Los Lobos Play “Don’t Worry Baby”

Los Lobos How Will The Wolf SurviveListen to this track by East L.A rock ‘n’ roll and Tex-Mex paragons Los Lobos. It’s “Don’t Worry Baby”, a blues-steeped workout that is featured on their 1984 album How Will The Wolf Survive? 

Given that their name has a definite lupine association, that question was certainly pertinent to a group of otherwise regular guys playing music during the height of the MTV era. In the meantime, they had just scraped enough together after their EP … And A Time To Dance to buy a van and do a proper tour of the United States on their own steam after opening for Public Image, Ltd in the early eighties. The gambit seemed to pay off, with the band gaining traction and industry attention to record this, their first major label full-length record in the summer of 1984, with the help of the meticulous production ear of T-Bone Burnett, who also co-wrote this song.

This tune is infused with several musical streams the band were exposed to before forming in East L.A in the early 1970s as high school kids. The overall effect is a sort of bluesy rockabilly feel that not many in the mainstream were putting forward on top forty radio by 1984. Even the title of the song seems to be self-reflexive of their situation, being a singular group with no proven template for success to follow outside of their own identity as a band. So, how indeed would the wolf survive? Read more

10 Cover Songs By The Beatles That Helped Define Them

The Beatles established the idea for British beat groups that if you wanted to make your mark, you had to write your own songs.

But, before they were writers, they were music fans and record collectors – just like us! They had influences, like any other band. In their earliest days, The Beatles considered themselves primarily as a rock ‘n’ roll band. But, they pulled in a number of influences that allowed them to define their sound even early on; soul music, rockabilly, traditional pop, movie soundtrack music, Latin music, and more.

The Beatles 1964

A lot of the time, their choice in material was made so as to distinguish their sets from those of other bands working the same clubs as they did. And it also served them as a live act when they were a bar band in Hamburg, playing eight-hour shows. To play sets that long, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground, and make sure you’re ready to play anything for the sometimes volatile audiences. More material is better than less in those situations; better to know it and not have to play it, than having to play it, and not knowing it.

What this anything goes approach also helped them to do of course is to create a template for how wide their reach would be as songwriters on their own. So, which songs did they cover that helped them to do this best? Well, in the tradition of the Delete Bin, here are 10 to consider as great Beatle-starters, and as prime cuts of pure pop magic all on their own. Take a look! Read more

The Bobby Fuller Four Play “Let Her Dance”

The Bobby Fuller FourListen to this track by Texan first-generation rock ‘n’ roll revivalist Bobby Fuller, and his three compatriots, making up the Bobby Fuller Four. It’s “Let Her Dance”, their June of 1965 single. This song was a local-to-Los Angeles hit that served as an example of authentic Tex-Mex flavoured rock ‘n’ roll in the spirit of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.

“Let Her Dance” proves that rock ‘n’ roll was not a forgotten form in America that only British groups were bringing to the table by the early to mid 1960s. It’s true that American rock ‘n’ roll had morphed somewhat by the early 1960s, with a number of other “Bobby’s” on hand that were more of the teen idol persuasion rather than inheritors of Buddy Holly’s independent rock ‘n’ roll songwriting spirit. But, Bobby Fuller wasn’t like them. Like Holly, Fuller was a songwriter, singer, guitar player, bandleader, and an enthusiastic record maker.

Yet, he is also a musical figure surrounded by mystery, and tragedy.

Read more

Alabama Shakes Perform “Hold On”

Listen to this track by Alabama rock ‘n’ soul, and so much more quartet Alabama Shakes. It’s “Hold On” a storming track as taken from their word-of-mouth meteoric 2012 debut Boys & Girls. The song is a single from that record, pulling in a myriad of influences from eras past.

Particularly evident is a strain of classic soul music that sounds like it came from Otis Redding’s pen is interwoven into the lines and the general feel on this song, and on others. But, the spirit of early ’70s British blues rock and hard rock, with traces of Led Zeppelin, the Faces, and the Stones, isn’t undetectable either.

Alabama Shakes
Photo: Pieter M. van Hattem / Contour by Getty Images

There’s something ineffable that roots the young band firmly into the now as well. In tapping into traditions of the past as they do, they somehow escape the cliches completely.  To rise above bar band blues, and to become a part of a grand continuum of disparate and complementary styles instead is a tremendously difficult feat.

It’s not been easy for many bands working out an identity in these kinds of musical milieus without the term ‘retro’ being mentioned. Carving a unique path through a musical landscape marked by many broad and asphalted sonic highways is a rare accomplishment. But, I think Alabama Shakes have done it.

But, how? Read more

The Dudes Play “American Girl”

Listen to this track by unabashed Calgarian rock ‘n’ roll band with an appropriately straight-forward name, The Dudes. It’s “American Girl”  their most recent single, as taken from their 6-track album Barbers, Thieves, and Bartenders.

Just recently, I’d been lamenting the fact that no one I can think of seems to be writing rock songs anymore, and that there’s always some kind of tag before the rock part – “indie”, “art”,  “blues”, or (gasp!) “prog”. It’s not that those tags are bad (well, the “prog” may divide the room, of course …). But, sometimes, you just want a big, meaty, man-sized rock song, with thunderous drums, crunchy-guitar, throat-shredding vocals, and no frills.

And then I heard this song, a kind of amalgam of  rock elements I love; a bit of the power-pop sensibility of The Cars (check out that “Just What I Needed” style opening here), along with the rootsiness of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, who also had a song about an American girl, of course. And let’s not forget the Chuck Berryisms of naming states and cities in America to create the impression of a hard-working band working their way across a nation. But, those acts I mentioned actually are American, where this one is from Canada.

What difference should that make? Read more

Elvis Presley Sings ‘I Got Stung’

elvis_gold_records_vol-_2_original_lp_coverListen to this track, a rollicking number from the King, Elvis Presley, who on this coming Saturday January 8th would have been 76 had he survived his battles with bad food, prescription drugs, and the Colonel. It’s one of my favourites of his pre-Army RCA days, “I Got Stung”, a double A-side to his 1958 single “One Night”, and a feature on the compilation record 50 000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis Golden Records, Vol 2.

Only 1:51 long, it packs in the sex and violence just as effectively as any punk rock song, kids. It would be his last recorded song in the ’50s (June 11, 1958 to be exact), the end of an era for him, and perhaps too for everyone. He would be shipped to Germany  as a part of the U.S Army after this, and his early career would be over.

Elvis’ RCA period is often lost in the shuffle, when considering his cooler Sun Records period, and his decidedly un-cooler ’60s movie period.  Where I think the split here is not quite as sharply defined in those terms, some of Elvis’ best singles come out of this middle period, with this one being one of my favorites.  What we’ve got here is all the production sparkle of a bigger operation like RCA, along with Elvis’ still supple, youthful swagger that we hear on the Sun sides locked right in there.  He sounds like a badass on this. And what about that band?

Read more

Chuck Berry Performs ‘Too Much Monkey Business’

Listen to this track, a huge landmark song in the rock ‘n’ roll treasury by one of the undisputed Founding Fathers, Chuck Berry.  It’s his 1956 single, “Too Much Monkey Business”, recorded on Chess Records and later to be released on the essential Great Twenty-Eight compilation, that every, EVERY music fan should own. I suppose that’s what essential means. But, it can’t be stressed enough, good people.

How influential, vitally important, and artistically exalted is Chuck Berry in the realm of popular song?  This post would be far, far too long trying to describe the breadth of this question. Suffice it to say, the Beatles, the Stones, and Dylan, among many, many others arguably WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN, were it not for this lunatic genius from St. Louis, an auto worker, house painter, and only part-time musician until his 1955 hit “Maybelline” took off and convinced him he could make more money by being a recording artist than by painting houses.

I could focus on his role as a self-contained singer-songwriter-guitarist. In an age of professional songwriters doling out tunes to singers, who in turn needed professional musicians to play the songs, Berry was a triple threat who stood on his own. This helped to set the scene for his contemporaries, like Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis, who would do likewise.  But, it also presented this approach as a viable possibility for his musical children, including the British Invasion-era groups that took his example and began to forge their own songwriting capacities to all of our benefits.

I could focus on his guitar style alone, which has become so intertwined in how everyone expects a rock guitar player to sound like, that when players don’t at least reference Berry’s style, they aren’t considered to be playing rock ‘n’ roll at all.  Everyone, from Keith Richards, to Johnny Thunders, to the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, and the list continues, all touch on Berry’s playing.

Berry’s guitar style is basically country picking meets boogie-woogie piano as translated to six strings.  In this second element, we must also thank longtime Berry collaborator and largely unsung hero pianist Johnnie Johnson, who contributed a great deal to how Berry’s guitar playing, and his sound in general, evolved.  But, even that is a post in and of itself.

But, when you’re talking about the role of lyrics in rock ‘n’ roll, then you have to mention Berry yet again.  And this tune is a giant in Berry’s catalogue.  As a rock ‘n’ roll song, it has everything; disdain for routine, for dead-end jobs, and for the futility of trying to please everyone.  On top of that, it is all about the rhythm of language with this tune.  The instruments take a backseat as Berry sings.  The way the words sound, tumbling one after the other, is enough to make you want to dance.  Many bands have covered this song just because of how punchy it is lyrically, from the Yardbirds, to the Beatles, and even Elvis Presley.  My favourite cover version is by The Hollies.

The groove this song created, thanks to how the verses were structured sent out a massive ripple effect, giving birth to other songs by other artists down through the decades, from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, to Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up”, to REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine)”.  If one thinks of Berry as a guitar hero, let us first think of him as one of the most lyrically gifted songwriters of the form as well.

For more information about how Chuck Berry influenced rock ‘n’ roll, and popular music in general, check out this article about Chuck Berry’s musical influence on history-of-rock.com and learn more.


Classic Rock: A Man Turns 50 and Fixates on a Simple Lyric

In this month’s guest post, Geoff Moore continues his analysis on the cultural impact of rock ‘n’ roll. Is rock music still a buffer against the madness of our times?  Is it a mass, subcultural delusion?  Is it both?  Is it possible to ‘get it right the next time’?  Read on, good people ...


Is there a more bittersweet and stubborn affirmation in rock ‘n’ roll than the last lines of Bob Seger’s ‘Roll Me Away?’ “Next time, next time we’ll get it right!”

It could be humanity’s universal epitaph, both micro and macro. It’s the royal we inside your head as you file the divorce decree amongst your personal papers. Eddie Van Halen musing about lead singers. The vow of Pentagon generals following two Gulf wars. The studied, rueful voices of Wall Street and Detroit’s Big Three in Washington with caps in hand even as Maple Leaf Foods plant managers seem to have Def Leppard’s Listeria (sic) album stuck on repeat.

In the “Lord love us and saints preserve us” category of this new age, a National Post story last month reported that the American Academy of Pediatricians has called for the hot dog’s shape to be reconfigured as to reduce the risk of toddlers choking on their ineptly prepared lunches; the absurdity of the nanny state mentality goes from worse to offal. And what more can provincial health officials doing a forensic on their temporary H1N1 vaccine clinics tell us? A back-pedaling green demagogue: Did we say global warming? We meant climate change.

Hey! You try cooking incomplete and inaccurate data!

It’s a world gone wrong, a ball of confusion and everything is broken. Next time, we’ll get it right, hockey stick computer models and frankfurters not withstanding.  When rock ‘n’ roll grew out of its imitation Elvis, teen idol years it seemed like the expanding soundtrack to a legitimate, alternative, more democratic and inclusive way for the West to mind and operate itself and interact with the rest of the world. Salvation was as near as side one, track two, at least in the eyes of the first generation of university educated American rock critics, who of course comprised a club almost as exclusive as the artists they covered. Fortunate sons would be lined up against the figurative wall.

In reality it was a matter of months from the birth of Eden to the fall, from the muddy idyll of Woodstock to the violent chaos of Altamont. Consider the breadth of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land’ for a moment, each festival was mounted in a coastal state, on the eastern and western fringes of America. Perhaps this is the explanation for rock ‘n’ roll’s failed promise, the musical geography pretty much jibes with the United States’ traditional red and blue political topography. Next time, we’ll get it right.

The Kinks’ Ray Davies came clean in the late 70s: “It’s only music, only jukebox music.” If you’re of a certain age (oh, say, um, 50), you’ve watched the Rolling Stones transform from a perceived threat to the establishment into a corporation, one that operates more efficiently than many present and former Fortune 500 companies at that. You have grown up listening to Bruce Springsteen grow up, slow dancing with your cat even while the scruffy and poetic romantic suites shrivelled into bitter Raymond Carver vignettes.

The Clash imploded attempting to fuse the dichotomy of revolution rock, that unstable alchemy of politics and pop. Meanwhile, Bob Dylan, once the unwilling voice of a generation, has recast himself, and wonderfully so, as the curator of American music, immersing himself these past 10 years in the blues, roots, country and murder ballads.

And so what is the legacy of this once grand sub-genre of current popular music aside from interactive vidiot games? Well, Stephen Harper is not our parents’ Prime Minister: apparently, he likes AC/DC. Imagining ‘Mistress for Christmas’ rattling the leaden windows of 24 Sussex Drive, while a jarring audio-visual non sequitur, is very likely still a little too staid an image for the tricky 18-24 voter demographic. John Mellencamp and Dylan played the White House recently, but they’re not making policy, which, when you come right down to it, might be a good thing.

Happily, the music marketplace is awash with burnished relics as the canon is being slowly and lovingly re-mastered and repackaged with fussy care.  This is definitely a case of getting it right the next time (and we’ll not question the record industry’s integrity nor motivation in following the Elvis Presley Enterprises model of selling the same product two or three times over under the guise of new and improved).

The basic, universal theme of rock ‘n’ roll, once it has been stripped down to the bone and all of the excess meat, marrow and sinew has been boiled away, is, simply, freedom – in all its abstract complexity. And freedom is a risky thing as it multiplies the opportunities for, as Neil Young so eloquently put it, ‘F*!#in’ Up.’ But even in its lamest and most commercial incarnations, rock ‘n’ roll remains the finest baffle and the finest buffer against the full throttle madness raging outside your front door. Out there it seems everyone and everything is f*!#in’ up.

Maybe they’ll get it right next time.


Geoff Moore is a writer from Calgary.  He’s just turned 50.  Happy Birthday, Geoff!

Rockpile Featuring Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds Perform ‘When I Write The Book’

Listen to this track from pub-rock holdovers and back to basics rock-pop craftsmen Rockpile, featuring singer, songwriter, bassist, and producer Nick Lowe, along with rock n roll revivalist Dave Edmunds.  It’s ‘When I Write The Book’, a tuneful treat for the ear as featured on the band’s sole album, Seconds of Pleasure from 1980.

A album like this from musicians of this caliber had tons and tons of promise.  Yet, it would be something of a burst of energy that ultimately fizzled out.  But, that has nothing to do with the songwriting, particularly not on this tune which is rooted in the best tradition of early rock n roll and early 60s Brill Building pop.  The passions felt by both Lowe and Edmunds for this period of musical history is palpable.  And what’s best, they were able to translate that enthusiasm in a live setting, as well as here on vinyl.

Perhaps expectations for this album were based on the more ragged, visceral ferocity of the back-to-basics approach as championed on the pub rock scene out of which both Edmunds and Lowe sprang.  ‘When I Write The Book’, for instance is not a growling R&B number, but more like a Goffin-King girl group throwback which sounds like a more sensible second cousin to the type of skinny tie new wave being made by people like Wreckless Eric, who also sprang from pub rock and from the Stiff Records crowd.

But in Nick Lowe’s case, he had always veered closer to the poppier end of the pop rock spectrum, where Dave Edmunds mined the Sun Records rockabilly end to a greater extent.  Perhaps it’s this tension which makes this song, and the rest of the album, pop with such jubilance.  It could also be the reason Rockpile never made it past their debut, and that Lowe and Edmunds would continue separately.

This band consisted of Lowe on bass, Edmunds on guitar, Terry Williams on drums, and Billy Bremner on guitar.  Since the mid-70s, they played on solo records by leaders Edmunds and Lowe (who were on different labels as solo artists), and gained a reputation as a forced to be reckoned with as a live act before this debut.  They in fact had recorded three other albums together as a unit.  Two were Edmunds solo albums (Tracks on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary), and a third was one of Lowe’s Labour of Lust on which his most recognizable song “Cruel to Be Kind” is also featured . And as if to prove their range of musical talent even further, they also backed up country singer Carlene Carter (to whom Lowe had been married at the time).

Their musical range presented both a huge potential, and something of a detriment, too. When you’ve got a record with cover versions by 60s psych band the Creation, soul man Joe Tex, rock pioneer Chuck Berry, and by Difford & Tilbrook of  new wave pop outfit Squeeze, you know your getting an eclectic listening experience. But, perhaps you’re not getting a record by a band who’s found their focus.

Besides how well or not the songs sit together, ‘When I Write The Book’ is an enormously charming pop song, with stunning harmony and call-and-response verve.  If there was ever any doubt about Nick Lowe as a songwriter with an ear for big pop song hooks, then let them be banished here.  He would take this talent and build on it into his continuing solo career with songs like ‘Rose of England’, which is another one of my favourites of his.  And Edmunds would continue to wave the banner high for traditional rock n’ roll in the spirit of the Founding Fathers.

Who knows what the key factor was for the false start which was Rockpile.  Perhaps they were individually too big for their boots to keep the band together, which perhaps explains why the project arguably lacks a certain cohesion in the ears of critics.   Of course, despite the dissolution of Rockpile as a formal band, the members would continue to collaborate through the 1980s and into the 1990s.  A fierce love of rock n’ roll between colleagues is hard to kill, after all.

To read more, check out the full story of Rockpile.


Elvis Lives On!

Elvis would have been 75 years old today. He was not just a singer.  He was a game-changer; a living, breathing icon of the 20th century.  Guest writer Geoff Moore explores the two poles of Elvis Presley, that of the R&B and country aficionado who burned it up on vinyl and on TV, as well as the merchandising industry he has become,a brand as kitschy as you please.  Of course,  there are plenty of juicy gray areas in between …


Elvis has been dead, or wandering anonymously through small, middle American towns scarfing doughnuts or living in outer space with the assistance of NASA, since 1977. January 8, 2010 is the 75th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s birth. If you did not know that, you will soon enough. The former Mrs. Presley, Priscilla, has her finger on the pulse of the marketing arm of Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) and it will be flexing its meaty bicep shortly, perhaps while decanting a delightful Elvis 75 Merlot.

The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is an industry now (Nasdaq ticker symbol CKXE), one based solely on the exploits and the existence of a single individual. An industry with a finite supply of decent, authentic product suffocating beneath an avalanche of kitsch and crapola. This is a business model that any sane banker would shred after reading, but there it is – pop culture’s first punch line is worth millions.

You can be sure that the minions of the recently deceased, self-dubbed, King of Pop, that delusional usurper, a spawn of MTV and a lamb to Internet slaughter, have taken notes. And you fear that similar cult of personality empires, Oprah’s and Martha Stewart’s for example, may best the Third Reich and actually exist for a thousand years.

But, you know what? A jukebox-shaped, lacquered, ’68 Comeback Special clock looks pretty cool hanging inside the garage by the door, provided you get the irony; provided you understand that all this junk, the commemorative album cover bathroom tiles, the McFarlane figurines, the wines, the shot glasses, the Pez dispensers, the tins of Valentine chocolates, the dashboard ornaments and the Christmas decorations comprise what might be pop culture’s first postmodern joke.

Lest we forget, beneath this heap of crud stickered with ‘official merchandise’ foil holograms there remains a strange, country cat with a cosmic voice: “I don’t sing like nobody.” He was prettier than most girls his age and he shook like a burlesque queen; television was in its infancy crying to be fed and the first wave of the baby boom was old enough to buy records. Circumstances colluded to forge the first of America’s 20th century pop culture avatars and their anointed sovereign.

RCA Victor’s Elvis Presley and Elvis both released in 1956 as long players may have established the music industry’s preferred format for selling rock ‘n’ roll to young people, a format which was to last some 30 years. Add From Elvis in Memphis (1969), recorded following the magical high of the ’68 Comeback Special, and there, arguably, is Elvis’s essential vinyl (don’t forget On Stage February 1970 as a classic post-60s live document – ed.) if you are comparing his album output to the must-haves in the catalogues of the greats who shadowed the pathfinder: Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, Springsteen… Elvis distilled to just three LPs? A woefully inadequate measure, because the King cannot be held to the same johnny-come-lately standards as the jester, the princes and the prophet.

First, foremost and above all, there are the earthquaking Sun sides recorded in Sam Phillips’s Memphis studio by a blonde truck driver. Glorious and primitive (and revisited with such obvious affection during the black leather performance portion of the ’68 Comeback Special), these songs – ‘Mystery Train,’ ‘Baby, Let’s Play House,’ ‘That’s All Right,’ ‘Trying to Get to You’ et al – are the very essence of Elvis, his core of greatness: “Hold it, fellas, let’s get real, real gone.”

His years in the wilderness of the Hollywood studio system make you wish he was managed by a cannier con man than Colonel Tom Parker, someone like Andrew Loog Oldham, maybe? Alas, what is done is done. Two Leiber-Stoller songs stand out among the soundtrack fodder, ‘Jailhouse Rock’ naturally and ‘Trouble,’ their brilliant send up of boastful 12-bar blues from King Creole (‘If you’re looking for trouble, look right in my face!’).

There are many more movie gems to be mined and heard, but like the diminishing returns of his 70s live and half-hearted studio album output (with their grotesquely unhip and uniformly cheesy cover art), you need to work at it a little bit. There are worse things to dig through. And many, many worse things to dig.

Elvis: rocker, soul man, crooner, country singer and gospel shouter is best explored and experienced on a song by song basis. He was the ultimate singles artist, and as such, is uniquely poised to be rediscovered and appreciated once again in this ADD age of iPod shuffles and YouTube shorts. Perhaps the EPE generated hype surrounding the upcoming 75th anniversary of his birth will create a modest convergence of music and media, of old and new, of analog and digital, introducing the King to an entirely new generation of listeners; renewing the focus on his music and reminding all of us that the branded schlock available on the toy and home decor aisles in Wal-Mart was never ever what Elvis Presley was all about.


Geoff Moore is a writer who lives in Calgary, and who I’m sure has a collection white, sequined jumpsuits in his closet.