Tag Archives: Van Halen

Reading Red

So why does a guy who abhors gossip shows read rock bios?

I don’t know, but I do. I’m not talking about the ghoul books, where hacks write detached tomes about Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger without ever getting close to the subject or the inner circle. There are writers who make a career out of that, although their creative output wouldn’t fill a thimble. You know who they are, because their dust jackets brag about how many they’ve written. If you know anything about rock’n’roll and grew up listening to the artists, you already know more than you’ll ever get out of these pulp pissants – the equivalent of stones skipping across the surface of a pond.

But hey, it’s America – they’re free to write ’em and you’re free to read ’em.

I’ve actually become more of a documentary fan as I’ve gotten older, everything from social issues to films to music. The recent deluxe package of Bridge Over Troubled Water included a fascinating piece about the making of the album; it started airing on Palladia this weekend. I almost didn’t recognize Art Garfunkel, but he and Paul Simon were interviewed at length along with several key collaborators. I know that album backwards and forwards and the title song still gives me goosebumps (one of the greatest vocals, ever), but I came away learning something. More on that tomorrow.

I’ve been working like a fiend, 12+ hour days, and this weekend I knew I had to decompress, at least for a day or two. I’ve always been a voracious reader, a book a day from my teen years through my mid-twenties. When I do have the time I still enjoy reading, whether next to the fireplace on a miserable winter’s night, laying on the beach on vacation or just sitting in an Adirondack chair outside my house. Summer is short and sweet in upstate New York, so with the sun high in the sky and cocktail in hand, I grabbed Sammy Hagar’s bio Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock.

Video: Montrose:Bad Motor Scooter

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sammy’s solo material, but that first Montrose album was and is an absolute killer, and his first solo record had a few stellar tracks as well. Being a bit older, I grew tired of Van Halen rather quickly, but two of the best songs they ever did – “Why Can’t This Be Love” and “Finish What You Started” – were with Sam in the band. And although the musicians in Chickenfoot are all first-rate, it just doesn’t stick with me musically. Frankly, his smaller band (whether Waboritas or Wabos) sounds looser and more fun.

Red is a pretty quick read – dysfunctional childhood, outsider with ambition, chance meetings, a little magic, and a combination of solo success mixed with playing alongside one of the most innovative guitarists in history and one of the most psychotic, self-destructive people around. And those last two people are the same guy.

Hagar doesn’t pull many punches here – he’s pretty open about his own missteps and regrets – and with few exceptions (Michael Anthony, original manager Ed Leffler) the usual suspects have the stink of the business upon them. Irving Azoff is skilled but two-faced, Ronnie Montrose is brilliant but self-directed, Eddie Van Halen can be a charming and apologetic cat but is also criminally insane. David Lee Roth is a self-serving dick. The only relationship I couldn’t figure out was Alex Van Halen; Hagar alternates between saying they are so tight they call each other on birthdays, and that Alex conspires with Eddie to screw him over at every turn. I think something went amiss in the editing.

Video: Van Halen: “Why Can’t This Be Love

I went into the book looking for the insider’s view on what really went down in the Van Halen circus, but frankly I didn’t learn a thing. What I did discover – and it was never said overtly – was that Hagar has been smart enough to reach out to successful people for advice, and then take it. Like Jimmy Buffet, he modeled his lifestyle into an enterprise that will keep him independently wealthy for the rest of his life, which gives him the freedom to play music for fun rather than necessity. Between cantinas and his Cabo Wabo tequila business – eventually sold to a majority owner who made his percentage worth more than it was when he ran it himself – Hagar is a free man.

So since he didn’t write the book for money, was it to set the record straight about the bands he had been in? To declare that the low-scale concerts and smaller albums are by design? To distance himself from the myriad of casualties he’s been associated with and celebrate family and casual living? Frankly, I’m not certain. The book doesn’t even really end, it just…stops. I think he wants his fans to believe that he’s at heart a decent guy who supports charities, who takes care of people (the Wabos are paid year-round even though they play infrequently), who has gotten to the top through hard work and dedication. I would imagine his fans already know that.

So while the book was a quick read – conversationally written, very pleasant – it was an afternoon’s diversion rather than a deep-dive. I did come away liking the guy and respecting his drive, and although I remain ambivalent about the majority of his catalogue, there are several classic songs of his that have endured well over time. If I ever meet him and he wants to do a shot of Cabo Wabo, it would probably be a good time (I did learn that Sammy brings the party with him). But sadly, maybe that Van Halen story will never be known.

Unless…I wonder if Michael Anthony is interested in writing a book?

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New Album! Ray Davies

And while the world continues to wait for a new Kinks album…

See My Friends is the latest effort from Ray Davies, a duets album of sort featuring guest artists from across the musical landscape. Even as a fan of tribute albums I must admit that I dread these affairs, for recording with the honored artist usually results in one of two things – deferring to the honoree or an awkward mix of styles…and sometimes both. Although not scheduled for release in America until April, wily Kinks fans know the album is currently one click away at Amazon UK.

The album lurches off to an unfortunate start with “Better Things”, a normally irresistible tune punctured by the growling Bruce Springsteen; if anything it proves how much better a vocalist Ray Davies is by comparison. Bon Jovi fares no better, with a turgid bar band version of “Celluloid Heroes” minus the panache, and Metallica fails to add anything to “You Really Got Me” that Van Halen didn’t already do a quarter century ago…and better. Billy Corgan’s version of “Destroyer” is as lame and irrelevant as he is. Jackson Browne and Lucinda Williams (the latter backed by The 88) are fine but unremarkable, but it is poignant to hear the late, great Alex Chilton (a longtime Kinks fan) cover “Til The End of The Day”

While the veteran rockers mostly disappoint, those from the current era fare better, although mostly sticking to safe arrangements. Gary Lightbody, lead singer of Snow Patrol, is a natural complement to Ray’s warble, sounding fragile and exhausted on “Tired Of Waiting”. Spoon is a wise match for the title track and craft an arrangement that fits their style well. And while sticking to her normal voice Paloma Faith is dynamic during “Lola”, although switching to Minnie Mouse falsetto during harmonies is jarring. And I like Amy MacDonald’s contribution on “Dead End Street” but the mood is ruined by the small talk between she and Ray at the end – whose brilliant idea was that?

The clear standout on the album is Mumford & Sons; their organic performance brings new life to “Days” and “This Time Tomorrow” and the medley is brilliantly executed. I would love to hear Ray take on the entire Muswell Hillbillies album with them. And since there doesn’t seem to be a Kinks reunion in the works – on record or live – I hope he pursues a collaboration like that before it’s too late.

Video: Ray Davies with Mumford & Sons

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers

Since it’s Rocktober, I thought I’d revisit the charts.

When I was growing up in New York City, the local stations made a big deal about their weekly countdowns, and every week music fanatics (like me) were glued to the radio, ready to jot them down as they were played and guess which songs finished where. Forget Dick Clark and Casey Kasem, in NYC it was all about WABC and WMCA. At the end of the year they’d do their annual countdown and even mail you the final list if you sent in an envelope. Somewhere in a dusty attic box, I still have a few that I treasured as a kid.

I guarantee that when pop culture historians look at the tail end of the 1960s, they will rate that period as important to music history as the Industrial Revolution was to Western Civilization. Living through it was amazing. But even looking back on how the charts morphed over a decade, it’s obvious that a seismic shift had occurred.

So this week I give you Ten Rocktober Chart Toppers – the Number One hits from the first week of October. It’s only going to get stranger each Friday.

1963) Blue Velvet (Bobby Vinton) – The early 60s was crooner heaven, as well as a haven for single-named teen idols. Four lads from Liverpool changed all that the year prior, but you don’t build Rome in a day. I can’t listen to this song anymore without picturing Dennis Hopper.

1964) Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison) – I still can’t believe that voice came out of that head. Orbison’s growl on the bridge just made a cool song even cooler – even Van Halen couldn’t ruin this gem.

1965) Hang On Sloopy (The McCoys) – The Ohio State National Anthem, this garage rock chestnut featured a teenage Rick Derringer and still sounds great. A very underappreciated band who cut some great pop sides and then morphed into Johnny Winter’s best band. (This rare version has the extra verse)

1966) Cherish (The Association) – Not quite rock, I know, but you must have that slow grind song for the prom, and this was it – plus it covered the pain of unrequited love! And if you want to punish this great vocal group for being wimpy, you have to give them props for “Along Came Mary”.

1967) The Letter (The Box Tops) – Teenage Alex Chilton hooked up with Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and cut one of the gruffest, blusiest vocals ever recorded. Absolute killer stuff, in and out in under two minutes and always sounds fresh when you hear it.

1968) Hey Jude (The Beatles) – Beginning its nine week run atop the charts, an instant sing-along classic and one of the longest tracks in chart history. Whatever happened to those guys?

1969) Sugar Sugar (The Archies) – If he could make a gazillion dollars with four actors, how much could Don Kirschner make from four cartoon characters who wouldn’t insist on playing their own instruments? This was the song that dethroned “Honky Tonk Women”…I am not making that up.

1970) Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Diana Ross) – Motown ruled the charts in the 60s but this version pales in comparison to the 1967 version by the great Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – a hit three years earlier.

1971) Maggie May (Rod Stewart) – Single and album simultaneously blew up and made rooster head a star. For a couple of years he and The Faces made the best music on Earth and then Rod followed the money, which he is still doing forty years later.

1972) Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me (Mac Davis) – And you wonder why people said “rock is dead”? Other 1972 chart toppers included “Candy Man” from Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson’s turgid “Ben” and Melanie’s screeching “Brand New Key”. The year was so lame that Gilbert O’Sullivan’s nasal “Alone Again Naturally” spent four weeks at the top, lost its place and then floated up again like a dead fish for two more.

Thankfully, album rock was there to save the day.

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T.G.I.F. – Back To Schooldays

I don’t have to anymore, thankfully…

But September, and especially this weekend, brings the official end to summer and the start of the school year. (Feel free to substitute the word “football season” if you are a childless male past the age of eighteen.)

Music has always captured the essence of every emotion and occurence in our lives, and there certainly are many anthems that document the drudgery and celebrate the rebellion and pinpoint the pain. Many of these are obvious, although “School’s Out” will have to wait for June! And I didn’t want to go to hardcore teenage angst like Big Star‘s “Thirteen” and Ultimate Fakebook‘s “A Million Hearts” (an under-known classic!).

So as you hopefully are preparing for a safe and happy holiday, here are Ten Tunes to take you Back To Schooldays!

01 – “Schooldays” (The Kinks)

02 – “Be True To Your School” (The Beach Boys)

03 – “Back To Schooldays” (Graham Parker)

04 – “Hot For Teacher” (Van Halen)

05 – “My Old School” (Steely Dan)

06 – “School Days” (Chuck Berry)

07 – “School Days” (The Good Rats)

08 – “Teacher Teacher” (Rockpile)

09 – “High School Confidential” (Jerry Lee Lewis)

10 – “Rock and Roll High School” (The Ramones)

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Bands/Artists I Miss

Well, reunited without all that cheesy drama, anyway

Seems like everyone is getting back together these days, whether for money or a shot at career closure; some are actually reinvigorated and creating viable new music. So if you are pining the loss or lethargy of a favorite band or artist, there’s hope.

(Of course, nothing would be better than the three guys in the forefront of this picture sharing a stage again. Maybe if I leave that tooth under my pillow…)

Doesn’t have to be someone on a Van Halen level. For example, Fastball thought they had taken a long enough hiatus and decided to regroup – the result was a great new record. So why not our favorites?

So here’s ten acts right off the top of my head that are dormant; I wish they were making records right now. At least I have the fruits of their labor to date to savor over and over again. If any of these are new to you, please check them out. Maybe it will make you revive a few of your own favorites.

Because that’s the beauty of legacy. It’s right there.

Redd Kross:  Congrats on the new baby and all, but come on – make an album!

Cotton Mather:  Living on in other bands, but Kon Tiki is godhead.

The Pursuit of Happiness:  Too good to be satisfied with reunions.

The Tories:  So promising. So good. What happened?

Liquor Giants:  How about Something Special for the Adults?

World Party:  This generation’s Klaatu, the homage must go on.

Jen Trynin:  Disillusioned the first time, suck it up and get back out there.

Love NutAndy Bopp, put Myracle Brah aside and rock me again.

Tonio K:  I know you’re sitting on pure gold. Share it, brother.

The Montgomery CliffsJoey Salvia is solo but a reunion would be magic.

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Under The Radar: Everybody Wants Some

Me too!!!

Me too!!!

(I was organizing some tribute CDs and came across this gem and played it loud. Thought I’d dig up the original review and share it as the magazine it ran in is long dead and gone…because of its low profile, this is more of an “under the radar” item than a “blast from the past”)

The Van Halen tribute Everybody Wants Some begins and ends with two diverse yet equally stunning renditions of Eddie’s finger-tapping showpiece, “Eruption”, and in-between lie fifteen of the most diverse interpretations of music found on any tribute record. Think of “E”‘s unique take on “Jennifer Eccles” on the Hollies tribute as a benchmark. Yet somehow, amazingly, there are two songs here that could be hit singles in a better world.

You have to imagine that any project “honoring” a band with front men like Sammy Hagar and Diamond Dave can’t be all that reverential, and you’re right (well, maybe that church organ rendition of “Eruption”!) Most of these Boston area bands took a wild stab and hit the bulls eye. Trona’s “Could This Be Magic” starts off the vocal selections, kicking in with a drum riff lifted from “Ballroom Blitz” and cruising through a cowpunk rendition with a vocal that’s half  Roaring Twenties, half Minnie Mouse (hmm…same era). Hell, she’s still better than Gary was in VH3…

Jajuya’s “Jamie’s Crying” combines Santana and War’s “Spill The Wine”; “Mean Streets” by Elbow is all Dr. John and saucy bottleneck slide, and project head Captain Rock’s version of “Panama” can only be likened to Chicago, on acid, with Frank Zappa producing. That’s a compliment. Tom Leach gives “Dance The Night Away” a Poco-like twang spin, Talking To Animals takes “Everybody Wants Some” to Lounge land, and Red Time funks up “Beautiful Girls”.

Two songs here are so good they deserve to be bigger hits than the originals. Fuzzy’s dead-on Ronettes impression absolutely Spectorizes “Feel Your Love”, and the Gigolo Aunts’ “Why Can’t This Be Love” (despite being saddled with banal lyrics like “only time will tell if we can stand the test of time”) gets the “That Thing You Do” treatment, right down to the bad sixties’ harmonica.

These are two of the best songs I have heard all year! Unfortunately, the song that is getting the push is Mary Lou Lord‘s slow version of “Jump” – a great idea except Aztec Camera had a hit with the exact same arrangement over ten years ago. Call that radio station, kids! Vote for Fuzzy and the Aunts!!

Okay, so there’s no information on the band members and they printed the booklet backwards (or maybe it’s the first booklet made for southpaws). Nit picking – this album is a friggin’ riot, whether you love or loathe Van Halen (I’d bet it appeals more to the latter). One of the best tributes ever, and I’ve heard them all. Liner notes indicate there are enough tracks in the can for Volume Two – let’s hope so!

(Of course, that never happened)

Out of print, but you can pick this tribute CD up cheap and used.

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