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.

Albums

 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: ****

FAVORITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR

            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


Anvil
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

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
Lulu
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


Riot
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

FAVORITE ARCHIVAL RELEASE OF THE YEAR

            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.


DVDs/Movies

Lemmy
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
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.