GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (16)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, starting with number 20, here’s the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(16) SUZI QUATRO: LIVE AND KICKIN’

(RAK RECORDS; Australian import; 1977)

Suzi Quatro cover

Suzi Quatro shoulda been huge… well, she was huge… she was huge in Australia and Japan (still is, as a matter of fact) but, she shoulda been huge on her home turf, the good ol’ US of… . Especially after making a few appearances on HAPPY DAYS, performing a couple of her most well-known tunes (“Cat Size” and “Devil Gate Drive”). Anyway, this release, recorded during Suzi’s AGGRO-PHOBIA tour of Japan and released on Mickie Most’s Australian record label, is probably the best of both worlds – Suzi in front of her most rabid fans, performing the songs that turned her into a household name across great swaths of three continents (she also had more success in Europe than at home). The album isn’t perfect: Suzi was promoting AGGRO-PHOBIA, her fourth record, which was a real departure from the previous YOUR MAMMA WON’T LIKE ME, so the live set relies heavily on tunes from that album; there are also some minor problems with the sound, as the production seems a bit thin at points. But… at the end of the day, this is Suzi live and, for that reason, LIVE AND KICKIN’ makes it in at number 16 on my list of great live albums.

Suzi Quatro with Len Tuckey, circa 1975 (video still)

Suzi Quatro with Len Tuckey, circa 1975 (video still)

The set opens with “The Wild One,” a glam classic from QUATRO, Suzi’s second release. The tune features Dave Neal’s trademark heavy backbeat, some funky guitar from Len Tuckey, a thumping bass line from Suzi and a cool tack piano from Mike Deacon, which lends it the then-typical ’50s rock and roll groove that Quatro had become known for. Tuckey delivers the first of many impressive, solid solos; Suzi’s vocals are tough and confident and, if anyone ever questioned the fact (production here and on her studio releases – for some reason – buries the bass tracks, leading to conjecture in certain quarters), her bass is not merely a prop… she can really play! Dallas Frazier’s country-fried “The Honky Tonk Downstairs,” the first of three AGGRO-PHOBIA songs in a row, chugs along nicely, coming off heavier than the studio version’s rockabilly Gospel revival tent-meeting vibe, with a nice Deacon electric piano solo. Like most tunes of this variety, Suzi’s voice has kind of a hiccup that adds to the overall charm. “Heartbreak Hotel” is Elvis Presley on steroids. It features a great arrangement, with a slow bridge on the chorus that works really well and a Tuckey solo that Scotty Moore would be proud of. With a more syncopated, heavier rock sound, “Half As Much As Me” highlights the fact that Suzi and Len are, indeed, a formidable writing team; it’s quite possibly the strongest track from AGGRO-PHOBIA.

Suzi Quatro (video still)

Suzi Quatro (video still)

Opening up side two, “Cat Size,” is Tuckey and Quatro attempting a sultry ballad but, in this live setting, it just never catches fire. It’s back to AGGRO-PHOBIA with Steve Harley’s “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me),” a sort of throbbing slow grind, not-quite-a-ballad number that works better than the last song. Suzi and her boys were always better when they were rocking, though the touch of honky tonk from Mike’s piano is a nice touch. “American Lady” with its patriotic, “I miss America” sentimentality comes across far better than most tunes of the type. The song is another one of those slow-burn tracks from the latest studio album that nearly bursts into a blazing inferno before the band expertly reins it back in. Deacon once again shines with some powerful organ work and the rhythm section of Suzi and Dave lock into a strong groove that propels the song forward. With “Glycerine Queen,” it’s back to the stomping rock ‘n’ roll; though never released a single (it did appear as the B-side to the North America only single “All Shook Up”), it remains one of Quatro’s most beloved numbers. She adds a touch of Gene Vincent swagger that kicks the whole thing up a rung or two on the cool ladder.

Suzi Quatro surrounded by her boys, Dave Neal, Len Tuckey and Mike Deacon (publicity photo)

Suzi Quatro surrounded by her boys, Dave Neal, Len Tuckey and Mike Deacon (publicity photo)

Dipping back into the group’s glam roots, side three kicks off with “What’s It Like To Be Loved,” one of the rockingest songs on AGGRO-PHOBIA. Live, the tune is stretched past the fourteen-minute mark, with Deacon exhibiting his mastery of several keyboard instruments, Tuckey feeling the blues on an emotive solo and Neal delivering a powerful solo that morphs into a funky, jazzy duet with Quatro’s meaty bass before the entire band comes together for an ELP-type flourish into the final chorus. Dave’s “boom boom,” as Suzi calls it, is front and center on the anthemic, old school rock and roll of “Can the Can,” the first big hit – well, it was big everywhere but here at home – of Suzi’s solo career. The simplistic riffing and nonsense lyrics in no way diminishes the power that these four people could generate on stage. Though the original album had a fade at the end of the song, it actually moves right into another stomper…

Suzi Quatro (uncredited photo)

Suzi Quatro (uncredited photo)

…the song Suzi Quatro may be most remembered for, “Devil Gate Drive,” which is the first track on side four. With a slight nod to boogie-woogie, Deacon’s ragtime piano drives the rhythm. Though Suzi never seemed to have the vocal power to compensate for the heavier, louder live setting, she does command your attention with her breathless delivery and the call-and-response with the audience displays her true showmanship. Speaking of vocals, there’s a certain ragged charm to the guys’ doo-wop inspired backing vocals. “Roxy Roller” is one of the few tunes from the AGGRO-PHOBIA period (it was released as a single and, though it was not on the original album, it is a bonus cut on the 2012 7T’s Records reissue) that maintained the ’50s-cum-glam vibe that Suzi was best known for, making it one of the few from that era to stand the test of time. It’s classic Quatro, with a massive bass sound propelling the song forward. The final of seven (eight if you count the single-only “Roxy Roller”) AGGRO-PHOBIA tunes, “Tear Me Apart” is a winner that highlights Suzi’s voice, as well as her ability to hold a crowd in the palm of her hand during another round of audience participation. A rousing, spirited encore of “Keep A-Knockin’” proves that Suzi Quatro is, indeed, a throwback to a simpler time, when rock ‘n’ roll was new and exciting. It’s a great way to close out this live offering from the undisputed Queen of Glam.

The only way this album (which is supposedly the entire performance) could have been improved would have been to include something from my favorite Suzi Quatro record, YOUR MAMMA WON’T LIKE ME (the title cut or “I Bit Off More Than I Can Chew” or “Strip Me” immediately come to mind). LIVE AND KICKIN’ has never been released in the United States and the most recent release comes from the British reissue imprint, 7T’s Records, which faithfully recreates the original album, without the album flip that separated “Can the Can” and “Devil Gate Drive,” delivering a true “live” experience. I haven’t heard this version but, I hope that some of those sonic deficiencies I mentioned earlier have been corrected.


WHAT’S IT TO ME, ANYWAY?: THE 25 ALBUMS THAT MOST INFLUENCED MY LIFE, PART 2

(Ruminations of a music junkie, by KEVIN RENICK)

It’s interesting how certain albums come to mean so much to you, the longer you are an active music fan. From 1976 to 1979, I worked at a major record store, which increased my access to all kinds of new and upcoming artists. I also began to read music magazines obsessively, so I was able to follow the music scene really attentively. Hundreds and hundreds of albums crossed my path during that time and beyond. I went to college from 1980 to 1983, and that, too, brought a ton of new artists into my life. So-called “new wave” music ruled at that time, with artists such as Elvis Costello, the English Beat, the Clash, the Cars and many more finding favor among people I hung out with, and my friend Tina Carl and I began trading and sharing and even dancing to a lot of the music at that time. There was so much stuff I loved, but the sheer volume of it probably prevented most of it from becoming INFLUENTIAL. And that is my focus here: what were the albums that actively, in a meaningful way, became an influence on my life and creative journey? So, here is part two of that list of 25, carrying us from the late 70s to the present…

14. TALKING HEADS: FEAR OF MUSIC and REMAIN IN LIGHT (tie)

FEAR OF MUSIC (SIRE RECORDS, 1979); REMAIN INLIGHT (SIRE RECORDS, 1980)

FEAR OF MUSIC (SIRE RECORDS, 1979); REMAIN INLIGHT (SIRE RECORDS, 1980)

This is the second time I am cheating by calling a TIE between two albums. I pretty much HAVE to, because each of these albums by the New York new wave group fronted by David Byrne was HUGE for me. FEAR OF MUSIC came out while I worked at Record Bar, in the summer. It was an amazing piece of work, quirky as hell, rhythmically unique and heavily atmospheric. Songs like “Air,” “Cities,” “Animals,” “Drugs” and the new wave dance anthem “Life During Wartime” were like catnip for my ever-growing interest in offbeat music. And the hypnotic piece “Mind” became the unofficial breakup song for me and that girl who looked like Joni Mitchell. I loved this band, and the fact they were produced by my new hero, Brian Eno, was a bonus. But the following year, while I was attending Webster University, the incomparable REMAIN IN LIGHT came out. Influenced by African high life music, and featuring Eno again as producer and even co-writer of many of the tracks, this was just a full-on masterpiece of innovative modern rock. I absolutely went gaga over it, and “Once In A Lifetime” remains, to this day, one of the most instantly captivating weird songs ever recorded. Topping things off, MTV was becoming a going concern, showcasing this new “music video” art form to a fast-growing, interested public, and the Heads’ video for this song got huge attention. My friend Ted Moniak and I also discussed this album at length in college, and I remember him taking a long verse from the song “Crosseyed and Painless”, and writing the lyrics on a piece of paper which he posted on a door in the theatre conservatory to make a point. These were major, heady days of music listening for me, always intense, always communal. REMAIN IN LIGHT is truly one of the greatest and most interesting albums of all time, and that coincided with it being influential for me in its awesome creativity, its often dark and globally inclusive mood, and a palpable sense of ALL things truly being possible now. It made me want to learn about ethnic music, and my mind just kept opening more and more…

15. NICK DRAKE: FIVE LEAVES LEFT

FIVE LEAVES LEFT (ISLAND RECORDS, 1969)

FIVE LEAVES LEFT (ISLAND RECORDS, 1969)

I didn’t know anything about Nick Drake when he was alive and making music (1969-1974). It was some years later that I learned about him through my friend, Ted. The doomed British singer/songwriter, who died at the age of 24 either through suicide or an accidental drug overdose (theories differ on that), was an instantly compelling new “find” for me. Nick always sounded like he was apart from the rest of humanity, a lonesome figure who couldn’t fit in and related more to nature and quiet moments than anything else. I probably identified a little too much with this, I have to say. FIVE LEAVES LEFT was his first album, and it’s one of the best debut albums ever. I love every song on it; “Time Has Told Me,” the gorgeous “River Man,” “Cello Song” and “Fruit Tree” are just a few of the timeless, intimate songs on this album. I began performing “River Man” as a musician myself some years later; the mood of isolation combined with a deep reverence and connection to nature, was a recurring and potent theme in Nick’s music. Also, the way his career never took off (fame eluded him during his lifetime; it took a clever Volkswagen commercial using his song “Pink Moon” to catapult him to real fame after his death) and the aching solitude made me start thinking much more about the uncertainties of being an artist and the pain of being perhaps too sensitive. This is essential singer/songwriter stuff, and will likely always be one of my top 10 albums of all time.

16. BRIAN ENO: ON LAND

ON LAND (EG RECORDS, 1982)

ON LAND (EG RECORDS, 1982)

I already covered Eno’s album DISCREET MUSIC, which found him inventing a new kind of music that baffled many listeners and critics at the time. And in 1979, he basically announced ambient music as an “official” new genre with the release of MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS, labeled as “Ambient 1″ in his new series at the time. That album was influential, for sure, but 1982’s ON LAND was so far ahead of the game in this genre, so much farther than his own DISCREET MUSIC, in fact, that in a way, my life instantly changed right then and there. If DISCREET MUSIC had made me feel like dreams had come to life, ON LAND recreated the experience of being lost in nature, and thinking about the most private and long-gone of memories while doing so. It was a series of rather lengthy pieces with titles such as “Lizard Point,” “The Lost Day,” “Lantern Marsh” and “Unfamiliar Wind,” all of which were made in such a mysterious process that almost no recognizable instruments appeared on them. Eno had traveled deeply into new, mysterious musical territory, and in these heady days before the internet, finding albums like this and maybe, just MAYBE encountering another human being who liked it, made you part of a cult in a way. I was utterly, utterly shocked and amazed that an album like ON LAND, which vividly captured the way I felt when I was out in nature, watching birds and feeling the glorious solitude of my surroundings, could exist. I had literally never been so affected by an album before, and I went a little nuts. I started collecting every article and review of Eno I could find, even compiling a scrapbook. More significantly, I decided I had to write to Brian Eno himself and express my admiration. It was a crazy, bold impulse, but I was unstoppable; I wrote about a 25-page letter to Mister Eno telling him about how I had long dreamed of a kind of cinematic, pastoral music that would evoke landscapes and the mysteries of life, and how in awe I was that HE had single-handedly created this music. Late in 1982, one day when I was at Webster University, I was flabbergasted when Eno answered my letter. He was warmly appreciative of my enthusiasm, hand-wrote a 3-page letter to me, and shared some of his thoughts about this bold new music that was happening. We corresponded several times, and it was a highlight of my life. It’s possible that ON LAND is, in fact, the MOST influential album of my life, it depends on how you want to measure these things. But the way this album combined many of my interests, veered sharply into unknown and haunting new sonic territory and carried with it an entire new philosophy about recorded musical art, was to change the big picture for me forever. And the time I played it on my car stereo at sunrise while driving into the Grand Canyon National Park, is one of the most unforgettable listening experiences of my entire life.

17. COCTEAU TWINS: VICTORIALAND

VICTORIALAND (4AD RECORDS, 1991)

VICTORIALAND (4AD RECORDS, 1991)

Ah, the Cocteau Twins. Their fans sigh and swoon at the mere mention of this so-called “shoegaze” band (a lousy label that some critic made famous, even though none of the dreamy sounding bands saddled with that label could stand it). You’re lucky in life if you meet friends who introduce you to some new band that goes on to really affect you, a band you might not have encountered otherwise. That was the case with my first introduction to this ethereal Scottish trio. Liz Fraser, the sublimely gifted female singer who fronted the band, sang like no one else EVER, not even singing understandable lyrics until the last years of the band. Instead, fans were treated to wailing, intoning, swooping and soaring, shiver-inducing tones and unearthly vocal bursts that were uncategorizable. With her partner at the time, Robin Guthrie, who conjured one of the most recognizable and groundbreaking painterly guitar sounds to ever come along, the Cocteau Twins (joined by bassist Simon Raymonde on most of their albums) earned in instant cult following with their visionary sonic palette. Many of their albums are now considered classics, but VICTORIALAND, a largely acoustic and sparsely played recording, has some of their most singularly beautiful moments. It’s music that is not easy to describe. In many ways, it is ambient, because Liz Fraser does not sing understandable lyrics, and the overall mood, a haunted one, is what you respond to most. The music is wintery, solemn and desolately beautiful, filled with mystery and destinations unknown. Some friends and I listened to it one day while we were all sprawled out on the floor together at a party, in a totally receptive mood. There was a sense of discovery at this time in the mid 80s that was magical, and by the time the internet came along and music like this was analyzed and discussed to death by countless pundits, some of that mystery went away. But the Cocteaus’ powerful music endures (though they disbanded in the late 90s), and Robin Guthrie is now a prominent ambient musician and soundtrack composer, continuing the awesome legacy of this pioneering band.

How it influenced me: By proving that truly wondrous music could render lyrics irrelevant, by emphasizing mystery over almost everything else, by demonstrating that a female voice could power a kind of “new form of ambient,” and by partially inspiring me to start writing my first novel, a story about a girl who worshipped this band, and happens to get embroiled in a supernatural murder mystery. Not sure if the novel will get finished or not, but if it does, I am contacting Robin Guthrie to compose the score.

18. REM: AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE

AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE (WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS, 1992)

AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE (WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS, 1992)

This Athens, Georgia band became heroic in the ’90s for their status as one of the ultimate college bands and for helping to create the very notion of what “indie rock” meant. Michael Stipe had a unique, stylish approach to vocals (in the early days he utilized a kind of beguiling mumble), and there was something about the SOUND of these guys that was able to keep growing an audience year after year. “Losing My Religion” became their most classic song, but in 1992, they released AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE, an evocative song cycle about loss, change and disillusionment. Three of my favorite themes! This was an autumnal album, one that I played constantly and featured regularly on road trips with a couple of friends. It was conceptually solid, deeply moving and strangely comforting. I reacted most to the melancholy songs like “Try Not to Breathe” (a painful song about an old person’s last moments), “Sweetness Follows” (heartbreaking song, with potent cello playing, about the aftermath of a death in a family) “Nightswimming” and a personal favorite, “Find the River.” This album made me cry a few times, and I have to mention in particular that the song “Sweetness Follows,” a truly haunting piece, was something I listened to on the fateful day I found out that a close friend, and the founder of a publication I had written for, was killed in a horrible car accident coming home from Chicago. I was on the highway the same day, maybe an hour behind her, and didn’t find out ’til the next day what happened. It was a huge, tragic event. There were many upbeat REM songs, and I had fun growing with them album after album for almost 30 years. But it was their softer, more intimate songs that ultimately affected me the most. I don’t play this album that often because it brings back some painful memories, but it definitely had an impact.

19. PETE NAMLOOK: AIR 2

AIR 2 (WORLD AMBIENT RECORDS, 2002)

AIR 2 (WORLD AMBIENT RECORDS, 2002)

Considering that most non-aficionados consider “ambient” to be nothing more than background music, something probably with repetitive droning or tinkly keyboards and not much variety, it’s a huge surprise to discover that there’s actually a HUGE diversity of sounds and approaches in the world of ambient releases. That topic will be discussed in depth another time on this site, but I have to include a Pete Namlook album on my list because Pete, like Eno, created an entire world of ambient releases. He launched a private German record label called Fax in the early 90s, and began releasing limited-edition recordings that became collectors items fairly quickly. The releases spanned the musical spectrum from straight ambient to stuff heavy on beats to weird experimental things to jazz stylings and beyond. Fax fans were challenged by all this and discussed Pete’s work on several key websites. One of the best pairs of ambient recordings on Fax was the first two volumes in a series called AIR. These were meant to be expansive, “ethno-ambient” projects that included instrumentation far beyond mere drones and keyboards. AIR 2, in particular, was a spectacular album. It’s hard to even describe, because it constantly changes, from hypnotic travelogue soundscape (with subtle rhythms) to breezy synth to chanted middle-eastern sounding vocals to glassy, wind chimey stuff and more. “Traveling Without Moving” is the subtitle of the work overall, but it is so filled with diversity, and so enthralling to listen to while driving, that it became a personal landmark for me. I played the entire thing in my car while driving in the mountains of Colorado one evening, with some dangerous conditions happening, and it was one of the most amazing cinematic experiences of my life. This is real musical art, raising the notion of “ambient to a much, much higher level.”

How it influenced me: By creating a bold, fascinating new vision of what ambient could be, and by allowing me to lure friends and other newbies into the ambient “fold” by providing a stellar, immersive and unforgettable listening experience.

20. RADIOHEAD: OK COMPUTER

OK COMPUTER (CAPITOL RECORDS, 1997)

OK COMPUTER (CAPITOL RECORDS, 1997)

Radiohead took the music world by storm with this album. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and it was said to be an epic meditation on millennial angst and the growing encroachment of technology in our lives (with the subsequent alienation we were sure to face). I was utterly enthralled with this recording; it really did achieve some sort of pinnacle of creativity for a rock album. Having always loved high, emotive male voices, Thom Yorke’s singing on stunning tracks like “Paranoid Android,” “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” “Let Down,” and “Lucky” was spine-tingling, and the arrangements (and production by Nigel Goodrich) maximized the emotional impact. I listened to this one over and over; it was a thoroughly modern rock masterpiece that took me back to the days of listening to Pink Floyd, Yes and the Moody Blues when I was a teen. The underlying anxiety about the future and the ups and downs that were soon to come with the pervasiveness of the internet and other technologies, were deeply ingrained in the musical aesthetic of this record.

How it influenced me: By announcing a new candidate for “Best group in the world,” showcasing powerful new songwriting and arrangements in a neo-prog rock idiom, and reminding me clearly of the power of writing music that echoed the times and tried to make people think and feel about our fate as humans.

21. THE DOMINO KINGS: LIFE AND 20

LIFE AND 20 (SLEWFOOT RECORDS, 2000)

LIFE AND 20 (SLEWFOOT RECORDS, 2000)

This is the only Missouri album on my list, and at this writing, it is out of print, sadly. The trio of guitarist Steve Newman, upright bassist Brian Capps and drummer Les Gallier, based in Springfield, play roots music that blends barroom country and early rock and roll into a snappy, lively formula that is a genuine pleasure to listen to. But that’s not why the album is on my list. It’s here because the album came out when I was an active music journalist for a publication called NOISYPAPER, and I was assigned to review a show by the Domino Kings. I met Brian Capps and struck up a friendship with him. Just a few years later, when I saw Brian in concert again, I was about to endure one of the most painful relationship breakups of my entire life, and Brian’s songs not only served as a bit of a soundtrack for this period, they made me want to dance through the heartache. The Kings were (and still ARE) crack musicians, capable of playing the kind of alcohol-fueled, lost-at-love rave-ups that patrons have been dancing to and enjoying for years. On this album, the Capps tunes “Borrow A Lie,” “Alice” (a wickedly catchy stomper about a bad, bad woman), “Don’t Be Indifferent” and “Steppin’ Out Again” all deal with the kind of women and relationships that tear a man’s soul apart. As this happened to me at the end of 2003 and the first part of 2004, I got to hear Brian Capps perform live several times, with most of these tunes in the mix. And he was kind enough to discuss relationships with me and tell me his own stories of romantic woe. Very cathartic and significant. Additionally, the Kings’ music increased my awareness that Springfield, Missouri was a center of musical vitality. Not far in my future at this point was a deep connection and involvement in that city that would affect my own music career dramatically.

22. EPHEMERA: BALLOONS AND CHAMPAGNE

BALLOONS AND CHAMPAGNE (EPHEMERA MUSIC, 2002)

BALLOONS AND CHAMPAGNE (EPHEMERA MUSIC, 2002)

It’s funny how one little action can end up leading to something much bigger, something you couldn’t predict. By 2002, I was working at an advertising agency, getting into the groove of internet communication and browsing, and trying to learn about new music and discover new things. I had read a few things about Norwegian music, just sort of casually, and I ended up purchasing a CD called THIS IS NORWAY on impulse. It was a compilation of Norwegian pop and rock bands, and there was a track by a band called Ephemera on there. I had never heard of them, and knew nothing about them. The song, “Last Thing,” featured several female singers offering beautiful, tight vocal harmonies, and unusually crystalline keyboards and production. It stood out, and I wanted to know more about this group. Nothing by them was available in the US, but I ordered this album, BALLOONS AND CHAMPAGNE. Lordy. It so far exceeded anything I could have expected, that it’s hard to put into words. It was like realizing your eyes have been impaired for a long time, causing you to never see certain details, and then being given a pair of stunning new glasses that brighten up the entire world, with colors, details and landscapes you were never aware of appearing vividly before you. The three women of Ephemera – Christine Sandtorv, Ingerlise Storksen and Jannicke Larsen – are singer/songwriters of peerless, diamond-pure talent. Since I have an interview with Ingerlise pending, I’ll save most of my thoughts for that piece. But I was bowled over by this magical trio from the start, and they are one of my absolute favorite musical groups in the world. On BALLOONS AND CHAMPAGNE, tracks such as “Act,” “Air,” “Bye” and the title track are such heartbreakingly beautiful, with emotive, delicate singing and a level of purity that I had almost never heard on an American record. I love literally every song this band has recorded, and I came to the conclusion early on that they don’t really know how good they are. They are some kind of magical musical goddesses that simply do what they do, and trust that some people will like it. Ephemera opened up a new world to me, the world of Scandinavian pop music, which I would, within a year, be writing about regularly for a couple of different publications. They actually changed the way I LISTEN to music, because after absorbing the beauty of their vocals and the genius production techinques of their producer, Yngve Saetre, I could no longer respond the same way to typical American pop records. Here’s how passionately in love I am with Ephemera’s music. If there was a fire or a coming tornado, and I could only save a limited number of CDs from my collection, I’d grab an armful of ambient CDs and then use my other hand to grab my small stack of Ephemera CDs. They have been a HUGE, huge influence, and when I became a musician, I kept their intimate vocals in mind at all times as I advanced in my own career.

23. DANIELSON FAMILE: TELL ANOTHER JOKE AT THE OL’ CHOPPIN’ BLOCK

TELL ANOTHER JOKE AT THE OL' CHOPPIN' BLOCK (TOOTH AND NAIL RECORDS, 1997)

TELL ANOTHER JOKE AT THE OL’ CHOPPIN’ BLOCK (TOOTH AND NAIL RECORDS, 1997)

I never, never found so-called “Christian groups” musically interesting; the vast majority of what I heard in that vein seemed like the most shallow, over-reverent, musically insipid crap I could imagine. Nothing against Christianity, only something against boring music. But Lord God almighty! The Danielsons changed that in a big way. It is, of course, not cool or even accurate to call them a “Christian” band. In fact, they are so weird and arty that their first label, a Christian one called Tooth and Nail, dropped them after one album. Instead, Daniel Smith, the composer and frontman for this band along with a rotating cast of family members and friends, began to attract a following from the fringes of indie rock and outsider music. Smith has a very, very high voice, and he makes it even higher by singing one of the highest falsettos in the history of pop music. It is showcased on several tracks on this amazing, visionary album. But the entire album is notable for the focused PASSION on display, the extremely original songwriting, and the sense of communal empathy that pours from the whole thing. Less important than the Christianity of the band is their deep, poignant humanity and concern for the well-being of everyone, meaning every single listener. They really don’t PREACH per se, they simply share their souls, and they do it with powerful music that ranges from Beatles to Beefheart in influence. I’ve tried to share Danielson music with various friends, and it is honestly too much for a lot of them. When Smith ascends to that remarkable falsetto and starts ranting about something in the modern world, it results in a singular, aggressively original sound that is not meant for all. But the humanity and intensity of this album is undeniably hypnotic, emotional and yes, quite beautiful. Some of their later albums, although I like all of them, are at times spotty. But TELL ANOTHER JOKE… is a masterpiece to me.

How it influenced me: By demonstrating that religious themes on an album can be musically riveting, that the subject of confessed vulnerability (one of my favorites) is worth examining, and that weirdness and focused passion are absolutely compatible bedfellows, something I have kept in mind ever since.

24. LISA GERMANO: LULLABYE FOR LIQUID PIG

LULLABY FOR LIQUID PIG (INEFFABLE MUSIC, 2003)

LULLABY FOR LIQUID PIG (INEFFABLE MUSIC, 2003)

I decided to include this one among some of the final “candidates” for this list because it was a crystal-clear example of a dark, depressing album being cathartic at a time when I was lost. The very offbeat, non-commercial style of Ms Germano is an acquired taste, but fans of originality and darker artsy/folksy stuff can find a lot to love in her work. LULLABYE… was released to little fanfare late in 2003, right as I was breaking up with a girl named Star in an unexpected manner. I went into a downward spiral for a time, and this record is about just that, a downward spiral. Although I’d found other dark, sad albums in the past to be compelling, such as stuff by Neil Young, Lou Reed, Joy Division and others, Lisa Germano really let her worst fears and sorrows hang out, and the album was willfully uncommercial. Yet it had a lot of fragile beauty on it. There were some verses, and eerie sounds (inspired by struggles with alcoholism, reportedly) on this album that could absolutely get under your skin. One verse that almost brought me to tears, was “Without you here/Without your love/The world’s just THERE/It doesn’t move me.” The songs are generally short, and Ms Germano really sounds like she is fighting off a breakdown, which oughta sound familiar to anyone who has suddenly lost their love, or found themselves on the wrong end of a battle with substance abuse. This is not a fun album, but I’ll never forget how it provided therapy and catharsis during a pretty rotten four month stretch for me.

25. In order for this list to have a sense of “completeness” for me, I have to put FILM SOUNDTRACKS

FILM MUSIC: NEVER CRY WOLF (WINDHAM HILL RECORDS, 1983)

FILM MUSIC: NEVER CRY WOLF (WINDHAM HILL RECORDS, 1983)

for the final slot. I don’t mean loose collections of songs, I mean orchestral scores. I grew up with film music and I love it, and my brother is one of the most knowledgeable film soundtrack buffs in the country; he writes a column about it. Film music has been described as the “first cousin” of ambient music; it’s generally instrumental, generally evocative and mood-setting, and able to be created in many different musical idioms. Watching movies and TV shows all my life, I have to say that I always noticed the music, and the mood-enhancing nature of movie music got deeply into my psyche. When I write songs now, there is always part of me that hopes to capture something subtly cinematic. There are tons of soundtracks in my collection, but to round out this list of influences, I will pick three different ones: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, the beautiful Elmer Bernstein score for the classic Gregory Peck movie (with a main theme that everyone loves and remembers); DANCES WITH WOLVES, a rapturous, Western-themed score by John Barry that covers as much terrain as the epic film itself does, and NEVER CRY WOLF, by the prolific Mark Isham, whose 1983 score was one of the first ambient soundtracks ever. Isham stated in interviews that he was influenced by Brian Eno, so… it figures I could identify with his movie work!

TEN OTHER INFLUENTIAL RECORDINGS THAT MISSED OUT ON THE MAIN LIST:

NEIL YOUNG: ZUMA… THE WHO: TOMMY… MIKE OLDFIELD: OMMADAWN… XTC: ENGLISH SETTLEMENT… THE SAMPLES: NO ROOM… THE RESIDENTS: NOT AVAILABLE… PHILIP GLASS: GLASSWORKS… HAROLD BUDD AND BRIAN ENO: THE PLATEAUX OF MIRROR… MUM: FINALLY WE ARE NO ONE… PINK FLOYD: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON

SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION:

ROBYNN RAGLAND: MODERN AMERICAN FEMALE GUT

MODERN AMERICAN FEMALE GUT (RAGDOLL RECORDS, 2003)

MODERN AMERICAN FEMALE GUT (RAGDOLL RECORDS, 2003)

Although it didn’t feel right to place this on the main list of 25, I need to include Robynn Ragland’s record because, first of all, it was one of the most well-written and well-produced collections of songs by a local artist during my early years as a writer, first for NOISYPAPER, and then for PLAYBACK STL and fLUSH. Appreciating artists in Saint Louis wasn’t always easy, but Robynn made it a cinch. Her true significance for me was that we became close friends, and she really encouraged me with my own writing and creative pursuits. And in a twist that neither of us could have foreseen, when I had my surprising success with the UP IN THE AIR song, Robynn became my manager for a few years. She was singularly responsible for my spectacular trip to Japan to promote the movie, and I could hardly forget something like that!


WHAT’S IT TO ME, ANYWAY?: THE 25 ALBUMS THAT MOST INFLUENCED MY LIFE, PART 1

(Ruminations of a music junkie, by KEVIN RENICK)

Hey everyone, it’s 2015! Didja notice? Yep, it’s a symmetrical year three fourths of the way through the first fifth of the new millennium! I find that this is making me, and plenty of other people I’ve spoken to, think about numbers, halfway points, anniversaries, etc. For me, this year marks the major anniversary of a lot of key things in my life and career, and I plan to write about some of those right here at the Mule. It’s gonna be fun, so saddle up and take this trip with me, through the past, smartly! Not that I feel like acknowledging my age or anything, but I would say I have been a true “music fan” for 50 years now. As a bonafide baby boomer, I grew up in the ’60s listening to all that classic stuff that makes the “Best Ever” lists these days. Sometime in 1965, probably after the Beatles’ RUBBER SOUL album came out, I became aware of music in a bigger way than before. It was no longer just the radio hits my sisters were listening to incessantly on AM, now they were buying albums (mostly the Beatles at first), and the repeated playing of these began to affect my young ears with increasing intensity. I love melodies and good singing, and everyone at the time was into the Beatles. A new era was upon us, and it was exhilarating.

What I thought I would do to celebrate my 50 years of being an active listener, is pick the 25 albums that influenced me the most. Here at the Mule, we like to take things personally, that’s why a conventional list of “Best of All Time” or “Best of the Decade,” that kinda thing, is not much fun to do. Stuff like that is all over the web or in your latest issue of ROLLING STONE. And though fun, that kind of clinical exercise can get tedious. But if I tell you I’m going to make a list of 25 albums that truly affected my life, that either set something in motion, changed me or altered my musical taste in some way, well, I get all tingly just thinking about that. The list could be much longer, of course, but it’s important to have parameters. And I like the symmetry of “25 in 50,” ie: The 25 recordings that had the greatest personal impact in 50 years of listening. You will encounter some of the great classics in here, and you’ll also read about stuff you never heard of. Maybe you’ll be shocked that there are no Dylan, Rolling Stones or Beach Boys albums on my list. I’ll say it again, this is NOT a list of the most influential albums, period. It’s a list of what most influenced ME, and made my musical life what it is. This is a thoughtful, personal exercise, and I hope you’ll enjoy sharing it with me. Maybe it will encourage some of you to think about what music most made a difference to YOU, and affected your personality the most. Fun, right? Making something all about YOU is more honest and real than those tedious “Best of” lists. So, here we go. These albums will roughly be listed in the order that I encountered them, although I can’t absolutely swear to that. But… all of these works helped make me whatever and whoever the heck I am today. Enjoy!

1. THE BEATLES: REVOLVER

REVOLVER (CAPITOL RECORDS, 1966)

REVOLVER (CAPITOL RECORDS, 1966)

Although SERGEANT PEPPER… is usually cited as the greatest Beatles album, the 1966 classic REVOLVER had a bigger impact on me. It was the Fabs entering their psychedelic period, and my sisters, Therese and Pam, played this album all the time. I was fascinated by the unusual sounds on it (“Tomorrow Never Knows” was utterly hypnotic, as were the strings on “Eleanor Rigby”), and classic gems of songcraft like “Good Day Sunshine,” “I Want To Tell You” and “Got To Get You Into My Life” became lodged firmly in my young mind. I feel sad for people who never know the experience of growing up with a classic album like this.

How it influenced me: Gave me perhaps my first experience of enjoying an album all the way through, with melodies and sounds that seeped deep into my brain.

2. THE BEATLES: THE BEATLES (WHITE ALBUM)

THE BEATLES (APPLE RECORDS, 1968)

THE BEATLES (APPLE RECORDS, 1968)

Barely two years after REVOLVER, the Beatles had evolved so much that it was almost dizzying to a budding music fan at the time. By 1968, only my sister Therese was still home among my siblings, and this album got constant play. It was a weird, unsettling, enthralling experience to listen to it back then. I vividly remember a couple of times when I fell asleep on the extra bed in Therese’s room absorbing the strange, diverse tracks on this album. Each side had a unique flow; some songs rocked out (“Back in the USSR,” “Glass Onion”), some songs were folksy and pretty (“Mother Nature’s Son,” “Julia”) and some were scary and from a place I yearned to know more about (“Long Long Long,” “Revolution 9″) What a remarkable sonic journey this double album took fans on! Nobody at the time talked about the “divisions” within the Beatles, or how “self-indulgent” the album was. We simply ate it up, listened with fascination, and marveled at the new age of rock that was now dawning.

How it influenced me: The first massive song collection I ever lost myself in, with unforgettable moments across the musical spectrum, including the first moments on record to scare the crap out of me (the moaning sounds at the end of “Long Long Long” and the entire “Revolution 9″). Hearing dark, weird sounds on a record began for me, oddly, with the Fab Four.

3. THE MONKEES: PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES, LIMITED

PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES, LIMITED (COLGEMS RECORDS, 1967)

PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES, LIMITED (COLGEMS RECORDS, 1967)

In the late 60s, the Monkees were the OTHER band that captured the lion’s share of attention in my circles. We all knew the hits like we knew the shrubs in our front yard, and we watched the MONKEES TV show faithfully. This 1967 album was a superb collection of tunes that got constant play in my neighborhood. The previous Monkees albums seemed more like collections of big hits, but this one headed into some new territory. “Star Collector” was downright psychedelic, and Davy Jones sang it! “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was simply one of the best songs ever, ever, ever, one of the first songs to become a solid favorite for me. And many others stood out, like the minor-key laden “Words,” the Nesmith classic “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round” and the Nilsson gem “Cuddly Toy,” which, decades later, would become a song I would sometimes perform live when I became a musician myself.

How it influenced me: A solid soundtrack to my childhood, full of innocence, whimsy and suburban dreams.

4. TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS: THE BEST OF…

THE BEST OF TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS (ROULETTE RECORDS, 1969)

THE BEST OF TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS (ROULETTE RECORDS, 1969)

From 1967 to 1970, Tommy James was a fixture on radio, with classic hit after classic hit. They were often in the summer, becoming wondrous summer classics like “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “Crimson and Clover.” At every swimming pool where radio was in the background, Tommy James was a part of the atmosphere. And the first song I ever declared to be my personal favorite, was “Sweet Cherry Wine.” This song absolutely captivated me, and I would sometimes wait for it to come on the radio, getting very emotional when it did. It was a beautifully produced song, with background vocals that got under my skin and never left my memory. THE BEST OF TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS was, I believe, the first album I bought with my own money. It’s possible a Monkees album preceded it in that regard; memory can be sketchy. But it was unquestionably the first hits collection I ever bought, and the first non Beatles or Monkees music to get repeat play in my life. A soundtrack for the year 1969 in particular.

How it influenced me: The sound of the last year before I became a teenager. The first record to actively make me aware of the magic of background vocals. A collection of songs I truly, truly could listen to over and over.

5. SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: BOOKENDS and BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (tie)

BOOKENDS (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1968); BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1970)

BOOKENDS (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1968); BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1970)

If you become a musician, some influences don’t become apparent to you right away; you might have to work on developing your style and think about the kinds of songs you want to do, before the stylistic touchstones become obvious. I grew up with Simon and Garfunkel, and all but their first album were regular spins at our home in Kirkwood. Most of their songs struck me as sad, intimate and evocative, and the musical personality they presented… the tight harmonies, the sometimes quirky lyrics… was vivid and powerful. These two albums affected me about equally, the former for its melancholy musings on the passing of time (“Old Friends,” “Bookends”) and quirky sing-alongs (“Hazy Shade of Winter,” “At the Zoo”), the latter for its epic production and exhilarating musical dramas (“Cecilia,” “El Condor Pasa,” “The Boxer,” the title track). This was one of a clutch of albums I listened to a great deal with an early girlfriend in 1972; such things stay with you. Years later, I fell in love with a girl actually NAMED Cecilia, and that song became significant in a very personal way. More importantly, Paul Simon’s songwriting stood out for me as artful, impactful stuff, and he is one of the composers I always mention as an influence on my own music and aesthetic.

6. CROSBY, STILLS, NASH AND YOUNG: DEJA VU

DEJA VU (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1970)

DEJA VU (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1970)

They were called the “first big supergroup,” “the American Beatles” and more. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were not destined to sustain the kind of impact such lofty labels created expectations for, but they made this one incredible studio album as a foursome. It was a 1970 classic, and that year they were omnipresent. Every song was amazing, and the potency of their musical personalities was overwhelming if you were a fan of singer/songwriters. I was, and this album, plus the live album FOUR WAY STREET, essentially planted the seeds of my own desire to write songs. From the iconic cover photo to the peerless harmonies to the counterculture sass, this was an unmissable classic of its time. And that guy Neil…

How it influenced me: The songwriting. The personalities. The times!

7. NEIL YOUNG: HARVEST

HARVEST (REPRISE RECORDS, 1972)

HARVEST (REPRISE RECORDS, 1972)

It’s really not easy picking one Neil Young album for my list. Considering that Neil Young is one of the two most important and influential musicians in my entire life, it seems inadequate to talk about one album. It actually could have been ANY of his first four: the NEIL YOUNG debut, the epic Crazy Horse workout EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE in 1969, the popular fan favorite AFTER THE GOLDRUSH from 1970. All had an impact, but HARVEST was one of my high school soundtracks. I listened to it with my first real girlfriend. I was profoundly affected by Neil’s singing and arrangements throughout, and, quite simply, I was a different person by the time I fully absorbed this album. Neil Young was the first singer/songwriter I claimed as my own, the first to pervade my life and shift my understanding of the craft of songwriting. I memorized everything on this album; it became a huge soundtrack for me. I even liked the orchestration on “There’s a World,” which some reviewers lambasted. Everything in my music life changed after Neil Young; he’s even the artist that got me interested in reading reviews, which then led to my writing career. His influence was profound.

8. PINK FLOYD: MEDDLE

MEDDLE (HARVEST RECORDS, 1971)

MEDDLE (HARVEST RECORDS, 1971)

If you were in high school in the early to mid-’70s, Pink Floyd were a staple. FM radio played them all the time, and the longhairs and tokers were ALWAYS talking about them. DARK SIDE OF THE MOON was one of the first albums to become a genuine phenomenon, and it was absolutely everywhere when I was in high school. I was intrigued enough by the band to research all their earlier work, and I found their 1971 classic MEDDLE. That’s the one that burrowed into my brain. The trilogy of atmospheric gems on side one: “A Pillow of Winds,” “Fearless” and “San Tropez” stirred me with their smooth vocals, melancholy arrangements and haunted romanticism. I found these tracks more than a little compelling. And, as for “Echoes,” the spacey side-long excursion that graced side two, well, it was the first immersive space rock spectacle I had encountered, a headphone extravaganza for many of us buying our first stereo systems at the time. Progressive rock had arrived, and so had a plethora of mysterious sounds we’d never heard the likes of before, us teens.

How it influenced me: The dawn of headphones-ready space rock, David Gilmour and Rick Wright creating a perfect sonic template to serve Roger Waters’ lyrical ideas, and the important notion that something could be epic and intimate at the same time in music.

9. YES: CLOSE TO THE EDGE

CLOSE TO THE EDGE (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1972)

CLOSE TO THE EDGE (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1972)

And they WERE, too. Close to the edge of sonic possibilities at the time, as evidenced by the side-long title track that pretty much blew everyone’s mind. I didn’t truly listen to Yes with any depth until 1973, but CLOSE TO THE EDGE became a staple. Progressive rock was becoming one of the most popular genres, with Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd and others dominating the talk among hardcore music fans at the time. With musicianship on a scale hardly imagined before, Jon Anderson’s soaring voice and “out there” lyrics, and passages of music that were so hypnotic and evocative that they could be said to represent the beginning of the power of “ambient sound” (which would transform my life a few years later), Yes were unrvaveling layers of new possibilities in music. I ate it all up, shared it with friends, and even began trying to memorize some of the more interesting lyrics.

How it influenced me: The mystical, far-reaching “subjects,” the compelling lyrics, the incredible purity of Jon Anderson’s voice, the early ambient sounds.

10. BLACK SABBATH: SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH (WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS, 1974)

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH (WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS, 1974)

I was never much into what was called “heavy metal,” although both Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were huge during my teen years. I have no idea what first got me into Black Sabbath, but I listened to MASTER OF REALITY pretty often with the same girlfriend I mentioned in an early paragraph, and it had a lot of mystery about it. The heaviness of the riffs and the darker themes were quite compelling to me. I started reading some of the reviews of Black Sabbath, and by the time their fifth album came out, I was a senior in high school and a budding amateur musician. There seemed to be something of real substance to SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH to my ears at the time, and I even liked Ozzy Osbourne’s shrill voice. The oddest thing that happened, though, is that I began trying to play a couple of the songs on piano. I’d had a year or so of lessons, and I would occasionally try to just “pick out” chords or melodies from popular songs. Came up with my own versions of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and, inexplicably, “Sabbra Cadabra” from the Black Sabbath album. I was playing controlled double octaves, and I was doing it with all the energy I possessed. I had the structure of this song down pretty well! It got to the point where this was pretty impressive, I suppose, because I played it at a couple of parties and for a number of friends, who always seemed to clap. Inadvertently, Black Sabbath had given me my first taste of what it might be like to be a musician. That’s influential, ain’t it?

11. BRIAN ENO: DISCREET MUSIC

DISCREET MUSIC (ANTILLES RECORDS, 1975)

DISCREET MUSIC (ANTILLES RECORDS, 1975)

In a month or two, I’ll be doing a piece on Brian Eno for this site, so I don’t want to go into undue detail right now. But… people who know me, know that Eno is the single most influential musical artist of my life, just a shade more than Neil Young because of the differing STREAMS of influence he had. This 1975 album was a game changer, to say the least, and of earthshaking importance in my life. Try to imagine what it would be like to have your actual dreams and subconscious memories represented in musical terms. That’s what Eno’s first true “ambient” recording did for me. Consisting of wispy, ethereal, repeating and interweaving synth melodies, what Eno came up with was so new and different that no one really knew what to do with it at the time. I did, though. I listened to it late at night both through headphones and without. I played it any time I had a hangover, and the hangover would miraculously go away. I listened to it when I felt depressed, and I felt that, somehow, there was a force out there that understood me. “Miracle music,” I began to call this stuff, and it launched my lifetime love affair with ambient music. How did it influence me? In every possible way as a music listener. It asked questions that many people are STILL trying to answer. And a whole new world had opened up that I walked into with an open mind and open ears…

12. JONI MITCHELL: HEJIRA

HEJIRA (ASYLUM RECORDS, 1976)

HEJIRA (ASYLUM RECORDS, 1976)

By 1976, the legendary Joni Mitchell was exploring jazz stylings more and more in her music, and she was well past the stage of having conventional “hits” (1974’s COURT AND SPARK was her last album to feature anything like that). I’d been a fan, but HEJIRA was more than just a new album by a songwriter I loved; it was a restless travelogue by an artist at the peak of her powers. Songs such as “Amelia” (which referenced ill-fated pilot Amelia Earhart), “Song for Sharon” and “Refuge of the Road” really stirred me with their ruminations on life, memories and uncertainty, and furthered a growing desire I had to write meaningful things myself. If that weren’t enough, I fell in love with a girl not long after this that looked very much LIKE Joni Mitchell, and kind of worshipped her. So, me with my Neil Young obsession and this girl with her Joni fixation, began comparing notes and trading insights on our idols. It was heady stuff, and although it ended badly, this Joni Mitchell album in particular captured something emotionally potent that was not only on the recording itself, but echoed through my own personal life. And the lyrics of that “Refuge of the Roads” song are brilliant and sobering.

13. TELEVISION: MARQUEE MOON

MARQUEE MOON (ELEKTRA RECORDS, 1977)

MARQUEE MOON (ELEKTRA RECORDS, 1977)

Something strange and mysterious was going on in New York City in the mid ’70s, and my cousin Roxanne, who lived there, started talking to me about it. There were a lot of new bands playing at a club called CBGB’s, and Roxanne and I, who were already close partially due to shared letters and phone calls about relationships and the music we loved, began going to that club and others in NYC, regularly. A band called Television was getting a great deal of attention, and I didn’t think too much about this until I went to New York myself in 1977 and got to see them, with my cousin and my brother Kyle along for the experience. There’s a thing that happens when you see a band that sounds like nothing else you’ve ever heard. You get transported, you have your mind blown, and it expands your reference points for the old sonic vocabulary. Television had two incredible guitarists, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, and the mesmerizing interplay of the two lead guitars, coupled with bizarre, evocative lyrics and Verlaine’s charisma on stage, was unforgettable for anyone who saw the band. The term “new wave” was created to try to label bands like this; “punk” just wasn’t cutting it. These guys were musicians, and they were reaching for something out there that the punk bands couldn’t care less about. Roxanne sang me her favorite lyrics from the band over and over, even my snobby brother was affected, and I was left reeling by yet another brand new rock sound. The MARQUEE MOON album came out later in 1977 and took the indie music scene by storm. Some of the best guitar work ever played was on this album.

How it influenced me: By generating understanding of the far-reaching drama that two electric guitars could generate, seeing the experience of people getting swept away by music in the dingiest of dingy Bowery clubs (at a legendary time in rock music history), and by raising the stakes for underground music, which was also to generate so much press that the mere READING of reviews and articles at this time became an experience unto itself.


100 GREATEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME (ACCORDING TO ME), NUMBER 98

If you’re here looking for a Jann Wenner/ROLLING STONE/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame style affirmation of how great Bruce Springsteen is, move on… there’s nothing here for you; Springsteen’s indecipherable vocal grunts have never appealed to me and – like Kurt Cobain’s – his lyrics are a tick (well, okay… several ticks) below that “Friday” girl (Rebecca Black). So, with that out of the way, I can pretty much guarantee that this list will not look like any other such list. Why? Okay, while there are albums that are obviously classics, landmark releases or “must hears,” most of those don’t manage to meet my stringent requirements for this list. Do I like Miles’ BITCHES BREW, Dylan’s HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED or the Floyd’s DARK SIDE OF THE MOON? Absolutely! And, just for the record, I do actually like a lot of Nirvana’s stuff, IN UTERO being my favorite. But, and here’s the major prerequisite for this list, how often do I listen to them? Not as often as I listen to the records that made the cut and, to these ears, that’s what counts. So, there you go… that is my stringent requirement: How often do I listen to the album and, to a lesser extent, how vehement am I about forcing said album on everyone else with whom I come into contact. A few minor things to consider (or not): There are no live albums (that’s a completely different list); these are all full-length releases (no EPs or singles); every album on this list is an official release (no bootlegs or “promotional only” items); “Greatest Hits,” “Best of… ” and singles collections are strictly verboten.

Ask me again next week and this list will probably look quite different; in fact, it’s already changed significantly since I decided to do a list. I started at 20 (in line with my list of favorite live albums). The list quickly ballooned to almost a hundred before I started whittling it back down to 50. I then found myself adding, deleting and substituting the other nearly 50 albums, so… what’s a music lover to do? The answer was obvious: Make the list a firm Top 100, regardless of the massive undertaking. If you wanna call this a “guilty pleasures” list, if that’ll help you sleep better at night… that’s okay with me. What I hope to accomplish with this list is to get you to take a closer look at some albums you may have crossed off after a spin or two or to get you to check out something that you may have never even been familiar with. It ain’t rocket surgery, kids; it’s just me telling you what I like and, why – maybe – you should like the stuff (or at least give a listen), too. With that said, and heading from the bottom of my humble list to the top of the heap, here’s…

(98) JERRY JEFF WALKER: RIDIN’ HIGH

(MCA RECORDS; 1975)

Ridin' High 1975

RIDIN’ HIGH was the fourth MCA release from upstart country artist Jerry Jeff Walker, the man who may forever be best known as the author of the classic tear-jerker, “Mister Bojangles.” My brother liked Jerry Jeff’s music, which was sometimes traditional to a fault, especially the live VIVA TERLINGUA, released two years before RIDIN’ HIGH; I, however, was a hard-headed 16 year old who, the year before, had quite stupidly purged my record collection of everything that wasn’t the hardest of rock (the one exception being anything by Frank Zappa). One day, my brother handed me a stack of MCA releases, a copy of this record included; I’d heard enough Jerry Jeff to know what to expect but, I was feeling expansive once more toward certain types of music and thought, “Okay… just the first song. That way I can say that I at least tried to listen to some country music.” It took me a whole lotta years before I opened my arms (and mind) wide enough to allow country music a little corner of my music room… the one exception being Jerry Jeff Walker’s RIDIN’ HIGH. I listened to the album all the way through that first day and for several days after that, until I’m sure that everybody around me was sick of it; it had achieved a vaunted status amongst Alice Cooper, the Who, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and all the rest. And, now, some 40 years later, it sits at number 98 as one of the greatest albums of all time.

Guy Clark, Dave Perkins and Jerry Jeff Walker (uncredited photo)

Guy Clark, Dave Perkins and Jerry Jeff Walker (uncredited photo)

Jerry Jeff took his Lost Gonzo brethren, mixed in some Nashville veterans and recorded what is, arguably, the best album of his career. The first song on that album is “Public Domain,” written by the bass-playing Gonzo, Bob Livingston. The song is sort of a Texan’s (while Jerry Jeff hailed from upstate New York, Livingston was Texas born and bred) take on New Orleans jazz, with acoustic bass and a ragtime piano. Deep down, this is a protest song (against the government; against the music industry; against the return policy at the local Woolworth’s; against… something): “Don’t be concerned if the song sounds familiar/Don’t be concerned if it all seems the same/Just be concerned that your policies will kill you/And it’s all just public domain.” Don’t let that bother you too much… just enjoy that progressive cosmic cowboy groove. “Pick Up the Tempo” is a more rockin’ Texas stomp from Willie Nelson. It’s closer to what we’ve come to expect from the Lost Gonzo Band when they back Walker. Jerry Jeff gets sentimental with Guy Clark’s “Like a Coat From the Cold.” The cracking, world-weary voice and sparse accompaniment make the song all the more effective. “I Love You” is more of the same, but much more personal, as the track was penned by Walker himself. It features a really nice bass line and one of those pedal steel parts that just makes you feel so lonely. Side one finishes with “Night Rider’s Lament,” a real live cowboy song by Michael Burton, with a pretty fiddle solo and Jerry Jeff’s yodeling… sorta.

Jerry Jeff Walker with Lost Gonzos, circa 1973 (photo credit: Steve Knagg)

Jerry Jeff Walker with Lost Gonzos, circa 1973 (photo credit: Steve Knagg)

On to side two and “Goodbye Easy Street,” a Texas waltz with a lilting melody, written by another backing Gonzo, guitarist John Inmon. The waltz estimation is heightened by a bouncy bass line and augmented by some nice harmonica and a touch of banjo; toss in some very Beatle-esque (no… really!) backing vocals and you have another winner on an album full of ‘em. “Pot Can’t Call the Kettle Black” has kind of a weird Irish reel feel to it. I could actually envision this as one of those quirky tunes that Faces were so adept at; the piano could come straight out of Ian McLagan’s playbook and the number has that easy rolling feel that would have suited Rod quite well. It is definitely one of the better fast tunes here with equally impressive vocals from Jerry Jeff; to top things off, there’s a unique harmony break with guitar and pedal steel. Jesse Winchester’s “Mississippi, You’re On My Mind” is kind of a Texarkana cowboy blues, with some fine guitar pickin’ and great backing vocals. I’ve never been a big fan of Winchester… maybe it just took Jerry Jeff and the Gonzos to open my mind a bit. Another Lost Gonzo Band/“London Homesick Blues” type of tune, “Jaded Lover,” is country to the bone, but with a meaty progressive outlaw marrow. The Chuck Pyle tune holds up amazingly well and would probably be a hit if it were released today. Finally… it’s the reason we’re here, the song we all came to hear: Jerry Jeff Walker’s very own “Pissin’ In the Wind.” The song trumps “Friends In Low Places” and “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” by at least a decade. The word play comes fast and furious, with lines like “I called this Guy,” and “this Nunn called me up,” and “some Gonzo buddies would like to play,” references to Guy Clark and Gary Nunn and his Lost Gonzo cohorts. Even if the rest of RIDIN’ HIGH wasn’t as over-the-top good as it is, this song alone would be worth the price of admission.

Willie Nelson, Jack Rodgers and Jerry Jeff Walker (uncredited photo)

Willie Nelson, Jack Rodgers and Jerry Jeff Walker (uncredited photo)

This particular set of songs and this particular group of players, along with one of the best voices in any genre of music, make this record indispensable and one of my greatest albums of all time. I’ve got a feeling that my brother is looking down on me and saying, “I told you so!” To which, I can only smile and say, “I love you, too.”

As far as I can tell, the latest edition of RIDIN’ HIGH comes from Australia’s Raven Records and was released in 2012. It’s packaged as WALKER’S COLLECTIBLES/RIDIN’ HIGH… PLUS, with Jerry Jeff’s previous release, WALKER’S COLLECTIBLES, as a two CD set featuring six bonus cuts. You can check it out and order it here: www.ravenrecords.com.au.


100 GREATEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME (ACCORDING TO ME), NUMBER 99

If you’re here looking for a Jann Wenner/ROLLING STONE/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame style affirmation of how great Bruce Springsteen is, move on… there’s nothing here for you; Springsteen’s indecipherable vocal grunts have never appealed to me and – like Kurt Cobain’s – his lyrics are a tick (well, okay… several ticks) below that “Friday” girl (Rebecca Black). So, with that out of the way, I can pretty much guarantee that this list will not look like any other such list. Why? Okay, while there are albums that are obviously classics, landmark releases or “must hears,” most of those don’t manage to meet my stringent requirements for this list. Do I like Miles’ BITCHES BREW, Dylan’s HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED or the Floyd’s DARK SIDE OF THE MOON? Absolutely! And, just for the record, I do actually like a lot of Nirvana’s stuff, IN UTERO being my favorite. But, and here’s the major prerequisite for this list, how often do I listen to them? Not as often as I listen to the records that made the cut and, to these ears, that’s what counts. So, there you go… that is my stringent requirement: How often do I listen to the album and, to a lesser extent, how vehement am I about forcing said album on everyone else with whom I come into contact. A few minor things to consider (or not): There are no live albums (that’s a completely different list); these are all full-length releases (no EPs or singles); every album on this list is an official release (no bootlegs or “promotional only” items); “Greatest Hits,” “Best of… ” and singles collections are strictly verboten.

Ask me again next week and this list will probably look quite different; in fact, it’s already changed significantly since I decided to do a list. I started at 20 (in line with my list of favorite live albums). The list quickly ballooned to almost a hundred before I started whittling it back down to 50. I then found myself adding, deleting and substituting the other nearly 50 albums, so… what’s a music lover to do? The answer was obvious: Make the list a firm Top 100, regardless of the massive undertaking. If you wanna call this a “guilty pleasures” list, if that’ll help you sleep better at night… that’s okay with me. What I hope to accomplish with this list is to get you to take a closer look at some albums you may have crossed off after a spin or two or to get you to check out something that you may have never even been familiar with. It ain’t rocket surgery, kids; it’s just me telling you what I like and why – maybe – you should like the stuff (or at least give a listen), too. With that said, and heading from the bottom of my humble list to the top of the heap, here’s…

(99) LUCIFER: BLACK MASS

(UNI RECORDS; 1971)

Lucier cover

One look at the name and cover of this record generally sent parents to their clergy, asking if an exorcism may be required to save little Billy or Sally from the hellish claws of Old Man Scratch. Despite the name and the tons of negative karma (it seems that the name alone was enough to cause it to sink from public consciousness almost before it was even released) that accompanied the release of BLACK MASS, the album is no more evil or Satanic in its scope or intent than the soundtrack to one of those great Hammer horror movies from the ’60s and ’70s. So, then, why should you care and why should the record rate as one of my 100 greatest of all time? Well… because, despite the name, the album is no more evil or Satanic in its scope or intent than the soundtrack to one of those great Hammer horror movies from the ’60s and ’70s. Oh… and it sounds really good and there are parts of it that still manage to scare the crap out of some people when I play it for them. Oh, and… it was one of the first ever electronic albums, by a true pioneer of the genre, Mort Garson (the guy who wrote “Our Day Will Come” for Ruby and the Romantics, as well as theme songs and incidental music for a bunch of game shows).

Mort Garson (publicity photo)

Mort Garson (publicity photo)

Garson became a disciple of the Moog synthesizer early on and a guru of electronic music upon the release of the 1967 album, THE ZODIAC: COSMIC SOUNDS (a couple of years later, he would expand this idea with twelve full-length records, each featuring music inspired by the individual signs of the zodiac). By the time BLACK MASS was released in 1971, Garson was well ensconced in the world of experimental electronic music, utilizing the synthesizer and other cutting edge sound inducers. “Solomon’s Ring” opens the album with some now-standard Emerson, Lake and Palmer/BRAIN SALAD SURGERY synth blasts (a couple of years before that record was released); somehow, though, those sounds are more beastial, more seductive here. The track reminds me of one of those movies where a virgin is sacrificed to the Dark Lord or Daniel Emilfork (look that one up) or some such totally evil atrocity. There’s chanting, singing, various “jungle noises” and tribal percussion laced throughout the slinky, oscillating groove of “The Ride of Aida (Voodoo).” “Incubus” is a trippy kind of BARBARELLA romp, complete with synthesizer-produced moans and groans. Despite some deliciously dark moments evoking the title demon, this song is pretty light sounding and fun. The titular number features tolling bells, chanting, wind blowing, a cathedral organ and a whole slew of creepy electronic noises. Even with all of the amazing technological advances in instruments, equipment and electronic music over the past forty plus years, I’ll still stack “Black Mass” up against just about anything since. The record’s first side closes with “The Evil Eye,” which is sort of a continuation of “Incubus” that quickly turns into the science fiction equivalent of a Voodoo curse.

Side two opens with “Exorcism.” The track has a kind of urgency and chaos (in a very organized sort of way) that lends a certain credence to its title, even if the odd, pastoral middle section does seem rather out of place. There’s a wicked sense of playfulness on “The Philosopher’s Stone” that belies the evil intent of the music. “Voices of the Dead (The Medium)” is kind of a lullaby for the criminally insane. If this cut makes you uneasy, you probably don’t qualify as a member of that very select group. Except for the creepy electro-percussion middle section, “Witch Trial” could have come from the soundtrack to one of those cheesy early ’70s made-for-TV movies about witch habitations or haunted lawn gnomes… heck, maybe it did come from one of those infernal things. The basic theme is a classical piece that I’ve always been too lazy to look up. The very short (less than 30 minutes) BLACK MASS ends with “ESP.” The track sounds kind like a swarm of wasps in flight or, maybe, the inside of an active hive; at just over a minute in length, though, it’s hard to make more than a general assumption.

Mort Garson, manipulated (photo credit: GUY WEBSTER)

Mort Garson, manipulated (photo credit: GUY WEBSTER)

Of all of Mort Garson’s releases, this one remains the holy grail (the unholy grail?). It has only been reissued three times since its original release – in 1973, when Uni’s parent company MCA moved all catalog releases under the umbrella of the mothership; 1977, when MCA launched a short-lived budget label called MCA Coral; and, finally, in 1980, when they moved everything back under the MCA tent. I’ve had several copies of the MCA versions of this record, so I have never actually seen a Uni version, but I understand it came with a custom inner sleeve with liner notes giving descriptions (and the reason behind the titles) of each piece. I have no idea who currently holds the rights to this masterpiece of electronic music (Garson ceased to exist in 2008, at the age of 83), but it definitely deserves a proper reissue on CD. Call your elected officials and demand they pass a law forcing the release of a definitive version of the 99th greatest album of all time!


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (17)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, here’s the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(17) GARY NUMAN: LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 AND ’80

(BEGGARS BANQUET RECORDS; English import box set, 1981)

Gary-Numan-Living-Ornaments

In the United States, Gary Numan (barring a miraculous surge in record sales) will always be known as the one-hit wonder guy, thanks to the number one 1979 psuedo-techno classic, “Cars.” Those of us with an adventurous disposition (at least where music is concerned) know that – as good as “Cars” was – it is nowhere near the best song Numan ever recorded; we also know (as do his legions of fans in Great Britain and Europe) that – even though he retired for a short period of time to race cars and fly planes – he has hardly been quiet since the song went viral (well… whatever the comparative term for viral was back then) upon its initial release. THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE, the album that featured “Cars,” was Numan’s third in two years (the first two marqueed by his then-current band, Tubeway Army) and the similarly dystopian TELEKON was just a few months away. In September 1979, Numan was moving away from the Tubeway Army sound and name; THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE was still two months from release. The live show still relied very heavily on the popularity of the group’s name and music, but this newer, tighter band was already exploring new territory and introducing Uk fans to the music from Gary’s first solo record; by September 1980, the band had a tougher, futuristic sound as it toured to support the just-released TELEKON.

In an unprecedented move, early 1981 saw the release of two live albums documenting both the 1979 and 1980 tours. This may have been intended as a stop-gap, offering Numan’s loyal fans something with which to remember the tours, before he released the jarringly different DANCE in September; maybe the releases were intended to appease those loyal fans because the next album would be a departure from the sound they’d come to expect from Numan and his well-oiled machine-like band. Whatever the reason, it was soon decided to offer the two records together, in a box set. That box set, not available except as an import in the US, lands the number 17 spot on my list of great live albums. Here’s why:

Gary Numan, 1979 (Cedric Sharpley, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne, Billy Currie, Rrussell Bell) (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1979 (Cedric Sharpley, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne, Billy Currie, Rrussell Bell) (uncredited photo)

The 1979 album was recorded on the group’s second night at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, September 28. LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 has a very disjointed feel, as Numan rearranged the track order and cutting the show down from the 21 songs performed to nine on the released version; due to that editing and shifting, there are fade-outs (and -ins) on many of the tracks, which disrupts the live feel. The quality of the music and performances, however, were never in question. Side one opens with the instrumental “Airlane,” which served as album opener on THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE. The track features a cool synth groove and an awesome power-chording guitar from Rrussell Bell. The worldwide number one hit, “Cars,” is sped up in this live setting. Though Numan’s voice has a rather chilling, robotic feel on the studio version, his performance here may not exactly be dripping with emotion, but it does exhibit more emotion than most are expecting from this period in his career. The Tubeway Army B-side “We Are So Fragile” shows a punkier – dare I say, fiercer – Gary Numan on display. The bass by Paul Gardiner is a definite plus here (and throughout the record). The song, “Films,” features another accelerated tempo, as Gardiner and his partner in rhythm, drummer Cedric Sharpley, are locked into one of those pockets that only a bass/drum tandem can really fall into. Numan’s voice is the disinterested and robotic instrument that we know so well. “Something’s In the House” comes from Tubeway Army’s debut album and has Numan sounding snotty and punky again. There is some amazing interplay between Bell, Sharpley and Gardiner, proving that – regardless of detractors comments – this is a real band… a very solid performing unit. The only problem seems to be a completely out-of-place keyboard/synth solo. I can’t tell if it’s in the wrong key or the wrong tempo or exactly what the problem is; I just know that it doesn’t fit.

Gary Numan, 1979 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1979 (uncredited photo)

My Shadow In Vain,” more spooky punk from the TUBEWAY ARMY album, is the first track on side two. It features a deranged Numan searching for answers, for dead friends and for his shadow… all in vain. I was surprised by the similarity (particularly the bass, guitar and synthesizer melody lines) with the Knack’s “My Sharona,” which was recorded and released a full year after Tubeway Army’s debut. “Conversation” is another quirky tune from THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE (are there any other kind?). Sharpley and Gardiner are in another syncopated groove and Numan’s vocals are “best-of-show” on the track. Billy Currie’s violin coda at the end of the song, as well as the melody line would show up three years later in Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science.” The existential punk of the TUBEWAY ARMY cut “The Dream Police” is highlighted by screeching, scraping violin and viola (by Currie and Chris Payne, respectively) and a repetitive guitar riff from Rrussell Bell. “Metal” sounds very much like a leftover from REPLICAS, as it seems to share that album’s cyborg/human machine thematic concept. It does feature the droning synth and machine-like drumming adopted on the next record.

Gary Numan, 1980 (Cedric Sharpley, Rrussell Bell, Roger Mason, Gary Numan, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne) (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (Cedric Sharpley, Rrussell Bell, Roger Mason, Gary Numan, Paul Gardiner, Chris Payne) (uncredited photo)

LIVING ORNAMENTS ’80, recorded on September 16 (the second date of a four day stand at the Hammersmith), has more of a live feel, with crowd noises connecting the cuts instead of the off-putting fades (even though the ten tracks were – like the ’79 edition – re-ordered and edited down from the 19 actually played that night). The band line-up has shifted slightly, with Numan now adding synthesizer and guitar duties to his singing and Roger Mason’s keyboards replacing Billy Currie’s keyboard and violin. Set opener “This Wreckage” also opens side one. The still-to-be-released single has the more industrial sound of TELEKON, the album this tour was in support of. A throbbing synth gives way to a pumping bass line and a swinging drum groove brings Numan to the stage, with his disconnected lyrics and disinterested vocal that somehow drips with more emotion than most balladeers can muster. The then-current single, “I Die: You Die,” follows. A sparkling keyboard, Gardiner’s fretless bass and electronic drums from Sharpley are deceptively inviting; a punky guitar slashes and snakes just under the surface as Numan delivers brutal, venomous lyrics about love, lust, lonliness and vengeance: “They crawl out of their holes for me/And I die; you die/Hear them laugh, watch them turn on me/And I die; you die/See my scars, they call me such things/Tear me, tear me, tear me.” An almost majestic sounding tune, “ME” features soaring keyboard and synthesizer. Again, the lyrics focus on death and isolation, a constant theme, especially in Numan’s solo work. The man’s vocal sounds frenzied and a little crazed… in a robotic kind of way. The song continually threatens to fly apart, but Ced Sharpley’s spectacular drumming holds it all together. “Everyday I Die” is one of the few holdovers from the debut Tubeway Army album on this tour. Numan’s vocals have a staccato quality, as he continues to express feelings of lonliness, this time, seemingly, the result of a love lost. The sparse instrumental accompaniment adds to the disturbing tone of the lyrics, making them somehow more frightening. “Down In the Park” is a part of REPLICAS, a grand punk opera about a growing sub-species, more machine than man. It’s a Tubeway Army song, but in name only; a beautiful piano intro gives way to stark, hollow instrumentation and wickedly unemotional vocals.

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

The final side of the box set, actually side two of the ’80 record starts with “Remind Me To Smile.” The TELEKON track is about the price of fame, way before the paparazzi were such a prevalent thing: “Get off the car/Get off the phone/Move from my window, leave me alone.” The band participates vocally, with a call and response chorus. “The Joy Circuit” is mostly instrumental… anthemic with hyperkinetic synth and bass. Even through the droning guitars and looped effects, the song somehow has a… happy feeling. “Tracks” starts with a solitary guitar, eventually moving into a synth-driven soundtrack kinda music. The tune could be about drugs or growing old or missing an older constant (parent?) that’s no longer in your life. Aside from “Cars,” “Are Friends Electric?” may be Numan’s best known song in the States. Numan’s spoken word vocals stab and the guitars slash at and through the sci-fi oriented keyboards and synthesizers, giving the tune a distinct Floydian sound. The final number, “We Are Glass,” is another TELEKON cut. It’s one of the more melodic songs from this early stage of Numan’s career, but the creepy REPLICAS cyborg thing is definitely in the lyrics, with such lines as, “We are cold/We’re not supposed to cry” and “You are replaced.” Over a three or four year period (say, 1979-1982), there were a lot of bands that excelled at the type of music pioneered by Gary Numan… at least in the studio; very few were competent enough to pull it off in a live setting. The band that toured with Numan during this time period proved themselves more than capable of bringing Numan’s dark visions to the stage and that’s why the special edition box set, LIVING ORNAMENTS ’79 AND ’80, is one of the greatest live albums ever.

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

Gary Numan, 1980 (uncredited photo)

The latest versions of the albums were released separately in 2005, but still no American editions. The ’79 album has reconstructed the entire show in the proper running order on two CDs; the two CD edition of the ’80 record features the original released version followed by the entire concert, again, in the proper running order. The full show is sourced from the stage monitor mix, which definitely gives you a different listening experience. Bass player Paul Gardiner died of a heroin overdose; drummer Ced Sharpley passed away in 2012 from cancer. During their time with Tubeway Army, Gary Numan’s solo bands and Dramatis (the samae band, minus Numan), they comprised one of the most potent rhythm sections in all of rock and roll. They are missed.


100 GREATEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME (ACCORDING TO ME), NUMBER 100

If you’re here looking for a Jann Wenner/ROLLING STONE/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame style affirmation of how great Bruce Springsteen is, move on… there’s nothing here for you; Springsteen’s indecipherable vocal grunts have never appealed to me and – like Kurt Cobain’s – his lyrics are a tick (well, okay… several ticks) below that “Friday” girl (Rebecca Black). So, with that out of the way, I can pretty much guarantee that this list will not look like any other such list. Why? Okay, while there are albums that are obviously classics, landmark releases or “must hears,” most of those don’t manage to meet my stringent requirements for this list. Do I like Miles’ BITCHES BREW, Dylan’s HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED or the Floyd’s DARK SIDE OF THE MOON? Absolutely! And, just for the record, I do actually like a lot of Nirvana’s stuff, IN UTERO being my favorite. But, and here’s the major prerequisite for this list, how often do I listen to them? Not as often as I listen to the records that made the cut and, to these ears, that’s what counts. So, there you go… that is my stringent requirement: How often do I listen to the album and, to a lesser extent, how vehement am I about forcing said album on everyone else with whom I come into contact. A few minor things to consider (or not): There are no live albums (that’s a completely different list); these are all full-length releases (no EPs or singles); every album on this list is an official release (no bootlegs or “promotional only” items); “Greatest Hits,” “Best of… ” and singles collections are strictly verboten.

Ask me again next week and this list will probably look quite different; in fact, it’s already changed significantly since I decided to do a list. I started at 20 (in line with my list of favorite live albums). The list quickly ballooned to almost a hundred before I started whittling it back down to 50. I then found myself adding, deleting and substituting the other nearly 50 albums, so… what’s a music lover to do? The answer was obvious: Make the list a firm Top 100, regardless of the massive undertaking. If you wanna call this a “guilty pleasures” list, if that’ll help you sleep better at night… that’s okay with me. What I hope to accomplish with this list is to get you to take a closer look at some albums you may have crossed off after a spin or two or to get you to check out something that you may have never even been familiar with. It ain’t rocket surgery, kids; it’s just me telling you what I like and why – maybe – you should like the stuff (or at least give a listen), too. With that said, and heading from the bottom of my humble list to the top of the heap, here’s…

(100) KING CRIMSON: DISCIPLINE

(WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS/EG RECORDS; 1981)

Discipline cover

I likes me some King Crimson! No… really, I do! I like RED (mostly because I have long been enamored of the bass playing and vocal talents of one John Wetton) and, honestly, who doesn’t like IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING? My favorites, though, have always been the triptych of early ’80s albums after Robert Fripp reconvened the project following a six year break: BEAT, THREE OF A PERFECT PAIR and the one that started this new phase, DISCIPLINE. Why, then, if I am such a fan of the band, is this the only Crimson album to make the cut and why at the bottom of the list? Well, first, it really is my favorite King Crimson album and, second… with a collection nearing 10,000 full-length albums, being considered one of my top 100 favorites of all time ain’t too shabby!

King Crimson (Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford, Tony Levin, Robert Fripp) (publicity photo)

King Crimson (Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford, Tony Levin, Robert Fripp) (publicity photo)

This was a distinctly new Crimson, with Fripp’s songwriting and guitar gymnastics (ingeniously dubbed “Frippertronics”) falling more in line with his concurrent project, the League of Gentlemen. Toss in Adrian Belew’s equally quirky guitar meanderings (alongside his abstract lyrics and unique vocal style) and the masterful stick (and bass) playing of the incredible Tony Levin and that means that the only constant and true link to the original Crimsons is the powerful, jazzy drumming of Bill Bruford.

King Crimson onstage, circa 1982 (Tony Levin, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford) (uncredited photo)

King Crimson onstage, circa 1982 (Tony Levin, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford) (uncredited photo)

The album is short, but so incredibly dense musically that you don’t realize the brevity. It starts, as these things generally do, with side one, track one: “Elephant Talk” is Fripp’s mission statement for this new Crimson, laying out everything in one blast of avant-garde progressivism. Tony Levin uses the stick like a lead instrument, butting up against Adrian Belew’s whammy bar tomfoolery and Bob’s manic Frippertronics. Belew’s lyrics and crazed vocal delivery is basically an A-B-C (and D-E, too) of terms for human communication, sounding particularly verbose on the word “bicker,” which is repeated with extra venom a few times. Through everything going on over the top, Bill Bruford sounds almost like a beginner with his minimalist time-keeping approach. “Frame By Frame” has an almost orchestral feel, even with Levin and Bruford double-timing the stick and drums. Levin adds his backing voice to a nice Belew vocal as Fripp continues to get “loopy” amid an air force of skittering, dive-bombing guitar effects. A laconic soundscape, Matte Kudasai,” features Fripp egging on Adrian’s melancholic delivery of his own tortured lyrics. Side one ends with “Indiscipline,” a song about “it” and how “it” can consume and destroy you. Belew speaks matter-of-factly between “21st Century Schizoid Man” blasts of blistering metallic riffing. The tune may best be known as the “I repeat myself when under stress” song, a phrase repeated several times as Belew is driven to distraction over “it.”

King Crimson (Tony Levin, Bill Bruford, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp) (photo credit: PHILIPPE HAMON)

King Crimson (Tony Levin, Bill Bruford, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp) (photo credit: PHILIPPE HAMON)

Aside from “Elephant Talk,” the track that opens side two, “Thela Hun Ginjeet” may be the most well-known number on DISCIPLINE, maybe more for the title than anything else, though the song is certainly of the highest quality. Belew’s tale of fear and loathing on the streets of New York plays out in a “tape-recorded” narrative, an instance of art imitating life (or vice-versa). The adrenaline-fueled pacing features tribal percussion, stinging guitars, Levin playing a real, live bass guitar and another inventive Frippertronics loop running throughout. The momentum and the paranoiac vibe of the tune is just right for the subject matter. In a rather quirky move (is there another kind where Fripp’s King Crimson is concerned?), the album’s final two tracks are instrumentals. It may have been more prudent to flip one of these two numbers with one from the first side. So, anyway, “The Sheltering Sky” opens with Bruford’s African hand drums and Belew’s understated rhythm guitar before Fripp and Levin launch their tonal assault. A soundscape that lasts well over eight minutes, “The Sheltering Sky” is at once pastoral and moving, calming and exciting; a true dichotomy… just like this new Crimson. As the name implies, there is a degree of “Discipline” in the title track, with more looped guitar and a rhythmic simplicity that connotes the disciplined musician. As further textures are introduced (especially more adventurous drumming and another guitar), the whole thing threatens to come undone before Fripp regains control.

King Crimson on the 1996 HORDEFEST main stage (Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

King Crimson on the 1996 HORDEFEST main stage (Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Even though this may not be the archetypical King Crimson record, if you’re Crimson-curious, it may just be the best place to start, as it tends to be the most “conventional.” After DISCIPLINE, you’ll want to check out some of the band’s more diverse offerings, such as RED (featuring the trio of Fripp, Bruford and John Wetton, with David Cross – who left during the recording – on violin) or IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING (the band’s debut album, with Greg Lake on bass and vocals and featuring the most well-known Crimson song of all time, “21st Century Schizoid Man”).

The most recent version of DISCIPLINE was released in 2011, part of the band’s “40th Anniversary Series.” The CD features a new mix of the original record plus some bonus tracks. In addition, there’s a DVD with seven (yes, seven!) different mixes of the album (two of which feature the bonus material). It also features three videos recorded live for the OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST television show, including the one above.


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (18)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, here’s number 18, the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(18) STATUS QUO: LIVE

(CAPITOL RECORDS/EMI RECORDS; 1977)

Status Quo Live US cover

So, this was a hard one. Among all of the live albums that I love and listen to the most, this spot came down between three great records: LIVE BULLET from Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Rory Gallagher’s STAGE STRUCK and this one, my first extended listen to (The) Status Quo (aside from the 1968 psychedelic masterpiece, “Pictures of Matchstick Men”). With PHOTO-FINISH and TOP PRIORITY, the single record STAGE STRUCK album from 1980 comes from my favorite period of Rory Gallagher’s career and, with killer songs like “Shin Kicker,” “Wayward Child” and “Brute Force and Ignorance,” it’s hard to overlook on this list. As far as LIVE BULLET goes, this is truly the one that put Bob Seger over the top nationally and side three of the 1976 double album (“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” “Heavy Music” and “Katmandu”) may just be the single most perfect live side ever released. But, then, why LIVE, a little heard release from a little heard (take it easy, Europe… I know that these guys are huge there… in America, not so much) boogie band from the UK? Well… it’s a really good, rockin’ set and… this is my list! You don’t agree, make your own list. Besides, where do I draw the line? I mean, what about other great live albums that didn’t make my list? What about UNLEASHED IN THE EAST, IF YOU WANT BLOOD… YOU’VE GOT IT, ROXY AND ELSEWHERE, LIVE RUST or WAITING FOR COLUMBUS? It’s definitely a tough call on my part but, don’t just pass this one over; give it a listen… you just may find yourself as big a fan as I am.

Status Quo (John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster, Francis Rossi) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster, Francis Rossi) (uncredited photo)

The Status Quo began their career as a psychedelic pop group, garnering a top 10 hit in the UK and a top 20 hit in the States with their first single, “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” Even though they experienced moderate success in England and Europe, by their third album (1970’s MA KELLY’S GREASY SPOON), they had dropped the Paisley sounds (they’d already become merely Status Quo the previous year, dropping “The” from their name), going for a rougher boogie sound; even then, it wasn’t until 1972 and album number five, PILEDRIVER, that they really started to roll, hitting number five on the UK charts. By the time LIVE was recorded, in October 1976 at Glasgow’s Apollo Theatre, the boys had a number two album and three number one’s. LIVE is Status Quo at the top of their game and on fire, ripping off blistering song after blistering song.

The Quo kick off the set with “Junior’s Wailing,” an old Steamhammer tune from 1969 that the boys covered on MA KELLY’S… . It’s a straight on, chuggin’ boogie stroll and a mission statement, declaring to all that this band means business. A coupling of the first two tracks from1974’s QUO album follows, with John Coghlan’s pounding backbeat taking no prisoners, even offering up a cowbell heavy mini-solo coming out of “Backwater” and leading into “Just Take Me.” The guitars (provided by the powerhouse duo of Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi) get a bit funky on “Just Take Me,” particularly the solo. “Is There a Better Way,” the lead track from the then seven month old BLUE FOR YOU album, is probably the best known Status Quo tune here in the US (outside of “Pictures of Matchstick Men”) and it’s as heavy as anything by that other group of boogie merchants, AC/DC… in fact, it could be the best AC/DC song that Bon and the boys never recorded. It’s highlighted by a booming bass from Alan Lancaster and a swirling organ from the newly-minted fifth member of the band, Andy Bown. It is, to these ears, boogie perfection. Side one closes out with a 1970 English single (which was added to a completely deconstructed and rebuilt American version of MA KELLY’S GREASY SPOON), “In My Chair.” It’s another strident stroll, with a cool Link Wray guitar figure and solo. Upon its release as a single in ’70, it just missed the top 20 on the English charts, a rather surprising thing considering that the previous single, “Down the Dustpipe,” reached number 12. Or, maybe not so surprising, as the British record buying public seem to be far more fickle than here in the States but, they like what they like.

Status Quo (The Frantic Four: John Coghlan, Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (The Frantic Four: John Coghlan, Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

On side two, we’re introduced to 1975’s ON THE LEVEL via “Little Lady” with its Chuck Berry stomp and “Most of the Time,” which starts off with a country boogie sing-along before the band kicks in. There’s another great guitar solo (there always is, isn’t there?) as the bottom end is awash in a sea of Coghlan drum rolls. “Most of the Time” may be as close as the bulldozing Quo came to producing a ballad during this, their boogie heyday. “Forty-Five Hundred Times” comes from the group’s widely overlooked (though chart-topping) 1973 offering, HELLO; I’m not really sure if the intro’s a joke or not, but they say that “here’s something… one of those albums that we get really tired of… ” before heading into a massive (nearly 17 minutes) roiling, solo-filled rendition. The song and the lads seem to pick up steam at about the seven-and-a-half minute mark, leading into an epic guitar duel between Rossi and Parfitt, with a lot of interesting interaction going on underneath from Lancaster and Coghlan. With the several time changes, and as I’m not familiar with HELLO, other than this and the other two tracks from it played here, this could be the band’s way of giving the fans a little bit of every song on the album.

Status Quo (Blue For You: Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (photo credit: BOB YOUNG ARCHIVES)

Status Quo (Blue For You: Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (photo credit: BOB YOUNG ARCHIVES)

Roll Over Lay Down” is the first of those other two HELLO numbers. It opens side three and features a kind of undulating, rolling vocal style (I know that description makes it all as clear as mud but, once you hear it, you’ll understand what I’m talking about). The boys take a fairly standard blues riff and ratchet up the power-chording to great effect. As the song’s feedback ending crashes into the heavier “Big Fat Mama,” the vocals sound like a beautiful meshing of the Tygers of Pan Tang’s Jess Cox and little Johnny Osbourne of Sabbath fame. The charging tempo and hot-rod fueled bass could very easily be a prototype for the forthcoming New Wave of British Metal. It’s a fun song from the PILEDRIVER record and a definite highlight in a live setting. Barely affording the crowd a chance to catch their breath, the band rips into the final HELLO tune, “Caroline,” which is highlighted by great work from the rhythm section – including Parfitt’s rhythm guitar – and one of the strangest drum solos I’ve ever heard before jumping into Quo’s homage-paying tribute to Chuck Berry, via Berry’s own “Bye Bye Johnny,” the album closer from ON THE LEVEL. The track turns into an audience participation affair, as they’re led through the chorus of, “Bye, bye/Bye, bye/Bye, bye, Johnny B Goode.” The only disappointing thing about the tune (and, indeed, most of LIVE) is that you just know that Andy Bown is in there somewhere, adding that Johnnie Johnson boogie-woogie piano to the mix; either he’s simply overpowered by the guitars or he’s been buried in the mix for some insidious reason.

Status Quo (On the Front Line: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (On the Front Line: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Rain,” only the second song from the new BLUE FOR YOU album, opens side four. This might be my favorite Quo song of all time, featuring one of their best riffs and great sing-along lyrics. A couple of tracks from PILEDRIVER, the first and last songs on the record, brings the final side of LIVE to a rousing close. Fan (and band) favorite “Don’t Waste My Time” chugs along, eventually crashing into a killer 14 minute take of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” The percolating groove is punctuated by powerful performances by Coghlan and Lancaster, as well as tour manager Bob Young, joining in on harmonica. The chugging middle section is given over to the animated crowd , a traditional Irish jig (I think it’s called “Paddy O’Brien’s.” You know… it’s that leprechaun thing) and a snippet of the Johnny Kidd and the Pirates chestnut, “Shakin’ All Over,” before returning to the Doors tune to finish off the set. If you aren’t familiar with Status Quo or want to relive those glory years of the band, LIVE is the perfect place to start.

Status Quo (Live At the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, 1976: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, John Coghlan, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (Live At the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, 1976: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, John Coghlan, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

The original American release of LIVE also featured the group’s then-current single, “Wild Side of Life” backed with “All Through the Night,” as a free insert. The latest version of LIVE that I’ve been able to confirm is from 2005. It features a slightly different running order, keeping it in line with the actual set lists from those three nights in October 1976.


THE 50 GREATEST PROFESSIONAL WRESTLERS OF ALL TIME: THE DEFINITIVE SHOOT

(Larry Matysik; 464 pages; ECW PRESS; 2013)

50-Book

A lot of you may not recognize Larry Matysik’s name but, in Saint Louis wrestling circles, he looms large as an elder-statesman of the business. Larry started his career at the age of sixteen, working with legendary promoter (as well as president of the National Wrestling Alliance), Sam Muchnick and learning the ropes (so to speak) and the inner workings of the wrestling game. By his 22nd birthday, he was THE announcer in Saint Louis, calling the play-by-play on the influential WRESTLING AT THE CHASE, acting as ring announcer for the bi-weekly house matches at the Keil Auditorium (and, later, the Saint Louis Arena/Checkerdome), and holding his own in interviews with some of the top names in the business, including Harley Race, Jack Briscoe, Ted DiBiase (before he was worth a million), Dick the Bruiser, Baron Von Raschke, Ox Baker, Dick Murdoch (an absolutely hilarious interviewee who once chased Larry around the ring) and – whoooo! – that limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’, dealin’ son of a gun, the Nature Boy, Ric Flair. To say that it was an honor to sit down with the man for a few minutes and pick his brain regarding the industry that gave me a closeness with my father that few of my generation ever knew is an understatement of epic proportions. Larry and I talked about and debated the greats, near greats and never weres, the state of the game today and, of course, his latest book, THE 50 GREATEST PROFESSIONAL WRESTLERS OF ALL TIME: THE DEFINITIVE SHOOT.

The Author discusses the 50 greatest with Larry Matysik (photo credit: SCOTT HARTMAN)

The Author discusses the 50 greatest with Larry Matysik (photo credit: SCOTT HARTMAN)

This was originally intended to be an interview piece with Larry, but we did the Q and A session before and during the breaks at a house show for a small, independent promotion and, well… it was LOUD! When the time came for me to transcribe the tape, I was getting maybe about a third of what was said. So, since the gist of the interview was the book, I decided to turn the piece into a fairly standard review, with a few of the pearls that I could salvage (or remember) from the interview. Thus, without further ado…

Harley Race and Ric Flair, in one of their numerous, bloody matches (uncredited photo)

Harley Race and Ric Flair, in one of their numerous, bloody matches (uncredited photo)

I don’t agree that some of these wrestlers are, indeed, among the all time greats; I don’t agree with the placement of several of the performers listed. But, then, that’s the fun of a book like this, isn’t it? Mister Matysik, however, took painstaking measures in his choices and their positions. In fact, the first 106 pages of the book outlines the criteria he implemented in compiling this list. Most of my likes and dislikes and disagreements with those choices are personal, generally fueled by a visceral dislike for a certain “rassler” or the company they worked (or work) for. For instance, I can fully understand why Terry (Hulk Hogan) Bollea is on the list: He became the most recognizable face of the World Wrestling Federation (now known as the WWE) and the industry, catapulting the WWF to the top of the promotional heap, actually going “world wide” at a time when territorial promotions were the norm; Hulk literally changed the industry, making wrestling far more marketable than just a weekly local television show and a monthly house show. However, in my humble opinion, he ruined the wrestling game for fans like me and, as such, there is no way that he deserves to be listed above Harley Race; always loved Race (the greatest ever in my eyes) and truly hated what Vince McMahon (Junior) did to him when he signed on with the then WWF; likewise, I always loathed the Hulkster, a poor worker with minimal ability who would be beaten mercilessly for ten minutes, bug his eyes out and point a menacing finger at his opponent who, naturally, would cower in fear and succumb to the Herculean effects of Hogan’s finishing move, the giant leg drop, in less than a minute. But, again, that’s just me; Larry, after all, is the expert and lays out the pros and cons of every member of this elite conglomeration in a studious and – above all – entertaining fashion. And, as one of the pros happens to be marketability (as well as the ability to bring in a big payday for the promoter), Hulk Hogan has his place near the top of the heap.

Multi-time World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz (publicity photo)

Multi-time World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz (publicity photo)

Matysik is a scholar of the game and is quite jealous when someone berates it, especially when they call it “fake.” He worked with and befriended many of these athletes (yes… I said athletes; they may be “entertainers” but what they do requires great athletic ability), even becoming business partners with one, Frank (King Kong/Bruiser Brody) Goodish. Larry brings his encyclopedic knowledge of the professional wrestling business to this book, drawing from every era and every promotion to compile his 50 greatest list. Out of curiosity, I asked him about some of my favorites (and not so favorites) over the years. Guys like Baron Von Raschke, Lord Alfred Hayes, Bulldog Bob Brown, Ken Patera, Dick Murdoch, Paul Orndorff and so many others. Most he knew personally, others he knew by reputation only, all he had an opinion on. So, were any of these guys considered for the list? Yes they were. Every professional wrestler who ever stepped into the squared circle was considered for a spot on Larry’s list. Some were great at drawing heat as a heel (a bad guy) and were real gentlemen out of the spotlight but, for whatever reason, never reached the upper echelons of the business, which precluded their garnering a spot on the list. Another thing to consider is, “How would a particular performer fair in any other era outside his own?” Taking all of Matysik’s criteria and applying them to that question eliminated a good number of candidates, including some dominating names from certain periods of wrestling history.

Hulk Hogan, brother! (uncredited photo)

Hulk Hogan, brother! (uncredited photo)

As an interesting sidebar, we also discussed the business side of the industry, in particular, the type of business practices utilized by one Vincent Kennedy McMahon (or VKM, as Larry calls him). While we both agree that VKM’s take-no-prisoner approach has manifestly harmed not only the game as a whole, but his brand, as well, we also recognize that he elevated public interest in a dying industry that – even some 30 years later – it still enjoys, though the WWE brand has more recently been responsible for continuing diminishing numbers on television and at house shows. McMahon is also notorious for “scorched earth” tactics that virtually guarantee that, eventually, every major star at rival promotions must sign with him or find another line of work. He then buries them in mid-card matches or stooges them out (like he did it with Harley Race and so many others), simply because they had the nerve to work for a competitor. If he sees a performer who becomes more popular than VKM’s chosen, he puts them in not only ridiculous, but untenable situations; the most recent example being Phil Brooks, better known as CM Punk who, rather than playing the game, chose to retire. Larry alluded to the fact that Punk was definitely in the running for this list and probably would have made the cut had he not walked away, citing a dearth of ring time (which, we are assuming he would have had if he hadn’t retired) as the primary reason that he didn’t get the nod. As the only truly viable alternative to Vince’s WWE currently is Total Nonstop Action (TNA), the discussion eventually turned to the problems within that promotion; even though he thinks that president Dixie Carter and her creative team are making a bad situation worse, Larry hopes to see the ship righted. At the time of the interview, rumors were rampant that McMahon had already or was going to initiate a hostile takeover of TNA (as he did with WCW and ECW); Matysik agrees that such a move would, ultimately, do more harm than good, stifling a healthy, competitive corporate atmosphere and further muddying WWE’s already murky talent pool. Several months removed from our talk, rumors abound that TNA’s ship is sinking faster than ever and, apparently, the hull is so badly damaged that even McMahon has no interest in acquiring the brand. He’s content to just sit in his WWE lifeboat and drag anyone he deems worthy of saving aboard… as long they’re willing to bow to his mastery.

Kurt Angle, one of the 50 greatest, puts an ankle lock on Samoa Joe (photo courtesy: TOTAL NONSTOP ACTION)

Kurt Angle, one of the 50 greatest, puts an ankle lock on Samoa Joe (photo courtesy: TOTAL NONSTOP ACTION)

As you can see, Larry certainly doesn’t pull any punches, making this book a must have for any true wrestling fan. Since we will all have our opinion as to who should be on the list and who shouldn’t and why, this could definitely serve as a starting point for spirited debates among the kindred (maybe even a headlock, a diving headbutt or – at the very least – a hip-toss takedown for the truly vociferous patron of the art). Each entry has a great black and white picture of the wrestler and a five to ten page overview of his career and why Larry chose him for the list (and why he placed him, numerically, where he did). And, while most of today’s fans know only the likes of John Cena, the Undertaker, Brock Lesner or Kurt Angle (all on the list, by the way… for better or worse), THE 50 GREATEST PROFESSIONAL WRESTLERS OF ALL TIME is a fantastic history lesson for them and a wonderful look back for us geezers who remember the National Wrestling Alliance, the American Wrestling Association, World Class Championship Wrestling or any of the other regional promotions. The names are legendary: Edouard Carpentier, Classy Freddie Blassie, Pat O’Connor, Fritz Von Erich (father of the ill-fated Von Erich wrestling clan), Nick Bockwinkel, Lou Thesz and, of course – whoooo! – that limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’, dealin’ son of a gun, the Nature Boy, Ric Flair. See what I did there? I just brought this whole review back to the beginning!

John Cena, one of the 50 greatest, dropkicks Bray Wyatt (photo courtesy: WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT)

John Cena, one of the 50 greatest, dropkicks Bray Wyatt (photo courtesy: WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT)

Uh… yeah… so, anyway, you’re gonna have to pick up your very own copy of the book to see just where your favorites place; it’s available at most book stores, through Amazon online and, of course, directly from www.ecwpress.com, as are Larry’s other books, including BRODY: THE TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY OF WRESTLING’S REBEL and WRESTLING AT THE CHASE: THE INSIDE STORY OF SAM MUCHNICK AND THE LEGENDS OF PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING.


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (19)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, here’s number 19, the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(19THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND: LIVE

(ATLANTIC RECORDS; 1975)

the_sensational_alex_harvey_band-live

To say that Alex Harvey was a haunted, damaged soul may be an understatement. It has been well documented that he never really recovered from his brother Les’ onstage electrocution while a member of Stone the Crows. Alex blamed himself because he introduced his younger brother to Maggie Bell, which led to the two forming that band. Alex hid his pain with alcohol and by becoming the jokester, leading his new band, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, as it winded its way to success via their high-powered, glam-tinged Vaudevillian stage show. I came to the show late, as far as SAHB (as they were called, because… well, their full name does not exactly roll trippingly off the tongue) was concerned… three albums into their joint career (Alex had been performing in various bands since the late ’50s; the other guys – of which, more later – were a band called Tear Gas, who released two albums before hooking up with Harvey). The very first time I heard (and saw) the group was on some late night concert thingy some time in 1974. I was, to say the least, blown away! I remember going on the hunt for anything by the band and, living in Podunk USA, the best I could do was special order a copy of the then-new album, THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM. And that brings us to the fabulous LIVE album, recorded on May 24, the last night of the group’s 1975 English tour. LIVE was, unfortunately, a single record (around 45 minutes in length; about half of the actual show), at a time when double live albums were de rigueur. But, oh, what a record it was!

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (Chris Glen, Hugh McKenna, Zal Cleminson, Alex Harvey, Ted McKenna) (uncredited photo)

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (Chris Glen, Ted McKenna, Zal Cleminson, Alex Harvey, Hugh McKenna) (uncredited photo)

The record starts with a brief “Fanfare (Justly, Skillfully, Magnanimously)” followed by a creepy, Glaswegian voice welcoming the audience, “Good evening, boys and girls. It’s a gas to be here… I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to my band. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.” Way better, in my mind, than, “You wanted the best, you got the best!” A pumping keyboard (organ, synthesizer or… ?) and shaker from Hugh McKenna introduces the lascivious “Faith Healer,” before Ted McKenna (Hugh’s cousin), Chris Glen and Zal Cleminson join in, on drums, bass and guitar, respectively. This is as good a place as any to mention that Cleminson is an exceptionally gifted and expressive guitar player with a style and tone that – like Queen’s Brian May and REO Speedwagon’s Gary Richrath – is immediately recognizable; the mime face paint and modified jester’s outfit alongside his rubbery facial expressions only add to the effect. When Alex growls the first line of the song, “Let me put my hands on you,” it is evident that his motives are far from noble. While the focal point of the stage show may rest more on the antics of Zal and Chris, it is quite obvious that this is, in fact, Alex’s band. Hugh introduces the next tune, as well, with a pretty, soft electric piano. As Harvey steps to the mic, he introduces “Tomahawk Kid” as a song “inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson.” The TREASURE ISLAND and KIDNAPPED pirate references abound as the percolating rhythm leads to a great harmony duet between synthesizer and guitar; I’m not really sure that I’ve ever heard anything like it, but I do know that I like it! Zal doesn’t do a whole lot of soloing (which, of course, one would expect from a lead guitarist… especially live), but his lead, rhythm and fill work are masterpieces nonetheless. With the band adding “Yo-ho-ho” backing vocals on the chorus, the song catches fire and draws you into the story. The first side ends with the “Vambo” section of “The Hot City Symphony,” complete with Alex reading from “The Book of Vambo,” delivering a litany of heroic deeds that Vambo Marble-Eye, a being who is “like a cross between Santa Claus and Spider-Man,” is responsible for. There is a manic middle section, which features Alex spray-painting “Vambo Rools!!” on a brick wall to the back of the stage (if you’re unfamiliar with SAHB’s live show, you’ll have to trust me on that) and, yes… that is a frenzied guitar solo from Cleminson. It is a masterful performance, a touch above the studio version from THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM, but Alex and his boys saved the best for side two.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (uncredited photo)

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (uncredited photo)

The band was promoting a new album, TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME and, while a few tunes from that release were played on the 1975 tours, only one made the LIVE record: “Give My Compliments To the Chef.” It’s an ominous tune with a heavy bass riff and a moody piano leading to the first line, delivered in a sad and resigned fashion: “Mother, dear, did you hear/How they are teaching me to do the goosestep?” The song is a wicked, veiled reference to a certain menu item… SOYLENT GREEN, anybody? The tune starts slow but, by the second half, Alex has worked his band into a lather, driving them hard to the finish. If you listen closely, you can hear him panting during the applause after. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were always known for their use of the well-chosen cover tune. The point is proven on a wild, waltz-like take of the Tom Jones hit, “Delilah.” The version used on LIVE was so powerful that it was released as a single itself and became the group’s biggest chart success. Again, Hugh’s keyboards seem to lead the band, though the others, especially Zal, do have their moments. The slow middle section features (again, you’ll have to take my word… no… wait… just check the video evidence!) Cleminson and Glen prancing across the stage in an approximation of a waltz, leaving Alex to his own devices amid a pile of mannequins. His vocals are weird and menacing, made more so by the backing vocals by the others. The album finale is another cover, the Leiber-Stoller chestnut, “Framed.” Harvey’s intro, while sticking fairly close to the original, is classic: “I’m walking down the street, minding my own affair/When two policemen grab me and I’m unaware/They said, is your name Alexander/ And I said, well, why sure/They said, well, you’re the cat that we been lookin’ for/But I was… FRA-MUH-DUH!/I never done nothin’!” SAHB’s version has a hard rock/glam feel, with some great boogie piano running through it and… guess what?… another awesome solo from Cleminson. The second “monologue” from Alex is a garbled mess… mostly because he’s wearing a pair of panty hose over his head. As the band kicks it back into high gear, Mister Harvey begins to plead his case to the audience. He asks them if they believe him, if they are on his side. “Do you believe me? No? You don’t believe me? The concert is canceled!” He pits the audience against the band, blaming them for all of his woes and emerges victorious, slamming into one of the more bombastic finishes ever recorded. I would certainly like to hear the complete, uncut concert but, I find it hard to believe that they could ever improve upon the sequencing and pacing of this one record; it’s that good! And, that’s why it sits at number 19 on my list of great live albums.