Today, I am pleased to debut my new segment called “Old Album, New Review.” In these posts, for your listening pleasure, I plan to review my favorite classic rock and roll albums of all time. Today’s review focuses on the album Rick Nelson In Concert: The Troubadour, 1969.
So, I received this gem in the mail about a week ago, and I just can’t stop listening to it.
A double CD!
42 songs! I seldom purchase CDs these days, preferring to get most of my music online (legally, o’course). However, after popping in this CD and listening to just the first few songs, I am SO glad I bought this album on CD. Whoever was in charge of remastering these tracks from the original, over 40-year-old 8-track tapes, did their job like a boss. The sound quality of these almost 50-year old performances is absolutely amazing, especially considering their source. Maybe buying CDs isn’t as laughably old-school as I once thought.
The CD also came with a booklet chock full of interesting details, authored by Rick Nelson biographer Iain Young. With tons of interesting info on the band, the shows, the songs, and the album, I read the whole booklet in less than an hour.
The Billboard Hot 100
When the original 12-track album was released in January of 1970, it did not set the Billboard Hot 100 chart ablaze. In fact, the album only peaked at a disappointing #54! That’s a crying shame, being that I consider this album to be “shouty-caps” EXCELLENT. The three singles didn’t do all that wonderfully on the charts either, ranging from OK (“She Belongs to Me” peaking at #33) to meh (“Easy to Be Free” only hitting #48) to just plain terrible (“I Shall Be Released” stalling at #102).
Now, this album is much better than its chart history would have you believe. Why did it chart so poorly? I have a theory. By 1969, Rick Nelson was already very famous. In the 1950s, “Rick” was then “Ricky” to his future audience, legions of TV-obsessed Baby Boomer children. And “Ricky” was charming. Cute. Safe. The perfect son on his parents’ wholesome TV show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, since just about his conception. Therefore, Nelson wasn’t exactly the picture of rock and roll counterculture. And though adult “Rick” tried his damnedest to shed his old image, sadly, it never happened. No matter what he did, even at age 40, he was still, forever, “Ricky.” And in 1969, having that kind of teen idol image following his name around made Rick Nelson as cool to the Beatnik Boomers in 1969 as Corey Feldman is to Gen Xers today.
Unlike Feldman, however, the years were pretty good to call-me-Rick-not-mother-effing-Ricky Nelson’s appearance. As evidenced in the pic below, Rick “bye bye letter y” Nelson was quite the sexy beast back in the day, amiright?
The Stone Canyon Band
Though a former teen idol, Rick Nelson was also a damn good musician and singer-songwriter. In 1969, during his attempt to make a “comeback” as a country rock act, he assembled a phenomenal band of mostly young, hip musicians he met at the LA Troubadour nightclub to back him up.
The original lineup of Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band included veteran musician Tom Brumley on pedal steel guitar, who was actually the oldest guy in the band at almost 34 years of age in 1969. Brumley had previously played in Buck Owen’s Grammy-winning Buckaroo band throughout the 1960s, and was already a well-respected pedal steel player. In 1969, Brumley was asked to fill in for Nelson’s original pedal steel guitarists for the shows on this album because the first dude Nelson hired never even showed up for band rehearsal. At first, Brumley would only agree to play a 4-show commitment with Nelson’s band, but he apparently had a change of heart since he ended up staying with the SCB for the next decade.
Another big presence in the first version of the SCB was the incredibly talented Randy Meisner on bass and high baritone backing vocals. I am an unabashed, big-time Eagles fangrrl to the max, and Randy Meisner was actually the reason I became interested in Rick Nelson in the first place. A founding member of the Eagles, he played with them beginning in 1972, and quit shortly after the Hotel California tour ended in 1977. Most Eagles fans have a favorite band member, and I am staunchly Team Meisner. Besides being a kickass bassist, Meisner possessed an angelic voice with a range enabling him to hit high notes without falsetto, and with ease. Check out his lead vocal on this live 1977 Eagles performance of “Take it To The Limit” which he just crushes, as evidence.
Also, I ain’t gonna lie, Randy was smokin’ hot back in the day. I totally have a bonafide grown-ass woman crush on him, and why not? He was mighty fine, and though he’s older than my father now, I’d still get weak in the knees if I met his now-retired, gray haired, septuagenarian hunk of manliness today. For realz.
Rounding out the original lineup of Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band was lead guitarist/tenor backing vocalist Allen Kemp and drummer Pat Shanahan, both of whom were Meisner’s former bandmates from his 1965-1967 band The Poor, as well as fellow Troubadour peers. Along with Nelson the former idol and Brumley the veteran musician, the youthful Troubadour trio of Meisner, Kemp, and Shanahan completed what would become arguably the greatest incarnation of Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band.
So Rick-I’m-no-longer-a-teen-idol-don’t-call-me-Ricky-goddamn-it-Nelson, along with his new bandmates, were scheduled to perform a bunch of shows at the Troubadour, which, in 1969, was THE place for the California country-rock scene. The performances on this album were recorded live at “the Troub” between October 30-November 2, 1969, and afterwards, Nelson chose his 12 favorite tracks from those shows to assemble on a live album. Regarding the original album, my verdict after listening to all 42 tracks on the double discs is that Rick chose the 12 original album cuts very wisely. Why? Out of 42 tracks 4 of my top 5 favorite songs were all part of those original 12 album cuts. So well done, Mr. Nelson.
Even though I feel as though the songs on disc 2 aren’t performed quite as well as the ones on disc 1, disc 2 is still a great listen. The CD creators left Rick’s in-between song commentaries on the second disc, where on disc 1 there is some commentary between songs, but not much. Throughout the commentary, Nelson comes off as shy, soft spoken, charming, humble and even borderline awkward, all character traits I wouldn’t ever think to associate with the Justin Bieber of the 1950s. Many of today’s teen idols could learn a thing or two about staying real and keeping their egos in check from Mr. Nelson, and that’s #realtalk.
As I listened to the album, I could tell that the Troubadour crowd was truly enjoying the performance, no question. Unfortunately, it was also obvious that Rick’s audience preferred his Ozzie and Harriet-era hits rather than his newer, modern-for-the-era songs. Personally, I didn’t get it. I mean, Rick’s late 60s-70s songs are infinitely superior to his teen idol bubblegum fare! Maybe the audience was feeling the nostalgia feels? Probably. Though I must give credit by saying that Rick and his band did a great job in taking Rick’s previous hits and “modernizing” them to sound more like the music of the late sixties. Rick’s old songs actually sound almost new again, making them immensely more pleasurable to my non-Baby Boomer ears than the ancient 1950s versions he sang on his old TV show.
Where Are They Now?
On a final note, I am sad to report the discovery that the only members of Rick Nelson and his band still alive today are Pat Shanahan and Randy Meisner. Rick Nelson died in 1985 in a tragic plane crash, and Allen Kemp (cancer) and Tom Brumley (heart attack) both passed away in 2009. RIP.
My Top 5 Tracks
#5: Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You: Disc 1, Track 15
This song appears twice on the album; the second version is on Disc 2, Track 10, but I like this version better. Written by Bob Dylan, this song is vastly different than any of Nelson’s teenybopper hits. I’m not sure why this song didn’t make the original 1970 album, because it should have been the 13th track. Take a listen to the live performance below from 1969, clipped from the Rick Nelson documentary Easy To Be Free.
Video highlights: Concert footage interspersed with footage of the band traveling, with no assistants or drivers, in a friggin VW bus and station wagon! A simpler time, perhaps? My husband called BS on that when I forced him to watch ETBF last week, claiming that Nelson’s “regular guy shtick” was probably just for the docu-cameras. But still, it is pretty charming to watch. Nowadays, we have a name for guys like those: Hipsters.
Song highlights: the three-part harmony consisting of Randy (high baritone) Allen Kemp (tenor) and Nelson (melody). Allen Kemp’s lead guitar chops. The song lyrics are subtly romantic. Unfortunately, I’d bet money that this song would never be written nowadays. Too much thinking is required for the listener.
Listen and watch below:
#4: Easy to Be Free: Disc 1, Track 11
Another song appearing twice on the album; version 2 is on Disc 2, Track 8. Once again, the disc 1 version is better, though the video below is actually my overall favorite version of the song. On both album versions, Rick introduces the track as a “song that [he] wrote about 2 weeks ago,” yet even in that short amount of time, the band performs the tune almost flawlessly. Though the song is quite lovely, I have to admit that a few lyrics sound dated and borderline hokey in 2016 (do you ever want to fly…..over rainbow skies so high? Sure Rick, and have another smoke, why dontcha). Still, this is a great tune that even my tween and toddler enjoy. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is!
Video highlights: Rick Nelson’s fringe jacket in the video is #totesgroovy. At 2:43, the camera finds Randy Meisner rocking a glorious “bowl” haircut which made him look about ten years younger than age 25. For 1971, the picture is pretty clear. The fact that the bass and guitar are attached to the speakers with the shortest wires I’ve ever seen…..seriously, if Meisner or Kemp had taken one more step forward, they’d have either unplugged their instruments or knocked over their amps like dominoes. When the level of music and talent onstage far surpasses the level of available technology….you know you are talking about a performance from the 1960s or 1970s. Sadly, today, I’d have to swap the phrases “music and talent onstage” and “available technology” to make a truthful statement. Sigh. O music, what hath become of thee?
Song highlights: Randy, Allen, and Rick’s 3-part choral harmony. Rick’s smooth, glassy lead vocal. At 2:55, Meisner hitting a sustained, glorious, swoon-worthy high note with vibrato. Check out the performance from the Mike Douglas show below:
#3: Come On In: Disc 1, Track 1
Again, this Nelson-penned track is featured twice on the album, as the first song on both discs. On a non-musical note, something I really like about the disc 1 version is how the Troubadour announcer dude introduces Rick Nelson. On D1T1, the MC says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Troubadour is proud to present, Mr. Rick Nelson.”
That intro made me laugh. “Mr.” to announce a rock band? That’s something you don’t hear nowadays. Indeed, times have changed. The D2T1 performance was also the first song of the first Troubadour show, and as referenced earlier, Tom Brumley was hired pretty much that day to replace the no-show original guy. With a day to learn all of the pedal steel parts for an entire set of tunes, it’s understandable that Brumley hadn’t yet mastered the pedal steel part of “Come On In” just yet, so he just didn’t play on that song that night. However, by the time the D1T1 track was performed on the third night of shows, Brumley had by then mastered his part, thus giving the quality edge to the first track on the first disc with the inclusion of Brumley’s pedal steel part as the better version.
Video highlights: Another clip from the ETBF documentary, this seems to have been filmed during a Troubadour rehearsal. Audio from the original album track overdubs the video footage in a laughably poor manner, becoming ridiculously obvious when in the audio you can hear Randy and Allen singing backing vocals, yet in the video, both of them aren’t anywhere near their mics on stage. Ha! Nice try, Mr. 1970s-era film editor, but #nope.
Song highlights: Randy Meisner’s bass is on point throughout this song, as are his and Kemp’s backing vocals. An excellent choice of song to open the shows with, kicking off each performance with a rousing, energetic, melodic, punchy tune. Kemp and Nelson do some pretty decent guitar work here as well.
#2: Red Balloon: Disc 1, Track 8
I heart this song so much. Another double feature on the album, in the battle between Disc 1 Track 8 and Disc 2 Track 6, disc one wins out once again. For some odd reason, on the D2T6 version, Nelson sings the first verse twice, almost like he forgot that he had already sung it once. Did he? Was Rick starting to get tired? Possibly, since the disc 2 version was performed on the third straight day of multiple shows.
Written by a songwriter named Tim Hardin, the YouTube clip description of the version below perfectly describes the song as a “haunting” track. Overall, the tune itself does sound slightly dated, as it has a sound that I strongly associate with the late 1960s, but since I love the music of that time period, that’s also probably the reason why I also love this song.
Video highlights: Another ETBF clip of what looks like a live performance at the Troubadour. The picture is clearer than most videos of Nelson and his band that I’ve seen, though the picture does eventually become grainy. Also, at 0:40, this weird halo of light starts going in and out of the picture, though it actually ends up becoming a pretty cool effect, complimenting the overall mood of the song. I highly doubt it’s inclusion in the video clip was intentional, however.
Song highlights: Meisner and Kemp’s backing vocals in the chorus. Rick’s vocals starting at around the 2:52 mark, where he gets kind of yelly and growly (in a good way). Actually, the whole song is just good. Really good.
Sit back, relax, and clickity click below:
#1: Who Cares About Tomorrow/Promises: Disc 1, Track 4
One more track with dual album appearances, the second version resides on Disc 2, Track 16. Once again, the original album cut slightly edges out the alternate performance in quality. Also, I was shocked at Iain Young’s less-than-glowing review of this song in the CD booklet. Young first describes this song as “a bit heavy.” He then claims that he doesn’t understand “why [Nelson] tagged Promises on the end.” Finally, Young sums up his non-praise by declaring the tune “of its day and… [that it] really hasn’t stood the test of time” (Young, Liner Notes, 15-16).
Sorry Iain, but #Fail.
This is The. Best. Song. On. The. Album.
Nelson admits in the CD commentary that “Who Cares” was only written about a week prior to that night. Yet on both versions, he and the Stone Canyon Band just nail the performance. The fact that Rick Nelson penned two different, complex melodies, then thought to pair them together….wow. This Rick Nelson guy was a absolute country-rock maestro! It’s really too bad that so many people couldn’t look past his old image to notice that.
Video highlights: Another clip from the end of ETBF. Weird alert: the end credits of the documentary start rolling at 2:17. Simultaneously, Nelson begins his exit from the stage….right in the middle of the “Who Cares” audio. Also, as Rick exits, the rest of the band remains onstage, still jamming away. Huh? During “Promises,” out of nowhere, concert footage is just cut off, and random-ass, nonsensical scenes start flashing across the screen. Children (Rick’s?) playing together, people rowing boats, a friggin wedding, etc. What the heck did these clips have to do with the song I was listening to? Maybe the 1969 audience would know, but here in 2016, I just sat there saying, WTF is this? Thankfully, minus a few seconds of applause while Rick walks offstage, the overall audio isn’t much affected by the randomness of the video.
Song highlights: The whole damn 5 minutes 43 seconds. Really.
During the segway to “Promises,” i.e. the best part of the song(s),
Rick gets all growly and yelly, asking “Who Cares About Tomorrow?” multiple times. Simultaneously, Randy holds a gorgeous vibrato note in the background for 9 goddamn seconds.
While he continues to chop at his bass like a boss, no less.
“Promises” is full of 3-part harmonies and instrumental jams, while also containing a friggin FOURTH verse:
Would you ask me what to do
My advice to you today
Is to tell her how you really feel
Or you’ll have some dues to pay
She made promises to you
Promises of good things to come
But they never do
The song(s) end with the band continuing to jam out until the very last line of the fourth verse. There, the melody suddenly contracts, and a satisfying diminuendo concludes the tune at the final “do.”
If I still smoked, I’d need a cigarette at that point.
“Who Cares About Tomorrow/Promises” is 5 minutes 43 seconds of straight up musical foreplay. For real.
Listen, watch, behold:
1, 2, 3, Summary
#1: Every song on this album is either good, great, or outstanding.
#2: The sound quality remastering is on point, and this album truly sounds like it could have been recorded last week, rather than almost 47 years ago. It must have taken some significant work to make 47 year old 8-track tapes sound this great.
#3: Featured on this disc are some of the most talented musicians of the 1960s-1970s country rock scene. In fact, both Randy Meisner and Rick Nelson would probably top an all-time list of the most criminally underrated musicians. Ever.
I would give this album 5/5 stars, no question. Honestly, I cannot recommend this album more highly. It is an absolutely outstanding compilation.
If you made it this far, I am very grateful. Thank you so much for reading. Until next time, music fans!