My track-by-track tales follow the bare-bones list, after my preamble about the inspiration behind the set list.
The first half of the set is inspired by a documentary I watched this week – Under The Volcano, about AIR Studio on the volcanic Caribbean island of Montserrat. The first 12 songs I’m playing appeared on albums I own that were recorded there, in whole or in part. The result is an amalgam of artists, genres and styles.
AIR (Associated Independent Recordings) was established by the late Sir George Martin, best known as The Beatles’ longtime producer, and several other leading British producers. They opened a studio in London in 1970, adding Montserrat in 1979. The island studio flourished under the then-dormant Soufriere Hills volcano until 1989 when it was damaged not by an eruption but by Hurricane Hugo in September of that year, shortly after The Rolling Stones finished recording their Steel Wheels album.
The volcano emerged out of dormancy and became active in 1995 and has continued to erupt since although it’s been, apparently, relatively quiet for the last 10 years. The volcanic activity led the government of the island, a British Overseas Territory, to establish an exclusion zone in the area of volcanic activity, splitting the island in two.
Here’s the bare-bones set list:
- Jimmy Buffett, Volcano
- Mike + The Mechanics, Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)
- The Police, Demolition Man
- The Rolling Stones, Hearts For Sale
- Paul McCartney, Ballroom Dancing
- Gillan and Glover, I Can’t Dance To That
- Dire Straits, Ride Across The River
- Black Sabbath, The Shining
- Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, Birthright
- Nazareth, Boys In The Band
- Rush, Middletown Dreams
- Status Quo, The Wanderer
- Free, Catch A Train
- Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Last Rebel
- Johnny Winter, Rollin’ ‘Cross The Country
- Patti Smith Group, (Privilege) Set Me Free
- Blue Cheer, Saturday Freedom
- Bruce Springsteen, The Price You Pay
- The Smashing Pumpkins, Zero
- Marianne Faithfull, Truth Bitter Truth
- Rod Stewart (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right
- The J. Geils Band, Wreckage
- Neil Young, No More
- Fairport Convention, Farewell Farewell
And my track-by-track tales:
- Jimmy Buffett, Volcano . . . Buffett’s tongue in cheek title track take on recording under the gun, so to speak, on Montserrat for his 1979 album. The island’s volcano, then dormant, started erupting again in 1995, six years after AIR Studio was damaged by Hurricane Hugo.
- Mike + The Mechanics, Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground) . . . I pulled this from the 3-CD Genesis compilation R-Kive which features Genesis band and solo work by Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford. I wouldn’t own any Banks or Rutherford solo stuff otherwise. Silent Running, a hit single, was sung by Paul Carrack, well known for the Ace hit How Long and Squeeze’s Tempted. The (On Dangerous Ground) part was added to the song’s title when it became part of the movie Choke Canyon – which was called On Dangerous Ground outside the USA. To quote Robert Shaw’s character in the 1973 movie The Sting, ‘ya falla (follow)?’. I do actually, although I never saw Choke Canyon, as either Choke Canyon or On Dangerous Ground. I did, however, see The Sting, as I date myself. Great, fun flick, featuring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, along with Shaw. Fifty – 50 – years ago!
- The Police, Demolition Man . . . From 1981’s Ghost In The Machine album. The Police originally gave the Sting-penned song to Grace Jones, didn’t like what she did with it for her 1981 Nightclubbing album, so did their own version for later that year on Ghost In The Machine. I prefer The Police song but don’t mind Jones’s version. It’s an electronic/dance take and I like her vocals/singing style. The Police version is more straight rock. Great fun, regardless, if a quote about it from Police guitarist Andy Summers, via Wikipedia, is accurate: “It’s a very simple song. We all listened to the Grace Jones version and thought ‘shit, we can do it much better than that.’ It was a one-take job. To me, our version is more ballsy, which is what you’d expect from Grace Jones.”
- The Rolling Stones, Hearts For Sale . . . Triple guitar attack on this deep cut from Steel Wheels. Mick Jagger’s distorted riff (yup, him, not Keith Richards) starts the track and continues, for the most part, until various Jagger harmonica breaks four minutes into the tune while Richards and Ronnie Wood, who adds a fine solo, maintain the rhythm along with, of course, the so-called (by Richards) engine room of drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman.
- Paul McCartney, Ballroom Dancing . . . One of those infectious tunes McCartney can seemingly toss off without even thinking. But then, that’s why he’s McCartney with his innate sense of melody and hooks. Could easily have been a single, I think, from 1982’s Tug of War album, from which his duet with Stevie Wonder, Ebony and Ivory, became a No. 1 hit. The other hit single was Take It Away, with Ringo Starr on drums. The album was produced by George Martin.
- Gillan and Glover, I Can’t Dance To That . . . Up-tempo tune, one of the more rock-oriented ones on the quite diverse and interesting Accidentally On Purpose album released by the Deep Purple duo of singer Ian Gillan and bass player Roger Glover in 1988.
- Dire Straits, Ride Across The River . . . You can actually feel as if you are riding down a river, probably in the jungle, listening to this one. From the commercial monster, and deservedly so, Brothers In Arms album, one of the first albums recorded on a digital tape machine, in 1985.
- Black Sabbath, The Shining . . . From 1987’s The Eternal Idol, with Tony Martin on lead vocals for the first of five studio albums he recorded with the band between 1987 and 1995. It came during a period of time during which only guitarist Tony Iommi remained a constant original member amid a cast of seeming thousands, including original bassist Geezer Butler who was in and out while Iommi kept the brand going while producing those five, to me, very good and underappreciated albums. But then, I’m a big Sabbath fan and not one of those who say things like ‘no Ozzy (or Ronnie James Dio), no Sabbath’. No Iommi, no Sabbath, to that I’ll agree.
- Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, Birthright . . . Fleetwood Mac’s original leader, from the blues band days, later formed a band called Peter Green’s Splinter Group but that splinter group had nothing on Yes. Space doesn’t permit the full story but suffice it to say that the convoluted Yes saga makes for interesting reading, if one is so inclined. It’s led to competing versions of Yes, legal issues regarding the name, and various spinoff bands. So, in 1989 you had what many would consider ‘classic’ 1970s Yes members – singer Jon Anderson, drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and guitarist Steve Howe – coming out with their one and only album under that name. It sounds like, what else, 1970s Yes. That’s because Anderson wanted to return to progressive rock, having had enough of the pop-rock direction Yes had taken, with guitarist Trevor Rabin at the helm, for massive hits like Owner Of A Lonely Heart that Anderson did sing. Birthright is an appropriately haunting song about British nuclear tests during the 1950s and resulting radioactive waste left on aboriginal lands in Australia, for which compensation was eventually paid. As for Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, there was to be a second album but that morphed into Union, Yes’s 1991 album featuring various members of both factions, including original/constant Yes bass player Chris Squire, who died in 2015. The Union album resulted from a meeting in Los Angeles between Anderson and Rabin, who originally were working on separate albums by the respective camps but decided to merge them. What tangled webs are weaved.
- Nazareth, Boys In The Band . . . Abrasive, urgent, fast track from 1982’s 2XS album.
- Rush, Middletown Dreams . . . Like many who like Rush, perhaps, I’m not a big fan of the so-called keyboard or synthesizer era that is most pronounced, certainly in terms of production, on the trilogy of albums – Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows and Hold Your Fire – between 1984 and 1987. I have them, but don’t listen to them much although I do like hits like The Big Money, from Power Windows. That’s the album I pulled Middletown Dreams from. I hadn’t heard the song in ages but it was a nice rediscovery, some good guitar from Alex Lifeson but the song is compelling, to me, thanks to the propulsive percussion of the late great drummer Neil Peart.
- Status Quo, The Wanderer . . . Cover of the 1961 Dion hit. Quo’s version made No. 7 in the UK and No. 3 in Ireland in 1984, and was included on the expanded 2006 re-release of their 1983 album Back To Back. And with that, so ends the Montserrat AIR Studio segment of the show.
- Free, Catch A Train . . . Haven’t played Free in a while. I just picked a random track, but probably not so random given how my brain works as I realized it fits with The Wanderer, who is catching a train, setting me off on another of my song title connections.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Last Rebel . . . Bluesy ballad, title cut from the 1993 album and among my favorites from the post-plane crash versions of the band.
- Johnny Winter, Rollin’ ‘Cross The Country . . . Johnny raunches and rolls with a tune written by brother Edgar, who plays organ on the track and on many more songs on Johnny’s 1974 album, Saints and Sinners.
- Patti Smith Group, (Privilege) Set Me Free . . . Spooky, powerful tune from the Easter album.
- Blue Cheer, Saturday Freedom . . . From the band’s self-titled fourth album, released in December, 1969. By that point the group had experienced some lineup changes and was offering a more laid back, bluesy yet still heavy sound. A nice groove on this one.
- Bruce Springsteen, The Price You Pay . . . From The River, the third of the amazing run of three albums Springsteen released from 1975-80, the other two being Born To Run (1975) and Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978). They remain my favorites of his, in terms of front-to-back listens.
- The Smashing Pumpkins, Zero . . . Sounds crazy, perhaps, but I had forgotten about this one. It was a single from the No. 1 album, Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, released in 1995. Good metallic rocker, I just happened to come across it while searching for other stuff I’ve loaded into the station computer. A worthwhile revisit.
- Marianne Faithfull, Truth Bitter Truth . . . From 1981’s Dangerous Acquaintances, the follow-up to Faithfull’s 1979 comeback record, Broken English. Music journalists didn’t like the album as much, considering it a safer/more conventional record than Broken English. Fair enough, perhaps, but this song has depth, if that’s what the critics were seeking. Besides, it’s Faithfull’s ‘a lived life’ cigarette and alcohol-affected vocals on Broken English forward that set her apart.
- Rod Stewart (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right . . . Stewart has written or co-written many great songs, like Maggie May, Mandolin Wind, the Faces’ Stay With Me to name just a few. But his genius during his heyday was also his ability to select great songs to cover and do them amazing justice. Like this one, by the Stax writing team of Homer Banks, Carl Hampton and Raymond Jackson that was a deserved No. 3 Billboard and No. 1 R & B hit for Luther Ingram in 1972. Stewart’s version is from his 1978 album Footloose and Fancy Free.
- The J. Geils Band, Wreckage . . . Dark, bluesy cut from a largely dark album, 1977’s Monkey Island.
- Neil Young, No More . . . Well, one more, after this track from Young’s 1989 Freedom album.
- Fairport Convention, Farewell Farewell . . . The wonderful voice of Sandy Denny on lead vocals. A sad story, Denny. Beset by drug and alcohol abuse and what some suggest was a manic-depressive condition, depending what you read, she died after a fall down a flight of stairs in 1978, age 31. But we still have the music upon which her amazing voice rides, and elevates.