411 Music Ten Deep 5.9.12: Top 10 Songs For Mother's Day
Posted by C.A. Bell on 05.09.2012
From Tupac's "Dear Mama" and The Rolling Stones' "Mother's Little Helper" to Eminem's "Cleanin' Out My Closet" and more, 411's C.A. Bell counts down the top 10 songs for Mother's Day!
It happens every year. I 'find out' about Mother's Day roughly two days before it happens, and spend the next 48 hours running around, spending money that I haven't budgeted, on things my Mom and Grandmother will immediately know I gave precisely zero thought. Every year I curse myself, promising that NEXT year will be the one that I do right. Next year I'll make someone cry for good reasons (I'm far into the negative on that scorecard). So, this year I was ready. Two weeks out and I've got the date saved. I'm going to have a good plan and get it into action...just as soon as a make a playlist for the whole ordeal.
Only recently dubbed "Mother's Day," the highly traditional practice of honoring of Motherhood is rooted in antiquity, and past rites typically had strong symbolic and spiritual overtones; societies tended to celebrate Goddesses and symbols rather than actual Mothers. The personal, human touch to Mother's Day is a relatively new phenomenon. The maternal objects of adoration ranged from mythological female deities to the Christian Church itself. Only in the past few centuries did celebrations of Motherhood develop a decidedly human focus.
Early Christians initially used the 4th day of Lent to honor the church in which they were baptized, which they knew as their "Mother Church." This place of worship would be decorated with jewels, flowers and other offerings. In the 1600's a clerical decree in England broadened the celebration to include real Mothers, referring to the day as Mothering Day. Mothering Day became an especially compassionate holiday toward the working classes of England. During this Lenten Sunday, servants and trade workers were allowed to travel back to their towns of origin to visit their families. Mothering Day also provided a one-day reprieve from the fasting and penance of Lent so that families across England could enjoy a family feast—Mother was the guest of honor. Mothers were presented with cakes and flowers, as well as a visit from their beloved and distant children.
When the first English settlers came to America, they discontinued the tradition of Mothering Day. While the British holiday would live on, the American Mother's Day would be invented—with an entirely new history—centuries later. One explanation for the settlers' discontinuation of Mothering Day was that they just didn't have time; they lived under harsh conditions and were forced to work long hours in order to survive. Another possibility, however, is that Mothering Day conflicted with their Puritan ideals. Fleeing England to practice a more conservative Christianity without being persecuted, the pilgrims ignored the more secular holidays, focusing instead on a no-frills devotion to God. Mother's Day, as we know it in America, began with a Mother's Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe ("Battle Hymn of the Republic" author) in 1870. By 1909, the U.S. government officially adopted the day as a national holiday and over 40 states held official events in observance of the nation's mothers.
Celebration of mothers in song is a tradition that runs just as long as the holiday itself. In modern music, the role of the mother has been an important literary vehicle for songwriters of all shades. Political artists use mothers as their narrators, lamenting the loss of a child to war or injustice. Singer-Songwriters like to delve deep into their own Oedipal problems to prove just how deep they can be. Folk and blues are literally littered with songs about the death of an important maternal figure. Metal and punk groups typically include mothers in ironic stories about the possible evil in innocent youth or as a symbol of a power structure to be raged against. Then there is my absolute favorite; hip-hop. In one track, a rapper can describe the entire female gender in the most violently derogatory terms we have available in the English language. In the next track, that same guy can write the most amazing love song to his mama.
So, with all of that said, let's take a look at my favorite songs for mom. I'm not following any hard rules for this list. After a few hard weeks in the comment section at 411, I'm starting to feel a little punchy. So, the only rule I'm going to follow is this; whatever the hell I feel like talking about. If someone doesn't like it, they can write their local senator. In the meantime, it deserves to be on the list because I'm the one that put it there. Check out the entire Spotify playlist of over 150 songs for an entire Mother's Day celebration. Now, let's get to the good stuff.
The Honorable Mentions (And Excuses)
Dolly Parton/Jeannie C. Riley - "Harper Valley PTA"
Randy Newman/Three Dog Night - "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)"
Bob Dylan - "John Brown"
The Kinks - "Some Mother's Son"
Howlin' Wolf - "Mama Died and Left Me"
Willie Nelson - "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys"
Gram Parsons - "Brass Buttons"
10,000 Maniacs - "Eat For Two"
Jenny Lewis - "Jack Killed Mom"
Richard Thompson - "Mother Knows Best"
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - "Ghetto Mom"
Ozzy Osbourne - "Mama, I'm Coming Home" (Yes, it's probably about Sharon. Get some friends.)
Danzig - "Mother"
Elvis Presley - "Mama Liked the Roses"
Funkadelic - "Cosmic Slop"
The Beatles - "Your Mother Should Know"
Eric Clapton/Bob Dylan/Et. Al. - "Motherless Children" and variations
Queen - "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Tie Your Mother Down"
The White Stripes - "I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother's Heart"
Waylon Jennings/Grateful Dead - "Mama Tried"
Denison Witmer - "Grandma Mary"
PJ Harvey - "Down By The Water" and "C'mon Billy"
The Impressions - "That's What Mama Say"
The Decemberists - "A Cautionary Song"
Sinead O'Connor - "I Had A Baby"
Outkast - "Ms. Jackson"
Led Zeppelin - "That's The Way"
Frank Zappa - "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama"
Captain Beefheart - "When I See Mommy I Feel Like a Mummy"
Kanye West - "Hey Mama"
10. Eminem - "Cleanin' Out My Closet" from The Eminem Show, 2002.
Well, they can't all be positive I suppose. Eminem's battles with his mother have been one of the defining tropes of the man's career. "Cleanin' Out My Closet" was from his worldwide hit album, The Eminem Show and was later re-released in 2005 for Eminem's greatest hits album Curtain Call: The Hits. "Cleanin' Out My Closet" was the second single released off "The Eminem Show" album following "Without Me". However, unlike the preceding single Eminem departed from his humorous Slim Shady persona to take observers on a solemn journey into a deeply personal reservoir of fury and pain. It became the second top-ten single from the album, reaching #4 on the United States Billboard Hot 100 chart, and one of the highest-charting singles of his career. Lastly, the song was used for the initial theatrical trailer to 8 Mile that was released in winter 2001.
In the song, Eminem introspectively examines his life reflecting on such topics as his troubled childhood, marital conflicts, and resentful feud with his mother. Eminem underscores his animosity towards her by melodically rapping a searingly honest portrayal of what he experienced as a child. Also in the song, he describes how others protest his lyrics. He expresses the anger that he feels towards his family and how he is better off without them now, and goes on to reassure his audience that his words regarding his mother are not done for the sake of public attention "now I would never diss my own mama just to get recognition". The song also describes how Eminem suffers at the hands of his mother because of Münchausen syndrome by proxy in the line "All my life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn't". Eminem also mentions the demo that his mother put out for him called Set The Record Straight. Of all of Em's mom-trashing songs, "Cleanin' Out My Closet" is my absolute favorite. Some of you might prefer "My Mom" from Relapse, but I can't hear him use that fake Jamaican dub vocal without cringing.
9. The Rolling Stones - "Mother's Little Helper" from Flowers, 1967.
"Mother's Little Helper" first appeared as the opening track to the United Kingdom version of their 1966 album Aftermath. It was released as a single in the United States and peaked at # 8 on the Billboard Singles Charts in 1966. The B-side "Lady Jane" peaked at # 24. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, "Mother's Little Helper" was recorded in December, 1965. The song deals with the darker perspective of the use of barbiturates, specifically Nembutal (pentobarbitone), among housewives. The song is based around folksy chords and an Middle Eastern-flavoured guitar riff sounding like a sitar. Keith Richards has been quoted that he remembers the signature riff as being slide played on an electric 12-string. It has also been documented that it was played by Brian Jones on his Vox 12-string Mando-Guitar. Richards also remembers the ending of the song being the idea of Bill Wyman, whose driving bass is a distinctive feature of the studio track.
Jagger's skewering of this new suburban phenomenon has only become more apt over time, to the point of almost becoming a satire of itself. If you need any proof that the good old days of nuclear families and self-sufficiency were a myth, look no further than this classic Rolling Stones' song. "Mother's Little Helper", along with "Paint It Black" and "Get Off of My Cloud", are absolute highlights of the early Stones' discography. This is a song that puts all of their strengths on display.
8. Scissor Sisters - "Take Your Mama" from Scossor Sisters, 2004.
There was a time that I thought Scissor Sisters might become the best band in rock music. Well, so much for that. But hey, Bono once called them the "best pop band in the world". So, I guess that's good company to be wrong with. Oh well, at least I still have their fantastic debut to remember. "Take Your Mama" was the first and biggest hit from that record (though their club cover of "Comfortably Numb" was nominated for a Grammy, believe it or not). The song is terribly catchy, recalling the best of Elton John and George Michael, with more than a few endearingly amusing lyrics (Lookin' overdressed wearin' buckets of stale cologne). The song was written by Jason Sellards and Scott Hoffman. The song's lyrics depict the struggles of being a young homosexual male adult raised in a somewhat conservative environment, and the hardships of admitting one's sexuality to their mother. "Take Your Mama" was released March 29, 2004 as a single in the UK, peaking at #17 in the UK Singles Chart. It also saw considerable success internationally, notably in New Zealand, where it reached #11 in the New Zealand Top 40 Singles Chart. In Australia, the song was ranked #23 on Triple J's Hottest 100 of 2004.
7. Paul Simon - "Mother and Child Reunion" from Paul Simon, 1972.
Even if you aren't a Paul Simon fan, it is downright impossible to dislike "Mother and Child Reunion". Included on his first post-Simon and Garfunkel solo record, the song was was released as a single on February 5, 1972, reaching #4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts, and was one of the earliest songs by a white musician to feature prominent elements of reggae. The song was an international hit, with Top 20 placements in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Finland, Norway, and the United Kingdom.
The song was inspired by Simon's grief over the death of his family's dog, while he has said that title has its origin in a chicken-and-egg dish called "Mother and Child Reunion" that Simon saw on a Chinese restaurant's menu. James Benninghof writes that Simon predicts the title event, the "mother and child reunion," while the second verse describes the effect of what happened on "the strange and mournful day," but without making clear what it was. The song was recorded in Jamaica with singer Jimmy Cliff's backing group. Guitarist Huks ("Hux") Brown and bass guitarist Jackie Jackson were also long-time members of reggae legends Toots & the Maytals. Cissy Houston, mother of singer Whitney Houston, sang background vocals on the track. The song has lent itself well to depictions of the mother-child relationship in TV and film, being used by Degrassi High, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, and even The Chipmunks have a version.
6. Loudon Wainwright III - "Homeless" from Last Man on Earth, 2001.
The Wainwright family lend themselves well to writing. Today, most music fans are familiar with the various dramas between Loudon and his amazingly talented children; Martha and Rufus. Loudon's divorce from their mother has been the fuel for a litany of great songs. Slightly less well-known is just how deep the Wainwright roots run. Descendents of Peter Stuyvesant (best known as the namesake of many Brooklyn landmarks, including Bed-Stuy), Loudon's father (Loudon Jr.) was a well-known writer for Life Magazine. Loudon's mixed feelings about his father made for many a great songs (particularly on the album History). But, it was the relationship between Loudon and his mother that I think has proven to be the most fertile ground for great songwriting.
After his mother's death in 1997, Loudon moved into her home in Westchester County for eighteen months, writing much of the material that would become The Last Man On Earth. In 2012, Wainwright noted, "Last Man on Earth was written right after my mother died, so a lot of the material on that record has to do with that momentous event. The life circle was present on a lot of those songs." Last Man on Earth was released four years after Wainwright's mother's death. The working title for the album was Missing You, named after the album's opening track. However, the album's title ultimately became Last Man on Earth, a song written in Suffolk County following Wainwright's eventual move from his mother's old home. On "Homeless", Wainwright puts together the single most touching song the loss of one's mother that I think exists. It is hard to hear this, his final goodbye, without tearing up.
When you were alive
I was never alone
Somewhere in the world
There was something called home
Here he is, living in his mother's home, and feeling homeless because she was the person that made that place more than a simple house. Loudon Wainwright III is one of the greatest songwriters living today and "Homeless" is a perfect example of why.
5. Bill Withers - "Grandma's Hands" from Just As I Am, 1971.
Well, we can't forget grandma, now can we? Well, it doesn't hurt that Bill Withers was a phenomenal voice who certainly didn't forget his. "Grandma's Hands" was included on Withers' classic 1971 debut album Just as I Am, and was also released as a single, reaching number 18 on the Best Selling Soul Singles chart and 42 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was Produced by Booker T. Jones, and also featured drummer Al Jackson, Jr. and bassist Duck Dunn from Booker T. & The MG's. String arrangements by Jones were added after initial tracking, recorded by engineer Terry Manning. The song has since been covered by many other artists, including Keb' Mo', Al Jarreau, Josh White Jr, Livingston Taylor, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight, Barbra Streisand, Francine Bell, Will Downing, Take 6, Marti Pellow, Starsailor, and Gil Scott-Heron. Of course, "Grandma's Hands" is best remembered as being the hook sample (and only reason we remember) of Blackstreet's "No Diggity".
"Grandma's Hands" is soulful for sure, but its true magic lies in Withers' undeniable and honest love for this woman that he saw as a source of everything we consider good in human beings. He paints Grandma as the true backbone of not just his family, but the community as a whole. She was the one that everyone trusted to be strong enough to solve any problem, without once complaining about those hands hurting. This is a beautiful song and a sentiment we all wish we could share.
4. The Divine Comedy - "Mother Dear" from Victory for the Comic Muse, 2006.
When I first realized that I would be doing this list, The Divine Comedy's "Mother Dear" was one of the first songs to pop into my head. Neil Hannon is an interesting songwriter. At times, it really is impossible to tell if he is being heart-on-the-cuff honest or scathingly sarcastic. In truth, he is probably both at the same time. "Mother Dear" was one of the lead songs from The Divine Comedy's ninth LP Victory for the Comic Muse in 2006. While the record's lead single, "To Die A Virgin", stole a lot of attention as the brains of this Choice Music Prize-winning album, I think "Mother Dear" was the true heart (and sharp tongue). In this song, Hannon mixes an overwhelming thank you to his mother with a slight feeling that she might be overbearing enough to scare him.
If I ever get arrested by the C.I.A.
Because they take me for a foreign spy
They won't need no lie-detector, all they'll have to do
Is make me look into my mother's eyes
The thought of this debonaire Lothario experiencing something humiliating and banal is Hannon's hilarious bread and butter. Now, before anyone goes running off to the comment section to scream about never having heard of The Divine Comedy, allow me to save you some time; I don't care. That's your own fault, don't put your ignorance off on me. They have eleven albums and a metric assload of national television appearances. Buy a clue. Plus, this song has a banjo, and we all know that banjos rock.
3. 2Pac - "Dear Mama" from Me Against The World, 1995.
"Dear Mama" was released on February 21, 1995 as the first single for the album Me Against The World. The single was the most successful of all the singles released from that album and is considered by critics, fans, and purists as one of the greatest hip hop songs of all-time. It was ranked number four on About.com's "Top 100 Rap Songs" list. It was announced on June 23, 2010, that the Library of Congress was preserving "Dear Mama", along with 24 other songs, in the National Recording Registry for their cultural significance.The song topped the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart for five weeks, the R&B/Hip-Hop Singles for one week, and peaked at #9 on the Hot 100. It also topped the Hot Dance Music Maxi-Singles sales chart for 4 weeks. The single was certified Platinum by the RIAA on July 13, 1995. It is considered by many to be 2Pac's most emotional and most respected song, and is praised by many artists (Eminem mentions it as his favorite song), even by many artists who are not involved in the hip-hop business. It was selected as one of most important recordings in history in the musical reference book, 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: And 10,001 You Must Download.
Of course, if there was one rapper you could accuse of walking the genre's callous treatment of women through the door, it was 2Pac. Cracked.com's Jack O'Brien put it best when he said this:
There is a clause in the rapper's social contract stating that on each album, the rapper is allotted a single song that discusses feelings and emotions. Of course, he must immediately go back to bragging about murdering people, lest he end up in PM Dawn territory. Tupac was among the best in the history of rap at going from empathetic good guy to violent thug without missing a beat...
2Pac said some pretty atrocious things about women while he was alive, and that unfortunately tarnishes this great song. By itself, "Dear Mama" is one of the single greatest tributes anyone could pay to their mother. It stands as living proof that he couldn't have hated all women.
2. Ghostface Killah - "All That I Got Is You" from Ironman, 1996.
"All That I Got Is You" is the solo debut single by Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghostface Killah from his album Ironman. The song features R&B songstress Mary J. Blige and an outro which has Popa Wu giving teachings. It contains a sample of "Maybe Tomorrow" by The Jackson 5 as well as audio clips from the cult film The Education of Sonny Carson. Ghostface wrote the song as a tribute to his mother, with lyrics that both depict the harsh life the two struggled through together during his childhood and praise her ability to raise him even in their downtrodden state. The song peaked at #51 on the US Hot R&B Chart and #11 on the UK Singles Chart. About.com ranked it #87 on their list of the Top 100 Rap Songs.
The music video for "All That I Got Is You" was directed by Terry Heller and Chuck Ozeas. Mary J. Blige was unavailable for the music video version, and is replaced by Wu-Tang Clan in-singer Tekitha for the hook and second verse. The video illustrates the images described within the lyrics of the song, featuring a young boy who portrays Ghostface in his youth born into a family of fifteen, with his mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins; all living in a three-bedroom apartment. The boy experiences all the hardships depicted in the song: growing up in a poor family in the Stapleton Housing Projects, watching his father leave their family at the age of six, sharing a small bed with three other siblings, picking roaches out of water-filled cereal and going next door to borrow leftover bread from neighbors. The scenes are intercut with present-day Ghostface playing a piano in the middle of a desolate street and a small choir. Whether or not you want to admit it, Ghostface Killah has had an incredible career as a solo artist. I think this great love song to his mother will stand as the most memorable song of that great career.
1. Pink Floyd - "Mother" from The Wall, 1979.
Well, I doubt this was much of a surprise to anyone. As a young man, "Mother" was one of my favorite tracks from Pink Floyd's megahit The Wall and it remains so today. The Wall tells the story of Pink, an embittered and alienated rock star. As told through the song "Mother", part of Pink's sense of alienation comes from being raised by an overprotective single mother, who lost her husband, Pink's father, in World War II. The song narrates a conversation by Pink (voiced by Waters) and his mother (voiced by Gilmour). The listener learns of the overprotectiveness of Pink's mother, who is helping Pink build his wall to try protect him from the outside world, evidenced by the line "Of course Mother's gonna help build the wall," spoken by Pink's mother. She insists that Pink stay by her side even after he grows up, and cannot stand it when Pink eventually grows older and falls in love. Waters explained to Mojo magazine that the song is about, "The idea that we can be controlled by our parents' views on things like sex. The single mother of boys, particularly, can make sex harder than it needs to be."
Of all the songs on the album, Mother receives the most radical re-interpretation for the movie. The film version of the song replaces the acoustic guitar with a celesta, resulting in a child's nursery rhyme-type sound. A photo of Pink and his wife is shown sitting on the bedside table as Pink tries vainly to reach someone on the phone. As Pink places the phone receiver back in its cradle, a quick flashback of Pink and his wife kissing is shown, suggesting that Pink was trying to call his wife. As the song begins, Pink hugs his pillow to himself, followed by a quick shot of an adolescent Pink resting his head on his mother's chest. As Pink wonders, "Will they try to break my balls?", young Pink is found sitting in his school's hallway, just outside an office. The following scene depicts young Pink, in the midst of studying, turning off his light, lighting a cigarette and watching, through a pair of binoculars, a female neighbor undress. Just as Pink is enjoying his free strip-show, his mother opens the door to his room, forcing Pink to put out his joint and continue his studies. This moment is intercut with a scene featuring an adult Pink watching a football match on TV as his wife undresses, trying to entice him out of his trance. As she sits bare-chested in front of him, Pink maneuvers himself so that he can watch some football in peace. The adult Pink's sterility in contrast to the younger Pink's normal sexuality is evidence of how the bricks supplied by his mother have affected him in his adult life.
The following scene is accompanied by images of a sweaty Pink lying in bed with a doctor and his mother just outside his room discussing his illness, as this scene's original line "Is it just a waste of time" is replaced by the line "Mother, am I really dying?". With the light off, phantasmagorical shadows appear on Pink's ceiling, resembling the masks worn by the students in "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II". This sight scares Pink into sneaking into his mother's room and climbing into bed with her. This scene is followed by the adult Pink touching his sleeping wife's shoulder, only to have her roll over away from him, emphasizing his abysmal sex life. Young Pink once again runs to his mother's room, only to see the decaying corpse of his dead father lying in bed instead. When David Gilmour's guitar solo starts up, the scene flash-forwards to Pink's registry office wedding, followed by Pink's wife trying to get his attention at his piano. Hurt by his distant behavior, the neglected wife eventually leaves the room as Pink continues to play random notes on his piano. She eventually finds solace and love in a nuclear disarmament activist. After a scene featuring a reluctant, adolescent Pink in a ballroom dancing class, where he eventually gets a much taller girl to dance with him, the present-day Pink, unable to get a hold of his wife, sulks and adopts a fetal position on his bed. As the song ends, Pink tries to contact his wife one last time, only to hear the male activist's voice on the other end. Pink, realizing what just happened, lets go of the phone and slides down against the wall.
The album version of the song is strengthened by the vocal interplay between Roger Waters (Pink) and David Gilmour (Mother). Conflict between the two was at an all-time high during the recording of The Wall, with some (namely, producer Bob Ezrin) even arguing that only the need for money brought the band back together for the record. Singing together, the two put that air of co-dependence and subtle aggression on display. Like most relationships between a mother and son, this is a complex story without any true good or bad guys. "Mother" is a song about the effect that parenting has on any adult, with every wort and bruise brightly put on display.
A Rousing Recommendation
I'm introducing a new semi-regular feature to the column where I'll focus on a slightly forgotten piece of music history that I wish more people were enjoying. For my first recommendation, I've been thinking a lot about Levon Helm. Levon, most well known as the drummer and singer for The Band, passed away in April after a second bout with cancer. Levon has long been one of my favorite voices in the history of rock, and as the singer of The Band's biggest hits, he gave that group of Canadians some much needed legitimacy as Americana professionals. The Band is cherished today for a variety of reasons like their first taste of fame as Bob Dylan's first electric supporting player, their classic debut record Music From Big Pink, and the fabulous Martin Scorcese film about The Band's final performance, The Last Waltz. I think there is something getting missed however. In 1972, The Band released one of the greatest live albums ever made. It was titled, Rock of Ages
The Band booked a residency at the Academy of Music for the last week of 1971, culminating in a New Year's Eve performance. Robbie Robertson had commissioned New Orleans songwriter and arranger Allen Toussaint to compose horn charts for their recent single "Life Is A Carnival" from the album Cahoots, and decided to have Toussaint write special charts for a five-man horn section to augment the group on their upcoming concerts. Charts written by Toussaint in New Orleans were in luggage lost at the airport, and a new set were composed in a cabin near Robertson's house in Woodstock after a late-autumn snow had blanketed the area. Robertson selected eleven songs to receive horn charts, and all are included on the released album. The horns do not play on "Get Up Jake", "Stage Fright," "This Wheel's on Fire," "The Weight," "The Shape I'm In," and "The Genetic Method." Selections on the bonus disc also do not feature horn arrangements, with the exception of Dylan's "Down in the Flood."
The repertoire consisted of the Band's original songs, which were framed on the album by covers of the 1964 Motown hit single "Baby Don't You Do It" by Marvin Gaye, and the b-side "(I Don't Want to Hang Up) My Rock and Roll Shoes" to the final single by Chuck Willis in 1958, "What Am I Living For." The bulk of the recordings on the released album derived from either the December 30 or the December 31 show, while the tracks on the bonus disc come from December 28 and 29 as well. Since Garth Hudson interpolates "Auld Lang Syne" into his solo piece "The Genetic Method," it can be assumed that track and "Chest Fever" were played at midnight, December 31. Their previous employer Bob Dylan made a surprise visit on the New Year's Eve show, playing four songs with the group in the early morning hours of January 1, 1972.
Originally released in 1972 as a double album, it was reissued in 1980 as two separate LPs, titled Rock of Ages, Vol. 1 and Rock of Ages, Vol. 2. The first edition for compact disc in 1987 ostensibly edited several tracks to fit the program onto a single disc; an unedited two-disc version followed in 1990. On May 8, 2001, an expanded and remastered two-disc edition appeared, with the original album on one disc, and an additional ten tracks on a bonus disc. Included on the bonus disc were the four songs featuring Dylan and another Motown cover, the 1966 hit single "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever" by The Four Tops.
Rock of Ages was everything a great live performance should be. You had The Band playing every song you could imagine wanting to hear, while they were at the top of their game. You had his nearly perfect sound quality. Then, to top it all off, you get a slew of fantastic brass arrangements from jazz legend Allen Toussaint that didn't just make the songs different from their studio counterparts, they made the songs better. I get a bit confused when people start talking about The Last Waltz as this phenomenal performance without mentioning Rock of Ages. Sure, The Last Waltz was a good show with a once in a lifetime collection of musical legends. That being said, you can't say anyone their was really at the top of their game. With egos battling over who would perform when, The Band themselves at the point of not speaking to one another, and absolutely rampant drug use (rumor has it that a white spot under Neil Young's nose had to be edited out of the film for his performance of "Helpless"), that performance is nowhere near the quality of Rock of Ages. This was still a group looking to set the world on fire. Levon Helm was a wonderful part of music history, but when I look back at his career he will always sound like this. If you want to hear what live albums should be, I can't recommend Rock of Ages enough.
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No synthesizers whatsoever were used during the writing of this column.
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