Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Can't Live Without You: A Farewell To The Scorpions

Would you mind removing your hat, Klaus?
I do a mean Klaus Meine.

It’s true. Ask one of my co-workers (the ones over thirty, that is) and they’ll tell you how they’ve heard me yell—in my best World Wide Live voice—”Do you see the microphones in the air? Do you see them?! We are doing a live recording here toniiiggghhttt!” Because there’s nothing funnier than hearing a thin-haired German dude trying to work up a crowd in broken English.

But as much as I think Klaus Meine sounds funny, as much as some of the band’s lyrics are funny, as offensive as some of their album covers are, and as awful as their 1989 smash “Wind Of Change” truly is, I will stand behind the Scorpions and defend their awesomeness without a hint of irony. And to hear that they will be calling it a day disappoints me.

For me, it began with Animal Magnetism after Jim Turner gave a half-baked assessment of it during basketball practice. A few of us were talking about what records we liked when Jeff, who wasn’t even part of the original conversation, offered “Man, if you all want to hear some good music, it don’t get no better than ‘The Zoo‘ by the Scorpions.”

Jim Turner later went to jail when he and a pair of other classmates did a quick home invasion of an older couple who ran the local Dairy Queen. They broke into their house one night a demanded the funds of the ice cream place’s daily sales, oblivious to the fact that business owners generally put the store’s profits into the night depository box at the bank before heading home.

While Jim wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to felonious crime, he was correct in his recommendation of Animal Magnetism.

When Blackout came out, a friend of mine became so inspired that he wanted to immortalize it on his car, a 1969 Buick. He chose a line from “Dynamite” and carved “Kick Your Ass To Heaven With Rock & Roll Tonight” into the paint of his trunk.

Another friend admitted that he used the cover of Lovedrive as masturbatory material.

Thank God it wasn’t Virgin Killer [NSFW].

But even that album triggers a more recent memory. I was at one of those websites that lists the 10 or 20 most awful album covers of all time and it rightfully includes Virgin Killer on its list. Curiosity got the most of me and I finally decided to brave a potential Dateline: To Catch A Predator investigation and download a copy.

You know what?

It fucking rocks.

And so began my most recent exploration: Scorpions circa 1971-1978. It’s a revelation. Hell, it’s a completely different band. Thanks to the underrated genius of guitarist Uli Jon Roth, ’70s era Scorps are sonically heavier outfit with these weird flourishes of Hendrix-y psychedelic blues. Roth frequently quotes from Hendrix’s notepad, and he later married the same chick that was with Jimi on the night that he died. He is just one of three—count ‘em—three of hard rock’s all-time greatest guitarists that have played in the Scorpions.

When the band was just starting out, guitarist Michael Schenker was so good on the Flying V that UFO, a more popular band from England snagged him.

Kick your ass to Heaven, with rock and roll tonight!
After Roth and Schenker departed, Matthias Jabs—a possible contender for best name of a lead guitarist—managed to somehow continue the emotive soloing of his predecessors and combine it with the rapid-fire finger tapping approach of ’80s metal.

It was during this time when the band reached their heights with the commercial zenith of Love At First Sting, a record which prompted even my father to comment that “Rock You Like A Hurricane” was a “pretty good song.” Is it any surprise that my father’s approval proved to be the kiss of death that began the band’s dissent into worn out clichés (“Tease Me, Please Me“) and political ambassadors (“Winds Of Change”). Sure, the latter secured a place in the hearts of thousands freed from communist oppression, but for the rest of us, we felt the band had gone soft.

There were moments during the ’90s when I’d contemplate a new Scorpions album, but I never had the balls to actually buy one. It was too risky. “Wind Of Change” had done such irreversible damage that even the band’s notoriety as good-natured party boys seemed somewhat irresponsible. I can’t believe I’m suggesting this but, the Scorpions should have just stayed stupid.

There was a time when they served as an important reminder of the spirit of rock and roll: How does a rock and roll band build their chops? Gigs! What is the main reason why a fellow should start a rock band? Chicks! What should a band do during the hours off stage? Party!

They were the Beatles’ younger brother generation; a collective of teenage boys who saw The Beatles as a formula for a way out, and if it landed some tail during the process then all the better. One of the most important tools that they gleaned from the Fab Four was an almost Hamburg-like work ethic where the band got very good at their arrangements, to the point where even the most clumsy of English wordplay was overlooked.

While the Scorpions progressed exponentially on their craft, their lyrics remained a pubic hair above the seventh grade. They often seemed to rhyme things phonetically with a complete disregard for logic. And like a monkey writing Shakespeare, the band would occasionally mine gold, lending you to second guess that their apparent lack of smarts was part of the plan.

Plus, is there any way that a band with a track record that spans forty years could have pulled it off without a little bit of common sense?

No way.

So even though I haven’t heard much from the band in over half of that four decade career, I’m still compelled to visit them when they make their inevitable retirement tour that also happens to be supporting their final studio album. Up until now, there’s always been “the next tour,” with a sneaking suspicion that there’d be a cheaper county fair opportunity.

With their retirement announcements, it appears that the band will get to go out with an arena tour and with a certain amount of dignity.

What was that about playing dumb?

Thanks for the memories, Scorpions.

There really is no one like you.

This article originally appeared in Glorious Noise.