Long before there was AC/DC or Krokus or Guns n’ Roses, there was a band from Scotland that established the sound of heavy blues riffs topped by a raspy, full-throated singer. That band was Nazareth.
Founded in 1968 with their first album in 1971, they came on the music scene about the same time that the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart formed, but were at the same time heavier and more varied in sound, with strong hints of country and acoustic sounds, especially on their first two albums (not unlike Led Zeppelin’s third album).
Their sound began to change with their third album, Razamanaz, which spawned hits in Britain such as My White Bicycle, but success in the United States eluded them until 1975 when they released their sixth album, Hair of the Dog, which is when I discovered them.
The album opens with one of rock music’s most instantly recognizable riffs, the title track (aka Now You’re Messin’ With a Son of a Bitch), and a song that can still be heard almost every day on classic rock radio. It’s followed by a song as heavy as anything Black Sabbath ever produced, Miss Misery. It was the third song, however, that turned Nazareth into a household name for a brief period, the original power ballad, Love Hurts.
It was their only song to reach the US Top 10 (and number 1 in Canada) and a featured song at every junior high dance. Its lyrics still resonate today, a reason its on regular rotation on many playlists:
Love wounds and marks
Any heart not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud, it holds a lot of rain
That isn’t the only great song on the album, of course. Beggar’s Day is a song for AC/DC to drool over while Rose in the Heather is another acoustic classic with strong hints of their Scottish background.
The album ends with my favorite Nazareth song, Please Don’t Judas Me, a 10-minute epic with Middle East overtones not unlike Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir or Rainbow’s Stargazer from the same period. The lyrics are surprisingly effective in using Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ, as a verb for the song’s protagonist to plead for his friend or lover to not betray him. For anyone who has gone through an intense betrayal, as I have, this song is especially poignant.
Nazareth has released more than 20 albums, most of which are outstanding, although Hair of the Dog remains my favorite. Their most recent, Rock ‘n Roll Telephone (2014) was, unfortunately, their last with original singer Dan McCafferty, who had to retire for health reasons. However, the band continues on! For more information, check out their website here.