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!

Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Live At The El Mocambo’ – The Legendary Concert Finally Released

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I wish I could tell you how happy all of us down here at B&V are that the Stones have finally released an official version of the entire legendary 1977 show from Toronto’s El Mocambo Club (March 5, 1977). The album, creatively titled, Live At El Mocambo dropped a few Fridays ago – 45 years after the actual shows. In the interest of full disclosure I purchased this one on CD. The $149 price tag on the vinyl was too rich even for this avid, obsessed Stones’ fan. Hearing this live album I have to say, it ranks up there with Get Yer Ya-Yas Out as one of the Stones’ finest live LPs. The Stones have been around so long, different live albums tend to capture/conjure different eras in the band’s storied history. Ya-Yas captured them at their career peak with Mick Taylor still on lead guitar. I’ve always been fond of Live At the BBC: On Air  released only a few years ago, but that one really captures the early-Stones, Brian Jones era. Now we have Live At the El Mocambo to give us a taste of the mid-70s, Ronnie Wood-just-joined-the-band era. Of course this early Ronnie Wood era had already been documented on the Stones’ 1977 Love You Live, another Stones live album I love… maybe I just truly love Live Albums.

The Stones were at a cross roads in the mid-70s. After the tour for 1974’s It’s Only Rock n Roll Mick Taylor, lead guitarist extraordinaire, quit the band. Taylor played on what many consider to be the peak of the Stones’ career on albums that include Exile On Mainstreet and Sticky Fingers. When Taylor was in the band there seemed to be a strict division of guitar labor, Taylor played the solo’s and Keith was allowed to become the “Riffmeister,” strictly rhythm. By the time Taylor left the Stones it was largely believed that their classic period had ended and the Stones had become more decadent and less focused on the music. Critics lamented they were a spent creative force. It didn’t help that disco and punk were nipping at their heels. Supposedly, Jagger was fascinated with being a star and Keith was fascinated by, well, heroin. If you ask me Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock n Roll are still pretty “classic” Stones albums but I’m a pretty big fan. But for the Stones there was never any serious consideration given to quitting when Taylor split. Nothing can stop the Stones, man.

They were ready to record a post-Taylor album so they used those sessions to audition a new lead guitarist. They were probably thinking, “Hey, we need to jam with some new guys, let’s record it and try and get an album out of it. ” Many guitarists auditioned including Jeff Beck and Peter Frampton to name drop a few. Others included Steve Marriott, Rory Gallagher, Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel. Finally they decided on Ronnie Wood, who in retrospect was the perfect choice. Wood and Richards’ guitars meld together so well. There would be no more guitar division of labor, these two would practice what Keef calls “the ancient art of weaving,” where their guitars snake in and out of each other’s. Plus Ronnie was a good drinking buddy for Keith. The ensuing LP, recorded as a guitar audition, was Black And Blue. The critical reception was mixed but the album spent a whole month at number one in 1976. I love the record but when a college buddy asked me about it I just said, “It’s more for fans.” Over the years I’ve regretted that as I love the songs on that record. It’s long on grooves and jams but… what’s wrong with that? It also has two of their greatest ballads, “Fool To Cry,” and my favorite “Memory Motel.” The album includes contributions from Mandel, Perkins and Ronnie… but alas no Jeff Beck who left his audition and said, “We jammed for 2 hours and I only played three notes.” Jeff Beck, sigh.

Despite the success of Black And Blue, and the ensuing tour in support of it, critics couldn’t help but continue to decry that things “were over” for the Stones. They were still considered a spent creative force. To make matters worse Keith and his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg kept getting busted for coke and heroin possession. And of course, Keith traveled with such a large quantity of drugs – for his and Anita’s use – that he was charged with trafficking. He could have ended up doing real time. He eventually received a suspended sentence… but they were so nervous Keith and Mick took the band into a studio in Paris at the end of 1977 and recorded enough music to fill Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You. The Stones apparently – when you back them up against the wall – DELIVER. But, I’m losing the thread here…

The Stones made a great choice in Ronnie Wood. The guy’s enthusiasm for rocking out, evinced by his time in the Faces, is contagious. He brought a sense of fun and excitement back to the Stones who were suffering from a bad case of ennui. They were going to follow Black And Blue up with a live album and while they had stuff recorded from both the ’75 and ’76 tours, it was decided they needed to go to Toronto to record a show in a small club, the El Mocambo. Toronto has become the Stones’ home away from home over the years. The Stones now do little club shows at the beginning of almost every tour but in 1977 they hadn’t played a small club since their days the Marquee Club in Richmond 15 years prior. They’d been filling stadiums for almost a decade. It was Wood who lobbied for a club show. It was also Ronnie’s idea that the Stones go back and mix up the set list, playing old blues numbers and some of their shorter classic tracks. I still wonder how they talked Mick into this. It was just the band (Mick/Keith/Ronnie with Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums) with Billy Preston and Ian Stewart on keyboards and Ollie Brown on percussion. There was no horn section or back up singers (save for Keith and Ronnie). This is as straightforward as you’re going to get from the Stones at this point in their career.

Oddly, they used some of the El Mocambo stuff on the ensuing live album, Love You Live, but only 4 tracks. It was, for you vinyl cats out there, side 3 aka “The El Mocambo” side. I can’t help but think it might have been better to just release the entire El Mocambo show back then? I will admit Love You Live has a lot of great moments. They played the entire album on the Houston rock radio station the night after I saw the Stones for the first time with my buddy Brewster, who was apparently upset with the Stones’ set list that night. He said, “What album is this?” I didn’t know at the time. And he said, “At least they’re playing everything I wished they’d played tonight.” Drinking warm beer in the Astrodome parking lot in 1980 I will say, Brewster could always be incisive.

I have to say, first and foremost, Live At The El Mocambo sounds fantastic. I don’t know if its the intimate setting – it only sat 300 people but it feels like you’re there. The Stones had kept the gigs a secret. They faked a radio contest – what would you do to see the Stones? – and the winners would see April Wine live. The opening act was the Cockroaches… aka the Stones. People showed up and were surprised, the Stones were the actual headliners. Mick Jagger sounds like he’s having an absolute blast during this show. At one point he tells the small crowd that Ronnie Wood is inviting them back to his hotel room after the show… but they have to bring their own beer. The band is really tight on these performances – as if this was an escape from all the turmoil off the stage – and the tighter they play the more relaxed and fun Jagger becomes. Or maybe they’re just responding to playing in a tiny club. Keith has always said Mick could rule a stage from a stadium to a phone booth. Ronnie Wood’s lead guitar is also searing on this album. I couldn’t turn it up loud enough.

The Stones start off with a bit of a lumbering version of “Honky Tonk Woman.” It’s like they’re getting their bearings. Then they take off with “All Down The Line” one of my favorites from Exile On Mainstreet. Everything seemed to come together from there. What’s so great about this album is they not only took Ronnie’s suggestion to play older tracks and blues tunes but they play almost the entire Black And Blue album, something that you’re never gonna hear again. They played one of their earliest “Route 66” and its great but around that they play three tracks from Black And Blue. “Hand Of Fate” is a forgotten rock masterpiece as is “Crazy Mama,” but Jagger sounds IN TO IT. I love the ballad “Fool To Cry” (although I’m broken-hearted they didn’t do “Memory Motel”) but I’ve always been a sucker for ballads and sad songs… ask anybody whose dated me. I used to sing the lyric from “Fool To Cry” to this girl I used to date who lived downtown behind the old blood bank on Armour, “I gotta woman, she live in the poor part of town, I go and see her sometime, we make love so fine…” She’d always say the same thing, “This isn’t the poor part of town.”

“Mannish Boy,” and “Crackin’ Up” are two old blues covers that actually ended up on Love You Live but while I enjoyed the El Mocambo side, the songs just seem more in context here. “Dance Little Sister” and “Tumblin’ Dice” just snarl here. “Hot Stuff” from Black And Blue leads off the second disc. “Star Star” is still the most vulgar Chuck Berry-type track ever. They do a couple of blues tracks and it felt like I was back in Richmond (although I’ve never been to Richmond). “Worried Life Blues” is a track I’ve never heard the Stones do and I loved it. They did “Little Red Rooster” which also amazing… I think they took that to number 1 in England. I mean, you just don’t hear these songs at a Stones show. “It’s Only Rock N Roll” and “Rip This Joint” rock with such a ferocity you think things are going to slip the rails.

After they return to more predictable fair to end the March 5th, 1977 set with “Brown Sugar” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” they’ve tacked on three songs from the March 4th show. It may seem weird but it almost feels like an encore. If the encore was obscure songs that I would be allowed to pick. “Melody,” another great Black And Blue track and gives Billy Preston a chance to share lead with Mick. Then they play “Luxury” a reggae thing from It’s Only Rock n Roll. The final track is a very early version of “Worried About You” a song that didn’t see the light of day until Tattoo You, side 2 (and yes, I know there are Tattoo You, side 2 freaks out there…I’m one of you).

This is the sound of the Greatest Rock N Roll Band in the World discovering the joy in playing a concert again. You can hear the joy they find in the music. I do think a lot of that comes from Ronnie Wood’s almost childlike, joyful attitude. This is a treat for big Stones fans and more casual fans alike. It would be another year before the Stones emerged, defiant and triumphant with Some Girls, an album that silenced the “they’re done” talk. That album also happened to awake a rock n roll obsession in a young man living in the Kansas City suburbs…but that’s another post.

I can already tell this album is going to get a lot of airplay here at B&V this summer… Cheers!

Review: Documentary, ‘Under The Volcano’ – A Wonderful Lookback At AIR Montserrat Studios

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m in the throes of the dreaded Dry January these days. It’s very hard to self entertain during the coldest, grayest time of year, especially without booze. Let’s all admit it, January sucks. The Holidays, however you feel about them and whichever you choose to participate in, are over and it’s just a long, dark slog until Spring. Or at least until Valentine’s Day if you’re into that sort of Hallmark Holiday. But with the cold, Midwest weather there’s really no outdoor activities to help divert the winter blues. All there is to do in Kansas City these days is eat and drink… not that there’s anything wrong with that but currently I’m not doing one of those things.

This last weekend my beloved Chiefs played their game on Saturday instead of the usual Sunday football game. My friend Doug came over to watch the game with a couple of boxes full of non-alcoholic beer. While Doug isn’t joining me on the long, slow slog of Dry January he was kind enough to support me. I was surprised how good that beer was, but perhaps I just miss beer. I don’t miss the bloating beer brings on…  Anyway, when Sunday rolled around there were a ton of NFL games on to watch, all of which had playoff ramifications but I could tell the Rock Chick was not enjoying being a “football widow.” I knew I needed something on Netflix and I needed it fast. Some buddies of mine have me in that most dreaded of things, a group text. But last week on the aforementioned group text one of my friends mentioned a documentary that came out last March, Under The Volcano. He said to me specifically, “You’ve probably seen this already, but if you haven’t, you’ll dig it.” I had seen that it was on Netflix (and it was actually on Showtime this last week) but for some reason both the Rock Chick and I thought we’d already watched it. We tend to watch anything about rock n roll if it looks like it’s well done but in fact, we had not seen it. I knew this might be the thing to save my wife from the football induced boredom I was subjecting her to.

Apparently in the mid to late sixties Beatles’ producer extraordinaire George Martin formed a company, Associated Independent Recording (aka AIR). I had no idea George Martin was going to be at the heart of this story. As soon as I heard that, I sat up straight in my chair and started paying more attention. Martin started this company and opened his own state of the art studio in London, on Oxford Street. I think Martin produced Rubber Soul there. The man was genius. Growing tired of the big city and feeling the need to get musicians away from all of that and more isolated for focus, Martin discovered and fell in love with the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean. Known as the “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean,” Montserrat was this sort of unspoiled gem. Martin fell in love with the island but he especially loved the warm and wonderful people there. He bought a property there and eventually bought built a studio down there in 1979, long after the Beatles had gone their separate ways.

In today’s world of Pro Tools, digital files being sent around on email and folks recording music on their phones, it’s hard to understand how musicians and producers used to actually all get together in the same room and play music together. And, lets face it, in the late 70s and 80s, the time covered in this documentary, record companies had bigger budgets. It was a time of decadence but it was a time of great music as well. Often bands or solo guys with their backing band would retreat to the country or some remote location with a studio and live, party, write and record as a group, or some might say, like a family. And what better place to get away from the distractions of the world than in paradise. Many of the guys would bring their family and make it a holiday. They’d work a few hours on music and then off to the beach of if you’re Sting, off to windsurf.

I was aware that there was a studio on Montserrat and vaguely aware that some of my favorite albums were recorded there but had never really investigated it. Again, I had no idea that George Martin was involved. He lived there and would often pop in to check out how things were going even if he wasn’t producing the record. That’s like having Roger Federer come down to check on how your tennis game is coming along. The island of Montserrat is simply beautiful. However, the island has a “dormant” volcano that stands over the island and the proceedings here like a silent, dangerous, smokey sentinel. It’s like recording at the feet of the famous “Iron Man” of Black Sabbath. I knew AIR Montserrat studio closed in 1989 and I kept thinking… “my god, what happened, did the volcano go off?” The studio itself was like a resort. They had a pool right outside the studio – lots of rock star photos jumping into the pool – and an onsite cook and bar. Many locals who worked at the studios or who had gotten to know the rock stars are interviewed and I enjoyed hearing them as much as I did the rock stars. This documentary reminded me a lot of Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City, only with much better surroundings.

The first album produced at AIR Montserrat was by the Climax Blues Band for those of you who feel like getting in the “way back” machine. Jimmy Buffett was the second artist to record there because – hello, he’s Jimmy Buffet the island guy. So influenced by the island and it’s primary geological feature he called that record Volcano. I love that he bought out the whole bar at the studio one night. If they weren’t drinking at the bar, many of these rock stars would venture out to these little, rundown neighborhood bars nearby and hang with locals. How cool would that be? Especially for the rock stars… to be able to act like a normal person.

So many great acts did records at Montserrat. McCartney did Tug Of War and Pipes Of Peace, his first work with George Martin since the Beatles broke up and sadly only weeks after John Lennon was murdered. The Police recorded Ghosts In The Machine and Synchronicity there and Sting fell in love with the place. He recorded his first solo record there too. Artists from Gerry Rafferty to Duran Duran did albums there. They talk about the studio having its own particular sound, like the island was in the space between the notes. That laid back Caribbean vibe soaked into the music like rum into a pineapple. I knew without checking the internet, for example, that Eric Clapton must have recorded Behind The Sun there. Keith Richards brought the X-Pensive Winos down there to record Talk Is Cheap and vowed he’d get the Stones back together and bring them down. As it turns out, the Stones did reunite and recorded Steel Wheels there. Again, so many great albums were done down there.

Alas, the Stones were the last group to record there. Spoiler alert – it wasn’t the volcano that destroyed AIR Montserrat, that honor went to Hurricane Hugo. The destruction caused by that hurricane brought to an end a really wonderful point in time in the annals of recorded music. The property now is “returning to the jungle.”

I was really entertained by this documentary. If you’re into music and how it’s recorded… nay, how it used to be recorded this documentary is for you. It’s really cool seeing all these guys like Dire Straits down there doing their most famous albums. You even learn the truth about how Sting ended up singing on “Money For Nothing,” a story I won’t spoil here. Check it out… it’s January, you’ve nothing else to do, especially if you’re going dry like me!

Cheers!

Devastating News, RIP Charlie Watts, One of The Greatest Drummers Of All Time

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“I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back seat, ‘Cause they’re bangin’ like Charlie Watts” – John Hiatt, “Slow Turning”

I just got the sad, devastating news that Charlie Watts, the legendary drummer of the Rolling Stones passed away at 80 years old, surrounded by family in London.

I was worried something was seriously wrong. For the first time in Stones’ history, it was announced that Watts was going to miss the upcoming North American tour, coming in the fall. He’d had to have surgery on “something they found” in a pre-tour physical. I had hoped he’d bounce back. The band and Charlie’s family have been very tight lipped on what his condition was, so it was easy to be optimistic that it was something minor… But it kept nagging at me… he was 80. I was hoping for the best but worrying about the worst case scenario, just like Grandma taught me.

In a band known for it’s excesses back in the 70s and 80s, Watts was the epitome of class and restraint. Even his drumming could be described as controlled. He was heavily influenced by jazz and indeed I think it was his first love. Besides the Stones he’d occasionally tour as the Charlie Watts Quintet playing the jazz msuic he loved.

As I’ve often said, the Stones were the first band I ever loved. They are my absolute favorite. And Charlie Watts’ amazing drumming is a big part of that. He was never flashy like Neil Peart. His drumming was never overbearing and dominant like Keith Moon or John Bonham. He played his drums in whatever way that best suited the song. Keith used to refer to Charlie as the “engine” of the Stones. I am just gutted by this news.

My favorite Charlie Watts’ story dates from the 80s. The Stones were somewhere in the Caribbean recording an album. Mick Jagger had been out drinking and decided he wanted to do some recording. He was drunkenly stumbling around the lobby of the hotel they were staying in, shouting “I need my drummer. Somebody get my drummer down here.” Eventually he got on the house phone and called Charlie’s room and said the same thing, “I need my drummer, I want to record something, get down here.” Charlie, ever the classy dude, rose from bed and put on his suit, enraged to have been awakened in the middle of the night. He put on his suit and shirt. He went to the elevator and calmly rode down to the lobby. I always imagine it like that scene in The Blues Brothers…chaos in the lobby, calm in the elevator car, maybe some Muzak playing. He sprang out of the elevator grabbed Mick by the collar and punched him with a round-house right. “I’m not your drummer, you’re my fucking singer.” He then returned to his room, leaving Jagger laid out on the floor. Only Charlie could get away with something like that. I’m guessing nobody woke Charlie up at 3 am again.

I took my daughter to see the Stones on the ‘Zipcode’ tour a few years back. It was really important to me that she see the Stones. She texted me this afternoon and said, “Did you see the news about Charlie Watts? So sad.” Indeed it is… I’m so glad we bought those tickets. The fact that my daughter knew who Charlie Watts was and got to see him is proof that no matter what… I’m a great parent.

This devastating news leaves only Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the original members in the band. Of course Bill Wyman is still out there in retirement. Mick Taylor is still around and appeared at some of their 50th anniversary shows. They recruited Steve Jordan who has worked with Keith in the Xpensive Winos to play on this tour. Ronnie Wood has reported he just recovered from cancer which scares me.  What this means for the future of the Stones is hard to know. As long as Keith and Mick are around they’ll probably be another tour on the calendar. But in my mind they’ve really lost something with Charlie’s passing. He was the foundation. I’m concerned about what this means for the oft delayed new studio stuff they were working on.

Most of all I’m just bummed out that a legend on drums has left us. The world is a less rhythmic place today. I know I’ll be listening to a whole lot of Stones tonight.

Cheers. It’s a long dark ride. Take care of yourselves out there. Live every day like it’s your last.

Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set

“Can you hear the music? Can you feel the magic hangin’ in the air?” – The Rolling Stones, “Can You Hear The Music?”

It seems like only yesterday that I cajoled a friend of mine with some connections into helping me get tickets to the see the Rolling Stones’ 50th Anniversary concert at Newark’s Prudential Center in December of 2012. Springsteen jumped on stage to perform “Tumbling Dice” with the band. The Black Keys and Gary Clark, Jr each did a blues number with them. Lady Gaga even impressed me on “Gimme Shelter.” It was a truly exceptional evening. I just realized we’re creeping up on their 60th anniversary in 2022… Hopefully we’ll get an album of new stuff before then. They released a great new single during this global pandemic, New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”, to tide us over but it only whetted my appetite for more.

When you have a career that spans six decades it gets hard for rock historians or music critics to get their arms around it. Inevitably they tend to break up the Stones career into three phases based on who was playing lead guitar. There’s the early, blues-cover centric era with Brian Jones on lead. There’s what is considered their “golden” or “classic” period when they did most of their biggest and best music with Mick Taylor (formerly of John Mayall & the Blues Brothers, Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967). And finally there’s the current period with their longest tenured lead guitar player, Ronnie Wood. I love the Ronnie Wood-era of the Stones – and I’m in the minority here – but that’s who was playing for them when I first got into rock n roll. Some Girls was my gateway drug into rock and roll. I love the way Ronnie and Keith practice what Richards calls “the ancient art of basket weaving,” by intertwining the two guitars.

If we buy into this categorization, the rock intelligentsia has also made a point that the Mick Taylor era is the ultimate era of the Stones. And true, the  Stones penultimate period began as Brian Jones was drinking and drugging his way out of the band. Starting with Beggars Banquet (Jones on lead when he showed up…brilliant slide on “No Expectations) and stretching through Let It Bleed (when Taylor joined), Sticky Fingers and their magnum opus Exile On Main St, the Stones were indeed the most brilliant rock band in the world. With Taylor taking over all the exceptional lead guitar during his tenure he allowed Keith to become, again in his words, a “riff-meister.” When rock critics talk about the Stones’ golden period they actually mean these four albums.

While all these guys laud the Taylor-era of the Stones, they are all also of a mind that the Stones creativity failed them after Exile On Main St. In truth, Mick Taylor stuck around after the arduous process of recording that classic double album for two more records, Goats Head Soup (73) and It’s Only Rock N Roll (74). The common claim is that these albums, despite the presence of the guitar-wizard Mick Taylor, signal the moment when the Stones stopped being true rock artists and became arena-filling, sell-out rock stars. Mick became a jet-setter and Keith a full blown addict. We tend to build up our heroes only to tear them down on this planet. I will admit, I always thought – before the internet – that It’s Only Rock N Roll came out after Exile and before Goats Head because I always felt It’s Only was the stronger album. The more I listen to Goats Head today I’m not sure what I was thinking.

Despite all the critical haters, when Goats Head Soup came out in 1973 it hit number 1 in the U.S. The lead single, “Angie” also hit number one. It was produced by Jimmy Miller who had done all of their albums from the “classic” period. The album sold well. The Stones were continuing their “tax exile” status and were living outside the U.K. at the time. Keith Richards drug problems were increasing and there weren’t many countries where they could record so they ended up recording a lot the album in Kingston, Jamaica. It was the only place they could get in if you believe Keith. Marshall Chess who was leading Rolling Stones Records (the group’s own record label) was stunned to find out the band hadn’t played together in six months. He rented out a studio in Kingston for months at a time so the band could just jam. He said after only a few minutes they locked into that “Stones synergy” as if they’d been playing together every day.

I think the reason for the collective critical “meh” – Lester Bangs famously hated Goats Head Soup like it was a personal betrayal – was that anything the Stones did after Exile was bound to be a letdown. The sessions for Exile had drug on forever. Keith was ensconced at Nellcotte in the south of France and while Mick had as much input it was clearly Keith in control of that record. For the follow-up Mick wasn’t interested in doing that again. On Keith’s part, with his heroin problem worsening, he wasn’t capable of a leadership role with the band. Mick took over. He wanted to explore some different avenues with the band so we have a lot more ballads on Goats. Critics always laud Blood On the Tracks from Dylan as a requiem for the Sixties. It was actually an album about the end of a marriage. They like to describe The Last Waltz as the drunken (or coke-fueled if you’re Neil Young), Irish wake for the Sixties. To my ears, Goats Head Soup sounds much more like a requiem for the hippy idealism of the Sixties. It’s the come down record… like the day after the party. “Comin’ down again, where are all my friends?” as Keith sings.

There are great rockers on this album – “Dancing With Mr. D” about dancing with the Devil which may be slightly silly but it’s still a great track, “Silver Train” covered so nicely by Johnny Winter, and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo, Heartbreaker,” a track everybody  loves. “The police in New York City, they chased a boy right through the park, and in a case of mistaken identity, they put a bullet in his heart,” sounds like something that could have been written for today’s long, hot summer. “Star Star” (aka “Starfucker”) is a wonderfully vulgar Chuck Berry-style track. But for me, it’s the ballads on this record that shine. Keith’s vocal turn on “Coming Down Again” is one of my favorites. “Winter” is spectacular and ended up on my Stones deep tracks playlist (Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks). “Angie” was the monster hit.

For me Goats Head Soup and that time is the iconic era of the Stones. They were the personification of and the album is about decadence and decay –  perfect for the 70s. This album is the Keith Richards, long-hair, shirt off, teeth rotting-out best. I wanna take my shirt off, grow my hair long and dance around playing air-guitar with a broom for a lot of this material. When rock bands imitate the Stones it’s this era they’re looking at. Mick may have steered them in a more down beat direction, but damn it worked. And his partner was holed up with Anita Pallenberg doing smack.

Last weekend, the Stones released a “Deluxe” version of Goats Head Soup. I wasn’t going to buy it but the Rock Chick said, “You know you want it, get it.” It’s nice to be married to a woman who encourages your decadent tendencies. The question is – is it worth it? For me it was but it has a hefty price tag. I like the hard-bound book that came with it. The concert posters in the box will be framed and hung in the B&V lab. For the first time ever on B&V, my recommendation for everyone who isn’t a Stones’ addict, is to eschew the physical box – either vinyl or CD – and definitely go the download route. The box is $150 and in these dark times that’s a lot to ask. Especially with boxes from Petty, Prince, U2 and Lou Reed coming.

From a bonus material perspective, you’re probably thinking, $150 for 3 new tracks? True there are only 3 new, unreleased tracks, but they’re all fantastic tracks. “Criss Cross” was reviewed here a few weeks ago, The Rolling Stones New Single From The ‘Goats Head Soup’ Sessions – “Criss Cross”. “Scarlett” is another groove track that obviously grew out of a jam and features Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. I’d have loved to been a fly on the wall for those sessions. The final unreleased track, “All The Rage” has a great riff and is just classic Stones. The rest is probably for completists, but I love the piano/vocals demo of “100 Years Ago,” its more haunting that way. I like the alternative version of “Hide Your Love,” Mick Taylor’s lead is more prevalent. There’s a couple of instrumentals that are a fascinating glimpse into the creative process but the three tracks labeled “Glyn Johns 1973 Mix” add nothing to the party.

The real reason to buy the box (download), is the widely bootlegged live album The Brussels Affair. Because of Keith’s drug issues/arrests stemming from his days at Nellcote (Anita Pallenberg and Bobby Keys the Stones’ sax player had similar issues), the Stones had to play in Belgium instead of France. While many people have this album in bootleg form, I know many people don’t. And if you don’t, it is their best live album – better than Get Your Ya Ya’s Out. I played the boot for my friend Stormin’ once and he declared the version of “Gimme Shelter” as the definitive. I think the Stones released this as a download-only in their “Live Archive” series, but I’m not sure if it’s still available. For me, it’s worth the price of the download for this live LP only. The entire package is like $25 on Apple… Lots to love here at that price.

As summer winds down and beloved football begins, please be safe out there. Wear a mask, stay six feet away from each other and crank up this album… Me, I’m still out here on the edge, “down in the graveyard where we have our tryst, the air smells sweet, the air smells sick…”

Cheers!