Here’s a clip of Swedish classic rock proponents The Hellacopters with their song “I’m in the Band”, as taken from their album.
This band may have heard a few Rolling Stones and Iggy Pop albums in their time. Luckily, they took of best of those away with them and have delivered it to us in this little tune about rock ‘n’roll fantasy.
Rock music is a many-faceted beast. On the one hand a lot of rock music is very “grown up”. It’s about sex. It’s about worldliness. Sometimes, it’s about a rather bleak outlook that it is more important to burn out than fade away. But, equally I think rock music is about the joy of living, and that childhood rush that one gets when imagining what it must be like to play a very loud guitar, set of drums, or to yell into a microphone for a screaming throng of fans, setting aside the real responsibilities that life demands for a time. It appeals to the innocent in us, as well as the experienced. It registers with that part of us which sees the moment, and grasps it.
This tune by The Hellacopters is a pure ode to the power of rock ‘n’ roll, the power to transport someone away from the blandness, or grimness of their world, and deliver them to another place. The sentiments found here have been a part of rock ‘n’ roll since the term was coined, aimed initially at a young audience, but eventually, and ultimately appealing to everyone.
Chuck Berry’s world of cars, makin’ out, and no school hasn’t really changed very much as a fantasy. And even the most stoic among us thinks about a world with no responsibilities and instant payoffs, from time to time.
Here’s a clip of Akron Ohio’s Chrissie Hynde, along with drummer Martin Chambers and a new line up of the Pretenders with their most recent cut “Boots of Chinese Plastic” as taken from this year’s Break Up the Concrete.
It’s clear that Hynde is drawing from a deep well here, the same one possibly that Bob Dylan has been drawing from lately, given this song’s quick-fire lyrical bursts and it’s hyper-rockabilly flavour. The song title is a variant on Dylan’s early track “Boots of Spanish Leather”. Yet, Hynde is clearly conscious of the comparison with this song; it’s a parody, albeit an affectionate one. And with a band of younger players behind her, there is something of the original fire on this track that graced the Pretenders’ celebrated first album made with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon.
For many years, Chrissie Hynde was an American ex-pat, making her living in London first as a journalist for the NME, and later of course in forming this band at the end of the 1970s. More recently, she returned to her native Akron. And so returns to roots here are on several levels.
Because the stripped down country-inflected rockabilly she employs here is decidedly American, not a million miles away from what Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy have done in terms of feel. And this, and for many other reasons, seems to make for something of a return to form too, and a long wait since 2002’s Loose Screw.
Here’s a clip of shouty Swedish rock poseurs the Hives with “Walk Idiot Walk”, as taken from their 2004 Tyrannosaurus Hives album.
In rock music, there is something to be said for presentation. And if it’s one thing that the Hives understand, it’s presentation. With their matching outfits and their onstage personas of identically dressed arrogant rock saviours, they’ve injected some of the theatricality back into the music. And with this, I think there is something of a full-circle effect at work. The Nirvana generation of rock bands taught us that costumes and poses in rock were to be distrusted. But when new rules arise, there are new ways to break them too. The Hives show just how punk rock costuming and theatricality can be in this new paradigm
Of course, none of it would mean anything without the music itself, pulling from 60s garage rock and also from the Detroit proto-punk of the MC5 and, quite obviously, the Stooges’ “Raw Power”. The songs are riff-centric and defiantly raw, boiled down to the bare minimum, and then cranked to eleven for taste. And no song on this album outstays its welcome; they’re all under 3 minutes. As for “Walk Idiot Walk”, this for me is music to tear up the seats by.
The problem which was in place for many years is that rock music had become this heavy, burdensome beast, a lumbering thing which had forgotten that it should be fun, above all. I have to say that the Hives, and other bands with the same kindred spirit such as the Hellacopters, the White Stripes, and the Dirtbombs, have brought rock music back toward where it should be. And as a results, it hits us the fans right where it counts.
Here’s a clip of a recently released from Maharishi summer camp fab four with the original version of their single “Revolution”, billed as it was on the The Beatles (The White Album), released 40 years ago in November 1968, as “Revolution 1”.
The clip is a bit of a dodge in that the footage is taken from the promo of the single which was re-recorded and released in August of 1968. That version, as you may know, is a bit louder, faster, and shoutier to suit the times. The clip slows everything down to match the more languid pace of the original.
The White Album version is like a stoned acoustic doo-wop, with Lennon’s voice a little on the sleepy side. Yet, there’s a real groove there, with a somnambulant veneer, a dreamy vibe which draws your ear into the lyrics a bit more than the single version does. And of course there’s the “count me out…in” lyric that still has critics wondering what Lennon was getting at. It was argued that the track was too slow to be a single. So it was re-recorded as a double-A side with “Hey Jude”.
“Revolution” the single remains to be one of the hardest dirtiest statements the Beatles ever released. When the group performed the song on David Frost’s show, featured in the clips, they performed it semi-live, with the record backing their live vocals. Paul and George put the “a-womp, shoo-be-doo-wop” backing vocals back in, even if the single had taken them out.
Nineteen Sixty-Eight was a turbulent year historically, and for the Beatles it was certainly one for contrast. It was a year of both self-contemplation and politicization too by the time the year was over. In many ways, this year was the beginning of a new state of affairs for the Beatles, who since 1963 had lived in the insular world of recording studios, stages, radio stations, movie sets, and hotel rooms. Times were changing, even for the fab four.
They had met with the Maharishi Mehesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, the previous year in Britain, and had attended a number of his seminars. This included a weekend in Bangor, Wales, a kind of spiritual retreat. This served as a means of introducing the group, their wives, and some of their friends, to the world of TM.
While away in Bangor, their manager Brian Epstein died of an accidental drugs overdose. Even in this, they knew that things had shifted from one era to another. Epstein had been the band’s manager in nearly every sense, from logistics, to finances, to publicity (with the help of press officer Derek Taylor). Above all, Epstein had held them together as an entity, as a package. When he was gone, part of the work cut out for them was to redefine who they were as a band, as people within that band, and ultimately what the relationship was between each.
Maybe this is why the group’s interest in TM would inspire them to take some time off and go to Rishikesh in India to take an expanded course in TM under Maharishi’s tutelage. Along with their wives, they were also joined by celebrity friends, and other TM enthusiasts in a sort of spiritual summer camp, even if the span of months stretched from February to April of 1968. And while there, each Beatle wrote songs – lots of them.
But even if the Beatles wrote about various subjects in their India-written songs, they certainly began to write about their times in a more direct way. Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” is a direct reference to civil rights. George Harrison’s “Piggies” discusses the narrow-mindedness of the middle-classes. And of course, it’s Lennon who later pens “Revolution”, in the wake of the Paris student riots after his return from Rishikesh. It seems that the look inward actually produced an opposite effect. And with no Brian Epstein to rein in their political impulses in the songwriting, it was the first overtly political statement from the Beatles.
It was a tough year, particularly for the counterculture. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated, the war in Vietnam raged on, and Richard Nixon came to power as President of the United States for the first time. In many ways, the Beatles eponymous next album being something of a darker beast than the colourful Sgt. Pepper the year before was understandable. And “Revolution” captured something of the zeitgeist, a feat which had always been something of a Beatles trait. Yet, it could be argued that this was the beginning of the end of the Beatles, as each member of the band began to realize that there was life outside of the bubble that had been made for them to live in up until then.
Listen to this track by Rockford Illinois power pop gurus Cheap Trick with one of their singular achievements: the live and definitive version of “I Want You To Want Me”, which appeared on the 1979 release Cheap Trick At Budokan, actually recorded in the spring of ’78. Maybe this is an obvious one for me to talk about. But, it’s obvious for a reason – it is sonic perfection. The real question is why it took me this long!
Listen: this is the greatest live rock track ever recorded by anyone.
You’ve got vocalist/rhythm guitarist Robin Zander’s teen idol croon, gonzo lead guitarist Rick Nielson’s short-and-perfect fills and kick ass get-in-get-on-with-it-get-out eight bar guitar solos, and rhythm section Bun E. Carlos’ drumming and bassist Tom Petersson’s meat and potatoes rock stomp. If you don’t like this, you must hate rock ‘n’ roll.
By the mid-1970s, and after touring relentlessly as an opening act for the biggest acts of the day, Cheap Trick had made a big mark in Japan where the band came to be beloved on a Beatlemania scale before recording this live record.
Everything about this track, this performance, is great including the sound of the audience, mostly made of up gaggles of crazed Japanese girls, who virtually become a part of the band on this song with their “yeah! yeah! yeah!” call-and-response participation. There isn’t enough of that in today’s pop music, kids. Or maybe there is and I haven’t heard it. But, you can feel the enthusiasm coming from this track, recorded as it was thirty years ago!
The show and the live album was something of a tribute to the ‘Trick’s Japanese fan base. And with its release, they shot into the North American market with a platinum album and a hit record in this song too. Their cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” would follow on its heels, and their next album Dream Police pushed their momentum along as well.
Although they would never gain the heights of Aerosmith or U2 in the rock world, they certainly kept a dedicated fanbase, and had enormous influence on the grunge scene by the late 80s and early 90s. The chunky power chords, economic riffs, and inventive melodies that the ‘Trick employed were highly valued by writers like Kurt Cobain. Of Nirvana, Cobain told the press: “We sound just like Cheap Trick, only the guitars are louder…”.
Here’s a clip of former Oxfordian cheeky monkeys-turned Brit-rock defenders Supergrass with the lead track from their excellent and underappreciated 2005 Road to Rouen album, “Tales of Endurance pts 4, 5, & 6”. This clip is from a live show from Brazil, framing this song and the band themselves as a cross-section of all the best in British rock music from the 60s to the present day.
Supergrass debuted in 1995 with their just-in-time-for-Brit-pop album I Should Coco, which featured the hits “Caught By The Fuzz” and the effervescent “Alright”, the video for which caught the attention of one Steven Speilberg, who was interested in basing a TV show around Supergrass, not unlike a kind of 90s Monkees. The creation of a follow up album however took precedence, and the band turned Speilberg down.
It’s hard to imagine how their career would have gone if they’d decided to accept Speilberg’s offer. But, it’s even harder to imagine life without the follow up, ironically titled We’re In It For The Money, which is arguably the best album of their impressive list of good records. Where that record certainly has some undeniable tracks, many of their follow-up albums do as well. From their debut, they managed to mature from cheeky chappies to creating work with a bit more depth. A dynamic live act, Supergrass were a trio for many years, with unofficial contributor Rob Coombes adding keyboards. By Road to Rouen, Rob was in the band along with guitarist/frontman brother Gaz Coombes, bassist Mickey Quinn, and drummer Danny Goffey.
I really think this record is one of their best, slightly moody, and very ambitiously arranged. This song kicks things off well, building the track from an acoustic guitar strum to a full-on rock out barrage. At just over 35 minutes, it never outstays its welcome, which is endemic of a lot of good albums these days which would otherwise by great albums.
Supergrass have a knack for being both a singles band, and an albums band, which is no small feat, appealing to casual music fans, and serious geeks like me in different, yet equal, ways. And as mentioned, they have the balance to be able to incorporate a list of influences from the annals of British classic rock music – Marc Bolan, the Stones, the Small Faces, The Kinks – while still establishing their own identity, which may be an even harder feat.
Here’s a clip of super po-faced, self-styled ‘generation terrorists’ Manic Street Preachers with their 1996 song “Kevin Carter” as taken from their album Everything Must Go, their first album as a trio after the disappearance, and presumed death, of their rhythm guitarist/lyricist Ritchie Edwards.
The titular Kevin Carter was a South African photojournalist who won a Pulitzer prize for his image of a Sudanese toddler, weak from malnutrition, evidently being stalked by a vulture while a plane unloaded foodstuffs for her village. Carter was lauded, yet also criticized for his lack of action to help the girl, choosing instead to capture the image.
Carter’s effectiveness at unveiling the plight of many children in the Third World is arguable on that score. But the experience, and those like it when he similarly captured images of cruelty while exposing Apartheid in his own country, deeply affected Carter who later ended his own life as a result.
As for the Manics, they were making a statement about voyeuristic journalism, and about what happens when the observer is drawn too far into his subject matter, and doing so in a pretty lyrically strident manner. It’s an approach for which the group was often criticized. Yet I think this song is a propulsive rock song, and certainly one of the best the group put out in this second phase of their career, post-Ritchie Edwards.
Edwards himself was something of a tourist to the dark side, often given to bouts of depression and self-mutilation. In February 1995, Edwards’ car was discovered in a service station near the Severn Bridge, leading many to believe that he, like Carter, took his own life. But many also believed that he simply dropped off the grid. Ritchie sightings were popular in the mid-90s.
Perhaps the Manics, having moved on despite the murmurings of Edward’s possible survival, were working it out through the story of Kevin Carter who also faced fame and notoriety, ultimately to be consumed by it.
Here’s a clip of minimalist indie-blues titans The White Stripes with their 2007 single “Rag and Bone” as taken from my favourite album of theirs, Icky Thump.
Besides the appeal of the song’s central riff, which spectacularly tears up the seats, I think the thing I like most about this track is that is brings out the role-playing in which the Whites have always engaged. Putting personas out there which frame the music they make has always been their strength, initially posing as brother and sister, and wearing their tri-colors proudly.
And in this song, they’re really having fun, playing out these roles as door-to-door scavengers, vaguely menacing, but ultimately harmless. The rag and bone seekers roughly parallel Jack White’s real life interest in collecting and pulling musical styles together; blues, country, rock, folk, and even latin music is referenced on the album. Perhaps it’s not that much of a stretch to look at the Whites as musical rag and bone merchants.
After the first Raconteurs record, I wondered about the state of the union where the White Stripes was concerned. Songwriter Jack White promised us in the rock press that the Raconteurs is a real band, not a side project or hobby band. Where I was glad that White would be working with Brendan Benson again, it made me worry about whether Meg would hang up her sticks. Meg White is a great drummer for the band she’s in as anyone with any sense knows, and it would be a shame not to continue to hear that trademark thump-crash-drunken-Bonham style behind Jack’s growling guitar and vocal yelps.
I worried too that even if the Stripes would remain to be going concern, that White’s A-material would be channeled into the Raconteurs. It seems that this isn’t the case either. For me, Icky Thump is their best record, stealing the spot where I’m concerned, from 2000’s DeStijl, which held the crown for a while.
After over fifty years of rock riffage, you’d think (and in some cases, maybe you’d be right) that the well had run dry when it came to shockingly good, riff-driven songwriting. The fact that the White Stripes prove this theory wrong every time they release a record is more than comforting that there’s life in the old girl yet.
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.
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 Voltagein 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.
Here’s a clip of dual-drummered, dual bass guitared Detroit demolitionists The Dirtbombs with a live take of the song “Candy Ass”, taken from the 2005 album If You Don’t Already Have a Look. This looks as though it was filmed at a gig at a bowling alley. But, whatever the venue, they bash this thing to pieces and then set fire to them.
The Dirtbombs formed in Detroit, being a part of the raucous rock scene that also bred the White Stripes, and of course out of the same city that also gave birth to the MC5 and The Stooges decades before. The band punch out the type of rock you’re hearing in this clip, yet also place some emphasis on classic R&B and the blues which is also seems to be a mark of Detroit rock bands, both now and in days of yore.
I’m not sure what it is about Detroit that spawns bands like this, with a particular emphasis on bringing out the rhythm of rock, as opposed to just straight riffage. Yet, here they are, with two basses and two drum kits, punishing their instruments for the glory of all as if on some kind of vendetta.