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It’s been forever and a day since I felt like this
I want a fifth of Wild Turkey and one little kiss
And I don’t miss that girl; if I did, I wouldn’t let it show
I might go to the moon, might wind up dead
Wake up in morning in a stranger’s bed
Well, I’m not concerned with any of that no more
— “Six Years Gone” (download)

51sajf9w3rl_sl500_aa280_1The Georgia Satellites shot to the top of the charts in the fall of 1986 with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” a jokey little play on Southern morality that sounded nothing like anything else on the radio at the time. Real drums, no keyboard player, and a sound that wasn’t so much produced as it was simply recorded. With their bad hair, crooked teeth, and dirty clothes, they looked more like beer-swilling rednecks than rock stars; in the age when physical imperfections were beginning to be sanded out of the music business by MTV, the Sats were exceptions to just about every commonly accepted rule of fame. Their debut album, the simply titled Georgia Satellites, was a reminder of what rock & roll was supposed to be: loud, rude, and sloppy. They covered Terry Anderson’s “Battleship Chains,” one of those musician’s favorites that was later recorded by Warren Zevon and The Replacements, among others. They tore the shit out of Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells a Story.” Overall, they channeled their rock heroes (a group that includes the Stones, the Faces, the Beatles, and Jerry Lee Lewis) without simply aping them. What they didn’t do was record another hit single. “Hands to Yourself,” great as it was, pigeonholed the band as something of a novelty act, and they receded from the public eye almost as quickly as they’d entered it. (Thus proving the rock & roll maxim that you can’t yodel in a song and have a long career:unless you have a fabulous rack.)

Like a dream that’s fading you can’t catch when it’s gone
Like a perfect night that’s broken by dawn
Like everything you wanted out of reach from now on
Six out of seven still leaves you one shy
You can look to forever and never know why
And it’s time, it’s time, and the bottle just ran dry
— “Days Gone By” (download)

The band’s second album, 1988’s Open All Night, basically upheld the old saw that says a band gets its whole life to work on the first album, and two weeks to work on the follow-up. The band toured the world behind Georgia Satellites, and their label wanted a new release in a hurry. Hence this muddled affair, which suffered from cover artwork that was confusingly similar to the first album, not to mention Jeff Glixman’s flat production. When I interviewed him in 1992, singer/guitarist Dan Baird told me he would “take that one back if I could” — he hadn’t been altogether pleased with Glixman’s work on the first album, and wanted to try someone new, but was overruled by the label and the rest of the band. The best song on Open All Night is a barnstorming cover of “Don’t Pass Me By,” a middling Ringo Starr contribution to the Beatles’ White Album. As the Satellites’ commercial fortunes declined, dissension in the ranks grew. Elektra clearly had no idea how to market the band, and there was little room on the radio dial for twelve-bar blues. It was make-or-break time.

I would ride bareback on a six-foot monkey
Do it with grace and style
Just to get your attention
Baby, just to see you smile
Well, I’d wave every flag you put in my hand
If you was in Baghdad
I’d cross the Arab sand
Oscar Wilde and Rimbaud
Would have changed their minds if they
Knew what I know
— “Crazy”

For the Georgia Satellites’ third album, Baird got his new producer in the form of Joe Hardy, a traditionalist whose previous production credits included albums by ZZ Top and Steve Earle. The band convened in Memphis’ historic Ardent Studios, home to classic recordings by artists such as Leon Russell, Al Green, and Alex Chilton; there, with the aid of erstwhile Faces (and sometime Stones) keyboardist Ian McLagan, they got down to the business of recording what would be their best (and final) album, In the Land of Salvation and Sin. At fourteen songs, Salvation manages to be at once sprawling and compact, drawing on rock & roll touchstones without resorting to slavish imitation. From the first seconds of the album’s opener, “I Dunno” (download), and its barreling barroom piano, the band’s intention is clear: to, as Baird spits out, “rock your ass, bash your skull.”

Salvation upholds another fine rock tradition: the Divorce Album. The dissolution of Baird’s marriage is writ large across the entire album—from the bitter resignation of “All Over But the Cryin'” to the drunken rage of “Bottle O’ Tears” to the exhilaration and terror of “Dan Takes Five,” Baird’s heartbreak, however tragically, gives the music added weight and heft. It’s here that the band crosses over from skilled two-tone homage to a three-dimensional, Technicolor extension of the roots of rock & roll. They no longer resemble a band trying to sound like the Faces—they sound like the Faces, or early ’70s Stones, somehow recording an album in 1989. “Another Chance,” in particular, draws on these influences, echoing shades of the Faces classic “Ooh La La.” On “Shake That Thing” (download), a fond look back at a stripper, Baird and Rick Richards evoke the winking leer of Exile on Main Street-era Stones.

Well I’m flyin through Dothan with the radio
Taylor’s Ole Time Opry’s playin’ Hank Snow
He sings my nightmares in his song
I say, “I’m with ya, man, I’m just movin on”
Look out baby, your wish came true
You got your freedom, the house, and the whole canoe
I got the things that I need
I took the car, my pride, and three pairs of jeans

In the Land of Salvation and Sin captures the peak powers of a band making music for all the right reasons. Even at 14 songs, there is no filler; even as rough around the edges as these performances are, there are no wasted notes. It’s a true rock classic, unjustly consigned to the cut-out bin mere months after its release. It killed the band, in a way — having done the best they could do, and reaped so little in return, they managed to record only a few songs for the soundtrack of a movie that was never released before, as Baird put it, “I looked at myself in the mirror one morning and said “You’re fired.'” Baird’s subsequent releases, both on his own and with the Yayhoos, have been solid and entertaining. But they haven’t approached Salvation, either in terms of overall songwriting quality or sheer rock & roll joy.

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