The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

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This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The Fillmore, The Beacon Theater, The Apollo, The Hollywood Bowl, Candlestick Park, Winterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Sow, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The Old Whiste Test Logo

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the 80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the 70s than the 80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/Ooh Las Vegas (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Rock & Roll High School & Rock ‘N Roll Radio (1980)

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years & I Won’t Feel Bad (1985)

U2/In God’s County (1987)

 

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

U2 Rocks MetLife With Epic Performance

After 30 years The Joshua Tree sounds as fresh as ever

While I have listened to U2 for more than 30 years and heard more than once how terrific their live performances are, I had not been to one of their shows. The Joshua Tree is my favorite U2 album, so when I read about the band’s summer tour to celebrate the record’s 30th anniversary, I knew the time had come to finally see them. So I did Thursday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. And what an amazing show it was!

Things kicked off with The Lumineers. I know next to nothing about this folk rock band hailing from Denver, but I definitely liked what I heard. I only recognized one song, Ho Hey, which became a hit for the band in 2012 and was the lead single from their eponymous album released the same year. Their set included 11 other songs – some additional tunes from their debut album and some tracks from the 2016 follow-up, Cleopatra.

20151116_the_lumineers_shot_02_059

Lead vocalist and guitarist Wesley Schultz, who together with Jeremiah Fraites (drums, percussion) writes most of the band’s songs, has a great voice. Cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek rounds out The Lumineers, adding an interesting flavor to the band’s sound. I am planning to check them out more closely.

U2 Joshua Tree Tour 2017

After about an hour and a half into the evening, U2 finally took the stage. With Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s DayBono, The Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton made it clear from the get-go they mean business. Both tunes are from War, their third studio album from 1983, and are among my favorite early U2 songs. Next came two tracks from the 1984 follow-up The Unforgettable Fire: Bad and the epic Pride (In the Name of Love). 

And then it was time for The Joshua Tree album, U2’s fifth studio album from 1987. They played all of its tracks and in the same order. This is a truly great record. In addition to its three big hits Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With or Without You, the album has numerous other gems. These include Bullet the Blue the Sky, Running to Stand Still, In God’s Country, Trip Through Your Wires, One Tree Hill and especially Red Mill Mining Town. By the time you’ve listened to the aforementioned songs, you’ve listened to almost the entire album!

After performing all 15 tracks for The Joshua Tree, U2 came back for a nice encore, playing seven more songs. Highlights included Beautiful Day (All That You Can’t Leave Behind; 2000), Vertigo (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb; 2004), Mysterious Way and One (both Achtung Baby; 1991).

In early June, a 30th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree album was released in several formats. In addition to the original studio record, the deluxe editions include a live recording of a 1987 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. I listened to it earlier today and have to say U2 on Thursday night sounded pretty darn close to that recording from 30 years ago.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube

Clips & Pix: U2/I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

As I’m gearing up to see U2 live for the first time next week, naturally, The Joshua Tree is very much on my mind. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, which was also released as the album’s second single in May 1987, is one of the record’s many amazing tunes. Here is a cool clip of a recent live performance in Houston.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

The Joshua Tree Turns 30

Not only did this 1987 album catapult U2 to international superstardom, but it is also one of the band’s best records in its 40-plus-year history.

Since U2’s announcement in early January of a summer tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, the seminal album has been on my mind. So it was only a matter of time before I would write a post about it.

Released on March 9, 1987, The Joshua Tree is one of my favorite U2 records. That the Irish rock band named its fifth studio album after a tree that grows in the Mojave Desert in the southwestern U.S. is not a coincidence. The lyrics and music were inspired by U2’s feelings about America at the time: an admiration of its ideals, freedoms and open spaces, mixed with antipathy toward political and social concerns.

U2’s appreciation of landscapes like the Mojave Desert becomes apparent not only in the album’s cover art but also in its sound, which I’ve seen described as “cinematic.” One of the best examples of this cinematic sound is the beginning of the ballad Running to Stand Still. It features a Ry Cooder-type slide guitar that could come right out of the musical score for the 1984 drama motion picture Paris, Texas.

Joshua Tree features some of U2’s most iconic songs, including Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With Or Without You. The two latter tunes became the band’s only singles to hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The first song only made it to no. 13 on that chart – surprising, in my opinion, since I find it as strong as the two other tracks.

Bullet the Blue Sky is the album’s most haunting tune, using heavy guitar feedback, distortion and slide-guitar playing to great effect. Lyrically, it’s one of U2’s most political songs that has become a staple of the band’s live concerts, where it has been performed with references to violence and political conflicts.

The album’s final track, Mothers of the Disappeared, is equally moving. It pays tribute to Madres de Plaza de Mayo and COMADRES, groups of mothers in Argentina and El Salvador, respectively, whose children had “disappeared” during the dictatorship eras in these countries. Two other songs that stand out to me are Red Hill Mining Town and In God’s Country.

All of the album’s lyrics were written by Bono, while all music is credited to U2. In addition to Bono (lead vocals, harmonica, guitars), the band includes The Edge (guitars, backing vocals, piano), Adam Clayton (bass guitar) and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums, percussion).

While U2 plays amazingly well as a band and has gotten even better over the decades, I’d like to call out The Edge. In my book, he is one of the coolest guitarists who managed to create a signature sound that is unique and instantly recognizable – not a small feat, if you consider how many rock guitarists are out there!

The Joshua Tree was U2’s second album produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, who were also involved in producing many of the band’s subsequent records. In addition to U2, Lanois has produced for a variety other great artists, such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Peter Gabriel, while Eno has collaborated with David Bowie and David Byrne, among others.

With more than 25 million copies sold worldwide, The Joshua Tree is one of the most successful records. The album climbed to the top of the charts in more than 20 countries, including the U.S. Billboard 200. It also won two Grammy awards in 1988 for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Even the U.S. Library of Congress recognized the album’s significance and selected it for preservation in the National Recording Registry in 2014.

In a Facebook chat with fans on the day of the 30th anniversary, The Edge explained “U2 became a really popular band” during the initial Joshua Tree Tour in 1987. Troves of fans crowded in front of U2’s hotels and outside concert venues, frequently forcing the band to escape through back doors – it almost sounded a bit like “Beatlemania.”

It will no doubt be different during the upcoming The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, which includes 21 concerts in North America and 12 shows in Europe. The tour kicks off on May 12th in Vancouver, Canada, and concludes on August 1st in Brussels, Belgium. U2 is one of the greatest live bands, and I can’t wait to see them on June 29th at MetLife Stadium in East, Rutherford, N.J.

In addition to the upcoming tour, U2 fans can also look forward to “the ultimate collector’s edition of The Joshua Tree,” which the band announced on the eve of the album’s 30th anniversary. The reissue, which is slated for release on June 2nd, will be available in various formats, including vinyl and CD super deluxe box sets, a 2-CD deluxe set, standard vinyl and CD releases, and different digital formats. I might go for the vinyl!

Here is a great clip of a live performance of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

Sources: Wikipedia, Facebook, U2 web site, YouTube