Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Arlo Guthrie & ‘Alice’s Restaurant’
Editor’s Note: From a blog post appearing originally in 2010. This is a classic! The album, not the blog post.
We have dusted off some of our own all-time favorite albums from our own collection, and today we want to share one that’s perfect for the Thanksgiving holiday – Alice’s Restaurant, from Arlo Guthrie.
The title song is of course an American classic – and a song played by many radio stations on Thanksgiving Day. It’s a true story about a 1965 Thanksgiving when Arlo, the son of legendary songwriter and folksinger Woody Guthrie, and his friends were arrested for littering. He eventually turned the tale into a story-song that ends with a timely protest sentiment, and … well, I’m sure you have heard it.
Guthrie debuted “Alice’s Restaurant” at the Newport Folk Festival, then he played it on NYC public radio station WBAI in the spring of 1967. The station was flooded with requests for replays of the song and played it more often than anything else – later, during their annual fundraiser, station personnel promised to play it if a certain amount of money was pledged and later, to NOT play it if a certain amount was pledged.
Anyhow, Guthrie himself tinkered with the format of the song and even occasionally performed a “sequel” – titled “The Alice’s Restaurant Multi-Colored Rainbow Roach Affair,” he played it a few times live on WBAI. Reprise Records officially released the LP Alice’s Restaurant in 1967 with the original “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” recorded live someplace. The song clocks in at over 18 minutes and takes up the entire Side One of the record. Even though hip FM stations played it, Reprise inexplicably released a shorter version on single. Titled “Alice’s Rock and Roll Restaurant” and produced by Van Dyke Parks, this one took a few verses from the song and placed it over a generic blues-rock beat and completely changed the feel and intent of the song.
Flip over the album and there are six songs that are if not more conventional, at least they fit the folk rock style of the era. “Chilling of the Evening” is a ballad with instrumentation more typically found on an album by any of the then-current pop singers of the day, like maybe Glen Campbell or Jim Nabors. “I’m Going Home” and “Highway In The Wind” are both songs with a Byrds-like feel, and “Ring Around A Rosie Rag” is a bit of hippie jug-band nonsense but good fun nevertheless. And of course, there’s the first chapter of “The Motorcycle Song,” which had its own sequels (including one on the 1968 followup LP Arlo).
Shortly after Guthrie appeared at Woodstock in 1969, he showed up in the Arthur Penn-directed movie Alice’s Restaurant. None of the performances on the original Alice’s Restaurant album were in the movie, but the film and the ensuing soundtrack featured a full-length studio version of the title song. In 1995, Guthrie re-recorded the entire Alice’s Restaurant album, complete with an updated (and even LONGER) version of the title song.
Guthrie only occasionally performs “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” live these days, but on Thanksgiving Day you can almost certainly find a radio station playing that original version.
So let’s enjoy some of the other incarnations of “Alice’s Restaurant” as well as a couple other tunes off the original album. Now Arlo has been nice enough to record many versions of his most famous song – we are thankful for that and don’t want to be greedy on Thanksgiving … so we’re going to stream most of ’em. That way you can hear them all!
Listen: The original “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (1967)
HOLIDAY BONUS: A harvest of “Alice’s Restaurant” versions and sequels!
Listen: “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (studio version) (1969)
Listen: “Remembering Alice” (2004)
Listen: “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree (40th anniversary)” (2005)
YouTube: The Group W bench from the movie Alice’s Restaurant