Miles Davis And Gil Evans Create More Than Mere Sketches Of Spain.
A sketch suggests a work on its way to completion. The beginning of something with potential. The only thing preliminary about this record seems to be its length. But it’s not really brief at 41 minutes. At least not by twelve inch record standards. The music just happens to you a bit too quickly. It leaves you wanting more. And in that way alone it seems incomplete. But satisfyingly so. Perhaps that’s one of the many secrets of this record.
Recorded between Fall of 1959 and Spring of 1960, Sketches of Spain is much more than a rough draft of something more to come. It’s a full, emotional portrait of a seemingly beautiful series of events we’ll understand later. The orchestra and jazz group that created this masterpiece bring the compositions to life by shaping and coloring them as they play them. The album is composed of five songs magically connected to one another by Miles Davis’ flugelhorn. The songs include Concierto De Aranjuez, Will O’ The Wisp (from “El Amor Brujo”), The Pan Piper, Saeta, and Solea.
As I sit here listening – first to a 1980s stereo reissue and then to an original “six eye” monophonic copy – I’m impressed by the picture painted by Mr. Davis and Mr. Evans. The recordings seem to be announcing something wonderfully warm but melancholy all the same. At times the record seems to be made up of a tension that builds between a tight jazz group – Miles Davis on flugelhorn, Johnny Coles on trumpet, Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Elvin Jones on percussion – and an open-armed orchestra that slowly surrounds them, occasionally pressuring them to deliver on their Spanish promise.
It happens to be a cool, rainy Fall day as I attempt to unravel all these Sketches of Spain and what strikes me is the incandescent swirling of amber, russet and golden hues glowing within my mind as I listen to the record over and over. The recordings themselves have warmed my heart and connected me to a time and place I’ve never been. And that’s the rare, wonderful feeling created by Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain, arranged and conducted by Gil Evans. A jazzy, orchestral, Spanish gift to the future from so long ago.
For Weirdos Only:
As I mentioned above, I reviewed a 1980s stereo pressing and an original mono “six-eye” pressing. I expected huge differences between the two. The differences weren’t huge. Don’t get me wrong, there are differences. The mono copy has more immediacy and force. More punch. But the stereo reissue sounded good too. More enveloping. As is typical of any comparison of the same recordings pressed some thirty years apart, there’s some loss of information over the years. There’s just not as much music in the grooves of the reissue. So what? It’s still great. Those two pressings weren’t enough for me anyway. I put on a compact disc copy of Sketches of Spain from the Miles Davis/Gil Evans Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (burned from my brother’s box set). While the cd sounded clear as a bell it also sounded the most different. The mixes sound different too. I bet they are. Too trebly. That said, it’s not like I suddenly and shockingly thought I was listening to Jim Nabors singing the Whiffenpoof Song. It was still Miles, man. My guess? The copy to own is the original stereo six-eye Columbia pressing.
Dust Rises From The Ashes Of A Shattered Metal Hammer
The only thing more ridiculous than that headline might be the lyrics on this album. Thank God ridiculous lyrics don’t disqualify a rock ‘n’ roll record from being phenomenal. Every now and then pompous lyrics and musical mayhem work wonders when combined into a tantalizing metallic tincture. This LP is just that. It’s incredible. I’d rocked out to this record many times before digging in to the lyrics inside the gatefold.
Truth be told, it took me quite a while to locate a copy of the LP so that I could read the lyrics. It’s a pretty rare record. Less so today (more on that later). I had to make due with a Repertoire compact disc reissue for a couple years. And that CD had no lyrics or booklet. Talk about cheapskates. In Repertoire’s defense, the CD did come out in 1989 during a very dark period in the music business.
Imagine my surprise when I read the last few lines of one of this record’s string-heavy molten rockers - “Amethyst and lace, broken women and their dossier, bleeding clowns, with tongues that badly shake, ‘tis the hour of the snake.” I didn’t know what to make of it either. But it finishes an ethereal head game and wild ride called Thusly Spoken.
The album Hard Attack came out in 1972 and it’s the second long player from Dust. The album has ten tracks if you include a 19 second instrumental listed only on the label (the second of two instrumentals) at the end of the b-side. That second wordless wonder is curiously titled Entrance. And, to stay on top of early 70s rock trends, one of the songs – Pull Away/So Many Times – is really a two-parter. Only the prog rockers could imagine 8-12 part pretentious rock “passages” at this point in rock history. The metal heads could stretch only to two parts. And that’s perfect.
The first Dust LP is a self-titled affair that’s eluded me for years. The prices are typically upwards of 100 bones. Which is appropriate because that’s probably a good guess as to the number of bones in the skeletons on the cover of that record. I do have a great sounding Russian bootleg CD (with booklet!) of the first record.
Both Dust LPs are very heavy.
They’re also three other things. Creepy. Cool. Elusive. The trifecta!
Sure, I’ve got a recently reissued Sony/Legacy Record Store Day double LP that combines Dust’s entire recorded output – two records – into one nice double LP package, but owning an original is way cooler, right? Right.
Dust. Who were they? Come to find out they were a hard rock power trio from New York City. Maybe metal. You decide. One thing I’m sure of? Anyone lucky enough to have this record in their collection in the 1970s would have stored it next to the first couple Rainbow records which were probably right next to their Black Sabbath albums. Maybe if they were label freaks they’d store it next to The Flamin’ Groovies Flamingo LP. Though that’s unlikely since those records are very different stylistically. But they are both cool and they’re both on Kama Sutra Records.
Dust was Richie Wise (electric and acoustic guitars, lead and backing vocals), Kenny Aaronson (bass, slide and pedal steel guitars) and Marc Bell (drums and percussion). Hard Attack was co-produced by Richie Wise and Kenny Kerner. Mr. Kerner also co-wrote every track on the record with Mr. Wise.
If the names Kerner and Wise sound familiar to you hard rockers, they should. That’s the team that produced the first two Kiss LPs – Kiss and Hotter Than Hell! Great records! Kenny Aaronson would join the group Stories after Dust called it quits and Marc Bell would Christen himself Marky Ramone when he replaced Tommy as the drummer of The Ramones just in time to record and release 1978s Road To Ruin (my brother’s favorite and the only Ramones record he owned on 8-track as I recall).
Dust. Concussive. Powerful. And Serious as a Hard Attack.
For Weirdos Only:
My original copy (I believe it to be a first pressing) of Dust Hard Attack on vinyl is on the Kama Sutra label that has the Garden of Eden picture with Eve handing Adam the apple. Thee Apple. Same goes for the label on the copy of Hard Attack contained within the Sony/Legacy double LP reissue from a couple months back. The first self-titled Dust LP is on the pink label. “Kama Sutra” is written in cursive and the label sports 8 three-headed Indian gods. Here’s my question. Have you seen a copy of Hard Attack on the pink label? I have a record reference book that lists that record but I wonder if it really exists. I’ve never seen it. Doesn’t mean it’s not out there though. Please send me a copy of it when you find it.
Oh, by the way, the artwork for Hard Attack was created by none other than the fantastical Frank Frazetta. In my opinion, this record cover looks exactly like the record sounds.
UPDATE: My friend Stevo produced a photo of his copy of Hard Attack which is on the pink label. Thanks, Stevo.
Hush Up Now It’s Time For The Plimsouls
Everything about this record is pure stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll. Mostly. There are one or two ill-advised studio gimmicks, but hey man, it was 1981! And besides, the real studio polish would happen a couple years later when The Plimsouls released Everywhere At Once and ended up on the Valley Girl Soundtrack with their big selling single A Million Miles Away.
In many respects this LP (their first full album released a year after the fantastic - but difficult to locate EP - Zero Hour) is nearly a million miles away from the short lived fame they’d suffer through in 1983. Fame comes at a cost and it cost The Plimsouls everything since they broke up right after the album came out on David Geffen’s humble little label called Geffen.
Listening to this long-player you can imagine the marketing people at Planet Records (part of the Elektra/Asylum behemoth) arguing about how to sell it. It’s new wave! It’s post punk! It’s garage rock reinvented for the 80s! It’s power pop! In my experience, this type of scenario usually sent great rock ‘n’ roll records like this to the cut-out bins of your local record store. Good for teenage pocketbooks but bad for bands. But here’s some good news! That didn’t happen to this record. People bought it. Don’t get me wrong, I doubt Peter Case is currently raking in any cash from this record but I bet he got a sweet condo and a Mercury Capri (with the big engine) out of the deal back in ‘81!
The fact is The Plimsouls were led by guitarist Peter Case. In rock ‘n’ roll circles Mr. Case comes with quite a pedigree as he was 1/3 of The Nerves along with Jack Lee and Paul Collins (Paul Collins Beat). The Nerves, one of America’s last hopes in my opinion, collapsed under the weight of their one release - a measly little incredible four song masterpiece that’s hideously rare. The Nerves EP in question contained the original version of Hangin’ On The Telephone which was covered to great effect by Blondie several years later. Ok, back to The Plimsouls. They were rounded out by some heavy hitters like Lou Ramirez on drums, Dave Pahoa on bass/vocals and Eddie Munoz on lead guitar. No slouches. Listen to the record and you’ll see what I mean.
This record is for lovers of straight up rock ‘n’ roll, garage rock, and stuff that was called new wave that’s really just rock music that came out during that time period when it was so important to classify and categorize rock records. People who like The Dwight Twilley Band, Phil Seymour, The Raspberries and lovers of most anything called “power pop” from the late 70s or early 80s will adore this record. I know I sure do. My favorite tracks on this elpee are Zero Hour, Now, Lost Time and Everyday Things. Come to think of it, I’m gonna go get another Pop-Tart, wash it down with a can of Coke and spin this sweet little record another time, m’friends!!!
*Nerds will notice that this is the Zero Hour EP version (very slightly different than the reviewed LP).
Love It To Death, Alice Cooper!!!
I have a theory that this record was recorded amidst a pile of beer cans in a basement with no access to natural light. Caught in this dream of mine, the amplifiers are turned up too loud and the band aren’t even sure what they’re playing. Black light posters ring around the sweat filled room and the air is as thick as the sheet metal on the fender of a ‘70 Chevelle. A young Vince Furnier primps and pumps his fist to a crowd that wouldn’t show up for a couple years. When the sun arises and they play back the tape, the masterpiece that is Love It To Death by Alice Cooper surprises even the band.
Speaking of surprises, this record contains their first hit - I’m Eighteen. Remember that one? It’s got that really sad reference about lines forming on a guy’s face and hands. Even as a kid I thought it was weird that some teenager was getting wrinkles. Ah, but that line about having a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart. Well, that’s heady stuff for heavy rockers. Almost poignant. This record contains searing guitar work, heavy pounding, thumping, thudding and wailing. And numerous religious references. Specifically, Christian. Listen and you’ll see what I mean. Though with songs like Hallowed Be My Name and Second Coming even the thickest heads will get the idea there’s something beneath something here. I remember seeing an interview with Mr. Alice Cooper once where he said that the theme running through Alice Cooper records was that there was Evil and there was Good and don’t choose Evil. Good advice, that.
There’s a song here called Ballad of Dwight Fry. In that one song you get a straight jacket, weight loss, a missing father and a hook and riff explosion that most rock bands would kill for. There’s also the preposterously awesome Is It My Body. There are no wasted songs on this record. It might just change your life. And I’m no fan of hyperbole.
Only in America could there exist a rock ‘n’ roll Horatio Alger story like this one. Mr. Alger, of course, being a long dead collector of Alice Cooper records. In any case, let’s get into why this album is so important.
The Alice Cooper story began a couple years earlier with the sound of no hands clapping to the release of the band’s first record - Pretties For You. It’s a great album but it’s not like Love It To Death. It’s more psychedelic and artsy. Their next record was called Easy Action and to me it’s the link between their first record and the heavier buzz-saw sound of Love It To Death. With Love It To Death things started to ferment and the band saw some real success. They’d have much more success in years to come with the albums Killer, School’s Out, and Billion Dollar Babies but the formula started to kick like an electric mule on Red Bull with the release of Love It To Death.
Alright, let’s take a short break for trivia. In 1971, where would your local record store flunky file a record by Alice Cooper? In the “C” or “A” sections? Answer? How ‘bout both! It was a trick question, freaques! If the aforementioned flunky clerk knew what he was doing he’d file it in “A” section. Huh? Well, it’s because “Alice Cooper” isn’t a person. Or at least he wasn’t a person way back in the late 60s and early 70s. Nope. Alice Cooper was a group of five hard rockers that were long on talent and silver clothing and short on scissors. This group was made up of real humans with real names like Vincent Damon Furnier on vocals, Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce on guitars, Dennis Dunaway on bass and Neal Smith on drums. After a few years of success (and even more beers) Vincent Furnier worked up the nerve to take the name of the group as his own name thus becoming the person Alice Cooper. Mr. Alice Cooper to you.
Here’s the important part. Americans, I implore you. In this election year, there’s one thing more important than voting. Buying this record. So, drop your socks. Pick up your car keys. Skip out of work and run to your local record purveyor and purchase this twelve incher. Same goes for you American Samoans. With one exception - drop your banana (even us xenophobic Americans know you don’t own socks!).
Oh, here’s something.
For weirdos only: By now if you’re following my unusual brand of record reviewing, you’ll note that I must have something self-important and/or self-indulgent to say about a record if I include a photo of the record label. In this case I’m bragging a bit that I own a first pressing of Love It To Death as evidenced by the pinkish Straight label. Sure, I also own a Warner Brothers copy of the record too, but it’s these first pressings that sound almost criminally powerful. When I bought this copy at a local clothing resale shop (see, there is hope!) a friend of mine who’s more of a record weirdo than me told me I’d throw out my Warner Brothers copy as a phony replica of the real thing on the Straight label. He may have been exaggerating but it does sound better. The first pressings also contain the naughty cover before it was airbrushed at the request of nervous corporate execs over at Warners. There’s nothing naughty about it at all, really. But I guess people thought the old thumb through the zipper trick was an inch too far and they did away with it when Warner Brothers bought the rights and reissued the record in 1971. Have fun weirdos. Keep smiling!
The Small Faces Bask In The Afterglow Of Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake!!!
The Small Faces. Four well-dressed diminutive mods in search of a proper psychedelic album found their Holy Grail in between the grooves of a long player that landed on God’s Earth in 1968. Of course it’s called Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. Why not?
This heavily played record is a basher. It’s unlike any other I’ve heard in the genre. Excellent musicianship, interesting production, hilarious East End accents (“Ello Mrs. Jones, ow’s your Bert’s lumbago?”) and a kind of self-parody come together to punch you in the kidneys after tickling your toesies.
The bulk of what is called “psychedelic music” is often overly serious and occasionally too self-aware. The first bit of this record – the opening instrumental title track in particular – might fool you into thinking you’re in for a pretentious festival of swirling guitars and echoing organ runs. You’d be forgiven for thinking something like that, but it is a great cut. But it’s the next track – Afterglow (Of Your Love) – that will set you straight for the rest of the record. Mostly. It starts with some hand clapping, East End mumbling, bongos and acoustic guitar before descending into a heavy Motown-fueled soulful punch of overcranked musicianship that feels like the older, tougher brother of another, earlier Small Faces winner called “All Or Nothing.” And that’s not nothing, my friends. Strong medicine indeed.
More hand claps and heavily echoed organ kick off the next track – Long Agos And World’s Apart – which serves as a romping bridge to the next song – Rene. Pronounced “Reeney” by a mugging, winking Steve Marriott, this one’s a song and a half really. It’s the story of Rene – the docker’s delight – and it reminds me of the kind of old-timey fishermans’ songs until it kicks into an instrumental psychedelic freakout. Which is a good thing because it works. Probably because Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan and Steve Marriott manage not to overthink their brand of psychedelic. Song Of A Baker then pulls itself up by it’s flour and water and forms itself into a quite a pie indeed. The last cut on the A side of this long player is Lazy Sunday. Hilarious. Even more so because it was written as a joke and accidentally (?) released by Immediate Records as a single (to Mr. Marriott’s great displeasure). But like so many tales of pop groups and record labels, the joke managed to be on everyone. Lazy Sunday became a number 2 hit in Great Britain.
Flip this long-player over. But not before preparing yourself. Suck down a pint of your favorite ale, tickle the wife and scream out the window to clear your pipes. It’s on side two where this business of not taking psychedelia too serious gets down to business. It’s all about some Cockney cat named Happiness Stan – narrated throughout by a real Stan – Stanley Unwin. I don’t know where the Small Faces found this guy but man is he freaky. Funny too. Speaks nonsense to my ears but I can’t be sure. He’s probably some Lord of Hamburger-Wolverhampton. Rollin’ Over is the second track and it’s worth the wait. Heavy bit of flash, this one is. A few more dollops of psych follow in the form of The Hungry Intruder (a light moment), The Journey (silly stuff really), and Mad John (great vocals by Mr. Marriott!). The record finishes with Happy Days Toy Town – a song that shockingly reveals the meaning of life through the opening line “Life is just a bowl of All-Bran!” It’s a downhill giggle the rest of the way, love.
And, that’s it exactly. The Small Faces introduce us to a giggle of a psych album that somehow manages to rock hard enough to keep your toe tapping and give you something to think about. Sure keeps your mind off the war in Indo-China.
For weirdos only: The record pictured above is a Get Back label reissue of the original 1968 LP. Good luck finding a clean original! The package ripped off a brand of tobacco called Ogdens’ Nut-Brown Flake. The cheek! Some guy named Mick Swan designed the cover. Nice work, Mick! Ogdens’ was the last studio record of new material by this line-up. Not long after it’s release, Steve Marriott jumped into a band called Humble Pie with future talk-box weirdo Peter Frampton. But in these early days Humble Pie were an authentic blues-rock group worthy of their name. The hole left in the Small Faces was filled by two well-known rockers – Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. They cut one LP as The Small Faces and then dropped the “Small” after realizing Ronnie was a hair over 5’6” tall with the right haircut. God bless his socks.
Ted Nugent Bites Into And Eats The Beating Heart Out Of America
Strike while the iron’s hot I say. Ted Nugent seems to be hot all over America again. I’m not sure why this time. Having long ago given up on mainstream media (I get most of my news from Trouser Press and Creem Magazine), I can only surmise that all this watercooler talk about Ted Nugent must be about one thing – his liberal use of guitar savagery! America, I’ll never figure out how you work, but I love you. By the way, so does former President Jimmy Carter who, though being a small man, has a big heart for this country. And one suspects, a big love of Ted Nugent’s music.
Within Ted Nugent’s oeuvre, this particular album – Tooth, Fang & Claw – is actually credited to Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes. It came out in The Year Of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Four and it fills an interesting niche. That niche being the Middle Ages between the Amboy Duke’s psychedelic late 1960s and early 70s chugging ooze and the late 70s guitar-as-shotgun solo music assault on the senses that became “Ted Nugent” the man. And, not surprisingly, the band. My thinking is that by 1974, Ted Nugent still liked the name Amboy Dukes and thought it was helpful to him on his journey to becoming the Motor City Madman. He appears to be right.
Any way you slice it, this album is a heavy rocker. Some of you who may not be familiar with this period of Ted’s work might dismiss it as overly sentimental or light-hearted. It isn’t. It’s got a loud, kerranging, crunching approach not without humor and a soft supple side. Now that you’re intrigued, let’s dive into the tracks on the album.
Lady Luck leads things off. No it’s not about gambling. It’s about the Virginia Slims generation. You’ve come a long way, baby and Uncle Ted doesn’t want you to forget it. I think this track is written as a gift to Gloria Steinem. Living in the Woods is exactly what you think it is – a romantic story about Ted’s upbringing by mother wolf and father bear. The first side of this record ends with a long instra-mental and it’s called Hibernation. I challenge any of you to sleep through this one! It gives your insides a kind of primordial body shake. You’re almost afraid to flip the record to hear side two.
Do it anyway. Something amazing happens. The second side begins with another non-vocal workout. This one’s called Free Flight and it’s sensational. I think it shows off Ted’s sensitive side as it dips and ascends into rock ‘n’ roll inner-space. I think it’s about the history of American altruism but how can you tell when there are no words? Give it a listen and you’ll see what I mean. The next cut – Maybelline – was written by Chuck Berry as an ode to modern cosmetics. Nugent’s version is a weird interpretation. But worth hearing I think.
The Great White Buffalo deserves its own paragraph. It has nothing to do with the Dustin Hoffman movie - Little Big Man. You’ve heard it somewhere. You just forgot about it. America, come home to The Great White Buffalo. It was a concert favorite for years and I think it’s about an albino buffalo that looks like Edgar Winter but I can’t be sure.
Sasha is the meandering and beautifully toned acoustic-electric-mellow rocker your mom never knew Ted Nugent had in him. But he did! Now you can now laugh in your mom’s face! No Holds Barred is hard to categorize. I guess I’d call it a mounted gun for firing heavy projectiles type song. It closes out this long player and it’s a good finisher. It’s got plenty of moments where you think it might end but doesn’t. A fun-loving romp of an album that comes highly recommended.
So wash down your double cheeseburger with a can of beer and get out to your local record store to score this rock ‘n’ roll mutation.
Detroit thanks you.
For weirdos only: The Amboy Dukes, Ted Nugent and The Amboy Dukes, and Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes are tricky to follow. There are any number of albums, compilations and collections of different incarnations of these bands. While I might not get this right to the letter of the law, think of it this way. If the band is called The Amboy Dukes, the music was most likely recorded between 1967 - 1969 and is largely blues-based psychedelia that’s first rate (Journey To The Center Of The Mind being their most famous single). Anything called Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes or Ted Nugent and The Amboy Dukes is probably a heavy rocking affair that lives down around the corner from Ted’s hard-rocking stuff that ruled the FM airwaves in the late 70s. While right thinking people these days concern themselves with Ted Nugent’s “boorish” behavior, this writer finds his guitar work to be boarish in the best possible way. Keep smiling, weirdos.
Runt is no small feat.
Make no mistake. Runt is the band that is Todd Rundgren. It’s supposedly a real band but I have my doubts. From where I sit, I guess Todd Rundgren – the Philly based anglophile rocker from The Nazz – had so much faith in his first solo album that he didn’t put his name on it anywhere. Almost. If you look closely you can see he scribbled it on some paper in the bottom right corner of the album cover. Not a confident start, really. Though a great one.
The Nazz. Now that was a band. Three great albums if you ask me. If you ask Todd Rundgren he’d give you the usual tortured artist story about only wanting to release one good album, couldn’t sing on his own songs (nearly all of them) and that the record company released sub-par material on Nazz Nazz and Nazz III. I’m not having any of it. Great records. All of them, Todd. All.
Back to Runt. It came out in 1970 and as far as I can tell, the songs fit into three basic categories. All out rockers (Broke Down & Busted, Who’s That Man?, Devil’s Bite). Tentative sad sack stuff of legend (Believe In Me, Once Burned, I’m In The Clique). Hit record attempts [We Gotta Get You A Woman, Don’t Tie My Hands (which is really part of a weirdo trilogy song thing)].
Now that we’re on the topic, Mr. Rundgren did score a hit with We Gotta Get You A Woman. I think he wrote that for Joe Namath based on a misunderstanding that Joe was tentative with girls.
This entire record is self-conscious, claustrophobic and great. It’s just plain great. I don’t understand any of it but I love it.
I’m not sure what the malady is called, but in my opinion Todd Rundgren suffered from a rare disorder early in his career where he actually believed he was a black British soul singer who became all four Beatles. Imagine the waistcoats he must own! The good news is that Todd Rundgren really knew how to overcome.
There’s something else. I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect that Todd Rundgren taught a high school rock band and jazz combo to play every note of this album over many months fueled by Pixie Sticks, cans of Coke and the promise of groupies only to pull the rug out from under them, wipe all their performances from the master tapes and re-record every note himself. In his grandmother’s basement.
Runt. A self-aware pop masterpiece.
For weirdos only: I looked forever and a day to find my copy of this long player. In a move not out of character with the rock ‘n’ roll weirdo I described above, there was some controversy over the release of this album. There are supposedly three versions out there – two on Ampex Records (one with twelve tracks; one with eleven). I’ve got the less desirable ten track version on Bearsville(distributed by Ampex). Rundgren must hate putting out records! And, I had to bust my butt to find a copy of the album that wasn’t trashed. They’re always beat beyond recognition. Usually the sign of a good album (or any Black Oak Arkansas record).
Bob Seger System Is No Silver Bullet!
No way. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll kick to the skull. Just the way I like it. Fact is, the first track – Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man – kicks you in the head and then stomps your solar plexus after you fall to the ground shaking like your grandma’s bundt cake shaped lime jello.
I wanted to hate this slab of wax from 1968 – The Bob Seger System’s first LP – based on my experience with 1980s truck commercials drenched in MOR rock music from Bob Seger. Thing of it is, when you hear that much MOR rock music over and over all day long you begin to loathe it.
But there’s nothing to loathe in the grooves of Bob’s first outing as a rocker. The worst that can be said about this record is that some of the cuts are a bit hippy dippy (“Gone” comes to mind).
But when the Bob Seger System nails it – “Tales Of Lucy Blue”, “Down Home”, “Ivory”, “White Wall” and the title track – they really hammer it in. If Vice President Biden were to ask me to describe this album in terms he’d understand, I’d probably say it was musculoskeletal psychedelic rhythm ‘n’ blues with a dollop of country folk thrown in to scare the crap out of you.
And, that’s what this record did for me. It scared the crap out of me. Because there’s a lot to love about it. And I wasn’t ready to love Seger. There’s thudding, pounding, hammering, screeching and a few moments where you stick your head out the window to escape the smoke and breathe in some of that sweet, cool Motor City air. I love those things in a rock record. A rock record that sounds like Detroit in 1968.
I can actually imagine UAW workers listening to this record as they pounded together a car with some serious curb weight. Sensational. And that my friend, is factual.
For weirdos only: Allow me to get on a teensy weensy soap box for a second. A close look at this record would lead the uninitiated to think I dropped $5.69 for this LP at Laury’s Records. A great deal by me. A real close look will reveal a “Clearance $.50” sticker top right. That’s right, weirdos. Yours truly scored this slab of wax a mere two weeks ago at a used book store for half a buck. Shrink wrap intact. Sure, it’s an early 80s reissue. But 50 cents? Mint condition. It boggles the mind. Talk about an inflation beater! That’s twelve full inches of artwork (Kinda naughty in this case if you look close. Shame on you Capitol Records!) with eleven songs carved neatly into two sides of a vinyl story created by someone desperately trying to tell you something they think is important. Try finding a music file at a used bookstore that can duplicate this action. Go ahead, try it. Take that, digital!
The Undertones. Derry Singles Farmers.
The most pop punk band from Derry, Northern Ireland? The punkest pop band? Can there be any doubt? Admittedly, I’ve never tooled around Derry’s sectarian streets looking for a better band. But I’ll venture a guess that there’ll never be another single cranking machine from up there who’s any better. Have a look for yourself. Bear in mind they’d spot a poser like you in a flash and box your ears.
This short canary cage liner of an article will explore my fascination with the first Undertones long player. A gift from God to the world from guitarist bruvvers Damian and John O’Neill, bassist Michael Bradley, Billy Doherty on the sticks and a concave-chested gent named Feargal Sharkey on lead warble. I once said Mr. Sharkey was the poor man’s Bryan Ferry and nearly got punched in the mouth. I stand by it as long as the goons are gone. Sure, one’s more of a quivverer and the other a warbler. But still, nobody knows how either of ‘em does it.
Let’s get into the thick of it. First off, the record you see above is the second pressing of the band’s first LP released on Sire Records. God bless you Seymour Stein (the Sire Records genius responsible for signing The Ramones, The Dead Boys, The Flamin’ Groovies and on and on.). I guess he signed them to Sire because “they got sawngs.” You see, Seymour loves bands that have songs. More on that another day. My copy came out in October 1979 and has two front covers. Sort of. You can flip it and both sides have a cover photo. Either that or no back cover. My head hurts thinking about it. Most import, however, is the fact that the October ’79 copy has two additional tracks including a real life saver – Teenage Kicks!
Teenage Kicks is the best single ever recorded according to John Peel. It was the BBC radio impresario’s favorite song until his untimely death a few years back. Think about it. Of all the songs John Peel heard in his life, he considered Teenage Kicks the ultimate. The numero uno. Boggles the mind. Makes me want to wolf a Mars bar right now!
But this album is packed with singles even if they weren’t released as such. In addition to the two listed above, you gotta love the sweet surround of songs coming at you on this record – Family Entertainment, Girls Don’t Like It, Male Model (!!!), I Gotta Getta, Jimmy Jimmy, Here Comes The Summer, and more! My guess is you’re not going to find too many records from 1979 with as many two minute masterpieces! If you do, prove it. Tell me about it. I want to hear it.
For weirdos only: The first pressing of this record came out a few months earlier – May 1979 – and has a black and white photo of the band. Here’s a case where it’s better not to be the early bird. The second pressing has the first beat by two full songs – Teenage Kicks and Get Over You. Two serious singles, m’friend! Curiously, the October pressing sports a re-recorded version of Here Comes The Summer. Not sure why. Both versions are very similar. I know because I have a compact disc (blasphemer!) reissue of the album with all kinds of bonus tracks. Worth it, punters.
Lights Out, Lights Out In London.
Lights Out by UFO. The album. The song. I know what you’re thinking. “Finally, this joker reviews a dependable album.” Guess what, weirdos? This review is going to tackle the politics of this album. Sort of. Take that! You see, this album isn’t without some controversy.
Is the song Lights Out about the World War II bombings of London as I told my wary, sonicly challenged parents in the late 1970s? I sure thought so. I had no reason to doubt our neighborhood expert who told me so. He was the older brother of a friend of mine and I had it on good authority that he knew his stuff. He had more records than me, he’d kissed a girl and I saw him smoking once. The trifecta!
Remember, in late 1970s America, bands like UFO were actively solving one of America’s biggest problems - boredom. Face it, heavy rockers like UFO, AC/DC and punkers like The Ramones, The Undertones and others were pulling us kids out of a Frampton-induced malaise. Nobody knew more about exciting issues like sleeping with the TV on, drinking Coca-Cola for breakfast and the Nazi bombings of London during The Big War than the rock groups.
Here’s the deal. Maybe this song – Lights Out – isn’t about London bombings at all. Maybe it’s about the electricity shortages, strikes, and industrial unrest of 1970s England. Seems convincing. After all, those issues would provide better inspiration for a group of English rockers and their famously bare-chested German friend. But how do we confirm the band’s intentions?
I suppose I could ask the guys who wrote the song. According to the liner notes, four guys wrote it. Let’s start with Michael Schenker. Already we have a problem. Mr. Schenker doesn’t remember being in UFO. There’s also a vicious rumor that he’s in a romantic relationship with a Gibson Flying V once owned by Howlin’ Wolf. I could ask either singer Phil Mogg or bassist Pete Way but they too suffer from an unusual form of memory loss. In their case, it’s attributed to decades of spandex abuse. So we’re down to the drummer. It turns out Andy Parker is available by telephone but is despondent and seems to be singularly interested in discussing pending litigation related to his being swindled out of his investment in some sort of “inflatable cricket team.”
Since we’ll likely never get a real answer, let’s move on. It turns out the Lights Out album isn’t only about that one song. The album has another radio staple in Too Hot To Handle, a song right thinking people believe helped to create a population boom in Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago in 1977-1978. And let’s face it, the album ender – Love To Love – whoa! Pounding, thudding, circuitous! Speaking of Love. Did you know that Lights Out boasts a cover of a song by 1960s hippie band Love? Yeah, that Love. The band fronted by Arthur Lee and his buddy Bryan MacLean. Alone Again Or is performed very faithfully. Despite the fact the band took issue with the grammar.
It’d be hard to do a review of this album – which is a crucial record in any collection – without mentioning the guitar prowess of Michael Schenker. If you don’t know who he is, ask any roached out, long-haired mumbler in any bus terminal in America. They’ll all tell you the same three things about Michael Schenker. He’s technically amazing, soulful and he’s Margaret Thatcher’s favorite hard rocker. Take that, Labour!
For weirdos only: Too Hot To Handle (the first cut on Lights Out) is a favorite of Tennessee’s very own Tipper Gore! Her husband Al Gore (former Vice President of the United States) co-wrote one riff in that number and told her the song was about an overcooked plate of bangers and mash.
Here’s something. Those of you with keen eyes may have noticed my alternate cover of the Lights Out album. I own a rare Hungarian test pressing with a “559” tattoo on the huge shirtless guy’s chest. On with the action.