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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Volume 50: The End is Nigh!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Birch: Engineering History

I’ve got books on my shelves about Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, Rush, and Judas Priest. About The Ramones, Blue Oyster Cult, and Cheap Trick. Books about classic albums like Led Zeppelin IV, ‘Master of Reality’, and ‘Deep Purple In Rock’. I have bios written by Gillan, Iommi and Lemmy. One each by Steven Tyler and by Joe Perry. By all 4 members of KISS. The rock books in my personal library range from trashy tell-alls to insightful and historically accurate journalism. The career arcs of my heroes and critical analysis of their works is something I study with great interest. The one book I don’t have, and the book I am most anxious to read, is one that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been written yet.

Martin Birch: Write your bloody book already.

The name ‘Martin Birch’ appears on several of the most important hard rock/heavy metal albums of all time. At the end of this post, I’ve included a list of just some of Birch’s production credits. This gentleman has produced/engineered/mixed the soundtracks to our youths He has worked with many of our musical heroes for extensive periods of time; he could probably fill a book with his experiences with Deep Purple alone (seven studio albums), and make his work with Iron Maiden (eight) his Volume II… And still not even scratch the surface of his experience.

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You know he’s got stories to tell. Working with Ritchie Blackmore in the studio on a whopping 10 records… Witnessing the sad disintegration of legends like Bill Ward, Tommy Bolin, and Michael Schenker… And being present at the creation of new legends like Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie Dio. Dude was hand-picked to rebuild the stature of a born again Black Sabbath, and of a floundering Blue Oyster Cult. This guy was the first to record the harmonizing guitars of Wishbone Ash’s Andy Powell and Ted Turner, and the first to capture the harmonizing voices of Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale. Birch was behind the board in Munich as Ritchie Blackmore’s solo single became a solo album, and helmed the Rolling Stones’ mobile studio outside Festival Hall in Osaka, Japan in August of 1972… not just witnessing history being made, but recording it… And not merely recording history, but taking part in it; shaping it.

Birch was often credited as producer/engineer as well as for mixing, meaning he was solely responsible for the overall sound of his projects. This often meant getting workable performances from drug addicts, volatile personalities, and in some cases, people with very little talent. In other cases, it meant recording under extremely difficult circumstances, including sessions held in a barn in Steve Harris’ backyard (No Prayer for the Dying’), and in the freezing cold hallways of empty hotel in Switzerland (‘Machine Head’). Ya, this guy’s got stories.

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And nicknames! Birch appears in album/single credits with various band-bestowed nicknames sandwiched between his first and last names, such as Black Night, Sir Larry, Basher, Big Ears, Court Jester, Doc, The Farmer, The Wasp, Headmaster, Jah, Live Animal, Masa, Mummy’s Curse, Plan B, Pool Bully, The Bishop, The Juggler, The Ninja, and my two favorites: Martin ‘Phantom of the Jolly Cricketers’ Birch, as he’s credited on the Iron Maiden Single ‘Run to the Hills’ (Live)/’Phantom of the Opera’ (Live), and Martin ‘Disappearing Armchair’ Birch, as credited on Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ lp. Note: This is not a complete list. A guy with this many nicknames has some great life experiences to share.

But what is it about this man that put him in the same room with these musicians time and again? What does he bring to the table that sets him apart from his peers? I would love to read his own take on why he was the go-to guy for so many iconic bands. Clearly the man has an excellent set of ears, but also must possess an extraordinary talent for inspiring and motivating artistic people. Deep Purple MkII dedicated a song to him on ‘Deep Purple In Rock’ (‘Hard Lovin’ Man’) and called him ‘a catalyst’ in the liner notes; high praise coming from one of the more creative and progressive heavy bands of the era. There is a compelling, historically significant story here: how one man helped mold and shape an entire genre for more than 2 decades.

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Is there a ‘Martin Birch Sound’? Birch’s productions do all share a similar overall ‘presence’; it’s all about sonic space, and balance within that space; much of it happens in the mix, and (as you’re noticing as you read this), it’s very difficult to describe. To my own ears, Birch creates a space where every instrument can clearly be heard perfectly, and where every element has exactly the ‘right’ shape and presence in the mix, and works together to create an almost solid, 3-dimensional sound. I would suggest Rainbow’s ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’, Iron Maiden’s ‘Piece of Mind’, and Black Sabbath’s ‘Heaven and Hell’ as prime examples of what a Martin Birch production/mix sounds like. Three very different bands with three vastly different sounds; one consistent sonic presentation.

After Whitesnake’s ‘Slide it In’ in 1984, Birch was commandeered to work exclusively for Iron Maiden. Some have called him Iron Maiden’s ‘Fifth Member’. Wouldn’t Eddie be the fifth? That would make Birch the sixth member, unless you acknowledge Janick Gers, which I don’t… But I digress. Martin Birch retired permanently in 1992, after his umpteenth album with Maiden, ‘Fear of the Dark’. Drastic changes in recording technology led to subtle changes in Martin Birch’s signature presentation, evident in Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son…’ and ‘Somewhere in Time’ albums, and perhaps Birch knew that his era was drawing to a close. He was a mere 42 years old when he walked away from the business; today, he’s a bit past his mid-60’s… Mr. Birch, we suggest you add ‘The Author’ to your impressive collection of nicknames.

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Deep Purple: Deep Purple In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head, Made in Japan, Who Do we Think we Are?, Burn, Stormbringer, Made in Europe, Come Taste the Band, Last Concert in Japan

Black Sabbath: Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules

Rainbow: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Rising, On Stage, Long Live Rock and Roll

Whitesnake: Lovehunter, Ready an’ Willing, Live in the Heart of the City, Come an’ Get it, Saints an’ Sinners, Slide it In

Blue Oyster Cult: Cultosaurus Erectus, Fire of Unknown Origin

Michael Schenker Group: Assault Attack

Iron Maiden: Killers, The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, etc etc etc.

Wishbone Ash: Wishbone Ash, Pilgrimage, Argus

 

Secret Mutations: Bue Oyster Cult Decoded

It’s 1967. Some students attending Stony Brook University on Long Island have just formed a band. Kind of. ‘Soft White Underbelly’ was more of a collective than a band, really; their ‘manager’, a former Student President at Stony Brook U., was a poet, and had arranged for a bunch of dudes to write music for a series of poems he had written. Turns out this guy was also an underground rock critic at Crawdaddy! magazine, and had also invited a buddy of his from Crawdaddy! to contribute lyrics for this Underbelly thing.

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The players gelled and became a pretty decent band. Despite hailing from the East Coast, Soft White Underbelly had a distinctly West Coast sound; very San Francisco, man. Their lyrics were… interesting. Cryptic, arty, and as literate as they were tripped-out. In ’68, their manager, through connections made at Crawdaddy!, got the band a deal with Elektra records. An album was recorded. And shelved when the lead singer quit.

Underbelly’s tour manager was originally local sound engineer who rented out his P.A. system through a local music store. While working with Underbelly, he lived in the house with the rest of the collective, and when the band’s singer walked, the group’s tour manager became their new lead vocalist. The new line-up of the band scored a show at the Fillmore East, but the set was so badly received that the manager panicked and decided to change the band’s name. ‘Oaxaca’ was born.

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Underground music journo connections paid off again, and the band, under the new-new moniker of ‘The Stalk-Forrest Group’, scored a development deal with Elektra, and recorded an album’s worth of material. Again. And, again, an album never materialized; only 300 copies of a promo-only single, “What is Quicksand?” / “Arthur Comics”, was accidentally released to radio. What the hell did a band have to do to catch a break?

Turns out a break was right around the corner. New York recording engineer and jingle writer David Lucas (‘Reach out and touch Someone’, ‘Catch That Pepsi Spirit’… those are his) saw the group perform in the city and offered to record a demo. The demo made its way to CBS Records, where an exec told the band’s manager, ‘What we’re really looking for is our own Black Sabbath. If you guys can do that, I can get you a deal.’ Sabbath did not have the support of Top 40 Radio or the mainstream music press; in fact, the critics HATED them, but were somehow selling millions of albums. CBS wanted one of those, thank you very much.

Stalk-Forrest’s management called a meeting. A monumental decision loomed. Could they pull this off? Did they even want to try? Could five college educated intellectuals from New York, with the aid of their rock critic/poet/lyricist/manager, transform themselves into the ‘American Black Sabbath’? Two chances had come and gone already; how many more chances would they get? The bass player balked and quit; the drummer’s brother quickly replaced him. The Underbelly-Stalk-Oaxaca collective finally answered CBS with a Yes. But first, another name change was in order.

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Blue Oyster Cult would never sound anything like Black Sabbath. It simply wasn’t in their DNA. The band did, however, ‘darken’ their mysterious lyrics and heavy-up their sound as much as they could. Still sounding more like the Jefferson Airplane than Black Sabbath by the time of their debut album in 1972, the band did what it could to ape the Sab’s ominous musical oeuvre. Drummer Al Bouchard even stole the riff from Sabbath’s ‘The Wizard’ and wrote ‘Cities on Flame (With Rock and Roll)’ around it, creating a pretty convincing slab of heavy metal in the process… but it’s really the only song on the record that sounded like the work of a proper heavy metal band. Overall, the debut contained little of the excess and heavy-handedness that critics loved to hate about early 70’s heavy metal, and therefore was quite well-reviewed. BOC were walking a fine line, trying to have it both ways… but it was working. The transformation had begun.

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The ‘look’ of the band changed drastically, too, morphing from West Coast hippie jam band to East Coast biker badass; their album covers featured stark, labyrinthine structures and foreboding, otherworldly landscapes. Advertising campaigns were purposefully slanted towards the dark side (one of the ads for the ’72 debut featured the blurb “Parents and priests warned us of the dangers…”, another read “A panorama of violence and suffering on Columbia Records and Tapes”). They even added an umlaut to their logo for that extra hint of menace (sorry, Motorhead fans, BOC did it first). The infamous hooked cross logo was a play on the alchemical symbol for lead, which, in the parlance of chemistry and the elements, is a ‘heavy metal’.

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By their fourth album, 1974’s live ‘On Your Feet or On Your Knees’, BOC had firmly established themselves as ‘the thinking man’s heavy metal band’ and ‘Heavy Metal for people who hate heavy metal.’ ‘On Your Feet’ hit #22 in the US and went gold the year it was released. BOC continued to play both sides of the fence on 1976’s ‘Agents of Fortune’, which would break the band wide open with the huge worldwide hit single ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ and sudden multi-Platinum success. Now assisted by lyrics from several writers from outside the band, like Patti Smith, sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock, Jim Carroll, rock critic Richard Meltzer, manager Sandy Pearlman’s overriding Imaginos ‘concept’ (essentially, the occult origins of World War II) had blossomed and fed into the band’s overall mystique, an intricately constructed façade that was both credible and marketable. The ruse had worked. The Blue Oyster Cult had found a sublime balance between mystery and irony; between menace and wit. And lasers. And nothing screamed ‘METAL!’ more metal than that part of their live show where every member of the band, all five guys, played guitar at the same time in the infamous ‘Five Guitars’ piece?

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Personally, while I was a little let down while reading about circumstances of the band’s early history and decision to ‘go metal’ in Martin Popoff’s excellent book ‘Blue Oyster Cult: Secrets Revealed!’ (Metal Blade, 2004) and also in the liner notes for Rhino’s 2001 release of ‘St. Cecilia: The Elektra Recordings’. But I also felt like Blue Oyster Cult finally made sense. Something had always nagged at me about BOC; a metal band that didn’t play metal, didn’t embrace the usual heavy metal tropes and trademarks, didn’t employ the same chops, songwriting styles, or lyrical subject matter… What made them so different? Why were they so interesting; so strangely appealing? Suddenly I knew.

Members of the band and organization have said in print that they never took the heavy metal aspect of the band seriously, and most fans and even casual listeners will hopefully find a good bit of tongue-in-cheek humor and a healthy dose of irony in the band’s catalogue. Their music can be enjoyed on multiple levels; for the dark humor, the exceptional and varied songwriting, or for the complex ‘concept’ of the band. All angles are equally valid, and work together extremely well. I credit Blue Oyster cult for playing the same game Cheap Trick played so well: operating brilliantly within a genre while simultaneously poking fun at it from the inside. It’s a brilliant trick if you can pull it off; satirizing heavy metal music by writing truly exceptional heavy metal music. When was the last time anyone used words like ‘fascinating’ or even ‘interesting’ when talking about a heavy metal band?

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I suppose the ultimate irony is that Pearlman (briefly) managed both BOC and Black Sabbath, and that in 1980, both bands embarked on a co-headlining romp marketed as the ‘Black and Blue’ tour. The tour’s stop at New York’s Nassau Coliseum was filmed, and the resultant tour film, cleverly entitled ‘Black and Blue’, was released to theatres in 1981. As concert movies go, it was pretty awful; dimly lit and poorly recorded, it’s never been released on DVD, as someone connected with one band or the other thinks it would do more damage than good. But the tour/film speaks to the incredible feat that Blue Oyster Cult had somehow pulled off: a band initially signed to mirror and exploit the success of Black Sabbath, was, just 7 years later, battling it out with the Sabs toe-to-toe on stages and in movie theatres for all over the globe. Also, it’s made plain for all to see in the film that one band took the evil imagery and doom and gloom music far more seriously than the other… and if you can’t tell which one is which, then “the joke’s on you…”

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But Don’t Give Yourself Away

Funny how some songs that had minimal impact upon release can show amazing staying power over the ensuing decades.

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Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender’, the first single from their 1978 album ‘Heaven Tonight’, only made it to 62 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but 36 years later it’s a classic rock staple, and is now considered one of Cheap Trick’s ‘Greatest Hits’. The song made Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of all Time (whatever that means) and has been used in several movies and TV shows. And this perfectly constructed power pop gem deserves the accolades; it’s fun, it’s catchy, it rocks, and it delivers its message, like most of Cheap Trick’s work, with considerable wit. Sole composer Rick Nielsen wrote ‘Surrender’ about the divide between kids and their parents, but he sure took a strange way to get there. I mean… have you ever really listened to the lyrics to this song?

Before we take this tune apart, let’s look at its background. ‘Surrender’ was written in 1976, long before the Tricksters were signed. Rick Nielsen (who producer Jack Douglas once called ‘the most gifted songwriter I’ve ever worked with’) was a songwriting machine, and had amassed about 50 songs before the band was signed to Epic. ‘Surrender’ was one of them, and was actually recorded for their debut album but didn’t make the final cut. In those pre-label days, Cheap Trick’s dark side was far more prominent, with Nielsen cranking out songs about suicide (‘Auf Wiedersehen’ and ‘Oh, Candy’), serial killers (‘The Ballad of TV Violence’), child molesters (‘Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School’), and other general nastiness (‘She’s Tight’, ‘He’s a Whore’, ‘Heaven Tonight’, ‘Gonna Raise Hell’, etc). The genius of Nielsen and early Cheap Trick is the way this off-the-wall subject matter was built into impossibly hooky songs… ‘Surrender’ being a prime example.

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1st verse:

Mother told me, yes she told me

I’d meet girls like you

She also told me ‘Stay away

You never know what you’ll catch’

Right away, in the first verse, there’s an allusion to STDs. Not exactly standard boy-meets-girl stuff. After the bouncy Who-like intro, this verse sets the tone for the rest of the song; Zander’s sly half-innocent/half-jaded teen delivering the not-so-nice lyric over a bubblegummy bed of rock n’ roll crunch.

‘Just the other day I heard of a soldier’s falling off

Some Indonesian junk that’s going ’round’ 

Here, Mommy shares a story about the horrific effects of Venereal Disease. According to mom, VD can cause your dick to fall off. Also note the first of many military allusions, which cleverly support the song’s chorus and title.

2nd verse:

Father says ‘Your mother’s right

She’s really up on things

Before we married mommy served

in tha WACs in the Philippines’

More military references… and the implication that Mommy knows a thing or two about Sexually Transmitted Disease.

Now I had heard the WACs recruited old maids for the war

But mommy isn’t one of those, I’ve known her all these years

This part of verse 2 originally read ‘Now I had heard the WACs were either old maids, dykes, or whores’; the song was even demo’d with this line for ‘Heaven Tonight’. Someone decided that this was maybe a bit too much for rock radio in 1978. Someone was right. This wasn’t the first time the suits asked CT to alter a song, and wouldn’t be the last; ‘The Ballad of TV Violence’ from the 1976 debut was originally titled ‘The Ballad of Richard Speck’, but the title was changed at the behest of Epic Records, and years later, another song, called ‘Don’t Hit Me With Love’ was vetoed by the label and left off of the ‘Next Position Please’ album altogether (although that album’s title track, which includes the word ‘tits’, made it through intact… go figure) .

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We’re not going to parse the first half of the third verse; although the key change is brilliant, I have no idea what the lyrics mean. There are actually a lot of nonsense lyrics in the Cheap Trick catalog; they’re there by design and are a part of the band’s off-kilter charm— and when you have a lead singer that would sound great singing the goddamn phonebook, you can fill space with anything and get away with it.

3rd verse, 2nd half:

When I woke up mom and dad

Were rollin’ on the couch

Rollin’ numbers, rock and rollin’

Got my KISS records out

So the kid busts his parents having sex on the couch, smoking pot, and listening to his KISS albums. This is the verse that illustrates the ultimate point of the song: maybe mom and dad are cooler than you think. It also nicely leads us back into the chorus and the song’s central premise:

Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright

They just seem a little weird

The last 2 lines of the chorus allude to the military references made earlier in the song, and wrap up the chorus nicely by suggesting that maybe the ‘battle’ between generations isn’t really necessary; maybe it’s okay to admit your parents are kinda cool, but that doesn’t mean you have to admit it to them

Surrender, Surrender

But don’t give yourself away

Is this not 4 minutes and 12 seconds of pure genius?

I’m sure the CT guys all got a kick out seeing the teeny-bopper side of their fan base singing along with lines about parents doing drugs and somebody’s dick falling off. I doubt Gene $immons had a problem with the KISS reference (‘free advertising!’), either. They even reference themselves by name individually at the end of the song. Dammit this song is just too much fun.

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Classic Cheap Trick was all about duality. Handsome guys on the front cover; goofy guys on the back. Hook-laden, catchy-as-hell tunes, subversive/sarcastic lyrics and vocal delivery; the Bay City Rollers meet Alice Cooper. ‘Trick walked a fine line between parody and tribute, simultaneously working on both sides of the fence; poking fun at power pop, bubblegum, and arena rock music while at the same time creating excellent power pop, bubblegum, and arena rock music. Their catalog is crammed with exceedingly well-written, artfully constructed and masterfully executed rock songs, all perpetrated by a band that demanded that you don’t take it all too seriously. And as producer Steve Albini said, ‘They rock like a truck full of bricks’.

A song like ‘Surrender’ is sort of like a trap; you’re initially taken in my the hooks and melodies, the catchy chorus, the friendly vibe. Then there’s the moment when you realize what the singer just sang… Anyway, does the name of this band make more sense now?

(Lyrics used without permission :p)

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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Epic Fail

His track record is unassailable: He’s earned 23 Gold & Platinum albums. As A&R for Epic records in the 70’s, he signed Cheap Trick, Molly Hatchet, Ted Nugent, Boston, and REO Speedwagon. As a producer for Epic Records from 1970-1982, he produced career-making records by all of the iconic rockers mentioned above. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you own an album with his name on it. “Heaven Tonight”, anyone? “Cat Scratch Fever”? “Boston”? Maybe some of his 80’s work… Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry”? Dokken’s “Tooth and Nail”? Motley Crue’s “Theatre of Pain”?

Tom Werman practically produced the soundtrack to my teens.

Werman brought Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Rush to CBS, and was turned down in all three cases. Tell me, did this guy not OWN hard rock in the mid 70’s?

Most of the bands Werman worked with had their biggest albums with him; their commercial breakthroughs. Most bands he worked with stayed with him for a number of albums before changing producers. Motley Crue and Cheap Trick each did three records with Werman; Molly Hatchet 5, Nugent 6. And… most bands began their commercial decline after moving on to work with other producers.

Tom Werman’s job was, as he described it, to ‘get bands on the radio’. ‘Cat Scratch Fever’. ‘Surrender’. ‘Flirtin’ with Disaster’… I’ll bet you first heard these songs on the radio. And they are still played on the radio today, 35 years later. Is there any question as to how well this guy did his job?

Yes.

A few years back it somehow became fashionable to dump on Tom Werman. Musicians he had worked with 2 or 3 decades previous were suddenly complaining that the records they made with him were too safe, too commercial, ‘not an accurate representation of our sound’. Why these established rock stars feel the need to look back on their most successful period and complain about the records that established their careers, ‘blaming’ Werman for their biggest hits, is just plain bizarre.

The most infamous instance was probably the war of words between Werman and Nikki Sixx (feel so silly typing that name). Sixx (tee hee) wrote a book about what a super-cool guy he is and how heroin is bad but it’s also very rock ‘n roll, so hey, that’s what decadent rock stars do, dude. In this book, in between blaming his girlfriend for every drug relapse and blaming every drug relapse on his girlfriend, ‘ol Nikk talks trash about Werman, accusing him of spending more time on the phone than producing the Crue’s record. Super-hero Nikki than had to assume control and see the album through. Riiiiight. Werman felt the need to defend himself, and wrote an op/ed piece for the New York Times refuting Sixx’s story and pointing out the inherent absurdities in the version of events as described by Nikki. This, in turn, prompted Nikki to post a response on blabbermouth.com, in which he threatened to ‘out’ Werman to his wife for the partying he allegedly did during the recording of the album. What a douche. Werman responded again. The whole sad saga is encapsulated here:

http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/producer-tom-werman-fires-back-at-nikki-sixx/

Dee Snider played the same game while promoting Twisted Sister’s re-recording of their triple-platinum “Stay Hungry”, titled “Still Hungry”. Besides his production credit, Werman is also credited as ‘co-arranger’ on “Stay Hungry”, and it’s widely known that he reworked some of the songs to make them more commercial. Based on the results, I’d say he was successful. But not Dee. Snider claims that Werman had nothing to do with the success of “Stay Hungry”, that his work on the record came close to ‘ruining’ it, and that he didn’t want ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and I Wanna Rock’ to be on the record… Really, Dee? This is the guy who gets hard rock bands on the radio. The guy who’s number one priority is making sure there’s a single on the record. He didn’t think those 2 tunes were viable? Sounds like somebody’s trying to spark some controversy to sell their new album (which ultimately sold about 30,00 units, just a tad short of triple platinum). Snider goes on to claim that working with Werman was the reason that Twisted Sister’s next album (produced by Dieter Dierks) completely sucked, as poor Dee was too busy fighting against bad ol’ Tom Werman’s commercial considerations while recording “Stay Hungry” to write decent songs for the follow-up record. Really. Dee Snider’s take on Werman and “Stay Hungry” can be found here:

http://www.bullz-eye.com/music/interviews/2009/dee_snider.htm

Cheap Trick, who Werman continues to speak very highly of, have stated publicly that they were displeased with the sound of their Werman-produced records– but only started talking about it after about 25 years. Interesting that they did their 3rd and 4th lps with Werman, as well… Like Twisted Sister, they too, re-recorded one of their ‘Werman Era’ albums, “In Color”, with infamous indie producer Steve Albini; however, they have never released the record. I’ve heard it; it’s a lot more live-sounding than Werman’s recording, a lot more raw, much like CT’s first album, and maybe a lot closer to what the band were hoping for sonically back in 1977. But is it a better record than Werman’s? No. If the Albini version of “In Color” were released in ’77 as Cheap Trick’s second album, things would have been very different for this band. The Albini “In Color” leaked onto the internet years ago and is fairly easy to obtain. Just not here.

What we have here is the classic battle of art vs. commerce, with musicians on the ‘art’ side and record producers representing ‘commerce’. While Werman undoubtedly steered these bands in a more commercial direction than they were comfortable with, no one can argue that he didn’t do his job (‘getting bands on the radio’) exceedingly well. And perhaps these musicians need to take a moment, as they look back on their 30-year careers, and ask themselves if they’d even have 30-year careers to look back on if they hadn’t had the good fortune to work with Tom Werman… Would they really trade the gold and platinum albums and the hit singles that were the foundation of their success, assured their longevity and cemented their iconic status for generations to come, for complete creative control over their records, commercial success be damned?      

Tom Werman’s track record speaks for itself. However, if you want to read Werman’s story as told by Werman, he writes a regular column at popdose.com where he relates his experiences recording some of the greatest records by the greatest rock bands of all time, before they went all douche-y. I highly recommend that you read his stuff here:

http://popdose.com/the-producers-tom-werman-chapter-one/

Werman now owns and runs a bed & breakfast out in Lenox, MA, called Stonover Farm. He once posted his personal email on popdose, but has since changed it to an unpublished address (he can, however, be contacted through the Stover Farm site). If you email him, he will likely answer. I highly recommend that you do so. Thank him for all the great music. I did.