Every Record Tells A Story presents: A Blog You Can Listen To…
Click the Mixcloud player link above, and read the liner notes below….
2020 has presented its challenges to us all, from social distancing, social injustice, lockdown, food shortages, job losses, furloughing, (good grief it’s never ending is it?)
So we are left to grasp at what positives we can and count our blessings, if only to lift our flattened spirits.
For example, among all the chaos, one thing lockdown has allowed me to do is to finally sort out my nine year old MacBook that wheezed and coughed so much, had I left it in a Wuhan wet market it would have been cordoned off and taken in for testing.
Not travelling in to London every day meant the number of steps I walked each day reduced from ten thousand to practically zero. However, I could instead dig out some records, work out how to record them onto the laptop and hence do something I could only dream of doing when I was younger: presenting my own radio show.
That certainly beats walking.
After all, which of us of a certain age didn’t once want to be a 1970’s Radio One DJ?
(I mean, come to think of it, who now could think of being anything worse? But that’s not the point).
But technology and my slim grasp of it has still been sufficiently advanced to allow me to put together a series of compilations for you, the Every Record Tells A Story readership, while fulfilling my fanciful childhood dream of being a radio DJ. With the help of a microphone stolen from an old Wii, and some free software, I have attempted to beat off the Covid-19 blues by lovingly compiling some hour-long-ish mixtapes for your delectation.
As it is Father’s Day coming up, I thought I would start with some Dad Rock, hopefully digging out some lesser-known gems among some old favourites. Or to put it another way, it’s now not enough that you read my scribblings, I am suggesting you actually listen to me as well.
I wanted the selection of tunes to appeal to people who may not always tune in to the “heavy rock” dial for their choice of listening, while still leaving something of interest for the die-hards. I wanted the selection to work as a compilation album, like those ones that Sainsbury’s sold a few years ago. Well, you can but try…
(Don’t worry. If you’re not looking for Rock, there’ll be some other ideas and themes in store…)
The seventies was the decade, it is said, when giants walked the earth.
Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath had their roots in the previous decade, but began to dominate the minds of record buyers and American radio stations in the seventies.
Opinions differ as to who first played heavy music (was it The Kinks with “You Really Got Me”? Link Wray? The Beatles’ feedback captured on tape at the start of “I Feel Fine”?) Perhaps Eric Clapton galvanised something when he formed that early and most influential power trio The Cream. Meanwhile Jimi Hendrix came over from America, and left Clapton shaken with admiration after joining him onstage at the Lyceum theatre.
Over in ‘60s America psychedelic rock was developing a heavier sound through Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly.
Guitars were getting louder. The music was spreading.
Heavy music had its roots in the steel factories of industrial cities like Birmingham. Black Sabbath’s guitarist Tony Iommi worked in a sheet metal factory. On the last day of work before he was to turn professional as a musician he lost the tips of his fingers on one of the guillotine-style steel pressing machines. From this unhappy accident came inspiration via the unlikely source of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who many years earlier had lost his own fingers in a fire. Perhaps all was not lost for Iommi.
He crafted false finger tips from an old leather jacket, taped them to his damaged hand and slackened the strings of his guitar to make it easier to play, and in doing so created a lower, slower tone. Sabbath’s doomy riffs were born.
But so much for the giants. The T Rex of Led Zeppelin, the Velociraptor of Deep Purple, the Diplodocus of Black Sabbath.
But what about the smaller dinosaurs? To stretch the metaphor a little, what about the Dimetrodons, Triceratops and Iguanadons of rock?
Luv Machine is one such less well known part of the heavy music story. They originally hailed from Barbados, but moved to the U.K. in 1968, and like Black Sabbath played clubs around Birmingham. Their debut album, with its roots in acid rock and influenced by the vocal stylings of Steve Winwood was released on Polydor in 1971. “Lost” has a great riff and is one of several highlights.
Just to show heavy music wasn’t just confined to the U.K. and USA, We All Together were from Peru and heavily Beatles influenced. Their “Hey Revolution”, released in 1970, even contains a snippet of The Beatles song.
In the U.K. meanwhile, the roots of progressive rock were mixing with heavy rock. T2 were a power trio led by seventeen year old guitarist Keith Cross. They headlined The Marquee where John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix both saw them. Their Decca-released 1970 album “It’ll All Work Out In Boomland” wasn’t a big seller but has a growing reputation, containing four tracks, with one of the best being “No More White Horses”.
Over in America Crawdaddy! rock critic Sandy Pearlman wanted a band to perform songs he had written lyrics and poetry to while in university. His band, Soft White Underbelly became Blue Oyster Cult, and their early albums benefitted from a number of lyric writers including Patti Smith. Their debut 1972 album incorporated quirky lyrics (“She’s As Beautiful As A Foot”) and the drug-deal-gone-wrong stylings of “Then Came The Last Days of May”.
The USA saw heavy rockers hone a pop sensibility with the likes of Angel and Kiss who both saw how Alice Cooper’s theatrics helped him stand out from the crowd. Kiss’ Paul Stanley wrote “Hard Luck Woman” for Rod Stewart, but sensed a hit and kept it for his own band. Drummer Peter Criss took the vocals and made a record sound more like Rod Stewart than Rod Stewart, enough to reach #15 on the US Billboard chart in 1976.
Guitarist Punky Meadows had a cartoon rock star name, Mickey Jones brought the voice and Gregg Guiffria the keyboard-driven pomp-rock. Perhaps it was no surprise when Angel’s theatrical white stage costumes caught the eye of Kiss’ Gene Simmons who promptly signed them to Casablanca. “She’s A Mover” was an album track and b-side and is a fine piece of catchy glam rock from the pomp-rockers’ 1977 third album On Earth As It Is In Heaven.
Meanwhile Aerosmith had taken The Rolling Stones’ blueprint and moved it to further extremes. From their peerless 1976 Rocks album, “Lick and a Promise” is one of their finest moments, despite never being a single.
Journey, a band now best known for the ubiquitous “Don’t Stop Believin’” have a jazz-rock pedigree – guitarist Neal Schon was formerly in Santana – and their early albums have much to admire. “Daydream” is an ethereal deeper cut from their 1979 LP “Evolution”.
Back in the U.K. a second wave of heavy rockers had picked up the baton. Everyone will be familiar with Status Quo – undoubtedly the UK chart’s favourite rock band of the decade – but their 1974 song “Lonely Man” may be less well known, and sounds like proto-Stone Roses with its chiming guitars and gradual build up.
Faster sounds made original innovators sound plodding and, well, dinosaur-like. Deep Purple imploded, first shedding singer Ian Gillan and bass player Roger Glover, to be replaced by the duo of Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale, and then losing guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Their final album of the decade, released in 1975, and recorded with Tommy Bolin replacing Blackmore still gave us “Comin’ Home” before they split, with Bolin’s drug problems sadly meaning he failed to see the end of 1976.
One of the newer bands waiting to take their place was UFO – named after the famed London club where Pink Floyd started out – and who began as a space rock outfit in the early part of the decade before making a key 1973 signing in guitarist Michael Schenker from German band The Scorpions. 1977’s “Love to Love” is a atmospheric epic and would greatly influence future NWOBHM favourites Iron Maiden.
Unimpeded by missing fingers, Birmingham’s Judas Priest sped up Black Sabbath’s riffs and took them to their ultimate expression, paving the way for speed metal in the eighties. Their cover of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust” from the 1977 Sin After Sin LP is a wonderful thing.
AC/DC ploughed their own furrow with a back-to-basics approach founded on the solid rhythm laid down by guitarist Malcolm Young, drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams. Other albums may have sold more but AC/DC perhaps never bettered 1978’s Powerage, and the quintessential Bon Scott track “Down Payment Blues”.
We finish with three bands who made the transition into the eighties with great success.
ZZ Top, Van Halen and Whitesnake went on to greater things in the next decade, but ZZ Top never sounded cooler than on 1979’s “Cheap Sunglasses”, Van Halen (who moved heavy rock forward with both their light-as-a-feather approach and incredible musicianship) never sounded more fun than on their 1978 debut album’s cover of obscure Chicago bluesman John Brim’s “Ice Cream Man” (and what about that jaw-dropping guitar solo?) while Whitesnake never sounded more heartfelt (or as much like Elton John) as on 1979’s “We Wish You Well”.
To listen, click on the link at the top of the page, or direct via your Mixcloud app. I’m using Mixcloud because they pay royalties to the artists when the songs get played.
I hope you enjoy the selection of tunes. For the audio nerds out there, a fair few of them are rips straight from my own collection, saved on WAV format.
Next time, the eighties…