Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TOMORROW ON OUTQ: SOME GREAT OUTLAW COUNTRY ARTISTS

Tomorrow morning on The Morning Jolt With Larry Flick on SiriusXM OutQ, I'll discuss some great artists who you can hear on the SiriusXM channel Outlaw Country. Full disclosure: I work at SiriusXM.  But I'll also point out that I was a SIRIUS subscriber before I worked there. Little Steven Van Zandt's Underground Garage was the main reason, but Outlaw Country was the next reason. By the way, Little Steven produces Outlaw Country as well as Underground Garage.

The Drive-By Truckers, as most No Expiration readers know, is one of my favorite bands.  I can honestly say I wouldn't be a fan without Outlaw Country.  Tomorrow I'll talk about their latest album, Go-Go Boots. Steve Earle isn't just one of the channel's biggest artists, he also hosts an excellent weekly show, Hardcore Troubadour Radio, hear it Saturday nights at 9 pm (full schedule of rebroadcasts here). I really dig Steve's new album, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive. Lucinda Williams is another of the biggest artists on the channel, and she's just released a great album, Blessed. Buddy Miller is not as well known, but he's played with both of them, along with Robert Plant, Patty Griffin, Solomon Burke and John Fogerty. I also like his own music, and his latest album, Majestic Silver Strings, is his most ambitious yet.

I'll also preview upcoming albums by Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss & Union Station, and play a few tracks from Hayes Carll's new one, KMAG YOYO.  Carll is a great semi-up-and-coming artist, and another one I'd never have heard of without Outlaw Country.  So check out this video, I recently got to film them at SiriusXM doing the title track from the new album. (P.S. don't have a SiriusXM subscription? Go here to get a free online trial).

BUDDY MILLER'S "THE MAJESTIC SILVER STRINGS"

This is actually a group, led by Buddy Miller, one of my favorite artists of the '00s. Buddy has made great records on his own and with his wife, Julie Miller.  He produced two of my favorite albums of 2010, Robert Plant's Band Of Joy and Patty Griffin's Downtown Church. I actually discovered Buddy as a member of Emmylou Harris' band during her Spyboy era (I saw him open for her and play guitar in her band about a decade ago).

Bill Frisell, a kind of art-jazz guy who has played a lot with John Zorn and also Vernon Reid, is also in the band. So is Marc Ribot, another guy who has played with Zorn, but he's played a lot with Tom Waits as well. And finally, Greg Leisz, who I know mainly as the steel guitarist who plays with Matthew Sweet, but he's played for tons of other artists as well.

This album features mostly traditional country songs re-interpreted in interesting ways with lots of guest vocalists, including Patty, Emmylou, Julie, Lee Ann Womack and Mark Anthony Thompson (aka Chocolate Genius, a solo artist who played with Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions Band). It doesn't come off as a gimmicky record-label contrived production, it's quite good.  I like Buddy's simpler stuff, and I'd also like to hear more of Buddy singing (he mostly stays back and lets other people sing), but it is a really cool album, very ambitious. It reminds me in some ways of Don Was' Orquestra Was project, just in how it takes country to a very different place.  A lot of this album makes me feel like I am at a beach party in Hawaii as the sun is coming up.

The highlights: the most rocking song on the album is Roger Miller's "Dang Me" (given a different twist by Chocolate Genius, singing "they oughta take a rope and hang me!") and Emmylou's take on '50s country singer Stonewall Jackson's "Why I'm Walkin'." Buddy and Marc take the vocals on George Jones' "Why Baby Why" which is excellent and Julie sings "God's Wing'ed House," which she wrote the lyrics to (Marc wrote the music).

If you've heard of Buddy Miller and want to check him out, this is NOT where to start. For that, I'd go with Buddy & Julie's The Best Of The Hightone Years.  But give this one a few listens, it's rewarding.

LUCINDA WILLIAMS - "BLESSED"

A good friend of mine, who is a big Lucinda Williams fan, was worried about her new album, Blessed. "She writes so well about broken relationships," my friend said.  Now that's she's (hopefully) happily married, will she be as good as she was?

I pointed out that "Passionate Kisses" is one of her classic songs, and it seems to deal with being in a relationship that has lasted a while.  Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, her greatest album (and the one against all of her others will always be measured, at least in my mind) has a lot more than just breakup/heartbreak songs. I'm always optimistic anyway.

But it was like Lucinda heard my friend, because the opening track/first single, "Buttercup," is a kiss off to an ex-. But Lu is in a different place right now, and it takes courage to try and write about being happy. I think that's where she got the album title, Blessed. I love the artwork int he album - there's a series of people, who look like they are of varying economic circumstances, holding a sign that says "blessed." (You can see video testimonials by regular people who talk about what it means to be "blessed" at Lucinda's YouTube page.)

Like most of Lucinda's recent albums, there's definitely some weepers, but also some flat out rockers.  I totally dig "Seeing Black" (fair enough, another breakup song... by the way, both this song and "Buttercup" feature Elvis Costello on electric guitar). The soul of the album lies with the title track, where Lucinda sees the beauty in everyday life. I don't think she could have written this one 15 years ago. It comes right after "Soldier's Song," which compares a soldier's day with that of his wife and child back home.

Another great song is "Kiss Like Your Kiss," which Lu originally recorded with Elvis Costello for True Blood. Here, it is a solo version.

Don Was produced this album, and I think he did a great job. He's done some cool Outlaw Country type albums over the years, working with Willie Nelson and Elizabeth Cook, and he really stays out of the way here and lets Lu make another really solid album. Well done!

Interesting to see that for the second album in a row, Matthew Sweet sings backing vocals.  Lu, bring him out on the road!

As I mentioned, all of Lucinda's albums (at least to me) will be compared to Car Wheels. I don't think that Blessed is as good as that album, but it is really good and I'd be psyched to hear most of these songs in concert.

P.S. I'll also mention that the "deluxe" version of this album is worth getting: it features a second disc with Lucinda doing solo acoustic versions of all the songs, recorded live at her kitchen table!

STEVE EARLE "I'LL NEVER GET OUT OF THIS WORLD ALIVE"

Interesting album title for a left-wing country singer who has endured drug addiction, the slammer and seven marriages.  I was starting to think that Steve Earle might just be a durable as Keith Richards!

I'm a huge Steve Earle fan (he was one of my favorite artists of the '00s), and I was excited to get an advance copy of his new album, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, which is a reference to a Hank Williams lyric (and also the title of Steve's upcoming novel, about Hank's doctor, who is haunted by Hank's ghost). I did not get the advance from the label by the way, and I have also pre-ordered the album. I am happy to pay for a Steve Earle album.  Steve's albums always have cool artwork, which is part of the whole package.  Anyway, you know me: I like to have the "official" version.

This album is produced by T-Bone Burnett (or as I sometimes call him, "Him Again!"), and features Steve reunited with his band The Dukes, and also features his wife Allison Moorer. That's a lot of stuff going on, but everyone works well together.  Not all of the songs are "new," per se: "This City" is from the HBO show Treme (which features Steve as an actor), and "God Is God" and "I Am A Wanderer" are songs that Steve wrote for Joan Baez's 2008 album Day After Tomorrow, which he produced.

So those are the details: the album is a really rootsy affair. I always figured if Steve and the Dukes got together again, it would be a rocking affair... maybe next time.  I don't mean to say that I don't like the album, though, I do.  I love it, it's one of my favorites of the year. It sounds like The Dukes went back in time a few decades... which is what I guess you hire T-Bone for. (By the way, I'm not putting him down, he's one of my favorite producers!)

I love the opening track, "Waitin' On The Sky," if I didn't know Steve wrote it, I would have thought it was an obscure traditional piece.  It's that timeless.  Both of the Baez songs are great - I prefer Steve's versions (disclaimer: although I love Joan's politics, and I think she seems like a really cool lady, I've never enjoyed her music).  I think Steve was really inspired when he had the opportunity to write for such a legend (although I think it's funny that they recorded the album in Nashville, it's not exactly where you'd think they'd be welcomed!).  "Heaven Or Hell" is also great - it's a duet with Allison Moorer.  I don't ever really get into the personal lives of artists, but I'll just say that I think this relationship will last.  I've seen them perform on stage, they have such a chemistry when they sing together, you can see the love and respect.  You can hear it on the record.

I've said it before - Steve Earle seems to be more "relevant" and important with each passing year.  He has an incredible catalog of music to live up to, and he pretty much always comes through (I didn't love his last album, Townes, but I would recommend all of his other albums). I'm looking forward to seeing Steve's tour, which will feature The Dukes with Allison on keyboards.  If you have a chance to catch this tour, do so.

Monday, March 28, 2011

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS - "GO-GO BOOTS"

I write a hell of a lot about The Drive-By Truckers, they are one of my favorite groups in the world. I might go so far as to say that they are the best band in the world right now.  So, it's kind of a surprise that it's taken me a few weeks to review their latest album, Go-Go Boots.

The thing is, it usually takes me a few listens, a few days, maybe even a few weeks, to fully digest a new DBT album. Their albums are full on experiences, like Skynyrd's or Springsteen's were, or even The Replacements.  Those are the bands I most often compare The Drive-By Truckers to.

At first, I wasn't sure I loved this album as much as last year's The Big To-Do, which was my favorite album of 2010. But when I first heard that one, I wasn't sure I liked it as much as 2008's Brighter Than Creation's Dark.

So let me just say that Go-Go Boots is (yet) another incredible album. I understand that it was recorded at the same time as Big To-Do, but it definitely has a different vibe. It is a bit quieter, but also a bit darker. That said, my favorite song is a cover of Eddie Hinton's "Everybody Needs Love," which isn't so dark. I'd never heard that song - and I'm not sure I'd even heard of Eddie Hinton - before the Truckers released   a double A-sided 7" single, volume 2 in a series of tribute singles to Hinton.  Both songs ("Everybody Needs Love," sung by Patterson Hood, and "Where's Eddie," sung by Shonna Tucker) are on Boots. Sometimes I don't like when an album is built around a cover, but in this case, they aren't banking on the song's familiarity, it's the opposite: both songs are so great, and yet so obscure, that by bringing them to a bigger audience, everybody wins.

"Everybody Needs Love" is my favorite song on the album.  But it's all good, another one that stands out is "I Used To Be A Cop." If it were an acoustic song, it would belong on Springsteen's Nebraska. But I'll say it may belong on side four of The River instead. It's that good.

Patterson Hood often gets more attention than the rest of the band, and fair enough, he's often the one doing the interviews and communicating with fans online and via liner notes. But Mike Cooley is an equally good writer, and on this album, he seems to be heading in more of a classic country direction.  "Cartoon Gold" is a great song. In my mind, I could hear Willie Nelson covering it.  "The Weakest Man" could be a hit for one of country music's elder statesmen, like George Strait or Alan Jackson.

I've heard rumblings that the band may take an extended break after this album's tour wraps up. Fair enough, they've been touring and recording incessantly for the past few years. It's a bummer, I feel like I just started with the band, but these guys have been working hard for a long time. I do believe (ahem) that the world will catch up to them, and when they come back, they will be bigger than ever (hey, it happened with Primus). When I go to concerts today, I often wonder if the artist who I'm seeing will still be around in ten years.  I say that I'll be seeing DBT in twenty.

(by the way, let me take this moment to point out that without SiriusXM's Outlaw Country, I might not have become the big Drive-By Truckers fan that I am.  Yes, I work at SiriusXM, but Outlaw Country was one of the reasons I subscribed before I worked there - Underground Garage was another compelling reason.)  Also, let me give a little shout to Alabama Ass Whuppin', a great blog that covers the band way more comprehensively than I do.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TOMORROW ON OUTQ: NEXT YEAR'S ROCK HALL INDUCTEES (?)

Tomorrow morning on The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick on SiriusXM OutQ, I'll be in the studio talking about who *I* think should get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year, and who actually has a chance of being inducted. I've written a lot about this lately (just check my last ten or so posts), and it is always an interesting conversation topic. Tune in!  If you don't have SiriusXM, you can get a free online trial here.

THE ARGUMENT - 5 MORE FOR THE HALL OF FAME

Well, it's been over a week since this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, congratulations to Tom Waits, Alice Cooper, Dr. John, Darlene Love, Neil Diamond and Leon Russell.  In the past few days, I've written "arguments" for who I think I deserves to be inducted in 2012 (and soon afterwards): KISS, The New York Dolls, Public Enemy, Bill Withers, Rush, Joy Division and Randy Rhoads. I'm about to wrap this theme up.  But there's five more artists I'd suggest for induction in the next few years.



The Cure. Some people may say that they haven't aged well, but I disagree.  I'd argue that they are sort of timeless. No matter what is the "in" thing, there's always going to be kids dressed in all black playing songs that reflect their feelings of alienation. But most of those songs won't be as good as the ones that Robert Smith has written. Sometimes The Cure is "in," and other times they aren't, but Smith has never seemed to care what's going on in the music scene. It's funny that a lot of people don't even know what they're about. I remember in the mid-90s going to see The Cure - a metal friend of mine was at the same show.  The next day he remarked that the show was really close to being a metal show. Everyone wearing black, really intense band, loud guitars.  I mean, "Fascination Street" is loud guitar rock.  I've read that Hendrix is one of Smith's biggest influences. This isn't the kind of the music that Hall of Fame voters generally gravitate towards, and they've never gotten much support from Rolling Stone, but they represent rock music that lives outside of the mainstream, and maybe occasionally visits. That's an important part of rock music though.

The Beastie Boys. Has any band ever had a more unlikely career arc? Starting out as an average hardcore punk band (nowhere near as good as say, Bad Brains, Black Flag or Minor Threat), they transformed themselves into the biggest hip-hop group ever (at the time) in the mid '80s with Licensed To Ill, using Run-D.M.C.'s template of Rick Rubin production, spare beats, loud guitars and cool samples. They then created a mind blowing album of hundreds of layers of samples on Paul's Boutique. For Check Your Head, the put everything together - hip-hop jams, hard rock anthems, hardcore punk rants, and even added some really funky instrumental tracks. They became one of the few bands who could unite hipster, suburban jocks, punks and hip-hoppers, not to mention the Lollapalooza crowd. Along the way, they created the template for The Jerky Boys and a million morning radio shows (for better or worse) with "Cookie Puss," made fake country music as Country Mike, shot some iconic music videos, and went from being drunken brats to global activists, without losing any of their cool. They made it cool to care about a tiny country that many Americans never heard of on the other side of the world. And an unbelievable catalog of incredible songs.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, one of my favorite bands ever. Like The Beastie Boys, influenced by hardcore punk, hip-hop and funk, but coming from an entirely different place (the Hollywood Hills). Also like the B-Boys, they started out as pranksters who weren't necessarily a band you'd take too seriously, but they grew up over the years, and their writing got deeper. Everything came together on Bloodsugarsexmagik, as perfect of an album as anyone's ever done. I can't wait to hear their new album, which will hopefully come out later this year.

No one works in the service of the music like Emmylou Harris. She always seems to know the right thing to do, the right inflection, to make a song hit the exact right note. She's a great writer, but if she doesn't have anything, she has no problem using other people's materials. It's not about her ego. She's a great collaborator: of course she came up with country-rock legend Gram Parsons, and then went on to become a legend in her own right. But still, it seems that she doesn't mind singing backup if she likes the song or the artist enough. And talk about aging gracefully, she seems to get better with each year. I think her older friends prefer her '70s or '80s albums, but my favorite is the one where I discovered her: Wrecking Ball.

Motorhead. I think the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should be, above all else, about influence. Few bands have influenced more groups than Motorhead. Heavy metal would be a different genre without Motorhead. Check out their documentary, it's a big "exhibit A" for why they should be inducted.

Of course, there are lots of other artists who I think should get in, including Black Flag, Warren Zevon, LL Cool J, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, The MC5, The Replacements, X, Cheap Trick and Peter Gabriel to name a few. So, tune in next year for more discussions on this topic!

Monday, March 21, 2011

RANDY RHOADS - THE ARGUMENT

Inspired by the news that Ozzy Osbourne's first two solo albums are going to finally be reissued in remastered, and original form, I've been thinking about Randy Rhoads. (Here's my post on those albums.) A friend of mine (Noa from the blog Metal Injection) asked me why Randy isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think he should be.

But, he can't be voted in as a regular artist, as he never released a record under his own name. They used to have a "sideman" category, which they replaced this year, with the Award for Recording Excellence, which went to the very deserving Leon Russell. I think Randy Rhoads should get it next year.

Whatever you think of heavy metal, the guy was one of the most influential guitarists of the '80s, along with Eddie Van Halen. Did he inspire a lot of pointy guitar fretboard tapping speed demon guitarists who forgot about the song in the quest for flash? Sure. But he also played on two of the greatest metal albums ever, 1980's Blizzard of Ozz and 1981's Diary of a Madman. I actually think that Ozzy deserves to be inducted for his solo career based on those albums - but I don't mind if that doesn't happen, Oz is already a Hall of Famer as a member of Black Sabbath.  I just think Randy deserves his due for his incredible playing on these albums, and the influence he's had.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

TONIGHT ON FUSE - THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME INDUCTION CEREMONY

Tonight Fuse will broadcast an edited version of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Dr. John, Darlene Love, Neil Diamond and Leon Russell were all inducted at this year's ceremony. There were some great speeches and performances, from what I heard, so check it out!

For those of you on Twitter - on Monday night during the actual ceremony, it seemed that people were Tweeting using the hashtag #rockhall2011.  But I think tonight during the broadcast, the hashtag is #fuserockhall.

Hopefully, there will be some people using #rockhall2012, debating who they think should get in next year!

Friday, March 18, 2011

JOY DIVISION - THE ARGUMENT

One era/genre of music that has been ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more than heavy metal, arguably more than prog rock, is the post-punk era. It spawned U2 and R.E.M., but hasn't gotten much attention from the voters, which is a shame.

Joy Division kind of started post-punk and symbolized it. They weren't punk, but were definitely inspired by it. I've read stories where bassist Peter Hook said he was inspired to buy a bass after seeing The Sex Pistols.

Joy Division resembled rock bands, but didn't really sound like much that had come before them. A bit of Bowie, a bit of The Velvets.  They had little or no traces of blues, or really anything else.  I hesitate to say they were "totally original" (because no one is), but even today, you listen to those records, and they are so unique. I think they sort of pioneered the idea of actual "alternative" rock. I mean "alternative" in the classic sense of the word, the dictionary definition.  Not the marketing term that was beaten into the ground in the '90s. Once you had alternative bands who didn't know about Joy Division (or The Velvet Underground), it was kind of a signal that they were full of shit.

Yes, they had a short career because frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980, at age 23. But their impact was immense: U2, R.E.M., The Cure and pretty much any goth band that came afterwards, Jane's Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, Bjork... lots of artists who worked outside the mainstream and had ravenous followings, so many of them were inspired by Joy Division. This isn't the type of band who the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers tend to pay much attention to, but they should.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

RUSH IN 2012 - THE ARGUMENT

This is where I'm going to lose some people. I realize that Rush isn't for everybody. But I think they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a huge fan. They were my first concert (Grace Under Pressure tour in 1985), my first favorite band. But, to be honest, I didn't think that they were a band that should be inducted, and here's why. If I were a voter, I'd have two main criteria in mind: (1) obviously the body of work, even if it is a small body (as is the case with Buddy Holly or Cream) and (2) their influence.

Rush's body of work speaks for itself, it's mind-blowing.  I just wasn't sure how influential Rush was! They sort of exist in their own genre, and their influence isn't always so obvious. That was one of the things that turned my head around when I saw the excellent documentary, Beyond The Lighted Stage (which won the Audience Prize at last year's TriBecca Film Festival). I knew that Les Claypool of Primus (one of my favorite bands ever) is a huge fan, but his band is also like Rush - kind of their own genre. But watching all the different musicians talking about Rush's profound influence on them: Trent Reznor, Vinnie Paul of Pantera, Billy Corgan, Tim Commerford of Rage Against The Machine, Zakk Wylde, Danny Carey of Tool,  Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters and Kirk Hammett. Then I also thought of other artists, like Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, Vernon Reid of Living Colour, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, all the guys from King's X, Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam, and I'm probably forgetting lots of other people.

It's not necessarily that people are trying to copy Geddy Lee's bass playing, Neil Peart's drumming or Alex Lifeson's guitar playing (he is one of the most underrated guitarists, in my opinion). Although I'm sure some musicians do try, the smart ones avoid even attempting that (the rest end up as favorites of subscribers to guitar or drum magazines, but without much appeal outside of that). You don't hear many (or any) bands that you'd refer to as "Rush clones." It would be stupid to try do copy them, you just couldn't do it.

I think it's more of an idea of being heavy but also really intelligent. Precise but really passionate. And not being boxed into any one thing. Yes, there are common elements to Rush songs, but they really progressed a lot. They started out as a heavy blues rock band, influenced mainly by Cream, The Who and Zeppelin. By the end of the '70s, they were something very different. In the '80s, they incorporated new wave and even reggae influences (particularly The Police and Talking Heads). In the '90s, Neil Peart even took a break from recording to re-learn how to play the drums.  This from the guy who has topped every drummer poll on earth!

Neil of course has been their lyricist since joining the band, and early on, his J.R.R. Tolkien and (especially) Ayn Rand influence insured that rock critics wouldn't really like him.  But while he was inspired by Rand, he wasn't a disciple by any means. He simply reacted to her theme of being an individual (which is kind of rock and roll in its own way, and something any rock and roller should respect). That's a theme that's always been inherent in Rush and their music. They do what they do, they are what they are, they never change to fit in, and they do things their own way.  Oh yeah, and they have an embarrassment of classic songs and albums (I'll cite everything they released between their 1974 self-titled debut and 1984's Grace Under Pressure in the "classic" category. They've done a lot of great work since then, of course: 2007's "Far Cry" and 2002's "One Little Victory" are two of my favorite Rush songs.

Much of what determines the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is how well a band has fit into Rolling Stone magazine. I'm not hating on them: I've been a subscriber for probably more than 20 years! And I think that a lot of their inductees are great choices: the first five or so years of induction, they're hard to argue with. I am not someone who thinks that the Hall of Fame should resemble the playlist of a classic rock station. But get over yourselves, voters: Rush deserve to be in, period!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BILL WITHERS IN 2012 - THE ARGUMENT

Bill Withers never really seemed to fit into any category - and didn't seem to care - but he was such an incredible songwriter. (I use the past tense, because he is one of the few musicians to retire and stay retired. He's the first to remind you that he's retired if you talk about his career in the present tense.) He is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and I think he should also be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

People may not think of him as rocking because of "Lean On Me" and "Just The Two Of Us," which are incredible songs.  But hell, if "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" didn't keep Neil Diamond out of the Hall of Fame, surely "Lean" and "Two Of Us" shouldn't bother anyone.

His debut album, 1971's Just As I Am, is just classic. Produced by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Booker T.  Jones, (and featuring lead guitar from another hall of famer, Stephen Stills), it is funky and badass as hell (the late, great, Al Jackson Jr. plays drums on many songs - the drummer for Booker T. & The MGs, he played on tons of Stax classics, as well as on many of Al Green's greatest songs). With classics like "Grandma's Hands," "Harlem" and the immortal "Ain't No Sunshine," plus covers of "Everybody's Talkin'" and The Beatles' "Let It Be," it's just amazing.

The follow-up, 1972's Still Bill, was also incredible: it has the ubiquitous  "Lean On Me," but also two really funky badass tunes, "Use Me" and "Who Is He (And What Is He To You?)" And after that is one of the best live albums ever, 1973's Live At Carnegie Hall, which has one of his most powerful songs, "I Can't Write Left Handed," which John Legend & The Roots covered on Wake Up. That's pretty much what you need to know about Bill.  He had some cool songs after that - "Just The Two Of Us," and also "Lovely Day" - but the first three records are the real deal.  Do yourself a favor and pick them up, and then see if you agree with me, I bet you will.

PUBLIC ENEMY IN 2012 - THE ARGUMENT

Last year, I included Public Enemy among the artists who I thought should have been voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Actually, I'm not sure they were eligible: I think their first single came out 25 years ago, but their first album didn't come out until 1987, so I think should have been on the ballot next year. To me, Public Enemy are one of those bands, like U2 or The Clash, that should just go to the head of the class and be inducted in my opinion.  They shook the world.

I know some people feel that hip-hop doesn't belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To me, they are heavier than most metal bands, and more punk rock than most punk rockers. They are badass, they have a message, they get black and white folks to rock together.  They are rock and roll.

When their second album, 1988's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, came out, they were the most badass, scary, in your face band out there, it did not matter that they were using turntables and samplers instead of guitars.

LIke reggae, country music and jazz, hip-hop figures strongly into the fabric of rock and roll. With the possible exception of Run-DMC, no band influenced more rock bands than PE. And none scared your parents the way PE did (not even N.W.A.).

I don't want to make it seem like it is only about that album, though. Their debut, 1987's Yo! Bum Rush The Show is pretty great. Nation's follow-up, 1990's Fear Of A Black Planet, is also a classic. And the next year's Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black, is the most underrated albums ever. And speaking of underrated, their 2005 album New Whirl Odor had some great songs (particularly the collaboration with Moby, "MKLVFKWR"). At it was criminal that more people didn't hear their latest album, 2007's How Do You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? 

Chuck D and Flavor Flav may not have been the best MCs - they would probably admit that Rakim and KRS-One were better - but the entire unit of Public Enemy had a power that no one else had.  They toured with Anthrax, with U2, with Sisters Of Mercy. I don't know any rock bands that appeal to all of those artists.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

THE NEW YORK DOLLS IN 2012 - THE ARGUMENT

Last year, after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, I posted a list of artists who I thought should be inducted in 2011.  I'm glad that two of them - Alice Cooper and Tom Waits were both inducted this year. My number one choice for the Rock Hall in 2012 is KISS.


Another band I think should be inducted is a band who surely influenced KISS: The New York Dolls


I was a latecomer to this band for sure. One reason: they broke up in 1975, didn't really have any radio hits, and frontman David Johansen got more popular than the Dolls were as a solo artist, first under his own name, and then as Buster Poindexter. Plus, their look reminded me of a lot of hair metal bands, which has never been my thing. 


When did I change my mind?  I can give you a date. August 14, 2004.  That's when a reunited version of the Dolls (albeit, only featuring two original members, Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, the rest of the members had passed away by then) performed at Little Steven's Underground Garage Rock Festival at Randall's Island in New York City.  It was the Dolls' first New York performance in a few decades. I was lucky enough to be on the stage (I was covering the event for VH1), and watching Johansen strut onto the stage... it was just cool. The band kicked ass.  I got their self-titled debut from 1973 (really, the only one that you need to have, it's a classic) and became a fan. 


The Dolls' influence is really widespread.  Former NY Dolls fan club president Morrissey was the guy behind their reunion. He curated the UK festival Meltdown, and convinced Johansen, Sylvain and Arthur "Killer" Kane to reunite (Kane passed away soon after, sadly). But the band for the tour was, at one point, supposed to include Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue and former Guns N Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin'. That kind of tells the story: what other band has influenced The Smiths and The Crue? Other bands influenced by The Dolls include The Clash, The Ramones and R.E.M.


It would have been nice if The Dolls got in this year, their new album (their third since reuniting) Dancing Backward In High Heels, came out today (the day after the induction ceremony). Later this year, they will be opening a tour for the Crue and Poison. On one hand, it's annoying that they have to open for anyone, much less those guys, on the other hand, the Crue and Poison don't need an opening act, so it's cool to give The Dolls the gigs.  I hope some of the fans care. And here's hoping that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer voters wise up to this very influential band. 

FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT THE TOM WAITS/NEIL YOUNG JAM

I got this watermarked photo of Tom Waits and Neil Young from last night's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony from Getty Images, the photo was taken by Michael Loccisano, and I was led to the photo from the always-great Neil Young blog Thrasher's Wheat.

So you know that I'm a huge Neil Young fan. If pressed, I  might say he's my favorite artist ever. But I didn't think he would be the right guy to give a speech about Tom Waits last night. My one and only choice would have been Les Claypool of Primus. And it seems to have turned out pretty well, the excerpts of Neil's speech that I read seemed cool, and Neil and Tom jammed on "Get Behind The Mule."  Here's five cool things about that.

1. Tom's set included not just "Get Behind The Mule," but "House Where Nobody Lives" (both from my favorite Waits album, 1999's Mule Variations), "Make It Rain" (from his last full length, 2004's Real Gone) and the title track of 1985's Rain Dogs. It would have been easy as hell for Tom to do "Ol' 55" and "Jersey Girl," and everyone would have felt good about it (including Fuse, who will air an edited version of the show Sunday night). Instead, three of the four songs are from his last few albums on Epitaph.  These songs may not be what got him voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they are compelling reasons for why he was voted in.

2. Neil has already recorded a version of "Get Behind The Mule." Neil played lead guitar on Booker T. Jones' 2009 Potato Hole (also on Epitaph) album, which featured a cover of this song. The backing band on that album was The Drive-By Truckers, who had written a song about Young, "Ronnie and Neil" from their 2002 classic, Southern Rock Opera. That song was about Neil and the late Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant. What did Neil think of the song? The Truckers never met him: Neil recorded his leads on his own.

3. Neil pretty much ripped off the song for "Get Behind The Wheel" for his 2009 album Fork In The Road.

4. Tom could have easily performed with Paul Schaffer's house band, but instead bought guitarist Mark Ribot and multi-instrumentalist David Hildago of Los Lobos with him. These guys (and Neil) capture the vibe of his songs way more than Schaffer's band would (with all due respect).

5. For Pete's sake, it's Neil Young and Tom Waits jamming together!

LEON RUSSELL - A REAL LIFE TESTIMONIAL

Finding someone to write a guest post about Leon Russell, who is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was pretty easy.  Chris is a familiar face at the coffee house that I sometimes go to, and recently when we were both there, the new Elton John/Leon Russell album, The Union, was playing. Chris mentioned being a HUGE Leon fan, and noted that he wasn't really into Elton. He strikes me as a nicer version of the "Barry" character who works in the record store in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. He's not into bullshit, and wants to listen to the real deal when he listens to music. He doesn't need to be pandered or "marketed" to. No surprise that he's a fan of Leon's. Here's his guest post about the man.  Thanks, Chris.


"The first time I heard Leon Russell I was watching Saturday Night Live rerun that had been filmed years before I was even born ('editor's note' - most likely the May 15 1976 episode). He was the musical guest that night and while I can’t remember the song that was performed, I liked his look - big beard (that had not yet gone white) and a badass top hat, especially. He reminded me of Dr. John.

At some point I looked into his back catalog and picked up his self-titled debut with his whiskered, unsmiling face against an electric blue background. I fell into it immediately. He played the sort of R&B-studded Southern rock that I was very much into at the time, with a stronger sense of songcraft and less guitar noodling than a lot of the other bands. There are no sharp edges to his voice when he sings, only a round, slurred Oklahoma drawl that he played up very effectively over the bump and shuffle of his backing band. This was wonderful to a faux-jaded teenager like me. I even liked his re-imagined covers he put on the album. To this day, his gospel shakedown of John Lennon's 'Give Peace A Chance' remains one of my favorite covers.

Russell was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame tonight, almost certainly due to the album released last year that he shared with another talented musician. He was a brilliant and sought-after session man before anyone had ever heard of him, and he deserves the acclaim he’s gotten lately. Give Leon Russell a listen and see for yourself."

Here's my beginner's guide to Leon: on April 5, EMI releases The Best Of Leon Russell, a single CD collection, featuring mostly '70s material, but it also has "If It Wasn't For Bad" from The Union. The Leon celebration doesn't end tonight.  Leon is being inducted into The Songwriter's Hall of Fame later this year.

Monday, March 14, 2011

KISS IN 2012 - THE ARGUMENT

Presenting the first in my series of posts about artists who should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, or soon after.

There are a lot of artists who still deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I can't think of any, who aren't in yet, who are more influential than KISS.

Here's what doesn't matter: how commercial they were. Gene Simmons' mercenary attitude towards marketing. The fact that the spectacle was sometimes of equal importance, and sometimes more important, than the music.  Gene Simmons' mercenary attitude towards women. Their '80s dive into hair metal, effectively copying the bands who blatantly copied them. Gene Simmons' opinions on prostitution, marriage or politics.

Here's what shouldn't matter (but does): Jann Wenner has allegedly said that they'll get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame over his dead body.

And here's what does matter: other than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, KISS probably inspired more kids to buy guitars, basses and drum kits than another band before or since. And just influenced artists to take rock and roll and make it bigger. Yes, KISS influenced pretty much every hard rock band that followed, and a hell of a lot of metal bands too. But they also influenced George Clinton's Parliament. Clinton got the idea of huge stage shows with giant props from KISS (and, strangely, didn't get the flak that KISS got for it, since critics love the funk). Garth Brooks also took cues from KISS, and made his concerts bigger than anything that had been done in country. And even Kurt Cobain reluctantly admitted to being a KISS fan as a kid. Who knows, maybe if he had a bit more of their influence, he would have enjoyed the position he was in when Nirvana skyrocketed to becoming the most popular band in the world. The Replacements paid their respect with their cover of "Black Diamond" from Let It Be.

A lot of people were inspired by KISS early on and then moved on. But KISS was still the influence, the early spark.  This is true of a lot of bands from the '90s.  The Pearl Jam guys are big fans (I saw Ace Frehley join them onstage for "Black Diamond" back in 2008). Trent Reznor has bitched about KISS often, but supposedly, he used to keep a Gene Simmons action figure on the console in the studio when Nine Inch Nails was recording.  Weezer namechecked Ace and Peter Criss in "In The Garage." The Mighty Mighty Bosstones did a killer cover of "Detroit Rock City."

By the way, the spectacle was most likely the gateway that led kids to get into KISS. But the music, especially on those early albums (nearly everything from their 1974 self-titled debut through 1977's Alive II), was killer. Their debut, especially, should be considered a garage rock classic.

Inducting Alice Cooper (who was certainly a big influence on KISS) this year was great for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's credibility in my opinion: Alice was a people's band more than critical darlings.  Hopefully next year, or soon, they will follow suit by inducting "The Hottest Band In The World." Maybe we'd even get one last Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss performance.

NEIL DIAMOND'S SEQUIN-SPANGLED AMERICA - BEN WAGNER'S TESTIMONIAL

When I decided to ask some friends for real-life testimonials about this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, I immediately thought of my pal Benjamin Wagner to write about Neil Diamond.

I first met Ben in 1999, when we both worked at MTV.com - these days, Ben is a VP there. There's a lot of people who are very cool there - and many who are worried about being cool, or seeming cool. Ben isn't one of those folks. When I started, it was kind of like being the new kid in a new school, but Ben was friendly, and a friend, from the get-go. He doesn't worry about being cool, which is what makes him cool.  That's why he's comfortable with being an outspoken fan of Neil Diamond, and I'm starting to think that that's why Neil is cool too.  Without further adieu...


"I was way out on the edge of The Bronx when the ominous sound of cellos rose in my headphones.

The New York City skyline was like Oz in the razor-wire distance, miles beyond the massive, concrete Bruckner Expressway, past fields of industrial oil storage tanks, rows of rusted railroad tracks and blocks and blocks of empty warehouses.  The street was salt-bleached, windswept, and empty, save a lone security guard on smoke break. Bowery Bay shimmered in the pale, late-winter sun.

A church bell peeled three times as the strings swept upwards and held a measure, finally yielding to the steady gallop of a classic rock set up: guitar (nothing but downstroke), bass (steady on the root), and drums (all toms, no snare).

'Far! We've been travelling far,' that distinct outer borough baritone bellowed in my ear. 'Without a home, but not without a star.'

'America' is neither Neil Diamond's finest recording nor best song.  Despite authentically heartfelt platitudes of 'Solitary Man,' 'Hello Again,' and 'Love On The Rocks,' though, it may be his most-personal and most-universal all at once.  It's certainly his most-rousing.

'We huddle close,' this second-generation, 20th Century Man sings in ernest baritone.  'Hang on to a dream.'

The 70-year-old singer, songwriter, actor, producer, and King of All Sequins will be welcomed into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at tonight's 26th Annual Induction Ceremony, and for good reason; he is as much a crucial swatch of fabric in the Great American Quilt as he is wrapped up in it.  What's more, he is the quintessential songwriter, who -- with deep hooks, memorable melodies and introspective yet universal lyrics -- sings with what rock writer David Wild describes as 'a deep sense of isolation and an equal desire for connection.'  What could be more American?

Neil Leslie Diamond's parents, Akeeba and Rose, were descended from Russian and Polish immigrants.  His father was a dry-goods merchant in Brooklyn.  Diamond took up guitar after seeing Pete Seeger perform at summer camp he was attending as a teenager. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School, and enrolled at NYU.  A chance encounter with the Brill Building songwriting team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich led to a contract with Bang Records. In 1966 he recorded his first album, featuring hit singles such as 'Solitary Man' and 'Cherry, Cherry.'  Shortly thereafter The Monkees recorded several of his songs, including the 1967 megahit, 'I'm a Believer.'

In his forty plus year career, Diamond has released thirty LPs (not including compilations or live albums, most notably his seminal Hot August Night), and delivered 37 top forty hits.  Despite selling some 115 million records sold worldwide -- including 48 million of which in the U.S. where he is the third most successful Adult Contemporary artist ever behind only Barbra Streisand and Elton John -- Diamond is typically thought of as uncool, easy-listening, elevator music.  True, his signature hip-shaking, sequin-laden swoon fests haven't helped.  Nor, for that matter, did his string of duets with Streisand.

Oddly enough, though, that's when I met him.  His late-seventies LPs, You Don't Bring Me Flowers and September Morn, were in heavy rotation on my parent' faux-wood Magnavox hi-fi system.  Diamond's five-times platinum The Jazz Singer was one of just a few headphone escapes as the sturm und drang of my parent's divorce swirled around me. Those swollen string sections, buoyant melodies and dramatic, emphatic growls were welcome relief.  Years later, well prior to becoming a New Yorker myself, my mother dragged me to see him at Madison Square Garden.  I was a teenager, so I complained the whole time.  But more than just singing along under my breath, I wanted to be him there in the center, there in those sequins, splashed in the spotlight.

Still, pop culture is relentless.  It moves fast, and it moves on.  And it leaves cruel simplifications in its wake.  But reducing Diamond to sequins, spotlights, and "Heartlight" (his 1982 pean to ET: The Extra Terrestrial) misses the point.  Through reinvention (Headed for the Future) after reinvention (the Rick Rubin-produced 12 Songs), and rediscovery (Urge Overkill's 'Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon') after rediscovery (the Red Sox's seventh inning stretch), Diamond is, at his core, the consummate singer/songwriter.  He is a man and his guitar.  He is a well-worn voice.  He is a traveling salvation show.  He is the sound of America alone with its star-sequined dreams.

I am, I cried
I am,  said I
And I am lost
And I can't even say why

Welcome home, Neil."

Wow.  Well, Ben is an artist in his own right, you can check out his music and read his always-excellent blog here. Follow him on Twitter at @mtvitamin.  And if you think he makes a great case about Neil Diamond, you should seek out his documentary about Mister Rogers, Mister Rogers & Me.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

DR. JOHN - A BEGINNER'S GUIDE

I'm glad that Dr. John is getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tomorrow night. At the same time, I feel like I need to go deeper into his music.  That said, from doing some research, here's what I have figured are the points that you should begin with, if you're looking to just get into the man's music.

The compilation: the one that got me into Dr. John is the 1995 Rhino collection The Very Best of Dr. John.  It's one CD that covers a lot of his biggest hits, including "Right Place, Wrong Time" and "Iko Iko." It also has some lesser known gems like "I Walk On Gilded Splinters" and "What Comes Around, Goes Around."

The classic albums: His 1968 debut Gris-Gris, 1972's Gumbo and 1973's In The Right Place. I also really dig 1998's Anutha Zone, and I've also enjoyed songs from 2008's The City That Care Forgot and last year's Tribal.

The box set: there really is none, but the 1993 2 CD set Mos'Scocious is another great career spanning compilation.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

NEIL DIAMOND - A BEGINNER'S GUIDE (I'M NOT HATIN')

Neil Diamond is this year's inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that I've had the most trouble with. He certainly belongs in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. But I just have trouble with seeing him as rock and roll.  The newly released Bang Years 1966-1968 collection has helped me out a bit though. If you're a bit cynical about Neil being "rock and roll," I'd suggest trying this single CD collection out, and thinking of Neil as part of the tradition of The Everly Brothers or The Mamas and The Papas (his cover of "Monday Monday" is on this set). The other thing that makes this particular collection a real treat is the lengthy essay written by Neil himself, talking about his long era as a starving artist.  That's not the way we think of him anymore, but he worked longer and harder than many artists before "making it." This is really the main era of Neil that I like - I think producer Rick Rubin feels the same way, because that's the feel he seemed to be going for on 2005's 12 Songs and 2008's Home Before Dark. By the way, those albums are worth picking up, or downloading a few songs from.  I really like "Save Me A Saturday Night" from 12 Songs.

Want more of a career-spanning deal? It's a bit confusing, the guy has a ton of different "greatest hits" and "best of" collections.  I always find it annoying when they keep repackaging repackages.  But anyway, 2001's 2 CD set The Essential Neil Diamond covers his whole career up to that point - if you buy that and download a few tracks from the Rubin albums, it's a good overview. If you're in box set mode, go for the 3 CD In My Lifetime.

I hope to have a testimonial from a real fan - filmmaker, media exec and a singer-songwriter that Neil himself should check out, Benjamin Wagner. Look for that in the next few days.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

TONIGHT ON THE CATHOLIC CHANNEL: TOM WAITS DISCUSSED

Tonight I will make one of my occasional guest appearances on The Busted Halo Show on SiriusXM's Catholic Channel. It's always fun talking about music with Father Dave Dwyer.  Tonight, we'll discuss the music of Tom Waits, who is getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next week.

I wrote a bit about Mr. Waits recently, and I will have a guest post by a friend who is a huge fan in the next few days.  But as I wrote in my recent post, I kind of divide his career into three separate phases, correlating to the different record labels he's recorded for: Elektra/Asylum, Island and Epitaph's Anti- Records. When I go on Father Dave's show, I usually stick with three songs, so I'm going to choose one song from each of those eras.

A running joke on that show is how long it takes me to choose just three songs.  Well, I still haven't decided which songs I'm going to discuss, and I'll be on the show in a little over 12 hours.  This is a new record for me! I have it narrowed down to about eight songs right now.

By the way, if you want to tune in and don't have a subscription, why not try a free online SiriusXM trial? Find out more here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

DARLENE LOVE - ROCKET QUEEN'S TESTIMONIAL

Today on SiriusXM OutQ's Morning Jolt with Larry Flick, Larry mentioned that Darlene Love had one of her first hit singles about 48 years ago.  So, it's about time that she is getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next week!

I'm really honored that Rocket Queen, guitarist from one of my favorite bands, The Cocktail Slippers, agreed to write up something brief for me about Darlene.  Take it, Rocket Queen!


"Darlene Love simply fills me with admiration; she's got an amazing voice and she's a role model - for the way she sings, for the way she puts her soul into the songs she's singing, for her beauty and grace and for simply just being a strong modern woman. Needless to say, there's no Christmas without Darlene Love's 'Christmas (baby please come home)'."

Like Darlene's greatest songs, and those of The Cocktail Slippers, it's short, sweet, to the point and awesome.  Thank you Rocket Queen!

But that's not all: watch the video below, filmed at Madison Square Garden, October 29, 2009 at the concerts celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band had Darlene join them for "Fine, Fine Boy" and "Da Doo Ron Ron."  Bruce asks the voters in the audience to vote for Darlene, "Her singing and her stage presence is an inspirational joy, she's really blown all our minds.  She's the voice of some of Phil Spector's greatest creations... and if there's any justice, she's a future member of the Hall of Fame! She's on the ballot this year, so let's get those votes in! She's a one woman 'wall of sound,' the lovely Darlene Love!"

ALICE COOPER: A REAL LIFE TESTIMONIAL

In the next week or so, there will be a lot of writers and artists talking about the importance of this year's inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I thought that I would try and do something a bit different: find people who are huge fans of the inductees and get them to share why they mean a lot to them.

When I first came up with this idea, the first guy I thought of was my friend Randy, who I worked with at Concrete Marketing over a decade ago. Randy is the biggest Alice Cooper fan that I've ever met. I always had a respect for Alice, but I was more of a greatest hits person. Randy sat me down and explained just how important this guy was... not just to music but to his life. He made me realize that nothing Alice did in the past few years (or decades)- not any of his showbizzy moves, none of his bad albums - could take away from the impact of those early records.  Thank you Randy: now some of my favorite albums are Killer, Billion Dollar Babies and especially Love It To Death. Take it from here, Randy!

"So, I was 10 years old when I first heard Alice's 'I'm Eighteen' on the radio. It was WSHE in Miami where I lived at the time. Before then, I had only listened to my sister's old hippie bands; Crosby Stills & Nash, Vanilla Fudge, Neil Young, NRBQ, etc. I remember leaning toward the radio in the backseat of my Mom's Mustang (no seat belts back then), to try and hear what this guy was screaming about. It was something about being 18. Or something like that. The song stuck in my head for days until I heard it again and asked my older sister who it was. "Alice Cooper." What? That's not a chick singer! From then on I was hooked. I saved up 6 bucks from chores and stuff and bought the record, Love It To Death.

I wore the grooves out on that thing. Then came Killer and School's Out. And finally I got my chance to see Alice in concert, live and in person. Saturday, April 21st, 1973 at Pirate's World in Dania Florida with Flo & Eddie opening, I have the ticket framed and on my office wall to this day. That show changed my life! I was 12 years old. The next day I talked my Mom and Dad into buying me a guitar and an amp at a pawn shop.

Even my Mom says I was never the same. I wore ripped up clothes, grew my hair even longer than it was and even started wearing eyeliner. I had a bit of trouble in school having my hair over the collar but I was a straight-A student at the time and my Mom defended me. She won but I was pretty mad and felt betrayed by the school. She wouldn't defend me over the eyeliner and in the school dress code it say no heavy or inappropriate makeup. It didn't mention gender at all. Hmmmm... Next day I showed up to school in a sundress. Wow! What a reaction! The dress code said nothing about boys wearing girls clothes but they thought it more aproppriate to have me see the school counselor in lieu of attempting any punative measures. I guess I won that one!

Later on at about 14 or 15, I got it in my head that wanted to be an alcoholic... just like Alice. Every pic I saw of him had that ever-present can of Bud. Fortunately, I just didn't like beer so I was spared the trauma of teen alcoholism. Just goes to show what profound influence these rock stars had over us kids.

I moved to New York City when I was 18 so I could hang at Max's Kansas City and play in a band. I've always been the 'flamboyant one' and I never forgot what I learned from Alice. I never really lost my love for those early Alice Cooper records all the way up to Muscle Of Love. Even at 50 years old people call me "trouserboy" because I wear lot's of rock star lookin' pants... all because I heard that one song on the radio all those years ago."

MIKE STARR: R.I.P.

Alice In Chains' original bass player, Mike Starr, was found dead today. He played on Facelift, Sap and Dirt. He quit during the Dirt tour. Like Alice's Layne Staley, Starr struggled with drugs, and was a cast member on the shows Celebrity Rehab and Sober House. What a waste, what more is there to say? MTV.com has more of the story.

TOMORROW ON OUTQ: THIS YEAR'S ROCK HALL INDUCTEES

For those of you who are new to No Expiration, every Wednesday morning at 9 am ET, I can be heard on SiriusXM OutQ's The Morning Jolt With Larry Flick, talking about music. Tomorrow, I'll be talking about this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.  The induction ceremony is Monday, but it will air on Fuse Sunday, March 20 at 9 pm.

This year's inductees include Alice Cooper, one of the most influential artists in hard rock, metal, punk and glam. Alice will be inducted by Rob Zombie, who is a good choice (alternatively, I would have thought Lady Gaga would have made a weird bit of sense, but she would have taken attention away from the entire ceremony). Last year, I listed Alice (and that's the Alice Cooper Band, not just the singer) as one of the artists who should be inducted this year, and I'm glad it happened. See my beginner's guide to Alice here, and stay tuned for a guest post from an Alice fan... well, he's not just a "fan," his entire life was changed by Alice Cooper.

Tom Waits, who brings the essential element of "weird" to rock and roll. He is sort of a "left-field" pick, but no more so than Leonard Cohen or The Velvet Underground or Frank Zappa.  Like Alice, Tom Waits is someone I really hoped would get in this year. Neil Young is going to do the speech about Tom. You know I'm a huge Neil fan, but that honor should have gone to Primus, in my opinion. See my beginner's guide here, and stay tuned for a testimonial from a friend of mine.

Dr. John, representing New Orleans, and rocking piano players.  Beginner's guide and testimonial coming up. John Legend is doing the honors: I am a fan of John's, and I'm sure he'll do a great speech.  I would have gone for one of his peers, like Bonnie Raitt or Jimmie Vaughan.

Darlene Love, one of the great unsung singers!  I know Little Steven campaigned for her, but Bette Midler is doing the honors.  I'm sure that will be a phenomenal speech! See my very simple beginner's guide here, and get ready for a short, sweet, rock star guest post about Darlene.

Neil Diamond, who I have said I don't think belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Songwriters Hall of Fame?  No question. I just don't see him as rock and roll. I have written about the guy and given him credit, so there's no hate there. Paul Simon handles that speech.  My friend, musician/filmmaker/media executive Benjamin Wagner, will be writing a guest post on what makes Neil great.

And finally, Leon Russell, who is getting the Award for Recording Excellence (which replaces the Sideman category). Obviously, Elton John is speaking about him (by the way, Elton guest hosts Saturday Night Live April 2, and is the musical guest along with Leon).

 Next week on Larry's show, I'll discuss who I think deserves to be inducted in 2012.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

TOM WAITS - A BEGINNERS GUIDE

I'm glad that Tom Waits is being inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this weekend. I've often said that "weird" is an important part of rock and roll, and who brings the weird more than Tom Waits?  Last year, I said that I thought that he should be inducted in the class of '11 (I said the same for Alice Cooper).

I was kind of late to get into Tom Waits.  I always knew about him, and definitely respected him, but I think it was his association with Primus that really got me interested (he did vocals on one of their classics, "Tommy The Cat").  I remember reading that Les Claypool said that Tom Waits had an open invitation to join Primus whenever he wanted. A couple of years later, Primus backed Tom on his "Big In Japan" from Mule Variations, his debut for Epitaph's Anti- Records label.  That was the first time I bought a Tom Waits album when it came out, and it is still my favorite. I'm not the biggest expert on him, but I can help you if you're just looking to get into his music.

It's a little too easy to divide his career into three phases, one for each record label. But they are three different eras for sure, and also, the labels don't play nicely with each other  - so there's no career spanning best-of or box set. So you have to delve into each era of his career separately.

He started out on Elektra's Asylum Records, as a sort of boozy vaudeville crooner influenced by ragtime jazz, the blues and a bit of country. Almost no rock and roll influence at all, he seemed like he fell out of a time machine from a few decades in the past. My favorite albums from this era are his debut, 1973's Closing Time (which has "Ol' 55," one of his few hits) and the followup, 1974's The Heart Of Saturday Night. But if you're looking for a great overview of this era, go for Used Songs 1973-1980.

In his early phase, he was weird.  But in the 1980s, when he moved to Island Reocrds and married Kathleen Brennan, still his wife and main collaborator, he got truly bizarre. She turned him on to Captain Beefheart, apparently. The albums during this era take a while to "grow" on you, but you are rewarded for putting in the time to get to know them.  I recently listened to his music from this era and was blown away by 1983's Swordfishtrombones, 1985's Rain Dogs and 1987's Frank's Wild Years.  After that, he got really really really weird with 1992's Bone Machine, which I really like. 1993's The Black Rider, a writing collaboration with William S. Burroughs and Robert Wilson, has its moments, but I'm not as big of a fan of that one.

That was his last album for quite a while, until he emerged on a new label, Anti- Records, which was an imprint of the punk rock label Epitaph. The label started in 1999, and Tom Waits' Mule Variations was one of their first releases, and he remains on Anti- to this day. As I mentioned, it is probably my favorite Tom Waits album. I love the aforementioned "Big In Japan," as well as "Get Behind The Mule" (recently covered by Booker T. accompanied by The Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young) and "Picture In a Frame" (covered by Willie Nelson) and "Hold On." But the whole album is great. I also love his most recent original album, 2004's Real Gone. Surprisingly, there aren't any compilations from Tom's Anti- years yet, although they did release Orphans, a 3 CD set of rarities and outtakes.

The Onion's A.V. Club recently wrote a piece asking "How Long Does It Take To 'Get' An Album?" in relation to the new Radiohead album, King Of Limbs. I'm not sure how long it takes people to "get" a Tom Waits album, although I do know that Waits isn't for everybody. But I do know that, for those who take the time, it's worth the while.

Monday, March 7, 2011

DARLENE LOVE - A BEGINNER'S GUIDE

When I heard that Darlene Love was being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I thought, "Little Steven does it again!" Steven Van Zandt has a history of campaigning for legendary artists who haven't gotten their due, including The Rascals, The Dave Clark 5 and The Hollies. I think Steven had a lot to do with Darlene's being voted in, and good for him (and her).

One of the problems with Darlene Love is that she's recorded for a number of groups, as well as under her own name. The Hall of Fame generally inducts someone for the work they've done under the name they are being inducted for. In other words, Rod Stewart is a Hall of Famer for his solo career, not for The Faces (who are not in the Hall of Fame for some reason).

In Darlene's case, she's been a member of The Blossoms, The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, and has also recorded as a solo artist. So I think that has sort of held her back.  This induction feels like a lifetime achievement award more than an induction strictly for her solo career, but no matter.

The other thing I thought when I heard that Darlene was going to be inducted was that it's kind of hard to find her greatest hits these days.  A lot of the songs are on the Phil Spector box set, Back To Mono, but I think that's out of print now.  Happily, the folks at Sony Legacy have just released The Sound Of Love: The Very Best Of Darlene Love. Full disclosure: I got this for free from the press department of Legacy. But I think it's actually a very timely and important collection. People will no doubt want to check out Darlene's career after they see her perform at her induction (which will air on Fuse Sunday March 20, the event takes place March 14), and this gives a really easy way to do that. However, it doesn't include any of her Christmas songs ("Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is probably one of her biggest hits, she does a great "Winter Wonderland" and "Christmastime For The Jews," which she recorded for Saturday Night Live a few years back is still not available anywhere that I know of).

If you first discover Darlene Love from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony (or you just know her as Danny Glover's character's wife from the Lethal Weapon films), you're in for a treat, this CD is one of the best ways to spend $10 that you can find.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

ALICE COOPER - A BEGINNER'S GUIDE

In the next few weeks, I'll be posting testimonials to this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees by fans. I've got a friend whose life was changed by Alice Cooper, and I am really looking forward to reading what he has to say about Alice.

But right now, I'm gonna give a little bit of a guide for people who are just getting into Alice.  By the way, the induction will honor Alice Cooper the band, not just the man. So, it's Alice (aka Vincent Furnier), guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith. With no disrespect to Mr. Furnier, the best music Alice Cooper made, in my mind, was with the original band.

The Compilation: Mascara and Monsters: The Best Of Alice Cooper. It came out in 2001, but only goes up to his '80s era comeback single, "Poison."  Still, if you want to get just one Alice collection, this is probably the one you want.

The Classic Albums: 1971's Love It To Death is a garage rock classic. It has one of the band's biggest hits, "I'm Eighteen," but it also has the more epic "The Ballad Of Dwight Fry," which showed the ambitious direction Furnier would later take his music in.  Later in 1971, they released Killer, another classic, which has "Under My Wheels." It's a great hard rock song, but the horn section shows that Alice wasn't really conforming to any rules of hard rock. 1972's School's Out had more of a Broadway/showtunes type influence.  1973's Billion Dollar Babies is also incredible. Finally, 1975's Welcome To My Nightmare is the first album that didn't feature the original group, and is probably the best post-group album.

The Box Set: The Life And Crimes of Alice Cooper, a 4 disc set, came out in 1999, and covers Furnier's entire career up until then, including his pre-Alice Cooper bands The Spiders and The Nazz (not the same one that Todd Rundgren was in).  It has hits, album tracks, previously unreleased stuff and rarities. The book that comes with it is awesome: there's a great forward by John Lyndon, and testimonials from Penn Jilette, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Slash, Elton John and Bono. If you're looking to get into Alice and want to drop a bit of cash, this is the way to go.

PHIL COLLINS DID NOT KICK YOUR DOG.

Yesterday, Phil Collins was a trending topic on twitter due to an interview he did with a magazine called FHM that has been repeated in a number of places, including the UK's The Telegraph.  Rolling Stone recently did a in-depth (and overdue) piece on him, and just re-posted it to their website (most likely to cash in on the recent interest in the man). He didn't really say anything new to FHM, but now people are talking about his "retirement."

I'm a fan. Not a post-ironic, snickering, hipster fan, but a fan. I loved him as the drummer of Genesis when Peter Gabriel was the frontman. I am definitely a fan of his era as frontman of Genesis. I enjoy a lot of his solo work (generally his earlier stuff, but every album has good songs).  His drumming on other people's albums often kicked ass: I just listened to Robert Plant's first two solo albums, 1982's Pictures at Eleven and 1983's The Principal Of Moments. At that point, Phil was the frontman of Genesis and just launching his solo career.  I don't know why he felt the need to be anyone's drummer, but his playing on those albums is awesome. I love his playing on Peter Gabriel's early albums.  And he played for cred-heavy dudes like Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and John Martyn.  (Suck it, haters.)  He produced great pop singles for other artists: Frieda's "I Know There's Something Going On," and Adam Ant's "Strip" and Howard Jones' "No One Is To Blame" and yes, Phillip Bailey's "Easy Lover." A few years ago he went on his "First Final Farewell Tour," which was hugely successful. Then he reunited with Genesis for a tour that was a proper way to close the book (no one really knew that he was leaving the band after their 1992 We Can't Dance tour). It was huge. He's suffered injuries and health problems, he's 60, has NOTHING to prove, so this seems like a logical time to retire.

What bugs me is that he seems to be letting rock critics (who have never been friendly to him or his band) get to him. In most of his interviews, he talks about understanding why people hated him, and wanting to write himself out of the story. Just fading away, and no one will care.  I just think that's weak of him.  You know who would care?  The hundreds of thousands of fans who have gone to Phil Collins concerts and Genesis concerts over the decades.  Who, by the way, probably don't give much credence to rock critics, or to the insults slung at Phil by former members of Oasis.

Retire if you want to, Phil. Retire because of your injuries (of course, you can still sing, even if you can't play drums or piano, although I realize without drums it may not be as much fun for you anymore). Retire because you've done it all and have nothing left to prove. Or because you feel you have nothing to say.  But don't retire because critics don't like you. That's just silly, and worse, it's a cop-out.

By the way, why is is that so many people seem to hate (or seemed to hate, maybe that's changed, as he's finally getting some respect these days) Phil?  During the height of his fame (pretty much the entire '80s and some of the early '90s too) he was ubiquitous. These days, that doesn't seem to be a problem. Does anyone mind if Jay-Z pops up on a bunch of albums every year?

But Phil looked more like your dad than like a rock star. OK, I get it: that's not cool.  But isn't it cooler to just be honest with how you dress than try jumping on trends that don't really relate to you? Phil's music was very smooth and accessible. Which people don't seem to mind, if it's Luther Vandross. Of course, there's the gripe of the prog-rockers: he took Genesis and made them a "pop" band. I think that the truth is probably that he and the other guys in the band sort of grew out of doing long prog-rock epics (although they still had one or two of them per album). I mean, listen to Mike Rutherford's stuff with Mike + The Mechanics. Clearly Phil wasn't the only guy with a knack for soft-rock in the group. The guys in Genesis were growing up, they were honest about it, and hey, being age-appropriate actually boosted their career.

I try to be a generally positive guy, although I'm not above making fun of some of the most overrated (to me) bands like Pavement and Animal Collective and The Strokes. But even still, I don't hate them, and I wouldn't celebrate if something bad happened to one of those groups. I don't want to see something happen to a member of the Strokes or Pavement that would prevent them from performing music for the people who like their music.  I actually believe that if you don't like music, you can easily ignore it. Yes, even someone as ubiquitous as Phil in the '80s, you can ignore it. I mean, he didn't kick your dog, dude.

Interesting postscript :  I noticed that yesterday, Patrick Stump from the (excellently named) band Fall Out Boy tweeted twice about Phil yesterday.  First, telling Phil that he will be missed, he should "unretire" and that he wants to work together. And second, reiterating that he's serious about this, and that he would fly to Phil (in Switzerland) to work together. Stump (I don't know much of his music, but I've enjoyed the few record reviews he's written for Rolling Stone) was 1 when No Jacket Required came out, and 2 when Invisible Touch was released. Here's hoping Phil considers it.