Rock n Roll Heaven

death

As we approach the end of another year, I can’t help thinking about our mortality.

I can think of few things sadder than a favorite musician of mine coming to the realization that they are knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door and they feel it necessary to release an album bringing us through the process.

I call them “death albums.” There are a few. The saddest part is in a lot of cases, they are the best albums the artist had done in a while.

Warren Zevon was one of the most underrated artists of all time. His novelty hit, “Werewolves Of London”, garners attention once a year, segued into “Monster Mash”, but few know it’s from a phenomenal album called “Excitable Boy”. that was one of the most played albums in my collection back when it came out. Warren released quite a few albums. Some good, some bad. His final album, or death album, was “The Wind”. It features collaborations with his buddies from The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Ry Cooder, Joe Walsh, Tom Petty and a host of session musicians. It’s a great finish to an amazing career by Zevon. He left us with a sad, introspective album. Too bad he had to die to create it.

Curtis Mayfield released his final album in 1997, called “New World Order”. Curtis was paralyzed but managed to release a thoughtful, hopeful album of songs to remind us of his soulful voice and wonderful contribution to the world of music. Another underrated artist primarily known for his Superfly soundtrack. It’s worth digging into Curtis Mayfield’s catalog and early years.

Joey Ramone is one of my heroes of the punk rock movement. I was a wreck when I heard of his death at the age of 49. I didn’t even know he was sick. However, Joey released his first solo album of death songs in a way that only a Ramone can do it. “Don’t Worry About Me” is a great solo effort from a sick Joey. Still better than just about anybody, Joey sings about what is happening to him in the most sincere way you can imagine. I miss him a lot.

George Harrison has always been one of my favorite Beatles. His solo career was superior to the others, in my opinion. His final album, “Brainwashed” was the culmination of everything George had been preaching since 1967 when he discovered Indian religion. This album is so nicely done and a must listen for all Beatle fans and George fans. Unfortunately, the title track is awful, but the rest of the album is great. Even more unfortunately, George is no longer with us.

Johnny Cash had about five death albums. Check out all the American Album series. There are alt least four that deal with subjects surrounding his ongoing death. There were even some death albums released after his death. I love Johnny Cash in smaller doses. After a while he gets a little too depressing, especially after the third death album.

Those are a few of my favorite death albums. I am sure there are some I missed.

So, if you want to ponder about the beauty of life, or just get sad in the depths of great music by artists no longer with us. Start here.

Here are some death songs….Better get some Kleenex.

Warren Zevon – Keep Me In Your Heart http://youtu.be/RMTKb-pgxGI

Curtis Mayfield – Here But I’m Gone http://youtu.be/8vZzFwR4rVE

Joey Ramone – Don’t Worry About Me http://youtu.be/wHaITDRRfIg

George Harrison – Looking For My Life http://youtu.be/SBov2x9L3UQ

Johnny Cash – Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound http://youtu.be/OXowP1Ss5kA

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Suffocating In Suburbia

A couple of years ago I saw in the local newspaper that the East Islip High School graduating class  of 1975 was having their 35 year reunion. I thought these things were celebrated in rounder numbers. I know there was a 10, 20, and 25, but 35?

I have not been to any of these reunions. First of all, it was $110 per person. And B, I have no desire to see people I hardly remember anyway. Any high school friends I hung around with are either dead, in prison, or I have located on Facebook. That’s the great thing about Facebook. you find people you haven’t spoken to in years. The bad thing about Facebook is you find people you haven’t spoken to in years. “Oh crap, I remember you, you’re an asshole. Now I have to start the whole process of getting rid of you all over again.”

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Hello, Hooray

With one concert under my belt I was looking in the NY Times every Sunday to see who was coming to town. Much to my surprise, The full inside page of the front cover was the announcement of Alice Cooper, Billion Dollar Babies Show at Nassau Coliseum. I had become quite a fan of The Coop having purchased his entire catalog. Billion Dollar Babies just came out and I bought it immediately. I mainlined that album like a heroin addict.

Billion Dollar Babies was the fourth perfect Alice Cooper album in a row. Love It To Death, Killer, Schools Out were the other three. All of those albums spoke to me with their macabre themes,  vaudevillian showmanship and of course that sense of humor. Perfect albums, ground breaking and hailed as masterworks by anyone in the hard rock and heavy metal business. Plus, the fact that Alice Cooper became known as “the group your kids should not listen to” made them that much more appealing.

I immediately got my tickets to see Alice. I remember the concert being months away and I actually counted the days. This would be only my second concert, but the first where I knew every song they would sing. I was beyond excited.

The day before the concert I was so wound up I actually ran a fever of 103. My mother, convinced I had some kind of flu, almost stopped me from going. It was the first time in my young life I had to fake “not sick.” It worked.

The day came and I still remember every minute of that show today. After hundreds of concerts, still on the list of my all time top 5. Alice Cooper is a true showman. He puts everything into it.

He tells a great story that at one of his shows he found out that Groucho Marx and Mae West were in the audience. They loved the show and called as good as anything they had seen on the vaudeville stages.

Turns out, Alice and Groucho remained close friends.

Of course, I later felt betrayed by Alice Cooper when I discovered he played golf with Bing Crosby. A far cry from eating a snake’s head, hanging himself, and chopping his head off. I was a little pissed at him for that.

I was even more pissed when he did “You and Me”, I’ll Never Cry” and a few other adult contemporary crap songs he put out.  Alice Cooper was my first rock n roll disappointment. I later forgave him and still have a place in my heart for him.

Daily Song:

Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies (lve 1972) http://youtu.be/x0owhWPewq4

God Save The Kinks

One of the 8-tracks I stumbled on in that bag of goodies was The Kink Kronikles. It had a lot of songs on it. More than all the other 8-tracks I had. The Kink Kronikles is a double album of songs by The Kinks. I sort of remembered the band from the old British Invasion days, but they didn’t stick in my head.

I would play my stereo real loud out my back window while we were in the pool or just hanging out outside. The great thing about 8-tracks is they would just play over and over. Most of the time it was just background music, but this Kinks Kronikles thing would stick in my head. These songs would roll around my brain for days. I found myself waking up singing them. These songs were not the typical hard rock songs I had grown accustomed to. These were odd songs with quirky melodies and interesting vocals. I wanted to hear them over and over. Most of my friends would complain. Back then, I was too busy trying to fit in with the crowd and kind of kept The Kinks to myself. They didn’t fit in to the usual loud raucous rock that we were all hearing at parties. It was the beginning of a long closet relationship I had with what eventually became my all time favorite band.

The Kink Kronikles is, in my opinion, and many others, the greatest compilation double album ever released. It contains some selections from the golden age of The Kinks (1966-1970) along with some rare B-sides and some lost tracks from albums that were never released due to the constant label wars and legal issues that plagued their career.

The Kinks were a doomed band from the beginning. Emerging on the British underground scene as a blues band, much like The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and The Who. The only problem is they were the worst blues band on the scene. The early albums were spotty with a few gems, but mostly a poor attempt at R&B.

This gave them no choice but to explore their own styles. Ray Davies took on the reins as leader and soon discovered he had a knack for writing songs, and boy did he ever. He turned out to be one of the most prolific and influential songwriters in the history of rock music. His connection to the ordinary man is nothing short of genius. Even though he has been hailed as a Kronikler  (see what I did there?) of English life, you could be an Aborigine and relate to his stories. A master storyteller and in fact, the creator of the VH-1 show “Storytellers”

However, when The Kinks tried to ride the coat tails of The Beatles success in America, they soon discovered that their punk kid attitudes and pissy nature didn’t mix well with the unions on the road in America. They refused to sign contracts. Refused to give up any publishing rights. They were true punk rock before the term was invented. But it was this “F” you attitude that banned them from America. They slunk back to England where Ray Davies proceeded to write, produce and release a string of masterpiece albums heard by few, but hailed by many critics as the greatest artisitic accomplishments of any band in rock music. They also enjoyed a cult of die hard fans here in America who started the famous slogan “God Save The Kinks”. And so it shall be.

Underrated, underappreciated and misunderstood, he was, and still is, one of the biggest innovators in the history of rock n roll. He is mentioned on the short list of influences by just about every artist. John Mendelsohn, revered critic, called Ray’s music “sardonic social commentary you can dance to.” A clever observation. Clever is a good word to describe Ray, and funny.

Ray Davies tells the truth no matter how painful it may be. He was never afraid to fail and explore different genres of music. He could sing about anything from the misery of parents of dead soldiers to hot potatoes.

The Kinks were a great band too. His brother Dave Davies is one of the most underrated guitarists in rock. The legendary feud between the brothers is real. I have seen it first hand. I once saw Dave throw his guitar at Ray’s head at a concert. Ray just ducked, picked up his acoustic guitar and started a new song like this was an everyday occurrence. Now, that is rock n roll. Mick Avory is a world class drummer and his definitive style gives the band it’s signature sound. Original bassist Peter Quaife was amazing and later, John Dalton did a formidable job. John Gosling joined the band on keyboards and was absolutely exquisite. They experimented with horn sections, female backing vocalists, all with precision and camp that has never been duplicated, only immitated.

People always ask me what my favorite Kinks song is.  My answer is always the same: “whatever one I am listening to at the moment”

In chronological order, here is The Kinks  – the Golden Era of masterworks”

Face To Face (1966)

Something Else (1967)

The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

Arthur, The Decline Of The British Empire (1969)

Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround (1970)

Muswell Hillbillies (1971) (some Kinkofiles don’t include this one in the golden age. I do and this is my blog, so I make the rules)

These are perfect albums. I implore you to indulge. Inbetween these perfect albums, The Kinks label also released something called “The Great Lost Kinks Album.” This was a collection of alternate songs that never made it onto these albums. This only furthers the argument that Ray Davies could do no wrong. Good luck finding it, but it’s absolutely brilliant.

The Kinks went on to make many albums after this, many are also brilliant in their own way.

The RCA, theatrical years. (Everybody’s in Showbiz, Preservation act 1 and act 2, Soap Opera, Schoolboys in Disgrace)

The Arista years (Sleepwalker, Misfits, Low Budget, Give the People What They Want, State of Confusion, Word of Mouth)

There were some broken years afterwards with very spotty albums and they eventually called it quits.

I have seen The Kinks 14 times in concert and it’s not a rock n roll concert. It’s an event.

Ray Davies carries on the homage to the band with his non-stop solo touring and I try to see him every time.

Dave Davies suffered a stroke in 2004 and has not been the same.

A reunion is probably never going to happen.

God Save The Kinks

Daily Song:

The Kinks – Shangri La http://youtu.be/08aNFX1Rx8I

The James Gang Wild West Show

With my new diet of rock music, my Aunt Soula (Greek for Christine…??) thought that since it was my birthday (much like it is today…yes it is), that I might like to attend my first concert. I had never experienced live music. This was an exciting proposition. She offered to take me to any group I would like to see.

I had zero patience to wait for Alice Cooper and The Beatles were not reuniting anytime soon. I opened the NY Times Sunday section that listed all the local concerts. In those days, since The Fillmore East had closed, they had only a few venues. The Felt Forum, The Academy of Music were the two big ones.

My Aunt said I could bring my friend Jimmy along. Jimmy had a better idea of who to see, since he was more well-versed than I on the music scene. He noticed The James Gang at Carnegie Hall coming up. He said, “we should go see that.” It was billed as “The James Gang Wild West Show”. Who the hell knew what that meant? Who cared. It was a concert. Off to Ticketron (that’s what it was called back then). Three tickets to see The James Gang. We were ready to ROCK. We had seats in the 2nd row, so we were pumped.

Of course, on the way back from Ticketron, I bought The James Gang Live at Carnegie Hall album. The show I saw was the return trip to Carnegie Hall.

James Gang Live at Carnegie Hall is a classic live album. The front cover is horses tied up in front of Carnegie Hall, the back cover is a picture of the band cleaning up horse crap. It’s considered one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. Joe Walsh on lead guitar and vocals is at his all time best. With hits like “Funk 49”, “Walk Away” and “Tend my Garden”, it’s still one of my favorite albums. Check it out.

Off to the show. Excitement is building as the show starts. First up is a midget swami swallowing swords, juggling, and walking on broken glass. Is this what happens at every concert?

Next up, the lights dim, and a couch comes out in the middle of the stage. Is this The James Gang? Nope.

It’s Tempest Starr. A stripper. Is THIS what happens at every concert?

Now, I am barely 15 and my Aunt is freaking out. Why did I take her to a concert with a stripper? Did I know? Did Jimmy know? We didn’t. She tried to shield my eyes from the depravity, but trying to stop a 15 year old boy from looking at tits is futile. I may have even bit her (my Aunt, not the stripper), I don’t remember.

Finally, the band came out and it was by far the loudest music I ever heard. I mean really freaking loud. Just three guys. Joe Walsh on Guitar, Dale Peters on Bass and Jimmy Vox on drums. Even by today’s standards, an amazing band. Little did I know it was the very last time Joe Walsh played with the band until 2007. It was also the last time my Aunt took me to a concert.

An amazing start to what would be hundreds of concerts (all without strippers).

Daily Song:

James Gang – Walk Away http://youtu.be/7EdWQ8hX4Ik

When I’m sad, I slide

Immersed in sounds from the 8-track contraband incident of ’72, my thirst for any kind of new music became insatiable. Jimmy had introduced me to more bands with odd names, like Humble Pie and Savoy Brown. I loved it all.

There was a commercial on TV for a new band called T.Rex. Some weird looking guy with corkscrew hair was roaming around while Ringo Starr took pictures, all set to the backdrop of this chugging sound that said “buy me” in it’s own subliminal way.

So, I marched to Korvettes and did just that. I purchased my first album. T.Rex, the Slider. Jimmy also bought it, which didn’t make much sense since we always listened to records together. Nonetheless, I started my collection with The Slider.

From the opening track,  “Metal Guru” to the final track, “Main Man”, I was hooked on Marc Bolan’s droning voice and repetititve chords. More importantly, I loved the poetry of his lyrics. It was fun, sexually charged rock n roll. I played it over and over. I loved that album and still do today.

T.Rex was the beginning of my record collection. Pop idols in England, and only a passing fad in the states, T.Rex were the forerunners of the glam-rock revolution that followed.

Sadly, Marc Bolan died too young to continue his path of rock ‘n’ roll greatness, but his legend lives on.

Key albums for T. Rex newbies are the aforementioned “The Slider” and the excellent “Electric Warrior.” Both of these albums feature songs that have earned their rightful place as classics and Marc Bolan is often sited as one of the top innovators in rock ‘n’ roll history. Damn well deserved.

In my recollection, most of the other T. Rex albums were spotty at best, with some exceptional songs in between. Check out “20th Century Boy” to see what I am talking about.

I actually saw T. Rex once in concert as an opening act for Three Dog Night in 1973 at The Nassau Coliseum. They had trouble with the sound and Marc was pissed. He ripped off strings of his guitar and whipped it, leaving the Three Dog Night audience confused and leaving the stage way too early. I had no idea I was witnessing a true moment in rock history.

Rock on Marc Bolan…Rock on, yeah, yeah , yeah.

Daily Song:

T. Rex – Rock On http://youtu.be/4TH5ONzlypE

They fell off a truck

It’s the summer of 1972. I’m a 14-year-old Brooklyn kid transplanted to the hell that is the suburbs. Lost and out of focus, I follow my parents around seeking some sort of connection to the traumatic change in scenery.

Cut to my Uncle Tony’s house. Some thug named Artie calls my Dad and me over to the trunk of his car. Expecting to see a body, he uncovers boxes of 8-track tapes. Dozens of them. He says “take them.”  I remember my Dad saying “where did you get these?” He stated, with a sly grin, “they fell off a truck.”  I didn’t know that was Italian for “stolen.”

We took them.

On closer inspection, I discover the oddest collection of names. Alice Cooper-Killer (who is she?) George Harrison-All Things Must Pass (wasn’t he a Beatle? Who is this old man with a long beard on the cover?) Cream? Traffic? Deep Purple-Machine Head? Led Zeppelin? Yes-Fragile? Jethro Tull-Thick As A Brick? (that is hilarious). What kind of crazy names are these? Kink Kronikles? Jefferson Airplane? what is this stuff? I hardly remember the rest, but it was a boxful of treasure. I couldn’t wait to listen to this new bounty bestowed upon me by this criminal. The criminal that brought the music back to me.

Of course, Alice Cooper struck me as odd, since I kept waiting to hear a female voice. I invited my school friend, Jimmy, over to listen. He knew more than I did, specifically that Alice was a guy. It was scary, and weird and exactly the medicine a misplaced angst-ridden teenager needed.

I was hooked. Dangerously hooked.

Daily Song:

Alice Cooper – Under My Wheels http://youtu.be/B1g4NT0t9h4

What happened to “yeah yeah yeah yeah ?”

Welcome to the first post of my musical blog. I have been a music fan for as long as I can remember. Somewhere in the early 70’s I became more than just a fan. I became a bona fide geek when it came to rock music. I collected records to a level that made my parents nervous. I specifically remember my mother saying “Steven, there is more to life than The Beatles.” She was wrong. There isn’t.

Many events shaped my musical tastes, which I intend to expose in this blog.

I grew up in a house where the radio was never turned off. It was the early 60’s and WMCA, featuring “the good guys” is my earliest memory of pop radio. The good guys included famous DJ’s like Murray The K, Harry Harrison, Scott Muni, etc. I didn’t know at the time these guys would be legends in radio. Some of them moved to different stations over the years. Many died, along with the radio phenomenon.

I remember Murray The K screaming on a daily basis about the coming invasion of The Beatles. Everyone was roped in. Thankfully, the band delivered.

I was 6 years old and I still remember my entire family, along with Aunts and Grandparents, laughing at their funny hair, yet watching the entire Ed Sullivan show in anticipation of the last three minutes when The Beatles would finally show up on screen. The seeds were sown into my soul with Paul McCartney’s head shake and the words “yeah yeah yeah yeah.”

My aunts bought all the Beatles 45’s and played them almost as often as the radio. Today, 48 years later, I still get a chill when I hear “I Saw Her Standing There.”

The phenomenon continued with the Herman’s Hermits, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals all hitting Sullivan and turning into overnight successes. I wasn’t old enough, but I could imagine guys faking British accents just to get laid.

Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, it stopped for me.

It was somewhere around 1966 when my Aunt bought me a Christmas present.

It was the new album by my beloved Beatles. Rubber Soul. The cover looked weird. The music was even weirder. I have a vivid memory of not only hating it, but being angry. I didn’t hear one “yeah,” let alone, the expected four. This wan’t the four guys I grew to worship. This was something else. I was a 9 year old kid with multiple interests. My first listen to Rubber Soul and music ceased to be one of them.

I went outside to play wiffle ball with my friends.

I was an idiot.

Daily Song:

The Beatles – Norwegian Wood http://youtu.be/lY5i4-rWh44

Bonzos

Bonzos_1

Rock n Roll is supposed to be fun. It’s even better when it’s funny. I have always been drawn to bands with a sense of humor. Whether its cleverly disguised like The Kinks and the Ramones or when it’s outright obvious like Frank Zappa.

My favorite funny guys of rock n roll are British. The Beatles loved to show off their sense of humor and this opened the door for other British zanies to take the reigns.

Monty Python were mostly a comedy troupe, but there was a musical side to their existence. For instance, George Harrison was not only a fan, but a contributor to the Pythonic way.

Another band that fit in with Monty Python have a rich catalog worth mining for.

The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band

 I love The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Find one of their anthologies and just buy it. Amazing stuff. Clever, catchy and creative songs. Members included Viv Stanshell, Roger Ruskin Spear, and Neil Innes. Neil did a lot of work with Monty Python. Wrote most of the music, along with Eric Idle. Loyalists of Monty Python and The Holy Grail will find Neil as one fo the wandering minstrels in Brave Sir Robin’s posse. He shows up everywhere.

I have always been a fan of Neil. He has a ton of solo albums. More importantly, Neil Innes, along with Eric Idle, created one fo the greatest parodies of music. The Rutles. A parody of the Beatles. To this day, one of my favorite fake bands, since Spinal Tap, or before Spinal Tap. They are the pre-fab four. The Rutles starred in an autobiographical film called “All you need Is Cash”, featuring such hits as “Ouch”, “Piggie In The Middle”, “Cheese And Onions”. It’s silly, it’s hilarious and it’s all very clever. Every Beatle fan needs to know about The Rutles. Brilliant stuff.

So have some fun and check this stuff out.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Intro & The Outro http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMqdwtd8TrQ&feature=share&list=AL94UKMTqg-9DEKZ0-qONZLsTxVp6PoTwR

I’m The Urban Spaceman http://youtu.be/SbLDI5lNdRQ

Hunting Tigers Out In India http://youtu.be/ZNmL1L3dF6g

Mr. Slater’s Parrot http://youtu.be/xIGjUf4fppA

Mickey’s Son And Daughter http://youtu.be/HSlpBCfu-us

Death Cab For Cutie http://youtu.be/a5rCc2bzFAs

Sound Of Music http://youtu.be/OuklqJD3v0c

Slush http://youtu.be/Kh8vNouUj2g

Hippies To Hipsters

barcode_3

I hate labels. Labels and categories are for record companies to find a place to fit a musical act. The masses buy into it.

Hard Rock, Acid Rock, Soft Rock, Prog-Rock, Punk Rock, Southern Rock, Crap Rock

Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, Speed Metal, Death Metal

Country Western, Country Rock, Alt-Country, Country pop crossover

Pop, Power Pop, Brit Pop

Rap, Gansta Rap, Hip Hop

New Wave, No Wave

Grunge, Hipster

ENOUGH ALREADY

Why can’t music just be music.

i listen to Black Sabbath and Abba on the same day. My musical tastes go from Sinatra to the Sex Pistols. I don’t apologize for anything I listen to. I have many guilty pleasures.

If it turns me on and I like it that’s good enough for me.

DON’T fall into the trap these genre whores set for you.

The saddest thing is when bands are not listened to because they are categorized by some mass marketing media group of idiots who know nothing about music.

Be free to enjoy anything.

Except Bon Jovi, Daughtry, and Billy Joel.

That stuff is just shit.

Thank you very much. I am here all week. Try the veal.