RAUNCH 'N' ROLL CHEAPO SURVIVAL GUIDE, BUFFALO STAMPEDE, KICK OUT THE SOFT JAMS AND GOODBYE CIRCUS
Where do I start? I suppose where I left off; namely last column’s Best of 2005 list. I just wanted to mention a few oversights so I can get on with my life: Tapping Rhino’s Stooges reissues for top honors (“Reissue of the Year”) made perfect sense at the time, not to mention presenting an opportunity to blabber at length ‘bout two of my all-time most worn-out records. Nine months later, I’d do it all over again.
In preparing the list, however, I completely blanked on my other big musical fix for ’05; the Beau Brummels’ ‘Magic Hollow’ on Rhino Handmade. Unlike Iggy & Co., there’s barely a ripple of hi-energy to be found in this Brummels box set; with the possible exception of some formative (and hardly earthshaking) beat fare on disc one. But the songwriting, production and singing – especially as the band evolves into their very non-rock later stages - keep this in regular rotation quite awhile after my last earful of Stooges first album alternate mixes. Funny I should bring up the Beau Brummels now. At Rhino Handmade’s website, this limited-run, lavishly appointed box set is already listed as out of print.
On the 45 front, my ‘Best’ list remains unchanged but with one addition: The reissued International Submarine Band single, “Sum Up Broke”/”One Day Week” (rare on Columbia; on Sundazed, about what you’d spend on a 40 oz.).
This got lost in a batch of killer Sundazed 45s which all made my year-end list. Saying that this is Gram Parsons at his most rockin’ is like sayin’ ‘L.A.M.F.’ is the Heartbreakers at their commercial apex. But while John Neuse’s cranked-up Telecaster lifts “Sum Up Broke”, which otherwise sounds like a ’66 blueprint for early Quicksilver and Dead, it is Parsons on the flip wailing away on an insistent, loud electric piano that seals this single as essential. Alright, that’s enough about last year.
Not too long ago, I caught yet another favorable review of Mott the Hoople’s “landmark” (yawn) ‘Mott’ album. This time, it was a CD reissue review right here in the web pages of the Bar. I got around to purchasing this latest edition of ‘Mott’ a few months back. For a guy who once wrote a 40 page ‘zine feature honoring the genius of these dudes, I must declare once and for all that this is one seriously overrated record.
Say what you will about the glam era, the best of those singles and albums benefited from the best production since the golden age of AM rock ‘n’ roll. Think T. Rex, Bowie, Slade and Sweet. Insanely great sounding records, all of ‘em. Think if you will of MTH’s “All the Young Dudes”.
‘Mott’ tries to have it both ways i.e. the glam-ish “Honaloochie Boogie” and “Whizz Kid” vs. the Dylan-influenced Old Mott of “Ballad of Mott the Hoople” and “I Wish I Was Your Mother”. The result is a muddled mess and in light of the ugly excitement generated on the earlier Guy Stevens-produced albums, an antiseptic-sounding affair even by today’s digitized standards.
“Drivin’ Sister” could’ve been murder on ‘Brain Capers’ but by the time it was hatched in ’73, like a line from its lyrics, it’s just about out of gas. Ditto on “All The Way From Memphis”, admittedly which I can’t help both digging even if now wonder how good it would’ve sounded a year earlier, if produced by carrot top. “I’m a Cadillac” must be a joke. Most wretched of all on ‘Mott’ (yet a fan favorite), is “Dirge for the Dudes” or whatever the hell it’s called. Actually, I know what it’s called but just wanted to describe its grim qualities in as few words as possible.
I was first attracted to Mott for the emotional wallop of tunes like “Laugh at Me” and “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”. ‘Mott’, with a couple of exceptions, sounds flashy but soulless by comparison. If interested in hearing what these guys were capable of - not as a songwriter’s workshop for Ian Hunter but as a thrilling BAND – start with the Stevens-produced ‘Mott the Hoople’ debut from four years earlier.
On a more positive note, I might have a new fourth or fifth favorite record from 1973; Buffalo’s ‘Volcanic Rock’. Bar contributor Doug Sheppard (the original ‘Mott’ naysayer) hipped me to these Australian hard rockers a few months back. The opening track, “Sunrise (Come My Way)”, is pretty crushing stuff, establishing a seismic shift in sound (from the quite ho hum first LP, ‘Dead Forever’); like switching from Black Oak Arkansas to Black Sabbath.
The following track, “Freedom”, is a performance that really sells me on these Buffalo wildmen. Set to a sludgy tempo, the heavy intentions of the previous track persist, just dragged out for nine minutes allowing this to really seep into the listener’s skull. This doesn’t sound like 1973. It sounds like 1993. But since it is ‘73, I’m willing to appreciate its trailblazing grungy assault.
Make no mistake; I know next to nothing about grunge music. But in the ‘90s, none of us were exempt from hearing way too much of it. So here’s probably an odd observation to make regarding Buffalo: Their lead singer sounds like that caterwauling bastard in Soundgarden. On “Freedom”, I can’t help but hear this and maybe even a trace of Ritchie Havens’ adenoidal tour de force of the same name from the ‘Woodstock’ film.
“Till My Death” is reminiscent of the heaviest grooves on ‘Physical Graffiti’ (like “In My Time of Dying”), yet sorted-out by Buffalo a year or two earlier. Besides one weak songwriting effort (“Prophet”, which could only be described as Moses Rock) and a heavy extended instro/jam (“Pound of Flesh”; its title hinting at the Bard Rock to follow), the album also includes the band’s mightiest track, “Shylock”. This is a real pummeling piece of heavy rock.
Only Sabbath, on the momentum of my all-time favorite of theirs, ‘Vol. 4’, was heavier in ’73. Come to think of it, though, Buffalo sounds closest to the Grand Funk Railroad of the “red album”, minus all the dopey lyrics and bogus guitar breaks. This makes me ponder how much more great ’73 hard rock remains below my radar. Experience suggests that most of this stuff, when it does surface, is marred by lousy, tasteless vocal theatrics, but not so with Buffalo.
“I Want Everything Softer Than Everything Else” Guilty Pleasure Showcase: With few exceptions (e.g. Australia’s Air Supply a decade later, or the unavoidable comparison with the biggest act - schlock or rock - of their own era, the Carpenters), I can’t think of an old school hit machine that dished out more musical tofu in their prime than Bread. When front man David Gates serenades with such sentimental pap as, “I might be climbing on rainbows/but baby here goes” (on their Top 40 smasheroo, “Make It with You”), it serves as either chicken soup for the perpetually romantic or on a typical night at the Bar, an unintended provocation for violence.
Me, I’m more than likely to just steer clear of Bread at its most treacly. Then again, I’m a sucker for the majestic ultralight rock of “Guitar Man”; on an energy scale not much wilder than their other hits yet an example of flawless record making. And Gates reveals himself to be a closet rocker on “Let Your Love Go”; a real throwback with a mid-sixties flavor. There are a couple of extra hooky chords that on the chorus, post-guitar solo, are executed so aggressively, I thought my CD had a skip the first time I heard this.
“Down on My Knees” is another driving pop-rocker, this time from Bread’s other key songwriter, James Griffin. With its jangly Beatles/Byrds guitars, it is on par with any 2nd tier seventies power pop; not in the Raspberries/Big Star league mind you but as good as “Go Back” by Crabby Appleton, for instance. The harmonies introduced on the song’s second verse are sublime.
Best of all, and better than any Bread million-seller, is Griffin’s “Look What You’ve Done”. Though never a hit in its own right, it is a perennial of every Bread “Best of” collection and for good reason. The arrangement is subdued and simple, the melody, wordplay and high harmonized vocals as (surprisingly) good as any ballad on Big Star’s infinitely more hip ‘#1 Record’. Griffin’s lead vocal is sufficiently wounded and perfect. There’s even an up-tempo middle stretch in a Grand Funk “I’m Your Captain” vein but it’s the following call ‘n’ response of the song’s title that provides the emotional knockout on this three minute masterpiece.
Which one of these groups doesn't belong?
The only Bread album that I’ve heard all the way through is their self-titled debut; released in ’69. There are no hits on this one and it is no longer in print on CD. It is erratic as hell yet to these ears, a good half of it is highly addictive. It is also the only Bread album that I know of with material covered by Pre-Glam Slade.
Most Bread collections wisely, if curiously, throw in a few tracks from this album but as with Rhino’s latest (‘Definitive Collection’), often the least deserving are among those picked. Case in point, an absolute turkey from David Gates titled “Dismal Day”.
At least on this album, the most valuable songwriter is not Gates at all; rather it’s the not yet commercially marginalized Griffin (generally in collaboration with original guitarist Robb Royer). To be fair, it’s no wonder that the latter failed to get many A-sides. His songs are wracked with emotional baggage; from jealousy and bitterness to desperation. On “The Last Time” (not the Stones song), some of his last laugh sentiments prove the antithesis of radio-friendly Bread.
Royer plays tasteful guitar licks throughout though especially on Griffin’s best tracks (“Any Way You Want Me”, “The Last Time”, and “Move Over”). Bread was a studio project at this early stage so the drumming belongs to session cats Jim Gordon and Ron Edgar (of the Music Machine). Perhaps it’s the latter playing the great drum fills with such mechanical precision on the fuzzy ‘n’ funky “Move Over”.
This is one of the cleanest sounding albums from the era thanks to engineer Bruce Botnick. After having dealt with Arthur Lee, Jim Morrison and John Sinclair, Elektra probably gladly handed over the studio keys to these pros/vets of the LA studio scene, which self-produce here. The music is flawless, unless you count some of the wheezy Moog on the second verse of the enjoyably lame, MacCartney-ish “London Bridge”. During an, er, bridge later in the track this synth explodes into brief chaos, falling somewhere between the Monkees’ “Daily Nightly” and Roxy Music-era Eno. In other words, it too works.
There’s more good stuff by these guys. On their next LP, 1970’s ‘On the Water’, they added a solid drummer, Mike Botts, and cranked out another eclectic album highlighted by “Look What You’ve Done”. And I’ll stop there ‘cause that’s probably enough soft rock excitement for one year.
In 2006, economic indicators such as inept personal budgeting remind me that it’s time to look into alternate ways for scoring cheap entertainment. (Have no fear; this is not a lecture on the joys of pirating recorded music.)
Clearly, packaged recorded music – like the great reissues mentioned above (and that Mott the Hoople CD, too) – is on the decline thanks to the proliferation of iPods and the proprietary iTunes online retailer.
I should mention that I don’t own an iPod. It’s irrelevant whether I can afford one this week (though I’m sure I can’t). Really, I don’t want to stumble through life connected to music-pumping ear plugs. In fact, I stumble just fine without this kinda distraction. My hearing is already shot (and Buffalo didn’t help). If I want to hear a jukebox, I’ll go to a bar or just crank up the in-house Wurlitzer.
Instead, let me put in a word for one of the less relevant distributors of online music; the modern day (i.e. legal) Napster. Besides the iTunes market share issue, let me explain the irrelevant part: In my experience, a browse on Napster is like perusing the selection in a four-floor, 50,000 square foot CD superstore, only to walk away in dismay that they carry no Beatles, AC/DC, Zeppelin, or Missing Links, for that matter.
That aside, I recently came across some cool finds on the now industry-compliant Napster. First of all, I found loud digital downloads of those two International Submarine Band tracks. 99 cents US each. Good start.
Then, lo and behold, there’s Alice Cooper’s out of print Straight Records albums as downloads. Since I always keep a copy of ‘Pretties for You’ on hand, I thought I would burn a copy of ‘Easy Action’ which I long ago hastily dismissed. As it turns out, this album is a far cry better than I remember (and as a Napster download, in top notch sound). In fact, it is probably only a little less consistent than the more popular AC albums that followed.
The difference is that there is nothing on ‘Easy Action’ that sounds like a hit single. But 36 years later, who cares? “Shoe Salesman” has a laid back psychedelic feel; like a cross between the Beatles and ‘Forever Changes’. Arthur Lee and Love’s influence surfaces again on “Still No Air”, which tosses in elements of ‘West Side Story’ and “My Generation” for good measure. “Below Your Means” is reminiscent of the long, heavy tracks on ‘Pretties for You’, like “Fields of Regret”; unfocused but great.
“Laughing at Me” might be the best track, and again reminiscent of ‘Forever Changes’ (with a snatch of melody that resurfaced in one of their later tracks; “Desperado”, I think). There are heavier tracks, as well, but those mentioned are the ones worth repeated spins even if they don’t sound like Alice Cooper or 1970, for that matter. This ultra-failure, at least where it counts on the commercial front, was produced by David Briggs, moonlighting from his main gig as Neil Young’s full-time studio collaborator.
Having read about the death of Johnny Jenkins a few weeks earlier, I downloaded a pair of killer Duane Allman-produced heavy blues numbers from ‘Ton Ton Macoute!’, his ’70 comeback on Capricorn. These tunes rocked so hard, especially “Leavin’ Trunk”, that I quickly went out to a few of the regular online CD retailers to buy the whole damn (packaged) album only to learn that this, too, is currently a download-only offering and not even the complete album! I still need his version of “I Walk on Gilded Splinters”.
But here’s the best bargain on Napster, at least on one of the days I was on the site (CD titles seem to come and go with odd regularity there): I was able to download all six cuts (yes, count ‘em, six!) that I wanted from the Cameo-Parkway box set on Abkco. This allowed me to nab “You Can’t Sit Down” by the Dovells, “Respect” by the Rationals, “I (Who Have Nothing)” by Terry Knight & the Pack and from Bob Seger & the Last Heard, “East Side Story”, “Heavy Music (Part 1)”, and “Sock it to Me Santa”.
To illustrate the weirdly incomplete selection of music available on Napster, the latter represented some kind of alternate universe or time travel whereby the only Bob Seger available was from the sixties. Yeah! This Cameo-Parkway “want list”, now fulfilled, set me back a whopping $5.94.
A few days ago, I logged on to find the most promising development yet on Napster: The addition of the Rolling Stones’ remastered Abkco catalog. For starters, I was able to download “Time is on My Side” (Chess version) that otherwise required me to shell-out big bucks for the multi-disc sets of repeats; namely ‘Hot Rocks’ or ‘Rolling Stones Singles Collection’ (or the completely superfluous ‘Big Hits’ big hits platter on CD). While I was at it, I grabbed “Child of the Moon” and “Memo From Turner”; both from the pricey aforementioned ‘Singles Collection’ of which I already have everything else that I would ever want (minus a couple of ‘Metamorphosis’ non-essentials).
My only complaint with Napster has been the occasional swirly, sub-par sound on an entire album download of Deep Purple’s ‘Made in Europe’ and, well, I should know better but: “Hot ‘n’ Nasty” off of Black Oak Arkansas’ ‘Raunch ‘n’ Roll Live’ LP. For these download-only albums, the major labels’ usually up to code mastering programs must be getting outsourced to some sh*t for ears operation.
(Despite loud ‘n’ bad download, I couldn’t help but spin “Hot ‘n’ Nasty” on a return to the airwaves; on WXYC-FM Chapel Hill, USA in July. The show was a 3-hour tribute to “Southern Rock ‘n’ Soul”, and I couldn’t resist getting downright dumb ‘n’ raunchy, so to speak, with a little BOA.)
Continuing on the cheap entertainment front, I’ve found similar relief thanks to NetFlix (will this make sense to our Australian host and readers? Here in the States, NetFlix is a subscription service where DVDs are delivered to your home approximately a day or two after ordering online). Before I discovered NetFlix, I probably suffered sleepless nights wondering how I would ever get to see all these old TV shows, movies and rock docs flooding the marketplace. For $9.99 a month, I am now on course to seeing every last one of ‘em. Very slowly.
Excluding old TV shows, the highlights so far have included the recent Arthur Kane and Gram Parsons documentaries, Gene Vincent ‘At the Town Hall Party’ (an “import” no less; gabbed about previously in my ‘Best of 2005’), and ‘Monterey Pop’ Box; specifically Disc 3 (yes, NetFlix will allow you to rent just the disc you want from their box set titles) loaded with excellent unreleased film of Quicksilver Messenger Service, Electric Flag, the Who and what must be the sloppiest drumming ever on the Byrds’ famously disastrous set.
As you know, the marketplace is flooded with dodgy DVDs. On the rock documentary front, I have yet to rent, much less purchase one of those cheesy exploitation jobs with titles like ‘A Critical Analysis of Uriah Heep’s Masterwork, ‘Wonderwall’’.
From what I can see, the authorized stuff is no sure bet, either. Take Alice Cooper’s ‘Prime Cuts’, which I recently rented. This must be from the ‘80s or ‘90s ‘cause in the interview segments, AC sports tell-tale teased ‘n’ outdated metal hair. The clips, including a presumably rare TV show appearance of “Levity Ball” circa ‘69, are frustratingly incomplete. Other old film, since resurrected in the ‘Good to See You Again…’ DVD, is in dire sound. Early TV-appearing Alice is primed for an upgrade on the DVD front.
On the contrary, some of the dodgiest looking releases on rent sometimes deliver the goods, albeit likely by pure accident. The Deep Purple title, ‘Masters from the Vaults’, mixes-up wisely selected portions of their 1970 UK TV appearance, ‘Doing Their Thing’ (including Ritchie Blackmore at his most animated) with their German Beat Club clips from the following year (with Ian Gillan at his most inebriated). On an exploito angle, “Smoke on the Water” is also included, only this time with the riffs provided a decade or two later by some mullet-coiffed hack in the Ian Gillan Band.
To digress from this THRILLING movie rental diary, let me take a moment to put in a plug for Eagle Vision’s ‘Deep Purple: Live in California 74’ DVD. I couldn’t help but plunk down the cash for a copy of this. It’s got all the hallmarks of a deluxe package, with bonus features, liner notes, blah blah blah.
This is Deep Purple Mk III, as DP geeks are inclined to say, including future metal boy David Coverdale; here decked out in a flowery shirt that suggests his main squeeze at the time liked to knit. This also means that the versions of Pre-DC material (“Smoke on the Water”, “Spacetruckin’”) are grotesquely overstated with the steroid blues bellowing of the new front man.
That complaint aside, these boys tear it up on their own ‘Burn’ era boogie. Coverdale’s shortcomings/overcomings on the old material actually work a-ok on his own songs. We also get the rehearsed vocal tantrums of support vocalist/bass player Glenn Hughes as well as generous solo turns from organist Jon Lord (now armed with a synth; HELP!) and drummer Ian Paice. If you weren’t there - either at the California Jam where this concert was filmed, or the decade in general - this concert nicely sums up the Pre-Ramones excess seventies.
Speaking of excess, my main man Ritchie Blackmore once again steals the show. First of all, it’s nice to finally put a visual to one of my all-time top gonzo guitar solos from 30 years ago: “You Fool No One”; from Purple’s spliced ‘n’ diced ‘Made in Europe’ LP. Better still is his routine at the end of the otherwise torturously overlong “Spacetruckin’”. He destroys not one guitar, not two, but three …maybe four guitars! I lose track.
After narrowly avoiding the impalement of a fan (who miraculously catches a flying Fender launched with half neck; the rest of it still lodged in a TV camera lens shaft), he throws just about every conceivable piece of stage equipment into the audience. At one point, he runs out of amplifiers and is reduced to dragging/hurling a panel off the back of an amp, or maybe it’s a sheet of scrap metal. Now that’s metal.
Hey, here’s a little know fact for those less inclined to rent from BOTH Ramones and Emerson, Lake and Palmer DVDs: If you’re on the I-94 Bar site, I’m relatively sure how you’ll recall an absurd clip of Keith Emerson interjected into the Ramones’ ‘End of the Century’ bio disc, illustrating maximum ‘70s pomposity.
Hand it to the ELP boys to include a clip of the Ramones, too, in their expectedly grand ‘Beyond the Beginning’ multi-disc DVD package, as well. The cool part is that for this progfest, Sanctuary Music licensed a clip of the Ramones from their legendary ‘Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert’ ’77 appearance. (Hey, I saw it when it came out. Was that really 30 years ago? Of course not.)
Because it’s an ELP DVD, we are treated to a mere 30 seconds of “Loudmouth”, which is enough to make me wish one of the labels would get off their ass and license the entire Ramones/Kirschner appearance. For now, I’ll just have to make due with a few thousand other titles at my disposal courtesy of the folks at NetFlix.
It’s a bummer in the summer with the passing in recent weeks of Arthur Lee and Syd Barrett. Truth be told (or stretched, as it might be), the death that really hit home for me this year was the demise of Circus Magazine at age 40. Here’s a press release that was forwarded to me. I can’t validate its authenticity. In fact, I find it hard to believe that Circus has been around in the last 20 years. The magazine’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief since inception, Gerald Rothberg, issued this statement a few months back:
"To All Circus Mag Contributors: It is with sadness and a deep sense of loss that I must inform you that I've experienced great financial loss, which includes Circus Magazine. Over the last year, I've tried my best to hold on to Circus Mag, selling all my personal possessions, including my home, pumping the money into the mag. And I've lost all. I've held off contacting people because of the shame and humiliation I've experienced. I'm broke. I feel like Humpty Dumpty who had a great fall. Circus Magazine is in foreclosure. Will the magazine be resurrected? I don't know. If it will appear on the newsstands again, well find out. Let me say this now, I appreciate and I am grateful your contributions all these years and wish all my freelance contributors the best of health and success."
Circus was the classic dumb, glossy, full-cover newsstand fanzine for us teenage rock ‘n’ roll geeks. I was especially glued to it back in ’76. In retrospect, I’m not sure why. The first Circus I ever picked-up (“purchased” would be a stretch) was the issue dated March 2, 1976, with a cover feature on “best new talent” of that year. This included the likes of Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Marley; none of which I had ever heard on the radio. You could just tell they weren’t going to be exciting. After flipping through that issue (then and more recently, a few nights ago), it’s a wonder I didn’t go back to watching TV reruns full-time.
What I enjoyed very early on, and what finds me in my present predicament, was digging into the past. A friend in the neighborhood used his lunch money to order every back issue available from Circus. At that point (’77), they only went back to ’75. But I had a field day reading all those older issues, with article after article about Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and the Stones.
Through the years, I would always stumble across inexpensive to the point of impossible to turn down copies of even older issues of Circus. But after reading them, I always dumped ‘em; probably in the trash. Finally, around ’98, I stumbled into a used book store in Syracuse, NY and when I asked the proprietor if he had any old rock mags (I was looking for Creem and Rock Scene), he pointed me to a yet-to-be-priced MOUNTAIN of every ‘70s rock mag including Creem, Rock Scene and Circus. I bought the whole lot for $125. And that’s how after all these years, I know what the cover date was on the first Circus Magazine I ever “purchased”. If you’ve ever seen the MC5 cover issue of Circus (from ’69), you can attest to the mag definitely having its moments.
Speaking of print rock ’n’ roll, this past weekend, I received in the mail the latest issue of Ugly Things magazine. For the most part, this latest issue includes some fantastic writing and neat features. A tiny contribution from yours truly pales in comparison to most of the contents but I’ll tell you to check it out anyway. It’s the story of the recording session for Blue Cheer’s colossal ‘Vincebus Eruptum’, as told by the engineer who hated the band’s sound! If you’re a big Blue Cheer fan, you’ll definitely hate most of the opinions but should find it a fascinating or at least untold perspective. Visit ‘em at: www.ugly-things.com
- Jeff Jarema
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