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!

LP Review: The Who, ‘WHO’ – A Triumphant Return & Perhaps Farewell?

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“All of this music will fade like the edge of a blade” – “All This Music Must Fade,” The Who

I am so thrilled that I’m able to write about a new Who album… There was great anticipation for this album down here at B&V and man, did these guys pay off…

Of all the early British Invasion bands, I think the Who rocked the hardest. They described their music as “Maximum R&B,” and indeed it was. This band, in their prime hit like a sledge hammer. Big anthemic songs like “My Generation,” “I Can’t Explain” and later “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley” defined rock and roll. A large part of their sound was the titanic rhythm section of Keith Moon (drums) and John Entwistle (bass). In the press run up for the new album, WHO, naturally Townshend had to say something controversial. In Rolling Stone magazine he said he was glad Moon and Entwistle were dead. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was reading that correctly. I’m sure the families of those guys were thrilled to read that…

The only way I could get my head around it, was to try to put myself in Pete’s shoes. I think what he meant – and I’m not trying to be an apologist for Townshend – is he’s glad that he doesn’t have to play with them any more…and the only way to leave the Who, it appears, is to die. Moon was the most energetic drummer ever… he makes Neal Peart from Rush look like a timekeeper. Keith Richards always said about Moon, “You couldn’t jam with him, he wasn’t capable.” Pete says that his rhythm guitar was what kept time in the band and it was a relief to work with more sedate drummers after Moon passed. And let’s face it, Moon was quite a handful in the end… the demon alcohol had control over him. Entwistle was equally aggressive on bass. I would think as a singer and guitar player, that’d be hard to play against. So while I’m sure Pete is relieved to play with a less aggressive rhythm section, I would hope he regrets saying he’s glad they’re both dead. There had to be some shred of friendship there? Right? It was a stupid and insensitive thing to say. Rock stars, what are you gonna do?

When I had my rock and roll awakening, it was the late 70s. The Who were still a working band. My first Who album, and this will surprise a lot of people, was Face Dances. By then Moon was long gone and ex-Faces drummer Kenny Jones had replaced him. I hadn’t even heard of the Faces at that point. For many people the Who should have hung it up after Moon died, but I love Face Dances. The single was “You Better You Bet” and it’s one of my favorite Who tracks. Townshend was heavily into heroin by that point and his big guitar is mostly missing, but there’s just something about your first Who… Another of my favorites on that LP is the ending track, “Another Tricky Day.” The lyric, “this is no social crisis, this you having fun” could pretty much sum up my social life, pre-Rock Chick. “Daily Records” is a quiet classic. For a long time Face Dances and the greatest hits package, Meaty Big And Bouncy were the only Who albums I owned.

I was supposed to see the Who on that tour in ’79 with my buddy Brewster and a couple other clowns. We’d spent every dime we had on concert tickets. As teenagers, the big thing was to come home at curfew, wait an hour, and then sneak out through the back door. I was very good at tip-toeing through the house and out the door like a pimply ninja. Brewster and I and another pal decided to sneak back out the weekend before the concert to do some alternative gasoline procurement. Naturally we got caught. My father took my Who ticket away. I gave it to the two smart guys who didn’t join us on our midnight foraging expedition to sell to see if I could recoup the money. They sold my ticket and bought beer with it and later told me they hadn’t sold it. I was literally in a gang of thieves.

My knowledge and love of the Who didn’t really expand much until I got to college and met one of my roommates, Drew. He was a Billy Joel/Who fan and I was a Springsteen/Stones fan. Naturally we cross-pollinated our rock tastes. Suddenly I was out buying Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Drew led me to some of the lesser known albums, Who By Numbers and Who Sell Out. I finally backtracked and picked up their last album with Moon, Townshend’s reaction to punk rock, Who Are You. I even picked up, It’s Hard…but that was mostly for two songs, “Athena” and “Eminence Front.” I’m nothing if not a completist. Yes, you could call me a huge Who fan. I do miss my college days hanging out in the vinyl store with Drew, but who doesn’t?

I didn’t get to see the Who until 1989 when they toured with a huge backing band. It was almost like seeing a Who Revue starring Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle. I think there were 30 people on stage. I ended up making out with the kind woman in front of me… luckily her boyfriend was too into the show to notice. Gads…I blame strong drink. It wasn’t until 2000 that I got to see what I thought was a genuine Who show… It was just Townshend/Entwistle/Daltrey and Ringo’s kid Zak Starkey on the drums. I flew out to Denver to see them and it was worth every penny. They rocked HARD that night. It wasn’t Live At Leeds, but it felt like it. Townshend was especially impressive that night.

I wondered if the Who would ever record again. Townshend, in the same Rolling Stone interview said, “The Who aren’t a band any more.” I hate to admit it, but he’s kind of right. They hadn’t put out an album since 2006’s Endless Wire. That album has always left me a little cold. My old friend Drew says it’s a great album and I trust his musical instincts implicitly. I did go back and give it a spin… I like it better than I remembered but I digress. Last year, Daltrey put out a solo album As Long As I Have You. He’d been working on it quite a while and health issues had prevented him from finishing it… he was going to give up but Townshend heard the demos and volunteered to play guitar on a number of the tracks. That got the “juices flowing” and Townshend decided it was time for a new album. When Daltrey heard Pete’s demos he felt it was a fine Townshend solo album and there was nothing he could add. Pete said, “just sing Roger, you’ll be happy you did in 10 years.” I’m certainly glad he did. Apparently they recorded the album without ever being in the studio at the same time. It’s been a long road, can’t we all get along guys?

I don’t know if this is the Who’s farewell album but it certainly feels like it. I doubt anybody’s around if they wait 13 years again. For two guys who apparently stay in separate hotels on tour, they still make fantastic music. If this is farewell, it’s a much more fitting end to one of the greatest rock bands ever than Endless Wire. The opening lyric on the first track could almost be Pete talking to Roger, “I don’t care, I know you’re gonna hate this song.” I had hoped that it was the touring band in the studio – Pino Palladino (bass), Zak Starkey on drums with Townshend’s brother Simon on second guitar. They do show up on select tracks (well, not Simon) but they’re replaced with studio players on most tracks. Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers fame plays keyboards on three tracks.

I can’t say enough about Daltrey’s voice on this album. I hear him talking about his voice and concern about losing it in the press all the time. He’s always either recording something or touring to keep it up. If you don’t use it you’ll loose it, the voice is a muscle. Before As Long As I Have You he did an album with Wilko Johnson Going Back Home that everyone should own. He’s in absolutely fine form on this album. While Townshend sings quite a bit here it’s Daltrey who vocally steals the show here… of course the best Who songs are the ones where they sing back and forth… at least I’ve always thought so.

This album is the first Who album that’s just a collection of songs since It’s Hard. Unlike Endless Wire there is no concept here or mini-opera. I’ve seen a lot of people playing the “it’s the best Who album since xyz” game. In my opinion it’s the best record they’ve done since Who By Numbers but I’ve always been extremely fond of that record. Needless to say, if you’re not like me and weren’t utterly into Face Dances, this is the best Who album in a very long time. It may not be Who’s Next or Quadrophenia, but it’s a great album and even better – it’s a great Who album. By that I just mean, it sounds and feels like a Who album. The songs are anthemic and there’s a bluster here that they haven’t had in a while. It’s a better album than many of us thought it would be.

The album opens with three outstanding tracks – perhaps ranking amongst their best ever – “All This Music Must Fade” (an ode to the death of rock?), “Ball And Chain” (political and perhaps my favorite, Daltrey almost growls the lyrics) and finally their statement of purpose, “I Don’t Want to Get Wise.” But the good music keeps rolling – “Detour” is a punchy little rocker. “Beads On One String” is a beautiful ballad, sung by Townshend. I don’t know why, but on many of Townshend’s backing vocals he’s using Autotune. It’s annoying. He should have just multi-layered his vocals and it would have been much more effective. He also raps (mercifully) briefly on “I’ll Be Back” an otherwise nice ballad. “Hero At Ground Zero” is another soaring track that just sticks in my brain. I’ve literally woken up two days in a row with that song in my head. I played the record for the Rock Chick and she felt the back end had too many ballads, but she’s never been one to be sentimental which is why she’s the Rock Chick.

“Break the News” is a lilting little rocker that makes me think of the Lumineers. They resurrect a track they recorded in 1966 “Got Nothing to Prove” that producer Kit Lambert had rejected at the time. They don’t rerecord it, it’s literally as it was in 1966. The sentiment of having nothing to prove may be actually more accurate now. It was a weird moment and the Rock Chick hated it, but I find it interesting. “Danny And My Ponies” is perhaps my favorite ballad on the album. It was a strong finish to a great album.

Everyone needs to purchase this album – it’s that good. It makes me sad that it took them 13 years to come to terms and record a studio album. I find myself in the “what could have been…” frame of mind when I listen to this album. This will certainly be on the B&V “best of” list this year. It’s so great to see a band I’ve loved, literally my whole life, put this much passion and grit into a late period album. This is like Bowie or Dylan’s late career triumphs. I hope the Stones are paying attention…

Cheers! and Happy Holidays to all of you out there!

 

The Who Return With Spirited New Single, “Ball And Chain”

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I, for one, was really bummed when the Who called it quits in 1984 after the tepid live album, Who’s Last. They’d released two albums in the early 80s that I really enjoyed. Although, in retrospect, perhaps those LPs weren’t up to their “classic” standards. To be honest, the first Who album I ever bought was Face Dances, an album I remain fond of to this day. I loved “You Better You Bet” and “Another Tricky Day.” I still quote the latter song when friends are having a tough time… “this is no social crisis, this is you having fun…”

Even I will admit 1982’s It’s Hard was not a great Who album. I did love the title track. And the single, “Athena” still holds some charm for me. And of course, I can still remember being on kitchen duty, sweating to death over an industrial dishwasher and having the crew chief put “Eminence Front” on the boom box and turning it up real loud. Everybody in the kitchen swaying and nodding to the music. Townshend isn’t fond of that song but everybody else on the planet loves it. Sorry, Pete… I even liked the video for that song, which is almost embarrassing to admit these days.

One of the reasons people frowned on those last two Who studio albums was because the Who, unlike Zeppelin, decided to carry on without their drummer. Keith Moon passed away after the album Who Are You and many folks thought the Who lost a lot of their power. Kenny Jones of the Faces joined but he was a much more economical drummer, much different than the sound Moon generated. It didn’t help that Townshend had also launched a solo career (his first three albums are essential listening) and was also mired in a bad heroin habit.

It was probably inevitable that the Who would reunite, they were far from spent creatively. I finally saw them in concert for the first time in 1988 when they reunited and pulled together a giant ensemble of a band and did a stadium tour. Townshend was struggling with his hearing loss and only played an acoustic guitar. There were like 30 people on stage with them on that tour but they still conjured some of the sturm and drang of their glory days. That was only the first of many reunion tours of course. They’ve toured on Tommy and Quadrophenia alone. I saw them in 2000 in Denver with my friend Stormin’, and it was just Townshend, Entwistle, and Daltrey with Ringo’s son Zak Starkey on drums and it was phenomenal. It was like it was 1975 again. Zak drums more like a Moon than a Starr, if you get what I mean.

At the time, I just kept thinking, when are these guys going to get into the studio and record a new album? Townshend is a songwriting genius and the band sounded great with Zak on drums, why not? Then, sadly John Entwistle passed away in Vegas on coke, which is the way rock stars should go, if you ask me, and that seemed to forestall any new music from the Who. Luckily the Who soldiered on with Pino Palladino on bass.

We finally saw the first new music in over 24 years from the Who in 2006 (save for two singles on a greatest hits compilation, “Real Good Looking Boy” about Elvis and “Old Red Wine” for Entwistle), when they released the concept album, Endless Wire. Well, I call it a concept album but the first half was a collection of songs and the second half was a mini-opera (Townshend is so fond of his operas), called “Wire And Glass.” My college roommate Drew, who expanded my love and knowledge of the Who, loved Endless Wire. I trust Drew’s musical instincts implicitly, especially about the Who, but the album left me somewhat cold. It just didn’t feel like the right way for the Who to hang it up on.

Over the last several years I keep reading comments from Daltrey that his voice is eventually going to fail him. He’s been trying to keep working, within or outside the Who to keep his “instrument working.” I get that. He released the great collaboration album with Wilko Johnson, Going Back Home, which everyone should own. He’s toured with the Who and on his own to keep his voice up. He also released a solo album last year, As Long As I Have You, which was heavy on soul covers. Daltrey almost scrapped the project but Townshend heard some demo’s and volunteered to play rhythm guitar on the album.

I don’t know if that was the spark that led them back into the studio as The Who, but whatever led them there, I’m just glad they’ve got an album coming out. I’ve heard the rumbles about their age or that there are only 2 original members left etc etc. As long as Townshend can write songs and Daltrey can shout them, I say carry on lads! As Elton John once said about the Stones, would any one have had the balls to tell Muddy Waters he was too old to go on? Muddy would have pulled a razor and cut a fool for saying that to him… well, Howlin Wolf certainly would have had a razor, maybe not Muddy.

The Who have released the first single from their upcoming album WHO entitled “Ball And Chain.” There is some subterfuge here as the song was originally put out on a Pete Townshend greatest hits package a few years ago, with Townshend on lead vocals under the title of “Guantanamo.” Why they changed the name is anyone’s guess but this is a pretty politically charged track… maybe the name change helps with managing political backlash but still allowing Pete to get the point across. Townshend’s original track is almost all acoustic and his vocal is almost a growl. It was a track I liked enough to purchase when it first came out… Here is the original version:

“Ball And Chain” is a nice update of this track. Usually you see artists like Sting or Phil Collins remake solo versions of songs previously done with their band but in this case Townshend did the reverse and took a solo tune back to the band. While Townshend’s is almost all acoustic, this version has more traditional sounds we expect from the Who. It starts with a beautiful cascading piano. The first time I heard this I thought maybe Daltrey’s voice had finally gone Dylan on him and it was gone but on repeated listens I realized he’s just trying to approximate Pete’s growl on the original version. His singing is as strong as ever. There really is no better interpreter of Townshend’s vision than Daltrey. The chemistry remains impeccable. Unlike the laid back acoustic nature of “Guantanamo” Pete adds some fierce power chords to this track. I love his electric guitar on this song. It’s a tough, strident track. These guys still rock. It may not be “Won’t Get Fooled Again” but it’s still got that great Who bite. Where are the kids today writing protest music? I don’t hear any… Sigh. Here is the Who version:

Needless to say, we love this track down at B&V. I can only hope this portends a strong album… Any new music by legendary bands like The Who, Paul McCartney, or the Stones should be celebrated with a national holiday involving bourbon and dancing around. Which, ironically is how I’ll be spending my weekend…

Cheers!

LP Review: Pete Townshend’s ‘Who Came First (Deluxe Edition)

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“They call me the seeker, I’ve been searchin’ low and high, I won’t get to get what I’m after, til the day I die…” – “The Seeker” by the Who, written by Pete Townshend

A momentous event happened in the United Kingdom last Saturday, May 19th. The event wasn’t really contained to the UK, it was something the entire world celebrated. Lead guitarist, 2nd vocalist, and main composer of the Who, Pete Townshend had his 73rd birthday this last Saturday. Oh, yeah, and some other young “Royal” couple got married over in the UK too… I forget their names. I thought I would celebrate by focusing a little attention on his first solo album, Who Came First which was recently released in a “Deluxe Edition,” with some additional music. It seems Pete’s first solo album is a lot like the Who’s album Odds and Sods, which seems to get longer and longer with each release. When I first bought Odds and Sods it was because I loved the songs “Long Live Rock” and “Naked Eye,” (and I bought it on vinyl), and it was only 11 songs long. I recently repurchased it in a digital format and it has 23 songs now.

When a member of an established act, especially an act the magnitude of the Who, releases a solo album it can be fraught with all sorts of expectations and drama. It really shouldn’t be surrounded with all that bullshit, typically an artist just wants to change it up a bit. Working with the same musicians can probably get boring. The usual fear when someone releases a solo album is, will the group he’s in break up? Often it can definitely be a sign a band is breaking up. When Sting released his first solo album it spelled the end for all of us hoping the Police would get back together. Typically you don’t even see a solo album from somebody until well after their main group has broken up. The Beatles all found different sorts of drama facing each of their early solo releases. They all reacted in different ways – Paul went literally solo and recorded a quiet little record at home all by himself while George Harrison put out an epic three album long mini-box set. Even more evidence those guys were all headed in different directions.

Somehow, it seems, in 1972 Pete Townshend didn’t face any of that drama. The Who were coming off their greatest commercial success, 1971’s Who’s Next, and nobody seems to have freaked out about Pete doing a solo album. In fact, if I’d been asked as late as college, what Pete Townshend’s first solo album was, I’d have answered with the complete conviction of a religious convert that it was 1980’s superb Empty Glass. I bought that album on cassette so I could listen to it in my car. It remains to this day one of my favorite albums. “Rough Boys,” “Let My Love Open The Door,” (which was a song about God), and “Gonna Get Ya” were all given heavy rotation on local radio. Each of those songs are amongst Townshend’s best. It wasn’t until college that I discovered, probably at the used record store, that there’d been this earlier record.

As evidenced by one of the Who’s earliest songs, quoted above, “The Seeker,” Pete Townshend was a spiritual searcher of sorts. He eventually discovered Meher Baba, a guru from India. The 60s were an interesting time. Everybody was looking for a spiritual leader. LSD and other hallucinative drugs were opening everybody’s mind. Even the Beatles famously traveled to India to spend time with the Maharishi… although it seems that stuff only stuck with George. Meher Baba, ironically was the first spiritual teacher in the 60s who thought psychedelic drugs were bad. Townshend was a big convert… You might recognize Baba’s last name as it’s part of the title of one of the Who’s biggest songs, “Baba O’Riley” named for Meher and Tim Riley, a minimalist conductor Townshend admired… and to think for years we all thought that song was named “Teenage Wasteland.” Another early convert was Ronnie Lane, bass player for my beloved Faces and he and Townshend became very good friends.

In honor of Meher, Townshend had recorded a few small, barely released albums as gifts to Baba. Neither was circulated widely, but they were being bootlegged. The record company finally came to Townshend and asked if he would put them together for official release. These recordings, which were never meant to be for widespread consumption are homespun affairs. They’re mostly acoustic, although most are fully realized songs, these aren’t demos. Years later, Townshend acolyte Eddie Vedder would site Who Came First as his template for his first solo album, the soundtrack for Into the Wild. I had never really heard much of this album except songs that were later released on greatest hits packages. One of my favorites was “Sheraton Gibson” a song about being a musician on the road… in Cleveland no less. I’d also heard Townshend’s early version of “Lets See Action,” but I do like the Who’s fully realized version more. I’d also heard the superb “Parvardigar” which was just a beautiful song.

When I saw that there was this new deluxe version of Who Came First I finally, belatedly, sat down with this record. As I said, it’s a quiet little acoustic album, but what I really liked is that it’s a spiritual statement. Well, it’s certainly Pete’s spiritual statement. If we’re going to celebrate Dylan’s “Christian Period” (Review: Bob Dylan’s ‘Trouble No More: Bootleg Series Vol 13, (Deluxe Edition)) why not celebrate Townshend’s Baba period. The original album is full of songs about contentment (which is a lovely statement of purpose here), “Content” and spiritual joy, “Parvardigar.” “Time Is Passing” is probably my favorite song here. It’s a brilliant track. “Pure And Easy” which the Who finally got around to doing, is here in an early form, but the Who tracks aren’t the best ones. The only weird tune is a country cover, “There’s a Heartache Following Me” recorded because it was a favorite of Baba’s. Ronnie Lane even shows up and redoes “Stone” from the Faces’ first album as “Evolution.”

The deluxe edition brings some early and alternative versions of songs from the original, but it also has other, what I would deem critical tracks. “His Hands” and “Meher In Italy” are both beautiful acoustic instrumentals. There’s an acoustic version of the Who’s “The Seeker” that rivals the original. “Day of Silence” is driven by a cool harmonica. “I Always Say” is a nice bluesy change of pace. “Begin the Beguine” has a loungey vibe.  I really liked “The Love Man” and “There’s a Fortune In Those Hills.” There’s an early version of “Baba O’Riley” as an instrumental that clocks in at almost 10 minutes. I think it’s getting the most attention, but it’s a nice to have song, if you’re a completist, but it’s certainly not essential. Townshend even does his old friend Lane a solid and adds a live version of him doing Lane’s “Evolution” at a tribute show for Ronnie Lane.

While this album is probably only for completist and Who or Pete Townshend nuts like me, I was really taken with this album. The deluxe material is definitely worth investigating even if you’re one of the few who have the original. I just wish Townshend felt this moved today and put out something new.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Recap: The Who, Live in KC 4/29/16

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I love to be pleasantly surprised. I have only seen the Who twice, once in ’89 and again at an exceptional show in 2000 in Denver with my buddy Stormin’. In ’89 they had a huge ensemble on stage with them and they were o.k. In 2000 it was just Daltrey/Townshend/Entwistle (RIP) with Zak Starkey on drums and a keyboard player. My general rule of thumb with the Who since that 2000 concert is simply, the less people they have on stage, the better the Who are. They are a primal force to be reckoned with.

I was supposed to see the Who in 1980 but due to some rather nefarious circumstances my father ended up confiscating my ticket and grounding me for a month. At the request of the guilty and my friend Brewster I can’t go into those details here. It has left a gaping hole in my concert-going experience that I will never be able to fill. Regardless of all that, I probably wouldn’t have attended this Who concert if a friend hadn’t given me two tickets on the floor. I love the Who but at this point, without Entwistle my expectations are pretty low. Couple that with Townshend’s continuing denunciations of touring and refusal to record any new music, and I just thought maybe it was time to cherish my memories of the Who but not invest the time in going to see them. As usual, I was wrong. Besides, free tickets, going with the Rock Chick and getting to see my pal SB and his brother Doctor Jimmy (names changed/obscured to protect the guilty) made this a no brainer.

I saw Bruce Springsteen interviewed a couple of years ago and he was talking about the guitar playing of Tom Morello. He said Morello, like Pete Townshend, could really create a “soundscape” with his guitar playing. That comment jumped out at me. I quickly put my iPod on shuffle and listened to the different stages of the Who’s career and damn if Springsteen wasn’t right. Townshend’s guitar playing is so distinctive I think we take it for granted. Before there was a Jack White, or an Eddie Van Halen or a Jimmy Page, there was Pete Townshend. The guy is simply masterful on his instrument. Yeah, the windmilling power chords are cool, but the guy bends the strings and pulls notes out of the guitar like a zen master. I had forgotten until seeing them last night what an amazing guitar player he is. He was playing up and down the neck of the guitar, dragging his pick over the strings and at one point used the mic stand to rub the guitar strings in a slide guitar solo. He put on a clinic. He alone was worth going to the show.

Townshend was in a funny and feisty mood last night. He did most of the in-between song patter with the audience. He made some pointed, humorous remarks about North Carolina’s ridiculous bathroom laws. He said, you never know which bathroom he might use, but if you were to come into said bathroom while he was in there, “you’d get to see the “Real Me,” well, depending on what you look like.” Funny stuff, Pete. Townshend reminds me of the odd uncle at the family reunion who the adults scorn but all the kids crowd around to listen to and hear in the hopes that he might say “fuck” in front of grandma again.

Daltrey was in fine voice and it was nice to see him fully recovered from the meningitis that sidelined him for the original date of this show, back in the fall. When Pete announced Daltrey during the band intro’s at the end of the show, he seemed to show some genuine affection for his old band mate and sincere relief that he’s fully recovered. Daltrey’s biggest vocal moment was during a powerful, emotional “Love Reign O’er Me.” Daltrey just nailed the vocal on that song. The rest of the band was fleshed out by the amazing drummer Zak Starkey, Pete’s brother Simon on guitar/vocals, groovy bassist Pino Palladino (who has the Entwistle “still as a statue” act down pat) and three keyboardist/backing vocalists. They utilized a lot of backing vocals which really enhanced the earlier Who material.

The show started with “I Can’t Explain” a favorite of mine but they were a tad sluggish. Things improved a little during the second song, “Who Are You.” It wasn’t until “The Seeker” that they seemed to click into gear. When they got into “The Kids Are Alright” the Rock Chick turned to me and said, “why would they play this one, it’s too pop…it’s not rocking’?” What does the Rock Chick not know about music. I thought things went up a notch a few tunes later when after a few misfires starting, Pete finally got the opening notes of “5:15” down. That song got the crowd really going.

Things continued to get better with a double dose from “Who’s Next,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Bargain.” They followed those tunes with an all time favorite of mine, “Join Together” and after that they were just on fire. They followed that up with a great version of “You Better You Bet” from my first ever Who LP purchase, “Face Dances,” an album I still love. Pete then announced they were going to do 3 songs in a row from their best rock opera, “Quadrophenia” and that trio of songs was the emotional center of the show. It began with “I’m One” during which Pete mentioned he noticed the “pensioners and older members of the crowd are sitting down.” Who knew Townshend was such a wise ass. The next “Quadrophenia” song was an instrumental “The Rock” that was powerful musically but made more so with the political imagery on the video screens behind them. That song led into the aforementioned “Love Reign O’er Me” that Daltrey just crushed. I let out an audible, “wow” after that.

They followed that up with a very muscular version of “Eminence Front” another fan favorite. The whole band kicked it into another gear on that song. “Dress yourself to kill” Townshend kept intoning passionately. He’s spoken in the past of his disdain for that song, but he sure looked like he was having a ball singing it. That led to a handful of “Tommy” tunes which were amazing to behold. They finished things up with “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” where Daltrey again nailed the loud scream at the end… the chick in front of me, who despite being older than I am danced her ass off all night, turned to me after Daltrey’s scream and said, “He nailed it!” Indeed. I have to agree with SB when we spoke after the show that “Won’t Get Fooled Again” just seems to get more relevant and more true with each passing year. It’s a shame nothing has changed in the 45 years since the Who recorded it.

After the show, SB and Doctor Jimmy, the Rock Chick and I convened at our favorite post-concert bar, the Drum Room and over martini’s discussed what we’d just seen. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “shit, I almost skipped this.” If you’re out there and you’re on the fence about going to see a band, any band, always make the effort and go. Especially make that effort if it’s a legend like the Who. There’s a reason these people are legends. They continue to put on exceptional live shows. I can only hope that Townshend relents and takes the fire he showed on stage into a studio with Daltrey. I think they’ve got some songs left to sing and some more things to say.

If the Who come to your town, do yourself a favor and get out and see them. Short of that, get to a bar tonight and catch a live band, it’ll get your heart pumping.

Cheers!