Tag Archives: Led Zeppelin

The Rock And Roll 500

The windowless white van rumbled eastward on Route 90, soon to take a dogleg right and hook up with its brother highway, The Mass Pike. A six-hour trek that normally would clog at one end or another, but on the two interior days of a four-day holiday, traffic was pretty much non-existent. Most people were already where they wanted to be. I was just going back and forth, as usual.

When I was her age, I moved a few times, and always with the help of friends. Someone always had a truck. Everyone would focus on the beer and pizza at the end of the run, and were it not for my abnormal amount of vinyl albums, we could probably have been in and done in a couple of hours. But I forgot what it’s like to live in a major city where public transportation is the norm, where not only do you not have a car, but no one you know does, either. And besides, isn’t this what Dads do?

The rental van was reasonably priced but came with its limitations. No power locks, so each of the five doors had to be constantly checked. No power windows, either – do they really still make hand cranks? And much to my horror, just a radio. No CD player, not even a cassette, and certainly no input for a digital device to be plugged in. Nope, the front end of the trip would be a hollow metal can bouncing down the road (what, you expected soundproofing?) and me alone with my thoughts, unless I could find something decent on the radio. I had given up trying to do that years ago.

But it’s Memorial Day Weekend, so rock stations across the country are broadcasting their own version of the Rock And Roll 500, a countdown of the five hundred greatest rock songs ever made. And although I constantly have to hit the scanner, as signals fade and ebb between markets or on each side of a mountain pass, sooner or later it’s there. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Cream, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Cars, The Who, The Police, The Ramones…song after song that I know like the back of my hand, whether I like them or not. It’s a bit 60s and 70s heavy, but rightfully so, because that’s when the apex took place.

I remember selling my Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin albums in a used record store, not so much because I needed the money but because radio had played “Free Bird” and “Stairway To Heaven” so often that I couldn’t bear to hear either band again. This egregious life choice was eventually recanted, of course, even though those two particular songs have long worn out their welcome. But the punk ethic of the time was to burn the past, and somehow I got caught up in the moment. I mean, really – I have never disliked the first four Led Zeppelin albums, they are incredible…but there they went across the counter.

It was a mistake I would not repeat; the day my senses came back to me and I repurchased them was also the day I realized that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. I like what I like, period. I don’t owe you an apology for that just because you disagree.

I thought of that a lot during the six-hour drive as I beat rhythms on the dashboard and heard my voice echo through the empty metal canister (reverb!), singing along as a large part of my childhood was played out for me one track at  a time. I remembered the boxes of 45s that I meticulously catalogued, the first albums I listened to over headphones, juggling prog and pop and glam and blues in college. Even the glee with which Roger and I would pore through the new punk singles arriving at Record Theatre – usually one scooped up by him and one by me, leaving none to be placed in the racks for sale. There was always an insatiable taste for great songs, and there was always the bedrock of what had come before.

I thought of the music I wasn’t hearing on the trip; were there really no J. Geils Band songs, even on the Boston station? And Tom Petty, who quietly went from ignored to elder statesman just by never stopping – would I hear “American Girl“? I already knew that The Dictators, Billy Bremner, Dwight Twilley, John Hiatt, and other lifelong favorites would probably not be heard from, but how was I not hearing a Kinks song?

Heading westward was a different story; the stations seemed less numerous and the song selections started to get downright odd. Even Eli turned to me at one point with her face scrunched up as a Candlebox song came in at number 168. I was incredulous. “The entire Kinks catalogue is better than that song“, I told her, and as “Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic” followed at #167 I imagined Sting sighing, relieved that when the great books were tabulated, someone gave the nod to his fine effort to move ahead – just ahead – of the mighty Candlebox.

Eli and I talked about many things on the way back, and the conversation turned to Lady Gaga. I don’t really care for him/her in the same way that I was never a Madonna fan – I’m much more centered on the music than the spectacle. Eli grew up listening to her own music but also getting the aural second-hand smoke of mine. My rule was and is that the driver picks the music, not the passengers. “I don’t think it’s great music per se“, she said, “but when I feel like dancing in a club it’s really fun and gets everyone going. It’s great for what it is, and I like it for that.” No guilt, just pleasure. A chip off the old block.

The sun had long set and we still had a couple of hours to go when “Going To Califormia” came on the radio, and I let it wash over me. I wasn’t going anywhere but home, but I must have channeled a dozen road trip memories in my mind. Had Eli turned to her left she would wonder why I had a shit-eating grin on my face after the long day, but someday she’ll do that herself. If there’s a better song to hear when you’re in a pensive mood on a long car trip, I can’t think of one right now.

And to think I once sold that album for a dollar. What fools these mortals be.

Led Zeppelin: “Going To California

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New Album! Cactus

A classic bootleg gets a proper release.

I’ve certainly waxed poetic about Cactus before. Growing up in the NYC area I was a lot closer to the flame, but as time passes on more people realize that these guys were monsters. Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert were the pulse of the Vanilla Fudge, a Long Island legend made good, while Jim McCarty and Rusty Day made their bones in Detroit.

At a time when album rock and FM radio were forming an unholy alliance, bands that could go deeper and heavier were prowling stages like panthers, and Cactus was capable of blowing anyone off the stage with thundering hard rock and boogie (and often, they did). It’s a shame that their flame only burned brightly for a few years. It’s an even bigger shame that forty years later, people still have to explain who they were.

In 1971, prior to the release of what would be their third and final studio album Restrictions, Cactus commandeered Ultrasonic Studios in Hempstead New York for small, by-invitation-only gig that was simulcast on WLIR, Long Island’s premier rock radio station. Given the technology of the day, anyone prescient enough to tape the show had a pedestrian copy at best, and when bootleg versions started showing up years after the band’s demise they were anything but pristine. (When I mentioned this to Carmine, he was unaware that the bootlegs existed at all.)

The master tapes showed up at a swap meet in Austin; now restored and remastered it’s out there for all to enjoy. “Evil” absolutely crushes; one can only imagine the force of frontman Rusty Day contained in this tiny room. Axe whiz Jim McCarty is blazing throughout, and Bogert and Appice are in lockstep groove on bass and drums (obligatory solos aside; this was the 70s after all).

Cactus was no singles band, the hour-long recording features only seven tracks. And while by design it was not a greatest hits set,  it does include both classic halves of “Big Mama Boogie” and a fifteen minute version of their blues classic “No Need To Worry” in addition to live favorite “Oleo” and the rarely played “Token Chokin'” A little blues, a lot of boogie and some incendiary rock, an appetizer platter sampling all three albums. The band is relaxed and having fun, and the sound is astonishingly good considering the age of the recording.

Not long afterwards, both McCarty and Day were gone; a newly assembled roster recorded a half-live, half-studio album (‘Ot and Sweaty)before it was all over. In 2006, with Jimmy Kunes called upon to replace the deceased Rusty Day, the “American Led Zeppelin” reunited to record V and restoke the fires. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the band, and Ultra Sonic Boogie is just one of a series of gems set for release.

Boogie feels good and good in my heart.

August 1st marks the anniversary of Anne Frank‘s last diary entry and the first Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Surely there must be a connection.

(No there isn’t…and don’t call me Shirley)

Today is also the 29th anniversary of MTV, as The BugglesVideo Killed The Radio Star” launched the music video era. Remember when MTV played videos? Remember when Music Television was about music?

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rockin’ Recollections

I can’t really listen to the radio anymore.

Stations today pretty much suck. Much like chain store record department employees, most on-air people are out of their depth. They don’t have a good grasp of what they’re trying to sell or present. They aren’t lifers. They don’t live and breathe the music. Perhaps that has a lot to do with the fact that they’re not choosing what to play (or in the case of the chain store clerk, they are not there by choice but promoted from the small appliances department).

Oldies radio recycles the same few hits by the same few bands and never play the chestnuts. Hell, most of these stations are farmed in from a few central syndicates anyway, so the concept of a revisiting a regional classic is pretty much gone. Some consultant somewhere is choosing titles from a list of what their contractual rights enable them to play without paying additional royalties. It’s dull, lifeless, repetitive.

Oh, I know there are exceptions. There are a couple of guys in my town who have an occasional 3-4 hour slot that can be very entertaining, but the airtime doesn’t line up with my schedule. And maybe satellite radio would cure me of this low opinion; one listen to someone like Little Steven and you see what a world of difference it makes when the creator of the show is deeply invested in every song and detail. Like a great mixtape, each song brings a nod and a smile; it’s great when you’re on that wavelength.

But I don’t need radio anymore. It hasn’t been able to teach me anything in years…decades, perhaps. But I have a lifetime of music to draw upon, and a continuing pipeline of great music that real artists continue to make regardless of apathy, challenges and obstacles. Bless you, fellow zealots.

S0 this week I present you with ten rockin’ recollections, ten songs that I thought of while daydreaming this morning. There’s no logical sequence, it isn’t a mix, and although the thrust of it hovers in the 70s, it wasn’t by design. Just ten great songs that you’ll probably never hear on the radio, but they put a smile on my face and I hope they put a smile on yours.

Enjoy the weekend!

Graham Parker: “Temporary Beauty“. Nice live version from a guy who has been making one brilliant album after another for thirty-five years; he doesn’t get anywhere near the credit he deserves.

Santana: “Soul Sacrifice“. Michael Shrieve is mindblowing on drums; Santana wowed everybody at WoodstockShrieve, at twenty, looked like Sid Vicious!

The Cruzados: “Bed Of Lies“. Vastly underrated band who had a couple of excellent records in the 80s; even Dylan is a fan. This and “Motorcycle Girl” were my faves.

John Hiatt and Matthew Sweet): “Girlfriend“. From Vh-1 Duets. You know, back when music stations actually programmed music content? They also covered “I Wanna Be Sedated” that night!

? and the Mysterians: “Do Something To Me“. Garage gods! This song wasn’t a hit for them although Tommy James had success with it. They still sound great today.

Edgar Winter Group: “Queen of My DreamsDan Hartman goes all Led Zeppelin on us. He was the soul of this group and an incredible talent.

Montrose: “Bad Motor Scooter“. Still smokes 36 years later. Sammy had poodle hair, Ronnie Montrose left Edgar Winter after “Frankenstein”.

J. Geils Band: “Lookin’ For a Love“. Best. Party. Band. Ever. Saw a clip of them from a recent reunion and Peter Wolf can still work that stage like a scarecrow jacked up on coke.

Van Duren: “Grow Yourself Up“. Underknown pop giant who was part of the Memphis scene circa Big Star and came up to Connecticut to record at Big Sound Records. New album in 2010.

Johnny Winter: “Jumping Jack Flash“. With Floyd Radford and Randy Jo Hobbs, although they’re just hanging on for dear life. Johnny owns this song!

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Under The Radar: The Pretty Things

Yeah, I know. The Pretty Things aren’t exactly unknown.

Well, to you, maybe, if you’re feigning surprise at the title. Hell, they were The Rolling Stones before the Stones were, and although they never got the press that Mick and the boys got in later life, they were still a significant part of the transition of rock’n’roll way back when. They were unmistakeably cool. They probably created the first concept album, even though Tommy by The Who is what most people will nominate when asked that question.

But even many of those who nod approvingly about Dick Taylor and Phil May and the boys from the 60s assume that it all ended a long time ago. So I’m writing today for those people.

To the amazement of many, in 1999 they came off the mat with a new album almost a quarter century past their zenith. Eight years later they released another (Balboa Island), but I prefer Rage Before Beauty. Here are my words from eleven years ago as they appeared in Consumable Online (including references to cloth-covered speakers and an amazement that men can rock in their fifties!)

Rage Before Beauty. And if you think that’s a great title, consider that the original was Fuck Oasis, and Fuck You!

Yessirree, these geezers haven’t lost one iota of vinegar over thirty five years, and now there’s a recorded document to prove it. Snapper Music has recently released the classic older titles by The Pretty Things along with this collection of material recorded during the mid and late nineties. The original band is as intact as it possibly can be in 1999, and that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “boys to men” now, doesn’t it?

For those unfamiliar with the band, they were contemporaries of The Rolling Stones (guitarist Dick Taylor was an original Stone), but their behavior and attitude made the Stones look like decent lads. When your drummer is widely considered the inspiration for Keith Moon‘s loutish lifestyle, well…that’s saying a mouthful.

It’s also pretty widely accepted that their S.F.Sorrow was the first rock opera, although Tommy certainly got the accolades and the airplay. They were the first signing to Led Zeppelin‘s flagship label Swan Song, but snafus let Bad Company get theirs out first. Whatever! It seems that The Pretty Things were snakebitten from the start, so why not channel that aggression into your life as well as your music? And so they did.

Rage Before Beauty is a telegram from a shipload of survivors, serving notice that although they’re old, they’re not in the way. Shit, Phil May‘s voice has a rasp that only pain could season. On “Love Keeps Hanging On”, May’s autobiographical tale of a relationship that’s been battered over time, his heart almost bleeds through the speaker cloth. What starts like “Wild Horses” soon increases intensity and by the finish is a full blown Pink Floyd anthem, with David Gilmour providing the type of emotional guitar solo he has built a career upon. Listen to the intensity of “Not Givin’ In”, which dares to drape garage punk with acoustic guitars (!), and it’s hard to believe that this is a band of men in their fifties. Ditto the opening cut “Passion Of Love”, very uptempo (for the Pretties) and a challenge to bands half their age.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

Guitarists Dick Taylor and Frank Holland simply shine throughout the record, but perhaps these two are great examples of less being more. “Everlasting Flame” recalls “19th Nervous Breakdown”; Skip Alan‘s drumming and the keyboard’s duel with the guitar leaving May no choice but to use the same cadence. And speaking of Bo Diddley, the tribute to their loon of a drummer, “Vivian Prince”, is another winner.

Making the record was reportedly as easy as passing a stone, though, and in spots it shows. Songs like “Blue Turns To Red” and “Going Downhill” (their single from 1989) sound like unfinished ideas when compared to some of the others already mentioned. And although they were probably a gas to record, three covers (“Eve Of Destruction”, “Mony Mony” and “Play With Fire”) are a large percentage to have when you’ve had so much time on your hands. “Fire” does have an interestingly seamy arrangement, and “Mony Mony” does feature Ronnie Spector, but they would have been better saved for live shows or buried as bonus cuts. I’d rather have seen the band add more rave ups or even songs like the frail, acoustic “Fly Away” instead, but I say that just to amuse myself. I know that the band would just tell me to piss off if I really suggested it to them.

Had the band not issued Rage Before Beauty at all, their legacy would have still been assured. They just wanted you to know that they’re not going out quietly, and they just might kick a few more asses before they do. By all means grab their earlier works,  especially S.F. Sorrow and Silk Torpedo, and then savor the great moments captured here, which far outweigh the ordinary ones.

Pretty Things Wiki page

I played the snot out of “Come Home Momma” when I was a DJ

One of my favorite mags was inspired by the Pretties – Ugly Things

The great old days are much like the new ones

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New Album! OK Go

And there’s a cloud in every silver lining…

OK Go isn’t the first band to realize it had to go above and beyond the normal channels to get the word out about their music. Even with a major label behind them, singer Damian Kulash and bassist Tim Nordwind came up with an idea to spin the dying art of music video to their advantage. To help promote their second album Oh No, Damian’s sister Trish Sie choreographed a dance routine for the single “A Million Ways” and the band filmed a video in their backyard. Nine million downloads later, they knew they were right. A second video mimed boy band dance routines and also was popular, but it was the third and most inventive one that changed everything.

The dancing-on-the-treadmill video for “Here It Goes Again” – over fifty million views as I type this – was such a successful marketing tool for the single and album that business schools use it as a case study in viral marketing. It launched the band into worldwide acclaim and has pretty much kept them busy for three years as they toured the world and racked up awards. Not to mention a ton of money for EMI.

So as it came time to work on the next record, the band road-tested several tracks on a tour of the Northeast and prepared to commence the unenviable task of trying to maintain the momentum and forward progress. Naturally, they figured that creating a viral video would not only be an important component of their publicity, but in many ways an expected one. Surely EMI would be happy to reap the benefits again.

Oops.

Turns out that the label, like many, is fighting the old process where hearing the music via third parties was a welcome thing. Hell, they used to pay radio stations to play the record, now they charge them fees. Payola in reverse. Now in an effort to control monetization of the videos – even if produced and paid out of the band’s pocketEMI is restricting the availability of distribution for the video – the very thing that catapulted the last record into a worldwide phenomenon. The band tried to rectify the situation internally, but was unsuccessful.

So Damian write an op-ed piece in the New York Times; an open letter to OK Go fans as well as the music industry in general. It’s a well-written and even-handed essay, pointing out that record companies aren’t evil as much as they are unwilling to recognize that the landscape isn’t changing, it has changed.

But this isn’t how the Internet works. Viral content doesn’t spread just from primary sources like YouTube or Flickr. Blogs, Web sites and video aggregators serve as cultural curators, daily collecting the items that will interest their audiences the most. By ignoring the power of these tastemakers, our record company is cutting off its nose to spite its face.”

Read the full essay here. Another longer, less formal version was posted on the band’s message board; you can read that essay here.

On this latest album, OK Go mixes funk, dance-pop and rock in a pleasing but scattered way. “WTF” sounds like a Prince homage, while other tracks call to mind everyone from The Flaming Lips to Godley/Creme to Presence-era Led Zeppelin. It’s ambitious and definitely a step sideways; whether it wears deep or thin, only time will tell.

Critics seem pretty divided – some praise the unexpected direction, others pan them for lack of cohesiveness and mimicry. Listen to clips from Of The Blue Colour of the Sky on Amazon and judge for yourself. And hopefully those of you looking to continue to support OK Go by embedding and sharing content will be able to do so with the label’s blessing as well as the band’s.

OK Go wiki site and website.

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High Roads, Haiti and Grande Ballrooms

Class act, class exit.

Conan O’Brien proved last night that it is possible to walk away from an ugly situation by taking the high road. His last show was filled with fun, pranks, great music and a heartfelt message to his fans.  

Watch here.  

And in case NBC takes down the video, here’s a transcript of his comments, plus clips from his fellow talk-show hosts.  

I could write fifty pages on why people love Conan O’Brien and not touch that four minute speech.  

***  

If you’re the type of person who likes to contribute to worthwhile projects, here are a couple of opportunities on wildly different scales.  

  

I’ll Stand By You  

Hope For Haiti Now conducted a very successful telethon last night where millions of dollars were raised for the cause. I’m as skeptical as the next person about charity scams and how some organizations skim large percentages off the top for administration costs with little of the money actually going to the charity. But this project was set up with public transparency and a guarantee that one hundred percent of the donations will go to a handful of specific organizations who are on the ground in Haiti.  

Please beware of scam sites. This is the official one.  

Of course, you might be donating through work (with an employer match) or directly to an established organization you trust (i.e. The American Red Cross). Nothing wrong with that – charity comes from the heart, and whatever you do is greatly needed and surely appreciated. It could even be non-monetary, like volunteerism or prayer. But know that despite what some religious nutjobs and political wingnuts are saying, this is not reparation but a natural disaster that has flattened a helpless people.  

We take much for granted. There but for geography and fate go I.  

***  

Where rock'n'roll met its match in Detroit

On a whole different level, documentarian Tony D’Annunzio is completing a film project about the legendary Grande Ballroom in Detroit. The Grande was as critical to the development of the Detroit rock music scene as the Fillmore West was to San Francisco and the Fillmore East to New York. This is where every band from Detroit aspired to play, and where every band from out of town had to walk the gauntlet and prove themselves worthy.  

Check out this amazing trailer featuring several legendary musicians who fondly recall the place where magic happened.  

Here’s the official blurb from the project website:  

LOUDER THAN LOVE is the story of the Grande Ballroom in Detroit Michigan. The Grande Ballroom was the birthplace of the Detroit Rock Music Scene. Bands like MC5,Iggy & The Stooges,Ted Nugent & The Amboy Dukes,Alice Cooper and many more got their start here. The Grande not only influenced local Detroit musicians but inspired bands from all over the US & from Europe. Legendary acts like Led Zeppelin, Cream, BB King, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd and The Who graced the stage at the Grande on a regular basis. While the west coast was groovin’ to the sounds of the “Summer of Love” in 1967, Detroit was pumping out a hard driving,gritty and raw sound that was LOUDER THAN LOVE.  

Sounds like a worthy project and a great tribute to a landmark. Contact Tony D’Annunizio through that webpage if you need more information.  

Just don’t accidentally contact this guy.

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Blast From The Past: Page/Crowes

Black Crowley Magic

Hard to believe that this collaboration between the Led Zeppelin guitarist and the Black Crowes was almost a decade ago, isn’t it? Maybe it was the similarity between “Crowes” and “Crowley” that confused the reclusive axeman enough to get him back onto the stage, but who cares? The combination of great rock band and legendary guitarist was magical…having that rich Zeppelin catalogue to draw upon wasn’t too shabby, either. 

Fourteen Zep covers, six blues tracks and two CDs that still snap today. Originally a digital-only release (as referenced in the review below), physical media soon followed for the Luddites among us. The Black Crowes have recently resurfaced with a vengeance and this set could slide right in, especially since their current incarnation features another guitar slinger, Luther Dickinson. Play this one loud! 

Here are my words from 2000 as they ran in PopMatters… 

 

The recording and distribution of live music is undergoing massive changes right along with the rest of the record industry. This 19 track, two-CD release may go down in history as the one that convinced everyone that the revolution was not going to be televised, it was going to be made available in digital format. MusicMaker is signing artists and labels up left and right, and a recent deal with AOL guarantees the kind of visibility that will turn conventional business, and even the infant digital download industry, on its ear. But you can read all about that on their website and the various news sources that are available to you. I came here to rock. 

The liner notes on my review copy are nonexistent, and I imagine that anything less than the full release will get the same treatment (a typed track listing on the back cover), although buyers should at least get the neat looking cover art. And sure, there are dumb nits to pick—“Shapes Of Things” is listed as “Shapes Of Things To Come”, and all the songs fade out and in (how else could you sequence your own record). But what counts is what is inside the jewel case, and for the most part that’s legendary Jimmy Page sounding genuinely inspired thanks to the prodding of the young turks backing him up. Likewise, The Black Crowes sound like they are having a blast going toe-to-toe with Page rather than treating him like an unapproachable icon. The result is some exciting rock and roll, Zep songs and blues covers that will thrill fans of both artists. 

The Robert Plant comparisons will naturally arise, and while Chris Robinson is more of a Steve Marriott man than a Plant guy, he usually hits the mark. Sure, he holds that note in “Whole Lotta Love” for only eight beats, but Plant can’t do that anymore either. And yes, on “Celebration Day” he does run out of steam at the end and sounds more like Bette Davis. But “Your Time Is Gonna Come” faithfully recreates one of Zep’s best moments, and “The Lemon Song,” “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and “Heartbreaker” are all major league keepers. And even though it’s jarring to hear “Heartbreaker” without “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” racing in a half-beat afterwards, it’s one of the highlights of the record. The keyboards add a great fullness to the three guitar lineup; songs like “Sloppy Drunk” and “Shake Your Money Maker” just plain rock. 

The minimum purchase is any five songs for five dollars, with additional songs one dollar each. “Oh Well” and “What Is And What Never Should Be” have even popped up as promotional freebies. But considering that the price of this collection is far less than any of your Crowes or Zep bootlegs, the sound quality is immensely superior, you can check out samples beforehand, you can order it piecemeal and (most importantly) the artists are not being screwed out of money in the process, what are you waiting for? Go get Live at the Greek now

Check out some clips at Amazon. 

In My Time of Dying

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