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!

B&V’s Favorite ‘Live At the BBC’ LPs – Classic Bands, Classic Performances

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I think I’m like most working-stiffs. I put in my 10-hour work day for the benefit of my corporate masters then stagger out of my home office to dinner followed by the inevitable collapse on the couch in front of the television. My ten year old self would be amazed at the plethora of viewing options I have now. When I was a kid we had three channels – ABC, NBC, and CBS. I grew up middle-class but my dad was one of those, “close the door we’re not trying to air condition the entire outside” kinda guys. The thought of spending extra money for “basic cable” was outside my dad’s wheelhouse. I was in my teens before I ever saw HBO at a friend’s house on a sleepover. We watched Linda Carter, the first Wonder Woman, in a movie where she appeared topless which changed my life… It was like discovering the formula for nuclear fusion. Now, perhaps as a direct result of seeing that Linda Carter movie, I have all the movie channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime and god knows what else. I am continually amazed that with all these options I still can’t find shit to watch on TV. I am continually bored, which I’m told is a sign of a weak mind.

Radio was a different story, it was free. We had all kinds of selections to choose from on the radio. There was AM radio, which was a favorite of my father. It featured a lot talk radio programs. My dad is huge sports buff so whenever we were in the car he’d crank it all the way up to hear people talk about the Royals. I don’t remember people discussing the Chiefs much when I was kid… they kind of sucked. Then there was the FM side of the dial, “FM, no static at all” as Steely Dan used to sing. The first radio station I can remember was Q104. They played pop music. When we were real little kids my brother would have my mom tune into Q104 whenever we were in her car and it was his turn to pick the station. We never really listened to the radio in the house, we weren’t a musical family, sadly. My mother liked KUDL, aka “Cuddle,” the shitty mellow pop station. Yacht Rock would have been considered thrash-metal on “Cuddle.” Before my rock n roll “awakening” the only time I turned on the radio was when I was listening to a Royals’ baseball game in bed at night. After discovering the Rolling Stones and rock n roll my station was KY102. I had to have the radio on for all waking moments except when doing homework… I had to focus.

Despite my family’s rather narrow radio focus, there were a lot of choices. There were the weird Public stations and weirder still college stations at the smaller end of the dial. Any radio station broadcasting under the number 90 was weird in our eyes. There was a classical station. There was an oldies station. I’m gonna guess that there was a country music station but who really cares? I grew up assuming that everybody had this wild, varied selection on their radios… well, not in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. When I lived there they didn’t have a decent radio station by anybody’s standards. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started reading about Britain, the BBC (The British Broadcasting Company) and pirate radio stations when I realized the airways were ruled differently in far away places.

I know the BBC does TV also, I get that channel here at the house (thank you Linda Carter). But for purposes of a rock and roll blog, I’m only thinking about radio here. I think, and can’t verify this, but the BBC was the only radio station in Britain up until the late 60s when the Pirate Radio movement happened. Pirate Radio were a bunch of outlaws who set up radio broadcasting equipment on ships off the shore of Britain who broadcasted all kinds of stuff that the BBC wasn’t broadcasting. I think in the late 60s other radio stations emerged over there which seems late in the game but my research on this is inconclusive…

Even so, I think the BBC was quite a big deal for popular music in the UK. I’ve read all about artists who talk about being on the Beeb. They would appear on Top of the Pops or on a program with legendary DJ John Peel. Even a rock and roll obsessive from Kansas knows about John Peel… he was friends with a lot of the rock and roll bands I worshipped. Not only was getting your records played on the BBC a big deal, often bands would go into the BBC studios in London and play live. Either live in studio or sometimes they’d play live in a theater to a small crowd and the BBC would broadcast the performance like a British “King Biscuit Flower Hour,” complete with rather posh-sounding accents from the DJs. Broadcasting a live performance to a largely “captive” audience had to be a huge boost to the band’s career. I mean “captive” in the sense that there was no where else to hear this stuff.

It’s my understanding in bootleg circles these BBC performances were somewhat widely circulated. These radio broadcasts would be the perfect fodder for a bootleg recording. Finally record companies realized they had a treasure trove of unreleased music from these BBC recordings and started releasing the performances. I don’t know what the hold up was on this, it seems like a really good idea that was way overdue. Maybe the BBC wasn’t cool with it or the artists were concerned about sound quality. I am a huge fan of live music and live albums (BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums). And there are a few of these BBC releases that I just love, much like my ardor for the old MTV Unplugged series, B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs. I feel like these following six “BBC” albums are essential to each artist’s catalog. The sound quality on these are very bootleg-like, in spots it can be a little rough. But if you can handle that, there are some revelatory performances to be found here… amidst some, as I said before, rather posh British accents which are really cool. As you would expect, my favorites are generally the greatest bands of all time. There were plenty of recordings to select from. Honorable mention goes to the Faces (who put all their BBC stuff on the superb box set Five Guys Walk Into A Bar), Cream and the Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac. The latter are 2 great recordings, just really hard to find. Queen and Free released most of their BBC stuff as “bonus material” on later remasters of their LPs and deserve mention here as well.

  1. The Beatles, Live At the BBC – The Beatles are, arguably, the biggest band of all time. It’s hard to estimate how big they were and remain today. In the latter half of their career, they holed up in the studio. They stopped touring all together. They made some of the most imaginative, creative music in all of rock, truly elevating this “pop” music to the level of art. On Live At the BBC, we go back to the days when they were “Fab.” This is the sound of a working band. They play their asses off. There are so many covers songs that they never got around to recording that everyone needs to hear. I even love their banter with the DJs, its all very Beatlesque. This album, along with Live At the Hollywood Bowl (LP Review: The Beatles, “Live At The Hollywood Bowl”), puts a little meat on the bones of the legend.
  2. Led Zeppelin, BBC Sessions – During their lifetime as a band, I’m not sure that Zeppelin ever captured an “essential,” must-have live LP. The Song Remains The Same was certainly a snap-shot of a point in time. I think BBC Sessions might be that essential live LP. It covers their career through the first four albums. They expand “Whole Lotta Love” to over 13 minutes. The power of this music is unmistakable. They also have a few unreleased, rare tracks – “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” and “Something Else.” The sound quality is pretty great throughout as well. .
  3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, BBC Sessions – I know there’s a ton of live Hendrix out there but this is yet another essential album for Hendrix fans. The opening track on this collection, “Foxey Lady” explodes from the speakers. The Experience is so tight on this thing and yet so powerful. Hendrix does some great covers, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” (Dylan), “Day Tripper” (Beatles) and “Sunshine Of Your Love” (Cream) proving Hendrix could do anything. No matter how psychedelic his music became he was firmly rooted in the blues and he plays a ton of it on this album.
  4. David Bowie, Bowie At the Beeb – This one may be my favorite… We trace Bowie from his early, early career (pre- The Man Who Sold The World) to the superstardom of Ziggy Stardust. There are some rarities that I’d never heard – “Cygnet Committee,” “Karma Man,” and “God Knows I’m Lucky” – to name a few… although I’m not the deepest expert on anything Bowie put out before The Man Who Sold… I love the version of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For the Man” here. There isn’t a ton of great live Bowie out there so this is a great addition to anybody’s collection.
  5. The Who, BBC Sessions – The Who muscling through hits (“My Generation,” “Substitute”), cover songs (“Good Lovin’,” “Just You And Me Darling”) and rarities (“Leaving Here,” “See My Way”). The Who started by playing a lot of R&B stuff and you really hear the influences on this album. I love that like the Beatles it chronicles that early period of the Who’s career. They end with a great version of “Long Live Rock.”
  6. The Rolling Stones, On Air – A BBC Recording – Like the Beatles and the Who on this list, the Stones entry focuses on the early part of their career. This disc chronicles the blues-heavy, Brian Jones’ days of the band. I will say, disc 2 seems a bit short at only 35 minutes (and the sound quality gets rougher on disc 2 as well). I love it when the Stones play the blues. They also do a lot of great Chuck Berry covers. I dig the version of “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” found here.

I know there are some Siouxsie and the Banshees fans out there who clapback at me on my list… Her BBC album is three discs long. Thin Lizzy has a great box of BBC performances but it’s like 5 discs long… I stuck with my favorites here. If I’ve missed one that you love, let me know in the comments.

Be safe!

 

 

 

The Rolling Stones New Single From The ‘Goats Head Soup’ Sessions – “Criss Cross”

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“I think I need a blood transfusion…” – The Rolling Stones, “Criss Cross”

I knew coming into the lockdown that only rock and roll was going to keep me sane. However, if you’d told me it was going to be the Rolling Stones (who haven’t released a new album of original material in 15 years) who would be releasing tunes that would save me, I wouldn’t have believed you. Admittedly, Dylan and Neil Young have both helped with some new music (Review: Bob Dylan, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ – The Spell-Binding 1st LP of All Originals In Eight Years) and a vault release (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years) respectively. But it was the Stones who released the very pandemic-centric brand new track “Living In A Ghost Town” that just blew me away the most, New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”.

Last Thursday, while I was focused on and listening to Dirty Honey’s great, new, rocking EP, creatively titled Dirty Honey (Review: New Band – Dirty Honey’s EP, ‘Dirty Honey’ – Sweet, Filthy Rock N Roll), the Stones released a “new” song from the vaults, “Criss Cross.” “Criss Cross” was an outtake from the sessions for 1973’s Goats Head Soup. An outtake is basically a “leftover” track, one that was recorded for an album but for whatever reason didn’t make the final track list. “Criss Cross” has finally seen the “light of day” and gotten a proper release in advance of the Goats Head Soup deluxe edition that will becoming out in early September.

“Criss Cross” has apparently been widely bootlegged over the years. It was known as “Criss Cross Man” and in one spot I saw it described as “Criss Cross Mind.” I realize bootlegs are a bit taboo. I have admitted my past crimes in this area, and yes, I have some bootleg recordings. Most of my bootleg stuff was live recordings most notably by Springsteen. But I had some cassettes (God, remember cassettes?) of live stuff from Van Halen and a rough recording of the Stones’ concert in Hyde Park after Brian Jones died… Mick reading Shelley and releasing white butterflies. The 60s folks… I can’t make this stuff up, but I digress. Anyway, for years I’ve read about all these folks who had bootleg recordings of studio stuff. Either early versions of songs or outtakes and leftover tracks. I’ve never once held in my hand any studio bootlegs. I guess I really was a novice bootleg collector having never even seen a studio boot.

I love that all these great artists are clearing out their vaults. Dylan has his superb “Bootleg Series” (Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide). Neil Young has curated his entire history on his website, neilyoungarchives.com. Springsteen has released some of his vault stuff on Tracks and yes, all those old live Springsteen bootlegs I had… they’ve been released though his “First Friday” concert series. I have rectified my old outlaw ways and purchased many of them… well, around 10 of them… I may have a problem. At least I can sit up at 2 a.m. and debate the nuances of different performances of “Prove It All Night” over a glass of dark and murky spirits. I’m thrilled that slowly but surely the Stones – truly my all time favorite band – have started sharing some of their unreleased material as well. The Stones are like Neil Young in that they often return to their unreleased material, punch it up a little bit and release it years later as “new.”

I’d been reading about the rumors of the Goats Head Soup deluxe release for quite some time but I couldn’t find anything concrete on the inter-web. Then this week on the “social media” I started seeing clips from a video that seemed to indicate a new release was coming. I thought for a minute it might be their long awaited new studio album. While I’m bummed that we’ll have to keep waiting on that, I was thrilled to see this long rumored deluxe edition of Goats Head Soup is finally coming. I first heard “Criss Cross” on Thursday when I watched the video on YouTube… Mick must have directed this video… no band members are in it. It follows a fetching young lady who lives as we all should – mostly naked or topless. Here it is…

I played “Criss Cross” for the Rock Chick and she looked up at me and said, “This is a great song… why didn’t they release it for 50 years?” It’s a good question. Predictably, I love this song. It harkens back to the Stones’ sleazy rock of the early 70s, which is one of my favorite Stones’ eras. Mick certainly sounds like he’s having a really good time on this track. It starts off with some funky, way-wah guitar and keyboards by probably Billy Preston. I know Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart also played keyboards on the sessions but I think they play predominantly piano. The track rides a riff that reminds me of “Happy” or “All Down the Line.” You could have blind-folded me and I could have guessed it was from the Goats Head Soup – It’s Only Rock N Roll era.

I love when Mick sings, “Here comes a woman, givin’ me a criss cross mind…” The woman in question must be dangerous as Mick continues to sing “Save me” throughout the song. “Mama walkin’ around in the rain, she want you every night, an’ think I need a blood transfusion.” I think we’ve all been there… Goats Head Soup was recorded in Jamaica where the Stones set up for a number of weeks in a studio to write and record tracks. Most of the songs came out of jams and this track certainly sounds like it evolved out of a jam. It has that loose, sloppy feel that a lot of Stones tracks had back then. It’s more about feel than technique. The last part of the song devolves into the guys riding the riff to the finish line with Mick improvising over them. Surprisingly there is no guitar solo…odd when you’ve got Mick Taylor in the band but it still all works.

This is a great addition to the Stones’ catalog and just a great song by the greatest rock n’ roll band in the world. The deluxe box set of Goats Head Soup has a pretty hefty price tag and I wasn’t going to buy it. It was the Rock Chick who said, “What do you mean, you’re not going to buy it? You have everything else, you have to buy it. I’ll buy it for you if you don’t… with your money.” Marriage is all about teamwork folks… when I stumble the Rock Chick picks me up. So, yes, I have the box on order. While pricey it has the first official release of the concert known in bootleg circles as The Brussels Affair. I actually have that boot, but I’m somehow two songs short of the full recording. There are only two other completed outtakes – one track “Scarlet” has Jimmy Page playing on it so I’m pretty excited about that. Only three new tracks and a heavily bootlegged concert comes with a pretty steep price tag… but don’t worry your intrepid blogger at the urging of the Rock Chick will take one for the team and buy the thing, dissect it and report back to you, our faithful readers.

Stay safe out there… and during this crazy time you might want to avoid being “cheek to cheek, oh yeah, tongue to tongue” with anybody you don’t already know…

Cheers!

 

New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”

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“If I want a party, it’s a party of one” – The Rolling Stones, “Living In A Ghost Town”

I’ve been under the weather this week. Thankfully it’s not anything COVID related (knock on wood). This is a malady I’ve encountered before. I realized it was happening and quickly got the right meds and am thankfully, on the mend. It is scary to be ill during a pandemic. I managed to talk my doctor into a script without any visits to his office or any hospital, ground zero for COVID. Basically I slept for 48 hours. I’m feeling a little like Rip Van Winkle today… I slept so long the Stones actually released a fabulous new song. If my being unconscious is the price we have to pay for a new Stones tune, I’m certainly willing to take one for the team.

I’ve been waiting and hoping for new Stones’ tunes (dare I pray for an album?) since before I started B&V. I’ve freely admitted in these pages that the Stones are my Alpha and Omega when it comes to rock and roll. I can’t believe it’s been since 2005 that their phenomenal late period album A Bigger Bang came out. That album should have got a lot more airplay than it did. They haven’t put out anything new since, except the two bonus tracks on their greatest hits package GRRR! in 2012, “Gloom and Doom,” and “One More Shot.” I think we can all agree, 15 years is too long to have only put out two tracks even though they are great songs. Sure, we lauded their blues album, Blue And Lonesome, but that brilliant LP was all covers (LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). At last, the Stones have put out a new original song, “Living In a Ghost Town,” and it is amazing. Blues-rock in a time of cholera…

People can say what they want about artists, but as I’ve seen in recent pandemic memes, what would you be doing now without movies, television, books and music? Art is indeed important. To paraphrase the famous 80s Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street,” “Art, for lack of a better word, is good.” I think our current circumstances have highlighted to all of us how important Art is (and yes, I’m capitalizing the word) in dark times. Picasso’s most famous painting ‘Guernica’ was done in the midst of the Spanish Civil war and is perhaps the greatest indictment of war ever put to canvas.

During America’s horrible nightmare on 9/11, it was Bruce Springsteen who first emerged with his brilliant album The Rising in response to the tragedy. It was a great source of solace for a lot of us. I still can’t hear the title track without a tear in my eye. I saw Springsteen the other night on the ‘Jersey4Jersey’ charity broadcast to raise money for the pandemic… great acoustic versions of “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl” with his wife Patti Scialfa on harmony vocals. During this current pandemic, it was Bob Dylan who first emerged with his 17-minute epic, “Murder Most Foul,” a brilliant allegory about America’s lost hope and loss of direction as a result of the JFK assassination (Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul”). It appears our older artists are the ones leading the way these days…

I awoke from an awful fever dream yesterday…sweating and confused, like you do when you’re ill. I peaked on social media to see what if anything had changed in my absence due to unconsciousness. Amongst the usual daily futility around the pandemic, I saw what I thought was a hallucination… “The Rolling Stones Release New Song.” I sprang to my feet and after some momentary dizziness, staggered to my computer and immediately downloaded “Living In A Ghost Town.”

On Instagram, Jagger, Richards and Wood all released videos talking about the new song. Charlie Watts is indeed, too cool for social media. Ronnie’s video was the usual, “Hey, check out our new song.” Keith seemed to indicate this track was recorded a year ago in Los Angeles. The basic track may have been, but the lyrics seem to indicate that Mick has tinkered with this more recently. With references to the “lockdown,” this is obviously fresh off the press. The Stones have been working on a new album for what seems like forever and this track was obviously in the mix there. Keith recently said the work they were doing on the new album was “basically like carpentry.” I love when Keith says, “Mick and I decided this one really needed to go to work right now.” Indeed, Keef, indeed.

I don’t typically read other reviews before I write my own, but I saw the Guardian describe this as a reggae tune… I don’t hear that. The bass line is insistent and perhaps a bit funky. It reminds me of the bass line on “Has Anybody Seen My Baby.” It’s a haunting, mid tempo number… Jagger starts off singing, “I’m a ghost, living in a ghost town.” He evokes a once vibrant world where music was everywhere and people were out enjoying themselves, “Once this place was humming, And the air was full of drumming, The sound of cymbals crashing, Glasses were all smashing, Trumpets were all screaming, Saxophones were blaring, Nobody was caring if it’s day or night.” But now all is quiet…”living in a ghost town.”

The sound of this track is vintage Stones. Jagger’s vocal is fantastic. He melds frustration and longing together seamlessly. Keith and Ronnie’s guitars circle each other, weaving together like smoke rising from a fire. There’s even a harmonica solo. I love it when Mick plays harmonica… he’s one of the best on the planet and it seems only Keith Richards realizes it. Charlie’s drums are the heartbeat of the track. I don’t know whose playing bass – whether its Darryl Jones, Keith or Ronnie but whoever is playing is killing it. There’s a great gang backing vocal that pulls the whole thing together. At one point the music falls to hush and only Jagger’s voice carries the tune forward… I got fucking goose bumps.

“Living In A Ghost Town” is what I hope to be the first track from a new stellar Stones album. I think we could all use a kick ass Stones album to get us through this dark time. While I wish this tune arrived under better circumstances, it gives me hope and it makes me grateful for whatever music we can get from these guys. It’s a big fucking deal when the Stones put out new music… and this song is a big fucking deal.

Cheers! Stay safe and healthy out there! I look forward to a time when I want a party and it’s a party of all my friends and loved ones.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s

Punk.jpg*Image from the internet and probably copyrighted

I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about that whole Grunge era in the 90s lately. I think the whole Grunge thing was the last musical movement that I actually got caught up in. On my first date with the Rock Chick, back in my swashbuckling bachelor days, we actually talked about music and she said, “I hate that Kurt Cobain destroyed everything that came before him.” That was sadly a very true statement. When Cobain came along – and lets face it, it wasn’t just him, there was an army of bands who came with him & Nirvana, like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, the Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden (to name a few of my favorites) – he laid waste to everything that came prior.

The Rock Chick went on to say that day, “I liked some of those hard rock, hair-metal bands like Motley Crue, Van Halen and Cinderella. You just don’t hear that kind of music any more.” Talk about love at first conversation. This was our first date! My heart throbbed, but enough of that mushy stuff. It wasn’t only those “hair bands” who bit the dust in the wake of Grunge, everybody went down. Billy Joel crawled off to write symphonies. Bruce Springsteen decided he was John Steinbeck with a guitar. Grunge shook rock and roll to its foundation. Grunge was rock and roll stripped of its artifice, more primal and visceral in nature. Gone were drum machines and synths… enter guitar, drums and a whole lot of angst. No hair spray or frankly, bathing needed.  The Rock Chick, ever adaptable, did morph into a huge “alternative” rock fan, the offspring of Grunge if you will. One door closes, another opens as the saying goes.

Of course, this isn’t the first musical wave to rise up and challenge the established order. Punk rock, which one could describe as the pierced, demented grandfather of Grunge, was just as primal and visceral, if not way more so. Both punk and Grunge, to my uneducated ears at least, seem to strip away layers of polish that had accumulated on rock and roll and get it back to that four or five guys (or gals) in a garage bashing out tunes kinda vibe. Punk, rather than express the angst of Grunge, had more of a social protest angle to it. Punk bands, especially out of England were protesting the economic and social conditions they found themselves in and it challenged the somewhat complacent rock establishment. There was an almost nihilistic bent to it that made it dangerous. Of course, I was really, really late getting on the punk bandwagon…

Here in the middle of America, we didn’t hear a lot of punk music on the radio… Not even American punk from New York like the Ramones made it on the radio here. I can remember in the late/mid-70s sitting on the couch at the house one Sunday night and my dad was watching 60 Minutes. They did a segment on the English punk movement. They showed a bunch of young kids, a little older than I was, with safety pins piercing their nose or cheeks. They had Mohawk hair cuts and wore a lot of leather. They were all slamming violently into each other on the dance floor, not unlike a rugby scrum. My father, whose sensibilities on everything are firmly rooted in the 50s, looked over at my brother and I with a look that I now realize can only be described as… fear. I felt that he had the strong urge to jump up and cover my brother’s ears and perhaps backhand me… Looking at me, in his mind’s eye, he probably saw my hair morphing into a Mohawk… a safety pin springing magically out of my cheek. He knew how drawn I was to rebellion.

For my part, I was just as terrified. The 60 Minutes crew shot the live footage at the punk concert – a Sex Pistols’ show – and didn’t do anything to mix the sound. It sounded like harsh, frightening noise with a crazed singer screaming at people. They didn’t play any studio stuff. The old farts on that show just marveled at Johnny Rotten singing “God Save the Queen.” They actually had subtitles to highlight what I’m sure they considered subversive lyrics. This was a sign of the coming apocalypse… To me, it just sounded awful. I need a little melody. It took me years – like 20 years – to finally buy a Clash album. It was a revelation. I quickly picked up the Ramones and the Stooges. Those are some of my favorite punk rock bands. At last, I finally picked up Never Mind the Bollocks, from the once scary (to me) Sex Pistols only about 10 years ago and it’s awesome. Very simple, straight forward guitar rock. As Lou Reed said, “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.” But as my friend Doug told me once, “Every punk rocker knows Lou Reed is an asshole.”

Punk rockers challenged the established rock acts that were already ensconced on the top of the world, the Rock Stars. Rock n roll had gotten bloated. There were Art Rock bands doing 15-minute, multi suite tracks like Rush or Yes, that almost had more in common with classical music than rock and roll. There were strings and overly polished production. Rock had gotten fat and comfortable. Along came punk to shake things up, and thank God it did. Instead of destroying everything that came before it like Grunge, a curious thing happened… the established rock bands, for lack of a better word, absorbed the energy and vibe. Although I’ll admit some of the artists ignored punk: Dylan had found Jesus, Bowie was over in Berlin doing his thing, Steely Dan’s jazz-influenced bubble never burst and hard rockers like Black Sabbath and AC/DC didn’t change a thing. But so many rockers were influenced by punk.

I’ve compiled the following list of some of my favorite band/artist reactions to the punk movement. At the time I’d have hardly known the stylistic change in music came from punk rock, but you live and learn.

  1. Queen, News Of The World – Queen was just coming off two albums of long, complicated music (A Day At the Races, Night On the Town) and were already considering a shift to shorter, more stripped down tracks. While recording News, the Sex Pistols were in the next studio… Freddie Mercury ran into Sid Vicious (who he had been calling Sid Ferocious) and Sid asked, “Have you succeeded in bringing ballet to the masses yet?” Queen, and Freddie especially had been the target of the punk’s ire, and he replied, “We’re doing our best, dear.” Queen went into the studio and delivered a stylistically adventurous LP with tighter, shorter tracks. Sure, “It’s Late” was six and a half minutes long, but what a guitar riff. The crowning glory was Freddie and Brian May’s double-single response to the punks – “We Will Rock You” (their statement of purpose) and “We Are the Champions” (Freddie’s fuck you to them). The lyrics, “no time for losers, ’cause we are the champions” were pretty clear.
  2. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls – The Stones totally absorbed the punk ethos on this album. Of course on tracks like “Miss You” they also absorbed the disco thing too. Mick always picked up on what was now, and Keith keeps them centered and connected to their roots. Songs like “Lies,” and especially “Shattered” were stripped down with rocking guitar. No strings, no fat, just awesome. On “Respectable,” they even mocked the punk’s criticism, “Well now we’re respected in society, We don’t worry about the things that we used to be.”
  3. The Who, Who Are You – No one was more disturbed by the punk’s criticism than Pete Townshend, who saw a lot of the early Who in the punks. Who Are You was seen as a return to form for them, with loud guitars and bombastic drums. Townshend’s title track was directly addressed to the punks, “who the fuck are you?”
  4. Pete Townshend, Empty Glass – So obsessed with the punks was Pete, he continued to write songs about them on his first “proper” solo album. “Rough Boys” sounds like he wants to be friends with them. On “Jools and Jim” he complains, “they don’t give a shit Keith Moon is dead.” From his interviews lately, it sounds like Pete doesn’t care either…
  5. Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps – Nobody dug the punks as much as Neil Young did. The punks seemed to wake Neil from the torpor he was under at the time. The first half of this album was acoustic but the second half is a bunch of blistering guitar workouts. He revamped a heavily bootlegged “Sedan Delivery” and speeded it up so it was very punk. Both the opening and closing, variations of the same song, “Hey Hey, My My” were addressed to Johnny Rotten.
  6. Iggy Pop, New Values – Iggy’s first band, the Stooges was highly influential on the punks… not as much as the Ramones as I understand it but even now hard rock guys from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Guns N Roses cite Raw Power as an influence. I didn’t hear it until a few years ago and yes its great. I wouldn’t have understood it at 13. With all that adulation how could Iggy not jump on the punk bandwagon and release this album, collaborating with old Stooge, James Williamson and Scott Thurston who believe it or not ended up in the Heartbreakers. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em Iggy.
  7. Bruce Springsteen, Darkness On the Edge of Town – Springsteen had been locked in a legal battle with his first manager since Born To Run. He was already pissed off so the punk ethos probably fit the songs he was writing. If you listen to The Promise, the box set for Darkness, many of the tunes sound like the natural progression from Born To Run, but Springsteen opted to only include dark, guitar-centric tracks here. Sonically it’s miles away from his breakthrough album and remains one of my favorites… well, it remains amongst almost every Springsteen fan’s favorites.
  8. Billy Joel, Glass Houses – Like Springsteen, Joel coopted the punk energy and took a stylistic left turn from his previous album, the E-Street-ish 52nd Street. Punchy, guitar-driven tracks like “You May Be Right” and “Sleeping With the Televison On” dominate the album. Like Iggy, if you can’t beat them, absorb them!
  9. Fleetwood Mac, Tusk – Lindsey Buckingham was so afraid of repeating himself after Rumors, and so enamored with the “fuck it” attitude of the punks he decided to take Fleetwood Mac in a totally different direction. I love Tusk, although it was seen as a failure at the time. I’m sure the band struggled as Stevie was delivering songs like “Sara” and Christine McVie with “Over and Over” and Lindsey countering with the punky “It’s Not That Funny,” or “What Makes You Think You’re the One.” Buckingham took a lot of liberties with the record and it makes it all the more interesting.
  10. Paul McCartney & Wings, Back To the Egg – McCartney is the most confounding entry here. I really liked Back To the Egg, McCartney’s attempt at doing more upbeat rock and roll again. I think he really wanted to absorb some of that punk energy but he just couldn’t commit to it through an entire album. I thought “Old Siam Sir” was rocking. But Macca just can’t help himself, he’s gotta go with soft, gauzy ballads like “Arrow Through Me.” I look at this one as a lost opportunity. But hey, it’s McCartney, he can do what he wants.

As I sit here, only 1/3 of the way through the annual “Dry January” I can’t help but think I need a little punk energy to get me going… If you feel that way during the doldrums of winter, put one of these albums on and see where it takes you.

Cheers!

Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks

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Well this post may be my magnum opus because to call me a Stones fan doesn’t really do my love for them justice. I’m more of a Stones Fanatic. If I ever had the crazy idea to get a tattoo, it’d probably be the lips/tongue Stones logo, but hey, if Jagger doesn’t have tattoo I don’t need one. I’ve got the whole aging hipster thing down without a tat. Anyway, I’ve seen the Stones on every tour of the United States they’ve done since Tattoo You. Frankly, most tours I’ve seen them twice or three times. I’ve travelled as far and wide as New York (for their 50th Anniversary show, a personal highlight in a lifetime of concerts), Little Rock, Arkansas and Dallas, Texas to see them. I stood in the rain in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin for the Steel Wheels tour, so, yeah, I’m in the fan club.

On B&V, I try to focus on older bands, the ones I grew up listening to, who continue put out new music. Alas in the short time I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve only had the opportunity to write about the Stones twice. They put out the superb blues album, Blue And Lonesome LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle which I absolutely loved. And they went back into the archives for On Air, a compilation of their early performances on the BBC, LP Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’ – An Exciting Look Back To The Early BBC Performances. It’s a shame they’ve only put out one album of all new original material in the last 25 years, the superb A Bigger Bang. I saw recently Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac said, in essence, why record a new album? No one buys them, anyway. Which is a damn shame. Maybe that’s why the Stones stopped recording regularly. As Elton said once, “would anybody have the balls to have walked up to an older Muddy Waters and told him to stop recording?” I think not.

What they seem to be content with these days is just repackaging up the old greatest hits. There was Forty Licks, which at least had four new songs on it. That was followed by GRRR! which had two new tracks. Recently, in advance of the latest leg of the never ending ‘No Filter’ tour (which, yes I saw), they put out Honk. There were no new studio tracks on that one, but they included some interesting live duets they’d done whilst on tour. Beyond that, the Stones release a live album after every tour or significant show (like the one in Havana or the one at Hyde Park). I hear they’re working on a new album, but it wasn’t up to their usual high standards so they’ve gone back into the studio to tidy it up… Keith Richards described it as “being more like carpentry now, than anything.”

A few weeks ago, in honor of Elton John’s Retirement Tour, I did a playlist of some of my favorite deep tracks of his, Playlist: B&V’s Favorite 20 Elton John Deep/Album Tracks. I was pleased at how well received the playlist was by people. It garnered a number of comments which are always welcome down here at B&V. One of my favorite rock and roll people, Dr. Rock commented, “I was hoping you’d do one of these deep track lists for the Stones.” Eureka, I thought… why haven’t I done one for the Stones? They’re my Alpha and Omega… and with all these Greatest Hits packages they’ve flooded the market with, people may have lost touch with their brilliant back catalog and the very deep tracks that I love. This task, I knew, was going to take some time…time and bourbon.

I was in junior high school when the Stones’ classic Some Girls came out and changed my life. It kicked off my life-long addiction to rock and roll. I loved the way Keith and Ronnie’s guitar played off each other. Keith calls it “the ancient art of weaving,” which is an accurate description, they would literally weave their guitar parts around each other. They really are the most symbiotic guitar duo out there… with only Angus and Malcolm Young even close. I’ve always been a huge fan of all the music that the Ronnie Wood-era Stones did. I love the dirty 70s and the 80s.

I had taped my brother’s copy of Hot Rocks, that I eventually wore out so I didn’t really buy the Mick Taylor (Ronnie’s predecessor on guitar) era Stones stuff, known as their “golden period” until I got to college. There was so much to love there. Mick was a virtuoso soloist and it allowed Keith to become the riff-meister we all know and love. And while this period of the Stones produced their most well known songs, if you dig a little deeper on albums like Exile On Main Street or It’s Only Rock And Roll and you’ll find rock and roll gold.

As I dug deeper, and moved backward in time, through the Stones catalog, inexplicably I stopped at Their Satanic Majesties Request. I didn’t go back to the early stuff, with Brian Jones on the lead guitar. He was a tortured soul, but goddammit he could play the slide guitar. I had always thought of the Stones in the early days as a blues covers band, the anti-Beatles. I was, as usual, wrong. All of those early Stones albums, which did begin as being heavy on blues and Chuck Berry covers, are essential listening. Buying all those albums, from England’s Newest Hitmakers, 12×5 to Between The Buttons and immersing myself in that music was one of the most satisfying musical experiences of my life. I urge you all to do the same, it’s worth it.

I started compiling this list over a tumbler of dark and murky fluid. It was truly a labor of love. When I was done I had close to 150 songs. I knew that wasn’t going to fly. I have edited the list down quite a bit. I’m sad to say, that 5 of the songs on the list are not on Spotify. I will highlight them in my comments below. You can find the playlist on Spotify under ‘BourbonAndVinyl.net Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks.’ You can also search under ‘recorsini.’ This list isn’t, as always, meant to be definitive. These are just songs that I love. They may be familiar to you. You may think when you hear these, “Oh, yeah I forgot about that track.” I hope you discover something you’ve either not heard or had forgotten about. If you have a favorite that you’d like to highlight, please do so in the comments section. Here’s the list with my thoughts on each track below.

  1.  “Little By Little” – An early track from their debut album. A perfect way to start this party.
  2. “Around And Around” – The Stones do Chuck Berry almost better than Chuck does…almost. This is one of my favorites of their many covers by him.
  3. “What A Shame” – One of the earlier Jagger/Richards penned tunes that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
  4. “I Can’t Be Satisfied” – The Stones doing Muddy Waters. This track is sublime.
  5. “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” – The Stones taking the piss out of a record company dork.
  6. “The Spider And the Fly” – “My, my said the spider to the fly…”
  7. “I’m Free” – A track that found new life after the Stripped acoustic live record. I think it’s sadly on a credit card commercial… sigh. Everything is for sale.
  8. “Gotta Get Away” – Jagger/Richards continue to develop as songwriters.
  9. “Out of Time” – Great deep track from Aftermath, the first album they did with no cover tunes.
  10. “Back Street Girl” – Love this song, and the cover Social Distortion did too.
  11. “2000 Light Years From Home” – A track I was unaware of until I saw them do it live on the Steel Wheels tour. I wish they’d do more deep tracks like this one on tour.
  12. “No Expectations” – Brian Jones’ slide guitar on this album is absolutely sublime. It’s perfect. Alas, it was to be his last significant contribution to a Stones tune.
  13. “Stray Cat Blues” – An utterly inappropriate blues track about the charms of young girls.
  14. “You Got the Silver” – One of my favorite tracks with Keith on lead vocal. Although I’ve always been partial to Keith’s songs. It’s great live.
  15. “Monkey Man” – This track is a bit more well known, but it’s one of the Rock Chick’s favorite Stones tracks. Saw them play this live in Chicago with her and she fell in love with it.
  16. “Jiving Sister Fanny” – From the odds and sods album Metamorphosis. I’m not even sure if all the Stones are on this album.
  17. “I’m Going Down” – Not the Freddie King classic, but a dirty little seventies Stones track.
  18. “Moonlight Mile” – The most beautiful ballad on Sticky Fingers.
  19. “All Down The Line” – One of my all time favorites.
  20. “Ventilator Blues” – Epic blues track.
  21. “Plundered My Soul” – A bonus track from the superb “deluxe” edition of Exile. 
  22. “Coming Down Again” – A beautiful junkie lament from Keith.
  23. “Winter” – An epic ballad. I love this song, always have.
  24. “If You Can’t Rock Me” – “Somebody will…” Love me or leave baby, kind of track.
  25. “Crazy Mama” – An overlooked gem of a rocker from Black And Blue, Ronnie’s debut with the band.
  26. “Memory Motel” – My favorite ballad in their entire catalog. Keith has a nice, small vocal part. “She drove a pickup truck, painted green and blue…” Lost love in the Memory Motel… we’ve all stayed there.
  27. “So Young” – From the deluxe edition of Some Girls. Keith had been busted in Canada for heroin possession and intent to distribute. Serious jail time loomed. They holed up in a Paris studio and recorded the bulk of what would become their next three albums. I love this randy little tune.
  28. “Keep Up Blues” – They rock, they do reggae, they disco, but they always come home to the blues.
  29. “Summer Romance” – Another great rock song that the Stones make look so easy. One of all time favorites.
  30. “Down In The Hole” – Another great blues tune. Blues is in these guys’ pores.
  31. “Indian Girl” – “Little Indian girl, where is your father?” A country song about Castro, Che Guevara and their African military adventures.
  32. “If I Was A Dancer (Dance Pt. 2)” – Sequel to a disco song on Emotional Rescue. Yeah, yeah, I know, “Death Before Disco,” but I dig the Stones when Mick gets his groove on. I couldn’t find this one on Spotify. It’s on Sucking In the 70s if you’re interested.
  33. “Neighbors” – A rocker with some truth.
  34. “Black Limousine” – Bluesy rocker, “we used to ride, ride, ride around in black limousines.”
  35. “It Must Be Hell” – This overlooked rock song has a monster riff from Keith.
  36. “One Hit To The Body” – Great opening track to the overlooked Dirty Work, which happens to be a great album.
  37. “Had It With You” – I love Ronnie’s guitar on this track.
  38. “Winning Ugly” – Another great Dirty Work track.
  39. “Continental Drift” – Brian Jones got the Stones interested in the music of Morocco. On their return album, after a short break-up, Steel Wheels, they returned to Morocco to record this track… the circle of life.
  40. “Hearts On Fire” – Great bluesy rocker.
  41. “Terrifying” – I have never understood why this wasn’t a hit.
  42. “Highwire” – The Stones get a little political on this studio rock track, tacked onto the end of the live, Flashpoint. 
  43. “Sparks Will Fly” – “When I get myself back on you baby.” Another randy, little track.
  44. “Brand New Car” – Voodoo Lounge was such a great fucking album.
  45. “Out of Control” – Another great track that is even better live. They still dust this one off every now and again in concert.
  46. “Don’t Stop” – A classic Stones track that will never get its due. It’s a perfect Stones song.
  47. “Fancy Man Blues” – From an album I bought in a Starbucks, sigh, Rarities. I couldn’t find this song on Spotify, nor could I find the next two, from the same album, but they’re all tracks worth checking out if you can find them.
  48. “Let It Rock” – A live take on Chuck Berry’s classic.
  49. “Wish I’d Never Met You” – More blues from Rarities. 
  50. “Rain Fall Down” – A great track from A Bigger Bang, an album that proved the Stones still had it. They could still deliver. I wish they’d kept recording.
  51. “Under The Radar” – Another track I couldn’t find on Spotify. Its only available on the deluxe version of Bigger Bang. It’s actually on the bonus material on the Blu-ray. I can not fathom why this hasn’t been released to the general public.
  52. “Infamy” – Keith’s great track from Bigger Bang. A play on words, “You’ve got it in for me” (in for me – slurred to infamy).
  53. “Doom And Gloom” – A great “state of the union” track from GRRR! 
  54. “One More Shot” – The last studio track these guys released. Let’s hope they correct that soon.

Pour something strong and enjoy an afternoon of blues-rock by the men who invented and perfected the form.

Cheers!

 

 

B&V Playlist: Beatles vs Stones Covers? No, Our Favorite Beatles AND Stones Covers!

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*Image of Jagger, Wyman & the McCartneys (and unidentified groovy chicks) taken from the internet, and likely subject to copyright

The world has become a really divisive place. Whatever the issue, there always seems to be disagreement these days. Politics, don’t get me started. Religion, I’m not qualified to talk about. For every opinion in the universe there exists an equally strong, opposite one. Meat eaters vs the vegans, hedonists vs the devout, drinkers vs the sober, and I could go on and on. I believe it was Sir Isaac Newton, that groovy cat with the apple and gravity, who stated in his Third Law, that for every action there is an equal, opposite reaction. For example, I would like to quit my job and sit around listening to rock and roll records all day. Perhaps I would occasionally take a break from that strenuous activity to head down to the used record store to check out some additional vinyl, only to return home and hang out. My wife has the opposite reaction to this idea and wants to work me like one of the old mules from the farm she grew up on until I collapse. Marriage, it seems, like life is a compromise.

However, we shouldn’t pretend that these disagreements are a new and modern convention. I remember, as a child in the 70s, there were similar fault lines amongst the population. I remember there was a fierce, Superman vs Batman thing. You were either a fan of the man from Krypton or you were on team Caped Crusader, and you couldn’t dig both. Me, I was a Batman fan. Ironically I later roomed with a guy whose nickname was Batman. We’d get crank calls in the middle of the night from his friends asking for Batman… When I’d say he wasn’t home they’d ask to leave a message from the Joker, or Commissionor Gordon. Real fuckin’ funny guys at 3 am. I think which Super Hero you dug said a lot about your personality. You were either the ideal of virtue and the perfect man or you were a troubled guy who hung out late at night looking for bad situations. Hmmm.

Anyway, one of the fiercer battles in the old days revolved around the Beatles and the Stones. The Beatles were huge. They were, well, the Beatles. In the late sixties the Stones began to get tagged with the nickname, “The Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World.” I don’t know if it was the nickname, but suddenly the debate was real. The feud began even before Led Zeppelin came along, so all you Zep fans, stay calm and keep reading. There was suddenly a Superman-Batman type of line drawn. You were either a Beatles fan or you were a Stones fan and never shall the twain meet, as they say. It was the 60s version of East Coast vs West Coast, without the guns. Lennon claimed once that everything the Beatles did the Stones would do six months later. While you might cite Their Satanic Majesties, the Stones ill-fated trip into psychedelic music (after the Beatles Sgt Pepper album) as proof, I think after that the Stones forged their own bluesy, rootsy road.

But once a feud always a feud. I have often thought of my brother and I as polar opposites, which isn’t true, but we all have stories we tell ourselves about our families. My brother, who got into music way before me was a solid Beatles guy. He had the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks, perhaps the best “greatest hits” package ever released, but he had every Beatles album out there. I think he had UK and US versions of each album, although I could be wrong about that. I bet he’s sitting on a stack of very valuable vinyl. Anyway, my first love, of course, was the Rolling Stones. I can’t say that fueled any tension between he and I, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

Eventually, I realized feuds were silly. I like both the Beatles and the Stones. They’d both be on my greatest bands of all time list… although the Stones will always be #1 for me. That doesn’t mean I can’t love the Beatles too. Hell, Keith Richards once said, about John Lennon, that he wasn’t as “hen-pecked” by Yoko in his latter days as people say… he said whenever the Stones were in New York he and Lennon would party their ass off. Now that’s something I wish I’d have gotten in on. How much fun would that be? Lennon, Richards, I wanna party with you guys. Alas, I was just a kid in junior high school.

I was noodling around with some playlist ideas and I came across the idea of doing a playlist of Stones covers, of which there are too few. Then I started thinking of doing a list of covers of Beatles tunes, of which there are myriad artists to choose from. I was thinking of battling playlists, this could potentially be a B&V thing. But then a weird thing happened. I combined the two playlists and frankly I really enjoyed the results. Since it’s a slow time musically right now, I thought I’d share it with all of you. This is not a comprehensive or complete list of Beatles or Stones cover songs, it’s just a list of my favorites. As always you can find this playlist on Spotify by searching on kcorsini64 or BourbonAndVinyl (at least I sure hope so). Enjoy… and if you have any additions you think I missed, please mention them in the comments and I’ll add to the Spotify list. My comments on each tune below this link. And I’ll say again, there are always more Beatles covers than Stones covers… oh, well.

  1. Aerosmith, “Come Together” – What a great place to start. Lets all come together over the Beatles and the Stones.
  2. Black Keys, “She Said, She Said” – I love this song. I never figured the Keys to cover the Beatles but they do so beautifully.
  3. Peter Frampton, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – I like the live version and the studio version.
  4. Linda Ronstadt, “Tumbling Dice” – My favorite song of hers, save anything she covered by Warren Zevon or Lowell George.
  5. David Bowie, “Let’s Spend The Night Together” – Bowie’s frenetic take on the classic Stones track.
  6. Soundgarden, “Everybodys’ Got Something To Hide (Except Me and My Monkey) – God do we miss Chris Cornell.
  7. Fiona Apple, “Across the Universe” – Great track from a soundtrack. A track also nicely done by Bowie… but he’s already on here.
  8. Phil Collins, “Tomorrow Never Knows” – Say what you want about Collins but it took some real balls to cover this song.
  9. Montrose, “Connection” – Great, slowed down version of the Stones track.
  10. Cheap Trick, “Magical Mystery Tour” – Was any band more influenced by the Beatles than Cheap Trick? Well, besides ELO?
  11. Billy Joel, “A Hard Days Night (Live)” – Ok, maybe Joel was as influenced by the Beatles as Cheap Trick. It’s probably a coin toss.
  12. Social Distortion, “Backstreet Girl” – Social D doing a a down and dirty Stones cover. Whats not to love?
  13. Siouxsie And The Banshees, “Dear Prudence” – I almost like this version more than the Beatles original.
  14. Joe Cocker, “A Little Help From My Friends” – This one was a huge hit for Joe.
  15. The Allman Brothers Band, “Heart of Stone” – From their last studio album.
  16. U2, “Paint It Black” – One of their best covers!
  17. Lindsey Buckingham, “She Smiled Sweetly” – Buckingham recreates a whole band just plucking an acoustic guitar.
  18. Johnny Winter, “Stray Cat Blues” – A lot of blues guys cover the Stones.
  19. Motley Crue, “Helter Skelter” – A lot of folks have done this one, but this is my nasty favorite.
  20. Ray Charles, “Eleanor Rigby” – Also done beautifully by Aretha.
  21. Aerosmith, “I’m Down” – Great track from Permanent Vacation. 
  22. Billy Joel, “I’ll Cry Instead (Live) – Like I said, he rivals Cheap Trick in his love of the Beatles.
  23. Luther Allison, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – Obscure blues track but I love it.
  24. Guns N Roses, “Sympathy For the Devil” – From the ‘Interview With A Vampire’ soundtrack, believe it or not. This was the best thing to come out of that movie.
  25. The Who, “Under My Thumb” – Yep, the Who covering the Stones…worlds collide.
  26. Otis Redding, “Satisfaction” – The Rock Chick always laughs at me when I play this. I think it’s all the horns. Otis was soulful…
  27. Elton John, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” – As a youngster I liked this track better than the original. What fools these mortals be…
  28. CSNY, “Blackbird” – Love the version on CSNY 1974. Stills takes the lead vocals, but those harmonies kick in, oh, man!
  29. Rod Stewart, “Get Back” – An outtake from the Tonight’s the Night album.
  30. Taj Mahal, “Honky Tonk Woman” – Stripped down to vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica, it’s like a porch blues jam.
  31. Tom Petty, “Taxman” – Petty covering his friend George.
  32. Cheap Trick, “Day Tripper” – They do the Beatles rockier stuff so well.
  33. Rage Against the Machine, “Street Fighting Man” – I chose this version to show the diversity of groups who cover these two bands.
  34. The Longshot, “As Tears Go By” – Billie Joe Armstrong’s side project on a nice Stones’ cover.
  35. Dhani Harrison, Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – From the Rock Hall of Fame ceremonies… Prince’s guitar solo is on fire. If you’ve seen the video, the other guys just stand there with their jaws dropped as Prince shreds… If Clapton was there I trust he snuck out quickly.

I may have dug deeper in some areas than most folks would have expected. I may have dug a little too shallow in other areas. But in the end, my Spotify playlists are for anybody whose interested. I add songs from the comments suggestions to the playlist all the time. Enjoy and I hope you all find this as an enjoyable a listen as I did! Beatles + Stones… Peace and Love, baby!

 

 

LP Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’ – An Exciting Look Back To The Early BBC Performances

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They say it’s your first love that leaves the deepest impression. As far as relationships are concerned, I’m not so sure that’s true (I met the Rock Chick when I was 36…my personal records prior to that are sealed up tighter than the JFK files), but in the realm of rock and roll, for me, The Stones were my first love and definitely left the deepest impression on me. My musical tastes and record collection have grown and branched out in every conceivable direction over the years, but the roots have always been with the Stones. Everything that I really love has a solid basis in the blues. I wouldn’t even know what the blues are if it weren’t for the Stones.

I wasn’t really a fan of music as a kid, music was my brother’s thing. My brother and I tend to be polar opposites. I was but a child for most of the 70s and the only time I turned on the radio was to listen to a Royals baseball game, back when I still cared about baseball. My brother had a stereo and had started a record collection long before I ever did. I’d always wander by his room and hear the sound of guitar and drums pouring out from behind his locked door and just shake my head and keep walking. My brother was a big Beatles fan. Later he followed that up by getting deeply into George Harrison’s solo work. It took me years to get into George Harrison’s solo music, which is amazingly rewarding… but my brother, who also plays guitar, was so far ahead of me, he was cranking up Living In the Material World when he was 10.

All of this changed, of course, when I first heard the Rolling Stones 1978 LP, Some Girls. I asked my parents for a stereo for Christmas – back then you could get a turntable/cassette player/receiver and a couple of speakers for pretty cheap – and dipped into my lawn-mowing money to buy my first ever album, Some Girls. I practically wore that album out… I do remember the first time I listened to the whole album on the headphones, in my sainted Grandmother’s living room, and Mick sang that notorious lyric about women who wanted to “fuck all night…” I was staring at my Grandmother and I just about did a back flip when Mick sang those words, I was so stunned. Luckily the headphones protected Grandma from that… But besides that rather startling moment, hearing Some Girls for the first time was like having someone attach jumper cables to the base of my brain and pump the gas for 45 minutes. I was hooked. I’d sing along to “Shattered” at full (and off-key) throat.

One of the things I loved about Some Girls was the interplay of Keith Richards’ and Ronnie Woods’ guitars – “the ancient art of weaving” as Keith calls it – the guitars played off and around each other like they were sawing down a tree. As my lawn mowing income grew, I continued to buy more Stones’ albums. I started with the Ronnie Wood-era… Black and Blue and Love You Live were early additions to my record collection. When Emotional Rescue came out in ’80 I bought it the day it came out. Say what you want about some of the disco-leaning songs on that record, I still loved it… and there was a great, great blues tune on that record, “Down In The Hole.” And who wouldn’t love the lyric, “riding on a fine Arab chaaaaarger…”

I eventually discovered the Mick Taylor-era of the Stones music which is largely regarded as their “golden-era.” Mick Taylor had been a guitar virtuoso with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and when he joined the Stones, he largely took over the blistering leads and allowed Keith to become, as he calls himself, “the riff-miester.” Those albums, including Exile On Main Street and Sticky Fingers were some of the greatest albums ever recorded. After experiencing those albums, my Stones spelunking slowed down… For whatever reason, when it came to the early, Brian Jones-era Stones, I stopped after Beggars Banquet and Aftermath. I had some of that early music on a greatest hits album, but I never delved any further into the Stones early years. While I dug the blues, I viewed the Stones early stuff as “formative”…. there were too many blues covers and not enough original material for my immature tastes.

Naturally, I was wrong. Years later, I corrected this egregious mistake and bought all those early Stones records, which I consider as utterly essential for any rock fan… I went from England’s Newest Hitmakers all the way through Between the Buttons. While Mick Taylor gets the accolades for his guitar work with the Stones, I don’t hear a lot of people talk about Brian Jones much anymore. The guy could play slide guitar like a Chicago-born bluesman. His work on “Little Red Rooster” is all the resume Brian Jones ever needed… Many people, like I did when I was a teenager, dismissed the Stones as a blues-cover band during their early years. That may be true, but doing that blues-cover apprenticeship was the crucible for everything that came after it.

I was thrilled last year when the Stones returned to their roots and recorded a full on blues-cover album, the sensational Blue And Lonesome (reviewed: LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). While that album was heralded as a “return” to their roots, this week the Stones actually released the actual roots… On Air (Deluxe) compiles 30 songs (on the 2 CD version) from the Stones early appearances on the BBC. These appearances have been largely bootlegged over the years, but this is the first official release. The sound quality is better here than on the bootlegs I’ve heard, but some of the tunes are rough enough to give the project a bootleg vibe.

The ‘Live At the BBC’ series has seen some great albums compiling the live performances of many great groups on that venerable radio station. I was always a huge fan of the Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions, it was truly revelatory. The other albums from the series that are must-haves are from The Who and, of course, The Beatles. The Beatles Live At the BBC for me, was an important and under represented part of the Beatles story – The Beatles as a live, performing band… For whatever reason the Stones decided not to title this album BBC Sessions, much like when they did their own ‘Unplugged’ and called it Stripped. When you’re the Stones, I guess you do your own thing. The album is subtitled “A BBC Recording.”

Like those early, Brian Jones-era albums, On Air is an essential purchase for Stones fans, and fans of rock/blues rock in general. It’s so much fun to listen to these scruffy, dirty kids play the blues. The song selections on here, other than “Satisfaction” are largely covers. You hear blues, a healthy amount of Chuck Berry covers, Bo Diddley-covers and some R&B. These recordings crackle with an electricity and energy of youth. Charlie Watts’ drums in particular grabbed me. He is truly the engine of this band. Mick’s (and probably occasionally Brian’s) harmonica is sensational. I hadn’t really noticed but Brian and Keith Richards guitars intertwine in much the same way that Keith and Ronnie’s did a decade or so later. Brian Jones’ guitar on “I Wanna Be Your Man” is a raw, ragged slide guitar masterpiece.

Of the 30 performances captured here, eight of the songs are tracks that the Stones never committed to tape in a studio. It’s great to hear “Memphis, Tennessee” and their take on “Roll Over Beethoven.” All of the performances here hail from 1963 to 1965, before I was born… I don’t know if there will be a second release for the years 1965 to 1967, but I sure hope so. Anybody who wants to understand where that great late-60s, early 70s Stones music came from, look no further than here… (With the exception of some of the country stuff Gram Parsons introduced the band to, but I digress… ) Blues, big riffs, harmonica. It’s all here. Jagger sings a razor line on each of these tunes. The whole band just sounds great.

If you’re looking for something special for the stereo this year to drowned out the odious Christmas music, this is your solution. The Rolling Stones original line-up, before the arenas, before the massive tours, before the squabbles – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones (when he was just as important as Mick), Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were indeed a force of nature and something to behold… Rock and roll school is open, and class is in session. Turn this one up loud.

 

Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967

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Ah, the blues. I must admit, when it comes to classic rock, my first love was and always will be the Rolling Stones. I picked up ‘Some Girls,’ my first album ever and it was the beginning of a life long obsession. The Rolling Stones, in many ways, were a gateway drug for me into the broad array of rock music in the world. The Stones led me to Zeppelin, then to the Beatles, Black Sabbath and beyond. It wasn’t long before I was in the basement of seedy used record stores looking for out of print Faces albums or Springsteen bootlegs. I made my friend Doug go to a used record store in a strip mall in Dallas after he’d just broken up with a girlfriend so I could look for the out of print Buckingham Nicks LP… a trip he still hasn’t forgiven me for, although it may be his unpleasant memories of that trip unrelated to “Buckingham Nicks.” I wasn’t musically sophisticated enough to understand what the root of my musical infatuation was. I didn’t understand that the common thread that links all the music I love is the blues.

By the 1960’s the blues was an underground music in the United States, segregated like so much was, in the black community. It took some groovy English youth to rediscover and reawaken interest in the blues in the States. Much of what came out of the British Invasion was what is now described as “blues rock.” There were so many key figures, people you don’t hear about any more, that were critical to that early blues rock movement.  Alexis Korner was a guy that was at the center of a lot of it and he helped fan the flame of blues in London. If time travel is ever invented, you’ll know where to find me… 60s swinging London.

Another name that I don’t hear much any more is John Mayall, leader of the intrepid Blues Breakers. I posted about these British blues rock pioneer’s American cousins, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who were also 60s era masters of the blues, a few months ago. In the comment section, Moulty58 (whose blog, The Future Is Past is phenomenal, check it out) mentioned Mayall and the Blues Breakers. In the ensuing conversation he mentioned the album Mayall did with Peter Green, ‘A Hard Road.’ The only Mayall & the Bluesbreaker album I’d ever heard or heard of was the masterpiece, “Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton.” Could I have missed something? As a musical spelunker, I pride myself on owning anything I consider critical in music. Oh sure, I have some blindspots, like say, jazz, but I own most the LPs in the “Must Have” canon. I’m that weird guy who buys the live solo Gregg Allman albums or the solo Lowell George of Little Feat LP… Maybe I have a problem, but as Van Morrison sang, “it’s too late to stop now.” Perhaps I needed to give Mayall’s catalog another look.

In retrospect, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers could be looked at more as a musical collective than a band. They changed personnel more often than Yes, and that’s saying something. Almost every band has a connection to the Blues Breakers. Just on bass guitar alone, John McVie, Jack Bruce and Andy Fraser of Free fame all played with them. On drums, amongst a large number of people, Mick Fleetwood and Aynsley Dunbar both played with Mayall. I think Dunbar played in every band ever… I think he was even in Journey for a while. Mayall actually sang, played keyboards (mostly piano), guitar and harmonica. The thing about the Blues Breakers that is probably the most remarkable is the guitar talent that went through this band. Not only did Eric Clapton play with them but so did Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac), and a very young Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones). Those are just the big names. Rick Vito (Fleetwood Mac) and Jimmy McCulloch (Wings) also played with the Blues Breakers, just to name a few. Paul Butterfield even shows up playing harmonica on one album. It’s quite an impressive roster. It seems if you were a British rock band in the 70’s and needed a player, you looked no further than the Blues Breakers. It was like a British Prep school for guitarists.

I quickly began an investigation of the Blues Breaker’s catalog and found that I had indeed missed a couple of essential LPs, beyond “With Eric Clapton.” There are really three albums that I consider “essential” for blues or blues rock fans. As you might guess, it’s the three albums featuring the three greatest of the Blues Breaker’s guitarists. With all due respect to fans of “Blues From Laurel Canyon,” which does feature Mick Taylor, I consider that a John Mayall solo album. The Blues Breakers moniker had been abandoned by that time. Without further adieu, here are the three John Mayall and the Blues Breaker’s LPs every fan should check out:

Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton (1966)

When Eric Clapton, who judging by his autobiography was an enormous twat, left the Yardbirds because they were veering away from his “blues purist” view of music, there was a lot of speculation about what he’d do next. He joined the Blues Breakers and their popularity began to soar… just as that looked like it was going to peak, Clapton runs off to Greece with a group calling themselves “The Glands.” They must have been a group of teenage boys with a wanker name like that. Jeez, Eric. Anyway, he realized he’d made a mistake and came back to rejoin Mayall and the Blues Breakers. This album was the result and it’s a tour de force. I love Cream, but I truly think this was the best lead guitar playing of Clapton’s career. He plays with a strength and confidence I rarely hear. This album is considered a blues rock milestone. I read in Rolling Stone magazine that this record and Clapton’s solo LP, “From the Cradle,” taken together are Clapton’s greatest blues achievement. It’s hard to argue. The instrumental “Hideaway” is simply amazing. “What’d I Say,” the Ray Charles cover is inspired. “All Your Love” is the perfect blues tune. Clapton does his first vocal on Robert Johnson’s “Rambling On My Mind” one of his first and best Robert Johnson covers. Clapton split after this record to form Cream with Jack Bruce (also a Mayall alumni) and Ginger Baker. It’s a shame we don’t have more of Mayall and Clapton together, because it’s one of the greatest albums of all time.

A Hard Road (1967)

How do you replace a messianic guitarist (well, they did used to scrawl “Clapton is God” as graffiti) like Eric Clapton? You find Peter Green. I don’t know anybody outside of Ozzy Osbourne (Randy Rhoads, Jake E Lee, Zakk Wylde) with a nose for guitar talent like John Mayall. I was surprised when I first heard this record that the Blues Breakers, despite line up changes and losing Clapton didn’t miss a beat. This is a great blues/blues rock album with inspired guitar work. The Peter Green penned instrumental “The Supernatural” is worth the price of the LP alone. I may be crazy but I hear the seeds of “Black Magic Woman” in that tune. Great, great guitar work. Green’s guitar sound is different than Clapton’s and this may sound weird, but I almost feel like Peter Green’s guitar sounds… well, sadder. The guy really conveys emotion in the way he plays. Where Clapton was more powerful, Green is more expressive. Just one man’s opinion, and I don’t play guitar. I absolutely love the Elmore James’ cover, “Dust My Blues,” and the incendiary slide guitar Green plays. They also do two great Freddie King covers, the instrumental “The Stumble” which is another stand out and “Someday After While (You’ll Be Sorry)” that blew me away. “It’s Over,” the opening track is a great John Mayall penned tune as well. This is just a spectacular album that I never heard about. You definitely hear the seeds of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac on this album, which makes sense because after this record Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood split to form Fleetwood Mac… I guess the formula in the 60s was, do one album with Mayall, split and form a legendary band of your own… At least there was some additional material Peter Green recorded with Mayall that turned up on the remastered, “bonus track” version of the album that came out years later.

Crusade (1967)

What do you do when you’ve lost not one, but two legendary lead guitar players. Apparently if you’re John Mayall you discover a teenage Mick Taylor. I had always known Taylor had gotten his start in the Blues Breakers but I’d never dug deep enough to check out his record with them. Actually, he stuck around for three albums, unlike Clapton and Green, before being recruited to join the Stones as Brian Jones’ replacement. “Crusade” is just another blues rock classic in the same vein as it’s two predecessors. The album kicks off with “Oh Pretty Woman” (not the Roy Orbison tune) and it’s again as if nothing has changed with the band. Although I will say I can tell Taylor’s guitar is different than Green’s. Mick Taylor had such an amazingly melodic way of playing the guitar. Even on these blues recordings I can hear how his lead guitar would mesh with Richard’s ragged rhythm guitar. There’s an instrumental on here “Snowy Wood” which is just fabulous playing (do I hear “Can You Hear Me Knocking” here?). Mayhall had employed a horn section on his previous LP, but never this prominently, they’re all over this record. I like the sax, harmonica interplay on “Man of Stone.” I love, love the version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” the old Willie Dixon tune that was also done by Led Zeppelin and years later the Rolling Stones, post-Taylor. “Driving Sideways” sounds like a tune a blues band would open a show with… This is just another great blues guitar album.

If you’re a fan of the blues, blues rock, Cream, the pre Buckingham Nicks Fleetwood Mac or the glory years of the Rolling Stones, there is a hell of a lot to like here. A lot of people own ‘With Eric Clapton’ and if you enjoy that record I can’t more highly recommend ‘A Hard Road’ and ‘Crusade.’ Mayall went on to have a long, storied career but other than ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon’ you’re not going to find better blues/blues rock than these three albums. Any fan of guitar will absolutely fall in love with these albums.

This isn’t cry in your beer blues, this shuffle around, chooglin’ music. Pour yourself something strong, dark and murky and start moving, baby!

Cheers!