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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PBS New Series Soundbreaking: Stories From The Cutting Edge of Recorded Music – A Must For Music Fans

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I was flipping around the channels tonight when I stumbled upon a great PBS documentary series, SoundBreaking: Stories From the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music. I always dig the PBS end of the television dial and I certainly love the work they do with documentaries. Frontline is one of my favorite shows. Throw in all that Ken Burns stuff and it’s pretty compelling television. I always feel like I’m doing my civic duty, like returning a library book on time, when I watch PBS. And let’s face it, I’ve always been fascinated by that mysterious magic that goes on in the recording studio.

Soundbreaking is a apparently an eight part series about the actual process of making, recording and producing recorded music for album and single release. At first I feared this was going to be too “musically wonky” for my tastes. I’m not, nor have I ever been a technical person. I have a number of friends who are musicians, and at least the guitar players are always getting into these deep, mysterious conversations about “pick-ups” and “open guitar tunings.” Listening to those guys and trying to follow the conversation is like trying to decipher and translate some ancient druidic runes. I will admit I enjoy the edifying conversations about amps. I mean, the amp is the key piece of equipment for a great sound on stage. (I feel like even this statement about amps will draw the wrath of my guitarist friends as I’ve likely stated something incorrectly.)

Luckily I was wrong about Soundbreaking being too technical or musician-y to follow. This is fascinating stuff. The series was put together, at least at first, by the legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin. You can tell this is a labor of love. Alas, he passed away before he could finish the series, but many of his friends and admirers came together and helped finish the series. The spotlight is on the studio and more critically some of the more famous producers throughout the history of rock n’roll. I must admit that the Rock Chick did ridicule and laugh at me as I geeked out over seeing the interviews with some of the producers. As a music nerd obsessive, I used to always read the liner notes of every album I ever purchased. I got to know who a lot of these producers were/are and began to realize what an impact certain producers can have on an album. George Martin was probably the first guy I came to recognize. Tony Visconti who worked with Bowie and later Rick Rubin, whose worked with everybody, were a couple of others whose work I always seem to enjoy.

The series starts with the “cradle of rock and roll,” Sun Studios and Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins’ (amongst others) legendary producer Sam Phillips. There is some archival interview stuff with Sam and some great, rare film of Elvis. From there they move to George Martin, Phil Spector and the Wall of Sound, and keep going all the way to hip hop producers like Rick Rubin and Dr. Dre. It was almost too much to cover in merely an hour. Like the Elvis segment they talk about the different innovations of each of the producers. You see archival and sometimes very rare films of the bands in and out of the studio. There was a shot of the Beatles performing in the Cavern Club. I love some of the photos of these bands in the studio. The show really did a nice job of giving you a chronological history of producing. All my producer heroes were mentioned or interviewed.

There is a great group of musicians who are also interviewed or whose performances are shown during the course of the documentary. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, The Beatles, Ike and Tina Turner, Ronnie Spector, and Sly and the Family Stone just to name a few. Sly Stone would eventually self-produce and play every instrument on his latter albums… he’s truly Lenny Kravitz’s spiritual father. It’s worth it just to hear the musicians talk about what can happen in the studio. Petty tells a great story about how producer/musician Jeff Lynne helped him “find” the song “Free Falling.” It was probably George Martin and Phil Spector who really turned the studio into an actual musical instrument in and of itself. So many of the things these guys did no one had done before them – multi tracking, introducing strings, so many innovations that if I list them all I’ll start to come across as wonky and God knows that’s the last thing I want.

The key thing a producer does in the studio, is draw the magic out of the artist he’s working with. Many artists are shy, or they play something as just a throw away riff and it’s up to the producer to say, “Wait a second, you’re onto something,” or “Play that again but do it slower.” This show gets right at the heart of the creative give and take between artist and producer. As a music geek I really found that interesting.

I have no idea what the remainder of the segments will delve into or how technical it’ll get. But I really liked the first one and will definitely be tuning into the next one. If you love music, and if you’re on a sight named BourbonAndVinyl, I’m gonna go out on a limb and presume you are, tune in! Enjoy.

Cheers!

The Music of Cinemax’s Quarry Led Me To Big Star’s “#1 Record”

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I never used to watch much TV. Sure I watched my hapless Kansas City Chiefs over the years… actually I guess I can’t call them hapless any more. I’d watch the Olympics or whatever sporting event happened to be on at the time. When I was in college, after a big test I usually drank a bunch of beer and stared vacantly at the screen for hours while MTV played videos. Those were the days! These days “binge watching” has become a thing. The Rock Chick loves to binge watch television shows. Her tastes run toward the murder and mayhem type shows like, “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Sons of Anarchy.” While in the beginning I was a reluctant participant in all this TV viewing, I now enjoy watching these shows with her. I’m still not over “Breaking Bad.” That was a bad ass show.

In that tradition, the Rock Chick found this new show on Cinemax, “Quarry.” As usual, there’s murder and mayhem involved. The show is set in Memphis in 1972. That grabbed me right away because it’s a time in history that I’m obsessed with. The Nixon-McGovern election of that year looms in the background like a lurking villain. We follow our anti-hero Mac Conway as he returns from Vietnam where he was involved in some sort of controversial battle involving civilians. When I was a kid all the bad guys on TV were Vietnam vets which was a complete disservice to those brave young men who served in that conflict. Because of the controversy Mac faced in Vietnam he struggles to find a job. It’s then a mysterious figure named “The Broker” appears and offers him a job as a hit man. Mac drinks a shit ton of bourbon which of course, makes this a B&V approved television show.

While all of that backstory is interesting, what drew me into “Quarry” (besides the bourbon drinking, Four Roses!) was the music. The early 70s was such a fertile time for music. Rock and roll, country, soul, blues, R&B were all so commingled. Mac, our hero, is a huge Otis Redding fan which fantastic. The sound track for this show is amazing. Since it’s set in Memphis you get a lot of blues and R&B. Mac also digs gospel so you get some Soul Stirrers among others. They’ve played everything from Harry Nilsson singing in Spanish to Waylon Jennings to Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” Whoever is DJ’ing down at the “Quarry” studios knows what he’s doing. The music is great and it always fits the scene.

While all that is great, since this is a show about a hitman, Mac is often meeting his mysterious cohorts in a bar or a club where live music is being played. Memphis is a great town for live music. Having been thrown out of the Rum Boogie Cafe back in the 80s for attempting to play an organ solo when drunk on the dance floor, I can testify to Memphis’ great musical traditions. Reaching through the crowd and pressing down on the organ keys was not greeted very nicely and I do regret that. Anyway, the bar bands that play in the background in this show are worth the price of admission alone. You add these great bands playing with the actual soundtrack and you have one great musical atmosphere. Add it all up, murder, mayhem, bourbon and music and you’ve got one kick ass show.

There is one band that gets mentioned, almost as a background undercurrent in the show, Big Star. This being Memphis in 1972, when their seminal LP “#1 Record” came out it only makes sense. Mac, the Otis Redding fan, comes home to find his wife Joni, (played by the lovely Jodi Balfour, who based on her nudes scenes, I feel is going to be a huge star) listening to Big Star. It’s not the only thing that’s changed while Mac’s been away. Joni is a journalist and her first article, which she mails to Mac while he’s in Vietnam is a write up about Big Star. In one great scene, Mac whose just polished off a bottle of Four Roses is lying in the middle of their living room, surrounded by LPs scattered around the floor (and who hasn’t been there friends?) is listening to the great tune “Don’t Lie to Me.”

I’ve always been a huge fan of rock journalism and Rolling Stone magazine in particular. Inevitably there’s some countdown of the greatest albums of all time. I’ve always sneered at some of the choices. There are always the bands Television and Big Star amongst others that no one seems to have heard. I’ve always blown those bands off, although 20 years ago I did get into the Velvet Underground and they just kick ass. Like the Velvet Underground apparently what few fans Big Star had went out and formed bands. Mike Mills from REM wrote the liner notes to the latest re-issue of “#1 Record.” When I heard “Don’t Lie To Me” I thought, wait a minute, maybe this is worth listening to.

Big Star suffered from a terrible record label and a complete lack of distribution for their records which was their death knell. They formed in Memphis in ’72 by Alex Chilton (who had been a childhood star) and Chris Bell, both singer/guitarists. They’ve been described as “power pop,” or “pop rock” but I think they rock. The Rock Chick hears a little April Wine in their music, I really don’t know how to categorize them. I have to admit, after sneering at Big Star all these years, I was wrong. “#1 Record” is simply put, amazing. These guys are hard to describe. Beatlesque might apply. When I put this LP on last night, I walked back into the living room to find the Rock Chick up on her feet, snapping her fingers and nodding her head. That doesn’t happen all the time. This stuff is catchy as hell.

“Feel” is the first song and right off the bat I’m hooked. Chiming, rocking guitars and beautiful vocal harmonies abound. If that’s power pop I’m in. “In The Street” and “Don’t Lie to Me” are great rocking tunes. The ballad “Thirteen” about young love is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard… it stirred up some bittersweet ghosts for me. “When My Baby’s Beside Me” is another terrific rocker with a great riff. These songs get under your skin and stay with you. I find myself humming or singing these songs in my head. “The India Song” is weird, trippy and funny all at the same time. “My Life Is Right” should have been a hit. I love the sound of the acoustic guitar these guys get on the quieter tunes. Really great strumming and it calls to mind Zeppelin’s “Tangerine.”

All these years later, it’s time to give Big Star a chance folks. This is great music that deserves to be heard by everybody. BourbonAndVinyl gives “#1 Record” a very enthusiastic  “Buy Now” review.

Put this one on, pour some Four Roses and thank me later. And when you’re done listening, tune into “Quarry” if only to see Jodi Balfour…

Cheers!