"No Nukes: The M.U.S.E. Concerts For a Non-Nuclear Future" (Asylum ML-801) is three records of 29 songs taped at the five benefit concerts in Madison Square Garden Sept. 19-23.Out of all that music, one highpoint clearly stands out: Bruce Springsteen's medley of four Mitch Ryder songs.
Springsteen's E Street Band charges into "Devil With The Blue Dress" with organ blasting and drums pumping. "The Boss" Springsteen yodels lustily over rattling piano. Rowdy guitar segues into "Good Golly Miss Molly" with the rhythm guitar ramming the dance beat home. Furious organ slides into "C.C. Rider," and Springsteen and band are totally obsessed by the time they get to "Jenny Take a Ride" and more "Devil With The Blue Dress."
It's a frenzied, classic four-and-a-half minutes of rock'n'roll, probably the best Springsteen has ever committed to vinyl. But what does it have to do with nuclear power plants? After all, these songs were crude hits when Mich Ryder & the Detroit Wheels recorded them in 1966. "C.C. Rider" had already been a 1957 hit for Chuck Willis; "Molly" and "Jenny" were Little Richard hits in 1957-58. These are songs from the days before rock'n'roll was considered art, much less a political statement.
But there must be some connection, for five other songs on "No Nukes" are pre-1967 rock'n'roll classics. Bonnie Raitt romps through Del Shannon's 1960 "Runaway." Ry Cooder bops his way through Elvis Presley's 1961 "Little Sister." James Taylor and Carly Simon vamp through Inez & Charles Foxx's 1963 "Mockingbird." Tom Petty aches on Solomon Burke's 962 "Cry To Me." Springsteen and Jackson Browne sway through Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs' 1960 "Stay."
The cynical interpretation would be that these artists are apolitical trend-followers who jumped on the anti-nuke bandwagon. The clearly articulated statements on nuclear power by Taylor, Raitt and Browne in the album's 16-page color booklet easily refute this. Then what is the connection between lusty dance songs and a political movement to change energy policy?
One only has to watch as a sweating, panting Springsteen leaps into the air with hinged knees and lands with a ringing chord and big grin to guess the answer. It's impossible to imagine Springsteen sitting in a skyscraper behind a desk computing a cost-benefit ratio with cancers on one side of the ledger and kilowatts on the other.
This is a bit simplistic, but it suggests a basic truth. Rock'n'roll has always been an exotic, populist folk art. Therefore, roch'n'roll's embrace of humanist, populist politics in the lat '60s and again recently was no big change but a natural next move. Little Richard's shuddering shout of freedom in 1957 -- "Jenny, Jenny, Jenny, c'mon, take a ride with me!" -- leads inevitably to Jackson Browne's stirring rhetoric of freedom -- "They struggled to protect the earth . . . believed they were meant to live after the deluge."
Thus it's not at all imcongruous for Bonnie Raitt to sing both "Runaway" and John Hall's anti-nuke anthem, "Power," on side one. "Runaway" is a mightly compressed teen-age drama pumped up by Raitt's bluesy vocal, the pointed guitars of John Hall and Will Mcfarlane, and the aching keyboards of Bill Payne. On "Power," Hall and Raitt are joined by Browne, Taylor, Simon, the Doobie Brothers, Grahm Nash and Nicolette Larson. This star-studded choir makes the singalong as uplifting as an anthem should be.
Raitt, Hall, Browne and Nash were the founders of Musicians United for Safe Energy (M.u.s.e.) who put on the benefit shows. The $233,500 netted at the concerts, plus the net from the album sales and the forthcoming concert film are being distributed to grassroots anti-nuke groups. The album booklet is devoted mostly to simple but clear explanations of the issues surrounding nuclear energy.
Browne provides the album's best explicity political songs. "The Crow on the Cradle" is a haunting tale by British folksinger Sydney Carter. A crow lands by an infant and tells the parents of the war and destruction the child will grow up in David Lindley's funeral fiddle and Brown's storyteller delivery give it a timeless folk feel. Lindley and Browns again combine on a memorable version of Brown's apocalyptic fable, "Before the Deluge."
James Taylor gets a disproportionate share of the album. He either sings or duets on six cuts. He's at his best as a harmony singer. He even supplies counterpoint depth to Bob Dylan's paradoxically timeless "The Times They Are A Changin'."
A M.U.S.E. decision to seek out female, monority and political performers led to the inclusion of two Washington acts. "A Woman" is a short but typically strong a capella harmony effort by the four black women in Sweet Honey is the Rock. "We Almost Lost Detroit" is Gil Scott-Heron's jazz-poetry rap on the nuclear accident at Detroit's Fermi I plant.
Another live album from a political benefit concert was released recently. "Bread & Roses" (Fantasy F-79009) is two records taken from the October 1977 Bread & Roses Festival of Accustic Music at Berkeley's Greek Theater. The festival raised money for Bread & Roses, a nonprofit organization which brings free live entertainment into hospitals, prisons, old-age homes and other shut-in institutions.
The all-acoustic format gives an esthetic unity to "Bread & Roses" that is lacking on "No Nukes." Whether they're singing about their pet goose or prisoners, the 22 performers on "Bread & Roses" underscore the populist sentiments within all folk music. Too often a tractor trailer full of sound equipment is the minimum bid in the pop-music poker game. This album reminds intimidated listeners of how much power can be generated by just the voice and fingers.
This musical self-reliance seems to lead to a gentle concern for the personal. As diverse as folk music can be, this common concern holds them together. Thus the record moves easily from an Arlo Gulthrie comedy song to an Irish medley by Ireland's Boys of the Lough to a Mickey Newbury country ballad to a Dan Hicks swing tune to an a capella gospel number by the Persuasisons to an angry Richie Havens protest song.