Volume 50: The End is Nigh!

As I sit and write this, my 50th post for MayoNoise, the metallic corners of the internet are all a-buzz with the announcement that Black Sabbath will embark on their final world tour. This final trek has been officially dubbed ‘The End’, and it was announced via a striking advert that reads “THE FINAL TOUR BY THE GREATEST HEAVY METAL BAND OF ALL TIME”. Listed just under that pronouncement are the names OZZY OSBOURNE, TONY IOMMI, and GEEZER BUTLER. Bill Ward’s name is conspicuous in its absence.

If you read my blog, you know this already. You also know why Ward’s name isn’t on the poster. It’s early yet; maybe they will wrap the tour in Birmingham and have Ward play that set, or a short set at the end of the show(s)… Hopefully they will do the right thing; I sincerely hope everyone involved can find a way to do end Black Sabbath that will include Bill Ward. But regardless; Black Sabbath have announced ‘The End’, and after The End, for me, Metal is over.

blacksabbath_ofim

Two days previous to announcing ‘The End’, Lemmy ended a Motorhead set in Austin, Texas after just three songs, saying “I can’t do it” and walking off the stage. Cancelled gigs and postponed tours have become commonplace for Motorhead since 2013, when a plethora of health issues began to plague their fearless leader. Lemmy has stated that he’ll probably die on stage, and, looking back over the last 7 days, it looks like Lem meant what he said and said what he meant. As ever. “I don’t wanna live forever!” indeed. Still, how sad was it to see Lemmy, who turns 70 in December, hobble off stage, with the aid of a cane, after apologizing to the Texas crowd. Lemmy: We love you. Go home and take it easy. Job done.

Bruce Dickinson and Tony Iommi have had recent cancer scares; Malcom Young succumbed to dementia. Bun E. Carlos and Bill Ward have both had to watch their bands carry on without them due to diminished physical capabilities brought on by aging (and, in the case of Ward, likely compounded by years of substance abuse). Craig Gruber, AJ Pero, Allen Lanier, Trevor Bolder, and RJD… It’s as if the Grim Reaper stepped out of one of the gazillion album covers he adorns and began stalking our heroes, ending their lives and/or careers. Who will be the Figure in Black’s next Chosen One? Motorhead resumed the tour in St. Louis a few days after the Texas walk-off… but how much longer can he soldier on?

Ronnie James Dio’s death was a wake up call for me. I have been listening to Heavy Metal seriously since 1976. After forty years of music from these guys, you kind of get used to having them around. These bands and the people in them become part of your life. My favorite bands: AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Motorhead, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Rush… these bands have been with me for 4 decades. Like good friends, they have always been there when I needed them, during good times and bad. It’s a unique relationship; Metal fans are more passionate about their music and the musicians that make it than fans of any other genre of music. And with Dio’s passing, I realized that if The Man on the Silver Mountain could die, then all of my heroes were really just men; men who will grow old. Men who will eventually die. My Favorite Bands of All Time are dancing perilously close to the edge…

rush-r40-cap

Some of them are growing old gracefully: Rush are acknowledging that playing such physically demanding music gets tougher with the passage of each year, and are tailoring their final years to accommodate this reality. If ‘Clockwork Angels’ is the last Rush album, I’m ok with that. And how long can Iron Maiden continue to perform at their standard level of intensity? Their current strategy of staging shorter tours with longer breaks will buy them a few years, but cancer has already intervened once… As far as their current music, I don’t know what to make of IM’s latest 92-minute opus; it will probably take me the next five years to absorb it. Motorhead may now have no choice in the matter, but if they are in fact all done, they’ve left us with a real scorcher of an album in ‘Bad Magic’, with music full of piss and vinegar, and lyrics filled with thinly veiled goodbyes.

Now would be an excellent time to end it. I mean right now. Deep Purple’s ‘Now What?!’ album is one of their very best records, but the band are planning to do another. Don’t! End your 40+ year career on a high note! Don’t wind the band up with another ‘Bananas’! And I really don’t want to live in a world where a Cheap Trick album exists that does NOT include Bun E. Carlos on the drums. Their last record, ‘The Latest’, was strong; in fact, all of their albums since ‘going indie’ in 1996 have been strong… But a Bun-less CT album will be unwelcome in my home. AC/DC may have hung around for one album too many; ‘Black Ice’ broke records across the globe, but ‘Rock or Bust’ wasn’t quite the global phenomenon expected, and, while I like the album a lot, an AC/DC album without any contributions from Malcom Young needs to be considered carefully… Also, Angus Young, everybody’s favorite naughty schoolboy, is now 60 years old… Class Dismissed!

Lo, ‘The End’ will surely be the end. When the Pantheon of Old Gods is gone, who will be the New Gods? Slayer released a new album this week; just after a much-publicized spat between guitarist Kerry King and Mayhem Festival organizer Kevin Lyman. Lyman was bitching about low attendance during this year’s tour. While Lyman blamed the ‘metal scene’ in general, his issue was clearly with his aging headliners:

“The bands at the top all demand a certain level of fee to be on a tour. Unlike punk rock, metal never knows how to take a step back to move the whole scene forward…What happened was metal chased girls away because what happened was metal aged. Metal got gray, bald and fat.”

King came back with a statement calling Lyman’s remarks ‘business suicide’, and he was right: The 2015 Mayhem run was the last. But Lyman failed to acknowledge the lack of young bands developing into headliners over the past 20 years. During the eight year existence of his festival, which launched in 2008, the festival organizer soon found himself resorting to adding ‘older’ bands to key positions on the bill. Lyman wouldn’t have to resort to costly ‘grey, bald and fat’ bands if there were younger bands capable of filling arenas. When the old guard is gone, who’s gonna sell tickets?

mayhem20151

It saddens me to think that, in our lifetimes, we will live in a world with no Lemmy, no Alice Cooper or Ozzy, no Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Rob Halford… No Schenkers, no Youngs… No larger-than-life characters, no living legends, no more heroes. Of course we’ll still have Dave Grohl, but he’ll have no one to jam with! Slash, maybe? Kiss will still be around though. I’m willing to bet that Gene Simmons has been grooming his son Nick for years to take over as Bat Lizard 2.0. The inevitable reality TV show to find the next Starchild will surprise no one.

Most of my favorite bands originated in the 1970s. That they survived the MTV ’80s and the alternative ’90s is nothing short of a miracle. I am grateful that they’ve been able to continue their careers so far beyond their original expiration dates. Back in 1978, no one would have guessed that any of these bands would still be touring and releasing viable music in 2015. I value everything they have given us over the last three or four decades, both good and bad, and I truly wish it could go on forever, that all of my heroes were immortal. But when Sabbath reaches the end of ‘The End’, it will likely be 2017. By then, my friends, the glory days will be well and truly over. How perfect that the band that started it all will be the band that presides over the funeral services.

Advertisements

Ghost Music

Jimmy page recently complained about the sound quality of mp3s. He told Kerrang! Radio: “They (the Led Zeppelin albums) were mixed in stereo with a depth-of-field to them, with everything in focus,” he says. “To have it squashed down is not how it was intended to be.” He lamented the sad fact that all of the painstaking work he had recently done on the Zeppelin remasters would be ruined by todays technology; tech that is geared toward today’s listening culture. But is sound quality the only thing we’ve lost with the advent of the mp3?

itunes

Backstory. If this blog is ‘about’ anything, it’s about backstory. A song, an album, or even an entire discography has always been but a part of a larger story. Music without a backstory is one-dimensional; flat. Like wallpaper. Doesn’t the saga and setting of Deep Purple’s ‘Machine Head’ sessions inform the way the you perceive the record? Wouldn’t your listening experience differ significantly if you thought ‘Perfect Strangers’ was DP’s debut, and not a reunion album? The guitars sound different on ‘Come Taste the Band’… Is this Blackmore? If not, who is it? And where’s Ritchie?

To me, backstory is essential. And a significant portion of whatever backstory we were able to put together before the internet era came from all of the minutiea that accompanied physical media. Musicians, songwriters, producers, locations, dates, even ‘thanks’ lists. All of this information directly effected our perception of the music we listened to; enriched it, colored it, deepened it. Think about it: Most of us spent countless hours listening to records and staring at the packaging, reading every word, desperate to know whatever there was to know about what we were experiencing. You probably even know what an album cover smells like. What does an mp3 look like? Feel like in your hands? Smell like?

It’s ironic that, in the ‘Information Age’, we get so little information with our music. You download an ‘album’… and there’s a file folder showing on your screen that’s really not a file folder, it’s just a group of pixels representing a pathway to a cluster of digital information… How UN-rock n’ roll is that??? We get ‘tags’ indicating a song title, an artist, an album title… but that’s all. Mp3s are intangible phantoms with neither form nor shape, and the minimal ancillary information they carry does nothing to enhance our enjoyment. Who wrote these songs? Who’s in this band? When was it recorded?

Mp3s devalue art. But they go even further than that; they disrespect artists. Rock music changed the world; it has saved lives, transformed global culture, inspired millions. The very least you could do is tell us the name of the fucking bass player. Are the people who create music really irrelevant, their names insignificant? Take all the names and dates out of your kids’ history books. What will they learn? “Some stuff happened. Some of it was pretty cool; most of it was boring.” This, my friends, is the future history of Rock and Roll. By presenting music this way, without any credits attached whatsoever, we are being told that none of that information matters; that it makes no difference who created the art they are enjoying. And to many, sadly, this is true. I’m here to tell you that it’s not true; that it does matter.

Yes, my attitude is party the result of growing up with tangible music: LPs, CDs, and cassettes, with artwork and credits and, if you were a KISS fan, stickers and love guns and tattoos. Kids today are growing up with easy access to free portable music, anytime, anywhere… but just the music. They don’t even know there’s anything behind the wallpaper to care about or to be interested in. Yes, there will be some curious, adventurous kids, who, by some fluke of nature or accident of genetic engineering, find the antiquated sound of hard rock from the 70s and 80s appealing. And when those kids start digging on the internet for ‘that old shit’ (because where else would kids in the future look for anything?), all they’re going to find are mp3s. Misspelled artist’s names and incomplete song titles. Bits of digital code with no tether to the rich musical history from which they originated. Ghost Music. Cheap wallpaper. That’s all.

wav1

Check out Nazareth’s songwriting credits. Three of Naz’s six Top 20 UK singles were covers, including ‘Love Hurts’. In fact, Nazareth made a habit of including a couple of well-chosen covers on each of their classic-era albums; interpretations of songs by Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Little Feat, Nils Lofgren, Bob Dylan, JJ Cale, Dr. John, Leon Russell, Woodie Guthrie, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Yardbirds, and more, indicating a wisdom and depth rarely seen in the glut of dime-a-dozen hard rock bands from the 70s… Maybe there was more to this band than we thought… but if you’re downloading Nazareth’s discography from Napster, you’re not gonna know any of this, and you’re not gonna be able to fully appreciate this smart and tasteful band.

Casual rock fans rock fans of the future will come to the conclusion that drugs were the best thing that ever happened to Aerosmith, because the albums they released after getting sober are all fucking terrible. But it’s wasn’t the drugs, or lack thereof; it was the writers. There are only 3 songs written exclusively by members of ‘Smith on their first ‘sober’ album, ‘Permanent Vacation’ (and one’s an instrumental); the remaining 9 were written or co-written by outside ‘song doctors’. Without the songwriting credits, A-smith takes the blame for the cheesy, pop-infused, overwritten crap polluting their records up to the present day, when blame should instead be placed with Desmond Child, JIm Vallance, Mark Hudson, Jack Blades, Tommy Shaw, Richie Supa… even Lenny Kravitz. And, yes, also on Aerosmith, for allowing these collaborations to happen at all… while sober! You’d have to inject me with drugs to get me to write a song with Jack Blades.

The early albums by Germany’s Accept had their fair share of clunkers, but go back and revisit a song called ‘I’m a Rebel’ from their album of the same name. ‘Rebel’ sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the record, and for good reason. A glance at the songwriting credit reveals that the song was written by ‘George Alexander’, a pseudonym for Alexander Young, one of the brothers Young, as in Malcom and Angus. Young’s ‘I’m a Rebel’ was originally recorded in 1976 by AC/DC but was shelved; three years later it was offered to Accept, who recorded a cover version based on AC/DC’s recording. Without that songwriting credit, it’s just more awkward ‘early Accept’.

Not that they need it, but does it not lend a bit of extra badass credibility to Motorhead’s ‘Overkill’ and ”Bomber’ albums after you discover that they were produced by Jimmy Miller, the man who produced The Rolling Stones’ ‘Beggar’s Banquet’, ‘Let it Bleed’, ‘Sticky Fingers’, ‘Exile on Main Street’, and ‘Goat’s Head Soup’?

The story of Cheap Trick’s catalog is largely one of producers: Jack Douglas wanted their debut to sound live; Tom Werman cleaned them up for rock radio; desperate attempts to replicate Budokan’s sales led the hiring of George Martin (‘All Shook Up’), Roy Thomas Baker (‘One on One’), and Todd Rundgren (‘Next Position, Please’). All of those albums sound markedly different. Doesn’t an awareness of their ‘Next Producer, Please’ syndrome explain these differences, and lend a better understanding of the CT story, allowing one to appreciate the arc of their recording career in greater depth?

So you think you might download some Whitesnake? The ‘Snake line-up responsible for the ‘Ready an’ Willing’ album features Ian Paice, Jon Lord, and David Coverdale; that’s three fifths of Deep Purple, Mks III & IV… If you count producer Martin Birch, that means four of the six folks responsible for DP’s ‘Burn/Stormbringer/Come Taste the band albums do their thing on ‘Ready an’ Willing’, perhaps making it the Whitesnake album to gamble on, if you’re curious. But if you’re browsing iTunes, how do you know who plays on what? You might end up buying ‘Slip of the Tongue’, or even worse: ‘The Purple Album’. Buyer beware!

Minutia is a big deal. Listen to ‘Under My Wheels’ from Alice Cooper’s ‘Killer’ album. Now listen again, with the understanding that the guitar solo at around the 1:00 mark was played by Rick Derringer. It’s a different experience, isn’t it? In a few short years, no one will know this; no one will care. No one will be able to fully appreciate Scorpions’ ‘Lovedrive’ album because they will not know that UFO’s Michael Schenker played on it… Nor will they care that they guy who sang the majority of Ted Nugent’s ‘Free-For-All’ album later had several hit singles afterwards, including ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ and ‘I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’, adding a hefty dose of irony to the Nugent experience. And won’t Sharon be pleased when, in a future without songwriting credits, the world finally recognizes Ozzy Osbourne for the musical genius she’s always wanted us to believe that he is?

Even ‘Thank You’ lists reveal nuggets of useful information. Perhaps the most infamous Thank You in the history of Metal, Black Sabbath’s ‘Vol.4’ thanks “the great COKE Cola Company of Los Angeles”, perhaps lending some level of understanding as to why that classic album sounds a bit ragged, edgy and rushed. Or, sometimes they add to the overall character of the album they appeared on: Motorhead’s Thank Yous always lend a little levity to the proceedings. On 1987’s Rock and Roll, Lem announces the return of Phil Talyor to the band with “Welcome Home Philthy! And by the way…If you had a face like mine, you’d punch me right on the nose… And I’m just the guy to do it!”

torrent

iTunes attaches reviews from the All Music Guide to most of the albums available in their store, because they know buyers require at least a little bit of background information when making buying decisions. They also post customer reviews, as does Amazon. These reviews are rife with misinformation, uninformed opinion, and factual errors, just like the rest of the internet, so they are not to be trusted. Just like the rest of the internet. Streaming services offer nothing in the form of performance or production credits. If you hear a song you dig, all you get is the title of the song, that title of the album it originated from, and the name of the artist. Kids growing up in this listening culture will not care or wonder about anything else.

Illegal download sites are even worse, as you might imagine. While doing internet searches for blog material, I have seen Foghat’s ‘Slow Ride’ attributed to Kiss on more than one torrent site… April Wine’s ‘Roller’ credited to Queen… Frank Marino’s ‘Dragonfly’ tagged as a Pat Travers tune. I found a song called ‘Harley Davidson’ that was attributed to AC/DC… But guess what? It wasn’t AC/DC. It wasn’t even Krokus. Misinformation abounds out there in the illegal downloading underground, and maybe misinformation is worse than no information at all. As music becomes less and less important, so will accurate information.

Do you have any idea who designed the wallpaper in your living room? When or where it was manufactured? Which wallpaper company produced it? Probably not. In the near future, people’s interest in their music will be no different. For the listeners of tomorrow, there will only be two kinds of music: Good and Bad. Perhaps artists’ names and song titles should just be done away with, and download sites and streaming services should just label their wares with generic genre tags; ‘Rock and Roll’. ‘Jazz’. ‘Heavy Metal’. Before another mp3 of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ by the Rolling Stones is downloaded to someone’s iPhone… More Ghost Music, doomed to roam the internet for eternity, haunting the playlists of the uninformed.