My Record Collection 90

Steve Earle and The Dukes

Steve emerged out of East Texas in the mid-eighties; there was something of a revival in country-rock music at the time with Guy Clarke (see C) and Lyle Lovett breaking through occasionally to the non-country music charts.  Steve’s first album Guitar Town (1986) was a brilliant debut, all self-written songs which sound so good you cannot quite believe they weren’t standards already.  The twangy guitar and great backing band complement Steve’s all-American but slightly weary voice – there is that yearning in the voice which draws you in.  But it is really the incredible songwriting which is the key to Earle.  Almost every song on the record is excellent; if I have to pick favourites – ‘Fearless Heart’, ‘My Old Friend The Blues’, ‘Little Rock’n’Roller’ (a phone call to a son he rarely sees from a father on the road and maybe on the run too) and the classic ‘Someday’ (a yearning to leave small-town hick America and get a life at last) The record was an almost instant hit in America and Canada – barely heard of in the UK.  I caught up with Steve when I bought a CD single off album number 4, then I worked my way back.

The following year he brought out Exit 0.   Another rollicking country rock jaunt, not quite such great songs as the debut but pretty good anyway.  Best songs – ‘No. 29’, ‘San Antonio Girl’ and ‘I Aint Ever Satisfied’.  A slightly bigger hit this time; Steve and the band were touring America and building a following for this new exciting rock music with a country twist.  Great stuff.

Copperhead Road carried on in the same, if slightly rockier, way the following year. You do have to wonder just where all these great songs come from – is it just the excitement of youth and success, long hours on the tour bus, the sheer joy of discovering chords and words that go together.  Who knows, but Steve kept pouring out superb songs.  The sound was evolving a bit too, almost a folksy feel to some songs with violin and female backing too; Steve called it a mix of Bluegrass and Rock and even had the Pogues on one track. .   Best songs ‘Copperhead Road’, ‘Devil’s Right Hand’ and ‘Nothing But A Child’

Then in 1990 Steve released what, up till then, was his best album The Hard Way.  It is jam-packed with great songs and much longer than his earlier records too, some songs even 6 minutes long.  The soundscape is broader too; in some ways it is a classic rock album just sung with a country voice.  This was the first Steve Earle album I bought; I had the CD single ‘Justice in Ontario’ and loved it so I bought the album.  And still love it.  Best songs – again hard to choose but – ‘Have Mercy’. ‘Regular Guy’ and of course ‘Billy Austin’ (the song from a killer facing execution detailing the bleakness of his life) stand out slightly from a great record.

Then – we heard nothing for four years.  Steve had a serious drug addiction and even spent time in prison during this time.  He more or less disbanded his band ‘The Dukes’.  His record company put out a live album “Shut Up And Die Like An Aviator” in ’91.   Actually quite a cool live album, and a bonus track ‘Wild Horses’ – the Stones song at the end sung fantastically by Steve. In ’92 Live At the BBC came out.  A great concert again.  I also have The Collection which came out in 2002 but contains songs just from this early period up to 1990.   An excellent compilation – all the hits, plus a couple of live tracks, even two by Springsteen (see S).

Steve was becoming a junkie however and even went to jail for a while on drug related offences.  For four years he recorded nothing and the Dukes broke up.   But he was always an irrepressible character, and he was writing songs in jail.  He disbanded the Dukes and released a solo album in 1995 Trian a Comin

My Record Collection 89

The Eagles.  Wow, another huge band with massive record sales.  I simply adored them right from the start and had all their albums.  I recently bought a CD box set of their studio albums.  They played almost the first real Americana, or modern country music,  Gram Parsons (see P) had taken The Byrds (see B) in this direction but for whatever reason it took a few more years before this sound really took off.

First Album released in 1972, simply self-titled is faultless, as they all are really; I can’t think many bad Eagles tracks. The band were unknown but producer Glynn Johns turned in a great record from just four original members; Glenn Frey (see F), Don Henley (see H), Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon.  All were great musicians and songwriters and each could sing really well – though they did seem to sound almost exactly the same.  Almost immediately came the “Eagles” sound – a laid back easy country rock groove with delicate harmonies.  Best songs “Train Leaves Here This Morning”, “Take It Easy” and “Witchy Woman”.  A brilliant start – though they didn’t really achieve fame until album number two,

Desperado This was the ‘Concept’ album, the life and death of an outlaw.  Another great batch of songs and only 35 minutes long; immediately you want to replay the record.  Great songs – ‘Doolin Daltons’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’, ’Bitter creek’ and ‘Desperado’.  The album cements the outlaw myth brilliantly and is filled with sadness but some great faster songs too.   The band were now writing songs together, especially Henley and Frey – but also two non-band; J.D. Souther and Jackson Browne (see B) who never joined but wrote with the band occasionally.  This is probably my favourtie album – it is all of a piece which I like.  But they were changing.

And their next record On The Border was a bit harder, a bit rockier, a bit less ‘country’.  It sold much better, but in a way as they spread their canvas maybe they lost a little something.   Not that this is by amy means a poor album; some great songs – ‘Already Gone’, ‘You never Cry Like A Lover’ and the big hit ‘The Best Of My Love’.  The band were now almost invincible with Number 1 singles and they chased fame down the road.

The following year they were even more successful with One Of These Nights. And although this album had four brilliant songs – the title track, ‘Lyin Eyes’, ‘Take It To The Limit’ and ‘After The Thrill is Gone’ – I don’t really love the record.  A bit too stylish, a bit too slick, too disco, too commercial.  And the band were indulging in industrial consumption of cocaine and disagreements led to the departure after this album of Bernie Leadon, who was the country influence and a major songwriter.

The band drafted in Joe Walsh, who already had a solo career and a couple of big hits of his own. And yet the result was probably their best and certainly their biggest hit album.  Hotel California was a triumph.  The whole record sparkles with brilliancy; the songs are cynical and a touch world weary and yet they are great sing-alongs.  The title track sums up the whole feeling in 1976 of things going bad, poltically and in music.  Punk and Disco between them were threatening to make old-fashioned ‘Rock’ bands redundant – and yet The Eagles rose above it and created a masterpiece.  Almost all the songs are superb but I particularly like ‘New Kid In Town’, ‘Wasted Time’ and ‘The Last Resort’  which is almost a companion piece to the title track.  And yet the band were in serious trouble and Randy Meisner, bass player and founder member departed after this record.  This just left Frey and Henley as original members.

It was three years before the next record emerged The Long Run.   This was intended as a double but emerged as a single record.  I wonder given the few poor fillers how bad the rejected songs must have been.  The title track is good and ‘Sad Café’ is another dystopian ode to America and the Sixties; and ‘King Of Hollywood’ is good, incidentally telling us what we already knew, which is why the recent Harvey Weinstein revelations should have come as no surprise.  Incidentally Dory Previn around the same time wrote about the same stuff.  But although eagerly anticipated the album disappointed and apart from the occasional money-making World Tours every decade or so they called it a day.  Frey and Henley released pretty decent solo albums but on their own they weren’t half as good as together.

And then a surprise – a new album Long Road Out Of Eden in 2007.  A double album of mostly softer gentler songs, but although it is beautiful it seems a bit lost really.  Maybe they made the record just to prove they still could – but it seemed they had nothing new to say really – and time had moved on, as it always does, and one questioned their relevance.  Despite that it was number 1 in America and the UK and made them lots of money.  But as a double it was certainly too long; two single reocrds a couple of years apart would have been a better idea.  And as I am listening again I do quite like it – best songs; ‘Busy being Fabulous’, ‘What Do I Do With My Heart’, and the title track.

Of course I also have the obligatory Complete Greatest Hits (2003) A pretty good collection though a bit too heavy on Hotel California and The Long Run.  There is also a track ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’, which was a single and three live tracks; the excellent ‘Seven Bridges Road’, and ;Get Over It’ and ‘Love Will Keep Us Alive’ (pretty bland).  Also one new song ‘Hole In The World’ (average).  So that’s it.

On the Border