DEFENDING MY LIFE ONE ALBUM AT A TIME (#97 Warren Zevon)

#97 Warren Zevon Stand in the Fire (1980 Asylum)

Info: 10 tracks

When and where I acquired it: In one of my regular records stores (don’t recall which one) in the early 80’s.

Why I acquired it: It was recommended by the Rolling Stone Record Guide 1982 Edition (see below). And I already knew I liked “Werewolves of London.

Other Rankings: Rolling Stone Record Guide (1982 Edition): 5 stars (out of 5); Christgau’s Consumer Guide A-

Warren Zevon wasn’t an obvious descendant of the Rock and Roll Trio…except on this live album where he found the ferocity that so often escaped him on his numerous fine studio efforts. I loved his ballads but nothing ever lived up to this stomping set, which consisted of Warren, an obscure band from his record label and an amazing guitarist  named David Landau blazing through a couple of new songs, the cream of Zevon’s early albums and “Bo Diddley’s a Gunslinger.”

Drawn from a five-night stand at L.A.’s Roxy, it starts out with the surging title cut and rolls from riff to head-snapping riff. As for the singing, had Zevon been able to bring this kind of passion to more polished versions of these hook-laden tunes he would have had…more than one hit! I wouldn’t want to suggest “Jeannie Needs a Shooter” or “Excitable Boy” or “Lawyers, Guns and Money” were prime Top 40 material just because you can’t get them out of your head…but they ain’t that much stranger than “Werewolves of London”!

I never know if it’s my imagination, but it sounds like the crowd(s) and the music get louder cut-by-cut, with the main man throwing in an occasional new lyric, until he finally turns “I’ve got a .38 Special up on the shelf/And if I start feeling stupid I’ll shoot myself” into “I’ve got a .44 Magnum up on the shelf/And I don’t intend to use it on myself!” before he starts speaking in tongues and closes the show by out-stomping Bo Diddley himself.

But what brings this close to the spirit of early rock ‘n’ roll is not the choice of cover–it’s the combination of pure joy and raw anger. There was no shame in Zevon never duplicating it on record Nobody else did either.

Standing in the fire was a legitimately heroic pose in 1980 at the Dawn of the Frozen Silence, which has now descended on us so thoroughly that the next time we are allowed to draw a breath, we’ll be standing in a fire quire literally…And the likes of Warren Zevon won’t be anywhere to be found.

Next up: Neil Young

DEFENDING MY LIFE ONE ALBUM AT A TIME (#98 The Rock and Roll Trio)

#98 The Rock and Roll Trio (aka The Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio) Tear It Up (Recorded1956-57, Comp Released 1978 Solid Smoke)

Info: 17 Tracks

My Copy: Vinyl

When and how I acquired it: Sometime shortly after I heard about it in the 1980 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide.. God knows where I bought it but it’s been played to death and still looks and sounds pristine, as do all my other records from this beautiful label. Solid Smoke, you were a godsend.

Why I acquired it: It’s reputation suggested a mind-blowing sound which suggested it was necessary. You could practically smell the fear coming off the pages where the crit-illuminati composed their careful, tepid praise where they tried to argue it wasn’t. Who was right, them or my gut? It’s here so you know the answer.

Other ratings: Rolling Stone Record Guide 1980 Four Stars (out of five). Also recommended by John Morthland’s The Best of Country Music.

Every other major rockabilly act, even Jerry Lee, had at least a thin coat of polish. At least in these early years, Johnny Burnette, his brother Dorsey, and their friend Paul Burlison, looked, acted. and, most importantly, sounded exactly like what they were: tough Memphis rednecks who fought like junkyard dogs amongst themselves, banded together against anyone else, and knew Elvis mostly as the kid from down the street they picked on in high school on the rare occasions they deigned to notice him at all.

There’s a story that Burlison, their guitar player extraordinaire, discovered feedback when his amp got knocked loose by accident in the studio. Maybe, but you can bet nobody else would have kept it.

There’s also a body of critical thinking that says Johnny’s voice was overhyped, somehow not “authentic” (that prized quality most critics wouldn’t know if it bit off their finger–a quality I’m convinced is closely related to their willingness to forgive murder more readily than disagreement, which they also pretend to prize–they’re a complicated bunch).

That’s hogwash. Morthland went along with the crowd on Johnny’s singing because he was a nice man but he was right when he said they were the only major talents who were more into Rockabilly itself than into Elvis. Johnny becoming a successful (and effective) teen-idol crooner later on doesn’t prove a thing. Rage doesn’t become less genuine because you grown up and it burns out. Believe me, I was the quietest kid on the block and I speak from experience.

When Johnny Burnette let loose in the studio–in Owen Bradley’s studio in Nashville no less, the anti-Memphis if there ever was one–he was inventing and inviting every Rage Moment, real or faux, that would ever come. Compared to “Train Kept a Rollin’,” punk was a pale ghost, passing by, leaving no mark.

Memphis Rage was real. In the early 70’s, my oldest nephew (five years older than me) ran the Memphis streets with a kid named Kenny Black who was Bill Black’s nephew. My sister owned a bar with Kenny’s mom, who was Bill’s sister-in-law. Nobody thought much about it. That was just Memphis. Most of my nephew’s more colorful stories, which might include anything from dodging Bowie knives to egging hookers on Beale Street and being chased through the more polite neighborhoods by their pistol-wielding pimps, involved Kenny some way or other. My nephew got out and learned what the tourists learn–that the Memphis Streets are a lot more romantic the further away you get even if you never stop loving them like a mother. He was a long way grown up twenty years later when Kenny Black, who never grew up, was found beaten to death on those same streets.

He had learned what  his uncle and Elvis, and Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, and Al Jackson, Jr. and oh-so-many others had learned long since. The Streets of Memphis are real and you can run but you can’t hide.

The Rock and Roll Trio were the only band who caught that feeling all the way down to the cracks in the asphalt. That sound is here and nowhere else. It’s in Johnny’s voice, Dorsey’s background yowls, Paul’s howling guitar. It’s in the way Johnny could take on “Honey Hush” once property of Big Joe Turner, the meanest, toughest, slyest blues shouter alive, and make it sound like the “authentic” voice of a man who really was about to take out his woman with a baseball bat.

Come to think of it, one can understand why so many nice people stayed away…in the 50’s and now.

Next up: Warren Zevon

DEFENDING MY LIFE ONE ALBUM AT A TIME: (#99 Dave Dudley)

#99 Dave Dudley The Pool Shark (1970, Mercury)

Info: 11 tracks

My Copy: Vinyl

When and where I acquired it: Some time in the early 90’s at the late great Circles of Sound in Fort Walton Beach (1985–2005). It was a two-hour drive so I only went when I had money, probably twice a year on average. All things considered the best record store I ever frequented.

Why I acquired it: I had heard of Dave Dudley, but I really became interested when this LP’s  two signature songs (see below–both written by Tom T. Hall) were recommended by the late, great John Morthland in his invaluable The Best of Country Music. Thank God for Circles of Sound. I might still be looking.

When Rachel Sweet warned you not to go drinking in the Wildwood Saloon, the man in Dave Dudley’s “This Night Ain’t Fit For Nothing But Drinking” was probably who she had in mind. (If the title alone doesn’t convince you just look at that cover. If that doesn’t convince you, check yourself into rehab.) There are reasonably lighthearted moments, including “The Pool Shark,” the LP’s other monster track (and, amazingly, Dave’s only #1 Country single) but what makes it a great album is Dudley’s ability to negotiate the distance in between and then sum it all up with “Whose Arms Did You Fall Out Of Now.”

With Red Sovine, Dudley was the definitive King of Truck Driving songs, a once-thriving sub-genre of country music and a significant part of the music’s audience, now long neglected, if not forgotten. He was also a classic stoic, a stance that may have been imposed by the limitations of his muted-bullhorn voice but suited him–and those he chose to represent–to a T in any case. He reminded me of a lot of men I grew up around. If I meet them now, they are not younger than seventy. They tended to think even less of the world than I did and I’m almost sorry I’ve lived long enough to realize they were right all along.

We’re not gonna’ sugarcoat it here, folks. Forget the night. Take it from a tee-totaller deluxe who ain’t planning to change.

This WORLD ain’t fit for nothing but drinking!

Next up: The Rock and Roll Trio.

DEFENDING MY LIFE ONE ALBUM AT A TIME (#100 Rachel Sweet)

Introduction to the series:

Big doings here: My life in a hundred albums. No limits on what an “album” is as long as it’s a self-contained statement. Vinyl or CD. LP or (possibly) EP. Box set, large or small. 2, 3 or 4-record sets. Comps, Live, Various Artists. The only qualification necessary is it has to have been a big part of my life at some point and to still hold up.

That being the criteria means it will only consist of music I actually listen to. That means heavy on Rock and Roll, Country, early Jazz, post-war Blues, Reggae and Pop, with heavy emphasis on the Age of Rock and Roll America which stretched precisely from the day Fats Domino’s left hand, a piano and a recording mike first came together in the same room to the day Kurt Cobain blew his brains out . I don’t anticipate any Hip-Hop being included (though a few were considered). Punk either, though I’m still considering London Calling (which aficionados don’t consider Punk anyway). I also won’t limit the number of entries an artist can have. It’s my life. If I prefer defending it with a lot of Al Green and Patty Loveless, well, so be it.

That said, I promise there will be music representing every decade from the 1920’s through the 2000’s.

The rankings won’t mean much outside the top twenty or so. Beyond that they’ve been arranged to tell a story, partly mine, partly American Music’s, partly America’s period. I’m confident  that if I did this again in five years–or twenty–the albums would remain largely (though of course not entirely) the same.

Why such a list and why now?

Good question. The concept’s been brewing in my head for a while. It got a kick from Rolling Stone’s latest “greatest ever” list which ran to 500 and, in the usual manner of such lists, only more so, seemed to manage the impossible task of being at once paltry, obvious and arbitrary. I’ll try to do better than that. Feel free to let me know how I’m doing.

#100: Rachel Sweet Fool Around (1978–Stiff/Columbia)

Info: 11 Tracks.

My copy: Vinyl

When I acquired it: Early 80’s, by osmosis (a process all record collectors understand).

Why I acquired it: Aw, look at that cover, the face that launched a thousand Pop Tarts.

Other rankings: Christgau’s Consumer Guide B+

She was sixteen. The marketing made her look twelve. For the record itself, Stiff’s Liam Sternberg assembled a crack band and threw the history of rock and roll at her: Stax soul, Del Shannon (by was of the British Invasion), Elvis Costello, Dusty Springfield, a weird, country-ish item called “Wildwood Saloon” (where you shouldn’t go drinking–I told you to pay attention to that face).

She threw it all back without blinking. I didn’t catch her in the moment but even years later it seemed like we must have dreamed her up out of equal parts Tanya Tucker (to whom she bore an uncanny vocal resemblance) and Nabokov. The first true rock and roll Lolita.

It was all a bit of a sham. She’d been an ice-cold Show Biz pro from the age of three. Straight out of Akron, her first big gig was touring with Mickey Rooney.

To the heart–this heart anyway–it’s never mattered. It melts when the needle drops on any of her four excellent LPs but especially this one. Stardom eluded her, somewhat mysteriously. Her version of “Shadows of the Night” (from her third LP…and Then He Kissed Me) preceded the mighty Pat Benetar’s hit…and wasted it. The Show Biz Kid had the rare gift of singing from inside a song, the gift that can’t be taught. She was out of the music business by 1984, just in time to watch Tiffany’s management copy her mall-kid persona and touring schedule and ride it to the big-time. After that, the Pop Tarts began raining down like hard-candy hailstones and didn’t stop until the culture had been beaten to the field of bloody pulp that surrounds us still.

Rachel did fine. She moved on to TV, made a fortune writing and producing (Dharma and Greg and George Lopez among many others), and eventually bought Madonna’s house, which she later sold for a cool 4.8 million.

I wonder, though, if she sometimes lies awake nights and wonders, like so many of us who know none of her successors can hold her coat, what might have been?

Next Up: Dave Dudley