Talk From The Rock Room: January 2017

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Take One: Bruce Springsteen 1978 Single ‘Prove It All Night’ -‘Everybody’s Got a Hunger’

For today’s edition of Take One, the 'rock room' is spinning  Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 single, ‘Prove it all night’.‘Prove it all night’ b/w 'Factory' was the first single released from Springsteen’s classic and famed 1978 LP Darkness on the Edge of Town. While the song did not explode up the charts, reaching only #33 on Billboard, the track is a critical chapter in the hearty volume that is Darkness on the Edge of Town. ‘Prove it all night’ not only acts as a vital album cut and critical single, the song also blossomed into a live concert centerpiece where an expanded and cinematic instrumental prelude and finale contributed a stirring and emotive addition to the lyrical narrative. 

The studio version single was released on March 23, 1978 and in staying consistent to the themes expressed on the Darkness record, ‘Prove it all night’ explores the ideas of the consummation of a relationship being the ‘proof’ of love, in addition to emotional expression; material objects, hard work and varied actions that separate someone from crowd and illustrate their respective worth are all explored as 'proof'. ‘Prove it all night’ lyrically and musically is saturated with sexual connotations, but these expressed moments of intimacy tie into the everyday need to ‘prove it’ regardless of the situation or relationship. The ‘proof’ is reciprocal as both the narrator and the subject must show their worth in love and life in order to confirm their worth and promise. 

The song begins with a ringing dual piano and keyboard introduction that soon eases into a quintessential and breezy E Street swing. The melody hails from a 1950’s hot rod window passing by on city side streets, its cool melody injected with Springsteen’s own gritty and practiced barroom aesthetic as he inhales it from the air.

The gentle lilt of the song (hammered flat on a live stage) contrasts with Springsteen’s excellent potholed vocal attack. The first solo break is stunning with Clarence Clemons ocean liner sax spot followed by the strangled squeal of Springsteen’s succinct response. The second verse finds the music dropping out completely leaving only Weinberg’s heart heartbeat and Springsteen’s husky whisper. Organ drizzles and a soulful wordless moaning outro help ease the studio single version to the tempered roar of its conclusion.

At a Landover, Maryland concert in 1978 Springsteen introduced ‘Prove it all night’ with a conversation that originated during a New York City cab ride while recording the Darkness album. The crux of this documented discussion, which obviously made a creative impact on Springsteen started with the driver who expressed in his dialog with Springsteen, paraphrased here, ‘All your life you’ve got to prove something to someone, weather it be your wife, your boss, your kids’. 

The seed for ‘Prove it all night’ had been planted in Bruce and was allowed to germinate, until taking its place as the next to last number on his upcoming album. Like a heroic seed pushing through the cracked concrete of a damp Jersey side street, ‘Prove it all night’ would grow reaching glorious and epic proportions on the 1978 tour leaving its cracked shell behind to languish beneath its increasingly imposing shadow.

There are multiple live examples included in this text illustrating how the song expanded into a filmic combination of melody and narrative. The most famous readings of the track hail from famous bootlegs in Cleveland and the aforementioned Landover, Maryland performance which have both now witnessed official releases. The 1978 live renditions keep to the general blueprint of the studio version with the exception of adding an extended instrumental introduction and juiced up solo spotlights throughout. The introduction has taken on legendary status among Springsteen fans with requests popping up throughout the years for the band to return to the famed 1978 arrangement. Springsteen and the band did oblige at a 2012 Barcelona concert with a rendition of the classic Darkness arrangement for an obviously ecstatic crowd.

The band performed the beautifully crisp studio single version while injecting it with rocket fuel and shooting it to the top of the mountain to enjoy some 360 degree views. These live versions sometimes ran to over ten minutes and featured some of Springsteen’s most intense riffing of the era. Welded onto the introduction of the song is a vivid prelude started with the gentle piano rain of Roy Bittan trickling across the hood of the introduction. Danny Federici lends slick keyboard flourishes as Max Weinberg’s hollow snare rim clicks keep anticipatory time.
Springsteen enters the groove and floors it to the boards abusing his Fender ‘Frankenstein’, the now famous ax comprised of a worn barn door Telecaster body (aesthetically similar to Keith Richards ‘Micwaber’) and sleek Esquire neck. His tone acts as a laser shot through a closed closet blackness. The band shows restraint while Bruce paints with wound taught strings. Springsteen soon hits on a beautifully relevant counter melody that increases the tension as the group rises to the challenge behind him. A sensual climax is reached as Bruce seizes the rising vibe while strangling his notes, playing serrated sonic strikes before landing perfectly in the ‘Prove it all night’ introduction.

After displaying some of Springsteen’s finest guitar experimentation to be found in his career the band tears through all the proof that is needed to show the crowd what the ‘E Street Band’ is all about. Please seek reference here of how this Springsteen single metamorphosed into towering rock euphoria on the numerous stages of late 1970’s America.

The roads paved and words crafted on Darkness are taken with two wheels in the air as the ‘Big Man’ and Bruce duel in perfect duality throughout the 78 tour. The band’s unity is chilling, the thump of eager hearts beating louder as Springsteen slips the shoulder off of the dress of the second verse while preparing for an inspired conclusion. Bruce’s primal screams of justification as the song pressurizes  raise hairs and stun the collective crowd. The band thrashes around the stage,  closely following the neck of Springsteen’s stringed lance as it knifes the air. Hallelujah! The rock and roll gods have been appeased! 

Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 single and album track ‘Prove it all night’ is only one chapter in the vital musical narrative of the LP Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s multiple musical guises to be enjoyed while represented as a single, an album track, and a multifaceted live tune that symbolizes the devestating and now legendary concerts performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in the 1970’s. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Put the Boot In: The Rolling Stones - Honolulu July 28, 1966 'The Last Time'

Rolling in the ‘rock room’ today is one of only of a few circulating recordings hailing from the Rolling Stones original line up and early era.  The aptly named ‘So Much Younger Than Today’ finds the Stones performing the last date of their 1966 American tour in Honolulu, Hawaii on July 28, 1966. The 32 concert tour began on June 14th and over the course of their travels the band became bank vault tight playing a series of crisply executed performances finally culminating in the Honolulu performance dissected here.

Circulated in the 1990’s by famed bootleg label the ‘Swinging Pig’ this recording’s genesis comes from the original local KPOI Honolulu FM radio broadcast. The mono soundboard recording offers more than acceptable sound with upfront vocals and audible instrumentation that unfortunately has some distant drums and muffled bass. This is not a pro recording by any means but regarding the factors of age, transfer and mileage I can get off on the sonic of it. With proper musical attentiveness or a headphone focus the recording can place you in front of the band in their early prime 50 years ago on the warm island of Hawaii.

The Stones play a 30 minute set typical of the era and of their contemporaries in support of the recently released April 1966 LP Aftermath. Also typical of the time period is the woefully inadequate PA system and the challenges facing the band of reproducing increasingly experimental studio efforts. Here the band plays stoically with a kinetic barroom energy and punk attitude. The Stones also make full effort to play some of their recent musical releases in spite of the technological challenges presented. There may or may not be a version of 'Play With Fire' missing from the recording, as it was played on the tour set list and could have been lost during a commercial break.

Special notice goes to founding member Brian Jones who acts as the color in a monochromatic rock and roll construct adding the central melodies to a number of the Stones most well known classics. Jones Gibson Firebird guitar meshes with Richards Fender and Gibson combos in edgy simpatico; their thrashing guitars straining from their Fender Showman amps. Jagger sings well for the most part, his pitch sometimes wavering when his ass shaking or straining over girls gets in the way, but already his showmanship and master crowd control efforts are taking root.
While another aural snapshot of the group from 1966 is available on the official LP release, Got Live If You Want It, in the ‘rock room’s’ humble opinion this 66 boot is just as an enjoyable time capsule of the Stones early years and is a must listen for those for are connoisseurs of the Stones 1960’s output. 

The excitement and crowd anticipation is tangible on the recording as the MC’ introduces the group. Amidst this madness the band opens with an abrasive and metallic rip of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’. Jones’s harp is hot and an audible chuckle can be heard on the recording as the band blasts into the introduction. Keith Richards’s gritty guitar rises to the forefront, his strings musical playing cards scraped across the speedily rotated spokes of tune. 

‘The Last Time’ follows a rickety race against finality in a high speed runaway rendition. Jones’s snaky expression of the central lick intertwines with Keef’s chunky rhythms and laser shot solo spot.
The recently released single ‘Paint It Black’ comes next, a song perfectly representative of the era. Here the mystical sitar of the studio is replaced with energetic guitars. While some of the original intimacy is lost, the reading remains dramatic and dark.  Mick’s microphone goes out briefly but returns as the outro of the song punks out appropriately in a wash of thick guitars.

Charlie Watts introduces the next song in a rare spotlight moment which first becomes disorienting and then becomes a good chuckle. Jagger echoes Watts line for line while Charlie intros ‘The Last Time’, which for those keeping score was just played the song before last. After everything gets straightened out, the band enters into a highlight performance of ‘Lady Jane’.  A silvery attentive rendition is displayed only slightly marred by a couple of Jagger’s shaky quivers. Richards and Jones sew an intricate fabric of sound with an intimacy rare for such a large stage with Jones contributing what I believe to be a perfect electric dulcimer.
The narcotic drone of ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ continues the impressive run through the Stone’s mid 1960’s single output. Richards strums thickly with a quivering vibrato pulling against the jittery eager attack on the number. I love it, the band is running wide open and they know it. The backing vocals are a joyous trip, and the tone has been set for the meteoric concert conclusion.

‘Get Off of My Cloud’ and ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ come next in a crushing combination. Mick sounds out of breath and croons with a mouth full of marbles.  But the band immediately catches fire and Keef’s backing vocals are absolute gold. The band becomes a chugging R and B powerhouse. Jagger lands on point while Charlie and Wyman circle the wagons allowing Mick, Keith and Brian to lose it. This is vintage rock and really what it’s all about for ‘rock room’. Puffy particulates of guitar fill the Honolulu International Arena as a spectacular aural summation of the rock world in 1966. What an exciting segment of in concert madness by the ‘greatest rock and roll band in the world’!

The dizzying thirty minute display reaches its natural conclusion with‘big fuzz’ of an extended and ‘raved up’ version of ‘Satisfaction’. Mick says something about the ‘last concert ever’ as the band jack hammers their way through what was at the time their most well known number.  When Richards hits the stomp box for the chorus, the switch gets thrown for an explosive reaction. Jagger alternates between grunts and falsetto yelps as the track churns its way into a exceptionable expenditure of energy. With that, the concert is over and the musical whirlwind takes its future path of guitar destruction elsewhere.
Unlike the Beatles, the Stones would remain on the road (and still to this day) always preferring to play for a mass of warm bodies. So while this concert does not, like the Beatles 66 American tour signal the end of their concert career, it does signal the final American concert date with founding member Brian Jones. It also captures the original Stones before the 1969 dismissal and eventual loss of Jones and the extreme excesses of the following decade of the 1970’s.

So, get groovy and join the Stones on their 1966 tour through the transformational properties of a 50 plus year old mono soundboard recording.  It’s all there in the performance for the listener to sift through, the popularity, the songwriting, the conflict, and the power.