Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Todd Rundgren’s first band is this sacrilegiously named group (a shortened reference to “Jesus of Nazareth”) which combined pop and psych and created a powerful, original sound that is still eye-opening today.

This first album starts off “Open My Eyes” with strong piano chords, a soaring fuzz guitar riff and, after the full band blasts in, amazing melodies, harmonies and an instantly memorable chorus! Some nice – but not overdone – psychedelic studio affects add to the number and there is plenty of wild Todd guitar work! What an amazing intro to this band!

They continue in this vein for “Back of Your Mind” – more fuzzy licks, interesting call-and-response verses, another great chorus and super playing by the whole band. This song is a little darker and moodier, but still quite rockin’!

“See What You Can Be” is mellower, a piano-based ballad-y tune that sounds a lot like some later Rundgren solo numbers. Plenty of layers of harmonies and more alternating vocals all work to create a nice, pretty song. This feel continues in the super-slow original version of “Hello It’s Me”. While obviously the same song that became his first solo hit, this is much quieter and not nearly as upbeat. Still good, but it is clear why the later version broke the charts.

The Nazz crashes back into the rock with one of the record’s highlights, “Wildwood Blues”. Heavier than you can imagine, this is pretty far from blues, but is superb, overdriven psych with fantastic guitars! There are still plenty of cool vocals, but cymbals smash and guitars slash and organs swell in a massively loud and wonderful jam at the end.

That was the end of side one of the vinyl and side two opens with another softer tune, similar to “See What You Can Be”, this one titled “If That’s the Way You Feel”. Even the vocal lines are reminiscent of the previous tune. Still, it is good and has some unique parts, such as the climbing bridge and an addition of strings. Todd shows off his sweet falsetto and wide range here, as well.

More terrific psych appears in “When I Get My Plane” – still quite poppy and an incredibly catchy chorus but also rockin’ with a highly textured, effects-laden guitar section. About as good as psych-pop can be! This shoulda been a hit!

Even more rollickin’ is the upbeat “Lemming Song”. A galloping groove drives this number and Todd stretches out for another fine guitar solo, also. Intensely rockin’ and the band really locks together and everyone shines right through to the crescendo ending.

Dialing back the energy again for another pure-pop tune the band highlights their harmony work on “Crowded”. This is a fairly brief interlude before they bash out the suggestively titled “She’s Going Down”. This is wildly energetic, with another monster guitar workout before the keys take over for a bit of a psych bridge and then the rhythm section gets to display their chops with a tasteful – and short - drum solo before they are come back for another repeated chorus. Fine, fine stuff!

For lovers of melodic psych that is more pop-oriented than acid-drenched. The band is super strong all around and the song writing is fantastic! A late 60’s classic!

Supagroup – Fire for Hire

I just picked up this 2007 release of the supa-powerful Supagroup and, once again, lovers of their high-energy, testosterone-fueled, somewhat silly, AC/DC styled rock’n’roll won’t be disappointed!

They explode out of the gate with the blistering “What’s Your Problem Now?”, which tells you all you need to know about these cats right from the start. This is take-no-prisoners r’n’r – wild and irreverent and tons of fun! “Born in Exile” sounds like David Lee Roth if he could still write good songs. Chanted “heys!” open up “Lonely At the Bottom”, a song about them being underdogs that enjoys a catchy chorus. Nothing to do with any other song with the same title is “Sold Me Down the River” – another sing-along, up tempo rocker.

They cut the speed a little with the bluesy “Jailbait”, which they have recorded before. This is a new take, though and the cool groove is highlighted with some tasteful guitar work from Benji Lee and fine vocals by brother Chris. Rhythm section Leif Swift on bass and Michael Brueggen on drums do a helluva job complimenting all of the tracks.

More AC/DC-isms are evident in “Promised Land” with its staccato guitar rhythms and licks and cool, group chorus. Lots of good use of dynamics in this one, too. They’re in your face full force with “Hey Kiddies” (“wake up from your coma”) – more high-energy with plenty of terrific guitar work.

The more moody “Mourning Day” starts as a quieter, blues-based number than builds into a loud, strong chorus before coming back down for more melodic verses. Well written! Benji excels here again, too! They blast back into familiar territory with a righteous “Long Live Rock” which ironically is much more rockin’ than the Who song of the same name! “Bow Down” is slow but ultra-heavy and again, I’m hearing references to AC/DC (sorry to belabor this point, but there are specific songs that are really similar – not that I think that’s a problem!). Good change of pace without wimping out – the drumbeat is massive here – like a brontosaurus stomp!

The title song has a fine r’n’r beat and is classic Supagroup with single-entendre, incredibly salacious lyrics and a helluva chorus. They close the record with the wildly rockin’ “Roll in Smokin’” – super fast, great guitar work and a damn good song!

Don’t expect anything very divergent from their previous releases, but I like a band that has a great sound and doesn’t change every record! Those who dig their r’n’r fast and fun, this is the place for you!
(I reviewed their equally rockin' Rules here)

Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

I was (and am) and huge fan of Big Brother and I think that Janis’ time with the band was by far the highlight of her career. Their out of control, blues-based, psychedelic rock’n’roll was so wild and so on-the-edge that – as a lover of Detroit punk’n’roll – I was totally drawn into it. The guitar work could be beautifully intricate or so noisily insane that it sounded like it was cracking your skull in two! A wonderful r’n’r band who I thought worked perfectly with Janis’ terrific growls and groans.

So, when I first heard her later work, I was a little less than impressed despite the fact that she retained Sam Andrews from Big Brother. There were still some good songs, but it was so different and so r’n’b & horn oriented that I couldn’t really relate to it as a rocker kid.

Listening now, as my tastes have expanded a bit, I find these to be super recordings, though I have to separate them as different entities and not go in thinking of crazed r’n’r.

This is absolutely her pure r’n’b/soul album. Clean guitars, lots of horns and her bluesy wail all work together for a fine sound. This is Janis doing her best white female version of Otis Redding. And she does it very well!
For fans of r'n'b (white or black) more so than of rock'n'roll. Not as classic as the Cheap Thrills album but, great stuff, overall!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Black Skies in Broad Daylight - the Living Things

I picked this up through Amazon because I dug Ahead of the Lions enough that I wanted to hear more, but this is essentially the same album, so if you have AOTL, don't bother with this. It looks like there are a couple of different songs, and the artwork is completely different, so if you're a completist you might want it, but otherwise just pick up one or the other.

Friday, October 17, 2008

RIP Levi Stubbs

(Four Tops - Levi second from right)

Four Tops frontman Levi Stubbs dead at 72

DETROIT – Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs, who possessed one of the most dynamic and emotive voices of all the Motown singers, died Friday at 72.

He had been ill recently and died in his sleep at the Detroit house he shared with his wife, said Dana Meah, the wife of a grandson. The Wayne County medical examiner's office also confirmed the death.

With Stubbs in the lead, the Four Tops sold millions of records, including such hits as "Baby I Need Your Loving," "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" and "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)."

The group performed for more than four decades without a change in personnel. Stubbs' death leaves one surviving member of the original group: Abdul "Duke" Fakir.

Stubbs "fits right up there with all the icons of Motown," said Audley Smith, chief operating officer of the Motown Historical Museum. "His voice was as unique as Marvin's or as Smokey's or as Stevie's."

The Four Tops began singing together in 1953 under the group name the Four Aims and signed a deal with Chess Records. They later changed their names to the Four Tops to avoid being confused with the Ames Brothers.

They also recorded for Red Top, Riverside and Columbia Records and toured supper

The Four Tops signed with Motown Records in 1963 and produced 20 Top-40 hits over the next 10 years, making music history with the other acts in Berry Gordy's Motown stable.

Their biggest hits were recorded between 1964 and 1967 with the in-house songwriting and production team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. Both 1965's "I Can't Help Myself" and 1966's "Reach Out" went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart.

Other hits included "Shake Me, Wake Me" (1966); "Bernadette" and "Standing in the Shadows of Love" (both 1967).

They toured for decades afterward and reached the charts as late as 1988 with "Indestructible" on Arista Records. In 1986, Stubbs provided the voice for Audrey II the man-eating plant in the film "Little Shop of Horrors."

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Original Top Lawrence Payton died of liver cancer in 1997. Renaldo "Obie" Benson died of lung cancer in 2005.

Stubbs was born in 1936 in Detroit and attended Pershing High School, where he sang with Fakir. They met fellow Detroiters Payton and Benson while singing at a mutual friend's birthday party, then decided to form a group.

"These are four of the greatest people I have ever known. They were major pros even before they came to Motown," Gordy said when the Four Tops' star was unveiled in Hollywood.

Stubbs is survived by his wife, five children and 11 grandchildren.


Cream – Disraeli Gears

This second album propelled Cream into the mainstream and cemented Eric Clapton’s reputation as a guitar god, while also placing bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker in the pantheon of extraordinary rhythm masters. Yes, everyone is familiar with this monster record, but what the heck, I just got it on CD, so here it is…

“Strange Brew” starts the record with a cool, bluesy groove and a funny story. Apparently the band had considered recording “Lawdy Mama” and ran through a couple of takes. They did one considerably slower and the producer, Felix Papallardi and engineer Tom Dowd dug the sound, convinced Eric to put different lyrics (written by Felix and his wife Gail Collins) and melody and a new lead guitar part and came up with this, their first single from the record! Apparently, not everyone in the band was thrilled with this, but I think it is a great tune!

Of course, the gargantuan hit from this is “Sunshine of Your Love” with its classic guitar lick that a billion bands have tried to master throughout the years. Great power chords in the chorus, good melody and plenty of intense strength. Tom Dowd claims that he came up with the idea for Baker’s somewhat off-time drum pattern because a more standard beat wasn’t working. This was one of the many Jack Bruce and Pete Brown (with some help from Eric) master works.

A much mellower outing is Papallardi’s “World of Pain”, which is fine though not exceptional, but does feature Eric’s first recorded use of the wah-wah pedal. His playing continues to be stellar here and the dual-tracked solo is quite nice.

Another Bruce/Brown psych pop tune is “Dance the Night Away”. Unusual in Eric’s use of a picked 12 string guitar for the main backing and Eric & Jack’s harmonies throughout. Clapton’s solo work is quite interesting on this moody piece – it almost sounds like backwards tracking, though it is not. This truly sets the pace of the tune – great arrangement all the way through.

A complete throw away is Baker’s “Blue Condition”. This is pretty much unlistenable except as a joke – Ginger’s vocals are horrendous and the dirge-like pace is just sad. This was the end of side one and I’m sure that many, many people skipped over this to get to the other side.

After that bit of nonsense, the band redeems itself with one of its best, “Tales of Brave Ulysses”. Again, Eric makes good use of his new wah-wah in creating waves of sound to mimic the sea that he sings about. He is not as imaginative as Hendrix in this use, but highlighting the pedal in this song surely sent wah-wah sales soaring! Nice use of dynamics throughout and a good, head-banging beat sucks you in as Eric and the band all play great fills.

Showcasing Clapton’s self-described “woman tone” is the fabulous “SWLABR” (“she was like a bearded rainbow”). High-energy pseudo-blues with a damn catchy melody – one of my faves! (One of my bands even covered this, which led to another band doing it later!)

One of their most atmospheric numbers is “We’re Going Wrong”. Simple chords highlight Baker’s excellent drum pattern and Jack’s lovely voice, telling a tale of love gone sour. Eric gives a tortured sounding, but restrained solo which complements the feel of the song beautifully. This is probably their most heartfelt tune that they ever did.

Eric wanted a traditional blues, so there is the inclusion of “Outside Woman Blues”. Not super exciting, but still a good arrangement and, of course, great playing by all. Good overdub work by Clapton, playing off of his own guitar lines.

“Take it Back” is blues-based, but with plenty of energy and the overdubbed “audience” sounds give it a party feel. Bruce shows that he can truly play the harp and the band sounds like they’re having fun with this simple composition. Good stuff!

The record closes with another insanely silly take of a traditional ditty, “Mother’s Lament”. This sounds like they were drunk down at the local pub and had this “great” idea. I guess it was funny if you were stoned, but pretty absurd in the context of a blues/psych album.

But despite the occasional flaw, Disraeli Gears (the title is a play on words on a piece of a racing bicycle – showing just how weird they could be in the quest for an in joke) truly is a classic and something that every fan of r’n’r guitar work should own!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Doors – Live at Pittsburgh Civic Arena May 2, 1970

This document is of the Doors at their best! A great selection of songs – though not vastly different from the past live records – and super performances throughout.

Opening with their intense take on “Back Door Man”, the entire show takes on a bluesy r’n’r feel more than a psychedelic mood – though there is some of that, as well. I like how this moves into Morrison’s chant, “Love Hides”, similar to the Absolutely Live version. This then melds into their powerful “Five to One”, one of my favorite Doors’ songs. Jim is in fine voice this night, though he seems a little restrained overall – none of his trademarked screams in any of these tunes. Apparently, he was so over the top at some of the shows that they were sloppy disasters – this one he is reined in so that he is right on top of the songs, but is a little safe.

A strong reading of “Roadhouse Blues” follows – another one of their best! This is extended a bit and both Jim and the band are in superb form. A slow, almost rambling jam speeds up and – oddly enough – becomes “Mystery Train”! I had never heard about them doing this before so this was a neat surprise. This song is wildly different in their hands – Manzarek carries it for the most part, so just the fact that it changes from a rockabilly guitar piece to an organ-driven tune makes it very much their own. Ray really cuts loose on this, too – nicely done, as long as you’re not a purist! This eventually becomes “Away in India”, which is pretty much a Morrison-led jam, though he adds a nice melody to it. Actually the band really works together on this – cool accents and playing off of each other. This is a testament to a band that could “jam” and maintain an audience’s interest as they then move into “Crossroad Blues”, another unique version. Ray is still dominating overall but Jim is loosening up and seemingly really enjoying himself. Really great stuff!

A highlight for me of Absolutely Live was “Universal Mind” and this version is pretty similar of that nicely moody tune. The sound is solid throughout the record, apparently because this was the tour that the live record came from. This isn’t an exact copy of the other take, though, showing that they weren’t afraid to play around with the arrangements a bit from night to night.

“Someday Soon” is an unusual and fairly inconsequential song – not bad, just not up to their usual standards, which probably explains why it was left off of the official live record.

The band reaches its stride with their centerpiece, “When the Music’s Over”. Opening with Ray’s keyboard and then the magnificent combination of Krieger’s massive fuzz guitar and Jim’s unholy shriek, then they settle into this classic tune. Robby’s first extended solo is nicely demented and the quiet section fills with wails, feedback, and all manner of unearthly grunts and groans. Eventually, this moves into a dirge-like “Break on Through” before they build up a powerful jam with Morrison making up words on the spot and then, with split second precision (ok, I’m exaggerating a little), they jump back into the original song for the ending.

Jim does an almost word-for-word copy of Absolutely Live’s “tonight you’re in for a special treat”, making us realize that this was not as off-the-cuff as they make it sound. Good for the show, though! This is an intro to Ray’s lead vocal on Willie Dixon’s “Close to You”, showing that he was a accomplished vocalist, also, and once again showing the band’s blues roots.

The CD closes with their biggest hit ever, “Light My Fire”. Of course, everyone in the world knows this song and Ray & Robby take extended solos, as on the studio version, with new explorations.

Overall, great sound production on a cool live gig. The song selection has enough variation from some of the other records to make this one worth owning, as well as the others! Not a place to start but a fun document for fans.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Living Things – Ahead of the Lions

I stumbled upon these guys one day while flipping channels past VH1 or something and dug their 70’s-styled, Gary Glitter-esque groove. Picking up this CD, I see that they have almost perfected this style. I’m not sure how well this has gone over with the masses (I have no idea how popular they are), but it is pretty appealing to this aging rocker!

Starting off with staccato bursts – with long pauses between – of distorted power chords, the Things then blast into the raging punk-fueled rocker, “Bombs Below”. The singer might be a little over the top, but the song maintains a catchiness and they add a sing-along “go! Go! Go!” to get everyone involved.

“I Owe” doesn’t quite click with me, though it has a groovy lick and chanting acronyms, so it’s not bad, just not among the best. Still has a good, rockin’ beat and it short and to the point.

Very influenced by Gary Glitter’s classic drum-stylings is “Bom Bom Bom”, which is supremely infectious. The groove never stops and you can’t help but be drawn in! “New Year” is a lot poppier, but still had tremendously heavy guitars, good dynamics and good playing throughout.

More Glitter-isms in “God Made Hate” with a simple chord progression and a memorable repetition of the line “ignore them orders”, making them sound reasonably subversive as they rock you! “End Gospel” is more of the same hard rock with a catchy “I need to stop to be stopped” chorus. After a while the singer does become a little monotonous and samey – even with the catchiness of the tunes – and while the guitarist has a great tone, he is more of a rhythm player than a lead man, which probably only means something to guitar snobs like me. They make the best out of these limitations, and I still dig the stuff a lot, but it does limit the variations that they can provide.

Anyway, as I say, I still dig what they’re doing and “No New Jesus” barrels through with strength and intensity and again the title is not the chorus, which makes the songs names harder to remember! Opening with an almost dissonant guitar lick, “March in Daylight” plays more with dynamics, moving from quiet picking to downright screaming!

“Keep it til you Fold” is more of a ballad and while it builds a bit, it doesn’t match the walls of sound of the other tunes. Nice variety here and the guitarist is adding more interesting textual sounds. They up the tempo for “Monsters of Man” and use more keyboards than guitars for the basics, making this one of the most different tunes on the record! Very short, too!

Back to the power chords with “On All Fours”, which is an anti-establishment number with plenty of punk trappings and wild screams! Good high energy! They close with “I Wish the Best for You”, a slower number with de-tuned guitars that growl through parts of the song making it a depressing sounding semi-ballad. Interesting way to end a record!

Overall, great power and good songwriting. A little more variation will make these guys monsters! This is well worth getting, though!

David Johansen

On his first solo record, David Johansen moved away from the street/glam-rock of the New York Dolls to a more straightforward 70’s rock style. This might not have been quite as original or refreshing as the Dolls, but he still had some good songs up his sleeves.

The album starts off with “Funky But Chic” (funky butt cheek?), a guitar heavy piece of groovin’ 70’s melodic metal. The band is tight (again, unlike the Dolls!) and rockin’, with guitar lines intertwining with the melody, David still has some cool lyrics and the girl backup singers are a nice addition.

I believe that he wrote “Girls” with Sylvain Sylvain and it is a high energy romp that I could imagine the NYD doing in their later days. More Dolls-esque backing vocals and I’m sure that everyone was singing/chanting along with the “Girls, Girls, Girls!” chorus.

“Pain in my Heart” is a more mid-tempo, horn-and-keyboard-driven tune, with a hint of his 60’s and R’n’B roots. Probably the closest to the sound of the Dolls is “Not That Much” – Thunders-esque guitar riffing opens the song and David sounds like his old self here. Still a lot cleaner and more together than the old group, but a valiant effort!

This album’s version of “Lonely Planet Boy” is certainly “Donna”, the ballad of the bunch with good embellishments from the band throughout. Johansen tries to boost the excitement level on “Cool Metro” with a loud wolf-howl intro and this is a fairly frantic r’n’r number with a great chorus. This feel continues in “I’m a Lover”, with a memorable call and answer chorus and heavy, chugging guitars.

There is an almost theatrical drama to “Lonely Tenement” – cinematic in its sound and story. Musically, it is not quite as street-wise as the story, but it is still a hip song, with an unusual violin solo! The closer, “Frenchette”, starts as a piano ballad, but builds into a rock anthem of sorts. It goes back and forth dynamically before ending with a r’n’r guitar jam.

As I said, not nearly as wild and unrestrained as his former band, but this is a mix of that style and more commercial 70’s hard rock. If you dig that sound as I do, then you should dig this!

Ian Dury – New Boots and Panties

One of the stable of great Stiff artists, Ian Dury is true new wave – quirky, keyboard driven, sometimes silly yet always real songs. His debut contains some of his best known (at least to me!) tunes.

“Wake Up and Make Love To Me” is a mid-tempo ode to nocturnal naughtiness – completely keyboard dominated, not punky at all (except in its freewheeling attitude) but still totally memorable.

Showing his love for r’n’r history, “Sweet Gene Vincent” starts quietly before morphing into a fast, 50’s-styled r’n’r tune – still with plenty of keyboards. Great chant-along parts, too! There are a little more guitars evident in “I’m Partial to Your Abracadabra”, though it remain pretty unusual and wacky (as if you couldn’t tell that from the title!).

Ian tells the story of his father in “My Old Man”, genuine though slightly off beat rhythmically, this ballad shows a more serious side of Dury. This also includes some nice sax work. His silly side is highly evident on “Billericky Dickie”, which is almost a barrel-house song – like something you would hear on Benny Hill. I’m sure this was a blast live, though! It sounds like the audience is having a great time on the Live Stiffs record.

One of his most upbeat numbers is “Sex and Drugs and R’n’R” (“is very good indeed”), but this is still not a wild tune – while there is a good guitar lick, keyboards (electric piano in this case) continues to dominate. Instantly catchy, though with a good beat and it became a stable of the era.

Retaining a similar, almost-ska beat as “S&D&R&R” is “Clever Trever”, but it is not nearly as memorable. The curiously titled “If I Was With a Woman” has a bouncier beat, and a very new wave sound, down to the female backing vocals treated with effects. The band’s theme song, “Blockheads”, is the closest to punk rock of the bunch – frantically fast, with Ian shouting over the clamor, and guitars pushed up loud in the mix!

I haven’t the slightest idea what “Plastow Patricia” is supposed to be about, but it is a schizophrenic number with different parts before settling into another new-wavey rocker – upbeat but erratic with an almost free-jazz sax solo! Ian is practically screaming throughout – a big departure from most of the rest of the record!

This album closes with “Blackmail Man”, which is another new-wave/punk mash-up – fast, outlandish, loud, screechy (voices and instruments) and a cool, energetic finish to this eclectic outing.

Overall, this is not punk rock, but it is an interesting and quite unique look at new wave from the Stiff label.

Slade – Slayed!

I was surprised to discover that while I have raved about Slade, I never wrote about this record, which is certainly my fave! They have many great songs that are not on this slab-o-wax, but this is just phenomenal from start to finish!

Opening with “How D’You Ride” (one of their schticks at the time was to purposely misspell song titles to match their cockney accents), they jump out of the gate with a glam rock masterpiece! Cool riff-rock with super catchy chorus, great Noddy singing and plenty of loud guitars!

Up next is one of their many hits in England – “The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazee”. Unfortunately, the US was never lucky enough to have these crazed tunes played on our radio stations. This song is almost too good to be true! Guitars galore, Noddy’s trademark growls, a pound-along rhythm section of drummer Don Powell (who looks as much like a construction worker as a glam rocker!) and bassist Jim Lea (the only member with any actual musical training), Dave Hill’s screeching leads and another chorus that you can’t help but sing along with! High energy glam pop at its best!

They let you take a breath with “Look at Last Nite”, a slower, but still plenty intense, tune based around their classic rhythms. Really, there is something about the bass/drum patterns that sound like no one else and make you want to stomp your boots! Still super melodic with “la de la de la dela’s” to spare. This moves into “I Won’t Let It ‘Appen Again”, which is actually kinda similar rhythmically. Not their most memorable, but still a head shaker that cannot be denied!

Noddy gets ahold of a Janis Joplin tune ("Move Over") from Pearl and absolutely makes it his own – though his vocals are not that dissimilar to hers. The group grabs this one and won’t let it go and turns it even more ferocious that Janis’ great version. Tougher and more stripped-down and pure r’n’r. They play with the dynamics on this one and when they come screamin’ back in (literally), it is almost a heart-stopper! Just amazing!

They had to end side one with that just so that you could calm down just a little before movin’ on! And then they open up side two with another of their huge (deservedly) hits, “Gudbuy T’Jane”. Opening with an insanely memorable riff, this is another mover with a chorus that sounds like an entire dance hall is singing along with Noddy – and you’ll find yourself doing so, as well!

Dropping the speed a notch is “Gudbuy, Gudbuy”, but again, this is no ballad! Powell sounds like he is working an assembly line as Lea and Hill snake licks around his vicious beat. Noddy voice is still impossibly loud but he maintains a melody throughout - he’s not quite a Steve Marriott styled soul singer, but he has that feel to him.

I don’t know how anyone could be a fan of r’n’r and not be familiar with “Mama Weer All Crazee Now!” This has been covered by many groups (including a cool version by the Runaways) and this ode to drinking and carousing has another masterful group chorus and hand-clapping rhythm that you’ve have to be dead to not take part in! Simplistic, yes, but these guys were song-writing geniuses and besides never being able to get their choruses out of your head, they have terrific throw away lines like “I’ve had enough to fill up H-Hill’s left shoe”! (and considering he was on 12” platform shoes, that was saying a lot!)

Another slower, “Look At Last Night” styled tune is “I Don’ Mind”. This again is a bit of a break after the crazed intensity of “…Crazee Now!”, but is a good tune with cool accents. The album closes with their high energy take on “Let the Good Times Roll”, which they Slade-ify to an extreme! Hill’s piercing leads, Noddy’s r’n’r shouts and a perfectly tight rhythm section! Great stuff and a wild ending!

These wild rockers were not afraid to have Fun (with a capital "F") and will put a smile on your face as you chant along while clapping your hands and stompin’ your feet! One of the best glam bands of the 70’s!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pere Ubu – The Modern Dance

One of the two bands that split off from the legendary Ohio group, Rocket From the Tombs (the other being the Dead Boys, of course), Pere Ubu mixed the intensity of the pre-punk RFTT with art-school-type clamor to produce a unique and wonderful debut record in 1978.

Opening with a prolonged screech, “Non Alignment Pact” shows how well they were able to mix these influences. The combine the energy of punk rock with aural sound-scapes (courtesy of Allen Ravenstine’s analog synthesizers) and biting guitars (Tom Herman) with pounding drums (Scott Krauss) and interweaving bass chords and lines (Tony Maimone). David Thomas’ Eraserhead-styled singing sits over the top of this all and guarantees a crazed ride!

The title track features a roller coaster of a riff that propels you along before being derailed by a burst of noise and then shifting back. Demented slide guitar fights with keyboards and synths and then it all suddenly shifts again before abruptly ending.

“Laughing” pre-dates and previews the New York No Wave scene – this had to be a major influence on that crowd. Sax and musette cry and wail over some sparse chords until it all pulls together (briefly) for a fairly rockin’ groove. They move back and forth between these two extremes a couple of times so you are never quite sure where they are going, but it is a beautiful in a truly demented way.

As rockin’ as anything RFTT ever did is “Street Waves” - fast and furious proto-punk with sharp, biting guitar chords and an infectious bass lick. Much more moody is “Chinese Radiation”. Opening with Maimone’s bass (he was a great, melodic player) which Thomas sings over while Herman adds atmospheric slide they then build an intense white noise scape that Thomas shouts over. But then it changes yet again to a quite piano ballad for the ending! Beyond schizophrenic!

One of the best of the record is the classic “Life Stinks”. How could you argue with that? Who couldn’t sing along with this at some point? “Life stinks and I need a drink”! Truer words were never said! More combinations of rockin’ riffs with pure dissonance – absolutely fitting for the lyrics! This was a Peter Laughner tune which I believe originated in the RFTT days.

I would say that “Real World” is a complaint about it, rather than a celebration of it, as if it were something to avoid, which, again, I wholeheartedly agree with! More catchy cacophony – I’m not sure how they accomplish that, but they do. Keeping the lyrics relatively simple and sparse certainly helps make them memorable – really good stuff.

“Over My Head” is driven by minimalist drums and bass chords with occasional powerful accents, but is definitely an atmospheric piece. But the atmosphere is certainly cloudy and dark here!

Someone once wrote that while Nick Lowe sang “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass”, Pere Ubu actually gloried and amplified it here in “Sentimental Journey”. More sparse, discordant sounds clash as bottles break and saxes squeal. A guitar fights for attention as Thomas quietly recites his lines. This is free jazz as performed by the psych ward!

The album closes with “Humor Me”, a more upbeat number that has Thomas accusing “is this a joke, man?” (Or is it “it’s a joke, man”? Or both?) Short, to the point and a weird ending to a weirder record.

I love this record, but it is best listened to either while depressed or drinking or both – as long as you want to wallow in the gloom! This is not a happy time record!

Grand Funk Railroad Live, the 1971 Tour

Man, what a CD! These cats made their name by doing live gigs and this is a wildly powerful, high-energy testament to their talents!

I’ve raved about their first two albums previously and a number of these songs are from those records, so you can see how much I love the tunes themselves. But these live recordings are even more intense – heavier, louder, faster (in some cases) that the fantastic studio versions. The sound is pretty amazing, as well, due to the fact that these shows were recorded in preparation for the live album that they released at the time. Because they recorded live in the studio for much of those first few albums these arrangements are not super different, but you can tell that they are playing off of their adoring audiences!

Opening with “Are You Ready” (first song off of their first record) at a breakneck speed, you know that these guys are at their peak and are having a blast! A perfect opener! One of my favorite songs is their jam, “Footstompin’ Music”, which shows off Mark Farner’s skills on the organ – really cool, funky groove – which he plays almost simultaneously with the guitar! Very hip!

Their own “Paranoid” (nothing to do with Black Sabbath’s tune) is rocked up and sped up as Mark trades vocals with drummer Don Brewer before kicking into a fuzz and wah-wah drenched guitar rave up! One song that does vary from the studio version is “I’m You’re Captain/Closer to Home/Hooked on Love/Get it Together”, just because they don’t have the strings and studio effects. Mark & Don sing together in super harmony throughout while Mel Schacher’s bass playing is phenomenal. Nice keyboards at the end of this, as well – Mark could easily have been an organ player in any band at the time – a talented dude!

The salacious “T.N.U.C.” is just impossibly rockin’ here – so fast and high-energy that you can’t keep still! I’m not thrilled about drum solos in general, but the “song” part of this is terrific! The drum solo does kinda plod on, unfortunately. I’m sure it was fine in a live setting, but on record, it’s a bit dull…

GFR “steals” from the Animals for their take on “Inside Looking Out”, but totally make it their own and make it an ode to marijuana, as well! Mark even dedicates this to “everyone who smokes marijuana”! Kind of an easy sell at one of their concerts! The solo/jam on this one is quite varied from the studio take, though they also go back to the touchstones of the song. Mark can truly make some beautiful noise with his guitar! Creative and excellent r’n’r!

For the encore they do “our generation’s national anthem” (?), “Gimme Shelter”. A fantastic song that Don sings with an incredible intensity – GFRR damn near create punk’n’roll with this version. Definitely wilder than the Stones’ also-great original!

Before the last encore, the announcer has to beg for the return of Mark’s fuzz/wah pedal that someone stole! He claims they will get it back after the show! Don’t know if that actually happened, but pretty damn funny and the audience member does give it back. I know how that is – I had a rare pedal stolen from stage but it was never returned (but I never offered to let anyone keep it, either).

Anyway, one of my all-time fave songs finishes the set – “Into the Sun”. I rant about this in the other review, but this is a hyper-speed version – they are ready to rock! The bulk of the song follows the studio arrangement but then they move into a locomotive-driven jam at the end. Superb rave-up and a perfect ending for the set!

Any fan of wild, Detroit-energy, punk’n’roll should get this great document of a crazed r’n’r band at their height!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Evil Stig

Interestingly enough, one of my favorite Joan Jett records is this project with the remaining members of the Gits (Evil Stig is Gits Live backwards). She got involved after singer Mia Zapata was brutally raped and murdered. Of course, her involvement brought a lot of attention to the case and with the help of America’s Most Wanted, the killer was finally apprehended.

I was never very familiar with the Gits (and still am not, which I should rectify) but Jett’s style fits in perfectly and this record is a wonderful slab of catchy, melodic and super powerful punk rock. Opening with “Sign of the Crab”, you know what you are in for! Super loud guitars (and fine production), intensely fast punk rock, Joan’s tough vocals and terrific melodies and harmonies.

“Bob (Cousin O.)” is almost unnaturally catchy pop, while still retaining the strength and toughness of the band. Really good guitar accents throughout and the harmony singers are always right on. It’s always hip to hear a female who is not afraid to talk about imbibing and “Drinking Song” has a memorable “here’s to all of my friends” chorus (possibly influenced by Barfly?).

Mia wrote a fierce indictment of rape in “Spear & Magic Helmet”, spookily predicting her own vile end. This is pure, ferocious hard core, spouting out her rage at the scumbags who hurt someone else. Heartfelt, intense and frightening in its vision…

Jett co-wrote “Last to Know” with the guys in the Gits and it is another terrific piece of memorable punk with trade-off “yeah, yeahs” and plenty of loud guitars. Another Gits tune is “Guilt Within Your Head”, again showing Zia was a superior lyric writer. Using a semi-reggae beat to start “Whirlwind”, the band then blasts into a monster chorus. They continue to play with verse-chorus dynamics to good effect and create another cool tune.

Drinking is the subject again for another of the album’s highlights, “Another Shot of Whiskey”. Truly exceptional melodies at work here while the band continues to play with dynamics though never letting up on the intensity. Great, great stuff!

Faster-than-a-locomotive punk backs up the personal lyrics in “Second Skin” and they never manage to lose the nuances of the song as they build and build to a sudden stop. Jett’s own “Activity Grrrl” starts with a neat, almost discordant riff and then becomes a powerful pop-punk number that could well have described Mia. Another of her songs, “You Got a Problem” is equally fitting and with its descending “Boots Are Made for Walkin’” styled progression, it is hard to forget!

The band does a stripped down take on Jett’s version of “Crimson and Clover”, which is great, and then the record closes with an updated “Tequila” – a powerhouse instrumental that stops occasional so that the band can shout the title, “Drunks”! Funny and a fun ending to an emotional release.

(There’s actually a hidden track that I had forgotten about but I didn’t turn off my player right away. I believe it is another Jett song and appropriately enough it is called “Go Home”! (I think.) Another good tune!)

If you dig Joan or just dig well written punk rock this is one to own! Proceeds initially went to fund the investigation in Mia’s murder, but I believe that they are now going to another woman’s group.

Unknowns – Dream Sequence & The Unknowns

The Unknowns were a fantastic group transplanted from the south (Georgia) to San Diego (that’s where their car broke down so they stayed!) and later Los Angeles who came to the attention of Bomp Records and were strong contenders in the early 80’s LA scene for their short career.

The back up band were a trio heavily influenced by surf (they played Mosrite guitars through Fender amps) and 50’s rockabilly, while the singer was far more new-wave-y and sang in a quirky voice while adding some keyboard parts.

Guitarist Mark Neill had a fantastic, reverbed, clean tone and a superb style – very Ventures-meets-James Burton – quite distinctive at the time. The 60’s revival was just barely starting at the time so this was still pretty unusual. Dave Boyle on bass and Steve Bidrowski were a terrific rhythm section – Dave playing around Mark’s guitar lines and Steve’s snapping snare keeping it all together. Bruce Joyner, while walking with a cane due to a car accident, was still frenetic on stage, even when sitting down and playing the keyboard.

Dream Sequence starts with the title track which has a pseudo-reggae beat, but the reverbed guitar and tight band betray their obvious surf influences and Joyner’s vocals and keyboards give it an extremely unique sound.

Lot of dynamic accents highlights “Gun Fighting Man”, an up tempo number with a cool, “galloping” section. Even faster is “Actions-Reactions”, with clear, rockin’ riffs and keyboard driven breaks. “Suzzanne” is a frantic, 50’s styled pop with a very-Ventures-esque bridge.

Mark comes up with a slithering lick for “Not My Memory”, ironically one of their most memorable tunes. Cool lyrics and melodies and Bruce’s vocal outbursts really make a great song!
“Tax Deductible” is like a 50’s pop hit played at 78 instead of 45! Super fast to the point of almost – but not quite! – removing any nuances. Overt sexuality oozes from “Pull My Train”, which coming from these unlikely sex symbols is almost twisted! A very rockin’ number though!

Lyrics are a little more clichéd in “Crime Wave”, but it is another hyper take with more reliance on catchy dynamics and vocal oddities. “The Streets” is truly dark and Bruce’s tale is evil and moody and the music matches this feel. They put an almost Caribbean style on “Rat Race”, a quiet (comparatively) ballad, with their compulsory surf inflections.

Channeling Dick Dale’s staccato attack for “Rip Tide”, this has more superior riffage and fine melodies. Mark is never afraid of minor chords, which add an interesting feel to many of the songs. This record closes with “White Trash Girl” and its powerful chord progression sets the stage for a tough number with biting lyrics.

Their first release, though, was a self-titled mini-LP on Bomp Records. This 6 song record sounds virtually identical to Dream Sequence and the songs are all in the same style.

“City of the Angels” follows their standard “formula” – reverbed guitar, surf riffs, Joyner’s vocal acrobatics and nice melodies. There is a spooky, whistled intro to “Common Man”, which sounds like movie mood music for some other-worldly scene with a great, strong chorus (“you don’t mind the pouring rain”) – really strong song writing.

They pay their homage to Buddy Holly with their pretty accurate take on “Rave On” before moving on to “She Never Says No”. Starting with truly pretty harmonies, this is an eerie love song with more minor key backing and interesting vocal and guitar melodies.

“Modern Man” is a bit more of a throw-away to my ears – not bad, just nothing to make it really stand out. Sounding like an ultra-frantic dance song, “The Bounce” is wild to the extreme! This is what the Ventures would sound like as a punk rock band!

Similar in theoretical style to the geographically close B52s, the Unknowns still have their own identity and wrote some terrific tunes! I don’t know if these records are still available but they are well worth hunting down!

Mark, Dave and Steve did split for Bruce at one point and had their own band, which was also fantastic, but that was short-lived. Apparently, they have all gotten back together on a couple of occasions, though I have not heard or seen any of the reunions. I’m sure they are still cool and all are nice guys, so check ‘em out if you have a chance.

Just as an aside, in the mid-80’s Mark and Dave collaborated on a studio and I recorded the first track with my band, Thee Fourgiven, with them (“Spiders in my Sink”). Unsurprisingly, they were not afraid of using their great reverb units!!

You Tube even has a hip video of theirs.

Alice Cooper – Easy Action

Y’know, despite being aware of all of the West Side Story references that Alice always throws into their songs and albums, I just realized that this album title is from the movie as well. One of the Jets is called Action cuz he’s always so hyper, and at one point one of the other cats tells him to cool down – “easy, Action”. I had always thought this was something more along the lines of slang for a slutty girl or something! Shows where my mind always is!


This album cover shows the band from the back, and for those who did not know that “Alice Cooper” was a band, these 5 topless, super-long-haired people probably looked fairly risqué. But, when you see the back photo, it’s obvious that this is an all-male, wildly dressed r’n’r combo.

From the opener, “Mr. & Misdemeanor”, it appears that the band is striving for a slightly more “normal” sound, though they sing “here’s new Pretties For You” in the first minute or so of the song. This is piano-dominated and it doesn’t veer off into any tangents as Alice (the person) sings with a tougher, meaner edge.

They follow this with an almost psych-pop song, “Shoe Salesman” – again, a lot less extreme than anything from the first album, though the lyrics are as weird as ever. This is poppy, though – more so than anything to date.

But they are back in the wackiness fold with “Still No Air”, with references to “Today Mueller” and pre-references to several School’s Out tunes, with mock fights, guitar licks and West Side Story cops. “Below Your Means” also sounds more like a return to Pretties… style material. Time changes fight with each other as the guitars interweave until the whole song shifts to steady beat for a wild guitar jam. The tones are not quite as sick and demented as on the previous outing, but they do try to be original in their arrangements and their sounds.

This record’s glorious rocker is “Return of the Spiders”. Driven like a wild locomotive by drummer extraordinaire Neal Smith, who doesn’t let up for a second for almost 4-1/2 minutes. The guitars slash and burn and crash and blare across the speakers as Alice rants about “the reaching hand…coming after you”. This is probably the wildest, most out of control, speed rock that they ever recorded and it is beyond incredible! Fantastic playing all around. Really breath-taking in its hard rock perfection! This is right up there on my list of the greatest r’n’r songs of all time!

There’s an almost sinister sound to “Laughing at Me” but while it is somewhat evil it is nowhere near a musically crazed. Again, this harkens to some of their later dark mood music of their more commercial albums. “Refrigerator Heaven” is more upbeat but also almost cartoonishly eerie in its arrangement. It does remind me of something that would play in the background of some 30’s animation or something…

There is a pretty, piano-dominated ballad in “Beautiful Flyaway” – still unusual but in more of a psych-pop manner. The record closes with an extended, heavy jam “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye”, which moves from hard rock to sparse weirdness. Glen Buxton’s leads are absolutely demented here as the rhythm section smashes and crashes before moving to a minimalist section of atmospheric dissonance. It finally wraps up with a short lyrical piece known from some early live bootlegs, “I’ve written home to mother…”, and then closes with a harsh cymbal blast.

These two albums make their later works sound perfectly normal in comparison, but for those who are not afraid of a little psycho noise in their heavy rock, these are for you!

Alice Cooper – Pretties For You

As anyone who knows me is aware, I am one of the biggest Alice Cooper band fans in the world! Their trio of 70’s mega-hit albums (Love It To Death, Killer and School’s Out) are some of my all-time favorite r’n’r and some of the biggest influences on me and my music.

But before they started working with Bob Ezrin, the group was protégés of Frank Zappa and appeared on his Bizarre/Straight label. These cats were famous in the LA scene (where they had moved from Phoenix – they later also located in Detroit for a while) for clearing out halls within their first song or two. Their stage show was already much-talked-about but their music was so wacky that even Zappa couldn’t pin it down!

This, their first album, opens with a gothic church organ dirge, “Titanic Overture” that swells into “10 Minutes Before the Worm”, which starts with weird sound affects before building to a crescendo and then into an off-tempo, disjointed ditty. They certainly had already proven just how strange they were!
So, when they start “Sing Low, Sweet Cherrio” with a steady beat and an acoustic guitar, you think that they’ve gotten over it. Well, at least until they end the first verse with another burst of noise! But, this does have a memorable melody and an overall catchy tempo with some nice instrumental pieces from all of the members. Of course, they have to throw in some strange bits, but this is more of a straight – and great – rock number. It even has a good harp solo by Alice. (Previous to this album, they were a basic white-boy r’n’b band – a good one at that!).

“Today Mueller” is ultra-odd, mixing children rhymes (“red rover”) with unusual time changes to create another bit of indescribable wackiness. This feel is referenced in songs from their next record, such as “Still No Air” or “Below Your Means”.

My favorite tune off of this record is the extremely rockin’ “Living”! Heavy guitars, a fantastic, super-speed fuzz riff, great vocals and a catchiness that cannot be denied. A superb r’n’r tune that should have been a hit, but was probably too crazed – at times it sounds like it is about to fall apart, but that is only part of its greatness! Really – this is as wild as something off of Kick Out the Jams or Funhouse – insane Detroit rock! Damn near perfect! Whew! I can’t imagine why none of the current batch of punk’n’roll bands (that I know of) haven’t covered this.

More mind-boggling heaviness overwhelms “Fields of Regret”, with plenty of terrific guitar playing (Glen Buxton was a psycho lead player at this point and Michael Bruce did super counterpoint). This is a little more disjointed but not to the extreme and has enough wild playing to also be a highlight of the best of Detroit rock. Guitars and harmonicas duel with each other over the course of its almost 6 minutes – sometimes moving into percussion-driven dissonance, sometimes powerhouse rock – I wouldn’t be surprised that this was influenced by the free-jazz experiments of some of the Detroit rockers.

I have no idea what the title “No Longer Umpire” means, but it is another under-two-minute cacophonous piece of music. It seems like their most extreme, experimental pieces were their shortest.

But, “Levity Ball” still does it damnedest to be confusingly different. In these early pieces, Alice (the person) relied a lot more on his harmonica (I’m assuming because he didn’t do as many visual antics on stage), which adds a dimension to the sound and the guitars create some soundscapes worthy of the MC5’s “Starship”. They really play with dynamics on this, as well.

More frantic is “B.B. on Mars”, though no less bizarre. Super-short with group vocals and feedback-ing guitars, this is almost just an intro to the terrific “Reflected”. This song later evolved into their hit from Billion Dollar Babies, “Elected”, a hilarious, election year song. This is a lot more twisted, with guitars intertwined throughout the melody and a little more clamorous and rhythmic.

“Apple Bush” tries to be a little more “normal”, but they can’t do anything “straight” at this time. Almost a waltz-time in some places, it still has some sing-along pieces, as well. As with most of this album, it’s hard to describe without knowing what these cats sounded like at the time.

I think they were watching The Night Gallery when they came up with “Earwigs to Eternity”, another bit of deliberate insanity. The record closes with “Changing Arranging”. This is another bit of dissonant zaniness with numerous time changes and tons of feedback. Pretty great, but certainly not a hummable tune!

For those who appreciate insanity set to hard rock and aren’t afraid of experimentation, this is for you! If you like your music safe and simple, pass this by!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Birds – The Collector’s Guide to Rare British Birds

The Birds are the legendary first band of Ron Wood, who went on to so many other amazing groups – the Creation, Jeff Beck Group, Faces and even the Stones. This collection gives a full view of this fantastic mod/r’n’b band.

Opening with “You’re on my Mind”, Wood’s sharp Telecaster chords pierce the air and start a frantic white boy r’n’b, harp-driven tune in the fashion of the Pretty Things. The Things were obviously a big influence on this group and “You Don’t Love Me” could easily be mistaken for one of their tunes, which isn’t too far fetched as it was written by Bo Diddley, who the Things covered regularly. These songs could easily have come from the first PT’s album, which means they are pretty freakin’ hot!

One of their most famous songs is their ravin’ take on the classic r’n’b number, “Leaving Here”. This has influenced innumerable bands through the years, including Motorhead, who did their own unrestrained version in the ‘80’s. This is rough and tough rhythm and rock. Terrific!

“Next in Line” is another mod classic, with more cool harp playing and a feel not unlike “Leaving Here”. This goes to show that Ron could write a great rocker even here in his first band! This cat had talent!

Another Motown number given the mod treatment is “No Good Without You”, which the Birds make their own. Wood’s cutting, supremely heavy chords really drive this one – he was a helluva rhythm guitarist and while the lead in this one isn’t fancy, it really accents the song. Ultra hip vocal arrangement, too. Wood’s guitar tone jumps out of the speakers for another original, “How Can it Be”, sounding a bit like early Creation here, especially in the psychedelic-tinged solo.

There’s a demo version of “You’re on my Mind”, which isn’t nearly as strong as the opener – this is more of a straight blues, though it has some really good harp playing. A demo of “You Don’t Love Me” follows and I would say the same about this.

“Say Those Magic Words” sounds so much like the Creation that anyone could be fooled into thinking it was them. Of course, the Creation was amazing and Wood eventually joined them, so this is not a bad thing at all! Cool, tremeloed guitar solo by Ron, as well!

They really move in the freak-beat direction with “Daddy Daddy”, with more Mod-psych guitar work, obscure lyrics and memorable melodies! Twisted, late-60’s Brit-pop with a wild, wacky guitar break at the end.

Of course, any and all Mod bands had to do an obligatory Who cover and the Birds was “Run Run Run”. This is actually quite similar to the original – good, but nothing much new really added.

Oddly (to me anyway), the band covered not one but two songs but a French singer, Michel Polnareff, who apparently was somewhat successful in England. “Good Times” (I think it might also be known as “No No No”) is another fine example of freak-beat/psych-pop – easily fits in with their songs like “Daddy Daddy” and “Say Those Magic Words”. There’s another take on the latter tune included next, and while it is billed as an “alternative version”, it seems to be the same backing track without the vocals. Kinda interesting, but not something for repeated listenings! There’s also a different “Daddy Daddy”, which, while including some noticeable changes, isn’t wildly divergent and the official release is the better one.

The other Polnareff tune is “La Poupee Qui Fait Non” – ok, I’m wrong – this is simply the French title for “Good Times” and it sounds about the same as the other recording, with maybe a few extra production effects.

They do another try at “Run Run Run” that sounds almost like they were mixing that song with “The Good’s Gone”. This really is unlike either the Who or the Birds own recordings and is quite interesting and enjoyable. Yet another “Daddy Daddy” is next, this time just the backing track.

The official closer, “Granny Rides Again” seems strikingly out of place here – this is almost bubblegum pop, complete with horn accents and silly lyrics. I guess even great bands made some bad decisions, especially at this time when producers controlled at least some of your output in the hopes of the ever elusive “hit”!

The bonus track, though, is of the Birds appearing in some wacky 60’s movie, The Deadly Bees (the footage is amazing – Wood is especially hip looking with his long hair and American flag-decorated Telecaster) doing a fantastic tune (“That’s All I Need”) interspersed with some dialogue. They are obviously lip-syncing, but the backing track is not on this collection, unfortunately. I would love to hear this whole song!

Overall, a pretty fabulous collection of one of the best and toughest Mod-psych bands of the time!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

Alright, I know that everyone in the world has this record, but I just put it on again and got to thinking just how damn amazing this band could be when they really tried. This is one of their absolute best by a long shot and probably my personal favorite.

The cover alone is funny and almost a little disturbing and was provided by none other than Andy Warhol. The front is a close up photo – presuming of Mick Jagger – of a male crotch dressed in jeans, which on the album version had a working zipper that opened to reveal the same crotch in white underwear (and leaving little to the imagination). The back cover was the butt and the inside had another photo of the underwear as well as the now iconic “lips” logo.

Opening with the huge hit, “Brown Sugar”, you get the Stones at the top of their game. Excellent, rockin’ riff from Keith Richards, racy lyrics from Mick, high energy from the whole band and a perfect sax solo from master player Bobby Keyes. Truly one of the highlights of 70’s Top Forty radio!

They slow down considerably for “Sway”, but keep a cool groove while Mick Taylor (I believe) adds some inspired slide playing. Great song construction and more of Jagger’s better lyrics. I’ve seen LA band, Backbiter, cover this one live and it absolutely works in that setting, though I don’t know if the Stones ever did it.

Then we have one of the prettiest songs that the band ever did, “Wild Horses”. Romantic in the extreme, superb acoustic playing and the group comes in with just the right touches – never too much, but just enough to keep everything interesting. If this doesn’t almost bring tears to your eyes then either you’ve never had a tough relationship or your heart is far harder than mine!

Richards comes back with one of his patented, catchy-as-hell guitar chord/riffs for “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’”. Another mid-tempo but very rockin’ groove moves into a cool chorus which should definitely get ya movin’ in your seat! The song abruptly shifts into a conga-driven sax jam – Bobby again playing his soul out – that then lets Taylor show off his skills as one of the better lead guitarists of the day.

Showing their roots, they pull out “You Gotta Move”, a Mississippi Fred McDowell number from just a few years previous. Their version is not that different from McDowell’s stripped down take, though it is a little more fleshed out. Pretty amazing white boy blues!

“Bitch” just sends chills down me when I hear it, even to this day. A near-perfect guitar lick pushed into hard rock territory by the fantastic rhythm section of Wyman and Watts and completed with sax accents, more great Taylor playing and viciously sensual words from Jagger. Another one of the best r’n’r tunes of the 70’s!

Moving into a soul/blues feel with “I Got The Blues”, the horn-driven number is highlighted by the gospel-fueled organ playing of the legendary Billy Preston. Slower, but riveting in the best Otis Redding style.

OK, I really am ravin’ here, but this record really is that strong from start to finish. Another of my favorite acoustic songs of all time is “Sister Morphine”, a harrowing look into the life of a withdrawing addict, co-written by Marianne Faithfull, who was all too familiar with the subject. I love the simple, minor-key chord progression and the Jack Nitzche piano adds an eerie effect, supplemented by Ry Cooder’s slide guitar (who taught Keith much of what he knew). I know at least one writer at the time thought that the drug references were superfluous but to my less-than-depraved ears, I think that the words truly tell a scary and all too real and dramatic story.

Their obligatory pseudo-country song for this album is “Dead Flowers”, though it is far from pure country and has a terrific sing-along chorus. Motherfucker 666 did a great punk rock version of this, showing the song’s versatility (and giving more credence to the lyrics “I know you think you’re the queen of the underground”). This has more drug references, but it a much lighter sense than in “Sister Morphine”.

“Moonlit Mile” throws in the drug mentions right from the first line, and the song itself is a little more atmospheric with crescendo cymbal crashes and dominant piano. They add strings and build into what would later be called a power-ballad, though, unlike most of those, this is still a good song!

Absolutely one of the greatest pure rock’n’roll records of the 70’s and a record of this band at the peak of their career. Damn near perfect…