I’m Putting Rock On Trial! Have your say!
- Twenty five years on from the peak of heavy rock’s commercial popularity in 1988, this series asks why heavy rockers no longer dominate the charts and seeks to highlight the crimes that Heavy Rock is accused of, and give you the cases for and against.
- At the end of each debate, you will have the ability to vote either “guilty” or “not guilty”, according to the evidence. And because this is a democratic process, you may also introduce your own evidence, in the comments section at the foot of the page to sway the jury.
- By the end of the process we should perhaps have a clearer view of what went wrong with those eighties rock bands, and the pitfalls new bands might do well to avoid…
Accusation #3: Show-off Guitarists: Just Who Do They Think They Are?
The case for the prosecution:
Exhibit A: The debut album from Vinnie Vincent‘s Invasion.
There’s a moment in The Clash’s “Complete Control” from their classic debut album when Joe Strummer sneers as a guitar solo begins, “You’re my guitar hero!”. The solo quickly peters out. It’s a damning and sarcastic retort to the increasing preponderance of rock’s guitarists to overindulge in widdly widdly solos, and as perfect a statement of punk’s ideals as The Sex Pistols‘ own “No future”…
And yet, eighties rockers didn’t listen to The Clash. As a result, if ever you are dangling your grandchildren on your knee, and they ask you, wide eyed, “Why did Nirvana exist?” (Because that’s *so* going to happen) then you should look at then with a stern face, reach up to your old fashioned CD shelf (ignoring the “what’s a CD grandad?” comment) and pull the debut album from Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion out of your collection, with a wizened and reproachful stare.
With its stunning virtuoso guitar playing, soaring vocals and blend of commercial sensibility and hard rocking tunes, Vinnie Vincent’s debut album had it all. The former Kiss guitarist had been constrained like a particularly gifted battery hen within the confines of a band that wouldn’t give him the freedom to shine. With his own album, he flapped his wings (if I can stretch the chicken metaphor a bit) and showed his former colleagues his beautiful plumage. The grade A egg of a debut album that he laid (I just over-stretched the metaphor didn’t I?) thoroughly deserved its place in Kerrang! Magazine‘s Top 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums of All Time.
Or so we thought at the time.
Listen to the album again, if you can. Sadly, it has aged about as well as a half empty ’87 vintage bottle of Blue Nun. That has been kept in a bin. In a hot country. Upside down. Without a cork in the top. The main reason for this is the reprehensible show-boating of the guitar hero himself.
Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion featured a former Journey singer who looked like an accountant, the ex-Kiss guitarist from whom the band took the name, a drummer / playgirl nude model whose surname was “Rock” and a bass player with a surname of Strum. Together, they produced a debut album of pop-metal over which Vinnie Vincent vomited a flurry of virtuoso solos in a cathartic way, as if saying “this is what I wanted to do when I was in Kiss, but Gene and Paul wouldn’t let me”. Very quickly.
Indeed, I put it to you that Vincent’s soloing is simply ludicrous. Never one to settle for one note when seventy will do, Vincent wails all around the songs, some of which (Animal) actually stop for him to complete his bonkers widdling, whilst others (Twisted) stop for the drummer to solo instead. Even the ballad (Back on the Streets) features not one but two 125mph solos entirely unsympathetic to the requirements of the song. The record ended with a permanent loop of Vincent’s guitar wailing – which if you didn’t have a turntable with an automatic arm was rather irritating and sums up everything you need to know about the show-off guitarists of the eighties. He’s saying to us “I’m so great, you won’t want this record to end”. He was wrong.
In summary: guitar heroes are incapable of restraining their egos. It’s a criminal record.
Vinnie Vincent? This was actually pretty exciting at the time. The songs were decent sub-Kiss pop-metal. Okay, we can acknowledge that Yngwie Malmsteen had begun a trend for guitarists to show off like weaver birds performing intricate mating displays and Vincent hadn’t let public opinion (which was at best ambivalent about such dreadful showboating) stop him from taking full advantage. However, Malmsteen managed a pretty decent album with ex-Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner when his worst indulgences were curtailed, and Vincent had great technique. The album is a declaration of genius, but by someone who may not actually be a genius. The test of great music is “Is it honest”? “Does it have integrity?”. I put it to you that, in his frustrated state, the debut album by Vinnie Vincent is as honest a declaration as you will ever get from a musician. Okay, he may think he is far greater that he actually is and may be deluding himself as to the listener’s willingness to actually listen to him play out the pent up frustrations of being Paul Stanley’s bitch for three years, but it is definitely, definitively, honest.
So much for Vinnie Vincent. Let’s talk about an example of how being a guitar show-off isn’t a bad thing, and let’s remind ourselves how guitar heroes began – with the great blues players. At a time when musicians had to earn a living by playing live, each would have to find ways to keep an audience and get more bookings. It wasn’t just guitarists – look up a YouTube clip of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – it’s amazing exhibitionism.
Being a guitar hero was not, as The Clash would have it, a sign of a rich, pampered ego, but a way for the working (blues) man to get a gig.
Exhibit B: A List Of Great Guitar Show-Offs Who Are Still Cool.
1. Robert Johnson:
Technique: 10/10 – The first guitar hero had phenomenal technique which few can replicate even now.
Show-off Rating: 7/10 – Although little is known about Johnson, he was allegedly killed by a jealous rival whose woman he stole. That suggests he was no shrinking violet.
2. Buddy Guy
Technique: 8/10 – Huge Influence on Eric Clapton. After performance on Rolling Stones live album, Keith Richards handed him his guitar as sign of respect.
Show-off Rating: 9/10 – plays guitar over his head, with his teeth. Especially impressive given at xx years old most men of his age a) struggle to lift heavy objects above their head and b) don’t have their own teeth.
3. Jimi Hendrix
Technique: 10/10 – pioneered use of feedback. Still held up as the greatest of the modern era. Need I say more?
Show-off Rating: 10/10 – dressed flamboyantly, set fire to guitar, played with teeth whilst juggling puppies on a unicycle.* Did all this with an upside-down guitar.
Technique: 9/10 – pioneer of blending classical elements into blues guitar with Deep Purple. Played faster and flashier than his rivals.
Show-off Rating: 9/10 – Just listen to the introduction of Speed King. (“Exhibit C”). Ridiculous mixture of whammy bar abuse and a daft number of notes. Unbelievable show-boating. Gets extra points for falling out with every lead singer he ever met.
Technique: 10/10 – pioneered the technique of finger tapping. Exhibit D: The mind-blowing 1 minute 42 seconds of “Eruption”.
Show-off Rating: 10/10 – He was in a band with David Lee Roth for goodness sake. Also helped Michael Jackson break race barriers on MTV with the solo on “Beat It”. Significantly, it was Van Halen playing on the cassette that Marty McFly threatened to melt George McFly’s brain with in Back To The Future.
Finally, let’s not forget that not all heavy rock relies on technique – especially when the band itself isn’t all that talented.
Exhibit E: Poison’s guitarist CC DeVille.
DeVille was a peroxide explosion of a man, and might have struggled against Andrew Ridgeley in a guitar duel. However, sometimes that can be a good thing. Listen to the riff and guitar solo on “Talk Dirty To Me” and you’ll realise they might not have been out of place on the Sex Pistols’ debut album. This leads me to wonder whether if Jonny Rotten had been Poison’s lead singer they would have sounded pretty much the same as The Sex Pistols…
* tumbleweed rolls silently across the room* I went too far didn’t I? Objection sustained….
So there you have it: From an ex-Kiss axe man to the great blues artists, via The Clash and a comparison of The Sex Pistols with Poison.
In summary: It’s still cool to be a guitar hero.
*probably, although there’s no actual evidence of the puppy thing.
- It’s Time To Vote!
- Is it a crime to stand onstage, legs apart, wailing on your guitar like some kind of egotistical badly dressed over-indulgent idiot? Or is it the very essence of rock n roll and something to be treasured and celebrated?
- Vote GUILTY if you think guitar heroes are criminal show offs.
- Vote NOT GUILTY if you think playing guitar is still heroic.
- SWAY the jury by sharing your views below!
Record #244 : Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion: Boys Are Gonna Rock
Leave a Reply