The Stooges Play “Search and Destroy”

Listen to this track by garage rock, glam, and proto-punk champions from Ann Arbor Michigan, The Stooges, aka Iggy & The Stooges. It’s “Search and Destroy”, a landmark cut off of their monumental third LP, Raw Power released in February 1973 . The song was a single, with album track “Penetration” as a b-side, kicking off the album like the sound of an exploding munitions dump. This was the sound of a fully realized Stooges, a band brought back from the dead by the time the album was recorded, produced by lead singer and creative head Iggy Pop, and David Bowie.

By the time this song was laid down and the band was reassembled after breaking up, changes had been made to The Stooges’ line-up. Drummer Scott Asheton remained behind the kit. But bassist Dave Alexander was gone, sidelined by substance abuse and addiction. Guitarist Ron Asheton took his place on bass, while lead guitar duties were handed over to newcomer James Williamson, co-writer of this song. His parts are brought well to the foreground throughout, although the approach to production and mixing of the record didn’t leave too much room for nuance initially. The history of how the record was recorded and mixed is an elaborate and intricate one even before it was transferred to CD format in the late-nineties under the guidance of Bruce Dickinson (Mr “more cowbell” himself). One of the notes on the CD version I have includes Iggy’s assurance that “everything’s still in the red”. Thank goodness for that!

All the while, this song has taken on a life of its own, being a go-to track when compiling lists of best hard rock, punk, glam, whatever, songs ever recorded. It certainly one that demands attention, and one of the high points of Iggy Pop’s career all around. A good portion of the reason for that in my mind is that despite the seeming lack of nuance happening in the music, there are definite layers of meaning to be found in its text that belie the blunt force of its delivery. Read more

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Living Colour Play “Cult of Personality”

Listen to this track by New York-based hard rock paragons Living Colour. It’s “Cult of Personality”, their biggest hit to date and most recognizable track taken from their 1988 album Vivid. The song was a top twenty song on Billboard’s Top 100, winning the band a Grammy for best hard rock performance, and with a smattering of other awards besides. Since its release, the song has been used across multiple media for many years, from use in video games to (rather ironically considering its subject matter) WWE entrance music.

Despite its sheer scale, the writing of “Cult of Personality” came out of a simple jam during a rehearsal when guitarist and bandleader Vernon Reid played the central riff while playing an entirely different song. From there, a signature hit was born, with central themes spanning the course of a tumultuous twentieth century. It namechecks world leaders with jarring contrast. Joseph Stalin and Gandhi are lined up right next to each other. The voice of Malcolm X starts the song, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt closes it (with a brief interjection from JFK). That’s a pretty broad cultural spectrum.

In an increasingly polarized political landscape all over the world by the end of the eighties, where did this song place on that spectrum? Besides the immense central riff that’s been mentioned, I think this is the song’s central strength; that it doesn’t choose sides along any political lines. That’s not really the point of it. Instead, it tackles a bigger subject, which is all about human perception, our tendency toward myth-making, and other tendencies that make it easy for the right person to use them to influence our judgement when it comes to the facts, pushing us in certain directions for good or ill. How relevant is that today? All too much. Read more

Pat Benatar Sings “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”

patbenatar-crimesofpassionListen to this track by rock n’ roll and pop powerhouse Pat Benatar. It’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, a gargantuan hit single as taken from her breakthrough 1980 record Crimes Of Passion, her second and biggest selling album to date.

The song was a top ten hit in on the US charts, and scored similar success around the world, being a hard rock song with a pop aftertaste while never sounding corporatized or manufactured a la the profusion of corporate rock at the time. The album was huge, scoring a number two placement on the charts, only bettered chartwise by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy. She even got a Grammy for best female rock vocal performance of the year in 1981 .

One thing that stands out to me past the lyrical surface of the song, and past the mainstream success the song had, there is an important subtext to be found here that goes well beyond the material as it was written. Read more

Pearl Jam Play “Alive”

PearlJam-Ten2Listen to this track by flannel-wearing Seattle-based hard rock concern Pearl Jam. It’s “Alive”, the first single as taken from their now-classic record Ten, released in the summer of 1991. This song reached peak positions all over the world, and helped to add intensity to the spotlight on the Seattle scene in general at the time, when the mainstream press were beginning to whip themselves up into a frenzy over that which they themselves called grunge.

Nineteen-ninety-one was a pivotal year for many bands, particularly those based in Seattle. It was also a year that many of these bands were lumped together by the press, some having only tenuous common musical threads to unify them. But somehow, they were still a part of a sea change that let everyone know that the eighties were well and truly gone, and that the nineties had officially begun. For the first time in a long time by 1991, rock music was being talked about not only in musical terms, but in sociological ones, recasting rock music as the cultural phenomenon that it had been when it was first coined as a cultural trend. Pearl Jam’s Ten was a text to prove the thesis just as much as Nirvana’s Nevermind was by the early nineties, reinvigorating strains of rock music that had slipped away from the glare of the mainstream until then, casting down the idols of the previous decade as a side effect.

This song in particular was a burning light to a remarkable new take on hard rock, escaping the Spinal Tap-isms of late eighties poodle-glam world of cherry pies, spandex, and women writhing on the hoods of cars. Instead, it shot an arrow straight for the soul, with this song telling a whole novel’s worth, even including some autobiographical material from a 25 year old singer Eddie Vedder, who wasn’t even in the band when he originally wrote this three-verse tale of childhood, betrayal, and guilt.

Read more

Humble Pie Play “Black Coffee”

Humble Pie Listen to this track by blues-rock supergroup and proto-metal progenitors Humble Pie. It’s “Black Coffee” a track as taken from their 1973 double album bluntly entitled Eat It, and presented in this clip from the British music program The Old Grey Whistle Test. This song was a part of a section on the record that featured the band’s interest in R&B covers. This one is from Ike & Tina Turner no less, written and recorded a year previous to this one on their Feel Good album, although Humble Pie’s take features modified lyrics to suit lead singer Steve Marriott’s point of view.

Besides Marriott, the earliest version of the group also included singer and guitarist Peter Frampton, who served as a co-lead singer, also sharing vocal leads with bassist Greg Ridley, late of Spooky Tooth. All three were backed up by drummer Jerry Shirley. But, by the early ’70s, Frampton had left, and Marriott was secured in the role of frontman, with new guitarist Clem Clempson as a lead to Marriott’s rhythm playing.

Marriott would also introduce a new dynamic to the band by encouraging a group within the group who would provide a much-needed counterweight to his searing vocal skills; backing singers! But who were they, and how did they fit in and then change the sound of the band? Read more

Led Zeppelin Play “Going To California” at Earl’s Court 1975

Here’s a clip of stadium rock pioneers and erstwhile New Yardbirds known as Led Zeppelin. It’s a live take of “Going To California”, originally a cut from their untitled fourth album, which is sometimes called Led Zeppelin IV. Here we see it performed on film at one of their five appearances at Earl’s Court, this specific one on May 25, 1975. You can see the entirety of the show on 2003’s creatively titled Led Zeppelin DVD on disc 2.

This is perhaps one of the most era-defining performances in rock history, capturing the band at the height of their powers during a time they were being hailed as the biggest rock act of the era.

Led Zeppelin at Earls Court Going to California

No expense was spared in creating the event on an appropriately epic scale. The lighting rigs and sets used during these shows were shipped from the States where the band had recently toured to Earl’s Court in London, then the largest venue in Britain. Rehearsals stretched out over days while the sound on a technical level was tested and perfected.

It was kind of a big deal.

But, there again so were the band, the biggest concert draw of the era by then in terms of sheer numbers in the seats. Considering the era, this is saying quite a lot, what with both the Who and the Rolling Stones also on the road in 1975. In terms of commercial appeal, they were sitting pretty.

Yet, even if the commercial traction they’d created would sustain them in the immediate years that followed, this series of shows at Earl’s Court would represent the pinnacle of their success for many. And, how so? Read more

Robert Plant & The Strange Sensation Play “Takamba”

robert_plant_and_the_strange_sensation_mighty_rearrangerListen to this track by former Zep-figurehead and recent alt-folk proponent Robert Plant. It’s “Takamba” as taken from his 2005 album Mighty Rearranger recorded with his new band The Strange Sensation.

Being in the position Plant was in, and still is in to a certain degree, isn’t enviable.  He was the frontman of a game-changing rock band from the late-60s to the early 80s, not only establishing a sonic template for many, many bands coming up behind him, but also an image too – the Golden God.

After the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, that entity which was Led Zeppelin was no more.  Yet, the expectations of fans and of music critics, continued along the same trajectory, a phenomenon akin to the rock and roll law of physics as applied to popular frontmen gone solo.  How to proceed then?  Make albums that everyone expects and be accused of resting on your laurels?  Or, make albums that run contrary to those expectations, and risk losing your audience?

On this album, everyone agreed that the seemingly impossible balance between these two powerful solitudes had been achieved. Plant’s interest in North African textures are certainly served here with the Malian-flavoured introduction.  And his penchant for singing atop rock Mount Olympus is also served, particularly thanks to Strange Sensation drummer Clive Deamer, who sounds as though he’s whacking the kit with a pair of telephone poles.

Plant has made a record that seems like a logical progression of all the musical avenues that he has explored earlier.  And as such, it sounds honest, as well as elemental and big, which is what he built his career on since the days of Led Zeppelin I.  And it is this type of honesty which would further spark a duet record with Alison Krauss, gaining him a following that many never expected without compromising his own musical interests in roots music, and R&B which he’d pursued from the beginning.

Rock icons have it tough in some ways, perceived as dinosaurs who walk a razor-thin edge of critical praise when putting out records in the 21st Century.  This is perhaps down to the “hope I die before I get old” factor set rather ironically when many members of Plant’s generation were in their prime.  Yet, rock and roll has always been about tearing down walls between styles, between communities, and now between generations too.

The idea of ‘relevance’ being about keeping up with the newest trends is itself outmoded.  If anything should be made irrelevant, it should be this. Artists making creative decisions that clearly sharpen the definition their own body of work should be celebrated, no matter when they had their initial success.  This is certainly the case with this song, and this album.

To find out more about Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation, check out RobertPlant.com

Enjoy!

AC/DC Fronted By Bon Scott Perform “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer”

Here’s a clip featuring Scots-Australian rock ‘n’ roll juggernauts AC/DC, fronted by original lead singer Bon Scott in arguably his most convincing performance with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer”, taken from the 1976 album High Voltage.

One of my favourite urban myths is that Angus Young wears his schoolboy outfit because he is able to do anything with his guitar on stage while he wears it. Another myth was that when he was an actual schoolboy, he used to rush home from school, grab his guitar, and rush off to meet with his bandmates for rehearsals without changing clothes first. Changing would have cut into his playing time. Yet, I like that the symbolism of conformity and obedience has become something else through him, whatever the real story is. It's an act of defiance to wear the clothes of conformity, while at the same time speaking for the rebellious spirits of an audience.

There is a false split I think having to do with the old dinosaur progressive rock crowd, which takes in stadium rock too, and the short sharp shock of punk rock.  When it comes to the direction of rock music, the two poles are often portrayed as the only games in town in the mid-70s.  But AC/DC proved that straight ahead blues-soaked rock ‘n’ roll music was alive and well, although it took some convincing at first – Rolling Stone magazine panned High Voltage in 1976 as being the lowest common denominator in rock that year – “a new low” they said at the time.  Yet, they’d missed the point.  When you boil everything else away, what this band created was a pure breed rock band, uninterested in pretension of any sort, and putting their own rock ‘n’ roll dreams in practice for the sake of anyone who ever rocked an air guitar or sang into a hair brush.

And that’s what this song was all about – fantasy.  It’s about telling the Man where to stick his golden handshake, his silly rules, his moral standing, and all the other shit that they teach to kids in school.  This was a high-powered statement which, although fueled by the dual engines of Malcolm Young’s rhythm guitar and his brother Angus’ lead, really wasn’t much different than Chuck Berry bitching about being in school when all day long he’d been wanting to dance.  It’s rock ‘n’ roll.

Really, this song is about becoming something other than a cog in the wheel, a reality for most of AC/DC’s audience perhaps.  Yet that audience is delivered by three minutes of rock, with Bon Scott as their voice.  And that is what this group understood from the get-go; speak for your audience and they’ll be with you for the next thirty five plus years.  And so they are.

AC/DC newest album Black Ice is out now, and the band are touring it.

Check out the AC/DC official website for information about tours and other stuff.

Enjoy!

Rush Perform ‘Xanadu’

Here’s a clip of Canadian math-rock progists Rush with their 1978 track “Xanadu” as taken from their album A Farewell to Kings.  Of any North American band who ever tried to match their European progressive rock counterparts for complexity and lyrical conception, it is Rush.   This track is a part of their middle-phase, when their high concept material and intricate playing began to define them.

The first phase had them as skilled Zeppelinists, pumping out hard blues-rock much like Zep, but not really nailing down a voice of their own.   By 1976, with their album 2112, and with the addition of a new drummer and lyricist in Neil Peart, their musical ambitions expanded with more rhythmic complexity, longer instrumental passages, conceptual lyrics, and approach to presenting their songs as a part of a greater whole.   And so was the second phase of the band’s career begun, with a slight shift from Led Zeppelin to something more akin to Yes with bigger cojones, and just as the prog rock was beginning to wane in Europe.  I think the success of the group lay in the fact that they built on their Zep-head roots, while adding something new to the prog landscape.

Sure, “Xanadu” is complex, and dependent upon source material having to do with the English Romantic poetry of Coleridge more than with the riffage of Chuck Berry.  But, it doesn’t forget to rock, as well as build a story.  So, the stoners bought in, but so did the musos and sci-fi geeks.  That’s quite an achievement for a little band formed in Willowdale Ontario, just north of Toronto.

Ironically, the single taken from this same record is “Closer to the Heart”, marked with the same lofty lyrics as anything else on the album, and looked upon as something of a signature tune even today.  It was certainly a radio staple.  And perhaps it was the success of CTTH that the band began their third phase, which was about radio-friendly singles with only a hint of their progressive rock leanings, as opposed to the unabashed, arguably long-winded ‘prog’ as found on “Xanadu”.

As such, they rode out the backlash against big, generic corporate rock shows by continuing to pursue the three piece hard rock of their roots, matched with an embrace of technology – keyboards, MIDI technology – that sustained them into the 1980s.  By the next decade of course their appeal was cemented.  Today, they’re an institution, true prog/hard rock survivalists who have gained pan-generational appeal; a rare thing indeed.

For more information and music, check out the Rush MySpace page.

And of course, check out the official Rush website for more fan goodness, tour dates, and more.

Enjoy!

The Donnas ‘Friends Like Mine’

The Donnas Gold MedalHere’s a clip of the Donnas performing the opening track of their 2004 album Gold Medal.

The rock n’ roll that grabs you most is often the basic, throw-it-up-against-the-wall variety, often fueled by a palpable sexual drive. This is one tune which demonstrates this – and it doesn’t hurt that the band is comprised of four charismatic women in their twenties, usually the objects of lust in this kind of idiom, now doing some lusting (and some serious rocking out) themselves. These women are hot!

The group started off as Ramones disciples, and their early albums were very much in that vein. Even the name of each band member follows the Ramones model – they’ve all got ‘Donna’ stage names. They started the group in Palo Alto, California while still in junior high-school, loving the Ramones, being inspired by them, and starting a group because there was no reason not to.

But at some point, they must have discovered AC/DC. Note Donna R’s (Alison Robertson’s) Angus Young model Gibson SG. And note too the meat-and-potatoes delivery. This band for me flies in the face of what women in pop music are meant to be – demure pop starlets, or contrived sex kittens mugging for the camera. This girls are clearly on a different trajectory altogether. They’re not the first to do it, of course. But, they are the hope that continues to be necessary – examples of the fact that women can be musicians with big balls, kicking ass and taking names.

Their more heavy metal-oriented direction continues on their latest album, Bitchin’.

Check out the Donnas’ MySpace page and find out more.

Enjoy!