Eric Burdon and The Animals
The Animals, The Mickie Most Years and More. At the birth of the British Invasion, if the Beatles were for the girls and the Rolling Stones for the boys, then the Animals were for the men. There was such a dark and dangerous spark to Eric Burdon's bluesy vocals and the musicians' lightning-strikes playing that the Newcastle-based band had an almost criminal-like allure. Hell, the first hit "House of the Rising Sun" was about an old New Orleans cathouse. This box set includes their first EP and four albums, and a better collection of '60s rock would be hard to imagine.
Burdon always went for the jugular, and guitarist Hilton Valentine wasn't ever afraid of the high strings. Keyboardist Alan Price had an uncanny feel for American rhythm and blues, and his replacement Dave Rowberry was just as strong. Adding to that ferocious attack was an unerring ability to pick great blues classics to cover, and also a savvy eye on newer songs like "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," "Don't Bring Me Down" and "It's My Life." One of the later choices, "Inside-Looking Out" is one of those gems still waiting to be unearthed. Once Burdon discovered the wonders of the Haight-Ashbury and LSD, all bets were off for the original Animals, but the circle remained unbroken as he took off for the cosmos. For now, put this collection at the very top of any music lover's must-have list.
The Beatles, On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2. In England in the early '60s, the Beatles found a home at BBC Radio that allowed them to conquer their country like no one had ever since Germany in World War II. The four lads had an exciting way of setting the airwaves on fire, mixing early rock and roll nuggets like "Memphis," "Lucille" and "Kansas City" with their brand new originals in a way previously unheard. Who knows what the English first thought when their radios started blasting forth this madness, but it's a good bet the oldsters shook their heads while the youngsters jumped on the beds and raised holy hell. Freedom was coming back in style, and even if the war years weren't that long ago, there could be no doubt better days were straight ahead.
It's amazing just how accomplished the young Beatles were — Hamburg had been good to their playing chops, and by crossing black music with the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly they'd found a key to the kingdom. Rock and roll would never be the same, and whoever it was that saved the tapes of all these radio shows should be knighted by the Queen ASAP. There are 37 previously unreleased performances and 23 previously unreleased recordings of in-studio band and conversation with John, Paul, George and Ringo and their BBC radio hosts. Liverpool lives.
James Booker, Classified. How can anyone resist the Piano Prince of New Orleans set loose to record any and everything, eye patch firmly in place and maxed to the gills full of the fever that made James Booker a one-man musical hurricane? These sessions from 1982 were going to hip the world to the natural wonder that was this man, the kind of secret weapon the Crescent City specialized in. Booker's abilities were legendary in the music business, to where he was filling in on piano for Fats Domino on Domino's own records, and the English hipster elite would pass his 45s around like rare jewels.
On the reality front, James Booker was completely challenged. He battled drugs, invisible demons and every other kind of roadblock he could find and invent until for years he was almost unemployable. That didn't stop the man from taking over pianos uptown and downtown to spin a web of absolute beauty. As a gay man he was fond of getting arrested around the holidays so he could enjoy a little self-described "rump-a-bump-bump" inside the parish prison, and then celebrate mightily when he got sprung. When Booker died, he'd made his way to Charity Hospital and sat down in an abandoned wheelchair in the hall, only to be found when it was too late to help him. Listening to his rollicking renditions of songs like "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and "Hound Dog" sweating up next to "Theme from The Godfather" and "Warsaw Concerto" is to finally realize why they call New Orleans "the City that Care Forgot." With bonus tracks galore added to the original album, Classified is truly unclassifiable and an endless revelation of joy.
The Clash, Hits Back. One of the very best rock bands ever, the Clash walked that fine line between outright revolution of everything the music had been before and being sharp enough to find a way into the best-seller charts that so many of the so-called punks were locked out of forever. Maybe that's because they wrote songs like "London Calling" and "Rock the Casbah" that weekend warriors could dig while their more committed brethren smashed their heads against brick walls.
This two-disc collection from an even more massive boxed set distills the Clash's greatness down to 32 songs that play like a clarion call to infinity. This is the sound that drove the young wild starting in the mid-'70s. Arena rock and other instruments of the devil were being beaten to death by the sound of angry young men and women with torn-up guitars and madness in their hearts. Once again, Great Britain was beating the U.S. to the punch in pointing the way to musical Armageddon, and no one in America was complaining. Naturally, it couldn't last forever because the octane mix within the Clash was just too high. When they crashed and burned it felt like the end of an era — and it was. While it lasted, and everyone got blasted, the ghosts of Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran were no doubt wiggling in the aisles.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Boxed Set. Within these six discs lies a history of American music that hasn't been heard before or since. John Fogerty's Act I is collected in a single box and what a ride it is. Starting with Tommy Fogerty & the Blue Velvets and then the Golliwogs, an early portrait of destiny becomes clear. These young men were going all the way. When the quartet changed their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival it's like the fireworks started and didn't end until five years later.
Every song is collected here, presented chronologically, and it's a tidal wave of rock and roll. Fogerty's voice captured the American spirit as no one has before or since, while the band became a study in perfect support. Being almost too good to last has its drawbacks, and by the time CCR was over the world wondered if any band could be that good again. A mesmerizing slew of live recordings paints an hypnotic picture of a band on fire, with the Fogerty brothers on guitars along with bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford stirring up an irresistible rock and roll stew. Creedence Clearwater Revival was like a musical asteroid — it came and went in a burst of glory, never to be forgotten. Rolling on the river forever.
The Duke Records Story, I Pity the Fool. Down in Houston, Texas in the '50s, Don Robey decided to take over Duke-Peacock Records in Memphis and turn it into a Texas rhythm and blues powerhouse. Their flagship artist Johnny Ace soon killed himself backstage in a supposed game of Russian roulette, but soon enough Bobby "Blue" Bland took over the wheel, with fellow artists like Little Junior Parker and others running interference.
This three-disc set reels the mind: 60 songs of stars and never-heard-ofs mixed into a strutting and strolling race through time. It's almost like playing "Stump the Band" with singles by Joe "Mr. Google Eyes" August, the Sultans and Little Buck jammed up next to Bland, Parker, Otis Rush and others painting a portrait of love, distrust and other foolishness. Duke Records got its plug pulled by Robey in the mid-'70s. But not before it changed the way we listen to soul music when Roy Head, O.V. Wright and more kept the flame burning at 2809 Erastus Street in Houstontown, even beating Motown's Berry Gordy in the history books as the first African-American owned record label. Burn, baby, burn.
Roky Erickson, The Evil One. Some would argue that Roky Erickson's '60s band 13th Floor Elevators invented psychedelic music; that the Texas combo laced screaming rock and roll with LSD-fueled visions for a short-lived storming of the heavenly gates. And guess what? They'd be right. In 1965 most of the San Francisco bunch was trying to figure out how to jack up folk music, bless their hearts, and doing a damned good job of it. But the Elevators, mixing peyote and Buddy Holly, acid and Little Richard, had stumbled across the kingdom of heaven down Austin-way. Their lyricist, Tommy Hall, traded in his student ID at the University of Texas for guru stripes with the campus bohemians and turned their world on its head. Singer-guitarist Erickson partnered up with Hall and together they wrote over two dozen songs of eternal beauty.
Then it was over. Quickly. Erickson went to the hospital for the criminally insane for a few years, and Hall escaped to California. By the time Erickson got back into a studio in the late '70s, produced by Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook, he'd been listening to the music of the spheres while watching horror and science fiction movies, and what came out is The Evil One. Who can argue with songs like "Two Headed Dog," "I Walked with a Zombie," "I Think of Demons," "It's a Cold Night for Alligators" and "Creature with the Atom Brain?" No one, that's who. In so many ways, this album has never been equaled, by Erickson or anyone else, and to hear it now is to know the human mind has endless capabilities and to try and second-guess where a musician like Roky Erickson might go is a fool's game. Like he said, "If you have ghosts then you have everything." Believe Roky Erickson.
Lightnin' Slim, High & Low Down. Even if it's a bit discombobulating to hear low-down swamp blues from Louisiana slapped up next to full-on horn sections, producer Jerry Williams, Jr. (aka Swamp Dogg) sure knows what he's doing. Lightnin' Slim was on the A-list at Excello Records in Crowley, a proud member of the Sportsman's Paradise state's funky crew. He had jukebox hits all over the South for many years, and when he ventured over to the Muscle Shoals area in Alabama to record these tracks he likely thought he, like George Jefferson, was movin' on up.
And in a way he was, but not so much that we can't still smell the grease of yesterday's fried chicken all over these songs. That's because you can take Lightnin' Slim out of Louisiana but you can't take Louisiana out of LIghtnin' Slim. One spin of "Rooster Blues" or "Goodmorning Heartaches" and there's no mistaking one of the real architects of swamp pop. Which begs the question: where does the "pop" come in, because this is thankfully more gutbucket blues than anything resembling popular music. Turns out Swamp Dogg was most definitely barking up the right tree.
Graham Parker & the Rumour, This is Live. A burning example of a rock and roll band that never quite got their due is Graham Parker & the Rumour. While they came out of the pub rock period in '70s England, in reality they were a soul band caught in the bodies of Caucasians. At their full-tilt prime, no other aggregation could stand next to their fire. Parker himself was a fireplug of power, shouting to the rafters while channeling Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett's best. Live, he could barely be captured by the earth. The Rumour were right behind him, taking up where the Rolling Stones left off in 1965 and maybe even doing them one better.
Then they disappeared, Parker going his solo way while never quite reaching the heights he had with the Rumour. After 31 years all got back together for the film This is 40 and decided they could live on the same stage again. Proof extraordinaire is this live DVD filmed in downtown Los Angeles. All the songbook staples are here: "Local Girls," "Fool's Gold," "Soul Shoes" and more. Maybe it's impossible to turn back the clock completely, but that doesn't mean Graham Parker can't still reach for the skies, with the Rumour right there with him. Seeing and hearing is to know rock and roll will not only never die, it won't even slow down. Amen.
Townes Van Zandt, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. When it comes to an artist who can go all the way to the end of the line, and then find a hidden road to go even a little deeper into despair, no one does that better than Townes Van Zandt. It's like he had a personal hotline to whoever controls the jitters humans get when it looks like there's no way out, and Van Zandt didn't have any compunctions about calling often. He spent years going from such highs to such lows that the Texan was written off more than once. But he'd somehow always bounce back and write the kind of songs that made songwriters weep they were so good.
Just the title of this release, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, says it all: the singer-songwriter lived another 20 years and amassed the biggest following of his star-crossed life. These 11 songs are prime Van Zandt, and by including covers like "Fraulein," "Don't Let the Sunshine Fool You" and "Honky Tonkin'," he tips his beat-up hat to what he loved most about music. While "Pancho & Lefty" is the commercial gem that lit up the bank account when covered by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, the little-known original "Sad Cinderella" is the shudder-king on this set. It made Elvis Costello pull the car over when he first heard it, and still begs to be revived by someone with the guts to try. There will never be another Townes Van Zandt, so let's count the lucky stars there was then and that albums like this are now finding their way back to the campfire.
Various Artists, A Road Leading Home: Songs by Dan Penn and Others. When it comes to songwriters who head the list of blue-eyed soul brothers, put Dan Penn in the pole position and let all the others try to catch up. Born in Alabama and reaching his glory in Memphis, Penn slowly but surely built a catalog of songs that could not be topped. From "Dark End of the Street" to "I'm Your Puppet" to "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" Penn's pen had a hand in them all. Buried in a love of black music as a young man, he chased the dream all the way down Rainbow Road until there weren't many who could stand in the same room with him.
Co-writers like Spooner Oldham, Donnie Fritts, Chips Moman and others could all speak to that wonder, and the record charts are full of those who went to the well on top of Penn originals. This 24-song collection travels a gravel road, all right, rounding up singers like Ted Taylor, Brenda Lee, Esther Phillips and Irma Thomas to testify to the heart-pounding truth of what Dan Penn envisioned. The last selection, Albert King's "Like a Road Leading Home," says it all: Dan Penn saw a way out of the backwoods of Alabama and rode it all the way to the Royal Albert Hall. Say hallelujah.