Category Archives: 1987

“Put the cow horns back on the Cadillac”: John Hiatt – Bring The Family (1987)

John Hiatt is someone I got into a bit at the start of the millennium.  Truth be told, I drifted away from his stuff; very rarely listening to much at all these days.  So, I can hardly even call myself a fan.  However, I do like to revisit a handful of albums and, whether I buy them or not, I do like to catch up with his new releases.  Anyhoo, the exception is Bring The Family.  I like this one an awfy lot.  So much, in fact, that I have two copies.  Both the A&M and Demon pressings.  Why?  Well, they have different covers.  I picked up the A&M release a few years back when browsing the racks in Oxfam.  The Demon release came not so long ago when I spotted it cheap.  A near mint copy for £3.  Despite having it, I liked the cover a whole lot.  Plus, it has a sheet complete with lyrics.  That’s the kinda thing I’m after.  We’re all after, amaright?

Anyhoo, what do I like about it?  Well, Bring The Family is one of those brilliant spontaneous albums that come along every now and then.  Recorded in just four days with the help of Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner, there were no rehearsal shenanigans and it relied pretty much on the chemistry and understanding of the folks involved (Nick Lowe apparently never heard Memphis in the Meantime when he recorded it).  You can hear the room and the warmth of the instruments.  In fact, the spontaneity of it all means that no-one ever overplays or overpowers the actual songs.  Nor do the songs sound overworn or overplayed.  The simplicity of the whole things allows Hiatt to be as frank as he wants to be.  I mean, the fact that the songs more than match each of the players here says an awfy lot.  I honestly can’t overstate how great a collection of songs this is.  I don’t think there’s a poor one among them.

Anyhoo, here’s Hiatt with a bunch of friends revealing more about himself than he maybe had before.  You’ll find self-reflection, faith, and love on the menu; all the good stuff that allows artists to not only express themselves but exorcise demons (or angels).

Memphis in the Meantime has a great shuffle and really starts the album off brilliantly.  I can’t articulate just how much I love this one.  It makes me smile and makes me dream of hitting the road and selling mangos.  There’s a real groove here and one of my favourite lyrics on the album when Hiatt sings “I like country music and I like mandolins, but right now I need a telecaster through a Vibro-lux turned up to ten”.  Hiatt’s done with Nashville and country music, folks (like a whole bunch of other great musicians).

That groove continues through Alone In The Dark and Thing Called Love.  Cooder’s guitar buzzes and stings on Alone In The Dark while Hiatt sings lines like “I rub my nose in it, babe, til the roses smell just like death”, while Thing Called Love is a song about the strength of love and having faith when things are tough.  And, as you can imagine, that’s something of a recurring theme here; especially on the brilliant Have a Little Faith in Me.

See, the thing about Have a Little Faith in Me is that it immediately sounds familiar.  Quite possibly because it immediately resonates.  We’ve all been there, right?  Asking that our better halves be patient or have a little faith that we can do something better.  Be it making better decisions when drinking (like don’t drink so much, or get a taxi home instead of walking 300 miles when you missed the last train) or suchlike.  It’s a highlight, though.  Cause here is that cry for faith at it’s purest and most desperate.  Hiatt solo on the piano and, well, the sheer emotion and vulnerability always gets me.  Despite the troubles and mistakes or whatever, he gives love unconditionally and is seeking just a bit of understanding.  C’mon, lady!  Cut the guy some slack!

Wait, Jim!  You haven’t mentioned anything about Lipstick Sunset!  I know – that song annihilates my soul.  Cooder’s slightly overdriven slide guitar is gorgeous and Hiatt sounds utterly broken.  Perfect.  That’s all I’ll say.

Thank You Girl kicks the second side off in similar style to Memphis In The Meantime.  It rocks and rolls and locks into a loose groove.  It’s a clear thank you to the woman who has helped pull Hiatt from the darkness (she cut him some slack, after all!).  Again, Hiatt’s words are brilliant and the way he delivers them… so good.  Ry Cooder also plays a blinder here, by the way (again!); that buzzing guitar cutting through and the underplayed solo is a nice refrain.  The track makes Tip of My Tongue a bit easier to take, cause man, that’s a downer.

Like Lipstick Sunset, Tip of My Tongue is one of the saddest songs I know.  Again, it’s one a lot of folks could certainly relate to (though maybe not to the same extreme).  We say things that we don’t always mean.  Or they come out wrong cause we’re not the best in certain situations.  We’re left with regret regardess and, well, just sometimes there’s no taking those words back… and naturally the regret lingers.  Just as it does here (“I’d take it back, but time won’t let me. No, time just takes you further away”).

Moving swiftly on, the guitar intro to Your Dad Did lets us know we’re in for a good(ish) time and the song itself highlights just how great a lyricist Hiatt is.  You’ll hear why.  A warning to the heir of the complacent king.  Something to consider when you drift through each day, anyway.  But, it’s right toe-tapping cheery.  Stood Up is more of that wonderful ‘love saves’ sentiment.  Hiatt sounds a bit like Van Morrison and there’s certainly a similar blue-eyed soul vibe around the song as Hiatt recounts losing the shackles that bound him (“Now they gave last call for alcohol and no one has to carry me home. You see, I only work here now man, my drinking days are long gone”).  Great stuff.

Learning How To Love You is as perfect a side closer as Have a Little Faith in Me.  The there’s perhaps a little less raw emotion, but the message is much the same.  Love isn’t an easy ride – it takes some work and we’re always learning.

The whole thing is emotional, witty and, most of the time, powerfully moving.  As I’ve maybe already suggested, I guess it’s one we all can relate to.  Whether or not we lived the life of Mr Hiatt here isn’t the point… the point is that we’ve been in a position where we’ve reflected on where we’ve been, where we’re headed and what we learned along the way. We can relate to lasting love and the hard work involved.

The lack of label involvement during the recording is likely the reason the production sounds so timeless (Hiatt was without a label).  There’s no sheen on any of this and I honestly think the album is better for it.  It’s warm and inviting, even when there’s a powerful intensity.

Anyhoo, sorry for going on a bit.  Bottom line is, this is a great album.  Sure the subject matter is weighty, but it never really feels heavy.  Perhaps cause it’s littered with humour and wit.  Even at the lowest points there’s something that can make you smile or, dare I say chuckle.

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“Loaded like a freight train”: Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)

Y’know.  I was chatting the other week about how I got hooked on music.  Particularly the music I like.  I was 13 when I experienced that whole musical awakening.  I had a few tapes prior to that and I was damned proud of that little collection.  In fact, I only recently let the remainder of that collection go. As you’d expect, I liked a bunch o’ stuff that’s gradually fallen off the radar.  Some of it when I was 13, some when I was 15 … some recently.  Some stuff has stuck with me.  There’s also a bunch o’ stuff that I’ll always have a soft spot for even if I no longer listen regularly, sporadically, or at all.

The first band that I ever loved, though, was Guns N’ Roses.  Call it rebellion.  Call it rejection of the novelty acts, actors-come-pop-stars, and the synthetic pop oddities that were all over the radio in the late 80s and early 90s.  Call it the pre-awakening.  Here I was as a 12 year-old embracing something … dangerous.  Something that sounded completely unlike anything my young ears had heard before. Go me, right?

This was the MTV age of course, but not having the luxury of Sky television meant that the closest I’d ever really gotten to real music was my father’s record collection.  Don’t get me wrong, there were a fair few proper songs out there, but it was buried under the countless bouncing synthetic rhythms and Brit nominees.  Anyhoo, I remember seeing Terminator 2 and the video for You Could Be Mine all over the Chart Show on ITV.  Like I say, this was something completely new to me.  It was like the real music my father had, but it was a tad louder and there was a ton of attitude in there that a youngster could get behind!  So, I put Use Your Illusion on my Birthday list and hoped for the best.  Looking back on it I understand why my parents took notice of the ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker and got me something else.

But I finally got them both … and Appetite for Destruction.  I instantly acknowledged the difference between those albums and Appetite for Destruction became a firm favourite (I had to buy a replacement for that after a few years).  I recognised Paradise City and Sweet Child O’ Mine, of course, which helped establish GN’R as my favourites at that particular time and the painting that graced the inner also led me to look further at the art of Robert Williams (whose In the Pavilion of the Red Clown, Art’s Triumph Over Substance and Hot Rod Race are some of the most impressionable, powerful and lasting art I’ve looked at).  Later I bought “The Spaghetti Incident?”, the Sympathy for the Devil single and even though I was discovering alternative rock I waited patiently for the next release.

Of course, that never arrived.  Certainly not before I moved past GN’R.  As the band was torn apart and Axl gradually trampled over it’s legacy I lost interest.  However, I still picked up Chinese Democracy back in 2008.  Perhaps hoping for something truly special or perhaps to catch a glimpse of an old love.  See how they are and remember the good times when you spot that sparkle.  As it happened, it only served as a reminder of why I fell out of love.  I can’t say I thought it was terrible.  I just don’t like it.  I admire the fact that he believed in something enough to completely follow it through, but it just sounds … turgid.  I actually listened to Chinese Democracy for only the third time (the first since 2008) recently and my opinion hasn’t changed.

Prior to that the last time I listened to a GN’R album was October 2012.  I remember this as I had a chat about “The Spaghetti Incident?” (the album played) and how it’s probably the only album of theirs that I still enjoy.  I believe that over the course of my falling out of love with the band I’ve often referred to that as their masterpiece.  That’ll likely be met with raised eyebrows, but I reckon I’d stick by that statement.  I’ve never outgrown it the way I did the others.  Most likely cause it’s a bunch of covers.  Or just because it’s the sound of the band I loved, regardless of their turmoil, before they were torn apart.

On Sunday there we dropped in on my favourite haunt and spotted Appetite for Destruction for £8.  Robert Williams’ painting adorning the cover rather than being hidden away inside.  It was just about closing time and with a few visible scratches I was weighing up whether it was £8 well spent.  Like I say, it’s an album that I absolutely loved, but one that I hadn’t listened to in a number of years from a band that I no longer considered a favourite, or even considered when choosing something to listen to.  Having become a regular, the owner said he’d put it by.  Give it a spin himself and let me know how it sounded.

As it happens, it sounds incredible.  While “The Spaghetti Incident?” will remain the Guns N’ Roses album I enjoy most, Appetite for Destruction really is an incredible album.  Not only is it a remarkable debut (by any standards), but is pretty much the only really credible album they released.  The sound of a band sharing their experiences and excesses.

So yeah, while I don’t expect to fall back in love with Guns N’ Roses, it’s £8 well spent.

…and I guess it’s like looking through an old photo album and remembering the good times