Paul McCartney at 70

Paul McCartney Turns 80

Paul McCartney at 70Rumors in recent years have stated that this would be the age at which Paul McCartney would stop touring and possibly even recording. Frankly, we hope these to be unfounded for no other reason than so that his latest album, Kisses On the Bottom released in February of this year, not be his last. This latest album, produced by Tommy LiPuma is made up of traditional pop songs described by McCartney as “…old songs that my parents’ generation used to sing at New Year…” It’s not that this is a terrible project for an artist who has composed a half dozen classical albums over the past two decades along with various other experimental, non-traditional, and/or nostalgic pieces through his long post-Beatles career, but Paul McCartney does one thing better than anyone else ever, write top-notch, original pop/rock. And we would hope that when his grand finale finally does come, it would be with something along this line.

Today, Sir James Paul McCartney celebrates his 80th birthday and he is still very much and in every way a rock star. You’ve got to appreciate how odd and foreign the “senior citizen rock star” still seems to many of us, even those of us who are several decades younger than McCartney but not too young to remember when relevant rock stars over 40 were an extreme rarity. When Elvis Presley passed away at 42 in 1977 or when John Lennon was assassinated a few years later at age 40, they were each near the absolute vanguard of elder rock stars during those times. Today there are many relevant rock acts still going strong well into their fifties and sixties and not just on an “oldies circuit”, all of which have produced quality and original material in an art form where age 30 used to be a suitable retirement point.

McCartney in the early 1960sHowever, Paul McCartney is separate and above from all of these acts, as he was part of the absolute source of what would become known as classic rock. Starting in 1957, when he and teenage friend George Harrison joined John Lennon‘s group The Quarrymen, McCartney worked relentlessly at exposing the American rock n roll that he loved to the British audiences for whom he performed. The unintended but fantastic result was a fusion of this American rock with McCartney and Lennon’s deeply ingrained British musical elements, such as skiffle, show tunes, and British pop. And when re-introduced to America and the world, we had the most influential rock band ever, The Beatles. (Read much more on the Beatles earliest years in the 2012 article celebrating the 50th anniversary of their first Abbey Road sessions.)

What makes McCartney unique, even among fellow Beatles is his incredible second act, the post-Beatles solo (and Wings) years which, to date, are almost five times longer in duration than his time with The Beatles. And in these 52 years since his solo debut McCartney was released (10 days after McCartney announced his intention to leave The Beatles), Paul has spent remarkably little vacant time simply trading off his Beatles past. He has released eighteen worldwide rock/pop solo studio albums, one more strictly Russian release, one more collaboration with his wife Linda McCartney, six more studio albums with his “new” band Wings, eight more live albums, six more classical albums, and six more experimental/electronica/sound collage albums, and these are just his recordings output. McCartney has also spearheaded two large retrospective projects and their accompanying television broadcasts, The Beatles Anthology in 1995/96 and Wingspan in 2001, as well as done more than 20 international tours as a solo artist.

Paul and Linda McCartney, 1970sOf course, not all of this massive output of musical product was well received or even of top quality. The first official Wings album, Wild Life was terribly under-developed and under-produced, the kind of material which should have barely made the cut for some collector’s box set and not given the status as a proper release. Through the years there have been several more examples of unwise or inexplicable publications which may cracked his artistic sensibility in some people’s eyes. But for each of these faux pas, there was tenfold the amount of quality material released by McCartney, including a long string of top-notch albums and chart-topping hits which followed the Wild Life debacle. There have also been several hidden gems which never quite got their due in many critics and fans eyes, such as Wings final two albums London Town and Back To the Egg and McCartney’s 2001 album Driving Rain.

We saw McCartney live for the first and only time during the tour supporting Driving Rain in Philadelphia in April 2002. Despite having seats two rows from the very top of the arena, the concert was an intimate and fantastic affair. At the time, McCartney was just shy of his 60th birthday but he put on a highly-energetic, three hour performance without a break which would put many 20-something rockers to shame. The concert was split into three sections, the beginning and ending performed with a brilliant five-piece rock band which carried off all the intricate styles and compositions that spanned McCartney’s career. But the most interesting part of the show was the middle part where McCartney took the stage alone for about 45 minutes to an hour performing a set of Beatles and solo songs all by himself.

Most of these songs were performed on the acoustic guitar, with a couple of gems – “You Never Give Me Your Money” and “The Fool On the Hill” played on a vintage electric piano. There was one extraordinary moment when McCartney brought out a ukulele which he claimed was given to him by George Harrison when they were teenagers. He performed an upbeat, sing-songy version Harrison’s classic “Something” on that night, less than five months after Harrison’s death in November 2001. It was an absolutely breathtaking experience to be in the same room as this absolute legend while he performed a completely original, early 21st Century version of a Beatles’ classic on an instrument that dated back to Liverpool in the 1950s.

Paul McCartney in 1969Paul McCartney has forged a unique path through Western culture which may never again be followed. We sincerely hope that there is more of this “long and winding road” yet to follow. This man is a true artist and he has proven time and again that he has more to offer those of us who really appreciate great art. Hey, why not an 80-year-old rock star? If anyone can do it, Sir Paul can.


Beatles 1968

52 Music Moments, Part 1

On the 52nd birthday of co-founder Karyn Albano (her “younger” husband Ric will be 52 in exactly 5 months on December 10th), we celebrate this brave milestone we are putting together a special list of Karyn’s personal 52 great moments in music since July 10, 1968.

Beatles 1968

First, let’s start at the beginning. The Billboard #1 song on July 10, 1968 was “This Guy’s in Love with You” by Herb Alpert, in it’s third of four weeks on top of the charts. The number one album that week was Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel. July 1968 was the moment of conception for what would become Led Zeppelin as The Yardbirds officially broke up that month but Jimmy Page was granted use of their name if he agreed to form a new band and fulfill their commitments to several concerts in Scandinavia. And as for Karyn’s favorite band, The Beatles, they were smack in the middle of recording The White Album and pretty much focused on the songs “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” and “Revolution 1” at Abbey Road studios during the week of July 9th-13th. So from here, we move forward with the 52 moments.

  1. Sugar Sugar by The Archies – Karyn’s favorite song when she was around 2 years old (1970)
  2. American Pie – she remembers a very cool Montessori school teacher playing guitar and singing to this Don McClean classic (1971 or 1972)
  3. Tony Orlando and Dawn – watching their variety show with grandma and singing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” (early to mid 70s)
  4. Discovering The Beatles – through a friend’s parents record collection in 2nd grade. Before this, Karyn was into Barry Manilow and Donny and Marie, so the Beatles were a true revelation. “I Saved all my pennies and bought my Sgt Pepper album at the Listening Booth in Wyoming Valley Mall at age 8.” (1976)
  5. Barricuda by Heart – instantly bought this single after first listen (1977)
  6. The Flute – choosing this instrument to play from grades 4 to 8 after a music teacher presented the music of Traffic and Jethro Tull (1977-1981)
  7. Parallel Lines – great album by Blondie (1978)
  8. “Help” Movie – on “Dialing for Dollars” television show, solidified love for The Beatles (late 1970s)
  9. Discovering Rock 107 – first real rock station in NE Pennsylvania (around 1980)
  10. Rock 107

  11. Glass Houses – Karyn’s gateway to discovering and purchasing many other Billy Joel albums (1980)
  12. Elvis Costello – introduced to Karyn by her Aunt, starting with the My Aim Is True album (early 1980s)
  13. Warren Zevon on Lettermen – this 1982 appearance led to Karyn discovering his vast library and becoming a lifelong fan,
  14. Early MTV – when they actually played music (1983-1986)
  15. Rolling Stone Magazine – when they actually covered music (early to mid 1980s)
  16. Howard Jones – great synth songs (mid 1980s)
  17. First Rock Concert – The Sharks at St, Joe’s Gym in Hazleton, PA (1985)
  18. First Hooters Concert – at King’s College in Wilkes Barre, PA, the first of around 20 or so (and counting) shows by this Phiily band (November 1985)
  19. The Mandolin – from Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore” to Steve Winwood’s “Back In the High Life” to several songs by The Hooters, Bret Alexander and others, Karyn is a life-long enthusiast of its sound (mid 1980s to present)
  20. Billy Idol with The Cult – memorable times in the mosh pit(getting pulled out of it by security before being crushed to death) at Allentown Fairgrounds (1986)
  21. Backstage Passes – to meet The Hooters after their show at St. Joe’s Gym in Hazleton, PA (August 1986)
  22. Strong PersuaderRobert Cray album which sparked great love of blues and soul as Karyn went on to become a great fan of Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Prince and many others (late 1980s)
  23. U2 from the Parking Lot – couldn’t score tickets but had a blast with several Deadheads leftover from the Grateful Dead’s show the night before, outside JFK stadium in Philadelphia (September 1987)
  24. Tommy Conwell after a Phillies Game – several late night shows at the old Vet in Philadelphia (late 80s, early 90s)
  25. Billy Joel from the 3rd Row – great tickets, right in front of the piano, offered by a friend’s aunt for just $35 at the Spectrum in Philly (1990)
  26. Reggae – from Bob Marley to Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff and UB40, Karyn has been an avid fan of the genre since the early 90s
  27. The Batty Bat – Sesame Street song loved by Karyn’s daughter Erin (born 1992)
  28. The Badlees New Year’s Eve Show – Karyn and Ric’s first concert (as part of a larger group, not yet a couple) at The Silo in Reading, PA (New Year 1996)
  29. Collective Soul – Karyn and Ric’s first concert as a couple at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA (March 1996)
  30. The Steel Breeze – a unique Pink Floyd tribute set during a Dreaming Tree show at Cousin’s in Hazleton (2000)
  31. The “Accidental” Neil Diamond Show – Karyn scored a ticket to see the first ever show at The First Union arena in Wilkes-Barre when the driver for her in-laws and their friend couldn’t attend. Turned out to be a heck of a show (December 2001)
  32. Paul McCartney Live – first time actually seeing a former Beatle live and it was a fantastic show in Philadelphia, featuring a great backing band during the beginning and end sets with a long solo set by Paul in between (April 2002)
  33. Arts Fest – during our initial years in the Harrisburg area, this 4th of July riverside festival featured some fantastic performances by Central Pennsylvania artists like the Martini Brothers, Darcie Miner, Tripp McNeely, Herbie and the Jellybricks (2004-2010)
  34. Rush at Radio City Music Hall – a spectacular array of sound and light and an unbelievable drum solo by Neil Peart (August 2004)
  35. Briggs Farm Blues festival – Karyn and Ric attended their first Briggs festival in July 2005, featuring Big Jack Johnson. They have attended and/or covered this fantastic festival in Nescopeck, PA virtually every year since.
  36. The Cellarbirds – Karyn discovered the fantastic 2001 album Perfect Smile (their one and only) and went on top buy up about a dozen copies to give out as Christmas gifts (2005)
  37. Tommy Conwell with Hot Wing Jones – fantastic show at Gullifty’s Underground in Camp Hill where Tommy sat at our table and chatted between sets. (November 2007)
  38. Dollars for Diane – after Karyn’s sister Diane suffered a major stroke in 2007, many local businesses, venues and musicians donated towards throwing three benefit concerts and helping us produce a compilation album to benefit Diane and brain injury research in general (2007-2010)
  39. Concert with The Kids – in the summer of 2008 Karyn saw the one and only concert with her husband and all four of her kids, Rush at Hersheypark stadium
  40. The River of Rock Music Network – started by Karyn and Ric with the launching of Modern rock Review in October 2010. In the 10 years since, we have grown to five distinct websites covering vast genres and eras of music with nearly 1000 published original articles.
  41. River of Rock logo

  42. Sound Off for Vets – Karyn helped promote a concert series to benefit Wounded Warriors, organized by Chris Nelson and featuring several talented musicians including Nelson, Mycenea Worley, Shift Seven, Fools On Sunday, Brian Xander, Carmen Magro and many more (2010-2011)
  43. Little Buffalo Music Festival – an excellent festival each October featuring great music such as Jefferey Gaines (2011-2018)
  44. Interviewing Greg Kihn – Karyn had been an avid fan decades before interviewing this classic rocker after he published his fictional rock thriller Painted Black (2015)
  45. Paul McCartney Once Again – a fantastic outdoor show at Hershey stadium where Sir Paul once again impressed (July 2016)
  46. Karyn in Mississippi 2017

  47. Southern Music Odyssey #1 – our trip to many historic music sites in Muscle Shoals, Tupelo, the Mississippi Delta (BB King museum, Dockery Farm, Clarksdale), Memphis (Sun Records, Stax Studio, Beale Street)and Nashville with Karyn taking footage later used in a music video (March 2017)
  48. The Journey – the initial Sinclair Soul album, The Journey remains Karyn’s favorite of all her husband’s projects (June 2017)
  49. Southern Music Odyssey #2 – focused mainly on Virginia and North Carolina with stops at The Carter Family Fold, many sights in Asheville, Virginia Beach and wrapping up with Ric’s performance at the Cape May Singer/Songwriter festival in New Jersey (March 2018)
  50. The Hooters Return – first live performance of the year and a great one on the Ocean City, NJ pier (June 2018)
  51. Van Morrison – during his only North American appearance of the 2018 Outlaw Festival, Van the Man put on a show for the ages at Hersheypark stadium (September 2018)
  52. The Good Guys Session – On her husband’s 50th birthday (December 2018) Karyn joined Ric at Eight Days a Week studio for a super session featuring Bret Alexander, Paul Smith, Ron Simasek, Mycenea Worley, Phil Brosius and her son Jake Albano, making his studio engineering debut. The session yielded much material that was included on the 2019 Sinclair Soul album The Good Guys.
  53. Floyd, VA – a quaint little town that is an absolute incubator for music in the remote mountains of Southern Virginia (December 2019)
  54. Jeremariah – fantastic wedding featuring the Cellarbirds and Ric performing a dedicated song at the wedding of her step-son and daughter-in-law (May 2019)
  55. Southern Music Odyssey #3 – this time focusing on Florida and Georgia, including Ray Charles hometown, Southern Avenue at Bradfordville Blues club, a day in Macon, GA including The Big House and Rose Hill cemetery and topped by a fantastic show by the Allman-Betts Band. This all happened just weeks before the COVID-19 spread and remains the most recent music event to date (February 2020)


The Beatles with Maharashi

The Beatles in India

The Beatles with Maharashi

In early 1968, all four members of The Beatles traveled to northern India to attend a Transcendental Meditation training course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr all arrived at the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh in mid-February with optimism and enthusiasm, they departed at different times and with differing opinions of the positivity of the experience. In any case, prolific songwriting took place in India, much of which would be reflected on The Beatles (white album), which was released later in 1968. In that sense, this historic event remains musically significant, no matter the actual merits of the Maharishi or Transcendental Meditation itself.

This trip followed the adventurous and tumultuous year of 1967. That year was the group’s first full year without touring, where they produced and recorded the iconic classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, were the centerpiece of a worldwide television special, and starred in their third feature film, Magical Mystery Tour, and its recorded subsequent soundtrack. On the darker side, 1967 saw members of the group heavily experimenting in drug use and losing their long time manager Brian Epstein, which ultimately saw the band to begin fracturing professionally. Before departing for India, in what originally was to be a three month stay, the group recorded a few songs for single release. McCartney’s “Lady Madonna” was chosen as the A-side of the single, beating out Lennon’s “Across the Universe”, a version of which later appeared on  Let It Be. The single’s B-side was Harrison’s “The Inner Light”, which was partially recorded with several Indian classical musicians in Bombay, India in January during the sessions for Harrison’s Wonderwall Music soundtrack album. This is notable as the only Beatles studio recording to be made outside Europe and it set a nice vibe as the members publicly departed for India.

Beatles In India

A year earlier, Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd came across a newspaper advertisement for Transcendental Meditation classes and she and her husband soon became part of this movement. In the summer of 1967, Harrison had recruited the other members of the Beatles to attend a lecture that the Maharishi gave in London, followed by a 10-day Spiritual Regeneration conference in Wales. McCartney reflected that the group had been “spiritually exhausted” and, while at the conference, the group members committed to giving up drugs. However, their stay at the conference was cut short when news of Epstein’s unexpected death reached the group. Before departing Wales, the Maharishi invited the Beatles to stay at his ashram in Rishikesh in the near future.

The group arrived in India in mid-February 1968, along with their wives (or girlfriend in McCartney’s case), along with numerous assistants, reporters, celebrity meditators and even some contemporary musicians like Donovan and Mike Love from The Beach Boys. They flew into Delhi and then rode by taxi the 150 or so miles to Rishikesh, walking to the ashram by crossing a footbridge over the Ganges River and up a hill to the property.

Located in the “Valley of the Saints” in the foothills of the Himalayas, this 14-acre ashram was built 5 years earlier in 1963 and it was funded through a $100,000 donation from American heiress. While there, life was comparable to that of a summer camp, starting with a communal breakfast followed by morning meditation and the occasional lecture from Maharishi. And at the end of the day, the musicians would often jam.

Beatles In India

Donovan taught John Lennon a guitar finger-picking technique that they later used on the songs “Julia” and “Dear Prudence”, the latter of which was a direct narrative about Mia Farrow’s sister who caused concern by locking herself inside and intensely meditating for weeks on end. Starr completed his first solo composition for the Beatles, “Don’t Pass Me By”, which he had begun writing way back in 1963. McCartney was prolific as usual with songs forming from the parody “Rocky Raccoon”, which he wrote to entertain others at dinner, to “Mother Nature’s Son” which was directly inspired by one of the Maharishi’s lectures, to “Back in the USSR” which he wrote in Love’s presence as an interpretation of the Beach Boys style. In fact, plans were briefly discussed for a possible concert in Delhi to feature the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Donovan, and Paul Horn.

Compared to the regular attendees, the Beatles were given some additional perks such as heated tents and on-demand private lessons from the Maharishi. Still, Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen were never quite comfortable with the retreat as Ringo had food allergies and Maureen had a deathly fear of insects. So, after just 10 days, Starr was the first Beatle to leave on 1 March. McCartney and his girlfriend Jane Asher left a few weeks later in mid-to-late March, causing slight derision by Harrison and Lennon who questioned his commitment. Lennon had wanted to invite his new love interest, Yoko Ono, on the trip but feared a confrontation with his then-wife Cynthia and therefore declined to do so. Nevertheless, the Lennons effectively split up on this trip as John moved into his own room about a week into the retreat.

Beatles In India

In early April, the Maharishi announced plans to move the whole retreat to Kashmir, a higher and cooler altitude as the summer months approached. Lennon and Harrison were planning to follow this course to the end, but changed their plans abruptly on April 12th, following rumors of the Maharishi’s inappropriate sexual behavior towards female students. The night before Lennon and Harrison sat up late discussing the Maharishi and decided to leave first thing in the morning. The final two Beatles and their wives left hurriedly and while waiting for their taxis to take the long drive back to delhi, Lennon wrote “Sexy Sadie”, a direct indictment of the Maharishi.

With the Beatles’ quick departure and implicit denunciation of the Maharishi, his rapid rise to fame abruptly ended. Whether or not the rumors about his misconduct were in fact true, remain in dispute to this day. Harrison later apologized for his and Lennon’s abrupt departure and he would later organize a 1992 benefit concert for the Maharishi-associated Natural Law Party. In 2007 McCartney took his daughter to visit the Maharishi, a year before his death in 2008. After a few years of abandonment, the ashram was opened to the public in 2015 and renamed Beatles Ashram.

Since they permanently gave up touring in 1966, this trip to India would be the last time all four Beatles traveled together outside of the UK. While their cohesion as a group began to deteriorate shortly after until they ultimately broke up two years later, the Beatles made a good faith effort to reach a higher understanding. In all, the group members wrote nearly 50 songs in India, some of which were published after the band’s breakup.

Beatles In India

List of songs written by the Beatles in Rishikesh, India 1968

Released on The Beatles (white album) 11/22/68:

  • “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
  • “Dear Prudence”
  • “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
  • “Wild Honey Pie”
  • “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”
  • “I’m So Tired”
  • “Blackbird”
  • “Rocky Raccoon”
  • “Don’t Pass Me By”
  • “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”
  • “I Will”
  • “Julia”
  • “Yer Blues”
  • “Mother Nature’s Son”
  • “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”
  • “Sexy Sadie”
  • “Long, Long, Long”
  • “Revolution” (1)
  • “Cry Baby Cry”

Released on Abbey Road 9/26/69:

  • “Mean Mr. Mustard”
  • “Polythene Pam”

Released on Anthology 3 compilation 10/28/96:

  • “What’s the New Mary Jane”, recorded during the White Album sessions in 1968
  • “Teddy Boy”, recorded during the Let It Be sessions in 1969

Released on recordings outside the Beatles:

  • “Sour Milk Sea” – written by Harrison, released by Apple Records artist Jackie Lomax as a single 8/26/68
  • “Junk” released on Paul McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney 4/17/70
  • “Look at Me” released on John Lennon’s album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 12/11/70
  • “Jealous Guy” (originally titled “Child of Nature”) released on John Lennon’s album Imagine 9/09/71
  • “Circles” released on George Harrison’s album Gone Troppo 11/05/82
  • “Cosmically Conscious” released on Paul McCartney’s album Off the Ground (The Complete Works) 2/02/93

Unreleased (as of 4/03/20)

  • “Dehradun” composed by George Harrison
  • “Spiritual Regeneration/Happy Birthday Mike Love” recorded at Rishikesh by several group members and Donovan 3/15/68


Even In the Quietest Moments by Supertramp

Top 9 Songs of Spring

With the arrival of Spring, we will look at some of the great rock songs that explicitly mention or implicitly conjure images of Springtime. We countdown this subjective list from #9 to #1.

9. “Even in the Quietest Moments” by Supertramp

Even In the Quietest Moments by SupertrampThe title song of an album with the same name, this 1977 Supertramp album shows a piano out in the snow on its cover. However, with that backdrop, the distant sound of birds accenting the intro swell of this acoustic ballad accented by woodwinds, sets the perfect Spring mood as the world slowly swells awake from the “quietest moments”.

Classic Rock Review of Even In the Quietest Moments
Buy Even In the Quietest Moments by Supertramp

8. “I Melt With You” by Modern English

In much the same vein as the previous song, this 1982 hit from the aptly titled album After the Snow gives off a vibe of vitality and romance. The new wave/pop hit from the early days of MTV may be a perfect allegory for the spring thaw.

Buy After the Snow by Modern English

7. “Waiting For the Sun” by The Doors

The Doors in 1968

“Can you feel it now that Spring has come? That it’s time to live in the scattered sun…”

With this song lacks in peaceful vibe, it more than makes up for in poetry and adventure. That’s not to say that it has no cool vibe – it does – as the musician’s of the band offer musical prowess under Jim Morrison’s dynamic poetry. Robbie Kreiger has a gentle, bluesy guitar while Ray Manzarak and John Densmore offer sharp and biting rhythms.

Buy Morrison Hotel by The Doors

6. “Grantchester Meadows” by Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd in 1969

“Icy wind of night be gone, this is not your domain…”

Roger Waters’ poetic ballad from the 1969 experimental album Ummagumma is far from Pink Floyd’s most popular song. But its vivid portrayal of a pastoral scene, along with sound effects from birds and bees, make it a perfect selection for this season’s vibe.

Buy Ummagumma by Pink Floyd

5. “Seasons In the Sun” by Terry Jacks

Seasons In the Sun by Terry Jacks

“Goodbye Michelle, it’s hard to die when all the birds are singing in the sky, now that the Spring is in the air with the flowers everywhere, I wish that we could both be there…”

“Seasons in the Sun” is an English-language adaptation of the 1961 song “Le Moribond” by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel with lyrics later re-interpreted in 1963 by American singer-poet Rod McKuen. The most melancholy song in our countdown is the 1974 smash from one-hit wonder Terry Jacks, which portrays the point of view of a dying man reflecting on the people and moments of his life.

Buy Seasons In the Sun by Terry Jacks

4. “Daydream” by The Lovin’ Spoonful

“It’s one of those days for takin’ a walk outside, I’m blowin’ the day to take a walk in the sun and fall on my face on somebody’s new-mowed lawn…”

There is no doubt this is an unabashed feel-good, happy-go-lucky song. Just look at the pure joy in John Sebastian’s face as he performs the song he wrote with his ex-band, The Lovin’ Spoonful.
Buy Daydream by The Lovin’ Spoonful

3. “The Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy

Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy

“That jukebox in the corner blasting out my favorite song, the nights are getting warmer it won’t be long, won’t be long ’til summer comes, now that the boys are here again…”

Obviously, birds aren’t the only species that migrate during the Spring. This chord-driven, hard rock jam by Thin Lizzy celebrates the coming of good times, long days, and wild nights.

Buy Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy

2. “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin acoustic set

“It is the Springtime of my loving, the second season I am to know, you are the sunlight in my growing, so little warmth I felt before…”

OK, this is actually more of a “four seasons” song and, at that, “the seasons of emotion”. But the musical vibe of this track is undeniably “Spring” – John Paul Jones’ mellotron, John Bonham’s subtle and tactful drumming and, most especially, Jimmy Page’s duo acoustic/electric strumming of unique, open-tuning guitar chords.

Classic Rock Review of Houses of the Holy
Buy Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin

1. “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles

Beatles in 1969

“Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting. Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been clear, here comes the sun…”

This was a rather easy and obvious choice as our top Springtime song. A beautiful acoustic tune by George Harrison, steeped in Indian philosophy, the song feels like it could have just as easily been a descendent of a Druid celebration at Stonehenge. One of several absolute gems from the Beatles’ final studio album.

Classic Rock Review of Abbey Road
Buy Abbey Road by The Beatles

Well, there you have it. Please add your comments below to tell us what you like or don’t like about our list. Enjoy the Spring!


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Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece

Cut From the Same Cloth:
Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece

Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece

Buy Astral Weeks
Buy Veedon Fleece

This article was provided by Mike Fishman, who has written about Van Morrison for the Mystic Avenue blog and writes about film for

Any musician with a career spanning 50 years is going to hit at least a few major milestones and when you’re talking about an artist as prolific as Van Morrison the milestones inevitably start piling up. While 2018 saw widespread celebrations of his seminal 1968 recording, Astral Weeks, the fall of 2019 found many longtime fans turning their attention to Veedon Fleece (released in October of 1974), one of Morrison’s lesser-discussed yet just as affecting works. Both albums were heavily influenced by Morrison’s Irish roots and personal life and share a special kinship often alluded to by ardent listeners. Given the singer-songwriter’s copious output it is remarkable that only these two albums mirror and complement each other, in both subtle and overt ways. And with some five years and a handful of albums separating the two, the similarities can’t be attributed merely to the musician being in a similar state of musical mind.

Both albums are clearly marked by prominent acoustic guitar, bass, flute and strings. The singing, too, feels connected with Morrison vocalizing with an abandonment doled out elsewhere more sparingly. While Morrison is known for his intensity of singing and repeating or stretching out words to emphasize meaning or move into pure sound, no other albums display such vocalizing to such a degree. As well, both albums are marked by a narrative approach in the lyrics that is seen less frequently elsewhere. Perhaps most overtly, both display a greater sense of place than any other of his albums of original material. While Morrison would continue to mine sites of remembrance from his youth in Belfast, no other albums are as steeped in setting. As Morrison noted in an interview for Rolling Stone in 1978, unlike his other records up to that point most of Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece were written in Ireland. The album covers themselves suggest the importance of setting, with a poem on the back of Astral Weeks referencing locations in Massachusetts (where Morrison lived before recording the album in New York City) and Veedon Fleece with its cover photo of the singer in the Irish countryside. Stylistically, vocally and lyrically, Veedon Fleece recalls Astral Weeks, making the two bookends for an extremely productive and eventful period of time in Morrison’s life. The connections between the two albums become apparent when one compares the two, side by side.

Astral Weeks by Van Morrison
Released: November, 1968 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Lewis Merenstein
Recorded: Century Sound Studios, New York City, September-October 1968
Side One Side Two
Astral Weeks
Beside You
Sweet Thing
Cyprus Avenue
The Way Young Lovers Do
Madame George
Slim Slow Slider
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals
Jay Berliner – Guitars
Larry Fallon – Strings, Horns, Harpsichord
Richard Davis – Bass
Connie Kay – Drums

Astral Weeks starts off with Richard Davis’s insistent bass on the title track as Morrison launches into an uncertain but evocative image, “If I ventured in the slipstream between the viaducts of your dream.” With the bass driving it all, Jay Berliner’s guitar propels the song forward as John Payne’s flute dances around the vocal, strings trill and vibes and percussion add flavor until it all swirls together in an amalgam of folk, jazz, blues and soul, moving from uneasy to calm, with lines about “a home on high…so far away…way up in the Heaven.” Morrison stretches out the word “Heaven,” accentuating the ethereal meaning of the word. The song closes gently with Morrison humming over final plucked guitar notes and a bowed bass note extending the otherworldly effect. While more an inner journey than to a physical place there is a narrative here, of a protagonist addressing his lover waiting for her to “find” him, wondering if she will “kiss-a my eyes,” this woman who has a boy she is taking care of, “putting on his little red shoes.” “From the far side of the ocean, if I put the wheels in motion…” It’s not a stretch to imagine that Morrison was singing about his future wife Janet, an American who had a young boy from a previous marriage. Clocking in at just over seven minutes, the album opener is the second longest song on the album and sets the stage for the seven songs that follow.

As with Astral Weeks, Veedon Fleece opens with the second longest song on the album. “Fair Play,” and introduces a markedly consistent sound and feel that will inform the rest of the album and that shares Astral Weeks’ mix of folk, jazz, blues and soul as well as lyrics incorporating Morrison’s Irish roots. Similar to the prominent bass on “Astral Weeks,” the piano is at the forefront, playing off of Morrison’s committed vocals, though here the gentle melody more falls into place than charges ahead. As with “Astral Weeks,” there is an air of uncertainty and tension and meaning is slippery. Both opening songs find Morrison singing with abandon, luxuriating in pure sound. Here the singer takes the word “Geronimo” and repeats it, playing with the phrasing until it becomes “ronimo-woh,” perhaps in keeping with the word’s use as an expression of letting go. But it could also be referring to Morrison’s dwelling in San Geronimo, California on Meadow Way as he sings “meadow’s way to go/And you say Geronimo.” Written, as most of the songs on Veedon Fleece were, during a trip Morrison took to Ireland in 1973 following his divorce, “Fair Play” weaves together images from both the Irish countryside and his life in America, sharing Astral Weeks’ theme of place. Both opening tracks, in fact, start off with locations, “Killarney Lakes are so blue” in “Fair Play” to the more ambiguous slipstream of “Astral Weeks.” As Morrison stretches out the word “meadow’s” much as he did “Heaven,” a countryside of the mind is conjured, a countryside both Irish and American. Both album openers also share a sense of yearning. On “Astral Weeks,” the singer wonders, “If I ventured in the slipstream…could you find me?” while on “Fair Play” the protagonist wishes “we could be dreamers in this dream.” Both songs end gently, with the tension resolving, eschewing fade-outs. After the previous five studio releases (Moondance, His Band and Street Choir, Tupelo Honey, St. Dominic’s Preview, and Hard Nose the Highway) we are back in Astral Weeks territory.

“Beside You,” the second song on Astral Weeks, starts off gently, even tentatively, with soft guitar that feels like a hushed response to the previous song as Morrison opens by naming a character and moving through at least the makings of a story: “Little Jimmy’s gone…way over on the railroad…the tipping trucks will unload all the scrapbooks stuck with glue.” Images appear that will be mainstays in the songwriter’s work: back streets, a railroad yard, church bells, someone turning around to address another person. A sense of a tortured soul runs through the song with Morrison forcefully repeating the phrase “beside you” and ending on an anguished “child.” The mixture of uncertainty and hopefulness creates a tension that is unresolved in contrast to the album’s title song, which ends on a note of tranquility.

As on Astral Weeks, the second song on Veedon Fleece, “Linden Arden Stole The Highlights,” continues the album in an introspective mood. James Trumbo’s piano opens the song tenderly, with notes of melancholy and regret. Morrison enters, assured and conversational, the lyrics now directly narrative. As with “Beside You,” the song starts by naming a character, Linden Arden. Morrison sings hard, barking out words, biting them off at times, and utilizing a falsetto that soars over acoustic guitar and strings. His impassioned vocals nearly reach the pained intensity of “Beside You” when he darkly draws out the word “hatchet.” Across just two and half minutes a story emerges of a hard-drinking man hiding out in San Francisco after having “stole the highlights” with “one hand tied behind his back.” Whatever the specifics, this is clearly a troubled man on the run in whom “whiskey ran like water in his veins” but who loves “the little children like they were his very own.” The song ends on a note of turmoil, the desperation of “livin’ with a gun.” As with Astral Weeks, the album opens with a long song finding peaceful resolution followed by one that continues the mood but turns conflicted and bothered.

“Sweet Thing,” the third song on Astral Weeks, changes the mood significantly from “Beside You,” the upbeat strumming guitar acting as a bridge to more sunny days. A romantic love song propelled by percussion and a galloping bass, the song finds the singer looking forward to when he and his lover will “walk and talk in gardens all misty wet with rain” and declaring enigmatically “I will never grow so old again.” Flute and strings add texture to the album’s most succinct example of Morrison’s blending of folk, jazz, soul and blues.

Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison
Released: October, 1974 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Van Morrison
Recorded: Mercury Studios, New York & Caledonia Studios, Oakland, CA, November 1973-Spring 1974
Side One Side Two
Fair Play
Linden Arden Stole the Highlights
Who Was That Masked Man
Streets of Arklow
You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River
Cul de Sac
Comfort You
Come Here My Love
Country Fair
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Ralph Walsh – Guitars
James Trumbo – Piano
David Hayes – Bass
Dahaud Shaar – Drums

On Veedon Fleece, the third song connects directly to its preceding one, with the first line of “Who Was That Masked Man” echoing the closing line of “Linden Arden Stole The Highlights,” now detailing the loneliness of “livin’ with a gun.” Morrison again adopts a falsetto that lends urgency to the mournful melody as acoustic guitar dances around the sung lines. The title can’t help but evoke the Lone Ranger; a symbol of the America that Morrison was taking a respite from but the protagonist here is no hero in the traditional sense. One can easily imagine we’re still concerned with Linden Arden, now on the run after cleaving off the heads of the men who came looking for him. There is a palpable sense of paranoia and of being watched with the image of a fish inside a bowl, an image Morrison would return to years later on one of his many songs about the pitfalls of fame, “Goldfish Bowl.” Perhaps on some level Morrison is referring to himself, already struggling with fame. There is a sense of existential dread throughout, stated perhaps most plainly in the line “when the ghost comes round at midnight…he can keep you from the sun.” The music swells on the unsettling line, “You can hang suspended from a star/ or wish on a toilet roll.” However you interpret that line it speaks of anguish, setting the song quite apart from Astral Weeks’ third song, the uplifting “Sweet Thing.” Interestingly, when Morrison performed the entire Astral Weeks in 2008 to mark its 40th anniversary, he restructured the album’s sequence so that the third song was “Slim Slow Slider,” a song that shares the bleak desolation of “Who Was That Masked Man.” While there is no obvious connection to Astral Weeks‘ “Madame George,” it’s notable that the song includes the image “and the hand does fit the glove” recalling the central line in “Madame George,” “Hey love, you forgot your glove.”

“Cyprus Avenue,” the fourth song on Astral Weeks, starts with strumming guitar hinting at intensity as a harpsichord dances in to remain present throughout, strings whirling and swooping, the bass stepping in and out. A tale is told of a lovelorn man “conquered in a car seat” watching a 14-year-old girl walking down “the avenue of trees…in the wind and rain…when the sun shone through the trees.” He tries to talk to her but his tongue gets tied and he decides to go walking by the railroad “where the lonesome engine drivers pine.” The reference to locations (Cyprus Avenue is a street in Belfast that a young Morrison liked to walk along) and narrative flow give the song a cinematic feel that is also present in the album’s most elaborate song, “Madame George.” The girl in question is obviously younger than the singer who observes her as “so young and bold, fourteen, yeah I know.” But he also knows that “nobody stop me from loving you” nor can anyone stop him from fantasizing about her in a carriage being drawn by six white horses. The sense of anguish at observing a group of girls walking home from school making up rhymes blissfully unaware of his emotional suffering is accentuated by the ever-present harpsichord. Morrison sings passionately, alternating barked-out lines with soft caresses. He raggedly extends the word “ribbons,” evoking an image of ribbons in a young girl’s hair fluttering in the wind. As he observes leaves falling from trees, the indifference of nature seems to mock his romantic longings. The lyrics share a strong sense of both yearning and a feeling of being at odds with the world that runs through both Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece.

“Streets of Arklow,” the fourth song on Veedon Fleece, is notable as a culmination of the intermingling of the folk, soul and blues of its preceding three songs and the first song on the album where Morrison starts to really let loose, coming down hard on “and our souls were clean,” then breathing out gently “and the grass did grow.” It’s a song enraptured with beauty and a desire to revel in the moment, probably with a lover. A line about gypsies who love to roam (another image that appears frequently in Morrison’s lyrics) gives the song a cinematic feel. As with the word “ribbons” on “Cyprus Avenue,” Morrison stretches out the word “drenching” to wring out its meaning. In place of a harpsichord, “Streets of Arklow” is supported by gliding strings, at times murmuring in the background, then swelling darkly. A rain could be coming on over the green fields and streets of Arklow. The strings give the song a strong sense of movement until it comes to an abrupt stop that feels immediately picked up by the next song, “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River,” the centerpiece of the album. In what is surely a coincidence, the fourth songs on both albums are named for their settings.

Side Two of Astral Weeks opens with a song that feels slightly out of step with the rest of the album. “The Way Young Lovers Do” starts with gentle vibes and guitar but quickly builds in intensity as the bass thumps furiously and strings enter followed by brash horns as the pace becomes frenetic. One wonders what the song, a love song about walking through fields wet with rain and dancing the night away, might have felt like without the strings and horns, though certainly a tasteful trombone adds to the jazz feel. Morrison sings at full throttle and is likely tipping his hat to Ray Charles in the line “in the night time, yeah, that’s the right time.” Elsewhere, a line about how the lovers “sat on our own star and dreamed of the way that we were and the way that we wanted to be” may remind listeners of the line in “Who Was That Masked Man” about hanging suspended from a star. But unlike that song, “The Way Young Lovers Do” is relentlessly upbeat, a conflict-free ode to love shared only on Astral Weeks with “Sweet Thing.” Some wonderful scat singing from Morrison is heard on the fade-out.

Side One of Veedon Fleece ends as Astral Weeks does with a long song (at 8:50 the longest song on the album), with hard-strummed acoustic guitar and scat singing from Morrison that makes the song feel as if it’s picking up from where “Streets of Arklow” left off. As strings swirl, a flute trills against probing piano. As with “Cyprus Avenue,” the song is about a woman the narrator is preoccupied with. Now though, the protagonist is not pining away for a teenager but directly addressing a woman he knew “way back in shady lane,” possibly even the same girl of “Cyprus Avenue” now an adult. But the journey in “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River” is not down memory lane but in the clear present and “out in the country…to the west coast…to the cathedrals…and the beaches,” perhaps conjoining images of Ireland and America as in “Fair Play.” Morrison sings about “days of blooming wonder…going as much with the river as not” (see Don’t Push the River (it flows by itself) by Barry Sands), William Blake, and the ultimate mystery in Morrison’s music, the “Veedon Fleece”. However you define Veedon Fleece, the phrase is as central to the song and the album as the glove in “Madame George” and is noteworthy as one of the few Morrison album titles not taken directly from a song title. If Morrison was starting to let loose on “Streets of Arklow,” he’s in full swing here, singing about as hard as he ever has right off the bat on the line “way back in shady lane.” The singer seems almost possessed by the music as he uses his voice like an instrument, alternately stretching out words and clipping them, moving from mournful calmness to blues shouting and back again. Such looseness of singing and a feeling of improvisation and letting go that is part of the fabric of both Veedon Fleece and Astral Weeks would be seen more occasionally on Morrison’s subsequent studio albums. Just past the six minute mark the music turns serene and gentle. Flute floats about as strings are plucked and Morrison repeats phrases, creating a trance-like effect. As the song comes to a quiet close with Morrison whispering “you don’t push the river,” the ending of “Astral Weeks” may come to mind as well as the emotional intensity of “Cyprus Avenue.”

Van Morrison in 1968

“Madame George” follows “The Way Young Lovers Do” on Astral Weeks and, as with “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River,” is the centerpiece of the album. With a running time of more than nine minutes, the song is anchored by nuanced bass as decorous acoustic guitar, supple flute and violin join in to create a swirling effect fitting for the memory story that unfolds. Morrison returns to Cyprus Avenue and the back streets of Belfast in a portrait of a young man “sitting on a sofa playing games of chance” at a party with the captivating Madame George. Madame George remains an elusive character and Morrison himself has confirmed that he’s actually singing Madame Joy. Is it pure coincidence that the singer’s given name is George? A line about “playing dominoes in drag” adds to the ambiguity. Whether “Madame George” refers to a specific person or a symbolic figure, the lyrics portray a young man moving on from friends and circumstances of his youth. The events unfold in a cinematic style in perhaps Morrison’s most polished combination of the narrative and the visual. As the young man takes leave of Madame George “she jumps up and says, ‘Hey love, you forgot your glove’.” The glove…the party scene…a reluctant farewell. “And you know you gotta go…dry your eye, your eye, your eye, your eye, your eye.” Alternately insistent and blissful. Then the fade-out…“get on the train, the train.” As on both albums, equal parts mystery and snapshot accuracy. Completists will want to give a listen to two recordings Morrison made prior to Astral Weeks: a bluesy version of “Madame George” and “Madame Joy,” a sweet paean to a beloved teacher.

Opening Side Two of Veedon Fleece and coming on the heels of “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River,” “Bulbs” is strikingly jaunty, mirroring the move from the mystical leaves of “Cyprus Avenue” to the energetic “The Way Young Lovers Do.” Morrison’s vocals are forceful with a country-blues “hey, hey, hey” and some deep grunting that suggests a tuba.

On Astral Weeks, the swaying fadeout of “Madame George” flows fluidly into the pulsating intensity of “Ballerina” as the melancholy of the former is uplifted. The singer launches into a second-person narrative to a woman he cares about deeply, exhorting her to spread her wings and “fly it, sigh it, try it.” The vocal grows in forcefulness as he encourages her to “step right up, just like-a ballerina.” The songs fades, echoing the splintered light ending of “Madame George” as Morrison sings “take off your shoes…just like a ballerina,” extending the syllables.

On Veedon Fleece, “Cul De Sac” follows “Bulbs” and marks a return to the more introspective feel of the album. Bluesy piano and guitar drive the song as Morrison delivers one of his most impassioned vocals on record. He emphasizes nearly every word, enunciating, stretching vowels, repeating syllables, hammering on “you,” letting loose with a startling shout, and grunting as the song fades out. Setting is ever-present with references to Mt. Palomar, California and “down the cobblestones.”

“Slim Slow Slider,” the closing song on Astral Weeks, is the album’s shortest, the original recording having been edited in length. As is, the song gives the album a fittingly mournful and conflicted ending, with John Payne‘s soprano saxophone winding its way around Morrison’s downbeat vocal like a snake and ending on a flurry of frantic notes. The lyrics provide a second–person narrative about a friend he sees “down by Ladbroke Grove this morning” who’s “out of reach” heading somewhere where she “won’t be back.” The song’s bleakness caps the album, standing in contrast to the re-birth of the album opener. While performing the album on stage in 2008, along with placing “Slim Slow Slider” in third position, Morrison ended with the sequence of “Cyprus Avenue,” “Ballerina” and “Madame George,” perhaps in his view more in keeping with the ‘rock opera’ he has stated he originally envisioned.

The three-song sequence closing Veedon Fleece comprise perhaps the most clear connections to Astral Weeks, any one of which could fit comfortably on the earlier album. “Comfort You” descends gently, with Morrison singing sweetly, a guitar fluttering and strings entering, caressing the melody. The singer is likely addressing a lover, although as is often the case with Morrison’s lyrics, it could just be a close friend. The song grows in intensity until Morrison is wailing, then a sublime ending as he hums the proceedings to a close.

“Come Here My Love” opens with spare guitar and finds Morrison singing in a more direct manner, almost conversational although occasionally elongating a word as he implores his lover to lift his “melancholy feeling that just don’t do no good.” The pace recalls “Slim Slow Slider” but this is a love song and hopeful, a song about “contemplating the fields and leaves and talking about nothing” and becoming “enraptured by the sights and sounds of nature’s beauty.”

“Country Fair” closes the album with guitar, bass and synthesizer whispering behind Morrison’s wistful vocals as Jim Rothermel’s recorder remains prominent throughout. The delicate melody and impassioned singing create an atmosphere both calming and restless, recalling the tension of “Slim Slow Slider.” But here images of watching a river run, counting pebbles in the sand “on an old open day” and “the cool night air in sweet summertime,” not to mention an Irish country fair, convey a romantic mood and a feeling of time standing still. There is an overwhelming sense of both celebrating the beauty of life and acknowledging how fleeting the moment can be. That yearning to capture the moment echoes the protagonist’s wondering about his place in the world and the grasping at moments of Astral Weeks. And perhaps nothing Morrison has recorded sounds so remarkably like the sublime ending to the title track of Astral Weeks than the closing moments of “Country Fair,” with Morrison humming and the final evocative line, “on an old pine cone open day.” The halting probing of “Beside You” may also come to mind as well as the idyllic musings of “Fair Play.”

Thus the closing song on Veedon Fleece harkens back not only to the first song on the album but the first songs and by extension the entire cycle of Astral Weeks, creating one cycle out of two. Perhaps, too, there is something more hidden and personal that gives the albums a common resonance: Astral Weeks, the first fully-realized statement from a hungry young Morrison; Veedon Fleece, inspired by a return to Ireland and self. Regardless of the particulars, the two albums contain separate yet linked journeys that form a natural, unique flow.


Classic Rock Review of Astral Weeks
Classic Rock Review of Veedon Fleece


500 album icons

Our 500th Album Review

On December 23, 2016, Classic Rock Review published our 500th album review, David Bowie’s Station to Station. This milestone dates back to our inception on January 1, 2011 and includes in-depth reviews of the best and most important rock and roll albums released during the period between 1965 and 1996.

For more details, check out all of these reviews by artist name.

500 album icons

Some Interesting Stats

Artists with Most Album Reviews

  • Rush (13)
  • Pink Floyd (10)
  • The Rolling Stones (9)
  • Led Zeppelin (9)
  • Aerosmith (9)
  • The Beatles (8)
  • The Who (8)
  • Bruce Springsteen (8)
  • The Kinks (7)
  • Deep Purple (7)
  • Genesis (7)

Highest Percentage of Eligible Album Reviews*

  • Led Zeppelin (100%)
  • The Beatles (100%)
  • Aerosmith (82%)
  • Rush (81%)
  • Bruce Springsteen (73%)
  • The Doors (75%)
  • The Who (8)
  • Pink Floyd (71%)
  • Van Halen (70%)
  • The Eagles (67%)
  • Robert Plant (67%)

*Minimum 5 albums

Moving into 2017, we will continue to review select albums from this period and expand to cover the 20th anniversary of albums released during the year 1997. Please check out the River of Rock newsletter for more details and features.

Robert Johnson and Pat Albano

80 Years Ago Today

Buy King of the Delta Blues Singers

Robert Johnson and Pat Albano

NOTE: Below is the original article I wrote five years ago entitled “75 Years Ago Today” which focused on the historic Robert Johnson recordings which were coincidentally made on the very same day that my father was born. At the time, I couldn’t know that the 75th birthday of Pasquale John Albano would be his last here on Earth, as he passed away the following year on August 15, 2012.

      – Ric Albano 11/23/16

75 Years Ago Today

Robert JohnsonOn November 23, 1936 in San Antonio, TX, a young blues man from the Mississippi Delta cut the first half of his famed 29 recorded tracks. These simple songs would ripple through the rock and roll world some three decades later, when some soon-to-be-famous musicians in England discovered the classic recordings and implemented many of the unique and innovative techniques of this young blues player, named Robert Johnson. Johnson was a huge influence on Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton of Cream, and most especially Jimmy Page & Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. It turns out that these 29 tracks were a lot of recordings for Delta musicians of the time and may have helped to preserve the legend of a constantly traveling, Depression-era, blues man of which only two known photographs exist. He otherwise may have gone overlooked or simply forgotten in time, and then how would rock n roll have turned out?

Johnson, who was born 100 years ago in 1911, has come to be known as the “grandfather of rock n roll” due to the rippling of his influence on rock decades later. He lived a short and nomadic life, dead by the age of 27, and was a truly mythic blues figure, shrouded in mystery and rumour. The biggest of these was that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for extraordinary talent as a guitarist, singer, and composer. Extensive research into his life have suggested Johnson was haunted and driven by a desire to never return to the sharecropper’s agricultural work of his adolescent years, and he lived a live of constantly appearing, disappearing, and reappearing in several locations throughout the south and mid-west. These facts could have certainly played right into the overactive imaginations of some who like to attribute supernatural hands to the unexplained genius, much like the rumors that would swirl about rock n roll stars a half century later. Nonetheless, a true telling of the Robert Johnson story would not be complete without covering this legend, as has been told in print and film many times over the year. Here is the AMG (All Music Guide) version:

Robert Johnson was a young black man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi. Branded with a burning desire to become great blues musician, he was instructed to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery’s plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar from Johnson, tuned it, and handed it back to him.

Within less than a year’s time, in exchange for his everlasting soul, Robert Johnson became the king of the Delta blues singers, able to play, sing, and create the greatest blues anyone had ever heard. As success came with live performances and phonograph recordings, Johnson remained tormented, constantly haunted by nightmares of hellhounds on his trail, his pain and mental anguish finding release only in the writing and performing of his music.

Just as he was to be brought to Carnegie Hall to perform in John Hammond’s first Spirituals to Swing concert, the news had come from Mississippi; Robert Johnson was dead, poisoned by a jealous girlfriend while playing a jook joint. Those who were there swear he was last seen alive foaming at the mouth, crawling around on all fours, hissing and snapping at onlookers like a mad dog. His dying words (either spoken or written on a piece of scrap paper) were, “I pray that my redeemer will come and take me from my grave.” He was buried in a pine box in an unmarked grave, his deal with the Devil at an end.

Although this legend may seem far-fledged, there is some further situational evidence to support this. Johnson was a teenage plantation worker in Robinsville, MS when married his first wife, who died shortly after during childbirth. It was at this point that Johnson apparently got his drive to get away from agriculture and be a blues musician. He started on harmonica, sitting in with some of the local Delta legends such as Son House and Charley Patton. By their later accounts, he played adequately as a harmonica player but really wanted to play guitar. But when they let him play during sets, he was a bit of a joke, seemingly possessing no skill at all. Johnson then suddenly left Robinsville only to reappear a year later with some unbelievable and innovative skills on the guitar, which far exceeded that of Son House or any of his contemporaries. According to House;

When he finished all our mouths were standing open. I said, ‘Well, ain’t that fast! He’s gone now!’ To a man, there was only one explanation as how Johnson had gotten that good, that fast; he had sold his soul to the devil.

While no one is sure where the “devil tuning the guitar at the crossroads” detail of the story came about, there is some evidence that Johnson was tutored by Ike Zimmerman of Hazelhurst, Mississippi, who would frequently play late at night in graveyards, as a pragmatic measure to not disturb anyone. Further, some have suggested that the “crossroads” story was actually that of a lesser known musician named Tommy Johnson (as suggested in the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, and later combined with the already mysterious bio of the legend Robert Johnson.

In another similarity to later rock myths, Johnson was also believed by some to have faked his own death. The following footage from 1942, shows a yet-to-be identified street musician with incredible finger skill, that some claimed is actually Robert Johnson;

Another rumor has Johnson living until the mid sixties, dying of liver cancer after his legend was re-discovered with the release of Columbia Record’s King of the Delta Blues Singers, which was the direct recordings that influenced so many 60’s-era musicians. But the truth is, there were many witnesses to Johnson’s death in 1938, allegedly due to poison slipped in his drink by the jealous husband of a woman he had bedded.

Johnson’s success at serial womanizing was another attribute that is sometimes attributed to his deal with the devil. He wandered up and down the Delta and as far away as Nashville, St. Louis, and Chicago. He supposedly used different names in different places, with as many as eight different surnames confirmed by researchers. He had a multi-pronged routine when he would arrive in a new town. He’d first, play popular songs for tips on street corners. Later, in the local black saloon or “juke joint”, he would play the dark and complex original blues which made him legendary, usually accompanying local blues men. Finally, he would find a woman to suit his needs for his stay in that town. The duration of stays were also erratic, some times a day or two, sometimes a week, and he would often disappear suddenly and without notifying anyone.

Robert Johnson

The second of two known photos of Robert Johnson

Eventually, Johnson sought out H.C. Speir, talent scout from Jackson, Mississippi, who put Johnson in touch with producer Ernie Oertle. On November 23, 1936, Oertle brought Johnson to the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, a temporary “studio” for Brunswick Records. There, Johnson performed facing a corner in order to enhance the sound of the guitar, a technique later labeled “corner loading”, which Johnson apparently invented on the spot. In the ensuing three-day session, Johnson recorded sixteen selections along with alternate takes for most of these. These included “Cross Road Blues”, “Kind Hearted Woman Blues”, “Terraplane Blues”, which became his first regional commercial “hit”, selling 5,000 copies. The rest of Johnson’s historic recordings were made in 1937.

Robert Johnson’s recordings began to pick up steam and his popularity grew. By 1938, Johnson was about to go national, as a Columia Records executive sought him out to play the first From Spirituals to Swing concert at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. But unfortunately, Johnson had already been murdered in Mississippi and was replaced that night by Big Bill Broonzy, who paid tribute to Johnson by performing a couple of his songs from the stage.

Ironically, Johnson did not have nearly the influence on his fellow blues musicians through the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s as he did on the young rock musicians of the 60’s, who amazingly recoginized his skills through the dusty old recordings. This may be because many of his techniques, such as the boogie bass line, were “re-invented” during the advent of rock n roll in the 1950’s, showing just how far ahead of his time Johnson was. In fact, when Brian Jones first played Johnson for fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards, he reacted by asking, “Who is the other guy playing with him?” not realizing it was Johnson playing all himself.

None of this would have been possible, had he not found his way to that makeshift recording studio, 75 years ago today. On that very same day, the ninth child of Italian immigrants Donata and Guiseppe Albano was born in Hazleton, PA. That child was named Pasquale John Albano, my father, who today celebrates his 75th birthday.

Happy birthday, Dad.


All Things Must Pass DVD

All Things Must Pass

All Things Must Pass DVDThe chronological framework of Classic Rock Review spans the years 1965-2000 in order to coincide with the rise and fall of the traditional, artist-driven, hard-copy “album”. Nearly mirroring this time span and on a parallel track is the meteoric rise and fall of Tower Records, a record “superstore” with humble beginnings to cult-like status to mainstream worldwide success to sudden demise. Directed by Colin Hanks, All Things Must Pass is a feature-length documentary that examines the company’s origins, serendipitous growth, culture, influence and its legacy.

The promise of this story is in the opening script; “In 1999 Tower Records had over a billion dollars in sales by 2004 the company was bankrupt…” However, in reality, this documentary unfolds in proportion to real time events, with much more attention spent on the decades of growth and expansion in the company and much less (not enough) focused on the sudden and shocking collapse of Tower Records and the recorded music industry as a whole.

Russ Soloman in Tower SF, 1968aThe focal point of the documentary is Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records, who got started at a young age working in his father’s variety drug store in Sacramento, California in the 1940s. Solomon’s experience in the record industry started by selling used records from the soda fountain jukebox and slowly led to Russ focusing solely on the wholesale and retail record sales of the multi-purpose drug store. After an initial attempt and failure at running an independent record store in the 1950s, Soloman incorporated Tower Records in 1960 and had several years of steady growth in Sacramento. In 1968, Solomon opened a 5,000-square-foot store in San Francisco, which lauded itself as having the “largest inventory anywhere” and met with immediate phenomenal success. Solomon then replicated this model with an even larger location on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, which caught the attention of many popular rock artists and record industry insiders.

Much of the documentary talks about staff who started as simple clerks and rose to the highest executive positions when the company grew and expanded. These stories are somewhat interesting but a bit too “inside baseball” for the passive viewer. The documentary does do well in talking about its culture and relaxed atmosphere, with no dress code and an implicit tolerance of drinking and drugs with the only real “rule” being to show up everyday. Soloman claimed he had a “Tom Sawyer” style of management, letting his staff enthusiastically do the hard work and giving them the freedom to get the work done in their own style. Many of these workers were musicians or music fanatics, creating an ideal social atmosphere for the customers they were looking to attract. The documentary includes on-camera commentary by Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Dave Grohl as well as a really cool 1974 audio advertisement by John Lennon.

Through the seventies, eighties and nineties, Tower Records grew nationally and internationally, with sales and profits rising each year until the company did over a billion dollars annually by the end of the century. Then came the collapse of terrestrial retail as digital technologies emerged starting in the year 2000 when, after 40 years of consistent growth, sales flat-lined. By no means was this collapse due in total to outside forces and some of the key players at Tower own up to mistakes. One major mistake was the panicked sale of Tower’s Japanese outlets which, ironically, are now the only store locations that are still operating today.

Empty Tower store, 2006

A native of Sacramento, Hanks spent seven years on this documentary and presents the story expertly, bringing the record store experience back to those of us who grew up in that era. The most vivid and haunting scenes coming at the very beginning and very end with a completely empty but still-in-tact Tower location in a retail strip-mall, showing the passing of a cultural pastime.

All Things Must Pass was released on DVD by MVD Entertainment Group on September 13, 2016.

Album Covers Montage

End of Our Original 5-Year Mission

At the beginning of 2011, Classic Rock Review set out on a monumental task to review the best and most important rock and roll album released during the 30 year period between 1965 and 1994. To accomplish this, we set up a 5 year schedule, covering six classic years annually or approximately one every two months. On December 14, 2015, we published the 452nd and final album review of this original mission, The Who’s My Generation, completing a monumental task of original material that, combined, would fill the pages of about six full novels.

Moving into 2016, Classic Rock Review will pivot towards new features with more select album reviews (we did miss a few) and other interesting content. Stay tuned for our next newsletter for more details!

Album Covers Montage

Greg Kihn, Painted Black

Greg Kihn, Painted Black

Greg KihnAdding to his long and distinguished career in rock music, Greg Kihn is now fully immersed in the world of creative fiction. His latest novel, Painted Black, is the second in a sequence which has Kihn’s fictional characters interact with real life people and events. In this case, the focus is on the Rolling Stones in general and the death of their founding member, Brian Jones, in particular. In July 1969, Jones was discovered at the bottom of his home swimming pool in what the local coroner concluded was a “death by misadventure”. However, over the past four plus decades, many have theorized that Jones’ death was not an accident and Kihn himself believes that Jones may have been murdered.

Published this past April, Painted Black follows Kihn’s 2013 novel Rubber Soul, which features the rise of The Beatles from playing the clubs in Liverpool though the heights of Beatlemania. The story is written from the point of view of Bobby Dingle, a young man close in age to the “Fab Four”, who helps his father run a second hand store on Penny Lane in Liverpool. His occupation earned him the nickname “Dust Bin Bob” and he befriended the young Beatles through their mutual appreciation of American rock and blues records that Bob collected while trading items for the shop. In the book, he introduces the group to the sounds of James Brown and many others who would become legends. While Dust Bin Bob was the central character, following the turmoil in his family life and his travels with the merchant marines, The Beatles and music were ever present in the story.  Khin manages to weave this story into an almost James Bond like tale of international mystery.

Painted Black by Greg Kihn book coverIn our recent interview with Greg Kihn, he told us that when he completed Rubber Soul, the experience had been so enjoyable that he decided to simply keep writing. For this second in the series, Dust Bin Bob and few supporting characters return but the focus shifts from the Beatles to the Stones and a few years later in time. Brian Jones gave the Rolling Stones their name and was the undisputed band leader during the early part of their career. However, by the late sixties his leadership and musical contributions began to wane, due mainly to chemical dependency but also some personal disputes with other band members. After Jones was arrested a second time for drug possession in 1968, it was difficult for him to acquire a visa to tour the United States and he was soon dismissed from the band he founded. Later in 1968, Jones took up residence of an estate formerly owned by Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne. In Kihn’s novel, Jones finds an ancient mirror in this house and becomes obsessed with “mirror gazing”, or looking into the mirror for meditation and seeing visions. One of the visions Jones sees eventually leads to his death.

As a teenage musician growing up in Baltimore, Kihn was strongly influenced by British rock and was especially intrigued by Jones due to his musical innovations and slide guitar technique. He started his musical career off in the singer/songwriter mode before relocated to the San Francisco Bay area and concentrating on rock-oriented music. After a debut solo album in 1976 called Beserkley Chartbusters, he formed The Greg Kihn Band with guitarist Robbie Dunbar, bassist Steve Wright, and drummer Larry Lynch. In 1981, the group reached the Top 20 with “The Breakup Song” from the album RocKihnRoll. This was one of a series of album titles that punned on Kihn’s name, including Next of Kihn, Kihntinued, Kihnspiracy, Kihntageous, Citizen Kihn, and the 1989 compilation album Kihnsolidation. Through this long recording career, Kihn’s biggest hit single was 1983’s “Jeopardy”, which he told us took all of fifteen minutes to write but nearly topped the pop singles charts. In comparing this to the relative ease he had in writing Painted Black he said, “sometimes the best songs write themselves.”

One thing the award-winning “Jeopardy” video did show was Kihn’s affinity for the horror genre.  He began his literary career in 1996 with the novel Horror Show, which was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. This was followed by three more novels in the horror fiction category. Although he has moved on from writing in this category, Kihn told us that he would love to someday do a “creature feature” show.

Kihn also had a long and distinguished radio career on classic rock station KUFX in San Jose, CA. During his 16 years at the station, Kihn had the top-rated morning show in Greg Kihn at AT&T Park in San Franciscothe nation’s fourth largest market and this helped spawn his annual “Khincert”, a rock concert in Mountain View, CA where the Greg Kihn Band has opened up for some rock legends including The Who, Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steve Miller Band, and Boston. Greg Kihn is also an avid sports fan and has had the honor of singing the national anthem prior to games by the World Champion San Francisco Giants and other professional sports teams in the Bay area.

Although he has tried his hand in many different fields, Kihn has managed a level on consistency (or should we say, “Kihnsistency”) when it comes to his business practices. Since the early seventies he has been managed by his friend and business partner Joel Turtle and he takes pride in the fact that he maintains total ownership of his musical library. He plans to soon make his entire catalogue available on

We asked Greg Kihn about the possibility of third installment in the “Dust Bin Bob” series and he said it was a definite possibility. Although he gave no specifics on who the next rock protagonist may be he talked about how out of control that (late sixties) era was, citing Jimi Hendrix as wild, flamboyant and “crazy as a loon” while being the world’s greatest guitarist. “Without people like them (Hendrix and Jones), guitar players may have gotten there but it would have taken much longer.” We look forward to seeing what’s next.


Buy Painted Black by Greg Kihn