The Rolling Stones’ New Collection of BBC Recordings Is A Gem For Fans

“On Air” documents radio recordings from band’s formative years

Last Friday (Dec 1), The Rolling Stones released On Air, a collection of recordings made by BBC Radio between 1963 and 1965 – a great piece of early Stones performance history and a true gem for fans. According to Wikipedia, The Sunday Times first mentioned the existence of the BBC tapes in early January 1998. Why it took almost 20 years to release a compilation of these recordings isn’t clear to me. Some reviews regarded the record as a sequel to Blue & Lonesome, the band’s first all-blues cover album from last year. Given the unexpected success of that record, which topped the charts in 15 countries, perhaps there is something to it. On Air certainly makes for a great Christmas present, especially for Stones fans.

The collection is available in a standard 18-track and a deluxe 32-track version. The above picture shows the cover of the deluxe. All of the recordings were captured live in-studio, a BBC Radio requirement for any band that wanted air time on their shows in the 60s – no lip-synching allowed! Some of the performances happened in front of live audiences. The shows during which these performances aired included Saturday Club, Yeah Yeah, Blues In Rhythm, The Joe Loss Pop Show and Top Gear. Saturday Club, which was on the air from 1957 until 1969, was one of the earliest pop music radio programs in England.

Rolling Stones at BBC

On Air features blues and rock & roll covers of tunes from the likes of Chuck Berry, Bobby Troup and Willie Dixon, as well some early Stones originals, such as Satisfaction, The Spider And The Fly and The Last Time. What’s especially intriguing is that the collection includes eight songs the Stones had never recorded or released commercially before. Unfortunately, these tunes are nowhere revealed, so I suppose fans have to figure them out by themselves – not an easy task, given the Stones mostly played covers in their early years.

Only very few reviews I’ve seen pointed out the mystery around the eight songs. Instead, some reviewers were upset about the fact that the tracks are not presented chronologically. While the order in fact does appear to be arbitrary, that aspect doesn’t bother me much. For folks who don’t want to listen to say Satisfaction prior to Route 66, Little By Little or Walking The Dog, they can simply queue up the songs accordingly. Figuring out the eight previously unreleased tracks is more tricky!

Abbey Road Studios

In addition to the great music, what’s truly remarkable to me is the crisp sound of some of the tracks. That is due to audio source separation. According to a press release, the process “involved de-mixing the transcripts and allowing engineers at Abbey Road access to the original instrumentation and voices within each track, so that they could be rebuilt, re-balanced and remixed to achieve a fuller, more substantial sound.”

Time for some music clips! First up: Satisfaction. Obviously one of the original tunes penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was first released as a single in the U.S. in June 1965 and was also included on the American version of the Stones’ fourth studio album Out Of Our Heads, which appeared in September that year. The BBC version was recorded just a few days prior to the appearance of that record. I just love how this recording sounds even more guitar-focused than the original studio version, especially the roar of Richards’ signature guitar riff!

Roll Over Beethoven, one of the above noted eight tracks, is a highlight of the collection and I think my favorite on the album. It is one of various Chuck Berry covers. Berry, a huge influence on the Stones, originally released the tune in May 1956. It was also included on Chuck Berry Is On Top, one of the most amazing classic rock & roll records ever released. The BBC recording is from October 1963. I’ve always liked The Beatles’ version of the song. This one kicks it up a notch, in my opinion, and I say this as a huge Beatles fan. Similar to Satisfaction, the sound of the recording is just amazing!

Another great track on the collection is Route 66, the Bobby Troup rhythm & blues classic from 1946. The BBC recording is from 1964 and is one of the songs the Stones apparently performed in front of a live audience, though one can only hear screaming folks in the beginning and at the end.

Fannie Mae, another cover, was recorded in 1965. One can clearly hear that the Stones had become a more mature band by that time. The tune features great blues harp playing by Brian Jones. Fannie Mae was written by American blues and R&B singer Buster Brown and originally recorded in 1959.

Confessin’ The Blues, which was recorded for The Joe Loss Pop Show in 1964, is another performance in front of a live audience. Similar to Fannie Mae, it features Brian Jones doing another amazing job on blues harp. Written by Jay McShann and Walter Earl Brown, the Stones first recorded the tune for their second American studio album 12 X 5, which was released in October 1964.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Ain’t That Loving You Baby, which according to one review I read is also among the above eight mystery songs. The tune was written by Don Robey and first recorded by Bobby Bland in 1962.

While doing some research for this post, I came across a great story in the Los Angeles Times. It includes an interview with Richards discussing his recollection of the Stones’ experiences at the BBC Radio recordings. Since I found his comments fascinating, following are some excerpts.

“At the time we were doing this, we were, like, ‘Oh, my God — the BBC!’. We were just trying to disguise our actual terror. There was a lot of adrenaline…Once we started playing, we didn’t give a [damn]. They [the Stones] still don’t — bless their hearts. We just got off the road, and I wish there were a few more shows. We were just hitting a groove!”

“The BBC wanted us and we didn’t know really why or what we were doing. We were playing blues in bars, for Christ’s sake, but then we got a top 10 record and suddenly we’re the other alternative to the Beatles, bless their hearts. Yeah, I mean, they broke the doors down, especially Johnny. We always got along.”

“You think — you believe, the way you’re brought up in London — that the BBC know what they’re doing. Then you get there and find out they have no idea how to record a band like this.”

“The first thing I remember about my encounter with the BBC was there was this guy: Microphone Control Man. He had a huge mustache, like an officer in the RAF [Royal Air Force], one of them ginger jobs. He told me, ‘If you touch that microphone, I’ll decapitate you.’ I didn’t know what I would do with it anyway, but he had no more idea what to do with it than we did.”

“On those shows, you had no idea what the microphones were picking up and what was actually coming out of the radio. You just winged it and hoped for the best. Listening to it now, I think they captured the spirit of it all. I could argue about whether Brian was too loud or not, but apart from [stuff] like that, I think it’s a fascinating record as a piece.” Well said!

Sources: Wikipedia, Uncut, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: October 7

1951: John Mellencamp, one of my longtime favorite music artists, was born in Seymour, Ind. He started his recording career in 1976 with Chestnut Street Incident, an album of mostly covers, released under Johnny Cougar. The stage name was imposed by his manager at the time, who felt the name Mellencamp was too hard to market. The record flopped anyway. But luckily Mellencamp soldiered on and has released 22 additional studio albums to date. The first record credited to his given name instead of John Cougar Mellencamp, the name he used on most of his ’80s albums, was 1991’s Whenever We Wanted. Starting with the excellent Lonesome Jubilee (1987), Mellencamp gradually moved away from straight rock to more stripped down roots-oriented rock. Here’s a clip of Cherry Bomb from the 1987 album. Happy Birthday!

1960: Elvis Presley recorded Flaming Star, the title song to the soundtrack for his 1960 motion picture. Written by Syd Wayne and Sherman Edwards, the track was also included on an EP in February 1961. It peaked at no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. While Presley starred in numerous, mostly mediocre movies, this Western film is considered to be one of his best acting performances. I used to be a huge Elvis fan in my early teens and Flaming Star was one of my favorite tunes. While I’m no longer as crazy about Elvis, I still think he had a great voice and was a terrific performer, especially in his early days.

1963: The Rolling Stones recorded I Wanna Be Your Man, which became their second single released November 1, 1963. Credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, this Beatles song was primarily written by McCartney. The Stones’ cover, which appeared prior to the release of The Beatles’ version, climbed to no. 12 on the British chart, giving them an early hit. The tune’s characteristic features are Brian Jones’ slide guitar and Bill Wyman’s driving bass, giving it more pep than the original.

1967: American music producer and promoter Sid Bernstein, who had first brought The Beatles to the U.S. in February 1964 and also was involved in their first Shea Stadium appearance in August 1965, tried to get them back for a third time, offering one million dollars. But The Beatles had grown tired of Beatlemania and decided to retire from touring in late August 1966, so they rejected the offer. It’s a reassuring example money can’t buy everything.

Sidney Bernstein

1969: The Youngbloods’ version of Get Together was certified gold. Composed by American singer-songwriter Chet Powers, the Kingston Trio originally recorded the song as Let’s Get Together in 1964. Jefferson Airplane included a cover on their debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, released in August 1966. But the best known and most successful version was recorded by The Youngbloods and first released in July 1967. Initially, it only became a minor hit for the band. Things changed when the tune was used in a radio public service announcement from the National Conference of Christians and Jews calling for brotherhood. The song was reissued in June 1969 and climbed to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, This Day in Music, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: September 9

1956: Elvis Presley appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show, together with his backup group The Jordanaires. They played three songs: Don’t Be Cruel, Love Me Tender and Ready Teddy. The performance became legendary, not only because it was watched by about 60 million viewers, a record 82.6 percent of the U.S. TV audience, but also because of what TV watchers weren’t allowed to see – Presley’s gyrating hips that Sullivan deemed too offensive for a family audience. So the cameras only showed Presley from only the waist up. Before launching into Don’t Be Cruel, Presley said: “This is probably the greatest honor I’ve ever had in my life. There is not much I can say except if it makes you feel good, we wanna thank you from the bottom of our heart.”

1965: The Rolling Stones were at no. 1 in the U.K. with (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, the band’s fourth chart-topping single there, and their first no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s iconic signature riff came to Keith Richards in a dream in a Florida hotel room. He got up and quickly recorded a rough version on a tape recorder, using an acoustic guitar. When he listened to the tape the next morning, there was about two minutes of music and 40 minutes of snoring. I suppose this must have been of Richards’ sweeter dreams!

1968: The Beatles were working on Helter Skelter at Abbey Road Studios in London. On July 18 of that year, they had recorded three takes. During the September 9 session, they transformed what was initially a slow blues into what perhaps became their most frantic song. The tune was included on The White Album, which appeared on November 22, 1968. The following evening, The Beatles added additional overdubs to the track. Commenting on the September 9 session, technical engineer Brian Gibson told Beatles book author Mark Lewisohn, “The version on the album was out of control…Everyone knew what substances they were taking but they were really a law unto themselves in the studio. As long as they didn’t do anything too outrageous things were tolerated.” Oh well, the times of neat suits and ties were definitely long past.

1972: British rockers Slade topped the U.K. single charts with Mama Weer All Crazee Now, scoring their third no. 1 there. Written by lead vocalist Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea, the tune also was the lead single from the band’s third studio album Slayed? 

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music.com, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: September 2

1964: As part of their second U.S. tour that year, The Beatles played Convention Hall in Philadelphia, performing to some 12,000 people. The 12-track set featured Twist And Shout, You Can’t Do That, All My Loving, She Loves You, Things We Said Today, Roll Over Beethoven, Can’t Buy Me Love, If I Fell, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Boys, A Hard Day’s Night and Long Tall Sally. The bill also included The Bill Black Combo, The Exciters, Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, and Jackie DeShannon. Henry joined the tour for this date to replace The Righteous Brothers over complaints their music was drowned out by audience cheers for The Beatles. Here’s a great clip of You Can’t Do That from that gig.

1964: The Rolling Stones recorded Little Red Rooster at Regent Sound Studios in London, England. They released the Willie Dixon blues standard as a U.K. single in November that year. The tune was also included on the band’s third U.S. studio album The Rolling Stones, Now! Little Red Rooster was first recorded in 1961 by Howlin Wolf, who together with Muddy Waters had a major influence on the Stones.

1965: The Doors recorded their first demos at World Pacific Jazz Studios in Los Angeles. The band cut six tracks, which were all written by Jim Morrison. According to BootLegZone, the songs included Hello, I Love YouEnd Of The Night; My Eyes Have Seen You; Moonlight Drive; Summer’s Almost Gone; and Go Insane. Eventually, The Doors released Hello, I Love You as a single in June 1968 and also included it on their third studio album Waiting For The Sun, which appeared in July that year. The tune became a major success for the band, hitting no. 1 in the U.S. and Canada, and reaching no. 15 in the U.K. – their first big hit there.

1972: The Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival, a three-day rock festival held over the Labor Day weekend on Bull Island near Griffin, Ind., kicked off. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people attended, a multiple of the 50,000 music fans the promoters had anticipated. With food and water in shortly supply, the festival drifted into anarchy, culminating in three deaths and the burning down of the main stage after the end of the concert. Many artists pulled out as the conditions deteriorated. The remaining performers included Foghat, Albert King, Canned Heat, Ravi Shankar, Rory Gallagher and The Eagles, among others.

Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival Ticket

Sources: This Day in Music.com, The Beatles Bible, BootlegZone, YouTube

The Hardware: Fender Telecaster

World’s first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar continues to be popular to this day, more than 65 years after its introduction

Similar to the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul, which I covered in previous posts here and here, I could have called the Fender Telecaster the quintessential electric guitar. After all, that model predated the Stratocaster and the Les Paul by three years and one year, respectively. And while Paul Bigsby built the first solid-body for country and western artist Merle Travis in 1948, it was the Telecaster that became the first such electric guitar that was manufactured on a substantial scale.

But the truth is “quintessential” is largely in the eye of the beholder. I always loved the seductive shape of the Stratocaster. I also thought Mark Knopfler created such a cool signature sound with it on Sultans of Swing, Once Upon a Time In the West and other early Dire Straits classics. Ultimately, that’s why I feel the Strat is THE electric guitar and wrote about it first. On to the Telecaster.

The Telecaster was developed by inventor Leo Fender, the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Company. He built the first prototype in the fall of 1949 and introduced it to the market in 1950 as the Fender Esquire, a solid-body with one single-coil pickup. But the Esquire was hampered by quality issues, especially around the guitar neck that easily bent, so it was only produced in limited numbers.

Fender Esquire 1951
Fender Esquire 1951

Fender addressed the lacking neck stability with the placement of a tross rod. He also added a second single-coil pickup to the guitar and renamed it the Fender Broadcaster. That name was very similar to Broadkaster drum sets made by Gretsch, so needed it be changed. The Broadcaster became the Telecaster in 1951, and the guitar has been sold under that brand name ever since.

The Telecaster featured several innovations and used production techniques that made manufacturing and repairing the guitar more cost-effective compared to models from Gibson and other manufacturers. Rather than constructing the Telecaster individually, Fender introduced the production of components that could easily be put together into the finished product on an assembly line.

Fender Telecaster 1951
1951 Fender Telecaster

Unlike the traditional glued in neck, the Telecaster had a “bolt-on” neck. Not only did this make production easier, but it also allowed for faster repair or replacement of the neck. Additionally, the neck on the classic Telecaster was made from a single piece of maple without a separate fingerboard.

Moreover, the bodies of the Telecaster were built with solid pieces of wood instead of being hand-carved individually. The Telecaster also featured easily accessible electronics. This was made possible through a removable control plate. In contrast, the electronics of the then-predominant hollow-body electric guitars could only be accessed through the soundholes.

Fender Telecaster Electronics Control Plate
Telecaster control plate for electonics

Unlike the Stratocaster, which got a lukewarm initial reception from many guitarists, the Telecaster was an immediate hit. This can be explained by the guitar’s distinct properties, which according to Reverb include: “A bridge pickup tone like to no other. The definition of twang when clean. The definition of rock when dirty; Liberating simplicity. Two pickups, two knobs, six strings, no frills. It forces you to be a better player; Surprising versatility. Across three pickup positions, different tone knob positions and varying levels of gain, the Tele is capable of an unexpected number of voices.”

I think it’s mainly the guitar’s versatility, which has made the Telecaster a staple in country, electric blues, rock & roll and other music genres. Like in the case of the Stratocaster and the Les Paul, several customized versions of the Telecaster have appeared over the decades. These variants feature different pickup configurations like a humbucker in the neck position, dual humbuckers and three single-coil pickups. There is also a semi-hollow version called the Telecaster Thinline.

Now comes the part of this type of gear-focused post that excites me the most – a list of musicians who have championed the equipment.

James Burton

American guitarist James Burton, who has performed with Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison and many others, has played a Telecaster since age 13 and is considered to be the most visible Tele player in the late ’50s. Here’s a great clip of Burton performing Johnny B. Goode live with Presley.

Albert Lee

Also known as Mr. Telecaster, English guitarist Albert Lee has played a Telecaster since 1963. Here is a cool live clip from the early ’70s of Lee performing Country Boy with British country rock band Heads Hands & Feet – holy moly!

Albert Collins

American electric blues guitarist Albert Collins was called The Master of the Telecaster. The Fender Custom Shop offers an Albert Collins Signature Telecaster, which is based on his 1966 model featuring a humbucker pickup in the neck position. Here’s Collins with Iceman, the title song of his tenth and final studio album released in March 1991, two and a half years prior to his untimely death from lung cancer in November 1993 at age 61.

Keith Richards

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has used a variety of Telecasters throughout his long career. The most famous one is a ’53 Tele called Micawber. According to the Fender website, Richards got the Micawber from Eric Clapton as a present for his 27th birthday in 1970. At the time, the Stones were gearing up for Exile On Main Street. Shortly after the band’s ’72 tour, Richards replaced the single-coil pickup in the neck position with a ’50s Gibson PAF humbucker for extra bite. Here’s a clip of Richards in action with his Micawber, together with the Stones: Brown Sugar, from the 2016 concert in Havana, Cuba.

Muddy Waters

Blues guitar legend Muddy Waters played a red ’57 Telecaster. Until 2010, Fender offered a replica as part of its signature series, the Muddy Waters Telecaster. Here is a great clip of the maestro and his red Telecaster, performing I’m A King Bee, captured during ChicagoFest in 1981.

Bruce Springsteen

Of course, this short list of Telecaster champions would be incomplete without The Boss. Bruce Springsteen’s iconic guitar, which is pictured on the cover of the Born To Run album from 1975, is not a pure breed Telecaster. As Bobby Owsinski explains on his Music Production Blog, it’s actually a hybrid from at least two other guitars: a ’50s Telecaster body with what looks like a ’57 Esquire neck, which Springsteen purchased at a guitar shop in Neptune, N.J.

Before selling it to The Boss, store owner Phil Petillo removed the two additional pickups that had been added to return the guitar to its original Telecaster configuration. Over the years, Petillo made significant additional modifications requested by Springsteen, including triangular Precision Frets, a six saddle titanium bridge, as well as custom hot-wound waterproofed pickups and electronics, so the guitar could better withstand Springsteen’s marathon shows. In 2005, he retired his beloved instrument from live shows and has since played clones of it during tours. Springsteen continues to use the original for studio recordings. Here’s a clip of the mighty Born To Run, which is from a 1978 show and presumably features Springsteen’s original Telecaster hybrid. Man, watching this footage makes me want to see The Boss again!

Sources: Wikipedia; “Telecaster Buying Guide,” The Hub, March 2017; “Statocaster vs. Telecaster: The Differences That Matter,” Reverb, Nov 2016; “Interesting Mods: Keith Richards’ ‘Micawber’,” Fender website; “The Story Behind Bruce Springsteen’s Iconic Hybrid Telecaster,” Bobby Osinski, Music Production Blog; YouTube

Chuck Berry Classics Performed By Other Artists

A list of covers from AC/DC to The Yardbirds

A few days ago, I coincidentally came across a previously created iTunes playlist I had completely forgotten about: Covers of Chuck Berry classics performed by other music artists. I thought it would be fun to develop a post around this theme.

While no one artist can claim they created an entire genre of music, there is a reason why Berry was known as Mr. Rock & Roll. In any case, the number of other artists who covered his tunes sure as heck is impressive.

Maybelline/Foghat

English blues and boogie rock band Foghat included a killer version of Maybelline on their 1972 eponymous album. The tune was written and recorded by Berry in 1955, and first released as a single in July that year. It also appeared on his 1959 iconic third study album Berry Is On Top, which also included many of his other major hits. Here’s a great clip of the tune from a Foghead live performance.

School Days/AC/DC

AC/DC recorded a cool cover of School Days for their second Australian studio album T.N.T., which appeared in December 1975. Originally, Berry released the song as a single in March 1957, two months ahead of his debut studio album After School Session.

Too Much Monkey Business/The Yardbirds

Too Much Monkey Business is the first track on Five Live Yardbirds, the band’s terrific debut live album from 1964. Berry released the song as his fifth single in September 1956. It was also included on the After School Session album.

Sweet Little Sixteen/John Lennon

John Lennon recorded a nice Memphis soul-style cover of Sweet Little Sixteen for Rock ‘n’ Roll, his sixth studio album from 1975. Berry released the track as a single in January 1958. It was also included on his second studio album One Dozen Berries, which appeared in March 1958.

Rock & Roll Music/The Beatles

Rock & Roll Music is among my favorite rock & roll covers from The Beatles. They included it on their 1964 fourth studio album Beatles For Sale. Berry initially released the tune as a single in September 1957. It also appeared on the One Dozen Berrys studio album. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of the Beatles’ studio version, so here is a live performance captured from a 1965 performance in Paris.

Carol/The Rolling Stones

I’ve always loved the cover of the song The Rolling Stones recorded. Initially, they included it on their 1964 eponymous debut album, but my favorite version appeared on the fantastic 1970 live record Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. First released in 1958 as a single, Carol is also one of the gems from Chuck Berry Is On Top. Here’s a great clip of the Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out version.

Johnny B. Goode/Jimi Hendrix

If I only had one classic rock & roll tune to choose, it would be Berry’s 1958 gem Johnny B. Goode, which first appeared as a single in March that year and is yet another highlight from Chuck Berry Is On Top. Who could possibly do a better cover of it than Jimi Hendrix? Here is a great clip of Hendrix absolutely killing it live – not sure whether it is the same performance that was also captured on Hendrix in the West, a 1972 posthumous live album.

Little Queenie/The Kentucky Headhunters with Johnnie Johnson

Frankly, I do not quite remember how I came across this cover of Little Queenie when I put together the above iTunes playlist, but I find it pretty awesome. It’s performed by country and southern rock band The Kentucky Headhunters featuring Johnnie Johnson, a jazz, blues and rock & roll pianist, and was included on a 2015 release titled Meet Me In Bluesland. Originally, Berry released Little Queenie as a single in 1959, another tune from Chuck Berry Is On Top.

Roll Over Beethoven/Electric Light Orchestra

It’s safe to say this is one of the most unique covers of the track performed by Electric Light Orchestra. Blending elements of classical music with rock & roll and other styles of rock, ELO is one of the weirdest ’70s bands, in my opinion. While most of their productions were bombastic and completely over the top, I still have to admit there is something intriguing about their music. Their 8-minute-plus cover of Roll Over Beethoven was included on their eponymous second studio album, which was released in 1972. Berry first recorded the tune as a single in May 1956. It also appeared on Chuck Berry Is On Top. The following clip is an abbreviated live version of the song, captured from a 1973 performance on The Midnight Special, an American late-night music variety show that aired during the 1970’s and early ’80s.

Memphis/The Hollies

This cover from The Hollies was included on the band’s debut album Stay With The Hollies, which appeared in the U.K. in January 1964. The track was also included on the U.S. version of the album titled Here I Go Again, released in June that year. Berry first recorded Memphis as a single in 1959.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

When Live Performances Become the Ultimate Listening Experience

A list of great songs performed live

To me there is nothing that beats the experience of listening to music live. But there are only so many shows one can go to. Plus, at least in my case, some of my favorite artists are no longer around or bands have changed their line-ups to the point where they no longer have much to do with the act I initially came to like.

Fortunately, many music artists have recorded live albums. While a live record can never replace attending an actual show, if well produced, it can at least convey an idea of how it must have felt being there. Obviously, some live albums are better and more authentic than others. Following is a list of songs from some of my favorite live records.

Things We Said Today/The Beatles (The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, 1977/1964 & 1965)

Sunny Afternoon/The Kinks (Live at Kelvin Hall, 1967)

Jumpin’ Jack Flash/The Rolling Stones (Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, 1970)

First I Look At the Purse/The J. Geils Band (“Live” Full House, 1972)

Rock And Roll All Nite/Kiss (Alive!, 1975)

Turn the Page/Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (Live Bullet, 1976)

I Want You to Want Me/Cheap Trick (Cheap Trick At Budokan, 1978)

Rock You Like a Hurricane/Scorpions (World Wide Live, 1985)

Nutbush City Limits/Tina Turner (Tina Live In Europe, 1988)

Pride (In the Name of Love)/U2 (Rattle And Hum, 1988)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

When Covers Are Just As Much Fun As Originals

A playlist of some of my favorite remakes

Lately, I’m somehow in the mood of compiling lists: first car songs, then train tunes and now remakes. Given how much I enjoy listening to great covers, it’s a surprise I didn’t do this list first!

In general, remakes I like fall into two categories: A version that changes the character of a song, essentially turning it into a new tune. Perhaps the best example I can think of is Joe Cocker’s version of The Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends. Or it simply can be a remake of a tune that stays true to its original – nothing wrong with that, especially if it’s a great song! One terrific example I came across recently is Roger McGuinn’s cover of If I Needed Someone, one of my favorite Beatles tunes. I know, again the Fab Four – I just can’t help it!

Obviously, it won’t come as a big surprise that both of the above tunes are on my list. Here is the entire compilation.

With a Little Help From My Friends/Joe Cocker

Not only credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney by actually also written collaboratively by the two, With a Little Help From My Friends first appeared in May 1967 on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was one of only a handful of Beatles tunes featuring Ringo Starr on lead vocals. Cocker’s version came out two years later as the title song of his debut album.

Love Hurts/Nazareth

Written by American songwriter Boudleaux Bryant, Love Hurts was first recorded by The Everly Brothers in July 1960. In 1975, Scottish hard rock band Nazareth turned the tune into an epic power ballad, including it on their sixth studio album Hair of the Dog. It’s another great example of a remake that completely changed the character of the original tune.

Under the Boardwalk/John Mellencamp

Under the Boardwalk was first recorded by The Drifters and released as a single in June 1964. The song was created by songwriters Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick. Perhaps the best known cover of the tune is from The Rolling Stones, which was included on their second U.S. record 12 X 5 released in October 1964. While I like the Stones version, I think John Mellencamp did an even better remake for his 1999 studio album Rough Harvest.

Pinball Wizard/Elton John

Pinball Wizard is one of my all-time favorite tunes from The Who. Written by Pete Townsend, it was released as a single in March 1969 and also included on the Tommy album that appeared two months thereafter. The one thing I always felt about The Who’s version is that it ended somewhat prematurely. Enter Elton John and his dynamite, extended cover for the rock opera’s 1975 film adaption.

Stand By Me/John Lennon

One of the most beautiful ballads of the 60s, Stand By Me was written by Ben E. King, together with the songwriter powerhouse of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The tune was first released by King as a single in 1961 and also later included on his 1962 studio album Don’t Play That Song. One of my favorite remakes is John Lennon’s version, which he included on his sixth studio album Rock ‘n’ Roll released in February 1975.

If I Needed Someone/Roger McGuinn

Written by George Harrison, If I Needed Someone was included on The Beatles’ sixth studio album Rubber Soul from 1965. Harrison played his Rickenbacker 360/12 to record the tune, which he had first used the previous year during the motion picture A Hard Day’s Night. That’s where Roger McGuinn for the first time heard the beautiful sound of the 12-string electric guitar. He decided to use it for his own music, which resulted in The Byrds’ signature jingle jangle sound. Given this inspiration, it’s perhaps not a big surprise that McGuinn ended up recording a cover of the tune. It was included on his 2004 studio record Limited Edition.

Proud Mary/Ike & Tina Turner

Proud Mary was written by the great John Fogerty and first released by Creedence Clearwater Revival in early 1969, both as a single and on their second studio album Bayou Country. Then in 1971, Ike & Tina Turner recorded an amazing remake. It appeared as a single and was included on the album Working Together. The cover, which became their biggest hit, is another great example of how a remake can become a completely new song.

Light My Fire/José Feliciano

Credited to all four members of The Doors – Jim Morrison, Robbie Krieger, John Densmore and Ray Manzarek – Light My Fire appeared on the band’s eponymous debut album from January 1967. It was also released as a single in April that year. I’ve always loved the organ part on that tune. And then there is of course the cover from José Feliciano, which as a guitarist I appreciate in particular. It appeared on 1968’s Feliciano!, his fourth studio record. Feliciano’s laid-back jazzy style to play the tune is exceptionally beautiful.

Runaway/Bonnie Raitt

Runaway is one of my favorite early 60s pop tunes. Written by Del Shannon and keyboarder Max Crook, it was first released as a single by Shannon in February 1961. The song was also included on his debut studio album Runaway with Del Shannon, which appeared in June that year. Bonnie Raitt, who I’ve admired for many years as an exceptional guitarist and songwriter, recorded a fantastic remake for her 1977 studio album Sweet Forgiveness.  I was fortunate enough to see this amazing lady last year. She is still on top of her game!

Hard to Handle/The Black Crowes

Hard to Handle is one of the many great tunes from Otis Redding, who co-wrote it with Al Bell and Allen Jones. It was released in June 1968, six months after Redding’s untimely death at age 26 in a plane crash. In 1990, The Black Crowes recorded a fantastic rock version of the song for their debut studio album Shake Your Money Maker, scoring their first no. 1 single on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks. It is perhaps the tune’s best known cover.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

British Invasion Rocks Atlantic City

Amazing tribute bands took audience back to greatest period in rock music

One of the main reasons I am on Facebook is to get news about the artists and music I love. Last weekend, an announcement popped up in my newsfeed about a British Invasion tribute festival in Atlantic City. With cool-looking bands and free admission, it didn’t take long to convince me to go there. After all, what could possibly go better together than the sin of gambling and rock & roll? And so I hopped in my car and went there yesterday.

To say it right upfront, I had a great time, and so did the other folks who had come out to the deck at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino. Three tribute bands brought back the 60s and 70s: Glimmer Twins, Who’s Next and Britain’s Finest. Each did a great job looking and sounding like the rock & roll heroes they represented.

Glimmer Twins

Adopting the nickname of the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the Glimmer Twins hail from Philly, Pa. The band is led by Keith Call (vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitars, vocals), who bring to life Jagger and Richards in the ’70s. Call has Jagger’s facial expressions, moves and swagger down to the details, while Bollendorf beautifully captures Richards’ onstage persona, from the way he’s holding his guitars to the cigarettes in his mouth while playing. Even both of their voices sound similar to Jagger and Richards – amazing!

Glimmer Twins 2

Call and Bollendorf are backed up by a kick ass band, which according to their Facebook page consists of Michael Rubino (guitars), Chris Bollendorf (drums), Rob Ekstedt (bass), Rocco Notte (keyboards), Valorie Steel (backup vocals), Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute, organ) and Bill Cancel (saxophone, flute, organ). In fact, it’s safe to assume they sound better than the their stoned rock & roll heroes during many of their ’70s shows!

Some of The Rolling Stones classics the band played included Start Me Up, Wild Horses, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker), (I Can’t Get No) SatisfactionHappy, It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It) and what I thought was a highlight: Gimme Shelter, where the band’s African-American backing vocalist demonstrated her amazing pipes. Here’s a little demo.

Who’s Next

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much public information on this tribute band to The Who. They have a Facebook group, which I’ve asked to join. What I can say for the time being is these four guys would make Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend really proud. Who knows, perhaps they’re even aware of them!

Who's Next 2

Apparently named after The Who’s fifth legendary studio album from 1971, the band strives to look and sound like the real thing during the ’70s. The singer looks like he could be a younger brother of Daltrey – similar height, similar body build, similar stage persona; oh, and he has a pretty good voice, too! The guitarist, bassist and drummer also do an excellent job personifying Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon, respectively.

Who’s Next’s set included classics, such as Can’t ExplainSubstitute, Pinball Wizard and appropriately various tunes from the 1971 album, such as Baba O’Riley, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes and the epic Won’t Get Fooled Again. Here’s a nice promo clip I found from the band.

Britain’s Finest

I’ve seen various tribute bands to The Beatles over the decades, including some that were very good and others that were – well – not as great. The music of the Fab Four, especially the songs they played during their live period, may be relatively simple. But The Beatles were a fantastic live act, and it’s sure as heck not easy to replicate that experience. Britain’s Finest comes pretty darn close to it, both in terms of their looks and the way they’re playing the songs.

Britain's Finest 2

The members of the band are Ruben Amaya (John Lennon), Benjamin Chadwick (Paul McCartney), Robert F. Bielma (George Harrison) and Luis G. Renteria (Ringo Starr). According to their Facebook page, these guys are based in Los Angeles and founded the band in 2011. Based on their website, the band recreates both the live years and the later studio period of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Yesterday’s set was focused on The Fab Four’s live period. It included classics, such as A Hard Day’s Night, Help, I Saw Her Standing There, Roll Over Beethoven and Twist and Shout. The guys also did something you could well imagine The Beatles might do, if they would still be around: Announcing a song from The White Album, they played Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Not only was it a hilarious joke, but they were really killing it! Here’s a clip that in addition to the music also nicely illustrates how these guys do a great job portraying The Beatles’ humor.

To anyone who enjoys listening to the British Invasion and the Stones, The Who and The Beatles in particular, I can highly recommend the above bands. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It may only be rock & roll, but I sure as heck liked it!

Sources: Glimmer Twins Facebook page, Britain’s Finest Facebook page and website, Wikipedia, YouTube

In Memoriam of Chuck Berry

When I listened to Johnny B. Goode for the first time, I instantly realized Chuck Berry sounded differently than any other guitarist I had ever heard.

When I saw a push message in my smartphone yesterday about the death of Chuck Berry, I was in disbelief at first. Sure, I knew the man had turned 90 last October, so he wasn’t exactly a teenager any longer. But I also recalled Berry had used that happy occasion to announce his first new record in 38 years slated for release sometime this year. I suspect it will become a big seller, which would be a cruel irony that happened to many other music artists after they passed away.

Chuck Berry’s influence on rock & roll music cannot be overstated. To begin with, there was simply no guitarist at the time who could play the electric guitar “like a ringing bell.” Berry’s style may sound crude at times, but try playing his licks, and you quickly realize it’s much more sophisticated than you might think – I found out myself! Admittedly, I was always much more an acoustic guy, and the electric guitar certainly did not come naturally to me.

In addition to being an innovative guitarist who created his own signature sound, Berry was an incredible showman. Perhaps the move for which he is best remembered is the “duckwalk” he popularized in the 1950’s – a whooping 30 years before another walk made music history: Michael Jackson’s moonwalk in 1983. While the origins of the duckwalk reportedly go back to 1930’s performance by T-Bone Walker, one of Berry’s influences, it was Berry who put the move on the map and who is typically credited as its inventor.

And then there are of course all the iconic classic rock & roll tunes Berry wrote: Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Too Much Monkey Business, School Day, Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode, Carol, Little Queenie – and the list goes on! Remarkably, none of these amazing songs topped the mainstream U.S. charts. Sweet Little Sixteen came closest, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958; it did hit no. 1 on the R&B Best Sellers chart the same year. Berry’s only no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 was My Ding-a-Ling in 1972. While I read he always stood by the tune, I think it’s fair to say an important reason why the song became so successful was the ill-fated refusal from many radio stations to play it because of its lyrics.

Many of Berry’s tunes were covered by other artists. In fact, the very first single from The Rolling Stones in 1963, Come On, is a Berry tune he had first released in 1961. The Beatles were also big fans of Berry and did excellent covers of Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music – in fact, I have to say I prefer the latter to the original version! Yet another great example of a Berry cover is the Yardbirds’ Too Much Monkey Business on their 1964 debut live album Five Live Yardbirds with Eric Clapton on lead guitar – nothing “slowhand” about this absolute killer version!

Reportedly, Berry was not an easy person to deal with offstage. He had certain rules that could not be broken. He always demanded payment in advance of any performance and a specific guitar amplifier. He also insisted on a limousine for his shows, which he would drive himself. Instead of relying on a standing set of touring musicians, he asked concert promoters to hire local backup bands for him. Together with not providing set lists in advance of gigs, it’s not surprising this sometimes impacted the quality of his live shows. But I also read other accounts suggesting Berry was a very kind-hearted man who was simply reluctant to trust people he didn’t know well, since he felt life had betrayed him in the past.

Not surprisingly, when an influential artist like Chuck Berry passes away, social media lights up with present or past sentiments expressed by other great rock guitarists. I’d like to share some of them. For Rolling Stone’s December 2010 feature 100 Greatest Artists, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry wrote, “I heard Chuck Berry Is On Top – and I really freaked out! That feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach, in the hair in the back of my neck: I got more of it from Chuck Berry than from anybody else.”

For a rock music fan, it’s easy to understand Perry’s reaction. Released in July 1959, Berry’s third studio album included some of his greatest gems, such as Carol, Maybellene, Johnny B. Goode, Little Queenie and Roll Over Beethoven – all on one album and all written by him!

Bruce Springsteen, who set the stage on fire playing Johnny B. Goode with Berry and the E Street Band during a 1995 concert for the opening of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s museum, tweeted, “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”

Keith Richards wrote on Facebook, “One of my big lights has gone out.” The post was accompanied by a photo showing Richards standing on stage next to Berry with the following caption: “I don’t even know if Chuck realizes what he did. I don’t think he does…It was just such a total thing, a great sound, a great rhythm coming off the needle of all of Chuck’s records. It’s when I knew what I wanted to do.” More specifically, that moment came for Richards when as a teenager he saw Berry perform Sweet Little Sixteen at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which was captured in the film documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, as he told Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the most beautiful take came from the E Street Band’s Little Steven on the Facebook page of his excellent radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage: 

“Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry was the King of Rock and Roll. Period. Richard brought the Passion, Elvis the Heartbreak, Bo the Beat, Jerry Lee the Abandon, Buddy let the Everyman in, Chuck brought the Storytelling. The words that Bob Dylan would evolve into an Artform. He led the teenage takeover of Pop Music that the Beatles and Stones would complete. He invented Rock guitar and made it look like fun. He gave the previously ignored age group between adolescence and adulthood an identity, a mythology, a chance to see themselves. He gave them Respect. And those teenagers would return that respect to Rock and Roll for the next 60 years and counting.

– Little Steven, March 18 2017”

I have nothing to add, except offering a clip of Berry’s amazing performance of Too Much Monkey Business, which features a very cool solo by Keith Richards, of course played Chuck Berry style! It’s taken from Taylor Hackford’s 1987 music documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, shot to celebrate Berry’s 60’s birthday. In addition to Richards, other artists performing with Berry included Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Etta James, Johnnie Johnson, Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Julian Lennon and Joey Spampinato.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube