Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘n’ Roll

Stranger Things

One of the more entertaining aspects about the first two seasons of Stranger Things is the music. The soundtrack for season three is a mixed bag that interlocks into a mesmerizing 16-track whole. Stranger Things: Soundtrack from the Netflix Original Series, Season 3 (Legacy) starts with a remix of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” before Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice,” Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You,” John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.,” REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling, and Weird Al’s “My Bologna” give way to Howard Jones, The Pointer Sisters, Wham!, The Cars, Corey Hart, Teena Marie, Huey Lewis & The News, and Vera Lynn. Put it on at your party and notice the comments.


I swear she’s a genius. How else to explain songs that I already had decided never to have to hear again being done in a style that I never particularly liked in the first place… yet it turns out magnificent? The only reason it even made my ears is that I was too druggy to actually get up and put it in the “giveaway pile.” Sure, I groaned when I realized that George Gershwin’s done-to-death 1935 “Summertime” was the opener (Janis Joplin’s version is all I can take) but then something happened. Amethyst (MCC) by Turkish chanteuse Melbreeze contains my nine least-favorite songs in the world (thank goodness she didn’t do that awful “Sweet Caroline”), yet, with the help of producer/keyboardist/arranger Scott Kinsey and the cream of the Los Angeles crop of studio cats, she’s taken such rotting chestnuts as the British folk song “Greensleeves” (which dates back to the year 1580), Gershwin’s 1927 “The Man I Love,” Billie Holiday’s 1942 “God Bless The Child,” the 1955 Julie London hit “Cry Me A River,” Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 “Send In The Clowns,” Leonard Cohen’s 1984 “Hallelujah” and the Bee Gees’ 1983 “Islands In The Stream,” plus more and turned them all into psychedelic avant-disco with pulsing throbbing basslines, synth-spills, percolating percussion, buzz-saw electric lead guitars, pedal steel country, and horns amid breathy background vocals that countermand the highly Euro almost spoken-word poetry she makes of the lyrics. What could have been a recipe for disaster has turned into one of the most must-hear albums of the year.

Hot Fun In The Summertime

The various artists compiled on Another Banana Split, Please Volume #2:  More Gems From The Good Old Summertime (Bear Family Productions) go from the crazed “Tutti Frutti” by Slim & Slam in 1938 (obviously not Little Richard’s iconic song of the same name) to the early sixties. Before his Tijuana Brass band made him a star and before he co-founded A&M Records in 1962, Herbie Alpert & His Sextet’s 1959 “Summer School” was easy-listening exotica. There’s so many rare tracks—along with the obvious, like Eddie Cochran’s 1958 “Summertime Blues” and Bryan Hyland’s 1960 “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini”—that the 28-page booklet with pictures of every artist and a beefy paragraph about all 33 songs is indispensable. Doo-Wop is represented with The Pearls, The Chimes, The Diamonds, and (best of all) The Clovers. My mom used to love the huge 1959 hit “Love Letters In The Sand” by Andy Williams, so nostalgia for a bygone era is certainly part of this package’s strengths. Then there’s The McGuire Sisters, The Lifeguards, The Islanders, The Kittens, The Bikinis, Dave York & The Beachcombers, Gene Grey & The Stingerays with the fab “Surf Bunny” and, of course, Vince Eager & The Vagabonds with their classic “Soda Pop Pop.”

More Hot Fun

Man, was it hot for Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives when they opened for the Steve Miller Band at MusikFest in Bethlehem Pennsylvania! Despite bringing my Louis Armstrong sweat-rag and drinking copious amounts of water, I was lucky enough not to keel over. Stuart is an American treasure, an original in every sense of the word. (Headliner Miller brought him back to play some hot mandolin licks.) He imbues his country rock with passion, flair, grace, and outright showmanship. Had Buddy Holly lived past 22, he’d be writing songs like Stuart’s “Tempted.” Stuart has the best hair in the business, plays the blues, plays some acoustic folk, bluegrass, mountain music, and Stones—and even used the riff of “Eight Miles High” by The Byrds as an intro to one of his many catchy-as-hell originals. A combination of Hank Williams and Elvis Presley, this guy is larger-than-life, was in the band of Johnny Cash as a teenager, and owns the Cadillac that Hank died in. He’s a musicologist, a historian, and he’ll be featured in Ken Burns Country debuting on PBS September 15. When he did “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” it was like dying and going to honky tonk heaven. Kudos to Patrick Brogan and the gang at ArtsQuest for bringing this died-in-the-wool living legend to town.  

New Bruce Book

Bruce Springsteen Rock and Roll Future (The Backstreets Publishing Empire, Inc.), with photos and recollections by Barry Schneier and Backstreets magazine editor/publisher Chris Phillips, plus a forward by Eileen Chapman (Director of The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music), is an opulent hardcover coffee-table book that miraculously does the impossible. Well, the improbable, at least. And that is to distill the essence of the magic of rock ‘n’ roll in words and pictures. John Sebastian once wrote “I’ll tell you about the magic, and it’ll free your soul but it’s like trying to tell a stranger ‘bout rock ‘n’ roll.” Yet that’s exactly what Schneier does. He was there that fateful night of May 9, 1974, at the Harvard Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts—the night Bruce Springsteen opened for Bonnie Raitt and blew the house away. Critic Jon Landau was there too and wrote the now-famous review where he said, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” That line became something of a millstone around Bruce’s neck for years as Columbia Records used it at nauseum in advertisements.

But Landau was right.

To turn each thick page, and see that band, on that night, being explained so profoundly, to gaze lovingly—as any Bruce fan would do—at these incredible photographs, so large and in-your-face, is to relive the thrill that most of us rock ‘n’ roll fans first felt at Bruce’s first flush of fame. There wasn’t anyone even remotely like him… and there certainly hasn’t been anyone since. Those who scoff at such a provocative statement haven’t seen him live. In 2019, sure, there’s a messianic component to seeing Bruce. Back then, however, it was just the thrill of him opening up whole new vistas of rock ‘n’ roll salvation… drawing upon Elvis, James Brown, Chuck Berry, and the whole history of rock ‘n’ roll in one sweeping seismic carnival tent show of spiritual uplift. You feel it all over again with this combination of words and pictures.

And it feels good.   —Greenblatt