The Go-Gos – an underappreciated group

The Go-Gos are the first popular all female band that played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. There were earlier female bands, but this New Wave group catapulted to the top of the charts faster than others and belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A Showtime documentary called “The Go-Gos,” produced by Alison Eastwood, provides a great look into the band.

The Go-Gos are usually identified by the five members when they hit it big – Belinda Carlisle (lead singer), Jane Wiedlin (rhythm guitar), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitarist and keyboards), Kathy Valentine (bass guitar) and Gina Schock (drummer).

Ironically, they started as a punk rock band as the initial members felt they were not part of any other culture. Their initial drummer was Elissa Bello and initial bassist was Margot Olavarria. Even more surprising, none of the four initial members knew how to play instruments. Fortunately, in punk rock, belng a bad musician was not a total liability. So, they played and learned. Caffey joined them and brought musicianship and song writing. And, when Bello left due to a paying career, she was replaced by Schock who had been drumming for years. Valentine would replace Olavarria later.

They hit it off with Madness and The Specials, two Ska revival UK punk rock bands, when they played in the US. So, The Go-Gos joined these groups on a tour of Scotland. It should be noted their first manager Ginger Canzoneri sold everything to underwrite their UK trip. Now, the Ska bands attracted a white nationalist fan base that did not like non-Scots, Americans and women playing in a band, so the group took a lot of grief which toughened them and made them a more cohesive group.

They released “We’ve got the beat” as a single under Stiff Records in the UK. When they returned to the US, they signed with IRS Records and released their double platinum album “Beauty and the Beat” which soared to #1 on the Billboard charts. The album included their hit single and “Our lips are sealed,” “Get up and go,” and “This old feeling.”

They would release “Vacation” as their second album, whose biggest hit was the title cover. “Talk Show” followed, but by that time, the band was having troubles. Personal differences, song writing revenue sharing and drug issues led to the eventual split. Wiedlin left and was replaced by Paula Jean Brown, but the band would not last long after that.

The band would break up in the mid-1980s, but tour off and on in the 1990s through today. There was even a Broadway show called “Head over Heels” about the band. Carlisle would go on to have a successful solo career and the others would form or join bands. Yet, they would reconvene to celebrate and re-perforn what made them great.

The Go-Gos had a fun, energetic sound. They also played with a joie de vivre. They influenced many a young girl to strive to be a musician or artist or follow a passion. Seeing someone like you on stage is an inspiration.

Do you think they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. What are your favorite songs or memories?

Guess Who Randy Bachman is

For someone who has been a driving force behind two very successful rock bands, most people could not tell you who Randy Bachman is. The two clues are in the title.

Starting in Winnipeg, Canada, Bachman teamed with Burton Cummings to form the “Guess Who.” Cummings is the voice you hear as lead singer, but Bachman is the lead guitarist and co-writer of most of the songs with Cummings.

Several songs of note from a vast body of work include: “American Woman,” “No Time,” “These Eyes,” “Undun,” “Hand me Down World,” ” Albert Flasher,” “Share the Land,” “No Sugar Tonight/ Mother Nature,” and many others. It is hard for me to pick a favorite as the quality of each is terrific, but if you held a gun to my head, I would say “Share the Land.”

After deciding to part ways, Bachman formed another group with his two brothers – Robbie and Tim – and Fred Turner. The band used the moniker “Bachman Turner Overdrive.” Often referred to as BTO, the band offered a heavier rock sound than the Guess Who.

Some of BTO’s songs include their anthem “Let it Ride,” the most radio played “Takin’ Care of Business,” “You ain’t seen Nothing Yet,” “Hey You,” and my personal favorite “Roll on Down the Highway.”

Even though Bachman is a major part of both groups, they have different sounds. In the Guess Who, Cummings is a very underrated singer whose voice is expressive. The lyrics are more poetic with terrific musicality in support of Cummings voice. “These Eyes” is a great example of their work – “these eyes have seen a lot of love, but they’re never going to see another one like you.”

Neither lead singer in BTO matches the vocal talents of Cummings. But, that is OK. The harder songs – “Let it Ride” and “Roll on Down the Highway” – have a more robust feel with the guitar lead. BTO’s other hits are more fun than gritty, but they do have great guitar riffs, as well. “Takin’ Care of Business” starts and continues with a well-known guitar riff that even AC/DC, who typically started each song with a guitar riff, would admire. My guess is this song would be the fan favorite at a concert.

If you are not familiar with either band, start with the Guess Who. You will likely recognize some of their songs. “American Woman” was later covered by Lenny Kravitz. But, you must give BTO a listen. They had a huge following as well.

“If your train’s on time, you can get to work by nine and start your slavin’ job to get your pay……..takin’ care of business.”

Statesboro Blues – The Final Allman is gone

You likely have read or heard that Gregg Allman has passed away. His brother Duane died so many years ago, but the two left a huge footprint on bluesy rock and roll influencing many.

One of the finest live albums or any album for that matter is their magnum opus “Live at Fillmore East.” Gregg’s soulful voice and musicality are a key reason for their success, but the band is known for the slide guitar playing of his brother Duane and the harmonious guitar of the also talented Dickey Betts. Duane was greatly admired and played the plaintiff sound on Eric Clapton’s “Layla.”

Gregg was also talented and no one should say he did not bring a huge amount to the band. His voice and timing was adroit as was his keyboard work. The songs were his as well. But, the band also had other terrific musicians, including two drummers, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson. The bassist was Brett Oakley, who died a year after Duane.

“Statesboro Blues” is a vintage Allman Brothers’ song. It is also one of their shorter ones. “Whipping Post,” may be their greatest song, but each of us will have our favorite.  “One Way Out,” maybe a close second for me. “Melissa” is a more serene song about love which shows their range. I saw an interview with Gregg who said he gleaned the song name from a mother chastising her daughter Melissa. “Midnight Rider” was one of their bigger hits. And, Betts sang the lead on “Blue Sky” and “Ramblin’ Man.”

Most of their songs were too long for pop radio, so their hits were fewer than you would expect. Yet, their body of work is substantial. And, to best appreciate them is to download or play a CD of their live songs while cruising down the road.

My wife and I saw them in concert long after Duane and Brett had passed. My youngest son was able to join us. Derek Trucks had joined the band for the tour as Trucks is one of the finest guitarists in the world and is the nephew of long time Allman Brothers ‘s drummer Butch Trucks. We left spent from the concert with Warren Haynes and Derek’s guitar playing amplified by two drummers who took breaks as the lengthy songs wore them out.

It is sad to see the end of an era. But, their  music will live on. May Gregg rest in peace. As he sang late in his career, “I’m no Angel.” Neither are we, but we value your part in our lives.

A taste of Janis Joplin

If you ask people today if they ever heard of Janis Joplin, it would be a safe bet that many would not know who she is. And, for those who have heard of her, many of those would likely remember her for a wonderful rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s song “Me and Bobby McGee.” While that song is marvelous, Joplin is one of the most unique, soulful and brassy singers to whom we have ever had the chance to listen.

Like two others artists of her era (Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison), she died of a drug over dose at the far too young age of 27, the same age Morrison and Hendrix died. She came to prominence during the flower child movement to San Francisco as the lead singer for a band called Big Brother and the Holding Company. So, her experimentation with drugs was not unusual for where she made a name for herself.

Her songs were powerful vignettes that would rock the house. “Me and Bobby McGee,” is a quieter version of her splendid talent, but she does provide glimpses of her soulful voice therein. Here are sample lyrics of three songs that better reveal her talent. At the end of this post is a link to a blog that will let you listen to these three and other songs.

Piece of My Heart

Come on, come on, come on, come on

Didn’t I make you feel like you were the only one, yeah
I said didn’t I give you nearly everything that a woman possibly can
Honey you know that I did
Well each time I tell myself that I, I think I’ve had enough
Oh, I am gonna show you baby, a woman can be tough

I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on
And take it, take another little piece of my heart now, baby

This is her most powerful song, which is about the man she loves treating her poorly. She wants to stay, but she wants him to recognize that he is taking another piece of her heart each time. And, clearly she says a “woman can be tough.”

Move Over

You say that it’s over baby, Lord,
You say that it’s over dear,
But still you hang around me, come on,
Won’t you move over.

You know that I need a man, honey,
You know that I need a man,
But when I ask you to you just say
That you think you can.

Please don’tcha do it to me babe, no!
Please don’tcha do it to me baby,
Either take the love I offer

This is my favorite Joplin song, although the other two noted here are very close. In this case, she is tired of the man saying he will change and is telling him to treat me better or “move over.”

Try (Just a little bit harder)

Try, try, try just a little bit harder
So I can love, love, love him, I tell myself
Cause I’m gonna try, oh yeah, just a little bit harder
So I won’t lose, lose, lose him to nobody else, yeah.
Hey, I don’t care how long it’s gonna take ya
But if it’s a dream I don’t want No I don’t really want it
Yeah if it’s a dream I don’t want nobody to wake me.

Yeah I’m gonna try, oh yeah, just a little bit harder
So I can give, give, give, give him every bit of my soul.
I’m gonna try, oh yeah, just a little bit harder
So I can show, show, show him love with no control, yeah.

You may have noticed a trend with her singing about challenging love. Here she soulfully sings that she will give everything she has to keep her man. I think her bluesy style is ideally suited for these kinds of songs. Give these three songs a listen (and view) from the attached link. If you are enthralled as I am, listen to her versions of “Summertime,” “Cry Baby,” “Down On Me,” and a fun song called “Mercedes-Benz” as well.

Please do enjoy her immense talent and unique style. And, if you listen to her while driving, please do use cruise control or you might find yourself speeding.

A Beautiful Loser – Bob Seger

One of the more surprising posts I have written was a tribute to one of my favorite artists, Jim Croce. I wanted to introduce him to new audiences as he passed away in the early 1970’s, yet it has been one of the more frequented posts I have written as many have fond memories of his music. Another favorite artist is Bob Seger. His combination of great lyrics and rock and roll sound is not often matched. His memorable songs are many in number and it is hard to decide which is my favorite. It is probably equally as difficult for other fans of his.

Unlike Croce, Seger is still with us and my wife and I have had the good fortune to have seen him concert. It was later in his career, but I have found that artists doing a later tour are much more appreciative of their audience. Seger was no exception. I use this title as “Beautiful Loser” is among my favorites. It resonates with me as we all are fixer uppers. None of us is perfect, but the song title reminds me we all aspire to be better than we are and we want it all – but we will fall short of that goal. We want to be the most beautiful loser we can be. The chorus goes as follows:

“Beautiful loser….where you gonna fall….when you realize… just can’t have it all.”

But, the list goes on. “Night Moves” is his most played song as he sings of how young teens are learning and experimenting with lustful romance.  They are “working on mysteries without any clues” which is a wonderfully expressive line. Yet, there are many classic lines throughout. Another example is “Trying to lose the awkward teenage blues.” It is a song that bring back many memories, both the excitement and the angst.

Some of his songs show how similar we are. He vividly portrays the uniformity of male lust under “Fire Down Below” whether you are “the mayor with your face hidden from the light” or the “lawyer or the cop.” He shows it is a universal trait across all US geography. If he wrote it today, maybe he would tease in whether you are a Tea Partier or a progressive, we all have the fire down below.

Another big favorite of mine is “Against the Wind.” I think the story it tells is so reflective. “We are older now, but still running against the wind.” Like Beautiful Loser, we are doing the best we can, but sometimes it feels like the odds are against us. So, just do the best you can. And, he laments as an older person “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” He sadly remembers the excitement and anticipation of it all when he was younger.

Others worth listening to include:

– “Main Street” which is one of the few songs by anyone that sounds better live with the haunting guitar sound. The intent of the song is how the memory of a “long lovely dancer at the club downtown” haunts him to this day.

– “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” was great even before a young Tom Cruise lip-sang to it as a teenager with his air guitar in “Risky Business.” The women reading this can thank me later for giving them a reminder of a young Cruise.

– “Feel Like a Number” resonates to this day, as we are an employment number, a social security number, a user code, etc. We have desensitized ourselves to each other and he saw it even then when he cried “I’m not a number, dammit I’m a man.”

– “Fire Lake” was not a huge hit, but is a great storytelling song – “You remember Uncle Joe, he was the one afraid to cut the cake.” The song has much deeper meaning, but I love that line as it remind us all of relatives we have.

– “Her Strut” which is down and dirty rock and roll. “I do respect her but, I love to watch her strut” pulsates to a great rock and roll beat. I have never wanted to look up the spelling of “but” as I wanted to leave it to my imagination.

– “Turn the Page” about an aging rock star, “Still the Same” whose title describes the song, “Like a Rock” which is a good song, but was burnt out by a commercial marketing pick-up trucks, “Hollywood Nights” another great sounding live song,  “You’ll Accompany Me,” We’ve Got Tonight” sung with Sheena Easton, “Roll me Away,” “Travelin Man”and Katmandu” are all terrific songs as well.

I am certain I left out someone’s favorite, so please forgive me. Please do comment with songs that resonate more with you. For those who have not listened to a fuller body of his work, give the above songs a try. He reminds us of ourselves. We are all doing the best we can to be “beautiful losers.”