Bad Company Live At Red Rocks

English rock supergroup’s 2016 live album becomes more broadly available

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Paul Rodgers is one of my favorite male rock vocalists. So I was intrigued when a live album from Bad Company popped up under “New Releases” in my Apple Music last week. It turns out that while Live At Red Rocks appeared on iTunes and I assume other online/streaming platforms on January 12, it first went on sale exclusively at Wal-Mart last September.

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the CD/DVD set captures a May 15 show during the band’s 2016 U.S. tour with Joe Walsh at the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheatre close to Denver. A concert review in the Denver Post noted that Walsh opened the night backed by a 10-piece band, telling the audience, “We’ll get you sweaty and Bad Company will finish you off.” This must have been one hell of a show!

Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, Col.

Rochester, N.Y. classic rock radio station WCMF 96.5 FM noted that while co-founder and ex-Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs is credited on the recording, he was no longer part of the band’s lineup due to health issues. Rich Robinson of The Black Crows stood in for him. Also on guitar was touring musician Howard Leese, formerly with Heart, who has played with the Paul Rodgers Band and Bad Company since 2008. According to Wikipedia, the band’s current lineup also includes Simon Kirke (drums), another co-founding member who played with Rodgers in Free; and Todd Ronning (bass).

Time to get to some music. Feel Like Makin’ Love is one of Bad Company’s best known songs. Co-written by Rodgers and Ralphs, the tune is included on the band’s second studio album Straight Shooter, which appeared in April 1975. It was also released separately as a single in August that year. Here’s a fairly decent video clip.

Burnin’ Sky is the title track from the band’s fourth studio record from March 1977. It was written by Rodgers and also came out separately as the album’s second single.

Seagull is one of the acoustic tracks of the set. Another Rodgers/Ralphs co-write, it is the closer to Bad Company’s eponymous studio album, which appeared in June 1974. During this live performance, Kirke joined Rodgers, Leese and Robinson on acoustic guitar and threw in a nice solo. Here’s a great video clip.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy, another Bad Company classic, is from Desolation Angels, the band’s fifth studio album released in March 1979. The tune, which was written by Rodgers, also was the record’s lead single.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Bad Company, the title track of the band’s eponymous debut record. Co-written by Rodgers and Kirke, the song also became the album’s third single. Here’s a great video clip.

Rodgers’ website currently lists four dates for 2018. One solo show is coming up this Saturday, January 20 in Bensalem, Pa. The remaining dates are Bad Company gigs: two in Florida in mid-February, and one in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic at the end of April. The last show sounds like an attractive proposition to me, especially with an outside temperature of 19F as I’m writing this!

Sources: Ultimate Classic Rock, Denver Post, WCMF 96.5 FM, Paul Rodgers website, Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Neil Young & Promise Of The Real/ The Visitor

Not ready to fade away, Young is still feisty after more than five decades

Oftentimes, I enjoy blogging about music the most when it’s spontaneous! This morning, I had no idea I would end up writing about Neil Young’s latest studio album. While if anything I now dig the man more than ever, it’s probably fair to assume we’ve seen his finest work. I mean how can you possibly trump gems like Harvest, Live Rust and Harvest Moon, to name three of his albums that come to my mind right away?

So how the heck did I end up with The Visitor? While listening to The Rolling Stones’ Exit On Main Street during breakfast, which BTW is great music for waking up, I was looking at Facebook pictures from Decade, a Neil Young tribute band I really like. Readers of the blog will probably remember the name, since I’ve covered them on various previous occasions.

Decade had their first gig of the year last night, which I unfortunately missed. So I gave a thumbs-up to the nice photos and lead guitarist Joey Herr’s red SG, one of the coolest looking Gibson models, in my opinion. I also told them their Facebook post made me feel like putting on some Neil. And so I did. Blame Apple Music for showing me The Visitor first as the “Latest Release!”

Neil Young & Promise Of The Real

Leading up to the appearance of Young’s 39th studio album on December 1, 2017, I had casually listened to Already Great, one of two singles that came out prior to the record. While I didn’t think it was a bad tune, frankly, I wasn’t very impressed either. So when queuing up The Visitor after I was done with Exile this morning, I didn’t have particularly high expectations. To say it right upfront, the record isn’t on par with the above named albums. Yet, I was still pleasantly surprised that after 50-plus years in the music business, it’s obvious that Young has fire left in the belly!

The Visitor kicks off with the grungy sounding Already Great. When Young sings, Woke up this morning/Thinking ’bout you/And your new deal/(My American friend), there is no doubt who he is referring to. The song’s chorus also leaves no ambiguity how Young feels about the U.S.: Already great/You’re already great/You’re the promise land/You’re the helping hand. Credited to him and producer John Hanlon, it’s safe to assume the lyrics won’t endear him to all Americans, which is also true for the remainder of the record. But Young has always been outspoken (think Southern Man, for example), so I doubt he’ll get sleepless nights over it.

As I started listening to the acoustic Almost Always, I was like, ‘wait a minute, I know this melody.’ It didn’t take me long to figure it out: From Hank To Hendrix, one of my favorite tracks from the Harvest Moon album. And before I knew it, another piece from that record popped up: part of the guitar theme from Unknown Legend – kind of clever how Young mixed the two! Again, when it comes to the lyrics, it’s pretty clear what he is talking about: And I’m living with a gameshow host/Who has to brag and has to boast/’Bout tearing down/The things I hold dear.

Stand Tall is another grungy rocker. The lyrics take on the science deniers and the sad fact that their ignorance is now endorsed at the highest levels of power: Boy king don’t believe in science/It goes against the big money truth/This playpen is full of deniers/To flush our future down the tubes.

Perhaps the most peculiar track on the album is Carnival. It starts with Young laughing like he’s lost his mind. Then he describes what sounds like memories of a past visit to a carnival. Bongos and background vocalists singing carnival, carnival give the tune a Latin feel. Young also throws in elements of carnival music. It’s a somewhat weird and catchy tune at the same time. Listen for yourself!

And just when you think you’ve basically figured out the record, Young throws in a blues called Diggin’ A Hole.

The last track I’d like to call out is Children Of Destiny, the record’s lead single that was released on July 4, 2017. The timing certainly wasn’t a coincidence. It feels like a companion to Already Great and that Young essentially is saying it’s up to the young generation to keep the country that way: Stand up for what you believe/Resist the powers that be/Preserve the land and save the seas/For the children of destiny/The children of you and me.

Unlike the Shocking Pinks, a band made up for Young’s 1983 studio album Everybody’s Rockin’, Promise Of The Real is, well, a real band. Its members are Lukas Nelson (vocals/guitar), Anthony Logerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass) and Tato Melgar (percussion). Lukas is a son of Willie Nelson, the country music legend. Also playing on the album is Willie’s second son from his current marriage, Micah Nelson. Promise Of The Real also backed Young on his 36th studio album The Monsanto Years, which came out in 2015, and the tour that supported the record.

Is The Visitor likely to get Young new listeners? I doubt it – in fact, given how divided the country is, it may actually piss off some of the folks who have enjoyed listening to him in the past. While this album certainly feels more political than most of Young’s previous records, his true fans have always known that he doesn’t shy away from expressing his opinions. I’m definitely a part of that group. And I love the fact that Young still embraces these lines he composed many moons ago: My my, hey hey/Rock and roll is here to stay/It’s better to burn out/Than to fade away/My my, hey hey.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Little River Band/Little River Band

A compelling yet underappreciated debut by Australian rock band

From the very first time I heard It’s A Long Way There, I thought the combination of smooth harmonizing vocals, a catchy melody and crunchy rock guitars made for a terrific song. The tune by the Little River Band is from their eponymous debut album.

Not only do they often remind me of the Eagles and the Doobie Brothers on their records released between the mid-70s and early 80s, but I also feel many tracks from that period are on par with music by those two American bands. Yet while the Little River Band (later also called LRB) enjoyed success in their native Australia from the get-go, it took them longer to get attention internationally.

LRB emerged from folk rock group Mississippi and was formed in Melbourne, Australia in March 1975. The band’s initial lineup, which after the first two albums underwent numerous changes over the years, included Glenn Shorrock (lead vocals), Graham Davidge (lead guitar), Beeb Birtles (guitar, vocals), Graham Goble (vocals, guitar), Dave Orams (bass) and Derek Pellicci (drums). LRB’s debut was released in November 1975.

The album opens with the gem It’s A Long Way There. Written By Goble, it clocks in at 8:44 minutes. While this certainly didn’t make it radio-friendly, I think this tune is pretty much as close to rock perfection as its gets for the above mentioned reasons. A shortened version appeared separately as the record’s third single.

Next up is Curiosity Killed The Cat. Funny title. It’s also how I sometimes feel about my cats! The tune, which was written by Birtles, has a nice soft and funky groove. Like the opener, LRB also released in separately in September 1975 as the album’s lead single.

Meanwhile is another nice rocker. The tune was written by Shorrock. I particularly dig the electric guitar harmony parts, especially the extended solo that starts at 1:45 min. Almost reminds me a bit of Thin Lizzy.

I’ll Always Call Your Name is a lovely ballad written by Birtles. One thing that stands out to me is a nice slide guitar solo starting at about 2:00 min. The other thing is the part that immediately follows thereafter, which is more rock-oriented – it’s almost a little song within the song.

The last track I’d like to call out is Emma, another tune written by Shorrock. It has an upbeat, joyous feel to it and also features nice electric guitar harmonies.

Little River Band reached no. 12 on the Australian Kent Music Report Albums chart in 1975, a pretty impressive showing for a debut album. In the U.S., the record fared more moderately, peaking at no. 60 on the Billboard 200 in 1976. Curiosity Killed The Cat was the most successful single in Australia, climbing to no. 15 on the Kent Music Report Singles chart. Interestingly, It’s A Long Way There only reached no. 35 there. In the U.S., on the other hand, the tune climbed to no. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100. Another charting single there was I’ll Always Call Your Name, which reached no. 62.

LRB went on to become one of Australia’s most significant bands that has sold more than 30 million records. A version that doesn’t include any of the founding members continues to perform to this day. Current lead singer and bassist Wayne Nelson first joined LRB in 1980, when original members Shorrock, Birtles, Goble and Pellicci were still part of the lineup. Nelson also sang lead on The Night Owls, which became one of the band’s hit singles. But due to the lack of original members some people regard LRB’s current lineup essentially as a cover band.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

 

When Less Is More

A list of some of my favorite unplugged performances

Do you remember when in the ’90s many music artists suddenly seemed to realize they could deliver more intimate performances by sitting down on stage with their bands and largely replacing electric with acoustic instruments? Unplugged albums quickly became en vogue. They also helped revive flagging careers of some artists, such as Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart. Undoubtedly, the television series MTV Unplugged fueled this trend.

To perform music that originally was written for electric instruments in a stripped down fashion required a good degree of craftsmanship. Gone were many of the sound effects behind which artists had been able to “hide.” While as is oftentimes the case with fashionable trends the unplugged wave may have been a bit overdone, the concept has generally appealed to me as a hobby guitarist. Following are five of my favorite unplugged performances.

I also would have loved to include the fantastic version of Hotel California by the Eagles from their great Hell Freezes Over album. But this band is very protective of their music, and even if you’re lucky enough to find a specific song you want on YouTube, oftentimes the clips are taken down, and before you know it, you have a dead link – not fun!

Billy Idol/White Wedding (VH-1 Storyteller, 2002)

Billy Idol may have been a fashion punk who became known for playing commercial music that didn’t have anything to do anything with punk. But in my opinion, he surely knew how to write tunes with catchy melodies that rocked. Undoubtedly, a major role in all of it played his guitarist Steve Stevens, who co-wrote various of Idol’s biggest hits, such as Rebel Yell, Eyes Without A Face and Flesh For Fantasy. Plus, Stevens is a hell of a guitarist, which this clip of White Wedding nice illustrates, one of the best unplugged performances I’ve seen. He continues to perform and tour with Idol to this day.

Eric Clapton/Layla (Unplugged, 1992)

To successfully strip down an iconic rock song like Layla, which in its original features fantastic guitar interplay by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, is a formidable task. Clapton didn’t only do that, but gave the tune an entirely new character on his 1992 Unplugged album. In my opinion, the result is one of the best rock cover versions, similar to Joe Cocker’s rendition of With A Little Help From Friends by The Beatles.

Rod Stewart/Maggie May (Unplugged…And Seated, 1993)

Sometimes one may forget that Rod Stewart in his early days was a top-notch rock artist. I’ve always loved Maggie Mae, which he co-wrote with British guitarist and composer Martin Quittenton. The tune was originally recorded for Stewart’s third solo album Every Picture Tells A Story, released in May 1971. At the time, Stewart was still with The Faces. In fact, all of the band’s members played on the album. Notably, Ronnie Wood was also part of Unplugged…And Seated, Stewart’s excellent unplugged album from 1993, from which this clip is taken.

Nirvana/The Man Who Sold The World (MTV Unplugged In New York, 1993)

Nirvana’s unplugged version of The Man Who Sold The World is one of the most haunting covers of the David Bowie song I know. It was part of the band’s MTV Unplugged In New York album, which was recorded on November 18, 1993 – about four and a half months prior to Curt Cobain’s death. His almost painful singing, along with guitars that sound are out of tune, give this performance a somewhat creepy feel. It shows an artist who at the time was in the brutal throes of drug addiction and depression.

Neil Young/Like A Hurricane (Unplugged, 1993)

Like A Hurricane is one of my favorite rock tunes by Neil Young. Naturally, I was curious how he would handle an unplugged version of a song that in its initial recording is dominated by heavily distorted grunge-like electric guitar. In my opinion, Young’s performance with just an organ and a harmonica takes it to another level. The church-like sound of the organ combined with Young’s signature quavering voice induces chills and literally blows me away. Check it out yourself.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Happy And Groovy New Year!

And to all fellow music bloggers, rock on!

Unlike Christmas pop and rock songs, it seems to be harder to find tunes with a new year’s theme – at least when it comes to tracks I would post. One I came across is Funky New Year by the Eagles.

Written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, the song has a cool groove that not surprisingly is well, funky. You could almost picture James Brown perform it!

The track was the B-side to Please Come Home For Christmas, a cover of a Charles Brown tune, which the Eagles released as a single in November 1978.

I’d like to wish everybody a healthy and happy New Year!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Neil Young/American Stars ‘N Bars

Young’s eighth studio album is best known for the epic rocker “Like A Hurricane”

Why American Stars ‘N Bars? And why now? To start with, it includes Like A Hurricane, one of my all-time favorite Neil Young rock tunes – well, make that ’70s rock songs! And second, because of that, I grabbed the record yesterday on vinyl in a great small store close to my house, which buys and sells used vinyl records and vintage stereo equipment, a place in which I could get lost, but that’s another story! Since other than Like A Hurricane I didn’t know any of the other tracks, yes, it was at least in part an impulse purchase!

When spinning the record for the first time, I noticed two things. I was reminded how short vinyl records used to be. Side one clocks in at less than 18 minutes. With just over 20 minutes, side two isn’t much longer. The second thing I realized is that most of the songs on the album are country and folk-oriented – of course, Young has always done acoustic music, and I consider many of these tunes to be among his best work. Still, I guess because of Like A Hurricane, I expected more such rockers.

Neil Young American Stars 'N Bars Record Sleeve

Looking for background and some inspiration, I started reading up on American Stars ‘N Bars, Young’s eighth studio album, which was released in May 1977. Most reviews characterized the record as a hodgepodge and highlighted Like A Hurricane as the standout. One exception was a take by the Observer, which revisited the record in late May this year on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, calling it “in many ways…the quintessential Neil Young album.” I think they made a good point.

Throughout his career, Young has been known for making impulsive decisions. This has not always exactly endeared him to others. As an Ultimate Classic Rock story notes, in the mid-’70s, he recorded various albums that were ready to release but at the last minute changed his mind. For example, Young aborted Homegrown and instead decided to pursue and release Tonight’s The Night. American Stars ‘N And Bars is another example of Young’s unpredictability. Instead of this record, the retrospective collection Decade had been slated for release. Unlike Homegrown, which never appeared, Decade was delayed and came out in October 1977, five months after American Stars ‘N Bars.

The notion that American Stars ‘N Bars is a hodgepodge is not entirely unfounded. In fact, Young himself was very transparent about it by indicating the dates of the four different recording sessions on the album’s sleeve: November 1974, November 1975, May 1976 and April 1977. Side one lists Young, his long-time band Crazy Horse and The Bullets as the performers. The latter was a spontaneous name and included pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith, violinist Carole Mayedo, as well as vocalists Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson. Side two indicates Young and Crazy Horse as the performing artists. All tracks were written by Young, except Saddle Up The Palomino, which he co-wrote with bassist Tim Drummond and singer-songwriter Bob Charles.

Neil Young_American Stars 'N Bars Side 1

All tracks on side 1 were recorded in April 1977. The opener The Old Country Waltz is a traditional country tune that features fiddle and pedal steel guitar, along with Ronstadt and Larson on backing vocals. The lyrics describe how Young received the news that his first wife actress Carrie Snodgress was leaving him. The topics of love, loss and lust also prominently feature on other tracks.

This is followed by a more upbeat sounding Saddle Up The Palomino. According to the above Observer story, Carmelina, the woman mentioned in the song, supposedly was the wife of his neighbor. The tune features more pedal steel guitar, fiddle and backing vocals by Ronstadt and Larson. Apparently, the giggle at the beginning of the song is from Larson, who would later become Young’s next girlfriend.

Neil Young_American Stars 'N Bars Side 2

Side 2 kicks off with Star Of Bethlehem, which was recorded in November 1974 and initially had been slated for Young’s never released Homegrown album. It’s a typical Young acoustic track, which could have appeared on an album like Harvest. The song prominently features him on acoustic guitar and harmonica. Country artist Emmylou Harris provides beautiful harmony vocals.

While I like the album’s acoustic tunes, the clear crown jewel to me remains Like A Hurricane. Frankly, if it hadn’t been for this epic tune, I wouldn’t have bought the record. Recorded in November 1975, Young initially had in mind to put this track on Chrome Dreams, yet another unreleased album. Referring to Young’s biography Shakey by Jimmy McDonough, Songfacts explains that while recovering from vocal cord surgery and unable to talk, Young went to a bar with some friends. One of them, Taylor Phelps, said: “Neil, Jim Russell, David Cline and I went to Venturi’s in La Honda. We were really f–ked up. Neil had this amazing intense attraction to this particular woman named Gail – it didn’t happen, he didn’t go home with her. We go back to the ranch and Neil started playing. Young was completely possessed, pacing around the room, hunched over a Stringman keyboard pounding out the song.”

The last track I’d like to call out is the record’s closer Homegrown. Originally, it was supposed to become the title track to Young’s above abandoned album. While not as hard-charging as Like A Hurricane, the tune still has a rock feel to it thanks to Young’s distorted electric guitar. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was recorded at the same time as Like A Hurricane.

American Stars N’ Bars reached no. 21 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and was certified Gold in October 1977 by the Recording Industry Association of America. Undoubtedly, the album’s performance was largely fueled by Like A Hurricane. The track was also released separately as a single and became one of Young’s best-known songs and a staple of his live shows. In a 2011 Rolling Stone readers poll, it was ranked no. 4 among the top 10 Young songs.

Sources: Wikipedia, Observer, Ultimate Classic Rock, Songfacts, Rolling Stone, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Led Zeppelin/In Through The Out Door

Led Zeppelin’s 8th studio album is band’s most unusual masterpiece

In Through The Out Door is an unusual Led Zeppelin album. When it was released in August 1979, critics and fans were divided. Some felt the synthesizer-driven sound on tracks like All Of My Love and Carouselambra was forward-thinking, while others criticized the band for having abandoned its hard-charging rock sound. To me Zep’s final record prior to drummer John Bonham’s death shows a willingness to push into new sonic territory rather than simply repeating the tried and true. That’s what great bands do!

When looking at In Through The Out Door, it is also important to understand the challenging circumstances under which the record came together. A serious car accident in August 1975 had left Robert Plant unable to tour for the remainder of the year and in 1976. This had made the recording of In Through The Out Door predecessor Presence very difficult. Jimmy Page had started a heroin habit during the studio sessions. The band’s concert film The Song Remains The Same had received a lukewarm reception upon its release in October 1976. In late July 1977, Plant’s five-year-old son Karac had died from a stomach virus. Last but not least, Bonham was struggling with alcoholism.

In Through The Out Door Album Jackets
In Through The Out Door was originally available in six different album jackets

With Page and Bonham frequently not showing up in time at the recording studio, John Paul Jones and Plant took a much bigger role than on previous Zep albums, while Page’s and Bonham’s relative influence was diminished. Jones, who had obtained a Yamaha GX-1 polyphonic synthesizer from Keith Emerson, ended up getting writing credits on all except one track: Hot Dog, a rockabilly song co-written by Plant and Page. Bonham did not receive writing credits for any of the album’s seven tunes, though he was included in the credits for Darlene, which was recorded at the time but not released until 1982’s Coda, the band’s final album.

During a December 2008 interview with Uncut, Jones put the making of In Through The Out Door this way: “I had this big new keyboard. And Robert and I just got to rehearsals early, basically, and as I said… [pause] actually, I’m not sure if I did say it in this interview… [laughs]… With Zeppelin writing, if you came up with good things, and everybody agreed that they were good things, they got used. There was no formula for writing. So Robert and I, by the time everybody turned up for rehearsals, we’d written three or four songs. So we started rehearsing those immediately, because they were something to be getting on with.”

In Through The Out Door opens with In The Evening, a track that was largely written by Jones, though it is credited to him, Plant and Page. The tune introduces the fabulous sound of the GX-1, the synthesizer that is omnipresent on the album.

Fool In The Rain is an unusual track, which features a Latin samba-like section in the middle. Co-written by Jones, Plant and Page, it was also released separately and became the band’s last single.

Carouselambra, with its synthesizer-dominated sound and Page’s guitar mostly feeling like an afterthought, is Led Zeppelin’s most radical sonic departure from their previous albums. Clocking in at a mighty 10:34 minutes, it is also the band’s second longest studio recording; only In My Time Of Dying from 1975’s Physical Graffiti was longer with 11:06 minutes.

The last tune I’d like to call out is All My Love, a rock ballad in honor of Plant’s above mentioned son. Co-written by Jones and Plant, I think it is the album’s highlight. In addition to Plant’s strong vocals, I really dig the sound of Jones’ synthesizer.

According to Wikipedia, Plant, Page and Bonham expressed some reservations about the album following its release. In a December 1990 story in UK music magazine Q, Plant reportedly said: “In Through The Out Door wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but at least we were trying to vary what we were doing, for our own integrity’s sake…In ’77, when I lost my boy, I didn’t really want to go swinging around—”Hey hey mama say the way you move” didn’t really have a great deal of import any more.”

During a 1998 interview with Guitar World, Page reportedly commented, “We [Bonham and Page] both felt that In Through The Out Door was a little soft. I was not really very keen on “All My Love.” I was a little worried about the chorus. I could just imagine people doing the wave and all of that. And I thought, ‘That is not us. That is not us.’ In its place it was fine, but I would not have wanted to pursue that direction in the future.”

In Through The Out Door was recorded between November and December 1978 at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm, Sweden – almost one year prior to its actual release by Swan Song Records. Like all of Led Zeppelin’s albums, it was produced by Page. Despite its mixed reception, the record peaked at no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and is said to have sold 1.7 million copies only within days after its release. The album also topped albums charts in the UK, Canada and New Zealand. In November 1997, it was certified six times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Sources: Wikipedia, Uncut, YouTube