To many, the ’60s was the golden decade of motorcycles. BSA and Triumph were well established, Harley-Davidson was winning races and phasing in the Shovelhead, and the Asians were coming on strong. So-called outlaw bikers were being exploited in movies. Music was also undergoing a transition. There was a new resurgence of the blues, folk music was at its zenith, and Motown, the British Invasion, American pop, and “underground” rock were all colliding together on the radio dial, introducing listeners to what would become legendary names in the history of contemporary music. In perhaps no other decade would music undergo such fundamental changes, ushered in by Elvis and later evolving into the socio-conscious music of Woodstock by the end of the decade.
On “Bobby Jean,” Springsteen sang, “I learned more from a three-minute record than I ever learned in school…” And while we heartily endorse the importance of education, the Boss’ words ring true for those of us raised on motorcycles and rock ’n’ roll. It may not help with that job interview, but just like our bikes, rock ’n’ roll is a strong prescription for coping with the stress of everyday life. Rebellion, love, life, and the open road were common themes shared by music and motorcycles during the ’60s. They still are today. Two of this month’s releases—sets by Roy Orbison and the work of Phil Spector—remind us of that…
Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector 1961-1966
Recent transgressions aside, legendary producer Phil Spector’s contributions to rock ’n’ roll will endure forever. For that brief moment in time during the ’60s, Phil produced some of the best records in the history of rock ’n’ roll. Chief among them are recordings by the Crystals and the Ronettes (which featured Darlene Love). His work with these two groups alone guaranteed him inclusion into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, yet Spector would go on to work with the Beatles (both individually and collectively), Harry Nillson, the Ramones, and many others.
This latest compilation showcases 19 of his best productions. Included are the Ronettes and the Crystals of course, along with solo works by Darlene Love, Ike & Tina Turner, the Righteous Brothers, and Bob B. Sox and the Blue Jeans. Now comes a warning: listening to this music and cruisin’ on your bike may cause one to suddenly burst out in song. These songs, most of which clock in at fewer than three minutes, are addictive and well suited for karaoke. If you’re the sort who doesn’t feel embarrassed by singing the Crystals “Da Doo Ron Ron” aloud while maneuvering a bagger through the twisties, then go ahead…
Much has been written about Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production technique, which was the layering affect achieved by recording a group of musicians en masse, and in mono no less. Whatever it was, these songs sounded great on jukeboxes and AM radios back then, and one can trace Spector’s influence to artists such as Bruce Springsteen, all the way back to these records. “He’s a Rebel,” (one of the first biker songs?), “Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You,” and “River Deep, Mountain High” are great songs that remain unsurpassed, even by today’s pop stars. No one writes songs like this anymore and they certainly don’t sound like this! Do yourself a favor and grab this CD for a little road music. Also highly recommended are new individual retrospectives on both the Crystals and the Ronettes.
Love to Beg
Whatever happened to female rockers? Sure Joan Jett is still out there but most have gone the way of Stevie Nicks, clinging to yesterday with nothing new to say. Then, along comes someone like Dana Fuchs who all of sudden makes you sit up and take notice. We’re not talking about the watered-down flaccid pop of Cheryl Crow. Dana’s got a voice and she sings songs like she means every word—this is far removed from just going through the motions.
Born in Jersey and raised in Florida, Dana left home for the Big Apple “to sing the blues.” After a little dues paying, she hooked up with guitarist Jon Diamond and the two set out to make some beautiful noise together. Love to Beg is her third album and it’s obvious she is setting out to prove she’s got the stuff for stardom (this, after appearing in the film Across the Universe and playing Janis Joplin in the off Broadway play Love, Janis).
Dana rarely strays far from the blues, even when she’s rockin’ out. When she does, her vehicle of choice is R&B. Listen to “Summersong” and when that Hammond organ kicks in, you’ll swear Al Green could join in any second. Her red-hot rendition of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is almost pornographic. Too few artists go all out these days, but Dana’s one that gives it all she has.
The Monument Singles Collection
Orbison…transcended all the genres—folk, country, rock ’n’ roll or just about anything. His stuff mixed all the styles and some that hadn’t even been invented yet…He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop and he meant business. –Bob Dylan
Roy’s ballads were always best when you were alone in the dark. They were scary. His voice was unearthly…I always wanted to sing like Roy Orbison… –Bruce Springsteen
…Roy Orbison! It was only because we were with Roy Orbison that we were there at all. He was definitely top of the bill…What a beacon in the southernmost gloom. The amazing Roy Orbison. –Keith Richards
Do you remember the first time you heard Roy Orbison? For many, his voice was almost operatic and his songwriting told tortured tales of love and life lived hard.
Now, Sony Legacy, in celebration of what would have been Roy’s 75th birthday year, has gathered 39 of the greatest Orbison tracks and packaged them together onto two CDs with a bonus live DVD. “Oh Pretty Woman,” “Only the Lonely,” “Blue Bayou,” “Crying,” “Falling,” “It’s Over,” plus many others are great ways to celebrate one of rock’s legendary heroes. Buyers be forewarned: there are plenty of Roy Orbison CDs out there, some of which are shoddy inferior cheap-o editions. Don’t waste money on these, which is like buying China rust-on-the-boat-coming-over chrome goodies for your bike.
An amazing feat for Orbison was that his career continued to skyrocket even after the Brit bands invaded these shores in the early ’60s. With his trademark sunglasses, Roy became a larger-than-life rock star, imitated by many, even today—check out Chris Isaak, who comes closest to actually sounding like him.
Orbison suffered through many personal crises; his wife even perished in a motorcycle accident in 1966. But Roy survived this and more, and maybe that’s the torture we hear in his voice. There was something dangerously mysterious, yet at the same time vulnerable about him, and he wore it all the way up until his untimely death in 1989.
Album of the Month
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Despite the fact this album debuted just a scant 16 years ago in 1995, the songs ring even truer and more relevant today, with all of the economic woes, unemployment, and a splintering of the American Dream. By the time you read this, Sturgis will be coming up and there’s no better collection of songs to take on a road trip to remind ourselves of where we’ve come from, where we’re going, and who we are. On the title track, Bruce takes the central character from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and places him in the context of today:
Men walkin’ long the railroad tracks
Goin’ someplace there’s no goin’ back
Highway Patrol choppers comin’ up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin’ round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin’ in their cars in the Southwest
No home, no job, no peace, no rest
He even incorporates the speech Tom gave at the end of the movie to sum up the plight many of our friends, neighbors, and us have experienced. In “Youngstown” Bruce sings about the decline of a once proud town, which could also be anywhere else in the U.S.:
Well my daddy come on the Ohio works
When he come home from World War Two
Now the yard’s jus scrap and rubble
He said, “Them big boys did what Hitler couldn’t do”
These mills they built the tanks and bombs
That won the country’s wars
We sent our sons to Korea and Vietnam
Now we wondering what they were dyin’ for
Other songs deal with the plight of immigrants, hope abandoned, and dreams dashed. But the important thing this album provides, especially on a road trip, is to remind us that after all we’ve been through, we’re still standing, and we’re still riding. Listening to these songs while on the road provides hope and gives each of us the chance to reflect on our own personal situations. These days, there’s a lot to bitch about. But there’s just as much to be thankful for as well.