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!

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Re-master of Reality

AC/DC OFFICIAL NEWS ANNOUNCEMENT

BIGGEST ROCK BAND IN WORLD TO RETIRE ON TOP: AC/DC CALLS IT QUITS   January 28 2009

Hot on the heels of their most successful release ever, fifteenth studio album ‘Black Ice’ (Sony), Australian hard rock band AC/DC have decided to end the band after touring in support of what will now be their final record. The band feels strongly that it would be impossible to top the worldwide success of ‘Black Ice’, and would rather wind up their career on a high note. Despite the fact that Black Ice was released exclusively in physical formats, and only through Walmart in North America, ‘Black Ice’ peaked at No. 1 in 29 countries, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. The record shipped 6 million copies worldwide by December. “This is gonna be tough to beat,” says guitarist Angus Young. “You gotta know when to end it, right? This seems like a pretty good time to call it a day, before we embarrass ourselves!.” Expect AC/DC’s farewell tour to wrap up in 2010, after which the band will enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AEROSMITH DISBANDS, CITES INABILITY TO WRITE SONGS WHILE SOBER   September 4th, 1986/Framingham, MA

Boston-based Hard Rock band AEROSMITH have announced they are disbanding. After attending rehabs and declaring themselves 100% sober, the band has discovered they are utterly incapable of writing Aerosmith music. Last year’s mediocre ‘Done With Mirrors’ was written while the band tried to appear sober; writing the next record completely without the aid of illicit substances has yielded disappointing results. Manager Tim Collins and Geffen Records A&R John Kalodner enlisted an army of ‘song doctors’ to help write a follow-up, but the band flatly rejected the idea. “Now that I’m straight all the time, I just don’t feel like a badass anymore. We just aren’t Aerosmith without the drugs”, said guitarist Joe Perry. “It’s been a great ride, but I guess it’s over,” added vocalist Steven Tyler. “We’re clean and sober now, but our mojo ain’t workin’. Consider us all on permanent vacation.”

BULLETIN: DATELINE 6 NOV 1978

KISS ANOUNCES RETIREMENT, FRANCHISE PLANS

Legendary theatrical rock group KISS will retire from writing and performing early next year, inside sources say. The infamous shock rock quartet plan to expand KISS-related activities in other avenues. All four band members have signed on to star in a Saturday morning children’s variety show called ‘The Rockin’ Adventures of KISS!’, which is slated to debut in June of next year on. KISS will also enter the franchise market, with different musicians from across the country donning the costumes and make-up, allowing different versions of KISS to operate in different regions (KISS Vegas, KISS LA, etc). KISS has also signed an agreement with Disney to present nightly KISS concerts using animatronic versions of KISS in both theme park locations. Says Gene Simmons, “While there will be no more KISS records, the brand will continue and expand. Because it’s all about the brand. And the fans, right. The brand and the fans.”

June 12 1984 Hollywood CA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: GUITARIST TONY IOMMI ANNOUNCES NEW GROUP ‘THE END’

Former Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has put together a new band, The End. “Doing my solo album (‘Seventh Star’) was great fun, but I want to get back to a band situation. I’m happy to be working with Geezer again, and excited to see what kind of music comes of it.” Joining Iommi in The End will be former Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan and ex-ELO/Move drummer Bev Bevan. “Geezer and I talked about having Bill Ward in, but we thought the better of it. The record companies would probably try to slap the old Sabbath name on it, and after Ozzy died in that horrible plane incident, there will never be another Black Sabbath record. Besides, Bill’s in rehab.” The new group is planning an album for the spring of next year, tentatively titled ‘Born Again’.

BULLETIN / BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND DEC 18 1985

JUDAS PRIEST ABANDON NEW ALBUM SESSIONS, HALFORD ENTERS REHAB

Judas Priest lead vocalist Rob Halford has entered a rehab in Van Nuys, California to address an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. A spokesman for the singer states that Halford ‘…has taken the steps necessary to get himself together and will return to the band early in the new year.’ This move has halted recording sessions for the follow-up to Priest’s highly successful ‘Defenders of the Faith’ album. The band began recording material for a double album, tentatively titled ‘Twin Turbos’, but bassist Ian Hill says the band will “probably scrap everything and start over when Rob is back.” Hill continued, “We’re going to take this time to reassess where we are right now. There’s a lot of change happening in heavy music right now, and we want to be sure not to get caught up in the current trends or fads or what have you. We have to stay true to ourselves and our fans, and make sure we are honoring what Priest is really all about.”

7 April 1998 Huddersfield, UK / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

STEVE HARRIS REPORTS: IRON MAIDEN GUITARIST SITUATION SORTED

JUST ANNOUNCED: Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers has decided to leave the band. In a statement released today, Gers stated “I had heard that Bruce (Dickinson) was coming back, everybody knew it would happen, but I wasn’t aware that they’d been talking to Adrian (Smith) as well. Maiden’s not a 3-guitar band, it’s a little much, isn’t it? I thought ‘If I step down, then it will be a proper reunion, won’t it?’ I don’t want to be the one standing in the way of that, you know.” Despite the fact that Gers’ tenure in the band included what some would say were Maiden’s weakest records, Harris has nothing but respect for the guitarist. Harris: “Janick feels he is doing the right thing, and we support him 100%. We thank him for the years he gave to Maiden and wish him all the best.” Harris has also dismisses claims that Gers was ‘forced out’ to accommodate Smith “Nonsense. I would have done with 3 guitars, ’cause it was a difficult situation and firing anybody wouldn’t have been right,  but Janick stepped up of his own accord and saved us from having to do that.”  Gers is reportedly planning to re-form White Spirit.

May the 13th, 1996/Via New Musical Express

Ex-Lizzy Man to Honor Mother’s Wishes; Lizzy-Without-Lynott Will Not Happen

American guitarist Scott Gorham wishes it to be known that he no longer intends ‘re-activate’ beloved rock group ‘Thin Lizzy’, as he had stated earlier this year in several music papers. Gorham’s change of heart comes soon after Philomena Lynott, the mother of Thin Lizzy frontman Phillip Lynott, made several public pleas for Gorham and fellow ex-Lizzy member John Sykes to “stop this madness before it starts”, and to “respect my son, who you have called your brother” (see NME March 26). Gorham reportedly met with Mrs. Lynott at her home in Howth some weeks ago, and finally made a public announcement yesterday. “We have all agreed to honor Philomena’s wishes.” said Gorham, during a short press conference on MTv UK. “She actually made us swear to it… We all took a vow and swore to let the legend of Thin Lizzy rest in peace.”

24 January 2010 HANOVER, GERMANY / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SCORPIONS ANNOUNCE 3 FINAL ALBUMS AND 6 FAREWELL TOURS!

German hard rockers SCORPIONS have decided that their upcoming album, titled ‘Sting in the Tail’, will be their last. The band will then launch their final world tour to promote the album and to thank their loyal fans for supporting them for almost 50 years. SCORPIONS will then release another final album, called ‘Comeblack’, and embark on yet another farewell tour. This tour will be filmed for release on DVD, to be entitled ‘Get Your Sting’, and will showcase the SCORPIONS last-ever concert performances. Next up is another DVD, ‘Unplugged in Athens’, filmed on either the fifteenth or sixteenth leg of the band’s last tour ever. SCORPIONS final final album, to be called ‘Return to Forever’, will follow, followed by another string of final farewell world tours. SCORPIONS fans can expect the band to continue breaking up well into 2016, six years after first announcing their retirement.

September 1986, SOUNDS: “What’s Next for Purple People?”

After conquering the hard rock world with their one-off reunion album, ‘Perfect Strangers’, the members of Deep Purple are weighing their options. The first Deep Purple MkII album in 11 years went Top 20 in 9 countries, and has been certified Gold or Platinum in 6 countries, while the US leg of the Perfect Strangers tour was the 2nd highest-grossing tour of 1985. But no one seems to feel much like celebrating. “I have no idea what I’m going to do next, but I have to tell you I’m glad this Purple thing is finally over. Again.” The singer won’t confirm, but rumors of a post-show punch-up between Gillan and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after their final Wembley show are circulating, and none of the other members are talking. Bassist Roger Glover: “Well, all I can say about that is there’s always been sort of a volatile chemistry within this band, and I think we were wise when we all agreed to limit this to one album. Anything more than that and it just wouldn’t work.” Jon Lord agrees. “Of course, I’m very proud of this album. We all are. But let’s leave it be, shall we? Time to move on to other things.”

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT October 31, 1986   Metallica HQ, San Rafael, CA

METALLICA BREAK UP AFTER TRAGIC LOSS OF BASS PLAYER

Following the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton, the remaining members of pioneering thrash metal band Metallica have decided to call it quits. “Cliff is irreplaceable”, said drummer Lars Ulrich. “Trying to do so would be ridiculous. We’re going to what Zeppelin did; just end it. Honestly, we were running out of Dave Mustaine riffs anyway.” The pair plan to break the news to Kirk Hammett “pretty soon”. Ulrich plans to spend his free time learning how to play the drums. Frontman James Hetfield is rumored to be planning an as-yet-untitled 2-part country music concept album, centered around his gun collection. Dave Mustaine could not be reached for comment.

MUSICNEWS.COM: MAY 19 1996

VAN HALEN REVEAL IDENTITY OF NEW LEAD SINGER

The VAN HALEN NEWS DESK (http://www.vhnd.com) announced this morning that storied hard rockers VAN HALEN have hired a new lead singer. Despite rumors of auditioning several ‘big names’ over the past 5 months (Meatloaf, Iggy Pop, Regis Philbin, Elmer Fudd), the VH brothers have instead decided on a virtual unknown with no experience or ability, but with one important qualification: Malcom Van Halen is drummer Alex Van Halen’s son. On hiring his nephew, a professional photographer without any sort of musical track record, Eddie Van Halen remarked, “So what? He’s family. Besides, who cares? Roth sucked last time around and we still sold tickets. No one listens to this band for the vocals. And if Mal doesn’t work out, there’s always my nephew Aric.”

SQUATNEY, LONDON, UK

FOR ALL MEDIA-22/05/2016

HEAVY METAL LEGENDS SPINAL TAP TO RE-REUNITE, TOUR IMMINENT

Veteran British rockers SPINAL TAP have reunited once again. The band will launch a world tour on July 1st, weather permitting. The crowd-funded ‘Where Are We Now?’ tour will feature the band’s ‘smallest production yet’, and each show will include the classic album ‘Shark Sandwich’ (Polymer, 1977) played in its entirety. Select shows ‘may’ ‘perhaps’ ‘possibly’ be recorded for a live album. The band are currently auditioning drummers (interested parties should contact eatonhoggprod@tap.com.uk, must be able to play the drums by July 1). Support on the ‘Where Are We Now?’ tour will be UFO and Blue Oyster Cult. #gofundyourself/taptour

 

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.

598px-Aerosmith_-_Get_Your_Wings

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.

alice_cooper-billion_dollar_babies-frontal

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.

Number One with a Bullet(belt)

If you’re my age, you discovered music on the radio. And, like me, you were probably listening on an AM Top 40 station; in the 1970s, Top 40 radio was almost exclusively found on the AM band. A glance back at the charts from that era reveals a pretty bizarre musical landscape; country music rubbing shoulders with soul and disco, hard funk fraternizing with soft rock, weepy ballads mixing with crunchy hard rock. A little bit of everything could be found on Top 40 radio in the 1970s… And if you were willing, as I was, to listen to 30 minutes of schlock in search of one hard rocking gem, the payoff was worth it.

Placement in the Billboard Top 40 in the 1970s was based on a combination of airplay and sales. Sales were largely driven by airplay; airplay was dictated by what appeared on the charts. Record company manipulation was also a major factor. But however dysfunctional these formulae were, this was the system many of us grew up with, and the way most of us found our music in the 1970s. This was how it was for me, and this is what I found…

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If we limit our look back to only the hardest and heaviest tunes ever to rough up the Top 40, there’s still a surprising number that make the cut. Let’s start with The Birth of Heavy, and Blue Cheer’s epic meltdown ‘Summertime Blues’, which peaked at #14 in 1968. This has got to be the heaviest song ever to feature in the Top 20. Also in ’68, Cream made the Top 10 with ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ (#6), Iron Butterfly hit #30 with ‘In A Gadda Da Vida’, and Mountain climbed to #21 in 1970 with ‘Mississippi Queen’. In 1969, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ made it to #4. Zeppelin continued to appear in the Top 40 into the early years of the 70s; ‘Immigrant Song’/’Hey Hey, What Can I Do’ hit #16 in 1970, ‘Black Dog’ reached #15 in ’71, and ‘Trampled Under Foot’ crept in at #38 in 1975.

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While Black Sabbath never achieved Top 40 status with any of their singles, they were there in spirit. Bloodrock’s ‘D.O.A.’ hit #36; a truly unsettling song (at it’s core, it’s a re-write of Black Sabbath’s ‘Black Sabbath’), ‘D.O.A’.’ was banned from many radio stations due to it’s graphically gory lyrics and dark musicality… which only helped boost its popularity. Alice Cooper hit #7 with ‘School’s Out’, another song that radio stations banned. With its subversive lyric, including a line about blowing up a school, it’s doubtful that this song would even be recorded today. The Edgar Winter Group’s monster instrumental ‘Frankenstein’ topped the charts (that’s #1, kids) in 1972. Blue Oyster Cult’s 1976 masterpiece ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ (#12) may not qualify as ‘heavy’, but its epic middle section and morbid lyrics certainly do; the song caused a minor uproar when it was (correctly?) labeled a ‘pro-suicide anthem’. This was seriously heavy stuff, kids, and it was also considered pop music.

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Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’ was only ever released as a single in the ‘double-A-side’ format, with the live version from ‘Made in Japan’ on the A-side and the studio version from the previous year’s ‘Machine Head’ on the B. Released in May of 1973, it climbed to #4; radio stations played both sides. Also in ’73, Rick Derringer’s kick-ass ‘Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo’ placed at #23, and Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’ reached #5; Sweet would hit again in 1975 with ‘Fox on the Run’ (#5) and ‘Action’ (#20). Alice came back in ’73 with three Top 40 placings from the ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ album: ‘Elected’ (#26), ‘Hello, Hurray’ (#35) and ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ (#25), before a bizarre run of four consecutive Top 40 ballads. Not bizarre because the ballads were bad; bizarre because … he was Alice Cooper. And these were ballads.

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Aerosmith were a dominant presence in the Top 40 for a few years, but didn’t exactly play fair… ‘Dream On’ originally peaked at #59 in 1973, but after the success of the ‘Sweet Emotion’ single (#36), Columbia re-released ‘Dream On’ again in 1976, and the song hit #6. ‘Walk This Way’ has a similar history: when originally released in 1975, the single didn’t even chart. In 1976, it was re-released in between the ‘Last Child’ (#21) and ‘Back in the Saddle’ (#38) singles, and this time ‘Walk This Way’ would hit #10. Aerosmith’s last visit to the Top 40 in the 70’s would be with their cover of the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ (#23) in 1978, from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie soundtrack. Aerosmith would re-appear as chart darlings a decade later, but as a drastically different kind of band (sob).

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The Hottest Band in the Land paid frequent visits to the Top 40. Kiss hit #12 in 1975 with the ‘Alive!’ version of ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’, with ‘Shout it Out Loud’ (#31) in ’76, and with ‘Calling Dr. Love’ (#16) and ‘Christine Sixteen’ (#25) in 1977. Two other Kiss singles charted just as high or higher; one was a ballad produced by Bob Ezrin (it worked for Alice). Neither single rocked, so they will not be acknowledged here. For about two years, Foghat were huge; ‘Slow Ride’ (#20), ‘Drivin’ Wheel’ (#34), and the live version of ‘I Just Want To Make Love to You’ (#33) were all over the radio. Heart showed up big with ‘Crazy on You’ (#35) and ‘Magic Man’ (#9) in ’76, and the absolutely awesome ‘Barracuda’ (#11), another solid candidate for the heaviest Top 20 song evah, a year later. Just goes to show: you can’t judge a 45 by its picture sleeve.

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I’ll round out our research here with a few more notable one-offs: The manic flute freak-out of ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus reached #9 in 1973, BTO’s ‘Let it Ride’ got to #12 in, and ZZ Top’s ‘Tush’ reached #20 in 1975. In 1976, Thin Lizzy broke big with ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ (#12), and Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ topped out at #9. In 1977, Ted Nugent returned to the Top 40 (The Amboy Dukes’ ‘Journey to the Center of Your Mind’ hit #16 in 1968) with ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ (#30), and Ram Jam’s recording of the blues tune ‘Black Betty’ caused the NAACP to call for a national boycott. ‘Black Betty’ hit #17, which seems to indicate that the boycott failed…

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It sounds improbable today, but in the 1970s, the place to go to for hard rock and heavy metal was Top 40 radio. In 1978, the Top 40 format began migrating to the FM dial, where singles mingled with album cuts, diluting the power of the ‘Hit Single’. As touring became big business, the hard and heavy bands began working the road the way they had previously worked radio. It was the end of the era when the Top 40 ruled the AM airwaves.

…Until today. The Top 40 format rules the airwaves once again, although these days it seems as though there are only 5 or 6 songs ever aired on the radio, played over and over and over. Today, there is ZERO rock music on Top 40 radio. Kids are finding their rock and metal music on the internet, acquiring it for free, and deleting it when they tire of it. To a child of the 70s sitting on his bed, staring at his battery-powered radio, waiting for the DJ to play ‘Carry on Wayward Son’ (Kansas, #11/’77) again, the music culture of today would seem like pure science fiction.

(Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything; everything that appears here is based on my (subjective) opinion of what constitutes hard rock and heavy metal during this era. Besides the omissions specifically mentioned in the article, some Top 40 singles by Jethro Tull, Queen and Nazareth were left out because imho, they just didn’t ROCK to a sufficient degree.)

 

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

As the hard rocking 1970’s drew to a close, American bands ruled. Aerosmith and Kiss were all over the radio; Blue Oyster Cult and Ted Nugent were routinely selling out enormo-domes across the country, and relative newbies Boston and Cheap Trick broke in a big way. Readers of the popular rock rags of the day couldn’t escape pictures of Gene Simmons’ tongue or The Nuge’s loincloth. Soft rock hits by Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles rubbed shoulders with Ram Jam’s ‘Black Betty’ in the Top 40.

With this kind of massive success, U.S. record companies did what record companies always do: milked it to death. Labels signed up anything that rocked, plucking average bar bands from relative obscurity, packaging them as arena rockers, and marketing them as the next big thing. The Machine wanted what Creem magazine referred to as ‘AeroKiss’; and that’s exactly how these bands were marketed to young buyers. While most of these bands would never have gotten a shot at the big leagues without allowing themselves to be molded into the styles and shapes of the bigger bands of the era, this ‘devil’s bargain’ denied them the possibility of ever making it on their own merits. This dynamic made for an interesting bunch of bands; here are a few of my favorite examples…

Starz

New Jersey’s Starz evolved from the remnants of pop band Looking Glass, who had a #1 hit with ‘Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)’ in 1972, and Stories, who also hit #1 with ‘Brother Louie’ in ’73. The unofficial ‘5th member’ of Kiss, Sean Delaney, recommended Starz to Kiss’, manager Bill Aucoin, who secured the band a deal with Capitol Records. In order to make sure this new band sounded nothing like Stories or Looking Glass, Aucoin secured legendary hard rock producer Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, the Runaways) to toughen up their overall sound. Aucoin, always image-conscious, had a killer logo designed, tweaked their look (lead singer Michael Lee Smith, brother of Rex Smith, had the frontman appeal of Paul Stanley… and the lips of Steven Tyler) and the transformation into AeroKiss was complete.

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The debut album by Starz is a decent enough arena rock debut; a little clunky here and there in the songwriting department (Delaney gets a co-writing credit), but weren’t the debuts from Aerosmith and Kiss, as well? Second record ‘Violation’ is widely considered their best. Two songs from ‘Violation’ got a decent amount of radio play; check out ‘Sing It, Shout It’ and ‘Cherry Baby’ and see if they don’t sound familiar. The third record, ‘Attention Shoppers!’ suffers from the absence of Jack Douglas in the producer’s chair, and trades hard rock muscle for power pop bounce. After a line-up shift, 1978’s ‘Coliseum Rock’ returned Starz to a hard rock sound. It’s a solid, confident record, and the single ‘So Young, So Bad’, returned the band to rock radio. Unfortunately, ‘SY,SB’ sounded so much like Kiss that it confirmed this band was never going to make it past the ‘AeroKiss’ jokes. They split in 1979 after being dropped by Capitol.

Angel

Angel’s origin story doesn’t include any #1 hits, and can be traced back to a band working the bars on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. BUX included guitarist Edwin Lionel Meadows (soon to be immortalized as ‘Punky’) and bassist Mickey Jones, as well as singer Ralph Mormon. BUX were managed by Frank Connolly, who was also managing Aerosmith at the time; Connolly managed to secure the band a deal with Capitol Records. The band recorded their debut in 1973, but the label shelved it after the band split, with Meadows and Jones decamping to DC and forming Angel. The BUX album was finally released in 1976 to capitalize on Angel’s second album buzz. Mormon moved to Boston and eventually became the frontman for the Joe Perry Project (you know, Joe Perry of Aerosmith?).

As the story goes, none other than Gene Simmons saw Angel play in a nightclub in DC, and quicker then you can say ‘Bat-Lizard’, the band were signed to Casablanca. Angel’s 1975 debut is devoid of the usual Casablanca gimmickry (that would come later) and is an amazingly strong debut. If these guys had been left alone to sound and look as they saw fit, their music would have been taken a lot more seriously. Alas, Casablanca being Casablanca, Angel were transformed into shtick for the artwork for their second album ‘Helluva Band’. Again, the visuals took over: another nifty (ambigrammatic!) logo was designed, ridiculous outfits and spectacular stage show were conceived, and Angel became too much of a joke for their music to be taken seriously.

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‘Helluva Band’ is a GREAT album, and deserves to be appreciated without all of the Casablanca-bullshit attached. Combine Styx’s ‘Equinox’ with Rainbow’s ‘Rising’ and you’ll get a close approximation. But it’s a lot more fun than either of those two records, and so ‘HB’ deserves its status as a cult classic. Third record ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’ rocks as well, and contains some of the band’s strongest material (including an old BUX tune, ‘White Lightning’). Sure, there’s a Queen rip here, a Boston steal there… but it’s still a great record. ‘White Hot’ followed in 1978 and earned the band some airplay, most notably via ‘The Winter Song’, which hit #44 on the Billboard Hot 100. A Christma-tized version of the song was released, as ‘The Christmas Song’, but strangely enough, that one never got any play. ‘White Hot’ is good fun, an adventurous hard rock record with a overall commercial feel. Things were looking good for the ‘Anti-Kiss’…

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… Until their fifth and final studio album, ‘Sinful’. Originally titled ‘Bad Publicity’, the album art was to depict the band in street clothes, partying with some hot babes in a wrecked hotel room while members of the press observe (a few promos did sneak out with this title and cover art). This cover concept was scotched at the final minute, and the record was re-titled ‘Sinful’. The cover art was changed to something much less ‘dangerous’: a soft-focus black and white shot of the band in full angel regalia. The music itself was decidedly more commercial than on Angel’s previous releases, with each song sounding like a stab at pop rock radio. Coming packaged in what looked like a magazine add for hi-end shampoo, the relative ‘wimpiness’ of the record was magnified. For fans of the band’s earlier music, their credibility was now all but gone. A waste-of-time double live album followed, but a disco single (‘Twentieth Century Foxes’, featured in the 1980 movie ‘Foxes’) sealed the deal.

The Godz

Midwestern biker band The Godz were no better/no worse than a thousand other bar bands in America in 1977, but someone in the Kiss organization saw God knows what, and booked them as the opening act for Midwestern leg of Kiss’ Love Gun Tour. Soon after, they were signed to Casablanca Records and a debut record followed in 1978. Truth be told, The Godz were a pretty terrible band, possessed of exactly ONE great song, ‘Gotta Keep A Running’. The Casablanca marketing machine, well known for pushing style over substance, played up the tough guy biker image but forgot that people would eventually listen to the records.

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‘The Godz’, produced by Grand Funk Railroad’s Don Brewer, is the sound of a band that doesn’t get it’s own joke. It’s truly dumb record, with dumb songs, dumb lyrics , and a (dumb) 11-minute cover of Golden Earring’s ‘Candy’s Going Bad’. Somehow this record has gained some sort of cult stature; I’m a huge fan of the aforementioned ‘Gotta Keep A Running’, but after that, there is absolutely nothing on this record that I can recommend. Second album ‘Nothing’s Sacred’ rips off its cover art from Judas Priest, playfully mis-spells almost every word in its song titles a ‘la Slade, and somehow manages to be even more dumberer than the debut.

The Aerosmith/Kiss connections are inescapable. It’s as if the monster success of these two bands created opportunities for anyone even peripherally connected to them. It’s also apparent that the Kiss mafia had its fingers in a lot of pies. Hey, those two arena champs needed opening acts, so why not just make them to order? Unfortunately, some decent bands got caught between the gears in the process, with a few brief brushes with greatness their only reward. I love all of these records dearly (yes, even the two by the Godz), due to the both quality of the music and the undeniable cheese factor. Nothing wrong with a little American cheese in your musical diet.

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Revenge of the Black Sheep, Pt II: AeroHead

Motorhead and melody were never the best of friends. But destiny would bring them together, in May of 1982…

After ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke left Motorhead only 2 shows in to the band’s 1982 North American tour, Lemmy and Phil needed another guitarist fast. Legend has it that Steve Kudlow (a.k.a. Lips) of Anvil was asked, but declined. If I were close to the band, I would have recommended Ace Frehley, who was still a de facto member of Kiss but hadn’t recorded anything with them since 1981. But I’m not, so I didn’t. I still think that woulda been awesome, but anyway… Enter former Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian ‘Robbo’ Robertson. An inspired choice, but the boys were desperate and probably didn’t have many options. Robertson was one half of one of the most acclaimed twin guitar teams in all of rock, AND he had a colorful nickname. Just nine days after Clarke’s departure, the Motorhead machine was rolling again.
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Problems with Robertson became apparent during the completion of the Iron Fist tour, mostly related to his appearance, but also manifesting itself in his unwillingness to learn set list staples like ‘Overkill’, ‘Bomber’, ‘Stay Clean’, etc. Nonetheless, after completing the ‘Iron Fist’ dates and returning to the UK, Lem Phil and Robbo entered the studio together as the New and Improved Motorhead. To many, the addition of Robbo to The Loudest Band in the World looked great on paper; how would it translate onto vinyl? How would Robertson’s skill, musicality and flair jibe with the vicious who-needs-guitars-anyway Kilmister/Taylor rhythm section? Would it work at all? On June 4th, 1983, those questions were answered with the release of Motorhead’s seventh studio album.
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How you interpret APD depends on your point of view on Motorhead in general. If you’re the type of Motor-fan who likes to be beaten about the face and neck with your Motor-music, then you were probably startled by the new additions to the standard Motorhead sound: Subtlety, Dynamics, and *gulp* Melody. The LP’s comic strip insert features a panel depicting Phil asking Lemmy, “He’s a bit musical, isn’t he?” That word balloon sums up APD’s strengths and/or weaknesses, depending which side of the fence you’re on. As far as the new boy’s contributions, ‘Overkill’ is the word that comes to mind. Robertson plays like the legend he is throughout, but the quantity of his guitar playing on APD at least matches, if not surpasses, the quality. And the very first sign that we’re not motorcycling through Kansas anymore comes courtesy of Robbo: the guitar synthesizer featured on album opener ‘Back at the Funny Farm’. Motorhead using synthesizers was akin to a vegetarian ordering a Double Quarter Pounder (w/cheese). The gently picked guitar intros to ‘Dancing on your Grave’ and the album’s title track probably didn’t sit well with many Motorheadbangers, and the boogie-woogie piano on ‘Rockit’ probably raised a few eyebrows as well.

Many were concerned by the album’s first single, the melodic ‘I Got Mine’, which could accurately be described as a ballad (at least lyrically); remove the gnarly vocals and this tune could belong to any number of early 80’s hard rock bands. And couplets like “Come on lover/Go Back to start/I got your picture in my heart” were a far cry from “I’m in your life/I might be in your wife” of “You know you make me vomit/And I ain’t far from it” from a few years earlier. . ‘I Got Mine’ serves as a perfect example of the clash of stylistic approaches on ‘Another Perfect Day’: delicate chorused guitar riff meets savage drums and brutal mid-bass gouging; beauty meets the beast, head on… does it work? Ya, it does, though the song is a bit over-long. But for those who may have been scared away by the record’s first single, the second one, ‘Shine,’ was much more convincing, with it’s double-speed ZZ Top groove, killer guitaring and I’m so badass lyric.
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For some, all of this was too much to take. Fans and critics alike were shouting ‘sell out!’, and throwing the C word around: ‘Commercial’. Yes, it was true; the new Motorhead album was more accessible than anything before it, but any record that starts with ‘Back at the Funny Farm’ and ends with ‘Die You Bastard!’ could hardly be called a sell-out. Frankly, after the lifeless dud known as ‘Iron Fist’, Motorhead needed something… and love it or hate it, Robertson brought something new to the party. But for many, APD was a step too far from the mean and dirty (sloppy?), amphetamine-fueled (fast!) days of yore. I for one welcomed the expansion of Motorhead’s sound, and rate this record in their top 10, although I will admit to being worried at the time by what might come next… But those worries proved unwarranted, as Robbo was ‘fired’ by Lemmy after touring for ‘Another Perfect Day’ was completed. Black Sheep status assured. This is the Motorhead album for people who don’t like Motorhead; a handy way to separate the casual listener from the diehard lifer. But more importantly, ‘APD’ should be recognized as the first indication of how flexible Motorhead’s music, often derided as one dimensional, really is. If you wrote off ‘Another Perfect Day’ as ‘too melodic’ or a ‘sell out’, go back and give it another try. And it it’s your favorite Motorhead album, grow a set and check out ‘Ace of Spades’ or ‘Bastards’.

Less than three months after the release of ‘Another Perfect Day’, Aerosmith released their seventh studio album, aptly titled ‘Rock in a Hard Place’. It took Aerosmith three years to complete a follow-up to their previous album, the half-assed ‘Night in the Ruts’; Joe Perry left before that album was finished, and the chaotic, drug-addled circus the band had become was too busy killing itself to get its shit together and work on a record. Sessions for ‘Hard Place’ limped along for over a year, eventually leading to the departure of Brad Whitford, who, after all that studio time ($1.5 million dollars worth), had only recorded guitars for one song. It kinda sounded like the end for A-smith. But the Bad Boys From Boston pulled it off, and released the one-and-only Aerosmith album without Joe Perry and Brad Whitford’s involvement.
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‘Rock in a Hard Place’ fell on largely apathetic ears. Much had changed during Aerosmith’s three almost-permanent vacation (Hello, Van Halen!). The 70’s had turned into the 80’s, and Hard Rock fans were getting into Even Harder Rock. The conspicuous absence of the names “Perry” and ‘Whitford’ on the record ensured that even many old-school fans wrote the album off. The dwindling ranks of the Aero-faithful supported the album, which peaked at #32, making it Aerosmith’s lowest-charting record since their sophomore album ‘Get Your Wings’. The disastrous tour that followed, which was riddled with on-stage collapses, cancelled shows, and low ticket sales, did nothing to help the record’s profile (See: Deep Purple’s ‘Come Taste the Band’). I didn’t buy it, and I ignored it completely for 32 years; in fact, I’d never heard it start to finish until I started working on these ‘Black Sheep’ posts.

So: Three decades later, what do we have here? Simply stated, ‘Rock in a Hard Place’ is a better album than both ‘Night in the Ruts’ and ‘Done With Mirrors’. Yes. It’s also a better Aerosmith album than both. How can this be? How can an Aerosmith album without Whitford & Perry’s songwriting or playing be more Aerosmith-y than the album that preceded it and the one that followed it? Chemistry, my friends, chemistry… and I ain’t talkin’ about drugs. Most of the writing credits read ‘Tyler/Crespo’, and somehow the pair managed to conjure up more of the old A-smith magic than the Toxic Twins had been able to for several years. The rhythm section of Kramer and Hamilton anchors the record firmly in classic Aerosmith’s blues/rock/R&B wheelhouse, and Crespo plays with the same laid-back-but-red-hot vibe as Perry. And Tyler is Tyler, which is an impressive feat for someone so firmly in the clutches of a heroin addiction. Perry & Whitford eventually returned, and ‘Done with Mirrors’ showed encouraging signs of life, but this band would never again produce an album with the patented nasty-ass swagger of classic Aerosmith after ‘Rock in a Hard Place’.
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In his book, Joey Kramer unfairly dismisses RiaHP as “not a real Aerosmith record because it’s just me, Steven, and Tom — with a fill-in guitar player…. It’s Jimmy Crespo doing the guitar work.” I disagree with Mr. Kramer. ‘Rock in a Hard Place’ is a Real Aerosmith Album, no matter who’s on it. Or who’s not on it. It ain’t ‘Rocks’, or ‘Toys’, but it could rightfully be considered the last album of Aerosmith’s classic era. It could also be considered the first album of Aerosmith’s post-classic era. Or, in true Black Sheep style, it could belong to neither era. And like all Black Sheep records, it could use a little love. Revisit this album, pronto.

How Can We Miss You if you Won’t Go Away?

Have you ever found yourself wishing Black Sabbath broke up after ‘Never Say Die’? ‘Live Evil’, maybe? Daydreamed of a world in which ‘Music from the Edler’ never happened? If time travel were possible, I know the first two things I would use it for would be to a) kill baby Hitler and b) prevent ELP from recording ‘Love Beach’. My point is that some bands just oughtta have expiration dates. Didn’t someone once sing ‘Hope I die before I get old’? And didn’t he mean that shit?

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We can blame the Rolling Stones, I guess, for continuing to record and perform into their 70’s and showing rock n rollers everywhere that if you can still deliver the goods, and if you’ve still got something valid to say, then there’s no reason to stop. But those are two pretty big ‘ifs’.

This is not ageism. It’s not about how old you are but rather about the quality of your product; the consistency of your brand. I don’t begrudge these bands making a living, or extending their careers as long as physically possible, as long as a market exists for their music. But all of these so-called ‘Legacy bands’ face the same problem, if they are around long enough: they find themselves competing with their glory years. Clearly this gets harder as the band gets older, and usually quality suffers. Are UFO ever going to make another ‘Lights Out’? Doubtful, but they soldier on, age and line-up changes be damned, releasing solid records that still carry forward a semblance of the ‘classic’ UFO sound. But purists like me will always compare anything they do to their heyday output. And they just don’t measure up. But all due props to Mogg and whoever’s in his band this week; more power to ‘em.

Line-up changes, in-house acrimony, contract disputes, drug battles, publicized lawsuits, and even original member ratios are other indications that a band may have exceeded it’s expiration date. And nowadays it’s played out for all to see over the internet. Witness the recent public disintegration of Queensryche, in which years of dirty laundry were aired out online for all their fans to see. It was ugly. Every court document, every testimony transcript and legal brief accompanying that drama was available within hours on Blabbermouth. I’m sure this type of thing has occurred hundreds of times over the years but before the advent of the internet, we never knew about it. We were better off. Van Halen were finally able to get to the point of releasing a pretty decent album, ‘A Different Kind of Truth’, after years of very public mud-slinging, trash talking, back stabbing and even Gary Cherone. It’s hard to listen to anything after ‘1984’ after reading Sammy Hagar’s bio, though. Although honestly, it was hard to listen to that stuff before that too.

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Clearly if bands hang on long enough, sooner or later the members will begin suing each other. Cheap Trick are in the midst of an in-house legal battle; lawsuits and counter-suits are circulating between band members who have been playing together since high school. Pretty sad. Their post-major label records have been of very high quality, and their live show just seemed to get better and better over the years; now this. CT are currently touring with guitarist Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx on drums while the lawsuits simmer. To their credit, neither side has let loose online, and have remained pretty classy about the whole thing. Speaking of classy, Aerosmith had to sue Steven Tyler to get him into the studio and get their most recent record done. How UN-rock n roll is that? Of course the record wasn’t very rock n roll either, despite the year-long hype campaign that insisted that A-smith were working with Jack Douglas (‘Toys’, ‘Rocks’) and getting back to the ‘old school Aerosmith’ vibe. Promises, promises. Even the band members themselves have recently referred to ‘Music From Another Dimension’ as having ‘missed the mark’. Someone tell Aerosmith that if you have to sue a member of your band to get him motivated to work on a record, your band is no longer a band; it’s time to start gardening. News Flash: Corporate board members, business advisors and their legal counsel just don’t make great rock records. Duh.

Okay, so, if you’re not going to break up, maybe a name change is in order? That would have worked for Sabbath; also for Deep Purple more than once. That said, Purple’s latest, called ‘Now What?!’ is among their very best, and does the name ‘Deep Purple’ proud while validating their hanging in there for 45 years. I also salute Scott Gorham for finally coming to his senses (probably received one too many death threats) and changing the name of his downright sacrilegious version of Thin Lizzy to Black Star Riders (an ironically fitting and therefore unfortunate name) just before releasing a record. And then there’s poor old Tony and Geezer, who had to stop calling their band Black Sabbath because Ozzy wasn’t a member, and change the name of the band to Heaven and Hell while they continued touring and recording with Ronnie Dio. As much as I despise puppet master Sharon Osbourne, and love the Dio-era Sabbath albums, I felt good about that name change, and, as alluded to earlier in this post, feel like they should have done it sooner. ‘Cause it’s really not Black Sabbath without Ozzy. Or Bill Ward. D’oh!

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So when a ‘legacy’ band finally does decide to retire, just how long does it take to say ‘Farewell’? Scorpions announced their retirement in March of 2010, and are still on tour today; their ‘farewell tour’ is now stretching past the 4 year mark, with no end in sight. At time of writing they have dates scheduled through March of this year. They’ve released 3 albums since their announcement; none of which are compilations or best-ofs. Goodbye, already! Judas Priest made the same announcement in December of 2010, and played shows right through 2012, though guitarist KK Downing decided to skip the farewell nonsense, indicating that he felt the band was becoming a nostalgia act. A DVD was culled from the tour, ironically titled ‘Epitaph’; ironic because the band refuses to die, and in fact are currently booked to appear at Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp (whatever that is) in Las Vegas this February and March. Priest in Vegas? KK was right. A new JP album will appear in 2014… No one cared about their last handful of records; expect more not-caring later this year.

Kiss has put the ultimate plan in place: Cloning. When you lose members, replace them with younger versions. They did it with Ace and Peter, and I promise you Gene and Paul will do it for themselves too, when they can no longer walk in those platform boots without a cane.

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Looks like only Led Zeppelin got it right. But there are a few notable cases of bands keeping it together for the long haul: Thank you, Rush, for hanging in long enough to be around when the rest of the world finally caught up to you, and doing so with your sound, your chops, and your roster intact. Thank you Motorhead, and thank you AC/DC, for showing us how a metal band can grow old gracefully, stay consistent, and command the respect and appreciation of millions in the process. Both bands have weathered major line-up changes, decades of significant trends in popular music, and monumental changes in the music business, all the while retaining their character, their sound and their integrity. We may have just enjoyed the final Motorhead album in ‘Aftershock’, while AC/DC are apparently working towards another record/touring cycle, but it can’t go on forever… that kid in the schoolboy outfit is 59 years old…

It’s almost over, folks; the era of our 70’s hard rock heroes is fading, and there’s no one, I mean NO ONE waiting in the wings to carry the flame forward. Two guys dressed as robots won 5 Grammys this year. That’s the future, folks.

By the way, the guy who wrote ‘Hope I die before I get old’ performed with his band the Who during the closing ceremonies at the 2012 Winter Olympics in London, at age 67.

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