Tag Archives: 1973

Song #1005*: “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” by Bruce Springsteen


Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” from the 1973 Bruce Springsteen album The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle.
Joyous, raucous energy, cool story.

(5 minute read)

*Note – I’m not even going to try to rank songs. I just plan to periodically write a little bit about some songs that I like.

~ ~ ~

If I didn’t know me so well, I’d expect I’d love Bruce Springsteen. An East Coast white guy in my mid-50s, I grew up on 70s rock. I have a soft spot for horns and bombastic songs, and powerful songs about average people just living their lives. I value artists who seem like decent people, and who have a bit of a stick-it-to-the-powerful streak to them. And I do love a great rock and roll performer. But just like poison ivy, I’ve never had Bruce Fever.

For 18 months I dated a woman who loved Bruce. It was a lousy relationship that ended badly (her and me, not her and Bruce), and I used to attribute my disinterest in The Boss to that experience. But it was 35 years ago, and the drama of it seems so silly after all the living that’s ensued. So I gave him another listen in the past 10 years, and found I was still not susceptible. I guess it wasn’t her fault. You see, I don’t seem to get poison ivy[ref]Although I won’t take on any dares to prove it. I just have never really had it.[/ref], and I don’t seem to get Bruce Springsteen.

Except for “Rosalita,” a joyous, raucous, multi-part spectacle with several chill-inducing swells, a funny story and about a million words. It’s not a perfect song (I’ll get to that), but to me it’s the perfect Boss song. It’s a song that makes me go, “Okay, I get why people love this guy,” even though none of his other songs seem to give me that experience. Perhaps if I rolled, naked, in a deep bed of poison ivy I would experience what it’s like to have a reaction. Maybe “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” is like a poison ivy wallow. (In a good way.)

“Rosalita” is immediately – from the first two organ chords – all about building and releasing tension. The song sits on top of a bouncy sax riff from Clarence Clemons that drummer Vini Lopez stays on top of with little rolls and fills. The E Street Band (on this album, and counting The Boss) includes a sax, a guitar, an organ, a piano, and bass and drums. This means they can throw in all sorts of interesting riffs and sounds throughout a song. In the verses, organist Danny Federici plays a lot of little curlicues, and pianist David Sancious adds nice emphasis. There’s so much good stuff going on from the whole band through the entire song.

The verses are key to how “Rosalita” works. (Here’s a link to the lyrics. You’ll need them.) Each verse in the song has two parts – a spirited, wordy, first half and a mellower second. For example, at 0:27 (“spread out now Rosie …”) and at 0:52 (“you don’t have to call me …”). At the end of that second half, (1:05, “Rosie, you’re the one!”) Clemons plays a rising sax riff that … doesn’t resolve. It’s just a tease. Our ears are ready for something big and new, but instead we get another verse, some nonsense about what Dynamite and Little Gun are up to. But that rising riff is key to the song, because it keeps coming around. And whenever it delivers a chorus, as at 1:53, the sense of joy and release and power is inescapable.

But I have to write a bit about the lyrics, because they may be, generally, the reason I can’t get into Bruce. I don’t need poetry: I love Yes and Van Halen and AC/DC, none of whom are what would be called wordsmiths, or Voice-of-a-Generation types. But I also love XTC, The Beatles, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello – artists who can move you with a simple phrase. I even love Steely Dan and Jimi Hendrix and Belly, and The Stone Roses, each of whom must be making some point, but I generally have no idea what it is.

But many of Bruce’s lyrics seem sort of goofy and embarrassing[ref]Granted, I only know a few of his songs.[/ref]. He goes on about highways running, calling his car a “machine,” and talking about all the dangerous guys and tough chicks on street corners that he knows. Bruce always wants you to know he loves you, baby, and that together you’ll make it, despite the long odds. And he’s forever asking you to put on that cute little dress of yours (you know the one), so he can sit you on the back of his motorbike and ride down suicide streets and whatnot. (He seems like the kind of guy who’d say “motorbike” – maybe he doesn’t.) I don’t know. He always sounds like a handsome horndog with a terrific rap. Maybe I’m jealous of him. But what do I know? One of my favorite songs has the lyrics “Anger, he smiles towering in shiny, metallic, purple armor.” I guess it’s all a matter of taste.

But in “Rosalita,” I’m able to put all my qualms aside. His lyrics are goofy as ever, but they’re so joyous, and tell such a great version of Romeo & Juliet that I’m even able to (basically) overlook his assertion that the only lover he’ll ever need is Rosie’s “soft, sweet little girl’s tongue.” Look, songs by men have forever demeaned their targets with patronizing terms like “little girl,” I get it. But even setting that aside, the line sounds more like a serial killer’s letter to the newspaper than romantic badinage. But who cares? I’ll put up with it, and Weak Knees Willy, too, and Sloppy Sue, and his machine that’s a dud, and mama in her chair, and all that jive, because I like the story.

But back to the music! We left off at the chorus (1:53), which is pure shout-along, frenzied fun. The backing harmonies are terrific, and it all passes much too soon, leaving us back in a verse with Jack the Rabbit, et al. (Okay, again, I understand that lyrics don’t have to make perfect sense, but how are they going to “skip some school” if they’re doing this at night?) But this verse does have a tremendous couple of lines: “Windows are for cheaters/ Chimneys for the poor/ Closets are for hangers/ Winners use the door.” Then after another rousing chorus, we hit the magnificent bridge.

But first! At 3:18 there’s another crazy tension-building section. The organ tootles up and up the scale, the bass joins in ratcheting the anticipation, everything is coming to a head … then (3:43) Clemons plays a sax riff that doesn’t exactly break the tension, but doesn’t relieve it, either. (By the way, through all this drummer Lopez is playing like a man possessed.) The band joins in the riff, and it almost seems like they’ve forgotten what song they were playing. But they come out of it and bring things down (4:17) so a simmering Bruce can start moving us – oh so gradually – to the story’s big payoff. Rosalita’s family hates, him[ref]It’s worth noting, I think, that in 1973 “playing in a rock and roll band” was a lot shadier than it is now. I mean, parents back then weren’t signing their kids up for cute Rock Band classes, like nowadays. They were sending them to trombone lessons and claiming that electrified music wasn’t real music. Believe me, I know.[/ref], fine, but he doesn’t care. And he really does sound sexy announcing his plans to “liberate you, confiscate you.” We’re approaching resolution … but first …

Before he gets us there, he leads the band in a sing-along of “papa says he knows I don’t have any money!” I mean, come on Bruce!! A little teasing is fine, but this is starting to get annoying! But then, finally, at 5:11, when The Boss reveals he’s gotten a big advance, the exuberance is palpable! The payoff seems worth all the buildup throughout the song, and I never feel manipulated. It feels satisfying, like a good short story or TV show, like the writer and I have bonded. The rest of the lyrics are denouement, and I don’t even bother myself with questions of how he’ll get Rosalita to the airport (they’re headed “down San Diego way[ref]Oh brother, Bruce.[/ref],” after all) with his car lost in a swamp. Or how she’ll know to pack a bag for what originally sounded like a simple evening on the town, playing pool and going to Woolworth’s, but now involves a cross-country trek. (At least now the skipping-school part makes sense.)

It wouldn’t be right to simply fade out or end the song un-bombastically, so The Boss throws in some “hey-hey-hey”s at 6:31, then Lopez leads everyone through a twenty second flourish until a simple, warbling organ is all that remains. It’s an exhausting song, like a good workout. When you watch live clips of Bruce playing the song, it’s a wonder to behold. They played this version on MTV all the time. There’s a version of a young, Mike Nesmith-looking Bruce playing in London. Folks have often told me that I haven’t caught Springsteen Fever because I’ve never seen him live. I haven’t been close enough, just like why people say I’ve never had poison ivy. If that’s the case, I’ll probably never fully get into The Boss. But I sure do have a reaction to “Rosalita.”


9th Favorite Album: Countdown to Ecstasy, by Steely Dan


Countdown to Ecstasy. Steely Dan.
1973, ABC. Producer: Gary Katz.
Purchased, 1985.

IN A NUTSHELL: Countdown to Ecstasy, by Steely Dan, is a showcase for musicianship – a collection of songs from the days when Steely Dan was a band. Leaders Donald Fagan and Walter Becker write great songs, but talented guitarists Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Denny Dias steal the show. The songs are fun and diverse and Fagan’s voice sells each and every one. They may be a dark, sarcastic duo, but Fagan and Becker write songs that their talented friends can devour.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.

My favorite high school teacher, Mrs. Meyers, was fond of quoting Benjamin Franklin’s[ref]However, ol’ Ben actually adapted the quote from Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe.[/ref] old axiom, “Nothing’s certain except death and taxes.” However, she always pointed out that Mr. Franklin[ref]And Mr. Defoe.[/ref] mistakenly left out one other guarantee in life. “Nothing’s certain except death and taxes,” she’d say, then add, “… and CHANGE! Everything changes!” For many folks, change may be scarier than either taxes or death.

I now believe Mrs. Meyers was even smarter than Ben Franklin[ref]Or Daniel Defoe.[/ref] in her assessment. As researchers push against aging and death, and billionaires, most of whom inherited or finagled their dough, convince more and more dumb Americans that taxes are bad, one can imagine a world where death and taxes become an uncertainty. (This confluence of events could hilariously lead to five quintillionaires remaining alone on Earth after devastating the planet in their race to “win,” lying atop their piles of money, unable to die[ref]Anyway, I find that hilarious.[/ref].) The fact that our relationship to death and taxes has the potential to change only proves what Mrs. Meyers said: change is certain.

Very little from the culture and society I knew in 1983, as a 15-year old in Mrs. Meyers’s history class, remains as it was back then. Everything has changed. Some things have gotten better, some things have gotten worse, but very little is the same. I’m fascinated by this change over time, and I’m happy it’s happened. In fact, it gives me hope that people can continue to improve their lives. You see, I’m one of those people who is not scared by change, but, in fact, am rather comfortable with it.

Now, for sure, the 1983, teenaged me would be horrified by all that’s changed since then. At that time I was a small-town kid, scared by the world around me and subconsciously trying to allay those fears by mocking, resisting and remaining willfully obtuse to anything new or different around me. Computers, gay people, strong women, the DH[ref]This is one area where I haven’t changed. All pitchers should bat. Now get out of my yard!!![/ref], non-English speakers[ref]Despite the fact that my grandparent’s family barely spoke English.[/ref], non-comedy movies, city-people, cats, non-Christians… At that time I wanted the world to be exactly what was in my head at that moment, and (I thought) I wanted it to stay that way forever.

My adulthood, however, has been shot through with change. I moved about 6 times in my early 20s, finally arriving in San Francisco, and moved three times in 8 years while I was there. Then I moved to New England and moved 5 times in 5 years before landing in my current home. I have worked at about 11 different companies since college, not counting the half-dozen or so little jobs I had before I joined the pharmaceutical industry. I’ve done stand-up comedy, acted in plays and performed improv for years – the one place where my love of never really knowing what the hell is coming next found a perfect setting. My adult life has been more about resisting stasis than resisting change. And one of the first big changes involved Dr. Dave.

Dr. Dave (l) and author on stage at Zachary’s, Hershey, PA, ca. 1990.

Dr. Dave has been mentioned frequently in this space. He’s my longest-serving best friend – we met just about two-and-a-half years after Mrs. Meyers’s history class, as freshmen in the Toxicology program at Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. We bonded quickly over music, particularly The Beatles and Yes, plus the Phillies, Columbo, Caddyshack and the ridiculousness of a career in toxicology. And a million other things. But within two years he had jettisoned toxicology for pharmacy[ref]Despite concerns from his advisor that as a pharmacist he wouldn’t have Cultured Rats, nor be able to “call de focking shots in de lab!!”[/ref], and I jettisoned the small private school in the city for a larger, public university in the country.

Given the nature of our personalities, our interests, and our friendship, it only makes sense that on the last day before I left the school forever, Dr. Dave drove me around the city of Philadelphia, the windows of his LeCar[ref]At least I think it was the LeCar? It may have been his folks’ station wagon.[/ref] down, blaring the Steely Dan classic from Countdown to Ecstasy, “My Old School.” The lyrics expressed all the regret I had about choosing that school in the first place, and the refrain, “I’m never going back to my old school,” was the exclamation point on my entire time there.

I’m sure we were both a little sad that we’d be seeing less of each other, but moving apart wasn’t all bad. It allowed us to keep in touch (pre-internet) in goofy ways, like writing letters to each other on notepad paper shaped like pills, capsules, suppositories, hearts, livers, and other vaguely medical shapes, all courtesy of the pharmaceutical industry, which showered undergrad science majors with weird gifts. (For years I had a small, clear-plastic-encased musculo-skeletal foot with the words “Roche – Naproxen®️” emblazoned across it.) We kept in touch, and visited each other, and played music together, and as our lives changed, and we changed, we stayed connected.

Dr. Dave (l) and author at Candlestick Park, ca. 1995.

Our musical tastes have certainly grown in different ways, but because we’re friends, Dr. Dave graciously compliments my blog posts on albums he thinks I’ve rated too high, or too low, and I do my best to listen to Classical music now and then. But no matter how much our lives changed, the connection has remained because deep down we are still the type of guys who love Columbo and Caddyshack and would drive around the city singing a fuck-off song to a place we’re happy to leave behind. And what a song it is.

As I’ve mentioned before, I got into Steely Dan because my eldest sister had a milk crate of 70s albums, and their record Aja was one of them. That was an entree into the world of Steely Dan. By my senior year of high school, I had Countdown to Ecstasy on vinyl, and a few others as well. The world of Steely Dan started out in 1972 as a rockin’, dirty, guitar-driven place that, as the 70s progressed, was further gentrified with each album until the decade ended with a sound that, frankly, was so sparkling clean that it was unrecognizable as rock[ref]Which isn’t to say that I don’t like it.[/ref]. Countdown to Ecstasy is the band’s second album, when they were still mostly a guitar-based rock band with jazzy overtones, instead of vice versa. And “My Old School,” with its phenomenal guitar work by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, is a straight-up guitar jam, despite the prominent horn section (which was absent from this American Bandstand appearance …)

It opens with a few piano chords, a horn fanfare, and a cool drum intro, then singer/keyboardist/band co-leader Donald Fagan starts singing about a college drug bust. Steely Dan’s lyrics are black licorice – you love them or hate them, with no room for middle ground. I love them. They’re clever, but not in an Elvis Costello-esque wordplay style. Costello is like a witty TV show; Steely Dan is like a layered crime novel[ref]There is a great website that breaks down Steely Dan lyric meanings, but when I went to click on it my computer warned me it was a security risk. I don’t know enough about websites to know if it’s legit. But if you search Steely Dan Dictionary, you can take your chances if you understand the risk.[/ref], where nothing is what it first seems, and characters are waiting to double-cross our typically less-than-upstanding protagonist. References to Gino and Daddy G, the Wolverine to Annandale, oleanders in bloom … they all create a world for the listener to step into while guitarist Baxter plays guitar lines and solos that, frankly, still astound me. I was going to list all the cool guitar parts I like – but it basically amounts to the entire song! Co-leader Walter Becker is a great bassist, drummer Jim Hodder is fast and creative, and I still think of this song as one of my favorites.

Another of my favorites (and the album only has 8 songs, so they’re all favorites, really) is the album opener, “Bodhisattva,” which is like a jazz piece – a repeating chord progression over which the band takes solos and Fagan sings a few lines about a Buddhist spiritual guide.

When my son was in middle school he had a basketball coach who told the boys, “I want you to have fun playing hoops. You could have fun out there by throwing basketballs at each other and goofing around, but I want you to have fun by playing the game the right way. When you do something the right way, you experience fun a whole different way.” On “Bodhisattva,” Steely Dan sounds like a bunch of musicians having fun The Right Way. Guitarist and founder Denny Dias[ref]Who eventually became a session guitarist for Fagan and Becker when they dissolved the band in 1975 or so.[/ref] plays a solo, at 1:35, that is wide ranging and fun and an incredible 54 bars long! A full minute. After some more vocals and a back and forth between keyboards and guitars, Skunk gets his due, as well. He plays the outro solo beginning at 4:09. Two lead guitarists – as fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Judas Priest, or Thin Lizzy can tell you – is twice the fun.

But for an act that values “chops,” and makes songs like “Bodhisattva” sound easy, they have a way with a melody as well. “Razor Boy” has a catchy melody, and Fagan’s nasal voice delivers it perfectly. The vibraphone and pedal steel guitar give the song a caribbean-yet-country feel. The lyrics are typical Steely-Dan-opaque, sort of accusatory, somewhat menacing.

A particular style of Steely Dan lyric is the story song – full of characters and events, but obliquely described, much like “My Old School.” Another one is “The Boston Rag,” in which something happens to a dude named Lonnie.

Just what “The Boston Rag” is, one never finds out. But we do find confirmation that “Skunk” Baxter and Denny Dias are guitar maniacs Check out, for example, the solo beginning at 3:18, (Dias) and continuing at 3:48 (Baxter). Also, Jim Hodder’s drums in this song are very cool, very understated but key to moving the song along.

Speaking of songs in which the lyrics are indirect and ambiguous … what the hell is “Your Gold Teeth” about?

The music has a groovy, calypso feel, almost 60s jazz. It’s a real showcase for Fagan’s keyboard playing – the solo at 2:44 is really top notch. And it leads into an angular, tough guitar solo by Dias. The song’s melody is singalong catchy, but what am I singing when I sing about tobacco they grow in Peking? The year of the locust? And who is Cathy Berberian,[ref]Cathy Berberian was an avant garde singer and composer in the 20th century.[/ref] and what are these roulades she sings? And how can I sing along to that last verse, where Fagan shows off his vocal skills?

Steely Dan would cease to exist as a touring entity and become a “studio only” band just a couple years after Countdown to Ecstasy. But although the band was filled to the brim with musical talent, on this album they were already bringing in hired guns when needed. Rick Derringer plays slide guitar on the funky Hollywood dis tune, [ref]An industry they remained at odds with well into their careers, even though they once contributed a title song for a movie.[/ref] “Show Biz Kids.” He basically plays a solo through the whole song, answering Fagan’s lyrics with tasty fills. Then about 3:00 he takes over for the remainder of the song.

Although Steely Dan has an air – perhaps more than an air, a dark, dense cloud – of detached cynicism about them, they could pull the heartstrings with their songs and stories. Case in point is the lovely “Pearl of the Quarter.” Baxter pulls some beautiful pedal steel guitar, adding a sadness to this country-esque tune. It’s a rather tired story of a regretful man who fell for a “lady of the evening.” But the descending chords of the chorus, and the guitar overcome the story to create a true feeling of regret. Drummer Hodder’s crisp rolls and syncopation sound great.

The final song on the album is the wonderful “King of the World,” a dark vision of the end of times[ref]A subject the duo and solo Fagan returned to regularly.[/ref]. It’s a perfect Steely Dan album closer.

The song, for me, is really the Denny Dias show, as his guitar demands your attention from the opening four seconds, when a faint, wah-wah riff enters below the shuffling high-hat. He plays a delayed, waterfall sound behind the vocals, then nicely mimics the ham radio of the lyrics (0:38). There are great harmonies in the chorus, and with every verse, Dias builds on what he did before – but you have to listen closely. Once again, this song sounds like a group of musicians having fun. There’s a very 70s, hooting organ at 2:00, and bassist Becker plays a cool line behind it. Throughout it all, Dias lurks in the background. Then, at 4:17 he goes nuts with a jazzy solo that sounds like it went for three minutes, but the song fades out.

Steely Dan was a band that changed over the years, from a touring rock band to a studio collection of jazz/rock musicians. Sure, I like the early rockin’ stuff, like Countdown to Ecstasy. But I like the later stuff, too. Look, things change, people change. Dr. Dave and I have changed. But there’s another old saying, too: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The author (l) and Dr. Dave (far r.), c. 2018, still as cool as they were back in 1986.

“Razor Boy”
“The Boston Rag”
“Your Gold Teeth”
“Show Biz Kids”
“My Old School”
“Pearl of the Quarter”
“King of the World”


24th Favorite: Houses of the Holy, by Led Zeppelin


[twitter-follow username=”100favealbums” scheme=”dark”]

Houses of the Holy. Led Zeppelin.
1973, Atlantic. Producer: Jimmy Page.
Bootleg cassette, 1986.

IN A NUTSHELL: Houses of the Holy, the fifth album by the mighty Led Zeppelin, is eight different songs, eight different genres, and all kinds of cool. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham are in fine form whether playing famous riffs, supporting lush orchestral works, or taking on funk and reggae. It doesn’t sound like other Zep records – and that might be why I love it!

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.
I generally modify all sentences I write so that I don’t make grand pronouncements stating “Everyone who …” I do this to avoid making generalizations that are easily challenged by an example or two that therefore render my statement false. However, I stand by this grand pronouncement: Every artist abhors plagiarism.

I mean any kind of artist, anyone who creates. Creativity – all creativity, whether drawing stuff, building stuff, writing songs, writing stories, it doesn’t matter what – is at its very core about personal ideas. It’s about having an idea in your head or your heart or your soul or wherever they come from, and shaping and building that thing into something that people around you can experience. It’s about allowing others to experience something within you; it’s about sharing your self with others.

However, creativity is a weird thing. The raw materials of creativity are pulled from the surrounding world, and most people experience that world – at least in part – via the art around them. Books, movies, songs, visual art … it all becomes – along with everything else in the artist’s life – another input to creation.

And although, when compared to painters or composers, some may consider their output culturally flimsy, rock/pop musicians are creative people. The list of musicians who graduated from, or attended, art school is a who’s who of pop music[ref]A brief list I put together indludes A$AP Ferg, Chuck D, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Talking Heads, Radiohead, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Michael Stipe, Kanye West, Florence Welch, Mick Jones (The Clash), Tupac Shakur, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Lady Gaga, Joni Mitchell and Ronnie Wood. And that’s just one quick search![/ref], from Pete Townshend and Keith Richards through A$AP Ferg. Musician/novelists include country-rocker Steve Earle and John Darnielle, of The Mountain Goats. Musician/painters include John Mellencamp, Joni Mitchell and The Replacements’ Chris Mars. Musician/Actors include almost every musician who ever had a hit record.

So, being creative types, musicians bring in all sorts of inspiration into their work, and some of that inspiration is bound to be the music they are listening to. And there can be a fine line between “inspiration” and “borrowing.” Sometimes the borrowing is intentional. Clearly John Lennon knew the Chuck Berry song “You Can’t Catch Me” when he wrote “Come Together.” I don’t know why he didn’t credit Berry, but he ended up recording an album of Rock ‘n Roll covers as part of his settlement with the publisher of Berry’s songs. (And backed Berry on an episode of The Mike Douglas Show, a very 70s moment.) And many artists have reworked classical works to generate hit songs. The practice of sampling songs is just another form of this process.

And that process is not just part of crafting modern pop music. Such borrowing is part of the fabric and history of classical music. And “borrowing” in other arts is routine. Authors like John Updike and others are fond of updating classics.

But sometimes (or often, some would argue) you don’t realize you’ve borrowed something. This (apparently) happened to George Harrison in the 70s. It happened to Rolling Stones Keith and Mick in the 90s, but they realized it and gave k.d. lang a writing credit, even though they’d never met her. And sometimes the difference between conscious and unconscious borrowing creates some Blurred Lines. (Ha! Get it?)

Giving proper credit is what separates “borrowing” from flat-out stealing, to my mind. If you don’t credit the source, you’re a thief. Sting, in a very Sting-like way, on the album notes for Dream of the Blue Turtles, carefully pointed out his own copying of the romance theme from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev for the song “Russians.” Credits (and therefore royalties) have been given to sampled records since at least the early 90s.

I say all this because this post is about Led Zeppelin, and if I thought no one would know – or if I was a good enough writer to disguise it – I would completely steal four pages from Chuck Klosterman’s 2005 book Killing Yourself to Live right here. On pages 197 to 201 of that book, he explains the popularity of Led Zeppelin with men, and posits that “every straight man born after the year 1958 has at least one transitory period in his life when he believes Led Zeppelin is the only good band that ever existed.” In a resonant few hundred words he concludes “Led Zeppelin sounds like a certain kind of cool guy; they sound like the kind of cool guy every man vaguely thinks he has the potential to be, if just a few things about the world were somehow different … For whatever the reason, there is a point in the male maturation process when the music of Led Zeppelin sounds like the perfect actualization of the perfectly cool you.”

I understand this phase, I’ve gone through this phase, I’ve watched others go through this phase. (And as a big fan of the amazing “all-girl” tribute band Lez Zeppelin, I think some women go through this phase as well!) My freshman year roommate at college listened to nearly nothing else, had a collection[ref]I mean “a collection,” in that he had more than he could hang, sought out obscure posters, and changed their arrangement within our dorm room regularly.[/ref] of Led Zeppelin posters and pounded John-Bonham-Air-Drums nearly constantly, accompanying all the mighty Zep that silently roared through his drug-fuzzed brain. About that time I caught the bug, too, and I began listening, near constantly, to all the LZ tapes I’d made in high school.

I’d go in cycles regarding which one was my favorite. Dr. Dave gave me a cassette of their debut, Led Zeppelin, with the editorial comment “Their first. And their best!” And I agreed sometimes. Then I’d switch to those deemed “the best” by most fans, Led Zeppelin IV[ref]Yes, I know it isn’t really titled that, but that’s how most people know it.[/ref] or Physical Graffiti. Even the widely disparaged In Through the Out Door would bubble to the surface. My Led Zeppelin Phase lasted several months, and all along I thought they were the perfect band. Fragments of that phase remain with me.

I can’t explain why Led Zeppelin main songwriters, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, were so reluctant to credit the sources of many of their songs. (If you don’t know, some of “their” songs, like “Whole Lotta Love” and “The Lemon Song,” were actually adapted by them, with credit only given to the original writers after lawsuits.) They were young, sure, but both had been around the music business for years before Led Zeppelin began, so they knew their way around contracts and rights. They either thought no one would know, or they thought they’d changed it enough to disguise it.

And this sort of ties into why I love Houses of the Holy. While many Zeppelin albums are filled with reworked blues, lifted from old African American blues artists, or acoustic folk pieces, closely “inspired” by obscure folk artists, this album has eight songs that are unique, independent and demonstrate a variety that many Zep albums (and I love them all, still) lack. I guess you could say “the song doesn’t remain the same.”

Ha! That’s a (very funny) reference to the romping opener on the album, “The Song Remains the Same.”

It’s a galloping opener that immediately grabs you with its buzzsaw guitar and suspenseful fanfare until the main riff enters, about 0:22. Led Zeppelin is a collection of four talents unsurpassed by any other rock band, and bassist John Paul Jones (who is my favorite member, although I play bass and so have a special fondness for bassists) starts showing his skills immediately, bouncing behind Page’s guitar. Page has a nifty solo, and then the song slows to allow the mighty Robert Plant to start singing. My only complaint about this song is Plant’s voice, which is slightly speeded up, giving his already high-tenor sound a kind of mosquito-esque timbre. His lyrics are about the joy of experiencing music. I love Jones’s descending bass line behind his verses. I also like the shifting tempos, which drummer John Bonham directs with ease. Page has a couple brilliant solos left in his bag of tricks, and at times sounds to be playing four or five other guitars in the background. From Page’s solo at 3:47 until Plant enters again at about 4:50 is one of my favorite 60-seconds-worth of rock music. It’s a fantastic opening track.

The next song is more fantastic, and completely different. I didn’t like the effects on Plant’s voice on “The Song Remains The Same,” but his unaffected vocals on “The Rain Song” steal the show.

It’s one of my all-time favorite songs. The acoustic guitar opening the song sets a mellow, mellow vibe, and the two-note hook, at about 30 seconds, is simple and classic, and calls to mind The Ventures’ classic instrumental “Sleepwalk.” Plant enters, soulfully reviewing the seasons of his love, and after each verse Page beautifully calls to mind rainfall on a series of descending runs (1:08). The band has never been shy about putting orchestral arrangements in their songs, and they revel in the lushness on this song, taking time to let the music swell and ebb, nearly 3 full minutes without vocals. So much happens in those three minutes – Jones plays lovely piano, Page deftly supports it all, and John Bonham finally enters, with some soft triplets. It’s a lovely piece, and Plant has barely sung at all, but the last half is his. His melody lags behind the music, helping give the entire piece a hypnotic, drowsy feeling. Behind the second verse, the Bonham’s drums are gradually building the song’s momentum until, just about 4:55, Page’s acoustic sets up the crash of drums to transition the song into Full Power Mode. It pulls back for the final verse, and resolves with a last acoustic coda. This song is wonderful and should not be blamed for any bullshit 80s hair-band faux-metal cheesy-asspower ballad” that DJs of the era may have tried to characterize as “Zeppelin-esque.” Puh-leeze.

We’ve heard Heavy and Soft, so why not combine the two? Zeppelin have always been the masters at mixing hard rock with acoustic, and they may have perfected it on the radio hit “Over the Hills and Far Away.”

This is the blueprint for Zeppelin, perhaps the most Led Zeppelin song Led Zeppelin ever played. The first minute and a half is country-folk, almost CSN&Y-sounding, but Bonham crashes in at 1:26, and Plant uses his signature wail on a series of koan-like snippets that, what the hell, at least sound good when he sings them. Page/Jones/Bonham pound through the verses, then transition at 2:20 into a sort of funky break with a great Page solo. The three sound like they’re having so much fun playing together, and their transitions across all Zeppelin songs are unequalled, moving songs between time signatures, keys, tempos with ease. In this song it’s done with an ascending run at 3:00. They can do anything.

Even funk! Although it’s their own brand, probably the only funk song ever played in a 9/8 time signature, “The Crunge.” It’s the least-danceable dance song ever recorded, basically four guys jamming in the studio with Jones overdubbing some curlicue organ. It’s a fun and funny song, one that many Zep fans don’t like. But I appreciate it, even if Plant’s lyrics are afterthought-like. The song has no bridge – a section in many pop songs that is different from the verse or chorus. In a nod to James Brown, the creator of funk, who often directed his band live in the studio to “take me to the bridge,” Plant asks for the bridge many times, to no avail. It’s a bit of humor from a band that can sometimes seem very serious.

Is there anything else this band can do? Well, if they can put their stamp on funk, why not try it on reggae, as well?

The title, “D’yer Mak’er,” is not pronounced “Die-uhr Make-uhr,” as me and a million other teen music fans thought for years[ref]Which is wonderfully evoked in the awesome song by The Hold Steady, “A Joke About Jamaica.”[/ref], but instead is a phonetic spelling of the country Jamaica, the birthplace of reggae. It’s another song some Zep fans hate, but I love the big drums, the clear Jones bass, and the sound of Page’s guitar, especially the picking behind the vocals. Plant avoids the temptation to affect an island patois in standard “girl, you hurt me” lyrics.

After showing its fun side, Zeppelin gets dark and dreary and psychedelic (and still friggin’ awesome!) on the chilling “No Quarter,” a song that I used to dislike but grew to love – maybe due to hearing it while inebriated so often. One of the amazing things about Bonham’s drumming is that he sometimes seems to be drumming in a different time signature than the rest of the band. At 1:00, when the main riff starts, Bonham plays on the “two,” but skips the “four” in every other measure. It’s a melodic piece of drumming, just like when he mimics Plant’s rhythm, at 2:28. He’s both deft and powerful, great attributes for a rock drummer. Plant’s voice sounds underwater, telling of knights journeying in bad weather to deliver a message. At 3:00, the band goes into a prog-rock jam that sounds like something off a Yes album, before Plant re-enters. More Bonham fun: listen to his drums from 5:20 to 5:35. He’s brilliant.

We’ve heard so many different styles, but how about straight-up pop rock song? Well, I give you one of their most popular songs, “Dancing Days.”

But of course it’s not so straight-up – just listen to that weird, dissonant chord 5 seconds in! The wailing guitar by Page sounds cool, and Jones plays a strange synthesizer that isn’t noticeable at first, but by the second verse is peeking through. Plant relives his teenage years (which may have included a lion with a tadpole in a jar?) with a voice as controlled yet muscular as ever.

The band still hasn’t played a typical arena-rock, riff-centered, macho song yet. But they finish the album with an all-time great, one of the most distinctive riffs in rock history, on “The Ocean.”

It’s another classic Bonham song, who introduces the song with a little rhyme, then powers ahead with a 4/4 beat, with 3/4 thrown in every fourth measure. I imagine Page coming up with this riff, and whereas most drummers would ask him to hold the last note an extra beat to keep the entire thing 4/4, Bonham instead rose to the challenge and just incorporated it. Plant is at his upper register, wailing in his best blues style about heading out of town. Page’s solo at 1:35 is subtly cool. I wrote about transitions earlier, and check out what the band does just before 2:13, throwing in a measure to ease into Plant’s “na na.” Later, at 3:17 they transition into a sort of 50s rock-and-roll style coda to bring the song and album to a close. It’s a great ending, in the show-biz tradition of big bands or stage extravaganzas, and I have to agree with Plant when he exclaims, “Oh, it’s so good!”

Led Zeppelin were so good indeed. They had a sound of their own that could be applied to any style, I’d say. I don’t dislike their blues, and I love their folk-rock, but I love when they’re borrowing entire styles from elsewhere instead of borrowing songs. Houses of the Holy has everything I love about the band.

Track Listing:
“The Song Remains the Same”
“The Rain Song”
“Over the Hills and Far Away”
“The Crunge”
“Dancing Days”
“D’yer Mak’er”
“No Quarter”
“The Ocean”


26th Favorite: The Dark Side of the Moon, by Pink Floyd


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The Dark Side of the Moon. Pink Floyd.
1973, Harvest. Producer: Pink Floyd.
Bootleg Cassette, 1984.

IN A NUTSHELL: The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd’s wildly successful album, is another record from Floyd that demands to be heard in its entirety, first song to last. Roger Waters may have written most of the songs, but this is a David Gilmour tour de force, both for guitar and vocals. It’s a timeless record deserving of its many accolades and commercial success. The themes of being human in a modern world still resonate today, nearly 50 years after its release.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.
How To Get Drunk Like A Rural Pennsylvania Teenager In The Mid-1980s
Step 1: Make The Decision To Go Get Drunk
Teens around Pennsyltucky (where I grew up) in the mid-80s, having grown up in the 1970s, had a unique perspective on cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and all things mind-altering. The attitudes were, by today’s standards, a little crazy. For example, seeing kids 10 or younger walking down the street smoking cigarettes would elicit a “tsk, tsk” sort of reaction from most grownups, equivalent to the reaction you’d get if a kid drank coffee. People just didn’t worry much about tobacco use. My high school had a “smoking lav,” where students could – with parental consent – puff away to their lungs’ content. My cousin and I routinely, as pre-teens, sneaked off to buy snuff at the local convenience store, where no questions were asked – then we put a bit inside our lip, got lightheaded and nauseous, then stashed the remainder in a stone wall near our grandma’s house and fell asleep at her house watching horror movies on Dr. Shock.

Most adults were less blasé about alcohol, but even so by high school there was a small but significant percentage of parents who didn’t give a shit if their kids got drunk. Many of them bought the beer for “partying.” Their attitude was “it’s just beer, what’s the big deal?” Most of them had been drinking beer since their own pre-teen years.

NOTES: 1.) 70’s rural PA concern over wine-drinking by boys was 20, but only due to a believed correlation to homosexuality.
2.) Today’s concern level for coffee grows exponentially with sugar and fatted milk product addition.

“Drugs” were less well-understood by the adults around me. Most of them were either too old or too square to have been truly a part of the Woodstock generation, so marijuana was considered a huge jump in seriousness-levels over beer. TV shows and music of the 70s sometimes presented drugs in a rather matter-of-fact way, but most often the message all around was “Drugs are Horribly Evil!” In the late 70s, my mom conspicuously left an anti-drug magazine around the house, and it scared the daylights out of me. Many families were very religious, as well, especially as compared to today, and that religious emphasis on good vs. evil provided a moral backdrop for some on the evil of drugs.

So – Step 1: Make Decision … Many kids make this decision anywhere from 6th grade on. For me, I was a dorky kid who was scared of making my parents mad and worried about accidentally dying, so my decision to use alcohol came much later than many of my peers. I was out of high school before I had my first beer. Drugs were out of the question.

Step 2. Decide Who to Get Drunk With
The normal thing for most people to do would be to hang out with only one’s closest friends while drinking. These are the people you like, the people who are fun, the people most likely to be forgiving if you do something stupid, the most likely to help you out if you do something stupid and dangerous. I only had two friends who I knew used alcohol – most of my close friends were kind of dorky like me. So I hung out with them the summer after graduating high school, and eventually an opportunity arose.

Step 3. Figure Out What Type of Alcohol and How to Get It
Procuring alcohol posed a multivariate problem, the solution of which required careful consideration of impinging factors, each influencing the others producing a variety of, at times, seemingly irreconcilable possibilities. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn expert teen drinkers from 1980s rural Pennsylvania went on to careers planning and executing successful Clinical Studies of emerging biotechnologies and pharmaceuticals[ref]I know at least one who did.[/ref].

Liquor was easiest, in some ways, as many kids could easily swipe a little from their parents. It was also cheapest, although it was customary to give the thief a few bucks for the effort. It was also gross to drink, generally didn’t last long, and induced vomiting at a rate higher than other comparators. As for wine, well, come on, nobody was bringing wine anywhere. (SIDE NOTE: This was the beginning of the wine cooler era, which did show up at some drinking events. Wine coolers were an example of goods in which the commercials and embarrassing celebrity endorsements were far more memorable than the products they advertised. Wine Coolers were also the “Hard Lemonade” of the era – a drink clearly aimed at the underage market.)

Beer was the winner. In Pennsylvania, the only way to buy beer was (and may still be) to either a) go to a bar and buy a six-pack[ref]I know, that seems weird, but it’s how it was.[/ref]; or b) go to a Beer Distributor to buy cases and kegs. This would initially seem like a barrier for teen drinkers – having to go into a store for beer as a (generally) obviously not-yet-21 customer. However, there were countless middlemen (older siblings/ cousins/ random weirdos/ parents) willing to make the purchase for you for a fee. Also, plenty of bars and beer distributors were more concerned with making a buck than with laws and safety and were happy to pretend that some dude, barely able to grow a few whiskers and wearing a “Class of ’85” t-shirt in 1985, who arrived in a station wagon with a “Proud Parent of an Honor Student” bumper-sticker, was likely older than 21. You didn’t even need a fake I.D. Just pick out the cheapest beer possible, and go.

Step 4. Decide Where to Go
Although parents in the mid-80s were less likely to get their collective panties in a bunch over alcohol use than today’s grown-ups, the consequences of being caught drinking or drunk as a teen were clear (possible arrest, parents being informed, etc.), and the extreme consequences (your angry parent has heart-attack at news of arrest, etc.) were always in the back of my nervous, rule-following mind. So one had to be careful about where to go. Of course there were parties hosted by kids with out-of-town parents, and parties hosted by kids with scary, let’s-buy-booze-for-the-kids parents, but both of these seemed tailor-made for a police bust. For my money, the ideal place to go in rural PA was the woods. And the place to be seen in the woods (although technically not, as it was always super dark, but more on that in a bit) around my town was an old fire-watching tower called “Governor Dick.”

Governor Dick was named for a formerly enslaved man called Governor Dick who lived in the woods around Mt. Gretna and worked as a “collier,” or charcoal maker, back in the early 1800s. He apparently provided charcoal for the old Cornwall Furnace, an important ironworks in US revolutionary times, and was so well-liked that they named a section of the woods for him. He probably never guessed that 180 years later his phallic-sounding name would be commemorated with a phallic-looking tower and associated with barfing teen-aged drinkers all around the Lancaster-Lebanon area.

You’d park somewhere (somebody always seemed to know where) and you’d walk through the dark woods (somebody always seemed to bring a flashlight) and you’d stumble over roots and stumps (somebody always seemed to fall and get mildly injured) and try not to drop the cases of beer (somebody always brought bottles instead of cans) and eventually emerge in a clearing with one big tower in the middle and a million empty beer cans around it. Then up the tower, lugging that beer, where drinking commenced.

Looking back, I find it amazing that a) the cops didn’t follow the trail of beer cans (somebody always had to drink on the walk to the tower) and come visit the tower every 90 minutes; and b) nobody ever fell off – including the kids who always drunkenly dangled over the edge. (Somebody always drunkenly dangled over the edge – in those days there was only a waist-high railing encircling the top of the tower.)

Step 5. Play Some Music
Somebody always brought a boom-box; somebody always brought cassettes. The great thing about cassettes was that you could stash a few in your pockets, or girls could put some in their purses, and you’d have a lot of music handy. Sure, it wasn’t as easy as pulling songs out of thin air with a pocket computer, but it seemed pretty fuckin’ awesome to us. Key cassettes to bring along included Led Zeppelin’s symbols-titled release, popularly known as Led Zeppelin IV; The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; and The Eagles Their Greatest Hits 1971 – 1975. (I hung out with a bunch of classic rock enthusiasts.) These were great drink-along, background music songs, for getting loud (Zep), getting weird (Peppers) and singing along (Eagles). But at the end of the night, when the drinking had slowed and most of the crew had begun hiking back through the deep, dark woods; when any craziness and danger had ceased; when the alcohol had massaged our emotions, and the folks who smoked weed had finished smoking their weed, one of the three or four of us who remained would pull out The Dark Side of the Moon, (somebody always pulled out The Dark Side of the Moon) and we’d just sit there and listen.

As with other Floyd albums, like The Wall and Animals, The Dark Side of the Moon is a record that pretty much demands to be listened to in one sitting, beginning to end. I don’t think I’m being very controversial in saying that Pink Floyd albums, particularly ones from the 70s, have far more impact as a singular artistic statement than as a collection of songs – even though many of the songs are brilliant in their own right. Founder and sometime bandleader, bassist Roger Waters, was fond of grand themes and he has stated that Dark Side of the Moon was “an expression of political, philosophical humanitarian empathy that was desperate to get out[ref]He said this in the great BBC program “Classic Albums.”[/ref].”

Maybe so. The album begins with “Speak to Me,” featuring the wondrous sounds of human life: a heartbeat; voices. Then it quickly degrades into the unsettling reality of more depressing sounds: a cash register, crazy laughter, finally screams.” At which point “Breathe” begins.

Guitarist David Gilmour picks a lovely riff, Waters plays cool bass octaves and drummer Nick Mason plays some Ringo-esque drums behind nice keyboard work from Rick Wright and mournful pedal steel guitar by Gilmour. The band plays a nice long intro before Gilmour’s voice enters on lyrics from Waters that give a rather bleak peek into what lies ahead for a young adult: a life of toil, questions, futility. It’s clear why so many teens and young adults connect with this record. The song also demonstrates quickly that headphones are probably the best way to experience this masterpiece[ref]Either headphones, or totally wasted on top of a 50 foot tower in the middle of some woods.[/ref]. Gilmour’s subtle harmonies and guitar voicing, Wright’s organ flourishes, the “surround sound” production … it all is tailor-made for headphones.

And that’s certainly the case of the weird synthesizer piece “On the Run.” It’s got a pulsing, video game sound with footsteps, crazy voices, loud engines, and finally … a car crash? I don’t know but it sounds cool, and finally devolves into ticking clocks and alarms that signal the beginning of the brilliant song, “Time.”

“Time” is a song that reminds me, if I ever happen to forget, that David Gilmour is one of the most remarkable guitarists in rock music. After the clocks chime (a rather obvious sound-effect for the song, but so what? It sounds great…) there is a long, ominous build-up of metallic-sounding, echoing low notes coupled with Mason’s toms and Wright’s subtle organ, and this compelling introduction really sets up the entry of Gilmour’s voice, at 2:30, to sound all the more powerful. Gilmour also plays so many cool, bluesy riffs that it makes one’s head spin. Background oohs and aahs give way to Gilmour’s first solo at 3:30. He’s got such great tone and control, and I love at 4:28, when he eases back into the chorus chords, with the background vocals. It’s a solo that does so much in a minute and a half, and when it’s done he continues to throw in cool stuff like the little descending figure at 5:00, behind the vocals. The lyrics are another sort of warning to youth about time slipping through one’s fingers. The song nicely brings back a reprise of “Breathe” to end it. Keyboardist Rick Wright actually sings the chorus on “Time,” and he’s the main creative force, structurally, of the next song, too, “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Vocalist Clare Torry was asked to improvise over the track the band had already laid down, and what she delivered was masterful. It’s at once both uplifting and heartbreaking, and seems to say as much about the human condition as the lyrics in the other songs.

The song also features snippets of voices, which are heard throughout the album. Various everyday people were asked to respond to questions about topics like death and violence and their responses (such as “Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it – you got to go sometime.”) have become as memorable to fans as any of the songs.

The song that is memorable to even non-fans is the international smash, “Money,” which opened Side Two, back when albums had sides …

Floyd have a long history of using everyday sounds, like TV shows and chanting soccer crowds, in their songs, and the use of a cash register ringing – in 7/4 time, no less! – on “Money” is one of their best efforts. Despite the odd time signature, the song is a basic blues song, with a Pink Floyd twist. Gilmour’s vocals on a snarky commentary on “the good life” are outstanding. Waters’s bass line is one of the most recognizable in rock, and Mason’s drumming is particularly excellent. The song switches to 4/4 time for Gilmour’s guitar solo (at about 3:00), and it’s Mason who holds it all together. His playing is once again Ringo-ish throughout Gilmour’s terrific soloing, which has a cool breakdown part at about 3:48 then blasts into overdrive again at 4:30. By the way – let’s not forget the amazing saxophone solo by Dick Parry. “Money” continues the album’s prodding of young adult minds grappling with the question of “what it all means,” and fades out to more snatches of conversation, blending quietly into another Big Question song, the lovely “Us and Them.”

Dick Parry’s sax provides a gentle entry into Gilmour’s vocals. I was typically half-asleep by this point up on that tower, but concentrating on lyrics that made me think that Pink Floyd was opening my eyes to everything. (“For want of the price/ of tea and a slice/ the old man died” Ahhh, youth.) The harmony vocals from Wright are great, and at about 4:50 he plays a terrific piano solo, which also features the classic spoken words “… if you give him a short, sharp shock …” in the background. The song takes you away, it’s powerful and perhaps a bit overblown, but I still like it.

It gives way to “Any Colour You Like,” a headphone song if there ever was one. This song gave one time to reflect on the previous song, and paved the way for the double-barrel album closer, two songs strung together: “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse.”

These two songs together may be my favorites on the album, although “Time” and “Money” are near the top as well. These are the only songs on which Floyd mastermind Roger Waters sings lead, and he does a great job on lyrics about the feeling of going crazy and a final summation of life, really. The backing vocals by the women vocalists provide a grandeur to the songs that probably helped embed the feelings deeply into that young adult brain of mine up on top of that tower.

Luckily, I never fell off of that tower. I eventually got my alcohol consumption under control without a major horror story – only a few embarrassments. I left the booziness behind, but not the album. When “Eclipse” starts, at about 3:50, with Wright’s organ cadenza, I’m transported on the sound-waves to my youthful self. I still feel moved by Waters’s list of the contents of one’s life. I understood that list differently as a 19-year old than I do as a 50-year old. Back then I thought, “Is that all there is?” Now I think, “Boy, I packed a lot into life so far.” But the feeling is the same – the feeling of being human. The Dark Side of the Moon is an album that stays with you for life.

Track Listing:
“Speak To Me”
“On The Run”
“The Great Gig In The Sky”
“Us And Them”
“Any Colour You Like”
“Brain Damage”


94th Favorite: New York Dolls, by The New York Dolls


New York Dolls. The New York Dolls.
1973, Mercury Records. Producer: Todd Rundgren
Purchased ca. 2004.

albm cover

squirrel IN A NUTSHELL – Frantic, fervent, fabulous Rock and Roll. The double guitar attack and against-the-guardrail vocals create a nearly out-of-control mess that is at once inspiring and hilarious. The boys write catchy songs, too, and make music that sounds like it should be the dance mix tape at the coolest rock and roll high school party in town. WOULD BE HIGHER IF – there was a little more variety. It’s all three chords, hang onto your hat, and let’s go! but it could use a change of pace.


Everybody knows That Dude. (Or That Chick.)

drunk guy That Dude who is a little out of control, kind of crazy, maybe not really scary in a way that makes you fear for yourself, but definitely scary in a way that you worry for him. jokerThe severity of That Dude-ness ranges from “gets a little wild when he has to much to drink” all the way up to “probably psychotic, and he really needs professional help.”

That Dude is typically in his 20s, hospital party still unfocused career-wise, usually without a long-term girlfriend (although sometimes That Dude dates That Chick …), and has a tendency to drink too much alcohol or consume too many drugs. You never are sure what That Dude might do, but you know that – whether you end up accompanying him to the Party of the Century, or the Hospital – it will be a memorable time, and you’ll likely have good stories to tell.

charlie sheenThat Dude isn’t ALWAYS out of control – people who are constantly out of control are too self-centered to maintain a friendship, and are more drama than they are worth. (Even if – again – they leave you with a good story.)

That Dude is generally a nice guy, fun to hang out with, interesting to talk to … but has a streak of “holy shit!” in him, particularly when a few drinks (or many) are involved. That Dude has a few close friends, but tends to easily skate along the surface of different groups of people, until he crashes through, making a splash, providing a story or two for all to tell, and then disappears beneath the surface, leaving folks to ask years later, at parties and reunions, “Remember That Dude? Remember that time he …”guests

That Dude is envied by shy, retiring folks with low self esteem; mocked by confident, goal-oriented folks with ambition and drive; feared by uptight, moral folks with no self-awareness; and tolerated by artsy folks with holy-shit-streaks of their own.

That Dude seems like a dude who is so comfortable with himself that he doesn’t give a shit, but just lives his life like he wants to live it and doesn’t worry about what others might think. This is how “The Dude,” Jeff Bridges’ great character in the fine Coen Bros. movie The Big Lebowski, is portrayed.

dudeBut That Dude is different from “The Dude.” For one thing, That Dude is a lot younger, and a lot wilder, than “The Dude.” He is a lot more out of control. “The Dude” shuffles around a grocery store in his bath robe and discreetly swigs half-and-half. That Dude sprints through the produce department in his underwear and grabs three limes and juggles them out the door.

That Dude is more focused on impressing others, as well. His act requires an audience. “The Dude” got that half and half because he needed to make a White Russian for himself. That Dude stole those limes because a friend said he needed them for margaritas at his party, and That Dude wanted to make it interesting.limes

That Dude is also drunk more often than “The Dude.” Although “The Dude” drinks throughout The Big Lebowski, he never appears drunk and is certainly always in control. But That Dude … well … anyway.

“The Dude” truly is comfortable in his own skin. That Dude is desperately uncomfortable, and trying to figure out why.

That Dude may become “The Dude” later in life, but it’s only one possibility for him. No one is ever really sure what ever became of That Dude.

chewySo … what DID ever happen to That Dude? He was so crazy! I wonder if he survived into adulthood? I wonder if he got arrested? I wonder if he got killed in some freak accident, like maybe he tried to balance on top of a trash bin to enhance his impression of Chewbacca but fell off and was accidentally strangled by his fuzzy sweater? (As his drunken comrades laughed hysterically, thinking it was another part of the wacky bit?)

So many possibilities… I wonder if he’s writing a blog about listening to all his CDs and ranking his 100 favorite?

I was trying to recall That Dude who I knew. “Everybody knows That Dude,” I claimed at the top of this post, but do I remember That Dude from my past? Nobody jumped out at me, so I kept thinking. It took a while, but finally it came to me.

I was That Dude! Indeed I was. I’m not proud of it, but it is the truth. That Dude was me. Ask anybody who knew me from age 19 to about 25. It’s actually rather embarrassing. I want to rush out and tell everyone who knew That Dude that nowadays I’m just me. I have a strong desire to tell folks who knew him that That Dude is gone, and that he didn’t turn into “The Dude” and he didn’t strangle himself with a warm sweater. That Dude is dead, but I’m still around.

blahI know all the psychological reasons behind why I was That Dude, but blah blah blah. Who cares?

All I know is that there are a million stories about That Dude, and I can’t seem to recall any of them right now. There were injuries, there were close calls, there were inappropriate moments, there were embarrassing stunts, there were police, there were accidents (never in a car, luckily), there were fights and ejections, and long trudges through the rain, and climbing in windows, and above all … there were lots of really funny friggin’ times … But I’ve lost touch with That Dude. He hasn’t come around in years.

I think about That Dude whenever I hear album #94, The New York Dolls’ self-titled debut. The music immediately brings to mind a funny, out of control dude who you are compelled to hang with, just to see what might happen next.

dolls 4

It could be ugly, it could be beautiful, but you won’t forget it – whether you wind up in a hospital bed (with a rock and roll nurse!!??) or having the time of your life.

New York Dolls is an album of energy and fun, with a double guitar attack, driving drums, and vocals that don’t really carry a tune as much as drag it along behind, while it writhes and pounds the dirt. It is straight-ahead rock and roll, and get out of the way ’cause it’s stopping for no one. The songs are catchy, the music sounds good, and every song makes me want to get up and … and … I don’t know, just get up and do something out of control!!

But before I get into the record, let’s just hear, and watch the band perform, the first song on the album: “Personality Crisis.” This is a live version of the song, so it doesn’t sound exactly like the record, but it gives a good idea of what’s about to unfold:

nice dayThis album was released in 1973. Go back and look some more at this band, and listen to the song. And think about 1973. 1973 was “Have a Nice Day.” It was “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” And The Partridge Family.partridge

The top three songs for 1973 were Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly,” Jim Croce’s “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” and Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.”

Try to put yourself in a place where those are the top three songs of the day, close your eyes and travel back to a time when Tony Orlando orlandwas popular enough to get his own TV show, to a place where The Carpenters and Helen Reddy are cranking out top ten hits like they have a secret machine … and when you get there, slowly open your eyes and watch that New York Dolls clip once again.carpenters

++++++++++++++++++++HOLY SHIT! The singer’s in high heels! shocked ladyThe bass player wears blue leather boots up to his crotch!! They all wear makeup and have haircuts straight out of a Saturnine beauty salon, and nobody on stage is even ATTEMPTING to actually sing!! This music must have sounded like it came directly from hell in 1973, with Satan himself in purple glitter ass pants and painted nails.

To give a little more perspective, here are a couple bands who 3 years later shook up the music industry with a new style of music called “punk rock,” The Sex Pistols and The Ramones:

Now watch The New York Dolls play “Bad Girl” three years earlier:

The Sex Pistols and Ramones sound downright tame compared to the Dolls three years before.

dolls playThis band was ahead of its time, and even though the music press liked them, that didn’t translate into album sales. America virtually ignored them. The band put out a couple albums, then splintered into punk rock and solo projects (The Heartbreakers (not Tom Petty’s band, Johnny Thunders’ band), Sylvain Sylvain, David Johansen) and didn’t ever reach mainstream success (of sorts) until well after the band had dissolved.

I had heard of The New York Dolls at times throughout my musical life, but it was just a name of a band to me, I didn’t know anything about their music. I had heard they dressed up in women’s clothes in the early 70s but that fact didn’t make me interested in what their music sounded like. Then, during the horrible 80s, a horrible song by a horrible singer was released, and like a fart in an elevator or the Ebola virus, there was no escaping it. 1987’s smash hit … “Hot Hot Hot” by Buster Poindexter. “Who is this evil person, and why is he doing these horrible things?” I wondered. It turns out he was none other than David Johansen, former lead singer with The New York Dolls, and he now had a new generation of music fans believing him to be Satan incarnate. (Except unlike our parents, we were right!)

Actually, I recognized his face from his days as a solo artist. His solo band used to get some serious MTV airplay in the first year or two of that channel, with cover songs that I never liked. So between Buster Poindexter and the crappy cover songs on MTV, I figured there was no way I was ever going to listen to The New York Dolls – there was NO WAY that shit could’ve been good, right??

nirvanaIn the early 90s I lived with a very cool, very great guy, a punk rocker named Eric. He owned a million CDs, most by bands I had never heard of. I thought I was a pretty educated music lover, but seeing his CD collection opened my eyes. He had Nirvana CDs and singles well before Nevermind. green riverHe had Green River CDs well before Pearl Jam. His own band, Gumball, was making a name in New York City, and he became part of the 90s “grunge revolution,” which I’m sure he never meant to do. But anyway, I listened to some of his stuff, bands like Stiff Little Fingers and The Plimsouls, and I really liked them. But I shied away from his New York Dolls records. I didn’t trust Buster.buster “It’s really good,” Eric assured me, but … “Hot Hot Hot” kept rolling through my brain. My brain said Not Not Not.

Skip ahead a few years, and I have this boss, and he is very boss like, seems straight-laced and mellow, and I assume he’s likely a country-western fan, or maybe a light-jazz kind of creep, but one day we get to talking about music, and it turns out he’s a punk rocker!boss He tells me of seeing the Ramones in the 70s, and how he followed The New York Dolls all over New England. He said he thought I’d like them, but I remained skeptical. Then one day he heard me playing a CD by The Replacements, and he said to me, “You really should get The New York Dolls’ first record. Tell you what, I’ll bring mine in.”

He brought in the CD, I listened to it at work in the lab, and went out and bought it for myself within the week. It is just that good.

All of my damn record reviews talk about “melody” and “guitar,” so much so, in fact, that I felt it necessary to place the words in quotation marks because they’ve started to sound like phony baloney terms used by HR professionals and sales weasels. It seems every album on my list so far is all “Melody” and “Guitar.” So why should album #94 be any different?? (At least I know what I like!)

johansenAlthough you’d be hard pressed to really describe what David Johansen does for the Dolls as “singing,” you certainly can say he carries a tune (sort of.) At the very least, he gives the impression of the tune that should be carried by you and your friends as you sing (or shout) along with him. In the song “Looking For a Kiss,” the simple tune bounces along from Johansen’s lips, and he screams and grunts and sounds really … enthusiastic! I mean that in an un-ironic way. He sounds very happy to be shouting out these tunes.

But what makes a tune like “Looking For a Kiss,” or “Subway Train“work for me are the guitars! Both Sylvain Sylvain sylvainand Johnny Thunders play interesting fills and riffs behind the lyrics. On their surface, these songs sound like three-chord blast-throughs, with the guitars bashing out power chords. But listen closely, and you’ll find that’s not the case. “Subway Train” has dueling guitar solos from about the 2:00 mark all the way until 2:30, and they continue to wail once Johansen comes back to the verse. And while one guitarist makes subway sounds, the other supports with arpeggiated chords that sound better than a pounded out power chord. The band has two guitar players, and they use them both effectively. thundersFor me, the guitar work of the Dolls is what sets them apart from The Ramones or The Sex Pistols or many other punk bands.

Another song with excellent guitar work is “Vietnamese Baby.” This song also features lyrics that seem to deal with issues facing soldiers returning from Viet Nam – a rarity for the era. peach Most songs about Viet Nam were more focused on stopping the war, and on the evil of war, but very few actually dealt with the plight of the returning soldiers. It’s another straight ahead rocker, with furious pounding drums, and it gets me singing along whenever I hear it.

In fact, all of the songs on the album feature furious, pounding drums except one – the slow ballad (well, a Dolls version of a slow ballad) “Lonely Planet Boy.” This song even features acoustic guitar and a saxophone buried in the mix. It’s a song of loneliness, and Johansen does a good job on the vocals – not attempting to croon, but letting the emotion come from his natural vocal style. It’s a welcome slow song, surrounded by all those 100 mph burners.

bo diddleyOne of my favorite songs on the album is a cover of a Bo Diddley song “Pills.” The album version is great, but there is such terrific footage of the band playing these songs live that I thought I’d share another. Here Johansen wears his best Oscar night strapless sequined number at a club in NYC.

The Dolls always have good backing vocals. I mentioned in my post on album #95 how much I love Keith Richards’ backing vocals, and Johnny Thunders has a bit of Keith in his vocals, as well. They’re kind of strained, sort of in tune, but always sound great. I read on the interwebs that Johnny idolized Keith, and I guess I can hear that in the vocals, and probably in the guitar as well (although – who wasn’t influenced by Keith??)
dolls 3
The New York Dolls were only together a few years, and they only put out two albums during their time together. I don’t know an awful lot about them, but it seems like they were a rather “hard-partying” band. In this clip of them playing “Trash,” in 1974, the havoc that’s been wreaked among the band is clearly evident in Johansen’s face. The song also features Thunders’ guitar and backing vocal work.

The band was clearly out of control by the time their second album, Too Much Too Soon, was released in 1974. They never fully lived up to the promise of their 1973 debut. Then again – maybe they did. Maybe the path they took was expected. Just like That Dude, maybe a change was necessary for the band to make it to adulthood. Maybe that’s why I identify so strongly with the record.

conversationI can hear the conversation taking place at a reunion somewhere …

“What ever happened to That Band?”

“Oh my god!! I forgot about That Band! Remember that song “Jet Boy” about the dude’s gay lover who steals his girlfriend?”

“Holy shit! That was crazy! Or what about the song “Frankenstein (Orig.),” listed that way on the album, with “Orig.” in the title, because they were pissed that Edgar Winter had a hit by the same name!!”

“I wonder what ever happened to That Band? I had forgotten all about them.”

dolls 1The New York Dolls are worth remembering. And the album New York Dolls is unforgettable.

Personality Crisis
Looking For a Kiss
Vietnamese Baby
Lonely Planet Boy
Frankenstein (Orig.)
Bad Girl
Subway Train
Private World
Jet Boy

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