Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: Year In Review

2011 has been quite a year for classic rock lovers. For me, this is a huge improvement from 2010. In 2010, I barely even had a favorite album for that year. For this article, I’ll give small reviews to everything I bought this year that was release in 2011.


 New York Dolls - Dancing Backward in High Heels

New York Dolls
Dancing Backward in High Heels
Rating: *** ½

            Dancing Backward in High Heels marks the third album from the New York Dolls since reuniting in 2006 with One Day It Would Please Us To Remember Even This. Reviews for this album have been mixed but I have to admit that I like it. Listen: nothing is going to ever replace the original New York Dolls. Some people have a problem with David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain touring with a new line-up as the New York Dolls and I totally agree with them. Personally, I liked One Day because it sounded very much like an album that the New York Dolls would make had they not broken up in 1975. 2009’s Cause I Sez So was pretty good but was different with it being a bit eclectic. This album can best be described as a regenerated R&B album. I like “Fool For You Baby” and “I’m So Fabulous”. I even like the re-recording of Johansen’s “Funky But Chic”.

  Uriah Heep - Into the Wild
Uriah Heep
Into the Wild
Rating: ****


            Do I only like the new Uriah Heep album because Mick Box accepted my interview earlier this year? Is it because I saw them in concert? Is it because I’m a Heepster? Even if the first two didn’t happen, I would say this is my favorite album of the year. Uriah Heep were at their peak in the early 1970’s and over the years, have been teased by music critics (an example: the person who wrote the review for their debut in 1970 for Rolling Stone threatened to commit suicide if the band became famous). All I know is that Into the Wild is a great album. It’s amazing how these guys have been together for over 40 years (well, Mick Box is the only original member left but whatever) and they put out this great sounding album. Uriah Heep have been able to capture their sound from the 1970’s and resurrect it in this year of 2011. “Nail On the Head” is a catchy tune while “Southern Star” is a melodic sea shanty of sorts.  I don’t care what anyone else thinks: Into the Wild is my favorite album from this year.

 Anvil - Juggernaut of Justice

Juggernaut of Justice
Rating: ****

            Canadian metal band Anvil have pretty much gone from cult heroes to massive movie stars in a very short amount of time. The band were the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil, which told the story of a struggling band who had been together since the 1980’s. With this new found interest in Anvil, the band have released their fourteenth studio album Juggernaut of Justice. The old school sounding self titled track and the anthem “Fuken ‘Eh!” are my personal favorites from the album. The main highlight off the album is the jazz-infused “Swing Thing”, which sees Anvil possibly creating a new sub-genre of heavy metal (Singer Sebastian Bach coined the term “horny metal” on That Metal Show earlier this year). Juggernaut of Justice could just be the birth of horny metal!

 Alice Cooper - Welcome 2 My Nightmare

Alice Cooper
Welcome 2 My Nightmare
Rating: ****

            Welcome 2 My Nightmare isn’t really a sequel to Alice Cooper’s 1975 classic Welcome to My Nightmare. Whatever this is, it’s pretty good. The album is pretty eclectic but it makes another fine entry in the discography of Alice Cooper. Every song is different, ranging from hard rock to surf rock. Highlights include the Stones-esque “I’ll Bite Your Face Off”, the hard rocker “Caffeine”, and the vaudeville-like “Last Man on Earth”. Almost every song on the album is great and if you’re a fan of the original album, this is worth a listen.

  SuperHeavy - SuperHeavy

Raing: ***

            The fiftieth anniversary of the Rolling Stones might be coming up next year but Mick Jagger seems to have formed a super group of some kind. Jagger has put himself with Dave Stewart, Damien Marley, AR Rahnman, and Joss Stone to make this group happen. This album could be best described as a cross between rock and reggae music. When news came around about this project, I was interested at first. The album, as a whole, is just okay. I am not used to listening to music like this but it’s pretty good. Obviously, the single “Miracle Worker” is my favorite off the album. Other highlights include “Energy” and “I Can’t Take It No More”.

  Lou Reed & Metallica - Lulu

Lou Reed & Metallica
Rating: ***

            At first, it seemed like a cool idea. When a thirty second sample of one song was released, people went crazy. Not too much changed when the entire album was released. Reviews for Lulu have been mostly negative and I understand why: it’s very challenging to listen to. This project is indeed experimental but even a person like me who likes both Lou Reed and Metallica cannot sit through all of the songs. It’s not as bad as people say it is. In fact, I think most of the negative reviews are coming from Metallica fans. As a fan of both artists, I’m in between.  Songs like “Iced Honey” and “Pumping Blood” are really cool but then there are songs like “Mistress Dread” and “Dragon” that I have to fast forward through.

 Steel Panther - Balls Out

Steel Panther
Balls Out
Rating: ****

            Comedic glam rockers Steel Panther have been together for some time, but under different names. Since 2008, they’ve been known as Steel Panther. The band’s debut album may have been release in 2009 (Feel the Steel) but their sound goes back to the glory days of hard rock and heavy metal in the 1980’s. It just might even transport you back to the 1980’s on Sunset Strip. Their sophomore effort, Balls Out, is much of the same. Still, Steel Panther have managed to put together a hilarious hard-rocking record. The album is filled with non-stop sexual jokes, such as “17 Girls in a Row” and “Just Like Tiger Woods”. Then there are songs that could have been hits if released some 25 years earlier, like “If You Really Really Love Me” and “Tomorrow Night”. While filled with hilarious songs, it’s also filled will ridiculously great rock music. In short, Balls Out lives up to its title.

 Riot - Immortal Soul

Immortal Soul
Rating: ****

            The Thundersteel era line-up of Riot has reunited to make this wonderful album. All of the songs are great and the album could be thought of as another comeback for Riot. Die-hard fans may get a kick out of “Still Your Man”, which is a sequel of sorts to an older Riot song. There’s also the electrifying “Wings Are For Angels” and the Iron Maiden-like self-titled track. While it might not be in the ranks of Fire Down Under or Thundersteel, Immortal Soul is an impressive release from an underrated band.

Reissues and Archival Releases

Paul McCartney
McCartney and McCartney II
McCartney rating: **** or **** ½
McCartney II rating: ****

            Following last year’s reissue of Band on the Run, the people over at Hear Music and Concord decided to reissue two of Paul McCartney’s solo albums. The albums stand out in McCartney’s discography due to the fact that McCartney played every instrument on them. Both albums come with a second disc that contains bonus tracks.
            McCartney was Paul’s real first album. Released in 1970, it was made during the last months the Beatles were together. I previously owned the original CD version of McCartney but my copy was a bit glitchy. It was interesting to listen to this album again. As for the remastering, I think it sounds good although some people think otherwise. The second disc for McCartney is a bit disappointing: there is only 25 minutes worth of material on it. With the original album being around 34 minutes, you would think they would stick those extra 25 minutes on the same disc. Still, you are paying the price that you would pay for just one CD so this isn’t too much of a problem. A great highlight from the bonus disc from McCartney is the outtake “Suicide”, a song that Frank Sinatra passed up on.  
            McCartney II has generally received negative reviews from both fans and critics. It is easy to see why: it’s very experimental. The album, released in 1980, was recorded towards the end of Wings. Personally, I really like McCartney II. I love experimental music such as Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Yoko Ono so this is right up my alley. This is my first time ever owning the album so it was my first time hearing it as well. The second disc is quite interesting. Compared to McCartney’s second disc, this one has 48 minutes worth of material. It also marks the official release of some material that was previously only available on bootlegs. Of the lost tracks, I really dig “Mr. H Atom”.

 The Beach Boys - The Smile Sessions

The Beach Boys
The Smile Sessions
Rating: **** or **** ½

            There are plenty of albums that never got to see the light of day. The most popular “lost” album is probably the Beach Boys’ planned follow-up to Pet Sounds. The album was to be called Smile and much like Pet Sounds, it was another album filled with groundbreaking music. However due to Brian Wilson’s health and a few other things, the album was abandoned. The music from Smile, however, did show up on the albums that did follow Pet Sounds. Over the years, Smile became widely bootlegged amongst music fans. In 2004, Brian Wilson resurrected the project by re-recording all of the music and making it a solo album. While the album was met with positive reviews, many fans still wanted the actual album or recording sessions officially released. In this year of 2011, fans got what they wanted. The Smile Sessions comes in two different editions. Not being much of a huge fan, I stuck with the two disc version. I know much about the Beach Boys but didn’t buy any of their music until earlier in 2011 when I finally got Pet Sounds. Though still incomplete, Smile is simply amazing. It’s also a bit experimental, which I found a bit surprising. The vocal harmonies are mind blowing on “Out Prayer”, “Gee”, and “Wonderful”. Also, you got Beach Boy classics like “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains” on here too. Basically, it’s well worth listen to!

 The Rolling Stones - The Brussels Affair (Live 1973)

The Rolling Stones
The Brussels Affair (Live 1973)
Rating: **** ½


            I wasn’t expecting much from the new Google-Android music store when it opened late this year. While Google Music is another “cloud” player, the music store seems like others. This year, however, they released something that you can’t get on CD. With the fiftieth anniversary of the Rolling Stones approaching, it seems that the band has opened an archival store with old merchandise and even music. The first of these releases is what most fans consider to be one of the best bootlegs of the band: The Brussels Affair. The show, recorded in Belgium in 1973, is a hard rocking performance from a great rock band. There’s really nothing bad I can say about this, except for the small fact that you can’t get it on CD. The band is in fine form here and I love listening to the band just bare bones, without any supporting musicians (besides Bobby Keyes and whoever is on keyboards). It’s also very cool to hear the material from the Goats Head Soup album performed live, which I think is a terribly underrated album. It was new at that time in 1973 so the band goes through four songs off that album. Amazing! The North American vendor for the album is the aforementioned Google-Android music store. On there, you can get the album for only $4.99. It’s a no-brainer: buy it and enjoy!  

  Thin Lizzy - At the BBC

Thin Lizzy
At the BBC
Rating: **** or **** ½

            Universal have been giving the Thin Lizzy albums the “deluxe edition” treatment, most of which were released only in Europe. This archival release, however, is a real treat: not only does it feature great live recordings of Thin Lizzy but it also offers fans something they may not have. This release came in two editions: a two disc version and an astounding six CD-one DVD version. I bought the two disc version and I’m very happy with this release. Some of this material has been released before, including the sessions that the band did with BBC DJ John Peel. That album, The Peel Sessions, is out of print and sells for ridiculous prices. Luckily, those tracks are out again, along with other goodies. The collection basically spans Thin Lizzy’s entire career from 1971 to 1983. The only downside: no material from Black Rose is on here. Still, it’s a great collection and every Thin Lizzy fan should have it.


Rating: ****

            Lemmy is a great documentary on the man himself, Lemmy Kilmister. The documentary is an interesting mix of the past and the present. It’s very funny and very fun to watch. Personally, I really liked the movie. Rolling Stone magazine noted that Lemmy does lack conflict, which I totally see now. Still, I really like it and the DVD is loaded with three hours of bonus material.

AC/DC- Let There Be Rock
Rating: ****

            After years and years of waiting, Warner Brothers have finally released this long lost concert movie of AC/DC. Filmed in 1979 in Paris, this movie is a real treat as it is one of the last shows that AC/DC would perform with lead singer Bon Scott before his untimely death in 1980. In between a few songs, there are interviews with the band and even fantasy sequences ala Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same.

In Memoriam
Phil Kennemore- bassist for Y&T
Don Kirshner- music mogul and figure
Gary Moore- blues guitarist, Thin Lizzy
Clarence Clemons- saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen
Michael “Wurzel” Burston- guitarist for Motorhead, 1984 to 1995
Joe Yamanka- singer for Japanese rock band Flower Travelin’ Band
Jani Lane- former lead singer for Warrant
John DuCann- guitarist for Atomic Rooster
Chuck Ruff- drummer for Edgar Winter Band and Sammy Hagar
Jim “Motorhead” Sherwood- saxophonist for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

What’s coming in 2012?
Surprisingly, there are quite a number of albums that have been confirmed for release next year but there are a few that I know of.

Ringo Starr- Ringo 2012 (January 29)
Paul McCartney- My Valentine (February 7)
Van Halen- Untitled (February 7)
Accept- Stalingard (April)

Also said to be releasing an album: Kiss (Monster), Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Rush (Clockwork Angels), and Slash.

Ranking the albums I bought this year
1.      Uriah Heep- Into the Wild
2.      Riot- Immortal Soul
3.      Steel Panther- Balls Out
4.      Alice Cooper- Welcome 2 My Nightmare
5.      Anvil- Juggernaut of Justice
6.      New York Dolls- Dancing Backward in High Heels
7.      Lou Reed and Metallica- Lulu
8.      SuperHeavy- SuperHeavy

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood of the Mothers dies at 69

Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood
May 8, 1942-December 25, 2011

Former Mothers of Invention saxophonist Jim Sherwood, aka Motorhead, passed away earlier this week on Sunday (Christmas Day). The cause of death, at this point, is unknown. Sherwood was 69. Sherwood is not only known for playing on all of the early albums by the Mothers of Invention but he was also one of Frank Zappa's best friends. The two first met in 1956 when they played together in a band called the Black Outs. Along with Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart), Sherwood was one of Zappa's long time friends. Sherwood started out as a roadie for the Mothers before officially become a member of the band. Although the original Mothers split in 1969 (only to reform a year later), Sherwood remained friends with Zappa. In 1971, he appeared in Zappa's 1971 movie 200 Motels, in which he played the role of a man who falls in love with a vacuum cleaner. Sherwood would go on to play with other Zappa related bands such as Ruben and the Jets and the Grandmothers. 

It's very sad to hear of Jim's passing. In the past three years, three friends and bandmates of Frank Zappa have passed away: Jimmy Carl Black in 2008, Captain Beefheart in 2010, and now Jim. 

Rest in peace, Motorhead!  

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rock N Roll Hall of Fame: Class of 2012

On Wednesday, the inductees for the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame were officially announced. Of the 15 nominated, 6-7 are being inducted. This year's list is quite diverse and could make an interesting ceremony.

The Small Face/The Faces
 Small Faces - Small Faces
 Faces - First Step
It may seem strange but both the Small Faces and Faces have been inducted into the Hall. One may wonder why the two are paired up. Keyboardist Ian McLagan wondered the same thing himself. Basically, both bands share the same members but have completely different sounds. 
The Small Faces were one of the forgotten bands during the British Invasion in the 1960's. They were indeed a Mod band and made some of the greatest rock songs ever known. The band consisted of guitarist/singer Steve Marriott, bassist Ronnie Lane, drummer Kenny Jones, and keyboardist Ian McLagan. Despite the band's short time together, they were able to churn out classics such as "Itchycoo Park", "Tin Soldier", and "Afterglow of Your Love". Their 1968 album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake is considered their best. However in 1969, Marriott left the band to form Humble Pie. Without Marriott, the band were considering on breaking up. Before they could, singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood came to the rescue to save one of their favorite bands. After jamming, the new five-piece band decided to call themselves the Faces. The band were much more hard rock oriented than the Small Faces and had hit singles with "Stay With Me" and "Oo La La". The band split in 1974 but have reunited not too long ago with former Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall. McLagan has been quoted to saying he'd like to play at the ceremony. Rod Stewart has also said that he'd really like to reunite with his old band mates. This would be more of a Faces reunion with Stewart, Wood, Jones, and McLagan. Marriott died in a house fire in 1991 and Lane died from multiple sclerosis in 1997.

Donovan - Sunshine Superman
The hurdy-gurdy man has finally gotten into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Donovan was popular during the 1960's with hits like "Hurdy Gurdy Man" and "Mellow Yellow". Nothing much else to say except that it's good to see him in.

Guns N Roses
Guns N' Roses - It's So Easy
Guns N Roses have been inducted on their first year eligible, which is impressive. The band's debut album, Appetite for Destruction, was huge when it was released in 1987 (and for those wondering, the Hall allow bands when their debut release is 25 years old, not album. GNR's debut release was an EP). Singer Axl Rose, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Steven Adler were famous for hits like "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Sweet Child O'Mine". The band were also popular in the 1990's with their Use Your Illusion albums in 1991. The band fell apart completely in 1996 and was reconstructed by Rose with a completely different line-up. There lies a big question here with Guns N Roses being inducted: will Axl, Izzy, Slash, Duff, and Steven reunite for the ceremony? It seems unlikely with Axl being unpredictable and his hatred for Slash, which has seem to have toned down recently. Who knows? It could happen but I wouldn't hold your breath.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

 Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Hamburg Concert No.1
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are getting into the Hall next year. I'll be honest: I've never cared for the band much but I think they've earned it: the band's funk rock sound made them big in the 1990's and they still perform today. 

Laura Nyro
 Laura Nyro - Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
The singer/songwriter is finally in the Hall. It took her two nominations to get in. Laura Nyro might be lesser known but she does make some good music and has been cited by Alice Cooper as a favorite of his. 

Beastie Boys

Who cares....really?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

We All Went Down To Montruex: 40 Years Since "Smoke on the Water"

It was 1971 and English rock band, Deep Purple, were enjoying success. The band originally formed around 1968 and the band was in its second line-up, which fans believe is the definitive line-up of the band and is known as Mach II. Deep Purple consisted of singer Ian Gillan, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, bassist Roger Glover, drummer Ian Paice, and keyboardist Jon Lord. Blackmore, Paice, and Lord were the only original members while Gillan and Glover were new to the band. In 1971, the band had released the album Fireball. The band was planning to record their next album in Montruex, Switzerland with the help of the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Studio.  None of the band was prepared for what would happen on December 4, 1971.
On that day of December 4, 1971, Deep Purple was going to play at the Montruex Casino which was also where the band planned to record their next album. The band was on the bill with Frank Zappa and the Mother of Invention for a matinee performance. Zappa and the Mothers went on and just a few minutes into the song “King Kong”, someone is the audience fired a flare gun. The ceiling, which was covered in rattans, started a fire. The Mothers stopped performing and Frank calmly told the audience to exit the building and to not panic. The casino ended up burning to the ground and Deep Purple were left without a place to record. Bassist Roger Glover later said he had this vision stuck in his head from the fire of “smoke on the water”.
A few days later, Deep Purple started recording their new album at a theater called The Pavilion. The band recorded there for a few days with the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Truck Studio but the police shut them down. Finally, the band ended up recording the album at the Montruex Grande Hotel. The place was pretty empty and bare. However, the band was able to lay down most of the album. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had this guitar riff written but there were no words to it. The rest of the band added music to this guitar riff but still, there were no lyrics. Blackmore then suggested that the band write an autobiographical account of the fire and recording the album. The band went with the idea and Glover came up with a title for the song: “Smoke on the Water”.
      In 1972, Machine Head was released. It became the band’s most successful album ever and it also had a hit single with “Smoke on the Water”. Deep Purple were now more famous than they were before. In 1973, Ian Gillan and Roger Glover left the band. Deep Purple carried on with different members up until 1976, when the band split. Deep Purple reunited in 1984 with the Mark II line-up. The last time the Mark II line up was together was in 1993. After this, Ritchie Blackmore quit the band mainly due him wanting to do something else and his feud with Gillan. Today, Deep Purple is still together. Of the Mark II line-up Gillan, Glover, and Paice are the only ones still in the band. Still, Deep Purple have made their mark in rock history as one of the greatest bands ever. Also, “Smoke on the Water” continues to influence musicians and is usually one of the first songs someone learns to play while learning to play guitar. Every song has a story and “Smoke on the Water” is just an example.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Riot- Immortal Soul review

 Riot - Immortal Soul
Immortal Soul
Rating: ****

New York rockers Riot have just released their latest album and it’s special for a various number of reasons: it’s the band’s first album in five years and it also sees the Thundersteel era line-up back together. Riot may not sound familiar but the album, Immortal Soul, is their fourteenth studio album. Based on the songs and sound, Immortal Soul is a very strong release for Riot.
            Riot formed around 1975 in New York. The band experienced many changes in their line-up but guitarist Mark Reale has been the only stable member of the band. From 1977 to 1981, the band cranked out three studio albums with original singer Guy Speranza (Rock City, Narita, and Fire Down Under). The third of them, Fire Down Under, is considered by many critics to be one of the most underrated hard rock albums of the time in 1981. Speranza left in 1981 and was replaced by Rhett Forrester. With Forrester, the band made another two albums (Restless Breed and Born in America) but the band had hit rock bottom financially in 1983. Also, a band called Quiet Riot was becoming popular and confusion happened often. The band either split or kept quiet until 1986 when Reale reformed the band with a new line-up. This new line-up included Reale, singer Tony Moore, bassist Don Van Stavern, and drummer Bobby Jarzombek. This incarnation of Riot released the power metal heavy Thundersteel, which achieved some commercial attention. When the band went on tour, guitarist Mike Flyntz joined. In 1990, the band released The Privilege of Power. It was the last album with Moore and/or Stavern on it as they left in 1992. Riot continued to release new music and tour, with Reale and Flyntz as stable members (Jarzombek was in and out). In 2008, the Thundersteel line-up of Reale, Moore, Stavern, Jarzombek and Flyntz reunited.
            Immortal Soul opens up quite fittingly with a song called “Riot”…by a band named Riot. It’s a very smart way to happen the album up: a very speed metal oriented sound and Moore screaming the lyrics, including the chorus “What’s it gonna take to make you riot?” “Still Your Man” sounds very much like a song that could’ve been from Thundersteel. The lyrics seem to be a sequel of sorts to the song “Johnny’s Back” from Thundersteel if you remember the lyrics to it (Don’t look now cause Johnny’s back again/I am your man!). In this song, we are reminded of Johnny: “Hey Johnny, brother take my hand/I remember, I am still your man!). According to sources, Johnny is the name of Riot’s seal mascot that can be seen on their album covers. Songs like “Crawling” and “Fall Before Me” are very “sludge” sounding metal tracks, which is pretty cool to hear Riot do. It’s different, that’s for sure. If one of these songs had to be chosen as a single, “Wings Are For Angels” would be my pick. Much like “Still You Man”, it sounds like something from Thundersteel. Also on this album is the biblical “Sins of the Father” and the Iron Maiden riddled self titled track. The latter is a really good song and one of my favorites off the album. “Whiskey Man” is another interesting track. Of all the songs off the album, I can sort of imagine Guy Speranza singing it (sadly, he wouldn’t be able to: he died in 2003). The album ends with the guitar-oriented “Echoes”.
            Immortal Soul is a very good album and it’s great to see this line-up of Riot back together again. Although I do prefer Fire Down Under and Thundersteel more, Immortal Soul is basically a kick-ass heavy metal album. Welcome back, Riot!

Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) and Eric Carr (1951-1991): 20 years later...

 Freddie Mercury - Mr. Bad Guy

Freddie Mercury (born as Farrokh Bulsara )
September 5, 1946-November 24, 1991

Freddie Mercury was the lead singer for Queen. For the 70's and the 80's, Queen become one of the most successful rock bands ever. Mercury was best known for his live performances, outfits on stage, and his incredible vocal range. Toward the late 1980's, Mercury had looking more frail and skinny. Tabloid papers speculated that Mercury had the AIDS disease. In private, Mercury told his fellow Queen bandmates that he was indeed sick but that he just wanted to continue with the music. On November 23, 1991, Mercury finally announced to the world that he had AIDS. He encouraged fans to join him in stopping the disease. A day later, Mercury was dead at 45 years old. Less than a year later, the surviving members of Queen held a tribute concert for Freddie. The concert raised money for AIDS awareness and research. 

 Eric Carr - Rockology
Eric Carr (born as Paul Charles Carvello)
July 12, 1950-November 24, 1991

Eric Carr had been the drummer for Kiss since 1980, replacing original drummer Peter Criss. Carr's persona was the Fox. In 1982, Kiss were in trouble. The idea came around that the band should remove their iconic make-up in 1983. While some thought it was a publicity stunt, the change ushered in a new era of Kiss. Even without the make-up, Kiss were still popular. Carr was known for his intense drumming style and he also adored the fans of Kiss, speaking to them and signing autographs. In early 1991, Carr had open heart surgery. Doctor discovered that Carr had cancer. On November 24, 1991, Eric Carr passed away. He was only 41 years old.  Carr was replaced by drummer Eric Singer. The band's 1992 album, Revenge, was dedicated to Carr. 

RIP Freddie and Eric!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thin Lizzy's At the BBC review

 Thin Lizzy - Live at the BBC
Thin Lizzy
At the BBC
Rating: ****

Universal have been treating Thin Lizzy fans to some nice releases this year, despite a majority of them being sold only in Europe. Deluxe editions of Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox, and various other have been released this year. Also, a reunited version of the band has been touring this year. Why all these releases? It may have to do with the fact that earlier in January of this year marked 25 years since bassist and singer Phil Lynott passed away. Recently, Universal has offered another release and this one is pretty neat: it’s a collection of recordings the band did for the BBC since the beginning of their career till their farewell tour in 1983. Universal have offered two versions of this release, a two-disc version and an astounding six-disc plus one DVD version. In this review, I’ll be going into the two disc version. The album, At the BBC, is an impressive selection of highlights from the main box set. What makes this release unique is that as years go by, the BBC may choose to erase their older tapes. Luckily, many have been kept by the BBC and of course, the fans.  I know there are many readers who might only know Thin Lizzy for “The Boys Are Back in Town” and “Jailbreak”. Although they weren’t very popular in the US, Thin Lizzy are so much more than just one or two songs. To consider them as a “one-hit wonder” is laughable.
            The first disc consists on recordings from 1971 to 1974. During this time, Thin Lizzy were just a three-piece band and weren’t exactly the hard-rocking four-piece that would make them popular. The early Thin Lizzy music is rock music but much more folk rock, celtic rock, and sometimes hard rock. During these years, the band consisted of Lynott, drummer Brian Downey, and guitarist Eric Bell. Personally, I like the tracks that were recorded with BBC DJ John Peel. There was an album out a couple years back called The Peel Sessions, which is now out of print. This release reinstates them plus a few more goodies. The band does a very impressive rendition of “Whiskey in the Jar”, with Bell playing the exact same way he does on the studio recording (which wasn’t very easy in the first place). The song was Lizzy’s first hit when released in 1972. Some of the renditions of these songs are much more raw and up-close compared to the versions that are on the band’s studio albums. Examples of this would include “Vagabond of the Western World” and “Showdown”. Another thing I’ve noticed is that Lynott was a really good bassist. I mean, I thought so before but you can really hear him play on these recordings. There’s also an early version of the song “Suicide” from the 1975 Fighting album that’s nice to hear. Overall, the first disc is very good.
            Disc two consists of recordings from 1974 to 1983. This is the Thin Lizzy that became popular. The line-up this time is Lynott and Downey with guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. The thing that made Lizzy popular is that the band had both Gorham and Robertson playing lead guitars, giving Lizzy their signature sound. Once again, the John Peel sessions on this disc are amazing. “Jailbreak” sounds different from the studio recording since everything seems to be tuned down a bit. “Rosalie” sounds more bare bones when the studio version sounded a tiny bit overproduced. On the both discs, there’s this hiss in the recordings. For some, it might be annoying. I think the production is pretty good and that it’s all on purpose to give the songs an edgier song. “Bad Reputation” sounds really cool with both Gorham and Robertson playing spot on. The only problem I have with disc two is that there isn’t any material from the Black Rose album. Still, how can you fit all of the best material on two discs? The last four recordings are from the 1980’s, towards the end of the band’s career. Disc two might be stronger than the first disc due to it having better material.
            At the BBC is a very cool release from Universal. I don’t think everybody went out and bought the deluxe editions (I didn’t. Those deluxe editions aren’t cheap). Universal have given fans something that they may not have, which is what every record label should be doing nowadays instead of reissuing it over and over again. I would only recommend this album if you are a Thin Lizzy fan. If you are new to Thin Lizzy, this is going to be an odd introduction. I recommend that you stick with The Definitive Collection for now. If you want to get an actual album, I’d start with Jailbreak. If you like that, then get the others by Thin Lizzy from the 1970’s that followed it. Still, At the BBC is very good.  

The Rolling Stones' The Brussels Affair review

 The Rolling Stones - The Brussels Affair (Live 1973)

The Rolling Stones
The Brussels Affair (Live 1973)
Rating: **** 1/2

2012 will mark the 50 years since the formation of the Rolling Stones. Many would think that the band would be getting things together for a 50th anniversary tour. However, Mick Jagger has been denying it as he’s now focused with his super group, SuperHeavy. The band is scheduled to jam/rehearse before the year ends. While the current status of the Stones is unknown, the band is treating the fans to some goodies. Last year, the band gave Exile On Main St. a deluxe edition. The second disc gave fans a whole disc worth of unreleased material. Also, the long lost Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones movie finally got its DVD release (it even was in theaters for one night only). Some Girls will be getting the same treatment towards the end of November and a concert in Texas from 1978 will be released on DVD as well. Much to the surprise of fans, the band has launched their own archival site to release memorabilia and authentic bootleg recordings (for fans in the US, you’ll have to buy the shows from the new Google-Android music store). The band has selected a bootleg called The Brussels Affair (Live 1973) as the first release. It’s considered one of the best bootlegs out there on the Stones. The shows were recorded during their 1973 tour in support of their album, Goats Head Soup, on October 17 in Brussels, Belgium (the album seems to be a combination of the afternoon and night shows). It’s a brilliant release and the band is in fine form.

            The audience waits for the band to come onstage until they hear: “And now ladies and gentlemen…it’s the Rolling Stones!” The band jumps into “Brown Sugar”, which sounds just wonderful. Keith Richards and Mick Taylor are playing great on this one and perhaps the entire show. Songs like “Gimme Shelter” and “Tumbling Dice” are interesting to hear without any backing vocals. It’s just Mick singing all by himself, which is impressive. Another thing that people might be impressed by is Mick speaking in French to the audience. He’s sounds fantastic! It does sound funny too, hearing a British rocker trying to communicate to his fans. Keith takes over lead vocals for “Happy” from the Exile on Main St. album, which sounds nearly identical to the studio track. 

The Stones also play four songs from their then latest album, Goats Head Soup. For many fans, Goats Head Soup is one of the band’s most underrated albums. Hearing the songs performed live is quite interesting, considering some of them don’t get played often nowadays. For example, Mick doesn’t omit the John Wayne lyrics in “Star Star” (aka “Starfucker”), which the band decided to omit in later performances when Wayne became ill and died. Also, fans will get to hear one of the very few live performances of “Dancing With Mr. D” which is a real treat. Although a bit messy, the soul-infused “Heartbreaker” is absolutely killer. Just check out the short guitar solo. “Angie”, the album’s most popular song, is played as well. The band even goes into an 11 minute jam of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and get down-right bluesy in a 12 minute version of “Midnight Rambler”. Some other songs from Exile are played (“Rip This Joint” and “All Down The Line”) as well as a few singles (“Honky Tonk Women” and “Jumping Jack Flash”). The show ends with an amazing version of “Street Fighting Man”. It’s amazing for its raw energy and for the sound of the jangling guitars.

            If you are a fan of the Rolling Stones, it’s a no-brainer: you must get this. It’s a splendid show and if this is the way the band is going to celebrate their 50th anniversary by releasing bootlegs, I’m all for it. Plus, it’s only $4.99. You’ve got nothing to lose. Go and get it. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

It's Official: Black Sabbath to reunite for new album and tour in 2012

As expected since last week, Black Sabbath have official announced today that they are back. The band made the announcement over at the Whiskey A Go Go in California. Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward are back together and are ready to roll. The band are planning to record a new studio album, their first with Osbourne on it since 1978's Never Say Die. Producing the album will be renowned producer Rick Rubin. The album is expected to be released in the fall of 2012. The band will also be headlining for the Download Festival on June 10, 2012. As expected, a worldwide tour will happen sometime next year.
Well this is fantastic news. I'm very happy to see the first line-up reunited. It's about time!

Monday, November 7, 2011

All That Glitters Is Gold: Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin IV is 40

 Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin IV
Rating: **** 1/2

1971 would turn out to be a big year for Led Zeppelin. The English hard rockers had been recording their next studio album that year. That album was released on November 8, 1971. The album’s title: it didn’t have one. There was no title anywhere on the front, spine, or back. The cover was of a grey background with a picture of an old man carrying sticks. The band members were also credited by four different symbols, one for each band member. One symbol read ZOSO. Therefore, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album is sometimes called ZOSO or the more popular Led Zeppelin IV (other titles: Four Symbols, The Runes, Untitled, The Hermit). Whatever the case may be, Led Zeppelin IV has become the band’s most successful album ever. It’s also one of the best selling albums in the world, selling over 37 million copies. There is no doubt that Led Zeppelin IV is one of the greatest albums ever made, but at the same time it can also be one of the most overrated albums of all time. How did four guys from England create a best seller? The best way to go into this album is to do the song-by-song review.
            Led Zeppelin formed in 1968. The band consisted of singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham. The band released their thundering debut album towards the beginning of 1969. The album did okay in the charts but many critics, including Rolling Stone, negatively reacted to the album (although years later, they absolutely love it). Months later, the band released Led Zeppelin II. The album did even better than the debut and critics were much nicer this time around. The band even gained a hit single out of “Whole Lotta Love”, which reached #4 in the Billboard Hot 100 (although Led Zeppelin were a band who didn’t like releasing singles). The band started playing in bigger venues and gained more fans from all around. Led Zeppelin, at that time, were one of the heaviest bands in the world. So it came as a surprise when the band released Led Zeppelin III the following year in 1970. Unlike the first two albums, III was much more folk rock than it was hard rock. Both critics and fans were left scratching their heads as to why the band chose to make an album like this. Zeppelin kept this in mind for the fourth album: no one would be disappointed. Led Zeppelin started recording their fourth album over at the new Basing Street Studio owned by Island Studios. At that time, Jethro Tull were recording their next album Aqualung. Both bands were promised the latest in recording technology but both bands had a hard time recording there. Members of Fleetwood Mac suggested the band record elsewhere. So Zeppelin decided to record the album over in Headley Grange, a Victorian house. Using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, the band was able to make it there. Mixing took place in various locations. The album was recorded from December 1970 till March 1971.

Song by song review

1.      “Black Dog”- The album starts off with one of Led Zeppelin’s best known songs. The song is memorable for its main riff, which John Paul Jones takes credits for. Jones was looking for a sound that people couldn’t dance to but that was catchy and he was able to do just that. Originally, the band were going to play to Plant’s singing. Instead, Plant sings a cappella in the verses before the band kicks in. If one listens carefully, they may hear John Bonham tapping his drum sticks for timing. In live performance, the timing was changed to give Plant room to sing his bit. The song was supposedly named “Black Dog” after a black Labrador retriever that walked by Headley Grange often. The song’s lyrics have nothing to do about the dog (the band didn’t know his/her name!). According to Plant in an interview in 1975, the lyrics are very blatant and what he described as “lets-do-it-in-the-bath type things”. Plant’s vocals only took two takes, which is pretty impressive if you think of it. “Black Dog” is one of the best songs from the album easily. If there had to be a list of the greatest classic rock song, “Black Dog” would be on there easily.

2.      “Rock and Roll”- Just like “Black Dog”, “Rock and Roll” is one of the band’s best known songs. It’s a simple twelve-bar blues track with the band just rocking out. Jimmy Page’s guitar playing is great and Plant’s vocals soar over everything. Listen to Bonham’s impressive drum solo at the end of the track. Overall, a standard rock track.

3.      “The Battle of Evermore”- Things slow down for the next song on the album with this very folk rock or celtic rock track. Page is playing mandolin and Jones is playing acoustic guitar. For the first and only time, a guest vocalist is on this song. Singing with Plant is Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention. The lyrics for this song are based on Scottish folklore that Plant had been reading about and there are references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The band had referenced Tolkien before on “Ramble On” from Led Zeppelin II. Adding Denny to the song was a wise thing to do: it gives the song a more celtic folk/rock kind of sound. Of the eight songs on the album, “The Battle of Evermore” is one of the more underrated of them. A unique song from the band’s catalogue.

4.      “Stairway to Heaven”- Over the years, “Stairway to Heaven” has been called many things. Some love the song and some just can’t listen to it anymore. It’s easily one of the band’s best songs and probably their most popular. The song also holds the record as the most requested song to be played on the radio and it’s also one of the first songs that a beginning guitar player will learn. There are some things that bother me about this song. While I think it’s my favorite from the album, it’s very overrated. Also, some people believe the iconic opening guitar riff was plagiarized. Led Zeppelin has been accused of plagiarism many times. In a rare situation, Zeppelin might’ve stolen something from their peers: a band called Spirit. In 1968 on Spirit’s debut album, there was an instrumental piece called “Taurus”. The piece was written and performed by guitarist Randy California. The guitar piece has an ascending guitar sound, very similar to “Stairway to Heaven”. In 1969, Zeppelin and Spirit went on tour together. It’s known that Zeppelin loved Spirit so much that they would perform “Fresh Garbage” during sound checks. Some believe that Jimmy Page robbed Randy California of credit. Page has denied copying California but many don’t buy it.  With all of this aside, “Stairway to Heaven” is a masterpiece. The song started life as a guitar piece that Page had. While he played it for the band by a fire side, Plant sat there writing the lyrics. According to Plant in an interview, the lyrics just came to him suddenly. He remembers writing on the piece of paper so fast that he almost fell out of his seat. The lyrics seem to be about a lady who keeps getting great things without asking for them or doing anything to get them. The song transitions into a more up tempo sound four minutes in. By the time Page plays his solo, “Stairway to Heaven” is a full blown hard rock masterpiece. Over the years, the song has built a legacy of its own and even gets referenced in movies (remember Wayne’s World?). “Stairway to Heaven” is indeed timeless.

5.      “Misty Mountain Hop”- This snazzy sounding track starts off the second side of the album. Jones is playing the electric piano in the beginning, which grabs up right there. The song seems to be about smoking marijuana. It talks about a walk in the park and stopping by hippies who ask “Hey boy, do you wanna score?” It seems that the people in song get busted by the police but are destined to pack their bags for Misty Mountain, “where the spirits fly”. Like “Ramble On” and a few others before, the song also references to Lord of the Rings. In some ways, “Misty Mountain Hop” could be thought of as a deep track and it’s a very good one.

6.      “Four Sticks”- Of all the songs on this album, “Four Sticks” is probably the most underrated of them. The song is known to have only been played once live by the band. The song’s title came from the fact that Bonham was playing with two sets of drumsticks. The lyrics, much like “Black Dog”, seem to be generic and very simple. Personally, it’s my least favorite from Led Zeppelin IV but there are some good parts in this song.

7.      “Going to California”- This wistful folk song is one of Led Zeppelin’s best love songs. The lyrics seem to be of remorse and regrets. Plant sings of visiting California and being told “there’s a girl out there/with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair”. Plant seems to question if he can put up with the craziness of groupies. Plant was married when Led Zeppelin was formed and was just 20 years old. Some believe the song is about singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell because of this lyric: “To find a queen without a king/They say she plays guitar and cries and sings”. That supposedly is referencing to Mitchell’s song “I Had a King”. Plant was later quoted to saying that the song might be embarrassing today but it was his life then. I think I saw something on VH1 Classic in the documentary Let’s Spend the Night Together, which has famed groupie Pamela Des Barnes going to interview former groupies. I remember there being one woman who said she was with Plant for a while and remembered being touched by this song. Obviously, Plant may’ve written the song about the groupies he had fallen for (and no mud sharks were involved in this, thank goodness. Don’t get it? Look it up). Page is on acoustic guitar and Jones is on mandolin. This is just a beautiful song.

8.      “When the Levee Breaks”- Led Zeppelin IV finishes off with this down-right bluesy tune. Compared to the other songs, “When the Levee Breaks” is the only cover tune on the album. The song was originally written and recorded by husband and wife Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1929. The song was written about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The original recording is a basic, fast-paced three minute blues tune. Years after its recording, Zeppelin decided to rework the song into a slow but heavy blues tune.  Comparing the two side by side, they don’t use the same exact lyrics but Zeppelin make “When the Levee Breaks” their own. The playing on here alone is amazing. Page, Jones, and Bonham are just brilliant...and Plant comes in wailing. It’s a fantastic way to end the album.

When Led Zeppelin released their fourth album in 1971, it was Page’s idea for the album to remain untitled. This was in response to the negative review of Led Zeppelin III. All that could be seen was a picture of a hermit with a walking stick. The band were all credited as four different symbols: one read ZOSO (Page), a triquetra with a circle (Jones), three interlocking circles (Bonham), and a feather in a circle (Plant). The album received very positive reviews from almost every major rock critics. It also sold millions of copies worldwide and peaked at #1 in UK and Canada. Strangely enough, the album only peaked at #2 in the US but has managed to become the third best selling album in the country.
I myself like Led Zeppelin IV very much. I have it charted at #22 in my list of favorite albums. It’s a great album and is easily one of the greatest hard rock albums ever made. Still, it’s massively overrated. For me, my favorite Led Zeppelin album will always be the debut (which I have at #6). Still, there’s no denying that Led Zeppelin IV is indeed a great album.