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

 

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Blaze and Ripper’s Excellent Adventure

August 1991. The Metal God pops the clutch on his massive Harley and rolls forward into the fog shrouded darkness. Gliding the beast forward with only the roar of the crowd to guide him, he is unaware that a hydraulic stairway has only partially descended, and smashes into it face first, breaking the bridge of his nose and tumbling off the bike beneath the gigantic stage set. He lies unconscious and bleeding for three minutes before he is found. ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ is performed for the first and only time without lead vocals.

It was the dawn of the 1990s, and a difficult time for Heavy Metal; especially for Metal bands from the ’70s and ’80s trying to stay relevant. Judas Priest had never been afraid to ‘adjust’ their sound to better suit the ever-changing Metal landscape; ‘Turbo’ and ‘Painkiller’ were both concessions to prevailing trends (hair metal and thrash metal, respectively). Both records were successful, but it had been difficult for many to watch Priest, one of Heavy Metal’s most important pioneers, chasing trends rather than setting them. And now the ’90s were presenting new challenges: Metallica had abdicated their throne, and Grunge, Alternative Metal, and Nu Metal were all about to make life difficult for several iconic bands from HM’s glory days. For Rob Halford, the writing was on the wall.

Within 24 hours of bashing his face in, Halford was back home in Phoenix AZ formulating a plan. He wanted things both ways; to work a solo project for ‘three to four years’, and to then return to the band and resume his position. For the rest of Judas Priest, this was ridiculous. Sit around for 3 or 4 years doing nothing, while we wait for their singer to decide to come back? IF he decided to come back at all? No way. Once Halford’s new band Fight was announced in 1992, Judas Priest cut the cord, and the inevitable war of words began. Hey, that might be a good title for an album…

Meanwhile, Iron Maiden were weathering the early 1990s fairly well. Their stripped-down response to the Big Four, ‘No Prayer for the Dying’, hit #2 in the UK, and the album’s (awful) single ‘Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter’ hit #1. The follow-up album, 1992’s ‘Fear of the Dark’ also hit #1. But singer Bruce Dickinson was bored, bored, bored. A solo album and tour in 1990 hadn’t been enough to calm the singer’s restless spirit, and while working on a second solo record during the ‘Fear’ tour, Bruce decided to leave the band. The final legs of the ‘Fear’ jaunt became Bruce’s ‘farewell tour’, which wrapped with a televised performance in August of ’93. The show was broadcast live as a pay-per-view event; magician Simon Drake performed magic and illusions during breaks in Maiden’s set. Drake’s final trick: making Bruce Dickinson disappear.

The Metal God and The Air Raid Siren were gone. Halford and Dickinson’s departures left gaping holes in each of their former bands. Square in the middle of the metal-unfriendly ’90s, both bands would have to establish themselves all over again in an inhospitable landscape ruled by Soundgardens, Nirvanas and Faith No Mores; to prove themselves to a brand new generation of Metalheads raised on the Big Four, Pantera and the emerging Death Metal genre. But there was so much more at stake here than just the fate of two legendary Heavy Metal bands; the fate of Heavy Metal itself hung in the balance. Would Metal survive the ’90s without Judas Priest and Iron Maiden? Twilight of the Gods, indeed.

For a while, it appeared as if Judas Priest were honoring Halford’s request for ‘three to four years’ off. Not much was heard from the JP camp until 1996, when their new lead vocalist was announced: Ohio native Tim Owens. Dubbed ‘Ripper’ by guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, Owens was a virtual unknown who fronted two small-time bands: Winter’s Bane and British Steel. While the former was an all-original metal band, the latter was a JP tribute. The two bands were usually booked together, with Owens fronting both. When a videotape of a British Steel performance somehow made its way to Priest, Owens shot ahead of shortlisted candidates like Ralph Scheepers (Gamma Ray) and Sebastian Bach. Four days later, Owens was in the UK auditioning for the band; after singing one song, ‘Victim of Changes’, Tipton offered him the gig.

Steve Harris wasted no time reaching out to Blaze Bayley of Wolfsbane, who had supported Maiden on the NPftD tour just a few years earlier. Bayley politely declined. Woflsbane had done three albums, an E.P. and a few singles, and were ready to re-enter the studio for album #4; both parties chalked it up to bad timing, and Harris moved on. ‘Arry and the rest of Maiden then slogged through thousands of tapes, CDs and videos sent in by hopefuls from all over the globe… and got nowhere. But by the time Bayley was to enter the studio to begin his band’s fourth album, he had changed his mind, deciding that Wolfsbane had run its course. Bayley soon found himself facing off against Doogie White (just a few years away from joining Rainbow) for the Maiden job. Bayley won.

Priest had perhaps found the one man up to the task of recreating Rob Halford’s histrionic vocal stylings. But in losing Halford, JP lost a lot more than a voice; they lost an attitude, a swagger, and a particular lyrical voice. Halford’s acting background was apparent in his delivery; he could (and regularly did) deliver ludicrous lyrics in a convincing manner, with an air of melodrama and just the right amount of camp. Tim Owens had the pipes but none of Rob Halford’s charisma. Blaze Bayley (real name: Bayley Cook) was blessed with a deep, resonant voice capable of conveying a strong sense of the dramatic. However, Bayley often sang one full octave below his predecessor, delivering Harris’ overstuffed lyrics with an oppressive air of doom and gloom. After 12 years of Bruce Dickinson, an almost super-human vocalist with a flair for the dramatic, even operatic, it’s hard to understand exactly why Steve Harris felt that Blaze Bayley’s voice was the right fit for Maiden.

The_X_Factor-Front

Iron Maiden’s tenth album, ‘The X-Factor’, hit in 1995, just two years after Bruce ‘disappeared’. It’s a difficult album. The opening song, ‘Sign of the Cross’, clocks in at over 11 minutes, and quickly sets the tone for the next 70. Every song begins with a quiet, delicately-played intro, and then plods along for far too long. The ghost of Steve Harris’ marriage hovers over this album, in both the dour, overwrought lyrics and in the music’s downbeat vibe (the album’s lone ‘fast number’ was written by Bayley/Gers). Bayley’s heavy, brooding presence prevents even the more energetic moments from ever fully taking flight; the man can sing but brings none of the spirit and spark that characterized Dickinson’s better performances. It should also be pointed out that longtime producer Martin Birch was not on board for this album… And the cover is hideous.

Judas_Priest-Jugulator

Priest’s first post-Halford album is truly awful. 1997’s ‘Jugulator’ is a train-wreck of harsh, over-processed guitars, anguished vocals, terrible lyrics, and haphazard production. Tipton and Downing wrote all of the music, and several concessions to current trends are immediately evident: down-tuned guitars, atonal guitar solos, and Death Metal-worthy titles like ‘Dead Meat’, ‘Decapitate’, Blood Stained’ and ‘Death Row’. Ugh. Tipton himself wrote all of the album’s relentlessly negative lyrics. Each song begins with a short, atmospheric intro tacked on, with creepy guitars, dialogue or sound effects, adding nothing to the proceedings. The guitars are heavy as hell, but without the wit and irony that Halford’s presence always unfailingly provided, it’s a grim, abrasive hour of music.

Iron_Maiden_-_Virtual_XI

After the much-maligned ‘The X Factor’, Iron Maiden included a new track, entitled ‘Virus’, on the 1996 compilation ‘Best of the Beast’. Dodgy sound notwithstanding, this energetic and interesting song established that Maiden had indeed awakened from their coma, and the album that followed, 1998’s ‘Virtual XI’, impressed with a lighter tone and brighter sound than its predecessor. As for the songwriting, however, chief writer Steve Harris had clearly lapsed into formula, and each song on VXI sounds remarkably like the song before it. While VXI does contain the Blaze era’s lone classic: ‘The Clansman’, the album’s first single, ‘The Angel and the Gambler’, repeats it’s chorus so many times, you’ll feel the need to check your turntable to make sure your needle isn’t stuck… even if you’re listening via mp3. The single clocks in at 6:05, edited down from the 9:56 album version. Martin Birch, where are you?

Judas_Priest-Demolition-Frontal

Priest’s second stab at establishing a post-Halford credibility was 2001’s ‘Demolition’. Again, it’s Tipton’s record, and again he demonstrates his inability to grasp just what made Priest so special. This record is a little more well-rounded than ‘Jugulator’, but also suffers from trying to be all things to all people; Nu Metal, Rap, and Industrial Metal, as well as elements of ’80s Priest all feature here, and absolutely none of it works. There is, however, a melody or two to be found here, unlike the band’s previous disaster. Imagine Judas Priest at their absolute heaviest, then imagine them pushing even harder, but without the irony; without the campy panache or the flair for the melodramatic that informed their best work.

For Heavy Metal, the Bayley/Owens era was a near-death experience. When viewed against Priest and Maiden’s previous body of work, all four of these records were colossal artistic and commercial failures, and in the battle for the survival of Heavy Metal, they did more damage than good. Without these two massive flagship franchises to help hold Metal’s fan base together, the genre continued to splinter and fragment into fractious sub-genres. Heavy Metal survived the ’90s by blowing itself to bits and continuing forward as an amalgam of separate and distinct pieces of a disparately unified whole. As solo artists, Halford and Dickinson released some decidedly un-Metal music, but each eventually returned to classic Heavy Metal with records that beat their old bands at their own game, and positioned both vocalists for their eventual (and inevitable) return. A revitalized Priest & Maiden helped establish yet another (and perhaps the most important) HM sub-genre: Legacy Metal.

Cheers to Blaze Bayley and Tim Owens for ushering two of our favorite bands through Metal’s darkest days. Coulda been worse… Sebastian Bach?? Doogie White??

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.

machine-head-deep-purple

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.

Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell - Frontal1

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.

martinbirchsteveharris

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

 

Green’s Manalishi

Peter Green was losing his mind. Excessive LSD use was starting to take its toll. By late 1968, his bandmates in the band he had founded, Fleetwood Mac, had become concerned about Green’s mental state. He was growing distant, was sometimes incoherent, and had begun wearing robes and a crucifix. By 1969, Fleetwood Mac’s founder and main songwriter had provided the band with a No. 1 hit single (‘Albatross’), as well as two No. 2 singles (‘Oh Well’ and ‘Man of the World’). But in the wake of those successes, the guitarist was becoming estranged from the rest of his band, and was increasingly fixated on the morality of the band’s recent financial success.

peter green

A 3-day LSD binge at a commune in Munich in early 1970 greatly exacerbated Green’s mental descent into schizophrenia. Around this time, Green wrote a song called ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’ after waking from an acid-induced nightmare in which a green dog that Green ‘understood’ represented both money and the Devil, barked at him. In the dream, the dog was dead, as was Green himself; eventually Green won the struggle to return to his living body in order to wake from the nightmare (hey, this is acid, folks). Green awoke from the dream and immediately wrote Fleetwood Mac’s next hit single. The song would reach No. 10 in the UK.

Before the song became Fleetwood Mac’s fourth consecutive Top Ten single, Peter Green quit the band he had founded. Mick Fleetwood remembers Green demanding that the band give away all their money; specifically, that they use their money to help end world hunger. Green also insisted that he be the one to give the aid to the poor and hungry, in order to avoid charitable organizations, which he did not trust. After the rest of the band refused, Peter Green left the band.

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Peter Green was an integral part of the ‘British Blues Boom’ on the mid-to-late ’60’s. He replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, and formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967. Metal historians agree that these bands (along with fellow Brits the Yardbirds) laid the groundwork for the evolution of Heavy Metal music. Follow that evolutionary path into the mid-70’s, and you’ll eventually encounter The Beast that is Priest.

Heavy Metal had come a long way in a short time, quickly morphing from ‘white boy blues’ into a valid genre unto itself in just a few years. Birmingham’s Judas Priest were pivotal in metal’s evolution; their 2nd album, 1976’s ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’, is a landmark in the development of the form in that it steps away from the genre’s blues roots and into a sound and style unique unto itself. Someone at CBS Records recognized the genius at work on ‘SWOD’, and signed Judas Priest to a multi-album deal.

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Priest’s third album, ‘Sin After Sin’, was another groundbreaking heavy metal record, but their new label was interested in commerce at least as much as they were in art. CBS insisted that the band record a cover song to attempt to garner some airplay. Producer Roger Glover suggested Joan Baez’s haunting ‘Diamonds and Rust’, and the rest is history. For album number four, 1978’s ‘Stained Class’, the label once again insisted on a track to push to radio; ‘Better By You, Better Than Me’, written by Gary (‘Dream Weaver’) Wright and originally recorded by Spooky Tooth, was recorded at the 12th hour with a different producer, and tacked onto the already-completed record.

Did including these cover versions deliver the results that CBS was looking for? No. Neither of these covers were ‘hits’; neither charted at all, anywhere. But the execs at CBS took no chances with the band’s fifth album, entitled ‘Killing Machine’. Released a scant 10 months after ‘Stained Class’, ‘Machine’ revealed some major concessions by the band in the songwriting department, but CBS was still unhappy with the album as a whole, at least in terms of its ‘commercial potential’ in the US. The label, uneasy with the original’s ‘murderous implications, changed the title of the record for the US market to ‘Hell Bent for Leather’. CBS also pushed for yet another cover. The Gun’s ‘Race With the Devil’ was demo’d, but was dropped in favor of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’.

Judas Priest transformed Peter Green’s haunting, acid-induced warning of the evils of wealth into a crushing juggernaut of menace and melody. The song is gathered up and rewritten into a cast-iron structure and rolls along like a Sherman tank. Green’s mysterious ‘Manalishi’ character turns from the psychadelic money is the Devil in a dead barking dog into another one of Priest’s fantasy/sci-fi hero/prophet/savior/doomsayer figures, the latest in a long line of exciters, dreamer/deceivers, sinners, rippers, aggressors and starbreakers.

How ironic that Judas Priest, historically important for removing much of the blues from Heavy Metal, would record a song written by one of the most renowned British blues guitarists of all time. But the fact that the song translates across genres so well speaks less about any debt Judas Priest owes to blues music and more about Peter Green’s compositional contributions to Heavy Metal… a genre which hadn’t even happened yet. And how ironic that the song was being used in an attempt to bring band and label increased financial success…

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CBS tacked ‘Manalishi’ on to the US version of the re-titled ‘Hell Bent’… but did not release it to radio. Priest had given the suits what they wanted, but had actually written better singles themselves this time around. ‘Take on the World’ was released instead, and reached No. 14 in the UK. Priest/CBS would abandon the cover idea after ‘Manalishi’; the strategy had ultimately failed to increase the profile of the band, let alone the balance of anyone’s bank account. Judas Priest would have Top Forty success with the UK version of the album that excluded ‘Manalishi’; the US version that did include the song would peak at a lowly No. 167 in the States. In recording ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’, Judas Priest had messed with some bad mojo; Peter Green’s Manalishi was still barking.

(Royalty) Check, Please

Sometimes being a professional musician is all about compromise; specifically, about how much of your art you’re willing to compromise toward success in the business of music. Being a fan is about loyalty; and sometimes that loyalty is pushed beyond tolerance by the compromises a musician makes.

Many a rock fan’s loyalties were tested in the 80’s. With the advent of MTv, suddenly what you looked like was at least as important as what you sounded like (and in some cases, maybe more important). Many metal bands that had started in the 70’s but had yet to break through to a mainstream audience saw MTv as a way to do just that. And so we lost several bands to the siren song of mass appeal and mainstream success. All that was required was a greater focus on the image or look of the band, and a slavish adherence to a limited musical template that boiled down to either a) overwrought power ballad, or b) super-dumb rock anthem. Scorpions had virtually invented the power ballad in the mid-70’s, and sadly, made the transition easily. NWOBHM heroes like Krokus, Whitesnake, and Saxon (who actually fired their bass player, who didn’t have ‘the look’) all climbed on board the bandwagon, all hoping to ‘break’ in the states. Perhaps the poster boys for this type of sell-out were the already-image conscious Twisted Sister, who’s debut album was actually a straight-up metal record, but who quickly transformed into bizzarro drag queen cartoons on MTv. In an ironic twist, Kiss, kings of the super-dumb rock anthem, actually had to take make-up OFF to partake in the festivities. But the greatest disappointment had to be The Beast That is Priest.   

I will never forget the first time I heard ‘Turbo’ by Judas Priest. A co-worker had an advance cassette, and let me hear the first song, without telling me who it was I was listening to. After a solid minute I still couldn’t identify who it was, even thought I was listening to a band I had followed for the last 8 or 9 years. When my friend broke the news to me that I had been previewing the new Judas Priest record, I was angry. Not disappointed. Angry.  

Like a lot of metal fans, I take this kind of thing personally; always have. I am tremendously loyal, I invest my time, my money and my passion in the music that I love and in the musicians that make it. Fans aren’t interested in the business that goes on behind their favorite music, they only care about the music, and are grateful to the musicians who make it. For me personally, when an artist makes a calculated business decision to move away from the sound I have committed to, the aesthetic I invested in, I feel betrayed; I’m offended and insulted. And sometimes, shocked; I truly never expected that Metal’s Ambassadors to the world, a band that represented the Heavy Metal genre in much the same way that Metallica would later; would be capable of such silliness.

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Back to ‘Turbo’: Sequencers, synthesizers, over-processed guitars, predictable hair metal riffs and inane pop metal lyrics, all wrapped up in a cover that looks like a magazine ad for nail polish. This is not what I signed on for. Gone were the ominous pseudo-religious sci-fi lyrics. Dave Holland’s hard hitting, no-nonsense drum sound was replaced by computerized canon fire. And don’t even get me started on KK’s perm. This was a monumental moment in heavy metal history; one of the heaviest bands of the 70’s had sold out and cashed in.

Judas Priest referred to themselves as a Heavy Metal Band when it was very uncool to do so. They had almost single-handedly carried Heavy Metal through its weakest period in the late 70’s; after the old guard had died out, they flew the flag proudly during the punk rock and new wave revolutions, and led metal music straight into the NWOBHM and metal’s resurgence in the early 80’s. And while they had toyed with camp ever since 1979’s ‘Hell Bent For Leather’, they’d successfully navigated the fine line between tongue-in-cheek and parody on several records, right up to ‘Defenders of the Faith’, where production concessions revealed a willingness to go with the 80’s flow. That album worried me; ‘Turbo’ confirmed my fears. 

So Priest decided they no longer needed me as a fan, and had apparently made the calculation that so many other bands of that era made as they entered the MTv era: they’d likely gain more new fans than the number of old fans that would walk away. They were probably right. So: good business decision; bad artistic decision. Very bad. Embarassingly so. Priest eventually tried to self-correct, and spent the next few years chasing trends until a new breed of metal bands rendered them irrelevant. Their iconic image, legendary status and landmark early releases ensured they’d be able to maintain a career for another 2 decades, but after ‘Turbo’ they had lost all credibility with much of their original fan base. ‘Defenders of the Faith’ my ass. Thank God for Thrash Metal.

Speaking of Trash Metal, Metallica was another band that, after years of pioneering, groundbreaking, and breathtaking music, succumbed to the numbers and decided to no longer allow artistic concerns to guide their career path. Correctly deducing that, with just a few ‘minor’ changes, they could go from being the biggest band on Metal to one of the biggest bands on Earth (a much more lucrative position), they hired Motley Crue’s producer and made the transition from being uncompromising standard-bearers to arena rock’s heaviest band.

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I hold a special kind of animosity towards Metallica for ‘Metallica’, aka ‘The Black Album’. For metal once again, change was on the horizon, and bands like Pearl Jam, Jane’s Addiction, and Soundgarden made music that was appealing more and more to metalheads every day. Grunge and Alternative music was everywhere, and some of it was downright metallic, but… It was very much like 1976/77, when punk rock took off and metal’s heavy hitters became… confused. Started experimenting. Made lousy records. What Metal Nation needed badly at the dawn of the 90’s was a band to put an end to the mass defection to Seattle. A band to remind everyone how and what great heavy metal was. What better band to do just that than the mighty Metallica?

Metallica, however, had other ideas. Rather than creating a record that could have led metal through the alterna-grunge swamp and onward toward a new era of global domination, Metallica instead sat out that fight and re-launched their brand, simplifying their songwriting and overall sound, recasting themselves as a Top 40 arena rock band. The singles/videos came one after another, signaling a new willingness to market themselves in ways they had resisted for years. Where once they had led, they now chose to conform. Metallica turned their backs on their art and their fans and made their deal with the devil, becoming megastars while leaving the door wide open for Nirvana and the Alterna-Grunge contingent to further dilute metal’s already fractured fan base.

Yes, dumbing-down their music was a smart career move… if you measure success in dollars and cents. Yes, ‘Metallica’ would not only become Metallica’s biggest-selling album, but one of the biggest selling albums of all time. But these facts speak nothing of its artistic value. I’m aware that, for many reading this, ‘Metallica’ was their first exposure to Metallica, and therefore seen by millions as their defining moment. To understand what a left turn that album was for their original fan base is difficult for those who jumped on the bandwagon after all of the challenge and confrontation was removed from their music. It takes a certain perspective to see this record as the betrayal that it truly was. For us, ‘Metallica’ was a slap in the face; a Fuck You to myself and my friends who had seen them at the Rathskellar in Boston in 1983; who had watched them steadily grow from strength to strength, without radio, without MTv, and without mainstream press, right up to the multi-platinum ‘Master of Puppets’, all without compromising their art. one. single. bit.    

At least with ‘Metallica’ they hadn’t changed their look to conform to the commercial trends of the day. That would come a little later, with their next studio album, the aptly-named ‘Load’.  

Musicians, of course are free to make whatever decisions they wish in the service of their careers. Hopefully they’re aware of how transparent these moves are, no matter how they try to spin it, and how these kinds of moves rightly invoke the wrath of their most fervent fans– although it’s clear that this kind of fan doesn’t factor into the equation when bands do the Devil’s Arithmetic. The bottom line here is that both of these albums suck, and pale in comparison to the records that were made by these bands before potential superstar status was part of the bargain. I understand that surviving in any business requires compromise; ‘evolve or die’, I get it… But, as Stephen King wrote in ‘Pet Sematary’, “Sometimes dead is better.”

 

 

Attn: Marketing Dept

 

Ever wonder why Scorpions’ ‘Taken By Force’ cover art is so ridiculously bad? Great record, but the album cover looks like it was thrown together by an uncaring record label, unwilling to spend any coin on anything half-decent, and assembled by art department interns. And, in fact, that’s exactly what happened. But why?

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‘Taken By Force’ was the third consecutive Scorpions album that the U.S. arm of RCA Records decided to change for the stateside market. Their third record, ‘In Trance’, needed only minimal altering; but their fourth, ‘Virgin Killer’, is a different story altogether. Featuring a completely nude prepubescent girl in an unquestionably provocative pose, ‘Virgin Killer’s artwork was and still is blatantly inappropriate and offensive. Yes, sensitivities to this type of imagery in the 70’s (especially when used on a rock album cover) were different than they are today; remember the Blind Faith album? But even back in 1976, several different territories issued the record with a completely different cover.

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So, when the Scorps handed the ‘Taken By Force’ artwork to RCA, the label wasn’t willing to take any chances. The US and UK branches of RCA rejected the cover. “Two kids playing with guns in a military cemetery” (as Francis Bucholz characterized the shot in a recent interview) was once again too much for the label bosses to deal with. In the 1970’s, Scorpions was RCA’s token heavy metal band, their records tossed out into the US and UK markets without any discernable promotion. Clearly Scorpions were not a priority for RCA; the label didn’t need all of this ‘cover controversy’ hassle. And, as they established with the towering mediocrity of the ‘Virgin Killer’ replacement art, they certainly weren’t willing to replace the original with anything challenging or even the least bit artistically valid.

Kiss Destroyer Resurrected

When Kiss broke through with their ‘Alive!’ album, their label paired them with Alice Cooper producer Bob Ezrin for their next studio album ‘Destroyer’. Massive mainstream success was just one ballad away. Casablanca Records was taking no chances, however, and demanded changes to cover art that they felt was “too violent”. And so, Kiss dancing while a city burns was changed to Kiss dancing in the ruins of a destroyed city. The original is definitely more badass, with the red and orange fire-inspired color scheme (‘Flaming Youth’, after all), now famously replaced by cool blues and pale yellows.

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The opportunity was also taken to depict Kiss in their new stage costumes, which makes sense. Simmons’ new Godzilla boots always made for a pretty striking image. But I have such an emotional attachment to the replacement cover, having spent countless hours staring at it as a kid, that it’s hard for me to acknowledge that there’s a better version. But even the 13 year old in me agrees: The original has flames!

The Beast that is Judas Priest was no stranger to record company foolishness. Their third album for CBS, ‘Killing Machine’, was retitled for the US when record company execs objected to the “murderous Implications” of the original title. The title to the song ‘Killing Machine’ remained unchanged, but another song title was used for the title of the US version: ‘Hell Bent for Leather’.

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After the global success of the band’s 4th studio album ‘British Steel’, which featured one of the most iconic album covers in heavy metal history, Priest followed up with the rather left-field ‘Point of Entry’.  The cover featured an abstract representation of the title concept; not a very ‘metal’ image, but a cool, futuristic image with a slightly scifi look.

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Why on earth anyone decided to change the original cover to the one we got here in the US has to be one of Metal’s Greatest Mysteries. A never ending trail of computer paper unfolding down the middle of a highway and leading into the horizon. Ok. Plain white cardboard boxes of various sizes placed on the ground in the desert. Um… Not exactly making Hipgnosis nervous here, fellas. Someday, someone will explain this to me… and I will still think it sucks

1978

It’s 2013, the Chinese year of the snake. Year of the Black Water Snake, to be precise. Didn’t know they got that specific.

For me, 1978 will always be Year of the Metal, because it was a hugely-impactful year for me, music-wise.

Before 1978, I had been listening to bits of hard rock on the radio for a few years, as a lot of hard rock bands had big singles that were played on AM Top 40 Radio back in 1976 and ‘77. Anything on the radio that featured loud guitars caught my ear back then: Aerosmith, Nugent, Rick Derringer, Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Foghat. Also my older sister had Zeppelin albums!! But the mighty Kiss reigned supreme in my music universe. Kiss had spent the last few years brainwashing me and kids all over the world into believing that they were, in total fact, “The Hottest Band In The Land”. (Gene Simmons probably just got paid because I typed all of those public domain words in that sequence.) And on February 2nd of 1978, I saw them live on the ‘Alive II’ tour at the Providence Civic Center (since renamed the ‘Dunkin Donuts Center’…wtf?) in Rhode Island. Yes, my head exploded; yes, NOW I was a super-fan for life! It sure would take one helluva band to knock Kiss off the throne. No one could ever tell me that Kiss were not actually the Hottest you-know-what in the you-know-where.

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The weekend after I saw Kiss live, I accidentally recorded (on a blank 8-track!) a portion of WAAF’s ‘Friday Night Six Pack’ while playing around with my dad’s brand new stereo system. The ‘Six Pack’ played 6 complete albums during the overnight hours overnight every Friday, some of which were due to be released the following week. I woke up Saturday morning and saw that I had recorded something, and played it all back, and my world changed forever. I had captured most of Van Halen’s as yet unreleased debut album. I bought my copy at Music Machine the following Tuesday; $5.77 plus tax. That record knocked me flat on my ass every time I put it on. Suddenly Kiss seemed silly, tame, juvenile; even cheesy. I still loved Kiss (and still do, up through side four of ‘Alive II’ anyway), but I no longer felt that they were The Greatest Rock Band Of All Time. My mind sufficiently blown, I found that I was suddenly much more receptive to music made by bands that were not Kiss.

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The following month, March of ‘78, I heard AC/DC’s ‘Powerage’ in it’s entirety on the same radio show. I was hooked in the first 30 seconds and listened to the rest of it without moving a muscle, fearing I might lose the great reception I was lucky to be getting on my touch-and-go portable am/fm radio. ‘Powerage’ has been my favorite album of all time since March of 1978. Now, thirty-five years after it was released, I seriously doubt that I’m going to hear anything that’s going to change that.

There are a handful of other great records that came out that year and I worked hard to stay in the loop. It was hard being a fan back then… but if you put the work in, you were amply rewarded. There was no internet in 1978; all we had was WBCN & WAAF, late night TV and Circus, Hit Parader & Creem magazine. I had heard ‘Walk This Way’ 100 times before I had ever even seen a picture of Aerosmith. In those days, if you liked the single or the picture accompanying the article you just read (for free, while thumbing through a copy at the drug store; hardly ever buying) then you rolled the dice, saved your allowance and scrounged for change, and bought the album, hoping the rest of it was good.

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Late night TV was a goldmine. Of course, you had to sit through a lot of disco and R&B to see anyone holding a guitar. I saw Cheap Trick on the TV show ‘Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert’ in March and bought their ‘in Color’ record the following week; ‘Heaven Tonight’ came out in May and bought it without hearing a note. UFO appeared on Kirshner’s show with a video of ‘Only You Can Rock Me’—one more copy of ‘Obsession’ sold. In October, Ted Nugent hosted an airing of ‘Midnight Special’ that featured AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, Golden Earring, and of course, His Nugeness. That same month, AC/DC’s first live album, ‘If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It’ was a no-brainer. I remember riding my bike back from the mall in the rain with ‘If You Want Blood…’ in a plastic bag (an awkward thing to try to carry while riding a bike, let me tell you), afraid the I was going to drop it or wreck my bike… but more worried about the record.

It was a huge year for new discoveries. I snapped up Rainbow’s ‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’, Rush’s ‘Hemispheres’, Judas Priest’s ‘Stained Class’, all released in 1978.  So many excellent live records that year as well: Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush’s ‘Live’, Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, Scorpions’ ‘Tokyo Tapes’, Aerosmith’s ‘Live Bootleg’ and Thin Lizzy (who also had an extended live showing on ‘Kirshner’s’ in October) released their legendary ‘Live and Dangerous’. Even the newer generation of ‘second tier’ hard rockers like Angel and Starz put out strong albums (‘White Hot’ and ‘Coliseum Rock’, respectively). What a fucking year.

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Needless to say, my musical tastes were formed that year, and truth be told, they haven’t changed all that much. 1978 was the year I moved from slavish worship of a single band to an enduring fascination with an entire genre. Kiss validated my decision to move on by releasing 4 solo albums, which were 75% junk, and then by unleashing the complete disaster ‘Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park’ TV debacle. But I suppose one could say that for many, Kiss served a valuable purpose: initiating those of us in a certain age group into the world of rock n’ roll. Kiss was like a ‘gateway drug’, first getting you hooked and then leading you to the harder stuff.