Still Celebrating Tom Petty’s Life with ‘The Live Anthology’ Box Set

1.31 petty - the live anthology

I cannot believe it, but we are quickly coming upon the four-month anniversary of the death of the rock voice of my life, Tom Petty. I just cannot believe that a superstar like Petty was, who seemed to be so humble and down-to-earth, is gone, leaving many of us without the musical voice for our lives. Tom Petty was blessed with a gift in which it seemed as though he was able to pull chords, melodies and lyrics from the sky and arrange them all within the simplest context so they we mere mortals could sing and dance to them. That man was blessed with the rarest of gifts, and we were all so very lucky that we were able to enjoy everything he gave us to hear.

1.31 petty - the live anthology deluxe version

Over the course of time since his unfortunate passing, I keep coming back to the same album time after time, week after week, month after month. It’s not one of his terrific studio albums. Neither is it his diamond-selling Greatest Hits disc, nor his double-album Anthology nor his definitive six-disc Playback box set. No, I keep reaching for his sprawling box set of five concert discs, one 12″ vinyl EP entitled Official Live ‘Leg, as well as a couple of DVD documentaries and concert performances, not to mention lots of collectible items and knick-knacks. Of all the box sets I own, which is only a hand full or so, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ The Live Anthology is the most extensive box set I own. And, I believe it is the perfect setting for which to base upon Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ liver performances. The best part is that the box set consists of 62 songs, many of which are cover songs that are not found on any of his studio albums.

In other words, The Live Anthology is a Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ live concert motherlode throughout his career. Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell produced the set, so the duo worked especially hard to make live versions from different eras of the band seamlessly segue in order to “fool” the listener into thinking he or she were actually at the five-plus hours of concert recordings.

1.31 petty - tla disc 11.31 petty - tla disc 2

1.31 petty - tla disc 31.31 petty - tla disc 4

1.31 petty - tla disc 5

In addition to some choice cover tunes, such as the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” or Van Morrison’s “Mystic Eyes”, you get a boatload of Petty solo and with-the-Heartbreakers hits. If nothing else, this set makes you forget the disappointment of the band’s previous live album, 1985’s Pack Up the Plantation – Live. Since I was fortunate to have seen Petty three times over the years, I get to relive songs from each of those tours. For instance, the song I remember being one his best on the 1981 ‘Hard Promises’ Tour, the band performed a version of “Breakdown” during which the break into a version of Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack”, then effortlessly coming back to end the original song. That moment was one of many highlights of my first Tom Petty concert. Or, I can relive the 1983 ‘Long After Dark’ Tour with that rockin’ version of ‘Refugee’. And, that’s just from the first disc in this five-CD, two-DVD, one vinyl EP box set. Unfortunately, this box set does not document the big 2009 Tour celebration of the band’s greatness that began with their great half-time appearance at the Super Bowl. Yet, for me, that is a minor issue, since every other tour is represented throughout the five CDs worth of live material.

1.31 petty - official live leg

Since Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were one of the greatest live bands in rock history, they were a perfect choice to perform at the Super Bowl and to have this extensive of a live anthology box set that was released near the end of 2009. Live is THE way to best enjoy Tom Petty’s songwriting ability, and the Heartbreakers were the best musicians to bring his music to life. I sure hope that Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell can bring some of the band’s more recent tours to the public with a second Live Anthology.

Until that happens, we have this fantastic 62-song “concert” recording to help us ease the pain of Tom Petty’s passing. I hope Tom no longer feels like a “Refugee” and has found the peace that alluded him during his time on earth. Thanks for the musical memories!

Big Star’s ‘Complete Third’: A Musical Journey

1.30 big star - complete third lp

I think that everyone who has been following this blog for any significant length of time knows how much I love rock music, especially power pop music. Early in the month, I tackled that brilliant Omnivore release of a concert album of the 2004 Raspberries reunion tour called Pop Art Live. Then, a few days later, I stated that I wanted to change my 2017 Album of the Year from U2’s sublime Songs of Experience to Derrick Anderson’s excellent power pop confection A World of My Own, by the way, is also on Omnivore. For some reason, power pop music speaks to my soul. Maybe, it was all of that bubblegum music that provided the foundation of my musical tastes coupled with those screaming guitars that remind me of The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” or The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” or anything by the early version of The Kinks. Whatever it is, I dig it. So, I thought I would challenge myself today and tackle a triple-double album set of Big Star’s last album from the Seventies that was released by those cats at Omnivore Records and titled Complete Third.

1.30 Big Star - Third Sister Lovers1.30 Big Star - Third

First of all, I love the care the people at Omnivore put into their vinyl releases; much of their stuff is made specifically for the mega-fans/collectors of the artists on their roster. Few of the artists are actually active, so their releases are lovingly packaged releases of fairly obscure yet profoundly significant artists. To list but a few of my favorite artists on the Omnivore label are the aforementioned Raspberries and Derrick Anderson, along with Jellyfish, Bangles, Big Star and Game Theory. You can also find albums by Buck Owens, Old 97s, The Knack and The Posies, along with a multitude of fantastic people from many other genres. Due to the fantastic quality of every album that I have purchased from Omnivore, that label has moved to the forefront of labels who specialize in preserving musical history. They remind me of the quality releases that Rhino Records made until just recently.

But, what Omnivore did with the weirdest album in Big Star’s catalog, has been an effort that was way above and beyond the call of duty. Even though Big Star’s first album, #1 Record is the one that initially makes you a fan of the band, Big Star’s third album, initially titled Third/Sister Lovers on its 1992 Rykodisc CD release, yet later labeled as Third when their original label, Ardent, re-released it a few years ago, is the album that makes you a long term fan of the band. Of the three albums, it is the last one I suggest that you purchase, because it can be a rough listen for the first couple of times. It’s really an Alex Chilton solo album, as the album was created after Chilton’s yin, Chris Bell, left the band. As a matter of fact, only original drummer Jody Stephens remained from Big Star’s original lineup.

1.30 Big Star - Third Vol 1 Demos to Sessions to Roughs

Like I said earlier, Omnivore’s version of this album consists of three volumes of two vinyl albums, while the compact box set is simply three discs. The first volume of this set, I purchased during a Black Friday Record Store celebration in 2016. This double-album collection, titled Complete Third Vol. 1: Demos to Sessions to Roughs, begins the creation of this wonderful album. In it, you can hear the band attempt different versions of the same songs. For instance, a couple of songs are tried out as male-female duets, giving the listener a whole new perspective on the songs “I’m So Tired” and “That’s All It Took”. Many of the songs are totally different than the versions that will come to be associated with this classic album.

1.30 Big Star - Third Vol 2 Roughs to Mixes

Then, between Black Friday RSD 2016 and the actual Record Store Day held in April 2017, Omnivore released Complete Third Vol. 2: Roughs to Mixes, in which Big Star is making great strides in the studio to smooth out and strengthen this group of songs into something worthy of release. The growth of these songs can actually be heard, as the band continues to experiment with tempos and even letting a female singer, Lesa Aldredge, take on lead vocal  on the song “After Hours”, once again totally changing the perspective of the song. Throughout the first two volumes, you are being witness to the playfulness of this version of Big Star as they rock through versions of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” and two songs written by Lou Reed, “Femme Fatale” and “After Hours”, in addition to several other covers.

1.30 Big Star - Third Vol 3 Final Masters

Finally, on Record Store Day in April 2017, I finally completed my vinyl collection of three double-album sets of Complete Third, when I picked up Complete Third Vol. 3: Final Masters. Now, I had what Omnivore’s vision is for this album, and I must say the album finally sounds as though it belongs together. The songs are in a different order on these albums than on the CD from the Nineties. I actually feel confident that this may be the order in which Big Star, specifically Alex, wanted the songs sequenced. This album has been pieced together is so many different orders that we may never really know what the intended version was supposed to be. But, I believe that the fine people at Omnivore researched the project so thoroughly that they might have this whole collection done the right way. And, it sounds impeccable.

Omnivore Records’ version of Big Star’s Complete Third is a musical archeological study unto itself. Likewise, it is a rock music history lesson, as we hear a band that is falling apart trying to stick together to release an album that maybe should not have been labeled as a Big Star album but ended up as such anyway. This six LP vinyl set is a gift of excellent research, every bit as important as the tender remastering that was done to preserve the music as well as the whole creative process. Big Star’s Complete Third is a musical lesson plan for music professors and teachers throughout the world. Big Star may have created the music, but Omnivore made the whole experience of recording the album transcendent.

How Grammy Disappointment Would Not Cloud the Happiness of My Record Show Discovery

The Late Show Band - Portable Pop

As I was watching the Grammys last night, I got to thinking about how out of touch that group of voters have been over the years. For instance, arguably the greatest band ever, The Beatles, only one Grammy for Album of the Year, when they won in 1968 for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Still, that means Rubber Soul, Revolver, The Beatles and Abbey Road, all considered to be part of the twenty greatest albums of all-time, never won the award. Neither did The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, Purple Rain by Prince & the Revolution, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run and Born in the USA, Nevermind by Nirvana nor London Calling by the Clash. Instead, we got albums like Christopher Cross’ self-titled debut album or Blood, Sweat & Tears’ eponymous first album. Nearly every year, I turn off the TV, upset by which album wins, or at least stunned by what just occurred. This year was status quo as Bruno Mars won the big three awards (Song of the Year [for the songwriter(s)], Record of the Year and Album of the Year). The bottom line, in my opinion, is that the Grammys are really are not an effective showing of what happened in music during a particular year.

Every year, I say the same things. So, enough of the out-of-touch Grammy voters. I guess my post-Grammys blasé stems from the lack of spectacular performances. To me, only Kesha and Kendrick Lamar gave transcendent performances. The rest were just okay. Oh well, these shows cannot all be winners.

The Late Show Band live in concert 1980

What I did do yesterday has affected me today. My back pain level is nearly off the chart today, all because I met up with a fraternity brother of mine and his wife to go to a record show. I was hurting so bad, that I really didn’t get into flipping through records all that much. However, I did make two terrific finds. First, I found a 1984 US copy of The Smiths’ eponymous debut album. It seems that The Smiths’ albums from the Eighties have become very difficult to find, but, lo and behold, I found one and now it is part of my collection. My other “best buy” find was a copy of the debut album of a power pop band called The Late Show. The album, which came out in 1980, is highly sought in the power pop community and is called Portable Pop. I got such a fantastic deal on it that I really don’t want to rub it in the seller’s face in case he reads this.

So, besides the quality of The Late Show’s music, why is this album so collectible? Well, this band was formed in 1972 when four students from North Central High School in Indianapolis got together to play some music that mixed their shared love of The Beatles and The Who circa 1965. After gigging around the Midwest for years, their music got the ear of legendary rock album producer Jack Douglas, who had produced albums by Aerosmith and Cheap Trick, to list but two artists. Long story short, even though they had this major endorsement, The Late Show turned down several big labels’ offers thinking there was a better offer just around the corner. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

The Late Show Band Stage in 80s

Finally, in 1980, with the band signed to a tiny Indianapolis record label called Rave Records and commenced recording in Indy’s own Soundsmith Studio. At the time, The Late Show consisted of Don Main (lead vocals and bass), Rick Clayton (lead vocals and guitar), Mark Moran (lead guitar and vocals) and Chris Pyle (drums), and the band’s sound was reminiscent of the Raspberries, The Knack and The Romantics. Unfortunately, tThe album was released and fell flat with a thud. The band struggled throughout the Eighties to no avail. Quietly, the band disbanded in 1991.

Then, in 2007, something of a Late Show resurgence occurred when, first, John M. Borack, in his brilliant power pop overview entitled Shake Some Action was released. In the book, Borack listed and gave little one- or two-paragraph reviews of his Top 200 Power Pop Albums of All-Time. Borack ranked The Late Show’s Portable Pop at number 46 on his list. Then, a tiny independent label called Trashy Creature Records, picked up the album and band and re-released Portable Pop on CD and cassette tape for the first time ever. Shortly thereafter, Goldmine magazine place Portable Pop in its Top 50 US Power Pop Albums of All-Time List at number 23.

The Late Show Band publicity pic

Once the album was released on CD in 2007, The Late Show was being added to the playlists of over 70 college rock and independent radio stations across the country. That action convinced The Late Show to reunite and get back on the road, which they continue to this day, mainly around Indiana. There has been a rumor of a second album, one that was recorded and shelved back during the Eighties, being remastered and released. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to me, this has not happened, which is unfortunate.

The Late Show Band outdoor concert

So, that is the history of The Late Show, one of those obscure bands who released an album of great music that went unknown to the public for 27 years before the band caught on with an influential writer or two only to receive the critical endorsement over two-and-a-half decades later. At least, The Late Show is being heard now.

And, I finally have this brilliant album in my collection. I am so stoked!

Sorry! I Just Discovered Primal Scream, and I Wanna Tell You About It

1.26 Screamadelica_album_cover

Go ahead! Call me a “Johnny-Come-Lately”. Or, just call me old and WAY behind the times. I get it. I am not always on the cusp of music, especially while my boys were little and I was back in college in order to change careers from a Medical Technology, one who runs diagnostic tests on the fluids from the human body in a hospital laboratory setting to become a high school chemistry teacher and track/basketball/cross country coach. During that time up to my retirement, music took a back seat to my boys and career. Plus, when you coach high school varsity athletic teams, it takes up most of your waking hours. So, lately, I have been making an effort to learn about the music I missed in the Nineties, especially the Britpop stuff that did not really make a dent here in the States.

Of course, one of the first CDs I bought was the landmark Stone Roses’ eponymous debut album from 1989. Then, it was on to Oasis, Blur, Saint Etienne, My Bloody Valentine, Supergrass, Primal Scream, etc. As a matter of fact, I just recently purchased the 2011 remaster of Primal Scream’s 1991 masterpiece Screamadelica and have fallen in love with it as if I were living back in 1991. The album sounds as fresh today as it would have when it was released. As a matter of fact, this album absolutely sounds timeless.

1.26 primal-scream live
Primal Scream in 1991

I love it when an artist or band takes chances with their music and hits a home run in the process. That is what happened during the creation of this album. The band seamlessly melded their disparate musical interests into one of rock’s most enduring pieces of work. Primal Scream, at the time was a relatively unknown band outside of its native United Kingdom. Even their first couple of albums did not anticipate what they would do on Screamadelica. The band took their love of the Rolling Stones, Motown, funk, hip hop-like samples, punk, 60s psychedelia and pop/rock music, stirred it all together to birth 11 anthemic songs.

1.26 Primal_Scream_-_Loaded1.26 primal scream come together

The standouts are the two popular hit singles over in the UK: “Loaded” (track 7) and “Come Together” (track 6). Those two, when viewed together combine to tell the public that Primal Scream is a rock band who will make you want to hit the dancefloor without sacrificing fans from either genre. The boys also throw in samples, which, in 1991, was pretty much unheard of. At times, you can find some old school hip hop rhythms holding down the bottom, all the while the top is nothing but dirty Stones-ish blues-based rock. And the whole thing on these two songs is a heavenly mix.

But, unlike other albums where the promise of a great single or two is not matched by the album, Primal Scream was able to maintain the high level of songwriting, skillful playing, urgent playfulness and blinders-on confidence in their muse. In other words, Primal Scream made an album that will always rival Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten and Temple of the Dog’s self-titled debut album for 1991’s best album released that year. Now, that’s high praise.

1.26 primal scream presents screamadelica live

But, I think what may put Screamadelica over the top is the excellent ballad “Damaged”. It is the kind of ballad the Rolling Stones used to make in the Seventies, like a long-lost cousin of “Beast of Burden”, “Angie” or “Fool to Cry”. It has the very same emotional depth of those examples as well as an excellent bass line and an emotional guitar solo.

The other standout track on this album that is full of terrific songs is the album opener, “Movin’ on Up”. “Movin’ on Up” is Primal Scream’s anthemic call-to-arms song that tells the listener that this band is ready for the big time and they are going for it immediately. Immediately, the band marries those hip hop-ish rhythms to a Stones/George Michael’s “Faith”-feel rock song, along with a gospel choir and a roaring guitar solo, to make something new and fresh. Immediately, the listener is drawn in and can lose him- or herself in the music, picking out some Summer of Love touches here, some MC5 power there, and a whole lotta love everywhere. The song is basically everything that I love about great rock music.

1.26 bobby gillespie with haim
Primal Scream lead singer Bobby Gillespie sings with the sisters of the band HAIM.

I just wish I had discovered this album back in the day, so I could have been enjoying it for nearly 27 years. However, Screamadelica reminds me of everything I ever loved about music. I am just happy that I found the album at all. I may have a hard time ever taking this CD out of my player.

See? I can still get the thrill of discovering a new-to-me album, even at my age. Cheers to Primal Scream for giving us Screamadelica. I MUST get this album on vinyl.

Tomorrow, It Will Be Thirty-Eight Years as a Prince Fan

1.25 Prince_SelfTitled

I realize it is a day earlier, but tomorrow marks the 38th anniversary of Prince’s appearance on Dick Clark’s landmark music show here in the States, American Bandstand. I vividly remember that very day. I had first seen Prince on Midnight Special a couple of weeks earlier and was blown away by that performance. I was over at my first high school girlfriend’s house. While the rest of the house was not impressed, I was transfixed by that vary performance.

1.25 prince on midnight special 1.8.1980
Prince on Midnight Special on 8 January 1980

On that January Saturday afternoon, I had gone to school in the morning for basketball walk-through before our game that night. I then went over to that aforementioned girl’s house for some lunch, thanks to her wonderful mother. I talked basketball with her dad, since I was the only sports fanatic walking through his front door since he had three girls in his house. After lunch, I drove back home to lay on the couch to watch Prince on American Bandstand.

1.25 Prince on AB
Prince on American Bandstand on 26 January 1980

Sure enough, there he was, that little, talented pipsqueak of a rock god, rate there on my television, lip-syncing the hell out of his first real Top 40 hit, had “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. Once again, he was mesmerizing. I had not ever seen anything like him. Oh, sure, I had seen clips of Little Richard from the 50s, James Brown and Sly Stone from the 60s and Michael Jackson earlier in the 70s, but I was not prepared for what I witnessed as Prince tore it up during “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, then showed that a black dude could rip a guitar “solo” during his performance of “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”

I was so excited, that I quickly got up and drove down the road to the local record store in the town near me, Sun Records. When I walked in, I asked the owners if they had the most recent album by a new artist by Prince. The owner who looked like a refugee from Woodstock that stopped in Central Indiana after following the Grateful Dead across the country and just decided to put down roots here and open a record store and head shop near me. His first response to me was, “You look like a white guy to me.” Then he smiled, turned around to grab a copy of the album, titled Prince, from behind him at the counter, and then said, “This will really change your world, dude. Enjoy, but come back in a week and give me your review.” I quickly paid him, he gave me the album, I hopped back into the car and drove the three miles back home.

1.25 Prince-Interview-American-Bandstand-1980
Dick Clark’s infamous interview during which Prince, if he talked at all, only gave one-syllable word answers

When I got back home, Mom met me asking why I shot out the door so fast? I told her that I wanted to get this album to listen to before leaving for my game in a couple of hours. Quickly, I darted past her after giving her a peck on the cheek, went to the bedroom, closed the door, cleaned the album and put it on the old turntable. And, what I heard changed my musical tastes forever. That was THE moment I became a big fan of Prince.

The album begins with his first Top 40 hit, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, which eventually stalled at #11. Thank goodness it did, so we had room for the latest crap by Neil Diamond or Kenny Rogers to take up good places on the local radio stations’ playlists. I digress. That first single I ever heard by the Purple One from Minneapolis was a disco/funk/rock/pop amalgamation of the likes I had yet to ever hear. Sure, the album cut was longer and played up its dance elements, but I was hooked. Plus, for some reason, the song had the rhythm of a basketball game. With that song in my head and soul, I dropped 18 points that night.

1.25 Prince performs on AB
Another pic from Bandstand

The second song was the other one Prince preformed on both TV shows, “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” Now, this song rocked every bit as much as it grooved. It was absolutely the first time that those two sides of my musical personality met each other, and they loved it! As a matter of fact, I ended up loving this song much more that “Lover”. I especially loved his stinging guitar solo that rode out the song all the awhile I wanted to dance.

After that one-two punch, Prince’s music continued to impress me. “Sexy Dancer” showed that he was almost ready to take the funk mantle from George Clinton’s crumbling empire and run. Prince then proved that he could do a Barry White slow song using a Smokey Robinson falsetto on “When We’re Dancing Close and Slow”. Prince gives us his take on a typical R&B ballad of the day on “With You”.

But, nothing prepared my almost 17-year-old ears for “Bambi”. It begins with a Hendrixian guitar intro, and keeps the rock groove throughout the song. “Bambi” sounded like nothing I had heard up to that point; however, in retrospect, it does foreshadow the music of the late-Eighties Black Rock Coalition metal band Living Colour. If Vernon Reid did not get three-quarters of his ideas from this song, then he should have started here. “Bambi” then gives way to Prince’s take on a Lionel Richie song with his own “Still Waiting”.

The next-to-last song on the album is the oft-covered “I Feel for You”. While Prince’s version is playful and exciting, we all remember Chaka Khan’s ultra-hot version from 1984 that added some rap and hip hop sounds to make this terrific song her own. Still, what Chaka Khan did is a rarity, yet it does happen (Everyone remember Sinead O’Connor’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”?).

Finally, Prince ends his eponymous sophomore album with a more Prince-like mid-tempo song with “It’s Gonna Be Lonely”. At the time, this was an unusual move to epic the song with something of an epic song, as though Prince was reaching for his version of “Stairway to Heaven”. Now, we all know that he would finally reach that epic song in five years when he records “Purple Rain”. But, at this moment in early 1980, Prince was still discovering his talents. Still, Prince stands as a grand statement of artistic vision as we had seen since Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye both declared their artistic independence at the beginning of the Seventies, and we all know how that turned out for them. And, as excellent as this album was for Prince at the time, we will all be dumbfounded AND amazed by the work he will release to the public (and the work he will NOT release as well) by the end of the Eighties. What Prince ultimately showed us is that we have an artist who will be artistically swinging for the fences.

Thirty-eight years ago tomorrow, I began my own musical trip with Prince. I stuck with during those heady days of the Eighties, through the artistically interesting Nineties and into and throughout the commercial wilderness of the Twenty-first century. What made Prince my favorite artist throughout his whole career was his willingness to follow his own muse and not pander to what other thought he should do, though he did come close to doing that on his 1999 release Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. The man’s music got me through some difficult times and helped me celebrate some joyful times. Unfortunately, he died much too young. Still, I expect to continue to hear “new” music of his as his people go through The Vault and discover some of the brilliant, yet unreleased, music that he shelved as was his want.

Prince was the singularly most exciting musical talent of my lifetime. And, I miss him nearly as much as I miss some of my departed loved ones.

Do You Remember When Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello Wrote Some Songs?

1.24 Macca & Elvis 1988
The Dynamic Duo in 1988

Back in the late Eighties, I vaguely remember reading in Rolling Stone magazine that Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello were in the studio, quietly collaborating on songs that could end up on an album by the pair. Then, as the years passed, songs from that brief yet prolific time together trickled out, mainly on McCartney’s comeback to form album Flowers in the Dirt (1989), while a couple more ended up on Costello’s Spike album from the very same year, in addition to a couple more Costello albums from the Nineties. Unfortunately, most of the songs that saw the light of day did so in re-recorded versions by each artist. That is, not until 2017, when McCartney released Deluxe and Super Deluxe versions of Flowers in the Dirt. For better or worse, those songs were mostly released in their demo forms.

1.24 Costello - Spike1.24 Macca - Flowers in the Dirt

Both artists’ 1989 albums contained the last Top 40 hits of their careers. Elvis reached #19 on Billboard’s Hot 100 with his version of the pair’s song “Veronica”. That song represented the only Top 20 hit of Costello’s career. He came close in 1983 with “Everyday I Write the Book”, which, believe it or not, only reached #36. The only other song that came close to the Top 40, was his 1984 duet with Daryl Hall “The Only Flame in Town”, which stalled at a disappointing #56. Surprisingly, those three songs were his only Hot 100 hits in the USA. Still, Elvis is considered to be one of the greatest songwriter’s of our generation. And, I feel so fortunate that I finally got to see him in concert during the summer of 2017.

McCartney, on the other hand, had many hits with The Beatles, Wings, as a solo artist, in addition to a handful of hits he made in collaboration with the likes of Stevie Wonder (“Ebony & Ivory”, 1982), Michael Jackson (“The Girls is Mine”, 1982, & “Say Say Say”, 1983) and Kanye West and Rihanna (“FourFiveSeconds”, 2015). Yet, his last Top 40 hit song came in 1989 when “My Brave Face” peaked at #25 in 1989.

1.24 McCartney & Costello

Outside of a bootleg album from 1998, entitled The McCartney/MacManus Collaboration, little from those much-discussed sessions between the two rock legends. That is, until the anniversary release of McCartney’s Flo,wer in the Dirt. As usual, McCartney’s comeback album was not only released in a double-CD remastered form, but also a deluxe 3 CD/1 DVD set and a Super Deluxe version in all different kinds of media forms. However, if you work from the Super Deluxe version, which I do NOT own, in addition to the 2001 double-CD release of Elvis Costello’s remastered Spike album, one could cobble together 16 songs that would represent all of the known songs the pair recorded during this time together in 1987 and 1988. The sixteen songs that the pair wrote together are as follows.

1. “Back on My Feet” (a B-side of “Once Upon a Long Ago”, a 1987 Paul McCartney single)

2. “Veronica” (Elvis Costello’s hit single from his 1989 Spike album)

3. “Pads, Paws and Claws” (an album cut from Spike, 1989)

4. “…This Town…” (another cut from Spike, 1989). Not really written together, but Paul did play bass on the song.

5. “My Brave Face” (Paul’s hit single from his 1989 album, Flowers in the Dirt)

6. “You Want Her Too” (an album cut from Flowers in the Dirt, 1989)

7. “Don’t Be Careless” (Flowers in the Dirt, 1989)

8. “That Day Is Done” (Flowers in the Dirt, 1989)

9. “So like Candy” (Mighty like a Rose – Elvis Costello, 1991)

10. “Playboy to a Man” (Mighty like a Rose, 1991)

11. “Mistress and Maid” (Paul McCartney’s Off the Ground, 1993). Reportedly written during a post-Spike/Flowers in the Dirt writing session the pair had during the summer of 1991.

12. “Lovers That Never Were” (Off the Ground, 1993)

13. “Shallow Grave” (Elvis Costello’s All This Useless Beauty, 1996)

14. “Twenty Fine Fingers” (unreleased until 2017)

15. “Tommy’s Coming Home” (unreleased until 2017)

16. “I Don’t Want to Confess” (unreleased until 2017). This song was the most obscure of all collaborative songs and was released as part of the download only batch of songs available when you buy the Super Deluxe edition of McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt. I still have NOT heard this song as of this writing.

1.24 McCartney & Costello 1995
Here is Elvis and Macca in 1995.

Even if you are familiar with only a couple of songs, you can hear how serious Costello took the sessions by never becoming a Beatle worshiper, while McCartney actually took inspiration from Costello’s presence by raising his game out of his Eighties funk. All of this work together helped both artists as they parlayed the rich experience they had together that led to some of their most critically acclaimed albums since their Seventies-heydays. The experience gave McCartney the confidence to rediscover his muse and not simply attempt to follow trends, as he was beginning to do in the wake of the successes of his duet work with Wonder and Jackson. For Costello, he learned that collaborations with other artists can push him to have the confidence to write with the likes of the great Burt Bacharach and Allen Toussaint, to much critical acclaim.

1.24 The_McCartney_MacManus_Collaboration_Bootleg_front
The bootleg version of the collaboration

The only downside was that we never got to hear the final, fully realized vision of these legends’ collaboration. Of course, we never thought we would ever get to hear The Beach Boys’ “lost classic” album SMiLE, but we did, first as a Brian Wilson solo album in 2004, then as how it should have sounded all along as an “unfinished” masterpiece by the original group when it was finally released in 2011. And, yes, all of us Prince-ologists are very excited to know that much of the music in his infamous Vault may see the light of day in the very near future. So, maybe several of his Purple Badness’ shelved albums, such as Camille or the rumored double album Dream Factory or the legendary original version of Crystal Ball, all allegedly recorded in 1986 and 1987, only to be held back in favor of his immortal double album Sign ‘o’ the Times. My personal hope is that Paul and Elvis will quiet finalize this epic album and release it to their adoring public because I honestly believe it could be just the hit album they both could use all the while maintaining their artistic integrity. I honestly do not think this would be their Chinese Democracy, that has tainted the reputation of the once mighty Guns N’ Roses.

I am very confident that Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello are sitting on one helluva album, an album that I had forgotten about until McCartney’s re-release of his 1989 hit album Flowers in the Dirt. I am keeping my fingers crossed since I think it would be so cool to have that album hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. I hope it is not a pipe-dream.

‘Faith’ Is Not Just a Classic, It’s Immortal

1.23 GeorgeMichaelFaithAlbumcover

When the subject of the best album of the Eighties pops up, many album titles will be thrown out with the likes of Thriller, Purple Rain or Born in the U.S.A. being bantered around for the title. One album, in particular often has been overlooked for this title. I am talking about the late, great George Michael’s immortal masterpiece Faith.

1.23 I want your sex

In June 1987, George Michael released what would be considered his first solo single in the United States amid much controversy, “I Want Your Sex”. With its driving dance rhythm and seemingly risque lyrics, “I Want Your Sex” signaled a new maturity in Michael’s songwriting. In the place of the pop fun that was a hallmark of his previous band’s, Wham!, songs was a slithery funk bassline which provided the foundation for a new foray into Eighties dance music. Of course, the American media became fixated on the lyrics of the song, which drove the sales of the single upward to nobody’s surprise, as the single peaked at number two on the Hot 100 Singles Chart. Michael was always explaining that the lyrics was a celebration of monogamous sex, not a hedonistic view of wild sex with multiple partners. Although this single signaled a change in Michael’s songwriting, it did not prepare us for the depth of this new album he was priming for release.

1.23 Faith_-_George_Michael_-_CD_Single

It was on October 12, 1987 that we discovered the next step in the development of a new maturing artist named George Michael when the title song of his upcoming solo debut was released to much fanfare. That single was “Faith”, a slice of neo-rockabilly all dressed up in Eighties pop production with an Eighties dance beat, making “Faith” that much more of an unlikely hit. Yet, the song became Michael’s first solo number one hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart, although the Wham! singles “Careless Whisper” and “A Different Corner” were technically solo singles, as released in the United Kingdom.

1.23 Father_Figure

Then, on October 30, 1987, Michael’s debut album was finally released, and the American public ate it up. The album eventually spent 12 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the American album chart on its way to become the biggest selling album of 1988. Faith has been certified as Diamond for 10-million units sold. Additionally, the album spawned four more hit singles: the haunting ballad “Father Figure”, the pleading ballad “One More Try”, the Euro-disco “Monkey”, which all hit number one in the US, and the exquisite “Kissing a Fool”, which peak at number five. Additionally, Michael became the first Caucasian artist to reach number one on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Album Chart in the US with Faith.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the success of his Faith album pushed Michael to desire more critical acclaim for his unparalleled songwriting skills more than being recognized as a sex symbol. That is why his next album, the somber, yet brilliant Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1 from 1990, was marketed without George appearing in his videos for the songs from that album. What Mr. Michael failed to notice was that he really was receiving wide acclaim for the Faith album from the critics. It is rare when the images Michael created in his videos became part of pop culture, perhaps society’s kindest way to pay homage to a rock artist. Still, Michael desired artistic reverence from the critics. Ironically, George Michael has received that critical acclaim to this very day for his Faith album.

1.23 Faith symbols

Personally, I was shocked and very sadden that a brilliant artist such as George Michael lost his life at such a relatively young age of 53. I hope he realized what a beloved artist he was, a designation that few artists achieve, which has got to be more satisfying than trying to pander to music critics, whose fickle nature makes such pandering futile. Instead, George Michael was a man of the people, and that’s got to be a much more comfortable crown to wear.

Here’s to the brilliance of George Michael. I hope he has found his peace. He was a unique talent that was matched only by a few of the immortals of the pop and rock world. I cannot wait until he is inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.


‘The Best of KC and the Sunshine Band’ Is One Fine Compilation

1.22 kc - best of

I will NOT apologize, but I am feeling like a little disco today. Now, when many of you hear the word disco, you cringe. Me, I’m a straight man who has always loved disco. Sure, it’s always been a “light” version of funk, but I am of the ilk that I really do not care what brings you da funk, it’s all good.

Now, the disco artists that jump out to the general public are the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Chic, but I am going to tell you that there was a band that arrived on the disco scene before any of the aforementioned artists hit the disco scene. Quietly, unbeknownst to many of my friends, I hid my love for KC & the Sunshine Band from everyone back in the mid-Seventies.

Back in 1973, a record store employee name Harry Wayne Casey met up with TK Studios engineer Richard Finch created what became KC & the Sunshine Band when they added session musicians Jerome Smith (guitar) and Robert Johnson (drums). The Casey-Finch collaboration became a highly successful musical relationship as the two wrote and led Smith, Johnson, and many other session musicians into the studio to record many hits on the dance floor and Top 40 radio. The band’s sound was a perfect mix of smooth pop sensibilities and great dance grooves.

1.22 kc-and-the-sunshine-band-get-down-tonight-rca-victor-2

In late 1974, the band nailed their first huge hit with “Get Down Tonight”, which went to #1 on both the Top 40 and R&B Charts, while peaking at #11 on the Dance Chart. The song was known for its unique guitar sound used at the beginning of the song. What Finch did was simply sped up the tape of Smith’s guitar playing throughout the song, making it difficult for Smith to recreate the sound in a live setting, until guitar foot pedal technology could catch up. The song’s bouncy rhythm section coupled with that unique guitar sound and easy lyrics to pick up made this song a catchy earworm in the best sense of the word.

After that song, KC & the Sunshine Band dominated the charts in the pre-Saturday Night Fever disco days, although the band did contribute a song to that soundtrack. For my money, their finest album is the 1989 Rhino compilation entitled The Best of KC and the Sunshine Band. On this album, every big chart success the band had is included.

1.22 kc - that's the way i like it

If you don’t remember, KC & the Sunshine Band had a total of five #1 Top 40 hits: “Get Down Tonight” (1975), “That’s the Way (I Like It)” (1975), “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” (1976), “I’m Your Boogie Man” (1977) and “Please Don’t Go” (1979). The band also had a #2 hit with “Keep It Comin’ Love” in 1977, while KC hit #2 with a duet he did with Terry DeSario on “Yes, I’m Ready” in 1979. Unfortunately, the latter ballad is not included on KC’s hit package.

This compilation does include KC’s excellent comeback single from 1983, “Give It Up”. I remember going to a dance club in 1984 and hearing that song played three times during the night, with the dance floor filling up every time. Now, I am NOT saying that the DJ was good that night. I am saying that the crowd wanted to dance, and KC made it happen unbeknownst to him that night. Yet, it is all the other songs included in this compilation that makes this album a classic album. All but two of the songs were hits on the R&B Chart, while those others got much action in the night clubs.

1.22 kc - please dont go

I remember in late 1979, when I was dating a girl and hearing that great ballad “Please Don’t Go” for the first time. Of course, it was a perfect song for a teenage relationship since it was all about the longing you would feel the minute that the two of you would become separated. And, KC & the Sunshine Band played it perfectly, though it was seemingly dominated by the increasingly popular synthesizer that you may miss the great bassline that made the song such a fantastic slow dance. Slow dances should have a great bottom to it, and “Please Don’t Go” has rhythm in spades.

1.22 kc live

If you need a great party album, I’m telling you know now that The Best of KC and the Sunshine Band is the album to use. At least, until you can afford some other compilations by the likes of Donna Summer, Chic and a couple box sets of disco hits and early rap hits. Tell me, who doesn’t want to “put on my, my, my boogie shoes”? When kicking out the jams just isn’t enough, it may be time to “get down tonight”. This is pop/disco at its finest.

Friday’s Classic Album: ELO’s Double Album ‘Out of the Blue’

1.19 elo out of the blue

In October of 1977, I remember purchasing two albums that ended up meaning the world to me. The two were Cheap Trick’s In Color and the Electric Light Orchestra’s double album odyssey Out of the Blue. Those two albums, for some reason, helped me momentarily forget the troubles I had at the time, whether it was dealing with the finalization of my parents’ divorce or the pressures of being a teacher’s kid in school or the fact that I was discovering that I had a darkness in me that I would be battling the rest of my life. But, as they say, we all have our problems, its how we deal with them. For me, in October 1977, it was those two albums and my sports.

As the winter moved on, I really got into the Electric Light Orchestra album. I have found that when listening to ELO, you hear new things every time you put it on the stereo. They are not like Poison where you hear everything they intend you to hear within the first 30 seconds of their latest hit. The Electric Light Orchestra, whose name itself implies a certain pretentiousness, and their music is initially built upon simple yet sweet melodies, but with each listen you discover the complexities of the different instrumentation leader Jeff Lynne added to his songs.

1.19 elo turn to stone

Let’s take the first hit song on the album, “Turn to Stone”. Initially, you are drawn into the song by the driving rhythm played on the keyboards along with the slick harmonizing vocals. Yet, upon further listens, you hear those sweet strings providing a counter to the driving force of the song that raises the song above the fodder that was passed off for Top 40 music back in the day. Eventually, the band and the orchestra work together for the ending of the song that makes for a subtle yet powerful crescendo. No longer were they were they working against each other for some tension, they are working together to raise the song to a different emotional level.

1.19 elo sweet talkin woman

The same technique works once again for the next single taken from the album, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”. The orchestration this time is working together with the rock band core to make the song jump from the speakers from the onset. The lyrics are not your typical lovelorn lyrics. They are set within some futuristic, science fiction setting that only humanizes the whole feel of a seemingly inhuman future based upon science. Once again, this is not your typical teenage love lament. Something deeper is going on, and the teenage version of me is still trying to decipher everything Jeff Lynne put into it.

At the end of Side One of this double album classic, we hear for the first time Jeff Lynne’s love of Fifties rockabilly on “Across the Border”. But, this is not your typical Seventies take on the Fifties. First, Lynne adds the orchestration along with something of a mariachi middle four, which makes for a total mind screw. Nowhere before had I heard of such a feat. But, all of the great artists of the Seventies were pushing the limits of rock music. That’s what made the Seventies so very exciting. Fortunately, Lynne will revisit this well a couple of more times with the hits “Hold on Tight” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King”. But those songs are still several years away.

1.19 elo mr blue sky

Side Two is ELO’s entry into their soulful side. This is the side of ELO that should have been explored further in the future. Unfortunately, Jeff Lynne never really went down this road much more, much to my personal chagrin. In retrospect, Side Two of Out of the Blue was Lynne channeling his inner Motown via Todd Rundgren, a side that could have prolonged the band’s success longer into the Eighties had he had followed this muse.

Side Three is more typical of ELO, an orchestrated suite based upon how weather affects humans’ moods. As a whole, Side Three is titled Concerto for a Rainy Day. “Standing in the Rain” depicts human emotional lows occurring on those dreary days during which the rain never seems to end. As that rainy day continues into the second song, “Big Wheels”, the rain now leads to insecurity in a relationship, showing how the dreariness of the weather leads to a dreariness within our psyches. “Big Wheels” segues into “Summer and Lightning”, which now sees the electricity in a romantic relationship leading to a longing to be with that person. Finally, everything corrects its in this relationship as the last song, the very happy “Mr. Blue Sky” begins. It’s as if the presence of the sun wipes away all the darkness you one can see everything clearly, leading to optimism in all aspects of your life, including that relationship that was almost ruined by the pessimism during the dreariest of days. Did you know that “Mr. Blue Sky”, a song deemed perfect enough to be used in the opening scene of the great Guardians of the Galaxy Part 2 only reached number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 list? It’s true! For some reason that song never became a hit in the USA. I have always loved the song and am happy it makes many different radio playlists now, but I never understood why it never was a big hit song back when it was released in 1978. Oh, that’s another question I have for God when I get to Heaven.

1.19 elo concert spaceship
The Spaceship in concert 1978

Finally, Side Four of this classic album is nothing but classic ELO pop/rock/orchestra songs. It’s as if Jeff Lynne packed the last side of this album with potential hits, except for, of course, the weird, but not out of place within the context of this album, “The Whale”. The album ends with two songs that would have both sounded at home on a John Lennon album. The raucous “Birmingham Blues” is a perfect addition to any classic rock radio station playlist, while the epic “Wild West Hero” is the perfect coda to this tight-sounding, no filler – all killer double album.

1.19 elo live 1978
Electric Light Orchestra live, under the Spaceship

For reasons I will NEVER understand, the Baby Boomers who were writing albums reviews at the time panned this album. Sure, the whole idea of ELO was to pick up where the Beatles left off at “I Am the Walrus”. But, those critics held that ideal against the band, instead of glorifying the band for what they accomplished, which is what all of us younger music lovers have done in the aftermath. The Electric Light Orchestra deserves its place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and if Out of the Blue were the only album you had listened to, this is the perfect album in which to get to know everything about the band. And while this album is hands down a classic album, please know this is NOT the only classic album by the Electric Light Orchestra. The previous two albums in their discography are worthy classic albums as well. Don’t stop with this one. Check out 1975’s Face the Music and 1976’s A New World Record in order to hear the band’s other two great moments in album history.

Here’s to Out of the Blue!


An Instant Classic: ‘El Camino’ by The Black Keys

1.18 The_Black_Keys_El_Camino_Album_Cover

From 2002 through 2012, I had the most difficult time trying to stay abreast of all the changes that were happening in music. During this time, I had undergone around eight surgical procedures, as well as countless other invasive procedures, all in the hopes that the persistent high level of structural pain and constant, never-ending back spasms would be cured, or at least reduced to a level through which I could work. Unfortunately, nothing really worked. Out of everything that was done, perhaps the most interesting was having a device attached to my back in order for the device to translate the back spasms into sound waves. Unfortunately for me, I set that practice’s record for the loudest soundwaves ever recorded. Normally, you crank the device up to a 8 or 9 level in order to hear the spasms. Mine were so intense that they damn near pegged the needle, and the doctor had to turn down the sound to a more soothing level 2. So, yes, I am in pain. I don’t really like to talk about it, but at least you may understand why I have spent much of the years since my retirement in 2012 playing catch-up with music, focused mainly on the 21st century releases.

1.18 BlackKeys-Attack&Release1.18 The_Black_Keys_-_Brothers

1.18 Black_Keys_Turn_Blue_album_cover

Back in 2008, I was scrolling through iTunes, just sampling some new music by artists of whom I had never heard. I remember at the time being into the White Stripes, absolutely digging their two-person take on the blues and punk in order to create something totally new and fresh. But, by 2008, the Stripes were no longer recording new music, so I was undergoing so withdrawal. Somehow, and I really do not remain how it happened (I did not have my meds totally under control at this time, I stumbled across the name of a band called The Black Keys and discovered that, like the White Stripes, this band was a duo consisting of a guitarist and a drummer. Intrigued, I looked up The Black Keys latest release, Attack & Release.

I was immediately taken with the band’s new interpretation of blues-based rock music. Yes, The Black Keys employed the same minimalist instrumentation as the White Stripes, but, in all honesty, that’s where the similarities ended. The White Stripes, being from Detroit, would pick up where the MC5’s vision of the blues and punk left off. And, the Stripes took their music into some beautifully decadent places, as if The Stooges and Led Zeppelin had a child and name him Jack White. The White Stripes created some of the most exciting music of the first decade of the new century, but by 2008, the Stripes had quietly ended the duo’s creative relationship, which actually outlasted the pair’s marriage by a few years. We all now follow Jack White’s process as he continues to record, but his former wife and drummer, Meg White, has left behind the music industry.

The Global Citizen Festival in Central Park to end extreme poverty

So, when I first listened to The Black Keys, I was blown away by their fresh take on the blues within the context of rock music. If anyone deserve the albatross of “The Next Led Zeppelin” label, it was Akron, Ohio’s very own The Black Keys. Now, while Attack & Release was a fine album, I was not prepared for the growth the band showed over the next two albums, Brothers in 2010 and, my personal favorite, 2011’s El Camino.

The great music reference website, AllMusic, may list Brothers as their pick for the band’s best album, along with an earlier released entitled Rubber Factory, and another great music reviewing website, Metacritic, chose El Camino as their favorite album by The Black Keys, you cannot go wrong with either album. And, you can throw in their latest album, Turn Blue from 2014, into the mix, but, for my money, El Camino is the album where everything The Black Keys were trying to do in the past could now be done in the studio. In my mind, El Camino is the band’s finest artistic statement so far in their relatively young career.

Let’s face it! El Camino is simply a kick-ass album, something that sounds like a 60s/70s throwback with all the production work of a currently recorded album. Simply put, El Camino shows that rock music is alive and well in 2011 and beyond. Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, with production and odd instrumentation help from Danger Mouse, have made the finest rock album in the 2010s, and should definitely be held in high enough regards to land somewhere in Rolling Stone’s next Top 500 Albums of All Time list in the future.

El Camino kicks off with the Modern Rock and Rock Number One Hit “Lonely Boy”, a song that the Rolling Stones wished they had written at any point in their career. This is a rocker that fits seamlessly on Classic Rock radio without the Boomers getting their panties in a wad because they heard something new and fresh. By the time the album gets to its best song, “Gold on the Ceiling”, a song made to be played at sporting events if there ever was one written especially for such an event, El Camino is blasting through any possible Stones/Zeppelin/J. Geils Band comparisons as they make this album totally their own.

The Black Keys - Performance

This album represents a newer band with enough talent and vision to transcend the time-space continuum and create timeless rock music for the ages. El Camino is the album where The Black Keys become part of the definition of rock music. If you decide to give the band’s earlier albums a try, you will here the foundation being laid for this album, while the one follow-up The Black Keys have released, Turning Blue, shows the band seated upon the throne as the best current band in rock music, a position once held by the likes of The Beatles, Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Clash, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and now, The Black Keys.

See? Rock is alive and well in the 21st century.