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“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

Rob Gordon, the protagonist in “HIgh Fidelity”, had it right.  So many songs of heartbreak, the breakup song being the most poignant of them all.  Here are my top five.

1. The Righteous Brothers-You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling

Recorded in 1964 this monster hit in both the UK and the USA was co-written and produced by Phil Spector.  Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield were no one hit wonders however, and had a number of other big hits including “Unchained Melody”, perhaps the emotional bookend to this tune.

2. Lucinda Williams-Those Three Days

This is heavy going, grabbing your heart and making you feel Lucinda’s pain as if it were your own.  I love this song, but then, I love Lucinda.

3. George Jones-A Good Year For the Roses

This was recorded in 1971 and has been extensively covered, Elvis Costello doing a notable version.  There is scant little information around about this song or its origins, despite it reaching number 2 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart in 1971.  Great tune, great imagery and of courses George’s one of kind voice.  RIP.

4. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers-You Got Lucky

An “it’s your loss” variant on the break up song and a very good one at that.  The 1982 Mad Max style video is wonderfully dated and an added bonus.

5. The Beatles-Run For Your Life

Off 1965’s “Rubber Soul” this is without doubt the meanest Beatles’ song ever.  One has to wonder who John Lennon (who is widely thought to have written it) was thinking about, and was it really that bad?  Love the riff.

I am back after an absence I will attribute to my day job but which might be attributed to any number of distractions.   As promised however, I bring you my picks for the Top Five Live at the Fillmore albums.  I have included all three establishments bearing the Fillmore name which were established and had been owned by the impressario and promoter Bill Graham:  The Fillmore, at Fillmore and Geary in San Francisco; the Fillmore West, at Market and South Van Ness, also in San Francisco; and, the Fillmore East, in the East Village in NYC.

Why is there so many fine live albums from these venues?  I think credit goes not only to the various artists who turned in so many sublime performances but also to Bill Graham who promoted the shows and provided the wonderful venues for music to be made in.

1. Live at the Fillmore East, Jimi Hendrix

Recored on the evenings of December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970, and released posthumously in 1999, this album captures Hendrix at his creative zenith.  Accompanied by the Band of Gypsys (Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on bass), it displays Hendrix’s improvisational best: who can argue with two versions of “Machine Gun”?

2. Live at Fillmore Auditorium-Chuck Berry

This is a 1967 release.  What sets it apart is the “pick up” band, which was the Steve Miller Blues Band, later to become simply the Steve Miller Band.  The finest band ever to accompany Chuck, save the outfit Keith Richards put together for “Hail Hail Rock and Roll”

3. Live at The Fillmore-Lucinda Williams

This is, as far as I know, Lucinda’s only live album.  Never released on vinyl, it contains equal measures of Lucinda’s sexually and emotionally charged lyrics and performance, and Doug Pettibones’s outstanding guitar work.  I couldn’t find a Youtube clip from the show, but this one gives the idea.  My oh my.

4. At Fillmore East-The Allman Brothers Band

This album is often said to be not only the finest album by the Allman Brothers, but also the finest live album ever.  Whether correct or not, this double album gem was recorded over two nights in March, 1971 and still sounded pretty fine this morning.  It appears on numerous lists attesting to its influence and my list would not be complete without it.

5. Fillmore West 1969-The Grateful Dead

An expansion of the classic album Live/Dead released in 1969 (rock’s first 16 track live recording)  into a three cd set released in 2005, these recordings showcased the Dead as only live music can: as free form, psychedelic rock.  The track here, “Dark Star” is one of the finest examples.

So, just to be clear, these are not necessarily top road songs, but songs about cars or that use the car as a central metaphor. Cars were a huge part of my coming of age. My father had a 55 Ford Fairlane, the only new car that he ever purchased. His boys, including me, basically ran the car into the ground, doing brake stands and squealing tires down Churchill Drive in Winnipeg. Tragic. I’ve always had the fantasy of buying a reconditioned 55 and driving it up to my father’s house with a big ribbon and bow.   I picked my first love up in that car, got my driver’s license in it the day I turned sixteen, went fishing in it with my brothers and fathers to Hazel Creek at the crack of dawn. I drove it to Grand Beach, Lake Winnipeg for our weekend volleyball tournaments, and more times than I care to remember, she got this drunken sot home from the infamous Winnipeg “socials”. I wrote a song about her, which I’ll spare you, but here’s the first verse.

I was born in the year of the 55 Ford,
Pink and white two-tone on a prairie road.
Elvis was singing, my daddy was drinking
beers with the boys and makin’ lots of noise.
But my mom made him choose.
It was her or the booze.

1. The Beach Boys, Little Deuce Coupe

Topping the list, Little Deuce Coupe by the Beach Boys.

2. Bruce Springsteen, Pink Cadillac

The next one is still one of my favorite workout songs, third set of squats, when I’m tempted to bail early. Written by Jerry Lee Lewis, but Brooose’s version gives me the juice to finish strong.

3. Tracy Chapman, Fast Car

What is it about Tracy Chapman that when she starts singing you just feel like crying? Here the car is a metaphor for freedom. In a Fast Car, the subject innocently imagines that her boyfriend’s car has the power to transport them to a world free from poverty, class, and their dead-end life. Remember how the womb-like interior of a car was a place where dreams of your future gestated and sometimes even got fertilized!

4. Golden Earring, Radar Love

In the summers my buddies and I would worked planting trees for the city of Winnipeg at Bird’s Hill Park. Waso would pick us up in his father’s Ford LTD at the crack of dawn, laden with sandwiches and enough Kool Aid to make it through the hot prairie day. When we hit the perimeter, it was pedal to the metal the whole way. We’d get the old beast up to 130 mph, windows down, and more often than not we could count on Radar Love being on the set list of our favorite radio station.

5. Chuck Berry, No Particular Place to Go

There is a spiritual state associated with driving a car, especially when you are still young and are inclined to let life unfold rather than over-engineer it. Life comes to you, rather than you having to make it happen. And “driving around” with no particular agenda was a big part of my growing up was a kind of zen practice. I didn’t quite have the luxury of unfettered access to the car, as we had to share amongst five or six, but Dave Korven owned a very cool GTO (if I’m not mistaken). We’d pack five or six in and just start driving, with a supply of decent B.C. bud.  Chuck Berry captures this adventurous spirit (but with a girl and not the boys) in No Particular Place to Go.

This week’s post was written by my friend Bruce, who regularly blogs on spiritual matters. Check it out.

Next week I will be back on the keyboard with Top Five Live at the Fillmore Albums.

I debated changing this post to reflect a more upbeat topic, something more in keeping with the  fine weather we are having in Vancouver (the keen observer will note that I am now following two used bike blogs).  But it has been on my mind for awhile, partly because I have been on an Emmylou Harris kick-more in the Gram Parsons bit down the page-and partly because Ben, one of the folks I met at the Chuck Berry Show, suggested it.

Like all other Top Five lists this one has to be viewed as a sampling.  Young death is so prevalent Wiki will spit you out a list of I think fifteen rock artists who belong to the so called “27 club”, artists who died at 27. Perhaps, like acrimonious breakups, it is a hazard of the job. Or perhaps a hazard of the personality type.  Regardless, it was impossible for me write this piece without a lot of reflection on what might have been had any of these artists lived and continued to flourish.

So here is my list.  I can already hear any number of “But where is_______?”  No mind, he or she belongs too.

Next week:  Top Five Live at the Fillmore Albums

1. Kurt Cobain

Kurt died by his own hand in April, 1994 at the age of 27. His death is to his generation is what John Lennon’s was to mine.  Nirvana’s success brought him fame and the “spokesman for a generation” label that he did not ask for and certainly did not want. Shades of Bob Dylan really.

2. Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash in 1959 at the age of 22.  It is not possible to overstate his influence on rock and roll, from establishing with the Crickets the two guitars, bass and drums lineup that is still the template for a rock band today, to the creation of the first guitar wielding rockstar, through the use of the riff to hook the listener in. All in 16 months.

Here is Buddy on the Arthur Murray Dance Party show in 1957, before Niki Sullivan joined on rhythm guitar.

3. Gram Parsons

Gram Parsons died of a drug overdose at the age of 26 in a motel in Joshua Tree, California.  Although enjoying success as a solo artist and with The Byrds (“Sweethearts of the Rodeo” is the seminal work), The Flying Burrito Brothers and the International Submarine Band, it was really only posthumously that his contribution to the creation of the country rock genre was recognised.  I also think it is fair to say that his friendship and exploits, musical and otherwise, with Keith Richards are what assisted in the creation of that string of Stones’ country flavoured songs such as “Wild Horses” and “Sweet Virginia”.

The clip here is Gram singing with Emmylou Harris, who he “discovered” in 1972 and enlisted to sing on his first solo album “GP”.  There has not been a finer pairing of  voices before or since.

4. Jimi Hendrix

My cousin Gordon had Jimi Hendrix albums in around 1967 when I was 10.  Defined cool.  Still does, 45 years later.

It is tough to write anything about Hendrix that has not already been written.  Really tough not to speculate on what might have been had he lived beyond the mere 27 years he did.  I post regularly on a fine moderated musician’s forum called “The Gear Page” where there was recently a thread posing the question as to whether if Hendrix was alive he would be recording and gigging with the hip hop crowd.  It garnered 396 responses and 10,404 views, which are big numbers at that site.  Lots of people have views on what might have become of Jimi.

5. Janis Joplin

Another drug overdose at 27, with a truly unique legacy.  Blues driven, with an assault on gender norms. Not much more for me to say, with so much unsaid.

The guilty pleasure song is the secret shag of the music lover: always there, always dependable but you sure don’t want your friends to know who you are spending quality time with.  I run some risk with this list as there are perhaps people who don’t consider these songs guilty pleasures at all, but rather simply damn fine music.  Whatever. We will know who these folks are by the Journey coasters on their coffee table and their faded, but still wearable, Looking Glass bandana.

Next week:  Top Five Rock and Roll Artists Who Met a Far Too Early Demise

1. Don’t Stop Believin’-Journey

“Don’t Stop Believin'” was a bona fide hit off the chart topping 1981 album “Escape”.  Escape to or from what is unkown, but Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone called it one of the worst number one albums of all time.  Regardless, I confess to actually quite liking this song:  it is catchy, tells a rags to riches story and the psuedo rock riffage is the bomb.  Not to mention Steve Perry’s ‘do.

2. Hold the Line-Toto

What is about staccato piano intro’s followed by overly compressed guitar riffage? Is it part of a secret cheese formula?  This tune has both in spades.  I will say one thing however, the band members’ wide ranging and top drawer studio experience (Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs and Sonny and Cher among others) shows through here with some of the smoothest fromage one could hope for.  This song was top 5 in 1978 and 1979 and was eclipsed only, in my opinion, by “Africa” and only then because the writers managed to work the words “Serengeti” and “Kilimanjaro” into one verse of one lyric for the only time in music history.  I have mentioned this fact before, but it such an achievement that I had to mention it again.

3. Hot Girls in Love-Loverboy

A little bit of Vancouver flavour here.  I actually kind of liked this band back in the day.  Local boys made good and Mike Reno drove a Ferrari, if I recall, before they were a dime a dozen.  No staccato piano, just a little synth and organ to round out the power chords.  Produced by the late Bruce Fairbairn,who had gold plated producing credits that went on forever, this is a slick (and very likeable tune).

4. Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)-Looking Glass

Formed at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Looking Glass was a more or less one hit wonder (a tune subsequent to this gem charted, but not so well).  This is cool little song, and probably wouldn’t even be a guilty pleasure at all but for the lyrics. I remember listening to it on my transistor when I was about 15.  I might have even bought the 45.  Another Top Five list, another day.

5. Make it With You-Bread

Charting at number one in 1970, this song was by far Bread’s biggest hit, although there were numerous others.  Epitomising that oxymoron called “soft rock”, I am not sure exactly why this song has stuck with me the way it has; perhaps it is the ever hopeful lyric.  Who really knows.  Passing  the true test of a guilty pleasure, I might smile and even light up a bit when I hear it, but I sure won’t put it on when you come over.

I was fortunate to travel to St. Louis last week to see Chuck Berry.  I missed out on Levon Helm’s Ramble by saying for too many years “yeah, CB-071812one day I will do that”.  I didn’t want the same thing to happen with Chuck and am very glad I didn’t.

Along the way, I made some new friends (Ben, Jack, Alexcia and Alex) which demonstrates to me, once again, how music is something that tends to bring people together.  This is particularly so when we are talking about  the music that is the root of all rock and roll music, from Elvis and the Stones and the Beatles, to The Allman Brothers and Tom Petty and Florence and the Machine.

The show took place in “The Duckroom” where Chuck plays once a month.  I was maybe 15 feet from the stage, and was treated to Chuck being Chuck, flirting with the “pretty girls”, smiling and joking with his audience and his band-which included his son on guitar and his daughter on harp. Oh yes, and playing music that everyone in the room knew every beat and note of.

Chuck is 86.  His Gibson ES 355 sports bits of duct tape here and there. He sat down frequently in his one hour set and missed more than the occasional note.  So what. In my view, any of these issues could easily have been dealt with had I made the trip to out to The Loop in St. Louis a few years earlier.  It is not Chuck’s fault he is still alive and well and playing music.

To list the Top Five Chuck Berry Riffs is a bit of a challenge.  There are too many songs, too many variations on the basic model.  It is sort of like asking for a list of Beethoven’s Top Five Melodic Motifs:  it can be done but doesn’t really do justice  to the body of work. So what this really is, then, is the Top Five Most Recognisable Chuck Berry Riffs.  I hope you enjoy them here as much as I did live last week.

Next week:  Top Five Guilty Pleasure Songs

1. Carol

“Carol” was first released in 1958, during Chuck’s seven years with Chess Records, which commenced in 1955.  It is has been covered countless times, notably by the Rolling Stones, a live version of which is on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out”.  This version is from the concert/biographical film “Hail Hail Rock and Roll”, which chronicled Keith Richards’ efforts at staging a musical party to celebrate Chuck’s 60th birthday.

2. Memphis, Tennessee

This is another Chess release, from 1963.  Covered by everyone from Paul Anka to The Grateful Dead, it tells a story (as all Chuck songs do) to a riff that sets the stage and itself evokes a sense of distance and travel.  Genius really. This version is live in London, England, in 1972.

3. Johnny B. Goode

Another 1958  release (and a  similar riff to Carol), this was one of the first songs to be listened to by both black and white audiences.  Legend has it that “country boy” was a replacement for “coloured boy” so as to ensure that the record in fact got played.  The voice overs here from notables who say they were inspired by Chuck in general and this song in particular makes my opening point far better than I ever could.

4. Too Much Monkey Business

This was Chuck’s fifth single and was recorded in 1956.  As with all the songs here, the riff really provides the musical basis for the story.  Here is the “Hail Hail Rock and Roll and Roll” version.  Chuck’s expressions are priceless.

5. Nadine

Now with Mercury Records and after after serving an 18 month jail term, Chuck released “Nadine” in 1963.  Fueled in part by the popularity of various covers of his songs “Nadine” was a success but not to the extent of some of his earlier work.  Chuck closed the show with this last week, after inviting as many women who would fit onto the stage to dance.  Alex and Alexcia hesitated, and alas, were lost in the shuffle to the front.

You never hear of a second violinist leaving a symphony in a huff, and still complaining about it years later. Not so in rock and roll. What surprised me while writing this piece is how common the acrimonious breakup is, and how wide spread they are over history. I am no psychologist, but I am guessing that perhaps it is rooted in the rebellion and independence that underpins the music. There have been some great ones. Here are my Top Five.

Next week: Top Five Chuck Berry Riffs (following my pilgrimage to St. Louis to see Chuck next Wednesday).

1. Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones

You have to know that to get kicked out of a band, of which Keith Richards is a member, for drug and alcohol abuse is going some.

Brian Jones was a founding and influential member of the Rolling Stones, even coming up with the name of the band. However, as the focus shifted from him to Mick and Keith (because of their increasing writing prowess), Jones became increasingly isolated, both personally and musically. To compound matters, Brian’s then girlfriend Anita Pallenberg left him for Keith while the Brian was hospitalised for drug issues during a trip all three took to Morocco.

Brian officially left the band on June 9, 1969 after a string of drug related difficulties, legal and otherwise. The official statement was that his departure was voluntary; the otherwise un-contradicted real story is that he was asked to leave. He was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool a little over three weeks later on July 3, 1969. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman attended his funeral, while Keith and Mick were conspicuously absent.

Here is Brian with the Stones in a 1964 appearance on the Mike Douglas show, covering Chuck Berry’s “Carol”.

2. The Smiths

If I was to do a list of “Top Five Bands Who Were Together Only Five Years But Had and Still Have Enormous Influence”, The Smiths would be at the top. They ruled the so called “indie” world before there really was an indie world, from 1982 to 1987. Johnny Marr played guitar and shared writing duties with morose lyricist and frontman [Steven] Morrissey. While no real explanation for their breakup has ever been proffered, we can only assume it was most unpleasant: Morrissey once said “I would rather eat my own testicles than re-form The Smiths, and that’s saying something for a vegetarian.” I think would prefer to sit at home with my Smiths’ box set, recently remastered by Johnny Marr.

3. Tom Petty and MCA Records

Tom Petty, one of the great songwriters of my generation, was signed by ABC Records and recorded by that label’s Shelter Records division. Two albums later, ABC was sold to MCA. Petty refused to be assigned to a new record company without his consent. Rather than record for MCA, Petty put his money where his mouth was and went into debt to the tune of $500,000.00 to record the band’s next album. He then eventually declared bankruptcy, thereby (sorry, my day job’s language is intruding here) gaining another lever in his negotiations.

MCA eventually caved (another legal term), re-negotiated the deal and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers went on to release their multi-platinum, named for the occasion album “Damn the Torpedos” on a subsidiary MCA created for them.

The story was chronicled for posterity in 1989′ s “I Won’t Back Down” on Petty’s first solo release “Full Moon Fever”. This is the official video. Pay particular attention to the identities of the drummer and the rhythm guitar player standing on the right.

4. Oasis

What is it about brothers in bands? The Davies, the Wilsons, the Fogertys: the list goes on. My favourites though are Liam and Noel Gallagher. They seem to have been intent on breaking up Oasis from the time the band was formed in 1991, there being one well publicised incident after another well publicised incident between the lads. The band split in 2009, after almost two decades of revolving side men, followed by (you guessed it) a libel suit brought by Liam against Noel. Not to be outdone, Noel counterclaimed for damages allegedly arising out of Liam’s conduct from 1994 to 2005. A lawyer’s dream this pair are.

The only appropriate Oasis song here is “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.

5. Guns n’ Roses

This is another band that has been breaking up for decades. Born in LA as an antidote to hair or glam metal Guns n’ Roses have had a rocky ride from the beginning. After drummer Steven Adler was kicked out for drug abuse in 1987 following the hugely successful album”Appetite for Destruction” (Adler being Brian Jones, with the rest of the band being Keith Richards) battles ensued between Slash and Duff McKagan, and Axl Rose over the band’s direction, along with the almost predictable law suits, no shows at concerts and every other thing upset rockstars do. At some point during all of this, it is clear that Rose demanded the rights to the band name. How it came to be transferred to him is less clear.

The boys are still not speaking: Axl was a no-show at the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.

“Welcome to the Jungle” indeed.