Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Eat, Drink And See Jerry

65 years ago today, Jerry Garcia was born. A musician of incomparable talent, Garcia also became the seemingly de-facto poster boy of the hippie idealism, even while his wealth placed him alongside more materialistic ilk, particularly considering his later-in-life Marin Country residence.
At the same time, Garcia was also known as being generous to a fault; filling the Grateful Dead payroll with loyal employees who would have had difficulty in finding jobs in the private sector.
And regardless of how his personal wealth increased, Garcia never seemed to be able to shake the demons that prompted him to use narcotics.
I had a chance to see Garcia at the final Grateful Dead show he performed at. The crowd in Chicago that night seemed oblivious at what was a less-than-stellar set and an obviously encumbered Garcia. Throughout the performance, Garcia missed lyrics, flubbed guitar parts, and struggled to appear even remotely interested in performing in front of a sold out Soldier Field. I would pretend to know that Garcia would end up dying a few short weeks later, but I will admit to feeling a little unease at his appearance.
Because of this, it wasn’t a huge surprise to learn of his passing, and it wasn’t until the following summer (when at least the possibility of catching one more Dead show) that the reality of Garcia death really hit home.
It’s beyond me to suggest that I should be considered a full-fledged Deadhead or that I even attended that many Grateful Dead shows (the total Dead concerts for me stands at a mere five performances). However, I have more cds by the Grateful Dead in my own collection than any other artist and every one of those concerts provided me with an experience that I never had at with other bands. It was a complete escape from the realities of modern life and it involved a community that shared an unachievable utopian ideal under the banner of one band’s music.
And at the helm of that band was Garcia, a gifted yet flawed musician who couldn’t seem to find the peace that seemingly came so easy when he played guitar.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Superstars Of Country

Obsession rears its ugly head again as I’m struggling to maintain rational thought, particularly considering the financial limitations that child-rearing brings. In other words: I don’t have a lot of money to blow on cds these days. This is troubling because I’m totally fixated on acquiring Time Life’s Superstars of Country series and I’ve been able to locate a few fairly economical outlets (read: Ebay) that offer this 10 cd set at prices substantially less than what one pays on those half hour infomercials. It’s the one with the freaky looking Kenny Rogers, in case you’re wondering.
What draws me to it is how utterly complete it seems to be. Virtually every single country radio hit from the late 60’s, the 70’s and early 80’s are included on it, which means that a fairly large chunk of childhood memories could be found in that set.
Admittedly, I wasn’t a huge fan of country music growing up. At the same time, you can’t live in Iowa, or anywhere in the Midwest for that matter, and be somewhat exposed to country music. For me, it was those week-long trips to the Grandparents every summer, isolated in the airwave fringe of a Midwestern small town. It was the AM radio drift of the car rides when the top 40 stations became overrun with static, and that subtle influence that happens when you’re barely paying attention.
By the time I get over the fact that Kenny Roger’s face is now completely devoid of expression, I start to fixate on how I need to have Superstars Of Country.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

How Does It Feel?

Not only is “Like A Rolling Stone” the best song that Bob Dylan wrote (something that He Himself admitted in 1965), it may very well be the greatest song in rock history.
Released this week day in 1965, the song spent twelve weeks on the singles chart and reached a peak position of #2. Certainly, there are more songs that sold more copies and reached a higher position than “Like A Rolling Stone,” but none of that matters when considering how important this song was. Prior to it, the lyrics to most songs were of passing interest, but suddenly, after “Like A Rolling Stone” was released, even pop bands started to pay attention to the shit they were singing about. And what Dylan was singing about seemed to be addressing generations preparing to step into the arena of adulthood. “How does it feel?/To be on your own?” is a question that even my own children will eventually face, both literally and metaphorically, perhaps around the same time that Bob himself penned that immortal line (24).
Even the music itself was unlike anything created until that point. The opening, reverberated snare crack seemed to be signaling something new arriving. As keyboardist Al Kooper recalled, "There was no sheet music, it was totally by ear. And it was totally disorganized, totally punk. It just happened." The late Michael Bloomfield also spoke similarly of the sessions: "He said, 'I don't want you to play any of that B.B. King shit, none of that fucking blues. "I want you to play something else."
Not only did “Like A Rolling Stone” turn out to be something else, it turned out to be unlike anything else that rock music has seen since.
Anyone who would like to suggest how shitty a vocalist Dylan is needs to listen to this song. There’s so much more to a vocalist than how comforting, pitch-perfect, or appealing it may be, there’s the phrasing, the emotion, and the honesty to consider as well. In all accounts, Dylan sounds positively transformed with every “feeeeel,” with each “get…used to it” and on that immortal “no secrets to conceal” you believe every fucking syllable and you understand that not even Frank Sinatra could sing it any better.
Below is a great live clip of “Like A Rolling Stone” filmed the same year Highway 61 Revisited was released.

Brett Mydland 1952-1990

Brent Mydland, keyboardist for the Grateful Dead throughout the 80’s, died on this day in 1990. His death is memorable to me because of the complete lack of sympathy it stirred among most of my Deadhead friends that summer. To quote one such contact, a white, dreadlocked fan known by most as “Slick” instead of his proper Christian name: “I’m glad that motherfucker’s dead.” Adding to his strong opinion, he claimed that any self proclaimed Deadhead would agree with his assessment and he privately called those family members who literally cried after learning the news of Mydland’s death “a bunch of posing pussies.”
I liked Slick. His main form of transportation was a Cannondale mountain bike and his wardrobe always consisted of a tie-dyed t-shirt. He was generous with his endless cassettes of live Dead shows from almost every era of the band’s career and would occasionally dub me a copy or two.
His favorite period would probably have been the Ron “Pigpen” McKernan era, even though he laughed at the older hippies who lived by the mantra that the Dead were never the same after Pigpen died.
Following the Dead for a week or so was a regular summer ritual for Slick, and he also made special trips to notable shows like the band’s New Year’s Eve performances in San Francisco. The details of those trips were usually repeated for weeks afterwards during stoned conversation, with convincing arguments on how we should tag along with him during the next roadtrip.
Brent Mydland wasn’t my favorite member of the Grateful Dead, but I certainly didn’t dislike him as much as Slick. His voice irritated me, and his choice in keyboard equipment was also questionable at times. Compared to the organic keys of Ron McKernan and Keith Godchaux, Mydland seemed to rely heavily on state-of-the-art keyboards and synthesizers.
The other thing that bothered me about him was how he died. Knowing that Garcia struggled with addiction during the 80’s, Mydland’s death signaled to me that perhaps Jerry had found a junkie peer and, as a result, tolerated some of the keyboardists more unethical tones and sappy vocal moments (“I Will Take You Home” from Built To Last immediately comes to mind).
So forgive me if I still chuckle at Slick’s gallows humor concerning Mydland’s speedball grave-maker, and excuse me if I find much of his material bordering on adult contemporary territory. The Grateful Dead I like to recognize is the band that had their feet in a jugband tradition even when their heads drifted around the atmosphere. Brent Mydland always seemed to be the guy that stuck a cork in the jug and steered the band towards MIDI-aided laziness.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Axe - Offering

During my early forays of trying to beat friends in getting new music, I would incorporate such methods as going down to the local newsstand and skimming through the local Billboard magazine. In one such trip, I notice a band receiving airplay in the publication’s A.O.R. charts that I’d never heard of before: Axe. If their name wasn’t badassed enough, the song receiving radio play was enough to make any red-blooded American fifteen year-old boy march directly to the record store and buy the album. The song was “Rock ‘N Roll Party In The Streets” and the album it was found on was called Offering.
It’s important to remember that I had never actually heard “Rock ‘N Roll Party In The Streets” before buying that Axe record. I mean, what fifteen year old doesn’t like rock ‘n roll or partying, and if both are indeed taking place in the streets, well, that must be one hell of a party.
So imagine my surprise after I purchased Offering to find out that the track starts with a fucking piano. Unless you’re pounding out some boogie woogie, there’s little about a piano that screams “Party!” and with the gentle tinkle-winkle of the intro to “Rock ‘N Roll Party In The Streets,” the listener is set up for an initial disappointment.
Finally, a few power chords come in, and I’m feeling a little better about my first experience with Florida’s Axe.
At the same time, you get the feeling throughout Offering that the band is faced with a serious identity crisis. During some moments, their geography is in fine form, particularly with the Southern bar-band stomp of “Burn The City Down” and their awesome cover of Montrose’s “I Got The Fire.” On other moments, they fall completely short of their radio aspirations with the awful ballad “Jennifer” and the ridiculous technological warnings of “Video Inspiration.”
And then there’s a curious side-step toward new wave, with the second single “Now Or Never” that, again, makes a blatant attempt towards crossover airplay and, I’ll be Goddamned, comes fairly close to succeeding.
Of course, it sounds hopelessly out of place on Offering and that’s the album’s underlying downfall; Axe is obviously a band of adequate musicianship and worthy ambitions, but to package a hodgepodge of music simulations before establishing themselves at any one of the genre’s examined, makes it hard to figure out what the hell kind of band they are.
Nonetheless, I still have some crazy affection for this band, even though Offering is an album that I can’t recommend. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed at the fact that, not only did I make that initial purchase of Offering; I later sold it back to a used record store and then bought it again a few years ago on cd only to realize after spinning it again why I sold it in the first place.
Part of the appeal is because I have an idea as to what the band might have been able to accomplished with the introduction of a strong-willed producer or, perhaps, a strong-willed manager that forced them to pick a side (read: music style), work it to perfection and then examine the possibilities of other directions. My own perception of Axe was enhanced when I saw them live, during the tour for their follow-up album Nemesis. In a live setting, the band absolutely rocked with ferocious guitar solos and a fairly entertaining Hammond organ solo that harked back to equal parts Jon Lord and Viv Savage. The band had some awesome concert t-shirt declaring the performance to be part of the “Yo Mama” tour; I wish I would have bought one.
Supposedly, Nemesis is a much better album but I wouldn’t know because I was completely full of Axe after their, ahem, initial Offering. The band would never really get to completely find their voice as guitarist Mike Osbourne was killed in a car wreck in 1984. Leader Bobby Barth disbanded Axe shortly afterward and then re-grouped the moniker in 2000 when Wounded Bird records brought Offering and Nemesis back after being out-of-print for over a decade. Both releases are available now, but like the original issues, take my advice and listen before you spend.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

You're In The Jungle Baby! (Preface)

I wrote a lengthy piece for Glorious Noise concerning the 20th Anniversary of Appetite For Destruction recently, using my cousin’s experience and history with the album because it was much more entertaining than my own experience.
Also, my cousin was one of those people that was a supporter of GNR from day one, whereas I finally relented to them after a college girlfriend jumped on the bandwagon during the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” single and played the album incessantly.
Part of my issue was that, when Appetite was originally released, I was going through a very unnecessary stage of purging anything metal related from my personal collection. It made no sense, I know, and it essential was a feeble attempt at trying to hide some fairly significant portion of my life.
It also didn’t help that the girlfriend in question was also into Dokken, and this was at least three or four years after Dokken even had a hit. So with that frame of reference, I placed GNR in a similar quality even though I secretly knew that there was a lot of pretty awesome stuff to be found on Appetite.
At the radio station I worked for, we had been playing Guns ‘N Roses for quite some time and when “Sweet Child” started to get big, that meant that every other rock and Top 40 station also started to play Guns ‘N Roses.
To address this, and to appear somewhat credible to the few listeners we had, I started programming some of the deeper cuts from Appetite that I knew other stations wouldn’t touch. Songs like “Mr. Brownstone,” “My Michelle” and “It’s So Easy” received airplay, even during the day even though it probably violated some FCC guideline somewhere.
The station had a metal show that aired live every Saturday night and we had a creepy dude in his thirties that hosted the program. He lived at home with his Mother, drove a Yugo, and couldn’t figure out why he could never get laid after saying things like “I’ll eat your pussy so good you’ll see God.” He was also a huge fan of early Queensryche, which may explain something.
One week, he came into the office and wasn’t his usual, boisterous self. When pressed, he hinted that he had met a girl and it seemed like she had started to turn his life around. By the next week, he was dressing up with a tie and by the third week, he had turned in his resignation for hosting the weekend metal show. I asked him why, since he was actually pretty good at what he did and was fairly passionate about the genre. He confessed that his new girlfriend was a devout Christian and felt that his music was negatively influencing him and, therefore, thwarting any progress of their relationship.
Such a decision also meant that I wouldn’t be conversing with him on a regular basis either; instead of spending his free time harassing girls or extolling the virtues of Geoff Tate, he was trying to convince people that they needed to get right with God.
One day, he stopped by the station and told me that he was selling his entire cd collection because it was unholy. The prices he was asking was incredibly low, so I went over to his place and picked up Aerosmith Toys In The Attic, Queensryche Operation: Mindcrime, Marillion Misplaced Childhood (and some rare 12” imports from them too) and Guns ‘N Roses Appetite For Destruction.
About a month later, the dude’s girlfriend dumped him to go back with her ex, leaving the recently converted, ex-metalhead alone with Christ and a few shitty Stryper albums. He asked me if he could buy back the stuff he sold me, above the amount I paid for them. I said “No.”
The Queensryche album and Marillion’s effort didn’t make it; they were sold to a used record store for a profit compared to why I paid the former-Jesus freak. Aerosmith and Guns ‘N Roses managed to remain with me to this day.
And both I revere as classic albums that should on proud display in any record collection.
Guns 'N Roses Appetite For Destruction was released on this day in 1987.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Rainbow - Difficult To Cure

"Difficult to listen to."

Review courtesy of Brad Company.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

INXS - Shabooh Shoobah

There’s probably no better example of a band that’s come full circle from my high school days than INXS. Between 1982 and 1986, this Aussie band could be found on my turntable or car, only to be met with the kiss of death label as “uncool” about the time everyone else had caught up to them (87’s Kick).
The fixation started with their 1982 release Shabooh Shoobah, the first INXS album to find a domestic release and the first one to find the band honing their signature sound: Bowie-esque atmospheres welded against Stonesy riffs and danceable rhythms.
Wonderfully sequenced and gloriously timed at a tight 35 minutes in length, the band alternates between post-punk leanings and their Aussie pub-rock upbringings
Lyrically, Michael Hutchence is still finding his own groove here, with more than a few examples (“Here comes my kamikaze/Here comes God’s top ten” –“Here Comes”) of over-reaching or under-achieving, depending on your temperament at the time.
Despite these occasional flaws, he also manages to come up with, count ‘em, two of the decade’s best singles, both of them included on Shabooh Shoobah. “The One Thing” opens the album, with some of the best lines ever penned for such a charismatic frontman like Hutchence.
And then there’s “Don’t Change,” the single that barely cracked the top forty when it should have been a certifiable smash. Perfectly blending synth-pop sheen with a rock edge, “Don’t Change” is one of the best album closers of the decade.
The band would find greater success with each subsequent album; particularly since each one upped the production budget and streamlined the experimentation. And while those releases may be the ones that find greater appeal among more people, Shabooh Shoobah remains the album that had me looking down under then, and looking back now.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Ian Curtis

It’s Ian Curtis birthday today. He would have turned 51 years old, but as we all know, Ian Curtis was not destined to become a middle-aged man. His will allowed him to only to live to the age of 23, while some would argue that his words rivaled those of a man twice his age.
2007 may be the year, nearly thirty years after his suicide, in which Ian’s iconic stature reaches epic proportion. Photographer Anton Corbijn recently completed Control, the film based on Deborah Curtis’ book Touching From A Distance. I will confess to not being a big fan of Ms. Curtis’ biography of Ian and was therefore a little concerned when I learned a movie would be made from it. At the same time, Control won three awards at the Cannes Film Festival this year, so it may be that Mr. Corbijn has indeed created a definitive celluloid statement about Ian Curtis.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Belly - King

Tanya Donelly (who turns 41 today), was on the verge of stardom back in the early nineties. First, as one of the members of Throwing Muses, later as a founding member of the The Breeders, and then finally with her own band Belly. Belly’s debut (Star) contained some pop gems and even grazed the bottom rings of the American top forty, thanks to the infectious alternative hit “Feed The Tree.”
But for me, their follow-up effort, King, remains the band’s crowing achievement and, sadly, their last record before Donelly pulled the plug on the band and went solo.
Supposedly, the band’s harder direction on King was the result of new bassist Gail Greenwood, a regular in Boston’s established punk scene. Her presence was immediately know with the incessant hair tossing during live performances, but her influence on the band’s musical direction is even more apparent throughout Belly’s second release.
Producer Glyn Johns fills the multi-track tape with raucous guitars and dirty hiss; Tanya’s vocals seem like they’re struggling for air. In short, the change in direction is commendable and the sudden shift from dream-pop supporters towards full-on rock outfit is refreshing, particularly when you consider Donelly’s innocent vocals.
The new sound is perfectly captured on the lead-off single “Super-Connected” which, like the album itself, failed to find as wide an audience as Belly’s debut. Disheartened by the critical and fan ambivalence towards King, Donelly disbanded the Belly and set on a solo career that was met with diminishing returns.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Small Blue Things & Psilocybin Ponies

Admitting your affection for Suzanne Vega (who’s celebrating a birthday today) probably isn’t the most rocking thing to do. But then again, I’m done trying to impress people, having figured that I’ve paid enough dues in four decades to declare a hearty “fuck y’all” to most that question me, my collection, and why I have an affection for someone like, say, Suzanne Vega.
I mean, fuck man, she released “Luka,” probably one of the most pretentious singles known to mankind since, I dunno, “Marlene On The Wall.”
And if you’re a Suzanne Vega fan, you got that last joke.
It started on a car ride to Iowa City one weekend. I was driving up to visit some friends who’d made their way into a “real” college while I tested the grounds of collegiate life in my hometown’s community college. It was both an economic decision and based on the possibility that I may not have had the self-discipline to live in a college town and not be entirely consumed by drugs and alcohol. I guess I have what people might deem as an “addictive personality.”
That weekend would turn out to be my first weekend experimenting with hallucinogens, gained by unknown methods by someone who you normally wouldn’t think of as a guy who would even consider buying psilocybin mushrooms. But he did, and I’m fairly grateful for his tenacity.
That weekend was also the first week for the release of Suzanne Vega’s debut album. Aside from “Marlene On The Wall,” there’s probably not a lot of familiarity with this release and, admittedly, I had no fucking idea who Suzanne Vega was when I heard “Small Blue Thing” on the airwaves of a low-wattage student station as I made my way into Iowa City.
It was haunting.
I was hooked.
The routine for any trip to Iowa City usually included a routine that required that I stop by the head shop (called The Third Coast and, seemingly, always moving to a new location every other month) and the record store (BJ Records, long since closed). After getting pipe screens and rolling papers from the head shop, I made my way to the record store and notice that the artist I had been enchanted with not less than two hours before was on sale. Taking a chance on an artist I’d never heard of and going on a feeling based by one spin of one song, I shelled out the money for her cd.
Now the argument could be made that even amplified farts may have some aural appeal under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms, but I’m here to confess that Suzanne Vega did wonders for me/us at three o’clock in the morning after being brutally assaulted by a shitty Sony cd player that continuously skipped during Are You Experienced?
It had to be over an hour before anyone noticed that it was skipping and then add another hour as we tried to fix the issue before spending another hour on what disc to play next.
Suzanne Vega’s debut album saved us from a mental breakdown and probably pacified the neighbors just enough to not call the police on us.
I followed Vega’s career all through ‘92’s 99.9F° before losing track rather than lose interest. She, like many other artists, became another victim of my wide palate that tends to follow many performers before moving on to another obsession. To be fair, Vega took four years to follow-up 99.9F°, which made my forgetfulness a little easier to explain.
But even though my memory of her may have been lost over the past decade, I still remember vividly how I meandered into the hole of her acoustic guitar and how critical she was at keeping my feet on the ground, even when my head was somewhere in outer space.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Black Sabbath - The Dio Years

There’s nothing quite like a good old fashioned age dispute in the world of entertainment, and for years, Ronnie James Dio has claimed to be born on this day in 1949. But with a few investigative maneuvers, one can easily determine that this year is probably not accurate.
In fact, the general consensus is that Dio was born on this day in 1942, placing him at the ripe old age of 65 today. Wikipedia devotes an entire section on Dio’s entry to this topic, and it even includes a link to Ronnie’s old high school. The school, which has a wall of fame of notable alumni, lists Dio’s graduation at 1960, which would contradict Ronnie’s claim that he was born in 1949.
Here’s a review of Black Sabbath The Dio Years originally published on Glorious Noise.

Black Sabbath
The Dio Years

There is no debating the enormous impact that Black Sabbath had during their 70’s heyday, and, for those old enough to remember, the stakes were very high for the band when they made the decision to continue on without vocalist Ozzy Osbourne.
Enter Ronnie James Dio, who spent half of the 70’s teamed with Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow, to breathe some live into Sabbath.
Surprisingly, Dio not only shook the band from their drug-addled slumber, he helped create a pair of stellar metal albums with them (Heaven & Hell and Mob Rules) that devastated the band’s last two albums with Osbourne (Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die!).
I’m one of those old enough to remember. At the tender age of thirteen, Black Sabbath was the musical equivalent of Satan incarnate, which is to say they were a veritable rite of passage for thousands of boys who traded in their Mad magazines for Fangoria.
A record back then (for me) cost more than a week’s allowance and, without the aid of free downloads, you had to manage your purchases wisely. Thankfully, a barely tunable album-oriented rock station broadcasted a weekly show that featured a new release and played the album in its entirety, commercial free. One of the albums they featured was Heaven & Hell, providing me with an opportunity to preview the release and to test my home recording skills as I loaded a blank cassette, ready to capture my own static-riddled copy of the newest incarnation of Black Sabbath.
Within seconds after the start of some familiar Tony Iommi riffing, Dio makes his presence known with the growl “Oh no! Here it comes again!” And with that, Sabbath was reborn.
Never say die indeed.
Ronnie James Dio is also known for a few humorous antidotes that make him common fodder for some of metal’s most infamous jokes. Copyright searches have shown his (disputed) age to be 64 years old (memorialized in the line “You’re too old to rock/No more rockin’ for you!” in the Tenacious D song “Dio”) which does point to the stunning realization that a man older than my own Father is still working the heavy metal circuit.
And if his age and chosen music genre weren’t enough, Dio is notorious for his lyrical Dungeons and Dragons imagery, a fixation that most males grow out of during their teenage years. All of this blatant ammunition comes wrapped in a package that barely scales 5’4”.
Yes, Ronnie James Dio has some image problems.
Black Sabbath may have been the perfect band for him to compliment these shortcomings. They were ridiculed for years for their own juvenile imagery, simplistic musical approach and general lack of critical respect. Black Sabbath has never been a band that apes the critics anyway. No, their primary audience typically fights nocturnal boners when they’re not wearing huge-ass Koss headphones, finger-ready on the pause button of a shitty Craig stereo, listening for the exact moment to steal a copy of Heaven & Hell from a terrestrial radio station.
While a Dio-led Sabbath may have been a match made in Heaven (or Hell), the line up only survived another studio album (Mob Rules) before tensions mounted between Ronnie and the rest of Sabbath during the mixing of Live Evil. Recently, Geezer Butler referred to the album as “Live In The Studio Evil,” a quick jab at an old wound that Dio had re-recorded his vocals and mixed the down the levels of the rest of the band without their consent.
Dio rejoined Sabbath again in 1992 for the frequently overlooked Dehumanizer, which offered the most inspired set since, well, since he was on board a decade earlier.
Rhino Records has recently compiled songs from the three studio albums and the controversial live effort as The Dio Years, an album that actually works well as compilations are concerned, pulling the correct amount of material from the line up’s strongest album and, more importantly, pulling the right material from these sources.
Five of Heaven & Hell’s eight tracks are included, four songs from Mob Rules made the cut, one from Live Evil and three from Dehumanizer can be found. To entice fans that may already own the proper releases, the band regrouped last fall to record new material, three of which are tacked on to the end of The Dio Years.
Of these three, there is nothing revelatory to speak of and they do not match up to the quality of the first two releases. Yes, Dio (who possesses one of the most perfectly matched voices in the history of heavy metal) still manages to deliver vocally and the band sounds notably heavy, the new tracks are unmemorable and suffer from an obvious sense of “I guess we need to fill out the album with some newly recorded material.” They plod along like some of the weaker moments of Dehumanizer and The Dio Years would have been better served by offering the sorely missed “Sign Of The Southern Cross” from Mob Rules, a track that perfectly captures Dio’s full range and Sabbath’s softer versatility.
With this minor complaint aside, The Dio Years serves as a fine introduction to a band in top form even after such a career-ending event like losing a recognizable frontman like Ozzy Osbourne. The band remained relevant and withstood the influx of creativity during the new wave of British heavy metal with their leather in tact.
The compilation actually works better than last year’s anthology of Ozzy-fronted Sabbath, Greatest Hits 1970-1978. With so much glaringly missing from that set, it’s somewhat reassuring that The Dio Years strives to find a balance of quality material with the obligatory unreleased enticements.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Happy Birthday, Bon Scott

Hard to believe, but Bon Scott would have turned 61 years old today. That age would place Bon in the same age bracket as some of the most notorious artists from the sixties (a decade that I certainly don’t associate him with), and I guess his death in 1980 placed him as an immortal 33 year old in my mind.
I think about what AC/DC would have evolved into had he survived. We certainly wouldn’t have had Back In Black, which is kind of a drag to consider, but the underlying fact is that we also wouldn’t have had to endure over a quarter-century of listening to Brian Johnston’s voice turn into the sound of a cat being raped.
But I digress.
The truth is: there are very few rock and roll frontmen that come to mind that are as honest as Bon Scott. He seemed to be an individual that would have been exactly the same person sitting next to you in a bar as he was on stage.
What a rare thing, particularly in his line of work.
It should be no surprise to anyone that the absolutely critical AC/DC albums that should be in a rock fan’s record collection are the ones that Bon Scott helped create.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Paul McCartney meets John Lennon

Today in 1957, a young John Lennon met an even younger Paul McCartney for the first time, immediately starting a chain of events that would lead them to become two of the creative forces behind the greatest rock and roll band of all time. What was it about that first meeting that prompted the duo to forge ahead, challenging each other in the process to create beyond the means that their individual backgrounds typically allowed? It would seem that the two started (like many of us) as obsessive fans of music, the ones who viewed rock and roll as a form of escape.
What blows my mind is how utterly random an event like this can be. Imagine if something happened, preventing either John or Paul from meeting the other.
Then imagine how fate can work for you: maybe your own John or Paul sitting next to you on the bus.
Or consider the impact of how we listen to music today may have on promoting the possibility like this even happening. As the actual method of delivery becomes more isolated, will we have fewer examples of people finding common ground in their music? Will there be less opportunities to share experiences, both auditory and visual, when new music is discovered? Would John and Paul simply nodded and moved on as they passed each other, quietly listening to their respective passions in the solitude of an earbud?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Galaxie 500 "Fourth Of July"

Was it only yesterday that, after a large quantity of weed, I decided that Galaxie 500's On Fire was one of the greatest albums in rock history?
It was longer than yesterday, and perhaps the praise was a tad overzealous, but not much.
When This Is Our Music was released, it served as a lysergic soundtrack to a trip to Colorado in an '87 Ford Tempo with a lame tie-rod.
I saw a monkey that looked like David Byrne at the Denver zoo and suffered through some strange post-hallucinagenic depression as I tried to make good time through Nebraska.
And through it all, Galaxie 500 was my soundtrack.
Specifically, the lyrics to "Fourth Of July" seemed very appropriate as I pondered life, love, and growing the fuck up on Interstate 80:
"And if it don't improve
Then I have to move
I never thought that I would end up here"
And "here" turned out to be the very state that I claimed that I would leave during high school. I never did and, for the most part, I've got no regrets that I continue to call Iowa home.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

This Door Is Closed

On July 3, 1971, one of the most important events in rock history happened that had an enormous impact on me: Jim Morrison was found dead in a Paris bathtub. I understand that I’m one of many who’ve had the obligatory infatuation with the circa ’67 pinup pose only to discover immediately before the carefully constructed imagery burst.
My internal rise happened in quick succession: the discovery of “The End” via an unauthorized HBO viewing of Apocalypse Now followed by a first edition paperback of “No One Here Gets Out Alive.” The sounds of that epic closer along with the deadsexy storyline of the book suddenly turned Morrison into an iconic posterboy for my burgeoning angst, teenage rebellion, and unsupervised substance consumption.
I cringe about how high of a pedestal I put Jim every time I hear the shit that is The Soft Parade or hear the voice of Ray Manzarek attempting to levitate the myth of Morrison even further.
Seriously: fuck that money loving hippie cocksucker and the Robby Krieger horse he rode in on.
But for a time, scratch that, for a phase, I immersed myself completely in the mythology of James Douglas Morrison. From the poetry books to the spoken word ("featuring music by The Doors") An American Prayer, I believed that Jim somehow transcended the abilities of an average rock star.
These opinions started to change during college, a time in which fresh music overtook the stale, dinosaurian classic rock of my youth.
It started with a Doors tribute band, The Back Doors, who found their way to a sold out crowd in Iowa City. Heavily promoted as “You’ll think Jim is him,” they did indeed feature a Morrison impersonator who’s well rehearsed shaman dance and convincing baritone did a good job of hiding the fact that he towered over the real Lizard King. The rest of the band, it should be noted, looked nothing like the other members of the line-up.
They did a good job of recreating that classic Doors sound, to the point where a fairly fried member of the audience stood directly below the Lizard King doppelganger and screamed “Jim! Jim! Jim!” throughout the entire set, trying to get his attention.
Almost immediately after, I heard the Dead Milkmen’s “Bitchin’ Camaro” song, with the infamous line about the Doors’ cover band “Crystal Shit” singing “Love Me Two Times (“Cuz I’ve got AIDS!”). In less than three minutes, The Doors were reduced to a parody.
But nothing was as damaging as Oliver Stone’s The Doors, a misguided attempt seemingly sanctioned by the surviving members at building the band’s legacy. With its hippie spirituality, blatant misogyny, and hypocritical decadence, there was little in Stone’s vision that aided in the band’s mystique.
For me, it completely dismantled it.
Morrison suddenly turned from a misunderstood poet into a tiring drunk with little creative clout to warrant his bibliography.
I began to overly criticize the band, something that I continue to do to this day; their catalog is littered with pompous, derivative and lackluster tunes.
At the same time, their debut remains one of the most stunning debuts in rock history and there are several tracks, placed inconsistently around their brief history, that hint at the greatness they’re usually blessed with.