Tag Archives: Led Zeppelin

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.

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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 #753: Led Zeppelin – ‘In Through The Out Door’ (1979)

RITA#753I’ve just finished the new Led Zeppelin book, recently released to mark the band’s 50th anniversary. A coffee-table book the size of a small coffee-table, it features heaps of unseen photographs as it charts the bands from their early days at the end of the ‘60s to their reunion show at the O2 in 2007.

Put together with the same care and attention as the similarly monolithic Jimmy Page book from 2010, it’s good for a quick glance while you’re sat on the toilet, but I don’t know why anybody would stump up the cash required to buy these massive tomes. I borrowed both from my local library.

RITA#753aWell, I tried to borrow the recent one from my library, but was heavily delayed by the usual lack of common sense of civil servants. Having ordered the book months before it was released, I finally got an email notification that the book was now ready to collect. I looked at the date: didn’t the library close today for a month of renovations?

I fired an email back. ‘Where can I pick up the book from? Surely it wasn’t delivered to a closed library.’

‘The book was delivered to the library on Saturday’, came the reply.

‘But you didn’t email me until the following Monday, after the library had closed?’

‘Yes, the system only sends out those emails from Monday to Friday.’

I guess you get what you pay for. A month later, I finally got my hands on it, from the freshly carpeted library.

One thing the book made me do was to revisit In Through The Out Door, probably the Zeppelin album I listen to the least (alongside Coda). Both are well worth a listen, but fall extremely short of the high standards set by the rest of the band’s back catalogue.

I’ve always liked certain aspects of In Through The Out Door – the drone of In The Evening, the funk of South Bound Suarez, the 8-bit computer game music breakdown halfway through Carouselambra – but the classical feel of All My Love, and the overall keyboard-heavy instrumentation across the record make it almost indistinguishable from earlier Led Zeppelin. If studio album number eight sounded this different, I hate to imagine what their ninth would have been like, had the band not lost John Bonham.

RITA#753bOne thing I’ve always liked is the cover design. A sepia image of a man sat at a dusty bar, with a series of alternate covers depicting the viewpoints of the bar’s other patrons. And if that wasn’t oblique enough, the album was packaged with a paper bag as an outer sleeve. The inner sleeve also features a line drawing, which if wet with water would become permanently coloured; but I’ve never been brave enough to test this out on my original pressing.

I was such a Zeppelin fiend throughout my teens, I would have given my right arm to listen to some of the unreleased tracks and alternate versions that have subsequently come out over the last decade of reissues. I’ve only dipped my toe into them, as I fear they will be the final ‘new material’ we will get from the band, and I don’t want to consume them too quickly (in much the same way as I have an unwatched DVD of To Catch A Thief, the last of Hitchcocks’s golden period films I haven’t seen).

I’ll get around to all of those unreleased tracks one day. And weirdly, despite them being my least favourite albums by the band from their initial run, it’s the bonus stuff from In Through The Out Door and Coda that I look forward to hearing the most.

Hit: All My Love

Hidden Gem: Carouselambra

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Rocks In The Attic #695: Joe Cocker – ‘Cocker Happy’ (1971)

RITA#695Amongst its many highlights, Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock film contains a groundbreaking performance by Joe Cocker and the Grease Band. Cocker almost looks possessed as he tears through his version of the Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends. For a pained eight minutes, he looks like he’s about to die singing the song.

The studio recording of Cocker’s most famous Beatles cover, with more than a little help from session guitarist Jimmy Page, appears on this compilation, Cocker Happy. Released only in Spain, Australia and New Zealand, it features a number of singles and album tracks recorded between 1968 and 1970.

Watching that Woodstock performance, you’d be forgiven for thinking it would provide the springboard for a stellar career. But his subsequent solo career failed to match the intensity of these early hits. Twenty-two studio albums later, and he’s really most famous for the duet with Jennifer Warnes which soundtracked a dress-whites besuited Richard Gere in An Officer And A Gentleman.

He’s not the only English soul singer with such a lob-sided career. Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood and, to an extent, Van Morrison also failed to follow through on their early promises and went in unexpected directions. In a parallel universe, maybe Cocker could have been the singer in Led Zeppelin, and maybe Rod Stewart could have held on to Ron Wood and kept the Faces together.

Hit: With A Little Help From My Friends

Hidden Gem: Delta Lady

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Rocks In The Attic #684: Them Crooked Vultures – ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ (2009)

RITA#684In 2009, mainstream musical overachiever Dave Grohl teamed up with counterculture musical overachiever Josh Homme, and drafted in classic rock musical overachiever John Paul Jones for a new side-project called Them Crooked Vultures. Their sole output so far, was this, their debut record released in November 2009.

Musically, despite being written by all three principle members, it sounds more like a Josh Homme / Queens Of The Stone Age record than anything by the Foo Fighters or Led Zeppelin. It’s as heavy as anything by QOTSA, and almost gets to Kyuss levels of heaviness on the break in No One Loves Me & Neither Do I. Not surprisingly, it was that doom-laden groove that was used to promote the record when it came out.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that prior to Dave Grohl’s role as the beardy spokesperson of 21st century rock and roll, he was a drummer in a moderately successful Pacific North West punk band. In those days, despite being a gangly youth, he was still a heavy hitter on the drums. Twenty years, one beard and many check shirts later, he’s a much heavier hitter. When I saw the band promote this record in Auckland, Grohl broke a stick from hitting the snare too hard (and I didn’t see that feat happen again until last week, a decade later, by fellow heavy-hitter Ronnie Vannucci Jr. at the Killers’ Auckland show).

John Paul Jones really makes himself heard on a funky clavinet line on Scumbag Blues, and a delicate piano intro on Spinning In Daffodils, but apart from that it’s a pretty straightforward guitar-bass-drums, QOTSA-esque rock record. They’ve hinted at the fact that they might record again, and I really hope that if they do, they feature a bit more of a varied instrumentation and maybe Dave Grohl singing some lead vocals (or at least more prominent backing vocals).

Clocking in at an hour and six minutes, it’s a needlessly long record and I remember that I was quite bored by the end of their Auckland show. I could listen to that groove from No One Loves Me & Neither Do I for about two hours straight though…

Hit: New Fang

Hidden Gem: No One Loves Me & Neither Do I

Rocks In The Attic #640: Otis Rush – ‘The Classic Recordings’ (1985)

RITA#640The great Chicago bluesman Otis Rush will forever be remembered as the man who wrote All Your Love, his eighth A-side, featured here as the first song on this compilation. The song later found a wider audience by introducing the world to Eric Clapton by way of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers record in 1966 – however it was Aerosmith’s cover, from 1991’s Pandora’s Box collection of outtakes and demos, which first turned me onto the song.

Otis Rush is also synonymous with Led Zeppelin. He was the first artist to record I Can’t Quit You Baby, written by Willie Dixon and later covered by Zeppelin on their eponymous 1969 debut record and featured twice on their BBC Sessions collection.

Rush was discovered by Dixon in 1956, and it is Dixon who is credited for getting Rush signed to a record contract (with Abco Records). Dixon plays bass across each of the eight singles (A- and B-sides) which make up this record, backing Rush on vocals and guitar (a young Ike Turner even pops up on guitar on the last two singles).

The quirk of Otis Rush is that he is left-handed, but plays right-handed strung guitars flipped upside down (with the low E string at the bottom). Now that’s the kind of left-handed guitar player us right-handers need to be friends with!

Hit: All Your Love

Hidden Gem: Sit Down Baby

Rocks In The Attic #593: Jimmy Page – ‘Death Wish II’ (1982)

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Meet Paul Kersey. He’s a New York City architect with very bad luck. One day his wife and daughter are followed home from the grocery store by Jeff Goldblum and his pals. Perhaps frustrated by the continual struggles of being a jobbing actor, Goldblum’s goons beat up Kersey’s wife and have a bit of a grope with his daughter before they’re scared off.

Kersey arrives at the hospital to find his wife has died in surgery, and his daughter in a catatonic state. He buries himself in his work and takes a business trip to Arizona, where a colleague gives him a gift to take home in RITA#593chis luggage. On his return, Kersey opens the gift box to discover a revolver. Instead of filing a lawsuit against the airline for negligent baggage checks, he takes to the streets as a vigilante.

By cover of darkness, and soundtracked by some funky Herbie Hancock beats, Kersey traps would-be muggers into making a move on him before he guns them down. After he kills RITA#593aaa number of hoodlums, patrolman Nigel Tufnel covers up his arrest and Kersey is exiled to Chicago where he immediately identifies his next victims by pretending to shoot them in front of his new supplier. What a moron!

Death Wish II finds Kersey now living in Los Angeles with his daughter. This time around, it’s Lawrence Fishburne who numbers among those who gang-rape Kersey’s maid and kidnap his daughter. After she is raped, Kersey’s RITA#593ddaughters attempts to escape by jumping through a glass window where she falls onto a steel railing and dies.

Kersey doesn’t take the news so well. Instead, he takes to the streets again, this time soundtracked by a fresh-out-of-Zeppelin Jimmy Page, where he hunts down his daughter’s killers one by one. At the end of the film, Kersey’s girlfriend leaves him when she discovers he’s a vigilante. Women!

RITA#593eThe first victims of Death Wish 3 are the roman numerals of the title, as we open back in New York City where Kersey is visiting his old Army buddy. As Kersey takes a taxi from the train station to his friend’s apartment, a gang of thugs including Alex Winter (Bill from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) murder his friend.

Kersey becomes the local Neighbourhood Watch, soundtracked by rehashed Jimmy Page music from Death Wish II, and starts picking off gang members. The most ludicrous point of the whole film series comes when an attractive Public Defender, Kathryn Davis, asks him out for dinner. I’m not sure what sold her on Kersey – the fact that he’s thirty two years older than her, or the fact that he’s living illegally in the middle of a slum apartment block, with no visible signs of income – but he takes her up on the offer.

The romance doesn’t last long before old Paul ‘Unlucky In Love’ Kersey watches her perish in a fiery car accident. I expect that the upcoming Death Wish remake starring Bruce Willis will be a grim romantic comedy set in the world of Tinder, where women who swipe-right for Brucie accidentally die on their first date.

The end of the film features a long, boring gun battle between Kersey’s elderly clique and the criminals who are terrorising their neighbourhood. Ever the master of subtlety, Kersey uses an elephant gun, a machine gun, and ultimately blows the last remaining gang member through a window with a rocket launcher.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is the first film in the series not to be directed by Michael Winner, who left the franchise to spend his retirement eating Steak Tartare. This time around, Kersey is back in Los Angeles living with a fashion designer and her teenage daughter. Uh-oh. A blind man could see it coming…

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When Kersey’s surrogate daughter dies from a drug overdose, he goes after the L.A. drug dealers who supplied her.  This time Danny Trejo is a member of the organisation responsible, until Kersey kills him with an exploding wine bottle. Yes, you read that correctly, an exploding wine bottle. In a bold move that can be praised for its ingenuity as well as its ridiculousness, Kersey pretends to be a wine salesman, giving his sales pitch to the bartender before offering a free bottle to his targets. In one of cinema’s greatest moments of special effects work, a dummy (seemingly constructed by an autistic child to look like Danny Trejo) is then shown exploding. Ka-boom!

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There’s another great moment in the film when Kersey is pulled over on a city street by a police car. As Kersey’s car slows to a halt, the residents of the first floor apartment block in the background walk up to the window to have a good look outside at the great Charles Bronson filming in their neighbourhood. I mean, who wouldn’t?

In 1988, John McTiernan’s Die Hard gave us the unforgettable image of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber falling to his death from high up in Nakatomi Tower. After Rickman’s close-up, the long-shot was filmed by a stunt man, who falls backwards, cycling his arms and legs as he plummets to the street below. It’s reassuring to know that a year earlier, the makers of Death Wish 4 did the same stunt the old-fashioned way by throwing a mannequin out of a tower-block window.

With some more great dummy work – when you pause the DVD, you can even see the wire taking the charge up to the explosive – Kersey dispatches the villain of the film this time with a grenade launcher. At this rate, he’ll be using nuclear weapons by the time Death Wish 10 rolls around.

The final film in the series, Death Wish V: The Return Of The Roman Numerals, returns the action to a fabricated New York, filmed on location in Toronto. Unfortunately there’s no before-they-were-famous Hollywood actor doing the antagonising at the start of the film, unless you count the recently departed Michael Parks – Tarantino’s favourite character actor – who plays the film’s lead villain.

The setting for this one is the shady world of the fashion industry, but who cares anymore. It could be set in Antartica and Kersey would still be blowing Eskimos away for looking the wrong way at his girlfriend. This time his fiancé is facially disfigured by a criminal, and later gunned down, so Kersey dusts off his gun collection and goes on the warpath.

Progressing from the explosive wine bottle, the most bizarre death this time around occurs when Kersey uses a remote control football – no, really – to deliver an explosive charge to one of his targets. Again, there’s some shockingly-bad-it’s-almost-good dummy work if you pause the action just after the victim picks up the football.

Death Wish V’s main villain dies by falling into an acid bath, and Kersey walks away, never to be seen again. Well, unless you count the Simpsons:
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Jay Sherman: I’m your host, Jay Sherman, thank you. Tonight we review an aging Charles Bronson in Death Wish 9

Bronson: Ugh, I wish I was dead.

Hit: Who’s To Blame

Hidden Gem: Jam Sandwich

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Rocks In The Attic #585: Genesis – ‘Nursery Cryme’ (1971)

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Thanks to a recommendation from comedian Josh Widdicombe, I’ve just finished watching Brian Pern – A Life In Rock, a BBC mock/rockumentary starring The Fast Show’s Simon Day. Over three three-episode series, the show tells the story of a Peter Gabriel-like character (Day) and his Genesis-like band, Thotch, all framed in the context of rock and roll history from the 1960s onwards.

As with This Is Spinal Tap, and every over mock/rockumentary since, the power of Brian Pern – A Life In Rock comes from affectionately poking fun at real people and real events. In a great scene-setting opening, Pern egotistically claims a number of ridiculous accomplishments: ‘I invented world music. I was the first musician to use plasticine in videos. The first musician to record with animals. My last album had the lowest bass line ever recorded. And long before Bob Geldof and Bono, I was staging charity concerts and writing songs to raise awareness for the helpless and hopeless.’ This then segues into one of the very well done pieces of “archive” footage, with Pern singing one of his hard-hitting message songs: ‘Why no black folk in Jersey? / Why no black folk in Sark? / Why no black folk in Guernsey? / Are they having a lark?’

One of my favourite recurring jokes in the show is the deliberating mislabelling of real-life musicians and entertainers who contribute in talking head clips. For example, in the first episode Queen’s Roger Taylor is labelled as ‘Roger Taylor – Duran Duran’ – a subtle joke on the fact that Duran Duran’s original drummer was also called Roger Taylor (alongside two other unrelated Taylors in the same band). It’s something that a young BBC researcher potentially could get wrong – and that’s where the humour lies. The joke is oft-repeated – Roger Moore is introduced as ‘George Lazenby’, Rick Parfitt as ‘Francis Rossi’, etc – but it never gets old.

It’s a credit to these celebrities that they obviously don’t mind being taken fun of. Even Peter Gabriel appears from time to time, as a villainous double of the titular character. ‘It made me laugh a lot…’ he has said of the show. ‘…even though it was at my expense. I love to laugh. Spike Milligan was a hero to me and I was a big Fast Show fan, but I’m not sure that part of me comes across when I bore people about politics and social stuff. People can’t always see who you really are.’

My other favourite moment of the show was the partly fabricated tale of Phil Collins drumming with Led Zeppelin at 1985’s Live Aid. In real life, Collins performed at the British leg of Live Aid before hopping onto Concorde and drumming with Zeppelin at the American leg. Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page blamed his band’s sluggish performance on Collins – claiming that the jet-lag suffered from his trans-Atlantic journey resulted in bad timekeeping during Stairway To Heaven (hmm, I’m not sure that Jimmy Page really understands jet-lag). In the Brian Pern version of events, an in-on-the-joke Phil Collins references Page’s allegation, before a clip of Collins drumming along to Stairway To Heaven in Philadelphia is tweaked to sound like he keeps bringing in the drum fill from In The Air Tonight at all the wrong moments.

Nursery Cryme is Genesis’ third studio album, and serves as another reminder to me that I’m just not a prog guy, particularly if the prog is rooted in English folk (Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes) rather than the more electric, pysch/blues-inflected prog of a band like Pink Floyd.

Hit: Seven Stones

Hidden Gem: The Musical Box