Tag Archives: Songs

30 Songs Meme – Day One – Your Favorite Song: “Riot Act”

So, I’m going to follow the 30 songs meme that my friend Jason on Facebook started posting in response to. He showed me the link here. Looks cool.

It starts with,

Day 1 – Your Favorite Song

A list of my ‘favorite songs’ would go on forever, but “Riot Act” is my favorite song of the moment, and has been my very favorite song at several times in my life — early 20’s, early 30’s … and now in my early 40’s. It means different things to me at different times, probably as it does to EC. I look at it more metaphorically now, while it was very literally a ‘relationship song’ to me when I first heard it when I was 20. And this is such an angry song … rock and roll is best when it’s angry, don’t you think?


1970 – “Keep the Customer Satisfied,” Simon & Garfunkel

My choice for 1970 is “Keep the Customer Satisfied” by Simon & Garfunkel. It originally appeared on their swan song Bridge Over Troubled Water album, but I’m pretty sure I first heard it on my parents’ copy of their Greatest Hits comp (although they owned Bridge, as well as numerous Simon solo albums … as a matter of fact, the first album I remember purchasing with my own money was Simon’s One Trick Pony record — guess it’s hereditary!).


As with 1969, this was a tough choice. In the running were a bunch of great tunes, and I discarded faves by The Beatles (anything from Let it Be — just too obvious), the Velvet Underground (at one time or another, I’ve played almost every worthy song from Loaded — “Sweet Jane,” “Rock and Roll,” “I Found a Reason,” “New Age,” “Head Held High,” so that’s an automatic disqualification), Black Sabbath (“War Pigs” was definitely in the running — it’s even on the final mix CD I’ve been listening to), and Bowie (“The Man Who Sold the World” — is anyone really going to attempt to cover this after Cobain/Nirvana? — not for at least another couple of decades).

So I settled on the seemingly innocuous Simon & Garfunkel tune. It was certainly a favorite when I was young, one of the songs I loved to sing along with on the record — that one and “Homeward Bound” (which is a more melancholy — and adolescent — take on the same theme) are probably the S & G tunes that resonate the most with me as a listener and a performer. The emotions in each are right there on the surface, yet the melodies are incredibly accessible, the performances are brilliant, and the production plays to the strengths of each song.

The more I’ve thought about “Customer,” the more I’ve felt that it belongs on the 40Rock list, as it really fits with the confluence of events that have lead me to the place/person I am. For instance, “how are rock and roll [or music, or songwriting] similar to politics,” is a question that I’ve gotten from journalists, professional and amateur, at least a dozen times in the past year. I was asked this question again the other night at Down Home, before my first show since last August, by a student journalist from my university. When I answered I realized that I’d finally put it in some sort of cogent package; I don’t have the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of this:

Politics is a lot like rock and roll in that, at the most basic level, it’s about selling yourself, or at least a version of yourself, that you’ve created for a specific purpose. Even if there are only minor differences, my persona as Rob Russell the musician is different from my persona as Rob Russell the politician (e.g. one wears/wore an earring and one doesn’t), and it’s a persona that’s designed to “sell” a particular idea. One thing I realized when I was conducting a political campaign is what a half-assed salesman of myself I had been as a musician. I worked harder to sell myself as a politician than I ever did as a musician, and that was because I believed 100% in the ideas that I was espousing — it wasn’t art I was trying to sell, something personal or self-aggrandizing, but a belief that life could be better for the people in my home district. And I realized that if I was to ever take myself seriously as an ‘artist’ again, I should have at least the same amount of dedication and sense of purpose that I had as a politician — that is, if I ever hoped to succeed.

All that being said, other similarities betwen the two paths are the facts that they both include long days/nights on the road, lots of bad/junk food, moments (and sometimes days) of hopelessness as well as incredible (and unsustainable) highs, and many many many instances of speaking/performing in front of people who were not likely to “buy” what you are selling, may it be a rock and roll song or progressive political ideas.

Here are the lyrics:

Gee, but it’s great to be back home,
Home is where I want to be.
I’ve been on the road so long my friend,
And if you came along
I know you wouldn’t disagree.

It’s the same old story
Everywhere I go,
I get slandered,
I hear words I never heard
In the Bible.
And I’m one step ahead of the shoe shine,
Two steps away from the county line,
Just trying to keep my customers satisfied,

Deputy Sheriff said to me,
“Tell me what you come here for, boy?
You better get your bags and flee.
You’re in trouble boy,
And now you’re heading into more.”

It’s the same old story
Everywhere I go,
I get slandered,
I hear words I never heard
In the Bible.
And I’m one step ahead of the shoe shine,
Two steps away from the county line,
Just trying to keep my customers satisfied,

Wo, oh oh, wo oh oh oh …

It’s the same old story — yeah

And I’m so tired, I’m oh, so tired

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1971 – “River,” Joni Mitchell


Here’s a pretty good version of  “River” by The Bleeding Heart Show with myself and the SFL on vocals: http://music.unclechux.com/tno/20091209/River.mp3

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1972 – “Moonage Daydream,” David Bowie

My choice for 1972 is David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” MD was originally released as a single, with different lyrics and credited to “Arnold Corns” — another Bowie pseudonym (Ziggy Stardust = HUGE improvement) — in 1971. The version that I’m covering is the album cut from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972). It’s a pretty amazing track, in my opinion, and this fact was solidified when my son Kieran and I got the chance to watch D.A. Pennebaker’s Ziggy Stardust concert film last month on VH-1 Classic. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to afford the massive cable package we have now — Tracey and I are discussing cancelling cable altogether at the moment to try and save money — but it really was pretty amazing to finally see the “final” Ziggy show with Bowie and the Spiders in all their supreme glam glory. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bowie ouvre (heathens!), I’ll point you to my blip.fm site and the  lyrics below:

I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you
I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you
Keep your mouth shut,
you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird
And I’m busting up my brains for the words

Keep your electric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!

Don’t fake it baby, lay the real thing on me
The church of man, love
Is such a holy place to be
Make me baby, make me know you really care
Make me jump into the air

Keep your electric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!
Freak out, far out, way out

I can hardly begin to express how awesome it feels to sing lines like “I’m an alligator/I’m a momma-poppa comin’ for you/ I’m the space invader, / I’ll be a rock’n’rollin’ bitch for you” — especially in front of a crowd that’s expecting either innocuous folky musings or macho rock and roll posturing. And that is, if I can hazard a guess, one of the primary reasons that Bowie still strikes a chord with so many music lovers and musicians. If there was ever anyone who wrote fearlessly and “faced the strange” with an uninhibited sense of language that very seldom lapsed into self-parody (I’m a fan of Let’s Dance, myself, although many loathed it), it’s David Bowie.

I mention watching the Pennebaker film with Kieran, my 9 year-old. He really does love Bowie: I made him a Bowie comp at his request, and he’s been saying for almost a year now that he’s going to dress as Bowie (in either Ziggy or Labyrinth regalia) for Halloween. God bless ‘im! I think it started withFlight of the Conchords, who definitely have a Bowie fixation (e.g. “Bowie’s in Space” – a parody/mash-up of “Space Oddity” and “Let’s Dance”), and then continued, obviously, with our viewing of Labyrinth, a favorite of mine, and Tracey’s … and probably just about anyone nerdy who was born between 1969-1979. Tracey has fantasies of Kieran as the Goblin King with Luli as a butterfly-winged fairy (or Kate Bush) — hey, it might just happen.


One of the coolest things about having kids is passing on your enthusiasms to them, but you also never know what direction they will take them. I would’ve never considered dressing as Bowie when I was 9 (maybe as Jim Bowie?), but at least I have the confidence to perform a Bowie song now, which is not something I would’ve had 5, 10, or 15 years ago. Not that I’m any closer to my bi-curious side, I’m just finally mature enough to know that’s not what it’s about (music, that is). It’s about following your enthusiasms.

I’m so very proud that my 9 year-old son wants to dress as Bowie for Halloween. I’ll be helping him with his hose and face paint that day, with a smile!

1973 – “Ooh La La,” The Faces

My choice for 1973 is “Ooh La La” by The Faces. It’s a quirky little tune — basically a riff with a little story and sing-along chorus thrown on top — and, honestly, the first time I remember hearing it was during 1998’s Rushmore (Wes Anderson’s soundtracks, particularly Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums, are almost additional characters in his films).

Poor old granddad
I laughed at all his words
I thought he was a bitter man
He spoke of women’s ways

They’ll trap you, then they use you
Before you even know
For love is blind and you’re far too kind
Don’t ever let it show

I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger.
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger.

The can-can’s
such a pretty show
They’ll steal your heart away
But backstage, back on earth again
The dressing rooms are grey

They come on strong and it ain’t too long
Before they make you feel a man
But love is blind and you soon will find
You’re just a boy again

When you want her lips, you get a cheek
Makes you wonder where you are
If you want some more and she’s fast asleep
Then she’s twinkling with the stars.

Poor young grandson, theres nothing I can say
Youll have to learn, just like me
And thats the hardest way
Ooh la la

I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger.
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger.

Written by Faces bassist and principal songwriter Ronnie Lane, the instrumental track was cut while vocalist Rod Stewart was on the road promoting one of his early solo albums. The story goes that when Stewart came in to record the vocal, he claimed that a) the key was too high for him to sing in, and b) he didn’t like the song anyway. Lane had cut a guide vocal during tracking, but he didn’t like his performance on it — he’d written it in Stewart’s key, or so he’d thought, and it was too much of a stretch for him. On a lark, really, they asked guitarist Ron Wood to take a crack at it, and his scratchy, straining tenor is, in my opinion, the most charming thing about the recording. The lyrics are nostalgic, but in a clearly tongue-in-cheek kind of way — I wonder if it’s not the sincerity in Ron Wood’s voice that really sells it?


Not only do I love the tune, and the images of childhood/young manhood that the lyrics connote for me, but the fact that there is so much rock and roll history underlying its creation makes it a no-brainer for my project. It’s nearly impossible to think of a band bursting with more possibility than The Faces were in the early 70’s. The core of the band — Lane, Maclagan, Jones — had been part of The Small Faces, the Steve Marriot-led psych-rock group that was one of the best singles/albums acts of the late 60s. When Marriot left to go in a heavier direction with Humble Pie, the remaining trio recruited Stewart and Wood, then with the Jeff Beck Group, and changed their name to The Faces.

With one of rock and roll’s best singers in Stewart, best songwriters in Lane, and most inventive guitarist/writers in Wood — as well as the powerhouse drumming of Kenny Jones and the inimitable keyboard stylings of Ian Maclagan — the band was one of England’s biggest live draws. Unfortunately, despite some great singles (like “Ooh La La,” “Had Me a Real Good Time” and “Stay With Me”), they were never able to translate their talents into a great album. Oddly enough, it’s Stewart’s solo albums of the era (Every Picture Tells a Story and Never a Dull Moment) — which feature appearances by most of his bandmates — that are the true classics: much to the very-talented Lane’s chagrin, I’m sure.

For whatever reason — professional jealousy, too much booze — The Faces split up, for all intents in purposes, with the departures of Lane (1973, right after the release of Ooh La La) and Stewart (1975). Ron Wood famously went on to join the Rolling Stones, and has now been a member of that band for 34 years (gulp!); drummer Kenny Jones attempted to replace the late Keith Moon on The Who’s drum-riser from 1979-1985, but has since been replaced by a series of young drummers during the Who’s seemingly-interminable series of reunions; and keyboardist Ian Maclagan has served time in so many bands (he’s now one of Billy Bragg’s “Blokes”) and played on so many records that there’s literally no room to mention them.

Lane went on to record albums with Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, as well as a great duo album with the Who’s Pete Townshend entitle Rough Mix, but never acheived the popularity he desired or deserved. Lane passed away from complications related to MS (which he was diagnosed with in 1976, during the recording of Rough Mix) in 1997.

And Rod Stewart — whatever happened to that guy?

1975 – “Hands on the Wheel,” Willie Nelson

My choice for 1975 is “Hands on the Wheel” from Willie Nelson’s landmark Red Headed Stranger album, which was voted #1 in CMT’s 2006 list of the 40 greatest country albums; Rolling Stone ranked it at #184 of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The song also appeared on the soundtrack to the Robert Redford-Jane Fonda vehicle The Electric Horseman (1979) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_Horseman , along with several other Nelson cuts (including a great version of the Allmans’ “Midnight Rider”) from Willie’s “outlaw” period. Although I soon discovered my parents’ vinyl copy of Red-Headed Stranger, it was the soundtrack record that first led me to this song.

I don’t know exactly why I had the EH soundtrack in my record collection when I was so young – seems like an odd choice for a 10 year-old, especially considering my Dad’s antipathy toward Ms. Fonda: he still never fails to refer to her as “Hanoi Jane.” It’s most likely because it included some songs I had learned or was learning in guitar lessons, like “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” (I started taking guitar lessons in ’79 – hey, so that makes this year the 30-year anniversary of my becoming a guitar player; clearly, I really should be a lot better than I am.) One of the first songs I ever learned to play was the Willie and Waylon co-write “Good-Hearted Woman”; “Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way?” was soon to follow. These were my guitar teacher’s choices (Gary Breedlove – you can still find his 45 “Bicentennial Song” for sale via record collectors from time to time), but Willie and Waylon were certainly ubiquitous in the late 70’s. It was the Urban Cowboy era, when country culture, especially of the “outlaw” variety, was permeating the broader popular culture – not as an authentic alternative to the disco lifestyle, but as the more uptight, straight, middle-and-working-class white version of the disco sub-culture. It’s no coincidence that John Travolta starred in both Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy: he was the white culture’s chosen cipher: sexy but non-threatening, chameleon-like in his ability to believably portray both redneck and gumba. But I digress ….

My aunt Liz is a Willie Nelson fan, of course, and owned RHS, the Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack – all on 8-track – but yet again it was my friend Bryan who had “the goods” – a vinyl copy of 1976’s Wanted: The Outlaws! collaboration between Wille, Waylon, Jessi Colter (Ms. Waylon) and Tompall Glaser. It holds the distinction of being the first country album to sell one million copies, but it was more of a cash-in by RCA on the rising popularity of its renegade country stars – whose initial forays into the stripped-down arrangements, poetic songwriting, and a production focus that owed more to rock and R&B than the sliker country-politan sound that dominated Nashville in the late 60’s through early 70’s that linked Nelson, Jennings, and Glaser’s records since 1972 or so.  (Interesting side note: the acknowledged master of the countrypolitan sound was Billy Sherril, who first won acclaim as a songwriter and knob-twister at Rick Hall’s Fame studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.) Of course, I had no knowledge of the cultural/commercial significance of what we were listening to, sitting on the floor of my best friend’s bedroom. I just thought it was cool, mainly because of the pictures on the album sleeve.

Some place the beginning of the “outlaw” movement with Nelson’s first country “concept” album – Yesterday’s Wine (1971) – but 1970-72 saw multiple changes, particularly in the amount of artistic control that mainstream country performers, including Nelson and Jennings, were given by their labels (RCA Victor, RCA and later Atlantic for Nelson). The public face of outlaw country was – and still is – pretty much typified by Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie persona: the long hair/braids, cowboy hat, unshaven face. But it was more than just a look; it was about song choices (personal, quirky), production values (simple, clean, valuing spontaneity over slickness), and, yes, attitude. With all due respect to Waylon’s classic Honky Tonk Heroes, no album better typifies what was genuinely great about the Outlaw era than Red Headed Stranger.

Set in “the time of the Preacher,” RHS tells a somewhat disjointed story that plays on various country and western tropes: the bitter “stranger” (who may or may not also be the Preacher); various incarnations of “the lady” — one a cheating spouse, one a dead/dying lover/wife, one a potential horse thief, the last a wife/mother figure (who appears in “Hands”); and, of course, the Preacher himself. As a result, RHS has been referred to as a concept album, and the songs, mainly from “classic” country songwriters (Eddy Arnold, Hank Cochran, Fred Rose), are inter-woven with Nelson-written interludes that convay the loose story of the stranger and the lady/ladies: “I Couldn’t Believe it Was True” could record the stranger’s discovery of the first lady’s infidelity; “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” seems to be the stranger mourning for a dead lover (probably not the unfaithful wife … unless he killed her, of course); “Can I Sleep in Your Arms Tonight” has the stranger falling in love again.

“Hands on the Wheel” is the album’s denouement, a third and first-person account of a happy, if slightly cynical, character who has found some kind of peace and security.

At a time when the world seems to be spinning hopelessly out of control,

There’s deceivers and believers and old in-betweeners,

That seem to have no place to go.

Well, it’s the same old song, it’s right and it’s wrong,

And living is just something that I do.

And with no place to hide, I looked in your eyes,

And I found myself in you.

I looked to the stars, tried all of the bars.

And I’ve nearly gone up in smoke.

Now my hand’s on the wheel of something that’s real,

And I feel like I’m going home.

In the shade of an oak down by the river,

Sit an old man and a boy,

Setting sail, spinning tales and fishing for whales,

With a lady they both enjoy.

Well, it’s the same damn tune, it’s the man in the moon.

It’s the way that I feel about you.

And with no place to hide, I looked in your eyes,

And I found myself in you.

I looked to the stars, tried all of the bars.

And I’ve nearly gone up in smoke.

Now my hand’s on the wheel of something that’s real,

And I feel like I’m going home.

Halloween Mix, 2009

One of the things I always enjoyed about being a “working” band with RRSL was playing on (or nearabouts) Halloween: costumes, cover tunes, general idiocy = always a blast. In 2007 we put on a “Dead Rock Star Ball” in both Johnson City and Knoxville (in JC we had The Neverwills and Fierce Embracew/us; in Knoxville, FE and Stacie Collins and her band). The idea was to perform songs by, uh, dead rock stars. The shows were great fun, but picking, learning and rehearsing the songs was the best part, in my opinion.

So, this year I’m just doing some picking. It’s a little Halloween mix for your listening pleasure: I hope there’s at least one new and creepy tune for you to discover here:

“Red Right Hand” (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) — rock and roll at its most cinematic

“Last Caress” (Misfits) — you may know if from Metallica’s cover version, but the Danzig-led Misfits version is the best!

“Welcome to My Nightmare” (Alice Cooper) — kind of a gimme, but a true shock-rock classic

“Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)” (Roky Erickson and the Aliens) — Roky hears demons … and they seem to tell him some pretty cool stuff: “I’ll be walking in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog”

“Season of the Witch” (Donovan) — great riff, and just about as creepy as 60s pop-psych gets

“Psycho” (Jack Kittel) — first heard this on a radio show Elvis Costello dj’d, and Robert Alfonso taped for posterity; I hear EC still covers it often in concert

“Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill” (Johnny Paycheck) — never has straight-up first degree murder sounded so deeply since

“Everyday is Halloween” (Ministry) — this was Tracey’s suggestion: she was a bit of a club-kid back in college, or so I hear

“I Put a Spell on You” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) — campy and fantastic

“Man in the Long Black Coat” (Bob Dylan) — definitely captures a mysterious mood; who is The Man? Does it matter?

“Sober” (Tool) — yes, it is a real stretch to think of this as a Halloween song, but it is in one of the creepiest songs I’ve ever liked … and the video is just as, if not more, creep-tastic

“I Ain’t Superstitious” (The Upholsterers/Jack White) — the classic (and really scary) version is Howlin’ Wolf’s, but I couldn’t find that one … Mr. White will have to do