Friday, June 23, 2006

Johnny Thunders - So Alone

Quite simply the best solo Thunders record ever! Recorded in the late 70’s, this was his first post-Heartbreakers record and I still think he was never able to top it. Yes, there are some remakes – a version of the Dolls’ “Subway Train”, “Leave Me Alone” is “Chatterbox with slightly different words, “Great Big Kiss” was a Dolls cover – but the new tunes are superb!

The record starts off with a heavy take on “Pipeline”, which became the standard for any band doing this song from then on! Pretty true to the original arrangement, but with the unmistakable Thunders guitar sound - a classic opening!

Next comes one of Johnny’s best-written songs ever, the fantastic “Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”. Great lyrics, great tune, great arrangement and great production on this and throughout this album. If you haven’t heard this song, you’ve been living in a cave for the last 30 years of so, so you don’t need me to tell you how amazing it is!

“Ask Me No Questions”, though, is also right up there as one of his best. Similar in feel to “Memory”, it is another of his best melodies, and despite these two songs coming off as so heart-felt you could almost cry, they also still contain Johnny’s trademark fucked-up guitar! A balance that is almost impossible!

There are guest stars throughout this record and the most obvious appear on the version of “Daddy Rolling Stone”. Thunders trades off vocals with no less than Phil Lynott (riding high with Thin Lizzy at the time) and legendary Small Faces/Humble Pie lead man, Steve Marriot! Needless to say, this is one of the best versions of this song ever!

Surprise guests continue on “London Boys”, Johnny’s answer to the Sex Pistols “New York”, which was Lydon’s dig at the Dolls (despite the Pistols obviously being massively influenced by them). None other than Steve Jones and Paul Cook appear on this song, which just goes to show what they were thinking of Lydon at the time! A great, truly funny and clever parody of the Pistols!

“She’s So Untouchable” also has the feel of “Memory” & “Questions”, with a terrific sax solo and Johnny’s great line, “she’s so untouchable, but I can touch!” If there was any justice in the world, one or all of these 3 tunes would have been hits.

The record closes with “Downtown”, an ode to drugs that is so damn gloomy and depressing sounding that it’s hard to listen to repeatedly.

The CD comes with several bonus cuts, but this record really doesn’t need any more than the original songs. Any and everyone who cares at all about r’n’r should own this record!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Blue Oyster Cult - Blue Oyster Cult & Tyranny & Mutation

As I recall, I “discovered” BOC between the time of their 3rd album, Secret Treaties, and their breakthrough record, Agents of Fortune, with the hit “Don’t Fear The Reaper” – most likely as the result of my pal Kenne Highland giving me their first couple of records.

These guys really sounded like no other band at the time – in fact, I don’t know of anyone since who sounds anything like them! The entire band was made up of excellent musicians, lead by the brilliant Buck Dharma on lead guitar. Everyone could play multiple instruments – in fact, they used to close the show with all 5 members in front of the stage wailing on guitars! The riffs were loud and fast and more complex than most bands’ solos, but the songs were still songs, and memorable ones, at that!

Their self-titled first album starts with “Transmaniacon MC” and immediately you are shown what these guys are all about! Power chords, a crazed half-step riff, evil-sounding harmony leads and the very first words out of Eric Bloom’s mouth are “on satan’s hog”! I never understood why the religious right didn’t pick on BOC a lot more than they did – they are far more sinister than bands like Black Sabbath, who wrote favorably about Christ!

Lots of super songs on this record, from “I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep” (which is reprised on the second album at twice the speed as “The Red & The Black”), the beautiful “Then Came The Last Days of May” (supposedly a true story of a drug deal gone bad), the completely bizarre “She’s As Beautiful As A Foot” (with lyrics by R. Meltzer, who often contributed to the band, as did Patti Smith, then rhythm guitarist Allen Lanier’s main squeeze), and the anthemic “Cities on Flame With Rock’n’Roll”.

Truly a great r’n’r record!

Tyranny & Mutation begins with even louder power chords and faster riffs and you are probably ½ through the song before you realize that “The Red & The Black” is a new version of “I’m On The Lamb”! Kinda genius in its twisted way!

“OD’d on Life Itself” is another one of my faces. A cool, simple, (for a change!) E chord riff, and, while the words are still obscure, pretty much any teenager at times will relate to that title!!

As “Hot Rails to Hell” blends into “7 Screaming Diz-Busters” (one of many BOC references used as band names) there are tons of changes and tons of great guitars and wild imagery! “Baby Ice Dog” is introduced with the line “I had a bitch you see, She made lies to me”, so again, teenage boys are gonna relate to that! It’s a damn catchy song, too!

The record closes with “Teen Archer” and “Mistress of the Salmon Salt” – cool, sing-a-long tunes with layers of more rockin’ guitars.

BOC was called “thinking man’s heavy metal” due to the complexity of the music and the almost poetic/drug-addled lyrics. But the songs would always resonate in your head long after the albums were finished!

I first saw them on their "Agents of Fortune" tour and they were fantastic! There is a DVD out now from that tour and it is very cool, though there is no audience noise, so its a kinda odd experience. Their stage was built onto a wall of speakers and when all 5 of them came out front playing high pitched lead guitars, they almost busted my eardrums!

A year or so ago BOC came to Vegas and while the Bouchard brothers were no longer on bass & drums, the band was still great and most of the set was from the first three albums! One of the better “reunion” shows that I have seen!

This appears to be an official website.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Neil Young - Living With War

I know that I’m way behind the crowd in writing about this record, but it took me a while get a copy. That said, this is a fantastic record – for both r’n’r and for politics!

Starting out with a burst of over-driven Neil Young guitar, he lets us know what this record is all about from his first few lines in “After The Garden” – “won’t need no shadow man, runnin’ the government, won’t need no stinkin’ war”.

This leads into the title track, which adds the unusual musical addition of a trumpet that repeats the guitar lines and returns throughout the record. This is so strikingly odd that it throws you off-balance at first, but it totally works, and makes sense when it starts to play “Taps” later in the record. This song pretty well embodies everything that this record and this country is about these days.

In “The Restless Consumer” Neil puts into words what most of the world is thinking and sums it all up in his repeated refrain of “don’t need no more lies”!

“Shock and Awe” rails against the hypocrisy, cover-ups and lies around “shock and awe” and “mission accomplished” and bush’s assorted bs. The trumpet figures prominently in this song, and is explained in the lyric “thousands of bodies in the ground, brought home in boxes to a trumpet’s sound, no one sees them coming home that way”.

“Families” and “Flags of Freedom” shows some of the consequences of this administration’s actions of the people of this country. I especially like the Dylan references and the line that sums up just about everything: “do you think that you believe in yours, more than they do theirs somehow?”

“Let’s Impeach the President” (with the trumpet playing “Taps” in parts) is the obvious centerpiece of the record. Neil basically recounts some of the well-known reasons why bush deserves to be impeached – of course, he can’t list everything, but he gets the gist of it all! The bridge with the “flip / flop” refrain is especially effective as he uses clips of bush contradicting himself and lying to us all.

“Lookin’ For A Leader” is a song of optimism and hope that someone can turn this tide around and bring America back to what it is supposed to be and not the abomination that it is now.

A melancholy song about a friend who has passed on, “Roger and Out” could be sung by all too many people these days.

The record closes with a pretty traditional version of “America The Beautiful” – with his 100 person choir - apparently for those who otherwise would not understand how much Neil loves this country and the fact that that is the reason why he had to make this album.

Neil was smart enough to wrap all of this up in a sound that most of his fans know and love – the distorted guitar noise that has been the basis of many of his hits throughout the years. This would be one of his better albums regardless of what the songs were about, but with the timely lyrics – even the NSA wiretapping scandal is referenced – this is one of his most important – and certainly most patriotic - records ever.

Neil has a major online presence these days and you can find his pages here, here and here. I'm sure that there are more out there, also!

Black Oak Arkansas - Raunch'n'Roll Live!

I suppose that I should consider this a “guilty pleasure” album, but I really don’t! None other than Creem magazine (either Lester Bangs or R. Meltzer – I forget which, now) declared that this was the best live record since Kick Out The Jams, so how can ya go wrong?!

Yes, this is the same band that did the somewhat silly version of the 50’s tune, “Jim Dandy” (which I also dig) in honor of their singer of the same name, but it was Elvis Presley that suggested that they do it! And, as Jim said at the time, “if Elvis tells you to do something, you do it!”

On this album, though, their triple guitar attack is focused on their aptly-named “raunch’n’roll”! With titles like “Getting Kinda Cocky”, “Gigolo”, “Hot Rod” and “Hot and Nasty”, there is no doubt as to what Jim is talking about – especially when you see him (ALL of him!) in his tighter-than-skin-tight spandex jumpsuit! And fans of Van Halen need to see videos of this band to see where David Lee Roth stole his entire schtick! The look, the hair, the moves, the onstage banter, the lyrics – Diamond Dave got it all from Mr. Dandy!

There was talk at the time about these guys not being virtuosos, but when you listen to this record, there is no doubt that these cats can play! Check out Pat Daugherty’s bass intro to “Electricity Comes to Arkansas”, or Tommy Aldridge’s drumming throughout, including the obligatory drum solo in the pot-themed “Up”. The three guitarists make a beautiful noise on all the tunes, sometimes in harmony, sometimes just rockin’, without ever stepping on each other’s toes. Even Jim Dandy chimes in with some microphoned washboard playing!

Yes, as with most of the 70’s bands, these guys degenerated as the years went by – losing members (one guitarist quit because he found god – and even spoke at my college about turning his back on the r’n’r lifestyle), adding keyboards, and writing lame songs. But, at this time, this was a real party band!

In the words of Jim Dandy introducing “Electricity”, “This is High Energy!!!”

(You can check out a website dedicated to BOA here)

The Little Kings

It is easy to think of the music scene in LA in the 80’s only in terms of the dreadful, talentless hair metal bands that rec’d all of the press at the time. But there was an amazing, exciting, and thriving underground scene that was packed with incredible bands all throughout that decade.

Besides some of the best 60’s influenced bands in the country (Unclaimed, Untold Fables, Beguiled, Miracle Workers, etc), there were tons of fantastic r’n’r bands – Redd Kross, Celebrity Skin, Tex and the Horseheads, Screamin’ Sirens, Blood on the Saddle, X, the Blasters, Hangmen and many more, including this group, the Little Kings.

These cats popped out of nowhere, blazed their way through LA, recorded an album for Sympathy and then disappeared! I know that the drummer also played with – the also excellent, though very different – Phast Phreddie and Thee Precisions, but otherwise, I don’t believe that I ever saw anyone from this band before or after.

And that is a shame, because this is one red-hot rockin’ slab of vinyl (and yes, it is just vinyl – this was before the CD revolution)! They leap out of the starting gate with “Head First”, which tells you immediately what this band is all about – machine-gun drums, loud guitar riffs, great leads, and songs about the proverbial sex, drugs, and r’n’r. This sound would be right at home with the current punk’n’roll crowd, tho the Kings leaned a little more on the “roll” than the “punk”, I’d say. Bernie, the singer, was seriously one of the oddest leaders of a r’n’r band ever. Goofy-looking, wearing big plastic-framed glasses, super tall and so skinny that I honestly wondered how he was able to get all the tattoos that he had on his arms – they looked so thin that it seems like the tat needles would go right through them!

But they could write real songs! Great sing-a-long/chant-a-long tunes with titles like “Dirty Pool”, “Choke on It” and “I Wanna Die Like Elvis Did” (“don’t wanna be a bald old man, wanna live as fast as I can, I wanna die like elvis did, with my face on the floor and a girl in my bed”), and they weren’t afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves, as with the Sex Pistols steals in “I Confess”.

I tend to think of these guys are a consummate LA band of the time - hedonistic r’n’r with style! Most of the real r’n’r scene was made up of people who dressed like rockers (in one fashion or another), partied together, often lived together, sometimes slept together. We were all just hanging on, living in crappy neighborhoods, and surviving just for the music. This album basically sounds like the best and the worst of the times!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

R.I.P. Billy Preston

Singer-songwriter Billy Preston dies at 59
PHOENIX - Billy Preston, the exuberant keyboardist who landed dream gigs with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and enjoyed his own hit singles including "Outta Space" and "Nothing From Nothing," died Tuesday at 59.

Seriously, this man was amazing and it is a loss to the music world that he is gone - and at far too young of an age, also.

He was a fantastic musician and an incredible showman. Check him out on the recently released Concert For Bangladesh DVD. There were some terrific TV appearances in the 70's, as well. I distinctly remember one where he had a HUGE afro (literally at least 3 feet in diameter) and at one point he was dancing around so manically, that the afro was revealed to be a wig when it fell off of his head! Great stuff!

See Crooks and Liars for a video