Forgotten Bands of the 1970s: Slade

Forgotten Bands of the 1970s: Slade

If you’re in the UK or Europe, you’re probably wondering what the heck Slade is doing here. If you’re from the US, however, you can consider yourself knowledgeable if you know their two monster hits from the early 1980s, Run Runaway and My Oh My. What Slade are best known for in the US, however, is being the band who were the original artists for Quiet Riot’s two metal classics, Cum On Feel the Noize and Mama Weer All Crazee Now.

slade.jpgIn the early 1970s, Slade were the UK’s biggest glam band everywhere but the US. According to Wiki, they had 17 straight Top 20 hits and six number one singles, not to mention a lot of goofy misspellings! In the US, we were pretty much limited to one album: Sladest, a collection of most of their hits up to 1973, although we were also limited to 10 tracks. It wasn’t until the CD was released with the full UK album that I learned the US had been cheated of another four songs!

The album opens up with the aforementioned Cum On Feel the Noize, showing that Quiet Riot’s version was an almost note-for-note copy, albeit a bit heavier. Even Quiet Riot’s singer (Kevin DuBrow) sounds like a copy of Noddy Holder. It also sets the blueprint for much of Slade’s music: having fun in life.

The video below will give you an idea of the band that sold more records in the UK in the 1970s than any other.

The next song, Look Wot You Dun, slows down the tempo, showing that Slade could play more than party songs. A good thing, because the next several songs are nothing but the good time rock n’ roll Slade is most known for, including Gudbuy T’Jane and Skweeze Me Pleeze Me.

The US version including My Friend Stan, but this was left off the UK version for some reason, even though it was a #2 hit. Both versions also leave off Slade’s biggest hit of all, Merry Xmas Everybody, which is to UK Christmas music what White Christmas is to the US. It’s re-entered the charts multiple times in the UK, most recently in 2013.

The album ends with three brilliant rockers in a row that should have even the most adamant of rock hater’s toes tapping: Get Down and Get With It, Look at Last Nite, and Mama Weer All Crazee Now.

The band are still around with lead guitarist Dave Hill and drummer Don Powell, but without Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea (the two wrote nearly all of Slade’s songs), it’s not the same. You can learn more about the band’s current activities at their website here.

Forgotten Bands of the 1970s: Moxy

Forgotten Bands of the 1970s: Moxy

Every decade produces many great acts that are overlooked, or known only in certain places. One of those bands in the 70s was Moxy, a hard rock band popular in its native Ontario as well as the midwest, but especially in Texas. Out in Seattle, they were pretty much unknown, so much so that I never heard of them until the 90s. Once my friends on the Uriah Heep email list introduced me, however, I quickly picked up all four of their albums.

moxy.jpgThe first three with lead singer Buzz Sherman are the essential Moxy albums (he was replaced on the fourth album with Mike Reno, who would shortly discover fame and fortune with Loverboy). Ridin’ High, their third album, is often considered their masterpiece, but it was their self-titled first album from 1975 that was my introduction, and I find it nearly as good.

The opener, Fantasy, opens in big, bold dramatic fashion (gongs, even!) before settling into a slow-building anthem of lost love that climaxes with its guitar solo. Sail On Sail Away follows a similar pattern but starts quiet with just acoustic guitars before morphing into some very heavy boogie rock not unlike Status Quo or Foghat at their best.

The third track, Can’t You See I’m a Star, was a big regional hit (quite unfortunately, it never received any airplay in Seattle) and features a ripping guest guitar solo from the legendary Tommy Bolin, who’d just left James Gang and was about to join Deep Purple. The bludgeoning riff would’ve fit right in on a Soundgarden or Disturbed album. Like most of the remaining songs, it’s a much faster pace than the first two songs. In hindsight, one of these faster tracks might have better served the band as an opener.

moxy band.jpg

The next several tracks are uptempo, riff-laden boogie rockers, many of which feature solos from Tommy Bolin. It’s no wonder AC/DC was chosen as their opening act when Moxy headlined their first tour! MoonriderTime to Move On, and Still I Wonder all move the album at a blistering pace before the slow blues burner, Train, allows Sherman and lead guitarist Earl Johnson to show off their chops. The album’s closer, Out of the Darkness (Into the Fire) returns to the pace of the opener, with a sledgehammer riff that reminds me more of the doom metal of Black Sabbath’s first three albums.

Buzz was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 1983 after rejoining Moxy, and the band fell apart. The reunited around 1999, eventually recording their excellent fifth album “V” around 2000 and a the live album “Raw” in 2002. Earl Johnson still has the band together with all-new members who released “Still Riding High” (re-recordings) and a live album in 2015. For more information, check out their website at moxyofficial.

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: Klaatu

All throughout the 70s, rumors of the Beatles reuniting sprang up every month or so, none of which proved true, of course.

Klaatu_-_3.47_EST_cover.jpgThe best of these rumors was a mysterious band called Klaatu, whose debut album “3:47 EST” came out of seemingly nowhere in 1976. No band members were listed anywhere, adding to the mystery. Riding the wave of these rumors, the album made it into the US top 40 albums chart. At the time, the Beatles were still my favorite band, and I had several debates with friends as to whether this was really the Fab Four, or George Harrison with friends, or John Lennon, etc.

In fact, their record company, Capitol Records, even released an official statement claiming they didn’t know who were in the band, as can be seen here.

The thing was, however, that the music is not a cheap knock off. It’s really good, well constructed pop music that mixes the quirky arrangements of Penny Lane with the best of Electric Light Orchestra and the Beach Boys with some 10CC or early Ambrosia thrown in. While it’s clearly a product of the 70s, it holds up well today, especially for fans of non-standard or alternative pop.

The lyrics are just as unconventional as the song titles: Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft and Little Neutrino open and close the album. Production is by Terry Brown, who produced many of Rush’s early albums. Eventually, we learned that, just like Rush, the elusive band was a Canadian trio from Toronto with progressive traits, but that’s where the similarities end. Imagine lush Beach Boy harmonies atop ELO arrangements with Beatle melodies and Paul McCartney (at his strangest) lyrics.

That’s not to say the album doesn’t rock. Klaatu lets loose on several songs like California Jam or Anus of Uranus, where they rock nearly as hard as early Kiss.

3:47 EST is what I call a headphone album; that is, you need to wear headphones or earbuds and listen to it several times that way to discover the layers of instrumentation or enjoy the fullness of the vocal harmonies.

The one clunker is Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III, a British music hall tune on which the singer sounds more like Rowlf, the dog who plays piano on the Muppets. That would’ve been fine for a line or two, but for an entire song is almost unbearable.

However, the epic album closer, Little Neutrino, more than makes up for it. Grand and strange, otherworldly and decidedly un-pop with a phased vocal, it’s a wonderfully dramatic piece of science fiction that struck me as decidedly bizarre as a high school student, yet the more I listened, the more entranced I grew. Now, as an adult, it’s one of my favorite pieces of music from the 70s.

The band went on to release four more albums before sadly breaking up in 1982. A pair of excellent compilations of demos, outtakes, and non-album tracks were released in the early 2000s, all of which are quite worth exploring if you discover their original albums aren’t enough. By the way, the band did not reveal their names on any album until their fourth album, by which time we’d all figured out they weren’t the Beatles, but a unique band with their own distinct sound.

For more information, visit the band’s official website or check out the reviews on Amazon (nothing but 5 stars!)

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: The Beach Boys

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: The Beach Boys

What’s this? The Beach Boys? Everybody knows them! What are they doing here?

Sure, everyone knows their 60s hits, maybe even Rock and Roll Music or Kokomo. But how many know any of their amazing string of albums from 1968-1973? Seven straight pop gems that made them superstars in England, but a forgotten entity in the U.S. Wild Honey, Friends, 20-20, Sunflower, Carl & The Passions, Holland. Every one of those albums is a superior musical experience to their earlier albums outside of Pet Sounds.

the_beach_boys-surfs_upThe crowning jewel of this run was 1971’s Surf’s Up. From its evocative cover (completely removed from their surfing roots) to the final chords of the title track, this is a pop masterpiece nearly on par with their classic Pet Sounds (the best pop album ever, IMO). Unlike most pop hits of the time or their 60s material, there are almost no simple boy/girl songs. Instead, it is full of introspection or politically charged lyrics, beginning with the anti-pollution Don’t Go Near the Water. This is followed with one of Carl Wilson’s first solo composition and one of the Beach Boys’ most beautiful songs ever, Long Promised Road, an reflective look at the roadblocks our past throws up as we try to push forward to our future.

Following the unimpressive Take a Load Off Your Feet is yet another stunning ballad, Disney Girls (1957), this one being Bruce Johnston’s first solo composition and the only love song on the album. It starts off with the pleasant verses and trademark Beach Boy harmonies until the bridge, where unusual chord changes take the song on an unexpected twist. Side One ends with Student Demonstration Time, essentially a rewrite of Riot in Cell Block #9, and the only rocker on the album. Mike Love’s lyrics about both race riots and anti-war demonstrations happening at the time, culminating in the infamous Kent State riot that resulted in four students killed by police. It also contains this powerful line: The pen is mightier than the sword, but no match for a gun.

Side Two opens with Feel Flows, another Carl Wilson gem with some of the most haunting harmonies I’ve ever heard on a rock record. The lyrics are more about sound rather than meaning and match the music perfectly at evoking a melancholy yet hopeful mood. Al Jardine’s Looking at Tomorrow is a brief but brilliant acoustic piece about the hopelessness of living on welfare while trying to find a job beyond sweeping floors.

Next is Brian Wilson’s A Day in the Life of a Tree, another anti-pollution song. It is both ingenious and bizarre in its arrangement, a song that takes several listens to appreciate. The vocalist is Jack Reiley, the band’s manager at the time, who, legend has it, was tricked by Brian into singing it due to the tone in his voice.

The final two songs, ‘Til I Die and Surf’s Up are two of the most beautiful songs you’ve probably never heard if you’re not a Beach Boys fanatic. The first is one of Brian’s few songs for which he wrote both lyrics and music and is about death and hopelessness. Despite the theme, the unexpected minor/major chord progressions and shimmering harmonies remind me more of someone facing death with a positive attitude. It’s a song that I will sometimes play five or six times in a row simply to let it wash over me.

The title track comes from the infamous Smile sessions in 1967 (the Beach Boys’ equivalent of Sgt. Pepper that was not released until about 2015). It’s a song about spiritual awakening and full of optimism and hope, featuring poetic lyrics by Van Dyke Parks. The song itself is far too complex to have ever been a pop hit with its multiple time shifts, dense choral arrangement, unusual melodies, and subtle instrumentation. For me, this is not just the penultimate Beach Boys song, but possibly the greatest pop song of the rock era, one that would make even George Gershwin or Irving Berlin sit up and take notice.

If you decide to pull this up on Spotify or Amazon Prime, be prepared to listen several times to most of the songs to take in the full beauty of the album. Most are not easy listening, one-time plays, but require time to absorb.

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: A Chuck Berry Tribute

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: A Chuck Berry Tribute

Today I break with my usual review to pay tribute to the man who made rock and roll what it is: Chuck Berry, who died this past Saturday at 90.

Chuck’s only one peer in rock history was Elvis Presley. Not the Beatles or the Stones, not Led Zeppelin or Metallica. Elvis was the first voice of rock, the man who brought the swagger. Chuck was the first guitar hero and the man who wrote the book of what rock music sounds like. The thing was, Elvis covered so many different styles of music that he only defined rock’s attitude. Chuck only played one type of music: rock and roll.

He wasn’t the first, whether that was Jackie Brenston or Ike Turner or Bill Haley or whoever. However, it was his songbook and his onstage showmanship as rock’s first guitar slinger that built the foundations of rock music. Johnny B. Goode. Roll Over Beethoven. Sweet Little Sixteen. Maybelline. School Days. Around and Around. Rock and Roll Music.

Think back to the first Back to the Future movie. Whose song does Marty McFly play? Whose stage antics? Whose ‘cousin’ is Marty playing with? Chuck Berry is the answer to all those questions!

ChuckBerry_TheGreatTwentyEight.pngIn Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 albums of all time, who has the highest rated greatest hits compilation? Chuck’s The Great Twenty-Eight, which they ranked at #21. This has every one of his hits from 1955-1965. While none of the songs are from the 70s, and this compilation wasn’t released until 1982, this is as essential to a rock music fan’s collection as Sgt. Pepper or Back in Black or The Joshua Tree. These songs are the foundation that the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin built their sound on. Without Chuck Berry, rock music might not have survived. At the very least, it certainly would have evolved very differently. So do yourself a favor. Buy this CD or put it into your Spotify rotation and enjoy the true Father of Rock and Roll.

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: Renaissance

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: Renaissance

I don’t remember the name of the magazine, but I still remember being so impressed by a review of a band I’d never heard of that I went out and bought their new album at my first opportunity. It was an investment at the time, since it was a double-live album, but one that paid off huge for my young ears, opening up the possibilities of what a rock band could be.

That band was Renaissance and the album was Live at Carnegie Hall. Several sounds jumped out as I played it over and over, absorbing the perfect marriage of rock and classical, beginning with the soaring, five-octave range of singer Annie Haslam. I’d never heard anyone in rock music sing like her, with the same power as Robert Plant but always crystal clear and beautiful. I’d discovered Lord of the Rings only a year or two before, and I always thought Annie’s voice was to rock music what Galadriel was to Middle Earth.

The musicians were just as impressive, but most notably, Michael Dunford only played acoustic guitar; that’s right, no electric guitar in an age when a band’s guitar player was a demigod. John Tout’s piano skills were not only on par with Rick Wakeman or Keith Emerson, but always managed to evoke emotion in me that perfectly matched the lyrics. Jon Camp’s bass was the electric force of the band, a melodic power not unlike Chris Squire in Yes, and Terry Sullivan’s percussion were subtle yet drove the band. His playing was never “over the top” like a Neal Peart, but it wasn’t simple either.

The funny thing, I learned later, is that none of the musicians were original members of the band, with most not joining until after the second Renaissance album was released, and this lineup, which is considered the classic band lineup, did not coalesce until the band’s fourth album,  Turn of the Cards. Also of interest was that the lyrics were written by a woman named Betty Thatcher who wasn’t in the band at all!

renaissanceThe next delight was the band’s sixth member, the orchestra. I grew up in a home where my parents regularly took me to classical concerts so that I developed a strong love of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart, which is why I am such a fan of progressive rock. There had been other bands before Renaissance, beginning with the Moody Blues, that had incorporated orchestras into their sound, and other bands that had experimented with live recordings in front of orchestras, such as Deep Purple or Procol Harum, but no rock band before or since Renaissance has made the orchestra an essential part of their sound.

As attractive as all these elements sound, without the evocative, emotional songs, the band would be nothing. The album opens with Prologue, a tour de force in which the vocals are merely another instrument. The remaining songs on sides one and two all feature beautiful, haunting melodies over rich, complex arrangements, including two of my favorites, Can You Understand? and Mother Russia. Only one song clocks in at less than seven minutes, Carpet of the Sun (which is still twice as long as a typical Beatles single!).

Side 3 was, at the time, the longest rock song I’d ever heard, the Song of Scheherazade. It begins with a three-minute story explaining the story of the Arabian princess before moving through a nine-movement suite that is equal to Tchikovsky’s 1812 Overture or Beethoven’s Symphony 9 in terms of breadth and scope. Even at 25 minutes, no single part ever feels extraneous.

Side 4 closes with Ashes Are Burning, which was originally an 11-minute epic, but is here expanded to twice that. It’s the band’s chance to open up and jam, especially Jon Camp, who has an extensive bass solo at one point. It’s the one song that might feel a bit out of place, since the orchestra is left out, but by the end, I’m left with a satisfied feeling that I’ve enjoyed a complete music set, a pleasure I still enjoy today listening to it again for possibly the thousandth time.

The classic lineup fell apart in 1980 and today, Annie is the only member left. Sadly, Michael, John Tout, and Betty Thatcher have all passed in the past few years. Their latest album, Symphony of Light, is as good as any of their classic albums from the 70s, however, and well worth picking up. For more information, visit the band’s website here.

 

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: Armageddon

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: Armageddon

One album. No hits. Only five songs. A cult classic.

Armageddon is the result of two guys who wanted to play folk and two guys who wanted to play heavy metal. Keith Relf, lead singer of The Yardbirds and the original Renaissance, and Louis Cennamo, bass player for the original Renaissance and Steamhammer, joined forces, hoping to continue what they’d started in Renaissance before both got sidetracked. Instead of bringing in players with similar taste, Louis brought in the guitar player from Steamhammer, Martin Pugh, who had far more in common with Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) than Bob Dylan. Martin knew Bobby Caldwell, a drummer who had not only played with Johnny Winter, but had been in Captain Beyond, writing almost all of the music for that band’s legendary debut album.

It was a mix that shouldn’t have worked; indeed, the band barely lasted long enough to record this single album in late 1974 and a handful of shows in 1975 before falling apart, but what an album! A&M Records gave them a contract simply on the promise of the musicians involved, and Ahmet Ertegun (the “E” in A&E) was set to turn them into the next superstar band, including fancy apartments with swimming pools in Los Angeles, but the chemistry that works so well for about 42 minutes of vinyl fell apart almost as quickly as it came together, ending forever when Keith Relf was accidentally electrocuted in early 1976.

armageddon.jpgFour of the songs are built on blistering heavy riffs that Jimmy Page must’ve drooled over. Indeed, he even showed up during the recording sessions to visit Relf, his former band mate in The Yardbirds. The opening track, Buzzard, frantically changes pace multiple times, and Pugh’s guitar attack is almost unrelenting, backing off at times to allow Relf room to sing, before bludgeoning the listener again at twice the speed of the heaviest riffs of Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath). Underneath it all is Caldwell’s superb rhythmic swagger, with all the muscle of John Bonham (Zeppelin) but topped with the same jazz skills that Ian Paice (Deep Purple) exhibits. Indeed, fans of Captain Beyond will recognize his unique stylings immediately.

The next song, Silver Tightrope, is a surprisingly beautiful ballad that holds its own against the best heavy metal ballads of the 70s, such as Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven or Uriah Heep’s Circle of Hands. This is the type of song Relf and Cennamo had wanted to write, and one can easily see why, with its shimmering, delicate guitar lines and Relf’s almost ethereal vocals that allow his poetic lyrics to shine. Another highlight of this album, Relf paints pictures with every song, and this poem about dying and the afterlife is possibly his finest.

Side One ends with Paths and Planes and Future Gains. It’s the most Zeppelin-esque of all the tracks and just as heavy as Buzzard. What surprised me the most when I discovered this album was Relf’s voice. Next to all the other hard rocking 60s bands such as the Rolling Stones, Pretty Things, or the Animals, his singing always seemed too gentle to me, like he would’ve been better off singing in a pop band like the Beatles. Yet on this album, his voice has aged (he had emphysema) and had gained a rasp that fits perfectly.

Side Two starts off with Last Stand Before, a heavy blues boogie shuffle in a Foghat or Status Quo vein. It showcases Relf’s harmonica playing in an extended call-and-response with Pugh’s guitar. Then the album closes with the band’s epic Basking in the White of the Midnight Sun, a four-part tour de force that begins with a long, urgent intro of the main theme that snakes and slithers through multiple moods before settling into a slow groove in part three that builds back up into the relentless reprise, leaving the listener almost gasping for breath by the end.

Okay, I think I may have overstated my case, but of all the bands with a similar one-album output, Armageddon was the finest the 70s produced. Even today, it still holds its own against not only Zeppelin’s best, but can sit just as proudly on your shelf next to Metallica or Avenged Sevenfold. If you’ve got Amazon Prime, go here to stream the first two songs or download it for a reasonable price (although Amazon has broken up the final song into its four parts, presumably so they can charge you more $$).