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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Playlist: The B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains – “that lonesome whistle blows…”

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“Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true.” – Paul Simon, “Train In The Distance”

There’s just something about a train.

I spent my early years right out of college, after a brief summer in Boston, living in Northwest Arkansas. First in Fort Smith, then later in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I met a fetching young woman, full blooded-Thai with a southern accent, who lived in Shreveport, Louisiana. She was a lovely woman, but as many of us do in our youth, I was chasing something I would never attain, which turned out to be a pattern but those sad records are sealed.

Almost every Friday while I lived in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, (aka Ft. Hell), I would leave, usually before work was over and head down the two-lane blacktop of Highway 71. It ran the length of Arkansas and eventually into Louisiana and to my goal of Shreveport. I would typically spend as much time as I could in Louisiana before I returned to the dreaded Arkansas so I usually left Shreveport after the sun had gone down…even the sun split before I did. Highway 71 cut through Texarkana, first on the Arkansas side and then the Texas side. My memories of those days are faulty but I can remember on some of those dark nights, the highway turning into surface streets in Texarkana and being stopped by a train crossing the train tracks. I distinctly remember getting out of my car to use a discarded napkin to wipe dirt off my headlights, so dim was my view. I’ve always treated my car like a golf cart so its perpetually filthy. I can remember sitting in my car, watching those trains roll by. I would wonder where they headed. I was wondering why I was out there on the lonesome road headed somewhere I didn’t want to go.

Years later, after a brief stint living with my parents in Kansas City (after returning from my Arkansas exile), I rented an apartment at the junction of I-35 and I-635. I was high on a hill in a top floor apartment. In the spring and summer, I’d open the windows (who could afford A/C back then) and listen to the trains roll by on the tracks that ran parallel to I-35. There was something about that sound. The train chug-chugging by and then they’d blow that whistle. Is there a more lonesome sound than a train whistle in the darkness? I was alone at that time of my life and it was if the train was accentuating the point. There was so much it evoked: travel, movement, goodbyes, leaving, distance…

I was driving out to my parents new house, which is way south of Kansas City and lo and behold, I was stopped by a train. I sat there at the tracks, frustrated because I was already running late, when all those memories of driving dark roads around the south came back to me. I found myself just sitting there, enjoying the sight and sound of a freight train passing my field of vision, a car at a time. My thoughts wandered to Johnny Cash. That guy wrote more great train songs than anybody.

It was then that it hit me – there are shit-ton of great train songs. It doesn’t matter what genre you look to – rock and roll, classic rock, blues, country, country-rock (the Eagles, naturally), heavy metal (even German heavy metal), reggae… Hell, I’m certain even Sinatra probably has a great train song or two. If the sound of train evokes so much emotion in me, with all these great songs out there, maybe I’m not alone. Over the next few weeks I started to compile a list of songs with train references or about trains. Again, I could have just listened to Johnny Cash’s entire catalog and been satisfied, but we like to mix it up here at B&V. Pretty soon I had over 100 songs, and this was just off the top of my head. I whittled it down to just 50 tracks. As usual, you will find this list out on Spotify, under the title, “BourbonAndVinyl.net B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains.” While I quote the amazing Paul Simon track, “Trains In the Distance” above, it didn’t make the cut. It was too mellow. If you have suggestions for additional tracks, I missed, please recommend them in the comments. My thoughts on each track below.

  1. The Blues Brothers, “She Caught the Katy” – About a hardheaded woman who “left me a mule to ride.” Its the background for the iconic beginning of their movie and I’ve always loved it and hardheaded women.
  2. Bob Seger, “Long Twin Silver Line” – A rocking deep track that takes us across America.
  3. The Rolling Stones, “Silver Train” – The Stones riding a Chuck Berry-esque riff like it’s an actual train. Johnny Winter did a great cover of this song.
  4. The Band with Paul Butterfield, “Mystery Train” – I love this live version of Leon Helm duetting with Paul Butterfield from The Last Waltz. Butterfield did the studio version on his band’s first album.
  5. Bob Dylan, “Slow Train” – Dylan bringing an apocalyptic train round the bend.
  6. Velvet Revolver, “Sucker Train Blues” – Ex-GnR members and Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots on their most rocking tune.
  7. The Velvet Underground, “Train Round The Bend” – Lou Reed could even make a train song sound dirty.
  8. Crosby, Stills, Nash, “Marrakesh Express” – OK, it’s more of a drug song, but it works.
  9. Neil Young, “Boxcar” – Beautiful track from Chrome Dreams II.
  10. The Eagles, “Midnight Flyer” – Country rock from the band that made it famous.
  11. Steve Winwood, “Night Train” – I love this song. It’s long and so evocative. The production is “of its time,” but who cares.
  12. AC/DC, “Rock ‘N Roll Train” – One of AC/DC’s great late career jams.
  13. The Allman Brothers Band, “All Night Train” – A bluesy, stellar track from the Allman Brothers.
  14. Jimi Hendrix, “Hear My Train a Comin'” – Any version of this blues epic will do.
  15. Rush, “A Passage To Bangkok” – Ok, like “Marrakesh Express” more of a drug song, but I wanted to show that even prog-rockers do train songs.
  16. Van Morrison, “Evening Train” – A jaunty train song from Van who even sounds like he’s having fun on this ride.
  17. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Runaway Trains” – “I’m down here changing lanes…” a song that still haunts me.
  18. Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Two Trains Running” – Such a great song by such a great blues band.
  19. Bruce Springsteen, “Tucson Train” – One of the happier songs on Bruce’s latest album, Western Stars, which find our hero waiting on his woman whose coming in on the train from Tucson.
  20. Social Distortion, “Drug Train” – The Rock Chick’s favorite Social D song… and one they never play live, alas.
  21. Scorpions, “Catch Your Train” – I had to go all the way back to Virgin Killers for this one.
  22. Grateful Dead, “Casey Jones” – “Drivin’ that train, high on cocaine…”
  23. The Who, “5:15” – From the fabulous Quadrophenia. One of my all time Who favorites.
  24. John Fogerty, “Big Train From Memphis” – Great track about the loss of the King, Elvis Presley.
  25. The Rolling Stones, “Love In Vain” – I debated about whether to put the Faces cover of this Robert Johnson track, but ultimately, the Stones version is definitive for me.
  26. Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart, “People Get Ready” – I wish these two would work together again in some capacity.
  27. The Rolling Stones, “All Down the Line” – A track that should be on their greatest hits. Yes, there’s a lot of Stones here, but I love the Stones and they love trains.
  28. Little Feat, “Two Trains” – Lowell George was a genius.
  29. Robert Plant, “Win My Train Fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky)” – Plant covering a track made famous by Muddy Waters. What’s not to love?
  30. Bob Dylan, “Duquesne Whistle” – This track from Tempest starts off old-timey but takes off a minute in. Benmont Tench does a nice cover version too.
  31. Rod Stewart, “Downtown Train” – I was tempted to go with Tom Waits’ original, but this is better known and I have a story about this song… The Downtown Train to Wichita: The Road to Drew’s Wedding and the real Mayor of El Dorado, KS.
  32. Elton John, “Tell Me When The Whistle Blows” – Great Elton deep track, Playlist: B&V’s Favorite 20 Elton John Deep/Album Tracks.
  33. R.E.M., “Auctioneer (Another Engine)” – From their mumble the lyrics phase…there’s a train song under here somewhere.
  34. Lenny Kravitz, “Freedom Train” – More of a riff than song, but irresistible for this playlist none the same.
  35. The Doobie Brothers, “Long Train Runnin'” – The Doobies don’t get the love they once did, but they used to be as big as the Eagles, in my opinion.
  36. Joe Walsh, “At The Station” – Joe Walsh is just so solid. This is such a great riff and great song.
  37. Aerosmith, “Train Kept A Rollin'” – First done by Jimmy Page and his Yardbirds. I like this one.
  38. Gary Clark, Jr, “When My Train Pulls In” – A great, “I’m leavin’ here” track. Gary gives me hope for the guitar.
  39. Johnny Cash, “Hey Porter” – I almost went with “Orange Blossom Special.” There are so many great Johnny train songs. I had to limit it or his music would take over the playlist.
  40. The Cult, “Medicine Train” – From their biggest record, Sonic Temple. They’re out touring playing this record in its entirety right now but I haven’t caught up with them yet. I will…mark my words.
  41. Jethro Tull, “Locomotive Breath” – My favorite Tull song.
  42. Chuck Berry, “Let It Rock” – A railroad song from the perspective of someone working on the line… with a runaway train on its way…”gotta get the workers out of the way of the train.” The Stones, Bob Seger have both covered this track.
  43. Bob Marley, “Zion Train” – From his last studio album when alive. He was a giant.
  44. U2, “Zoo Station” – The opening track from Achtung Baby. 
  45. Guns N Roses, “Night Train” – More about the cheap wine of the same name, but I love these guys and this is one of my favorite songs by them.
  46. Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train” – His signature song and an NFL stadium favorite.
  47. The Beatles, “One After 909” – A song they wrote in their early days but only went back to record during the jams around Let It Be. 
  48. Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Stop That Train” – It says Bob Marley, but this is Peter Tosh on lead vocals.
  49. Sting, “Twenty-Five to Midnight” – A song I first heard after wandering into a bar in Amsterdam. It was a bonus track from Mercury Falling that wasn’t put out in the U.S. until it came out as a b-side.
  50. Bruce Springsteen, “Downbound Train” – Beautiful, haunting ballad from Bruce to end our proceedings.

You can easily shuffle this playlist, which is something I always advise. Again, I probably missed about a million songs that could have been on here… Please make your suggestions in the comments section. This might be a good playlist for the car, when you’re out on that open highway, chasing something you just can’t catch…but again, those files are sealed.

Thanks and as always, Cheers!

B&V Playlist: Rainy Day Songs (Or, All The Rain Songs)

 

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“Here comes the rain again…falling on my head like a memory.” – The Eurythmics

I think the weather has always had an effect on my mood. Perhaps too strong of an effect if I’m being completely honest. Years ago I had a job as a traveling salesman for this criminal outfit out of Chicago. I truly believe this company did most of their recruiting at local prisons. Theft on your record was considered an asset when selling their products. It was a tough gig. I drove around northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas traveling to every small town hospital in the vicinity. The company I worked for didn’t pay much and it’s a time in my life I consider a “low period.” I did learn a valuable lesson though – there’s no such thing as hot, naughty nurses. Quite the opposite in fact. I used to call on an older woman who ran the laundry at one of the local hospitals, she had a tall, teased bouffant that was circa 1950s and a thicker mustache than me. I never saw her out of her hospital uniform. I still wonder if she ever wore street clothes. She was as tough as nails and extremely perceptive. She once said to me, “I always know what the weather is like outside when you come in, I can read it in your mood.” I never sold her much and it was always discounted heavily. You couldn’t fool her.

It was certainly a pain in the ass doing that job when it was raining. I had a giant case in which I used to carry product samples and catalogs. I usually had stuff under each arm. Carrying an umbrella was difficult in that situation, fully laden if you will. I can still conjure the smell of the wet wool of my suits as I slogged through the pouring rain. It was worse when it snowed. I was living with my parents at the time, which is always a career highlight on anybody’s resume… and to think I was single, ladies. I came out of the house, fully laden with medical supplies, headed to my car when I noticed it had snowed. I saw all the little kiddos across the street, bundled up and waiting on the bus. What I hadn’t realized is that it had rained before it snowed, leaving a sheet of treacherous ice lurking underneath the fluffy powder. That fact dawned on me as I saw my wingtip shoes go flying past my face. I hit the driveway with a resounding thud…the catalogs I was carrying, along with my big sample case, slowly slid down my parents sloped, icy driveway. I laid there for a second hoping death would come. Alas, I only ended up with a pair of ripped suit pants. When I finally stood up to retrieve everything I’d dropped…I could hear the cackling laughs of the kids at the bus stop. Children can be so cruel, you know.

Rain is such an evocative thing. While it occasionally conjures memories of those awful medical supply days, it also brings other, more pleasant memories. I remember a girl I knew, not biblically, who used to love to jog in the rain. It was fun to watch… Rain brings to mind all kind of things. It can be considered a cleansing force, perhaps even redemptive in some ways, washing away the sins of the past. It doesn’t always have to be something wrathful. It’s restorative and brings forth life, especially in the spring. There’s nothing like leaving the window open when it’s raining and love is on your mind… Hell, there’s nothing like leaving the window open when it’s raining and sleep is on your mind… it’s utterly relaxing to lie and listen to the falling rain on the roof.

I began to think about all the different rock and roll bands/artists who had devoted a song to rain or storms. I will admit in the spirit of full disclosure, my thoughts have strayed in this direction for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve been housebound the last two weeks since my foot surgery. I’ve only been outside to go to the doctor. I’ve been nursed slowly back to health by the Rock Chick… and while I’ve felt a little like James Caan in the movie Misery, I can report that the Rock Chick has been much nicer to me than Kathy Bates was, thank God. The other reason for my thoughts about rainy day songs is simple. This spring in the midwest has been one of unrelenting, heavy rains. I’m talking about all day precipitation events. I spent all day Saturday, when the shank of the afternoon was as dark as dusk listening to the steady, persistent rain falling. I’ve glanced at the forecast and it appears that the entire upcoming Memorial Day weekend will be a wet one.

What I like about all of these different songs and different artists are the different moods, tempos, styles that rain has evoked for each of them. I was also amazed at the sheer magnitude of the number of rain songs out there. When I first started this list I had over 80 songs and it ran for almost eight hours. I had to make some edits… Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” was a bit to epic and Springsteen’s “Lost In the Flood” a little too grim, so this is not an exhaustive list of rain songs, just a long one. As usual, I tried to mix the well-known with the obscure. As those of you who follow our playlists know, I try to keep my playlists limited to around 2 hours. However, like the constant rains of spring, I felt this list should be longer. It’s too dark to read, there’s nothing on TV now that Game of Thrones has stumbled to its inevitable conclusion. Why not spend the entire afternoon listening to music. The moods and tempos here are all over the place. It’s not a bad playlist to have in the background on those wet, dank days. With nothing else to do but drink, perhaps this will keep you in a better mood. Enjoy!

As always you can find this list on Spotify, just search on “BourbonAndVinyl.net Rainy Day Songs.” My thoughts on each track, below.

 

  1. The Alarm, “Rain In The Summertime” – I saw the Alarm in a small club back in the late 80s/early 90s. Great, great band with a great great song.
  2. Peter Wolf, “It’s Raining” – A song written with the great Don Covay.
  3. Lowell George, “I Can’t Stand The Rain” – From Lowell’s only solo record.
  4. Warren Zevon, “Fistful of Rain” – Zevon’s characteristic fabulous lyrics.
  5. Blind Melon, “No Rain” – Perhaps the antithesis of our theme but a great track.
  6. Neil Young, “See The Sky About To Rain” – From On The Beach the third of the Ditch Trilogy.
  7. The Faces, “I Wish It Would Rain” – Great cover of the old Temptations track.
  8. R.E.M., “So Central Rain” – I love the album Reckoning. 
  9. Johnny Lang, “Still Raining” – I love this bluesy, rocker.
  10. John Mellencamp, “Rain On The Scarecrow” – Rocking, farm protest music, fuck yes!
  11. Jimi Hendrix, “In From the Storm” – Jimi conjures the storm with a guitar. The guy was really that good.
  12. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” – Great, political metaphor.
  13. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Naked In the Rain” – A state I’ve never been in, but I’ve had a few nightmares where I’m downtown, naked and need to get home.
  14. The Rolling Stones, “Little Rain” – Sublime blues tune.
  15. Stevie Nicks, “Outside The Rain” – From her perfect first solo album, Bella Donna. 
  16. Grateful Dead, “Box of Rain” – I always liked their country rock stuff better than that plunky, jammy stuff.
  17. The Runaways, “Thunder” – Ok, this track is about sex, but I like the Runaways and wanted to hear them.
  18. The Beatles, “Rain” – One of my favorite Lennon tunes.
  19. The Police, “Shadows In the Rain” – A tale of madness. Sting actually redid this song, and it’s one of the only redo’s that I actually like. It got a little jazzy in the end so I stuck with the original.
  20. AC/DC, “Stormy May Day” – Angus on a rare slide guitar. I hope they explore this sound more.
  21. Counting Crows, “Rain King” – I debated on this one. I run hot/cold on the Crows. But this is such a great song I added it.
  22. Billy Joel, “Storm Front” – Title track from his last, really great album.
  23. Silvertide, “Califronia Rain” – An obscure band the Rock Chick is into… Great rocking track.
  24. Randy Newman, “Rider In The Rain” – A wonderful, hysterical cowboy song with the Eagles singing back up vocals. Perhaps my favorite song on here.
  25. Bob Dylan, “The Levee’s Gonna Break” – Inspired by Katrina. Great, latter day Dylan.
  26. Eric Clapton, “Come On In My Kitchen” – The old Robert Johnson track, “come on in my kitchen, it’s gonna be rainin’ outside.”
  27. Sting, “Heavy Cloud, No Rain” – Another use of rain as a metaphor for sex, or lack there of.
  28. Lenny Kravitz, “I Love The Rain” – Great, overlooked Kravitz track.
  29. ZZ Top, “Sure Got Cold After the Rain” – ZZ laying down some great blues.
  30. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” – “…coming down, sunny days.”
  31. Jackson Browne, “You Love The Thunder” – “…and you love the rain.” So do I, if I’m being honest.
  32. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Louisiana Rain” – Deep track from Damn The Torpedoes. 
  33. Led Zeppelin, “Fool In the Rain” – Where our hero is waiting for his love on the wrong block.
  34. Prince, “Purple Rain” – One of the few, epic, long tracks that I left on here… you need a few of those for a long day of listening.
  35. The Rolling Stones, “Rain Fall Down” – From what appears to be the last LP of original stuff they’ll ever do, A Bigger Bang. 
  36. Led Zeppelin, “The Rain Song” – They wrote this song in response to George Harrison saying the only problem with Zeppelin was they didn’t have any ballads.
  37. U2, “Summer Rain” – Great B-side.
  38. Mudcrutch, “Orphan Of The Storm” – Tom Petty’s side project singing about Katrina.
  39. Jimi Hendrix, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” – Jazzy little groove from the guitar master.
  40. Bad Company, “Burnin’ Sky” – Not sure this track fits, but it has cool storm sounds at the beginning and at the end so I threw it on here.
  41. Peter Gabriel, “Red Rain” – I almost went with “Here Comes the Flood” but it was too downer.
  42. Guns N Roses, “November Rain” – The last real epic track I included. I always think of the video.
  43. Led Zeppelin, “When the Levee Breaks” – Fabulous, Chicago-style blues.
  44. Bruce Hornsby & the Range, “Mandolin Rain” – How about the Range!
  45. Fleetwood Mac, “Storms” – Trippy groovy track by Stevie.
  46. Van Morrison, “And It Stoned Me” – The opening track from Moondance. 
  47. Eurythmics, “Here Comes The Rain Again” – Written in a hotel room in New York city during a rainstorm.
  48. Triumph, “Tears In The Rain” – A little something from Canada’s second best power trio.
  49. Ozzy Osbourne, “Black Rain” – Title track from a late period B&V fav from Ozzy.
  50. John Hiatt, “Feels Like Rain” – The oft covered gem. I first heard this as I was climbing into a cab leaving the “A Taste of Chicago” festival. I could hear him singing from the cab and thought, why’d we leave?
  51. Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Texas Flood” – Title track from his epic debut album.
  52. Eric Clapton, “Let It Rain” – One of Slowhand’s best tracks.
  53. Elvis Presley, “Kentucky Rain” – The King back in Memphis reclaiming the Throne.
  54. The Doors, “Riders On the Storm” – Some trippy acid-jazz. There really is “a killer on the road.”
  55. The Cult, “Rain” – From their fabulous 2nd album, Love. 
  56. Bob Dylan, “Buckets of Rain” – The saddest track here.
  57. The James Gang, “Ashes the Rain and I” – When I think of the James Gang, I think of Joe Walsh’s guitar freak outs. This is a quiet acoustic piece I’ve always loved.
  58. Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” – A little something for those of you who hate the rain.
  59. The Who, “Love Reign O’er Me” – The epic conclusion of Quadrophenia.

There it is folks. 59 tracks and 4 and half hours. If I missed anything egregiously obvious, put the song name/artist in the comments section and I’ll add it! That should keep you entertained during the next deluge. Stay dry out there, pour something strong and enjoy!

Record Store Day 2019: Reflections On Going To The Record Store…

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Life comes at you fast and furious anymore… I knew it was Record Store Day today but I was on the road all week for, yes, the dreaded work. I went out to the websites of two of my favorite local record stores to check their store hours. On the surface, you’d think they’d have posted that they had special hours for Record Store Day, it’s their national holiday after all. But when you think about it, the folks that work and own record stores are probably a tad more… casual… about updates to their website. Had I been in town, I’d have driven by each of the places and learned that they both opened at 7am, not the usual 11am today. By the time I got to the record stores today, any hope of picking up any of the exclusive releases that were available had long since faded… I felt, frankly, embarrassed. I even drug the Rock Chick out today, for the first time in quite a while, to join me at the record store. She’s the one who’s saved the day by picking out two great posters, pictured above (which represent the sum total of my haul), about which she said, “These will look great framed.” The woman has a sophisticated eye.

Ah, going to the record store. It was such a joyful ritual for me, really my entire life. I’m glad they have Record Store Day every year, and that so many artists participate by releasing rare or previously unreleased albums, but it’s also kind of sad they have to do so. I will admit, the crowds at both Records With Merritt and Josey’s Records were higher than usual today. In the old days, those crowds would have been there anyway. I had left with high hopes of finding Dylan’s vinyl release of the recreation of his original acetate recording of Blood On The Tracks (which he quickly withdrew) or perhaps, the first ever vinyl release of Robert Plant’s Fate Of Nations, but alas, on Record Store Day, the early bird gets the worm. I hate it when work interferes with great rock n roll, and especially great vinyl.

The first few albums I received as a child were gifts. They were comedy albums by Steve Martin and Robin Williams. When I first began my music collection, I had to save my allowance and/or lawn mowing money and beg a ride to the mall with my mother in order to buy a record. As soon as she needed some make up, or a blender, or a flouncy blouse or something I’d bum a ride and she’d stroll off through the mall and I’d hit one or both of the two record stores – Musicland or Camelot Music – located in the mall. One was on the top floor, the other was on the bottom. Oak Park Mall, our local mall, was big, but I’m still a tad staggered that it could support two record stores. I’d spend as much time as I could perusing the new vinyl, looking for the records I wanted to add to my collection. It was there that I bought Some Girls by the Stones, my first purchase. I had gone into the store that day with what can only be described as a grim, focused determination to come away with that album. Other trips were more exploratory in nature. Pouring over the album covers, looking at the songs listed on the back, trying to determine if the album I was holding was worthy of parting with the 9 bucks it would take to buy it. I could usually only buy 1 or 2 albums at a time. I was never so stressed out as when I had to decide if I wanted to invest in a double album… and yes, The Wall and The River were both worth it. Eventually, my mother would appear at the store front, tapping her watch, indicating it was time to go.

When I got my drivers license I was stoked, as most of us are. I could finally drive and didn’t have to depend on others for rides. I could drive to a friend or a girls’ place without having to ask my mother. Most importantly, no one knew where I was. For me, though, there was the added blessing of being able to drive to the record store and not have to hurry because mom was waiting. By then, while I still went to the mall – I had a job as a bus boy at York Steak House, it was hard to avoid – I realized there were other, larger record stores in the suburbs where I grew up. All during high school, I’d make the long trek up Metcalf Avenue, to Peaches Records. It was a virtual cornucopia of vinyl. I was so blown away by the expansive selection. That was where I bought my first album crates, emblazoned with the Peaches logo. I wish I still had those damn things. The Rock Chick tossed them, along with everything else I owned onto the bonfire of my past, when we moved in together. I also discovered there was an independent record store, closer to home, at the intersection of 95th and Antioch – Tiger’s Records. Tiger was supposedly mobbed up and the albums were purportedly stolen, but I still shopped there. It was said you could buy bootlegs there… but those records are sealed. I do know you could buy concert tickets there. I waited out for Van Halen tickets outside Tigers… they opened at midnight and let us into the store to buy our tickets early…some of the best seats I ever had for a show. “Someone shouted “fair warning!”…”

These bigger, or more independent record stores were to me, the coolest places on the planet. There were rows and rows of albums, music blaring on their turntable, and racks full of posters. They had everything from porn stars, to black velvet Elvis to rock star posters. I think that’s where I picked up the iconic Farrah Fawcett in an orange bikini poster. There was the smell of incense and perhaps pot emanating from the folks that worked there. They were some of the most knowledgable music people you were ever going to meet. I felt like I’d joined a very exclusive club that I was not cool enough to be a part of. I’d spend hours in these places, looking for records by the bands I heard on the radio.

When I went away to college, I found a kindred spirit in my buddy/roommate Drew. He and I would drive down to the heart of Aggieville in Manhattan, Kansas where we’d spend hours perusing the selection there. It was tucked in amongst all the restaurants and bars in the entertainment area, which we also frequented, but the record store was the place we spent most of our time. For us, the record store was a communal place where we would bond over great rock and roll. I can remember all of us who lived together going down there the day that Springsteen’s Live 1975 to 1985 box set came out and we each bought a copy. Going to the album store when a big record came out was an event! It was around that time that I discovered “used” record stores. Just behind the Peaches on Metcalf, was a little place next to the Roxy Bar that sold used records. That was a revelation to me as well… you could sell albums you didn’t connect with and still buy great albums at a reduced price. It’s where I found the Faces Oo La La. Used record stores are even cooler and stonier than the retail chains were. I felt like I was getting deeper and deeper into a secret society… The place behind the Roxy, whose name I can’t find on the internet, was where my buddy Drew found the rare copy of Time Fades Away. The summer I spent in Boston, I found a place called In Your Ear, a used record store and it was there I found the rest of the Faces’ catalog. I was in heaven.

Eventually I graduated from college and went into exile, living in Arkansas. I lived in both Ft. Smith and Fayetteville. Or as I called them, Ft Hell and Fayette-nam. Each one had but 1 record store, located on their respective main drags and at times of deep depression and loneliness, of which there were many, that’s where I would go. I made a new friend, Joel, and he and I would go and hang out at the record store. He turned me onto the Allman Brothers, the Band and U2. It was during that time I finally made the transition from vinyl to CD… it was tough, but bands just stopped issuing vinyl.

Finally, I’d had enough of fucking Arkansas and I moved home. After a brief stint living with my parents – every parents’ dream for their kids – I moved to Kansas City’s midtown. They had a big record store in the heart of Westport, a bar area down there. It was all CDs, but it still had that stoney, record store vibe. The basement was full of jazz and blues discs. I remember arguing with one of the guys who worked there about Randy Rhoads and his legacy as a guitarist. It was friendly but where else are you going to get to have that debate. I signed up for their frequent flier or frequent buyer club and when I filled out the form, as my salutation, instead of “Mr.” I checked “Reverend,” which only confused some drunk neighbors of mine who thought I could marry them. It was during this time period I started taking women on dates to record stores… it was fabulous being able to share a passion for music, go home, drink wine and share some, well, passion.

Alas, eventually all these places disappeared. Peaches turned into, I think, a bowling alley. The place by the Roxy, the used record store, became a futon store. The Penny Lane spot in Westport became a bar, the Ale House, catering to snotty college kids. I began to despair that the experience of going to the album store was over. Thank god, vinyl began to make a come back. I discovered a couple of really cool used vinyl places that helped keep the fire alive. Now, all these years later, these places sell used records and new vinyl by current artists. It appears we’re coming full circle. I just hope the experience, the sheer enjoyment of going and hanging out at a record store, perusing through vinyl albums comes back on the level I enjoyed when I was growing up. I certainly encourage as many people who read this to get to your local record store to pick up some vinyl and to just hang out. Support your local record stores folks!

I doubt we ever see a day when there are two record stores at your local mall. Hell, the way things are now, with everything on-line, I doubt we see your local malls any more. We’re trying to save coal miners’ jobs, how about saving retail jobs. Anyway, with a little luck and perhaps some better planning, maybe next year and the years beyond, just maybe, I’ll get up early enough to buy a Stones album in a special, orange-colored vinyl edition…

Long live Record Stores!

 

 

 

Balancing A Band And Going Solo: The B&V Favorite Solo Albums

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I’m not sure I ever truly “belonged” to any group in high school. I had friends in different places. I was a good student so I could hang with the nerds which is frankly where I probably belonged. I was a beer drinker so I tended to hang in drinking crowds. I wasn’t a hemp enthusiast but I could hang out with the stoners because they were generally a pretty docile group and they had great music recommendations. While I liked sports I tended to shun hanging out with the jocks, they just had too much testosterone for me. I’m a lover, not a fighter. I just sort of floated around, allowing the wind to push me in whatever direction it happened to be blowing… at least from a social perspective. Although admittedly, the same argument could be made for my career choices. I’m currently at the zenith of a very mediocre career.

I say all of this, as I sit here thinking about how hard it must be to be in a band. I always thought every band was like Rush, just a bunch of dudes who share a passion for music who met when they were young and were friends for life. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ original line up all met in the same high school. The guys in U2 all went to the same school and remain close friends to this day. When I first started listening to rock and roll in the late 80s, that’s how I thought bands worked. It was like joining a gang. You were part of something bigger than yourself with a bunch of friends, nay brothers, and it was you against “them.”

It didn’t take long to realize my utopian vision of rock bands, like my utopian vision of women, was built on a lot of false assumptions. One need look no farther than my favorite band, the Rolling Stones to see a group of guys who may have started as friends, but now are just work associates. The guys in Van Halen seem to have despised each other. At least the Van Halen Brothers hated Roth and Michael Anthony which is a shame. Eddie’s legacy will be that he was an enormous asshole and not a great guitarist. The Who never got along, although I think Pete and Roger do now. To be a successful band, you need that magic…which boils down to one basic thing – chemistry. Nobody may like like the bass player because he’s weird or he doesn’t bathe, but damn he plays perfectly with the rest of us. For three to five minutes the four or five guys in the room can lock into something that is mystical and magical and create a song.

Different bands operate in different ways. I guess every band is as unique as the individuals who make it up. While it’s probably true that in the Eagles, Henley was the creative genius, but it was Glenn Frey’s band. Glenn was the guy in charge. Glenn negotiated many of the contracts, set rehearsals, and ran the day to day stuff so Henley could focus on lyrics. Some friends of mine in Denver formed a blues band and one of them had to take that same role. Surprisingly I guess it’s hard to get musicians to get organized. But when you find that magic line up, you have to stick with it. Fame and fortune await just over the next hill.

As many bands have found, the chemistry between band members, while sometimes magical, is also a very fragile thing. It was Joe Strummer who said famously (and I tend to repeat endlessly), “Never estimate the chemistry between four guys in a room.” It’s dangerous to fuck with that. And let’s face it, nothing fucks with band chemistry more than the infamous “solo project.” In the 60s and even into the 70s “going solo” typically spelled the end of a band. If the lead singer or the principal songwriter decided to go off and do something on his or her own, it would typically piss off the rest of the band and speculation would begin on whether it was over for the band. Rolling Stone would run articles about the demise of whatever band was going through it. I guess everybody was supposed to keep the creativity in the gang.

I totally understand the desire to do something different. I feel that way every day at work. It’d be fun to work with a different set of musicians to see if they can spark something creatively within the artist. Maybe you’re in a metal outfit and you want to do an album of ballads, you know, just something completely different. Deep Purple’s ex guitarist Ritchie Blackmore is out there somewhere doing madrigals for god’s sake…probably at a Renaissance Fair somewhere. But for reasons unclear, perhaps loyalty, going solo was viewed dimly in rock band circles for a long time. Musicians are artists and I tend to think of bleeding hearts and artists as being fragile.

The guy who was a pioneer in being a solo artist and a member of a band was, of course, Rod Stewart. He had already put out his first solo album when he became a member of the Faces. He’d release a solo album and a Faces album every year. That shit was unheard of back in the early 70s. Robert Plant didn’t do solo albums, he just worked on Zeppelin albums. Rod pulled it off until his solo stuff got so much more popular than the band stuff, it crumbled the Faces… something I’m still not over. In the 80s it was, dare I say, Phil Collins who mastered the solo/band thing best. He was huge solo and somehow was able to transfer that love to Genesis and they just got bigger. Of course, I feel like my friend Drew about Collins, that we were all conned in some way. I hide those records… Collins not only did his own thing and remained in Genesis, but he was also Plant’s drummer. He taught Plant how to produce his own music…he’d learned on a lot doing Face Value and Plant had a lot to learn.

Last week I wrote about Keith Richards’ first, reluctantly recorded, solo album, Talk Is Cheap and it got me thinking about solo albums. While the concept wasn’t popular in the respective bands, there have certainly been some great solo albums recorded over the years. I thought I would compile a list of our B&V favorites. Now, I’m not talking about solo careers here – like Lou Reed after the Velvet Underground or any Beatle after they broke up, those are solo, post-band careers – I’m talking about the guys who took a busman’s holiday and stepped away from the band, recorded a solo album and then returned refreshed and jazzed up to the band. I would urge everyone to check these albums out. I’ll list the artist and the band he was in when the solo album came out below.

  1. Gregg Allman, (Allman Brothers), Laid Back – Laid Back is one of those great, seemingly forgotten albums that everyone should treat reverently. When he was on his own Gregg put a little more soul in the music. He redoes “Midnight Rider” in a completely different way than the band did it and it’s amazing. His version of his friend Jackson Browne’s oft covered “These Days” is the definitive version. This is a stone-cold classic album by a guy who also recorded Brothers And Sisters with his band the same year. Ah, the 70s.
  2. Stephen Stills, (CSN and/or CSNY), Stephen Stills – There were a lot of great solo albums to come out of the CSNY collective Artist Lookback: Crosby, Stills, Or Nash – The Essential Solo and Duo Albums… (I tend to treat Neil Young as a solo artist who dabbled in being in CSNY, so you won’t see him here.) The pick of the litter is Stills’ eponymously titled first solo album. Both Hendrix and Clapton show up to play lead guitar on different songs here. It was Hendrix’s last recorded stuff. Stills, dubbed “Captain Many Hands” by Graham Nash because he could play every instrument, save perhaps the tuba, does so here. He plays everything. “Love The One You’re With” is the hit, but there’s so much to love here. From gospel inflected tracks to gut bucket blues, this is Stills’ masterpiece.
  3. Joe Walsh, (The Eagles), But Seriously, Folks… – How do you follow up a smash like Hotel California? For the rest of the Eagles it was to hole up in a Miami studio, do a bunch of coke and do endless takes of “Those Shoes.” For the most likable Eagle, Joe Walsh, he merely snuck off and recorded his best solo album. Known mostly for “Life’s Been Good” there is so much more here. “Over and Over” and “At the Station” are two of my favorite tracks by Walsh. Sure, Joe was already a solo artist when he joined the Eagles which gave him some autonomy, but I thought he was done solo when this album surprised me.
  4. Rod Stewart, (the Faces), Every Picture Tells a Story – This was actually Rod’s third of five albums he’d record solo while in the Faces. This is his masterpiece. “Maggie May” is his signature tune, of course. “Mandolin Wind” is my absolute favorite Rod song. The cover tunes are all top shelf – Elvis’ “That’s All Right” and Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is Such A Long Time” are both exceptional.
  5. Stevie Nicks, (Fleetwood Mac), Bella Donna – Fleetwood Mac’s follow up to their life-changing smash, Rumours, was the momentous, double-LP, Tusk. Lindsey had taken over and pushed them into some really experimental directions. While I love that album, its sales of 4 million copies, yes 4 million!, was seen as a let down. It wasn’t all the break-ups in the band that caused the three principal songwriters to go solo after Tusk, it was the then perceived failure of the record that made them all go solo. Stevie has an all-star band behind her – Waddy Watchel, Roy Bittan, Ben Tench, and Jimmy Iovine as producer. This is an amazing album. She returned to Fleetwood Mac with so much confidence she made them do a country tune, “That’s Alright” on their next, play-it-safe album, Mirage. 
  6. Daryl Hall, (Hall & Oates), Sacred Songs – This may be the weirdest selection ever written about on B&V. I don’t like Hall & Oates. But let’s face it, everybody loves “Sara Smile.” I turned my daughter onto this song and she sent me a video of her and her friends singing along and dancing to this song. I deleted the video before the authorities could seize my phone… but I digress. To his credit, Hall stepped away from his Philly soul, balladeer role and teamed up with King Crimson’s lead guitarist Robert Fripp, fresh off his stint with Bowie on Heroes to record an amazing, guitar-forward, rock album. None of you have heard this record but you should. “Babs and Babs” is the stand out track. The title track and “Something In 4/4 Time” are rollicking rockers. This is an unexpected, unheard treasure.
  7. Mike Ness, (Social Distortion), Cheating At Solitaire – I love the tongue-in-cheek title of this record as Ness does have a lot of help on this solo record. The first time I heard “Misery Loves Company,” a duet with Springsteen from this record, I texted the Rock Chick and said “worlds collide.” I was a Bruce fan, she turned me onto Social D. Everyone should hear that song. It’s awesome. The rest of the album is a great selection of “cowpunk,” Ness’ combination of country inflected, punk rock. I can’t resist “Dope Fiend Blues.” He covers Dylan and Johnny Cash. This is another hidden gem of a record.
  8. Keith Richards, (The Rolling Stones), Talk Is Cheap – The solo album he never wanted to do… Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks.
  9. Mick Jagger, (The Rolling Stones), Wandering Spirit – Jagger’s solo stuff is so maligned, he’d already struck out twice so by the time 1993’s, Rick Rubin produced Wandering Spirit came out, people didn’t care. They should. Rubin got Mick focused on his strengths here. He does all the great things he does in the Stones, save perhaps the blues. The title track should be played at my funeral… “I’m a wandering spirit, yes I am a restless soul, I’m a wandering spirit, there’s no place that I can call my own.” “Wired All Night” is a balls to the wall rocker. “Sweet Thing” is a disco-y track that was the first single, which may have been a mistake, but I love it. “Don’t Tear Me Up” has shades of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” There’s not a bad tune on this record. Mick is the man! (Get well soon!).
  10. Bruce Springsteen, (The E Street Band), Nebraska – Sure Petty did albums that were “solo” but Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Ben Tench played a heavy role on those albums. Here Springsteen really goes solo in every sense of that word. Nebraska is a dark, spartan record that Springsteen recorded alone. It sounds like a demo. It’s him with an acoustic guitar, by himself, in a room. It’s a masterpiece and a very hard listen. It’s been rumored for years, and recently confirmed, that there’s a full-on E Street Band version of this record that I’m hoping is coming to a box set very soon.
  11. Pete Townshend, (The Who), Empty Glass – I made the horrific mistake of buying this album on cassette. I’m a vinyl guy… but I wanted to hear “Rough Boys” in my car. It’s a great, rocking tune. “Gonna Get Ya” is an epic, 6 minute jam. “Let My Love Open The Door” is here. This is a drunk and drug-addled Townshend making sense of punk rock and his and the Who’s place in rock and roll. It’s a breath-taking listen.

There are so many more solo records that deserve praise and listening. I’m going to stop at these 11. I would urge everyone to check out any of Little Steven’s early work, where he stepped away from the E Street Band while Bruce was brooding over Nebraska. While he’s no Steve Perry, Ronnie Woods’ first couple of solo records away from the Faces and the Stones are great as well. Start with these records and explore as deeply as you can. Rock and roll is the fucking tree of life!

Dedicated to Mick Jagger and his speedy recovery!