Easy Does It

If there was something you could count on between 1976 and 1986 as sure as the sky was blue was that at any time of the day on the radio, you could probably hear the voice of Michael McDonald.

Whether he was harmonizing in the background for Steely Dan, or singing lead for the Doobie Brothers, or performing any one of his top 40 solo hits, McDonald’s distinctly, husky voice was a staple on FM radio, a reminder that whatever angst existed during that decade, the soothing voice of Michael McDonald could be found by just turning the radio dial.

So when McDonald walked on stage on Friday night at the North Beach Bandshell during the 4th Annual GroundUP Music Festival, took a seat behind a Yamaha grand piano, greeted the audience briefly, and then vocally belted his first note, it was a comforting reminder that there are things from our past that are still intact.

Backed by members of the Grammy-award winning jazz collective Snarky Puppy including bassist Michael League and keyboardist Shaun Martin, as well as virtuoso guest-saxophonist Chris Potter, the Michael McDonald Quintet, as they billed themselves on Friday night in Miami, performed a remarkable 50-minute set that included Doobie classics like Takin’ it to the Streets and What a Fool Believes, his 1982 hit, I Keep Forgettin’, and his own version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, that at first made me cringe until I was swept up by the easy-listening vocal register of Michael McDonald.

Before the show I ran into a friend who admitted he was “kind of a Michael McDonald fan,” to which his wife quipped, “He used to be cool.”

I get it: liking Michael McDonald isn’t really cool, and admitting that you are a Michael McDonald fan in public is really uncool. In fact, I would argue that the genre that McDonald’s music falls into, somewhere between “Easy Listening” and “Yacht Rock”, is the polar opposite of cool.

But I get the sense that Michael McDonald doesn’t seem to care about any of that.

Since 2013, the 68-year old has been gradually increasing his work load. He appeared at Coachella in 2017. Last year he performed fifty shows including the Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival.

This coming May, he will join the remaining members of the Doobie Brothers in Cleveland as they are inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Then the band will embark on a 50th anniversary tour that kicks off in South Florida at the Coral Sky Amphitheatre in June.  That’s more than cool.  In fact, given present day America’s fast-pace culture and hyper-ventilating news cycle, Michael McDonald might just be the Easy Listening we need right now.

Copyright © 2020 Long Play Miami

p.s., Stay tuned for upcoming pieces including one about the ground-breaking hip hop record that remains a force nearly 40 years later (“It changed everything.”).

 

A Madness is Born

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In the summer of 2016, a female raccoon tore off one of the air vent screens on the eave of our roof and entered our attic.

Every night it was here, this nocturnal rabies-carrying, flea hotel of a mammal rummaged through our air ducts and scratched at the fiberglass insulation, at times right over our heads as we struggled to sleep soundly in our bed.

I am not a religious person, but I remember asking a higher power during those sleepless nights for the unwelcome visitor to be exorcised from our home. We also searched on Yelp and found an animal removal company.

Traps were placed on the roof and in the yard. There were chunks of chocolate and globs of peanut butter plated inside the traps but the animal wouldn’t take the bait.

When that didn’t work, the animal removal subject matter expert took to spraying a fluid in our attic that emitted a putrid odor used to repel female raccoons in these circumstances. “What the hell is that?” I asked him. The expert said, “Its supposed to replicate the scent of a male raccoon’s testicles. Female raccoons hate it.”

No shit.

I would not wish this smell on anyone, but it worked. The raccoon just upped and left a week or so later.

Now I plead to a higher power again to remove another unwelcome visitor:

– the music from the film A Star is Born, which has been playing in my head at all hours since we rented the film on Apple TV two weeks ago.

I can’t rid my mind of this music.

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There are not one, not two, but three songs rummaging through my brain as if looking for a place to settle: (1) the ubiquitous Shallow, of course;  (2) the one about the Arizona Sky and the California Gold that Lady Gaga belts on the piano during a scene; and, (3) the Bradley Cooper folksy-rock catchy-as-hell ballad Maybe Its Time.

I don’t know many of the lyrics save for a few lines but it doesn’t matter, the melodies won’t leave my head.

Three years ago the raccoon was driven away. The animal expert said she must have felt threatened.  But this music, in my head…its been 14 days. 

Please go away.

In the meantime, I’m going to go blast some Metallica.

#random rant

Going Back to “Where the Seeds to Woodstock were Sown”

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It was reported recently that actors Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are reuniting to film “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” the third installment in the “Bill & Ted” series. The 1989 original film saw Reeves and Winter portray a couple of California high school slackers who dream of becoming rock stars. When the likelihood of flunking a final history exam most heinously threatens their lifestyle, they are visited by a futuristic character at a Circle K who stresses the importance of passing this particular test. Apparently the future of mankind depends on it (because Bill & Ted are, like, the Chosen Ones, dude.)

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The pair travel through time in a telephone booth to prepare for the exam by meeting up with the likes of Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Freud, Mozart, and Lincoln and bringing these historical characters to present day San Dimas, California.

Cue the space-time continuum high jinks.

News of this upcoming film prompted me to think, not what I feel about Keanu Reeves using the term “bodacious” in 2018, but about time-travel and what-ifs, as in,

What if I could travel in a time machine?

Where would I go?

The answer is simple really.

At this very moment, I would go back to this very day, 50 years ago, May 18th, 1968.

Gulfstream Park, …

Hallandale, Florida, …

the site of The Miami Pop Festival.

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The Miami Pop Festival was the first of its kind on the East Coast. Co-founder Michael Lang, a New Yorker who had settled in Coconut Grove and ran a head shop, and Ric O’Barry, a dolphin trainer at the Miami Seaquarium, decided to partner up and bring a music festival to Miami because – I don’t know – it was the 60s and it would be a groovy thing to do (?).

For Lang, the festival served as something of a test run; he would go on to co-produce Woodstock, in August 1969.

Now let me indulge some more in my time-travel fantasy ∼∼∼∼∼∼∼

Once I arrive at Gulfstream Park, I would take a seat near one of the two flatbed trucks that were rented to serve as a performance stage. Just after noon, I’d listen to the trippy musical rants of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, get my R&B fix with John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry, then I’d persuade someone to save my spot, go for a snow cone, and come back for the headliner, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

In the book, Woodstock Festival Remembered, Michael Lang remarked about the Miami Pops Festival:

It was going to be a two-day event; two shows a day, afternoon and evening. We rented out booths to sell head-shop gear and assorted psychedelia. We managed to get everything arranged and the crowds came. After the music began we realized somebody had forgotten to pick up [Jimi] Hendrix at the airport. I sent cars out to get him, but Jimi had gotten impatient and decided to rent a helicopter. This turned out to be beautiful. Just as Jimi was due to go on stage and we were going berserk, this helicopter came hovering over the stage…

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Hendrix was fresh off his US festival debut performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival the year before and his debut LP, the masterful and incomparable Are You Experienced (1967).  It’s fair to say he was the biggest rock star of the moment.

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This electrifying performance would be one of Hendrix’s most memorable shows. The set list would include Hey Joe, Purple Haze, Foxey Lady, and Hear my Train a Comin’.

By the fifth song, I would pump my fist when Hendrix announces to the crowd that one of the amplifiers had blown out:

It’s really very bad trying to play on ashes. That’s all that’s left. Nothing but ashes.

The second day of the festival was canceled early by the organizers due to rain. Yet Hendrix wasn’t discouraged. He reportedly was inspired to write “Rainy Day Dream Away” which was featured on his third album Electric Ladyland (1968).

Look, I get it, Woodstock was and remains the mother of all music festivals, but it was the Miami Pop Festival that established the roots.

Or as Michael Lang once claimed:

This is where the seeds to Woodstock were sown.

Fortunately, you have a chance to time-travel too. Sort of. The HistoryMiami museum will launch a new exhibition this weekend titled “Miami Rocks” to honor the 50-year anniversary of the Miami Pop Festival. The exhibition will run until September 30, 2018.

(Photo credit for the above pictures belongs, with all due respect, to Ken Davidoff.)


Here is the virtuoso performing Foxey Lady 50 years ago today.

Nuclear Valdez: Resurrected

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The new music sounds like the old music. And that’s a good thing.

These were the first thoughts that entered my mind upon listening to the opening track off Present From The Past, the latest record release by Miami’s own Nuclear Valdez.

A few weeks ago I learned that the band was releasing this album on vinyl on April 22nd (otherwise known as Record Store Day, the annual celebration of independent record stores that facilitated the revival of vinyl records). Early that morning, I ventured out to my favorite record shop, Sweat Records.

I walked around passing the various genre categories handwritten on white placards on the shelves: indie, hip hop, rock, punk, world, re-issues. But it was at the new-releases section where I held my breath. There it was, Nuclear Valdez’s first album in 26 years(*), enjoying top-shelf status, a little product-placement bonus love by shop owner Lolo Reskin and the rest of the Sweat gang.

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Present From The Past is a compilation of never-released music that Nuclear Valdez wrote and recorded in the late 80s/early 90s.

Listening to the album teleported me back to 1989 when these four local boys, sons of Cuban and Dominican immigrants, landed a record deal with Epic, the label that counted among its artists the likes of Michael Jackson, Cheap Trick, and Sly & The Family Stone.  That same year they released their debut album, I Am I.  Their first cut “Summer” included a music video filmed in Miami that reached MTV daily-play honors for several months. It was that first cut, a political song about repression in Cuba, that established their identity.

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“If you were from Miami and born to Cuban parents, you were a Nuclear Valdez fan,” said a friend the other day when we chatted about the band. The Nukes embodied the angst, emotion, and political expression of the Cuban-American experience.

Growing up Cuban-American, life inside the hyphen that separates the two nationalities wasn’t so level. Musical tastes varied. A lot of the music that I heard as a child was either Cuban or heavily tilted towards the island 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Celia Cruz, Willy Chirino, maybe a few tracks by Miami Sound Machine. It was the music of our grandparents and our parents. But I and others came of age in America, the birth place of rock & roll. The music in our hearts and minds was different, a product of our youth, our environment, our identity, our American identity. Nuclear Valdez was the first to fill the space inside the Cuban-American musical divide with their politically charged, soulful sound, channeling contemporaries like U2, The Fixx, and Midnight Oil.

After their debut album, the band released a second record in 1991 called Dream Another Dream. But the pure, folk-influenced sound changed. They brought in electronic machines and synthesizers. The music seemed excessive, over-sized. I lost a little interest in them and could only hope that a third album would resurrect them. But reportedly they were dropped by Epic after Dream. “It didn’t make sense for them to stay with us or for us to stay with them,” said an Epic representative in a February 1994 article that appeared in the Miami New Times titled “The Local Rock Scene is Dead.” (*)

So what happened? A press release on the band’s website states they got left in the cold by the record company as a result of the emerging grunge scene in Seattle (Epic would go on to sign Pearl Jam and release their iconic album Ten in 1991.).

The press release continues, “Disillusioned, we decided to pack it in, much to the disappointment of our many fans.”

This latest record aptly named Present From The Past chips away at the disillusion, like a gift from an old friend who once abandoned you, and it’s a reminder that this local band once displayed some real chops but more importantly still own their rightful place in Miami’s music history.

Welcome back Nukes.

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Here is the video for “Summer” from 1989.

(*) End Note: A reader rightfully pointed out that in 2001 the Nukes released a third record after Epic but with only three members of the original band.

Copyright © 2017 Long Play Miami

After Dark: Revisiting the Radiohead concert

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Black is the color of night, of cool, of darkness, of the opaque, of the unknown. Black is the color of the galaxy, the pigmentation of the space between the planets and the stars and the comets and the objects that we have yet to identify. Black is the polar opposite of white, and it was the predominant color at the Radiohead concert last Thursday in Miami, where the band opened its 2017 tour.

Fans wore black. T-shirts, blouses, pants, jackets, caps. I wore black. My wife wore black. We were geared for a dark evening.

If Radiohead were a time of day, they would lie somewhere between dusk and dawn. This is where Radiohead resides. They make melodies and sounds and noise that reverberates, coagulates, and then secretes into your soul before the sun’s first rays poke out.

It was Radiohead that helped me cope with my father’s battle with lung cancer in the early 2000s (the other band was Rage Against the Machine.)

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In the early 1990s, Radiohead released PABLO HONEY, unarguably their most “conventional” album (it features “Creep,” a wonderful song that they refuse to play live anymore). Then they began to detour a little with the aptly named THE BENDS (1995) and OK COMPUTER (1997), which launched them into rock stardom alongside their contemporaries. But in this author’s humble opinion, it was the back-to-back releases of KID A (2000) and AMNESIAC (2001) that fired them through the ozone layer and into the dark where they remain, occasionally orbiting the Earth and sometimes drifting close enough for us to catch a glimpse.

Last week when the lights in the arena began to dim, an ominous hum sounded over the speakers, like the dial tone of an old telephone.  “They’re here,” I said to my wife, sounding oddly similar to that young girl in the movie “Poltergeist.”

But these were not spirits. This was Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Phil Selway.

We stood, all of us, in black attire, and welcomed the English quintet with howls befitting a rout of wolves on a full moon.

They opened the show with a gradual lift-off into Daydreaming from their latest album, A MOON SHAPED POOL (2016), a soft tiptoe of a song between a state of consciousness and sub-consciousness, between the darkness of sleep and the brightness of a dream, cracking an idyllic tone for the rest of the evening, which was beautiful, eerie, melancholic and sublime.

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Through a 24-song well balanced set across their entire songbook including Idioteque, Lotus Flower, Weird Fishes, No Surprises, Fake Plastic Trees, and You and Whose Army, Radiohead pulled the crowd a step closer, inviting us to a place brighter than the blackness that was all around us.

(I bought a new shirt. It is gray.)

 

Full Set List (Miami, 3/30/2017)

Song / ALBUM / Year 

  • Daydreaming / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • Desert Island Disk / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • Ful Stop / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • Airbag / OK COMPUTER / 1997
  • Morning Bell / KID A / 2000
  • Climbing Up the Walls / OK COMPUTER / 1997
  • All I Need / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
  • Videotape / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
  • Let Down / OK COMPUTER / 1997
  • I Might Be Wrong / AMNESIAC / 2001
  • Lotus Flower / KING OF LIMBS / 2011
  • Identikit / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • Idioteque / KID A / 2000
  • Nude / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
  • Weird Fishes/Arpeggi / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
  • The Numbers / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • How to Disappear Completely / KID A / 2000

Encore 1:

  • No Surprises / OK COMPUTER / 1997
  • Burn the Witch / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • Reckoner / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
  • Fake Plastic Trees / THE BENDS / 1995
  • The Tourist / OK COMPUTER / 1997

Encore 2:

  • You and Whose Army? / AMNESIAC / 2001
  • BodySnatchers / IN RAINBOWS / 2007

 

Copyright © 2017 Long Play Miami

 

Songs of Essence: My Top 10 U2 Songs

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U2 announced last week that they would be touring again in 2017 in North America including a stop in Miami (their first visit to the Magic City since 2011).

One of my favorite bands of all time, I discovered U2 when a friend who’s name I can’t recall lent me a cassette tape of War which I personally consider, nostalgia aside, as some of the band’s best work. That cassette is still with me 34 years later, a relic from 1983, when U2 opened my eyes to famine, war, and the plight of refugees; heavy stuff for a 12-year-old boy growing up in a quiet suburb bordered by a forest of pine trees and palmettos.

News of a U2 concert in South Florida prompted me to plunge obsessively into their extensive body of work from their first raw albums of the early 1980s to their more recent, less ambitious recordings; from Boy (1980) to Songs of Innocence (2014), I listened incessantly to songs at my disposal which included original vinyls, downloaded digital music, and streamed tunes on Spotify. I watched old music videos that I used to watch on MTV and videos of live performances of (so many) hits and B Sides. I read about the albums, the stories behind the compilations, and the influences. Whether I was taking the dog on an early morning walk or driving to/from work, or falling asleep at bedtime listening through ear plugs, I have been on U2 hyper-drive.

In honor of these four Irishmen, their expansive contribution to rock music, and their upcoming Joshua Tree Tour celebrating 30 years since that iconic album, I have prepared my essential Top 10 U2 songs. It’s not a list I approached lightly. I tried to consider not only the musicality and the lyrics in the songs, but their context and meaning both at the time of their release and thru present day, and how they have aged over the years.

Counting down, one by one, I begin with…

#10. I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR (The Joshua Tree, 1987)the_joshua_tree

In 1987, U2 released The Joshua Tree, described by many critics as the band’s peak achievement. It was a grown-up record album, the kind you make when you want to put some distance between you and your younger, rebellious self, and they certainly did. The Joshua Tree pushed forth a more enlightened approach for the band as they sought answers to some of the great mysteries in life – love, religion, death.

From the song’s opening repetitive guitar strum and welcoming angelic tambourine, to a second guitar with the Edge’s signature suspended echoing ring, a gospel tone is set from the start, sending the listener soaring. When the warm bass line comes, the listener is grounded back to Earth, compelled to his knees.

And then Bono begins his sermon:

I have climbed the highest mountains,

I have run through the fields,

only to be with you,

only to be with you.

Bono’s lyrics refer to a search for love that evolves into a search for spirituality, both quests morphed together like “colors bleeding into one.”

About this song, Bono once said, “The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God.”

And this running never ends, this quest, it is a journey, and their journey becomes our journey.  Then, now, and forever.

#9. SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY (War, 1983)

This song is not a rebel song, this song is Sunday Bloody Sunday.600-2

On January 30, 1972, in Northern Ireland, over a dozen demonstrators who were protesting the imprisonment of Irish nationalists by the British government were fatally shot by the British Army in a confrontation. The event became known as “Bloody Sunday” and shone a light on the crisis in Northern Island between nationalists and the British government.

Sunday Bloody Sunday was the first song on U2’s fiery 1983 album, War, one which further cemented the band’s early reputation as a protest band.

One of the beautiful things about this song is the anti-war lyrics juxtaposed with a military marching drum beat, played to perfection by Larry Mullen Jr. It makes you stand in attention, while you “wipe the tears from your eyes.”

Bono once said, “This song will be sung wherever there are rock fans with mullets and rage, from Sarajevo to Tehran.”   In today’s highly divisive political environment, the song carries a special meaning. How long must we sing this song?

As long as necessary.

#8. MYSTERIOUS WAYS (Achtung Baby, 1991)

600-1The world was rapidly changing in the early 1990s. The Cold War ended, the USSR was dissolved, and East and West Germany reunited. Maybe this piece of news inspired U2 (part of Achtung Baby was recorded in Berlin’s Hansa Ton Studios). U2 was looking for a change too. Their 1991 album Actung Baby was an about-face for the band coming off the more serious sounds of Rattle & Hum (1988) and The Joshua Tree (1987). With the new album, the band went alternative, putting politics aside for the most part, and embracing technology, fashion and a more colorful brand of rock; groovy drum tracks, distortion pedals, and even alter egos (Bono’s sunglass-wearing The Fly).

Mysterious Ways is one of their finest. It wasn’t the easiest composition to complete, however. Stories of tension between the band and their producers surrounded this particular song. In the end, a funky guitar effect and drum track and the playful lyrics by Bono (Johnny, take a walk with your sister the moon, Let her pale light in, to fill up your room. You’ve been living underground, eating from a can, You’ve been running away from what you don’t understand) saved this song, forging a new alternative identity; more progressive, more distortion, more risk taking. A band that was on top of the world turned that same world upside.

If you want to kiss to sky better learn how to kneel.

#7. WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME (The Joshua Tree, 1987)

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1987’s The Joshua Tree was an ambitious undertaking for U2, one that aimed to established the band “from an arena act to a stadium act,” as bassist Adam Clayton pointed out in a recent interview.

If that was their goal, then Where the Streets Have No Name was their ticket.With its anthem-like keyboard introduction and the Edge’s guitar coming in from above, and the bass guitar and bass drum fused together and providing the song’s heartbeat, leading audiences to clap their hands along, before Bono cries out he wants to run, he wants to hide, he want to tear down this wall, that holds him inside, hands down, this is one of the great rock songs to hear live in a stadium (I, for one, have heard the band play it live 4 times and each time, the song stood out as one of the best performances of the night.)

U2’s video for the song was an event as well. They shut down several blocks in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon to film on the roof top of a liquor store (reminiscent of The Beatles “Get Back”).

#6. NEW YEARS DAY (War, 1983)600-2

New Years Day was one of those songs that needled itself into the fabric of my early teens. U2 didn’t enjoy an abundance of radio play in Miami around the time of War’s release unless it was on the University of Miami’s radio station (WVUM), or by the occasional rock deejay on the far end of the FM dial. Nevertheless, the song, to put it simply, was everywhere. I’d hear it at open house parties whether we were invited or we crashed them. I’d hear it playing out of car speakers on a Friday night at the beach where we gathered after high school football games to drink malt liquor and hit on public school girls. Local bands whose members were average students at Catholic prep schools would perform it as part of their hip weekend repertoire.

I’d argue that most of us didn’t know that New Years Day was about the solidarity movement in Poland or the struggle to find love in a war-torn country. We just liked how the music made us feel (cool, edgy, chic). And why not? Just listen to that thick bass line; Adam Clayton fires into that signature bass strut as if he’s is saying “I want to be with you, be with you night and day.” Mullen’s drums are the perfect sidekick to the bass and opens the landscape for the Edge’s almost off-key riffs to scratch the only window into this universe. Bono’s singing is pitch perfect especially when he harmonizes with Edge that he “will be here again.”  New Years Day also established a common theme that U2 carried throughout many of their songs: a call for unification (“torn in two, we can be one”), renewal, and redemption.

#5. PRIDE (In the Name of Love) – (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)600-3

Full disclosure: I love U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. In my teens, I listened to both sides of this record, again and again, until I memorized most of the music. It’s a big record for an Irish band. In my opinion, The Unforgettable Fire is the band’s first “American” album. It wasn’t so much that this album was musically influenced by American songs (that would come later with The Joshua Tree), but this was the record that aimed directly at the Red, White and Blue after years of composing from the other side of the pond.

Filled with tracks about conflicts that on some hand may be universal such as heroin addiction and racial discrimination, many songs in this album directly reference America by name, by imagery, by message. Pride (In the Name of Love) was U2’s first breakout song from the album. U2 takes on American racial, political and social history, with a beautiful ode to the Reverend Martin Luther King. Pride catapulted the band to higher ground. The guitars (yes, plural) are a highlight, rhythm and lead working in tandem but what sets this song apart is Larry Mullen’s evolution as a drummer, opening the cymbals and high hat, keeping the rhythm going, whipping drum fills using an eight count on the snare, before the grandiosity of the chorus. The song is epic especially when Bono sings about that “one man” washed up on an empty beach, one man betrayed with a kiss.” This shows U2’s early brilliance, bringing heartache to your doorstep, describing this one man, as every man, you, me. And then the song hits its peak with the story of April 4th 1968 in Memphis, and the assassination of Dr. King.

#4. WITH OR WITHOUT YOU (The Joshua Tree, 1987)the_joshua_tree

The Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway subscribed to the writing theory that less is more, evidenced by his terse writing style. In music, sometimes the simplest melodies pack the biggest punch. Such is the case with With or Without You, U2’s biggest commercial hit off The Joshua Tree record and the band’s first ever song to reach #1 on the Billboard Charts in the U.S. (May 16, 1987) (Interestingly, the only other U2 song to reach #1 was I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, #10 on this list). But the song’s deservedly high ranking on this list is not about commercial success.

With or Without You radiates. It contains some of the most beautiful lyrics ever penned by Bono. It is repetitive but not redundant, melodic but not monotonous; the bass line ushers you along with four simple chords. It is probably as perfect of a quiet song as they can compose on an album that is loud with politics, religion, and a little bit of righteousness.

Every time I listen to this song, I am reminded of a time when U2 could keep it simple (the good old days?) before blowing the doors open with a falsetto at the end of the song that is Bono laying his soul out, with his hands tied and his body bruised.

#3. I WILL FOLLOW (Boy, 1980)

Ladies and Gentlemen… let me tell you… I Will Follow!boy

The first time I heard I Will Follow was on the 1983 live album, Under a Blood Red Sky. Making first contact with a song through a live recording (or live version) bends the ears in such a way that you never can listen to the studio recording and think it’s entirely acceptable. I Will Follow had that effect on me. The live recording is the only version and renders its other self, the original self, lifeless and dull, which is unfair to say about this particular song. I Will Follow is blessing of a song. (and needless to say, the original version features a Glockenspiel, which earns it back a few points.)

Released originally on the Boy album in 1980 and somehow prophetically listed as the first song on Side A, it is U2’s introduction to the rock scene, their debut, and it is stunning.

Your eyes make a circle.

I see you when I go in there.

It is in that circle that we trip over the heavy bass that carries the load, the double-timed drum beat that races after you as you walk away/walk away, and the catchy and slightly rough guitar riff. I Will Follow is a signature U2 song, a sing-along favorite at concerts, and one of the finest alt- rock songs to jump start the messy glamorous decade that was the 1980s.

 

#2. ONE (Achtung Baby, 1991)

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Is it getting better,

or do you feel the same,

will it make it easier on you now,

you got someone to blame.

Simply said, One contains the finest lyrics U2 has ever composed. The song is an idyllic fusion of beauty and melody. I can’t define it as a rock ballad or a rock song, it’s place is on a different plain, it’s glory is above definition, beyond categories.

Appearing on the terrific Achtung Baby album, nothing tops One as the album’s core. The song occupies the middle, where the heart is, the album’s heart, and in a way, the band’s heart. Its a beautiful poem about love, one love, one blood, one life you got to do what you should. And when Bono’s falsetto voice flies in at the end in harmony with the Edge’s guitar, you don’t want the song to end, but rather but to go on living.

Sublime.

 

#1. BAD (Live Version – Wide Awake in America, 1985)

600-4Originally released on 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, a live version of Bad was released on Wide Awake in America, a four-song EP gifted to fans a year later. And its my number one.

The sound of hands clapping, strangers hands, not a single person I know or will ever know and yet I feel like they do, like we have this in common, the hands filling the missing beat and Bono going on and on about Surrender and Dislocate, two verbs that Bono recites with such power they deserved to be capitalized.

If there is an emptiness in your life, at any moment, or in between places and spaces, this is the song that makes the glass half full; U2 at their highest, widest, throwing their arms around the world, embracing humanity, and saying, its okay baby. The song was about heroin addiction, but it could be about suicide, divorce, death, any tragedy, any horror, and when Bono sings, he is standing at the top of a mountain, his voice soaring above the clouds.

I’m Wide Awake.

I’m Not Sleeping.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Long Play Miami

My Bob Dylan Story

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The Swedish Academy says it has given up trying to reach Bob Dylan, days after it awarded him the Nobel Prize of Literature. The Guardian, 10/17/2016

Bob Dylan has accepted the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy said, adding that getting the prestigious award left him speechless. Billboard, 10/29/2016

Yesterday evening the Swedish Academy received a personal letter from Bob Dylan, in which he explained that due to pre-existing commitments, he is unable to travel to Stockholm in December and therefore will not attend the Nobel Prize Ceremony. The Swedish Academy, 11/16/2016

In honor of Mr. Bob Dylan, who is scheduled to receive tomorrow, in absentia, the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature, I submit this personal anecdote.

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When Bob Dylan stepped onto the stage at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale two weeks ago, the crowd stood and applauded.

I, on the other hand, remained in my seat, shaking the ice loose in my whiskey.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen Bob Dylan in concert.  That was 10 years ago at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, FL, and it was dreadful.

That spring night, Dylan mostly stood on a dimly lit side of the stage with his guitar, and labored through song after song with the least amount of interest, his face shadowed by a large black hat.

There was no greeting. There were no pleasantries. I don’t recall that he ever once turned to the crowd.

Our friends walked out early. My wife and I stuck it out for one encore but we were miserable. We argued on the way home.

The next morning, we talked about it. What a disappointment, she said. Well, I replied, it’s always a risk when you have certain expectations of an eccentric like him.

Bad night? Sure, but devoted and forgiving Dylan fan nonetheless.

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My big-hearted affinity for Bob Dylan started in October 1999.

I was engaged to another girl then. She was lovely and I imagined a good life with her at first, but as the months passed, I began to drift. I considered the possibity of relocating to a new city. Denver, San Francisco, anywhere but where I was. On the outside, I may have kept it cool with friends and acquaintances but inside I was crumbling.

It was around that time that I discovered Dylan, that is, I discovered my first Dylan record album, at a book sale at the Coral Gables Public Library, a two-record compilation titled Greatest Hits, Volume 2.

Released in 1971, “Volume 2” was once dubbed the album that best represents what Dylan has “wrought in popular music, as a composer, lyricist, and performer.” [Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1983].

I paid a dollar for it.

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With a marriage engagement hanging by a thread, I found solace in Dylan’s music, and in particular, one song – Don’t Think Twice Its All Right.

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Countless love songs have been written throughout history. Even Dylan wrote love songs, but this song is not one of them. This is a break-up song. Honest, crude, and unapologetic. (About the song, Dylan once wrote,“It’s a statement that maybe you can say to make yourself feel better.”).

It was exactly what I needed.

By November that year, I had typed the feel-better lyrics on a sheet of paper and tacked them to a bulletin board above my desk next to a digital map of Northern California and a photo of a desert tree near the Grand Canyon.

By December, the song had become a personal anthem. Whichever action I needed to take, whatever consequences would come, I needed to be selfish, I needed to move on. It would be all right.

Greatest song ever? Probably not. Probably not even Dylan’s best song, but, it doesn’t matter.

At the concert in Fort Lauderdale two weeks ago, the set list consisted of many songs I didn’t know from his last two albums, Tempest [2012] and Shadows In The Night [2015]. Of course, he could have, and was entitled to, perform any of the more than 650 songs he has recorded since 1961.

The unpredictable Dylan opened the show with the single Things Have Changed from the 2000 film Wonder Boys, a somewhat obscure song (save for the fact that it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song).

He grinned. He even kind of danced. Already, this show was feeling good.

Then he strutted to a piano, removed his hat, and began playing another tune. He hit a few keys I knew. I sat up in my chair and turned to my wife and said, I think I know what’s coming.

And then it came.

Well, it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe

Even you don't know by now

And it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe

It'll never do somehow




When your rooster crows at the break of dawn

Look out your window, and I'll be gone

You're the reason I'm a-traveling on

But don't think twice, it's all right.




And it ain't no use in turning on your light, babe

The light I never knowed

And it ain't no use in turning on your light, babe

I'm on the dark side of the road




But I wish there was somethin' you would do or say

To try and make me change my mind and stay

But we never did too much talking anyway

But don't think twice, it's all right.




So it ain't no use in calling out my name, gal

Like you never done before

And it ain't no use in calling out my name, gal

I can't hear you any more




I'm a-thinking and a-wonderin' walking down the road

I once loved a woman, a child I am told

I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul

But don't think twice, it's all right.




So long honey, baby

Where I'm bound, I can't tell

Goodbye's too good a word, babe

So I'll just say fare thee well




I ain't a-saying you treated me unkind

You could have done better but I don't mind

You just kinda wasted my precious time

But don't think twice, it's all right.

 

That night, there would be no disappointment, there would be no fight. The ice in my drink had broken loose and dissolved into my whiskey.

Copyright © 2016 Long Play Miami