Perhaps not since Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes' storied Memorial Day Weekend shows back in 1976 has a Stone Pony show been so hotly anticipated as Saturday, July 2. The absolutely brilliant, criminally underappreciated 1982 album Men Without Women will be played in album sequence order on the outside stage of the Stone Pony by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. On his website in May, Southside wrote, "I just listened to it again in the car today and cannot believe it wasn't a huge hit. Great songs, great arrangements and a killer band, along with the most compelling authentic vocals I have ever heard from Steven Van Zandt."
Men Without Women(the title comes from the book of fourteen short stories by Ernest Hemingway about bullfighting and relationships) was the debut release by Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. Steven Van Zandt had reinvented himself with a new name and new mission from the erstwhile Miami Steve Van Zandt, longtime lead guitarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and former songwriter/producer/manager of the Asbury Jukes.
For his introduction to the world as a solo artist, Van Zandt had reached deep into his soulful, musical heart, and came up with 10 songs that spoke of love and loss in the most eloquent terms imaginable. The song "Forever" was the first single and ended up residing for nine weeks on the Billboard charts, helped no doubt by the music video which was getting heavy rotation on a very young MTV.
The 1982 Disciples of Soul included Jean Beauvoir on bass and backing vocals, percussionist Monti Louis Ellison, Zoe Yanakis on oboe, and legendary Rascals drummer Dino Danelli. E Street Band members were also present on a few of the sessions; Garry Tallent on bass, Danny Federici on organ and accordion, Max Weinberg on drums, Clarence Clemons on backing vocals, and Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals on both Angel Eyes and Until The Good Is Gone.
The album was rife with the Motown/Stax-Volt feel of the first three classic Asbury Jukes' albums, which Van Zandt had produced as well as written much of the material for. There was a full horn section including many of the Jukes' horn players at the time (La Bamba, Mark Pender, Stan Harrison, and Eddie Manion).
There are a few records (and I can count them on one hand) that I played so many times that even if I haven't heard them in years, I can still recite the lyrics word for word, know when the solos come in, and feel the thrill of the music wash over me like it was (seriously?) 29 years ago. In 1982 and 1983 I played this record every day, at least twice a day, and lived inside those songs.
Besides the music, which remains deliriously fresh and alive, the lyrics will knock you to your knees with their brutal beauty. From the closing ballad, "I've Been Waiting Such A Long Time" :
"I've worked hard so I could say nobody owns me
You can spend your whole life trying to forget that you're lonely
Meanwhile the world went by and I paid it no mind
I thought I could close the doors 'cause baby I earned it
I felt I had to prove myself and that meant everything
Then you walked in, and suddenly I realized
I've been waiting such a long time
Waiting here for you, girl."
From the classic "Inside of Me":
"There was a moment in time, we could almost taste the adventure every day
Now I know that we're a little bit older but that don't mean there's nothing new left to say
Now we spend the days walking away instead of trying to do something about it
You oughta be right by my side / Instead of trying to find a place to hide."
From the lyrical and aching "Princess of Little Italy," this throat-stoppingly gorgeous line:
"The rain caught me on Jane Street
Soaked the crease out of my shirt
And baby, by the way nobody's ever gonna take your place."
I asked Southside what it was about this particular record that made him want to spotlight it in such a special way -- to play it in album sequence order -- seemingly out of the blue. "A man named Joseph Aloisous Prinzolini gave me a copy of the Men Without Women CD," Johnny responded. "I hadn't heard the record for years, and was so blown away by the greatness of the music and the passion of the vocals that I wanted to do the whole album. Some of the songs were recorded by me and the Jukes before we made Hearts of Stone, so I was familiar with the material. Great stuff. Very powerful. Much fun to play."
The Pony doors open Saturday at 5pm, with opening acts the Jody Joseph Band and Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens. At 8pm Southside, his merry band, and a passel of very special guests (La Bamba, Mark Pender, Soozie Tyrell, Lisa Lowell) will take the stage and bring ten amazing songs to life which have remained in the dark for way too long. "It's gonna be quite an extravaganza," advised Southside. "Don't miss it if you can!"
The final word on the matter must go to Steven Van Zandt:
"We always stood on the same block way back then
Waiting to find out where in the world we fit in
Then something on the radio changed everything we'd been
Ever since, I need it, over and over again." (from "Until The Good Is Gone")
lyrics copyright 1982 Blue Midnight Music