Tag Archives: Black Sabbath

Rocks In The Attic #830: Silverchair – ‘Frogstomp’ (1995)

RITA#830Definitely an album from my youth. I was 17 when I saw Silverchair on this tour at Manchester University’s Student’s Union. Was I jealous? Of course, I was. Here were three 15-year old Australians, touring the world as a rock band, albeit chaperoned by their parents.

It’s even more incredible to find out that this record was recorded in 9 days. Produced by Kevin Shirley, who would go on to record much bigger things (one of his next jobs was co-producing Aerosmith’s Nine Lives), it’s twelve songs of teen-angst doom rock, put through a grunge filter. Back Sabbath via Pearl Jam.

One of the songwriting strengths of frontman Daniel John and drummer Ben Gillies is they don’t fall back on a great riff and stretch it out to a verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus formula. Their songs have multiple sections where new riffs and grooves are introduced out of the blue.

RITA#830aYou can listen to a song like Faultline and think you understand where it’s going, but then a different section starts at 2:50. Okay, you think, they’ll just stay on this jam until the end of the song. And then it changes again at 3:25. It’s something that you can spot in early Sabbath, Deep Purple and Metallica; a progressive rock approach to heavy metal.

A year after this album’s release, when the band were still only 16 years old, one of their songs, the album’s opener Israel’s Son, was used as the scapegoat defence by the lawyer of two American teenagers found guilty of shooting one of their sets of parents and a younger brother. Obviously, it wasn’t the first time rock music has been blamed for acts of senseless violence and destruction, and it won’t be the last. Lawyers have just stopped playing albums backwards to look for blame.

This release is a nice 2019 reissue by Simply Vinyl on double frog-green vinyl, including an etched D-side (of the frog) and limited to 5,000 copies. Simply Vinyl might be one of my favourite reissue labels. This record is only 44 minutes long and could easily have fit on two sides of wax, but I’m glad they gave it some space to breathe across three sides.

I tried and tried to unlock the band’s follow-up, Freak Show (1997), but it didn’t grab me the same way, and by Neon Ballroom (1999) I had left the party.

Hit: Tomorrow

Hidden Gem: Madman

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Rocks In The Attic #800: Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’ (1970)

RITA#800Post number 800 of this humble blog finds us with one of the greatest albums in rock and metal, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

It’s one of those cornerstone records, like AC/DC’s Highway To Hell or Led Zeppelin IV, which just feels bigger than the sum of its parts. If the Beatles’ 1969 swansong Abbey Road served as the blueprint for rock albums for the 1970s, then Black Sabbath’s celebrated second album surely served as the heavy metal equivalent. The musical leap from Come Together to War Pigs feels like light years, but the two album openers were released only 12 months apart.

Released in the same year as their doom-laden debut album, Paranoid arrived in September 1970 on the Vertigo label in the UK (and Warner Bros. in the US market). The record company, satisfied with the band’s debut, asked for more of the same. Black Sabbath was recorded in one day, a marathon sprint of twelve hours, but for Paranoid the band were afforded the luxury of a whole six days to record.

Black Sabbath File Photos
Much has been written about hit-single Paranoid being written in five minutes, tossed off to make up one last song for the album. Bassist Geezer Butler claims it was done and dusted in two hours, from the moment Tony Iommi came up with the monster guitar riff, to the band laying down the track to finish off the album. But as good as the song is, its oversaturation on rock radio makes it one of the least interesting things about the record.

Things start off with War Pigs, the quintessential long-form metal song. A languorous opening and ominous sirens announce something big is on the horizon, before the song stops dead. Bill Ward’s hi-hat counts in Iommi’s stabbing power chords, as Ozzy Osbourne sings the opening verse. This leads to the main riff, before it breaks down again. Clocking in at almost eight minutes, the song doesn’t ever get boring.

Black Sabbath File Photos

After the comparatively throwaway title track, the band slips into neutral on the stoner favourite Planet Caravan, before picking up speed again on the album’s other big guitar centrepiece, Iron Man. Across those first four songs, Iommi provides some of the genre’s greatest guitar riffs – War Pigs alone has half a dozen different sections – and it makes for the best ‘side’ of metal until perhaps the second-side of AC/DC’s Back In Black or the first side of Def Leppard’s Hysteria (both of which would have been categorised as metal before history downgraded them to heavy rock).

RITA#800cSilverchair’s debut Frogstomp from 1995 is a good example of a Sabbath-influenced metal album that matches the riffs-per-song ratio of Paranoid. But for the rest of the band’s career, Iommi would be a little less generous with his riffs. Paranoid’s less celebrated second side is therefore more representative of the albums that followed: moderate-tempo doom-based rockers with screaming banshee vocals, usually based around one or two killer riffs per song.

Paranoid was the first Sabbath album I heard, and so it was my gateway into the band. After digesting everything I could from Aerosmith and AC/DC, I skipped the Allman Brothers and shifted to the ‘B’ section of the record shop. But like AC/DC’s albums, I was always a little let down by Sabbath’s mid-90s CD remasters. Aerosmith’s CD remasters had great little fold-out booklets with photos and artwork from the albums’ promotional campaigns. In comparison, AC/DC, Sabbath and Motörhead had nothing in their reissues – usually just a tracklisting. I’d have loved an essay, or some retrospective liner notes, but maybe record companies don’t think heavy metal fans can read?

Hit: Paranoid

Hidden Gem: Planet Caravan

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Rocks In The Attic #793: The Beatles – ‘Abbey Road (3LP Anniversary Edition)’ (1969/2019)

RITA#793Christmas continues to come twice a year for fans of the Fab Four, with 2019’s banner Beatles release. 50 years and a day after its original release on 26th September 1969, Abbey Road  has been given the same makeover afforded to last year’s White Album anniversary set.

Packaged in a similar sized box to the White Album / Esher Demos package, the set is comprised of the new 2019 mix by Giles Martin (with credit given to mix engineer Sam Okell on the hype sticker) in its own sleeve, two LPs of outtakes from the sessions presented in an ‘alternate’ cover sleeve, and a four-panel booklet of liner notes, featuring forewords by Paul McCartney and Giles Martin.

It’s a wonderful package down to the smallest details. The blue font used on the hype sticker and in the ‘3LP Anniversary Edition’ labelling on the side of the box echoes the blue sky that takes up the negative space on the album’s world-famous cover shot. Or is it the blue of the dress worn by the girl blurrily walking out of shot on the rear cover? Maybe it’s just the same blue as gravedigger George’s double-denim?
RITA#793aAs with the White Album’s 2018 mix, the 2019 mix of Abbey Road is intimately revealing. Casual listeners probably won’t be able to spot the changes, but if you grew up listening to the album on headphones during your formative years, the differences are massive. Following on from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin’s remastering campaigns in recent years, the key words here are clarity and presence. It isn’t merely a money-grab release by simply making things LOUDER, although I’m sure the EMI accountants will all be in line for a sizable end-of-year bonus. Thankfully, Giles Martin and team have done more than just ‘make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder.’

John’s vocal on the first stop in Come Together – ‘got to be a joker, he just do what he please’ – reveals the first tweak. You can hear him bite down – or hold back? – on that last word even harder than before. George’s jangly guitar on Octopus’s Garden is even janglier, strengthening the song’s Country credentials. And Ringo’s fills, particularly on The End, have more weight in them. ‘The sound was the result of having new calfskin drum heads,’ Ringo explains in Kevin Howlett’s liner notes. ‘There’s a lot of tom-tom work on that record. I got the new heads and I naturally used them a lot – they were so great.’

The biggest change in the remix however is in the bottom end. Paul’s bass is pushed further into the front of this mix – if such a thing is possible given how front and centre it already was in the original 1969 mix. This is a good thing; the bass playing throughout the album represents the peak of McCartney’s playing, and his fluid, walking basslines are one of the album’s key ingredients.

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In terms of bonus content, it feels like a missed opportunity that Martin Jr. wasn’t tasked to produce a mono mix of the album. With the White Album being the last Beatles record to enjoy a mono mix upon release, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be have only been available in stereo, the decade’s eventual winning format (even though Martin Sr. and team were still mixing the singles in mono in 1969, with Get Back appearing in April of that year as the band’s final mono single in the UK). If mono mixes of Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be don’t already exist somewhere in the archive, even as reference mixes, then it seems a missed opportunity to not hand this challenge to Martin The Younger. Of course, nobody really needs a mono mix of these albums, but given his achievements, from 2006’s Love soundtrack album of the Cirque du Soleil show, to the remixes of Pepper, the White Album and now Abbey Road, he’s the perfect candidate to do something a little different sonically to compliment the respective stereo mixes.

What we do get as extras are still brilliant: twenty-three tracks of demos, outtakes and orchestral instrumentals. As with the outtakes in last year’s White Album set, some have seen the light of day in one form or another across the Anthology project, but the vast majority have been officially unreleased until now.

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The studio chatter preceding the first track – a run-through of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) at Trident studios – offers a glimpse at the joys that lie ahead:

“Is it possible, without affecting yourselves too much, to turn down a little?” somebody politely asks in the background, off-mic. “Apparently there’s been a complaint.”

“From who?” asks John.

“Somebody outside the building,” comes the reply.

“Well, what are they doing here at this time of night? What guy?” fires back a frustrated John.

Several voices debate for a few seconds. In the background, Paul says ‘It’s his own fault for getting a house in such a lousy district!’

John then comes back on the microphone. “Well, we’ll try it once more very loud, and if we don’t get it, we’ll try it quiet….Last chance to be loud!”

As much as I love hearing the alternate versions of these fifty-year old songs, it’s the banter in the studio that’s just as revealing. As we’ve heard before, Paul is always the most playful in the studio. At the beginning of a take of You Never Give Me Your Money, a croaky Paul – at exactly half-past-two, he tells us, presumably in the A.M. – sings ‘You never give me your coffee.’ At the start of the first take of Golden Slumbers, he changes the piano chord from minor to major (specifically from Am7 to D6), singing ‘Day after day…’, the opening line of The Fool On The Hill, before stopping abruptly to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s annoying when the later, solo-years McCartney peppers his releases with this kind of studio tomfoolery. Listening to him larking about as a grown-up feels akin to tolerating a precocious child. Here, as a fresh-faced 27-year old, he’s just endearing.

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As for the album itself, fifty years young, for me it represents their artistic peak. It’s always been in my top 3 Beatles albums, and contests that top spot on an almost daily basis with Revolver and the White Album. It has such a magical vibe, and seems to be full to the brim with positivity. Even John’s default songwriting setting – pessimist – doesn’t seem to derail the proceedings.

Speaking of which, forget other contenders (The Who, The Byrds, and the Beatles’ own Helter Skelter) for the first heavy, heavy sound. Surely the roots of heavy metal can be traced back to John’s doom-laden arpeggios in I Want You (She’s So Heavy). It’s surely the song that feels it’s opening the door for Black Sabbath’s debut just five months later. Lennon and Harrison’s use of arpeggios thoughout their Beatles career – from songs as varied as And I Love Her to Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – feel like one of least celebrated aspects of their musicianship. Mark Lewisohn, in the first volume of his Beatles mega-biography, goes to great pains to point out that it was the band’s vocal harmonies that made them stand out from their contemporaries in their early years. I hope Lewisohn will give the band as much credit for their intricate rhythm guitar lines, in the eagerly anticipated next volume of his biography (currently due in 2020).

Abbey Road also represents the songwriting peak of George Harrison, with two of the album’s songs penned by him. It’s a peak that would last at least as long as his debut record, arguably longer, but there’s no debate that in terms of maturity, both Something and Here Comes The Sun are miles ahead of anything he submitted to the White Album or the Let It Be sessions.

Those calfskin toms on Ringo’s drums get the spotlight at the end of the record, with the break leading into The End serving as a brilliantly held-back bit of drumming. Some might see it as a half-hearted drum-solo, but Ringo’s subtlety and less-is-more ethos, as always, works wonders.

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More than anything, it sounds like McCartney’s enthusiasm – the driving force of the band since the death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967 – has led the band to this point, from movie-making and the aborted attempts to get back to their roots as a performing band, to getting together to record again with George Martin. The studio banter on the sessions discs sound as good natured as the biographies would have us believe all these years, and there doesn’t sound to be any kind of tension from the business affairs that were looming in the background.

The album’s very special to me for one specific reason. Once, during my teens, I was on a holiday over Christmas in the snowy highlands of Scotland. My parents fell sick with food poisoning for a few days, and so I was left to my own company. Out of boredom one day, I decided to walk to the next village and back – a 6-mile round trip, through heavy snow. I took off, with the last Beatles album to be unlocked in my brain – Abbey Road – sitting in my portable CD player. I probably listened to the album 6 or 7 times, back to back, as I made my way through the snow. Those magical elements to the album seemed to be heightened in the landscape and even now I associate it with that hike from Newtonmore to Kingussie and back. In terms of location, it’s not a million miles away from the Mull Of Kintyre, where McCartney might have been wintering with Linda at the time, and so the connection feels just right.

Hit: Here Comes The Sun

Hidden Gem: Goodbye (Home Demo)

Rocks In The Attic #666: Black Sabbath – ‘Black Sabbath’ (1970)

RITA#666Six hundred and sixty six – the number of the beast. Not to be confused with six hundred and sixty eight – the neighbour of the beast.

Back in 2012, I missed out on a Black Sabbath vinyl box set – the first eight studio albums housed in a lovely black and purple sleeve. I couldn’t afford it at the time – what with buying a house and having children to feed. It quickly went out of print, and now changes hands for silly money online. Another box set collection will be released eventually, I thought. I avoided buying the individual albums – both brand new and second hand – like the black death.

Six years later, and a new Black Sabbath vinyl box set has finally landed. It’s called The Ten Year War box set, presumably named after their militancy against Birmingham barber shops in the 1970s. The set is essentially the same as the 2012 release, featuring the first eight studio records plus a couple of 7” records and some associated stuff (posters, tour programmes, a brochure and a hardback book).

RITA#666bThe strangest thing about this new release though is the addition of a USB stick featuring digital high-definition audio copies of each of the records. The USB drive is shaped as – you guessed it – a black crucifix. This is presumably handy at a midnight black mass, when the ominous sound of chanting gets a bit repetitive. Just halt the proceedings – spare the sacrificial virgin for a couple of extra minutes – while you plug in the USB, tell everybody to wait until you download the correct codec for your media player, and resume to the tune of Vol. 4’s Snowblind.

I’m not sure if it justifies the NZ$400 price tag though. Even in the recent 20%-off sale at JB HiFi, that brings it down to NZ$320. Eight records at forty bucks a pop – that’s the price of a standard new release. Aren’t bulk purchases supposed to offer a discount to the buyer?

RITA#666cThe box set’s unique selling point, as far as I’m concerned, is that the eight LPs are all pressed onto splatter vinyl. These look fantastic, but not worth that additional cost. I figured out I can buy 2015 reissues of each of the eight records individually – on boring, standard black vinyl – at twenty bucks a pop in the same sale.

So I did. The Sabbath drought is over!

Black Sabbath is about as strong a debut rock record as you could hope for. It’s the most interesting of the Ozzy Osbourne records, if only for the fact that it includes some ‘lighter’ material that would never see the light of day on later records. Due to this, it’s a lot more fun than the band’s output in the latter half of the decade. There’s a touch of blues on this record – a harmonica even makes an appearance! – something they would avoid on subsequent releases to focus more of the heavy metal dirge of doom that made them a household name.

Hit: Black Sabbath

Hidden Gem: The Wizard

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Rocks In The Attic #571: Soundgarden – ‘Badmotorfinger’ (1991)

rita571I think I remember the first time I ever heard Jesus Christ Pose. Who wouldn’t? It was a B-side on the single to Black Hole Sun; a live version from South Dakota. Boom – what a song. Just white noise and a screaming vocal. What the hell are these guys smoking?

Then I found the album somewhere. Maybe Jesus Christ Pose is the only good song on the album, I thought? Pah! First track – Rusty Cage. Oomph! Then Outshined – what a groove!

Soundgarden are from Seattle – so the obvious thing at the time was to lump them in with the grunge movement of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But that grunge label was really just a lazy way to pigeon-hole a bunch of bands together that didn’t really share anything except geography. Where Nirvana was just a punk band, and Pearl Jam was a classic rock band with an overproduced debut album, Soundgarden’s sound was straight ahead metal – a heavy, sludgy, American answer to Black Sabbath, with a scream to match.

Badmotorfinger is album number three for Soundgarden, and their last one before they crossed over into the mainstream and onto MTV with 1994’s Superunknown. It’s also the first Soundgarden record to feature Ben Shepherd on bass, who replaced Jason Everman following the Louder Than Love tour.

Jason Everman – the man that grunge forgot – is an interesting character. First, he was credited as the second guitarist on Nirvana’s debut Bleach, despite not playing on the record (Kurt Cobain provided the credit to thank Everman for stumping the $606.17 it cost to record the album) and being ejected from the band shortly after. He joined Soundgarden for the Louder Than Love tour, before leaving straight after – and effectively missing out on the band’s advancing career. In 1994, just as grunge was imploding on MTV, Everman joined the U.S. Army, and completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a nice nod to their former member, Nirvana invited Everman along to their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2014.

Hit: Jesus Christ Pose

Hidden Gem: Mind Riot

Rocks In The Attic #405: Deep Purple – ‘Deepest Purple’ (1980)

RITA#405One of the good things about Deep Purple is their almost prog-ish approach to heavy metal – six minutes of a track like Highway Star is the norm, rather than the exception. It also works against them, because when Warner Brothers / Harvest decide to release a compilation of the band’s hits, there’s a difficult decision to be made: either release an awesome – loud! – double LP, or take the easy way out, and employ noise reduction techniques to cram all of the songs on one disc.

So it’s a shame that this album runs at sixty four minutes, and sounds quiet as hell – not what you need when listening to Purple. Yes, you can turn it up, but it’s not the same, is it? I’ve fallen out with bands who’ve done this to their fans – Manic Street Preachers’ Know Your Enemy being one horrible, seventy five minute example – so it’s not something I can easily overlook. Cheap bastards!

Every home should own a Deep Purple record – whether it be a studio album (Machine Head is the obvious choice) or a compilation – just as they should own something by Zeppelin and Sabbath. The three together really are the holy trinity of heavy metal. But of the three, Purple are probably the band that gets the least amount of press – possibly because Ritchie Blackmore is just such a raving oddball, and doesn’t exactly do wonders for his band’s legacy. That Mark II line-up of Purple should be as celebrated as similar bands where there’s no weak link among the players in the spotlight, or across the back line. Instead, they come across as a poor cousin of metal’s founding fathers – just plain wrong.

Hit: Smoke On The Water

Hidden Gem: Burn

Rocks In The Attic #300: Various Artists – ‘Dazed And Confused (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#300Rocks In The Attic turns 300!

Not only a great film, Richard Linklater’s Dazed And Confused also has a killer soundtrack – probably the one soundtrack that has had the greatest influence on the rest of my record collection. I’ve waited a long to get this on vinyl, and finally on Record Store Day this year it was released to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary. I had to get it shipped over from the USA by my local record store, but it was worth the wait. It’s a double vinyl, and – to borrow a line from the film, “…it’s green too!”

I first heard about Dazed And Confused on my daily walk to school when I was 15. My good friend Ant used to do the same walk – through the fields behind my parents’ house that are no longer fields (they’re a housing estate), past the Elk mill that’s no longer a mill (it was demolished to make way for a retail centre) – and onto Clayton playing fields towards North Chadderton school.

On these walks, Ant would tell me about stuff he’d picked up from his brother. I owe my love of Bill Hicks to Ant and his brother – and I also owe my love of Dazed And Confused to them. Ant probably lent me their VHS copy of the film, but it wouldn’t be long until I acquired my own copy, and played it many, many time over the next few years into my late teens. I’d take this film to University with me, and turn lots of my friends onto it over the years.

On paper, Dazed And Confused doesn’t sound very interesting. It’s the story of high-school kids in Texas on their last day of school, but nothing really happens. There’s very little plot – just a lot of good music and more of a feeling about the time and place rather than any tangible storyline. But that’s probably true of a lot of youth films – Quadrophenia, The Breakfast Club, American Graffiti, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc.

Other than the killer soundtrack, the film also boasts an impressive cast of actors before they hit the big time – Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Renée Zellweger, Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg all pop up in small but memorable roles.

But let’s talk about the music. I must have bought the soundtrack on CD as soon as I saw it, and it became the soundtrack to my summer of 1995. It’s fourteen tracks of rock music – some of which was already familiar to me – Sabbath’s Paranoid, ZZ Top’s Tush, Alice Cooper’s School’s Out – but it introduced me to a whole lot more.

For me, the soundtrack acted as a sampler – it turned me onto Ted Nugent’s first solo album, Skynyrd’s debut album and deepened my love of early ZZ Top. The second iteration of the soundtrack – Even More Dazed And Confused – even showed me that it’s okay to like Frampton Comes Alive!.

In fact, I love that second CD as much as the first. I remember being at a party at Palatine Road in Manchester and using Moo’s knowledge of Bob Dylan to collectively figure out why two of the film’s songs wasn’t included on either CD – Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion and Dylan’s Hurricane are both on the Columbia record label, so there must have been some conflict of interest with The Medicine Label who brought out the soundtrack albums.

It’s almost criminal that the Aerosmith track isn’t included on the soundtrack – it’s the song that opens the film! I hear this was a last minute substitution though, after Robert Plant wouldn’t allow Linklater to use the Zeppelin song of the film’s name over those opening credits. Perhaps they just didn’t have time to think about whether they’d be able to clear Sweet Emotion for the soundtrack album.

There are a lot of hidden gems on this album. For one, the slow-burn of Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold reminds me of cruising around in a pale yellow Nissan Stanza with Stotty and Bez on Friday and Saturday nights. Good times!

Hit: Slow Ride – Foghat

Hidden Gem: Low Rider – War