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On Rock 'n' Roll

March 11, 2021

Surprisingly enough, the blog post that has generated the most positive feedback thus far is the recent one in which I said that new rock ‘n’ roll – and by “new” I mean just about everything post-1975 except stuff pre-1975 bands and artists have continued to do – doesn’t hold a candle to the stuff that began bursting on the scene in the mid-1950s and continued through the British Invasion, Hendrix, The Eagles, and Costello…early Costello, that is.

People have asked questions like “Who is your favorite rocker of all time?” and “What’s your favorite rock album/song?” So, answers to those questions change from day to day, but I’ll share some current thoughts:

One of my favorite rock songwriters is Ray Davies. His post-Kinks solo albums “The Storyteller” and “Working Man’s Café” are absolutely brilliant. Like Van Morrison, Davies is a wordsmith. He doesn’t just throw random stuff into a rhythm like, say, Robert Plant; rather, Davies creates works of rock art that are coherent. My favorite Kinks albums are “Muswell Hillbillies” and “Misfits” but I could listen to any of them and grin. The song “20th Century Man” is one of the best rock songs ever written.

Van Morrison caught my ear when I was in high school when he was fronting his first band, Them. I went over to a friend’s house when I was a senior and his single mom put on “Gloria” for us. It blew me away. Then she flipped it over and played the B-side, “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” I went out and bought Them’s first album, “Here Comes the Night,” the very next day. Van began to lose me in the 1980s, but he’s one of the superstars, for sure.

Graham Parker, especially his albums with the Rumour, is also one of the superstars. “Heat Treatment” and “Howlin’ Wind” are two of the finest examples of raw rock ‘n’ roll ever. A good friend of mine who also played on my 1992 opus, “Breakaway Face,” was Parker’s lead guitarist for a time. The GP song inspired by Smokey Robinson, “Wake Up (Next to You)” is worth everyone’s time.

I mentioned Robert Plant earlier and don’t want to leave anyone with the impression I don’t like his songwriting. I like it a lot – “29 Palms” being my all-time favorite – but a lot of his lyrics, especially with Zeppelin, were just word salads. Check out, for example, the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven,” which I can’t hear too often: What do they mean? Nothing, I guess, which is okay, but it’s why I prefer Ray Davies.

One of my favorite songs of all time is “Kind of a Drag” by the Buckinghams. I re-arranged it once, making it a slow, dirgy sort of blues number. I’d still like to flesh that out in the studio, complete with a harmonica solo in the middle. Another couple of one-offs that run through my head a lot are “Walk Away Renee” and “Jenny (867-5309).”

Covers? There is no better cover, ever, than Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” and there may not be a better album, ever, than “Are You Experienced.”

What continues to fascinate me is that most people who love Fleetwood Mac have no idea that they existed before Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band. The Mac actually began in the late 1960s as a British blues band, and one of the all-time best, at that. Peter Green was their original lead guitarist – one of three, actually – and lead vocalist. Green wrote and recorded “Black Magic Woman” with the Mac. That’s right, it is not a Carlos Santana composition as many folks think. Green’s last album with FM was “Then Play On,” which is brilliant as a whole and includes one of the most wonderful blues-rocks songs ever written, “Rattlesnake Shake.” Green faded into obscurity after he left the Mac, but if you are interested in delving into his catalog, I recommend you begin with Gary Moore’s tribute album, “Blues for Greeny.”

Speaking of which, Gary Moore, whom most people have never heard of, is in my immaculate estimation the best blues-rock guitarist ever. Well, maybe he’s in a tie with Rory Gallagher. Check out some of their stuff. You’ll never worship Eric Clapton again.

Are there any new groups/artists that are keeping the flame of rock ‘n’ roll alive? Yes. Greta van Fleet comes immediately to mind. If you are of a mind, I recommend YouTube videos of live performances. They remind me of Rush, Zeppelin, and Mother Love Bone – the band that “birthed” Pearl Jam, only much, much better – all wrapped into one package.

On my new website, which will launch when it launches, I’m going to put up some stuff I’ve recorded over the years. Original compositions like “Name Brand Blues” and “UFOria.” As Van Morrison cries out in the first live version of “Into the Mystic,” “It’s too late to stop now!”

Copyright 2021, John K. Rosemond

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