Farewell to the Loop


It’s now the last hour of WLUP’s existence as a radio station, at least as I’ve always known it. It’s changing formats at midnight tonight, and it will apparently continue on at a different frequency and on the internet. So that’s something, I guess.

Listening to “Stairway to Heaven” for the final time on 97.9 FM in Chicago is surely a bittersweet experience. It’s an awesome song, that I’ve written about before in this space, but it has an otherworldly sense that lends itself to moving on to the other side, whatever that looks like. A radio station in Albuquerque once announced a format change by playing “Stairway to Heaven” continuously for 24 hours. No such dramatics for the Loop, though. It’s on to the next song already.

Europe’s “The Final Countdown” is exactly the type of 80s rock that I’ve always come to expect on the Loop. Life has moved and changed a thousand ways since 1986, when I first started listening to the Loop, but the music can always take me back to that time in my life. Not too many things have that power, after all.

Next up is Lynrd Skynrd’s “Freebird.” If there’s a better song to encapsulate what the Loop is (or what it was? I’m still not sure just yet) I don’t know what it is. There’s a live version of “Freebird” where the audience is calling out for the song and the singer asks “What song do you want to hear?” And when they played it, the crowd went nuts, just like they always do.

About 15 years ago, give or take a few years, I was having dinner at a restaurant in East Lansing, Michigan, and a couple of college kids were playing some live music. To be a goofball, I called out “Freebird!” and they obliged me by playing the entire song. It’s moments like that one which make me proud to be a rock and roll lifer, along with those who’ve listened to the Loop over the 41 years they’ve been on the air.

The guitars at the end of “Freebird” are a wondrous thing, aren’t they? I’ll hear them again after tonight, but they take on some added bite knowing that this is the last time on a space where I’ve always expected to hear them.

REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)” is up next. I don’t feel fine that the Loop is ending in a half hour, but here it comes, so why not embrace it? If I live to be 100–and I won’t–I’ll never be able to sing this one correctly all the way through. I may get 70% or so of the words right on a good day, but that won’t keep me from continuing to try…birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, Boom!…. What a ride it’s been through the years.

An addiction rehab commercial is playing now. Rock and roll and addiction have always seemed to go hand in hand, and so many brilliant artists have been snuffed out as a result. Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Tom Petty….and so many others. So this commercial seems fitting. Now there’s an iPhone commercial playing. Nobody could have ever seen something like an iPhone when the Loop went on the air back in 1977. How far everything has come since then! Lowe’s Hardware is up next. Kudos to them for getting in on this farewell party. And the Eagles are coming back to Chicago this fall, apparently. Minus Glenn Frey, of course. How many times have the Eagles been played on the Loop over the years? The mind reels at that thought.

Commercials are over, now back to the music. Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” leads it off. The programmers are pulling out all the stops down the final stretch, aren’t they? The bell is tolling for a station I first heard as an 18 year-old college freshman, but as the song lyrics say, “time marches on.” And so will the Loop, once the midnight hour arrives.

Rush’s “Limelight” is up next. Living on the lighted stage approaches the unreal…All the World’s a stage and we are merely players, performers and portrayers…This is another one that will always be played on the radio somewhere, but thousands of plays later, and it won’t be found where it seemed like it would always be.

More commercials up next. Coffee made by homeless vets (a worthy cause, for sure). A male enhancement pill that calls itself “viagra on steroids” (and this is the perfect place to reach the market for such a product, amiright?) Another Lowe’s ad. There’s just 15 minutes left until midnight. Time for two songs, maybe three. Let’s see how they bring the curtain down. And unlike at a rock concert, pulling out the lighters and yelling for more probably won’t work this time.

Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” is next. Where to begin with this? I bought the Crue’s album of the same name on vinyl back in 1983, as a high school freshman. They hadn’t yet become what they would later on in the 80s, but they had a sound that would define the decade for me. Guns n’ Roses, Ratt, Poison, Twisted Sister, and a hunderd other bands that nobody remembers wanted to be half as good as Motley Crue was.

Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast” brings us to the doorstep of the end. I’ll possibly never hear this one on the radio ever again, because Iron Maiden was never quite commercially popular, but the guitars and the vocals are something that isn’t for everyone, anyway. Anyone who considered the Loop their station loved it, though.

And here we are. The end of the hour, and the end of an era. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” brings it all home. These three songs seem determined to tweak the Christian music that’s coming to take the place over once this song is finished. But let’s ride the “devil’s music” off into the sunset, shall we? As the late Bon Scott sang, Don’t stop me!

WLUP, 97.9, Chicago’s rock station…over and out.

Thanks for all the memories through the years.


Rockers are mortal, after all


It wasn’t always this way for me, but within the past couple of years the deaths of people I don’t know have taken on a whole new dimension. Whether I knew the person or not–and particularly if they were somebody famous for one reason or another– the first thing I want to know is how old the person was when they passed on.

Age is only a number, in death as in life, but it can serve as a measuring stick against our own mortality.  The wide majority of deaths in the news are still thankfully older than my age, as was the case with Glenn Frey’s passing today at 67. I’m still literally decades away from that number, so I can’t feel too bad for somebody who lived that long. And, to put a different spin on it, living one day as Glenn Frey must have been better than anything I could imagine, so spending a few decades in his shoes must have been out of this world.

But Frey’s death comes on the heels of David Bowie’s passing just a few days after his 69th birthday. Having been inspired by an article written by Neil McCormick about the inevitable passing of rock’s gods in the days and years to come, I looked at three groups of rock musicians:

  • Those who were born in the 1940s and were older than Bowie was when he passed away,
  • Those who were younger than Bowie but older than Frey when he passed away, and
  • Those who were younger than Frey but were still born in the 1940s, and are thus at least 65 years of age.

The findings were quite interesting. I’ve never inserted an excel spreadsheet into a post before, and I hope it works out. I’m going to insert the link to my findings after every paragraph, to make it easy for anyone who wants to see the full listing of musicians and their birthdays. The source of all birthdays is The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock, Third Edition, published in 2005. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, and in the event that I left out someone who belongs on the list, well, that’s what google is for. Birthdays before 1940 and after 1949 were not considered for this piece, so Tina Turner (born in 1939) and Peter Gabriel (born in 1950) are excluded.

First, the group that was older than Bowie has to be hearing the footsteps of Father Time, if they weren’t already. Living the life of a rock star probably has some multiplying effect that is impossible to quantify, but I can’t imagine that a year in the life of music legend is anywhere near the equivalent of 12 months for anyone else. It might seem to have a shortening effect on a someone’s life span, but Keith Richards is still going strong, so who knows what the story really is? And Mick Jagger’s onstage dancing have probably added years onto his life in exercise value, alone.

Rock Birthdays

But everyone who was 69 years or older when David Bowie passed away last week had to wonder how much longer they have left. For instance, Jimmy Buffet just turned 69 last Christmas, making him a couple of weeks older than David Bowie. The same can be said for Robby Krieger of the Doors, Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead, and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, all of whom reached age 69 in December of last year. David Bowie’s death has no direct bearing on any of their mortality, but I’m certain that each of these soon-to-be septuagenarians sat up and took notice, anyway.

Rock Birthdays

Others in the rock world who have reached 70 already include Bob Dylan (who will turn 75 in May), Paul McCartney (who will be 64 plus another ten years in June), Jagger and Richards (who are both 72), and Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, Pete Townshend, and John Fogerty. The rock pantheon is aging at the same pace as the rest of us, but their numbers will inevitably thin out over the coming few years.

Rock Birthdays

But those who are approaching age 69 later this year must have been thinking of their own mortality when Bowie’s death was announced. And now, the realization that Glenn Frey was even younger than they were must feel like a 1-2 punch. Many of them knew Bowie and/or Frey already, but they’ve now entered into what I call the Bowie-Frey Zone, which as of ten days ago didn’t even exist. They’re approaching their 69th birthdays–which is all the time that David Bowie got on this earth–with the realization that they’ve already outlived Glenn Frey by as much as a year and ten months.

Rock Birthdays

The names on the list of these rock stars is quite impressive:  Elton John, Queen’s Brian May, no less than three members of the Eagles (Don Henley, Don Felder, and Joe Walsh), Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Brian Johnson of AC/DC, Sammy Hagar, Meatloaf, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Robert Plant, and Jackson Browne. If David Bowie’s death didn’t rattle them–from a sheer numerical standpoint–it’s likely that Glenn Frey’s did.

Rock Birthdays

And the final group of musicians I looked at can take some comfort from the fact that Glenn Frey was older than them: Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Gene Simmons, Paul Rodgers, and both Hall and Oates. A majority of ZZ Top is on this list, as well.

Rock Birthdays

So what does all this mean? I’m not sure, exactly, but I can give one short story that seems a bit relevant here. Last summer, I was having some work done on my teeth, and as I was laying there with my mouth wide open, and nothing else to do, my mind started wandering to death and rock stars. I began with the Rolling Stones, and the death of Bobby Keys at the age of 70. He wasn’t officially in the band, but he played on some of their most well-known songs, and that’s a pretty significant thing.

I then started to mentally go through different bands, as bits of my tooth were flying through the air, thinking of who had passed on from each of them. I came to the realization that most bands have experienced death in one way or another, and that rock and roll does appear to extract a toll from those who live the life, whether onstage or out in the audience.

Neil Young once sang that it’s better to burn out than fade away, and after seeing him tear up the stage at Farm Aid 30 last summer, I can confidently state that he’s not fading away anytime soon. So maybe age is just a number, in some sense. It’s true that rock and roll can never die, but its principal practitioners aren’t getting any younger, either. I’m afraid that none of us are.


An old Stairway story


This morning I was driving my daughter to a skating lesson, as I usually do on a Saturday morning. I complain about the early hours sometimes, but I know that I’ll miss these days when they’re over and my services are no longer needed. Such is life.

We got into our minivan, the little one and I, and I turned the radio on. I told her she could pick the music, and then the opening notes of “Stairway to Heaven” came on. And the offer to my daughter was immediately rescinded.

As the song played, and the music built toward its climax, I told my little one a story about the song. I’ve told several of them before in this space, but this one I had held onto for awhile.

Back in the late 1990s, I taught at a public high school in Chicago. My daily commute involved driving down Lake Shore Drive, and getting off at an exit named Oakenwald. And once I did this, the daily ritual began.

Cars still had tape decks in those days, and my Mazda 626 was so equipped. I pulled out a Led Zeppelin tape, put it into the player, and off I went.

The tape was always cued up to the final notes before Jimmy Page’s guitar solo began. Luckily, the roads between the exit and the school were sparsely traveled, and so as the solo unfolded, I was able to drive pretty fast, and let the soaring parts of the solo help to get me ready for the day ahead. I considered it to be an essential part of my day, and I never considered using another song for this purpose. No other song would do, really.

The final lyrics that Robert Plant sings, beginning with “and as we wind on down the road” were sung, or more accurately howled, by me as the school came into view. And the final lyric, coming after the last musical crescendo, was the part that brought it all home and got me ready to go out and be Mr. Harris for the day.

As that line played out on the radio this morning, I realized how long ago, and how far away, those days now seem. But the song lives on, and this allows me to share the story of its meaning with a ten year-old who wasn’t alive back then. And then she got to put on the music that she wanted, instead. Life goes on, just as it always has.

It really makes me wonder


There’s no doubt in my mind that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is the song of my lifetime. I’ve written about the song before, and it always seems to be able to lift my spirits up. And today, as I was contemplating the senseless attacks at the Boston marathon, the song worked its magic once again.

I had seen a picture of one of the fatalities on Facebook earlier in the day. His name is Martin Richard, and he was eight years old. It hit me hard, because eight years old is such a great age. Kids haven’t yet become jaded and cynical, and they haven’t learned that constant stimulation is necessary, lest they become “bored.” And the look on Martin’s face is enough to suggest that this was a good kid, the kind that anyone would want to have for a son.

So where does Led Zeppelin come in? The repeated lyrics about “it makes me wonder” came into play for me.

I wondered who would do such a terrible act, taking the life away from a good kid like this.

I wondered if other people will get any sinister ideas from this attack, and if so whether they will be able to be thwarted before other innocent kids are hurt.

I wondered if the person who made these bombs and detonated them had any remorse for the damage they did.

Whatever the answers to these might be, I hope that we, as a people, can learn something from Martin Richard’s senseless death. Let’s all hold the children around us a little bit tighter, and realize how precious they really are.

Hearing “Stairway” for first time

Upon hearing Ann and Nancy Wilson, Jason Bonham, and a cast of hundreds whose names I don’t know present Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven as a gift to us all at the Kennedy Center, I wanted to offer a few words about the first time I ever heard the song. My hope is that young kids will see the performance, and feel the power of that song–and of rock and roll itself–and dedicate their lives to making music even better than that. “Better than Led Zeppelin” sounds like an impossible task, but the pursuit of that goal would be a worthy quest.

I heard the song performed live in the gym of my elementary school, back in either 1978 or 1979. Disco was all the rage on the airwaves, as played on WCVS in Springfield, Illinois. It was an AM station, and FM radio was somewhere off in the future for me. But it was all disco, all the time in those days, at least on the radio.

Hearing a guitarist, and a drummer, and a song that I had never heard before was something of a shock. All I remember of it, really, was the final line “And she’s buying a stairway to heaven” being sung. As someone who was educated in Catholic schools, I knew about the idea of Heaven, but the idea of trying to buy your way into it, or that a path to it even existed to begin with, struck my still-forming mind as being weird and disturbing. I guess the abstract meaning of the song was beyond my mental capacities at that stage of my life.

I’d love to say that I heard that song and went out and purchased a guitar. But it didn’t happen like that. I already had a little red acoustic guitar, but I couldn’t tune it, or get anything to happen when I tried to play a chord. So the song was something of a glancing blow for me. I went on listening to the disco junk that was on the radio, until rock and roll came storming into my life with the Knack and “My Sharona” late in the Summer of 1979.

Perhaps the “Stairway” performance at my school was in early 1979, before school let out for the year. That would make sense. But I really didn’t get into Led Zeppelin until I bought a cassette of their fourth album, specifically because it had Stairway to Heaven on it, a few years later. But this time the song took root, and my admiration for it, and for Led Zeppelin generally, has grown ever since.

I wrote about “Stairway” a month ago, for the first time, and am happy to revisit it here. Maybe I’ll write about it again one day in the future, when a young kid who’s just picked up his or her first guitar has succeeded in making music that sounds even better. That’s one piece I’d be happy to write.

And as we wind on down the road

I can’t think of a song that I’ve heard more often–or that I have more memories about–than Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s almost a rock-n-roll cliche, because it’s been played and played and played again in the forty years since it was released. But it is the epic rock song by the greatest rock band there’s ever been, so maybe it deserves all the attention it gets.

I bring this up because this afternoon, I drove into downtown Chicago. I had a teenager and two younger kids in the car with me, and they wanted to listen to the hit music stations as we drove. And yet, after about ten minutes in the car, we reached the northernmost reaches of Lake Shore Drive.

The hit stations all had commercials on, so I tuned the radio in to the Loop, which I’ve listened to for decades now. And they’ve probably played the song as many times over the years as any other station has, and more than   most.

I remember a radio station in Albuquerque a few years ago that celebrated a change in its format by playing “Stairway to Heaven” repeatedly, over and over again, for 24 hours straight. At about eight minutes a play, that’s about 7 plays per hour, or more than 150 plays over the course of a single day. But if the Loop plays the song just once a day–which seems reasonable enough to me–it’s been played well over 10,000 times over the years. And it will be played 10,000 more times in the decades to come. It’s a song that I’m sure will always find an audience.

As I got onto Lake Shore Drive, the song progressed through the verses, and none of the children in the car wanted the song to be changed. Perhaps they weren’t paying attention to it, and perhaps they liked the song. But whatever the reason was, I didn’t get any resistance to it.

By the time the drums came in, just before the “if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow” line, we we’re starting to get closer to downtown, and the skyline was coming into view. The first time that I saw the Chicago skyline from Lake Shore Drive was back in the late 1980s, and I’ll never forget I was in a car with U2’s “Bad” playing on the radio. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen, in the purplish glow of an early evening. I told myself I had to live in Chicago someday, and I have done that for more than twenty years now.

As we approached the overpass at North Avenue, Jimmy Page’s guitar solo took flight. I’ve often though that the music soars, however briefly. There are certainly longer guitar solos, and possibly flashier guitar solos, but if there’s a better one at bringing a song to its fullest potential, I’ve never heard it. And after 30+ years of listening, that’s saying something.

The song came to its conclusion, as Robert Plant crooned the final few notes, just as we had crossed the Chicago River. I couldn’t say how many times I had heard the song before, but the visual treat of hearing it on my way into downtown Chicago made it just that much better.

The kids didn’t need to ask for the radio station to be changed when the song was over. I changed it myself, knowing that whatever the Loop played next was going to pale in comparison. Some things just can’t be improved upon.

Make it last as long as you can

The suicide of guitarist Ronnie Montrose over the weekend is another sign that life does go on. It’s been almost forty years since the debut of his eponymous band on vinyl (maybe you could have owned it on 8-track or reel-to-reel, too), and the music still holds up well. Songs like Bad Motor Scooter and Rock Candy will always have a place in the canon of songs that a rock band can play onstage, or that teenagers can learn the riffs to when they’re picking up the electric guitar. Those songs are his legacy, and they will live on forever, even if he did not.

I have some vivid memories of listening to the first Montrose album, down in the basement of my parents’ house. I could put on the tape, play some air guitar, and imagine for a brief moment that I was anything other than the awkward teenager that I actually was. It was an escape into a different place, and I embraced it for everything it was worth.

And I also have a particular Montrose memory related to high school, so of course I have to share it here. If I don’t put this into a medium like this, the memory will die when I do, and I don’t want that to happen. By putting it onto the internet, though, I can make it last beyond my lifetime, so here goes:

One of my best friends in high school was my buddy Mark. His last name doesn’t matter to the story, and I debated whether or not to even include his first name here. But using his name helps me to picture him a little bit better. If he wants to track me down and tell me to stop, I’ll gladly honor that request.

Mark and I went to school together from the ages of five through eighteen. In high school we would throw a frisbee around on the street in front of his house by day, and go out carousing together by night. I also ate with him in the lunchroom for the four years we were in high school, and there was no higher form of friendship than that, in those days.

I wrote a profile of Mark and the car he used to drive for our high school paper, back when we were seventeen and life was out there waiting for us somewhere. I wish I had saved that story, or had a picture or two of him, because I haven’t seen or heard from Mark since the late 80s. He went one way after graduation, and I went another. He could be living the good life somewhere, surrounded by people who care about him, or he could be buried in the ground somewhere, and I’d never know the difference. My inconsistent memory is all I have to remember him by, and that’s unfortunate. If I were a computer, I would forever be in need of a serious memory upgrade, despite what some of my posts here make it sound like.

When I was a sophomore in high school, way back in 1984, my English teacher–I’ll call him Doc Brown here–gave us an assignment called the “Poetry of Rock.” The idea was to pick out a song that we liked, bring it in to the class, and look for instances of similes, metaphors, and the like in the song’s lyrics. I brought in Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter, because I was into their music as much as a non-burnout could be. But that song probably only makes sense when you’re stoned, and thus it made no sense at all in high school English class.

My buddy Mark, no doubt through the influence of his older brothers, brought in the first Montrose album, and the song he chose was “Make it Last,” the final song on the album. In my 15 or 16 year-old’s rush to learn about anything in the Led Zeppelin school of sound, I hadn’t yet been acquainted with Montrose. My lack of older siblings surely didn’t help. I was quite a fan of Sammy Hagar’s solo work, so I probably was aware that Montrose had existed, but I hadn’t ever heard their music before.

When the song was over, and the class was doing whatever form of explication of the lyrics that a room full of adolescent boys was capable of, I remember thinking that I had to check this record out more carefully. It probably was that I borrowed Mark’s copy of the album and taped it, if not that day then soon afterward. And this led to an appreciation of the album that’s stayed with me through all of the intervening decades. Wherever you are, Mark, thanks. And that goes for Doc Brown, too.

Even though I haven’t got a lick of musical ability, I can still appreciate the work of those who do. Whether it’s writing songs, or singing them, or producing music that can take you back to high school english class, music is a powerful thing. I have no doubt that Ronnie Montrose, and those in his band and a thousand others whose names you’ve never heard of, know all about this. So while we mourn his passing, we can appreciate the music he created and the lasting effect it can have on all of us. And I can recall passing time with a friend who I might not ever see again. That’s what the power of music really is.

(UPDATE: Mark Spiro Adams died in New York City on August 15, 2016, one day after his 48th birthday. I had not seen him in 30 years, but I will miss him for as long as I live.)

Appreciating vinyl once again

I rarely read the Wall Street Journal, but when it’s available in the hotel it’s hard not to at least pick one up. The USA Today is probably more common in hotels, but that wasn’t an option for me today. It was the WSJ or no way, so I went with what was in front of me.

So buried deep in section 4, or whatever that weekend section is called, was an article about the vinyl record. Vinyl was the way I learned how to listen to music, back in the mid-1970s when I discovered my parents’ old version of Beatles ’65. They had other records too, but that’s the only one that I remember anymore. Not Abbey Road or the White Album, but Beatles ’65. Better than nothing, I suppose.

The first vinyl record I ever bought myself was the Grease soundtrack in 1978. I liked the gatefold in between the two albums, with scenes from the movie splattered all over. You know, the things that a ten-year old looks for. I played the first record–the one that had all of the hit songs on it–and pretty much ignored the second record altogether. I wasn’t yet old enough to appreciate how the record label had packaged it all up into a double LP (that’s what we called them, and it stands for Long-Playing, if you’re wondering) to make me fork over more money than a single LP would have cost.

I actually used the Grease soundtrack to get myself into trouble once in grade school. It was my music teacher’s idea to teach us about what different musical instruments sounded like, so she told us to bring in a song and we could listen to the songs and pick out what the different instuments were. I brought in the Grease soundtrack–which was the only record I owned at the time–and wanted the class to hear Greased Lightnin’ with me.

When the teacher asked if there were any objectionable words in the song (since I wouldn’t yet know what lyrics were), I didn’t pause a moment before telling her that there weren’t. So when John Travolta sang out “You know it ain’t no shit, we’ll be getting lots of tit, Greased Lightnin’” I had been exposed, and the needle was unceremoniously pulled from off the record. There was some laughter from the kids, of course, but the teacher moved on to the next song to be played. It goes without saying that there was no discussion of the instruments played on the record.

The article I read today took me back to my own experiences with vinyl, which lasted through the middle of the 1980s. By 1986 or so it was all casettes, and by 1990, I donated all of my old LPs to Salvation Army because I didn’t own a turntable anymore and wanted everything to be on CDs instead. All the old vinyl, from Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog to Led Zeppelin II to the Eagles’ Hotel California to Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil to Boston’s first two albums to…I could go on for quite awhile, but I’m sure the point has been made by now.

Digital life and the cloud has made owning physical manifestations of music, whether it’s casettes, or 8-tracks, or vinyl, a relic of another time. But apparently it still lives on, and I’m happy about that. I won’t go out and buy a turntable, and I won’t be acquiring vinyl records again, but I’m glad to have the memories that I do. And I’m even happier to have a forum for sharing these memories with you. Thanks for reading.

Any comments about your own vinyl memories will be much appreciated.

Rock’s greatest band

If I had just one album to take to the proverbial desert island with me, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album wouldn’t be it. But if I was able to just take a couple more, it would be find its way into my terribly limited collection. It came out forty years ago today, so technically it’s in my lifetime, but it doesn’t really feel like it. Every music group out there today wishes they could make something that people would still care enough to think about forty years later.

Over the course of my life, I’ve owned this album on at least three different formats: I first bought it on cassette when I got a cheap Walkman imitation back in about 1982, and I would listen to it (with the volume turned up all the way, of course) as I delivered papers on my paper route. I didn’t like having to occasionally flip the tape over, but those were the dark days as far as portable music was concerned.

I also bought the album on vinyl at my used record shop in Springfield, Illinois which, to my great surprise, is still in business. I remember trekking there in high school, buying all of the classic rock albums that I would eventually give away when the CD took over in the 1990s. I also remember looking at the eclectic, esoteric album cover and wondering what it actually meant. The gatefold in the middle, which Zeppelin also used on a number of their other albums, also creeped me out in some way. It just made me think about dark times and troubled lands, but the lantern at the top was there to bring hope. And I wasn’t even smoking anything in those days, either.

In high school, I was very proud of the fact that I could draw each of the four “runes” that made up the official title of the album. I even knew what they meant, once upon a time. They made for interesting doodles when I stopped listening to my English teacher. I even taught myself how to write “Led Zeppelin” in the font that they used, but I think that came with their next album, Houses of the Holy.

I remember reading “Hammer of the Gods” while listening to Zeppelin’s music, when I should have been reading Hemingway or Steinbeck instead. My loss, I suppose. But reading it was an extension of my interest in their music. Or, as I liked to think of it, I was “getting to the source,” whatever that meant.

When a Led Zeppelin retrospective named “Mothership” made its big splash on iTunes a few years ago, of course I had to buy it in that format too. Once a Zeppelin fan, always a Zeppelin fan, I suppose. It isn’t like there’s anything half as good being made today.

Three of the four members of the band are alive today, and it’s still surprising to me that a reunion tour hasn’t come to pass. None of them need the money, I’m sure, but there would be loads of it to go around if they wanted it. Their body of recorded work isn’t as vast as the Stones or the Beatles, but I would argue, largely on the basis of their albums from the self-titled debut up through Physical Graffiti (which is the only one of theirs I’ve never owned in any format), that no rock band has a more important body of work than Led Zeppelin.

Disagree? Feel free. (I stole that one from Eminem, just to show that I still listen to new music from time to time.) But leave a comment and tell me who you think is better.

Takin’ care of business is his name

I heard an interesting combination of songs on the radio yesterday. Songs, in and of themselves, can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Either they’re played in sequence on an album, and if you’ve listened to the album enough, you know what to expect when that song is over. On the first Van Halen album, for instance, Eruption and You Really Got Me are two different songs, technically, but if Eruption ended and anything else came on, I’d be all out of sorts.

The second way is as part of a playlist, as in a mixtape. The person who puts it together tries to pick songs that are part of an overall theme, blending the work of many artists into one continuous strand of music. Or hitting “shuffle” on an iPod can have the same effect, only is possible to have very random songs juxtaposed next to each other. I think a Wiggles song followed up by Led Zeppelin is about the weirdest one I’ve experienced. May it never get any stranger than that.

Or a song can be played on the radio, where the disk jockey or the program director decides what songs will be played, and people can listen along to hear what they decide (with a few commercials thrown in, of course). And this can be interesting, when you’re out driving around and don’t have the inclination to select a CD of your own, or the CD player doesn’t work (as in my case).

The first song in the combination I heard yesterday was ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” The song has lots of nasty blues guitar, which I can always appreciate, and the fact that they sing about my hometown makes it all the more special. “Jesus Just left Tampa” or “Jesus just left Omaha” wouldn’t sound nearly as good, would it? This song is up there with the Doors’ “Peace Frog” (“Blood in the streets in town of Chicago, blood on the rise it’s following me”) and Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” (“Going to Chicago”) as my favorite Chicago song references. There are others, but maybe that’s a post for another day.

At the end of the ZZ Top jam, the song “Blue Collar Man” came on. “Long nights, impossible odds, keeping my eye on the keyhole…” Of all Styx’ songs, this might be the one I like the best. The guitar solo is just explosive, and just as when I was 17, a guitar solo grabs my attention like nothing else can.

So where’s the Chicago connection to this song? It’s actually the home of Styx, which goes all the way back to 1961 on the South side of Chicago. They’re all from Chicago, except for Tommy Shaw, the guitarist who plays the solo on that song. But the Chicago link to Tommy Shaw is also there, because Styx saw him play at a club gig in Chicago in the 1970s, and remembered him when they needed a replacement for their original guitarist. So he’s still Chicago, in my book, even if he doesn’t originally come from here. Neither did I, come to think of it.

As I was driving through the city I call home, on a beautiful fall day, my Chicago radio station gave me a song by some Texas dudes about my city, followed up by a great rock song by guys who hail from my city. Can’t do much better than that.

A Sure Shot for the Rock Hall

To me, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a fraud. Rock and roll began as an expression of rebellion, and that gleaming building on the waterfront in Cleveland is anything but rebellion. Some of the bluesmen who helped to create rock and roll are enshrined there, but too many of them have been lost to history, unrecognized for their contributions.

Rock and roll was born when white folks began dabbling in “colored” music during the 1950s. The best Broadway show I’ve ever seen, Memphis, tells a fictionalized story about this time and place. It’s still playing in New York, and there’s also a touring company out there somewhere, but it’s well worth spending some time and money on if you have the chance.

But back to the hall of fame for a moment. The continued exclusion of KISS from the hall makes no sense at all. If there’s any better expression of the rock ethos than “Rock and Roll all nite,” please tell me what it is. But beyond that song, there’s a whole Army (literally) of fans out there who go to the concerts (with or without face paint on), buy the merchandise that has made Gene Simmons and the others rich, and keep the band going so that they’re more than an REO Speedwagon-type nostalgia act.

The first concert I went to as a 13-year old was KISS and the Plasmatics, and the clothes I wore that night probably still reek of pot. And the most recent concert I’ve seen was also KISS, at the United Center in Chicago. That might change when the Wall comes to Wrigley next summer, though. I’ve seen a lot of shows in between, but KISS brings it to the stage as well as anybody, and better than most. Why that’s not hall-worthy is beyond me.

But with this year’s nominees, there’s one I feel strongly about in a good way, and one I feel strongly about in a bad way. The good way goes first. With my non-existent vote for the Rock hall, I would put the Beastie Boys in, without a doubt.

A rock purist might disagree with me on this, because they aren’t a band in the Led Zeppelin mode of drums, guitars, and bass. That’s true, but they sampled Led Zeppelin repeatedly on their first album (which was my introduction to the group, even if I can’t listen to it anymore, since catchy and goofy isn’t a good mix). They clearly appreciate Zeppelin, and I can appreciate that.

They’ve also sampled the Beatles, Bob Marley, AC/DC, the Ramones, and many others. Their song “High Plains Drifter” is essentially the Eagles’ “Those Shoes” with a story told over it. They’re brilliant at what they do, and they couldn’t do it without rock records to draw from. Grandmaster Flash is already in, and Bono has given his blessing to Public Enemy, so there’s no reason why the B-E-A-S-T-I-Es shouldn’t be there, as well.

The one I feel strongly against is Guns n’ Roses. If you could just put one album in, I’d be fine with Appetite for Destruction being enshrined. Start to finish, it’s as good as anything that’s ever been released when it comes to rock and roll. And if you could put one video in, I’d cast my vote for “November Rain.” It’s head and shoulders above any video that’s ever been made. But the band itself now seems to consist of Axl Rose (which is an anagram for “oral sex” by the way) and whoever he can find to play with him.

Slash, Duff MacKagan, Steven Adler/Matt Sorum, and Izzy Stradlin are the band’s so-called “classic lineup,” but I promise you that not one of them would show up for the induction ceremony. No, it would just be a vanity night for the cornrowed Axl Rose, and a night in the spotlight for guys who didn’t write or record any of their classic work. Can you name any of them? I sure can’t. It gives me no great joy to say this, but putting Axl and his traveling sideshow in the Rock hall would be a mistake.

I’m curious to know how it all turns out, though. Heart is also on the ballot, along with Donna Summer (a true WTF moment for me), Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and others I can’t think of right now. But there’s only two that matter to me this time around.