Surviving Quarantine with Miles, Petty, and My Top 10 Albums of 2020

Music’s ability to make us feel better was really put to the test in 2020. The healing power of music probably played a key role for most of us as we navigated our new lifestyle in what has officially been deemed “These Difficult Times.”

Before getting to my Top 10 Albums of 2020, my musical reflection on this past year actually reveals two unlikely figures: Miles Davis and Tom Petty. I probably listened to more Miles Davis than any other artist this year. As the line from Office Space goes… “I celebrate the whole catalogue.” But in particular, the Kind of Blue album was something I started to lean on like medicine. Already one of the consensus choices for “best jazz album of all time,” Kind of Blue also seems to have some sort of magical power to sooth that “nervous stomach,” and ease the mild anxiety that inevitably greeted us every morning for most of 2020.

So if the relaxation playlists, meditation music, and yoga soundtracks aren’t getting it done when you need some stress relief, try Miles Davis Kind of Blue (results may vary, may cause good feeling or possible euphoria, check your headphones to see if Kind of Blue is right for you).

Part of why I turned to jazz in These Difficult Times may be because there are no lyrics. No songs about the good old days of… leaving the house and being with other people. Maybe that’s why my number one album of the year in the list below is also an instrumental album. Working from home; taking long walks. Sometimes we need music without words.

Oddly enough, I rediscovered one old album full of words that sounds perfect for 2020. While staying safely stuck at home, I found Tom Petty’s Into the Great Wide Open from 1993 to be like a sketchbook of what we went through this year. Taking a line or two from each song from Petty’s Great Wide Open album and reading them all together as follows, I wish I could send every character from these songs a copy of Miles Davis Kind of Blue to help them feel better:

Trouble blew in on a cold dark wind.
Started out… all alone.
Well, the good old days may not return.
No you can’t hide out.
We wanna hold our heads up, but we gotta stay down.
I don’t wanna end up in a room all alone.
In the dark of the sun will you save me a place? Give me hope, give me comfort, get me to a better place?
We will stand together; Yeah we will stand as one.
When the time gets right, I’m gonna pick you up and take you far away from trouble my love.
Oh I await the day, Good fortune comes our way.
I don’t wanna fight no more.
I don’t mind workin’, but I’m scared to suffer ya know?
I’m takin’ control of my life.
Oh, the days went slow, into the changing season.
When I woke up my brain was stunned, I could not come around.
I’m out in the cold, body and soul.
There’s nowhere to go.
I thought, “Maybe I can make it if I never give in.”
Her imagination ran wild. Could this really happen to me? She could barely hold back the tears.
There was no talk of giving in.
I was feeling burned out; I got tired of it, I know you feel lost.

The world is changing fast, but our love was built to last.
One day all the rules will bend, and you and I will meet again.

While much of this year was spent clinging to old classics and familiar sounds that might serve as comfort food for our ears, these were my favorite new releases of the year:

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The Sorcerers ~ In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God

THE TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2020

The Sorcerers – In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God
Sometimes you discover an album by accident, because it has a cool-looking cover or a weird title. That’s what happened with this one, and it’s a funky stew of styles and movements for all moods. This instrumental gem is difficult to categorize or describe, so I highly recommend you go listen for yourself.

Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Thurston Moore – Into the Fire

The Flaming Lips – American Head

Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

Nas – King’s Disease

Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You

Jason Isbell – Reunions

Jonathan Wilson – Dixie Blur

Drive-By Truckers – The Unravelling

Yawning Man – Live at Giant Rock

Honorable Mention, “new” releases from the vault:

Neil Young – Homegrown

Prince – Sign O’ the Times (expanded reissue)

Tom Petty – Wildflowers (expanded reissue)

The Best Albums of 2019

This modern world seems to have no use for “the Album,” as it’s been killed off when vinyl first died years ago and then revived during the compact disc era only to be wiped out again when CDs were phased out. Of course, vinyl has been reborn in recent years but “the Album” was again the victim of attempted murder as digital/streaming has let everyone make their own playlists or cherry pick a few songs from “the Album” and leave the rest to die unheard.

I say “attempted” murder because “the Album” has managed to live on. While streaming platforms put $10/month into the smartphone and data companies’ pockets (with SEVERAL pennies still going to artists!), it has inadvertently allowed everyone from the casual fan to the obsessive fanatic to hear complete albums they might not have ever considered buying. This new music business, for better or for worse, allows you to get hip to all the new releases that your music-obsessed album-aficionado friends are always telling you to check out.

So which 2019 albums are most worth your while? Well I’m still an album guy, and there’s something for everyone in the list below. Sorry, no paragraphs of clever descriptions and comparisons. ALL these albums are highly recommended, so if you’re curious what they sound like… just dial ‘em up:

Claypool Lennon south of reality

Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality

Ryan Bingham – American Love Song

Tool – Fear Inoculum

Gang Starr – One of the Best Yet

The Oh Sees – Face Stabber

Sturgill Simpson – Sound & Fury

Brittany Howard – Jaime

The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger

Jackie & the Treehorns – It’s Never Too Late

Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars

Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

Helado Negro – This Is How You Smile

William Tyler – Goes West

Beyonce – Homecoming

Josh Ritter – Fever Breaks

Top 10 Super Bowl Halftime Shows

Ranking the best Super Bowl halftime shows is a subjective and predictable (and pointless) exercise. But let’s do it anyway. Just as the Super Bowl game on the field has changed over the years and gotten bigger (and sometimes better), so too has the halftime show.

In the early days, when the league and game itself were not as big as they are today, the halftime shows were simple marching-band extensions of regular football games. As the years passed, they added occasional singers like Ella Fitzgerald and such pop celebrities as Carol Channing (twice). The Super Bowl Halftime Show as we know it today was not quite a “thing” yet.

As late as the 1980s, it was still just marching bands and Up With People performing salutes to random themes. (According to one of the great first lines on all of Wikipedia, “Up with People is an education organization whose stated mission is to bridge cultural barriers and create global understanding through service and a musical show.”) One year it was a “Salute to the Stars of the Silver Screen.” Just three years later, the theme was “Salute to the 100th Anniversary of Hollywood” (with George Burns, Mickey Rooney, and Disney characters). Other years they would salute the big-band era and “the 1960s and Motown.” In fact, they would even haphazardly combine tributes, as if some board-room decision had ended in a tie:  the 1990 theme was “Salute to New Orleans and the 40th Anniversary of Peanuts.”

Then Michael Jackson and, 11 years later, Janet Jackson changed how we view the Super Bowl halftime show.

10.) JANET JACKSON (w/ JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE)
SB XXXVIII – Feb 1, 2004 – Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX)
Unfortunately, nothing written about Super Bowl halftime shows is complete without mentioning perhaps the most famous, or infamous, halftime show. Sadly its pop-culture significance will keep it on lists like this forever. Oh, you don’t remember this one? At the end of the performance, Justin Timberlake ripped off a piece of Janet’s, uh, wardrobe and revealed most of her bare breast. This was called “nipplegate” even though Miss Jackson made sure her nipple was covered. She showed about the same amount of her body as an average beer commercial by an Official NFL Beer Sponsor. But it was such an outrage to see that for 2 seconds on live TV that all the news and media outlets spent at least a week editorializing on just how awful and classless it was… all while showing a still photo of said exposed breast. This led to several years of only aging male classic rockers performing at the Super Bowl.

9.) DIANA ROSS
SB XXX – Jan 28, 1996 – Sun Devil Stadium (Tempe, AZ)
Underrated and possibly forgotten performance, but Diana Ross was up to the task and capably worked through a medley of 10 (ten!) hits. Don’t sleep on the classics.

8.) BRUNO MARS (w/ RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS)
SB XLVIII – Feb 2, 2014 – Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX)
Okay, younger artist with some hits but not quite the household name with some older viewers. By any measure, Bruno Mars nailed his performance. He can sing, he can dance, he can open the show with a drum solo, he brings a horn section, and then he has the Chili Peppers pop out of the stage floor to “givitaway givitaway give it away now.” Exhilarating and professional performance.

7.) ROLLING STONES
SB XL – Feb 5, 2006 – Ford Field (Detroit, MI)
At this point, the Rolling Stones are just game managers. Rock royalty just needs to show up, play a few hits, and fill the stadium with classic riffs. Oh, and do it on a stage shaped like the Stones’ lips/tongue logo.

6.) TOM PETTY & the HEARTBREAKERS
SB XLII – Feb 3, 2008 – University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, AZ)
Sandwiched around Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers solid (if unspectacular) performance of hits was the Patriots-Giants “Helmet Catch” game: a truly great Super Bowl, as well as a huge upset of an undefeated team. We don’t need always need guest rappers or genre-bending collaborations. (Aerosmith-Britney-N’Sync? No thanks.) Petty and his underrated band have been a radio staple for decades. Capable rock bands with good songs are like balanced football teams with good offensive lines.

Continue reading →

The Anniversary Re-Issue of My Top 10 List

Working in a record store back in 1987, we got the first Beatles CDs shipped to us and excitedly opened the boxes after hours as they would go on sale the next day to coincide with the 20 anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper. Obviously I understood the leap to the new format, but was a little surprised at the hype of this “new” release that was really just a reselling of old music everyone already had.

And in true Beatles fashion, of course they predicted all of this and put it on record. In fact the first line of that legendary Sgt. Pepper album is “It was 20 years ago today…” and a tagline was born. The Beatles making it to compact discs in the late 80s wasn’t the first or last “anniversary reissue” but it rang in a new era of nostalgia culture along with what the Box Set craze was doing for what was once known as “The Record Industry.”

As our media and culture and news cycles continued to speed up as technology advanced, so too did our nostalgia rates. The 1990s saw a resurgence (recycling) of the 1960s…. and soon enough we couldn’t wait to re-celebrate the 70s and shout I LOVE THE 80s and by the dawn of the 21st century it seemed we were already “looking back” on a 90s decade that just ended. This hyperwarp eventually ate itself and now we just spend each day, week, and year looking back at the great things that already happened 10, 20, and 25 years ago.

Usually we are nudged into this by some not-so-coincidental reissues… anniversary edition remasters of the classic albums we already know and love. And in the digital age where selling any music, especially hard copy CDs, is next to impossible, it’s a lot easier to (re)sell us stuff everyone knows is good (especially with added goodies and updated artwork or notes). It’s easy to have a hit with a hit.

In the “rock is dead” era, we didn’t need the Strokes or the White Stripes to be saviors of rock, we just exhumed the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin to do it again. It’s almost comical that the recent remastered reissues (expanded 2-disc versions!) of the Zeppelin catalogue rolled out exactly 20 years after the 1994 remasters. Can a shark jump the shark?

Anniversary culture gives us an excuse to tell the world which albums changed our lives and how. We gather in the town square (Facebook/Twitter) and remind our friends that A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory came out 24 years ago. We make our high school buddies feel old by telling them Van Halen’s 1984 is 31 YEARS OLD while websites gather clicks by offering us info on the whereabouts of the woman from the “Hot For Teacher” video. Obviously seminal albums like the Stones Exile on Main St get lavish remastered reissues, and so do lesser-known but still critically acclaimed efforts like Bob Mould’s Workbook, but soon enough there’s a niche within the niche and we’re “celebrating” albums that weren’t so great the first time around. Or maybe the album might be worthy, but we don’t wanna wait for the 20th or 25th anniversaries, so now just “It was 10 years ago today” is good enough.

best_double_albums_3203775bInstead of listing every album that’s had an anniversary reissue, it would be easier to list the ones that haven’t. As for which ones are worthy of buying a second or third time… this brings us from the nostalgia phenomenon to our other favorite rock pastime: Top 10 Lists. From the dawn of the first day spent on that hypothetical desert island, we’ve been making our personal Top 10 lists. Once everyone and their former record-store coworkers had blogs, rock fans everywhere were raging against the tastemakers and righting all the wrongs unjustly handed down by the gatekeepers at Rolling Stone or SPIN or the Grammy voters and anyone else who gets it wrong when trying to tell us what’s good.

It’s a way to make sense of a senseless world in which Bob Marley never won a Grammy and Ziggy Marley’s career is already longer than Bob’s. Continue reading →

Fantasy Rock Band

Just stare at that chart in all its trivial rock’n’roll glory.

As arbitrary as the chosen musicians and their corresponding “salaries” might be, and countless arguments can be made about who’s missing and who’s under/overpriced, I’m still fascinated by this! [We could make 5 or 10 different salary charts based on this same concept, but as you can see, @MattNorlander made this one, so credit to him and send him any of your complaints.]

A few things are keeping me from making a final decision on a line up. Should I just try to make the salary work under the $25 cap, or also consider how the styles/playing fits together? Just like in sports, perhaps more so, chemistry can be as important as talent. But, this is fantasy. I think it’s safe to assume we are getting each of these guys at their peak, and not current (and in some cases, dead) state. Is it a requirement of this pointless fictional game to spend the full $25? What about getting credit/points for spending less?

My day is shot.

One inherent flaw is the idea of strictly defining the guitarists as either “Lead” or “Rhythm” guitarists. Sure, guys like Keith Richards and Neil Young are more known for riffage than shredding, but that’s not all they can do. Jimmy Page is listed as Rhythm but I’m pretty sure he’s capable of playing Lead. On the flipside, the top Lead Guitarist is Jimi Hendrix, but he’s more than capable of playing a Rhythm role as well. Same for George Harrison (listed as the cheapest “Lead” option, perhaps because we often think of him as a peaceful strum-along type).

So that leads (LEADS, see what I did there?) to more questions: should I pick 2 very versatile guitarists so they each fill both rhythm and lead duties? Or go for a more defined rhythm-lead combo? We’ll play with some lineup options later, but thought it should be noted that the guitar slots are tougher to define than Drums or Bass.

“Frontman” seems easily defined, but there’s some basic flaws with that slot too. Are women eligible? (In fact, there are no women anywhere on this chart, so that’s another general complaint to be launched elsewhere on behalf of Janis Joplin, Kim Gordon, Chrissie Hynde, and Ann & Nancy Wilson.) And are we judging/choosing our Frontman on vocal abilities alone or does stage presence play into it? Again, chemistry comes into play, how will a given Frontman’s voice sound with a given supergroup of musicians? If you choose some hard-rockin metal-leaning musicians, then Axl Rose might be a better choice than, say, Bono or Mick Jagger. But I’d trust Bono and Jagger to actually show up to the gigs and perform on time, and in general I don’t think I’d want Axl Rose in any band I was putting together.

Continue reading →

Over Three Decades of Springsteen

As a young teen, one of my earliest musical influences (by a non-musician) was by the classic “Sister’s college boyfriend.” Darryl Walter, delivered to me by fate via Kent State University, is the one who first turned me on to Bruce Springsteen with his vinyl bootlegs of legendary E Street Band shows from the Agora in Cleveland and Winterland in San Francisco. As those same fates, and perhaps Springsteen himself, would have it, we are still friends. So who better to serve as a guest contributor, reviewing the recent Bruce Springsteen concert in DC. 

By DARRYL WALTER

We’re guessing our correspondent paid more than $10.50 per ticket to see Bruce Springsteen this year.

Back on October 6, 1980, when many readers of this blog weren’t even alive yet, I saw my first Bruce Springsteen concert at the Coliseum, built in the lovely cornfields between Cleveland and Akron. As a 16-year-old rock and roller growing up with the greatest radio station ever, WMMS, I had a great appreciation and knowledge of music and, outside of the 1-95 corridor, Cleveland was the first city to embrace Springsteen.

Fast forward to September 14, 2012 and I am attending yet another Springsteen concert. Between that first show in 1980 and the show I witnessed last night, I have lost count of the number of times I have seen Springsteen. I would guess it is around 25-30 range. For some that is a low number, for others that is bordering on fanatic.

So, who would have guessed that 32 years ago, when I arrived at the concert in a rusted Datsun B210 I would now be driving my wife’s Mercedes Benz R-350 (wow does that make me sound like a total dick) with my wife and three kids. The cool thing (at least for me) is that my daughter Hannah was wearing my Springsteen baseball style concert shirt from the 1980 River Tour and that my other daughter was wearing a black Springsteen T-shirt from the same tour when he returned in June 1981. My son Kyle had a bootleg T-shirt that I bought outside of Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium following a concert in the summer of 1985 Born in the USA Tour. My wife Jane had on a long sleeve jersey she got from The Rising Tour, and I was wearing a Vote for Change Tour Shirt from 2004. Jane and I went to the Vote for Change shows in Cleveland and Washington, great shows but awful election results.

At the 1980 concert, Bruce opened with “Prove It All Night” and last night, he again opened it with the “Prove It,” but with the ’78 intro. I still remember the 1980 concert with Clarence hollowing on that first solo and last night his nephew Jake didn’t let him down.

Following “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” Bruce played two songs from The River, “The Ties That Bind” and “Hungry Heart.” I am sure the folks coming down from Baltimore were happy to hear the shout-out for Charm City.

Next came a trifecta from Wrecking Ball: “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” and “Death to My Hometown.” Bruce then went old school with with “Spirit in the Night” and “Blinded By the Light.” With “Spirit,” as he was sitting on the edge of the stage with Jake, he had a momentarily lapse and had to remember what verse he was on.

The horn section really shined on “Johnny 99.” Using the same horn arrangement that they played during Jazz Fest back in April, the E Street Horns transferred Nationals Park back to the Fairgrounds in New Orleans.

At this point, the concert was kicking into high gear. “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” one of my favorites from The Rising followed “Shackled and Drawn.” Following “Waitin’” was the inspirational “The Promised Land.”

Mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in a promised land

On a side note, that line from my Rabbi Bruce Springsteen was used when I gave a speech to my son at his Bar Mitzvah.

Next was “Racing in the Street.” Bruce gave a shout-out to wounded warriors from Walter Reed Hospital that he was hosting. As I told my son, it seemed a lot more sincere than when the Nationals do it during a baseball game.

This is what it looked like during the show.

“The Rising,” “Badlands,” and “Land of Hope and Dreams” concluded the set. Following a brief moment, the E Street Band returned for their encore with “We Are Alive” and “Thunder Road.” The lights slowly came on during “Born to Run” and then came one of my favorites, “Detroit Medley.” While I would have preferred the longer ’78 version circa Winterland, this version rocked the house. “Dancing in the Dark,” probably my least liked Springsteen song ever recorded was next. I realize it was a pop hit, I guess that is my problem with the song, it is such a pop hit.

During “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” when it came to the part where “the Big Man joined the band,” the crowd cheered for a few minutes as a photo montage of Clarence was displayed. The night concluded with “American Land” and donning a sailors cap, Bruce did an Isley Brothers-style “Twist and Shout.”

Leaving the 3-1/2 hour concert, I told my twin 14-year-old daughters that I have ruined their concert-going experience. Nothing they ever see will top what they just witnessed.

Finding the Great American Rock Album


When record stores still existed, they were not just the place to buy music, they were one of the few places to discover new albums (besides friends’ houses and cars). Radio gave us new songs (and sometimes full-album previews at midnight), but you could walk into a record store and end up taking home something you’d never heard before you’d wandered in.

So now you just walked in and we’re playing a great new album called Temple Beautiful by Chuck Prophet.

Who? Longtime music fanatics might know of him from his days in the band Green On Red and his critically acclaimed solo catalog. But he’s far from a household name and, at age 48 and without controversy (or tits), he’s not exactly generating lots of pop-culture buzz. You can read up on him at AllMusic or Wikipedia if you’re so inclined, I won’t waste time rehashing his career.

Temple Beautiful, described by Prophet as “made in San Francisco by San Franciscans, about San Francisco,” comes off as a west-coast version of Lou Reed’s New York album: gritty and full of character and characters. Prophet calls it “an unsentimental (though loving) tour of San Francisco. My effort to tap into the history, the weirdness, the energy and spontaneity that brought me here in the first place.” Thus the comparison’s to Reed’s New York are obvious, but there are other more subtle references. Track 2 of Temple Beautiful is “Castro Halloween,” featuring “men in skirts and heels marching on…” while New York featured “Halloween Parade,” an ode to the impact of AIDS, in that same second song slot. And on the boisterous title track, the shout of “2 guitars, bass, and drums” sounds like a nod to the closing line of Reed’s liner notes for New York: “Can’t beat 2 guitars, bass, drums.”

Certain tracks are reminiscent of the sound and quality of Tom Petty’s finer works, but Prophet probably has more in common with Petty’s right-hand man guitarist Mike Campbell, as there are plenty of riffs and hooks to go along with Prophet’s at-times fierce guitar work. Similarly, instead of sounding like Bruce Springsteen he manages to invoke the garage-band authenticity and pop sensibilities of Bruce’s sidekick Steven Van Zandt. And at times, the album sounds not like Dylan, but more like his son Jakob, most of all on the Wallflowers-type grooves of “Willie Mays Is Up at Bat” and “He Came From So Far Away (Red Man Speaks).”

Prophet, far from the legendary status of Reed, Petty, or Springsteen, comes off as a relative unknown (despite this being his 12th solo album) and it gives this album a likable underdog quality. And while parts of this record have been called “Dylanesque,” and rightfully so, it has more in common with the best albums by other medium-well known underdogs like Graham Parker, John Hiatt, or even Steve Earle, Ray Davies, Warren Zevon, or Paul Westerberg.

Occasional harmonica blasts and tambourines keep the sound organic, but Chuck’s guitar and songwriting are the show here. Catchy and rocking in some spots, brooding and poetic in others, Temple Beautiful is very much an album for album lovers. A cohesive collection of songs greater than the sum of their parts. There’s a natural analog vibe, a timeless sound, and just the right pacing and length to be appreciated as a complete work of art.

Temple Beautiful takes its name from a now-defunct San Francisco rock club, but the sweaty crowds and life-affirming music could be booming out of any little stage in the country. And this out-of-the-blue stunner of an album throws me back to the record stores (also almost all now defunct), where we first found the Great American Novel in musical form and to the dirty bars where we’d later blast them out. While Prophet might not quite be Kerouac with a guitar, it’s nice to know that in 2012, after so many of our beautiful temples are long gone, we can still discover yet another Great American Rock Album.

—————–

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole album streaming free.

Visit Chuck’s official site.

In-Depth Political Analysis of the New Bruce Springsteen Song

In a world where, on the day when parts of the internet went dark to protest potential government censorship, Rob Lowe of all people tweeted the “scoop” that Peyton Manning is retiring (he’s not) and Mark Wahlberg claimed he would have prevented 9/11 (he didn’t), it’s not too silly for me to look way too far into the new Bruce Springsteen song that suddenly dropped at midnight.

In the music community, Bruce Springsteen is the stuff of rock legend: he’s certainly one of the greatest live acts of all time and among the most respected American songwriters south of Bob Dylan. But culturally, like his hero Dylan, Bruce has essentially become a political football.

Somewhere along the line, perhaps tiring of being punted back and forth, Bruce jumped off the sidelines (where he’d watched his song “Born in the USA” get co-opted as a patriotic anthem by Ronald Reagan and others) and jumped into the game by campaigning for John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.

By early 2009, the guy who once used to shun any specific political affiliation and refuse TV appearances was now at the Presidential Inauguration and then the Super Bowl singing his latest jingle/anthem, “Working on a Dream.” That was an optimistic time, and the song was a hollow attempt to bring us all together for some kumba-ya call to roll up our sleeves and fix all that had broken in the Bush years. There was even some whistling in the song. Whistling.

Anyway, I didn’t like the song and thought the album was one of Springsteen’s worst ever. I’m a Bruce fanatic, but I’m not a total homer.

So now  Bruce is coming back with what’s being described as his “angriest” album in a long time. Guess he woke up from that dream. The new single “We Take Care of Our Own,” is from the forthcoming March release Wrecking Ball. The title track was originally written to mark the closing of the old Giants Stadium in New Jersey, but the title fits as a symbol of destruction for an album that we’re told addresses the current economic strife. The cover art, with Bruce and his signature Fender guitar behind the scrawled lettering of the title, evokes a “This Machine Kills Fascists” vibe, perhaps a nod to his other hero Woody Guthrie.

On first listen, “We Take Care of Our Own” chugs its way down E Street like most catchy Bruce songs. On the surface, it sounds like just a trite anthem: “Wherever this flag is flown,” he dares to sing as an echo to the “We take care of our own” refrain. The guy has been misunderstood as a jingoistic flag-waver for the last 25 years and now he’s gonna literally fly a flag right there in the hook of his new hit single? Really?

Ah, we forget (and some don’t realize) how sly Bruce can be. He knows his songs will be scrutinized and examined through a sociopolitical lens, and possibly co-opted yet again in an election year. So while the title and the flag imagery sound like a rah-rah yay America platitudes about how awesome we are…. Listen closely and you’ll hear the everyman rocker bearing witness to every man for himself; really wondering why we don’t actually take care of our own. And the only ones doing so are the politicians and the corporations that own them. They’re certainly taking care of their own (each other) while the rest of us are left to whistle while we work on a dream.

On 1980’s The River, Bruce asked “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?” Well 2012 Bruce isn’t quite ready to overtly call out President Obama as a liar (at least on this track), but he does sing “I’ve been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone, those good intentions have gone dry as a bone” in the first verse.

The track starts with pounding drums and high-pitched guitar noise. Compared to the safe pop/schlock of “Working on a Dream,” this sounds like battle drums and sirens. As it settles into that first verse, there’s a subtle percussion shuffling akin to a Simon & Garfunkel track almost buried in the mix. Once the song kicks in and the guitars get a little heavier, Bruce knifes through America, not the right or left, but slicing right down the center: “From Chicago to New Orleans/From the muscle to the bone.”

The very next lines get specific, as he reminds us “From the shotgun shack to the Superdome, we needed help but the cavalry stayed home.” He’s invoking Katrina, 2005, but the next line updates the message and generalizes it to apply to our tone-deaf politicians who only take care of themselves and the special interests who pay their way into office while the economic storm floods us all out of our homes: “There aint no one hearing the bugle blowin’.”

A generation ago, Springsteen followed the optimism of “pulling out of here to win” in “Thunder Road” by writing a gloomy response called “The Promise” (and what happens when it’s broken). This time he follows the hope of “Working on a Dream” with a line that repeats “Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea?” The everyman rocker winces at every man for himself. Again he toys with patriotic language to essentially ask “What the fuck happened to the American dream? Where’s the promise?” Just like he used the pride of chanting “Born in the USA” to wonder why people who were born here and fought in Vietnam were abandoned upon their return.

That’s what I mean about Bruce being sly. He’s dressing up this new song with lines like “wherever this flag is flown” and “sea to shining sea,” this time knowing and expecting that it will be misunderstood. And if/when some politician tries to play this at a rally or make this anthem their own, they’ll end up admitting the obvious: “We Take Care of Our Own.”

Musically, this is classic (even if somewhat generic) Springsteen from the standpoint of the piano/glockenspiel sound tinkling atop the pulsing guitars and drums. It’s got a bounce not unlike “Badlands” and “The Rising,” but with the late Clarence Clemons’ saxophone noticeably absent.

If you don’t like Bruce Springsteen, there’s plenty here not to like: the usual Bruce-isms like the la-la’s in the outro tailor-made to be echoed in concert arenas, the aforementioned flag imagery and faux patriotism, and that rich-man-in-a-poor-mans-shirt shtick he’s been riding for most of his career. But for Bruce fans from the fanatic to the casual, it’s a welcome return to respectability and perhaps a sign that he might have one more great album left in him.

Happy Birthday Uncle Bruce!

Bruce Springsteen is my uncle. Well, not real direct uncle like a sibling of one of my parents. Just a cousin that we all call “Uncle.” Or maybe my mom just used to joke about inviting “Uncle Bruce” to my birthday parties because she knew I had a possibly unhealthy obsession with Bruce Springsteen.

Being a Bruce fan is an odd place sometimes. A lot of my closest friends and band mates weren’t/aren’t Bruce fans. (I’m sure most of them, especially my cohorts here at Bums Logic, are rolling their eyes realizing it was only a matter of time before Todd used this space to idolize his Boss once again.) As popular and worldwide famous and critically acclaimed as Springsteen might be, there’s a certain uncoolness about being a Bruce fanatic. And I guess that fits the narrative of Young Bruce feeling alienated and alone and discovering through Elvis and the Beatles that rock’n’roll could not only save you, but it was your only hope.

I was turned on to Bruce Springsteen and his mighty E Street Band in the early 80’s by my sister’s college boyfriend. He had vinyl bootlegs of the legendary Winterland show as well as the one from the Agora in Cleveland, both from the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour in 1978. I taped them from his albums to my hand-labeled cassettes and was on my way.

Soon after, Born in the U.S.A. was released and “my guy” was suddenly the biggest rock star on the planet. I saw him at the Capitol Centre in Largo, MD, the month I turned 14. Perhaps that vulnerable age mixed with the power of those legendary live shows and I was doomed (blessed?) to be cemented for life as a Bruce Fan, I don’t know. But I still feel like that night I found out that there really was a circus to run away with. I’d be reminded again, by everyone from the Grateful Dead to The Roots and by Springsteen 11 more times over the years.

So Uncle Bruce turns 62 today. Which makes it seem like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and the Stones must be in their 80s. Love him, hate him, or respect him with indifference, but may everyone be lucky enough to still have his energy when they reach that age. Or at least be saved by rock’n’roll.

Process? We Talkin’ ‘Bout Process?

Over the last several years, as technology moves at hyperwarped speeds that we haven’t yet invented fancy enough new words to describe, there’s been a backlash of purists and throwbacks who prefer things how they used to be. That could be true of film, art, sports, journalism, lots of things. But it’s particularly interesting in how it pertains to music.

This is not what's inside a laptop.

I’m mostly talking about process. It’s not just the access, the fact that anyone can record their own “album” in their basement with a laptop (and seems like everyone has), but also how the technology at the high end affects the professional artists we know and love and the ones we’ll actually discover tomorrow. Somehow the process has become a bigger part of the back story for a particular album or group. “They uploaded their demos, went viral, and now they’re selling millions!” It’s the updated take on discovering the Next Dylan on a barstool at an open mic somewhere.

Nowadays, musicians are reclaiming some sort of authenticity in what seems a reaction to this technological explosion. One of the poster boys for this movement has been Jack White, using vintage gear, cherishing vinyl and launching a real full-service label, not to mention that scene where he strings together a homemade guitar in a cow field in the film It Might Get Loud (contrasted by tech wiz The Edge and all his pedals and effects). But these analog guys who take a similar approach to Jack White’s (with less memorable results) are too numerous to list. The point is, we tend to gravitate toward authenticity, and it’s also natural to yearn for “the old days” (again, no matter the genre or medium).

It’s also easy to tear down and rip on anything that could be painted as “synthetic” or simply created (faked?) through the use of computers. It stinks of money and, possibly, inauthenticity! But really, I don’t care how many laptops and how much fancy software you have, you can’t fake not having songs that suck. The songs don’t lie. Sure, they can trick you and maybe you might think they’re better looking in a certain light late at night, but the next morning always comes. The same holds true for Mr. Vintage Authentic who only records to tape and refuses modern technology. That’s fine, but he too still needs good songs.

So assuming we’re only talking about our own personal vision of “good songs” and quality artists, we’re back to process. Does it matter to you when you hear someone “recorded his new album on a 4-track in a remote cabin in the woods” vs. “layed down tracks in various professional studios in L.A. and NYC”? The end result is all that should really matter, but subconsciously I think we all assign certain imagery and associations with the process. “Oh I heard he got sober and found god and had his yoga instructor in the studio with him” or “They locked themselves in the basement and rocked out live and recorded it all in one or two takes.”

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An Open Letter To Mr. Classic Rock Radio Programmer Guy

This logo is as unimaginative as the playlist.

Since your station announces that it’s family owned and locally operated (with the tag line bragging “Programmed IN Baltimore, FOR Baltimore”), I figured you’re not some computer-generated playlist mandated from a corporate office and you’d enjoy some feedback.

It seems you have a borderline-obsessive fascination with The Eagles, Steve Miller Band, and Bob Seger. It’s not healthy, and it’s starting to hurt my ears. They’re not the absolute worst bands in the world, and I realize that as a Classic Rock Radio station you should offer them on your menu. But playing them each twice an hour is a bit much. I don’t care what your records and logs might say, I swear every time I get in my car, the next song is the goddamn Eagles. Hey, I like a bunch of Seger’s tunes, but jeez, do people really want to hear him that often? Can you please start giving some of his carries to John Mellencamp and Tom Petty instead? And most of Steve Miller Band’s stuff is just way overplayed considering it was never really that great.

Also, I wanted to let you know that both the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin have more than 5 songs each. Seriously. You should really check out their whole catalog, you’re gonna love it. Again, I realize that the Stones and Zeppelin are your bread and butter (and rightfully so) but can we go a bit deeper than Stairway and Satisfaction? I know you already murdered Led Zeppelin years ago, but it’s not too late to breathe some life back into them.

I do need to thank you for reminding me how good some of those songs by Heart in the 70s were. And I forgot how bad their mid-80s stuff was, so please stop playing “What About Love,”  “Never,” and “These Dreams,” and stick to the “Baracuda” and the one about the guy with the magic hands. Oh, and I really appreciate you letting me know that Journey and Lynyrd Skynyrd had a baby named .38 Special. Congrats. Continue reading →

The Top 10 Best Live Albums

These Top 10 Lists are impossible. I don’t know why we subject ourselves to doing them, but we do. And picking the Top 10 Best Live Albums is a particularly tough one, as easy as it might seem on the surface.

It’s hard enough just to get the performance/recording of actual live albums right, let alone properly assessing them in some form of a list. There’s always that impossible tightrope walk between the best performances and the hit songs; between the idea of releasing one complete show and mixing together the best sounding tracks from different nights. Depending on the band, and the expectations of their listeners, there are a myriad of stumbling blocks and inevitable drawbacks to the pursuit of a good live album.

How did this guy not make the list?

It’s an oxymoron within itself, the live album. Truly LIVE music isn’t really live when you listen back to it later. At its worst, it’s simply the songs you know but with canned crowd noise. But at its best, it can actually convey the energy and joy of the original performance (just as a “studio album” can capture a great take, that was technically played “live,” even if just in front of 3 engineers and not 3,000 screaming fans).

The difficult thing in identifying what I would deem the Top 10 Best Live Albums, for me, is the fact that it could be argued that the bands I most admire as live acts haven’t really made a truly great live album. Prince, The Roots, Radiohead, The Who, Black Crowes, and Led Zeppelin have all made attempts, but for some reason they haven’t quite nailed it yet on an official live release. (Maybe The Who and Zeppelin have come close, but for some reason they lack a flawless go-to set). U2, while they’ll make the honorable mentions list with Under a Blood Red Sky, I still feel like they are missing a career-spanning (but not too monstrous) live set. Continue reading →

When Did Selling Out Jump the Shark?

It used to “matter” that certain musicians/artists wouldn’t sell out. It was a line in the sand where you knew some whack-ass pop star would sell his song/image to the highest bidder, but Neil Young would always say no to Budweiser and Bruce Springsteen said no to Chevy (and we all got the Bob Seger “Like a Rock” commercials).

So... this happened.

But one day, it just didn’t matter any more. Getting your song on a Lexus or iPod commercial was just good business, and really not that different from being in heavy rotation on the radio back when that was the only way people heard new music.

So….. what happened and when? Was it when that guy yelled “Judas!” at Bob Dylan back in 1966? Was it when Bob did the Victoria’s Secret Commercial? Was it U2’s ZooTV Tour in 1992? Was it 9/11?

Do you still care if/when someone sells out? Is it even possible to sell out anymore? When did selling out jump the shark?

Mike Eddy: This is a great topic – we all could go on and on about it. I say that because being a “sell out” means something to our generation. Not selling out validates the artist to us and somehow makes them seem more true to us. But if we polled a bunch of early 20-somethings, would they even know what a sellout is? Do they care? Probably not, due to the overwhelming amount of current music and artists selling/promoting different products. Infomercials, logo’d clothing, etc… promotion and endorsement is everywhere. It’s what they’ve grown up with and it’s very different from when we were that age. We are all like-minded in looking at bands that we enjoy and hoping that their 4th or 5th album is that much better than the first. The entire industry is now based on individual songs and no real expectation that the “artist” will still be around in 2 years: “take it while you can and as much as you can” seems to be more of the flavor in the minds of musicians today.

Not saying that I’d like “my favorite band” to be on the new Ford commercial, but at the end of the day it plays no part in how good their music is. We have the notion in our heads that selling out is lessening the quality when it is only our perception of what WE want them to be. Continue reading →

The Curious Case of Thomas Earl Petty

He’s made at least one quality album in five different decades. He’s a rock star despite his turned-the-corner-and-got-smacked-with-a-frying-pan looks. He’s had his house burned down by arsonists and toured with Bob Dylan. He’s played Live Aid, Bonnaroo, and the Super Bowl. He’s fought with record companies and been the subject of a 4-hr documentary. When he was 10, he met Elvis. He’s on the shortlist of Greatest Video Hitmakers of the 80s, but he’s also a Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famer who really does seem like he’d be cool to have a beer with.

He’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a guitar strap. He’s Tom Petty.

Seriously, does anyone hate this guy? Sure, some might not love all his music. Some might be a bit turned off by his Dylanesque whine, or maybe they find “Free Fallin’” a bit annoying and overplayed. But does anyone hate Tom Petty? I don’t think so.

Without recounting his entire career, the broad strokes of it are a case study in… in… I’m not sure what. Petty and his career are just so unique for someone who comes off so ordinary. The first sentence of his bio on allmusic.com mentions that he was “shoehorned into the punk/new wave movement” of the late 1970s, but would anyone confuse Petty with the Sex Pistols or Talking Heads? He often shares sentences (and fans) with Bruce Springsteen, but even this Springsteen fanatic must admit that it’s Petty who exudes the regular-guy cool that Bruce has (ironically) tried so hard to personify.

His turn as the Mad Hatter in the infamous video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” is one of the indelible images of MTV’s heyday, inexplicably tying him to the likes of Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and the more-usual suspects who brought some artistry to the commercial art of video making.

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Top 10 Best 3-Consecutive Album Runs

I think the title is clear enough: these are the 10 best 3-consecutive album runs. The only general guidelines were: no live albums, no ep’s, no greatest hits/collections, and of course they had to be 3 in a row by the same artist. here’s the list, in no particular order:

1. Bob Dylan
Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. If you don’t automatically nod your head in knowing concurrence with the greatness of these three releases, stop wasting time on the computer and go buy these CD’s. And to think that 40 years later he posted Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times. A solid run that late in a career, but not great enough to make this list.

2. Rolling Stones
Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street. Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante, E Street guitarist, and underground garage rock DJ extraordinaire) once said, “Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main Street make up the greatest run of albums in history—all done in three and a half years.” Sorry Little Steven, we only have room for three on this list.

3. The Beatles
Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Or: Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, and the white album. Or: Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver… or… you get the idea.

4. Jimi Hendrix
Are You Experienced?, Axis Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland. Wow. Three amazing albums that each stand on their own as bonafide “desert island classics” on their own. Not bad considering this was almost his whole studio output during his lifetime. Incredible considering this was done within about two years.

5. Neil Young
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, and Harvest. Once again, with an artist this good you could pick a different three. I picked these.

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