Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Stairway to Heaven - Richard Cole

Yes, I am in the middle of a 70’s rock phase – I’m revisiting all my old records as well as reading books on these old farts!

I recently found the Hammer of the Gods book (Stephen Davis) for cheap, so I read that book before this one. That is known as one of the ultimate exploitation books due to its tales of excess and debauchery. Many of these stories are the same as those told in Hammer of the Gods - which lead me to believe that Cole was the source for many of those and the success of that tome gave him the idea to do his own book. I do think that HOTG was a little more well-rounded since it wasn’t written solely from one point of view. But Cole does his best to give a personal side to these superstars.

Cole did spend some time with Jimmy Page at the end of the Yardbirds days, so he had a friendship and working relationship with Page long before Led Zep became a reality. It sounds like he never got close to John Paul Jones because Jones tended to keep to himself and had an almost antagonistic relationship with Plant.

While apparently considering himself to be closest to drummer John Bonham (Bonzo), Cole tends to depict him as a mean, selfish, childish, drunken asshole. Episodes such as shitting in women's shoes and purses, throwing televisions out of hotel windows (I am always amazed that they never hurt/killed anyone), starting fist fights though only when his bodyguards were there to step in, disrupting other bands' concerts simply to be the center of attention (when he would most likely have decimated anyone who did this to him), destroying hotel rooms, pissing himself and his seat on a plane and making his roadie sit in it, and even pulling a gun on his bandmates all make Bonzo sound like a complete out-of-control jerk that no one would ever want to have anything to do with - certainly not a fun-loving jovial guy that you would like to have a beer with.

This story does show the heights that a 70's rock band could attain - and how badly sudden acclaim can affect country bumpkins such as Bonzo and sometimes even Plant. Most people are familiar with a good number of the episodes recounted here and Cole tells them pretty frankly though he does seem to sanitize some of the drug use – at least compared to the other book. But he has no problem showing these cats to be neuvo-riche brats who would pout if they didn’t get everything that they ever wanted.

Sure most musicians would love to have lived this lifestyle, but it also shows how out of touch this lifestyle can put you from your fans and the real world.

They lived the life of the biggest rock band in the world for a decade before Bonham’s death (apparent alcohol overdose and choking on his own vomit) caused them to break up. Lots of highs (in every sense of the word!) and several tragedies (including the death of Plant’s son) means there is plenty to write about. It’s an interesting read, if only to show you how crazy the world was back then!

(Funny thing - the one cover image that i could find on the web is completely different than the book that i have.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blue Oyster Cult - Blue Oyster Cult

This remastered CD is not a new release, but I finally picked it up!

You can see my review of this incredible debut record elsewhere on this site , but this remastered version sounds freakin' awesome and that alone is worth the price.

But along with the fantastic sound, you also get 4 bonus tracks from their Soft White Underbelly days.

“Donovan's Monkeys”, along with the other originals, has lyrics by R. Meltzer, showing that he & BOC have a long history together! No, I have no idea what this song is about but it definitely sounds like they were influenced by Jefferson Airplane at this point. (Eric even mentions them in the new liner notes.) This is a great tune, up-tempo and rockin' in a SF/Airplane (I think I’m thinking of “3/5 of a mile in Ten Seconds” here) kinda way. I dig it a lot!

“What is Quicksand” is my least favorite of the bonus tracks. In fact, I thought it sounded like a throw-away, but upon reading the liner notes, this tune is something that existed for years and was also a demo when the band was called the Stalk-Forest Group. To me, it just doesn’t live up to their other songs, though it does have some interesting guitar work in it. But "A Fact About Sneakers" brings us back to the SF sound (maybe more Quicksilver Messenger Service here) with some cool harmonies and a pretty intricate backing track.

The real oddity is a comparatively traditional take on "Betty Lou's Got a New Pair of Shoes" that sounds like another SF band, the Flamin' Groovies. This would fit right in on their "Still Shakin'" record. This is pretty rockin’, but not something that I would expect from BOC (or SWU). Just goes to show that they had a wide variety of influences!

So, even if you have the original version of this record, I would highly recommend this for the sound and the ultra-cool extra tracks!

Friday, October 05, 2007


Anyone who knows me knows that I was a huge fan of early Aerosmith. I don’t remember what song I first heard of theirs, but I know I was already hooked by the time I saw them during their Toys in the Attic tour, watching from a few feet away. (My high-school girlfriend was definitely hooked and practically came in her pants over Steven Tyler’s see-through lace outfit!)

I loved the first two records, but Toys in the Attic really hit with me. The almost punk-rock mania of the title song was enough to draw in any serious rock’n’roller, but the lasciviousness of “Adam’s Apple” and “Big Ten Inch Record” (those two songs convinced me that I was seeing one of the filthiest rock band around at the time – aside from bands like the Fugs, of course) really resonated with a teenage boy. Add to that the rockers like “Walk This Way”, “Sweet Emotion” and “No More No More” and you had a near-perfect 70’s rock album.

Having recently found their autobiography “Walk This Way” (this phrase was, funnily enough, stolen from Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein”), I have been listening to them again. The book is good, by the way, and shows everyone to be more intelligent than you might have originally thought, but still “dumb” enough to have their careers destroyed by drugs. There are some good insights though, such as discovering that Joe Perry and Tom Hamilton were covering bands like the MC5 before starting Aerosmith and that Joe is a big Sex Pistols fan. One of the things that I found more ironic is that Joe was embarrassed by “Dream On” (a great song, though overplayed these days) and thought that they were selling out by doing songs like that. Considering some of the drek that they put out in the 80’s, I consider this to be pretty funny.

One of the other revelations from the book is that Steven would hold up records for months at a time because he couldn’t come up with the lyrics. Not the melodies, not the music, but just the words! I’ll admit that he has had some clever turn-of-phrases (in a dirty, teenage way), but it’s not like he’s writing poetry here! And no one else could jump in with some words? This seems really bizarre to me. Apparently, it got so bad that this is one of the reasons why they started working with outside writers, who contributed to some of the worst crap (though some of the biggest sellers, oddly enough) that the band ever released.

Probably due to the onset of punk shortly after “Toys…” came out, I kinda lost interest in the band and didn’t really pay too much attention when the next record, Rocks, was released. Looking back now, though, it really is a strong r’n’r record – almost up there with “Toys…”. “Back in the Saddle”, “Sick as a Dog”, “Lick and a Promise” all make this another classic album.

By the time that “Draw the Line” appeared in December of 1977, punk had taken over and Aerosmith had started to fall apart due to the absurd ingestion of drugs and alcohol mixed with egos. The title tune is still a good song, but they were definitely decaying by this point.

Most people know about their clean-up story and their resurrection in the 80’s. I even think that they did some good songs at this time, though most of it is pretty different from the old r’n’r band – a lot cleaner and pop-oriented.

My local library provided me with a chance to listen to their 2002 live record Rocking the Joint – live at the Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas. This actually is a pretty good album overall, though it includes the incredibly insipid “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, which has to be one of the worst songs ever recorded by anyone, much less by Aerosmith (and, of course, I understand that this was their biggest hit). When I hear pap like this coming from this band it really makes me wonder why albums were held up for 6 months for lyrics. This song has some of the most forgettable words ever written down – truly pathetic.

Other than that horrifying tangent, the rest of the record is pretty rockin’, and includes relative obscurities like “Seasons of Wither” and another song that Joe & Tom used to do pre-Aerosmith: Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake”, which is a great blues-rocker. There’s a very cool version of “Big Ten Inch Record” and the ubiquitous “Walk This Way” and “Train Kept a’Rollin’”.

This live record certainly isn’t their strongest and I couldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the band, but it’s pretty damn solid, especially for a band whose members were pushing 60 at the time!

The Aerosmith story is at times inspiring, at times infuriating (that they would give up the things that most people would kill for simply for drugs), but usually entertaining. The guys know the importance of looking good, playing good and giving a performance. Steven has always been a great showman – especially in the old days – and Joe is a super foil for him – in the Mick & Keith tradition. They still look pretty damn phenomenal for their age and they can still rock, so gotta give ‘em credit! They’ve made some bad moves in order to stay popular, but I still respect a band that can continue to rock like they do.