“I’d rather listen to Lizzy Borden, to be quite honest.”

Summer of 1987.

This was the summer where I discovered metal. Speed metal, that is. I’d done the classics by the time I’d hit the 7th grade. Made my way through the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, and Hendrix. AC/DC were in my collection, as well as a good chunk of hair metal. Most of 7th grade was consumed by Poison, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Dokken and Great White. But when summer rolled around, my brother introduced me to speed metal. Speed, thrash, whatever you want to call it. Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Overkill, Metal Church,…my eyes and ears had been opened to the double kick drum, lightning fast guitar riffs, the pained howl vocals, and lyrics that ranged from drug addiction, politics, and devil worship; to teen angst, witchcraft, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. It was the perfect place to land before heading back into Warsaw Middle School to start my 8th grade year.

Like with anything, you’ve got your good and bad metal bands. Most of what I came across I liked. I wasn’t all that picky. One afternoon my mom took me to Butterfly Records in downtown Warsaw and I had some money burning a hole in my pocket so bought Fates Warning’s No Exit. To be honest, I’m not sure why I bought this album. I may have read a review in Metal Edge or Circus. Or quite possibly my older brother may have mentioned them. In order to one up said older brother I may have bought the album before he had a chance. So I left Butterfly Records with No Exit on cassette and headed off to a guitar lesson. On the ride home I popped the cassette tape into the cassette player of my mom and dad’s 1984 Honda Accord and was impressed. It had twin guitar attack, impressive drumming, and banshee-like vocals with doom-laden lyrics. What more could a 14 year old kid as for?

Fates Warning were an east coast metal band that formed in 1983 out of Connecticut. No Exit was the fourth album and their first with a line up change that included new singer Ray Alder. After experimenting with progressive rock tendencies the band really jumped head first into the progressive/art rock vibe on No Exit. There were acoustic interludes, lyrics about anarchy, death, silent cries, and even a whole side, 21 minute suite called “The Ivory Gate of Dreams”. When their next album dropped the next year in 1989 called Perfect Symmetry they had gone full progressive and were more in line with bands like Queensryche with that Q Prime management vibe; including heady music videos and more expensive hair products. But No Exit still possessed a sense of danger to it. There was still a darkness in the dissonant guitar lines and Alder’s operatic howls. They never hit the drug-fueled doldrums of say Megadeth, or the speed metal delights of Metallica or Slayer, or even the hardcore charms of Anthrax, but it was a great album for an 8th grader to shake his fist to quietly in his bedroom.

On a recent trip to Neat Neat Neat Records I found a super clean copy of No Exit for $10 and instantly nostalgia got the better of me. After about ten minutes of mulling around the store I made my way back to the “F” section of the metal albums and grabbed Fates Warning. I also snagged a copy of Fogg’s High Testament(we’ll talk about that one later.) Was it all warm fuzzies and harkening back to the heyday of my teen speed metal years? No, not really.

Sometimes nostalgia can give you a nice surprise. Recent purchases of albums like Cinderella’s Night Songs, Dokken’s Tooth and Nail, and even older grabs like Van Halen’s Fair Warning and Diver Down showed that I wasn’t all that bad at finding good music to listen to in my pre-teen and teen years. Sadly though, sometimes records don’t age all that well. No Exit, while still probably exactly as it was in 1988, just isn’t that memorable of a record. It’s a sort of paint-by-numbers affair as far as metal albums go.

So basically you’ve got your chugging metal riffs, the galloping metal riffs, and the occasional spritz of thrash thrown in with Fates Warning. Album opener “No Exit” is 41 seconds of sorrowful, dissonant guitars as singer Ray Alder basks in some serious doomy vocals. When I was a teenager it probably sounded a lot better. Now it just sounds out of tune(God, I’m old.) “Anarchy Divine” goes in hard with some decent thrash moments and some nice tempo changes. Alder, to me, sounds like a poor man’s Joey Belladonna. He hits those high notes well enough, but there’s no heft there. Even Geoff Tate had some color behind his wailing. “Silent Cries” hints at a more progressive sound the band would dig into with their next album, Perfect Symmetry. It’s not bad, but it just doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no “oomph”. “In A Word” is the obligatory acoustic number all metal bands felt they needed to include back in the 80s. I guess it’s supposed to show off the soulful side of the band. Meh. I’d rather listen to Lizzy Borden, to be quite honest. “Shades Of Heavenly Death” has some nice early Anthrax vibes, but man those vocals just kind of bring everything down. I just can’t get into that wailing. “The Ivory Gates of Dreams” is the nearly 22-minute opus and works the best here. Alder keeps his vocals controlled here, and the band does a nice job of tempo changes and mixing up the art rock vibe with straight up speed metal. This takes up all of side B and I could see what I saw in these guys in the first place.

By 1989 the rough edges that were present on No Exit were mostly shaved off. In their place was arty, Rush-inspired progressive rock. It was a little more Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime and less Mercyful Fate’s Melissa. Fates Warning is still a quality progressive rock band, but No Exit won’t be spun again any time soon. Sometimes the past just needs to stay in the past I suppose. Let those sleeping dogs lie. Or those old rock records continue to collect dust in my memory.

Just The Alternative Facts, Ma’am

Okay, so here’s some alternative facts about me:

I’m 6’6″, 255 lbs with long wavy hair. I can bench press 455 lbs and can dead lift 575 lbs. I own 40,000 acres of land and I’m what you’d call a gentleman farmer. I dedicate 30,000 acres to growing produce that I give away free to those that need it. The other 10,000 acres I use as miniature schnauzer farms where I make sure the endangered miniature schnauzer can repopulate so they can one day take their rightful place as supreme leaders of Terra. When I was 15 years old I was a roadie for a Christian rock/funk band called Lovewar. My great-grandfather owned a record shop on Hollywood and Vine and hit it big in California oil fields in the 60s and for a short time I was the lead guitarist for the 80s rock band Cinderella.

Since alternative facts don’t have to be factual, I’m standing by each and every one of those, umm, facts. Okay, okay, you got me. I wasn’t ever the lead guitarist for Cinderella, but I sure did dig that first album Night Songs.

Night Songs came out in 1986 and I remember getting the cassette right around Christmas break of that year. That previous summer I’d gone through both an AC/DC and Aerosmith awakening(the AC/DC phase continues to this day), so when I first heard “Shake Me” I was instantly reminded of both the Australian crew and the Boston crew. Cinderella seemed to be pulling from both of those bands and making a rather unique and heavy sound all their own. While most bands of the day were more about the European side of metal, pulling heavily from the NWOBHM, Cinderella seemed rather content to pull from earthier roots. Now at 12 years old I wasn’t really looking at it that deeply. I was just thinking “I like this.”

I’d yet to get into true heavy metal, speed metal, or even anything that would remotely be considered alternative. At just the cusp of becoming a teenager I just wanted music that was visceral, loud, and could maybe occasionally pull on the old teen heartstrings. Night Songs covered it all, really. Opening track “Night Songs” was like a cross between “Hells Bells” and “Mama Kin”. It was this doomy track that appealed to the working class dude. Of course I wasn’t a working class dude. But my older brother was. I’d see him come home from working 3rd shift, beaten down and wore out and the only thing that made him feel good was noodling on his electric guitar in his bedroom and cranking up some music on the stereo. In that way I got it. “Drinking gasoline”…yeah, that’s what hard working long hairs do, man. Cool. Of course then you have “Shake Me”, the naughty hit single with the video where hot women dance sexily making teen boys awkward and uncomfortable in a good way. Things are starting to get re-wired in your brain when you hit 13. Girls become something to pine for, not run away from. In all honesty, I never went through a “girls are icky” phase. I’ve always been a fan. I had a crush on a young lady from when we were in pre-school clear to the 4th grade when she finally moved away. Always a lover, not a fighter. So when you come across a song like “Nobody’s Fool” and you have your first real heartbreak, it’s a combination that creates hours of feeling sorry for yourself in your bedroom as the song plays on and on and on.

cintwoI think the one thing I’ve noticed going back and re-listening to this album after years is that it’s still a pretty solid album. So many albums of this ilk were loaded with filler that surround one or two good tracks between two sides. While Night Songs isn’t a classic, it’s a solid listen all the way through. Songs like “Nothin’ For Nothin'”, “Hell On Wheels”, and “Somebody Save Me” aren’t just cushion to fill out sides. They’re damn good tunes. Also going back and revisiting these guys I’ve come to the conclusion that Cinderella was a band that would’ve rather always stuck to jeans and t-shirts, much like Tesla did for their entire career. They seemed like a working class rock band that bent to the current Sunset Strip trends of raiding your sister’s closet and hitting the stage at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. There’s some glammy strut in a song like “In From The Outside”, sure. But Tom Keifer seems like a guy that could hold his own in a bar fight. “Push Push” is pulling heavy from some serious AC/DC vibes. A nice mix of the Young brothers with some naughty Sunset Strip vibes. “Back Home Again” ends it all with a tip of the hat to Aerosmith’s “Nobody’s Fault”. A good head basher to end things on.

Maybe I might be regressing a bit hitting up all these old albums from my youth. That’s possible. One blogger pal even said as much. This may be true. Or maybe it’s an alternative fact. Or maybe it’s part truth and alternative fact. I will say this, Night Songs is still a pretty solid record after 30 years. Cinderella went the way of blues rock after this album and had a pretty monumental hit with “Don’t Know What You Got(Till It’s Gone)”. I liked Long Cold Winter enough. There were still plenty of girls to break my teenaged heart, so the big ballads and bluesy rockers were a welcomed reprieve from reality. But it didn’t keep my attention quite like that first time around.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some miniature schnauzers to attend to and some compact cars to lift over my head and toss like mere twigs.

Just Got Lucky

Oh, the 80s. When men were men in tights and poofy hair. The guitar’s smooth lines turned jagged and their colors went from sunbursts and cherry red to hot pink and black with skull and crossbones. Some see these as dark times for hard rock and heavy metal. While it’s not a decade I revisit often in regards to my musical fixes, there are some musical treasures that call their home the Reagan years.

By the mid-80s I was well into elementary school and deep into a nasty Star Wars habit that was slowly turning into a Transformers and GI Joe addiction. To complicate matters I was also starting to dabble in collecting music. Cassettes, folks. This was before CDs were prominent and affordable and just when LPs had begun to lose their desirability to the convenience and compact size of the cassette tape. My brother had been buying cassettes and LPs for some time and he’d begun dubbing some of the cassettes for me to enjoy on my General Electric single deck “boombox”. The first W.A.S.P. album, Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog, Judas Priest’s Defenders of the Faith, and The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour were a few he put on some Maxell 90 minute tapes and threw my way. The first cassette I bought for myself was when I was 10 and in the 5th grade. It was Ratt’s Out of the Cellar. After seeing their video for “Round and Round” on Friday Night Videos I was completely in awe of these LA glam rockers. Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry followed shortly after, along with Quiet Riot’s Condition Critical and Van Halen’s 1984. I was officially hooked. Music had become as important as the new Kenner or Hasbro toy. Once the toy thing would die out I would then make music my main focus. It felt pretty natural, really. My parents groomed my brother and I at an early age to be music fans. There were ample LPs in the house growing up, so music was always around.

dokkenoneAfter that initial hard rock christening in 1984, 1985 introduced me to what I considered a next-level hard rock band. My older brother had a dubbed copy of an album called Tooth and Nail in his bedroom. It was by Dokken. I had come across the name in a copy of Metal Edge, but never heard them before. While my brother was working one night I took the cassette and brought it into my bedroom and popped it in the GE tape deck. What I heard wasn’t like anything I’d heard before. The music seemed darker to me, and faster. The guitar was much more prominent than in anything else I’d heard. It was faster, too. “Without Warning” opens the album on a ominous instrumental note, with synthesizer as George Lynch lays on some seriously heavy guitar playing. This wasn’t Eddie Van Halen stuff, man. This was seriously hard and heavy. It jumps right into title track “Tooth and Nail” which is a blitzkrieg of speed metal drums, Don Dokken’s banshee howl and of course George Lynch’s pyrotechnic guitar playing. My 11 year old ears had not heard anything like this before. How could my brother have hid this musical gem from me? Listening to this I imagined some great space battle, flying through the darkness of space firing laser cannons at my enemy’s ship(I was still a kid. That’s the kind of stuff that went through my head.) Then you’re thrown into the pop metal of “Just Got Lucky”, which will turn into the proto-typical Dokken style on Under Lock and Key and Back For The Attack. It’s that song that brings the chicks in. What girl doesn’t want to hear a song about a girl tearing some guy down a few notches? “Heartless Heart” has a cool riff, but for the record it’s pretty much filler. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” has some of that great George Lynch “chug-a-chug” riffing and some impressive rhythm section backbone by Jeff Pilson and Mick Brown. “When Heaven Comes Down” is a doom-laden rocker. It reminds me of some of the later Lynch Mob stuff. “Into The Fire” is a catchy-as-hell 80s rocker. It’s yet another example that Dokken were a few steps above the haze of White Rain that hung over the Sunset Strip in the 80s. “Bullets To Spare” is pretty schlocky “tough guy” metal that feels about as fake as the hair color these guys were sporting in 1984. But then we get to the shining example of 80s metal ballads. “Alone Again” played in many a car cassette decks(I know it played in my brother’s Jensen deck) while mulleted dudes drove around with one hand on the wheel and one dangerously high on his girl’s leg. I feel that Great White heard this song and went “Hey! Here’s our career right here!” “Turn On The Action” borrows some of that early years Van Halen boogie rhythms and adds some neo-classical guitar posturing. Of course Van Halen did the boogie metal better than anyone, but Roth never sounded as good as Don Dokken. Just a fact, folks.

So to say that Tooth and Nail made an impression on my still forming mind is an understatement. By 7th grade and turning into a full-fledged teenager George Lynch was a guitar hero of mine, Under Lock And Key was one of my favorite albums of 1986-87, and Back For The Attack the next year felt like this massive chunk of incredible riffs and pop-oriented metal. Also by that time Dokken had stolen the collective hearts of millions of horror fans by writing and recording the theme song to Nightmare On Elm Street 3 : The Dream Warriors. That movie was the “it” movie of 1987, and that song was everywhere. It put Dokken firmly front and center in the metal scene. Of course, Back For The Attack was the last studio album they would record before breaking up and going their separate ways(they did get back together in the 90s, but why?) They put out an excellent live album called Beast From The East in 1988, which had one studio song called “Walk Away”, a swan song of sorts that was a rather pretty ballad. The video was shot at some beautiful resort that looked as if it was atop some magical mountain. It was a nice way to say “It’s been real. Here’s something to remember us by.”

A couple of years ago I started going back and finding some of those 80s metal treasures on vinyl. Most of them are under $10, so I figured I’m not really losing out if it turns out they’re complete crap fests nowadays. I started out with Van Halen mostly, then on a trip to Ignition Music last year I found a NM copy of Dokken’s Beast from the East and felt instantly 14 years old again. It was only $5, too. One crisp $5 bill and I owned a double live LP. Seemed like a no-brainer. That followed with Under Lock And Key, then Back For The Attack. Last week I found a NM copy of Tooth and Nail from my local haunt for $7 and couldn’t pass it up. I’ve been spinning it for the better part of this week and it holds up, mostly. I’m not gonna be spinning Dokken on the norm or anything, but for a nostalgia trip it’s quite nice. Tom Werman’s production holds up pretty well. So many of those 80s metal albums are tainted with the dreaded gated reverb effect and a tinny aftertaste that makes them rather unbearable to listen to(at least to my ears.) Dokken always had a nice mix on their records and a decent amount of low end, so their production holds up over the years.

I’ve grown into someone that appreciates a production that doesn’t date the music. A transparent production that helps bring each piece into focus, but doesn’t over saturate the ears with any one thing. No over use of effects. Something as natural as possible. The 80s were a coked-out time when certain producers were too messed up to hear just how bad their mixes were. It even spilt over into the those early CD reissues and remasterings of older albums(check out that first ZZ Top’s Greatest Hits collection and listen to just how horrible those drums on “Lagrange” and “Tush” sound with the 80s reverb schlepped all over ’em.)

For a decade of overindulgence the messy production is a stark reality. At least some of it still holds up. Tooth And Nail is one of ’em that does.

Burnin’ Down The BBC : Led Zeppelin and the BBC Sessions

I think Led Zeppelin is in my DNA. They’re twisted and knotted up in those pesky hereditarial strands that make me me. Along with the Beatles and the The Doors, I do believe Led Zeppelin were pumped into my mom’s womb as I hung out, kicked occasionally, and bid my time till I could kick and scream for the whole world to hear and see. Some of my first memories are of the cover of Led Zeppelin III psychedelically floating in my face as the opening chords to “Black Dog” echoed in my ears. Why that song and that album cover come together in my early memories is beyond me, but that’s how I recall it. There used to be parties in my parents basement in my early years. It was a half basement with a washer and dryer, furnace, water softener, a pool table, and an old console stereo. At these gatherings Zeppelin’s first four records were played often. I do believe this is where the songs got stuck between my ears and stayed permanently. They were ingrained so much so that I recall getting yelled at by my kindergarten teacher because I was humming “Misty Mountain Hop” loud enough for her and the class to hear me. And once the turntable was retired and my parents stopped spinning those records, my older brother fell hard for LZ and the cycle began all over again. By the time I was learning to play guitar “Stairway To Heaven” and “Thank You” were two of the first songs I learned. Later on I can remember being mildly jealous of the fact that my cousin(who started lessons just a year or two after me) learned “Ten Years Gone” and could play it beautifully. I guess it was only right, as he was a Gibson guy and I was a Fender guy growing up(he’s now a Fender guy and I’m a…well, I’m still a Fender guy.)

dsc05129It seemed to me after high school my relationship with Led Zeppelin went through a few stages. I kind of lost interest for a bit, leaving the albums to sit and collect dust. There was mild contempt for them at one point, with me thinking they were just another gluttonous heavy rock band that fell for the typical booze and drugs stereotype. There was a mild resurgence after STP covered “Dancing Days”, then interest drifted again. But then, in 1997 the BBC Sessions were released and my whole idea about who Led Zeppelin were changed. What I thought at one point was this kind of bloated and excessive rock band was at the beginning a powerhouse quartet that left ashes in their wake. BBC Sessions showed me a band in their prime willing to light the fuse and wait for the explosion. This album reinvigorated me and gave me a whole new admiration for the band I loved as a teen and lost interest in when I thought I’d matured as an adult. This live collection set in stone their reputation as one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever hit a stage.

dsc05131A mistake I remember making as a teen was going to the mall and I’d always hit the bookstore to look for the Rolling Stone album guide. Whenever I’d get into a band I’d always look up reviews of their albums. Of course, this was a horrible mistake as most of these reviewers had their heads up their asses. Imagine the disappointment during my Van Halen and Rush phases. Those reviews were awful. But the most surprising to me were the Led Zeppelin reviews. According to reviewer John Mendelsohn from 1969 in regards to Led Zeppelin’s debut he writes

“Jimmy Page, around whom the Zeppelin revolves, is, admittedly, an extraordinarily proficient blues guitarist and explorer of his instrument’s electronic capabilities. Unfortunately, he is also a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs, and the Zeppelin album suffers from his having both produced it and written most of it (alone or in combination with his accomplices in the group).”

Famed music journalist Lester Bangs didn’t have much nicer things to say about Led Zeppelin III, though he at least seems like he wanted to like it,

“Much of the rest, after a couple of listenings to distinguish between songs, is not bad at all, because the disc Zeppelin are at least creative enough to apply an occasional pleasing fillip to their uninspiring material, and professional enough to keep all their recorded work relatively clean and clear — you can hear all the parts, which is more than you can say for many of their peers.”

Gordon Fletcher’s Houses of the Holy review really takes the cake,

“The truly original songs on Houses of the Holy again underscore Led Zeppelin’s songwriting deficiences. Their earliest successes came when they literally stole blues licks note for note, so I guess it should have been expected that there was something drastically wrong with their own material. So it is that “Dancing Days,” “The Rain Song” and “No Quarter” fall flat on their respective faces — the first is filler while the latter two are nothing more than drawn-out vehicles for the further display of Jones’ unknowledgeable use of mellotron and synthesizer.”

I mean, Jesus. What’s a kid supposed to think when he’s reading these literary eviscerations of albums that have pretty much blown his mind? I’m sorry, but I still think to this day that Houses of the Holy is one of the greatest rock and roll achievements…ever. “The Rain Song”, “Over The Hills And Far Away”, “The Ocean”, “The Song Remains The Same”, and “No Quarter”? Fucking “No Quarter”, man. That’s like prog territory. I still get goosebumps listening to it. Elitist music journalist snobs, man. I’ll give Lester Bangs credit. I think he at least tried to open up to them.

But hey, I’m getting off point.

dsc05134BBC Sessions to me gave a shining, steely middle finger to the naysayers that felt the urge to shit all over what Plant, Page, Jones, and Bonham were doing. There was no pretension on those recordings. It was heavy blues and a hefty dose of black magic thrown together to create something new and vital. In 1997 I’d become a reborn Zeppelin fan. I shared my newfound fandom with everyone that would listen. I gave a copy to my parents and a copy to my brother. My cousin who’d learned their songs far better than I ever did couldn’t believe how great the album was. It was, to me, one of the few live albums worth owning. I was never a live album fan, really. Most live records to my ears felt very one dimensional and plotted. The live urgency that you feel when experiencing a band live in front of you was just sucked out of the experience when put to tape and you were left with what felt like a cheap money grab. Now before you puff your chest out at me and say “Hey pal, (insert band name here) (insert live album name here) was a great live record!” Yes, I know there are some exceptions, but as a general jhubner73 rule most live albums underwhelm. Led Zeppelin’s BBC Sessions is one of those exceptions.

Imagine my surprise and general glee when earlier in the year it was announced that BBC Sessions was being released as a 5LP box set, with expanded tracks, added goodies, and a total remaster by Jimmy Page himself? Well, if you can’t imagine it I’ll tell you I was sweating and panting mess. I told my wife that if she wanted to know what to get this guy for his 43rd birthday it was that box set. Since she usually buys me underwear if not given some sort of direction, she happily snagged it for me.

If you haven’t heard this set and you’re a fan then you must hear it. The 1997 CD set was great, but this new set hums. You feel like you’re on the soundstage with the band. It’s raw, visceral, and very much in your face.

Everyone is on point here. Bonham sounds like what I’d imagine Ben Grimm in The Thing mode would sound like on a set of drums. He was never a nuanced, Tony Williams-type of drummer. He was more of a bull in a china shop kind of drummer and that’s what they needed. He could groove when needed, like on “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair”. It’s three minutes show Bonham’s love for the the Bernard Purdie funk groove. His restraint and jazzy ride cymbal groove on “What Is And What Should Never Be” is also a a welcome refrain from his thunderous hits. “Communication Breakdown” is full force rock and roll, with an almost proto-punk feel. It appears four times throughout the set.

Robert Plant is in full banshee mode here. His turn in “How Many More Times” almost sounds like an out-of-body experience. His vocal turns on “You Shook Me”, “Traveling Riverside Blues”, “Thank You”, “What Is And What Should Never Be”, and “How Many More Times” are monumental. His range in these early days was unprecedented to my ears, and to pull this off live is stunning.

Jimmy Page, of course, is the mastermind here. His love of Tolkien, delta blues, and the occult come together here beautifully. He built the perfect machine to create his mystical music. Side F’s 18+ minute “Dazed and Confused” feels like some spaced-out exploration into the subconscious. This jumps the tracks into avante garde art rock, really. I can’t imagine the faces of those folks in the crowd watching this happen before them. Page conducts this musical cacophony like a wizard, his wand a Gibson Les Paul. He’s also quite exceptional on “Black Dog”, “Immigrant Song”, and the beautiful “Going To California” and “That’s The Way”.

But the real MVP here is John Paul Jones. And really, he was the MVP the entire run of Led Zeppelin. He added tasty groove to tracks that could’ve ended up being stiff and mechanical. Just check out “The Lemon Song” for proof of his bass expertise. Or “What Is And What Should Never Be”. Or the thunderous “How Many More Times”. Not seen on this set, but Jones really pushed Zeppelin into new territory with his keys and synth textures, as well as orchestrations on Physical Graffiti and In Through The Out Door.

dsc05133Not sure I can say much more here. If you’re a fan(mild passerby-like fans need not stop) of Zeppelin and an even bigger fan of raw, visceral live album experiences I can’t recommend this box set enough. Don’t want to spend the cash? There’s a 3CD set available for quite a bit less cash. This one is well worth your time.

This one will get the blood a-pumpin’ and the booty shakin’. New Year’s Eve jams? Zeppelin has you covered.

 

 

 

 

Dime Store Nihilists

I suppose the fact that I spent the money I did on the Mondo release of the Fight Club S/T would put me in bad graces with the film’s titular angry imaginary best friend Tyler Durden(oops, spoiler. If you haven’t seen the film by now you obviously don’t have internet on the compound in which you live so it doesn’t really matter.) Anyways, I don’t really care what Tyler Durden thinks because I have a vinyl problem and when I saw the nifty unpackaging video Mondo posted I was pretty much a goner. “Here’s my digits. Where’s…my…vinyl?!” If you haven’t seen that exquisite piece of marketing, here you go:

Okay, so I feel like kind of a sucker about this whole thing, but man the Dust Brothers completely went above and beyond for this score. Truth be told, I didn’t even remember the music from Fight Club. In fact I’d pretty much written off the movie altogether after trying to watch it around 5 years ago. It had been years up to that point since I’d last seen the cult-ish hit by auteur David Fincher and on a night when the wife and I didn’t know what to watch I thought I’d throw the two-disc special edition DVD into the player for fun.

I loved the movie the first time I watched it, which was June of 200o. We were newly anointed parents with an itch to spend some money and get out of the house, so we headed to Best Buy and bought two new cameras(one digital and one 35mm film) to document our happy, exhaustive, mentally draining, but ultimately happy first years as new parents. A quick browse through the movies and I found the Fight Club Special Edition DVD so I grabbed that, too. Cause you know, nihilistic violence and a middle finger to consumerism was what I was all about as I was checking out at the Best Buy.

Anyways, this movie knocked me on my ass then. The deadpan gallows humor, the creative cinematography, the middle finger to corporate America, and the overall bloody smirk the film shoved down our throats was just what an overweight, new father and employee of the “machine” needed to see in June of 2000. Fincher had(and still does) a knack for framing a shot and creating something unique for the  big screen. Everything about Fight Club just screamed “This is the future of film, people!” I was already a fan of Fincher prior to Fight Club. Se7en was one of my favorite movies of the 90s, and The Game was another visceral movie experience with Fincher’s unique dark cinema color palate. Fight Club was proof to me that Fincher was bound for great things. Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Jared Leto, Meatloaf, and a slew of other great actors came together and made this movie the monster that it was.

So, back to 5 years ago.

About 30 minutes into Fight Club I shut it off. I’m not sure who I was back in 2000 when I watched it, but that guy and me five years ago would’ve disagreed wholeheartedly on our interpretations of the film. I was kind of appalled at what I was watching five years ago. The gallows humor just seemed tasteless. The middle finger to corporate America just seemed empty and shallow; more like a wink and a smirk than actually raging against the machine. The direction, cinematography, and acting were all still good, but the overall vibe just made me a little sick. The irony of spending the extra cash on a Special Edition verison of a film that extols the virtues of nihilism, chaos, and the complete rejection of consumerism was a little too much for me to bare. I even took a shot at Palahniuk’s book to see if maybe there was something deeper within the pages that the movie could explain. Maybe I’m just not jaded enough to get it anymore. Maybe had there been more of an emphasis of the ridiculousness of it all I could appreciate it more.

Or not.

dsc04992So here I am, five years later with the Fight Club S/T spinning on the turntable and not an ounce of irony is touching me. Why? Because even though this is the score to Fincher’s flick, this is also a hell of a trip hop album by two guys that changed the game in terms of innovative album building and production.

The Dust Brothers(aka Michael Simpson and John King) have helped to create some of the most iconic albums of my youth. Odeley by Beck pretty much told the world that Beck Hansen was more than just a one-album wonder. It really sort of defined Generation X, for better or worse. The record was solid start to finish. It was also a huge success. Or “yuge”, in the Trump age. Anyways, this wasn’t the album that made me a Dust Brothers fanboy. No, that distinction goes to Paul’s Boutique, a record that Time Magazine rated as one of the best records of all time. I really can’t argue with that. It took three Jewish punks from New York and turned them from drunk Frat guys to stoned and trippy harbingers of the new musical frontier. There was still the college humor and sophomoric goofiness that defined them on License To Ill, but the production had turned into this labyrinthine cacophony of dusty samples and enlightened fart jokes that sort of sounded like Yauch, Diamond, and Horovitz having their heads opened up to the universe for the first time in their lives. The work Simpson and King did on that album is this massive patchwork of funk and rock samples carefully sewn together with THC resin, LSD, cheap beer, and a drive to push things to the next level. I don’t think this album could be made today with all of the licensing issues, so it stands as this shining beacon of creativity and an album from simpler era.

dsc04985Having said all of that, why wouldn’t I buy The Dust Brothers’ score to Fight Club? It really seems to be a no-brainer. Who knows, maybe I’ll sit down and watch Fight Club here soon. It’s been 5 years. Maybe seeing it with newer eyes I might not find it as reprehensible. Stranger things have happened.

Time Loves A Hero

I can remember being a kid and watching superhero TV shows and movies. I loved the fantasy and the escape to some other world than mine. I can also remember feeling like I wish those superhero worlds were a little closer to what I imagined in my head. Not the safe worlds of Christopher Reeves’ Clark Kent and Adam West’s Bruce Wayne. Something that felt as if it was happening in the same world I called home. A place where my hometown was pulled into the void of imaginative minds like Stan Lee, Alan Moore, and Frank Miller. Those were worlds I wanted to see when I watched fantasy. It was the “Calgon, take me away” moment, but for a 10-year old. Star Wars acted as that for me through most of my younger years. It was fantasy but it felt real. Tatooine’s harsh deserts, Endor’s Redwood Forest-like atmosphere, and Hoth’s frozen Antarctic-like environment made these strange worlds from a long time ago seem not so foreign to me. I needed something that bridged the gap between my world and those fantasy worlds.

dsc04976Tim Burton’s Batman was the first comic book movie that added that grit of real life into the comic book movie. Burton used Frank Miller’s Dark Knight tale as the foundation for his film adaptation. It may have moved around a bit and took liberties, but the dark and seedy Gotham Miller shined a dim light on shone through. Well a hell of a lot of years later and I think I’ve found the perfect superhero adaptations. Two years ago Netflix premiered the first season of their collaboration with Marvel in Daredevil. It was this beautifully shot piece of TV/cinema hybrid about the Stan Lee-created blind lawyer by day/vigilante by night Matt Murdock. In it Charlie Cox played Murdock, the lucky with the ladies do-gooder lawyer starting up his own law firm with best friend Foggy Nelson, played by the annoyingly lovable Elden Henson. Both as himself and as Daredevil, Murdock takes on sex traffickers, crooks, thugs, crime lords, his own mentor Stick(played by the excellent Scott Glenn), and the Kingpin himself, Wilson Fisk(played with perfection by Vincent D’Onofrio.) It was gritty, violent, well written, acted, shot, and took great care to make you feel for these characters(even the not-so nice ones.)

dsc04974Last November the next Marvel/Netflix creation hit the streaming service. Jessica Jones was about a former superhero-turned-private eye after realizing she wasn’t nearly as super as some of her compatriots in the super hero world. It starred the wonderful Krysten Ritter. Ritter plays Jones as a no-nonsense private dick that mainly finds cheating spouses for spurned partners, staying out till all hours of the night, drinking too much and generally hiding from the rest of society when she can. She finds a flawed kindred spirit in bar owner Luke Cage, aka Powerman. They find partners in themselves of equal strength that works well in both street brawls and in-between the sheets. The main villain on the first season of Jessica Jones is the Purple Man, played by my favorite Dr. Who David Tennant. He can control people just by speaking to them, which is what he did to Jones prior to her becoming a private eye. It’s yet another beautifully crafted series that takes a not-so famous hero from the Marvel world and turns them into something relatable. They take them from the skies and alternate dimensions and put them in the streets where we could pass them as we walked to get a bagel or a cup of coffee.

Finally, just a couple months ago Luke Cage was released. It stars Mike Colter as the Powerman himself, hanging out in Pop’s barbershop trying to just keep to himself and not get involved in anyone’s affairs but his own. Of course that doesn’t last long as he gets pulled into the world of Harlem kingpin Cornell Stokes, aka Cottonmouth(played beautifully by Mahershala Ali), his crooked politician cousin Mariah Dillard(the always great Alfre Woodard), and the deadly and mysterious Willis Stryker, aka Diamondback, played with viciousness by Erik LaRay Harvey. There’s good cops and crooked cops, more bad guys, and a helpful and tough nurse named Claire Temple played by the always great Rosario Dawson(she shows up as Claire in both Daredevil and Jessica Jones, too.)

dsc04977If you ask me, this is the absolute best way to tell stories like these. Instead of shoving all these amazing characters and ideas into a single 2 hour movie that condenses them down to just essence and moments of brilliance, you spread it out into 10 to 12 45-50 minute episodes. This allows time to get to know these characters. You invest in their lives and their struggles. This is true storytelling. When you condense these storylines down to fit into the 2 hour timeframe of a popcorn flick for a Friday night at the local cinema you’re left with a hurried story that leaves you wanting. It leaves you with just some fight scenes and explosions. No real emotional investment. With The Avengers, X-Men, Batman, Superman, and the like we’re all so familiar with these characters that we can just jump right into a film and not miss a beat. 2 1/2 hours at the cinema with these old friends is all the time we need. With these lesser known characters having serialized shows we’re being taken behind the curtains and seeing what it’s like to be “super” among the common folks. This is street level super. Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage are the common folk superheroes. They came from where we came from. They’re flawed; they drink, they swear, they screw, and their morals can sometimes be questionable.

They’re just like us.

dsc04975And just because these are superhero shows doesn’t mean they’re for kids. Not all superheroes are geared towards kids. These characters were written not with the dreams and fears of children in mind, but of grown men with real-world problems in their minds. Violence, crime, racism, crumbling societies, and bullet-riddled inner city streets. These heroes were created not to battle aliens, super villains, and the Nazis. They were created to battle street thugs, drug dealers, crime lords, and those that want to control our lives in ways we don’t want them to. What we have in Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage is walking the beat superheroes, warts and all.

I love everything about these shows. I’m obsessed with them, really. They’re everything I’ve ever wanted in a superhero show. Violence, humor, tragedy, sex, and perfect casting that all come together to make pivotal entertainment. And yes, the scores for these shows are spot on. So much so that I had to buy the scores when they were recently released by Mondotees. Colorful, beautiful artwork, they sound amazing. Daredevil and Jessica Jones arrived last week. Luke Cage will be here soon, hopefully.

If you havent’ watched these shows yet, what the hell are you waiting on? Get on it. Iron Fist hits in March. Get. On. It.

 

 

 

Ridiculous Vinyl Purchases : Nostalgia Gets The Best Of Us All

I guess you could say I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick lately. On a trip to my local record store recently I was given access to leaf through an as-yet put out collection of records and see if anything tickled my fancy. Within this “like, totally” 80s dive I located some truly most excellent spins from my formative years and without even thinking of what I was doing I’d pulled these 80s metal wonders from the lot and said “I want.”

After John at Karma had given the records a good looking over and had arrived on a price for these albums I paid the man and brought them home. What records am I talking about here? Dokken’s Under Lock And Key, Cinderella’s Night Songs, and Tears For Fears’ Songs From The Big Chair. Yeah I know, they seem like random impulse buys. And really they sort of are, but they also hold some significance in my pre-teen/teen years.

FullSizeRender (94)Dokken’s Under Lock And Key was a no-brainer(I guess in more ways than one) for me. Over the last few months I’ve collected a couple of their records, Back For The Attack and their last and live record Unleashed In The East. For me, Dokken towed the line between metal and hard rock. They came up in the early 80s LA where bands like Ratt and Motley Crue mixed glam and metal. Dokken toned the glam down a notch and concentrated more on intricate songwriting. Don Dokken had a good mid-range voice that lent itself well to banshee wails and warm balladeering rather well. Mick Brown and Jeff Pilson were a solid rhythm section, albeit nothing showy, while the ever tan and shirtless George Lynch excelled at lightning fast runs and melodic wailing better than most at that time. I fell for their heavy and serious rock music in 1985 when I swiped a dubbed copy of their album Tooth And Nail from my older brother. That album was part of the reason I wanted to learn guitar. I couldn’t get over how good George Lynch was. Up to that point it was Eddie Van Halen and Warren Di Martini that impressed me. Lynch seemed to be on a whole other level.

I first owned Under Lock and Key in December of 1986. December 2nd to be exact. I’d received a copy on cassette for my 13th birthday. I’d heard “In My Dreams” and “It’s Not Love” pretty frequently on MTV, Friday Night Videos, and on the radio show Metal Shop late Friday nights on 95.3 WXKE out of Niles, Michigan. Having the album I could fixate on some of the other tunes. “Unchain The Night”, “The Hunter”, “Lightning Strikes Again”, and the ballad “Will The Sun Rise” were all solid songs that were pretty much ignored by everyone else. This was the time of the singles, where record labels pushed two or three tracks and left the rest to collect dust somewhere on the back end of the LP. When I bought an album I gave the whole album a shot. Sometimes there wasn’t much else besides the singles, but occasionally you’d stumble across some buried treasures. I found that to be the case with Dokken, actually.

I was a huge fan of the band till I was 14 or 15 years old. Eventually what killed them for me was their self-serious nature. At first them taking themselves seriously was a good thing to my ears. It made their music seem heavier and legitimate. But as the years went on and their albums became less heavy and more ballad-filled the serious nature made the songs seem all the more, well, lame. George Lynch left the band and it pretty much became Don Dokken’s time to turn the band into a ballad machine.

But still, spinning Under Lock And Key over the last week or so has been a nice nostalgia trip. I’m not looking to rekindle any hard rock relationships, but it’s nice to step into the time machine now and then. And yes, if I ever see a vinyl copy of Tooth And Nail for sale on the cheap I’m buying it.

FullSizeRender (93)About three weeks after my birthday, the first week of Christmas break in 1986 to be exact, I’d headed to Butterfly Records in downtown Warsaw and bought a copy of Cinderella’s Night Songs. I’d given in to the fun and catchy first single “Shake Me” and felt I’d needed to dig into that album a little deeper. It turned out that the rest of that album was pretty solid. Opening track “Night Songs” was pretty damn heavy, really. Ballad “Nobody’s Fool” was enough to get the girls excited while still retaining some metal-ish edge to it. “Hell On Wheels”, “Somebody Save Me”, and “Push Push” were also pretty solid tunes.

This album became a staple of my 7th grade year. I played it pretty much all the time till spring. Coming back to this one recently I was again reminded of how solid this album is. While not seeking future records of theirs on vinyl, I’m glad to have this one as it’s a reminder that not all those 80s glammy hard rock records were completely bogus. Plus, it pays to dig into the deep tracks. I still think Tom Keifer has a great hard rock voice.

FullSizeRender (95)So that leads us to Tears For Fears and Songs From The Big Chair. I was never a huge Tears For Fears fan. I liked the songs when they came on the radio, but I never owned any of their records. They were too pop and radio for my eccentric pret-teen tastes. But over the last few years songs from this album began to come back to me and reminded me of a certain road trip my family took in the summer 1985.

My parents rented a house in Englewood, Florida, for us to stay in on a week-long vacation in the sunshine state. We packed our bags and loaded into our 1984 Honda Accord and headed south. This was a long, long, long drive. It was filled with card games, naps, arguing, burger joint stops, and lots of radio. Tears For Fears’ “Shout” was huge that summer so we heard it A LOT on our way to and from Florida. So much so that it felt as if it had become a part of my DNA. I seem to remember hearing “Head Over Heels” as well quite a bit, though I may have just grafted those memories onto this vacation road trip. Either way, it was one of those situations where at the time I was thinking “Not this song again!”, but unbeknownst to me it had taken hold and had connected with my 11-year old brain. I’d never thought about it, but whenever I’d hear that song over the last 15 years or so it made me feel good. I wanted to hear it more. It was a pleasant surprise when it would come on some 80s radio station or 80s mix I might be listening to. That trip was the reason, I think. So when I saw Songs From The Big Chair in that stack of records I knew I needed to take that one home with me.

Spinning the record I was amazed by just how good of an album it is. It’s catchy, kind of quirky, and a completely different trip from what was coming out in 1985. The singles were massive, and as a whole the album was wonderfully produced and engineered. No wonder it became a permanent part of my DNA.

So there you have it. My walk down memory lane, or nostalgia avenue. There’s one more album I picked up in that lot, but I’ll save it for another post. Until then, go put on some of your or your significant other’s eye liner and throw on Night Songs or Under Lock And Key.

Or better yet, don’t.