Posts Tagged ‘heavy metal’

“Made In Japan” by Deep Purple (1973)

Somewhere in the pantheon of great rock groups, Deep Purple has become an afterthought.

Consider that it was one of the pioneers of heavy metal, successfully making the transition from psychedelic music to a much harder style.

Consider that the band still is an active unit, albeit one with that took a hiatus at a critical time and has a sole original member in the current lineup, for 44 years.

And consider that the riff for “Smoke On the Water” is perhaps the most recognizable in the history of rock.

“Smoke On the Water” first appeared on “Machine Head,” the third album by Deep Purple’s so-called Mark II lineup, documenting what happened during recording sessions in Montreux, Switzerland, in late 1971: Yes, “some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground,” during a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. (It happens during the band’s rendition of “King Kong”; when people start yelling, “Fire!”, singer Mark Volman makes a reference to Arthur Brown, whose hit single … oh, never mind.)

Anyway, the American single version of “Smoke On the Water” was taken from the live “Made In Japan,” a two-LP set capturing the best of Deep Purple’s three-night stand at the Kosei Nenkin Kaikan in Osaka and the Budokan in Tokyo.

My initial interest in “Made In Japan” came, of course, by way of the big hit, which you couldn’t escape hearing on the radio circa 1974. But a closer examination of the album, itself, showed a mere seven songs spanning those two LPs. For a kid with an inclination toward long jams, that was just what the doctor ordered.

Four of the seven songs on the live album originally appeared on “Machine Head.” Sort of. The LP’s fourth side simply is noted as “Space Truckin’,” clocking in at around 20 minutes, but the track contains elements of several Deep Purple standards, most notable “Mandrake Root” from the debut “Shades of Deep Purple.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The “Made In Japan” opener, as on “Machine Head,” is “Highway Star,” which almost is on par with “Smoke On the Water” as far as hard-rock standards go. The song showcases what Mark II was all about: Ian Gillan’s high-octane vocals propelled by strong instrumentation from keyboard player Jon Lord, drummer Ian Paice, bassist Roger Glover and guitarist Richie Blackmore, whose Stratocaster solo is the key component to carrying the song into legendary status.

“Child In Time,” from the Mark II debut “In Rock,” is many listeners’ favorite on the album, if not in the entire Deep Purple discography. The tune starts quietly, as Gillan sings of an innocent discovering the evils of the world, before he launches into vocal-cord-shredding screaming that changes the dynamics into as heavy as music got in 1972. The song’s interlude features some of Blackmore’s most lauded guitar playing, as his diatonic-scale licks culminate in a rapid-fire delivery that leaves the audience amazed before proceedings return to a quieter mood.

“Smoke On the Water” starts with Gillan’s brief narration about the song’s genesis, and Blackmore throws in a few extra chords before the song starts in earnest, with the guitarist managing to replicate his classic studio solo with impressive accuracy.

Paice takes the reins on “The Mule,” from Mark II’s second album, “Fireball.” As far as drum solos go, he’s not quite Bonham or Baker, but he doesn’t overdo it.

Perhaps anyone but Gillan would be accused of doing so during an extended workout of “Strange Kind of Woman,” a hit single for the band in its native U.K. He chirps along to Blackmore’s guitar licks, showing off his near-superhuman vocal range.

Lord kicks off “Lazy,” another “Machine Head” tune, with an extended organ solo that might have drawn inspiration from Keith Emerson (or vice versa). The band shows it has the chops to play a creditable blues, including Gillan’s harp playing.

The first five minutes of “Space Truckin'” remans faithful to the “Machine Head” version before the band tears into a series of musical themes. Along the way, Blackmore manipulates his volume knob to produce a cello-like effect, as first heard on “Fools” from “Fireball.” Then comes the finale: three minutes of intense jamming, with Blackmore getting maximum mileage from his tremolo bar, until Lord wraps things up with what sounds like a dive bomb.

The audiences in Osaka and Tokyo must’ve been blown away, as listeners still are nearly 40 years later by one of rock’s great live albums, by one of rock’s great bands. And one, incidentally, that still is outside looking in when it comes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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“Vincebus Eruptum” by Blue Cheer (1968)

Anyone who’s been attending rock concerts for 36 years might have trouble pinpointing the most memorable ones. But I sometimes give it a stab.

In November 2007, I paid all of $15 to gain entrance to the Rex Theater in Pittsburgh for something I’d wanted to do for decades: see Blue Cheer.

The re-formed version of the band had been touring here and there since the ’80s, and when I learned about the Pittsburgh show I canceled some other plans and headed to the South Side. The show was unfortunately sparsely attended, but those in the audience were treated to a memorable performance: a time warp of sorts, back to when a trio of musicians, their instruments and their amplifiers were sufficient.

That was rock at its most basic and, not coincidentally, its most exciting.

Blue Cheer was touring to support its first new studio album in 16 years, “What Doesn’t Kill You …,” a title that became chilling in the wake of subsequent developments.

On Oct. 12, 2009, vocalist-bassist Dickie Peterson, the one consistent in Blue Cheer since its 1967 formation, died of prostate cancer. Longtime guitarist Andrew “Duck” MacDonald wrote on the group’s website: “Blue Cheer is done. Out of respect for Dickie, Blue Cheer (will) never become a viable touring band again.”

I still often wear the Blue Cheer T-shirt I bought at that Pittsburgh concert. And I still often listen to the album that put the band on the musical map, way back in 1968.

“Vincebus Eruptum” – the title is supposed to mean “controlled chaos” – is the least technically accomplished album on the Harry’s Hundred list. As Peterson wrote in the liner notes to a CD re-release: “To say the recording standards were primitive would be an understatement. ‘Vincebus Eruptum’ is what can happen when you set three young men in a room, give them all the gear they want and three chords. Then leave them alone … there are no rules and no holds are barred.”

The result is what may well be the birth of heavy metal. Watch this video of Blue Cheer mimicking Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” on a German TV show: Each of the guys is cranking it up as loud as he can, with Paul Whaley particularly bashing it out on the drums. (Fortunately, he was part of the band again as of ’07.)

“Summertime Blues” kicks off “Vincebus Eruptum” and also reached No. 14 on the charts as a single, probably because of the novelty of a band playing that hard and loud on what began life as a rockabilly song. The decision to play instrumental solos in lieu of some of the lyrics is questionable, but it’s kind of apropros to hear the line, “I went to my congressman and he said, quote, ‘Take this, boy!’,” followed by a wall of guitar feedback.

Next, Blue Cheer covers the blues standard “Rock Me, Baby,” with all the subtlety of a flying mallet (to borrow from the title of a Dave Edmunds album). Actually, in some places Whaley sounds as if he, indeed, is drumming with a mallet, providing minimalist backing to Leigh Stephens’ feedback-laden guitar stylings.

Peterson’s “Doctor Please” is purely and simply about drugs, as the singer implores: “Without your good livin’, Doc, I believe that I’ll be dead.” The song became a longtime concert staple, with extended instrumental sections.

Another original, “Out of Focus,” lyrically leans toward the psychedelic music in vogue at the time, with Peterson writing passages like: “And then from out of a mystic dream/There came an angel, she spread her wings.” But the instrumental backing continues to be pure sledgehammer, and outright chaos in a middle section during which none of the band members appear to be paying attention to what either of the others is playing.

Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm” – Blue Cheer calls it “Parchment Farm” – receives the over-the-top treatment, as well, with Peterson seeming to particularly enjoy shouting the line, “I think I’ll be here for the rest of my life/All I did was shoot my wife.” Toward the end of the song, he switches it around for another drug allusion: “I’m sitting over here on Parchment Farm/All I did was shoot my arm.”

For anyone whose eardrums have sustained the onslaught to that point, “Vincebus Eruptum” concludes with one more original, “Second Time Around.” The lyrics pertain to a temporary break in a relationship, but they’re secondary to the instrumentation, which gives each band member a chance to solo during a lengthy outro that seems to fulfill Blue Cheer’s mission, according to Peterson:

“Our thing was to be so powerful that the music became a physical experience, to activate all the listeners’ senses.”

Since Blue Cheer’s inception, bands have played louder and they’ve played better. But if they’re playing what’s come down in history as heavy metal, their roots trace back to “Vincebus Eruptum.”

“High Time” by the MC5 (1971)

For those who associate ’60s-era rock with flowers, beads, incense and peppermints, I present the MC5.

The Motor City Five, as the Lincoln Park, Mich., band once was known, melded overt political rhetoric with what probably was the loudest music of their day: If you’re discussing the roots of heavy metal, the MC5 had better be prominent in the conversation.

On Oct. 30 and 31, 1968, the tape recorders rolled at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom for what eventually became the MC5’s first album, “Kick Out the Jams,” which at the same time represents one of the few live debuts and one of the most incendiary. If John Lennon’s “Revolution” poked fun at would-be subversives, members of the MC5 – and particularly their manager, John Sinclair – were serious.

If you’re connecting the dots, you’ll recall that Lennon later recorded a song called “John Sinclair,” who indeed was the victim of “10 for two”: a decade-long prison sentence for two marijuana cigarettes. That was the price paid for expressing radical views at the time.

Along with running afoul of the “establishment,” the MC5 managed to alienate a much more important entity with regard to its short-term interests.

When Elektra Records released “Kick Out the Jams” in 1969, the introduction to the title track contained a certain term, the first half of which was “mother.” As a result, Hudson’s, a major Detroit department store, refused to carry the album. And as a result of that, the band took out an ad to the effect of “Stay alive with the MC5 – and @#%& Hudson’s.”

Hudson’s responded by refusing to carry any Elektra products, which meant big-time sellers like the Doors weren’t going to move as many units in Detroit. So Elektra settled the matter by dropping the MC5.

Atlantic Records promptly signed the band, and its first studio album, “Back in the USA,” was on par with its live predecessor on several levels. The political commentary still was there, albeit in a more subtle form, and the sonic quality was muted somewhat by producer Jon Landau’s decision to mix everything with high-end equalization; you can hear Michael Davis’ bass playing, but it doesn’t exactly boom through the woofers.

“Back in the USA” didn’t sell particularly well, and Atlantic gave the MC5 one more chance to redeem itself. The result was yet another stylistic departure.

“High Time” – yes, the cannabis-oriented magazine takes its name from the album title – veers away from the metallic assault of “Kick Out the Jams” and the trebly roots rock of “Back in the USA” by incorporating a variety of elements that were rather innovative for 1971.

Along with the core quintet – Davis, guitarists Wayne Kramer and the late Fred “Sonic” Smith, drummer Dennis Thompson and the vocalist, the late Rob Tyner – the album is augmented by more than a dozen musicians, including keyboard players, female backing singers, a horn section and (listed as playing percussion) future truck-commercial staple Bob Seger.


No, it’s not your imagination: Jennifer Aniston sports an MC5 T-shirt on an episode of “Friends.”

The band gives no quarter with its subject matter, as the kickoff track, “Sister Anne,” amply illustrates: Smith writes about a nun who “never tries to tease, she always aims to plase/She’s gonna squeeze you tight and make you feel all right.” To provide the song with a quasi-religious element, it wraps up with the horns playing rather loosely in the manner of a Salvation Army band, reminiscent of what Syd Barrett incorporated into his Pink Floyd swan song, “Jugband Blues.”

If “High Time” had a chance of yielding a hit single, it might have been “Baby Won’t Ya,” which kind of cops Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads” lick, although nowhere near blatantly as Steve Miller later did with “Jet Airliner.” And the chorus is as catchy as they come. Then again, the lyrical content would have stood in the way, with Smith penning such lines as “Sweetly, serenely, she showed me her gun/Baby let’s go get high.”

“Gotta Keep Movin'” hearkens back to the rhetoric of “Kick Out the Jams,” as Thompson pulls no punches regarding his worldview: “Presidents, priests and old ladies, too/They’ll swear on the Bible, what’s best for you/Atom bombs, Vietnam, missiles on the moon/And they wonder why their kids are shootin’ drugs so soon.”

“Poison” continues in the same vein, with the guitar interplay of Smith and Kramer providing a suitable foundation for the shared vocals of Kramer and Tyner, who sound rather desperate as they recount the plight of many of their contemporaries, including Sinclair: “Used, abused, locked up, beaten and fined/But I got free, copped a plea, and i can see/That there ain’t no freedom bell gonna chime this time.”

“Skunk (Sonicly Speaking)” wraps up the album with an appropriately heavy jam augmented by the horn section, as Smith seems to sum up the band’s career at that juncture in time: “Oh, baby, off we go, headin’ for a brand new place/The song’s been sung, the deed’s been done, staring you right in the face.”

The high point of “High Time,” though, probably is the song that opened the LP’s Side Two, “Future/Now.” Tyner continues in a paranoiac vein but offers a way out: “If you’re drifting or wandering lost, you’re perfect for the double cross/Freedom is yours right now, if you rule your own destiny.”

The first part of the song rocks along at the MC5’s usual furious pace, until that’s supplanted by subdued guitar arpeggios and Tyner’s spooky incantation: “And our mind will explode in a post-atomic dawn/The future breaks like a tidal wave, engulfing everyone/Confusion and chaos, the trauma of birth/A strange new day for the people of earth/Traditions burned away by that rising sun.”

The “Future” quotient of the song wasn’t in the cards for the MC5. “High Time” failed to make the charts, and Atlantic dropped the band. An attempt to keep going in Europe failed, and by 1972 the MC5 was history. It wasn’t until later that the band’s influences, especially on the sonic and political aspects of punk rock, gained widespread attention.

I’m not a great believer in the concept of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but sometimes I really pull for certain artists to receive their due recognition. And the MC5 deserves a place of honor in Cleveland.

“Blue Oyster Cult” by Blue Oyster Cult (1972)

Usually I’m griping when I bring up music from 1976, but the year actually had quite a few bright spots. One of them was the hit-single status of the Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” which came as a sublimely welcome break between tripe like “Convoy” and “Afternoon Delight.”

At the time, the BOC’s marketing campaign portrayed the guys as something like “the least-understood band in America,” which did sound cool to us consumers. And there was something about the band’s name – my dad still invokes it when making fun of rock music – that set it apart from everyone else.

“Agents of Fortune,” which contains the full version of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” is a tremendous album, complete with a guest vocal spot by Patti Smith. But as much as I like the 1976 offering, I’ve always preferred the band’s Columbia Records debut.

A bit of background: Basically the same group had started in the ’60s as the psychedelically oriented Soft White Underbelly, then landed a deal with Elektra Records as the Stalk-Forrest Group. Besides one single that barely was released, most of that material languished in the vaults for decades.

Shifting gears from the out-of-vogue psychedelia to the up-and-coming hard rock – it never quite was heavy metal – the band took another stab as the Blue Oyster Cult and eventually struck chart gold.

The debut set the blueprint, and some of its tracks are integral parts of the BOC stage show 40 years later: “Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll,” “Before the Kiss, a Redcap” and the based-on-a-true-story “Then Came the Last Days of May.”

The last-named, in fact, appears on the album in its demo form, as the band felt it couldn’t improve on guitarist Don “Buck Dharma” Roeser’s tale of “three good buddies” who plan to bring certain substances back from Mexico, only to fall victim to a bloody ambush.

The lyrics to most of the other songs are fairly arcane, as was the plan of writers Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer. When you try to probe the meaning of a song called “She’s As Beautiful As a Foot,” you may run into some difficulty.

Nevertheless, rock critics generally gave the record the thumbs-up on its release. The oft-curmudgeonly Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, for example, wrote that it was “the tightest and most musical hard rock record since – dare I say it – ‘Who’s Next.'”

When a record draws any comparison whatsoever to that particularly work by The Who, you might want to listen.

Most of the bands that were popular in the ’60s have at least one former member who is no longer with us.

One of the groups to escape that fate so far has been, believe it or not, Black Sabbath. All four original members still are alive, and they plan a new album and tour.

At least, word is that they still do, even though word also has come out that guitarist Tony Iommi, who’s been with the band since it started as Earth in 1969, has lymphoma.

From www.billboard.com – Steve Thorne/Redferns

Iommi never seems to make the lists of great rock guitarists, even though his influence extends to every heavy-metal axeman (and -woman) who followed. The riffs he developed are legendary: “Iron Man,” “NIB,” “Supernaut” and “Children of the Grave,” just to name a few of many.

Let’s hope Tony has a smooth recovery, whether the original Black Sabbath has the opportunity to tour again or not.