Grandiosity Incporporated

Eric Wolfson Goes Long on Rock’s Thematic Beasts

the riley rock report March 8, 2024

Origin story

Eric Wolfson: I started this book over half my life ago when I was in college working under a professor who I really admire. He did a rock and roll class. He still teaches. I was in the very first class. His name is Scott Sandage from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

And for the final project, I’m dating myself a little bit, he had us all make mixtapes of our, we had to cover at least 50 years of music and then, make a mixtape string of songs that were related to each other somehow. So I decided I thought it would be interesting to do traveling in music.

I always liked the idea of like, you know, Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson. Jimmy Rogers, people like that, that traveled around. And I guess I was a little romantic about it at the time, although now I’m not sure how romantic it is, but yeah, the guys, you know, traipsing around and seeing what they see.

So anyway, when I was doing it, the kind of brilliance of the, if I may say so myself, the thing that made it click was that [00:01:00] I decided that the thing that was a game changer for rock and roll is psychedelic drugs in the mid sixties. And when that started happening, then the journey went from something that was physical and realistic and real to something that was surreal and completely psychological.

And that then took on the journey, and then from there I was sort of as I was, you know, working, thinking about it more. I’m like, well, then the concept album is then the artwork, like that’s the painting that you get and it all just lined up with the idea of sort of rock with the Beatles and Dylan and the Stones all sort of becoming taken more seriously by the end of the 60s.

It all just sort of fit together. So, I actually then did an independent study just to try to turn this into a thesis or something and my advisor said ‘you know, this is really a book and we should treat it as such.’ And so he said, ‘what we should do is write the best part first’, which was the concept album part.

So the Sgt. Pepper chapters, like pieces of it, probably, I think that are still in there, it’s like the Last Supper. There’s like probably tiny little things, you know, that are still there in the original version. And that was sort of how it started. And then I noticed, then I was like, ‘Oh, there isn’t a book about the concept album.’

And then I just prayed for the next 20 years, and no one’s scooped me on it. I think in December, I heard that someone did something about British rock in the seventies in the concept album, but I cannot find that book if that did in fact come out. And my editors pointed out that there was a self published history of the concept album that I bought right away.

That was, that’s available on Amazon, but it wasn’t like it, you know, it was self released. So it wasn’t like a major label thing or something.

Conceptualization

Tim Riley: So tell us what your working definition of the concept album was going in. And then did it change over the course of writing the book?

Eric Wolfson: It did. At first I was kind of a snob about it because this is, you know, because I had this whole chip on my shoulder about it being like a real concept album. And, the thing is [00:03:00] my original, my sort of working definition is that it’s an album over which the songs are connected either through theme or by subject matter or narrative, and that then by listening to all of them, it creates sort of one listening experience or tells one story.

Originally I was very, like, black and white about it, and I’m like, okay, I had all these different, like, precursors to the concept album as I saw it. So it was like the theme album, I called it. It’s like, you know, the Johnny Cash records from the early 60s where it’s, you know, Ride This Train or Ballads of the American Indian and stuff like that.

Where I saw it as, it wasn’t really a concept album as much as, like, here’s a bunch of songs. You know, with this theme or like what I called a mood album, which is the, you know, Sinatra, you know, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! or In the Wee Small Hours and again, I, you know, I saw it.

It’s definitely, I feel this mood. I want to put this mood on, but it didn’t really reach for me the level of like an actual concept album all put [00:04:00] together. And, you know, same thing like genre, like I consider the modern sounds and country and Western music by Ray Charles to be sort of like that too, or it’s sort of this themed experiment or themed, like, this is what you’re going to get from this record.

But it didn’t, for me, all the train cars didn’t all link up yet. You know, it was all sort of just like, here’s a scattering of this. So when the original drafts of the book, I went through all these different kinds and was like, so that’s not a concept album, but I’m now sort of like I don’t think this made the book because I was having trouble describing it, but there’s this great Mitch Hedberg line.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Mitch Hedberg. And he says, “any book is a children’s book if the kid can read.” And that’s kinda what I came to think of with the concept album. Like, any album’s a concept album if you bring a concept to it. Like, if we’re talking about art, which I think we are with the concept album, I’m in no position to say that you’re wrong.

Like, you know, if you pick up [00:05:00] and you’re like, I’m listening to this whatever Sinatra album, and I hear it as, you know, one story of like two people across the entire thing. Or simply, you know, I want Frank Sinatra to sing me a little concert tonight and then you put it on. Like, I’m in no position to say, therefore, like, I’m right and you’re wrong.

So I then kind of went the opposite approach and was like, everything’s a concept album. So that sort of changed my view and I think sort of made my process sort of more open minded.

Straight and narrow

Because since there hasn’t been a major history of this yet, I really was conscious about making this be, like, the opening to a conversation.

Like, I want to be at the point where if someone writes back, as I’m sure will happen, and people are like, there’s no, you know, Genesis in here, like, this is the worst book I ever read. I’d be like, great, write the Genesis chapter, like, I’d love to read it, you know? I see this sort of just like opening a door as opposed to being like, here is the wall that I’ve constructed around this and like, you know, it is a barrier.

Because I specifically didn’t go for what I thought were the best [00:06:00] albums or the most influential albums or even my favorite albums, I really just tried to get a variety. Originally this book only went up to like the mid seventies cause I sort of see it as falling off sort of in a classic sense.

But the editors really wanted it to go modern and be as diverse as possible. So I want to honor that and it made it a much, much better book because of it. Sorry, that was a little long answer.

Tim Riley: No, no, no, that’s great. Some of the, so some of what you’re talking about. Bounces off this idea of intentionality, right? So we have these John Lennon quotes where he’s like, yeah, Pepper’s, everyone thinks Pepper’s constant, but it really wasn’t, you know? So where do you fall on that issue? Like some critics think you ought to really take intentionality into account. Other critics think it doesn’t matter.

Eric Wolfson: I guess I’m sort of both ways with it, which probably isn’t the neatest answer.

I definitely grew up in college when I was an English minor, and so I took this fancy class at the end that we had to take, and they were talking about death of the artist, and death of the author, and like that, so you [00:07:00]know, it’s irrelevant what the author’s intent was.

The work is what it is. And so, for Sgt. Pepper, I’m kind of like that, but then, you know, Mia Culpa, when I get to Three Feet High and Rising I’ve sort of, they say that’s not a concept album, but I’m still sort of like, I’m going to treat it like a concept album. So I wish I could say I was more consistent, but then at the same time with Pet Sounds, which originally was going to be the start of the book, I decided that it wasn’t just because I hear it as a narrative of two people throughout the course of like a relationship, but seemingly no one else does.

And that’s sort of not established and it certainly wasn’t their intent. They wanted just each song to be a mood. That was the whole idea, which for me is, then that’s like a mood album. So, I guess I try to have my cake and eat it too. I guess I sort of do it both ways a bit. But yeah, I do think it’s interesting.

Someone asked me the other week if you know, they’re like, ‘Are there any albums on here that the person wouldn’t think is a concept album that you included?’ And that would be Three Feet High and Rising.

Forced Fit

Tim Riley: [00:08:00] So they pushed you to, to update it more. So what was the biggest challenge when they asked you to, to bring it up, like eighties, nineties, aughts and beyond, it sounds like you had to do a lot more listening.

Eric Wolfson: Yep. I basically had to school myself on this period. I’ve been, so growing up, I’ve always, when I was a kid, I loved the roots of rock. I thought that there was this book that came out when I was a kid called What Was The First Rock and Roll Record? By Jim Dobbins and Jim Dawson and Steve Probst, and it just blew my mind, and it’s, I think, I think they’re finally putting it back into print.

Anyway, but that was sort of my, like, map, and then I could go forward from there and backward from there. So, I sort of just didn’t have – about the time that punk happened, that’s sort of like the last great thing that I cared about like or maybe into the early 80s, like Springsteen and Prince and Michael Jackson and stuff. But I just didn’t have too much interest beyond that like [00:09:00] I always used to say that I was born in 1979, so I used to always say ‘Oh well, I only care about music before I was born’ like nothing, which you know is true and not true. But the point, to answer your question I sort of had to give myself a crash course on the aughts, basically which was really good to do, and sort of look at other people’s lists and think about what I thought.

The 90s were sort of unique because I remember the 90s, so I had a good working idea of who the major bands were as a fan and sort of what albums I could use. But the 2000s, I really had to sort of prime myself a little bit. Well, I won’t say that I cheated, but using Smile, that was a big help, because I do think that that’s a phenomenal record, and it is like, I did go see him live to do that after that happened.

Yeah, it was really good at the Boston Orpheum. I don’t know if you’ve ever been up to Boston.

Tim Riley: Oh, yeah, no, it’s right up the street. Yeah, I’ve seen some great shows there. Wow, that’s a great place to see him do that. [00:10:00] It’s such a great story too, after all those years and doing it and following through, and Love and Mercy, such a great treatment of that.

Hard Choices

Tim Riley: So did you do research and do some writing on records that didn’t make it into the book that you wish could have fit into the book?

Eric Wolfson: The one thing that got switched out that I had a fully written thing for like already to go and then I kicked it out, was Springsteen’s Nebraska. That was one where, I went into it with one idea of it, then as I sort of broke it down piece by piece, I wasn’t sure if it held up as well as I thought, because I sort of saw it as this map of, like, America, this sort of austere, you know, dark America, and that there’s all these Midwestern songs and everything, but I was shocked to find the majority of the songs, if they mentioned places, they’re all in [New] Jersey, so it wasn’t so much of a sprawl as I was expecting.

The fact, too, that it was [00:11:00] also essentially a folk album, and that was one of the genres that I decided not to include. I was like, well, I don’t want it to be like, oh, well, Springsteen, even though it’s a folk album, it’s okay because it’s Springsteen. And also, Springsteen already has so many books written about him.

So, I decided to go with the Hooster Dew album Zen Arcade instead. Even though that’s a lot less known and a lot trickier of an album to work with, but I did think from the beginning, I’m like, well, this is a concept album, they say it was a concept album and it got in, you know, punk. Like I have a Green Day chapter, but it’s sort of nice to get actual underground music from the 80s, like college rock stuff.

So, I had some that like I’ll always be disappointed there’s not a Kinks album in here. That was really kind of a blow and I feel like a bit of an insult because they were so, they’re the only band that have like several concept albums that I have to really sit down and think about if I wanted Village Green or if I wanted Lola or even Arthur.

And then I also would have loved to do Randy Newman’s Good Ol Boys, which is such [00:12:00] a loaded pistol. But again, I was trying to go for diversity. So, you know, it seemed more worthwhile to try to get like funk in there as opposed to another white singer songwriter who’s a baby boomer. But on the other hand, I also really want to do Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear, and I just found that also took it too far out of context because it’s like this one reggae album.

It fits, but in terms of only doing sort of 25 albums, I felt like it would have just been like the lone reggae thing in the middle of all this, like, rock and pop and stuff. So, you know, that would have been another one.

Deep Dives

But Nebraska is the only one that I, like, fully drafted, had ready to go, and I killed my darling, as they say.

Tim Riley: Yeah. And you’ve probably seen the Warren Zanes book that came out last year. That’s the story of the Nebraska Sessions.

Eric Wolfson: You know, I don’t know if I have, actually.

Tim Riley: Oh, that’s worth checking out. It’s a really good book.

Eric Wolfson: I definitely will.

Tim Riley: And you got access to Bruce and everything, [00:13:00] and it’s the story of how the record got made and it’s actually more sort of like a process story than a critical interpretive story, but there’s a lot of really cool stuff in it and Bruce takes him to the house or did it. Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

Eric Wolfson: That’s epic. I’m actually finishing his autobiography now and I’ve just been reading the 33 and 1/3 book about Born in the USA gets into it a little bit too. Yeah. But no, and Zanes is great. I mean, he’s the original 33 and 1/3 guy, if I’m not mistaken.

Tim Riley: That’s true, right? Is that he was the first one? That’s right. He did [Dusty Springfield’s] Dusty in Memphis. And that’s a wonderful book. I love that book. That book is so funny.

Eric Wolfson: I know in my head I’m like, Oh, my Elvis book. I’m going to talk about Chips Roman. No one’s ever heard of him. Then I open that book and like first page. I’m like, “Ah! Good.” Well, more people know him now. I can’t remember who wrote it. I can’t remember his name. I think he wrote, I want to say for the Post. Anyway, I think it’s very good. It’s definitely, [00:14:00] yeah, I think it’s really good. It sort of takes you through the making of it.

And it brings up a lot of points there. One of the things I find fascinating is, I guess at one point, you know, they had like 30 songs for that record, if not more. And so he was polling all of his friends about it, and family, like which 10 or 12 should I choose? And he did this poll and it turned out that only, I think four songs were chosen by everybody and I want to, I’m going to not get this right, but it was something like “Born in the USA,” “Downbound Train” and like “I’m on Fire” and then the fourth one was “This Hard Land”, which I love, we’re going off on a tangent now, but I love the original 80, 82 or 83 version of “This Hard Land,” not the greatest hits one, but the one that came out on tracks. I think that’s one of his top, I literally made a top 10, top 100 list for Bruce in that era.

And that was number like six or seven. I’m just like, this is one of his very just [00:15:00] masterpieces.

Tim Riley: And is that, I think “Frankie” is part of those sessions too, right?

Eric Wolfson: It is.

Tim Riley: Yeah. I have to read that book. There’s a lot of that in the Nebraska book too, because Nebraska is all woven together with it. As you know, right.

Eric Wolfson: Yeah, they were thinking about making me a double record, like Acoustic and Electric or something.

Tim Riley: Yeah. So, I’m curious to hear you talk about, you know, trying to make this list diverse, did it strike you that the concept album, the idea of the concept album belonged or felt like it had more of a home, say, in the rock and roll stream, or that rock and roll brought, brought new ideas to it and made it sort of something distinctive in the rock genre and that’s why it was harder to travel outside the rock genre?

Eric Wolfson: Not exactly, because the way I sort of see the grand shape of it, if you will, is that in the 60s and into the 70s, there was all this stuff. And then in the ’80s, the ’80s were really tricky to find albums. There just weren’t that [00:16:00] many, at least as far as I could tell. You know, I got the Hüsker Dü on one side and the Iron Maiden on the other because I want to get heavy metal in there.

But then it’s really the hip hop album that I think really revived it. Cause, I’ve had people tell me, like, “I don’t even know why Hip Hop’s in this book, because isn’t every Hip Hop album a concept album?” And, I’m like, maybe now it is, but, the way they used the little skits and stuff, and the way they have the intro tracks and stuff, it’s really set up as like a one listening thing in a way that rock music usually isn’t anymore.

And honestly wasn’t in the same way. I think the use of skits is really sort of a game changer and that’s a big part of why I left, why I really wanted to do Three Feet High and Rising because that was like the original off the wall random skit album.

Tim Riley: It’s funny, I think the skits are like the least of it. Like I want to skip all the skits. I don’t want to, [00:17:00]but that’s not what I want to hear when I want to put on De La Soul. I don’t want to hear the skits. I want to hear the track. So, right. I’ve always thought of that as like the least impressive thing about the record. But you’re right. It does create, it does make it into, like, more of a show.

Eric Wolfson: Interesting, and this is now just how I personally have heard the album, which is that since it’s set up and it’s got this continuing sort of running joke, basically, of it being a game show, and that the different guys, the different members, and their producers are the contestants is that, for me, it sounded like that was the show, and then the everything else, the songs, the skits, everything were the commercials.

And it felt like an album of commercials, and I loved that. I thought that was just a cool idea. Which I don’t even think was their intent. I mean, they say, I found interviews with them about the making of it where they said, “Oh, you know, Prince Paul just did that in the last day or two of mixing. Like, we didn’t even, we didn’t [00:18:00] even know that was going to be like what it turned out to be. We were just like, we were goofing around one day.”And then next thing we know, we get the record it’s like produced by him. He’s like, “oh yeah, I sort of used it throughout it” and they were like, “What?” So, yeah. Again, artistic intent versus how the work ends up.

Yeah.

Tim Riley: So how did you make up your mind about the Who?

Eric Wolfson: Honestly, I’m more familiar with Tommy than Quadrophenia. But it would have been The Who Sell Out was actually the one that probably I would have done next. The Who Sell Out is earlier though, and for me, I feel like the first half of side two it works and then it just sort of falls apart and just becomes a normal album about halfway through.

And I really wanted albums that were true concept elements. So I didn’t do the [the Faces’] Ogdens’ Nut Flake. Yeah, because that was, it’s only really one side that’s a concept album. And so with that sort of how I heard who sell out. So Tommy is sort of near and dear to me because like, my mom always [00:19:00] loved Tommy. She was a big Who fan. And so I heard a lot growing up. I was familiar with it. And, like, one Christmas she gave us tickets that night to go see it in Boston. This was in the 90s when they were first reviving it as a musical. But the thing is, I also didn’t love it.

Like, I would much rather listen to like, Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy. I know that’s a compilation, but like, just the singles and stuff. Like, that’s for me where the great music is. But the thing that fascinated me about Tommy is that the more I dug around, I finally got a copy of the Live at Leeds deluxe.

It came out in like, ’98, I think, or ’99. And that has the middle of the Leeds show, they do a complete Tommy and the original version of the record only had, I think, the sparks instrumental from it. And then they’re like, oh, you’re, but supposedly there were like tracking problems and there were all these scratches on it, so they couldn’t release it, and then somehow they fixed that all of a sudden. And it was there and it’s immaculate. It is so much better than the album. And there was a period of [00:20:00] my life where I, every single time they released a full Tommy live, I would buy it. So they have like, Isle of Wight, I grabbed it.

Like Woodstock, I grabbed it and they were just, you know, it got a little ridiculous after a while, but I wanted to hear like is this really the best, best one because they’re always sort of shuffling around with it and it really is. Isle of Wight I found, for whatever reason Keith Moon just sounded a little bit, a little bit sloppy and it just didn’t seem as tight.

But the Leeds is amazing. If you listen to it on the headphones, you have like Entwistle in one ear, you got Townsend in the other, and then you got like drums and vocals in the middle, and it’s just, it’s almost like a Phil Spector thing. There’s so much you, I have to sit there and remind myself, this is three instruments and four people.

Well, I mean, four. Yeah, three instruments and four people. Yeah.

Tim Riley: And so how do you compare that with Hull? They did release Live at Hull, you know, and they used some of the bass lines from Live at Hull to repair stuff on Leeds because they had dropouts in the bass line.

Eric Wolfson: Oh, I didn’t know that. The Hull one. Sorry, I’m trying to [00:21:00] Which, which one’s the Hull one?

Tim Riley: It’s called Live at Hull and it’s very close. It’s like within a month or six weeks of Leeds and it’s a very similar set list, like maybe the exact same thing. And it’s a very curious thing to compare because it’s the same band and there’s a lot of the same heat, but it’s not Leeds. [Live atLeeds has this extra, extra magical thing going for it that is, you know, what you’re trying to describe. And it’s like sort of this indescribable factor. It’s an X factor that is just giant. And it’s so funny to listen to Hull because Hull is great. It’s not, it’s, that’s not like weak. It’s not weak Who, but it’s not Leeds.

It’s really interesting what a small step it is between Hull, which is like B plus and Leeds, which is like A plus.

Eric Wolfson: Yeah. I think they made that on [00:22:00] Valentine’s Day, Leeds. I think it was recorded on Valentine’s Day. And I guess you’re right. I don’t recall a whole, but I must have. I feel like the ones like I don’t ever listen to Isle of Wight CDs anymore or whatever.

Tim Riley: Cause I was, Isle of Wight never grabbed me for some reason. I don’t know why I’d have to go back and listen to it to think about it, but it never grabbed me. But how many other live Tommy’s are there? And Hull has a lot of Tommy’s, or at least they put out, it’s, I don’t know, I’d have to go do a little research, but you could. It’s on streaming. You could find it. It’s called Live at Hull. I’d be really curious about your reaction to that.

Eric Wolfson: Yeah, I’m gonna definitely check it out.

Tim Riley: So what do you want to talk about? What are you most excited for readers to come to your book to discover and what do you hope people are going to ask you about when you do interviews?

Eric Wolfson: I just love talking shop about the different records and why it shows what I did. And, you know, people, the last guy I talked to, like, thought I was a little too like mean to Tommy and that, you know, I sort of like downplayed [00:23:00] it. But I always found that. You know, I hate to be this guy, but, you know, if they just cut it down to a single record, it would have been like rock’s masterpiece, but it was just a little the under churn stuff like that.

And Kevin, Kevin just sort of drive. I talked to a huge Entwistle fan the other day who was like, oh, “Cousin Kevin.” That’s like the best thing on the album. And I’m like, agree to disagree.

Tim Riley: But that’s just a game, you know?

Eric Wolfson: Yeah. Well that’s the fun.

Tim Riley: I mean, what people don’t understand is it’s not about people agreeing with you. Like that’s not the point.

Eric Wolfson: Right. And that was the, and throughout this whole thing, I sort of had to accept the fact early on that I’m just like, okay. You know, with the Elvis book, there’s the Elvis target, and there’s this whole market of people waiting for Elvis stuff to happen. Whereas with this, it’s so diverse, I’m like, I’m probably gonna get so many negative reviews based on what I chose and what I didn’t.

You know, what I think, what I hope, what I like about the book, and what I hope people get is that it sort of becomes almost like this sort of alternate history of music. [00:24:00] Where, you know, instead of going by gigs, or like events, or singles, or you know, songs or something, that it’s this very unique and abstract sort of magical thing, the concept album, that ties all these very, very different artists together.

And, you know, I hope I didn’t leave anything out. I’m always ready for, I’m always on the edge of my seat for someone to be like, oh, you didn’t include, and it’s like so obvious, but I consulted so many different books and lists and stuff because I really wanted to try to, you know, challenge myself and what not.

Rolling Stone, in the middle of me writing this, came out with their 50 greatest concept albums of all time. And it was funny because number one was Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city. And I remember I was, that I was listening to, and then I was listening to To Pimp a Butterfly. And I was like, these are both so important, and they’re so like, beautiful, and like, so tightly constructed, but, at the end of the day, I’m like, well, I can’t really get a narrative out of Butterfly, [00:25:00] and so I went with good kid, m.A.A.d. city, then it, that was like, redeemed when I saw that, I’m like, oh, phew, cause I don’t even think Butterfly was on the list, and then same thing with, oh, there was another one too, that was, that was like that, where I wasn’t sure, and then, it turned out like, like Janelle Monae, I could have done a bunch of stuff, but ArchAndroid.

Usually if it was between a couple, I default to the first to the earliest because I found that a lot of times that sort of dug the deepest and was sort of them sort of finding themselves. Like a lot of people, you know, the fact that it’s Dark Side instead of The Wall you know, The Wall is sort of the more clear concept album, but the fact that Dark Side of the Moon, is I see it as sort of almost this like Irish wake for for Sid Barrett in terms of them, you know, sort of regrouping and it was, you know, the most democratic record they ever made. I feel like after that, Roger White sort of just took over and was just, it was sort of the Roger White show to an extent.

So, you know, and the fact, and that’s an album where it really feels like a singular [00:26:00]experience. So, you know, it comes down to stuff like that. But I hope, you know, the goal is that the person that likes classic rock is not just gonna buy it, read the first chapter, and then never look at it.

Like, my ideal reader is somebody who is curious beyond that. I don’t know if you ever read Michael – he’s a guy who wrote about, his brother was like a murderer, and then he wrote about – Michael Gilmore. And he had this great book called the, like Images of Rock.

It was like a collection of all of his writing. And I read that thing cover to cover and I was astonished because they had, you know, a lot of the major rock people that he had talked to her interviewed, but then they also had like Keith Jarrett and like Frank Sinatra and people that I wouldn’t normally care about.

But. It was like after each chapter, I’m like, ‘I have to go out and buy that album,’ you know, that’s like, I kind of wanted something similar here where it could be like, you could read through the whole thing and, you know, it would hopefully keep your interest and not be too shop talky or formal and just kind of open people’s eyes because I do think it’s this very [00:27:00] special, unique thing and that nobody’s really thought about it as a history yet on a, on a bigger level.

And I just, I feel like it’s one of those things that, you know, like, lends itself well to, to fans of the music in terms of, you know, people talk about, you know, the greatest shows are like the greatest guitarists and I’m just like, this is, you know, for me, this is like almost equivalent to like the greatest paintings of like rock and roll, something like that.

The Anti-Concept

Tim Riley: So, any meaningful fights with your editors?

Eric Wolfson: You know, one album that was on the book for a while, for years, and then got kicked off pretty summarily. Cause one of the editors was like, I don’t understand why this, why this is here, is the Ramones first album. I, I was always going to, you’re rolling your eyes.

Tim Riley: I love that. I mean. You have to pick your battles. That was maybe a battle I would have fought. I mean, I, you know, big Ramones fan.

Eric Wolfson: I am too. But then it comes down to a fact of like, you know, [00:28:00] I would have wanted a Bob Dylan album in here. Like I almost for a while, I was always going to put John Wesley Harding in here.

I always heard that as like his two, you know, his Bible music. But in terms of the Ramones, I kind of got what she meant because it was almost like an anti-concept album. The thing that I thought was so interesting is that they’re like, you know, these four guys, like, wearing leather jackets and posing as brothers and, like, dumbing everything down.

And that, if journeying is so essential to rock and roll and the concept album, this was an album about not going anywhere. It’s like, you know, I don’t want to go down to the basement. I don’t want to walk around with you. Like, let’s beat on the brat. Like, let’s just take our Beatles records and smash them.

You know, it was a completely stagnant album in a way that is rare. And there are very few albums like that. But yeah, in the end, I mean, for better or for worse, I caved to the powers that be because they were like, this doesn’t make sense. This isn’t a concept album, and it clearly wasn’t intended to be.

I mean, that was just, you know, they were always like, we just write music, we can so that, ’cause it’s what we can play. [00:29:00] I mean, I was blown away when I found out Springsteen originally wrote “Hungry Heart” for the Ramones. I was like, what?

Tim Riley: I know, I know. Crazy, isn’t it? Can you imagine? I can, can you imagine?

Eric Wolfson: That’s the thing. I can totally imagine. It’d be great.

Tim Riley: I think that’s so wonderful, and that winds up being his first, I think it’s his first top 40 or his first top 10. First top, definitely top five.

Eric Wolfson: Yeah, I think top 10. Yeah, the only other one to chart was like “Born to Run” was like 26 or something in billboard.

Tim Riley: So I have one more question, then I have to shut it down because I have another thing I have to run to get to, but I’ve really enjoyed our chat. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you. You want to talk about overrated concept albums and underrated concept albums and are you going to try and correct any of that?

Eric Wolfson: Oh you know, I wanted to sort of include a bad concept album, which I didn’t end up doing, but that was always sort of an idea of like, here’s one that’s a concept album, but [00:30:00] it doesn’t really work. And  I originally had this big, beautiful chapter about Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones and the idea of it being like sort of space like they were going into space in a way and it was taking sort of the traveling idea kind of the highest level but, at the same time, it wasn’t particularly good and that they sort of, you know, at the end of the day, it was, you know, them, like, lying on the floor, like, tripping out while singing, you know, why don’t we sing this all together part two or whatever, but I didn’t end up using that because at the end of the day, I’m like, I don’t think it’s like trying so hard to be concept album has the connections, but I was like, it’s not quite there in my opinion.

Failed Concepts

Eric Wolfson: Yeah. So then I also attempted to do  the Yes album, the Tales from Topographic Oceans, I think. I listened to that and I was, I got a copy of it and I sat down and I listened to it and I was like, I don’t think I can do this. Like, you know, this is [00:31:00] like two discs worth of music and it’s,

Tim Riley: I’ve never made it through that record. I mean, I think, you know, I have mixed feelings about concept albums. When I was in Liverpool. Talking to people you get Liverpool people who are related. ‘Well, the Beatles were fine until [Sgt.] Pepper, then they really got full of themselves, with Pepper. Really they jumped the tracks.’ You know, they do not, like, it’s an anti intellectual thing and that the Beatles, they were misdirected when they went in that direction, you know. But I do think that when Prog Rock picked it up. like thick as a brick and stuff like, that’s the worst possible direction you can take, is that a song is 20 minutes long. No, that’s a bad idea, but so listen, thanks, this has been really fun to talk to you. Let’s talk again. Send me a, throw the audio up on Google or something. Send it to me however you can. Okay, sure. Let’s stay in touch and thanks for your time. No worries. Good luck with the book.

Eric Wolfson: Likewise. Thank you so much for having me.