Are We Hair Yet?

I have a confession to make. I’m a Ratt fan.
Why is this a big deal? Keep reading…

 
As a young metalhead eager to see where the genre was headed as the NWOBHM phenomenon waned, I followed the thread of Metal’s evolution even as it seemed to split into two very disparate directions. One road led into the mainstream, and the more commercial brand of Metal that exploded in popularity after the success of Quiet Riot’s ‘Metal Health’ album; the other led to the underground and the burgeoning Thrash movement. For a while, I didn’t see the split, and was buying records on both sides of the divide. But as these two divergent directions solidified into two clearly definable musical sub-genres, it dawned on me that as the underground stuff got heavier, so did the commercial stuff grow more lightweight, more… safe. As the two styles quickly headed for opposite poles, I felt I had to choose a side.

 
At some point in 1984, I re-evaluated my record collection, and purged a bunch of records by bands that I decided had crossed the line, and no longer belonged in my collection: Dokken’s ‘Tooth and Nail’. Motley Crue’s ‘Shout at the Devil’. Quiet Riot’s CBS debut. Ratt’s first two major label releases: dumped. Once I realized where this new strain of Metal was headed, it was easy for me to kick these bands to the curb. This wasn’t real Metal! It wasn’t MINE. I was NOT the target audience for this music. What was I thinking? How did these records get into my collection? I felt like I had been tricked, duped, ripped off. I felt violated. I share all of this without exaggeration.

 
In strictly musical terms, ‘Pop Metal’ (the term ‘Hair Metal’ came much later) quickly solidified into a recognizable sub-genre with easily identifiable features: the throbbing single-note bass line, the gang vocal shout-outs, the glitter canon snare drums, the bag-of-tricks guitar solo… Lyrical content centered around women/sex, partying/rocking, and … well that’s about it. And, of course, the mandatory power ballad. All of these features were pretty easy to spot, and sure enough, I started to notice these elements creeping into the records some of my heroes were making…

 
It was true. Some of favorite bands were undergoing a shift in style, streamlining their sound by simplifying song structures, sweetening the backing vocals, adding keys… and generally sliding toward a faceless, generic sound that worked on the radio, but lacked authenticity or bite. So I also tossed some albums from some of my heroes, and simply stopped following others. It wasn’t easy, but the changes that some of these bands were making to their music felt like betrayal. Deciding where to draw the line was also difficult. In some cases the slide into commerciality was gradual, unfolding over two or three albums, without a clear delineation between authenticity and artificiality.

 
These were turbulent times, and these were not easy decisions. Walk with me now along the dividing line between the music I loved, and the music of compromise; the blurry border between truth and artifice, where the siren song of worldwide fame and fortune during Metal’s boom years led many a great band astray. You may have drawn that line in different places; you may not have drawn it at all. But here’s how I made my determinations during my Great Pop Metal Purge:

 

Rainbow
Departure Point: ‘Straight Between the Eyes’ (1982)
Red Flag: ‘Magic’ & ‘I Surrender’ from ‘Difficult to Cure’
Deal Breaker: ‘Stone Cold’

‘Stone Cold’ placed JLT-era Rainbow squarely into Foreigner territory. Rainbow’s foray into FM radio-friendly territory began with Russ Ballard’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, and the JLT era began with the excellent ‘Jealous Lover’, but the ‘Difficult to Cure’ album was a mixed bag, and ‘Stone Cold’ was so bland that I passed on the ‘Eyes’ album altogether. This was before ‘Metal Health’ arrived and changed the landscape for the rest of the 80s, but it foreshadowed the issues I’d face the following year.

Re-Assessment: I did buy this record and its follow-up, ‘Bent Out of Shape’ later when Polydor made Rainbow’s catalog available on CD. Compared to the disappointments to come, my initial disapproval of Rainbow’s radio-friendly shift in direction seems kinda silly now, as these are solid records with some great songs and some very fine playing.

 

 

Def Leppard
Departure Point: ‘Pyromania’ (1983)
Red Flag: ‘Photograph’
Deal-breaker: The Full Mutt

When I first heard the Lep’s 1983 single, ‘Photograph’, it was over for me. I couldn’t believe these guys were making a mainstream move after only two records! This was not NWOBHM, it wasn’t even Metal, even by early 80’s standards. I chose not to purchase ‘Pyromania’. It was easy for me to dismiss this record as a sell-out, with records like fellow NWOBHM pioneers Iron Maiden’s monstrous ‘Piece of Mind’ available as a comparison point. Nonetheless, I bought ‘Pyro’, but only listened a few times; I never needed to put it on, as for almost two years it was inescapable.

Re-Assessment: Listening with today’s ears, the music on ‘Pyro’ sounds like a very natural progression from the ‘High n Dry’ album, but with a much more commercial sheen. I view it as a ‘crossover’ record, in that the Leps had thoroughly crossed over from NWOBHM to Pop Rock. In retrospect, this is probably a great record, but it’s just not my thing.

 

Saxon
Departure Point: ‘The Power and the Glory’ (1983)
Red Flag: Where’s Pete Gill?
Deal-breaker: New version of ‘Suzie Hold On’

Not another NWOBHM band pandering to the American market? Alas, ‘The Power and the Glory’ sounded different than any of Saxon’s earlier records, sporting a ‘bigger’, arena-ready sound. Gone was the scrappy NWOBHM sound we had known and loved; this was Saxon on steroids, ready to kick American ass. Beyond the cavernous production, the US version of ‘Power’ featured a beefed-up re-recording of the band’s 1980 single, ‘Suzie Hold On’. The song’s inclusion on US pressings bumped the more metallic ‘Midas Touch’, sacrificing some real heft to make room for a much more commercial song. This kind of needless fuckery was really starting to piss me off.

Re-Assessment: No doubt this album rocks hard, but I maintain that the huge leap in production values buries their scrappy old-school NWOBHM charm, and it still doesn’t sit right with me. Un-Saxon-like songs like ‘Nightmare’ and ‘The Eagle has Landed’ are ambitious and even somewhat successful, but give me the first four albums any day.

 

 

Blackfoot
Departure Point: ‘Siogo’ (1983)
Red Flag: Keyboards (Ken Hensley???)
Deal-breaker: ‘Send Me an Angel’

First JLT-era Rainbow starts sounding like Foreigner; then Blackfoot starts sounding like JLT-era Rainbow. Not what you wanna hear from Blackfoot, the most ass-kickin’-est southern axe slingers of the era. I played this record exactly once and could never bring myself to try it out again. I just found it disingenuous and flat out dull. Blackfoot had lost their balls. Looking for answers, I noticed that some outside writers were listed in the writing credits, which I thought might at least partially explain how BORING this record was, and um WHAT THE FUCK IS KEN HENSLEY DOING IN BLACKFOOT?

Re-Assessment: Well, I tried it out again. It was difficult to get through. I would rather hear an all-in Def Leppard sell their souls to Mutt Lange than an insincere, half-hearted, middle of the road exercise in compromise like ‘Siogo’. Honestly, find this kind of record deeply offensive.

 

Krokus
Departure Point: ‘The Blitz’ (1984)
Red Flag: The cover art
Deal-breaker: Everything

I never bought ‘The Blitz’; seeing/hearing the video for ‘Midnite Maniac’ sealed that deal. Coming directly after ‘Headhunter’, easily the most Metal album in the Krokus catalog, this pap was a real slap in the face. Krokus had reworked their look and sound, AGAIN, this time adopting all the requisite Pop-Metal tropes as perfectly as they had duplicated AC/DC’s sound just a few years earlier. After this move, Krokus stood revealed as shameless bandwagon jumpers… I forgave this band once already, for their unabashed AC/DC thievery, but not for this.

Re-Assessment: All frosting and no cake. The production is lightweight, the songs are tame, the cheesy radio-friendly cover of ‘Ballroom Blitz’ is nauseating, and the cover art is… Yuck. Krokus were always at their best when they sounded like Krokus. Pity they didn’t do more of that.

 

Y&T
Departure Point: ‘In Rock We Trust’ (1984)
Red Flag: That robot
Deal-breaker: That stupid fucking robot

This was a tough call. Y&T had always existed at the commercial edge of hard Rock and Metal; their best albums– ‘Earthshaker’ & ‘Black Tiger’– masterfully balanced their poppier inclinations with their more metallic edge. But for me, they crossed a line on ‘IRWT’, bringing in outside writers to sweeten the tunes, using some silly production tricks on ‘Lipstick and Leather’… Or maybe it was just one too many songs about Rock. My girlfriend loved this album… ‘Nuff said.

Re-Assessment: Decades later, this record really doesn’t sound that different from the few before it; it’s really just a matter of degree. There’s little too much sugar on top of this one for my taste. And that goddam robot…

 

Scorpions
Departure Point: ‘Love at First Sting’ (1984)
Red Flag: It was inevitable
Deal-breaker: Can’t quite put my finger on it…

Look, the Scorps INVENTED the power ballad, so I didn’t begrudge them the success of ‘No One Like You’ from ‘Blackout’; I think we all expected that, at some point, one of theirs would strike gold. ‘Still Loving You’ was a well-deserved victory lap, and as I cut ties, I wished them well. I just couldn’t hang to celebrate the Scorpions’ mainstream breakthrough, as I thought the rest of ‘Sting’ was severely lacking in that patented Scorpions …sting. I found the songs lame, the production tame, and the one balls-out rocker (‘The Same Thrill’) cliched and unconvincing. And is that even Herman Rarebell on the drums? I’m skeptical.The Scorps sounded spent here, after three scorchers in a row. Auf Wiedersehen, meine Freunde.

Re-Assessment: This isn’t the shameless sell-out that some other records I’m covering here are. Scorpions hadn’t changed their sound or style very much at all on ‘Sting’, they just took the next logical step on a journey they began a decade previous. I might actually re-buy this one. I said ‘might’.

 

Whitesnake
Departure Point: ‘Slide It In’ (1984)
Red Flag: Mickey Moody
Deal-breaker: John Sykes, Cozy Powell, and …Colin Hodgkinson?

When David Coverdale revamped Whitesnake, he fired Mickey Moody, the heart and soul of the band’s original Blues Rock sound, and replaced him with John Sykes, guitar masturbator extraordinaire. Cozy Powell also entered the mix, and while there’s no denying his place in the upper echelon of Rock/Metal drummers, I felt he was wrong for Whitesnake. I had pretty much decided to boycott this record based on those two changes alone; hearing that the album had been ‘remixed for the American market’ reinforced that decision. I’m not sure I even heard the entire record until it’s 35th anniversary edition was released…

Re-Assessment: I love this record. I bought the double-disc anniversary edition, which contains the UK & US mixes of the record, and I was blown away by an album I had written off without hearing. Of course, I prefer the original mix, as it leans a little more toward their classic Blues Rock sound, but Coverdale sounds great on both, the songs are strong throughout, and the real Hair bomb hadn’t hit yet.

 

Twisted Sister
Departure Point: ‘Stay Hungry’ (1985)
Red Flag: The cover art
Deal-breaker: The cartoonish videos

As Twisted Sister dived head first into the music video era, I bid them farewell. The image that the band chosen was ridiculous, and the videos were embarrassing cartoon garbage. None of this spoke to the music on the album, I know, but that’s where I was at the time: I was making qualitative judgments about albums based on non-musical factors. So I passed on ‘Stay Hungry’ on principle, even after I’d heard enough to be was pretty sure it was better than their previous record. Damn you, MTv!

Re-Assessment: This is actually a pretty worthy record; crunchy, punchy and aggressive. I still believe that the songs overall are better than the material on ‘You Can’t Stop Rock n Roll’, but even after all these years, I still can’t separate the music from the silly visuals stuck in my head due to the over-exposure of this record on MTv.

 

Loudness
Departure Point: ‘Thunder in the East’ (1985)
Red Flag: Signing to Atlantic Records
Deal-breaker: ‘M! Z! A!’

At this point, due to the mounting number of disappointing albums released by the old guard, I was dropping older bands from my fandom roster at the drop of a hat. Mistakes were made (see: Whitesnake). When I first heard the ‘Crazy Nights’ single from Loudness, I felt the same way I did when I had heard Scorpions’ ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’: Ugh. Simple, safe, predictable, BORING. Loudness had apparently dumbed-down their music after signing with Atlantic and were in the big leagues now, clearly playing to the cheap seats. Unfortunately, I was getting used to cutting ties with bands I had loved for years, and it was getting easier.

Re-Assessment: Solid album. I bought this and the follow up, ‘Hurricane Eyes’, a few years back; both are worthy Loudness records. Kudos to these guys for not cashing in their chips completely while playing the major label game. I was wrong about ‘Thunder in the East’, a record more than worthy of your attention.

 

Van Halen
Departure Point: ‘5150’ (1986)
Red Flag: Sammy Hagar
Deal-breaker: ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’

Van Halen were, for a time, the most dangerous band on the planet. When Sammy joined, I assumed he wanted to get his Montrose mojo back, so hey, maybe this could work? Suddenly, Van Halen was fronted by a guy who could actually sing, but the result was obnoxious junk like ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’. I did not buy ‘5150’ based on my impression of that single alone. Diamond Dave’s presence and EVH’s guitar abstractions had (barely) saved the synth-heavy ‘1984’ and the paper-thin ‘Diver Down’ from total Pop disaster, but now Dave was gone and Ed had lightened and brightened his guitar tone, while continuing his annoying flirtation with keyboards. Dead to me.

Re-Assessment: I don’t think I have ever heard this album in it’s entirety until just now. Ed’s ‘new’ guitar sound just ruins it for me. And there’s just too much damn fun going on. All of the danger and edge that made Van Halen so badass is gone, and we’re left with a party band with funny haircuts and parachute pants. I hope I never hear another second of this record again.

 

Judas Priest
Departure Point: ‘Turbo’ (1986)
Red Flag: the cover art
Deal-breaker: ‘Turbo Lover’

This one still hurts. For many years, The Beast that is Priest was the living embodiment of the phrase Heavy Metal. Cutting my teeth on albums like ‘Sin After Sin’ and ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ made an album like ‘Turbo’ impossible for me to take. I had given them a pass on ‘Take These Chains’, and tried hard to like ‘Defenders of the Faith’ despite the over-processed production and lack of quality songs. But when I got about 60 seconds into ‘Turbo Lover’, I knew I could never be a fan of this band again. NOTE: 1986 was also the year of ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Peace Sells…’, and ‘Reign in Blood’. After hearing ‘Turbo’, the road ahead was clear.

Re-Assessment: I’m just as disappointed today as I was 30+ years ago. No redeeming qualities at all. Just awful.

 

Aerosmith
Departure Point: ‘Permanent Vacation’ (1987)
Red Flag: Rehab
Deal-breaker: ‘Angel’

Wait— the band that wrote ‘Toys in the Attic’ and ‘Rocks’ needs to bring in outside writers? What the fuck for? So they can have huge hits like ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’, and the wretched power ballad ‘Angel’, that’s why. Well, if this schlock was the result, then my hometown heroes would have to complete their career makeover without the likes of me. Oh, how I wanted these guys to recapture the dark magic of their first handful of records… I couldn’t have been the only kid who secretly wished these guys would start doing hard drugs again.

Re-Assessment: Not my Aerosmith. Props for surviving, but this almost sounds like parody to me. There are a few moments where the Aero boys almost catch fire, but if I were forced to include a post-rehab A-smith album into my collection, it would be ‘Pump’.

 

Accept
Departure Point: ‘Eat the Heat’ (1989)
Red Flag: Udo’s exit
Deal-breaker: Udo’s replacement

This record had no chance with me. Zero. Accept had replaced Udo Dirkschneider with an American singer, David Reece. I knew what it would sound like before I even heard it. I think I got a free promo copy of this on cassette, popped it into my car deck, listened in shock for a few songs, popped it out and into the trash. The music was vaguely recognizable as Accept, but as soon as the vox kicked in, this could’ve be any L.A. Glam Metal band with above-average chops and a misspelled name.

Re-Assessment: I can’t. I’m sorry. I tried. Unlistenable. Imagine Motorhead with Joe Lynne Turner on vocals; that is the schism we were presented with on ‘Eat the Heat’. Time has done nothing to make this epic mis-step more listenable.

 

Bonus Entries: In the interest of completeness, I also re-listened to the records that initially tipped me off to the faux Metal charade. Yes, I once owned these records. For a short time. Briefly. I think. Anyway, here are my current takes:

 
Quiet Riot / Metal Health (1983)
The Slade cover is brilliant. And that, my friends, is the best thing I can say about ‘Metal Health’. Actually, here’s something else: It’s better than ‘Shout at the Devil’, though that’s not saying much. After the reasonably metallic title track, and the brilliant Slade cover, the rest of this record is over-produced, under-written commercial Metal with a serious saccarine aftertaste. But could a record this crappy really be so influential? Yes, because when a record hits the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, it immediately begins to influence the genre it operates within. Listening with fresh ears, I am struck by how this album set into place a strict template that most successful Pop Metal records that came after followed rigorously. A sub-genre is born?

 
Motley Crue / Shout at the Devil (1983)
Full Disclosure: I have come to believe that Motley Crue are the worst band in the history of music. But back in 1983, I thought the Motleys were OK enough, having been a big fan of at least one of their tunes: ‘Live Wire’ from their debut album. But listening today, ‘Shout’ feels strangely empty; It’s pretty plain to me that this record is packed wall-to-wall with filler. ‘Knock em Dead, Kid’ on Side Two is simply a re-write of ‘Looks That Kill’ from Side One, the album’s intro is a ‘Number of the Beast’ rip, and the Beatles cover sux. Oh, and the Satanic nonsense is just plain silly.

 
Dokken / Tooth and Nail (1984)
I bought the debut on Carerre in 1982, due to the buzz surrounding George Lynch, and I hoped ‘Tooth and Nail’ would be more and better. Well, the cover was better. In hindsight, though, this album is probably as good as a 100% certified Pop Metal album could be. Damning with faint praise? Okay, how about this: If your girlfriend popped this into the cassette deck on your way to the beach, you could do a lot worse. By the way, this guy is NOT a great singer. A stronger vocalist might have saved this record’s spot in my collection.

 
Ratt / Out of the Cellar (1984)
Ah yes; Ratt. I bought ‘Out of the Cellar’ based on my love for Ratt’s debut indie EP, and I liked the album a lot. I even saw them live on the tour supporting this record. But when I purged the Pop, I deemed the Ratt records to be part of the infection in my collection, and into the dumpster they went.

 
Since then, Ratt’s ‘Round and Round’ became one of the most persistent earworms I’d ever been inflicted with. It like a small section of my brain had been rewired to loop that song over and over (round and round?) forever and ever. Recently, it was suggested to me that the best way to remove an earworm was to listen to the offending song, so I did. I re-bought ‘Out of the Cellar’. And I had a blast revisiting this record. I love it! Somehow, Ratt had achieved the impossible, creating a record that exists simultaneously on both sides of the border I drew back in the 80s, with plenty of appeal for both true 80s metalheads and their Hair Metal counterparts. In my current collection, it sits comfortably alongside my Riot, Raven, and Rainbow albums.

 
And there you have it: A journey back through a difficult time. Lessons learned since then? Sure. Drawing such strict genre barriers when I was younger caused me to have to later re-buy several albums I had once decided were garbage; that was an eye-opener. Not to mention the countless hours of listening enjoyment I cost myself by being such a purist. I’m I’m happy to report that I’m a little more open-minded nowadays, but back in the 80s, this really was all a very big deal to me. And I couldn’t have been alone with all of that inner conflict… When and where did you draw the line? Did you draw one at all? And most importantly: Which side was Ratt on?

Mary Long and the Three Different Pigs

Who is Mary Long?

 
It’s fairly common knowledge these days that the lyrical inspiration for the Deep Purple song ‘Mary Long’, Side One/Track Two on their ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’ album, came from two separate individuals: Mary Whitehouse and Lord Longford. For ‘Mary Long’, written in the summer of 1972, Gillan was inspired to move away from the ’emptiness, eagles, and snow’ of previous DP records and write an overtly political statement condemning a specific public figure. Or figures, as Whitehouse and Longford were combined into one ‘character’, and savagely lampooned in a brilliant work of social commentary. What may not be so well known is that Gillan was almost certainly writing in response to Whitehouse’s headline-grabbing attack on Alice Cooper in the summer of 1972.

 
In a nutshell: Mary Whitehouse rose to fame in the mid-1960s as a self-appointed, and much derided, guardian of British morals. She was the founder of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, whose mission was to clean up British television, which she perceived as corrupting the nation’s morals. Francis Longford was a Labour Party politician and social reformer, known as a campaigner against pornography.

 
Whitehouse’s crusade to clean up telly had previously included campaigns against the likes of Benny Hill (for its sexual content), Doctor Who (violence), sitcom ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ (profanity), and coverage of the US war in Vietnam (‘desensitization’). She successfully forced Stanley Kubrick to withdraw his film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ from UK theatres. After unsuccessfully attempting to ban Chuck Berry’s hit ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ from the BBC airwaves, which, despite the good lady’s urgent disapproval (or because of it; more on that later), reached the top of the UK pop music chart, Whitehouse turned her attention to Alice Cooper’s 1972 single ‘School’s Out’.

 
The controversy began with Alice Cooper’s lone UK date on the ‘School’s Out for Summer ’72 Tour’ on June 30th at Wembley Pool Empire in London. Sensational press coverage in the weeks before the show, most of which highlighted Alice’s ‘killing’ of a chicken thrown on stage during the band’s set at a Chicago festival (the chicken was killed, but not by Alice) ensured that the show sold out, which increased the sales of the British release of the ‘School’s Out’ single enough (AC’s previous British single, ‘Be My Lover’, had failed to chart) to garner the band an appearance on BBC Tv’s ‘Top of the Pops’. Mary Whitehouse was watching…

 
No doubt the good lady was horrified. Alice Cooper performed ‘School’s Out’ with twenty local students dancing and cavorting on stage beside the band, who mimed along to the single. The kids had been given free tickets to the taping, and clearly had a ball. Alice could not have looked more badass, as he slashes through the air with a sword, violently knocks his mic stand to the ground, and pulls on one of the young female students’ hair. As he lip syncs the song’s final line, he looks squarely into the camera and simulates cutting his throat with the sword. Whitehouse saw the broadcast and began a fervent push to ban AC from the BBC airwaves completely.

 
Whitehouse stated that she held “the gravest concern over the publicity which has been given to Alice Cooper’s record ‘School’s Out’. For weeks now ‘Top of the Pops’ has given gratuitous publicity to a record which can only be described as anti-law and order. Because of this, millions of young people are now imbibing a philosophy of violence and anarchy. This is surely utterly irresponsible in a social climate which grows ever more violent.”

 
Whitehouse’s public comments and the ensuing publicity she generated pushed School’s Out’ to the No 1 spot on the UK Pop charts, where it stayed for 3 weeks straight. Coming after the ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ affair, the School’s Out’ episode comfirmed it: Mary Whitehouse was now a certified hit-maker. The #1 ranking ensured the band another appearance on ToTP, which Whitehouse tried unsuccessfully to block. Alice was so grateful for Whitehouse’s attention that he sent her a bouquet of flowers and a thank you note for putting him on the map in England. Years later, Alice remembers the period fondly… and perhaps with just a pinch of sarcasm:

 
‘I have been taught many lessons and one of those lessons came from the lovely Mary Whitehouse. I learned a big lesson about marketing and perception. We could not have had better publicity for the song and it went to No 1 in the British charts. She did so much for my career and I have never forgotten her, there is always a place in my heart for that wonderful lady. Thank you Mary.’

 
The following year, when Alice announced another tour of the UK, this time to promote the ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ album, the upright citizen’s brigade was ready. Leo Abse, a prominent member of Parliament, launched a campaign to ban Alice from entering the country. Referring to AC’s oeuvre as the ‘culture of the concentration camp’, Abse claimed that Alice’s ‘incitement to infanticide and his commercial exploitation of masochism is evidently an attempt to teach our children to find their destiny in hate, not in love.’ The Labour MP petitioned the Home Secretary to prevent the band entry into the country. AC opted to pass on the UK that year, so kids in the UK were deprived of the B$B spectacle. Coop was also banned from entering Australia and the USSR.

 
At this point, every teenager in the UK wanted desperately to see Alice Cooper. One of those teenagers was named John Lydon. Lydon was 16 in 1972, a member of the Alice Cooper Fan Club, and a HUGE fan. In the introduction to the book included with AC’s 1999 box set ‘The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper’, Lydon gushes about his passion for AC as a young lad:

 
‘Killer’ is the best rock album ever made, which, of course, followed the masterpiece ‘Love it to Death’. These two albums put together were just too much for an angst-ridden teenager such as myself to handle… I thought those records were the best it could be!’

 
Lydon also relates that his musical career began with his audition for the Sex Pistols, where he was asked to sing along with to song on a jukebox; Lydon, aware that he couldn’t sing a note, opted instead to mime his way through a tune instead. The song he chose? ‘I’m Eighteen’. He got the job, changed his last name to Rotten, and the rest is history. Lydon/Rotten further espouses at length on the genius of AC:

 
”Alice Cooper is the original rabid dog on a rope. A very frayed rope. It’s the wild-craziness barely contained on a leash. And we like that. The restraint is what gives it power. Society has such foolish rules that the individualist will always shine as long as there is such a dark thing called society. So in a weird way, we need it. Chaos only works well inside four very strict brick walls.’

 
That ‘chaos’ comment essentially explains The Sex Pistols, and Punk movement they spearheaded in a Conservative Britain near the end of the 70s. And of course it makes perfect sense that a young Alice Cooper fan would end up fronting a band that exploded into British culture’s greatest nightmare. He compared AC’s artistic approach to that of his own:

 
‘I’ve referred to the Sex Pistols as “musical vaudeville” and “evil burlesque”, and for me, there was definitely Alice influence in there. And I’m very proud to say so, because, without that, I don’t think I would have had that extra kick when I was young… It’s brave to do those things.’

 
The Pistols inked a deal with EMI in October, and the ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ single was released a month later. As the Sex Pistols began live work around London in the spring of ’76, violence and controversy followed. When a live interview on BBC Tv’s ‘Today’ program ended with a hostile, expletive-ridden exchange with the show’s host, angry headlines screamed from the front pages of the weekly tabloids for days. Political pressure was applied, and the Pistols were dropped by EMI. The negative coverage in the national media resulted in the band’s becoming household names virtually overnight. And then, suddenly… The ‘Anarchy in the UK’ single reached the top of the British Pop charts: Number One. Imagine that.

 
A&M records quickly snapped the band up in March of ’77, but dropped them in just 6 days. 10,000 copies of the band’s second single, ‘God Save the Queen’, had been pressed; all were immediately destroyed. In May, Virgin Records signed the band and became the Pistols’ third record company in six months. Virgin released the single soon after, to much public outcry. The record’s sleeve and the song’s lyrics prompted fresh moral outrage throughout the country. The record was banned on the BBC and most independent radio stations; several major music retailers refused to carry the single. Despite the lack of radio promotion and presence in record shops, the record sold 150,000 copies in ten days, leading the Daily Mirror to predict that the single would debut on the charts at No. 1.

 
‘God Save the Queen’ entered the official chart at No. 10, and looked as if it would hit No. 1 during the Queen’s Jubilee Celebration week. Political pressure was this time applied to the chart’s compilers, and so for just one week, the official rules were changed: record shops owned by record companies could not have sales of their own records recognized in the chart. Since Virgin Records released ‘God Save the Queen’, Virgin Record Stores’ sales of the single were barred from the stats, which resulted in the song stalling on the chart at No. 2, while Rod Stewart sat at the top spot with “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.”

 
In October ’77, the Sex Pistol’s debut album was released. With the Queen’s Jubilee six months behind it, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks: Here’s the Sex Pistols’ crashed into the album charts at No. 1. The album’s title and cover caused even more controversy, resulting in an obscenity trial that stole headlines for weeks; once again the sensational (and free) national media coverage fueled sales. The Sex Pistols, fronted by a student of Alice Cooper’s ‘musical vaudeville’/evil burlesque’, had cut the very frayed rope that held the rabid dog at bay and walked away with three No. 1 records. Well… two and a half. Just three months after the release of ‘Bollocks’, the band split; but during their brief reign of terror, the Pistols and the chaos they created within British culture’s four very strict brick walls changed the musical and cultural landscape of the UK forever.

 
Roger Waters paid close attention to the Sex Pistols explosive ascent. Pink Floyd started work on their tenth studio album, ‘Animals’, in their new South London HQ in April of 1977, at the same time that the Sex Pistols began to receive negative (and therefore positive) press coverage for the confrontational nature of their performances and the violence that seemed to erupt regularly at their gigs. The debut album by the Ramones began making waves in Britain’s underground in April, and in July the Ramones gig at Dignwalls was attended by nearly everyone in the burgeoning UK Punk scene. Also in July, two new ‘punk’ bands, the Damned and the Clash, made their live debuts opening for the Pistols… Something big was happening.

 
The Floyd were tuned into the underground art and music scenes in and around London, having once been an underground band themselves, and looked on with considerable interest. But this new breed of underground band was singing overtly-political lyrics, and their aggressive, anti-establishment stance challenged not only the political establishment, but the established musical order as well. Punk wasn’t concerned with skilled musicianship, elaborate concept albums, or 20-minute jams; rather it was decisively anti- all of those things. Punk was about immediacy, nihilism and confrontation. When a photo of Johnny Rotten wearing his now-infamous ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt appeared in one of the weekly music papers, Waters knew that Pink Floyd needed to find a way to connect with this movement in order to re-establish relevance and survive the punk onslaught about to overtake Britain’s music scene.

 
David Gilmour, pre-occupied with the birth of his first child, contributed only one song to the album, ‘Dogs’, leaving Waters to compose the rest. With the Punk Rock movement erupting all around him, he fashioned a concept loosely based on George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, in order to comment on the social-political conditions of late 1970s Britain. Waters replaced Orwell’s take on Stalinism with his own ideas about Capitalism; and the focus on the warring social classes was tailor-made to connect with Britain’s disaffected youth. Musically, the tone was harder, the mood more cynical than on previous Pink Floyd albums, but it was Waters’ lyrics that really cemented the punk rock angle.

 

In ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’, Waters skewers three different prominent public personalities to further the album’s iconoclastic tone and perhaps garner some anti-establishment points with the punks. The identities of two of the ‘Pigs’ Waters outlines in the song are unknown, while the identity of the figure in the third verse was very clearly established within the song itself, and later confirmed by Roger Waters to be none other than… Mrs. Mary Whitehouse.

 

Hey you, Whitehouse
Haha, charade you are
You house proud town mouse
Haha, charade you are
You’re tryin’ to keep our feelings off the street
You’re nearly a real treat
All tight lips and cold feet
And do you feel abused?
You gotta stem the evil tide
And keep it all on the inside
Mary, you’re nearly a treat
Mary, you’re nearly a treat, but you’re really a cry

 

Mary Whitehouse died in 2001 at the age of 91. She is the only known actual person to feature in the lyrical canons of both Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. How cool is that? 

 

Couple things:

Nick Mason would produce the second album by The Damned, ‘Music For Pleasure’ in the Autumn of ’77.

Pink Floyd’s next album, ‘The Wall’, would be produced by Bob Ezrin, who had previously produced ‘Love it to Death’ and ‘Killer’, the two Alice Cooper albums that young John Lydon felt ‘were the best it could be!’

Bob Ezrin would also go on to produce two Ian Gillan-fronted Deep Purple albums.

Ian Gillan’s Book of Magic

Of the three major offshoots that emerged after the break-up of Deep Purple in 1976, Gillan (the band, not the man) was certainly the most musically daring. And Gillan’s most daring album just might be their last: 1982’s ‘Magic’. Yes, the keyboard-heavy record carries a glossy, polished sheen; yes, it contains a pair of obvious stabs into ‘hit single’ territory; and yes, the off-the-rails kinetic chemistry of the Torme years is largely absent. But it’s not the music that makes makes ‘Magic’ Gillan’s most fascinating record; it’s the words. Truth be told, ‘Magic’ could and should be looked at in hindsight as a concept album, as the lyrics throughout revolve around a common theme: Gillan (the man, not the band) was laying out his future plans right before our very eyes, misdirecting our attention with another album’s worth of musical hocus pocus while planning the greatest magic trick of all: making himself disappear.

 
Some context: After leaving Deep Purple in June of 1973, Ian Gillan spent a few years away from the music biz, eventually launching The Ian Gillan Band, who released 3 albums of what can only be called jazz-rock, to limited success. Gillan scrapped the IGB but retained keyboardist Colin Towns, whom the vocalist regarded as a valuable writing partner. The pair re-emerged in 1978 with a new band, re-christened simply ‘Gillan’, and a self-titled album, released only in Japan. Perhaps sensing the coming NWOBHM, Gillan, Towns and bassist John McCoy revamped the band’s line-up to include guitarist Bernie Torme and drummer Mick Underwood, heading in a much harder-rocking direction. This bunch released three UK Top Twenty albums (including a #2 & #3) before Torme left; enter Janick Gers, and two more UK Top Twenty records. Add to that six UK Top Forty singles, and you’ve got one heckuva four-year run.

 
In Britain, during the NWOBHM, Deep Purple’s offspring: Gillan, Whitesnake and Rainbow, dominated the UK Heavy Rock scene. But the first whispers of a Deep Purple Mk II reunion began to circulate in early 1982, as the NWOBHM fire began to fade, and probably caused the five members of DP’s classic line-up to pause and reassess. Ritchie Blackmore seemed content, having found his pot of gold at the American end of his Rainbow, and bassist Roger Glover was a key factor in the band’s US success. Whitesnake, which then included Jon Lord and Ian Paice, were on the verge of implosion, as David Coverdale began retooling the band in an attempt to replicate Rainbow’s success in the US. Paice bolted; Lord stayed. Gillan’s response to the MK II reunion rumors was hidden in plain sight: within the lyrics of what would be his namesake band’s final album, ‘Magic’.

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A quick look at the track listing reveals a lot: Titles like ‘Caught In A Trap’, ‘Long Gone’, ‘Living A Lie’ imply a theme; non-album tracks used as b-sides and giveaways such as ‘Breaking Chains’ and ‘Purple Sky’ continue that theme. Even on the surface, we find an indication as to where Gillan’s mind was at during the process of putting together the ‘Magic’ album. Delving deeper, and looking at the lyrics to these songs, and several others on the album, allows an even deeper insight. The concepts IG was working with here center around themes of entrapment, escape, and rebirth… as well as deceit. The lyrics on ‘Magic’ paint a picture of one trapped in an undesirable circumstance, while covertly working toward a more favorable situation. Which is pretty much exactly what occurred while Gillan maneuvered himself into position for a DP reunion.

 

‘Magic’s lyrics contain ample evidence that, by the time that the lyricist put pen to paper, Ian Gillan had already made his mind up to end the band. Of the twelve original tracks recorded (several covers were also recorded, though only one made the album), eight of them contain hints and clues about Gillan’s mindset and the band’s imminent demise. Some of these red flags are woven into the material with great subtlety; others are startlingly direct. These weren’t just lyrics; they were a letter of resignation. Gillan’s work on ‘Magic’ is akin to a that of a master criminal who intentionally litters his crime scene with tantalizing clues and dares us to put the pieces together, before it’s too late… Or how about Gillan the Escape Artist; stunning his audience by extricating himself from certain doom with seconds to spare, through mystifying means that could only be described as ‘Magic’.

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Entrapment/Escape, Rebirth
Some additional context: After a few albums and an extensive amount of touring, the members of Gillan became concerned at their lack of financial success (see: Bernie Torme’s exit), and Ian himself has stated that the band were badly in debt by 1982. Gillan had financed the band entirely with his own money, and by around this time, the Gillan band was deeply in debt. A reunion of the classic Purple line-up just might do the trick…

 
This snippet from the b-side ‘Breaking Chains’ contains several hints of Gillan’s financial woes:
Ten years of hard sweat, I’m sitting here with a mess of bad debt
I’m down, flat broke, sitting here and you know it’s no joke
I ain’t tired, I ain’t dead, going crazy getting out of my bed, here we go, got another show
Hot dog, cool bitch, feels good but you will not get rich, here we go, got another show
‘Chains’ also speaks to Gillan’s imminent freedom:
How can I be so sad? I gave everything I had
Now that I’m free again, I’m strong and I’m breaking chains
Here’s the dream that I’ve been searching for, I know ’cause I’ve been here before
‘Here’s the dream – I’ve been here before’ is a reference to his previous tenure in DP and the potential upcoming reunion.

 

The chorus to ‘Caught in a Trap’ also shows Gillan looking forward to revisiting his past in the future (!) but feeling stuck:
In a gateway, I’m trapped in a gateway, Look where I’m going, look where I’ve come from
I’m caught in a trap

 

‘Long Gone’ has many surprisingly overt references to Gillan’s as-yet-unknown decision to end the band. Musically, this song was an obvious choice for one of the album’s singles, although with these lyrics on top, the choice was a bold one; here IG unflinchingly reveals that his decision is made: He’s gone, long gone:
Say what you’re going to say. I’ll never turn you away but you’ll never make me stay
I’ll come back when the trees stop growing, I’ll come back when the tide stops flowing
I’ll look around when there’s no complaining, I will not return
Send love to the old ways, love to the city haze, I’m gone, long gone

 

The album’s magnum opus, ‘Demon Driver, contains the following:
I’m trapped here in this tomb, Hell fire here in this womb, this earth
‘Driver’ also includes many uptempo sections that utilize the concept of driving as a metaphor for escape:
Goodbye habit, boring Sunday, Monday slow death
Hello freedom, faster freeways, clean air sweet breath

 

The album outtake ‘Purple Sky’ is another hidden-in-plain-sight clue about Gillan’s future plans. The was kept off the album, and was not used as a b-side, but rather it was relegated to a flexi-disc and given away free with the purchase of an issue of Flexipop magazine. This excellent song would have been a stellar addition to the album’s track list, but perhaps the title/chorus was too much of a giveaway? The song opens with the line:
‘My old lady, have a lot of fun, when she look the other way, I begin to run’
The first proper verse leads right into the chorus like this:
When I’m cruising you know I’m confusing my head                                                                              When I’m choosing there’s no one that I want instead
Purple sky, get me by, purple sky get me high, get me high, free and high, purple sky

 

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Deceit
Gillan began work on the Magic album in July of 1982, and the album/tour cycle lasted until the band’s final performance in December; Gillan’s lyrics had to have been completed during the July/August recording sessions, at the very latest. That means that IG kept his plans to end the band a secret for six whole months…
‘Bluesy Blue Sea’ is about a man about to embark on a journey, as he prays to the sea that he will get to his destination. He suspects that his departure will upset those he left behind who are as yet unaware of his decision, but feels he must stay true to himself despite the fallout and hopes that they will understand the reasons behind his leaving:
Sitting here with the bottom line, you wanna know what, I’m gonna take my time
It may be good but it could be bad it drives me mad
Looking deep in my moody eyes, feeling good well I got a big surprise
Lock me up if I’ve done you wrong, you’ll never sing my song
Got a dream in December days, I can’t reach it but I’m gonna change my ways
Forget the wind and forget the now, you gotta let me go
Sitting here like a lunatic, you wanna know what and don’t it make you sick
Yes I may be right I may be wrong, but you can’t sing my song
Bluesy Blue Sea won’t you favor me

 

In ‘Driving me Wild’, Gillan outlines another reason he had privately decided to move on:
What can you do when you stay is your soft and easy life, when ambition is burning to make a break?
What can I do? Lost in a haze, telling you how but I’m just in a daze
That ‘telling you how‘ bit could be seen as a bold admission that the truth is here if one cares to look.

 

‘Long Gone’ offers more hints at the covert nature of Gillan’s decision throughout the creative process of the album, in the two cryptic instances of ‘it’s not what you think’:
Long gone, out of this place, long gone, it’s not what you think
Long gone, don’t want a new face, long gone it’s not what you think

 

‘Living a Lie’ appears on the surface to be about a person who has fallen out of love with their partner, yet remains in the unhealthy relationship. In the context of the rest of the lyrics on the album, it’s all too easy to understand that Gillan is actually relating his feelings about his relationship with his band. The middle eight section reads as follows:
Going down going down, down to deceive, coming round, around I believe
Lay me down, lay me down I can’t breathe, I’m living a lie
This line is sung three different times in the song over a solemn, church like organ riff, and is quite striking in its stark declaration:
It’s just another lie
The song ends with this line, softly spoken and drenched with reverb, over the same quietly somber organ backing… feeling more like a confession than a song lyric.

 

And finally, ‘Demon Driver’, includes this ominous admission:
Look past my eyes, you’ll be surprised
Inside this civilized master, there lies a human disaster

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Gillan dissolved Gillan the band at the end of the Magic tour, after their final gig at Wembley Arena on December 17, 1982, exactly as foreshadowed in ‘Bluesy Blue Sea’ with that ‘Got a dream in December days’ lyric. Clearly IG had the band’s demise planned right down to the month of the final gig. Claiming the need for throat surgery, Gillan was now free for the Deep Purple Mk II reunion… which was scuttled by Ritchie Blackmore, who opted to one more album/tour cycle with Rainbow. Gillan now had a year to kill, and so less than two months after his namesake band’s final gig, he was announced as the new lead vocalist of Black Sabbath. The quick turnaround was a shock to the other members of Gillan, leading them to believe they had been *ahem*, misled about the reasons for Gillan’s ending the band. The Sabbath detour turned out to be a one-off, as the fabled Mk II reunion finally became a reality in April of 1984.

 
The remaining members of Gillan were all quite vocal about their perceived betrayal, expressing their acrimony in the UK music press as well as in songs written about their ex-bandleader’s behaviors and motivations. To hear the band’s impressions of what took place, without the lyrical sleight of hand employed by their former boss, check out John McCoy’s ‘Because You Lied’, a direct response that pulls no punches; McCoy felt so close to the singer that he named Gillan godfather to his first daughter. Colin Towns gave ‘How Does the Cold Wind Cry’ to Roger Daltrey, who recorded the song for his ‘Parting Should be Painless’ collection, a loose concept album inspired by the break-up of The Who. Towns’ song fit into Daltrey’s theme seamlessly; the lyric is a sad and haunting take on his betrayal by someone he had loved and trusted for almost a decade.

 
So Gillan the Magnificent pulled off quite an amazing trick with ‘Magic’, turning Gillan’s fifth record into a concept album about his breaking up the band right before our eyes… and right under his band’s noses. In retrospect, this IS the same guy who wrote a very unflattering lyric about Ritchie Blackmore over a song on Deep Purple’s ‘Who Do We Think We Are? LP (‘Smooth Dancer’) which went wholly unnoticed by the Man in Black, so his ‘Magic’-al mischief was not without precedent. One wonders if any of the former members of Gillan ever had had an inkling of what was happening, after hearing those lyrics night after night on the road, or perhaps a head-smacking moment years later— “Of course! How could I not have seen it!” But by then, The Amazing Gillan had packed up his travelling Magic show and moved on to Purpler Skies and greener pastures…

The Secret Sabbath Songs: A Listener’s Guide

I first heard Black Sabbath at a friend’s house, sometime in 1978. I was 14 years old. That same year, I saw them get utterly destroyed by a young and hungry Van Halen, who opened for them on Sabbath’s ‘Never Say Die’ Tour. Behind the scenes, Ozzy had previously quit the Sabs, but was coaxed back to celebrate the band’s 10th Anniversary with one final album & tour. But somebody must have said ‘Die’, as for all intents and purposes, Black Sabbath as we knew them were over, seemingly the very moment I discovered them.

Although I started buying Sabbath records with 1980’s ‘Heaven and Hell’, I back-filled all of the Ozzy-era albums over the next few years. By the time I started collecting records, all of the Ozzy-era Black Sabbath albums were into their umpteenth pressings, and so I unfortunately missed out on some neat features found only in the initial production runs: UK copies of ‘Black Sabbath’ originally shipped in a gatefold sleeve with a creepy poem lurking inside; ‘Master of Reality’ originally came in an embossed cover and included a full-color poster; the early run of ‘Volume IV’ was not only produced as a gatefold, but also had several pages of color pics bound within, like a book. By the early 1980s, none of these features were still in production.

Since I completed my Ozzy Sabbath collection in the pre-internet age, I had no idea that any of these earlier variants existed, until I found a gatefold copy of the debut at a flea market at the local mall. But the most mind-blowing revelation was finding a dilapidated copy of ‘Master of Reality’ at a used record store in Boston in the late 80s. The copy was sans poster, but the vinyl within sported the old khaki green Warner’s label. Cool. I examined those labels closely. What the—

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On those labels were titles of songs I had never seen before… ‘The Elegy’… ‘The Haunting’… ‘Step Up’… ‘Deathmask’…?? The room spun around me. Was this some kind of bootleg? Nope, the Warner’s logo was front & center. Did the original version of Master of Reality contain extra songs that had for some reason been removed from subsequent pressings?? Then, like a 5-pound sledgehammer: WERE THERE OZZY-ERA SABBATH SONGS THAT I HAD NEVER HEARD BEFORE???

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Well… kinda. Actually, no.

Follow me, if you will, as we ascend downward and backward, into the murky darkness of Black Sabbath’s early years, where we’ll attempt to unravel one of the greatest mysteries of their classic Ozzy-era catalog… We’ll explore musty and worn album covers, moldy old books and faded record labels for the keys to unlock the keys to the Sabbath Code… We’ll travel to that to that cursed and unholy place where Art meets Commerce in an eternal battle for our musical souls. Because it’s true what they say: the Devil is in the details.

Nerd Alert!

On their landmark 1970 debut, Black Sabbath put their live set down on tape as-is, almost completely live, including Iommi’s guitar solo showpiece. Parsing these recordings for a proper track listing was likely a bit problematic in such a free-flowing, jam-like presentation, particularly during the final third of the album. When the original European ‘Black Sabbath’ was released in Europe in February 1970, this arrangement was listed as just two songs: ‘Sleeping Village’ and ‘Warning’, with an extensive untitled guitar solo section occurring inside of ‘The Warning’; four months later, when the album was released in the US, the solo section was given a title: ‘A Bit of Finger’, and all three ‘songs’ were grouped together into one single 14-minute track.

If this was an attempt to clarify this convoluted cluster of music, it failed, because while ‘Finger’ is listed first, the album’s 14-minute climax actually begins with ‘Sleeping Village’. With the last guitar note from ‘Village’ still ringing, ‘Warning’ begins with bass and drums, with no clean break between the songs. Then at around the 7-minute mark, ‘Warning’ transitions into ‘A Bit of Finger’, Iommi’s 6-minute lead guitar showcase, after which the rhythm section re-enters at around 13:00, providing a brief musical bridge for the band to reprise ‘Warning’ and give it a proper ending. Exactly why ‘Finger’ appears first in the track list is a mystery. So, if not to clarify, why alter the track listing at all?

Side One features the same phenomenon: The UK version lists ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep’ and ‘N.I.B.’ as two songs; the US version listed this music as four separate works combined into one track, adding something called ‘The Wasp’, and also gave Geezer Butler’s solo intro to ‘N.I.B.’ a clever title: ‘Bassically’. These changes to how this music was identified resulted in two songs becoming four. Again: Why were intros, and other sections of songs broken out and given their own titles for the US market, identifying them as distinct pieces of music?

Simple answer: Money. The Warner’s deal for the US afforded band an opportunity to negotiate a new publishing deal, and more songs = more publishing money, for both band and publisher. Bill Ward has himself once responded to an interview question regarding these titles by stating that the band needed a minimum of 10 songs per album to satisfy the requirements of their publishing agreement; Ward was likely referring to their US publishing deal, as each Sabbath album that had less than 10 titles listed on the UK version contained 10 or more titles when released in the US.

For confirmation that these ‘extra’ titles were added after the albums were recorded, one only need to check out the handwritten track notes on the original tape boxes for the Sab’s first three albums (reproduced in Sanctuary’s 2009 CD reissues), indicating that these titles were not in use during the recording sessions. So: Extra song titles were added to each of Sabbath’s first five US releases to satisfy a stateside publishing deal. Mystery solved?! Probably.

Now that we have surmised the origin of these phantom titles, nagging questions remain: Were these titles just conjured out of nothing and slapped onto record labels for mere monetary gain? Or are they connected to any of the music on these records in some way? We can only guess… Um, hold on a minute… Besides also appearing on early cassette or 8-track tape runs, these song titles actually DID appear in one other notable place…

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Hal Leonard Publishing, the music notation juggernaut, produced ‘easy guitar’ songbooks that were published concurrently with each of the Sab’s first five albums, and are still in print today. All of our phantom songs are included in these books, each of which provides ultimate confirmation of exactly where these musical mysteries reside. Where does ‘The Elegy’ end and ‘After Forever’ begin? Through the precise language of music notation, the Hal Leonard songbooks express these delineations explicitly, marking exactly where all of these ‘songs’ begin, end, and in some cases, reprise. While the titles and their sequencing on the early WB record labels provided clues, understanding exactly where these ‘songs’ reside is a futile exercise… Unless you can read music.

To save you the trouble of learning how to read music notation and/or spending fifteen bucks a pop on the HL songbooks, I’ve provided a rundown of Sabbath’s mystery songs, along with some pointers to understand exactly where and when they occur on each album. As you’ll see, some of these tags make perfect sense, while others seem quite random… the intro riff from ‘Lord of This World’ gets a title, but the intro riff from ‘Under the Sun’ doesn’t…? But again, the band only needed to choose two or three sections to name in order to reach that magic number of ten titles per record. Anyway, here we go:

I’ve already dissected ‘A Bit of Finger’, and ‘Bassically’ is pretty self-explanatory, but ‘The Wasp’ is a little tougher to nail down; Hal Leonard confirms that this piece of music acts as the intro to ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep’, it initially ends at the :32 mark and then kicks back in again at 2:30.

‘Luke’s Wall’ is the two-minute section that closes ‘War Pigs’. It starts at approx. 5:40 and ends the song by speeding up the tape to the point where this Black Sabbath masterpiece sounds like an Alvin and the Chipmunks song. Like, wow, man.

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‘Jack the Stripper’ is the intro to ‘Paranoid’ album-closer ‘Fairies Wear Boots’. It wraps up it’s initial appearance at about 1:10, where the drum break carries us into the classic ‘Fairies’ riff; it reprises again at around 3:30 and repeats its lead-in to the main song.

‘The Elegy’ is the section of music that introduces ‘After Forever’, coming in immediately after that ominous phased tape loop that bookends the song. ‘Elegy’ reprises several times within ‘Forever’, and early Warner’s pressings listed this grouping as ‘AFTER FOREVER (Including ‘THE ELEGY’)’.

‘The Haunting’ is nothing more than the ghostly edge-of-feedback bent note that soars and dives throughout the slow fade at the close of ‘Children of the Grave’. Ozzy whispering the song title as the section fades was undoubtedly the inspiration for the iconic sounds that signal the arrival of Jason in the Friday the 13th movies. I can’t be the first one who’s noticed that…

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‘Step Up’ is the riff that repeats for 30 seconds at the start of ‘Lord of This World’. It’s listed on the original solid green Warner Bros label as occurring before ‘Lord’ and its duration is time-stamped at :30, although it does appear again within the song, just after the chorus.

‘Death Mask’ is not only the greatest/heaviest muthafuckin’ riff of all time, but it’s also the intro to ‘Into the Void’. It’s likely that this was conceived as an song idea and given a title before it was attached to ‘Void’, as this segment was played live by itself as part of an extended jam inside an elongated ‘Wicked World’ in 1973 (See: ‘Live at Last’).

‘The Straightener’ is the instrumental section that quickly fades in and closes ‘Wheels of Confusion’ on the ‘Volume 4’ album.

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‘Every Day Comes And Goes’ is the section in ‘Under the Sun’ where the song breaks down into a new riff, at double speed. The vocals start with the line ‘Everyday just comes and goes/Life is one long overdose’ etc, before moving into some jazzy soloing from Iommi and solo bits for Ward.

‘You Think That I’m Crazy’ is tacked onto ‘Killing yourself to Live’ and occurs between 2:45 – 4:08 (ish); while ‘I Don’t Know If I’m Up Or Down’ kicks off directly after that and winds up the song. These two pieces were likely written separately (and perhaps even assigned titles?) and connected during the songwriting process. The recognition of these two ‘ghosts titles’ imposes some structure on this somewhat-meandering piece of music and reveals ‘Killing Yourself to Live’ as a 3-part suite. Mind = Blown.

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‘Prelude To A Project’ is the 45-second solo acoustic intro to ‘Spiral Architect’, the gorgeously epic finale to the ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ album. The ‘Crazy’, ‘Up or Down’, and ‘Prelude’ titles never made it onto any official release, not even on any of the record’s labels, and have only ever appeared in the official songbook from Hal Leonard in 1973.

So there you have it: we’ve cracked the Sabbath Code, solved a decades-old riddle and uncovered hidden dimensions in the understanding of Black Sabbath’s essential catalog. These troublesome titles have caused confusion and consternation among fans and collectors for decades– at least for those who were aware of their brief existence– but no more.

The inexplicable disappearance of these titles from subsequent US pressings, and the fact that these titles never appeared on any album covers (just on the labels) has made these ‘songs’ the stuff of legend and added to the dark mystique of early Black Sabbath. For you skeptics and/or agnostics who would prefer your Sabbath remain dark and mysterious, I will submit that I have not examined these titles for any secret messages, biblical codes or mathematical formulas… If anyone out there wants to take a crack at it, go for it. Let me know what you come up with. But please, be careful…

Legal Discliamer: This blog exists for infotainment purposes only. Consume at your own risk. In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever arising from the summoning of demons, initiation of Armageddon, loss of soul, or insanity, arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this blog.

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(This article copyright 2019. All rights reserved. Not to be republished without the express permission of the copyright holder.)

Special Thanks to my bud Monte Conner for instigating, inspiring, and informing this article with his November 25, 2018 Facebook post about this phenomenon, and to all who contributed to the thread. Oh, and to Hal Leonard!

Satan, Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas!

When internet news sources began announcing that Satan would be releasing an album in September of this year, I was immediately interested. I thought, ‘great, now we’ll get to see what he’s really all about musically.’ After decades of collaborating with other artists, it was finally time for the Horned One to step out on his own and pursue his own unique artistic vision. But alas, the headlines actually referenced the NWOBHM band called Satan, and NOT The Father Of All Lies. So, no Beelzebub solo album after all. Damn it!

 
It’s a shame. Such was the impact of his work, that, in his own way, The Devil himself became one of the biggest rock starts of the 1970s. But Ol’ Scratch retired from the music biz in the early 80s, and opted to watch from the sidelines as his message devolved into shtick, leaving behind a void that was quickly filled by a seemingly endless parade of Venoms and Motleys and Slayers, all peddling phony evil and bogus damnation… What prompted his sudden departure from the world of Rock n’ Roll? My guess is that Satan retired from the music biz after the embarrassing failure of one of this most ambitious and creative projects: Writing backwards Rock and Roll lyrics with some of the biggest artists of the 70s.

 
The Devil’s plan was simple. He would find popular songwriters and record producers willing to collaborate with the Prince of Darkness. For the most part, Satan chose established artists and bands with ready access to large audiences and a track record of success on the radio. It was probably easy enough to find writing partners among the biggest stars of the era; the standard ‘deal with the devil’ was fairly commonplace, and if the promise of unlimited fame and fortune didn’t work, there was always the ‘strippers and blow’ approach. Satan would then insert Satanic ideas and messages into the artist’s songs, brainwash the masses into worshiping him forever, overthrow God, bring forth the Apocalypse, etc etc.

 
The true genius of Lucifer’s plan was his use of ‘phonetic reversal’, a key component in the theory of ‘reverse speech’. Satan subscribed to the idea that the subconscious mind will attempt to interpret messages in several different contexts, including by reversing information, and that the mind will be subliminally influenced by said messages because they are not perceived consciously and are therefore not subject to analysis and critical thinking processes available to the conscious mind. This idea finds little validation in hard science, and remains at best a grey area in the field of cognitive theory. However, this didn’t stop Satan from moving forward with the project in earnest. Science! BAH!

 
Crafting a lyric where Don Henley sings about rehab and also references Satanism when reversed by the brain is an enormous artistic achievement, if not Grammy-worthy. However, the Devil’s poetic voice lost much of its persuasive force in translation. Think about it: These lyrics needed to be meticulously constructed syllable-by-syllable; words and phrases carefully chosen and intricately placed so as to flow understandably forward and backward; each stanza containing not one but two ideas, each flowing simultaneously in opposite directions. This method carried with it some considerable vocabulary and grammatical limitations, and often left Satan’s message severely compromised.

 
Looking back at his best work decades later, it’s easy to see why Satan’s plot failed: The Devil had outsmarted himself. His message was hopelessly muddled by his process. What’s difficult to understand, however, is how these nonsensical statements actually caused such a stir; yes, they referenced the Devil; yes, they were placed in our kids’ favorite songs covertly, but… They sure don’t seem to add up to much. What follows are the top ten most-referenced instances of hidden Satanic messages found in Rock music during the 70s ‘Satanic Panic’ era. Everything gathered here is 100% pure Devilspeak; none of the intentional studio chicanery purposely created as a response to Satan’s poetic plot is included below. Now: Prepare to be underwhelmed by these Palindromes For the Damned:

 

AC/DC / ‘Highway to Hell’: I’m the law, my name is Lucifer, she belongs in hell.

 
It’s unclear exactly why AC/DC opted to work with Satan and his evil secret messages; a band with songs called ‘Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be,’ and ‘Hell’s Bells’ etc obviously doesn’t feel the need to hide their devilry. Indeed, AC/DC’s Angus Young commented on the hoo-hah surrounding ‘Highway’s hidden messages: “You didn’t need to play [the album] backwards, because we never hid [the messages]. We’d call an album ‘Highway To Hell’, there it was right in front of them.”

 
It’s also curious that Black Sabbath’s ‘N.I.B.’ contains the lyric ‘my name is Lucifer’ which plays out forward, while AC/DC’s ‘my name is Lucifer’ was inserted backwards. Neither song fills me with the urge to sacrifice goats or burn churches, so it’s unclear which method is more effective.

 
The Eagles / ‘Hotel California’: Yes, Satan organized his own religion.

 
This song was went to #1 in 1977 in the US, and became an international smash; the album from which it was pulled has sold 42 million copies. The song’s appearance on The Eagles Greatest Hits album ensured that record would be certified as the best selling album of the 20th century. All of this success, obviously orchestrated by the Devil himself as his part of the Eagles/Satan merger, guaranteed millions upon millions of ears would hear his message… And this is the best lyric he could muster?

 
Cheap Trick / ‘Gonna Raise Hell’: You know Satan holds the keys to the lock.

 
Rick Nielsen’s lyric concerns the Jonestown Massacre, and Satan uses the dark subject matter to craft this cryptic missive. Note the use of third person, which creates distance between the messenger and the message, while also revealing Satan to be a narcissistic, self-obsessed asshole.

 
Black Oak Arkansas / ‘When Electricity Came To Arkansas’: Satan Satan Satan, He is God, He is God, He is God.

 
Okay, okay, okay!

 
Queen / ‘Another One Bites the Dust’: It’s fun to smoke marijuana.

 
Beyond the Captain Obvious message, this one is notable for being inserted into a song about a hit man. A guy who kills people for money. A murderer. Did Satan even read the forward lyrics to any of these songs while working on them backwards?

 
Electric Light Orchestra / ‘Eldorado’: He is the nasty one. Christ, you’re infernal. It is said we’re dead men. Everyone who has the mark will live.

Styx / ‘Snowblind’: Satan move through our voice.

 
After being accused of inserting these Satanic messages into the title track of their 1974 album ‘Eldorado’, ELO included several intentionally backmasked messages on their next album, 1975’s ‘Face The Music’. Backwards messages were ‘found’ in ‘Snowblind’ as well, and Styx responded to the accusations of Satanic influence by placing backwards recordings on the follow-up ‘Killroy Was Here’.

 
Very funny, guys… Now can we get back to brainwashing millions of kids into doing the Devil’s bidding? Thanks.

 
Judas Priest / Better By You, Better Than Me’: Do it

Judas Priest / ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’: I took my life

 
One wonders if anyone ever checked the original Spooky Tooth version for backwards/forwards lyrics? Pro Tip: If you ever find yourself under the spell cast by the backwards instruction embedded in this song, and feel a desperate need to ‘do it’, I would suggest giving the Pink Fairies 1971 B-side ‘Do It’ a few spins, to… you know… Undo it.

 
And how ironic that, considering the tragic events forever connected to Priest’s version of ‘Better By You…’, that the ‘I took my life’ bit, from a song on the same album, wasn’t a major focus of that infamous 1990 court case.

 
Led Zeppelin / ‘Stairway to Heaven’: Oh here’s to my sweet Satan. He will give those with him 666. There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan. He will give you 666. Happy is the man who makes me sad whose power is Satan.

 
Jimmy Page’s flirtations with Black Magic, his association with Alistair Crowley and the ensuing fallout that his band and their associates suffered are well known. Thanks to Satan, the record would go on to sell 37 million copies, and currently sits in the #11 spot for biggest selling albums of all time. The album’s centerpiece, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, is widely considered the band’s greatest work, and Satan contributed some outstanding material to this grand collaboration. What it all means? How the fuck do I know. But the bit about the little tool shed is pure evil.

 
So: After studying his work for many… minutes, I can safely state that, while working in reverse, The Devil is no Bob Dylan. As a lyricist, he’s actually much closer to Ronnie James Dio. Let that sink in for a minute…

 
Lucifer’s backward poetry was often confused with backmasking, a process by which a sound or message is purposely recorded backward onto a track that is meant to be played forward, for aesthetic/artistic reasons or, later, for ironic effect. Again, BAH! His Satanic Majesty was always more poet than technician. And let’s remember that A&M’s Bob Garcia famously said ‘It must be the devil putting messages on the records because no one here knows how to do it’. Most folks regarded the phenomenon as hooey, deciding that what was being heard occurred completely by accident, but when artists began intentionally inserting humorous or ironic backwards phrases into their recordings as a response to accusations of Satanic influence, these actions confused the issue and lent a level credence to the allegations.

 
Regardless of the true origins of the messages, legislators and religious leaders declared that any words or lyrics that made sense when played backwards were a) placed there intentionally, and b) of Satanic origin and intent. As Satanic phraseology, both real and imagined, was gradually ‘discovered’ and exposed, it caused an uproar that included protests outside of record stores and concert venues, as well as organized record burnings. Books were written, so-called ‘experts’ lined up to appear on radio and TV talk shows, and ‘Satanic Influence in Rock Music’ was viewed as a legitimate area of public discussion and debate. Perhaps the most bizarre result of this Satanic panic was the introduction of legislation in Arkansas and California.

 
The California bill, H.R.6363 Phonograph Record Backward Masking Labeling Act of 1982/1983, was introduced on the Senate floor as a law that would prevent backmasking that ‘can manipulate our behavior without our knowledge or consent and turn us into disciples of the Antichrist’. Yep, that sentence is part of the Congressional record. A California State Assembly hearing was held, and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was played backwards. None of the legislators present sprouted horns. The bill made the distribution of records with undeclared backmasking an invasion of privacy for which labels, distributors, and retailers could be sued; however, the only result of this law was that five DJs were fired for encouraging listeners to find backward messages in their record collections.

 
The Arkansas law passed unanimously in 1983, and referenced Satan’s work on records by Electric Light Orchestra, Queen and Styx, among others. The legislation mandated that records with backmasking include a warning sticker that read: ‘Warning: This record contains backward masking which may be perceptible at a subliminal level when the record is played forward.’ However, the bill was rejected by then-Governor Bill Clinton and ultimately defeated. Government action was also called for in the legislatures of Texas and in Canada.

 
Of course, all of this Lucifer-centric legislation was specific to ‘backmasking’, or material recorded backwards on purpose, and did not cover reverse phonetics, which could happen ‘accidentally’ or exist only in the mind of the listener. The Devil’s bad poetry emerged from the American legislative process unhindered. Fools! You cannot legislate against The King Ov Hell! However, as lawmakers no doubt believed they were saving the souls of a generation of young people from damnation, it was Satan’s bad grammar and sloppy syntax, along with the bogus theories of reverse phonetics, that saved countless innocent children from the never-ending torment of eternal Hellfire.

 
Halleluja!

Raging Slab Against the Machine

In a July 2015 issue of The Guardian, Faith No More’s Mike Patton and Billy Gould are asked to reflect upon their career, and recall their record company’s initial reactions to their fourth album ‘Angel Dust’:

“It didn’t totally click,” Patton says drily. “I remember the label saying ‘commercial suicide’.”

“The classic line was: ‘I hope you didn’t just buy houses,’” Gould says.

Maybe ‘commercial suicide’ was a little extreme, but the suits had a point. Artists exist to create art, and labels exist to make money. ‘Angel Dust’ has barely achieved Gold status in the US over the course of 25 years. Having a record universally acclaimed as a masterpiece is no doubt fulfilling to the artists involved, but this alone doesn’t butter anyone’s bread. In the ages-old battle of Art vs Commerce, compromise is key, although the balance of power is heavily skewed toward the biz side, and it’s usually the creators that have to do most of the compromising. In this environment, it’s easy to lose sight of your vision, and sticking to your guns can get you killed.

Consider the saga of New York’s Finest Southern Rock Band (!), Raging Slab. Their 7-album discography (or is that 10?) includes three albums released via the Majors (or was it 6?), and includes the record we’re going to explore here: the Slab’s 5th (8th?) album, ‘Sing Monkey, Sing!’, a record that I love dearly, but has beguiled me for many a year. As the follow-up to what many consider Raging Slab’s defining statement, 1993’s ‘Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert’, ‘Sing!’ is a wildly careening curve ball, at best a challenging listen for the band’s fan base and a twisted and broken middle-finger farewell to the major label segment of their career arc.

For the uninitiated, ‘Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert’ was a potent dose of southern-tinged hard rock with extra helping of musicality and a whole lotta soul. Southern Rock from NYC? Think Heavy Metal Skynyrd with an subversive alt streak and a wickedly obtuse sense of humor. DMBC was released on Rick Rubin’s red-hot Def American label (through Warner Bros), featured strings composed by Led Zep’s John Paul Jones, and the video for lead single ‘Anywhere But Here’ was Beavis and Butthead-approved. In an era when both Grunge and Alternative were slowly creeping into the mainstream, Raging Slab’s ‘Dynamite’ was a welcome blast of 3-guitar, old-school boogie-rock kick-ass, that somehow managed to seem both familiar and thoroughly relevant.

Then why, WHY?? was the follow-up, ‘Sing Monkey, Sing!’ so … um, different? DMBC seemed to be a perfect foundation on which to build a career, and combined the best of several worlds: Hard Rock, Alt Rock, Southern Rock, even a li’l Alt Country. All the stars looked to be aligned: hot video, buzz band status, a growing live rep… So what the HELL happened? The follow-up to ‘Dynamite’ is a very different animal, almost sounding like the work of a totally different band. Guitarist Gregoryy Strzempka has called ‘Sing Monkey, Sing!’ ‘one of the most bitter, unlistenable records ever made.’ There must be a reason for the extreme left turn that Raging Slab made here; some explanation for the abrupt transmogrification from funkified Blackfoot to something that might have eminated from Frank Zappa’s Straight label.

‘Sing Monkey, Sing!’ is a poke in the eye to to the Powers that Be from a band tired of trying to please desk jockeys and number crunchers. Crammed with obtuse musical angles, algebraic lyrical formulas, and oddball atmospherics, this ugly little album stares at you with a demented smile and dares you to like it… If you don’t dig it: HA! You’re not supposed to! This willfully weird musical mutation was not aimed at you anyway. And if you do: That’s because a truly great band can deliver a bad album that’s still great because it’s supposed to be so bad that it’s great. If this record wasn’t a deliberate career suicide, it was certainly career self-sabotage, a musical hand grenade lobbed at label honcho Rick Rubin and the majors in general. And, boy, did it backfire…

Everything about this album reeks of ‘FUCK YOU’: the album’s title, the strikingly bizarro cover art, and the severely bent anti-boogie within… The queasy, seasick bass throughout ‘Gracious’… the haunted house stabs in ‘Never Comin’ Down’… the wicked witch vocals in ‘Checkyrd Demon’… the throat-shredding chorus of ‘Lay Down’… the disorienting vocal patterns in ‘C’mon N’ On’ and ‘Shoulda Known’… The lyrics are laced with poetic poison, and you don’t even wanna know about the album’s epic 3-part closer. It’s ‘Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert’ played upside down and backwards. Don’t worry: The Slab groove is there; it’s just hiding, and the whole mess is delivered with an artfully musical smirk. Once you clue into this record’s genius/dementia, suddenly it all makes a kind of sense. Kind of.

Full Disclosure: I love this much-maligned, misunderstood masterpiece. In fact, it’s one of my favorite albums of all time. And while ‘Dynamite’ might be a ‘better’ record, ‘Sing!’ resonates with me much more. Why? Simply put, backstory. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows it’s all about backstory here. Backstory can deepen one’s appreciation for an album or an artist; at least it can for me. And the story behind Raging Slab’s brief foray into the swirling cesspool of major label Purgatory is a humdinger. A little while back, I reached out to the principles in the Slab saga: Main man Gregory Strzepmka, slide guitarist extraordinaire Elyse Steinman (Strzempka’s wife), and bassist Alec Morton for the straight dope on this curious classic:

The Slabs 1st two indie releases, ‘Assmaster’ and the band-favorite ‘True Death’ EP, are a unique combo of classic 70’s boogie rock with an alt-punk edge and NYC underground attitude…

Alec: We were really proud of True Death. ‘Assmaster’ had been recorded very quickly and chaotically, and with ‘True Death’ we took our time and loved the result. Elyse spent hours at home making cassette dupes of the record; the three of us would load our pockets with them and pass them out to anyone we could when we went out to clubs, trying to get the record heard by as many people as possible.

Elyse: The important factors of our philosophy were humor, groove and to make people think beyond their horizons. ‘True Death’ encapsulated those qualities for me, just like Bowie or Zappa did for me as a kid.

Greg: I imagine my nostalgia regarding “True Death” is due to the fact that it was the last time we’d functioned in a studio without the ‘benefit’ of label input. It’s definitely my favorite Slab release. It was the perfect gel of everything we had envisioned. We all knew it sounded like us and nobody else, and I felt as if we had found our voice. And we had done so with only Elyse, Alec and myself in an 8 track, basement studio in Brooklyn.

Workin’ For RCA: The Slab enter the big leagues, sand down a few sharp edges, and learn a new word: ‘Compromise’, while working on their major label debut…

Alec: For me, the most mainstream thing about the RCA record is the production. Daniel (Rey, producer) had a production deal with RCA, he wanted to make records that sold. No one at RCA was looking for an ‘art’ band; the labels were desperate to find an east coast Guns n Roses. It seemed like a possibility that if we had a big, ‘current’ sounding record, we could succeed on a national level. This was new territory for us, a little intimidating. The final result is slicker than ‘True Death’, but once you’re signed to a corporation, there’s a certain amount of playing ball that goes with it.

Greg: I hope that ‘Raging Slab’ sounds more commercial, because it was intentional! The RCA record was done in two parts: we recorded five songs as part of a ‘development deal’, which was basically a recorded audition. There was a conscious effort to present ourselves as a sign-able act. So the more mainstream material was part of the ‘demo’ sessions. We were offered a contract based on those tunes, and we completed the album three months later, at which point we began our return to quirkier stuff. When the label chose Gary Lyons to mix, it became evident what they wanted us to sound like. RCA were not interested in anything other than having their own Guns n’ Roses.

Elyse: I think this is what we all wanted at the time, not so much to be ‘rock stars’ but to be pioneers in the field of music and art. But like our good friend Lisa Robinson always said, ‘It’s the pioneers that get shot in the back’, a prophesy we would later find to be true… ‘True Death’ indeed.

After some moderate success with their self-titled major label debut, Slab enter the studio with renowned Metal producer Alex Perialas for RCA album #2: ‘From a Southern Space’. Nobody likes what they hear; RCA pulls the plug.

Alec: We only finished 6 songs with Alex Perialas; we weren’t happy, neither was the label, so no full record was done.

Greg: Alex Perialas and Pyramid Studios was entirely an RCA idea. And I recall our agreeing to it because we had no intention of recording in NYC again as the Record Plant had just closed for good. Alex was a nice enough guy, although he didn’t have a clue what to do with us.

Elyse: Well, once again we were outsmarting ourselves. Raging Slab tended to mix it up a little too much and that made the suits very uncomfortable because you just couldn’t pigeonhole us. I think Gregory, Alec and I can be shameless contrarians and we just didn’t want to be a carbon copy of anyone, even ourselves.

Another record, ‘Freeburden’, is begun; this one is completed. There’s a little more of the ‘True Slab’ sound and vibe on this one, and hopes are high…

Alec: There was a lot of pressure to get product out, since we had spent time and money on the Perialas recording. RCA had several suggestions for a producer; we went with Michael Beinhorn. I remember liking the results a lot; we were mixing it in NY, inviting friends to come hear it, getting great reactions across the board. Greg and I were in the room when all the RCA execs heard it, convinced they would be thrilled. When it was done, there was an awkward pause… Someone finally said,’I don’t hear a ‘Don’t Dog Me’. It was a crushing moment.

Greg: We still fully expected most listeners to ‘get it’. Whether it was a musical quote, or a triple entendre, or a heavily veiled lyric, we always gave the record buying public, and especially our fans, the benefit of the doubt that they’d be rewarded for listening closely. We also tried to make sure that it stood up without the intense scrutiny. In some sense, that’s exactly what was wrong. It was our misguided belief that people wanted rock and roll that was subtle, tongue-in-cheek, and unpredictable. Even in our half-hearted attempts at commercializing, I still insisted that the songs not fully surrender themselves after a single listen.

Now with two records in a row rejected by RCA, Slab are dropped from the label, and disillusion sets in…

Alec: I guess they were confused by a couple of acoustic songs; they thought they could farm the record out to the country department. Believe me, it was a full-on hard rock record. We were dropped shortly after. We were frustrated, angry, confused, and we also didn’t have a drummer.

Greg:This was also about the same time that major labels started utilizing third party market testers & data analysis, rather than using their own fucking ears. A&R staff began throwing around terms like ‘the 18 to 24 yr old demographic’ and saying things like ‘That track got bad phones in Atlanta, so we couldn’t use it as a single’. You got the impression that they weren’t even listening. We’d counter this by telling them ‘we play this shit to live people every night, with our fans presumably constituting our most immediate demographic, and we can tell you which songs they respond to!’

Elyse: Very frustrated. I remember when we did the monster truck video (for ‘Raging Slab’s ‘Don’t Dog Me’) the record company wasn’t into it at all. This was still the 80’s, and I had to take them to Madison Square Garden to see a monster truck show and I said ‘count the AC/DC t-shirts in here!’ For goodness sakes, what isn’t rock and roll about monster trucks??

Rick Rubin’s Def American picks up the band, and oversees their next album, ‘Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert’. Once again, the band makes concessions to commerciality, and again, a bit of the band’s unique identity is missing. The album is excellent, but the band’s frustration grows…

Alec: I know what you mean about some of the ‘weirdness’ being left behind, although I don’t agree 100 percent. Still, we were in the world of MTv and mainstream rock radio, we were not an indie band. For sure wanted a successful record. For me, ‘Dynamite…’ is more over-produced than the RCA record; keyboards, background singers etc, but it sounded very current for the time. Everyone at the label was convinced if was going to be a huge hit.

Elyse: Rick’s initial motivation seemed honorable, I think he genuinely liked our band, but I’m not sure if he understood it because he seemed to drop the ball quickly; they focused on songs we felt weren’t the strongest ones.

Greg: Unlike RCA, American had a staff that was obnoxiously ‘hip’, but they were still miles away from grasping what we were about. And as far as we were concerned, we were never in need of advice. We had album titles, videos, graphics, all planned out ’til the next millennium. We always had a chip on our shoulder about the ‘art’ of what we did, because we genuinely regarded it as just that. Elyse, Alec and I grew up admiring artists who didn’t ‘sell out’. We were predisposed to not play nice with a major label. Granted, Def did try harder than RCA, but still… And once again, they didn’t trust us enough. The ‘artistic guidance’ that RCA and American dispensed always felt like going clothes shopping with your mom.

After the moderate success of ‘Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert’, Raging Slab once again try to assert their true Slab selves on the planned follow-up, ‘Black Belt in Boogie’… a record that is flatly rejected by the label. If you’re keeping count, that’s rejected album #3…

Greg: ‘Black Belt in Boogie’ was started with DC Hardcore producer Don Zientara, that was Rick’s idea, which turned into a long, low-energy ordeal. We had just gotten back from a really gruelling European tour. Marc (Middleton, guitars) and the band parted ways mainly because we wanted to get back to the ‘True Death’ lineup, streamline, strip down, etc. There was a lot of wandering in the dark at that time. We spent a LOT of money, doing what amounted to one and a half CDs of music. They didn’t want it.

Alec: When it was time to do another record, we were eager to not be hemmed in by the “Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Metallica” label. Greg came in with a wide variety of songs, and I liked the eclecticism. Rick had signed us himself, so he had veto power on the material. When he finally heard the stuff, he really disliked it, and told us he wouldn’t put it out. Once again, we were angry and frustrated and felt time passing us by. After Rick rejected the record, our drummer Paul quit. Everything seemed to take forever with us; once step forward two back.

Elyse: Well of course we were frustrated. We had recorded so many songs over and over again and kept being slowed down for one reason or another. It was maddening to say the least, and it was very hard to keep positive. We just kept producing more material and tried to remain focused on the big picture, which was the integrity of the band and making music. But yes, those were very hard times.

Rubin agrees to let Slab work alone for their next album. Spirits are low, but unhindered by label expectations, the band tries hard to shake off the dysfunction, and seizes the opportunity to recapture their original mojo…

Alec: We knew at that point that nobody at the label liked the band, but they wouldn’t release us from our contract, and I felt an atmosphere of freedom and lack of pressure to produce a hit. I loved playing the songs on ‘Sing Monkey’, it’s my favorite Slab record after ‘True Death’.

Elyse: ‘Sing Monkey, Sing!’ was a conscience effort back to our roots, but it was gravely misunderstood. We had a great time making that album because we knew that nobody at the label gave two shits about us which allowed us the freedom to be totally ourselves. It was great to experiment again, just like on ‘True Death’.

Greg: ‘Sing Monkey, Sing!’ was essentially a psychotic episode set to music. When you’ve consciously made concessions that ended up being damaging to your career, you overcompensate in the other direction. As a result we began to develop a collective psychosis. The constant rejection began to ferment a climate of paranoia and desperation as well as a really poisonous, bitter outlook towards the music business. It’s impossible to look back at ANY of that material and not feel our anger and frustration all over again.

If all art is self-expression, ‘Sing Monkey, Sing!’ is a window into the soul of a great band… at the very end of their rope. It’s everything the majors didn’t like about the real Raging Slab, and then some. The record has little commercial potential, but its lack of mainstream viability feels wholly intentional yet also completely organic. It’s almost as if, after having 3 of their records rejected, Slab crafted a record intentionally conceived to be rejected. Was there a conscious effort to hand in a ‘difficult’ album?

Greg: Music is all about communicating emotion, and is best when communicating emotions that are beyond words or pictures…so let me congratulate you on your remarkable powers of perception.

Elyse: Thank you so much for noticing, I wasn’t sure anybody did.

Alec: When Greg came in with new songs, I felt there was a toughness and a fuck-you quality that was a response to frustrations with the label. I don’t think we tried to make a difficult record, we just didn’t want to make the same record again. I seem to remember Rick’s take on the album as something like, ‘It’s the best record you guys have done, it won’t sell at all’. Iggy Pop’s album ‘New Values’ was one that we all liked a lot; I always felt that it was lurking in the background on ‘Sing Monkey’.

Rubin tells the group that he ‘didn’t hear any songs’ on ‘Sing!’ Then Rubin’s label ends its relationship with Warner Bros, but neglects to tell the band, and also ‘forgets’ to release the group from its contract. The ‘Sing!’ album is disowned by Rubin and sold to the Columbia Record & Tape Club. Slab has no choice but to wait out the term of their contract, which prevents them from releasing any new music for almost seven years…

Elyse: I really don’t know what Rick’s feeling towards us were at that time, he had clearly moved on, I was very sad about that. But he runs a business, and if you’re not selling product… I heard whispers of ‘not wanting to throw good money after bad’. I understand that but I thought of Raging Slab as something that wasn’t instant bubblegum music, we had more depth to us. We were trying to make meaningful art.

Greg: Rick treated that record with some degree of puzzlement; I think he wasn’t quite sure if it was the worst piece of shit he’d ever heard or if it was our “Trout Mask Replica”. The majority of the American Recordings staff did their best to make sure it was buried. We didn’t even think he’d put it out. It was like ‘if you didn’t like the nice stuff we did for you, here’s this!’ And it didn’t even achieve our intended result, which was to have them drop us. The Columbia Record & Tape club arrangement was their incredibly effective, career-destroying way of saying ‘Fuck you, we own you, you have made us sad and we’re more than happy to set up a few lawn chairs and watch you wither on the vine’. We ended up being under contract to them for another 6-7 years.

Raging Slab waited out their ties to American Recordings, retreated into the underground and released two indie albums: ‘The Dealer’ and ‘(pronounced ēat-shït)’ before calling it a day. Both records are more akin to the band’s 1st two indie slabs than to their major label output. Lessons learned? Perhaps. Strzempka waxes philosophical for a brief moment and offers a cautionary spin on the entire Slab saga…

Greg: There’s nothing inherently wrong with intentionally making “pop” music, but I’d strongly caution anyone from making partial concessions in that direction when it doesn’t feel right. It either has to be one or the other. And in terms of our career, I would have preferred that we lived or died by our own hand. If I have a ‘what if’ moment, it’s: What if we hadn’t conceded anything after ‘True Death’?

In terms of the mainstream record-buying public, Slab might mainly be remembered for RCAs ‘Raging Slab’ and Def American’s ‘Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert’, when in fact their major label adventure resulted in 2 albums released, 3 albums rejected, and 1 album buried– Raging Slab’s official discography is gonna have a bunch of asterisks attached. I asked them how this whole adventure looks now that it’s firmly in the rearview…

Elyse: It was a tremendous ride and I’m grateful to everyone who gave us a chance. I do wish the powers that be had a bit more faith in our vision and trusted us a bit more, but I never had any illusions about one indisputable fact, it was called the record business for a reason.

Alec: We certainly were more successful than lots of bands I know; most bands don’t get the chance to not sell records on a major label, I’m well aware of that. There’s no point in my speculating on what would have happened ‘if’… although I’ve done it plenty. If we were a band with a small cult following, so are many of my favorite bands. I’m grateful that I was a part of it.

Greg: If you measure success by album sales then surely RS was a disappointment, however as a music fan I’m comforted by the fact that most of my favorite albums and bands were flops. Frankly, I never wanted to be anything more than a ‘cult band’ and had no interest in fame. If I re-examine our career in those terms it was an undeniable success. Even though we had more material rejected than was released, the fact that the material was recorded counts a lot to me! Not to mention having been signed to two majors over a span of eleven years without landing anything close to a Top Ten… now there’s a trick in itself!

. . . . .

Epilogue
Many sincere thanks to Alec Morton for taking the time to participate in this exploration of a decidedly dark era of his band’s history… And of course to Greg Strzempka & Elyse Steinman, for also doing so during a very difficult time. During my discussions with Greg and Elyse, it was disclosed to me that Elyse was battling Stage Three lung cancer, and that Greg was acting as her primary care-giver. Both agreed to indulge me nonetheless, and I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to these two amazing people.

Elyse Steinman passed away on March 30, 2017, just a few months after our conversations wrapped up. Although we corresponded via email, it was apparent to me that, besides being a truly unique musician, Elyse was also a very special person. This article is dedicated to her memory. Rock on, Slab Chick.

Year of the Gatefold

Ah, the live album. The gatefold sleeve, plastered with tons of live pics of your favorite band, holding four sides of music recorded live on stage, where it really mattered, performing before an audience of worshiping fans. The best live records drop you in the front row, where the thick, humid air smells like a mixture of weed, puke, and sweat; where your ears take a pounding from a PA system bigger than your house as the crackle and pop of firecrackers echoes through the arena. Some say that the 1970s was the Decade of the Live Album, and if any single year should hold that same distinction, it’s got to be 1978, when an unprecedented number of live sets arrived in record stores (remember them?) to add color to the soundtrack of our youth.
Call it The Frampton Effect. ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’, Peter Frampton’s 1976 double-live release, spawned 2 hit singles and topped the Billboard charts for a whopping 10 weeks, and went on to become the best-selling album of that year. The record remained in the Top 100 for 97 weeks, well into 1977. Live albums by Bob Seger, The J. Geils Band, Joe Walsh, and Rush also reached deep into the Top 40 in 1976. The success of these records had a significant impact on the industry. And in the world of pure Hard Rock, the Top Ten success of Kiss and their ‘Alive!’ and ‘Kiss Alive II’ albums was also hard to ignore.
At a time when the rockers of the era were struggling mightily to get on the radio, the monster success of Frampton’s live album suggested there might be another way to break through. The Record companies saw the gazillions being made from records that cost relatively little to record. And so mobile recording units rolled out for virtually every tour that hit the road in 1977; those recordings would bear fruit the following year. Notable live records from Alice Cooper, Rainbow and Foghat appeared in ’77, but the sheer number of HR/HM live albums released in 1978 is stunning… I count no less than TEN significant live records hitting the market between January ’78 and January ’79.
1978 kicked off with an expanded field recording of Ted Nugent captured in the wilds of America in ’76 and ’77. Unleashed in January, ‘Double Live Gonzo!’ showcases The Nuge’s big guitars and even bigger mouth. His guitar prowess already firmly established, Terrible Ted’s live album is peppered with politically incorrect between-song raps that have become the stuff of legend (just ask Atlanta band Nashville Pussy). But the real value in ‘Gonzo’ lies in it’s capture of Nugent’s classic-era band in a live setting, and how it provides Nugent-the-guitarist the opportunity to put up or shut up… And as we know, Ted never shuts up. I remember walking around with friends, blasting this out of a portable 8-track player, feeling all badass as Nugent’s raunchy raps echoed off my neighbors’ houses.
After the Nugent extravagonzo, there came an almost 5-month lull, the calm before the storm of live releases that would hit in the second half of the year. Thin Lizzy opened the floodgates in June with ‘Live and Dangerous‘, a 2-record set that reached the #2 spot in the UK. While it’s safe to say that Nugent’s ‘Gonzo’ is 100% pure NUGE, Thin Lizzy’s ‘L&D’ is another story. Debate endures regarding just how much of this album is ‘live’… but, seriously, who cares? What matters is the end result, and ‘Dangerous’ is a worthy celebration of the Lizzy experience. Shamefully short at just 50 minutes, it’s overflowing with fantastic songs played with charisma, passion, and flair. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the show.
Recorded in Japan during guitarist Uli Roth’s final two shows with Scorpions, ‘Tokyo Tapes‘ came out in August as a Japan-only release. Nothing like waiting until the last minute to capture the Uli-era Scorps live! I didn’t catch this one until it was released domestically the following year, but when I did, mind = blown. There is some truly jaw-dropping guitar playing within these grooves, and each and every one of us should take a moment to thank their higher power that Dieter Dierks and RCA records rolled tape during Roth’s final 48 hours with the band. ‘TT’ contains some jarring edits that break the ‘concert experience’ feel, but overall this collection really cooks.
Also in August, Sammy Hagar decides to return to his monstrous Montrose roots and release a live album balls-out with scorching rockers. ‘All Night Long‘ was recorded in San Francisco, San Antonio, San Bernardino, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica… I’m not kidding. I snapped this one up after learning that the band on the record was 3/4 of Montrose, and the track list includes two songs from the mighty Montrose debut. The Red Rocker keeps this single-disc live outing tight and punchy, and Sam reveals himself to be a smokin’ guitarist. ‘All Night’ is the first and only live album that I’m aware of where the final song fades out —while the band is still playing! Like having to leave the concert before it’s over because your ride wants to be home early.
A few weeks later in September, Blue Oyster Cult would offer up their second live album, ‘Some Enchanted Evening‘. Like Hagar, BOC would limit themselves to a single disc, and much to this young listener’s disappointment, include two covers. With a catalog as deep as BOC’s, why waste precious space on somebody else’s tunes? Where’s ‘Tattoo Vampire’? Where’s ‘The Golden Age of Leather’? And what about ‘Dominance & Submission’?? Thankfully, the stellar version of ‘Astronomy’ included is worth the price of admission all by itself. Despite the dubious song selection, ‘SEE’ would somehow become best-selling album in the Cult’s catalog. Go figure!
I remember walking into my local record store in early October and spotting Cheap Trick’s ‘Cheap Trick At Budokan‘ high on the wall behind the counter, with a $27 price sticker on it. CT had just released ‘Heaven Tonight’ in April; I was completely blindsided by this mysterious live record. ’27 bucks!?’ I exclaimed. The clerk explained that it was a Japanese import, and wasn’t coming out in the US. Shit. Somehow the 14-year old me came up with the 30 dollars (I seem to remember rolling coins…) and snagged it off the wall before anyone else did. Woohoo! ‘Budokan’ was another single-disc live record, (in a gatefold sleeve!) and featured three songs we’d never heard before. Allowance money well spent.
I have come to appreciate Aerosmith’s ‘Live! Bootleg‘, but back in October of ’78, I was disappointed. ‘Bootleg’ dispenses with the ‘concert recreation’ feel that most of the live LPs of the era went for; instead, it serves as a live retrospective, featuring recordings from as far back as 1973 and right up to March’s ‘California Jam II’ concert. It’s a mixed bag; performances by young scrappers in Boston clubs segue into recordings from the biggest stadiums on the planet, not in chronological order, all adding up to kind of a jumbled sonic documentary of the band’s heyday. Teenaged me wanted something more like what Lizzy or Cheap Trick had delivered. Still, two live albums from two of my faves in one month was pretty killer. Wait, what? THREE??
With ‘Bootleg’ and ‘Budokan’ still in heavy rotation on my turntable, Australian upstarts AC/DC joined the fray in late October with ‘If You Want Blood… You’ve Got It‘. The band had released their ‘Powerage’ album back in May and I was instantly hooked; this live album followed a mere 5 months later. Recorded at the Glasgow Apollo (see also: Status Quo’s ‘Live!’, portions of Rush’s ‘Exit: Stage Left’) before an absolutely rabid audience (ANGUS! ANGUS! ANGUS!), ‘Blood’ is a sweaty, raunchy workout that captures the band’s stage show as-is. I remember riding my bike home from the record store with this album clutched to my chest, trying not to bang it around and ding up the album cover. Which reminds me of a story…
So I’m at the record shop, and spot the record, marvel at it’s totally awesome front and back covers, and head to the front counter, where the clerk (let’s call him Steve) checks out the cover, and starts laughing. He says ‘You don’t really want to buy this piece of crap do you?’ I say, um, yeah, I do, and he starts yelling to another employee, ‘Hey man, have you seen this cover? HAWHAWHAW!!’ He looks at me once again and says ‘Really?’ Just then an older gent walks up to us (I presume was the owner or manager) and tells Steve ‘meet me out back in a minute’. Steve, with an *Oh Shit* look on his face, heads to the back room. The owner/manager rings up my sale, smiles and says ‘AC/DC! Cool!’ Never saw Steve there again. True story.
At some point in 1978 (details are scant) came a single-disc live LP from Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush. This is another record that I didn’t get hip to until a few years after it’s release. Marino was largely written off as a Hendrix clone decades ago, a stigma that prevented him from ever achieving the mainstream success enjoyed by his peers… although Frank Marino is entirely without peer as a rock guitarist. This guy OWNS every other rock player of the era. On the imaginatively-titled ‘Live‘, Marino, backed by his sturdy rhythm section, blazes through hippie-trippy highlights from his catalog, then shoots himself in the foot by including a Hendrix cover. The liner notes for a 2018 re-issue claims that there are no overdubs on this puppy, but hey, who knows. Call this one Single Live Gonzo.
As if to hammer home the fact that 1978 really was the Year of the Live Album, CBS Records released ‘California Jam II‘, a selection of highlights from the second Cal Jam concert that took place back on March 18. The 2-record set included tunes from Aerosmith, Nugent, Heart and Mahogany Rush. Dave Mason, Santana, Jean Michel Jarre and Rubicon (with Jack Blades and Brad Gillis, pre-Night Ranger) also appear. (Bob Welch and Foreigner played the show, but didn’t make the record, as they were not signed to one of CBS’ labels.) But it’s the hard rockers who dominate the set, of course: Nugent gives us live versions of two songs that didn’t show on ‘Gonzo’, Aerosmith gift us with one that didn’t make ‘Bootleg’, and Marino wipes the floor with all the other guitar slingers on the bill. Worth hunting down on vinyl, as the album has never been released on CD.
As if TEN live albums in one calendar year wasn’t enough, the Gonzo just kept on comin’, a residual effect that would carry through much of ’79. First up: I caught Cheap trick at Boston’s Orpheum Theater in December ’78, and was blown away by opener UFO. A few weeks later, I took the bus (it was January; my bike wasn’t feasible) to the record store, headed for the end of the alphabet, and found the just-released ‘Strangers in the Night‘ double album. The lineup I saw featured Paul Chapman on guitar, but ‘SITN” captures Mad Michael Schenker’s final swing with the band. An instant classic, and possibly the finest album covered here. A shame that a re-arranged re-master is the only way to purchase this album today, as the original Chrysalis version is flawless.
Also in January of ’79, Scorpions finally release ‘Tokyo Tapes’ in the US. With both Uli Roth and Michael Schenker long gone before either ‘SITN’ or ‘TT’ are released, the Scorps/UFO live albums became indispensable documents of a bygone era. Then, in early February, the suits at CBS wise up and release Cheap Trick’s ‘Cheap Trick At Budokan’ domestically as well. The Japanese version had become the biggest-selling import album of 1978, so CT’s next studio record (‘Dream Police’) was shelved to allow for ‘Budokan’s release, and the rest is history. Oh, and in April, the Ramones released the double ‘It’s Alive‘ set… but not in The States, where it wouldn’t be released until 1995 on CD.
Queen’s ‘Live Killers‘ hit the bins in June. Here again, the now-15-year-old me was a little disappointed; Queen’s studio records were so elaborately constructed that to me it didn’t sound like Queen (ex: during ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, a tape of the operatic a capella section was played after the band hastily exited the stage, and that moment plays very awkwardly on a live album). But what I grew to understand is that it does sound like Queen, as this is exactly what the band really sounds like, and in this context, stripped of the indulgent studio magic that adorned their studio records, a great live band comprised of supremely talented performers is revealed.
The Pat Travers Band kicked our asses over the summer of 79 with their single-disc live set, ‘Go For What You Know‘, and their version of ‘Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)’ became a minor radio hit. A double-disc might have been much, but would have allowed for the inclusion of PTB’s roof-raising live version of ‘Statesboro Blues’, or a live ‘Life in London’. The syngery between guitarists Travers and Thrall is stunning, and the chops on display here are phenomenal. This young lad found the myriad tones and effects the two employed positively hypnotic. But it’s not just the guitars that impress here; some of the drumming on GFWYK has to be heard to be believed. Mars was no slouch on the bass either. Where’s the expanded remaster??
This unprecedented super-cluster of live releases comes to a close in September of 79, when The Beast that is Priest release ‘Unleashed in the East‘. Live? Studio? Overdubbed vocals? Again— WHO CARES. The record is simply awesome. At the time, this was the heaviest metal I had ever heard. This single-disc wonder should have been– and could have been –released as a double album, had all the bonus tracks and B-sides culled from the same shows been utilized. As-is, this record explodes with state-of the art, pure of heart, flag waving HEAVY METAL, released at a time when it was definitely not cool to be tagged as such.
WOW. Fifteen live albums from just about all of my favorite bands in a year and a half! You couldn’t leave your house without stepping on a live album. It was almost as if Heavy Metal’s underlying strategy was to ‘wait out’ Punk Rock; that the hard rockers of the era conspired together to take some time off and reassess. Whatever the reason, this deluge of live gonzo makes 1978 (and half of ’79) a standout year in 70s Metal, despite the fact that the rest of the music world was preoccupied with either Punk or Disco, and most critics and journos had decided that Metal was over… One month after the release of ‘Unleashed in the East’, the cover of the Oct ’79 issue of CREEM Magazine blared: “Is Heavy Metal Dead?” No, stupid, Heavy Metal is LIVE!