Green’s Manalishi

Peter Green was losing his mind. Excessive LSD use was starting to take its toll. By late 1968, his bandmates in the band he had founded, Fleetwood Mac, had become concerned about Green’s mental state. He was growing distant, was sometimes incoherent, and had begun wearing robes and a crucifix. By 1969, Fleetwood Mac’s founder and main songwriter had provided the band with a No. 1 hit single (‘Albatross’), as well as two No. 2 singles (‘Oh Well’ and ‘Man of the World’). But in the wake of those successes, the guitarist was becoming estranged from the rest of his band, and was increasingly fixated on the morality of the band’s recent financial success.

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A 3-day LSD binge at a commune in Munich in early 1970 greatly exacerbated Green’s mental descent into schizophrenia. Around this time, Green wrote a song called ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’ after waking from an acid-induced nightmare in which a green dog that Green ‘understood’ represented both money and the Devil, barked at him. In the dream, the dog was dead, as was Green himself; eventually Green won the struggle to return to his living body in order to wake from the nightmare (hey, this is acid, folks). Green awoke from the dream and immediately wrote Fleetwood Mac’s next hit single. The song would reach No. 10 in the UK.

Before the song became Fleetwood Mac’s fourth consecutive Top Ten single, Peter Green quit the band he had founded. Mick Fleetwood remembers Green demanding that the band give away all their money; specifically, that they use their money to help end world hunger. Green also insisted that he be the one to give the aid to the poor and hungry, in order to avoid charitable organizations, which he did not trust. After the rest of the band refused, Peter Green left the band.

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Peter Green was an integral part of the ‘British Blues Boom’ on the mid-to-late ’60’s. He replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, and formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967. Metal historians agree that these bands (along with fellow Brits the Yardbirds) laid the groundwork for the evolution of Heavy Metal music. Follow that evolutionary path into the mid-70’s, and you’ll eventually encounter The Beast that is Priest.

Heavy Metal had come a long way in a short time, quickly morphing from ‘white boy blues’ into a valid genre unto itself in just a few years. Birmingham’s Judas Priest were pivotal in metal’s evolution; their 2nd album, 1976’s ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’, is a landmark in the development of the form in that it steps away from the genre’s blues roots and into a sound and style unique unto itself. Someone at CBS Records recognized the genius at work on ‘SWOD’, and signed Judas Priest to a multi-album deal.

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Priest’s third album, ‘Sin After Sin’, was another groundbreaking heavy metal record, but their new label was interested in commerce at least as much as they were in art. CBS insisted that the band record a cover song to attempt to garner some airplay. Producer Roger Glover suggested Joan Baez’s haunting ‘Diamonds and Rust’, and the rest is history. For album number four, 1978’s ‘Stained Class’, the label once again insisted on a track to push to radio; ‘Better By You, Better Than Me’, written by Gary (‘Dream Weaver’) Wright and originally recorded by Spooky Tooth, was recorded at the 12th hour with a different producer, and tacked onto the already-completed record.

Did including these cover versions deliver the results that CBS was looking for? No. Neither of these covers were ‘hits’; neither charted at all, anywhere. But the execs at CBS took no chances with the band’s fifth album, entitled ‘Killing Machine’. Released a scant 10 months after ‘Stained Class’, ‘Machine’ revealed some major concessions by the band in the songwriting department, but CBS was still unhappy with the album as a whole, at least in terms of its ‘commercial potential’ in the US. The label, uneasy with the original’s ‘murderous implications, changed the title of the record for the US market to ‘Hell Bent for Leather’. CBS also pushed for yet another cover. The Gun’s ‘Race With the Devil’ was demo’d, but was dropped in favor of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’.

Judas Priest transformed Peter Green’s haunting, acid-induced warning of the evils of wealth into a crushing juggernaut of menace and melody. The song is gathered up and rewritten into a cast-iron structure and rolls along like a Sherman tank. Green’s mysterious ‘Manalishi’ character turns from the psychadelic money is the Devil in a dead barking dog into another one of Priest’s fantasy/sci-fi hero/prophet/savior/doomsayer figures, the latest in a long line of exciters, dreamer/deceivers, sinners, rippers, aggressors and starbreakers.

How ironic that Judas Priest, historically important for removing much of the blues from Heavy Metal, would record a song written by one of the most renowned British blues guitarists of all time. But the fact that the song translates across genres so well speaks less about any debt Judas Priest owes to blues music and more about Peter Green’s compositional contributions to Heavy Metal… a genre which hadn’t even happened yet. And how ironic that the song was being used in an attempt to bring band and label increased financial success…

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CBS tacked ‘Manalishi’ on to the US version of the re-titled ‘Hell Bent’… but did not release it to radio. Priest had given the suits what they wanted, but had actually written better singles themselves this time around. ‘Take on the World’ was released instead, and reached No. 14 in the UK. Priest/CBS would abandon the cover idea after ‘Manalishi’; the strategy had ultimately failed to increase the profile of the band, let alone the balance of anyone’s bank account. Judas Priest would have Top Forty success with the UK version of the album that excluded ‘Manalishi’; the US version that did include the song would peak at a lowly No. 167 in the States. In recording ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’, Judas Priest had messed with some bad mojo; Peter Green’s Manalishi was still barking.

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Crazy Like a Tyger

When Jess Cox had just quit his gig as guitarist with Wild Willie and the Werewolves, he had no idea that in just a few short months he would be the lead vocalist on a UK Top 20 album. The British music press was hyping a new ‘phenomenon’ they dubbed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM for short, and Cox’s new band, the Tygers of Pan Tang, had been swept up into the whirlwind and signed to a major label. Suddenly Jess Cox was a pop star. Hopefully he savored every moment…

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…Because for Cox, fame was fleeting. Cox was fired in 1981 before he could record a second record with the Tygers, and was replaced by someone who could actually sing. Truth be told, Cox was a godawful vocalist, with a severely limited range, who talk-sang his way through the Tygers’ debut album ‘Wildcat’. Cox’s voice is somehow endearing in all its limitations, and the record did become among the highest charting NWOBHM debut albums (‘Wildcat’ peaked at #18; Iron Maiden beat the Tygers by reaching #4; Angel Witch’s debut, held in much higher regard than the Tygers’, peaked at number 88 that same year). But presumably the band and/or MCA wanted more.

Cox went on to form Lionheart with Dennis Stratton (ex-Iron Maiden) and Frank Noon (ex-Def Leppard). Due to the recent history of most of its members, Lionheart was billed as a NWOBHM supergroup. Perhaps this was a bit of an overstatement, as the band, in its original form, lasted exactly one gig. Lionheart’s 1981 debut performance at the Marquee in London was a disaster. The press absolutely destroyed Cox the following day, and, once again, he was fired and replaced by a proper vocalist. After one gig. He was that bad.

In 1983, Cox returned once again with the boldly-named Jess Cox Band, who released 2 (terrible) singles and one (awful) LP for Neat Records. Neat had released the Tygers’ debut recording in 1979, a 3-song E.P. that is widely acknowledged to be the very first NWOBHM release. Neat Records was NWOBHM’s ground zero, a hugely important element in the origins and development of the genre. Beyond the Tygers’ first release, Many pivotal NWOBHM singles were released on Neat by Venom, Raven, Jaguar, Blitzkrieg, Fist, Persian Risk and many others. It made perfect sense that Cox had found a home at Neat.

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But that’s not all he found. After a short-lived attempt at starting a band with ToPT guitarist Rob Weir (Tyger Tyger) went nowhere, Cox retreated from performing completely. But not from the music business… After attending college, Cox planned to become a music journalist, and in 1987 went down to the old familiar Neat offices to interview the new owner of the label. Cox was offered a job as a press agent for Neat, and accepted, and over the next few years, he dedicated himself to learning how the business worked. By 1992, Jess Cox was co-owner of Neat Records.

By the early 90’s, Neat had followed America’s lead and moved into more commercial areas of hard rock. Cox was determined to bring the label back as a heavy metal force, and scoured the Neat archives for unreleased material to jumpstart a new offshoot, owned by Cox himself, called Neat Metal. Unreleased albums by Blitzkrieg, Cronos and Nasty Savage were languishing in the Neat vaults, and Cox polished them up and released them on his new label. Neat Metal also signed (or re-signed) some of the bands that had been part of the NWOBHM heyday, like Holocaust, Savage, and Shy.

Cox continued to expand his own brands, while the original Neat wavered near bankruptcy. He started a black metal label, and a label set up specifically to release archival material from the Tygers of Pan Tang, all the while financially propping-up Neat. All of Cox’s labels were doing better than Neat proper, of which he still co-owner. Cox and his partner finally opted to split up and sell the failing Neat to Sanctuary Records in 1995. Cox retained ownership of all of the labels that he himself had started. The Sanctuary deal sealed it: Cox had reinvented himself as an independent label mogul.

Jess Cox’s true masterstroke, though, was gradually positioning himself into a position to control many of the movement’s most historically important properties. While doing so, he was able to purchase exclusive rights to the entire catalogue by the Scottish NWOBHM band Holocaust. This move turned out to be one of Cox’s biggest triumphs. Why? A Scottish band known only to only the most hardcore NWOBHM aficionados, Holocaust has nonetheless cemented its place in heavy metal history, not through the quality of their records but rather through one of the bands they influenced: Metallica.

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In 1987, Metallica covered a track from Holocaust’s 1983 album ‘Live — Hot Curry and Wine’ entitled ‘The Small Hours’ on their ‘The $5.98 E.P.’ Metallica were on the brink of becoming the biggest band on Earth, and every move they made influenced legions of rock fans and other bands worldwide. Cliff Burton alone was responsible for sparking international interest in obscure comic book punk band the Misfits, and thereby providing lead singer Glenn Danzig his entire post-Misfits career, just by appearing in photos wearing Misfits T-shirts. Several bands benefitted from the exposure a Metallica cover version afforded. However, while any Holocaust records still in print probably would have enjoyed an upsurge in sales after Metallica’s E.P. hit, there were no records to be found, and the band’s tiny, self-run label wasn’t able to capitalize on any of the hoopla. When Jess Cox picked up the rights to the Holocaust catalogue, which he purchased “for a few hundred pounds”, the Metallica ship had sailed, and the property was considered worthless.

By 1998, Metallica are the biggest band on Earth. Their ‘5.98 E.P.’, out of print for years, was revamped and expanded into a 2-CD release called ‘Garage Inc.’ ‘Garage Inc.’ hit #2 in the Billboard Hot 100, eventually selling 6 million copies (the original E.P had only sold 1 million copies before falling out of print). Not only did the new version include Holocaust’s ‘The Small Hours’, but also ‘Blitzkrieg’, originally recorded by Neat alums Blitzkrieg, which Metallica had covered in 1984. This time someone was able to reap the benefits of Metallica’s magic touch: Jess Cox, sole owner of Blitzkrieg’s current label, and sole owner of the Holocaust catalogue. When Cox was quoted in the early 2,000s as having made “a quarter of a million pounds” on the Holocaust acquisition, he was referring to the ‘Metallica Effect’. I’m betting all of those bad reviews from the NWOBHM era are a bit easier for Cox to read nowadays.

Today, Cox has consolidated his labels under the Metal Nation banner, and continues to capitalize on his NWOBHM properties. Jess Cox’s main strength was always his belief in the music of the bands who made up the NWOBHM. After all, he was once IN one.

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*Disclaimers:

1. I love the Tyger’s debut album, ‘Wildcat’. Coming across as a rough and tumble combo of Status Quo and Sweet, it’s packed with all the youthful exuberance and punk rock energy of the best of the NWOBHM. It’s the only Tygers album I own (everything after this was too polished; too generic), and I consider it to be one of the 3 best debut albums of the NWOBHM.

2. I love the vocals of Jess Cox. When held to ‘rock singer’ standards, Cox fails completely, but his voice has a street-level, average Joe appeal that’s both awkward and charming. Unique and instantly recognizable, Cox’s tuneless drone fit the post-punk, garage-y feel of the Tyger’s early music perfectly. That all adds up to awesome in my book.