Yesterdays

by Guns ‘ n Roses

~ Who the hell is West Arkeen? ~

Somewhere there’s a snippet of MTV footage in the Scrap Bar in NYC, with Axl and West just jamming along with an acoustic guitar, about a year or so before the Illusions were released, and they’re tackling the first verse and the bridge from this one with just the two of them, and West continually forgetting the chords.  And that’s it.  It’s 2 dudes, half-singing and half-playing while obviously ripped in a bar, and forgetting the words and chords and it’s kinda like the scene where Dirk Diggler & Reed Rothchild are trying to work their way through “Feel My Heat” in Boogie Nights.  Except that Axl and West are actually good at what they do, and their impromptu hack session is still better than 95% of what you got on MTV at the time, and the resulting song was one of a half dozen masterpieces on Illusion II that fell like mana from heaven in 1991 when we finally got our hooks into those records.

and while you get a bunch of still shots of Izzy Stradlin in the video, it sure looks like Gilby Clarke playing in the live cut

Wasted

by Beautiful Creatures

~ The blast-back ~

You how you’ll be driving around town, just digging on your own groove with some tunes loud enough to drown out the world, but not so loud they drown out your neighbor’s world?  It’s a nice state of flow, and can make intolerable traffic more bearable while gettin’ where you gotta go.  And then, some chucklenut with about $1700 of stereo in his trunk pulls up next to you with enough subwoofer to start an avalanche, and your nice little self-containted groove is now drowned out by some combination of n-words, f-bombs, bad rhymes, and worse rhythm.

This was my blast-back song.  I’d immediately flip over to this one and crank it right back up – easier to do in a convertible with a bunch of independently-amp’ed speakers – and let the soaring guitars and staccato delivery of clearly loud hard-rock vocals fight my fight for me.  This one’s been superceded a bit by some other tunes in my collection, but even at over 15 years old, it still does the trick.

2 Albums, 2 Artists, 5 Years, 1 Thread

~ Pulling on a shared musical thread & following it ~

It turns out that you can follow a musical theme across the years. And if that theme crosses different albums from different artists, then you get a much more satisfying and richer trip.

When I was in high school, The Georgia Satellites released “In the Land of Salvation and Sin.” Anyone who thinks they were just some one-hit wonder gimmick band from the 80s really needs to check out this album. It’s an absolutely epic showcase of expansive songwriting, quality riffs, clever lyrics that manage to surprise and delight while still retaining their blue-collar ethos, and a variety of musical styles that really showcase a band with much, much greater range than they were ever given credit for. There’s a reason that about 6 of the songs ended up on their Greatest Hits CD.

The opening tune sets the tone as well as any opening riff in any bar-band concert you’ve ever been to, and “Bottle of Tears” is a perfect second song, before they build toward “All Over But the Crying” and “Six Years Gone” — a pair of tour de force anthems that deserved the arena treatment the Satellites were never destined to get. The acoustic “Another Chance” at the end of side one showed that everyone in the band could sing, and if you parse out the lines from each of the singers and rearrange them by the guy singing them, really shows a new side of simple little song, as each singer gets to exhibit some personality cleverly interspersed throughout the song.

Sweet Blue Midnight” is the perfect redneck making-out-in-the-pickup-truck-after-a-sixer tune that’s probably responsible for a whole lot of broken bra clasps across the deep South (or at least it should be). “Days Gone By” feels like a more wistful “Six Years Gone” — as though Dan Baird didn’t quite get all the pain and longing out of his heart on the first song, and decided to get even more deeply personal and introspective in the second song. Not one to linger too much on sentimentality, Baird takes the band through a variety of formulaic-but-well-executed A-chord romps like “Bring Down the Hammer” and “Slaughterhouse” and “Crazy”; “Games People Play” is a perfect drunken-audience-singalong. The riff-laden escapist fantasy of “Dan Takes Five” isn’t just the band leader escaping a bad relationship, it’s a true valedictory sign-off from band as a whole, as it’s clear from the southbound dust-trails that they’re headed to nowhere and you’re not invited, with this album as their last love-letter to where they came from, and no clues where they’re going.

It’s funny that when I was in college, about 2–3 years after this album was released, I’d crank up the headphones with “Six Years Gone” and “Another Chance” and think back about occasional nights at the lake with a nostalgic eye toward a past that never really existed for me. But now, 20+ years later, those same songs will bring up the exact same mental pictures that never really existed, and never happened since then, either. It’s almost as if it’s the soundtrack to someone else’s youth that I just got to watch through occasional hazy videos.

While the Satellites never got around to following this one up, there was a musical cousin that plays out very much like the sequel they never quite recorded. When he left G’n’R, Izzy Stradlin put together the Ju-Ju Hounds as his backing band for his first album, and brought in ex-Sats fretman Rick Richards as the lead guitarist. Rick’s guitar sound, phrasing, chords, riffs, and general demeanor on Izzy’s first album are direct descendants of what he did on “In the Land of Salvation and Sin” and back-to-back, you’d almost think the same band just changed lead singers and decided to pay more homage to the Rolling Stones than Lynyrd Skynyrd. The long solos from “Take a Look at the Guy” and “Cutting a Rug” could almost serve a bridges between the two albums, and “Shuffle it All” is every bit as expansive and sweeping as “All Over But the Cryin”. “Train Tracks” sounds like someone threw a new motif over top of “I Dunno”s wild energy, “Time Gone By” crosses “Another Chance” with the motifs of “Six Years Gone” and “Days Gone By” and “Come on Now Inside” is the mellow send-off that offers a fade-out counterpoint to the“Dan Takes Five” burnout.

Two albums, two different bands, both terribly under-rated, and both infused with a common musical and thematic thread that almost makes them the incestual second-cousins-related-on-both-sides-of-the-family that everyone loves to tease about in the deep South. If you’re a fan of well-written, thoughtful, immaculately arranged Southern rock, you could do a lot worse than mixing these two albums into a playlist, and shuffling the iPod a bit. In fact, you should just Shuffle it All and think of Days Gone By.