New York’s alright if you like saxophones.

I actually did get some outside feedback on yesterday’s baseball card post (on Twitter, not on the blog), so I am emboldened to again solicit public comment. Feel free to jump in.

I weakened this weekend at the sight of the $4.99 CD bin at Barnes and Noble.

Apparently driven by some buried nostalgia for the fall of 1982, I picked up Joe Jackson’s Night and Day, thinking it looked intriguing and cool and eggheady and ripe for discovery.

(It was also $4.99. Did I mention that?)

I’ve been through it once-and-a-half, and it’s OK, maybe pretty good. Once it lands on the shelf it’ll get taken out a couple times a year, kinda like Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, another 1982 release with which it shares certain facile resemblances.

For tonight’s purposes, I am focused not on what’s on the record, but on what isn’t:

Night and Day, which hit No. 4 on the U.S. album chart, has to be one of the very few popular albums with no guitar at all.

There are no six-stringers credited in the liner notes. And my listening so far betrays no crunchy power chords, no sensitive acoustic arpeggios, no chimey Rickenbacker jangle, no Stratocaster quack, no moaning lap-steel blues cliches.

In short, no sign of pop music’s dominant instrument anywhere.

That can’t be that common … but this, reader, is where you come in.

How many popular or influential albums can you name that contain no guitar whatsoever?

I’m gonna rattle off some possibilities that come to mind. But those of you with broader tastes and wider knowledge, help me out in the Comments section.

Here are some other notable guitar-free albums — and some that didn’t quite make it — sorted by category:

Take five. Guitars are common in jazz, but not compulsory; and those jazz records that have crept into mainstream American popularity are as likely as not to be guitar-free.

You won’t hear any strumming, for example, on Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, which reached No. 2 on the album charts in that barren period after Chuck Berry and before the Beatles.

Skipping ahead a generation, fusion giants Weather Report didn’t employ a full-time guitarist either, and the band’s crossover successes Tale Spinnin’ (No. 31, 1975) and Black Market (No. 42, 1976) don’t include any guitar.

(Keyboardist Joe Zawinul, not known to me as a guitarist, apparently played the instrument on one track of the group’s best-known album, 1977’s Heavy Weather. The lure of the six-string is hard to resist.)

Finally, while most Joe Jackson records include guitar, the predecessor to Night and Day doesn’t — because it’s an album of ’40s jump-blues and jive covers.

Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive fell just shy of the U.S. Top 40; I would suggest it’s remembered more for its concept and its alliterative name than its music, but I could easily be wrong about that.

Synth wranglers. The solitary creative figure surrounded by keyboards is a classic (and quintessentially ’70s) pop image. Were any of them able to resist the siren cry of the guitar for the length of an entire album?

The classic Stevie Wonder albums come pretty close — often containing just one or two guitar-contaminated songs per LP — but Stevie was never quite able to stop himself from calling out the likes of Jeff Beck, Buzz Feiten and Sneaky Pete Kleinow.

Same thing with Gary Wright’s The Dream Weaver album. Wright, known for his spacey synthesized soundscapes, gave in and called Ronnie Montrose to contribute to one track.

Kraftwerk’s only U.S. Top 40 album, Autobahn, features the guitar of Klaus Roder. The group managed to go guitar-free on several other well-remembered albums from its classic period, including Radio-Activity, Trans-Europe Express and Computer World.

Another who pulled off the feat was Gary Numan, whose The Pleasure Principle LP was untroubled by guitar … though a glance at his Wiki page shows him hoisting a cherryburst Les Paul, so his guitar-free stance seems to have been a passing phase.

And finally, let’s not forget that Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach, a Top 10 album in 1969, contains the Moog, the Moog and nothing but the Moog.

Solo serenaders. The flipside of the synth wrangler is the solo figure, alone at a grand piano, pouring out his or her soul.

Nothing but voice and piano is a little much to take over the course of an entire album, and I don’t know how many performers have gone that route.

But — especially in the ’90s, when the unplugged concept was at its peak — I have to imagine at least a couple of performers tried that.

So far, the only proper MTV Unplugged album I can find that’s guitar-free is Tony Bennett’s (see Jazz, above.) If anyone knows any non-MTV unplugged albums that fit the bill, let me know.

Ben Folds isn’t really a soul-pourer at heart, I don’t think — he’s more of a prankster, it seems — but I’d be remiss not to mention the Ben Folds Five and Whatever and Ever Amen albums in this essay someplace, and this is as good a place as any.

Demos. Finally, while it’s become common to issue demos and working versions years after the fact, I’m not sure any record of strictly piano-and-voice demos has ever really reached beyond an artist’s fanbase and achieved mass cultural penetration.

But I’ll end with two well-known examples, just to be perverse: Keith Richards’s Toronto, 1977 and Long View Farm. (Like many bootlegs, these have been released together, apart, and packaged with other material.)

Both recordings consist of Keef alone in a studio, armed only with a piano, a drink and a mental repertoire of standards. Both are soulful and charming.

And, in the years before Keith released a proper solo album, they were just about all the glimpse anyone had of Keith in the spotlight by himself, and thus cherished by Stones fans, even if they never troubled the chartkeeper.

# # # # #

I ended up going down a lot more avenues than I thought I was going to. But I’m sure I’ve missed some. What are they?

The mercy of the rising water.

My water heater went this morning, causing a minor basement flood and a few hours of irritation.

The flood didn’t destroy nearly as much crap as it should have, but there are a few wetted-down bits and scraps that are headed for the trash.

One of them is the back cover of a guitar magazine from sometime around 1985. I couldn’t let it go without posting it here, as a memorial to everything that was wrong with 1980s music.

What we have here is an ad for Kahler tremolos — the pitch-melting guitar devices more popularly known as “whammy bars.”

The impeccably coiffed gent at right, Kahler tells us, is Jeff Loven, and he’s just won something called the Kahler National Tremolo Competition.


Before we go any further, let’s think back to the ’80s, and the offenses against taste committed by whammy bar-wielding hard-rockers in the age of lead guitar worship.

Eddie Van Halen pioneered the extreme use of whammy bars, and he at least was the first to do it; but he cleared a path for a whole decade’s worth of flashy, unmusical dive-bomb retching, usually paired with fingertapping and hyper-fast gnat-swarm picking.

Now imagine a national tremolo competition. Imagine every basement and corner-bar Eddie Van Halen wannabe whipping out their hottest licks. Imagine listening to all those tapes and trying to pick a winner. It makes one of those ten-day jam-band cruises seem heavenly by comparison.

(In the text of the ad, Loven enthuses: “Whether I need an air raid siren or a subtle tremolo effect, I can depend on my Kahler to deliver and stay in tune.” How wonderfully ’80s. Let us be glad we have escaped the days when lead guitar players felt like air-raid sirens were necessary parts of their repertoire.)

We will also take a look at Loven’s group, Obsession, because … well, the bass player seems to want us to look elsewhere, but we’re not so easily fooled.


This is a full-on dork-off, locked in a four-way tie for last, and no drummer has ever been happier to be far away from the camera.

Jeff Loven, who still plays in the Midwest and apparently turned down an audition with the latter-day Guns n’ Roses, seems to have a sense of humor about the period. On his website, he says, “Looking back-why did we use that gawdawful Aquanet-yuck!

(When he met the mighty Van Halen, Eddie’s response was apparently: “Ya look like a woman, dude.” I can only imagine that was a comedown … and I can only imagine that Jeff Loven wasn’t the only young guitarslinger who heard that line from Eddie during the ’80s.)

To be fair, Loven is probably a great guitar player, and his bands have surely entertained a lot of people over the years. (More people than my writing ever has.)

And he was far from the only person to show up in the spotlight with poodly hair and whammy bar at the ready.

Look in any guitar magazine from that period (I’ve still got a bunch of them, so I speak from experience), and you’ll see multiple photos and articles that have dated just as poorly, all suffused with that ’80s absurdity.

Unfortunately for Jeff Loven and his bandmates, their photo just happened to be closest to the floor when my water heater spit the bit.

And they happened to be identified by name — unlike the finger-tapping, spandex-wearing gent (not a celebrity; probably a model) who showed up in a guitar ad on the other side of the page:


Dreaming from the twelfth fret.

We now return to our irregular saga of Kurt’s Freshman Year Cross-Country Running Log, to examine an entry that has nothing to do with cross-country.


It is Aug. 31, 1987. The school year hasn’t started yet, but I am already letting my mind wander on a subject that occupied plenty of time during my hours in class.

If I had a dime for every guitar or bass I sketched on my folders, textbook covers and homework assignments between seventh and twelfth grades, I wouldn’t have had to go to college.

I’ve always been fascinated by guitars. (Electric; always electric. Acoustics have never held the same appeal. They’re not the same kind of sleek and shiny and curvy. Also, they distort poorly.)

I’ve never had much of a knack for drawing, and I never quite mastered the balance of the cutaway horns on a Fender Strat, or the relative width and thickness of the neck of a Gibson Les Paul.

That didn’t stop me from doodling them by the dozen —¬†Strats, Les Pauls and the occasional hollow-bodied¬†335 — on any empty surface I could find while I complied with whatever educational demand was being placed upon me.

Guitars always seemed sexier than basses back then. But since I was a bass player then, I occasionally gave in to the invisible pressure and drew a bass guitar instead.

That’s what we’ve got in the log entry above. It appears to be a right-handed Fender Precision with a left-handed neck. An unlikely confection, but sure, why not?

Not sure why I didn’t finish stringing this one up. Usually I did.

School started the following week. Maybe I figured I’d have time enough then to get my drawings right.


As an amateur guitarist, I tend to make progress very slowly, like a gang of ants spiriting an entire roast pig away from a picnic.

Years ago, maybe even as a teenager, I wanted to learn the Keith Richards/Chuck Berry style of playing to the point where I could improvise an entire solo chorus with double-stops.

(A double-stop is two notes played at once. It sounds fuller and fatter and bluesier and cooler than one note, and is a signature part of the Chuck’n’Keef approach to soloing.)

Took me a lot of aimless noodling to get there. But as of a couple of years ago, I’ve learned some of the basic hand positions for the most common double-stops, and can now construct an appropriately ragged solo chorus from them. Mission accomplished.

I think I’ve found a new guitar goal, courtesy of a man who did not play no rock n’ roll:

I don’t care that Mississippi Fred McDowell doesn’t change chords. You don’t need to, when you can make the notes roll out of the guitar like that.

And if you look at about 2:10 or so, he makes it look so easy with his picking hand. All that sound appears to be coming entirely from his thumb and his forefinger.

(For that matter, his fretting hand isn’t doing that much either. He’s tuned to an open chord, so his thumb can get a nice ringing sound picking the open strings on the bottom, while his index finger plucks the melody on the top strings.)

I found a blog post that details Mississippi Fred’s favorite open tuning. I might just have to buy myself a thumbpick and see if I can’t teach the muscles of my right hand some new tricks. I’d love to be able to make that sound, or something like it.

The good news is, the level of coolness in a fingerpicked blues song is directly related to the age of the picker. So if it takes me 15 years to suss this out, I’ll be just entering my prime by then.