About this time of year we've checked off our list of Christmas presents...a pair of heated hand-grips, new gloves, a case of our favorite 10W-40, and of course anything made of chrome or black leather. In many parts of the country bikes sit idle, snugly hooked up to their battery tenders while others stand ready for winter battle, elements be damned. In either case, the holidays usually bring something new under the tree for us bikers, despite the inevitable fruitcake from Aunt Edna. Some of us lucky enough to still be employed may decide to set aside a little cash and buy ourselves a toy, because lets face it, we know what we want. Besides, it's good for the economy. Both the motorcycle and music industries are struggling, albeit for different reasons. There's certainly no lack of good bikes or parts, but buying a new bike is obviously a huge step up from buying something new to load into the iPod or put into the CD player. And although it may not be immediately evident from listening to most radio stations these days, there's still plenty of good musical treats we heartily recommend...
Wheels represent ratings from 1 to 5 (best).
Darkness on the Edge of Town, Deluxe Edition
Fact: Darkness on the Edge of Town is the ultimate road companion for all bikers-it represents "us" at our best. In these challenging times, the dreams, determination, struggles, and vision laid bare in its songs sound even more relevant today than they did when the album was originally released in 1978, after Bruce had undergone a protracted legal battle. Its songs draw inspiration from the road and the struggle to just work a little harder to get ahead. Some lyrics from "Badlands":
I've done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
Explode and tear this town apart
Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart
Find somebody itching for something to start
The title track, a nod to working-class heroes who find redemption on the road, sums up the hopes and fears in all of us:
Some folks are born into a good life,
Other folks get it anyway, anyhow,
I lost my money and I lost my wife,
Them things don't seem to matter much to me now.
Tonight I'll be on that hill 'cause I can't stop,
I'll be on that hill with everything I got,
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost,
I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost,
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town.
It's an album that easily eclipses any road soundtrack, even Bruce's own Born to Run.
This new massive box-set includes six discs (three CDs and three Blu-Ray discs) celebrating the Darkness album and era. There's a fully remastered version of Darkness, two discs containing 21 previously unreleased tracks from the Darkness sessions-songs that, as Springsteen writes, "Perhaps could have/should have been released after Born to Run and before the collection of songs that Darkness on the Edge of Town became." Springsteen's long-time collaborator Bob Clearmountain remixed all 21 songs. Plus, there are the Blu-Ray discs, a documentary on the making of the album and Bruce and the E Street Band's intimate and complete live performances of Darkness. Plus lots of unseen footage and an 80-page spiral-bound reproduction of Bruce's original notebooks documenting the recording sessions for the album, containing alternate lyrics, song ideas, recording details, and personal notes. The only thing missing is a fireplace and a bottle of your favorite libation. In fact, space doesn't permit all the gushing we could do over this set. Suffice to say, it's a great way to spend the holidays.
The John Lennon
Of the Beatles' solo careers, John Lennon's eclipses all the others, which explains why he was the real mastermind behind the Beatles. Had the group gone on to record even more albums, McCartney probably would have towed the line on their pop side, with Harrison being its spiritual voice, and Ringo being, well, Ringo. This new box set, timed to coincide with Lennon's 70th birthday last October had he lived, is cleverly entitled The John Lennon Signature Box. It contains eight remastered albums, a disc of rare and previously unreleased recordings, and an EP of Lennon's non-album singles. The CDs are housed in digisleeves within a deluxe box, including a collectible limited edition John Lennon art print and a hardbound book featuring rare photos, artwork, collages, poetry, and new liner notes by Rolling Stone magazine's Anthony DeCurtis.
All the albums have been remastered and the sound is stunning, especially his intensely personal ground-breaking first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Gone at last is a lot of the noise that made it sound like an eight-track tape, even when the CD was first released. Trust us; you'll want to find this under the Christmas tree!
Cowboys From Hell,
The holidays wouldn't be the same without some metal, and in this case, we're not talking about chrome. Pantera's classic Cowboys from Hell has been given the deluxe treatment and for those who discovered this album some 20 years ago, prepare to have your noggin rocked again. The album debuted with the Pantera lineup of vocalist Phillip Anselmo, guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul, and bassist Rex Brown. You students of rock mayhem may recall the tragic wasteful overdose behind the death of Anselmo and the shocking onstage murder of "Dimebag" Darrell that seemed to eclipse the group's musical accomplishment for a time. But during the '90s Pantera set a high bar for loud metal that's never been toppled. This newly updated set is a real treasure trove for fans that like to ride down the highway with the volume maxed out. The deluxe edition features three CDs that include rare and unreleased demos along with live tracks and essays by the surviving members of the band. Wanna clear out the relatives early during the holidays? Play this LOUD during the holiday dinner. You'll be smiling while they head for cover.
Flashback Album Of The Month
The Best of Buffalo Springfield
Most people think the hallmark of country rock began and ended with the Eagles. Though those guys are certainly one of the genre's most popular groups, Buffalo Springfield, along with the Byrds, are the ones who really got the ball rolling. That they were together just over a couple of years is a testament to the greatness of this greatest-hits collection, 1969's Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield. In the years since its release, more comprehensive collections have also been released, but it's this album that offers up one of the best musical snapshots of the group founded during a chance meeting among Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, and Neil Young. Group members Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer were later joined by Jim Messina and they would go on to record three albums before egos got in the way. Young and Stills gravitated to successful solo careers before hooking up again in Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Group members Jim Messina and Richie Furay would go on to found Poco, but eventually split into other groups; Messina with Kenny Loggins and Furay with J.D. Souther and the Byrds' Chris Hillman in the Souther Hillman Furay Band.
Listening to Retrospective all these years later, it's immediately apparent the songwriting easily eclipses anything that passes for modern country these days. Their seminal track, "For What It's Worth," has been described as leftist propaganda but its lyrics remain even more relevant today for both sides of the political spectrum:
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
From the George Jones-inspired country of Furay's "Kind Woman," to the straight-ahead rock of Neil's "Mr. Soul," the album is a genuine cornucopia of well-travelled road music, a must-have companion for any biker journey.