty is pissed, I can’t imagine what they were like on a good night. Essential for every CCR fan, and who isn’t a CCR fan?
  4. Paul McCartney, Amoeba Gig Live – A show McCartney did in a record store for a small crowd may just be favorite live album of his.
  5. Foreigner, Live Rainbow ’78 – Finishing up the tour for the first album with the second album in the can, these guys are on top of the world and you can hear it.
  6. Bob Dylan, Travelin’ Through ’67-’69 – Bootleg Series Vol 15 – Dylan with Johnny Cash. Need I say more?
  7. Neil Young & the Stray Gators, Tuscaloosa – Neil playing “Alabama” in Alabama in the 70s. He was a brave man.
  8. Keith Richards, Talk Is Cheap 30th Anniversary Box – A little light on bonus material, but what’s here is damn good. Plus it’s just a great, great rock and roll album.
  9. Gene Clark, No Other Box Set – The original masterpiece with two additional discs of alternate takes. I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered this album sooner.
  10. Bruce Springsteen, Live Archives – Passaic 9/19/78 and Winterland 12/15/78 & 12/16/78 – I love most of these concerts he’s been pulling out of the vaults but these two sets are must haves. Winterland and Passaic were widely bootlegged… the latter may be the best concert of Springsteen’s storied live career.
  11. Motley Crue, The Dirt, Soundtrack – Most of us have all the tracks that made the sound track to ‘The Dirt’ but I had to include this as they put 4 really nice new tracks on here… new Motley is always a cause for celebration.

There you have it. Check it out and let me know what you think. Cheers and Happy New Year.

Be safe!

B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More

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*Image of Mick Jagger (L) and Peter Tosh (R) taken from the internet, likely copyrighted. 

When I was growing up, despite being a lost-cause miscreant, my parents dutifully woke me up every Sunday morning to go to church. It wasn’t until I was 17 and driving that I convinced my parents to let me drive to church by myself on Saturday nights instead of with the family Sunday morning. Naturally I drove to the church, picked up a program and promptly went to McDonald’s and ate some fries, killed an hour and then went home. French fries and eternal damnation sounded better than killing an hour listening to a Priest drone on. Blasphemy? I’m not sure. It all just seemed like whistling past the graveyard to me. Don’t get me wrong, I think religion is like sex: practice whatever brings you joy, just keep it to yourself. Don’t try and convert me. Only my Sainted Grandmother could get me back inside a church and sadly, she passed 20 years ago.

But prior to my taking the “Highway to Hell,” before I could drive, my parents, my brother and I would load up in my father’s Oldsmobile ’88 and drive slowly and quietly to Mass. My father is a drivers-ed text book in motion…hands at 10 and 2, people. I doubt he’s ever hit a pothole. Well, not when I was younger. As he’s gotten older he’s become more menacing behind the wheel but haven’t we all? My parents realized early on I was a hellion. To their credit, they never held me down and shaved my head to search for the three 6’s. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had. Instead, on those unpleasant Sunday mornings (made unpleasant by my bitching about going to church), they attempted to placate me by turning the radio to the FM side of the dial and putting on Casey Kasem’s American Top-40 Countdown radio show. It would delight my brother and at least divert my attention.

I know what you’re thinking, Faithful B&V Readers – wait a minute, you’re a rock and roll guy, what were you doing listening to the Top 40 Countdown? I know, I know, it sounds bad. But beggars can’t be choosers and I was a captive in the backseat of an Oldsmobile. “Keep your feet on the ground but keep reaching for the stars,” my ass. You have to understand, music was better than the talk radio my father was so found of. In later years upon discovering girls, the back seat of that Oldsmobile became a den of inequity, but I’m getting off topic. You have to remember this was the late 70s and while there was a lot of disco and schmaltz, there were still rock and roll artists on the Top 40. You could hear Paul McCartney or Rod Stewart on the countdown. I would just have to hope the three or four songs I got to hear on the quiet ride to church would be good ones and not say, Donna Summer. Because whatever I was going to hear on the way to church was going to be the song or songs that stuck in my head for the next hour. It was going to be bad enough without “Saturday Night Fever” bouncing off my cranium for an hour.

It was on one of those dreaded Sunday morning rides that I first heard the Steely Dan song, “FM.” It was from a movie soundtrack of the same name. I was in my early stages of digging Steely Dan, but at that point in the game, we were all afraid of declaring that we liked something that wasn’t rock and roll… the fear of being uncool was intense and they are kind of “jazzy.” Anyway, I hear this Steely Dan song, and they sing the line, “Give her some funked up music, she treats you nice.” Well that caught my attention. Besides rock and roll, as an early teenager, my other obsession was these strange, foreign, indecipherable creatures named “girls.” What did they want? What did they like? These seemed important questions. And the word “funked” sounded like “fucked up music,” and I was always drawn to subversive vulgarity. Anyway, they go on to sing the next line: “Feed her some hungry reggae, she’ll love you twice.”

Now, I grew up in the American midwest, as I’m fond of flogging. We didn’t go on exotic vacations to the Caribbean. If we were going to go on vacation we went to southern Missouri to Silver Dollar City. I was more liable to hear “Dueling Banjos” down there than Bob Marley. I had NO idea what reggae was. I thought it was a booze or a drug, like say, this rumored Spanish Fly. According to Steely Dan, this “reggae” had an almost aphrodisiacal effect on women… “she’ll love you twice?” I couldn’t get anybody to even kiss me… let alone love me, well, once. Things got more complicated when I heard Stevie Wonder sing “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” What? “I like to reggae, but you dance too fast for me, I’d like to make love to you so you can make me scream…” Wait a minute? What is this mysterious reggae? How do I get some? Er, reggae that is, how do I get some reggae.

Thankfully, somehow I got myself straightened out that reggae was a music style from Jamaica. Eric Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff,” a cover of a Bob Marley tune did a lot to help educate me on what it was. And let’s face it the Stones helped a lot as they have with so much for me. I saw the Stones with the Rock Chick in Chicago once and the Pretenders were the opening act. I remember Chrissie Hynde saying, “the Stones have brought us so much music, but they should be applauded for bring the world reggae music.” She’s right. Even before Clapton brought reggae to the mainstream the Stones were playing it.

People tend to forget how big reggae got in the 70s. Bob Marley and the Wailers blew up, especially in Britain back then. People don’t realize today what a huge influence that reggae was on the punk movement later in mid/late 70s. Bob Marley and the Wailers were singing about actual revolution and rebellion, guns in the street kind of fighting. Punks were rebelling against the established order, piercing things and shaving Mohawks into their hair, but the Wailers were involved in actual gun play. Reggae’s popularity has shrank and you’re likely to only hear it on vacations and cruises in the Caribbean. As Keith Richards said in an interview I saw, “Bob Marley was so big, when he died reggae kind of went with him.”

I think everybody has some reggae in their collection. Likely if you look, you’ll find Marley’s Legend greatest hits package on everybody’s CD shelf (Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad). I went to a New Year’s Eve party once and the host had all of his studio albums from Catch A Fire to Uprising. Not to be outdone, immediately I started amassing Marley’s catalog and it’s pretty fucking amazing. When Peter Tosh, guitarist and vocalist of the Wailers quit, the Stones eventually signed them to their label and Mick famously duetted with him on Saturday Night Live… it was like being hit with lightning when I watched live as Tosh sang and suddenly Jagger was standing next to him. Totally surprised me. But I dug the song,”(You’ve Got To Walk And) Don’t Look Back” an old Temptations song, redone. I was starting to get into the mysterious reggae.

While people sit listening to Legend, many don’t realize that they own more reggae than they realize. There have been a ton of rock and roll acts who have done a reggae song. Well, either a reggae song – be it a cover of a Marley song – or a heavily reggae-influenced track. I realized I really liked a lot of those songs… who doesn’t like “hungry reggae?” So, as usual, I put together a list of my favorites. Some of these are on the list only because they’re actual Marley covers. Some are faintly, slightly reggae-tinged. There is something about each song on this list that make me think, reggae. It’s more of a vibe thing. As always you can find this on Spotify under the title “BourbonAndVinyl.net Playlist Rockers  Doing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Anymore.” The list slightly varies from what you’ll see below because as usual I couldn’t find everything. I think this, musically, holds together better than most my playlists and is perfect for a summer afternoon… or a cold winter afternoon when you’re dreaming of summer… As always, if you have additions, please mention them in the Comments section and I’ll add them to the Spotify list.

And yes, there’s a lot of Stones here. This thing could have been all Stones, the Clash (who have a ton of reggae songs), and the Police…

  1. Joe Strummer, “Get Down Moses” – I failed to mention strongly enough above how huge the Clash were in terms of playing reggae and bringing it to the world…Naturally Strummer carried that into his solo work.
  2. Little Steven, “I Am A Patriot” – My favorite political track… captures the rebellious spirit of reggae.
  3. Eddie Money, “Running Back” – I’m so bummed we lost the Money-man this year.
  4. Sublime, “Pawn Shop” – 90s rockers and one of the Rock Chick’s favs!
  5. John Lennon, “Borrowed Time” – This is one of those reggae-influenced type tracks. I don’t know if its reggae, but it feels like it to me.
  6. Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, “Redemption Song” – The Man In Black and Joe Strummer singing a Bob Marley song… you don’t get more righteous. Rick Rubin asked Cash if he wanted to change the lyrics as they’re very Jamaican… Cash said, “you don’t mess with the words of a Prophet like Bob Marley.” Well said, Johnny, well said.
  7. Robert Plant, “Lively Up Yourself (Live)” – The fact that Plant was covering Marley in  concert in the 80s makes me love Plant that much more.
  8. Blondie, “The Tide Is High” – Again, not sure it’s actual reggae, but it gets me in that vibe.
  9. April Wine, “Say Hello” – Great track by an almost forgotten Canadian band.
  10. The Police, “One World (Not Three)” – Great, political reggae from Sting and the gang…”regatta de blanc” indeed.
  11. The Rolling Stones, “Hey Negrita” – From the Stones’ Black And Blue. 
  12. Mick Jagger with Peter Tosh, “(You’ve Got To Walk And) Don’t Look Back” – Mick, “I’m walkin’ barefoot…”
  13. Robert Palmer, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – Palmer reinventing a Dylan track as reggae. Brilliant. The guy doesn’t get enough credit.
  14. Keith Richards, “Love Overdue” – From his great, last solo record.
  15. Eric Clapton, “Revolution” – Great reggae tune from one of Clapton’s endless string of bad albums from the new millennium.
  16. Keith Richards, “The Harder They Fall” – A great Jimmy Cliff cover.
  17. No Doubt, “Underneath It All” – While I despise Gwen Stefani’s solo work, I love No Doubt. They’re more Ska than reggae, but they nail it on this ballad.
  18. Bob Dylan, “Jokerman” – From the great and mildly overlooked, Infidels. 
  19. The Rolling Stones, “Cherry, Oh Cherry, Baby” – Again from Black And Blue, there’s gonna be a lot of Stones here, I can’t help myself.
  20. The Rolling Stones, “Hot Stuff” – See #19…
  21. Sting, “All Four Season” – A rare Sting track on B&V… and the perfect song to describe the Rock Chick’s many moods.
  22. Dirty Heads, “Love Letters” – I could have put most of Cabin By The Sea on here.
  23. 311, “Who’s Got The Herb” – Also found on the 420 playlist, B&V Playlist: Happy 4:20 To All!.
  24. Black Crowes, “Time Will Tell” – Great Bob Marley cover.
  25. Eric Clapton, “I Shot The Sheriff” – This might be the biggest rock crossover reggae hit ever?
  26. The Rolling Stones, “Send It To Me” – The Stones never stopped playing reggae. “Start Me Up” started as a reggae song.
  27. The Police, “Shadows In the Rain” – I actually also like Sting’s solo version of this song, but that’s rock. This is reggae.
  28. Rod Stewart, “Love And Be Loved” – Rod on a lovely track from his recent Another Country. 
  29. Paul McCartney, “C Moon” – Reggae-ish?
  30. No Doubt, “Start The Fire” – Gwen, come back to No Doubt… all is forgiven.
  31. The Rolling Stones, “Luxury” – Another great reggae song from these guys.
  32. David Bowie, “Tonight” – A reimagined track he wrote with Iggy Pop whose version is much, much different. Tina Turner can be heard duetting on this track.
  33. Elton John, “Jamaican Jerk-off” – This sounds like it was recorded on a Casio… but it has its charms.
  34. Ronnie Wood, “I Can Feel the Fire” – It’s amazing how many solo Stones tracks are also on here, birds of a feather… you can hear Mick on the harmony vocal.
  35. Keith Richards, “Wicked As It Seems” – Speaking of solo Stones’ tracks…
  36. The Clash, “Police & Thieves” – My favorite of their many, many reggae tracks.
  37. Bob Dylan, “License To Kill” – Again from Infidels. 
  38. Lenny Kravitz, “Eleutheria” – A song about an island, not a girl. Great Kravitz track.
  39. The Clash, “Rudie Can’t Fail” – An ode to Rude Boys?
  40. Little Steven, “Solidarity” – Little Steven doing a Jamaican style reggae tune about a Polish Labor Union.
  41. The Rolling Stones, “Too Rude” – A Stones cover with Keith on lead vocals… I couldn’t resist.
  42. 311, “Amber” – The Rock Chick said, summarily, “That’s not reggae.” I like it too much not to include it. Its like reggae… and “amber is the color of your energy.”

Enjoy this one folks and stay warm out there! Cheers!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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