Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (Album of the Week)

This week I’m heading in to one of music’s most significant and unique live albums. One of America’s most iconic performers and a totally captive audience forged history one Sunday morning in a California prison.

Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison

Released May 6, 1969 via Columbia Records

My Favorite Tracks – Folsom Prison Blues, Cocaine Blues, The Legend Of John Henry’s Hammer

The history of Johnny Cash and prison performances goes all the way back to 1956 and his second single, Folsom Prison Blues. After release the song circulated among inmates and it became a favorite among them, they would write Cash asking him to perform at their prisons. Cash obliged and began a run of prison concerts. Both the inmates and Cash enjoyed the performances and the shows became an occasional part of his schedule.

By 1967 Cash had a bit of a career layoff, the given reason being drug use. He got cleaned up a bit and then approached a newly-reorganized Columbia Records country division about doing a live prison album. A maverick exec agreed and the plan was put in place to record live at Folsom. It took a while for the show to materialize but it was finally recorded in January 1968.

Cash and his outfit recorded two full sets on a Sunday morning – much of the material that would make the original release is from the first set, only two songs from the second were included as the band sounded tired and down on the later set. A 1999 re-issue saw 3 more tracks included, and this edition is what I’ll be discussing today. A later 2008 release saw both sets offered in full as well as a documentary in a Legacy edition. I am currently looking to get that version and may do a rundown of it when I get it, but today will be a more comprehensive look at the wider release.

The album opens with Folsom Prison Blues, which is an obvious choice to open a concert at Folsom but was also Cash’s long-time opener anyway. The song runs on a pretty upbeat tempo despite being about a man languishing in prison while free people ride the trains to anywhere. It’s pretty easy to picture yourself on the train rolling along to the music, going to anywhere but Folsom Prison. The infamous line “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” is here, though it was cut out of the single release after the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Up next is Busted, a song originally penned by Harlan Howard. It is a sad but also funny song about being broke, something that hasn’t changed much since the 1960’s. Then comes Dark As A Dungeon, a tragic tale about working in a coal mine written by Merle Travis. The song resonated through the mining community as mining work is extremely tough, though on this live cut there is some funny banter between Cash and an inmate. After the song Cash lets the crowd know the concert is being recorded and you can’t say “hell and shit.” Cash then goes into one of his originals, I Still Miss Someone. It is a brief lament about an old lover and would become a frequent setlist inclusion after the Folsom concert.

It’s now on to Cocaine Blues, another tale about ending up put away for murder and one of the highlights of the record. The song was originally written by Troy Arnall and recorded by Roy Hogsed in 1944. Cash’s version changes up a few lyrics to suit the Folsom audience and also throws the word “bitch” in, something that got a bit of discussion through the years and Cash went back and forth on through different versions.

Cocaine Blues sees Willy Lee shoot his woman for being unfaithful, then he hides out in Mexico but is found and brought back for trial. The lesson is apparently not to use cocaine, as opposed to maybe don’t shoot people. Though I guess the song isn’t as interesting without the murder, I don’t know. The song was a hit with the inmates and also the people on the outside.

Up next is 25 Minutes To Go which was originally composed by Shel Silverstein. It’s a funny look at someone condemned to execution who is counting down each minute by observing what’s about to happen to him. Cash famously skips a few of the minutes in the song but his delivery is spot on. Cash then next announces he’s going to do Orange Blossom Special and then do a few ballads by himself. He also has some trouble locating his setlist in a funny bit of banter.

Orange Blossom Special is an old 1938 tune from Erwin T. Rouse that was a popular hit at bluegrass festivals and a favorite of fiddlers to play. Cash had recorded a studio cut of the song a few years prior to the Folsom concert and brought it out live here. He also used a harmonica to replace the fiddle parts and the performance marks yet another highlight from the set.

And now it’s into a trio of sad ballads. First is The Long Black Veil, a 1959 song first recorded by Lefty Frizzell. In it a man is executed despite not having committed the murder, the problem is his alibi – he was in bed with his best friend’s wife during the murder. Send A Picture To Mother is a Cash original that sees a man in prison relaying to his released cellmate to give regards to the narrator’s family. Ending the trilogy is The Wall, a Howard Harlan-penned song about a prisoner who is lovesick and dies trying to climb the prison wall.

Up next is a trio of funny songs Cash had done on a novelty album a few years prior. First comes Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog, written by Jack Clement and originally performed by Cash. The poor dog keeps eating the owner’s chickens and is the target of contempt. Clement also wrote the next track, Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart, a funny track that laments the loss of the narrator’s woman. The humor wraps up with Joe Bean, a young man who is being executed for a murder he didn’t commit. Joe’s mother knows his alibi – he was robbing a train when the murder was committed. The governor doesn’t pardon Joe but does wish him a happy birthday, which falls on the same date as his execution.

Cash would then introduce his wife June Carter to duet on a song. There’s some funny banter between the two before they go into Jackson, one of the more famous offerings from the pair. The song was originally written in 1963 by Billy Wheeler and Jerry Leibler. Cash and Carter had a hit with their version in 1967 and the performance of it here was a huge hit with the crowd.

The next two selections are from the day’s second set. First is Give My Love To Rose. It’s a Cash original where a man finds a dying person who was just released from prison. The ex-con was trying to make it back to see his family one last time but won’t make it so the man agrees to give his love to Rose. Cash then pulls out another original, I Got Stripes. Its another tune lamenting being in prison, assuredly another hit with the crowd of prisoners.

Up next is The Legend Of John Henry’s Hammer. The origins of the song are murky but are centered around a real African-American freedman who drove steel on the railroad lines. Henry famously raced a steam powered machine and won the race, though it cost him his life.

Cash’s rendition includes the sounds of spikes being driven and the various sounds of the steam engine. In this version John Henry bests the steam machine but succumbs to over-exertion the next morning. It is a true man versus machine tale that highlights the encroachment of technology on human life. John Henry has to drive steel to feed his large and destitute family, the advancement of technology doesn’t do him any favors.

The set heads into the home stretch with Green, Green Grass Of Home. The song was a very popular standard written by Curly Putnam and performed by Porter Wagoner and Tom Jones, among many others. A man is walking back through his hometown recounting memories, though in reality he is actually walking to his execution. The song has a very uplifting feel despite its pretty morose twist.

The set ends with Greystone Chapel, which is a very unique bit of lore from this live set. The song was written by Folsom inmate Glen Sherley, the song is about the very chapel at Folsom. The Folsom minister gave Cash a tape of the song the night before the live show and Cash decided to perform it. The song is a praise tune that uplifts the bastion of the chapel in the face of Folsom prison.

Note – the story of Glen Sherley is an interesting one, but one that won’t fit in today’s already-crowded post. I’ll do some digging on his tragic tale and offer up a separate post later on.

The band jams out a bit to wrap up the set, to a thunderous response from the crowd. The recording ends with the second set’s conclusion, which introduces Johnny Cash’s father Ray, as well as the warden (who doesn’t get the same loving reception Mr. Cash does).

Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison was an unconventional experiment that paid huge dividends for Cash’s flagging career. The record would top the country charts and also spend a very long time on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, the precursor to the Billboard 200. The album spent a total of 124 weeks on the album chart.

The legacy of At Folsom Prison is vast. This live set has books and documentaries about it and it is widely hailed as one of music’s greatest live performances. It was a landmark moment in Johnny Cash’s career and set him on a course for more hitmaking in the early 1970’s, including a handful of other prison performances. This was one of the Man In Black’s several career reinventions, a theme he’d continue until his death in 2003.

Beyond the scope of the album’s place in music, Cash was also noted for his egalitarian treatment of prison inmates. Many people simply cast off prisoners as people suffering the consequences of their actions, but Cash approached them as humans and did not let them rot forgotten. It’s a type of outreach that’s hard to quantify but certainly had its effects. One 1958 Cash performance at San Quentin had a great deal of influence on one of the inmates there – a guy by the name of Merle Haggard. By the time Cash was releasing live prison albums, Haggard was well on the way to his own country stardom.

Johnny Cash was a country legend, but also didn’t always fit the scene. His out-of-the-box approach to doing a live album shaped a legacy otherwise unseen in music. It is a vital piece of country music history and music as a whole.

Lamb Of God – Sacrament (Album of the Week)

This week’s pick is going to turn 17 later this year, which is just screwed if you ask me. Pardon me for a moment while I tend to my joint pain.

Lamb Of God – Sacrament

Released August 22, 2006 via Epic Records

My Favorite Tracks – Walk With Me In Hell, Redneck, Descending

Lamb Of God were riding a high after the splendid reception to their 2004 landmark Ashes Of The Wake. (that Album of the Week post can be found here). Heavy metal as a whole was well on the rise in the mid 2000’s and Lamb Of God were becoming a huge part of the resurgence.

The only real way to go was up, and the band would do just that with their fifth album. Lamb Of God were breaking out of the metal underground and becoming a familiar name across the music landscape as a whole. The album today is 11 songs in 46 minutes so let’s get at it.

Walk With Me In Hell

The opener leaps out with a massive riff and the sense that something beyond just a song is going on here. Guitarist Mark Morton wrote the track knowing he was on to something more and was able to work the chorus into a dedication to his girlfriend, who would later become his wife.

One of the album’s three singles, Walk With Me In Hell exploded out of the gate and became an instant classic. It remains today as one of the band’s signature songs.

Again We Rise

The song is bordering on death metal territory with its insane guitar work and pace. Lyrically it deals with the issue of “modern” US Confederates, or people who praise the losing side of the American Civil War eons after the war ended. This is not a flattering portrayal of that crowd. And the issue would only increase in scope after 2006.


The lead single slams in both musically and lyrically. It’s a thunderous groove metal masterclass and a pointed confrontation song. This quickly became a crowd favorite and today sits behind only Laid To Rest as the band’s most recognized song.

While Lamb Of God is often dark and dreary, Redneck is a pretty fun song. The music video is an absolute laugh riot, with the band being booked to play a kid’s birthday party and the hi-jinx that ensue.


Another twisted riff from Mark Morton and some great drumming from Chris Adler shape this next track, which thematically is Randy Blythe screaming at someone who sucks. It’s kind of a connecting theme of this album. Lamb Of God played this song live on Conan O’Brien’s show in early 2007, and it became far more common to see metal acts on the late-night shows after that.

Foot To The Throat

A political track this time, as the band takes aim at politicians and other “powers that be” keeping the rank and file citizens down. The music is as unrelenting as everything else on the album.


Another brutal track nearly in death metal territory, the song has lyrics purporting to reflect the duality and contradiction of religion, yet unverified sources indicate that the song is really about alcoholism. Either way it’s an album highlight.

Blacken The Cursed Sun

This was the album’s third and final single. The song is a very dark and dreary affair about being at the end of your rope and going out with one final push. There’s a bit of a call and response anti-sermon kind of thing at the end that’s pretty cool.

Forgotten (Lost Angels)

A short but slamming track that is chock full of Morton riffs and takes aim at Los Angeles and the fake and plastic culture. It was reportedly inspired by shady music industry execs. Taking aim at Los Angeles has been a favorite pastime of heavier bands but LoG pull it off in pretty convincing fashion here. This is also a song that invites comparisons to the prior kings of groove metal, that being Pantera.


Don’t be fooled by the title – this song is not a requiem from the punishment the album delivers. It’s another song with some religious symbolism and being down and out and trying to go for it one more time after being completely broken. It has a spoken word portion that’s hard to make out in the middle before a bit of soloing. It’s another track where Chris Adler is pounding the piss out of the drums too.

More Time To Kill

This one’s a pretty evil track aimed at someone who is dying but was on the wrong side of the ledger with the narrator. It’s another confrontation, go get bent kind of song. No clue what the story might be behind this one but it’s very hard feelings and not for the faint of heart. Also a bit of black metal style vocals from Randy Blythe here, pretty neat little part.

Beating On Death’s Door

The closing track keeps with the “fuck you” theme, this time it’s about a woman of ill repute who apparently pissed some people off. The song is more aimed at the unlucky sap this woman ended up with. A fittingly brutal end to a brutal album.

Sacrament was a huge success for Lamb Of God. It joined Ashes Of The Wake with a US gold certification for more than 500,000 copies sold. It peaked at number 8 on the Billboard 200 and even higher on several other US subgenre charts. Redneck was nominated for a Grammy in 2007, an award that went to Slayer. Several metal publications had this at or near the top of their year-end lists for 2006, back when print media was still a thing.

While it was the prior album that truly broke Lamb Of God into a wider audience, it felt like Sacrament was their true superstar turn. The band had previously been a part of the wider “New Wave of American Heavy Metal” movement, but by this time had broken free and far wider than the more underground sensibilities of that designation.

And the inevitable comparisons continued for LoG – both fans and detractors noted the “new Pantera” vibe to Lamb Of God, something not really present in their more extreme early days. And on this album those comparisons seemed at least somewhat valid, even if LoG were still their own distinct entity. It’s probably fair to call them the spiritual successors to Pantera’s crown, but LoG are far from a pale imitator of a past revered act.

With Sacrament, Lamb Of God solidified their place on the top of the metal mountain, or maybe scrap heap is more appropriate. They are still going all these years later, through some kind of crazy drama and all the changes in the times. A lot of riffs and a bit of cussing can take you pretty far sometimes.

Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss (Album of the Week)

This week it’s time to head back to 1990 and have a look at an album that propelled Slayer into a new decade.

Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss

Released October 9, 1990 via Def American

My Favorite Tracks – Seasons In The Abyss, Dead Skin Mask, Skeletons Of Society

Slayer had quite a run of it through the late ’80’s, what with essentially redefining thrash metal with Reign In Blood and then pulling up on the throttle and chilling out a bit on South Of Heaven. The change in speed and/or sound did not resonate with everyone but was probably a wise choice, as attempting to do RIB again would have likely proven disastrous.

The band hit the studio with Def American mastermind Rick Rubin to crank out their next album and hit on a bit of gold with a combination of their more mid-tempo fare along with some bursts of energy. Slayer would also mostly pull back their lyrical fare from the demonic and supernatural to more of a look at real-world issues.

Seasons In The Abyss comes in with the standard American Recordings track list of the time at 10 songs (that’s all Rubin and company would pay a group for) and a run time of 42 minutes, which is a virtual eternity in Slayer world.

War Ensemble

The opener sets a quick pace as the band pound through a dark look at war, one of metal’s favorite topics. This is a stark look at the true scope of a battle and it’s supplemented with a very aggressive and re-energized Slayer. We don’t necessarily know what or where this battle is, though the Rhine is mentioned so Germany is a good guess, but it is definitely brutal.

Blood Red

The pace comes down just a hair as the band shred through a condemnation of governments using violence to silence their citizens. This one is quick and dirty and the next song kicks straight off.

Spirit In Black

This time we do revisit the more supernatural with a descent into Hell. Tom Araya is running the show as some poor sap is sent on his way to the eternal torture chamber. The song gives a few call backs to prior Slayer works, such as “blood forever rains” and “Hell awaits.” It’s also clear that the band did not piddle around with finding new guitar tones or anything – they have their sound locked in and banged this out efficiently.

Expendable Youth

A song that discusses gang violence, though of course in Slayer fashion. Gangs were the number one scapegoat of media and politicians around this time and of course the root causes of gang existence were never truly addressed. Slayer are not offering any solutions, though, this is more of an observation of the battle for turf and the cold reality of bodies on the ground.

Dead Skin Mask

This track is a look at infamous murderer and grave robber Ed Gein, the real-life influence for many Hollywood serial killers. Slayer amps up the creepiness factor with a twisted riff as Tom Araya yells through the process of a killer’s mind deteriorating. It would mirror how Gein would claim that he did not remember moments during his murders or grave robbing. This one has been one of Slayer’s marquee tracks through the years.

Hallowed Point

Pretty simple here – the band kicks the speed up a fair bit and discusses the issue of hollow point bullets, which were a hot-button issue in the early 1990’s. The bullets expand on impact and can literally tear apart a person’s insides, as opposed to the more straight shot of a “typical” bullet. The song does not really participate in the debate over the bullet, rather it simply follows the journey from firing to shredding someone apart.

Skeletons Of Society

The tempo on this one goes way down, almost to a doom metal pace. The song marches through the eyes of a survivor of an apparent nuclear holocaust. It’s probably not shocking that Slayer’s version of the post-apocalypse is a grim one. The solos from Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman here, always dissonant, are an extra special touch on this track that’s a bit of a departure from the album’s norms.


Back to a thrash pace again and also the topic of satanism and the old classic stuff like possession and being corrupted. While couched in a lot of fanciful and supernatural stuff, the song does make a fairly real-world point about how it’s always evil that is the tempter and the attractive option, at least viewed through the lens of belief in that sort of thing.

Born Of Fire

Slayer breaks it open speed wise here as they get at least within the ballpark of Reign In Blood speed. The song is kind of a stock rundown of more evil imagery as the lyrics were written last minute by Kerry King. While Slayer’s slower pace has worked well through this album, it is nice to hear some straight-ahead bashing for a bit.

Seasons In The Abyss

The album closes with a track that really slows things down and gets into some gnarly sounding tones. A creepy intro runs for a few minutes before the song really kicks in and picks things up a fair bit. The lyrics are a bit more abstract here, they are dealing with the concept of The Abyss as presented by noted occultist Aleister Crowley. I personally have no clue what it’s really about so I’ll leave it alone. A brilliant video was also filmed for the song and was shot in Egypt, adding a huge degree of visual awe to the song.

Seasons In The Abyss would mark another notch in Slayer’s now-lengthened thrash belt. The album would get to number 40 on the Billboard album charts and also break on several other nations’ charts. An eventual US gold certification would come, and the album has sold at least 800,000 copies.

For Slayer it was a boost in reputation after South Of Heaven and its transitional nature left some fans alienated. Now people were used to the newer Slayer sound, and there were still a few all-out thrash moments to be had. It also positioned Slayer quite nicely entering the 1990’s, as their style would fit in with rising “alt-metal” movement while conventional thrash fell by the wayside. These songs, both in studio and live form, would frequent MTV programming, especially Headbanger’s Ball.

Though Slayer would make it through the very tough 1990’s relatively well, it wouldn’t come without some cost – drummer Dave Lombardo, often regarded as the band’s best asset, would quit the group in 1992. But he left after a successful album and tour cycle for a record that reinvigorated long-time fans and brought in many new ones, myself included.

Sammy Hagar – VOA (Album Of The Week)

Today it’s time to look at one of the crown jewels in the career of the Red Rocker. After a slow grind to relevance as a solo artist, Sammy Hagar began making waves in the 1980’s and would launch the album with his most successful hit just before going on to mega-stardom with Van Halen.

Sammy Hagar – VOA

Released July 23, 1984 via Geffen Records

My Favorite Tracks – Burnin’ Down The City, I Can’t Drive 55, VOA

This marked Hagar’s third album with Geffen Records after a string of modestly-performing solo records with Capitol. On production was Ted Templeman, who’d worked with Hagar previously with Montrose and of course is also long associated with Van Halen.

It’s not a terribly long album here with 8 tracks at 36 minutes so let’s get to it.

I Can’t Drive 55

The opener was also the lead single and also the signature song from both this album and Sammy’s solo career overall. The speed limit on US highways was 55 miles per hour for a long time to offset oil consumption in the 1970’s. Sammy got a ticket for going over that and wrote the song right after.

The song is a nice power rock track backed by keyboards and cuts its message in simple and effective fashion. This wasn’t a social issue that would draw the attention of the likes of Bono, but a lot of people were fed up with the federally-mandated speed limits and this song resonated with a great deal of the country.

Aiding in the song’s popularity was its goofy and fun music video, which sees Sammy and his “pit crew” band get busted for speeding. The courtroom scene is especially funny, featuring famed Geffen A&R man John Kalonder as the judge. And the mechanic in the video’s intro is Claudio Zampolli, who also worked on Eddie Van Halen’s cars and was the one to suggest to Eddie to hire Sammy for Van Halen.

Swept Away

Going on a tropical island getaway here with some lovely gal, the verses open with an atmospheric portion but then kick into a pretty rocking riff. Not a typical verse/chorus structure here but still a pretty simple song that does its job well.

Rock Is In My Blood

Sammy always likes to make songs about rock and metal and here we are again with another choice cut of that nature. It’s a heavy riff with the keyboards accenting the song rather than being the driving force and that works very nicely. I still remember the first time I heard this and being taken aback at how Sammy worked “blood transfusion” into the lyrics and how it fit in rhythm without actually making any sense lyrically.

Two Sides Of Love

The album’s other single did modestly well on the charts and wasn’t actually all that far off of I Can’t Drive 55, but this song didn’t slam into the public consciousness quite like the other one did. This is a song about love but not a “love song,” this deals more with the complications of long-term relationships and life. It’s certainly a product of the ’80’s but it doesn’t quite fall into cliché.

Dick In The Dirt

Side two kicks off with a funny song about Dick and Jane and all the double entendre stuff they get up to. This is one of those songs that could go south real quick but again there’s a very nice riff backing it all up and it holds together pretty well.


The title track is a hard rocker with the keyboards more up front in true ’80’s power rock fashion. And in keeping with 80’s USA themes, the subject matter is American exceptionalism. There was conflict in the Middle East and also the Cold War with the Soviets was in its final stages and this song sums up the US side of things pretty well. This song might seem silly now and maybe even was back then, but it fit the times very well.

Don’t Make Me Wait

Heading toward the end we get a fairly simple love song that still stays out of real “ballad” territory and keeps with the sound and feel of the album. This one is kind of paint-by-numbers but there’s nothing wrong with it.

Burnin’ Down The City

The album closes with a real monster of a tune and my favorite on the album. The mood goes far more dark here than what’s found elsewhere on the record. The song was inspired by New York City’s street artists according the album’s liner notes. The track goes beyond street art and embraces chaos and destruction in heavy fashion. Had this song been out some years earlier it could have made the soundtrack to The Warriors.

VOA was the realization of success for Sammy Hagar. He had an album that went platinum within a year and the song that would come to define his career. I Can’t Drive 55 would blare across radios and MTV all through the ’80’s as the speed limit remained, and would become a part of auto racing culture even after the speed limit was repealed in 1995. It resonates even today in a culture of bad drivers who used the Grand Theft Auto games as driver’s ed.

The trick for Sammy would be to pull this off again and follow up his success with another hit album. He’d sidestep that issue entirely when he joined Van Halen in 1985 and saw massive success with them. He’d do one more contractually obligated solo record in 1987, but it would be another decade and his split with Van Halen before he resumed his solo career and found a different form.

Sammy Hagar arrived in 1984 with the perfect record of melodic hard rock to get on the scene and score a victory lap after his prior success in the early decade. It’s a fitting end cap to the first phase of his solo career and a launch pad to his time fronting one of rock’s greatest acts.

Album Of The Week – February 27, 2023

This week’s pick goes back to the end of the 1970’s and a highlight record from one of the decade’s most outstanding artists. A tour comprising of split acoustic and electric sets fueled the idea to do the same on an album and the result would become one of the more iconic albums in a crowded discography already laden with immortal records and songs.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps

Released June 22, 1979 via Reprise Records

My Favorite Tracks – Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black); Thrasher; Powderfinger

The story of Rust Never Sleeps is a bit of a long and winding one – many of the songs were collected from earlier points in Young’s career, a typical thing for a guy who has had multiple “lost” albums in the course of his history.

While Young had made waves with a folk and country-infused style, he had also veered off on other courses and was leaning hard into distorted guitars by the late ’70’s. He would marry both concepts with split-set performances on the tour dubbed Rust Never Sleeps in 1978, which would serve as the birthplace and even live studio for portions of the album.

As for the album and tour title’s name, that came courtesy of Devo singer Mark Mothersbaugh. Devo and Young were collaborating on a film project when they took time to enter a studio and work on the electric track Hey Hey, My My. Mothersbaugh threw the line “rust never sleeps” in the lyrics – it was the marketing slogan for Rust-Oleum.

Of the album’s nine songs, seven were initially recorded live and then overdubbed in studio later. An effort was made to remove crowd noise but that was not always possible with studio technology at the time. Two songs – Pocahontas and Sail Away – were not cut live and were studio recordings instead.

My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)

The album features different renditions of the same song, the opener done acoustically. The song was born of Young’s fear of becoming obsolete in music and also would shout out Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten and liken his rise with the fall of the recently-departed Elvis Presley. This first version of the song also features the lyric “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” which became one of Young’s most famous and widely-quoted lyrics. While used in a wide variety of places, it was a part of Kurt Cobain’s suicide note in 1994 and Young was greatly affected by that.


A masterfully done acoustic tune that sees Young rambling off on his own, away from society and its machinations. The song is actually about Young’s bitter relationship with his former bandmates in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. While Young and Stephen Stills were able to maintain a working relationship through the ’70’s, David Crosby and Graham Nash were on the other side of the fence and a lot of animosity came through various failings to record a new CSNY record. It’s interesting to note the actual genesis of the song of course, but even without that knowledge this is a fantastic tune.

Ride My Llama

A short tune, though far from to-the-point. Here Neil takes a trip with a guy from Mars and also rides a llama from Peru to Texarkana. Not sure what ideas or substances Young might have been engaged with here, but the song works pretty well in its fanciful outlook.


Another highlight of the acoustic side of the record, Pocahontas sees Neil again approach the issue of European settlers massacring Native Americans. He had previously sung about that on his acclaimed track Cortez The Killer from 1975. Pocahontas is one of three songs from Rust Never Sleeps that were originally intended for the never-released Chrome Dreams album a few years prior.

Pocahontas is also a bit of a weird song, as Young goes from a muddled recount of the massacre, to living in the present day with Marlon Brando and the Astrodome. The song really showcases Young’s vocal abilities and creates an uplifting atmosphere despite the grave subject matter.

Sail Away

The acoustic portion of the album ends with this nice, light and airy tune that really isn’t about much more than getting away. It’s a nice, clam and smooth way to get the hell away from it all for a few minutes.


It’s on to the electric songs now and another cut meant for the shelved Chrome Dreams record. Young tried doing something else with the song, namely giving it to Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Skynyrd never got around to recording the song before the 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of Van Zant and others. Young would eventually retool Powderfinger for his own use here.

Powderfinger sees a young man forced to defend his home from an arriving gunboat. Thinking quickly, he decides to grab his own gun and fire on the ship, which would lead to his own death. The lyrics tell a pretty heart-wrenching tale that isn’t the conventional approach to a war or combat song.

Powderfinger is held in the highest regard – often considered one of Young’s best, and in 2014 Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as his best overall.

Welfare Mothers

The next track is a nice rock number but also a bit of a strange one – if we’re to take the song literally, then Neil is suggesting we head to the laundromat and pick up divorced, down on their luck mothers as they’re better lovers. There’s probably some kind of social commentary here that means one shouldn’t take this track literally but honestly no one really talks about this song much so the listeners are left to make their own guesses as to what’s up.

Sedan Delivery

The third song intended for Chrome Dreams appears in here electric and quite distorted form. It’s almost a punk or metal tune with its rendition here. The song could just be about some guy’s life or maybe about drugs of some kind, it’s not evident what’s going on here.

Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)

The album closes with the electric version of the opener. They lyrics are altered slightly on this version but the song is essentially the same, just with Young and Crazy Horse bashing their way through this amped up version. It’s another of Young’s most famous tracks and has been covered by about half of all music artists in the decades since release.

Rust Never Sleeps was a massive artistic statement from Neil Young. He wove his own fears of being cast aside into the kind of riffs and noise that punk and other artists were making, and cranked out a set of immortal songs to stave off his obsolescence. And on the acoustic portion he worked within more familiar parameters to craft engaging songs that added to his legacy in the folk/country realm.

The album would reach number 8 on the Billboard Album Chart, the precursor to the Billboard 200. It charted well in many other countries as well. The album has a lone US platinum certification but that might be more of an issue with a record label’s lack of desire to re-certify albums than an accurate picture of sales figures.

A year later Young and Crazy Horse would release Live Rust, featuring both tracks from this album and other Young standards. It too would chart highly and also gain platinum certification. The somewhat unconventional Rust Never Sleeps approach paid huge dividends for Young, who was about to kick off a very strange and meandering period when the 1980’s hit.

At the end of the day, Rust Never Sleeps was a career high point for Neil Young and proof he could carry on even as he’d put some years behind him. He would strike gold again and again in the years since, both carrying on as he saw fit and also keeping his finger on the pulse of the music of the moment. The conversation over the best Neil Young album is a tough one considering both the size and scope of his total output, but Rust Never Sleeps is certainly a part of that conversation.

Album Of The Week – February 20, 2023

Two weeks in a row for debut albums – this week it’s a first offering from a band that would cast a wide influence on what would come to be known as extreme metal. While much of early 1980’s England was in the midst of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene, one band would take noise, speed and Satan to a different level.

Venom – Welcome To Hell

Released December 1981 via Neat and Combat Records

My Favorite Tracks – In League With Satan, Live Like An Angel, Welcome To Hell

Venom was formed when the three core members eventually came together out of the ashes of other bands. Conrad Lant would handle bass and vocals, Jeff Dunn tackled guitar and Tony Bray sat on the drum throne. The three would choose stage names – Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon, and be more known by those names in the pre-Internet era. Much of this first album was composed of tunes that Cronos and Mantas each had worked up in some stage and brought to their new band’s sessions.

There were two other members of Venom early on, but both Alan Winston and Clive Archer would leave the group before the recording of the album.

Venom would record their early demos at Impulse Studios in the Newcastle area, where Cronos had a job and traded work for Venom’s studio time. They would land a record deal with Neat, a British label who also happened to own Impulse Studio. Venom recorded the album proper in a few days, and Neat released the record after a few more days and not much in the way of mixing and mastering. This raw, unpolished sound was not entirely intentional on the band’s part but would wind up being a key point of influence on the later black metal movement.

Venom would use overt Satanic imagery and lyrical fare as an attention getter, but would also fully commit to the gag in a way that pushed beyond the “quasi-satanism” of Black Sabbath and earlier acts. The band’s interest in Satanism and the occult would play into the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s and even later land the group a coveted spot on the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen list. (I’ve covered the list in the past here).

Today’s album holds 11 tracks with a running time near 40 minutes. There won’t be much in the way of technical proficiency to discuss, but a lot of ripping through songs about evil and lust and the influence many would bear later on the metal scene.

Sons Of Satan

It’s fair to call this a collision of musical parts being played together at once as opposed to a cohesive song. The lyrics implore the righteous youth to abandon their path and join the satanic Venom legions. And perhaps against the odds, Venom would succeed in their dark recruiting mission.

Welcome To Hell

The title track is a much more put-together affair than the opener, though still swamped in the lo-fi buzz that would come to be a defining point of the band. The lyrics are a crude pounding through the glorification of Hell and the end of the world, with a spoken word portion of Psalm 23 from the Bible thrown in because why not.


While the title implies a mental disorder of some kind, the song is about a serial killer. It’s a pretty good song though it’s hard to ignore the awful drum sound here, certainly a case of something that would have sounded better with more work in the studio.

Mayhem With Mercy

A brief instrumental that isn’t of note itself. The Norwegian black metal band Mayhem would name themselves from this track and then go on to live in infamy in the 1990’s.


A nice song about a girl who entices the song’s narrator, though the girl is of course evil and all that. The lo-fi production works pretty well here. It is worth mentioning that hair metal act Poison did NOT name themselves after this track.

Live Like An Angel

A very nice song here that would be an early influence on thrash metal. This song would be bundled with In League With Satan for release as a double A-side single. This did illustrate that Venom’s primitive sound was down more to studio limitations than musical effort.

Witching Hour

All hell breaks loose on this, one of the most celebrated tracks from the album. So lo-fi it can almost hurt to listen to, but also a fantastic slab of sick heavy metal. It’s pretty easy to find a cover version of this song on any number of underground metal bands’ albums.

One Thousand Days In Sodom

Bit of a concept piece here, I guess, as Venom explores the sin and decay of the city of Sodom, as told in the Bible. It should be no shock that Venom’s recounting of the story does not align with Christian teachings. A very nice riff here and some pretty well-done songcraft. It is widely reported that the German thrash band Sodom named themselves from this song, though I can’t locate actual confirmation of that tidbit.

Angel Dust

In keeping with the lyrical themes that piss off the “moral majority,” we now have a song about drug use. Angel dust is the common street name for PCP, which is honestly a pretty messed up drug. While the song is clearly glorifying drug use, I don’t recall that the members of Venom were particularly taken with drugs, this is just another character piece.

In League With Satan

We are now at what is largely considered the highlight of the record. In keeping with actually doing everything that other bands were incorrectly accused of, the beginning features a backwards-recorded Satanic message. And the main lyrics of the song have the similar Satanic messages said normally. This is a very nice and evil sounding song that hypnotically marches through its dark message and generates the kind of sound that other metal bands would strive for.

Red Light Fever

The album closes with a savage rip through a song that is not about running red lights in traffic, but rather the seedy red light districts of infamy. While Cronos finds himself a good time gal, he realizes that she’s just doing her job and his moment of glory is just a moment.

Welcome To Hell was the start of a sound and scene that would not light up mainstream sales charts but would spread a wide influence across what would become new strains of heavy metal – not only ignoring the criticisms of theme and imagery, but embracing those themes. Venom’s second album Black Metal would give a name to the most infamous of these subgenres of extreme metal, and Venom’s honestly unintentional lo-fi sound would shape the early recordings of that movement.

Venom would gain notoriety for their sound and antics, but were outpaced by the movements of other metal bands. By the end of the 1980’s thrash metal was king and several versions of extreme metal were entering their prime years. Venom themselves would go through a series of line-up changes and dramas, though they are still active with Cronos being the sole original member and have released 15 studio albums with a variety of line-ups over the years.

Venom and Welcome To Hell are viewed in a positive light in terms of influence and legacy, though in the realm of sound they aren’t particularly noteworthy among critics. Yes, the album does sound like shit. Listening closely today it’s a bit of a slog to get through, though for me personally there are worthy songs under the layers of badly done studio work. But I imagine this was a different thing to hear in the early 80’s when the average listener didn’t have the context to understand recording techniques – this sounded pure evil.

At the end of the day, even if it sounds like a bad attempt at recording, the influence of Welcome To Hell far exceeds any technical limitations. For all of the finger wagging at heavy metal and its supposed immorality, Venom were actually providing that unironically. In the family tree of extreme metal, this is the trunk.

Album Of The Week – February 13, 2023

I had a few different options for this week, but then this past Friday I was enlightened to the fact that February 10th marked the 45th anniversary of what likely marks the greatest debut album ever presented. So to commemorate something that came out almost six months after I was born, I’ll divert my attention to this absolutely phenomenal slab of music.

Van Halen – self-titled

Released February 10, 1978 via Warner Bros.

My Favorite Tracks – Runnin’ With The Devil, Ain’t Talking About Love, Atomic Punk

The early Van Halen tale is worth a brief run-through here. The brothers Van Halen, along with original bassist Mark Stone would kick off the band, then David Lee Roth would join on vocals after the group were regularly renting his PA equipment. Stone was replaced with Michael Anthony, and the group began a slow ascent through the Los Angeles club circuit.

Gene Simmons loves his credit for discovering Van Halen, so here’s where his part of the story comes in. Simmons helped VH craft a demo, which did not draw attention or a record deal. Simmons was frustrated that no one in his circle saw the talent within Van Halen and went to tour with Kiss, leaving VH to find their own deal. People out on the LA scene began calling producer Ted Templeman, who had been wanting to get a guitar-centric band together, and the match made in Heaven would come to fruition. Templeman got the band signed to Warner Brothers, got them in the studio and banged out the album in a few weeks.

Time to go under the hood of this landmark record. It’s 11 songs though with a fairly brief 35 minute play time, but of course there’s a lot to discuss here.

Runnin’ With The Devil

I can save a bit of time off the bat as I’ve covered the opening track before in my S-Tier Songs series. It’s a fantastic, immortal rock track and one of the band’s best, even if the field of “their best” is very crowded.


This brief instrumental would light the rock and music world on fire. Eddie’s use of two-handed tapping would revolutionize rock guitar for the next decade. The solo is a crazy shred fest that just wasn’t present in late 70’s rock music and it quickly became the piece that every aspiring guitarist looked to emulate.

You Really Got Me

This cover of the Kinks’ 1964 hit would serve as the first single from the record. It’s a Van Halen-ized version of the classic original and the VH cover would get wide airplay. Eddie wasn’t pleased with using the cover as the lead single but apparently there was a race on between Van Halen and the band Angel to get a cover version out so Warner Brothers rushed out the VH cover. The song fits the album just fine and is a very good cover track. Dave Davies of the Kinks would disagree with me but that’s kind of his thing.

Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love

This apostrophe-laden title catastrophe is also one of the band’s most celebrated songs. It was released as the album’s third single and was an instant classic. The riff is a signature rock standard and one of the areas where Van Halen could be accused of playing heavy metal. There’s also some electric sitar on the guitar solo because of course there is.

I’m The One

This is a very nice tune that really showcases in full the Van Halen sound – playing nearly off the rails with Alex and Michael holding down the rhythm fort, while David Lee Roth goes totally batshit on the mic.

Jamie’s Crying

Another highlight song, this has some fantastic riffs from Eddie as DLR spins the tale of Jamie, who got caught up trying to make a one-night stand into something more. Poor Jamie is caught in a bad spot, but at least we get a fantastic song out of it.

Atomic Punk

A very nice and heavy song about some kind of dystopian super villain or something. The song isn’t that deep or anything but it does have a bit of sci-fi cyberpunk feel to it. It’s another “brush” with heavy metal and it’s an outstanding work.

Feel Your Love Tonight

Thematically standard about trying to get with some gal, but a very revved up version of a more old-time rock song. The backing vocals from Eddie and Michael really hit here, though of course they’re present all over the album.

Little Dreamer

Here’s a song that feels like it’s a bridge between Van Halen and the rock that came prior. A very simple yet extremely effective riff and a well-done solo call to mind the rock heroes of the 70’s.

Ice Cream Man

A cover of an old blues standard from John Brim, the song had been around for ages but course had not yet had the Van Halen treatment. The band starts it off slow then kicks in with full instrumentation, making this yet another party rock tune. And of course the lyrical fare is alluding to certain, more adult activities. The song is well done and John Brim got a nice payday out of it too.

On Fire

The album ends with an exhibition, both of Eddie’s guitar playing and Roth’s full-fledged screams. Not that this album had any restraint anyway, but On Fire just goes off into another dimension. One of the band’s less heralded tracks but one that might deserve a bit more recognition.

Van Halen was a hit out of the gate and started the band on their track to superstar success. It would peak at number 19 on the Billboard 200. The record was platinum by October of 1978, and would go on to later diamond certification with over 10 million copies sold. It is virtually tied with 1984 as Van Halen’s best-selling album, though a lack of willingness on the record label’s part to re-certify does leave an incomplete picture.

The album retains its reputation as one of the greatest debut albums released. While to truly judge that would require an examination across many genres and eras, there is no doubt this was one of the most profound and electric debuts in music history.

And this goes far beyond just the scope of one album – this was the beginning of a new era in rock, one in which guitar would take center stage. This album set the table for the rock music of the 1980’s, which happened to be rock’s most commercially successful era. Van Halen was the shape of rock to come in the most excessive and loud decade of the 20th Century. Their own success would rival the biggest acts of music for their extraordinary run through a few decades, ultimately ended by the death of Eddie Van Halen in 2020.

Van Halen was the opening statement from a musical genius and the inspiration for millions to pick up guitars. The album was also the kick-off of a “party rock” trend that would run well through the next decade and usher in many good times and kill trillions of brain cells.

Album Of The Week – February 6, 2023

This week’s pick is a revisit of a 90’s album from a band that bucked popular music standards and set their own course with a mix of old-timey music and deep/dark spiritual lyrics. The music would not fit any particular scene but also capture the attention of many different scenes.

16 Horsepower – Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes

Released February 6, 1996 via A&M Records

My Favorite Tracks – Black Soul Choir, American Wheeze, Harm’s Way

16 Horsepower was an American band comprised of singer and multi-instrumentalist David Eugene Edwards, Jean-Yves Tola on drums and Keven Soll on upright bass and cello. The band’s lineup would change over the years with the constant being Edwards at the helm.

One big issue with 16 Horsepower is categorizing their music. They aren’t country, though they did slot into the alt-country movement of the late 1990’s. The music has elements of country, bluegrass and other scenes but doesn’t necessarily have its own overall description. The term “Gothic Americana” has been used to describe them and is probably as accurate as anything. It is a lot of banjo, accordion and other unconventional instruments that shape the sound here.

The lyrics of 16 Horsepower were infused with Edwards’ religious upbringing. These aren’t overt “praise” songs or anything but there is definitely a religious bent to them. The music was not embraced by Christian outlets for not being standard praise fare and was also often dismissed in secular circles for talking about religion at all. But I don’t feel “preached to” when I listen to it, rather I feel like I’m getting a person’s own experiences and perspective communicated to me. I’m being sung to, not talked at.

The album is not overly long at 48 minutes but there are 13 songs to talk about. I am going to go through a lot of them very briefly to save space, but rest assured this is a highly recommended album from front to back.

I Seen What I Saw

It’s off to a hot start as a guy sees something that isn’t good, then gets on his horse and rides off. While any greater meaning isn’t obvious, this song is pretty powerful with the instrumentation and Edward’s vocal delivery.

Black Soul Choir

Next we have what is widely considered the “hit” off the album and one of the band’s most recognized songs. Black Soul Choir is a uptempo, banjo-driven piece that presents its religious underpinnings more clearly. This is a masterpiece of a song and is often the “first one” for many 16 HP fans. Metal band DevilDriver did a cover of this song in 2011 as well.

Scrawled In Sap

This is a very trippy and atmospheric track that gets into what appears to be an adulterous relationship. It’s very well done and another of my favorites from the record.

Horse Head

A very nice and twisted dirge about some whiskey and chairs, and also some kind of dust-up over something and a guy biting the big one in the end. This is a very dark and grimy track and far outside the bounds of “praise” music.

Ruthie Lingle

An upbeat number about a young man hoping he can hook up with any number of women. I can’t find the interview where Edwards talked about it, but if my memory serves, Ruthie was an actual girl from his childhood that he was sweet on.

Harm’s Way

This song is absolutely sick, meant in the best possible way. Another accordion-led dirge that gets to the failings of life and also the simple beauty of it. The lyrics are also quietly kind of brutal in spots, there’s some dark stuff going on here.

Black Bush

Another really good banjo piece with more, perhaps opaque, religious imagery. A clouded meaning does not deter from a very enjoyable song, though.

Heel On The Shovel

This song is, if not all the way there, at least directly next to country music. It’s a good ol’ tune about vengeance and death and “reaping what you sow.” The fate of the target is pretty grim, in a grave simply to be used as fertilizer for daisies. Such is life and death, I guess.

American Wheeze

A very gripping tune about a guy off to a duel against someone who feels slighted. The specific grievance is not aired, but the narrator is prepared to die for his side of it.

Red Neck Reel

The music is fast and fun, but the lyrics are a fairly dour look at small-town life and how everyone knows everyone’s business. A nice tune either way.

Prison Shoe Romp

Almost a bit of a metal track here, or at least a pretty heavy tune though still steeped in the old time music.

Neck On The New Blade

Not really sure what’s going on lyrically but the song is another low-down one.

Strong Man

The album ends with a dirge about a condemned man who apparently really needs to be put down. The song ends with some references to Christ so I almost wonder if that’s not who it’s about but again, it’s a bit hard to tell.

Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes was a brilliant debut full-length for the group that defied categorization and 1000% did their own thing. There is no chart or single information to share, 16 Horsepower were always a more underground and independent phenomenon. They would gain traction over in Europe through their run but were never a “hit” of any kind.

The main draw of this album and the 16 Horsepower catalog in general is the authenticity of the old-time sound. The music invokes the feel of the old days, this honestly sounds like what I’d expect to hear traveling through the desolate west. This isn’t a modern homage to music of the past, it is that music done in a modern setting. I can feel the dirt and grit of the landscape that these songs are set in, as well as the darkness of the songs and their weight.

16 Horsepower would run from 1992 through 2005. After their dissolution David Eugene Edwards would focus on his other project Wovenhand, which runs to this day and has performed 16 HP songs live in their sets. 16 Horsepower never achieved fame but they have been a known and celebrated act among those who remember them and the many, like me, who discovered them after their split. This is one of those acts that not a lot of people know, but those who know, know.

Album Of The Week – January 30, 2023

Leading off this week with the album that brought about the 1990’s before 1990 even hit. The album brought everything but the kitchen sink, though that was probably in there somewhere too.

Faith No More – The Real Thing

Released June 20, 1989 via Slash/Reprise Records

My Favorite Tracks – Epic, Falling To Pieces, Surprise! You’re Dead!

Faith No More had started as early as 1979, with a lot of shifting line-ups that at one point included Courtney Love. The core of the band was settled with drummer Mike Bordin, bassist Billy Gould, guitarist Jim Martin and keyboard player Roddy Bottum. Vocalist Chuck Mosley joined for the band’s first few albums but was fired in 1988.

Faith No More recorded the music for The Real Thing without a vocalist through ’88. They quickly focused their singer search on Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton, who joined Faith No More then wrote lyrics for all of The Real Thing over the course of a few weeks.

The album moved slowly out of the gate but would go on to success as the decade shifted and music tastes moved on from hair metal to alternative rock. The Real Thing lingered on MTV for a few years and Faith No More became a signpost for the major shift in music trends that shook the world in 1991.

Normally when I do an AOTW I leave off “bonus tracks” or things of that nature, but in the case of The Real Thing I will include two songs that were not available on vinyl but were on CD and cassette copies. I had the tape growing up so it’s the version I’m familiar with, so the two non-vinyl cuts are included here.

From Out Of Nowhere

The album opener also served as the lead single. It is an uptempo affair with the bass and keyboard lines providing the main drive behind the song and Jim Martin’s guitar a bit more in the background. The song’s lyrical fare is pretty simple and is about meeting someone who takes your breath away on first sight but then the person is gone. The song quickly follows suit at a hair over three minutes, not lingering around long enough to know what hit you.


In the Faith No More lexicon, Epic is surely the band’s most-known song. This is a true kitchen sink song that could be listed under ten different genres and not be wrong. Funk-metal and alt-metal are probably the two main descriptors, though the song is also an early example of rap-metal.

The song’s meaning is very obscure, though Patton offered that he wrote it about sexual frustration. Most remember the very simple “it’s it – what is it?” repeated at the end of the track.

Epic was the band’s first major hit and remains today as their best-performing US single. The iconic video saw heavy MTV play and drew a lot of attention, this is one of the prime cuts of pre-grunge 1990 rock.

The fish in the video also became famous – the band were assailed by animal rights activists for allowing the fish to flop around out of water. Reports are that the fish did survive. The band also started a joke that the fish belonged to singer Bjork and either she gave the band the fish or they stole it from her, a gag that Bjork went along with. This of course led to widespread belief that the story was true.

Falling To Pieces

The funk metal train continues on with another album single. Mike Patton expresses falling apart at the seams as the band slams through with more alt-groove and atmospheric keyboards. The single itself wasn’t a hit but again, the video was often found on MTV.

Surprise! You’re Dead!

A super heavy track that’s pretty simply about revenge killing someone. The song had a video filmed for it but was never released as a single.

Jim Martin actually began this song in the 1970’s while he was in a Bay Area band with future Metallica bassist Cliff Burton. While Burton has no connection to the song, he and Martin were great friends and Martin often paid tribute to Burton with shirts and in interviews.

Zombie Eaters

A very interesting premise that sees lyrics told from the point of view of a newborn baby who relies on its parents for everything. The baby winds up being the dominant figure in the relationship, as the parent becomes a zombie in caring for the infant. The music is also really well done here, starting with a very moody intro before going into a heavy groove for the rest of the track.

The Real Thing

The title track serves as a bit of an “all you can eat buffet” of what Faith No More is about on this record. It covers both groove and atmospheric ground and shifts between movements and passages. It’s perhaps an underrated highlight of the record.

Underwater Love

The upbeat music belies the lyrics actually being about murdering your loved one via drowning. A pretty trippy tune as the soundtrack to domestic discord.

The Morning After

The funk is in full effect here on this song that’s either about waking up after a one-night stand or becoming a vampire, no one is sure which. It’s a pretty rocking and peppy take on something that’s generally looked at through a gloomy lens.

Woodpecker From Mars

An instrumental that sounds like it’s based on some old piece of music but I can’t place it so I’m not sure. It’s a pretty nice tune that holds attention better than these kind of pieces in other places.

War Pigs

Here we have a cover of the famous Black Sabbath song. The band often performed this live, with Patton famously forgetting words and making up gibberish to fill the gaps. In the studio he got everything down right.

Edge Of The World

The other sort-of bonus track is a slow, jazzy/lounge piece. In it Mike Patton plays the part of an older man who makes advances on younger women. The song has been described in some circles as being about criminal acts but no actual evidence bears that out, this more of an old man of means preying upon young twenty-somethings. Sure it’s creepy but it’s legal creepy.

The Real Thing released to little fanfare but its audience built as Epic hit radio and MTV. The album would eventually hit platinum in the US and reach number 11 on the Billboard charts, while also getting platinum in Australia and peaking at 2 on its album chart. It also got a gold certification in the UK and is believed to have sold upwards of 4 million copies worldwide.

Faith No More would have vast influence over the music of the coming decade. They were a primary favorite of up-and-coming acts, members of Korn have practically written a book about how much they were into FNM while coming up. Faith No More’s ability to craft songs outside the confines of rock structure at the time led them to being a torch-bearer for many musicians who would make their own mark.

As an aside it’s worth noting that not everyone was entirely into Faith No More – specifically Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis. Kiedis was unhappy about Mike Patton’s appearance in the Epic video, believing Patton to have copycatted Kiedis. While Kiedis kept his criticisms along those lines, it’s apparent that Faith No More and RHCP would be compared as their music was along similar lines. Patton did not engage Kiedis in the feud, at least as a member of Faith No More, but did express displeasure with him later due to RHCP interfering with a Mr. Bungle album release. The other members of both bands were not involved in the feud and reportedly got along well.

In the end the music is what matters, and Faith No More brought an album that would help transition music from its 1980’s rock phase into the more experimental period of the 1990’s. While Epic was the band’s most successful song, it’s arguable if The Real Thing is their biggest album, as the follow up Angel Dust did similar numbers and is hailed as a masterpiece in its own right. Obviously another story for another time.

Album Of The Week – January 23, 2023

This week it’s a deep dive into one of the pivotal albums of thrash metal. This record has come to be the defining moment of one of thrash’s most enduring institutions and would launch the group into heavy metal royalty.

Anthrax – Among The Living

Released March 16, 1987 via Megaforce and Island Records

My Favorite Tracks – I Am The Law, Among The Living, A Skeleton In The Closet

Anthrax had been a band on the rise after their second album Spreading The Disease. The group had toured extensively with a variety of metal luminaries and were in Europe opening for Metallica when a bus accident claimed the life of Cliff Burton. Anthrax were motivated by grief at the loss of their friend and peer, and hit the studio to vent their anguish. They chose to record at Compass Point Studio in the Bahamas, and purely because it was where Iron Maiden had laid down their classic run of albums.

Anthrax worked with super producer Eddie Kramer on the album. Kramer has an extensive list of works to his credit, for my own purposes he is best known as the caretaker to the legacy of Jimi Hendrix. Among The Living was recorded in quick and easy fashion, but then Kramer had an idea for a mix laden with more modern techniques. Anthrax did not like Kramer’s embellishments and it was decided to proceed with the original, dry mix. A wise choice, as what was released truly captured the music in its pure form.

The album was primarily written by drummer Charlie Benante and guitarist Scott Ian. It is 9 songs with a 50 minute run time, so a fair bit to go over here.

Among The Living

The opener/title track bears lyrics inspired by Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand and the main antagonist Randall Flagg. The song thrashes hard and also lays down a groove foundation, an element that would go on to redefine and carry metal several years later.

As with all of the songs here, Anthrax deftly walk a line between heavy and melodic, incorporating more melody than their thrash peers were known for. Much of that had to do with the talents of singer Joey Belladonna, a more accomplished vocalist than what was found across much of thrash.

Caught In A Mosh

The lyrics see Scott Ian venting frustration at any number of dumb people and occurrences, but the song itself became a calling card for the mosh pit and outgrew its original meaning. In life or at a show we are all often caught in a mosh. At least the second one is fun (if you’re under 30).

I Am The Law

It’s geek time on the album as Anthrax offer up a homage to Judge Dredd, the gritty comic book character from an apocalyptic future. While it’s not rare for bands to offer up tribute songs to fictional characters they like, it is pretty rare for the songs to turn out as great as this. This truly does capture the essence of Judge Dredd and the harsh atmosphere of his comic series.

I Am The Law was the first single from the album and was backed with I’m The Man, Anthrax’s first foray into combining rap with their metal. They are chief among acts who deserve credit/blame for the 1990’s.

Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)

Contrary to popular opinion, the song is not about the National Football League. Rather the NFL refers to the song’s full title backwards, “Nise Fuckin’ Life.” It’s a song warning of the dangers of drug addiction and, unlike last week’s band, Anthrax walked the walk in that regard. The primary inspiration for the song was John Belushi, the beloved actor who died of substance abuse at age 33.

A Skeleton In The Closet

It’s back to the dark, dark world of Stephen King, this time his story Apt Pupil provides the backdrop for the song. The story involves a very sadistic teenager discovering his neighbor is a Nazi war criminal in hiding and a lot of murder and other bad stuff, like faking report cards. The songs does a pretty good job of summing up the story.


This tune pays tribute to the Native Americans who were genocided off their lands by evil colonizers (i.e., our ancestors). Lest they be accused of cultural insensitivity, singer Joey Belledonna has heritage from the Iroqouis tribe. This was another single from the record and remains one of Anthrax’s most popular songs. The “war dance” riff is one of the band’s most memorable.

One World

In a bit of a twist for thrash metal, this song actually warns of the dangers of environmental destruction and nuclear holocaust, rather than wishing for it to happen like many in the thrash world. It is steeped in Cold War-era dialog, which was still simmering in the late ’80’s when this hit.

A.D.I./The Horror Of It All

The first part of the song is an instrumental, the second pays tribute to Cliff Burton. Though the lyrics are a bit vague in that regard, Scott Ian did eventually shed light on their true meaning.

Imitation Of Life

No science fiction here – the final track is about all of the slimy people in the music industry. Far more than what can be compressed into one song, for sure.

Among The Living saw Anthrax rise to a new level of recognition. The album would go gold, and I’ll admit that I’m a bit shocked it wasn’t platinum. It does appear the band never had a US platinum, which is surprising. But no matter, Anthrax were now a band of note with this 1987 magnum opus.

One area where Anthrax got a lot of love was the skateboarding world. The Anthrax image didn’t quite “fit” the thrash scene, even if the music did, but they were a big hit among the skateboarding faithful. And while I myself never really got into skateboarding, my peers who did were who I got a lot of my early music from, including this.

This album essentially “made” the careers of Anthrax, giving them a far bigger platform and bigger tours to go along with it. It can be tough to haggle over the best of their catalog, what with their different phases and shifts, but this is the album that probably lands a consensus number one.