Ramones Leave Home

January 23rd, 1977. Punk Poet Priestess Patti Smith trips over a stage monitor and falls 8 feet, breaking her leg. Smith cancels her next few dates, including a February 4th date opening for fellow New Yorkers Blue Oyster Cult at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island. A frantic search begins for a last-minute replacement to open the show; preferably a local NYC-area act.

It probably made sense on paper. Just a few weeks after releasing their second album, ‘Leave Home’, the Ramones had barely left home themselves, with only about 20 gigs outside of the Tri-Sate Area under their belts. Outside of New York, reactions to their music and their …presentation were mixed; while at home they were spearheading a music scene that would literally change the course of Rock and Roll. Such was the unprecedented nature of their act that venturing outside of their comfort zone of CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City proved troublesome, as their version of Rock n’ Roll was considered either too avant garde or just plain terrible. But this last minute fill-in gig with BOC on Long Island was close to home, everything will be fine, they said…

 
Turns out that it’s not just where you play, it’s also who you play with. Or for. Fans in attendance that night had no idea they were witnessing world-changing genius; here’s an eyewitness account from an online Blue Oyster Cult fan site:

 
“Ramones opened up the show and a near riot broke out in our section as a guy tried to advance towards the stage to throw a chair he had separated from the row. He was stopped but nearly everyone was shouting/cussing and giving the Ramones the middle finger, it was a crazy atmosphere during their set. The Ramones played music that none of us had listened to before, it was fast, loud and really short songs but the sound was really crappy and garbled. A guy in our row later told me it was “that fucking punk rock!”

 
Ah, yes, that fucking Punk Rock. The Ramones practically invented the genre, which had just begun the process of turning Rock music on its ear.

 
To promote ‘Leave Home’, Ramones management had decided that the band needed to do just that; to break out of NYC and tour the country. The band spent the rest of 1977 spreading their minimalist musical message headlining clubs and small theatres, concentrating almost exclusively on the East and West Coasts, where the Punk movement was having the most impact.

 

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A national tour promoting their third LP ‘Rocket to Russia’ at the start of 1978 with the Runaways was a step up, with the band playing slightly larger venues and proving that a ‘Punk’ tour could be a viable, money-making endeavor, lending credibility to the Punk movement in America. Fourth album ‘Road to Ruin’ was a deliberate attempt to get the band on the radio. But management felt that to truly break the band in America, Ramones needed to nab an opening slot with a major Hard Rock band… But who do you tour with when the music you’re playing seems to piss everyone outside of NYC right off? When the aesthetic you’re pioneering threatens the relevance of most of the arena-level bands of the day?

 
Since nobody was beating down the door at Ramones HQ with invitations to tour, the band’s management informed their booking agency, Premiere Talent, that it would take any available gig, and so a tour was assembled where the Ramones would either headlined a club or open for a more established act… Which resulted in some truly bizarro pairings, or truly memorable evenings, depending on your point of view. And so, before they became recognized as one of the most important bands of the Rock era, the Ramones bravely ventured outside the insular confines of NYC, and into the wider world of mainstream Hard Rock… where they were compatible with absolutely no one.

 
November 13, 1978: Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, GA w/Black Sabbath and Van Halen. It was the Sab’s 10th anniversary tour, and Van Halen’s first-ever world tour. Black Sabbath were trying their hardest not to say ‘Die’, but finding it hard with young upstarts VH blowing them off the stage every night. How both bands felt about The Ramones, with their machine gun attack of chainsaw bubblegum punk, hopping onto this date on the final leg of the tour, is unknown.

 
November 18, 1978: St Paul Arena, St Paul, MN w/Foreigner. Foreigner was riding high with their ‘Double Vision’ album sitting at #3, and ripping up Hard Rock radio with the ‘Hot Blooded’ and ‘Double Vision’ singles peaking at #3 & #4 respectively. Who better to open their gig in St. Paul than… The Ramones? A one-off fill-in set, much to the relief of the headliners, one may reasonably surmise.

 
December 1, 1978: Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino CA, w/Black Sabbath (Van Halen had dropped off the tour, as they could book their own arena gigs in the Cali area). Ramones hop on to Sabbath’s NSD tour once again. The local promoter of this concert advertised it in print ads, posters, and on local radio as “Punk Rock vs Heavy Metal”, getting it all wrong and exactly right simultaneously. The members of the Ramones actually felt their lives were in danger that night, and they were probably right.

 
Tour manager Monte Melnick says of that show: “Playing with Sabbath was dangerous. Their audience didn’t want to have anything to do with us. It was scary. It was bad.” Joey Ramone added: “We didn’t fit in. Our new booking agent thought it would expand our audience. The local promoter booked it like a battle of the bands. 20 minutes in and everything started coming at us. We were able to dodge it all, and no one got hurt, but we said fuck you and got off the stage.”

 
December 4, 1978: Long Beach Arena, Long Beach CA, w/Sabbath. A popular bootleg recording of the Ramones set from this, their third show on the Sabbath/VH tour, showcases the *ahem* ‘warm’ welcome the Ramones received during their brief opening sets. Where the audience can be heard during what little space there is between the songs, a rising level of hostility and impatience is apparent. At least they were able to complete their set. Barely.

 
December 5, 1978: Phoenix Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, AZ. Their final show with the Sabs. Three of the remaining four Never Say Die shows were to take place in Texas… The Ramones wisely opted out of the remainder of the tour.

 

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December 28-31, 1978: Four more West Coast dates; two nights with The Tubes, one with Eddie Money, and one with Derringer. Happy New Year?!

 
January 26, 1979: Louisianna Civic, Lake Charles, LA. Some idiot booked The Ramones to open for Toto. Toto? Toto! Hit single ‘Hold the Line’ was sitting at #5 on the Billboard singles chart; what a great opportunity for the Ramones to widen their…. NOPE. Here’s what a Ramones fan had to say about the event on a Punk Rock message board:

 

“Three songs before the crowd had a chance to process what they were witnessing. Once they did, a wave of bottles, cups, shoes and other debris rained down on the band, which only caused them to play faster and louder. Johnny stood on a monitor yelling “F**K YOU!” at the bottle throwers and Joey flipped them the bird. Bobby Kimball, lead singer for Toto and a Lake Charles native, came out and profusely apologized to the crowd for having to endure such a ‘horrible band.’”

 
July 2, 1979: Canadian World Music Festival, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. With Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Johnny Winter, AC/DC, and Nazareth. I’ll let Johnny explain the debacle:

 
“We played on a bill with Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Johnny Winter, AC/DC, and Nazareth to a crowd of forty-six thousand people in Toronto… I saw the other bands we were playing with and I thought, “This isn’t gonna work.” I complained to Premier, our booking agency, about it, and they said, ‘We’ve been in the business a long time, we know what we’re doing’…”

 
“About five or six songs into the set, the whole crowd stood up, and I thought it had started to rain. Dee Dee thought the same thing, but they were throwing stuff at us – sandwiches, bottles, everything. Then, all of a sudden, I broke two strings on my guitar in one strum. I thought it was a sign from God to get off the stage, because I’d rarely break a string, maybe once a year. So I just walked to the front of the stage, stopped playing, and gave the audience the finger – with both hands. I stood there like that, flipping them off, with both hands out, and walked off. The rest of the band kept playing for another ten or fifteen seconds until they’d realized I was walking off, and then they did too. I wasn’t gonna stand there and be booed and have stuff thrown at us without retaliating in some way. We had to come off looking good somehow, and there was no good way to get out of that.”

 
Tour Manager Monte Melnick: “We were happy to be playing these big festivals, but as soon as they started playing, all this food and junk gets thrown onstage. It was horrible. They played an abbreviated set and walked off in a hail of sandwiches. It was depressing.”

 

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Changing the world is dangerous business.

 
By the summer of ’79, fellow Bowery denizens Blondie topped the singles chart with ‘Heart of Glass’ and Talking Heads hit the Top 30 with ‘Take me to the River’… while the Ramones battled projectiles hurled by an angry mob of 46,000 stoned air guitarists. But Blondie had ‘gone disco’, and that Talking Heads song was a cover… The Ramones, however, never took the easy way out of the underground, as many of their fellow CBGB alumni did. Consider the courage and commitment it took for the these guys to present their act under these harsh circumstances.

 
The Ramones’ radically minimalist reinvention of Rock music made them critical darlings in the US (and conquering heroes in the UK) but in mainstream middle America, ‘that fucking Punk Rock’ was generally rejected as an obnoxious annoyance. And so the Ramones travails also illustrate the single-mindedness of the average 70’s rock fan; the same passionate rejection of the Ramones was levelled at Disco during the ‘Disco Sucks’ era. Peaceful coexistence was just not possible. But was the gulf between the Punks and the Hard Rockers really so wide? Hopping on to the Black Sabbath/Van Halen tour, where the band that invented Heavy Metal appeared with the group that was re-inventing it, may have seemed a bit misguided, but take a quick listen to both ‘Paranoid’ and ‘(I Wanna be) Sedated’ back to back and tell me what you think.

The Lord Rocks in Mysterious Ways

I used to work with a guy named Scott who was a bit… eccentric. Perchance one day I saw inside one of his filing cabinets, and in it I could see probably 20-25 cassettes. I asked him what it was all about, and he responded, ‘Oh, ya, those are my train cassettes. Check ’em out of you want.’ I did. Each tape was a homemade compilation, with meticulously lettered title/artist notes. I pulled out one cassette, handily numbered #16, took a closer look at the titles inscribed on the insert, and saw that each song title contained the word ‘train’, or was somehow related to trains, railroads, engineers– you get the picture. I must have looked a little confused, and Scott helpfully added, ‘I collect songs about trains.’ As I picked up tape #8, a 90-minute TDK which looked to contain 20-or-so different versions of the song ‘Mystery Train’, I said ‘Oh ya? Cool.’ What I was really thinking though, was ‘This guy is nuts.’

Years later, I remembered that incident and how weird Scott was, but the voice inside my head that likes to play the devil’s advocate whispered ‘It’s not so weird, really. What would Scott think if he went through your music collection? What kind of songs do you collect, Bob?’ I thought about that for a while, and laughed to myself. Scott would have probably assumed I collected songs about the Devil.

I don’t worship the Devil. I don’t believe in Hell. Am I Evil? No, I’m not. But the Good/Evil ratio in my music collection is slanted significantly toward the dark side. Lyrics are important to me; in my opinion, a well-written lyric can save bad music, and a crap lyric can sink great music. I admit that most of the Devil-centric lyrics eminating from my record collection are garbage. I know, HM is not known for the quality of its lyrical content. But there are a small handful of outstanding lyricists in the hallowed Heavy Metal Pantheon, so I went looking through their stuff to see what they had to say regarding all things good and evil. I focused my search on my three favorite writers… and I found a lot of cool stuff.

lemmy

The Atheist
Motorhead’s Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister has never made his disdain for organized religion a secret. Politicians and the church have been frequent targets of Lemmy’s wrath throughout Motorhead’s long history. Lemmy’s father was an ex-Royal Air Force Chaplain, so perhaps the seeds of his spite can be traced to his early childhood. In ‘Poison’, from 1979’s ‘Bomber’, Lem reveals,

‘My father, he used to be a preacher
Never taught me nothing but scorn
If I ever catch him on the street, yeah
I’ll make him wish he’d never been born’

Lemmy pulls no punches when waxing poetic about his belief system, which is perhaps best summed up in ‘(Don’t Need) Religion’ from 1982’s ‘Iron Fist’ album. Here, Lem lays out, in just 10 brutally simple couplets, how he (don’t need) religion. Here, belief in God is compared to belief in Santa Claus and fairies. In ‘No Voices in the Sky’ from Motorhead’s 1996 US major label debut ‘1916’, Lemmy debunks Christianity in a deceptively upbeat, melodic tune with lines like:

‘You don’t need no golden cross to tell you wrong from right
The world’s worst murderers were those who saw the light
Ritual remembrance when no one knows your name
Don’t help a single widow learn to fight the pain’

The Granddaddy of them all, though has to be ‘Orgasmatron’, where the evils of organized religion, global politics and world history are all rolled up into one and spewed forth in a toxic barrage of venomous hatred. It’s one of Lemmy’s finest lyrics and one of Motorhead’s greatest songs. Reading this lyric without the music behind it gives me chills. The first verse is dedicated to religion; here’s a sample:

‘Obsequious and arrogant, clandestine and vain
Two thousands years of misery, of torture in my name
Hypocrisy made paramount, paranoia the law
My name is called religion, sadistic, sacred whore’

On ‘Hammered’, late-period Motorhead reveals no changes in Lemmy’s stance; ‘No Remorse’ is yet another red-hot poker in the eye of God, and one not without a touch of sarcasm:

‘Satan waits, goatee beard
Long old tail, nasty spear
If you believe these tales they tell
Then you deserve to burn in Hell’

I’d have to say my favorite of Lemmy’s anti-religious works appeared fairly recently in 2006. ‘God Was Never on Your Side’ contains a plaintive lyric delivered in a sad, melancholic tone; this time Lemmy’s wrath is softened just a bit by acoustic guitars and strings, but his underlying condemnation of blind, unquestioning belief is plainly evident in this intelligent articulate plea for common sense. Check this song out is you skipped the ‘Kiss of Death’ album.

‘If the sky, turned into stone,
It would matter not at all,
For there is no heaven, in the sky,
Hell does not wait, for our downfall!
Let the voice of reason shine,
Let the pious vanish for all time,
God’s face hidden, all unseen,
You cannot ask him what it all means,
He was never on your side,
God was never on your side’

There are, of course, many other examples. The Jesus references in both ‘Brave New World’ (‘Hammered’) and Get Back in Line’ (‘The World is Yours’) are both scathing and hilarious. And while we’re on the subject of God, I would love to know how Lem feels about the infamous ‘Lemmy is God’ slogan… Nonetheless, his religion-themed work is where Lemmy the intelligent and articulate thinker is revealed, belaying his popular image as the ultimate in badassery.

Motorhead’s next (and last?) album, ‘Bad Magic’, comes out in August of this year, and will close with a cover of the Rolling Stones classic ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. If this does indeed turn out to be Motorhead’s last record, how ironic is it that this vehement atheist’s recording career began in a band called The Rockin Vickers (as in ‘vicar’) and ended with a classic song about the Devil himself?

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The Agnostic
In September of 1968, a struggling pop band called Episode Six released their eighth single, ‘Lucky Sunday’. The single’s B-side, ‘Mister Universe’, was written by Roger Glover and Ian Gillan. The song’s lyric, one of Ian Gillan’s first, questioned the existence of God, and his plans for humankind. The single, like the 7 before it, failed to chart in the UK. E6 released one more single (which also failed) before Gillan and Glover joined Deep Purple in June of ’69. G&G’s first recording with Deep Purple was a cover of a Greenway/Cooke song called ‘Hallelujah’. The song is sung from the perspective of a prophet trying to enlighten his people. The following year, Tim Rice offered Gillan the part of Jesus Christ for the original recording of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Are we seeing a pattern here? Gillan accepted Rice’s offer, and recorded all of his parts in just 3 hours… A feat some have called miraculous.

While much of the focus in Rice & Webber’s rock opera falls on the Judas Iscariot character, Jesus Christ has several epic moments throughout the musical. Without a doubt, the most powerful song in the work is ‘Gethesmane’, which represents a crucial moment for the Jesus character. It’s also a vocal tour de force for the 24 year old Ian Gillan, and remains one of his most emotionally powerful performances. In ‘Gethesmane’, Jesus, exhausted and disillusioned, he admits his doubts and fears to God and pleads for answers. He gets none, and begs for God to take him. Just then, Judas and the Romans arrive…

Although written by Tim Rice, ‘Gethesmane’ echoes Gillan’s earlier ‘Mister Universe’ in it’s inquiry into the nature of God. It questions God’s existence, his motivations, his plans, which indicates an Agnostic worldview; one that harbors doubt, and neither embraces nor rejects the existence of God, but one that could be convinced should sufficient evidence is supplied. What Jesus/Gillan is asking for in ‘Gethesmane’/’Mister Universe’ is a reason to believe.

Ian Gillan would later re-work the song ‘Mister Universe’ with his namesake band, Gillan. In the 8 years in between the two versions, Gillan had little to say about religion; ‘The Mule’ from Deep Purple’s ‘Fireball’ album has been mistaken for a song about Satan, although it’s actually about Ian Paice! In the song ‘Painted Horse’, the line ‘Why did the carpenter die?’ is a clear nod to Jesus in an otherwise obtuse lyric, and the title of the album it was recorded for, ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’ is also a clever play on a line in the song ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. His lyrics for the Ian Gillan Band featured forays into witchcraft and sorcery (‘Scarabus’) and Alistair Crowley (‘Abbey of Thelema’, which mentions Shaitan, the Islamic Satan), but the only overt religious lyric is Gillan’s cynical look at ‘religion twentieth century style’ in ‘Over the Hill’ from the ‘Clear Air Turbulence’ album.

In 1979, a revised version of ‘Mister Universe’ emerged with some key differences, lyrically; Gillan again questions God about the nature of His relationship with Man, but this time he is not pleading, he’s demanding answers:

‘Are you God, are you man, do you live in fear?
Are we trash in your can, a bubble in your beer?
I just need some information
Tell me what’s my destination
Is your smile just a smile or is it just a trick
To make me walk another mile? I must be so thick
Universe is cruel deception
Freedom is a contradiction’

Then Gillan rails against God’s stony silence with an angry declaration of strength and individualism:

‘Maybe we’re going somewhere
If so we can find the end
Everyone’s getting nowhere
But not me, you’d better understand!’

After a puzzling second mention of Shaitan in the single B-side ‘Higher and Higher’, Gillan (the band) revisited the subject of Heaven & Hell in a big way with the single ‘No Laughing in Heaven’ from their 1981 album ‘Future Shock’. Here, Gillan (the lyricist) seems to have survived his crisis of faith and feels comfortable enough to have a little fun with the man upstairs. Gillan adopts the role of a bad guy who cleans up his act in order to be ‘saved’ but finds out that Heaven ain’t all it’s cracked up to be…

‘I knocked on the pearly gates
Neatly side stepping the long queue
Waved hi to St. Peter
Who checked my card and let me through
I smiled, threw my hands in the air
Laughed and got arrested
They said, “hey man, you’re in the wrong place
Your behavior is a disgrace”

Our hero promptly discovers the error of his ways and begs to be sent to Hell, which is presumably a lot more fun:

‘Let me out of heaven
I’ve got it wrong, no, I can’t stay here
No laughing in heaven
Oh God, it’s awful here
Going crazy in heaven
Take me out and let me go to hell
No laughing in heaven
Don’t laugh, this place is hell’

The song was a minor hit in the UK (#31; the album reached #2) and scored the band a Top of the Pops appearance. ‘No Laughing…’ represents Ian Gillan’s last serious (??) exploration of religious themes in his lyrics.

Two years later, Gillan joined Black Sabbath for the controversial ‘Born Again’ album. Unfortunately, Mr. Gillan was just killing a year, waiting for the Deep Purple MkII reunion, and passed on the opportunity to again explore religious themes with the band that wrote the book on the subject, instead handing in a bunch of rubbish about wrecking cars, evil women, and phone calls to Hell. Gillan either didn’t ‘get’ Black Sabbath, or just didn’t care enough about the band to take his contributions seriously. There is one half-assed attempt at working within Sabbath’s lyrical oeuvre. ‘Disturbing the Priest’ explicitly addresses the eternal battle between God and the Devil and their yin/yang dynamic, but, masterfull delivery notwithstanding, the lyrics are Sub-Dio level at best, and the vocal melody is lifted from Gillan’s own ‘Scarabus’, from 6 years previous:

‘The devil and the priest can’t exist if one goes away
It’s just like the battle of the sun and the moon and night and day
The force of the devil, that we’re all told to fear
Watch out for religion when he gets too near too near’

Yeesh. Gillan’s lyrical contributions to ‘Born Again’ represent a huge missed opportunity for someone who has such a rich history of dealing with religious themes in his music. Which brings us to:

Geezer-Butler-of-Black-Sa-007

The Believer
I’m not the first person to view Black Sabbath as the first Christian Metal band, and I won’t be the last, because it’s a fact. One of the biggest misconceptions in all of rock music is that Black Sabbath worship/celebrate/glorify Satan in their lyrics. They don’t. In fact, a detailed read through bassist Geezer Butler’s lyrics proves the opposite is true: Black Sabbath worship/celebrate/glorify God, by explaining/condemning/warning of Satan. For true Black Sabbath fans, who have heard, studied and most importantly understood Butler’s lyrics, this is not news. But for the several million knee jerk morons who have misrepresented Sabbath (to the band’s benefit, I get it) for decades, it’s time to get a clue.

When looking for an example of the massive misunderstanding of classic Black Sabbath’s message, one need go no further than the very first song on their very first album. ‘Black Sabbath’ is a first person narrative in which our subject is met by a ‘big black shape with eyes of fire’ who has arrived to escort him to Hell. Ozzy’s screams of torment that end each verse are so effective, I’m tempted to say that this is his finest vocal performance, because of how convincingly he communicates a sense of soul-destroying terror and doom. The message is crystal clear: somebody fucked up, and now they’re gonna pay the price. Anyone who hears this song as anything other than a warning is trying really hard to be a total dick.

‘N.I.B.’ is a tale of the Devil as The Great Deceiver, and an illustration of the seductive power of evil. This time, our narrator is O’l Scratch, plying his victim with romantic promises of undying love and immortality. Only after it’s too late does Satan reveal his true self:

‘Now I have you with me, under my power
Our love grows stronger now with every hour
Look into my eyes, you will see who I am
My name is Lucifer, please take my hand’

The last line in ‘War Pigs’, the opening song on Sabbath’s next album ‘Paranoid’, is ‘Satan laughing spreads his wings’, which is cool because now we know that Geezer Butler’s vision of Satan has wings (awesome!), but also because we learn that all of the war, bloodshed, death and destruction described in the song is the handiwork of the Devil… and he is pleased. In ‘Electric Funeral’, also from ‘Paranoid’, Satan appears to claim a world ruined by ‘atomic fire’:

‘And so in the sky shines the electric eye
Supernatural king takes earth under his wing
Heaven’s golden chorus sings, Hell’s angels flap their wings
Evil souls fall to Hell, ever trapped in burning cells!’

Geezer Butler’s vision of Hell doesn’t sound like much fun. And that’s the point. There’s an enormous difference between an invitation and a cautionary tale; in fact they’re polar opposites. Sabbath’s songs about evil, Satan, and Hell sit squarely in the realm of the latter. In Butler’s lyrics, the consequences of choosing the dark side are always clear. Here’s another example from ‘Master of Reality’, in a song called ‘Lord of This World’:

‘Your world was made for you by someone above
But you choose evil ways instead of love
You made me master of the world where you exist
The soul I took from you was not even missed
You think you’re innocent you’ve nothing to fear
You don’t know me, you say, but isn’t it clear?
You turn to me in all your worldly greed and pride
But will you turn to me when it’s your turn to die?’

Here, the Devil reveals that he looks down on his followers, pitying them for having made the wrong choice. What an asshole!

By Sabbath’s ‘Vol. 4’ album, it appears that Butler has reached his own crisis of faith. In ‘Supernaut’, he claims he’s ‘Got no religion’, and in ‘Under the Sun’ he denies both sides of the equation in a Lemmy-esque declaration:

‘Well I don’t want no Jesus freak to tell me what it’s all about
No black magician telling me to cast my soul out
Don’t believe in violence, I don’t even believe in peace
I’ve opened the door now my mind has been released
Well I don’t want no preacher telling me about the god in the sky
No I don’t want no one to tell me where I’m gonna go when I die
I wanna live my life with no people telling me what to do
I just believe in myself, ’cause no one else is true’

But what about God? As Butler continued to grow as a lyricist, he began to write eloquently on all things Heavenly. In ‘A National Acrobat’, on the Sabs’ fifth album, ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’, Butler expounds on the ‘universal secret’ of reincarnation, and has this to say about life itself:

‘Just remember love is life
And hate is living death
Treat your life for what it’s worth
And live for every breath’

The album closes with the magnificent ‘Spiral Architect’, a brilliant (if psychedelically-informed) attempt to see the world, in all its triumphs and failures, through the eyes of God:

‘Of all the things I value most of all
I look upon my earth and feel the warmth
And know that it is good
You know that I should’

In ‘Thrill of it All’, on 1975’s ‘Sabotage’ album, a disillusioned Butler asks ‘Won’t you help me Mr. Jesus, won’t you tell me if you can? When you see this world we live in, do you still believe in Man?’ At the time this song was written, Sabbath were embroiled in an epic legal/financial battle with manager Patrick Meehan, and Geezer Butler knew exactly where to go to ask for spiritual guidance. But for the ultimate example of a misunderstood/misrepresented Black Sabbath lyric, we need to go back to the band’s third album, ‘Master of Reality’, and the song ‘After Forever’:

‘Have you ever thought about your soul – can it be saved
Or perhaps you think that when you’re dead
You just stay in your grave
Is God just a thought within your head
Or is he a part of you
Is Christ just a name that you read in a book
When you were at school?
When you think about death do you lose your breath
Or do you keep your cool?
Would you like to see the Pope, on the end of a rope
Do you think he’s a fool?’

Apparently, all of that offended a whole lot of people. These lyrics, especially the last two lines, have been used countless times to condemn Sabbath as anti-Christian agents of the Devil, Satan worshippers, blasphemers, blah blah blah. But these intellectually dishonest fools invariably stop quoting from the song right there, just before these important lines:

‘Well I have seen the truth. Yes I have seen the light
And I’ve changed my ways
And I’ll be prepared when you’re lonely
And scared at the end of Our days’

And a little deeper in:

‘Perhaps you’ll think before you say
That God is dead and gone
Open your eyes, just, realize that he is the One
The only One Who can save you now from all this sin & hate
Or will you still jeer at all you hear?
Yes! – I think it’s too late.’

Get it right, Sabbath bashers! These are quite possibly the most Christian lyrics EVER. Certainly they’re the most Christ-affirming lyrics in my music collection. These lyrics alone make up for the rest of the Satanic nonsense in Heavy Metal, and saved my record collection’s soul… So thank God for Black Sabbath.

Amen.

Ninety Dollar Babies Get Their Wings

Ever ponder the giant leap from the weed-fueled garage band jam of Aerosmith’s 1973 debut and the polished, mature hard rock statement that is the ’74 follow-up, ‘Get Your Wings’? What happened? Was it the change in producers? ‘Aerosmith’ wasn’t so much produced as merely recorded, but on GYW, Jack Douglas polished the band’s sound and performances to the perfect mid-70s hard rock sheen. He brought in lots of help; the famed Brecker Brothers formed the core of a horn section for the GYW sessions, and songwriter/keyboardist Ray Colcord (who, as Columbia Records A&R, signed Aerosmith in 1972) added keys. But Aerosmith played Guitar music with a capitol G, and apparently Douglas found the Boston band’s two axemen somewhat lacking…

The executive producer on ‘Get Your Wings’ was Bob Ezrin. Ezrin was on a hot streak, having produced Alice Cooper’s first four albums for Warner Brothers, with the fourth, ‘Billion Dollar Babies’, having topped the Billboard charts at Numero Uno in 1973. In a few short years, Ezrin had transformed Alice Cooper the band, a psychedelic anti-music nightmare, into hard rock champions, with several hit singles and a Number 1 album. Anyone who has heard AC’s two pre-Ezrin albums for Straight Records knows exactly the caliber of miracle Ezrin performed with this bunch of wierdos. So then how was Ezrin able to take what was arguably the world’s worst band and morph them into chart-topping pop stars?

The common denominators to the amazing transformations of both Alice Cooper and Aerosmith were session guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. Yes, AC had already had a hit in 1970 with ‘I’m Eighteen’, but by ’73, alcoholism had rendered guitarist Glen Buxton pretty much useless, and Ezrin needed to bring in session musicians to bolster the playing on BDB. It was a tactic Ezrin had used before; Rick Derringer played lead guitar on ‘Under My Wheels’ from ‘Killer’, and Wagner had played the outstanding solo on ‘My Stars’ from the ‘School’s Out’ album. Ezrin had a vision for Alice Cooper’s music, and Wagner and guitarist Steve Hunter were called in to work on ‘Billion Dollar Babies’. They were each paid $90 per song.

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A hundred-or-so gigs had no doubt honed Aerosmith’s chops between first and second albums, and the writing had progressed nicely as well, but in the studio, Jack Douglas still found them wanting. Douglas was an engineer on ‘BDB’, and had worked with Hunter & Wagner before hooking up with ‘Smith, so when the sessions ran into guitar trouble, both men got the call. As far as the specific reason that session players were utilized for GYW, Douglas himself has never addressed the issue, nor have the members of Aerosmith, who neither confirm nor deny what has been an ‘open secret’ for decades. Wagner has said that he was called in because “Obviously for some reason he (Joe Perry) wasn’t there to do it and I never really questioned it.” Whatever the reason, the end result is the guitars on GTW are played with a command and authority that’s utterly absent on the band’s first album.

So: Who are these guys, anyway? Both natives of the Detroit area, H&W cut their teeth in bands on the club circuit; Hunter with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and Wagner with his own band, The Frost. Wagner then formed Ursa Major, who at one point included Billy Joel on keyboards, and cut one album for RCA (Note: I highly recommend this album!). After the guitarist worked on ‘School’s Out’ in ’72, Ezrin produced Lou Reed’s ‘Berlin’, and Wagner was invited put together a band for the European ‘Berlin’ tour. Wagner recruited Colcord and Steve Hunter for the touring band, which appeared on Lou Reed’s ‘Rock n Roll Animal’ live album. Both guitarists are given full credit for their contributions. Which brings us back to ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ in ’73 and ‘Get Your Wings’ in ’74.

Neither guitarist was credited on BDB or GYW, but the truth about who played what on these two records has gradually established itself over the years. I’m sorry to report that it’s now an acknowledged fact that Steve Hunter played the solos on the first half of Aerosmith’s version of ‘Train Kept a’Rollin’… And Dick Wagner played the solos on the second (‘live’) half. So yes, boys and girls, it’s true: that ain’t Perry or Whitford you’ve been air guitaring to for 40 years. Perry and Whitford would obviously quickly evolved into great guitarists in their own right, but the soloing on this song formed the basis of their reputations as players when I was a kid… Wagner also played the solo in ‘Same Old Song and Dance’. This is as yet unconfirmed, but take a close listen to ‘Spaced’, specifically those lightning-fast neo-classical ascending/descending flourishes near the end; methinks that’s either H or W as well.

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Wagner plays uncredited guitar all over ‘Billion Dollar Babies’, but also co-wrote ‘I Love the Dead’, and was not credited. Hunter played uncredited on the title track, ‘Hello, Hurray’, ‘Raped and Freezin’, ‘Sick Things’, and ‘Generation Landslide’ (so basically, the entire record). Wagner would also play on AC’s next album, ‘Muscle of Love’, and when Alice went solo, Wagner would receive official credit for his work on all subsequent AC albums. Wagner would, in fact, become a valued member of the Cooper camp as a songwriter; the Cooper-Wagner songwriting team would write 7 out of 9 of Cooper’s Top 10 hit singles. Hopefully his pay rate went up a bit.

Wagner continued working with Alice as a songwriter and guitarist until 1983’s ‘DaDa’. He published an autobiography called ‘Not Only Women Bleed’, and if you’re interested in recording session minutiae and behind the scenes dirt, it’s essential. Sadly, we lost Dick Wagner in July of 2014 after several years of major health issues. Steve Hunter’s most notable session outside of the Reed/Cooper/Aerosmith triangle was for Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’. Hunter is still playing and recording, and released an album called ‘The Manhattan Blues Project’ in 2011, which featured several famous guests… including Aerosmith’s Joe Perry!

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There are two places to go to hear the Hunter & Wagner duo playing together in their prime: Lou Reed’s ‘Rock n Roll Animal’ live album, and the 1975 Alice Cooper ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’ TV Special, which features an awesome guitar duel between the two, is out there on DVD. The ‘Nightmare’ special is interesting, because it highlights a key Reed/Cooper connection: The band assembled by Wagner and heard on Reed’s ‘RnR Animal’ album consisted of Hunter, Wagner, Ray Colcord, and Prakash John and Pentti Glan, and eventually became Alice Cooper’s backing band for the ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’ album, tour, and TV special.

So: There’s your answer to a trivia question no one will ever ask… Q: What do Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, and Aerosmith all have in common? A: Hunter & Wagner.

And Ray Colcord.

The Adventures of Roger Glover

Roger Glover was (and is) the bass player for Deep Purple. Not renowned as a virtuoso player, Glover is often overshadowed by other members of that legendary band, and lacks the name recognition and iconic status that some of the more colorful members of the DP family enjoy (a quick Google image search of ‘Roger Glover’ came up with pics of Glenn Hughes, Nick Simper, and Geezer Butler). This condition is known as ‘John Paul Jones Syndrome’. But those who dismiss Glover as ‘just the bass player’ are making a big mistake. Roger Glover is a hero of mine. Here’s Why:

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First, let’s consider for a moment exactly what being the bass player in Deep frickin’ Purple Mk II actually entailed. Ritchie Blackmore to his left, swinging his guitar around like a broadsword, inventing new styles of guitar playing, and blowing shit up. Jon Lord to his right, effortlessly exuding cool while unmercifully torturing a helpless Hammond B3. Ian Paice behind him, relentlessly driving everything forward while somehow making his 4-piece Ludwig sound like 3 people playing Neil Peart’s kit. And Ian Gillan in front of him, singing/screaming his ass off, MCing the apocalypse. And there, deep inside this volcano of explosive chemistry was Roger Glover, standing steady at the center of the firestorm, holding down the fort, locking everything down while wearing a funky hat. Roger Glover was the glue that held the Purple pieces together, the anchor that kept this band of volatile virtuosos from careening off the rails into total chaos. Without Roger Glover, DP MkII would have spontaneously combusted after 10 or 12 gigs. Virtuoso or not, this makes Glover Purple MkII’s Most Valuable Player.

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One of the reasons Glover was drafted into Deep Purple was his prolific songwriting output while in his (and Ian Gillan’s) previous band Episode Six. Roger Glover also wrote extensively for DP, but because Purple chose to share their writing credits equally, it’s hard to know exactly what he wrote. It has been acknowledged by all, however, that Glover wrote the music to ‘Speed King’ after Blackmore suggested they come up with something that sounded like Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’. So. Roger Glover wrote ‘Speed King’… Oh, and the ‘Maybe I’m a Leo’ riff. Who knows what else he wrote that Blackmore gets all the credit for? Glover also titled Purple’s smash hit ‘Smoke on the Water’ the morning after the legendary casino fire, effectively giving the song it’s chorus and subject matter.

So: Deep Purple had with Roger Glover was a rock solid musical backbone and a major creative force. A larger picture should be emerging here; RG was DP’s secret weapon. But what about his post-Purple history?

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Imagine an album featuring lead vocals by David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Ronnie James Dio, and Uriah Heep’s John Lawton. Now stop imagining and check out Roger’s ‘The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast’ album. For a concept album based on a famous children’s poem, it’s a surprisingly substantive and engaging piece of work. And with this line-up of lead vocalists (Ian Gillan sang Dio’s parts when the entire work was performed live at the Royal Albert Hall in 1975), who cares about the subject matter? Glover wrote or co-wrote all 20 songs, produced the recording, and played bass and synth. Need more? Okay: Les Binks played drums. Ha! Gotcha.

Speaking of Roger Glover the Record Producer, I feel compelled to point out that you pobably own an album that was produced by RG. Here’s a short list of some of his more notable work:

Judas Priest: Sin after Sin

Nazareth: Razamanaz/Loud & Proud/Rampant

David Coverdale: White Snake/Northwinds

Whitesnake: Snakebite EP

Rory Gallagher: Calling Card

Elf/Elf

Michael Schenker Group/Michael Schenker Group

Ian Gillan Band/Child in Time

Rainbow: Down to Earth/Difficult to Cure/Straight Between the Eyes/Bent out of Shape

Deep Purple: Perfect Strangers/House of Blue Light/The Battle Rages On (and every post-Blackmore DP album until ‘Now What?!’)

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Glover was the producer who convinced Judas Priest to record Joan Baez’s ‘Diamonds and Rust’ in a bid for radio play. Glover also worked the same trick with Nazareth on their ‘Loud & Proud’ album by suggesting Joni Mitchell’s ‘This Flight Tonight’. Suggesting that metal bands record songs written by female folk artists, and actually getting them to agree to it… Dude’s a genius. It would be tough to overstate how important these songs have been to each of these bands.

But one of Glover’s most …interesting production projects was his work on a long-forgotten 1977 album, released only in Sweden, on a label called Playboy Records…

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Male readers of a certain age will remember Ms. Benton as a Playboy model; perhaps the Playboy cover girl of the 70’s. If you weren’t old enough then to be swiping your dad’s Playboys, you may remember her as a bit player on TV’s Hee Haw. Benton also starred in an ABC TV series in 1977 called ‘Sugartime!’ about an all-female rock group ‘trying to make it big’. Well… they sure picked the right girl for that…

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Barbi Benton released 5 albums during the 1970s, with some success. Her first single reached #5 on the US Billboard Country chart, but her biggest hit was a song called ‘Ain’t That Just the Way’, which was a Number One single in Sweden for five weeks in 1977. The album from which that single originated, also titled ‘Ain’t That Just the Way’, was produced by our man Roger Glover. Glover brought some of his friends to the proceedings (wouldn’t you? ‘Hey, man, you want to come down and hang out with me and Barbi Benton, maybe lay down a solo?’), so not only does Mickey Moody of Whitesnake make an appearance, but David Coverdale hung around long enough to earn a songwriting credit, along with Barbi & Rog (so cute) on ‘Up In the Air’. Need more? Simon Phillips played drums. Ha! Gotcha.

I haven’t even mentioned Roger Glover’s four solo albums, the disco single he released under a phony name in 1974, or the excellent Gillan/Glover album from 1988 (I ran out of gas after, um, searching for suitable Barbi Benton pics). Today in 2014, Roger Glover, having long ago traded in his funky felt hat for a pirate’s bandana, is still holding down the fort for Deep Purple, and still one of my heroes. ‘Just the bass player’, my ass.