The City Of New Orleans 45 by Arlo Guthrie

June 20, 2012

When your father was music legend Woody Guthrie, you have quite a legacy to live up too.

Arlo Guthrie exploded upon the music scene with his performnces at The Newport Folk Festival and Woodstock during the late 1960s and his opus, “Alice’s Restaurant.” He has continued to perform and record down to the present day.

He has only placed two songs on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. The first was a very short version of the 18 minute “Alice’s Restaurant,” which only reached number 97 during its two weeks on the chart.

His only pop hit was the Steve Goodman song, “The City Of New Orleans.” Released as a single during the early summer of 1972, it peaked at number 18 during its 16 weeks on the chart.

Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie

January 12, 2012

Will all commie pinkos please report to the Group W bench at Alice’s Restaurant?

Arlo Guthrie had a hard act to follow. His father was the legendary Woody Guthrie, whose songs influenced hundreds of artists, and became the focal point for political protest for the generation that was to follow his death at the age of 55 in 1967.

During the last four-plus decades, Arlo Guthrie has released dozens of albums, toured constantly, and become a respected member of the modern day folk movement. His first album, released the same year as his father’s death, remains his most enduring and memorable because of the title song.

Alice’s Restaurant was issued during September of 1967 and elevated Arlo to the upper ranks of 1960s folk artists. The title song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” was a definitive song of the Vietnam War era and remains the grand opus of his career. It became such a hit that two years later, the song was made into a movie.

The song was an 18-minute talking blues style anti-war song. There really was an Alice, a restaurant, and an officer, Obie. It was a first person account of his arrest for littering, a visit to his draft board, and of being regulated to the Group W bench for rejects. The 27 glossy 8 X 10 pictures with circles and arrows was a bonus. The humor, which attracted the attention of millions, belied the serious political commentary and biting anti-war message. The song has been updated a number of times through the years, including during the Reagan and Bush administrations, but the original remains the classic version.

Most people who purchased the album did so for the title track, but there were several other songs that represented the era well. “Chilling of the Evening” was a melodic but scathing criticism of the Vietnam War. “Ring-Around-A Rosy Rag“ concerned an arrest for drug use hidden in 1920s-style music. “The Motorcycle Song“ was another humorous and clever track with odd rhyming that was a nice ride through the anti-protest movement of the late 1960s.

Alice’s Restaurant is somewhat dated today but remains a funny, joyous, and ultimately insightful album that did Arlo Guthrie’s father proud.

Article first published as Music Review: Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant on Blogcritics.

The Best Of Arlo Guthrie by Arlo Guthrie

February 13, 2010

Every now and then I reach into the old music collection and grab something off the shelf which I have not visited in awhile. A couple of days ago this lead me to Arlo Guthrie who was a constant musical companion during my late teenage years.

The son of American folk music legend Woody Guthrie, Arlo is now over 25 albums into his own career which stretches back over four decades. While he has remained active both in the studio and in concert halls, he has faded into the background and much of his material is unknown to the present generation of music fans.

During the late sixties, though, he was an important link in the group of folk artists who were active in the anti-Vietnam War protest movement. He performed at Woodstock and remains a part of that generation’s legacy. He has held true to his ideals and continues to stay active for a variety of social causes.

The Best Of Arlo Guthrie was released in 1977 and is an excellent presentation of his best material from the most commercially successful period of his career.

If you want to understand the music of Arlo Guthrie and get a good picture of the sixties protest movement, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” is the place to start. It clocks in at over eighteen minutes and is presented as a talking-blues folk tune. Guthrie incorporates his own experiences with his local draft board which still resonate and amuse today. If you don’t know about the Group W bench you have missed a slice of the sixties. It may not be a song you will want to play over and over again but it remains his best-known song and is essential listening for anyone even mildly interested in folk music.

“Coming Into Los Angeles” was performed at Woodstock and perfectly fit the gathered hippie generation at that event. His simple and breezy interpretation of Steve Goodman’s “City Of New Orleans” became his only top twenty hit. “Motorcycle Song” is another amusing and in many ways nonsensical song which combines his views about pickles with his love of motorcycles.

The first decade of his career produced a number of strong tracks and I lament the fact that tunes such as “Washington County” and “Hobo’s Lament” were not included but what is here is universally excellent.

Arlo Guthrie is now an elder statesman of the American folk movement. The Best Of Arlo Guthrie is not only a nice introduction to his music but also to an important period of American history.