Playlist: Happy Labor Day Weekend – Songs For All The “Working Stiffs” & The Saga Of My Summer Jobs

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*Image above taken from the Internet and likely copyright

I can’t believe it’s already Labor Day Weekend. I guess Steve Miller was right, “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” This coming Monday is Labor Day, a day to celebrate Labor and working people and is generally a day of vacation for people. Labor Day was established as a Federal holiday in the U.S. as the first Monday in September in 1894. Prior to that 30 states had an official state holiday honoring Labor. Oregon was the first state to declare a state holiday for Labor Day so good on them. Most other nations celebrate Labor on May Day, or May 1st. It’s comforting to know that we pause as a nation and celebrate working people. For a long time I thought Labor Day was just a holiday that signaled the end of summer. I mean, how else would local municipalities know it was time to close the city pool? Memorial Day is the start of summer in the U.S. and Labor Day wraps it up.

I’m a white collar guy now but I still consider myself a working class dog, as Rick Springfield once sang. As awful as my current job can be at times it beats being a coal miner but then I’m claustrophobic. I have the utmost respect for Labor – it’s working people who built this country. Organized Labor helped build the middle class in America between 1932 and 1980. Even though I’m now merely a traveling salesman (see playlist) I still think back to my younger, high school/college days when I had to work every summer to pay for school. I had a number of difficult, dirty jobs.

My first job ever lasted exactly two weeks. There had never been a discussion at the house with my father, nicknamed The Hard Guy, telling me I had to get a job. My buddies were starting to get jobs and they always had walking around money for illicit beer purchases and vinyl records. Ever ambitious I felt I had to follow suit and applied for and got a job at my local Dairy Queen. While the surprised Hard Guy muttered approvingly when I got the job, the owner/manager was a sociopath with eyes that looked in two directions at once. He was not a nice man. Were it today, I would have suspected meth amphetamine abuse. The heat and grease that hung over the grille while I attempted to cook burgers and fries did wonders for my acne. I looked like a burn victim. Finally after the boss descended into a screaming fit because I didn’t clean up something properly I decided the culinary arts were perhaps not my chosen path.

Despite that, my next endeavor was as a busboy at a steak joint in the mall. I wore a white shirt, a bow tie and a leather tunic. I was the fastest busboy they had. I could clean a table in the blink of an eye. Although I must admit I started having nightmares that I was trundling my cart out into the dining room and all the tables were covered in dirty dishes… I’d wake up sweating from trying to dream bus tables… dreams are crazy. Perhaps that was a sign I wasn’t going to handle stress well. The steak joint had the advantage of actually having female employees. I met a bunch of girls who went to different high schools than I did which was an advantage, believe me. The steak joint was managed by a bunch of reprobates which may explain why they’d only seem to hire pretty girls… The cops came into the restaurant during a lunch rush one Saturday and arrested one of the assistant managers… he’d found an abandoned car along the highway and allegedly stole the license plate. We never saw him again. We would typically spend our breaks at the restaurant on night shifts standing in the walk-in cooler drinking beer and talking trash to the hostesses. It was a tough job but someone had to do it. I worked at that place on and off even through my early college years.

While those indoor jobs were fine and dandy there wasn’t much over the “minimal” wage in those jobs. The real money lie in working outside. My buddy Brewster was always an enterprising young lad and he stumbled upon a yard crew mowing an apartment lawn and asked the guy for a job. The next thing I knew, Brewster got me hired and after school every day I’d jump in his car and we’d go mow lawns until it got dark. The guy paid like $5/hour vs the $3.50 an hour I was getting at the mall. I was in the tall cotton now. Never mind the fact that I ruined a number of pairs of blue jeans turning them green. Mom wasn’t thrilled but the Hard Guy seemed to enjoy those evenings at the house while I was out working a little more. The outfit was known as Lewis’ Quality Lawn Service (name changed to protect the innocent). His hiring practices were somewhat suspect… I’m pretty sure there were more than one convict on the crew. At one house in the rich neighborhood we serviced, an old lady approached Bob (the owner/foreman), Brewster and I and asked “Who took a shit in my window well?” Sure enough…someone did. Brewster always said it was a guy named Sanchez (name changed to protect the truly innocent) but I wouldn’t put it past him to do such at thing. Brewster, if you’re out there, time to confess.

It was in that lawn mowing job I began to realize the class system in the U.S. was alive and well. One house we mowed, the guy had a white Rolls Royce and he’d park it in the circle drive out in front of the house all the time to show it off, I guess? It was a Friday and one of the neighbors was throwing a party, merely houses away just down the street. I mean, even I could walk down there to the party and I’d been mowing lawns all day. The son of the Rolls owner was about my age. And he came out front cradling an iced tea, watched us mow for a second and then yelled in the screen door, “Daaaadddy are we taking the Rolls to the party?” I was like dude, c’mon, don’t be such a douche bag, you can walk. Or at least offer us some damn iced tea. Ends up the family took the Rolls to the party. I’m surprised they didn’t ask me to drive… probably because I was sweaty and dirty. It was tough work but man what a tan I had.

Finally, in college my best bud Doug saved me from hustling to find a job and got me work with his dad’s company. They built and resurfaced tennis courts. It was hot sweaty work on sizzling asphalt but it paid well and again, the tan was spectacular and that’s how I really judged these things. I typically worked with a guy named Howard and a couple of bikers he’d hired… well until one of the bikers was killed, but that’s another story… Dave was a nice guy and I was truly sad about that… Anyway, when I took the gig I thought I’d be working with Doug on a more regular basis. I love the man but frankly when it came to physical labor I realized he was insane. He would describe days where he put in 12 hours or more as “Iron Days.” I would describe 12 hour-plus days as a “Nightmare.” My job was to work hard for 8 to 10 hours and then go spend that money on beer. Or better yet, shower and take my girlfriend to the Motel 6, but those records are sealed.

The worst part of the tennis court gig was working with wet cement and this paint that was called, I believe, Plexipave. You mixed the Plexipave with sand and cement and if you got a dab of it on you it turned hard on your legs enveloping your leg hair. I’d come home with sandy, hard, green lumps on my legs. My mom would make me take off my work clothes in the garage. I’d wrap myself in a towel and head up to sit in a bath tub – and I was strictly a shower guy – so I could soak the Plexipave off my leg hair instead of tearing the hair out by the root. I don’t know how women get waxed… it’s painful. The struggle is real and beauty is hard, ladies.

Despite all of that pain, sunburn, acne and burns from a hot grille, I wouldn’t trade one day of my checkered history as a working stiff. Those were glorious summers either at the mall or in some giant rich guy’s yard, mowing or resurfacing his tennis court. I actually ended up at a party at one of the houses we mowed… I kept thinking, what if she found out I mowed her dad’s lawn. There’s something to be said about hard work and how good it feels at the end of the day to crack a cold beer and realize that you’d accomplished something. There was no worrying about the job at night – save for those crazy busboy nightmares. It was a glorious time.

I felt it was essential to honor all of you out there doing actual hard work with a Labor Day Playlist. It can be found currently on Spotify under “BourbonAndVinyl.net Labor Day” (I’m looking at moving off Spotify, finally, in support of Neil Young). Here are some of my favorite songs about working and working people. I’m not a “9 to 5” or “Take This Job And Shove It” guy, so those songs aren’t here. It works playing straight through or on shuffle, dealer’s choice. It’s not meant to be exhaustive and if you have a song you’d like me to add, please put it in the comment section. As you grille hot dogs and hamburgers and drink some cold beer this weekend celebrating the unofficial end of summer, enjoy cranking up these tunes!

  1. The Beatles, “Hard Days Night” – Always great to kick off with a Beatles track. “I’ve been workin’ like a dog…” I’ve always liked the Beatles but ever since the Get Back documentary, Let It Be box set and the roof top concert came out it seems to have reignited my Beatles fandom.
  2. The Clash, “Career Opportunities” – “Career opportunities, the ones that never knocks.” I can relate to that. I am currently at the zenith of a mediocre career.
  3. Dire Straits, “Money For Nothing” – Where two working guys delivering appliances envy the lifestyle of Rock Stars in videos. So 80s…
  4. Huey Lewis & The News, “Workin’ For a Living” – Rare that I’d turn to Huey and his News but couldn’t resist this track. “I’m takin’ what their giving as I’m workin’ for a living.” Truth.
  5. Styx, “Blue Collar Man” – As I’ve grown older I’ve grown more conflicted about Styx but this Tommy Shaw tune – like most of the stuff he wrote – is a little tougher and more guitar forward.
  6. Lou Reed & John Cale, “Work” – This is the weirdest track here. But I couldn’t resist Lou Reed singing about Andy Warhol lecturing him on his work ethic. Even artists have to put in the sweat.
  7. Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Work” – Everyone should explore Marley’s work beyond just the greatest hits compilation Legend. This is a great track that spirals itself around my mind. “Everyday is work – work – work – work.” Bob knew the struggle was real.
  8. Elvis Costello, “Welcome To The Working Week” – The ultimate Monday morning song.
  9. Bob Dylan, “Union Sundown” – Great blues-rock track where Dylan laments the decline of unions which fought so hard for the American worker, and the sad fact that most of what you buy is made elsewhere. “Well, my shoes, they come from Singapore, My flashlight’s from Taiwan, My tablecloth’s from Malaysia.”
  10. Randy Newman, “Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man)” – Randy Newman, the greatest satirist of his time, making a plea to the President for the working man.
  11. Pete Townshend, “Keep On Working” – Pete encouraging us all to just keep on working…
  12. The Rolling Stones, “Dirty Work” – Not exactly a fit but who can resist a great Stones’ deep track. “You let somebody do the dirty work, find some loser, find some jerk.” Somehow I can relate to this in my working life…
  13. The Who, “Dirty Jobs” – Great track about bad jobs from Quadrophenia, my favorite of their many “concept albums.
  14. Genesis, “Just A Job I Do” – A song about being either an assassin or a spy or perhaps both. Collins hits the drums hard to simulate a gun shot. Impressive. It sums up how I feel about work, it’s not a career it’s just a job I do.
  15. Lou Reed, “Don’t Talk To Me About Work” – Sometimes when you get home you just don’t want to talk about your job. Time to crack a beer and forget about it. “I’m up to my eye balls in dirt, with work.”
  16. Chris Rea, “I’m Workin’ On It” – This is one of my favorite tracks here. I know I could say this to my boss, “I got eight little fingers and only two thumbs, Will you leave me in peace while I get the work done.”
  17. Van Halen, “Get Up” – One of those early “trying-too-hard” rock tracks from the early Van Hagar era. “Get up and make it work.”
  18. Rush, “Working Man” – This is the ultimate song for the working man. Epic rock from one of the greatest bands of all time. Check out the live version on the Moving Pictures – 40th Anniversary Edition.
  19. Bachman Turner Overdrive, “Takin’ Care of Business” – Who could resist a little Bachman Turner Overdrive, “B – T – O!”? “I love to work on nothin’ all day.”
  20. Bruce Springsteen, “Working On The Highway” – Great track about building infrastructure until a young girl enters the picture. Very similar story to “Darlington County.”
  21. Prince, “Let’s Work” – This work doesn’t sound like what I’m talking about here but it’s Prince… get funky, baby.
  22. Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Workin’ For MCA” – I would think having a record contract and “working” for a record company would be good news for a band but clearly Skynyrd didn’t dig it.
  23. The Police, “Dead End Job” – Rare early track about well, not wanting a dead end job. Sting was a teacher, maybe he’s talking about that? Helluva fast pace.
  24. Bob Dylan, “Maggie’s Farm” – Where our narrator laments the working conditions on a family-owned agriculture concern. “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”
  25. David Crosby and Graham Nash, “Fieldworker” – Great track honoring the folks who work on big farms asking for dignity and to be “treated like a human.” Good stuff from Graham Nash here.
  26. Neil Young, “Union Man” – This track won’t be on the playlist because, well, Spotify. “Loud music is better, bumper stickers should be issued.”
  27. Jim Croce, “Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues” – This one is for my folks. My dad was a huge Jim Croce fan and he may have been the only artist who the Hard Guy owned more than one record from.
  28. Bon Jovi, “Livin’ On A Prayer” – Where a young dock worker and his girlfriend, a waitress, struggle against the vicissitudes of capitalism and turn to religion and prayer.
  29. Van Morrison, “All Work And No Play” – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull chap.” That sums it up. Slip out early and have some fun this Labor Day.
  30. Bob Seger, “Makin’ Thunderbirds” – Great track about the American autoworker and lamentations on how we don’t build Thunderbirds anymore.
  31. Gary U.S. Bonds, “Out of Work” – With unemployment at a record low, one can only hope that most people can find a job. And that it pays a living wage…
  32. Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul, “Solidarity” – This lyric means the world to me: “Everybody wants to work for a living, Everybody wants to keep their children warm.” Indeed, everybody wants to work and take care of their family and earn a livable wage.
  33. Warren Zevon, “The Factory” – Warren Zevon, backed by R.E.M. on this album, singing about the hard life that factory workers face.
  34. R.E.M., “Finest Worksong” – Speaking of R.E.M., this is a great song from the first LP from them that I ever bought, Document. It actually is a fine work song.
  35. Bob Dylan, “Workingman’s Blues #2” – Dylan returning to the subject of the workingman. Does Dylan get enough credit for his mastery of the blues?
  36. Paul McCartney, “On My Way To Work” – McCartney reminiscing about his pre-Beatles working days.
  37. Godfathers, “Birth, School, Work, Death” – I was late to the Godfathers’ LP Birth, School, Work, Death but the title track sums up the circle of life for most of us.
  38. Todd Rundgren, “Bang The Drum All Day” – While I have no rhythm I’d rather bang a drum all day than work.
  39. Van Halen, “Beats Workin'” – Whatever you’re doing this Labor Day, it’s gotta beat workin’. What’s that bumper sticker, “The worst day fishing beats the best day workin'”? Truth. While Roth’s vocals could be described (as they were by my friend Dr. Rock) ” as the sound of a pet store full of animals burning down,” Eddie’s guitar work is always singular.
  40. Sam Cooke, “Chain Gang” – Sam singing about the deplorable practice of putting prisoners to work in chains. Watch the movie Cool Hand Luke if you have any doubts that this was a horrible thing.
  41. The Rolling Stones, “Factory Girl” – Dedicate one to the ladies… Rosie the Riveter, may I have this dance?
  42. Bruce Springsteen, “Factory” – Bruce writing about his dad and how hard he worked down at the factory.
  43. Van Morrison, “I’ve Been Working” – A great track that Bob Seger used to cover live. Funky, powerful… “I’ve been workin’, I’ve been workin’ so hard.” Even after a day of hard work, Van just wants to come and get some love.
  44. Chuck Berry, “Let It Rock” – A track where Chuck describes railroad workers and an impending accident. Where was OSHA?
  45. Steely Dan, “Dirty Work” – Again, a bit of reach here, as this is about a relationship instead of an actual job. But, if you think about it, relationships can be a lot of work. One of those early David Palmer on lead vocals Steely songs.
  46. Tom Waits, “I Can’t Wait To Get Off Work (And See My Baby On Montgomery Avenue)” – Beautiful ballad. I remember getting off whatever job I had, running home to shower and heading to see my baby. I love the lyric, “Don’t do this, don’t do that,” and then he speaks the line, “Tom don’t do that.”
  47. Neil Young & The Bluenotes, “Ten Men Working” – I listened to this on vinyl last night. It remains amongst those records maybe only I enjoy. This is a great track though.
  48. Peter Gabriel, “Don’t Give Up” – Beautiful ballad with Peter sharing lead vocals with Kate Bush who has recently seen a resurgence through the series Stranger Things. The song chronicles the doubts and despair of a working man and his wife offering words of encouragement, “Don’t give up, I know you can make it…” The devastating loss of and search for work is palpable. It’s a dialogue between husband and wife that is so intimate it feels like eavesdropping.
  49. Pearl Jam, “Unemployable” – Great Pearl Jam deep track. About a man whose frustrations about his precarious work situation has led to violence and perhaps even a loss of his religious faith. That’s a lot for a 3 minute rock song to take on. “I’m scared of life, near death.” Heavy themes set to heavy rock.
  50. U2, “The Hands That Built America” – The ranks of Labor – many of whom were immigrants – built the skyscrapers the 1% could hide away in while forgetting about us.
  51. Billy Joel, “Allentown” – The classic Rust Belt song.
  52. Loverboy, “Workin’ For the Weekend” – I don’t like Loverboy although admittedly we all listened to them back in the day and this isn’t a bad song. I knew if I omitted this song, it’d be one of the first to be recommended so I bit the bullet and added it. More cowbell!
  53. Bruce Springsteen, “Workin’ On a Dream” – I included this on my Playlists about the Surreal Realm of Dreaming, and hesitated to add it to this one, but this lyric jumped at me, “Rain pourin’ down, I swing my hammer, My hands are rough from working on a dream…” That’s working, man.
  54. ZZ Top, “Just Got Paid” – Why do we work? To get paid. When I heard, “If you believe I like workin’ hard all day, Just step in my shoes and take my pay,” I realized it totally fit. This riff is greasier than a bacon sandwich on Wonder bread. Turn it up and pass the napkins.
  55. John Lennon, “Working Class Hero” – This is one of the most nakedly honest songs I’ve ever heard. It’s tough but he’s not wrong.
  56. Merle Haggard, “Workin’ Man Blues” – I saw Merle Haggard live opening for Dylan and his voice was like smooth, aged whiskey. I rarely include any country songs – outside of Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson – but this is a great song. Come for his voice, stay for lyrics like “I’ll keep workin’ as long as my two hands are fit to use, I’ll drink my beer in a tavern and sing a little bit of these working man blues.” Barkeep, another round for the working man at the end of the bar.

There you go! Again, turn this one up loud and enjoy your day off, God knows you’ve earned it. I welcome any and all suggestions for additions to the list in the comment section. Be safe this weekend!

Cheers!

B&V’s Favorite B-Sides – Songs That Were Orphans But Found Fame Anyway

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*Photo of actual 45s, and actual B-sides, taken by your intrepid blogger

I think a lot of people, especially the casual music fan, can be put off by the term B-side. The term sounds like something you’d find in the discount aisle of your local retailer next to day old bread. It’s not an “A” it’s a “B” so it must be somehow… less valuable? Oddly, I actually understood what a B-side was before I started really getting into collecting music. My father had an old wire rack full of singles – known as 45s as that was the speed the turntable would have to be turned to in order to spin the smaller vinyl discs. An album is rated at 33 1/3 RPM (revolutions per minute), a single was 45 RPM’s. These old 45s that my father had amassed when he was still cool was a who’s who of 50s popular music: Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Ray Charles. My little brother commandeered the collection as his own when he was really young and then enhanced it by buying Beatles’ singles…he was always years ahead of me on rock n roll…it’s a wonder he didn’t make my parents get his haircut in that mop top Beatles’ style but I digress. He had the little plastic insert that allowed him to play the 45s – which have a bigger hole in the middle – on the turntable. 45s only had one song per side unlike an album which has a number of songs on each side (well, typically… maybe not if you’re the Allman Brothers and it’s live and you’re really cooking, then it might be say, “Whipping Post” taking up one entire side of the LP). My brother and I shared a room in the early days so occasionally I’d wander in hand he’d be playing tunes. I think it was on one of those occasions that he explained what a B-side was to me before I even cared about music.

In the early days of rock n roll, like my dad’s collection, the music industry was focused on singles. Typically albums were merely a collection of previously released singles. When the artist in question had released enough songs to fill up an album the record company would lump ’em together and pump out the LP as another item to sell to the public. On those singles typically the A-side would be the song they wanted to release as the “hit.” What to do with the other side of the 7″ vinyl disc? Well, slap another song on the B-side! Typically the B-side would be a “lesser” tune, one the record company didn’t have high hopes for. The record company didn’t always get it right. Tony Bennett’s signature song “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” began as a B-side to “Once Upon A Time” a track none us can remember. “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” may be that first B-side to break out as a hit, I don’t really know. It was a DJ who decided to turn the record over to play the B-side and the rest, as they say, is history. Since it was left up to the record company, sometimes with input from the artist, B-sides weren’t always the “lesser” of the two tracks released. Record companies are rarely right about anything.

When the Beatles ushered in the “album” era of rock n roll the nature of B-sides changed. It really was the Beatles, especially after they stopped touring, who realized the artistic possibilities of a full length album. You listen to albums like Rubber Soul or Revolver and you realize there is a unity of sound and themes that enhance the listening experience over 12 songs instead of just the “hit” singles and some filler. When artists started releasing full length, thought-out albums the pool of tracks for use on B-sides – because people still bought a ton of singles back then – became a lot deeper. Typically the record company would pick a song to be a single, and then look for a deep album cut that in some cases might be “filler” on the album and slap it on the B-side. However, as usual, the record company didn’t always get it right. Rod Stewart’s signature song “Maggie May” was the B-side to “Reason To Believe.” And, exactly like “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” an enterprising DJ in America turned the single over and voila, “Maggie May” is a monster hit and Rod Stewart became a star.

In the pantheon of great, great songs that started out as B-sides the list is long. The Beatles chose to release the epic psychedelic track “I Am The Walrus” (mostly written by John Lennon) as the B-side to “Hello, Goodbye” a McCartney track. Obviously “I Am The Walrus” is a legendary track but they put it on the B-side? Which is too bad because Lennon was quoted later as saying something like, “that was when we all began to get tired of being Paul’s backing band.” That animosity festered… But “I Am The Walrus” is not an isolated case of great tracks ending up as a B-side. So many great tracks ended up as B-sides and went on to become monster hits, legendary in their own right. The Stones released “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as the B-side to “Honky Tonk Woman”; Bowie released “Suffragette City” as B-side to “Starman”; and finally the Byrds’ “Feel A Whole Lot Better” (a Gene Clark penned classic) was B-side for “All I Really Want To Do” a Dylan cover. The list is vast and I could go on and on.

Any of those tracks could have easily made it onto our list of “favorite B-sides,” but the stakes rose. In the 70s as bands became more prolific and often bands would have more music than they needed for an album. Many times they’d have a song that they really liked but it wouldn’t fit the confined space of vinyl or wasn’t the right vibe for that particular album or often they’d record a cover song just for the fun of it. Instead of putting out a deeper album cut as the B-side, the band would put out one of those unreleased tracks that didn’t make the album. For me the prime example of that was “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” a great acoustic driven track that Zeppelin left off Zeppelin III and instead put out as the B-side of “The Immigrant Song.” Suddenly, this opened up the possibility of non-album, previously unreleased gems out in the wild. Hunting for stray B-sides was a fun side project for my old roommate Drew and I as we built our album collections in college. I remember spending weekends on vacation in Chicago hunting for certain songs only found on that B-side single. Finding a cool B-side is frankly the only reason I lament the end of singles being released. I’ve always been an album guy.

While the hunt was fun, in the era of CD-box sets and compilations many of those orphaned B-sides have been released. Often CD releases and “deluxe edition” releases of classic albums contain those old hard to find B-sides. U2 has done two “greatest hits” LPs each with a complimentary disc of B-sides. Springsteen has Tracks that contained a lot of the B-sides that Drew and I were always chasing after back in college. R.E.M. released Dead Letter Office, a collection of strictly B-sides (and what a great title for that LP). Now, it’s bad enough singles are rarely if ever released, but there’s no scurrying around town to all the usual vinyl shops looking to locate that one copy of “Go Your Own Way” paired with “Silver Springs.” The hunt is over. Now if you want to hear Prince do “Irresistible Bitch” you merely have to download it from a box set. For those of us aware of and collecting B-sides it was like being a member of a cool club or subculture. I guess I still have hunting for great used vinyl purchases left to me… sigh.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine, Dr. Rock, commented on a post I’d done with a playlist of tracks from 1982. Or it might have been a comment on our post about Robert Plant’s solo debut, Pictures At Eleven. Regardless, he mentioned a track “Far Post” that has always been a favorite B-side of mine and naturally Dr Rock suggested I do a post on my 10 favorite B-sides. And as usual that stretched out to my 25 favorite B-sides. In between cranking up new songs from Billy Idol (“Cage”) and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Tippa My Tongue”) this week I’ve been scouring through my old 45s and box sets looking for B-sides. As I indicated above, I chose B-sides that were orphans – songs that were originally left off of albums – songs that could only be found on the second side of a 45 or on the single CD release (from back when they would still put out singles on CD with a few extra tracks). I mostly avoided the “deep album tracks” as B-sides. My list is not meant to exhaustive but merely representative of a) my personal favorites and b) what kind of quality material is out there in the world by artists we all love but you may not have heard or worse, heard of. My list stems from the well known all the way to my usual obscure choices. If you have a favorite B-side that didn’t end up on a record, please post it in the comments section. I’m always looking for a good, unheard tune…

The Bourbon And Vinyl 25 Favorite B-Sides

  • Elvis Presley, “Hound Dog” – Elvis released “Hound Dog,” one of his most famous tunes, a few months after his second LP Elvis was released. It was originally released as the B-side of “Don’t Be Cruel.” The record company quickly changed the printing on the single sleeve to make “Hound Dog” the A-side, and “Don’t Be Cruel” the B-side… it didn’t really matter, both songs hit number 1. Elvis was aware of the original by the legendary Big Mama Thornton but was likely more influenced by a cover done by Freddie Bell and the Bellhops. It’s hard not to include one of the greatest songs ever on a favorite B-sides list. As Dylan said, “I’m standing on a chair proposing a toast to the King.” Surely he meant Elvis?
  • Jimi Hendrix Experience, “51st Anniversary” – I’ve always dug this track about a couple who have been married for well, 51 years. This track didn’t make it on Are You Experienced? but was released as the B side for “Purple Haze.”
  • The Beatles, “Revolution” – Another case where Lennon had his track relegated the B-side in deference to McCartney’s A-side “Hey Jude.” Maybe Paul should have let Lennon win a few of these battles. I get “Hey Jude” is epic but “Revolution” is probably my favorite hard rocking Beatles track. Both tracks were on the unreleased tracks, stop-gap U.S. LP Hey Jude.
  • Neil Young, “Sugar Mountain” – Neil liked this song so much he used it as the B-side for two different songs, “The Loner” from his debut and “Cinnamon Girl” from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere with Crazy Horse. “You can’t be 20, on Sugar Mountain with the barkers and the colored balloons…” It finally was included on Neil’s three-LP greatest hits package Decade a compilation album truly ahead if it’s time.
  • Paul McCartney, “Oh Woman, Oh Why” – McCartney has a myriad of great B-sides. It was hard to pick just one. I’ve always loved “Oh Woman, Oh Why” the B-side to his first ever solo single “Another Day.” The lyrics are a bit slight but McCartney sings like he’s Little Richard turned up to 11. This track is kind of a bluesy rocker and I’ve just always loved it.
  • George Harrison, “Deep Blue” – This rarity was finally released on the “deluxe edition” of Living In The Material World but began as the B-side for Harrison’s charity track “Bangla Desh.” I don’t think of the Beatles as being especially bluesy but I love this acoustic, blues shuffle. Harrison landed a few blues tracks on our Rockers Playing the Blues playlist… I should have included this quiet little gem. I’m a sucker for the blues. I think my brother may have played this song for me, he was a huge Harrison fan and might have had the “Bangla Desh” single.
  • Led Zeppelin, “Hey Hey What Can I Do” – This song, for me, was the beginning of my B-side awareness. Finding this song as the B-side on the single for “The Immigrant Song” was like finding the Ark of the Covenant for Indiana Jones. I can’t believe this track never landed on a proper Zeppelin LP.
  • AC/DC, “Carry Me Home” – This great, hysterical drinking song – that only Bon Scott could have written – was the B-side to the track “Dog Eat Dog” from Let There Be Rock. It was an early selection for inclusion on our Drinking Songs playlist and really is a centerpiece there of. We find our hero, the narrator, too drunk to drive home and it’s too late to find a bus or cab. His only solution is to ask a young lady he’s been drinking with to carry him home with her. Reminds me of my 20s. Rakish charm?
  • Fleetwood Mac, “Silver Springs” – Oh man, this is one of my all time favorite Mac songs. The Rock Chick preferred the live version from The Dance, but I’d been a fan of this song, the B-side to “Go Your Own Way,” that had been criminally left off Rumours, since the first time I heard it in the car driving back to Boston from Cape Cod during my summer after college. It just grabbed me from the beginning. When Stevie builds to the climax and sings/shouts “I know I could’ve loved you, but you would not let me, I’ll follow you down ’til the sound of my voice will haunt you…” she means it. The song does haunt me and I’m not even who she’s singing to…
  • Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Casa Dega” – This song was left off Damn The Torpedoes and was originally released as the B-side to “Don’t Do Me Like That.” Petty has so many B-sides that have seen subsequently released on his various box sets it was hard to pick just one (and actually I picked 2) but I’ve always loved this song partially inspired by a Spiritualist camp in Florida.
  • Robert Plant, “Far Post” – As pointed out by the aforementioned Dr. Rock when we posted about Plant’s solo debut Pictures At Eleven, this amazing song was left off the album and released as a B-side to “Burning Down One Side” in the UK and eventually found it’s way to my local radio station. Great piano break in the song… it felt like Plant was already starting to stretch the boundaries of what he could do outside Zeppelin.
  • The Police, “Murder By Numbers” – The Police actually released this song on Synchronicity if you bought the cassette. Well, I’d purchased the vinyl, naturally. But they made up for it by releasing it as the B-side of “Every Breath You Take.” This was such a great song it never made sense to me they didn’t put it on the vinyl. They do include it on the CD version of Synchronicity.
  • R.E.M., “Pale Blue Eyes” – R.E.M., like so many bands who’ve recorded a ton of B-sides released an entire album of B-sides on the collection Dead Letter Office. I love that album as they do a ton of cover songs. Cover songs do have a way of popping up as B-sides. I especially love this song, a Velvet Underground track. Michael Stipe can sing almost any song better than any original singer. This track was a B-side to the great track “South Central Rain.” I really could have picked just about any song from Dead Letter Office… and heavily considered their cover of Aerosmith’s “Toys In The Attic” which has to be heard to be believed.
  • Prince & the Revolution, “17 Days” – This track was a B-side from “When Doves Cry” from Princes’ masterpiece Purple Rain. This was such an incredible album it’s no surprise that there were some incredible B-sides… Prince was so prolific. This is a classic funk, pop song about a break up. I was drawn to this kinda track back in the day. The chorus will drill into your brain… “Let the rain come down, let the rain come down…” I may be the only fan of this track but I had to include it. It just takes me back…
  • The Cars, “Breakaway” – The Cars buried this outtake from the Heartbeat City album as the B-side to the fifth(!) single “Why Can’t I Have You.” I first heard the song, once again, in the car as some friends of mine and I were driving over a high bridge on our way onto Padre Island for Spring Break. Can you think of a better theme song for a Spring Break? “The loud mornin’ in the small town cries…You gotta get away.” Actually the Spring Break was a disaster but I spent years looking for this track which I later found out was about heroin
  • Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, “Pink Cadillac” – The B-side to “Dancing In The Dark.” Oh man, we all bought the 45 with this as the B-side. Clarence Clemons on the sax is epic. I still drive a little faster when this song comes on the stereo.
  • Don Henley, “A Month of Sundays” – This is a little like “Murder By Numbers,” listed above. The track was on the cassette version of Building The Perfect Beast but not the vinyl version I had. It was released as the B-side of “Boys of Summer” and I remember being floored the first time I heard it. I did a tape to tape thing and recorded it so I could listen to it over and over. It’s a sad ballad about the death of the family farm but it just grabbed me.
  • Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, “Shut Out The Lights” – Bruce has so many B-sides it was hard to limit myself to just two… This is another Born In The U.S.A. B-side, to the title track. Both songs are about a Vietnam veteran but are very different vibes. “Born In The U.S.A.” was a huge, arena rocking anthem (that was widely misunderstood). “Shut Out The Lights” delivered the message more directly in my mind as it was a sad song about the mental health struggles our veterans faced when they returned from the war.
  • Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, “Fortunate Son” – Well, I did mention that cover songs do have a way of finding themselves on B-sides. This track was the B-side to “American Storm” from the Like A Rock album. I don’t know if there is a more fitting artist to cover Creedence Clearwater Revival than Bob Seger. Perfect song in the perfect hands. Smokin’ O.P.s indeed.
  • Rod Stewart, “Almost Illegal” – Rod had been doing middling pop for so long it was a big deal when he teamed up with Andy Taylor erstwhile guitarist from Duran Duran and released Out Of Order an album that actually… rocked! This song was the B-side to “Lost In You” and I was so enamored with both the LP and that song, I gave this 45 a chance and brought it home from the record store. And, yes, this song rocked and made me smile at the same time. This is probably the most obscure track on my favorites but I am who I am.
  • The Rolling Stones, “Fancy Man Blues” – When the Stones reunited for Steel Wheels we were all ecstatic. I was living in Arkansas at the time and I jumped a flight to Chicago to see them on that tour out at East Troy where Stevie Ray died… Anyway, I was in a bar the night before the show and whoever was in charge played “Fancy Man Blues” the B-side to “Mixed Emotions” and then I spent years trying to find it. The Stones always return to the blues.
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Soul To Squeeze” – As I mentioned in my resent post on the Peppers’ new song “Tippa My Tongue,” the RHCP’s creative process includes a lot of jamming which leads to a plethora of unused material that ends up as a B-side. This haunting ballad – that has to be about Hillel Slovak’s death and Anthony Kiedis’ running away to Mexico and missing the funeral – was used as a B-side twice for both “Give It Away” and “Under the Bridge” before finding widespread fame on the Coneheads’ soundtrack. I’ve seen them do it live and man, goosebumps.
  • Pearl Jam, “Yellow Ledbetter” – Well, you knew this track would be on here, it’s only the most famous B-side released in the 90s. It was the B-side to Jeremy and I purchased the CD single just so I could own this track. It sounds like an homage to Stevie Ray Vaughn, at least when you hear them play it live, but that might just be me. I do relate to the lyric “I said I don’t know whether I’m the boxer or the bag.”
  • U2, “The Lady With the Spinning Head (UV1)” – The Rock Chick turned me onto this song. I love it. It was a demo that spawned both “The Fly” and then “Ultraviolet Light.” Eventually it saw release as the B-side to “One.” We put this on one of our party tracks and people always approach me and ask me about this song… and “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” but that’s another song for another day.
  • Tom Petty, “Girl On LSD” – Any long time readers of B&V know that this song was my “white whale” in terms of B-sides for a long time. I did have a bootleg version but I always want an official version if I can get it. It’s the funniest song Petty ever did. It finally saw release (in an alternative version) on Finding Wildflowers. Petty has another bluesy rocker named “Sweet William” that has become my new “white whale” B-side… I will find you “Sweet William,” if it kills me.

Many of these tracks you’ve probably heard before. But if there are ones you haven’t I urge you to seek them out and give them a spin. These sadly orphaned B-sides deserve to be heard. There are so many more B-sides out there that I didn’t list. I look forward to seeing if any of you out there have a favorite B-side to add to this list.

Enjoy the last bit of summer! Cheers!

“What’s In A Name?” – Our Favorite Non-Debut, Self-Titled (Eponymous) LPs – Major Statements?

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“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” – William Shakespeare, Romeo And Juliet

A number of years ago I stumbled across a review that described an LP as the artist in question’s “eponymous album” and I didn’t have the foggiest idea what that meant. I’d never seen the word before and as I usually do, I quickly consulted Webster, despite my daughter’s ridicule for doing so – it’s how you build a vocabulary – who defines eponymous as “of, relating to, or being the person or thing for whom or which something is named.” I have to admit they use a whole lot of words just to say a work is named after the artist. I’m still not sure what the correct pronunciation of “eponymous” is and avoid the word in conversation…so much for increasing my vocabulary. I’m a “Jr,” named for my dad, so apparently that means I’m my father’s eponymous son as opposed to my brother. If I understand correctly George Foreman named all of his kids George Foreman… he must really be down with the whole eponymous thing.

There are a lot of artists who use the band name as the title of their first album. Or should we say, they named their debut album in an eponymous way… still working on the vocab! Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and the list goes on and on, all named their first record after themselves. The debut album is a critical album in every artist’s career. It’s your introduction to a mass audience. And, as the saying goes, you only have one chance to introduce yourself (Pleased To Meet You: The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums). Why not use the debut album as a calling card for the band and just drop your rock n roll “John Hancock” on the front cover as a title? You want people to remember your name. Who can blame any band for doing that? One never knows how the debut is going to be received but it never hurts to name it after the band. Not everybody has an album like say, Boston up their sleeve right out of the gate. While I love all of those great eponymous debut albums, that’s not what I’m here to discuss today.

There also artists who are into the heavy Roman numeral thing. After Led Zeppelin’s eponymous (double word score?) debut they named their next two albums Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III respectively. I don’t want to utter any blasphemy here but you have to wonder if Zeppelin just couldn’t come up with any suitable album titles? They didn’t even bother to name their 4th album. They just put four runes on it to baffle everybody. To this day people aren’t sure what to call that album (Led Zeppelin IV or Zoso or Runes). Van Halen fell prey to the Roman numeral thing on their second LP, Van Halen II. McCartney has revisited the concept of his first, post-Beatles, solo album with McCartney II and McCartney III which are apparent sequels to that experimental masterpiece debut McCartney. Peter Gabriel named all of his first four albums Peter Gabriel. He wanted his albums to be thought of as successive chapters in the same book. Talk about a guy who just couldn’t get out of his own way! While all of these albums are eponymous-adjacent, they really don’t fit what I’m here to discuss today.

I know, I know, what am I here to talk about? Get to the point.

There have been bands/artists who later in their career who have chosen to release a self-titled album. Again, we’re not talking about debut LPs or solo debuts here. There is a theory in rock n roll that when an artist does that – goes eponymous later in their career – it is typically an attempt to make either a major statement or more likely a major career re-boot. It’s the artist re introducing themselves. I was thinking about that the other day. While painters put their name on every painting they do, after the debut it’s much more rare for a musical artist to go with a self-titled album. There’s typically a motive there. Maybe the band split up for a while and they’re back together so the self-titled LP is a way of saying, “We’re back, did you miss us? (I so rarely get to quote “Hot For Teacher,” I couldn’t resist).

I began to think of some of my favorite non-debut, eponymous albums and I have to admit the ones that came to mind all have a bit of swagger. It’s that John Hancock, “I’m signing my name in big letters so the King can read it without his spectacles” kind of chutzpah. In many cases it’s more about a band coming back together and finding that shared, band identity again. To me it comes across a statement of purpose or maybe resolve. It says, this is who I am. And yes, in some cases there is an implied “Perhaps you don’t remember me?”

I came up with thirteen self-titled records that I’d count amongst my favorites. Although after laying awake thinking about it for a while, I threw in an extra wildcard album. Now I have 14 albums where the artist chose to name this particular work after themselves or to put it less clearly, the artist chose to name the album “of, relating to, or being the person or thing for whom or which something is named.” If you have a favorite eponymous LP and it’s not on this list, please put it in the comments. I’m always looking for something I missed. If you haven’t gotten into these albums, I urge everyone to do so. And yes, for all of those of you wondering, I almost put R.E.M.’s greatest hits LP cleverly entitled Eponymous on the list but I didn’t want to be a smart ass.

  1. Alice In Chains – After canceling a tour and basically disbanding due to Layne Staley’s heroin addiction after Jar of Flies, the band reunited and recorded this, their third full LP. It’s one of my favorite from Alice In Chains. “Heaven Beside You,” “Grind,” and “Again” rank amongst their best. Staley’s heroin addiction made recording this album painful but to me it said, “we’ve survived the storm and we’re back as a band.” Sadly, Staley never kicked the habit and succumbed to heroin only a few years later. Their Unplugged LP was his last hurrah.
  2. The Band – While Music From Big Pink was an instant classic, this is a better album in my opinion. It’s the moment the Band stepped out from Dylan’s shadow. This is where they made the statement that they were to be reckoned with in their own right without Dylan. Some of Robbie Robertson’s best songwriting is on this album, “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek” are both here.
  3. The Beatles – Also known as The White Album. While this self-title exercise probably had more to do with the minimalist cover art, I still think this was a statement from the Beatles. They had been off doing psychedelic music in day-glo outfits for a while even taking on an assumed identity (Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band) in order to find more artistic freedom and slip the yoke of being “the Beatles.” The band had just returned from India with a huge batch of new songs and they actually started playing the basic tracks as a band again instead of recording each part separately. While they were saying in a round about way they were The Beatles again, they were actually moving in 4 different directions as artists. Still, it’s simply one of the best albums ever.
  4. Buffalo Springfield Again – This may be only eponymous-adjacent but it’s too good of an album not to include here. Neil Young had quit the band after their great debut album but then returned and brought “Mr. Soul” and “Broken Arrow” two masterpieces with him. They were once again Buffalo Springfield.
  5. CSN – Crosby, Stills, Nash had let 7 years lapse since Deja Vu when they finally pulled it together and recorded this one. Sadly, the aforementioned Neil Young is nowhere to be found. They’d tried to do a CSNY album on the heels of their 1974 tour, tentatively titled Human Highway, but it fell apart… although there’s evidence this great LP might still be out there in the vaults, but I digress. CSN is a laid back, yacht rock kinda vibe but there are so many great songs. “Dark Star” and “Just A Song Before I Go” were huge. Crosby kills it on “Shadow Captain.”
  6. Sheryl Crow – OK, this is the wildcard. After the huge success of her debut, Tuesday Night Music Club, some of her collaborators began to grumble it was more their talent than hers that caused the sensation. She came back with such ferocity on her second album and the title – her name – let everybody know who was in charge on this one. I don’t write much about Sheryl Crow but she’s got some real gems in the catalog. Such swagger.
  7. Fleetwood Mac (1975). Fleetwood Mac had seen heights in their long and storied career, especially when Peter Green was in the band at the beginning. But after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined and they recorded this album it was time to reintroduce themselves to the world. Needless to say the world liked what they heard. This laid the groundwork for the record breaking Rumours.
  8. John Mellencamp – Mellencamp had just moved to Columbia Records after a series of disappointing LPs he didn’t feel his old record company were supporting properly. This is one of the first LPs both the Rock Chick and I discovered we both owned. It’s an amazing late career rebirth. He was clearly letting us know he had plenty of creativity in the tank. He’d already had an LP named John Cougar, John Mellencamp was overdue!
  9. Metallica – Also known as The Black Album. Metallica had perhaps the greatest first four album run in the history of rock n roll. But they’d exhausted the long, epic song style they’d perfected over those records. Metallica was a complete change up – of style and execution – and it still is a landmark heavy metal album. Shorter songs but still heavy, heavy riffs. “Enter Sandman,” “Sad But True” and “Nothing Else Matters” are iconic tunes. Some die-hard, long time fans bemoaned they’d sold out… yes, sold out of every copy of Metallica.
  10. Pearl Jam – I may be the only one who thinks this but I think of this 2006 album as a major comeback for Pearl Jam after 2002’s Riot Act. Riot Act is the only Pearl Jam album I sold at the used CD store. I think the band realized they’d hit their creative/commercial low point. Pearl Jam seemed to me to be a reintroduction of a great band. Rather than just being a big live attraction it was time to do something listenable in the studio again. “Life Wasted” and “World Wide Suicide” rock with a vengeance. “Gone” and “Come Back” showed they could still do mid-tempo and ballads. All of this with socially conscious lyrics. They’ve been on a late career roll ever since all the way through their last album, Gigaton.
  11. Linda Ronstadt – It wasn’t the commercial breakthrough she was hoping for but backed by the future Eagles (Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner) this is where her 70s sound came together. She covers some great tunes here from “Rock Me On The Water” (Jackson Browne) to “Birds” (Neil Young). While the record buying public ignored her first two solo records – Linda Rondstadt says, “Here I come World.” Mega success was just around the corner… but don’t sleep on this album, it’s essential.
  12. Social Distortion – After two great (albeit somewhat overlooked) albums on an indie label Mommy’s Little Monster (named for my wife’s cat, years before it’s birth) and Prison Bound, Social D finally signed to a big label, Epic Records. As a “re-introduction” to the world, they delivered one of their best albums. If only we could get that new album they’ve been working on for the last 12 years… Like Cubs fans, I guess we have to be content saying, “there’s always next year.”
  13. The Velvet Underground – Their third record came after quite a bit of tumult. Andy Warhol had steered their early career during the Velvet Underground and Nico period but they’d split with both Warhol and Nico. The follow up, White Light/White Heat was an experimental, noise filled affair. Their third, self-titled record is where Lou Reed and the gang, now with Doug Yule instead of John Cale, tried to make peace with radio. I love this whole record. Not as edgy as their debut but still with songs like “Jesus” and “Pale Blue Eyes” how could they miss? Sadly, they did with the public… At least drummer Mo Tucker got to sing a song. But, as the saying goes, they didn’t have many fans but all the ones they did have seemed to have gone out and formed bands.
  14. Warren Zevon – After the disastrous 1969 debut, Wanted Dead Or Alive, it took Warren Zevon seven years to finally get back in the game. Warren Zevon is an absolute masterpiece of an album from a guy who should be in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and should have been inducted a long time ago. I recently tracked this album down on vinyl again. I could listen to “Carmelita” over and over again…

That’s it – my fourteen favorite self-titled albums. I considered calling it the BourbonAndVinyl Eponymous Albums list but that seems too self-referential even for me. Again, I think these are albums everyone should hear – and certainly the Metallica, the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac have probably been heard by most people. Even if you’ve heard these records I implore you to pull them out and listen all over again… If you’re new to classic rock and haven’t heard these albums before, I highly recommend putting any or all of these albums on and turning it up to 11… maybe put a little whiskey in a glass…

Cheers!

Playlist: The B&V Favorite Covers of Chuck Berry Songs – A Tribute To His Immense Influence

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*Picture from the internet and likely copyrighted

“If you were to try and give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry” – John Lennon

As longtime readers know, I spent much of the last week and half listening to the 50th anniversary edition of Elton John’s Madman Across The Water. As I listened to that beautiful rock and roll album I couldn’t help but ruminate on the future of rock n roll. Will anyone ever make music like that again? And as usually happens when I think about the future of rock n roll, my mind kept returning to rock’s history, where it’s been. While Elvis is universally hailed as the King of Rock n Roll, although he was uncomfortable with the title and used to say, “Fats Domino, he’s the King of Rock n Roll,” a guy that ought to be in that discussion is Chuck Berry.

I was surprised that it’d been over five years since we lost Chuck Berry. And yes, I wrote my usual tribute/”obituary” (RIP Chuck Berry – Hail, Hail Rock’n’Roll), but I don’t feel I properly honored the man. I think you could argue that the Beatles and the Stones are greatest rock n roll bands ever. Sure, there’s the Zeppelin and Pink Floyd fans and I dig those bands too, but the influence the Stones and especially the Beatles had on popular music is enormous. The thing that people don’t seem to remember is those bands had influences as well and one of the biggest influences on both of them was Chuck Berry. As much as Paul McCartney wants to describe the Stones as a “blues cover” band, they also played a ton of Chuck Berry in those early days.

Speaking of the Beatles, I’m reminded of when I was just a little kid or as Tom Petty sang, “a boy in short pants.” I hated elementary school which seemed like a bad prank my parents played on me. Like the Godfather’s sang, “Birth, school, work, death.” I’m not a morning person, and even at that very tender age I was stunned I had to wake up, get out of bed, put clothes on and go to what seemed like a prison for the day with people I didn’t like. What I really liked, besides summer vacation, was to be sick and stay home. I had a Charlie Brown poster on the back of my door that read “Happiness is being too sick to go to school but not too sick to watch TV.” Savage honesty from Peanuts.

I remember – and I was in the single digits, age wise – being sick a couple of days and my Sainted Mother made a bed on the couch for me. Day time TV was different back then. The local station showed an old, old movie in the morning and there was Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas in the afternoon. There was no Oprah or Ellen back then. The shrews on “The View” were just someone else’s nightmare back then. I turn on the Mike Douglas show that first sick day and his cohost that week – he’d have a different one each week as I recall – was John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. I was so young I only had a vague idea who the Beatles were – they were a  music group my brother liked – and I was pretty sure John had been in the Beatles. It was a crazy week of TV. Mike was stunningly very welcoming to John & Yoko who were counterculture icons by this point. They had a Black Panther on, they had George Carlin on. It was wonderfully subversive TV, and in-color! But the thing I remember most is Lennon bringing on Chuck Berry. His love and admiration was on full display in this clip. And mind you this is after Chuck had sued Lennon for lifting a few lyrics from him for “Come Together,” (“Here comes ol’ flattop he comes groovin’ up slowly”).

Lennon clearly worshiped the guy. So did McCartney although I sense he was more of a Little Richard fan. And this underscores my point about Chuck’s influence on rock n roll. He was really the first “guitar hero” rock star. Elvis would wear a guitar around his neck sometimes but he was a singer. Fats Domino, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis all sat behind a piano. Buddy Holly played guitar but he wasn’t as aggressive a player as Berry. Berry was a precursor to Hendrix. He was out front, singing but also playing the guitar at the same time. His duck walk, pictured above, was as iconic as Michael Jackson’s moonwalk.

Most of Chuck’s tunes were up-beat rockers. He would just find a riff and ride it until the end. It was very guitar forward rock n roll. He would play blistering, albeit brief solos. It was the sound of freedom and rebellion. You could tell Chuck was probably misbehaving. He wrote more songs about under age girls than perhaps he should have…Everybody that you can think of – all the great bands and artists – cover Chuck. From the aforementioned Beatles (and both Lennon and McCartney) to the Stones (and Keith solo) to the Kinks, the Animals, the Everly Brothers and even Elvis covered Chuck Berry. Even if a band you love didn’t cover Chuck, they can probably play one of his tracks live. Keith Richards even did a documentary in honor of Chuck, Hail! Hail! Rock N Roll. There are so many great tunes that are based on the Chuck Berry formula: the Stones’ “Star Star” and Bob Seger’s “Get Out Of Denver” to name but a few. He’s all over rock n roll.

If you’ve never really listened to Chuck Berry – and you’ve probably heard his music but didn’t realize your favorite band was playing Chuck – I would recommend his compilation LP The Great Twenty-Eight, as a starting point. There are probably bigger or more complete “greatest hits” packages but The Great Twenty Eight covers the cream of the crop all in one disc. Artists in the 50s and 60s were more singles focused instead of album focused so compilations of those singles are the best way to experience artists like Chuck or Buddy Holly. My father had a bunch of singles from Elvis, Johnny Cash and Ray Charles but oddly no Chuck Berry…

I decided to compile a playlist based on The Great Twenty Eight. I did something similar with Robert Johnson’s King Of the Delta Blues album. I find my favorite versions of covers of the songs on the album and put them on my play list. I also threw in a few bonus tracks of versions of songs that are too good to ignore. One thing I found and this is weird to me – is that there are so many blues or blues rock guys that covered Chuck Berry. It’s like he’s a missing link between the blues and rock and roll. Maybe it’s because he was so guitar focused. His songs were riff, riff, solo, riff. And that is kind of similar to blues. But when you see Johnny Winter, George Thorogood and Foghat on a list you start to think, hmmm the blues and Chuck Berry must have had some synergy. If you’ve got a great Chuck Berry cover, put it in the comments and I’ll drop it in the playlist. As usual you can find my playlist on the dread Spotify.

  1. AC/DC, “School Days” – AC/DC rock this one. I’ll say again it’s interesting how bands with a great blues base always seem to find Chuck. I love Angus’ solo but then I love all of his solos.
  2. The Rolling Stones, “Come On” – I could have just filled this list with Stones’ tunes. I love this mono version of the Stones’ very first single. I mean, very first ever.
  3. Faces, “Memphis” – This is the ultimate version of this song in my opinion and one of my favorite songs from Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane and the gang. Woody just takes the band on a little slide guitar jam before the song kicks in. Sublime.
  4. Bob Seger, “Let It Rock” – If Seger’s early music was out there I’d have included the studio version of this track from Smokin’ O.P.s but this epic live version will do. It’s amazing that Seger and the Silver Bullet Band could take a three minute Chuck Berry song and turn it into their epic show ending last encore for the balance of their career. You hear a snippet of “Little Queenie” as well. “Get Out of Denver” from Bob might be the best Chuck Berry song not done by Chuck.
  5. The Animals, “Around And Around” – The Stones also did this track on their second LP but I feel like the Animals – who were a solid blues rock outfit in their own right – deserve some love from B&V.
  6. The Rolling Stones, “Bye Bye Johnny” – Another Berry cover, another single. The devotion was real!
  7. The Kinks, “Too Much Monkey Business” – Sure I could have gone with the Elvis version but I couldn’t resist this version by the Kinks. The Yardbirds did a spirited version of this track as well.
  8. John Lennon, “You Can’t Catch Me” – One of several Chuck Berry covers Lennon did on his oft overlooked 1975 LP Rock N Roll an album of early rock covers which made our list of favorite “cover albums.”
  9. Linda Ronstadt, “Back In The U.S.A.” – One of my all time favorite Chuck Berry covers and one of my favorite songs from Ronstadt. Everything she did was amazing (Documentary Review: The Sublime ‘Linda Ronstadt, The Sound Of My Voice’).
  10. The Everly Brothers, “Maybellene” – I actually was torn between this version and the Foghat version so I’ve put both on this playlist. I feel like they vary enough I could get away with it.
  11. REO Speedwagon, “Little Queenie” – Again, I could have used the Stones’ version but what’s the fun in an all Stones’ playlist? This was from their 1972 second LP back when they still rocked and before they became sell out hacks. “Little Queenie” is one of Chuck’s more oft covered tracks.
  12. Stray Cats, “Beautiful Delilah” – I love the Stones’ version, especially on the On Air – Live At the BBC album but I’ve always kind of dug the Stray Cats. I saw them live by accident once at, of all places, Worlds Of Fun. Brian Setzer on guitar is the real deal.
  13. The Beatles, “Roll Over Beethoven” – I’m stunned it’s taken me this long to get around to a Beatles’ version of a Chuck song! ELO did a version but c’mon, you’re never gonna beat the Beatles doing Berry.
  14. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Carol (Live)” – In his later years Petty got into the blues and unsurprisingly it led him to Chuck Berry.
  15. Rod Stewart, “Sweet Little Rock n Roller” – From his oft wrongly maligned LP Smiler which marked the end of his fruitful Mercury years. This song is worth the price of the album alone.
  16. Johnny Cash & Carl Perkins, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” – There are so many fabulous version of this track from Buddy Holly to Paul McCartney but you can’t beat two legends taking a turn on this one.
  17. The Rolling Stones, “Talkin’ About You” – Well, I didn’t say I was going to avoid all the Stones’ covers did I? Another great track.
  18. John Lennon, “Sweet Little Sixteen” – Lennon back with another Chuck song about a young girl… I sense a pattern here from Mr. Berry.
  19. The Beatles, “Rock And Roll Music” – The young Beatles at their ferocious best. Primal rock n roll here.
  20. Johnny Winter, “Thirty Days” – The legendary blues man doing a raucous version here. Johnny deserves more love… we just reviewed his brother Edgar’s tribute LP for Johnny, a must listen for fans of the blues. It’s like Johnny was meant to cover Chuck Berry.
  21. Santana, “Havana Moon” – Never has a song and a band been a more perfect match.
  22. The Pretty Things, “Oh Baby Doll” – One of Bowie’s favorite bands doing Chuck here. I’ve just recently gotten into these guys and they are awesome.
  23. Dave Clark Five, “Reelin’ And Rockin” – Was there any 60s era band that didn’t take a crack at a Chuck Berry song?
  24. Jimi Hendrix, “Johnny B Goode (Live At Berkley)” – This is a really manic version of this song but it works. Guitar God Jimi Hendrix giving a nod to the first real Guitar God, Chuck Berry. What’s not to love?
  25. Lovin’ Spoonful, “Almost Grown” – A great band that also deserves more love here at B&V. I’ve had several readers post their tracks as suggestions for our other playlists… I thought I’d beat them to the punch!
  26. John Hammond, “Nadine” – A new discovery for us here at B&V but love this track.
  27. George Thorogood & the Delware Destroyers, “No Particular Place To Go” – This song takes me back to high school and college, Thorogood’s heyday. He’s another example of a blues guy – who turned a John Lee Hooker tune into a hit (“One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”) – doing Chuck Berry.
  28. Foghat, “Maybelline” – Call me a product of the 70s but I will always love Foghat… especially that famous picture of them in front of the Holiday Inn marquee…
  29. The Band, “Back To Memphis (Outtake)” – I’ve been jamming on the Band’s album Cahoots for the last few weeks now I’m thinking I’ll have to dig into Moondog Matinee now too.
  30. Jerry Garcia Band, “You Never Can Tell (C’est La Vie)” – Seger did this song on a greatest hits compilation but I was just so delighted to be able to slip Jerry Garcia on this list. I’m sure there are countless Greatful Dead covers that rage on for 45 minutes but this one is a short and sweet track.
  31. Keith Richards, “Run Rudolph, Run” – This is a bonus track for all you Christmas music folks. Keith just loves Chuck.

I have to admit, I had to make some really tough choices. There are so many bands who did so many good versions of Chuck’s songs that it was hard to pick just one. And well, with “Maybellene” I couldn’t pick just one. At only 2 hours this is one rollicking, rocking playlist. The songs all hold together so well because Chuck had a magic formula. Lots of guitar.

Hopefully we’ve turned you on to Chuck Berry with this playlist, if you hadn’t already been into him. Or at the very least hopefully you’ve heard something new. Either way, I hope this rocking playlist helps get you through the summer heat.

Cheers! Stay cool out there… stay hydrated.

B&V Playlist: Songs About Sleeping, A “Celebration” Of Insomnia… For My Fellow Insomniacs – If We Can’t Sleep, Let’s Rock

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“To sleep, perchance to dream…” – Hamlet

I was on the road for work this week. That used to be a weekly experience in my chosen profession as a traveling salesman, but now it just feels weird. Everywhere you go there are different rules and protocols around masks and safety which leaves me feeling out of step with the locals. There are certainly more lax attitudes toward masks the farther below the Mason-Dixon line you travel. With all the work travel I’ve done in my career – and it’s a lot… I feel like I’ve spent half my adult life waiting around in airports trying to catch an earlier flight – you’d think I’d be used to staying in hotels. But as I was painfully reminded this week in Louisville (bourbon capitol of the world), I can’t sleep in hotel rooms. I don’t know if it’s the strange bed and surroundings that throw me off or if maybe flying does something to my inner ear that makes sleeping impossible on the road. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I can’t sleep when I travel, Lord knows I don’t sleep much better when I’m home.

I’ve always had a precarious relationship with sleep. I’ve had trouble turning my mind off and getting to sleep since I was a kid. Any more I can get myself to sleep but if I awake in the night, and I often do, I really struggle to get back to blissful sleep. They say you should get up and go read a book or something if you’re awake more than thirty minutes but in this tiny rental that I call the van down by the river where we live, I can’t make a move without waking the Rock Chick. That only compounds the problem: I’m up which is a drag but if I wake her, now I’m dealing with an angry, awakened spouse. As much as I hated it when she used to wake me up at 5:30am when she’d get up for work – she was raised on a farm… country people just get up early – her anger is doubled when I get out of bed at 3am and “walk the perimeter” as she describes my midnight wanderings. It doesn’t help that the cat sees me get up and thinks it’s time to eat and goes off like a tornado siren. It’s like he’s thinking, “Hey, we’re all up lets eat!” I had to negotiate with her early in our marriage to let me sleep until 9 on Saturdays and Sundays… they were my “sleep catch up days.”

My parents are partially to blame for my idiosyncrasies around sleeping. We moved when I was in fifth grade. I hated the elementary school I was attending but transferring to a new school seemed like an infinitely worse option. Let’s just say I was adverse to change. We changed my stepdaughter’s school a number of times when she was growing up and she adapted wonderfully with nary a complaint. What we didn’t realize was that we were just expanding her “criminal” network. She knew all the party kids in every school in town. It’s amazing what an upstanding citizen she’s become now… but I’m off track. When my parents moved us I reacted with the angry melodrama of a teenage girl… and I was an eleven year old boy. All of my bitching must have gotten to my parents because my bedroom was the last one to get any furniture. I had a bed and all my clothes were in boxes. In a fit of over-the-top complaining, I accidentally tore the rolling blinds off the window. I bent the metal clasp that held the damn thing and we couldn’t fix it. The window faced east. When the sun came up in the morning it felt like it was rising in my bedroom. After two days of being awakened at sunrise, I went to the linen closet and got a spare feather pillow that night and wrappedit tightly around my head. That provided darkness and silence. It was my “head fort.” Sadly, I got used to it and have had to sleep with a pillow on my head ever since. Try to explain that when you’re an adult and… entertaining… a young lady friend. “Yeah, I’m a freak, I sleep with a pillow on my head.” I also folded my hands on my chest Lilly Munster style which only sparked rumors that I might be a vampire.

When I reached college the people I lived with enjoyed messing with the kid with the pillow on his head. I didn’t sleep at night so I’d often sneak off and nap. My roommates would vie with each other on who got to wake me up. If I was in a really deep sleep and you shook me awake or called my name it would typically result in my screaming and throwing the pillow. It’s like I was terrified about waking up. I once famously exclaimed, while being awakened, “Sleep is hell.” With all of these people hazing me when I was asleep, it’s a wonder that I was able to nod off at all. Drinking didn’t even help. It would help you get to sleep but once your body burns off the alcohol the sugar wakes you up and I mean WAKES you up. There’s nothing like being slightly hungover and wired at 3am sitting on the edge of the bed and re-litigating every bad decision you’ve ever made. I guess I would amend my statement from college to “Waking up is hell.”

Today it’s not much easier to sleep. Uncertainties in the political landscape, the pandemic still hanging on, the Chiefs playing like shit and work being more stressful than ever all combine to keep me awake for days. I literally can’t let my mind wander too far in any direction or I’m up pacing the floor until the cat emits his visceral “meow” and then the Rock Chick is yelling, “What the fuck are you doing,” and I’ve got a full scale insomniac disaster on my hands. People, the struggles are real. I can’t help but remember when I was a kid and it was bed time how I’d stall and stall. My parents would have to battle with me to go to bed. I’d beg to watch the news so I could see the sports… then it was Carson’s monologue… Finally my parents just put an old black-and-white portable TV in my room and hoped I’d eventually fall asleep. Anything to get me out of the living room and upstairs. Now, I can’t wait to lay down. From there I just have to hope my mind cooperates and I can drift off. I often do the B&V version of counting sheep – I name my albums, alphabetically by artist… I start with AC/DC’s Back In Black and if I make it all the way to Cream I know I’m probably not gonna go to sleep.

I was laying awake in a Louisville Hilton this week worrying about something or other and so I got up and fished out my iTouch from the computer bag. I was shuffling through some music. I started with some recent stuff, Mellencamp’s new song “Wasted Days,” and Bowie’s covers songs (“Trying To Get To Heaven”) but then started randomly selecting stuff. I heard the Beatles “I’m Only Sleeping,” and then “I’m So Tired.” I realized I might be onto something. If I can’t sleep I might as well rock and roll. I started stringing tracks together on the theme of sleep and waking up and pretty soon I had 50 songs. I realize that sleep can often be a metaphor for death so I ended up excluding the great blues rock track “Sleeping In the Ground” from Blind Faith. If there are any other great tunes on this subject, put them in the “comments” section and I’ll add them to the Spotify playlist. Here are my picks:

  1. The Beatles, “I’m Only Sleeping” – The track that gave me the idea… I’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles lately
  2. Billy Joel, “Sleeping With The Television On” – I personally can’t sleep with any light or noise in the room so no TV for me. It’s hard to watch TV with a pillow on your head. From his great punk-influenced record Glass Houses.
  3. Audioslave, “Wide Awake” – Great rock song, “I found you guilty of the crime of sleeping when you should have been wide awake.” Rest assured Audioslave… I’m always wide awake.
  4. Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, “Sleeping Around the Corner” – From their great self-titled LP, there’s also a Lindsey solo version out there.
  5. Smashing Pumpkins, “In The Arms of Sleep” – Deep cut from their magnum opus Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness.
  6. R.E.M., “Daysleeper” – Oh how I miss napping. The Rock Chick frowns on the practice… marriage is a compromise. Y’know, Elvis was a “daysleeper.”
  7. The Beatles, “I’m So Tired” – Indeed I am…
  8. The Cure, “Lullaby” – A song about a man being eaten by a spider. Don’t even get me started on my dreams…
  9. The Rolling Stones, “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” – I don’t think the person this is addressed to is doing much sleeping but I do think they’re having more fun than I am.
  10. Starcrawler, “Born Asleep” – Great song from a great new-ish band.
  11. U2, “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” – People were mad about Songs of Innocence but there’s some good stuff on it.
  12. Jack White, “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep” – I love Jack White. Check out his new tune “Taking Me Back.”
  13. Smithereens, “Behind The Wall of Sleep” – I’ve only recently discovered the Smithereens. What a great rock band.
  14. Graham Nash, “Sleep Song” – From his first solo album.
  15. The Cult, “Wake Up Time For Freedom” – A very relevant call to arms in today’s troubled, divided times.
  16. Eddie Money, “We Should Be Sleeping” – A barrel-house rocker. I love the Money Man.
  17. The Pretenders, “I Go To Sleep” – From their great 2nd LP.
  18. Cream, “Sleepy, Sleepy Time” – So many rock bands have explored this topic.
  19. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “I’m Tired Joey Boy” – A live cover of a Van Morrison song. I just like this version better.
  20. Pearl Jam, “Sleeping By Myself” – Also done solo by Vedder on a ukulele.
  21. Metallica, “Until It Sleeps” – My all time favorite Metallica song. I can’t explain it… this track gets me pumped up which perhaps means I shouldn’t be listening to it while trying to sleep.
  22. Norah Jones, “Wake Me Up” – That voice… I’d pay to have her come sit by my bed and sing me to sleep. Only B&V would put Norah Jones and Metallica on the same playlist. Open your minds, folks.
  23. Robert Plant, “Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night” – I love this bizarre deep track.
  24. Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” – Iconic rap rock.
  25. John Mellencamp, “Warmer Place To Sleep” – I’ve always loved this funky rocker.
  26. The Modern Lovers, “I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms” – I love these weird bastards.
  27. Fiona Apple, “Sleep To Dream” – I’ve been a fan of hers since the beginning. This track is from her debut.
  28. Jack White, “Weep Themselves To Sleep” – I can’t wait for his next solo album.
  29. Warren Zevon, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” – There’s so much essential Zevon out there.
  30. The Kinks, “Sleepwalker” – I feel like the Kinks don’t get enough attention on B&V. I need to work on that.
  31. Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes, “Woke Up This Morning” – Page & the Crowes doing a live cover of an old blues track.
  32. Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – I think Cobain was secretly a blues fan.
  33. Bob Marley & The Wailers, “Wake Up and Live” – Wise advice from Bob.
  34. Leonard Cohen, “Lullaby” – I love late period Cohen. The voice is gravelly but his last few records are the type that B&V was founded to extol.
  35. Peter Wolf, “Sleepless” – Title track from his best solo LP.
  36. John Lennon, “How Do You Sleep?” – His angry song aimed at McCartney. This is just such a hateful track. But if I were to answer John, it’d be, “not very well.”
  37. Paul Simon, “Insomniac’s Lullaby” – This could have been the title of this playlist.
  38. Jackson Browne, “Sleeps Dark And Silent Gate” – This one is clearly a metaphor for death… in this case I believe written for his late wife after she committed suicide. It’s too pretty a song to exclude.
  39. Tom Petty, “Wake Up Time” – From his masterpiece Wildflowers.
  40. Billy Idol, “Endless Sleep” – Another great deep track.
  41. R.E.M., “I Don’t Sleep I Dream” – I don’t do either, really.
  42. The Romantics, “Talking In Your Sleep” – I sometimes wake up screaming… No talking, literally screaming. Sleep is hell.
  43. Billy Joel, “Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)” – A lovely track written for his daughter.
  44. The Wallflowers, “Sleepwalker” – I always thought Jakob Dylan’s group was a solid rock band.
  45. David Bowie, “Let Me Sleep Beside You” – From the aborted Toy album which will finally see release this year.
  46. Ozzy Osbourne, “So Tired” – Produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO fame. Truly strange bedfellows.
  47. Eddie Vedder, “Sleepless Nights” – From the aforementioned ukulele based solo album.
  48. Tom Waits, “Midnight Lullaby” – From his brilliant debut album.
  49. Queen, “Sleeping On The Sidewalk” – This reminds me of a funny story about my brother in college, but those records are sealed.
  50. The Rolling Stones, “Sleep Tonight” – A perfect place to end this list… A Keith song and a ballad no less.

There ya go folks! Again, if I missed any, put them in the comments section and I’ll add them to the Spotify playlist. I like to think of these playlists as “ours” vs “mine.” If you’re an insomniac like me, here’s hoping that you’ll fall asleep soon. If not, hopefully these tracks will entertain you while the rest of the world is sleeping.

Cheers!

B&V’s Favorite “Comeback” LPs

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“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years, rockin’ my peers, puttin’ suckers in fear” – LL Cool J, “Mama Said Knock You Out”

Everybody loves the drama of a good comeback. If you think about Hollywood there’s really only two story lines. There’s the story where our hero struggles, but all good things come to him in the end. I don’t know about y’all but “happily ever after” doesn’t usually happen in real life, at least to me…with the exception of the Rock Chick of course. The other story line that Hollywood loves is the comeback. Our hero gains fame or fortune but somehow, usually through some personality flaw or the machinations of some villain, our hero falls. It’s how the hero handles that adversity that fuels the drama. He struggles and then finally rights the ship and makes, yes, the comeback. That’s certainly the formula they used for the Freddy Mercury and Queen movie, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ In that case, I’m not sure how historically accurate it was.

All of that said, there have been some great comebacks in rock n roll. There are many cases where a band or artist makes it big but then… loses it. Whether they succumb to drug abuse or the pressure of fame gets to them, the artist drifts creatively. The Rock Chick continually marvels at these bands/artists who work all their young lives to get famous and sell records, who finally “make it” only to lose their shit. I kinda understand that whole thing. I don’t think anybody has any conception of what real, big fame is like. The artist perhaps feels isolated, turns to drugs or some other self-destructive behavior. Or maybe just freaked out by their fame, the artist changes their musical approach or fires the band. Certainly hubris plays a big part in all of this… I’m thinking specifically of Axl Rose who thought he was Guns N Roses. Never underestimate band chemistry, Axl.

There are many cases of big stars who eventually faded. For some odd reason I’m thinking of Sly Stone when I type these words. But for every star who eventually faded, against all odds, there are artists who have made the improbable comeback. They have somehow been able to summon the creative fire of their early success and create an album or a series of LPs that solidify their legacy and place in the rock n roll pantheon. There are many of these “comeback” albums that I just love. As I was thinking about this concept, I thought I’d share our favorites with you. There’s something about an artist with their back against the wall who comes out swinging that I’ve always loved… but then I’ve always been the underdog.

  • Elvis Presley, From Elvis In Memphis – The greatest comeback ever belongs to the King. His evil manager Colonel Tom Parker had Elvis stuck on a treadmill of making basically the same movie over and over again. The King wasn’t even doing concerts anymore. The Colonel had rendered the King irrelevant. The one time in his career Elvis bucked the Colonel was when he decided to do a television special at the end of ’68. Longtime fans were nervous… did Elvis still “have it?” Indeed he did. He mesmerized on the Comeback Special. But how to follow it up? Elvis went back home to Memphis and recorded one of his strongest albums, From Elvis In Memphis. “Stranger In My Own Home Town” still brings chills up and down my spine. Had he not come out with a strong LP after the TV show the comeback would have fizzled… The Memphis album as it came to be known solidified the comeback… Alas Colonel Parker took over again and put Elvis on the Vegas concert treadmill but that’s another story.
  • Muddy Waters, Hard AgainThe 70s saw a bunch of new musical trends and they all led away from the blues and blues rock that had dominated in the late 60s, early 70s. Muddy kept putting out LPs in the early 70s with diminishing returns. One might describe his 70s output as disappointing. Muddy acolyte, blues master Johnny Winter approached Muddy about producing an LP. Muddy agreed. They assembled a topnotch backing band and the alchemy struck gold. The version of “Mannish Boy” on this album is definitive for me…
  • Johnny Cash, American Recordings – Johnny Cash was washed up and left for dead by the Country Music establishment. He was doing dinner clubs with an ensemble of musicians. Uber producer Rick Rubin attended one of those dinner club shows and approached the Man In Black about doing a stripped down album. American Recordings, his first of several LPs with Rubin, was stark and fierce. The liner notes were a copy of something Johnny wrote on lined notebook paper. It was a staggeringly successful return. “Delia’s Gone” was my favorite but there’s a lot to like. He does everybody from Nick Lowe to Danzig. It was the beginning of one of Johnny’s most fertile periods.
  • Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind – Even a diehard Dylan fan like me had given up on Bob by the late ’90s. The last LP I’d bought of his was Oh Mercy! almost a decade prior. Dylan had holed up and done a couple of albums of folk covers. I ignored them at the time – although I love them now – but those records recharged something in Dylan. Time Out of Mind feels like mortality itself reaching out to deliver a message It’s a late career masterpiece. It led to a series of great LPs in what can only be called a late career renaissance.
  • Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie – McCartney’s late 80s/early 90s losing streak was the thing of legend. I don’t think anybody was paying attention to him any more. It verged on being embarrassing. After he collaborated with the remaining Beatles on the Anthology Series, McCartney was able to reconnect with his creative spark. Flaming Pie was an amazing record and McCartney has been on a winning streak ever since, culminating in McCartney III last year.
  • George Harrison, Cloud Nine – Odd that there are a couple of ex-Beatles on this list… After his early solo success with All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s career had stagnated. The last thing I expected in the late 80s, driving around Ft Smith, Arkansas was to hear a great Harrison song, “Got My Mind Set On You.” Harrison had brought in Jeff Lynn of ELO fame to produce. Clapton and Ringo show up to help out. Cloud Nine led to the Traveling Wilburys and nice little late career surge for George, an underrated Beatle.
  • Warren Zevon, Sentimental Hygiene – Zevon had so many career collapses and comebacks I struggled to pick just one record here… I picked Sentimental Hygiene because it’s one of his greatest records. The title track features a blistering Neil Young guitar solo – recorded in one or maybe two takes. Everyone should be listening to Warren Zevon and for God’s sake if any of you have any pull – get him into the Rock Hall of Fame, please.
  • Neil Young, Freedom – Speaking of Neil Young… the 80s were a terrible decade for him. He was actually sued by his record company for “Purposely making uncommercial music.” Sigh. While many of the songs on Freedom had been around for a while, the album hung together as a whole. “Rockin’ In the Free World” in both its acoustic and electric versions is an iconic Young tune. It was a real return to form and set Neil up for a very creative decade in the 90s. Neil’s always got something left in the tank.
  • The Allman Brothers, Seven Turns – You could perhaps describe this as a reunion album more so than a comeback album, but I love it and it was so good to hear the Allman Brothers make new music in 1990. They had a great three or four LP run after this. “Good Clean Fun” and the title track remain amongst my favorites.
  • Aerosmith, Permanent Vacation – I had loved 70s Aerosmith but then they just fizzled into a morass of heroin and stupidity. I thought Done With Mirrors was a better album but it was this LP that brought Aerosmith back to center stage. While “Angel” bothers me, I loved “Dude Looks Like A Lady,” and “Ragdoll” with his greasy slide guitar. The world is always better off when Aerosmith is rocking.
  • Metallica, Death Magnetic – The Load and Reload albums sold well for Metallica but man, they left me cold. St Anger was to these ears, unlistenable. But then in 2008 Metallica dropped this gem of a record and everything clicked for me in terms of Metallica. This comeback LP got me on their bandwagon for good… I went back and purchased all their first four LPs and they are amazing.
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication – In the video for the first single from this album, the amazing “Scar Tissue,” the Chilis look like someone beat the shit out of them. They’d certainly had a rough go of it. Lead guitarist John Frusciante had quit. Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction fame had joined and left. They were considering doing an electronica based record. But Flea reached out to Frusciante who was fresh out of rehab – his heroin addiction can only be described as harrowing – and John decided to return to the fold. The results were proof Frusciante is the only person who should be playing lead guitar for the RHCPs. I saw this tour, still a very dark vibe from these guys but it was a great show. They went on to even greater heights until Frusciante quit again after Stadium Arcadium… only to return again. Fingers crossed for a new album from these guys.
  • Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, The Rising – Bruce had disbanded the E Street Band, his longstanding back up band and wandered in the wilderness through the 90s. He’d gotten them back together for a reunion tour but wasn’t sure he could still write rock songs. When the tragic events of 911 unfolded, Springsteen was inspired. He was walking down the street and a fan had yelled to him, “We need you now, man.” He responded with one of his greatest sets of songs ever. The Rising was a measured and inspired response to a horrible tragedy. It’s truly one of his finest hours.

If you’re feeling like a little rock n roll comeback drama, I highly recommend every LP on this list. I’ve been cranking Cloud Nine all day. I do so love the title track. Hopefully rock n roll drama is the only thing you’re facing out there today and everything is going well. Take care of each other out there!

Cheers!

Playlist, We Look Back 50 Years to: 1971

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*Image of George Harrison & Ravi Shankar in 1971 taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

Rather than push myself and graduate in four years, I stuck around to take what they now call a “victory lap.” I guess I just wasn’t into that “whole completion thing.” My fifth year in college I was taking a lighter load of classes and hanging out at parties and taverns quite a bit. I figured I was going to work my whole life – and I have – why rush towards the drudgery. But that “party-all-the-time” lifestyle can get dull. I was taking some un-required history classes at the time and I dug that whole research thing. Bored, I went to the Manhattan (Kansas) Public Library – not the campus library – and looked up old Rolling Stone issues on microfilm. Or maybe it was microfiche, I get them confused. I later confounded and thoroughly bored my disinterested roommates with a long lecture on rock history about how the mid-70s were a better time for music than the mid-80s. Seger’s peak years were the mid to late 70s. Springsteen’s Darkness On the Edge of Town came out in ’78. Petty’s rise to fame came during that time. Perhaps that odd afternoon was a precursor to B&V… it’s hard to tell…there was likely drink involved. Doing the research for this post, on the music released in 1971, its hard not feel the way I did in the Manhattan Public Library… music was just better back then. And I say that knowing I risk sounding like the meme, “old man yells at cloud.”

I’ve been seeing a whole lot on the landmark year of 1971 since this year means its 50 years behind us. There are a lot of albums and events that are having 50th anniversaries this year so ’71 is hot right now. I figured, why not get in on the ’71 action? I recently posted on the 50th anniversary box set for CSNY’s Deja Vu (originally released in ’70) and joked that I needed to let my hair grow and maybe get one of those groovy fringed leather jackets… maybe some tie dye. I have to admit the research I did while putting this post together had me feeling that groovy hippy vibe again. I definitely think I’d have been a hippy. I like to think I’d be out there somewhere at a protest meeting up with women who burned thier bras. More likely, I’d gone into a deep Hunter S. Thompson jag… staggering around with grapefruits and cocktails… While there were some great albums to come out in 1971 a lot of heavy shit went down as well. I was too young to remember a lot of it… I don’t think I was even in grade school yet in ’71. Maybe I was in kinder garden?

The Baby Boomers who eventually became the Youth Movement of the 60s really thought they could change the world. They were going to right a lot of wrongs. But with the election in 1968 of reactionary conservative (and later criminal thug) Richard Nixon the Hippy Dream (as I like to call it) slipped away. By the 70s, cynicism had replaced much of the idealism that had been prevalent. Nixon didn’t end the Vietnam war, he expanded it. In 1971 specifically he expanded it into Laos. The war was rending the country in two. There was racial strife. Gloria Steinem rose to prominence in the new women’s movement. There were continuing protests – even though in ’70 National Guardsmen turned their guns on Kent State students. Groups like the Weather Underground were kidnapping people. Nixon declared his “War on Drugs.” Verdicts came down on the My Lai massacre and the Manson Family murders. Like I said, it was a heavy time. It wasn’t all bad news… We still had moon landings to enjoy. And hey, Green Peace was formed. As I looked at what America was like in 1971, sadly it didn’t look much different than how things are today: a nation divided, racial strife, protests, greed trumping the needs of the environment. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Although, admittedly, the music was better then.

The music of 1971 really reflects all of what was going on at the time. I’ve never been a fan of codifying music by decades – the 60s or the 70s. I don’t think shifts in music respond to the calendar. There are always bands who transcend decades like Van Halen or the Cars from ’75 to ’85. However, I think ’71 is an especially interesting year as it’s likely the demarcation line in terms of the end of the 60s and beginning of the 70s. By ’71 the vaunted Beatles had broken up and all of them had begun their solo careers in earnest. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had all gone their separate ways for solo stardom. The Stones had gone into tax exile in the south of France. Sadly, Hendrix and Janis Joplin had both passed away by misadventure. Jim Morrison lived long enough to see 1971 and record a last Doors album, but then died mysteriously in Paris. The 60s really did come to an actual end and the cynical, greedy 70s had begun. All of that can be pegged to 1971. You can almost feel the 60s bands and ethos receding like low tide and ushering in the new era that was the 70s. It was a total sea change.

In ’71 at the dawn of the 70s, the social strife really began to surface in the music. There are a lot of protest or political songs/albums that came out that year. And frankly there were just a ton of great albums that came out in 1971, a truly amazing year for music. Whether it was solo stuff from guys who were in big bands in the 60s (Beatles, CSNY) or artists just starting out (Bonnie Raitt, John Prine had debuts) there were some classic rock LPs released in ’71. Pink Floyd released their best pre-Dark Side of the Moon LP and Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and the Who were at career zeniths. Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen all unleased career topping masterpieces. Even the King, Elvis Presley showed he still had a lot in the tank. 1971 saw several bands release 2 LPs in the year, which is inconceivable now: Yes, Alice Cooper, and the Faces. Hell, Rod Stewart released 2 LPs with the Faces and his best solo album. The LPs that came out that year are truly some of the best rock has to offer. I went through every LP I could think of from ’71 and I pulled 1 song off each LP for this playlist. I had to lay down some limit. I will admit right up front, I left off Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain and James Brown Hot Pants because unlike George Michael who was “Too Funky” I am simply, not funky. Come to think of it, George Micheal and I have absolutely nothing in common.

Here’s my playlist of tracks from 1971. There were so many great albums and I tried to hit most of them, but again I limited myself to 1 song per album. Often I picked the best known track/anthem from an LP but for some I reached a little deeper onto the album. I have listed artist, album, song. The playlist can be found on Spotify under “BourbonAndVinyl.net 1971.” My advice is to shuffle these tracks, but they hold up pretty good start to finish as listed. Put this playlist on, turn it up, pour something strong and pretend this is the coolest radio station in the world… broadcasting live from a basement studio in some unmarked university administration building, occupied for a protest in 1971… What a year it was…and I hope this playlists celebrates all those great ’71 LPs…

  1. Marvin Gaye, What’s Goin’ On, “What’s Goin’ On” – Marvin giving us the state of the union on this great song, still relevant today. Powerful stuff.
  2. Jimi Hendrix, Cry Of Love, “Freedom” – From the first posthumously released Hendrix LP.
  3. Graham Nash, Songs For Beginners, “Military Madness” – Continuing our politically charged theme… from Graham’s first and best solo album. Reeling from his breakup with Joni Mitchell, Nash delivers the goods on this album.
  4. Faces, A Nod Is As Good As A Wink…, “Stay With Me” – Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Lane and co deliver their biggest “hit.” Like Zeppelin they weren’t really a hit making band. They were just a great rock band. This was the second of two LPs from them in 1971.
  5. Al Green, Gets Next To You, “I Can’t Get Next To You” – Even in this song of frustration, the Reverend Al still sounds happy. Does he have any sad songs? Smooth, smooth voice.
  6. The Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies, “20th Century Man” – Unable to tour America because of a drug bust I always felt the Kinks turned a little insular. Great album though.
  7. Bill Withers, Just As I Am, “Ain’t No Sunshine” – In my opinion, the late great Bill Withers’ best song.
  8. Traffic, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” – The epic 11 minute song… I do seem drawn to the long tracks.
  9. Van Morrison, Tupelo Honey, “Tupelo Honey” – Another title track… One of my all time favorite love songs. I would have danced to this at my wedding except for the Rock Chick’s mysterious hatred of Van Morrison. Well that and its like 8 minutes long. I can’t do things I like for 8 minutes let alone dance for that long.
  10. Yes, Fragile, “Roundabout” – Yes is another band that put out two albums in 1971. It’s nice to see some prog rock on here…
  11. James Taylor, Mudslide Slim, “You’ve Got A Friend” – JT covering his friend Carole King’s track on an LP whose name he perhaps regrets.
  12. Leonard Cohen, Songs Of Love And Hate, “Famous Blue Raincoat” – One of Cohen’s most famous songs from one of his most famous albums. I love Leonard.
  13. David Crosby, If I Could Only Remember My Name, “Cowboy Movie” – I’ve never understood why this great rock tune wasn’t a standard on rock radio like “Freebird” or “Stairway to Heaven.”
  14. Janis Joplin, Pearl, “Me And Bobby McGee” – Sad that her biggest hit had to be posthumous.
  15. Alice Cooper, Killer, “Under My Wheels” – Another band who put out two landmark, career albums in 1971. I can’t imagine that happening in 2021.
  16. George Harrison, The Concert For Bangladesh, “Bangla Desh” – George set the blueprint for charity rock concerts with this show. My friend Ron attended and said it was spectacular. I couldn’t find the live version from the concert album so I went with this studio version that they dropped on another LP as a bonus track.
  17. Santana, Santana III, “No One To Depend On” – There are few guitarists like Carlos Santana whose tone is as recognizable and distinct as a vocalist.
  18. Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson, “Jump Into the Fire” – I feel like Harry could have been a lot bigger than he was. I think this track is brilliant but even I admit the in-song drum solo is… indulgent?
  19. Elton John, Madman Across the Water, “Madman Across the Water” – One of my favorite Elton “deep tracks.” I could have gone with “Tiny Dancer” from this great LP, but we’re not really a “Tiny Dancer” blog.
  20. The Allman Brothers Band, Live At The Fillmore East, “Statesboro Blues” – For the most part I avoided live LPs for this list but this LP and this song are too epic to ignore.
  21. Yes, The Yes Album, “Yours Is No Disgrace” – I still have this album on vinyl and yes, it does get played here at the B&V labs.
  22. John Lennon, Imagine, “Imagine” – Eschewing the pain and screaming of Plastic Ono Band, Lennon indulges his utopian side on this, his greatest solo track.
  23. Ike & Tina Turner, Workin’ Together, “Proud Mary” – Their best LP… as a duo anyway. Tina and company own this CCR track.
  24. Paul McCartney, Ram, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” – Ram was credited to Paul and Linda McCartney but I think that was designed to expand their cut of the publishing. It’s a great record but I chose this rather cheesy, Beatlesque track to show the contrast of how far apart Lennon (no. 23) and McCartney had grown from each other. The songs couldn’t be farther apart in style, tone etc.
  25. Sly & the Family Stone, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, “Family Affair” – This is one of my all time favorite tracks from the oft-overlooked genius of Sly Stone.
  26. Alice Cooper, Love It To Death, “I’m Eighteen” – A perfect expression of teenage male Id.
  27. Pink Floyd, Meddle, “One Of These Days” – Probably my favorite LP from the period after Syd Barrett and up to Dark Side of the Moon. This harks back to the time before Roger Waters took “control.”
  28. Black Sabbath, Masters Of Reality, “Sweet Leaf” – Sabbath’s ode to pot on what to me is their heaviest album.
  29. T. Rex, Electric Warrior, “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” – I don’t feel Marc Bolan and T. Rex ever got their due in America. This is an iconic track from an iconic album. The Power Station later covered this song.
  30. Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells A Story, “Maggie May” – Rod not only put out this, his best solo LP, he did two albums with the Faces. Amazing year for him.
  31. Carole King, Tapestry, “I Feel The Earth Move” – King stepped out of the shadows of being a songwriter and delivers her greatest album.
  32. David Bowie, Hunky Dory, “Changes” – Bowie’s signature tune from one of my favorite Bowie LPs.
  33. The Doors, L.A. Woman, “L.A. Woman”  – Jim Morrison’s last, brilliant album. I chose the title track for it’s L.A. noir, but there were some great blues stuff on this album too.
  34. James Gang, Thirds, “Walk Away” – It was Joe Walsh’s last LP with the James Gang but he delivered this timeless rock n roll classic.
  35. ZZ Top, ZZ Top’s First Album, “Backdoor Love Affair” – Our first salvo from that Little Ol’ Band From Texas.
  36. Jethro Tull, Aqualung, “Locomotive Breath” – I could have gone with the title track but I just prefer this propulsive tune.
  37. Led Zeppelin, IV, “Rock N Roll” – I felt “Stairway To Heaven” was overplayed so I went with this one… which is probably also overplayed. Zeppelin’s crowning achievement of an album.
  38. Bonnie Raitt, Bonnie Raitt, “Mighty Tight Woman” – Great little blues cover from Bonnie Raitt. I love her early blues stuff.
  39. Joni Mitchell, Blue, “All I Want” – I’m not a huge Mitchell fan but you can’t ignore Blue, her masterpiece.
  40. The Temptations, Sky’s The Limit, “Just My Imagination” – Later covered ably by the Stones… but you’ve got to love the Temps’ version.
  41. The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” – Speaking of the Stones… I could have gone with “Brown Sugar” but I love this tune, the riff and the extended jazz jam at the end. One of guitarist Mick Taylor’s finest moments with the Stones.
  42. The Who, Who’s Next, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…” Says it all.
  43. War, All Day Music, “Slippin’ In To Darkness” – A great, ominous track from the funk masters.
  44. Stevie Wonder, Where I’m Comin’ From, “Do Yourself A Favor” – This is a great track that I feel is slightly overlooked.
  45. Fleetwood Mac, Future Games, “Show Me A Smile” – From probably the best post-Peter Green, pre-Buckingham/Nicks Mac album. Christine McVie delivers a beautiful ballad.
  46. Gene Clark, White Light, “White Light” – Former Byrd Gene Clark never sold in the numbers he should have but he accomplished the blend of country and rock that Gram Parson’s kept trying to pull off.
  47. Crazy Horse, Crazy Horse, “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” – Neil Young’s once and future backing band’s debut LP. This song, later covered by Rod Stewart, was Danny Whitten’s finest hour.
  48. Badfinger, Straight Up, “Day After Day” – Great song from a band I think I need to get more into.
  49. The Isley Brothers, Givin’ It Back, “Ohio/Machine Gun” – The most striking tune on a very striking album. The Isley Brothers mash up CSNY’s “Ohio” and Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” in an amazing protest anthem. This is a track everyone should hear.
  50. John Prine, John Prine, “Illegal Smile” – It’s a shame we just lost John Prine last year. This track from his debut is one of his most famous tunes.
  51. Elvis Presley, Elvis Country, “Tomorrow Never Comes” – It may have been 1971 but the King was far from being a spent force. He’d gone to Memphis and spent a week recording that resulted in two landmark rock n roll LPs. He did the same thing here – only this time went to Nashville and recorded two LPs of fantastic country-ish music. “Tomorrow Never Comes” shows Elvis was in tune with the times.
  52. The Band, Cahoots, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” – The Band were always the greatest interpreters of Dylan… This was the first official recorded version of the song released. Dylan’s oft bootlegged version came out officially later.
  53. John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat, Hooker N Heat, “Whiskey and Wimmen'” – This is a great blues album. Canned Heat and John Lee were great together.
  54. Faces, Long Player, “Bad N Ruin” – Long Player may be my favorite album from the Faces… I once played this song on a radio show the Rock Chick and I did on a Public Radio station morning show… it’s a long story.
  55. Aretha Franklin, Aretha Live At Fillmore West, “Love The One You’re With” – One of only three live tracks here but a monumental live LP from Aretha. I don’t know why this wasn’t on our favorite live LPs list. Its amazing how many artists covered this Stephen Stills’ tune.
  56. B.B. King, Live In Cook County Jail, “How Blue Can You Get?” – One of B.B. King’s finest live LPs, along with Live at the Regal. One of B.B.’s finest tracks, live at a jail.
  57. Free, Highway, “The Stealer” – One of their greatest songs. I don’t know why they were merely a one-hit wonder in the States. I know Rod Stewart was a huge Free fan. Paul Rodgers delivers the goods on vocals.
  58. Humble Pie, Rock On, “Shine On” – Peter Frampton delivers on lead guitar and vocals on this track from his last studio LP with Humble Pie.
  59. J. Geils Band, The Morning After, “Lookin’ For a Love” – J. Geils were such a great blues rock band, it’s a shame they are mostly known for “Freeze Frame.” I urge everyone to check out their early LPs.
  60. Little Feat, Little Feat, “Willin'” – A song about “weed, whites and wine” that got Lowell George fired from Frank Zappa’s band. He formed Little Feat and recorded this for their debut LP. Later covered by Linda Ronstadt.

I’ve likely missed an LP or a song from 1971 but I feel like I’ve captured that year relatively comprehensively. If you’ve got an album or song I missed, please suggest it in the comments section and I’ll add it to the Spotify playlist. It was hard to pick just 1 song from these landmark LPs. I’ve seen ads for a documentary named “1971: The Year That Music Changed.” I’m not sure music changed. I do think it evolved in tone and subject matter from the utopian dreams of the 60s to a more cynical, societal-focused bent in 1971. But that would soon give way to the greed and corruption of the decadent 70s. Who knew punk and disco were lurking on the horizon. Music tends to change every year, slowly but surely. I will say that 1971 was a simply smashing year for music. Turn this up loud.

Cheers!

Review: Dirty Honey Rocking Out On Their Self-Titled Debut LP ‘Dirty Honey’

My friends, I’m pleased to say, rock n roll is definitely not dead. If you’ve got anybody in your life telling you it is, just say, “Dirty Honey, baby.”

There were two albums that I was really looking forward to for 2021. The first was from Greta Van Fleet, The Battle At the Garden Gate which, I’ll admit was a bit of a disappointment. Although, upon reflection I will admit that perhaps it was merely a case of their reach exceeding their grasp. The second new rock band I was looking forward to seeing an album from was Dirty Honey. Their new, self-titled album dropped just last Friday.

I discovered Dirty Honey in, of all places, an issue of ‘Classic Rock’ magazine last summer. The pandemic and its ensuing lockdown had me bored to tears. And, while I like to think I’m a highly motivated person, fear and boredom are the only things that really motivate me. Boredom drove me to the bookstore, with my mask on, to discover magazines I’d never heard of: ‘Classic Rock,’ ‘Uncut’ and a few others. I bought the ‘Classic Rock’ magazine because the reunited Black Crowes were on the front cover and I was dying to read something other than books on history. I was starting to feel like I was in college again. In ‘Classic Rock’ I saw nothing more than a blurb about Dirty Honey but it was enough to get me intrigued. I couldn’t help but remember all the bands I discovered in my 20s when I was reading ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine… back when they still wrote about rock n roll. Now all I see in that magazine is articles about this Billie Eilish. She seems fun…

Upon discovering Dirty Honey last summer I quickly snapped up their EP, also creatively named Dirty Honey – EPI connected with that EP immediately. The track “Rolling 7s” has remained in high rotation here in the B&V lab and in my head. I hear the lyric “When you need a little lovin’, All night long” in the back of my mind yes, all night long. Dirty Honey is a classic 4-piece rock band. They even have a cool, Stonesy type logo. The band was a riff heavy rock band with a mix of hard rock like GnR, possibly even some AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and I do hear shades of Aerosmith. I’m not suggesting anything derivative here, it’s just that’s the best way to give you a frame of reference. I knew Dirty Honey (Marc Labelle, vocals; John Notto, guitar; Justin Smolian, bass; Corey Cornerstone, drums) were working on their debut LP and thought we’d hear from them in 2020, but I’m sure release plans were affected by the ‘Rona.

I’ll start off by saying Dirty Honey absolutely rocks. This may be my summer go-to rock album this year. The record starts off with the first single, “California Dreaming'” reviewed earlier on B&V. It’s a great crunchy rock opener. Possibly my favorite song on this album is “The Wire.” I played it for the Rock Chick and she looked up and said, “This is really good…” Indeed. “The Wire” has Labelle’s most impassioned vocal and I love Notto’s riff and solo. “Tied Up” gave me a slight G’n’R vibe. I love the chorus, “I love the way you move, so tied up, I love the way you touch me.” I love the riff on “Take My Hand,” its punchy like Zeppelin’s “The Ocean.” “Gypsy” is another great, urgent rocker. It’s filled with all the wanderlust the title implies. “Gypsy” probably has Notto’s best solo. Again, I love the chorus, “I’m on the run, living like a gypsy.” The choruses these guys come up bore into your brain. 

This is just a fun rock n roll album. It kind of reminds me of those early, classic Aerosmith LPs, nine songs long, all rock. They do mix it up on the last track, the bluesy “Another Last Time.” It’s also a competitor for my favorite tune. They add some keyboards for texture on this track. How can you not love a song with the lyric, “used me up like a motel room”? It’s a classic, I know you’re bad for me, but I can’t resist another go-round… which if you knew me before the Rock Chick, you’d know that is a vibe I’m deeply familiar with. 

Dirty Honey gets a strong thumbs up from us here at B&V. Or rather than thumbs up, maybe a strong “devil horns” up. This is one to turn up really loud with a tumbler of a fine sour mash. I like to think of it as music to scare the neighbors with. Give Dirty Honey a listen and I guarantee they’ll get you up out of your chair! 

Cheers! 

Third Time’s The Charm: The Artists Whose Third Album Was The Breakthrough

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*Only 5 LPs photographed because most of your intrepid blogger’s property is still in storage…

I don’t know if this is true or not, but it sure seems like bands have a lot more avenues to get their music out these days especially when compared to how they used to do it in the 70s or 80s… I’ve been sitting in the cheap seats watching my friend Drummer Blake work to establish his latest band the Sunset Sinners and those guys are a marketing machine. I don’t think they’re any different than any new band out there today. There are so many tools at a band’s disposal. Bands now have YouTube where they can release videos of live performances or just old school videos like Dirty Honey‘s latest. There’s so much more a band can do with social media today. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter new bands have a way of communicating directly with fans so when a record company comes calling, the band already has a built in fan base that can literally span the globe. And now with Tik Tok that social media reach may have even gotten broader… at least that’s what my friend James tells me, he loves Tik Tok. I’m only on a few social media platforms and Tik Tok ain’t one of them. Not yet anyway. I only got on Instagram to follow the bands I love…well that and to watch videos of cats and dogs doing adorable things. I’m like everyone else in that regard. 

In the old days a band’s social media consisted of the guys in the band wandering around downtown stapling cheap copies made at Kinkos to telephone poles to announce a gig. I think there was a scene in Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ where they’re doing just that which had to be hot and exhausting in all that spandex. Typically to start a band a few like minded musicians who liked the same music might huddle together in a garage and start playing cover tunes. After a while and usually a few line up changes – often that involved someone answering an ad in the newspaper like Ace Frehley – the band might start doing gigs in front of actual people, not just distressed family members. A school dance here, a keg party there, it all helped the band to start to create a following. The band’s repertoire would expand and eventually they’d start to create their own, original music. Eventually some enterprising bar owner would let the band play on their stage… or perhaps give them a residency. Maybe Gene Simmons would show up and pay for a demo tape like he did for Van Halen…probably not but somehow  demo tapes would get made. If fortune and luck shone on the band, a record company would extend a contract… Oh, and a manager probably showed up somewhere in this process to take 10%.

When the record company would offer the band a contract you’d think all their dreams were answered. It’s the Cinderella story. Record companies today seem to only want bands who can deliver that mega-million dollar selling debut LP. Maybe record companies have always been that way? But for some bands that debut album fails to connect. Not every debut can be Boston or Appetite For Destruction (Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums). Some really classic debut LPs from the world’s biggest bands have been commercial failures. In meetings, the record company guys all act supportive, but the pressure is really on now. To make matters worse, there’s the sophomore slump that hangs over a lot of bands. Bono, in his Rock Hall of Fame speech was talking about being in a band and described the 2nd album (and he was speaking generally) as “the difficult second album.” The old saying, “You have your whole life to write your first album, and only a few months to write your second,” holds some truth. Even for bands whose debut LP had a hit single or two and sold well, a weak second album only brings more pressure. And there are a lot of weak second albums out there… U2’s October is a prime example. 

For a band whose first two albums hadn’t sold in big numbers, I can only imagine that the third album was a “make or break” situation. Today, I don’t think any current label would keep an act longer than two LPs if neither sold well. We live in an instant gratification world, and if a band’s first or second album doesn’t explode, it’s time to move on. Back in the 70s and even the 80s, record labels seemed to be slightly more patient. They would let a band develop, mostly by playing a shit ton of concerts on the road, but also in the studio and as songwriters. Sometimes all that was needed was a new producer. Maybe the band tweaks the line up. It just felt, without all the social media to help build in that fanbase, that record companies back in the day gave artists’ more time or a little more leash, if you will. 

Some of the world’s most renown artists took an entire three albums to break into that world wide fame and commercial success. If these bands were coming out today I’m not sure any record company would have stuck with them until that third album and that would be a damn shame. Here is my list of phenomenal third records that made the bands who recorded them famous. I consider each of these records essential rock and roll listening. 

Aerosmith, Toys In The Attic

While Aerosmith had the hit “Dream On” on their debut, the album didn’t make a dent. They moved in together so they could rehearse constantly and brought in renown producer Jack Douglas for their second LP Get Your Wings, which sold better. At that point Aerosmith became road warriors. They toured incessantly behind the 2nd LP which helped build their fan base but also improved their songwriting and chops. With the big singles “Walk This Way” (later redone with Run D.M.C. during their “comeback”) and my favorite “Sweet Emotion” Aerosmith became superstars. This, to me, is Aerosmith’s peak album. Even the deep tracks like “Uncle Salty” and “Adam’s Apple” kick ass. I love the first two Aerosmith LPs, but I can understand how this is the one that broke them wide and far. It’s telling that they re-released “Dream On” during this time period to try and boost sales of that debut. 

Lenny Kravitz, Are You Gonna Go My Way

While Lenny’s debut is now considered a classic, you never heard much of it on the radio. Every woman I met in the 90s, even casually, put his debut on for me to hear. Despite his unending support among 20-something aged women, his second LP, Mama Said was pretty much invisible. Then suddenly, the title track of this album exploded on to radio and MTV with an iconic video of Lenny rocking in a circular room and flinging his dreds everywhere. There are so many classic tunes on this album – “Believe,” “Heaven Help,” “Black Girl,” and “Just Be A Woman” to name a few. Yes, Lenny tends to wear his influences on his sleeve, but he distills all of them into a fantastic album here. I’m not sure he ever did anything as good as this essential third LP. 

No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom

I had no doubt back in the day that I didn’t like this band. Then the Rock Chick took me to see them live on their reunion tour and I was blown away by them. Guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal, and drummer Adrian Young were lean and muscular. I wasn’t prepared for how hard they rocked. Front woman Gwen Stefani who went on to totally disappoint me on her solo career was charismatic and energetic on stage… I was mesmerized by her performance…but I’m getting off topic. After that show, I went out and bought all their albums. Their eponymous debut LP got zero support from their record label and they asked to be dropped from their contract which the label refused to do. Their 2nd album, Beacon Street Collection can be thought of as songs about hating their record company. Finally on the third LP, they pierced the grunge consciousness of the era with Tragic Kingdom. Listening to this LP all these years later, it’s a staggering leap forward from the first two records. “Just A Girl” is a woman’s empowerment anthem for the ages and it actually rocks. From that to the ballad “Sunday Morning” this album is just about perfect. 

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Damn The Torpedos 

Petty’s first two albums had classic songs and hits – “Breakdown,” “American Girl,” “I Need To Know” and “Listen To Her Heart.” Listening to those albums today you could tell this was a band who was on the verge of breaking big. Damn The Torpedoes was that quantum leap forward and coincidentally the first Petty LP I ever purchased. My brother had it before I even did. “Here Comes My Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee” were all monster hits but I like some of the deep tracks. “Even the Losers” (a personal anthem) and “You Tell Me” are stellar. I even dig “Louisiana Rain.” One of the greatest albums of all time. 

The Police, Zenyatta Mondatta 

Maybe some day someone will explain the title to me… I was in junior high when the Police’s debut album Outlandos D’Amor came out. We all loved “Roxanne.” I remember singing it like Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours, loudly, high-pitched and out of tune in study hall much to the chagrin of the teacher in charge. Outlandos was a classic despite the French title, but I didn’t know anybody who owned it. The second album, Regatta De Blanc boasted the hits “Walking On the Moon,” and “Message In A Bottle” but it didn’t seem to resonate with as many people. Frankly I thought both those tracks were on the debut. After a world wide tour, much like Aerosmith, that honed their playing and songwriting skills they returned with Zenyatta Mondatta and suddenly everyone was on the Police bandwagon. “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” about the nonsensical nature of speeches by politicians, teachers and lawyers was the first single and despite probably not understanding that, we all loved that song. I think my friend Doug saw the Police on this tour. Every song on this album could have been a hit. Between the Police and Aerosmith I think it could be argued every new band should be sent on the road for at least a year to play as many shows as they can. 

Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run

Springsteen’s first album Greetings From Asbury Park is now seen as a classic. Groups from Manfred Mann to Bowie to Greg Kihn have covered tracks from this album. Commercially though, it was largely ignored. His second disc, The Wild, The Innocent And the E Street Shuffle, which gave his backing band its name, is my favorite Springsteen album. Oddly, the great epics on that album like “Incident On 57th St,” “Rosalita,” or “New York City Serenade” were largely ignored. With his back to the wall, Springsteen wrote his greatest batch of songs. He wanted lyrics like Dylan with Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” I’d say he checked both those boxes! Like Damn The Torpedoes this is one of the greatest albums of all time. I’m just glad Columbia Records let Bruce have a third shot at an album. They would have dropped him if this record failed… 

Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells A Story 

After his brief stint as “vocalist extraordinaire” for the Jeff Beck Group, Stewart recorded his debut, The Rod Stewart Album, or as it was known in the UK, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down. It was part folk, part rock n roll which would set the template for the rest of Rod’s best work. It didn’t take off so he joined the Faces as their lead singer and after that, he’d release an album with the Faces and a solo album every year. It wasn’t until his third LP, Every Picture Tells A Story that he broke it big when a DJ in Cleveland flipped over the first single “Reason To Believe” to play the B-side, a little ditty named “Maggie May.” Rod became a superstar which was great for him, not so great for his mates in the Faces. I still hope Rod, Ronnie Wood and Kenny Jones can get a semi-Faces reunion together and do something. Rod was always better when he was working with a strong guitar player like Wood. 

U2, War

Boy, U2’s debut boasted the fabulous song “I Will Follow” that they still play in concert but it only made a little dent on the charts. The “difficult second album,” October didn’t do them any favors. Like Springsteen, with their backs against the wall, they retreated to Hawaii and recorded their breakthrough album. Sure, they had bigger and perhaps better albums, but War is the LP that broke them wide open… it’s also the first LP from them I purchased. The anthems “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” moved them in a political direction that I always loved. It’s amazing how many of these third LPs ended up being some of the greatest music ever recorded… Maybe it’s the pressure? 

The White Stripes, White Blood Cells 

Like a majority of people, this was the LP where I first discovered the White Stripes. I ended up going back and buying their previous 2 LPs almost immediately upon buying White Blood Cells. The eponymous debut was all garage-rock, meaning it sounded like it was recorded in a garage. It was raw and ferocious, naturally I loved it. Even I will admit however, I can see why that wasn’t an international sensation. Their second LP, De Stijl was, like Springsteen’s E Street Shuffle, my favorite Stripes album. It’s bluesy and punk… its blues punk. However, it also failed to resonate far and wide. White Blood Cells had the big hits that made them famous “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With A Girl” that likely drove a lot of people like me to their first two records. They may have had bigger albums but this one is almost perfect. “We’re Going To Be Friends” is the best acoustic track they ever did. “I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman” has always been a personal fav. The Stripes just released a wonderful Greatest Hits album if you’re not obsessive about owning every LP but White Blood Cells is the perfect place to start with the Stripes. 

 

Most, if not all of these bands went on to storied, long careers. They all had “bigger,” better selling albums but these are such critical pieces of that later success. These are some of the greatest albums ever. I urge everyone who hasn’t heard these “third” records to do so immediately. Because as we’ve just learned, sometimes the third time is the charm. 

Cheers! Be safe out there, we’re getting closer every day to being able to some of this great rock n roll played live! 

 

 

Lookback: My Mixtape Days – Inventor of the Cassette Tape Dies at 94

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I got up one day last week, as I thankfully do every day, and I checked the news. I’m not a morning person so there’s no TV involved. I prefer a lot of silence in the morning so I just checked on-line. I was scrolling through headlines and I noticed a Dutch gentlemen named Lou Ottens had died at the age of 94. He was a scientist and inventor for the Philips company. In my still sleep riddled mind I couldn’t help but think, big deal some scientist passed in the Netherlands. I kept scrolling, still half-asleep drinking hot coffee as quickly as the scalding liquid would allow, when I stopped and went back to the Ottens’ article. It was then that I saw that Lou was the inventor of the cassette tape. Oh man, that took me back. In this age of streaming and MP3s people forget what a revolution cassettes were. Portable music was a reality. We weren’t all chained to the home stereo any more. 

Prior to Mr. Ottens’ invention, other than vinyl the only way to consume music was on those bulky reel-to-reel tapes, but lets be honest only beatnik, jazzbo types owned reel-to-reel tapes. I have an image of groovy dudes in black turtlenecks and shades even though they’re indoors, smoking joints and talking about Miles Davis’ feel as In A Silent Way spools through the reel-to-reel player. Although as I type that sentence I’m reminded that my father-in-law owned a reel-to-reel player and as a rancher/farmer he was only into country music like C.J. McCall…”Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy…” Gads. His reel-to-reel gear was long gone by the time I came along but I would have loved to hear what that sounded like. 

In an attempt to make music more portable, the industry had tried a more “compact” tape version of the album on the now legendary 8-track tape. If you couldn’t get a turntable into a car, by God, lets try 8-tracks. A lot of people jumped on the 8-track bandwagon, thankfully I was not one of them. First of all, I never thought they were very compact. They were the size of a small paperback novel. My buddy Brewster had an 8-track player in his car and we’d listen to Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan all the time. I thought it was because Brewster loved that album but looking back it may have been the only 8-track he owned. I could never figure out 8-tracks. It was years before I learned what the actual playing order of that Cheap Trick live album was. 

Enter Mr. Ottens and his magic cassettes. I’ll be honest, I was a vinyl guy from the start. I only purchased two albums on proper cassettes. I purchased AC/DC’s Highway To Hell on cassette because I wanted to listen to that album in the car. I actually bought that LP on cassette for the reason they were invented – so you could take your music anywhere and you were free from having to have a turntable which would have been hard in the car considering what a reckless driver I was (am?). I also bought Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass on cassette prior to that because I saw that was how a lot of people were buying albums and I thought I was missing out on some sound sensation. Was there something I was missing? Well, no but it was still a nice portable way to consume music. If you were tired of your local radio station – or if you lived in a godforsaken place like Ft. Smith, Arkansas with terrible radio – you could just pop in a cassette and magically you were listening to your own music, arranged how you wanted it. 

The real magic in cassettes were the blank cassettes that allowed you to record anything you wanted to. It was indeed, a blank canvass. There were so many different brands of cassette tapes. Early on I purchased strictly TDK brand but quickly “upgraded” to Maxell who had an infinite number of different types of cassette tapes, each one of a higher quality than the last. Cassettes would hold 90 minutes of music – 45 minutes on each side. The average album back then was around 40 minutes, usually less. If it was a Van Halen album it was more likely 30 minutes long. You could put 1 album per side and leave the last bit of tape blank or you could add your own “bonus tracks” by the same artist at the end. Each tape had a small lead tape that wouldn’t hold music but was there to protect the cassette when fully rewound. You had to be careful if you were recording on vinyl that you’d gotten past those 10 seconds of lead tape or you’d cut off the first few seconds of the first track. The struggle was as real as the skills you needed to create a good tape recording. 

In the early days of my cassette taping, I was merely trying to collect music that I hadn’t purchased (for free). Cassette tapes were the early Napster, I suppose. My brother who had a crate full of albums before I’d even purchased my first album was my first source. I remember going into his room and plugging a cassette into his stereo – it was a turntable/radio/cassette tape all in one – and declaring I was going to tape some Beatles, but only the “good songs.” After filling up two whole cassettes to quote the movie Jaws, I realized, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” My mother had a friend, who  I’ll call Mrs. Smith, who had kids my age and my brother’s age. She brought over a stack of albums for me to tape that her kids owned. I’m still unsure why that happened. I think Mrs. Smith was trying to be cool. She appeared one day holding a can of beer with a cigarette dangling from her lips and handed me a stack of the heaviest metal I’d ever heard. Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Judas Priest… it was all too heavy. I was listening to blues rock… the Stones, ZZ Top, Foghat. I’ve always wondered what the hell was happening over at the Smith’s house. It was extraordinarily nice of her to share her kids’ music even though they were probably using it during human sacrifices, or so I wondered back then. I’ve grown to love metal but hey, I was 13 years old. 

After cannibalizing other people’s albums on cassette the thing that probably accelerated my cassette use was the Sony Walkman. I got a Walkman for Christmas one year and it really changed the way I listened to music. I had headphones on my home stereo, but to be able to pop a cassette in the Walkman and actually leave my room to wander around while tunes played was mind blowing back then. I remember walking around in a snow storm, we’d been let off school, and listening to Yes (The Yes Album) and feeling my brain expand. 

Pretty soon, with my cassettes I realized you didn’t have to be so linear in your thinking. You could mix up artists or songs from one artist on the cassette. You could mix music… ie, the mixtape finally occurred to me. My music collection had expanded to the point where I had enough Aerosmith LPs or Skynyrd LPs that I could cherry pick the tracks I liked from them from each album and put them on 1 cassette. I was making my own “greatest hits” album. I remember sitting in front of my first stereo, surrounded in a semi-circle of albums resting gently on their sleeves and rotating albums on and off the turntable as I carefully hit “record” or “stop.” If a band had a double-live LP, I’d typically use that as my guide to building a 2-sided 90 minute collection of their music. I had friends who made copies of my “greatest hits” mix tapes as by then the cassette industry had created the dual tape deck that allowed you to copy a cassette to another cassette… 

Eventually, even rock and roll nerds get girlfriends. By the time I was in college I was making the dreaded mixtapes for girlfriends. You always tried to find a song that said what you didn’t have the courage to say yourself. “You’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel…” as the movie says. Mind you, my mixtapes were never terribly sappy. Often times it was just stuff I knew the lady liked. She’s into Sting, here’s a mix of Sting and the Police. I often tried to turn women onto the music I dug. It was always important. If she rejected my music, wasn’t she rejecting me? I know people think they’re doing much the same when they were burning CDs or putting together playlists on Spotify, but there was nothing like the engineering the perfect mixtape. There was no shuffle. The order you put the songs in was really, really important. I’ve always loved the scene from the movie High Fidelity where John Cusack explains the theory behind a great mixtape because it’s so accurate…

Nick Hornsby who wrote the novel this movie is based on is a real hero to the music nerd in me. 

I have an ex out there somewhere who now teaches yoga who occasionally emails me to thank me for turning her onto good music. I did a lot of that with the dreaded mixtapes. I actually used a mixtape to break up with someone in the early 90s… As I recall I started that tape with B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” Not my finest moment. I’ve even made tapes for some friends of mine way back when. I have a friend I met when I first moved to Arkansas who had no money and coveted my deep album collection. I’d tape stuff I thought he’d dig – Clapton, the Band, the Allman Brothers – and so on… I wonder what ever happened to those things… Although if I had one of those mixtapes, I couldn’t play it. As times have changed and technology has shifted, the Rock Chick forced me to finally give up the cassette player. The only cassettes I still own are some Springsteen bootlegs from the way back machine. Oh, but I do miss those wonderful afternoons in front of the stereo with a stack of vinyl on the floor and a blank cassette in the stereo… Simply glorious. 

I’m glad Mr. Ottens came along and invented the cassette. It gave me many countless happy hours. I try and share music now via playlists but there was something so intimate and personal about sharing your music with someone back when I was younger and the mixtape was my medium. The mixtape was the way I took something that was so personal – listening to music – and turned it into something more public to be shared, to help bring me closer to people, friends and lovers. Maybe I was just practicing for this blog. The mixtape will always be a part of my rock and roll experience and enabled me to start sharing music and my experiences with it that I will hold onto fondly for as long as I’m able to hit “play.” 

R.I.P Mr. Lou Ottens. Cheers!