What makes a great rockin' blues song? That is a mystery that I have been trying to understand for years. I could give you examples of great, classic, enduring rock/blues tunes like "One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer", "Who do You Love?" or "Move it on Over" without truly understanding what exactly made those songs so great. One man though, who clearly always understood the question is George Thorogood. His answer in 1982 was Bad to the Bone!
The release of Bad to the Bone, the 25th Anniversary Edition on Capital Records is more than a bit nostalgic for me. I am, in every which way a rockin' blues girl of the 80’s and when I received my copy in the mail, (It’s good to be a critic.) I was both childishly ecstatic and a wee bit nervous. I suddenly felt worried that maybe, just maybe, I was remembering George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers (yes I know they dropped the Delaware from the name, but it was so cool!) and this particular album through rosy colored nostalgic glasses. What if by thoroughly dissecting this much beloved record I found that it wasn’t everything I once believed it was cracked up to be? There was a time after all in my prepubescent years that I thought Three’s Company and The A-Team were darned good TV shows. What if, God forbid, that was also the case with my youthful taste in music?
Thank the Lord almighty and Hallelujah, turns out I did have great taste in music in the eighties. I ran through all of the original 11 tracks and they are still as fabulous and amazingly unabashed as ever. In fact, from track one "Back to Wentzville" through 10 "Wanted Man", I came to realize one of my big regrets is that I’ve never seen George Thorogood and the Destroyers perform live. How ultimately cool that would be?
I wouldn’t want to see them at a large venue like a stadium or arena though. No, no, George and the boys truly are what they’ve always maintained themselves to be “an unpretentious bar band” . This is one partying bunch, and listening to this CD I found myself dancing like a fool around my living room as I was transported to some dark smoky, crowded and rowdy kinda joint. (Oh by the way, I apologize to my neighbors who must have thought I was having some kind of fit. I’ll try to remember to close the curtains next time I rock out.)
The bonus track, "That Philly Thing", is a fantastic instrumental blues tune with a bit of a jazz feel and beat to it. It’s a great listen that made me think, yeah, that’s what Philly must be like, even though I’ve never actually been there… and I really should go there someday.
I approached the new recordings of "Blue Highway", "New Boogie Chillem", "No Particular Place to Go", "As the Years Go Passing By", "Bad to the Bone" and "Wanted Man" with a personal bias to overcome. I generally really dislike artist’s remakes of their own songs. Not that I’m some kind of purist. There are a lot of song remakes that are even better than the original. Heck, Mr. Thorogood’s version of "One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer" is the perfect case in point.
No, what I’m usually adverse to is when the original artist remakes his/her own song. For example, and I know many will disagree with me, I just loathe Eric Clapton’s unplugged version of "Layla". What is that anyway? Now there was a classic adrenaline rush of a rock and roll song and Clapton shoved Valium down its throat and sent it on its dodgy old way. Eric how could you? But again, I digress.
With a few butterflies I turned to track 12, "Blue Highway" and tried to keep both my ears and my mind open.
Perhaps it was due to my expectation of a disaster, but I was very pleasantly surprised! The new recording of "Blue Highway" was quite good. It was great, in fact. While it’s more of an acoustic version, the country twang gives it an even greater mournful edge. Phew… that was a relief, now on to track 13.
"New Boogie Chillum" is a bit more smooth but still pretty brash, high speed, and quite pleased with itself, which is exactly as it should be. Definitely set the toes a tapping on that track. The same held true for the fast and funny "No Particular Place to Go". I still can’t help but jump up and dance to that tune (curtains closed this time to protect the innocent.)
I’m equally fond of the new recordings of "As the Years Go Passing By" and "Wanted Man". Both new versions offer slightly altered versions on tempo and vocal arrangements, but the souls of George’s original recordings are more or less in tact (if not a little too cleaned up for my taste). Though it must be said, the extended guitar solo on "As the Years Go Passing By" quite simply kicks butt and takes names.
I saved listening to the new recording of "Bad to the Bone" for last. After all that is the song isn’t it? It’s not just the title track to the album, it’s the title track to my misspent youth. "Bad to the Bone" was and still remains the ultimate anthem of rebellion and freedom. There have been other classic rock and blues songs that have withstood the test of time; think "Crossroads", think "Rebel Rebel", think "Layla" (the real version of "Layla" that is). But there have been precious few that have so captured the imagination of the world like "Bad to the Bone".
Even if you have never heard of George Thorogood and the Destroyers, you most certainly know that song. I would hard pressed to find a single person on the entire planet that does not instantly recognize that riff. You don’t even have to speak the language to understand what that song means just from that famous guitar riff.
So with slightly calmer nerves I turned to track 16, the new recording of "Bad to the Bone". After all, the previous 5 new recordings held pleasant surprises, even though they are in fact, remakes of remakes. Nonetheless I felt hopeful.
Folks, it’s like this. From the first riff, nay the first note, my heart immediately sank! I hated it! What have they done to my anthem? What has become of the absolute perfectly imperfect wild untamable song? It’s… it’s… been tamed!
For all intense and purpose, I should love the new recording. The distortion was obviously done with the latest and greatest state of the art technology and the arrangements and vocals have been updated and polished. This new version is slick.
Yet, it’s because of this perfect precision that the song completely loses its groove, to say nothing of its edge. This new version is just too smooth, too clean shaven. It’s just not the unpretentious bar band rockin’ out with all its soul. This new recording was done by a much more mature and polished band, a take it home to meet your parents band; (as opposed to the ‘every young girl’s dream, every mother’s nightmare' image that I’ve always associated with George Thorogood and that wonderfully wild song!) But perhaps that’s just me.
The irony here is that because of my disappointment with this new version of one of my all time favorites, I finally understand the enigma of what makes a great rockin’ blues song! It’s that tension built by a song that is always balancing on the razor’s edge; that sounds like it’s always in danger of unraveling. That's what made "Bad to the Bone" so wild, so free, so absolutely perfect in its chaos. Now that it’s been tamed, now that it’s beautiful and polished and so perfectly clean. It’s… well… it’s just not "Bad to the Bone"!
So, in spite of this minor stab to my wild heart of old, do I recommend this CD? Yes, I absolutely and unequivocally recommend this CD for anyone new to the Destroyers or long time devoted fans alike. This extended anniversary edition is as amazing today as it was 25 years ago, and the new tracks are a great addition to any rock/blues collection.
I’m also certain that most people will like the new, heavier, cleaner, more perfectly distorted guitar sound of the latest recording of the title track. As for myself, I’ll keep enjoying the rest of a great album. I’ll just generally skip track 16 and turn back to track 6, the original, the true version of George at his wild best; thoroughly good, untamed, and Bad to the Bone!Powered by Sidelines