Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hungry Freaks, Daddy: Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention's Freak Out is 45

 Frank Zappa - Freak Out!
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
Freak Out!
Rating: **** 1/2

1966 marked the middle of the decade. For the first half of the 1960’s, the British Invasion had certainly taken over the world of rock music. As far as American rock bands went, there weren’t really any until the late 1960’s. One of the first bands to do so was a band called the Mothers of Invention. The band, led by guitarist Frank Zappa, released their debut album on June 27, 1966. The album, Freak Out!, was released as a double album. At that time in rock music, it was rare for a band to release a double album (let alone a double album as their debut album). 45 years after its release, Freak Out! is an album that’s still relevant today. Not only was it the debut album for the Mothers of Invention but it was also the world’s introduction to the music of Frank Zappa.
            Frank Zappa was born on December 21, 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland. Zappa grew up listening to early rock music as well as classical music. One of Zappa’s influences was an avant garde composer named Edgar Varsee. Zappa’s family moved quite often, which would explain why Zappa attended six different high schools. In 1956, the Zappa family had moved to California. When Zappa attended Antelope Valley High School around that time, he started writing and composing music. It was also at Antelope where he met Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart. Zappa graduated from high school in 1958. He tried community college but left after one semester. He even got married at the age of 20 to Kay Sherman but they weren’t together for very long. In 1964, Zappa joined a band called the Soul Giants. Zappa quickly took the role as leader in the band and managed to get the band a manager in Herb Cohen in early 1965. The band also changed their name to the Mothers that same year. The line-up at that point was Zappa, singer Ray Collins, bassist Roy Estrada, and drummer/percussionist Jimmy Carl Black. The band did have a few line-up changes before recording the debut album. Still, these four people stayed together aside from the short time Collins left the band. When Collins rejoined, the band hired guitarist Elliot Ingber as the new fifth member. By this point, the band was signed to Verve Records. The band was asked to change their name. According to Zappa years later, the record label didn’t like the name: if someone was a good musician, they were a “motherfucker”. The Mothers sounded like “a clan of motherfuckers”. With that, the band’s name was changed to the Mothers of Invention. The band began work on Freak Out! on March 9, 1966 at Sunset-Highland Studios and finished just three days later.
            “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” opens the album with a psychedelic roar. It sounds like a song that the average rock band at that point would release except better. The lyrics points fingers at America: “Mister America walk on by/Your schools that do not teach/Mister America walk on by/The minds that won’t be reached”. The sound of the guitar solo is raw, which I really like. In some way, this song could still be relevant. “I Ain’t Got No Heart” is what one would probably call soul or R&B. “Who Are The Brain Police”, however, is another stand out track off this album. The song is very psychedelic and also very dark. There’s that part when the music completely changes into this bizarre mash-up of noises before going back into the first part. The Mothers also showcase their love for doo-wop music on this album. “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder” is a fantastic and quite hilarious song. It tells a tale of teenage woe, with line like “I gave you my promise ring at the root beer stand”. “Motherly Love” probably goes in the same league as “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” in which it sounds like something anyone could’ve put out at that time. The band gets a bit serious when it comes to song such as “How Could I Be Such A Fool”, the melodic “You Didn’t Try To Call Me”, and the soulful “I’m Not Satisfied”. The band also gets silly in “Wowie Zowie”, in which the singer doesn’t care if his girlfriend has bad hygiene or if her dad’s “the heat”. My favorite song off the album (and probably a lot of others would agree) is “Trouble Every Day”. The song is written very honestly about the country at that time. There was a war going on and events such as the Watts riots happening. The content in this song is heavy. The verse about the news channels reporting things fast is still relevant. “Hey you know something people?” says one man. “I’m not black but there’s a whole lots of times I wish I could say I’m not white”. As humorous as that may sound, there’s something dark in that statement. The album ends weird with three songs. First, there’s “Help, I’m A Rock” which is a very strange song with basically cries of the song’s title. “It Can’t Happen Here” is another weird song which has no instruments except the drumming in the middle. Zappa leads the band in verses like “Who could imagine that they would freak out in…?”. Listeners are also introduced to the character of Suzy Creamcheese in the last two songs. The album’s finale, “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet”, is a twelve minute avant garde piece that may leave you wondering “Suzy Creamcheese, what’s got into you?”
            When Freak Out! was released in June 1966, it was not a success. The album charted at #130 and barely anything was said about the album. The album did however have a cult following, as did all the other albums that Frank Zappa made with and without the Mothers of Invention. Today, the album gets much more recognition than it did in 1966. Music critics alike say that Freak Out! is one of the best rock albums ever made. 45 years after its release, Freak Out! is still great.  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Uriah Heep rocks Jim Thorpe

Uriah Heep
Live at Penn's Peak
June 24, 2011

Rock veterans Uriah Heep rocked Jim Thorpe, PA last night with a great set of songs. The band, formed in 1969, are currently on tour in support of their 23rd studio album Into the Wild. The currently consists of singer Bernie Shaw (since 1986), guitarist Mick Box (since 1969, only original member), bassist Trevor Bolder (1977-1981, 1983-present), drummer Russel Gilbrook (since 2007), and keyboardist Phil Lanzon (since 1986).

The band hit the stage at 8 pm, which is pretty early compared to other bands I've seen. The stage for Penn's Peak is pretty small and back stage is actually behind two visible doors. When Mick Box arrived on stage, the crowd went nuts. With that, the band kicked into "I'm Ready" from the new Into the Wild album. After this song, Bernie said hello to the crowd and told them that the audience would have some fun tonight. "Return to Fantasy" followed (from the 1975 album of the same name) and I was impressed the band played it. It's a pretty deep cut, in my opinion. I was disappointed to see some people sit down during this song. C'mon, people! It's a rock concert. I thought we're all Heepsters! When Phil Lanzon and Trevor Bolder went into the opening line from "Stealin", people got back up. The band performed a wonderful rendition of the song. I've seen videos before of Bernie singing this one and he's really good singing this one. The late great David Byron might be the band's original and best frontman but Bernie is a great singer in his own way. The only thing Bernie did wrong: he said "Stealin" was from 1974 when it's really from 1973 (but hey, people make mistakes! Heck, Bernie wasn't even in the band yet!) The band dived into the Demons And Wizard with the keyboard led drone of "Rainbow Demon". The band went into another song off Into the Wild, "Money Talk". The band then let Russel Gilbrook show off his drumming skills with an impressive and monstrous drum solo. Russel also kicked into another song from the new album, "Nail on the Head".  Mick got out his acoustic guitar for "The Wizard", which pleased the crowd. In fact, it was the crowd that impressed Bernie after leading the crowd in the "ahhhs" in "The Wizard" (or was it after Bernie led the ending of "Stealin"? I forget. It's either one of them). So impressed he asked,

"You guys want to come on tour with us? Hey Simon, our manager...we'll need another bus!"

"Into the Wild" came next. Phil Lanzon did an amazing job at doing the intro to the Heep classic "Gypsy". The band had the crowd stomping and clapping. "Gypsy" went right into "Look At Yourself", where Mick played an explosive solo. "Kiss of Freedom" was the fifth and last song the band played from Into the Wild. "July Morning" followed, which is a great song when played live. The studio version of the song goes on for ten minutes. It was even longer live! Mick went into another solo, with the use of a wah-wah pedal. Mick got his acoustic guitar again and said hello to the audience. He thanked the crowd for coming out and supporting the band. With that, the band went into the ballad of "Lady In Black". Bernie once again led the audience in the wordless chorus (go look it up on YouTube). The band then said goodnight.
Mick came back onstage with the band after a few minutes of waiting. 

"You want to hear more?" he asked.
The crowd roared. Mick then introduced the next song by saying it came out in 1977 and it was a hit in Germany. Over in Germany, it was considered one of the first heavy metal songs. Mick chuckled at the comment and asked if anybody wanted to come on stage and "headbang". A few audience members went up onstage going nuts. When the band went into "Free N Easy", the headbanging began! I remembered seeing this one guy with very long hair doing a 360 with his hair! Mick thanked their headbangers and with that, the band soared into "Bird of Prey" which went right into the band's most popular song, "Easy Livin'". The band then said goodbye.

Uriah Heep were great and I enjoyed going to see them. My only complaints are that the band played too many songs off the new album Into the Wild. They played five of the eleven songs. I already praised the album when it came out but I would've wanted to hear something off of, say, The Magician's Birthday. Another thing : the audience was boring. People this is URIAH HEEP not URIAH SLEEP! Still, I enjoyed the show immensely. I'd love to see them again!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Clarence Clemons (1942-2011)- Just A Note

Clarence Clemons
January  11, 1942- June 18, 2011

I know I'm a little late with the news. I really didn't want to make a blog post on this given that I'm not a fan of Bruce Springsteen's music (no offense). Still, I'm saddened to hear of the passing of Clarence Clemons. I know he'll be missed by almost everyone in the music business. Although he's known for his work with Springsteen, Clemons played for other artists in rock music such as Ringo Starr, Twisted Sister, Ian Hunter, Great White, and countless others. 

Rest in peace, Clarence!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Metallica and Lou Reed have recorded an album...

Earlier this year, guitarist Kirk Hammet said that Metallica would be making their next studio album. Hammet added that the project was to be "top secret". Well just recently, Metallica have revealed on their official site that they've completed making an entire album with legendary singer/songwriter Lou Reed. According to the post on the band's site, Metallica had been "kicking around the idea" of making an album with the former Velvet Underground member since they performed with Reed in 2009 at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert. The band and Reed played the Velvet Underground classic, "Sweet Jane". It also says in the article that ten tracks have been recorded. No release date has been announced yet but Metallica are very excited to get this out.
This is awesome. I will admit it is an odd pairing but I love both Lou and Metallica. Metallica isn't really known for experimenting and have been basically thrash metal and hard rock. Lou's career with the Velvet Underground was basically protopunk and early alternative rock music. When it comes to his solo career, Lou is really only known for the Transformer album and "Walk On The Wild Side". I've explored some of his amazing man's discography and there isn't anything he hasn't done: he's done concept albums (Berlin), avant garde albums (Metal Machine Music, even though most of us hate it), simple blues rock albums (The Blue Mask) and too many others to mention. This should be an interesting album. I'll be picking this up, for sure.

Metallica + Lou Reed = Loutallica!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Paul McCartney's McCartney and McCartney II reissue reviews

The Paul McCartney Archive Collection has released two more reissues to follow up last year's reissue of Band on the Run. For this release, MPL and Concord decided to release Macca's two self-titled solo albums. One would wonder what's so special about these albums. Both albums literally put the "solo" in "solo album": Paul McCartney is the only person playing any instrument on these two albums, with Linda providing backing vocals and harmonies. The albums have been remastered and I must say that they sound like Paul's grandfather (If you don't get this and you call yourself a Beatles fan, why the hell are you reading this?)! Let's review them, shall we?

 Paul McCartney - McCartney
Paul McCartney
Rating: ****

Paul's first album, simply titled McCartney, was released on April 17, 1970. Just a week before the release, Paul had announced he was leaving the Beatles which broke up the band as a result. This means that Paul was making this album secretly while he was still in the Beatles. Recording began in late 1969, which by that time, the Beatles were struggling financially (with Apple) and personally. Many of the songs on McCartney began life as Beatles songs during the infamous Get Back/Let It Be recording session in early 1969. These songs would include the beautifully dark "Junk" and "Teddy Boy" which tells the tale of a young boy who lives with his mother, but is interrupted by her new husband. There's also short ditties like "The Lovely Linda" and instrumental songs such as "Hot As Sun/Glasses" (another Beatles left over) and the somewhat heavy "Kreen-Akrore". Paul does rock out, but just for a bit, with "Oo You". For some reason, I've always liked that song. It's got nice guitar playing on it! There are plenty of ballads and/or slower songs like the gentle "Every Night" and many others. The most popular song of this album is, without a doubt, "Maybe I'm Amazed". It's such a nice ballad and apparently, Paul wrote it about how Linda was caring for him during the long and painful split with the Beatles. 
There isn't a lot on the second disc. There are only seven tracks and the entire second disc is just 25 minutes. McCartney is 34 minutes long. Um, all of this could've fit perfectly onto one disc...or not (depending on how much room the remastered tracks are taking up on the disc, I don't know. Just a thought). Firstly, there's a nice outtake called "Suicide". Paul was originally going to put it on the final album but it was left unreleased. The excellent performance of "Maybe I'm Amazed" from the One Hand Clapping documentary is also on here. One would wonder why it wasn't put on the second disc for Band On The Run but I think it was saved for McCartney, given that "Maybe I'm Amazed" is from McCartney. Next, there are three live cuts from a Wings show in Glasgow in 1979. The songs are "Every Night", "Hot As Sun", and "Maybe I'm Amazed". All three sound great and I think it's nice to have some kind of live recording of that line-up of Wings (w/ Laurence Juber and Steve Holly). "Don't Cry Baby" is basically "Oo You" as an instrumental. I think it was called "Don't Cry Baby" since in the beginning, you can hear Paul say it and also the cries of a baby (possibly Paul's daughter Mary?). The last track is a demo called "Women Kind" and it's a bit silly! Paul's voices are too much!

  Paul McCartney - McCartney II
Paul McCartney
McCartney II
Rating: *** 1/2 or even ****

After the listener listens to this album, they might make the confused face that Paul has on the album's cover. It's easy to understand: this album is very experimental, but so was McCartney in some way. McCartney II is actually a really good album. I like the sound of it personally. It's different and kind of trippy and funky. This album was recorded in July 1979, shortly after Wings had released their seventh (and later, final) album Back To The Egg. Paul recorded this album in Scotland and like McCartney, he played all the instruments, but this time with the aid of a sixteen track machine. Paul also had a new toy: a synthesizer. This is one of the reasons why some critics and fans don't care for McCartney II. I'm not a big fan of the synth either but Paul makes this easy to listen to. The album opens with "Coming Up", an instant classic. The live version taken from the 1979 gig in Glasgow made "Coming Up" a #1 hit single. If you're reading this, please go check out the promo/music video to "Coming Up". It's just wacky. Some people may skip over songs like "Temporary Secretary", "Front Parlour", "Frozen Jap", and many others due to the fact that there all use one too many synthesizers. I actually like "Temporary Secretary" and I also really dig "Frozen Jap", which is also an awesome song title! I like the entire first side of the album. Along with "Coming Up" and "Temporary Secretary", there's the slow rocker "On The Way", the simply beautiful "Waterfalls", and the upbeat "Nobody Knows". The second side isn't as good. My least favorite song is probably "Bogey Music". It's got this 1950's feel but it's kind of annoying.  "Frozen Jap" is much like "Front Parlour" but there's something I like about it. I think it's the Japanese-like sound it has! I also like the reggae-flavored "Darkroom". 
The second disc for McCartney II has eight songs and a run time of 48 minutes. Some of these songs are edits of long songs (the full length versions can be found on the third disc on the deluxe edition of this album. Both McCartney and McCartney II have deluxe editions w/ photo books and a DVD) The hit live version of "Coming Up" is on here as is "Wonderful Christmastime", which was another hit for Paul. "Check My Machine" is a very funky track that I'm really liking. It was a B-side to "Waterfalls". There's also the ten minute "Secret Friend", which was a B-side for "Temporary Secretary". For all of you real die-hard fans, there's three previously unreleased tracks that didn't make the final album (which are on a bootleg called The Lost McCartney II Album). Those three are "Mr H Atom/You Know I'll Get You Baby", "Bogey Wobble", and "All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway".
I was undecided at first as to buying these two reissues. I have to say that I'm pretty happy with my purchase. These are two really good albums and they sound clean. You also got the bonus discs, which have some lost treasures that are worth listening to. If you're a die-hard fan of the Beatles and/or Paul McCartney, you may want to pick these up. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

AC/DC Let There Be Rock movie review

 AC/DC - Let There Be Rock
AC/DC: Let There Be Rock
1980 (filmed in 1979)
Rating: **** or even **** 1/2

After years of waiting, AC/DC's classic concert film Let There Be Rock is finally on DVD (as well as Blu-Ray). The movie was originally released in September 1980 but was filmed in 1979 during the last tour AC/DC would do with singer Bon Scott: Scott died on February 19, 1980. The movie was released on VHS but for the longest time, the movie hasn't been on DVD. Fans went as far as to bootlegging it. Finally, Let There Be Rock is now officially on DVD and it's just amazing.

Let me get one thing straight before I start the review: I got the standard edition of the movie. I had the hardest time trying to track down a copy. I finally found a copy at Walmart and thought that the disc would have special features but no! Warner Brothers are making you pay $27 for the same thing all on one disc with a booklet and postcards. I just don't have the money at this time to get that. Could they have at least included the extras on the standard edition?  If you see a copy that's some $13, it's probably the standard version.  I'm asking myself right now: is it really worth reviewing if I'm not going to talk about the extras? I planned on having a review in the first place so I'll pretty much be giving a review of the movie. I will, however, give you a link in the end where you can watch bits of the extras.

Let There Be Rock was my introduction to AC/DC in 2002. I got the 1977 album of the same name along with the movie on VHS. The movie and album have nothing in common except the same title. I really enjoyed watching the movie and I didn't get why other people were dismissing the movie, saying they just want a straight up concert film. Personally, I love the way it's made. One negative about the DVD: the movie isn't in widescreen. I'm guessing the movie was shot as a 4:3 ratio thing. Still, the movie is great. It's probably the only movie that'll give you a feel for what the 1977-1980 line up of AC/DC was like. This concert is raw and loud. The band blasts into classics such as "Live Wire", "Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be", "Sin City", and many others. The concert is interwoven with interviews with the band offstage. It's really interesting to hear what they have to say, especially Bon Scott. There's two scenes I like involving the band just hanging out. I love the scene where Bon is signing autographs for fans and is asked where Angus is (to which Bon replies "He's sleeping"). It might be hard for some to watch the scene where Bon and Phil Rudd are trying to open bottles of wine (I think it is), given that alcohol would take the life of Bon. Still, this is what went on behind the scenes. There's an interesting scene where we can hear the band performing "Walk All Over You", but we can't see them perform it on stage. Instead, we see the band fooling around in this rural field. Cliff Williams is flying a plane and then there's Phil Rudd doing donuts with his car. Bon Scott appears out of nowhere in this scene. We can see him walking on ice and then sitting on Phil's car, while Phil continues to drive. 

Now if you are an AC/DC fan, this is a no brainer: get this movie now. I know die-hards will go for the extra features, like I tried to do. Still, I see that some sites aren't listing what the extras are. Although I don't have them, this is the list that I'm seeing from a banner via Rolling

-Loud, Locked & Loaded: The Rites of Rock
-AC/DC: The Bedrock of Riff
-Angus Young: A True Guitar Monster
-Bon Scott: The Pirate of Rock N Roll
-AC/DC: A Rock Solid Legacy
-Rock's Elites Discuss 6 AC/DC Songs

As for the Blu-Ray, you get all the above along with a feature that lets you arrange the concert in your preferred order. 

I've seen bits of clips of the extras. It looks like people such as Eddie Trunk, Lemmy, Scott Ian, and a few others are interviewed. Here's the URL to the previews:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pete Townshend reveals details on Quadrophenia box set

Who guitarist Pete Townshend has revealed in a rare blog post that he is currently working on a box set for the Who's 1973 classic, Quadrophenia. The blog post was rare since, according to RollingStone, Townshend had given up posting something everyday. According to Townshend, he felt that journalists were taking is quotes out of context. However with a project big as this, how can you not make a blog post? So, Townshend has revealed some details on this new box set. According to him, Bob Pridden is working on a surround sound mix the album while Jon Astley is remastering the original vinyl. Quadrophenia was last touched in 1996, with a new mix the brought up the vocals and backing vocals, which Astley is also listening to for evaluation. As with any reissue and/or box set, there are some extra goodies coming with this project. According to Townshend, he's at work mixing old demos and also looking at notes and diaries from that time period (1971-1972). Townshend has also stated that if all goes well, this box set will be like the box set released last year for the 40th anniversary of Live at Leeds (which included the previously released "deluxe edition" with the entire Feb. 14, 1970 gig, along with the unreleased live show recorded the day after in Hull. Limited edition sets also included a copy of the album on vinyl) and Townshend's own Lifehouse Chronicles box set (released in 2000. This set consists of recordings Pete did himself in 1971 of the concept album that was supposed to follow up Tommy. It was abandoned and the Who ended up condensing the project to 1971's Who's Next). Townshend says that this Quadrophenia box set should be out sometime in October.

Personally I think this is a cool project. Quadrophenia is an amazing album and last time I checked, it's at #44 on my list of favorite albums (with Tommy, Live at Leeds, and Who's Next beating it. Studio album wise, it ranks as #3 in Who albums for me). Still, I'm a bit confused as to why Pete would want to work on this album in particular. The record label got it right with releasing the Live At Leeds set last year, since it was 40 years old. 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of Who's Next, so wouldn't it make sense to focus on that? I think the Lifehouse set sort of covered that since Lifehouse turned into Who's Next. Also I remember a few years ago that Rock Band (the video game) were going to make the entire Who's Next album as download content to play in the game. However I remember reading that they couldn't find all the master tapes for the album, which are needed in order to get them to work with the game (remember, there's four instruments: vocals, guitar, bass, and drums. Keyboards was added last year with Rock Band 3 but this happened in 2008-ish, I'll say). So instead of making fans/players disappointed, Rock Band released a "greatest hits/best of..." pack in place. They didn't do anything when Tommy turned 40 in 2009 (if I can remember correctly). I guess Tommy has gotten so much attention that making any kind of box set for Tommy would've been pointless. I mean, they turned the album to a Broadway musical! I guess it's time to give Quadrophenia some love, though I would've thought it would be best to wait till that turns 40 in 2013. Still, this is pretty cool. My birthday happens to fall in October so there's an idea for a gift there. The only problem for me with Quadrophenia is that I got it off iTunes about three years ago (although I had heard the album years before after copying the songs from my local library's copy...). I don't know how to overwrite things I got off iTunes but hey, I'm up for experimentation!

Speaking of Who's Next...I plan on having a anniversary article on it sometime in July when it turns 40. Since it's in my top 10 (at #4!), I'll be giving it the "song-by-song" treatment which is time consuming. I should get to work on it...soon! Stay tuned!