Monthly Archives: December 2015

Rocks In The Attic #450: Motörhead – ‘Bomber’ (1979)

RITA#450.jpgYesterday, while out shopping with my parents and my eldest daughter, I heard the news that I never expected – Lemmy was no more, the King was dead. Only a couple of weeks after the death of drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor too. As indestructible as that other survivor Keith Richards, nobody expected Lemmy to die. He’s made of stronger stuff than us mere mortals surely?

I used to listen to a lot more Motörhead than I do today. I would listen to the Ace Of Spades album – their masterpiece – pretty much on repeat in my early teens, with No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith filling in the blanks. Tastes change though, and melody became more important than heaviness. That’s probably why Ace Of Spades was such a breakthrough – the songs are there, to the extent that it’s almost a pop album. You can hear that aspect of the band throughout their career – even on earlier albums such as Bomber. They could always play, and could write great songs, it’s just that they were in the right place at the right time with Ace Of Spades. It helped that America noticed too.

What now? Ozzy is still with us, tweeting “Lost one of my best friends, Lemmy, today. He will be sadly missed. He was a warrior and a legend. I will see you on the other side.” And of course Keith is still upright. Alice Cooper is still scaring people on stage. Lemmy was different though. As much as I love the likes of Ozzy, Keith and Alice, at night they go home to their plush mansions, and travel everywhere by private jet. Lemmy seemed to be the real deal – perhaps because Ace Of Spades was their only crossover success – and it was such a long time ago (thirty five years ago!), he’s never had the kind of acceptance those other rock n’ rollers have. No private jet for Lemmy – you’d be more likely to bump into him on the local bus.

One thing I saw Lemmy do creeped into my own guitar playing on stage. In 1994, Motörhead released a single to promote the movie Airheads. The song – Born To Raise Hell – was a retread of an older song that Lemmy had written for the German band Skew Siskin. The music video for the song, accompanied by clips of the film, featured footage of Motörhead playing the song live on stage – and just as it kicked off, one thing that Lemmy did always stayed with me. Following his mantra that everything should be played LOUD, he walked over to his bass amp and ran his hand over the top of his volume and gain controls from left to right, essentially turning everything up to maximum. I used to do this from time to time, much to the chagrin of sound engineers. God bless Lemmy.

RITA#450a
Sean Murphy, one of the members of my vinyl group on Facebook said it best: “Woke up to the news, another of our finest gone. R.I.P. It’s only 7:15am but the neighbours shall feel my grief.”

Hit: Bomber

Hidden Gem: Lawman

Advertisements

Rocks In The Attic #449: Toto – ‘Toto IV’ (1982)

RITA#449Africa has a permanent place in my favourite songs of all time. I’ve always liked it, but its inclusion on the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City secured its spot in my list of guilty pleasures. Another reason why it’s such a great song is this incredible rendition of it by Perpetuum Jazzile – a vocal group from Slovenia. How clever is that?

What other song rhymes the word ‘company’ with the word ‘serengeti’? It’s just ridiculous. They should have rhymed ‘spaghetti’ with ‘serengeti’ – although quite how they could have explained why they were eating pasta on an African safari is anybody’s guess.

I was lucky (?) enough to see a couple of songs from this record – Rosanna and Africa – performed by Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band in 2012. At the time, Steve Lukather was one of the guitarists in the extremely soft-rock tinged band (alongside Todd Rundgren, Richard Page from Mr. Mister and Gregg Rolie from Santana and Kansas). By Lukather’s own admission on the night, Toto amounted to “party music” – “Hey Auckland – who wants to hear some party music?!?!?” – and he was right. Of all the covers played by the band that night, the Toto songs – Rosanna and Africa, naturally – really got the crowd on their feet.

I imagine this record was massive when it was released in 1982. People would have bought it for the hit singles that bookend the album, but the rest of the songs are great. I Won’t Hold You Back was sampled by Roger Sanchez on his 2001 number one Another Chance, and Make Believe also has a GTA connection, being picked up for the Vice City Stories soundtrack.

However, it was another album released around this time that overshadowed Toto IV. Once the album was in the can, the band delayed touring so that they could play on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, creating a beast of a record and making Lukather one of the hottest players in the world.

Hit: Africa

Hidden Gem: It’s A Feeling

Rocks In The Attic #448: AC/DC – ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ (2000)

RITA#448.jpgI saw the mighty ‘DC the other night in Auckland, my third time seeing the band. As you would expect, it was exactly the same as every other time I’ve seen them – but to be fair there was enough different this time round for it still to be interesting.

The biggest difference was the line-up – due to ill health sadly forcing his retirement, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young has now been replaced by his nephew Stevie Young; and original drummer Phil Rudd, arrested recently for hiring a hitman to take out two men, was also out of the picture, replaced by the man he replaced back in the ‘90s, Chris Slade. The best joke I heard about Rudd’s arrest was that he was mistakenly overheard just saying that the band needed a couple of hits.

That was the thing I was most looking forward to with this concert – the return of Chris Slade, the drummer who drove the band through the Live At Donington concert film. As New Zealand music journalist Simon Sweetman has correctly pointed out, Phil Rudd could never play Thunderstruck correctly, there was always something missing. Slade played on the studio version of the song from the Razors Edge album, and his approach to the song takes it to another level, not least for those great side-bass drums he has positioned on either side of him.

RITA#448a
Seeing the band on stage without founding member Malcolm Young was heartbreaking. Malcolm has always been a rock on stage, standing in the shadows but always there holding the rhythm. The only positive outcome was that his position went to a family member (who looks so alike Malcolm that the casual onlooker probably wouldn’t even notice), and to complete the illusion Stevie even used Malcolm’s guitar – a Gretsch G6131 Jet Firebird with the neck and middle pickups removed.

The show wasn’t without its hitches – Brian Johnson missed his intro to Sin City (“Diamonds…”) and caught up with the second half of the line. The ego-ramp was really underused, with Angus and Brian only venturing out it in the final bunch of songs. There were a few sound issues early on, with Stevie’s guitar deadly quiet until they fixed it.  Angus’ guitar tone sounded a bit digitally enhanced – not something you want to hear from a guitarist so heavily associated with keeping it old-school. And the band didn’t play The Jack – the first song I learnt to play on the guitar – and as a result there was no slow blues played during the set.

But for all the cons, there was more than enough pros (a lot of the women in the audience looked like pros actually – lots of 40 year old faded blondes, with missing teeth, dressed as 20 year olds). They played two older songs, High Voltage and Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be (both from the Live At Donington set-list) which I was very happy to see. I’d never seen the band play Have A Drink On Me (from 1980’s Back In Black) lie before, and that was such a surprise and so unexpected, I initially thought Angus was playing the intro as some kind of blues throwaway snippet into another song. For the same reason, it was also great to see them play Shot Down In Flames – another deep cut off n album overshadowed by hit singles (in this case, 1979’s Highway To Hell).

Angus’ playing was still very fluid for a 60-year old, and there was no evidence of ‘locked-up fingers’ syndrome (that blighted Jimmy Page at Zeppelin’s O2 reunion show). And perhaps as a nod to his advancing age though, Angus didn’t do his momentum-stopping mid-set strip-tease, thankfully keeping his shirt on for the second half of the show. Rock N’ Roll Ain’t Eye Pollution and all that.

RITA#448b
The crowd was very interesting in fact. All ages were represented, the youngest child I saw couldn’t have been any older than six or seven, and while it wasn’t a completely 50/50 gender split, I’d estimate about 40% of the audience were chicks. There were some proper low-lifes there though. I expect if Auckland Police looked into it, there would have been a distinct drop in the number of burglaries reported on the night – all the no-mark bogans were wearing their best black t-shirts at the AC/DC show.

The set-list didn’t feature any songs from 1995’s Ballbreaker or 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, the record I’m supposed to be talking about here. Both albums are solid efforts and I’m surprised they didn’t play just one track from each. I guess they have to be vigilant with this though. Not every studio album can be represented – there are seventeen of them!

While I enjoyed Ballbreaker, leading me to see the band for the first time on that tour (supported by the Wildhearts no less), I prefer Stiff Upper Lip of the two. It’s a bluesier, low-key affair – but it didn’t do very well in terms of sales, selling half what Ballbreaker and its follow-up Black Ice did. I even skipped that tour, busy playing with my own band at the time.

I’m sure there’ll be another album though, in four or five years. And another tour hopefully. Here’s to the 2020 world tour!

Hit: Stiff Upper Lip

Hidden Gem: Hold Me Back

Rocks In The Attic #447: The Who – ‘A Quick One’ (1966)

RITA#447I think the first song I heard off this record was Boris The Spider, selected as the b-side to a mid-‘90s re-release of My Generation – used on a TV ad for ice cream if I remember correctly. That single led me to buy a CD compilation, which was more than enough Who for me at the time.

I’ve never been into bands where the vocalist isn’t the songwriter. I’m not sure why – it just feels a little bit fake. Strangely though, I don’t really notice it for some bands. Take the Kaiser Chiefs for example. As far as I know, original drummer Nick Hodgson was the primary lyricist for the band – yet I don’t really think anything less of them.

This album has two highlights for me – the studio version of A Quick One, While He’s Away, gloriously performed on the Live At Leeds album, and the band’s stunning cover of Heat Wave. I like to think that if I was in a band in the ‘60s, I would have pushed to do a cover of Heat Wave – it’s such a great song, with an eternally cool groove.

Hit: A Quick One, While He’s Away

Hidden Gem: Heat Wave

Rocks In The Attic #446: The Doobie Brothers – ‘Best Of The Doobies Volume 2’ (1981)

RITA#446Much like the first Best Of The Doobies album, this reminds me of a road trip across America when I was ten years old. The double-cassette of both albums that my Dad bought at a gas station was on repeat on the car stereo throughout that journey, and so this music is hardwired into my soul – it’s as American as fast food, diners, open highways and the hot backseat of a hired Pontiac.

I don’t think we listened to Volume 2 as much as the first one though. There’s definitely a drop-off in quality. Out goes Tom Johnston and rock n’ roll, and in comes Michael McDonald and a weird hybrid of rock n’ soul. In fact, to call it a drop off in quality is disingenuous to Tom Johnston. It’s a crevasse of a drop-off – we’re talking the heights of Everest to the depths of the deepest ocean trench. In fact, if you didn’t know the Doobies and you were played excerpts of both line-ups, you’d have trouble believing they were the same band. Chalk and cheese. Apples and oranges. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and the transatlantic Fleetwood Mac from 1975 onwards.

I’m still waiting for Volume 3

Hit: What A Fool Believes

Hidden Gem: Dependin’ On You

Rocks In The Attic #445: The Cars – ‘The Cars’ (1978)

RITA#445A debut from 1978, just like me! It’s hard to listen to the Cars these days without hearing their effect on that other incredible debut album from Weezer, which Cars’ vocalist Ric Ocasek produced in 1994. Just listen to that synth part in Just What I Needed – it’s Weezer’s Blue Album all over. In fact, you wouldn’t be too far from the truth to label Weezer as the Cars Mark II. Remove the crushing geekiness of Rivers Cuomo, and change the lyrics to something that girls would dance to, and you’ve got the Cars all over again.

Elliot Easton, the Cars’ lead guitarist once said “We used to joke that the first album should be called The Cars’ Greatest Hits”. He’s right – it’s that good. I have the Cars’ Greatest Hits record – and there’s not much in it between this debut and that compilation. In fact, this debut is a lot stronger than some bands’ greatest hits records. The Car’s Greatest Hits just has a few more mid-80s hits like Drive – the song that will forever be linked to that unforgettable video that Bowie introduced at Live Aid in 1985.

Hit: My Best Friend’s Girl

Hidden Gem: Bye Bye Love

Rocks In The Attic #444: Stone Temple Pilots – ‘Shangri-La Dee Da’ (2001)

RITA#444.jpgScott Weiland, vocalist for Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, was found dead on his tour bus a few days ago. Like most of his fans, I wasn’t surprised, just disappointed. When celebrities die young, there’s usually some aspect of shock, but Weiland – like Amy Winehouse some years ago – provoked no such response. Sadly, it always seemed to be very much a case of when, not if.

Stone Temple Pilots were easily my favourite American band of the ‘90s. I first fell in love with Vaseline and Interstate Love Song from their second, self-titled LP in 1994. Weiland’s baritone vocals and the band’s Zeppelin-esque brand of rock were a nice antidote to the ‘too punk to learn our instruments’ aesthetic that evolved out of the grunge movement. Their cover of Zeppelin’s Dancing Days from the Encomium tribute album sealed the deal. These were guys who had a love and respect for the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Once I’d digested the singles from that second album – known to all as Purple – I went back to check out their first record, 1992’s Core. I have a firm memory of standing at a bus-stop in the freezing cold on Boxing Day 1994, listening to the opening intro of Dead & Bloated on my Discman. Man, it’s a heavy album. Not the type of heaviness you’d hear at the time from the likes of Pantera and Sepultura, but a heaviness that was steeped in the radio-friendly sound of classic rock. The thing that distanced them from those post-Metallica bands was the empty spaces between the DeLeo brothers’ guitars and Eric Kretz’s drums. STP weren’t rushing anywhere; most of their songs were mid-tempo and Brendan O’Brien’s production focused just as much on the light as the shade.

Then it all started to go wrong. Third album Tiny Music…Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop was doomed from the start. Released without anyone taking a lot of notice, Weiland’s drug problems outshined the record despite killer singles in Big Bang Baby and especially Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart.

After album number three, I turned off. No. 4 and Shangri-La Dee Da were released in 1999 and 2001 and I didn’t even notice. I’ve only just bought them in the last year or so to complete my collection. I do regret not hearing them at the time, but I’d moved on.

In 2010 my ears pricked up again. After a lengthy hiatus while Weiland was the faux-Axl Rose in Velvet Revolver, Stone Temple Pilots reformed and recorded another self-titled album. I didn’t think much of the material – too much water had passed under the bridge – but the album spurned a tour which reached New Zealand.

cc.11/14.15

Scott Weiland 27/10/67 – 03/12/15

I couldn’t believe I was seeing one of my favourite bands play live. They had avoided touring overseas back in the ’90s, for the same reasons that Aerosmith stayed in the USA during the ‘70s – addicts will always want to stay close to their dealer and not risk carrying anything over borders. Here they were, playing all my favourite STP songs, and when they dropped Crackerman just a couple of songs into the set, I could have left right there and then, a happy man.

Like most, I was concerned at Weiland’s recent woeful attempt to sing one of STP’s better known songs, Vaseline, with his new band (a video comparing the performance to when he could really belt it out is just horrible to watch). But there were the danger signs right there. He didn’t look like he should have been out in public; let alone showcasing his new band on TV. I’ll prefer to remember him in his element, blasting out Plush at the 1993 MTV Movie Awards.

Hit: Days Of The Week

Hidden Gem: A Song For Sleeping