March 14 (Bloomberg) -- Listening to Vault Radio on the Internet is the equivalent of reading a page-turner of a book.
No commercials, no weather reports, no public-service announcements, no blah-blah of any kind. All you get is good music. On the air for only six weeks now, it is the cosmic radio station for classic rock. It's still being broken in, and it's still free of charge. This will not last forever.
Promoter Bill Graham taped thousands of live performances during the rock concerts he produced from, roughly, the mid-1960s to the late 1970s: the Doors, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Otis Redding, Moby Grape, Santana, Marvin Gaye, the Allman Brothers, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Taj Mahal, Led Zeppelin and on and on.
Graham stored the tapes in his basement, and there they sat after he died in a helicopter crash in 1991. Wolfgangsvault.com, a Web site that sells rock memorabilia, bought the rights in 2003. The ``Wolfgang'' comes from Graham's original name, Wolfgang Grajonca, changed after he left Germany as a child.
These were the best bands of the golden age of rock performing with tour-honed chops. Although the songs are familiar, these versions are not. Here are some reflections on what you can hear on Vault Radio and why you can't turn it off.
In Your Face
Elton John, ``Country Comfort,'' opening for the Kinks at Fillmore West, 1970: Most of these live performances preserve rock's early in-your-face conviction better than the recordings we are familiar with.
James Taylor, ``Carolina in My Mind,'' Berkeley Community Theater, 1970; John Mayall, ``The Laws Must Change,'' Fillmore East, 1969: John Lennon once said there are only five songs. You keep hearing the same numbers and licks on Vault Radio, sometimes transposed to another key and/or other beats of the bar.
After a while, it becomes clear that no matter how original it is, a song won't work without a groove. A melody that is reminiscent of another melody, conversely, will work fine if the groove is appropriate. (By the way, there is no such thing as a bad groove; it either grooves or it doesn't.)
Traffic, ``Shootout at the Fantasy Factory,'' and ``Freedom Rider,'' Winterland, 1973; Joe Cocker, ``Bird on the Wire,'' Fillmore East, 1970: A few years ago, Traffic's Steve Winwood said that there is still a lot of good pop music today; the good is just harder to find because there is much more music in general and most of it is bad. All of these tracks are examples of how easy it used to be to find good pop music.
Paul Butterfield Blues Band, ``So Fine,'' Fillmore Auditorium, 1966: White men have rarely played the blues with such authenticity.
Jimi Hendrix, ``Foxey Lady,'' Winterland, 1968: In his book ``Mozart's Journey to Prague,'' Eduard Morike wrote that the composer was ``rapidly and inexorably burning himself out in his own flame.'' You feel something similar listening to Hendrix.
Cream, ``White Room'' and ``Sunshine of Your Love,'' Oakland Coliseum Arena, 1968: Most rock bands back then were idiotic when it came to jamming. Improvisation was beyond those three-chord wonders. Cream was one of the few with enough culture and vocabulary to say something instrumentally. And few rock singers were ever as good as Jack Bruce.
Chuck Berry, ``School Days,'' Fillmore Auditorium, 1967: No overdubs, no walls of sound, no synthesizer washes. Just the heartbeat.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk, ``All Blues,'' Fillmore Auditorium, 1968; Mahavishnu Orchestra, ``Instrumental,'' Berkeley Community Theater, 1972: It took class for Bill Graham to put these two iconic jazz bands on rock bills.
Sex Pistols, ``God Save the Queen,'' Winterland, 1978: An anthem for people who don't like anthems.
King Curtis, ``Memphis Soul Stew,'' Fillmore West, 1971 (with Billy Preston, Cornell Dupree and Bernard ``Pretty'' Purdie): Fat- back, straight-ahead rhythm and blues tends to sound more convincing than white rock. And it never ages.
Bob Dylan and the Band, ``Just Like a Woman,'' Boston Garden, 1974; Stevie Wonder, ``Blowin' in the Wind,'' Winterland, 1973; Leon Russell, ``Girl From the North Country,'' Fillmore East, 1970: Do you think Bob Dylan will ever get the Nobel Prize for literature?
Mothers of Invention, ``Call Any Vegetable,'' Fillmore West, 1970: ``This is a song about vegetables,'' Frank Zappa sings. ``They keep you regular. They're real good for you. Call any vegetable. Call it by name.''