My wife and I have found a number of bands over the years by taking a chance — we’ll read a favorable review and say “let’s try them”. (We’ve also ended up with a few ‘I can’t believe I bought that one’ albums.) That’s how we stumbled upon the Meat Puppets. Pre-Internet, it wasn’t easy to check out bands before buying, so you had to plunk down your money and hope for the best. My wife decided that good review + weird name = let’s buy it, so we got our first Meat Puppets album in the mid-80s. It turns out that they’re a great band that has produced a lot of terrific music.
The band was formed in 1980 in Arizona, by brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood (with Curt on guitar and vocals and Cris on bass) and drummer Derrick Bostrom. They started out as a hardcore punk band, and later added psychedelic rock and country elements to the mix. They have disbanded a couple of times and then re-formed. They are currently together (as of January 2012), and released the album Lollipop in April 2011.
Curt Kirkwood is one of the best guitarists I’ve heard, and that, more than anything, is why I’ve followed their career and bought several of their albums. I think that their taste for the bizarre and macabre in song lyrics and images in their videos is the main reason why they remain relatively obscure. In a previous post, I talked about how, for me, the lyrical content of a song isn’t very important as long as the music sounds good. The Meat Puppets are a good example of a band where this comes into play. If lyrics matter a lot to you, or if you’re looking for an emotional lift from a song, you probably won’t think too much of the Meat Puppets. I love them because their music sounds so good. As an example, here’s a video for the song Orange from last year’s Lollipop album:
One of their best-known songs from the early days was the title track of their third album, Up on the Sun. Here’s a video that includes some of Kirk’s improvisation:
The band reached their peak of prominence in the early 90’s. The members of Nirvana were big fans, and they invited the Kirkwood brothers to appear with them on their legendary 1993 appearance on MTV Unplugged, where they did three Meat Puppets songs in their set. The Meat Puppets’ next album, Too High to Die, released in 1994, was their most successful, and the single Backwater made it onto the charts. Here’s a video of them playing Backwater:
Here’s another great song with huh? lyrics, Scum, from their 1995 album No Joke (“Under the stone, we find the scum”):
To conclude, here’s one more video, for the song Vile from 2011’s Lollipop album, which I want to include just because it’s a damn good song:
Neil Young is an amazing musician, a master of several styles of guitar playing. In addition to being the godfather of grunge rock, he’s also outstanding playing folk and country, and has challenged himself by playing with a wide variety of people through the course of his career. He’s also as good at songwriting as he is at playing. In another post, I recommended his film Rust Never Sleeps. In the film, he does the same song two different ways — folk and grunge — demonstrating his mastery of both styles. Here are videos (not from the film) of both versions:
Hey Hey My My (Out of the Blue) is the folk version, performed on acoustic guitar with harmonica. This version is from from Farm Aid 1985:
Hey Hey My My (Into the Black) is the grunge version, performed with Crazy Horse. This version is from the Phoenix Festival in 1996:
He first became known in the US as a member of the short-lived but highly influential band Buffalo Springfield. Here is a video of them doing Neil’s song Mr. Soul at the Hollywood Palace in 1967:
Neil collaborated with Crazy Horse many times over the years. He’s playing with them in the grunge version of Hey Hey My My (above), and he played with them in the film Rust Never Sleeps. His first collaboration with Crazy Horse was the album that established his prominence, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which was released in 1969. This trailer describes the effort in 1997 to restore and release five tracks from the band’s March 1970 performance at Fillmore East. Here’s one of those tracks, Cowgirl in the Sand:
Neil and Steven Stills were both members of Buffalo Springfield, which led to Neil playing with Crosby, Stills and Nash on occasion through the years. Here are Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young performing Ohio on 3/30/2000 in Toronto:
Neil played with many musicians over the years. For example, he recorded his twenty-third studio album, Mirror Ball, in 1995 with Pearl Jam as his band. Here they are playing Rockin in the Free World:
I’ll freely admit that I like his rock music the best, but I also like his acoustic music. For the last twenty-five years, he has held an all-acoustic benefit concert for the Bridge School in Marin County, California. The list of performers over the years has been a “who’s who in rock and roll” (look at the list of performers in the history section of the website). He’s made an effort over the years to include younger artists. Here’s a performance from the most recent concert in October 2011, with Neil and fellow Canadians Arcade Fire doing Helpless:
Here’s another performance from the same show, with Neil doing Pocahontas with Beck:
As with some of the other artists I’ve written about, it’s hard to decide where to stop. I hope I’ve given you motivation to go find more about this great artist, and some clues as to where to find it.