The Long Ryders "Final Wild Songs"
- Tried so hard to please you
It's safe to assume, I think, that most people reading this will at the very least be aware of “The Long Ryders” so I'll keep the background brief. The Long Ryders were the guitar band of the mid-1980s, blending in near equal parts a solid base of rock with a punk sensibility, a leavening of Gram Parsons take on country rock and perhaps a slightly more generous measure of the jangling 12-string sound of The Byrds. They pushed out albums full of punchy "three minute warnings" and were, in the words of Jonathan Richman, "in love with rock and roll" and doubtless also had a tendency to be "out all night". A mighty live band and there's plenty of evidence for this from disc four of "Final Wild Songs" which captures the band giving it their all in the Netherlands in 1985. They were one of those bands - like Buffalo Springfield two decades earlier - which just failed to breakthrough, something that was, and still is, a mystery to those with taste and discernment. They seemed to be perpetually on the cusp of the big hit song but broke up before it really happened for them. Part of this was surely influenced by a slice of the music media at the time taking strongly against them. There's a recording of Sid Griffin reading out all their bad reviews as part of an encore. It's hilarious and full of pathos in equal measure.
The Long Ryders produced three full length albums - "Native Sons", "State of our Union" and "Two Fisted Tales" - alongside EPs and single releases. And all are here in full, along with a heap of remixes, live recordings, including "Looking for Lewis & Clark" from their appearance on Whistle Test (the Old and the Grey having been dropped by this point for the young and the hip), B-sides and so forth. Much of this is never before released so it doesn't just duplicate the material on the fairly recent expanded reissues of "Native Sons" and "State of our Union" although inevitably there is some overlap. The box set also contains a nice booklet with a valedictory essay by Rolling Stone's David Fricke, a whole bunch of photo's and a track by track commentary on the material on the first three CDs. There's also a sort of mini-poster with more photographs and images of gig memorabilia.
So, that's who they were and what you get in the "Final Wild Songs" box , but is it any good? Do I have to come right out and say it? Sit yourself down and get listening because this is truly glorious. Sure, sure, not every single song is total genius - Sid comments that "Never Got To Meet the Mom" was cited as the worst song ever written by someone who requested it at a Coal Porters gig. It isn’t that bad. For every song that was not total genius there's a song like "Ivory Tower" (which just happens to feature Gene Clark), the finest Byrds song that the Byrds never did - and yes I do include American Girl in that comparison - which captures that sonic and lyrical clarity of the original line-up's finest moments. "Run Dusty Run" and "Tell it to The Judge on Sunday" are classic rockers whilst the cover of "(Sweet) Mental Revenge" tips the hat to the Burritos whilst remaining true to The Long Ryders. And this is just cherry picking disc one. "State of Our Union" was a superb second album, a start to finish pleasure and "Two fisted Tales" was in no way lesser - "Gunslinger Man" is the Long Ryders take on a political murder ballad, "Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home" is a definitive Americana track.
So of course this box set is an absolute essential purchase, even if one already has the original albums - even in their expanded forms. The Long Ryders were truly the cream of the crop of the so-called Paisley Underground. They rocked. They were sly. They took a stance against stuff they just did not agree with. If, by some simple twist of fate, you don't happen to have any Long Ryders albums...hard to imagine I know...then start right here - you won't regret it.