Ode To Karin Krog

Man, the air seemed brand new today; sharp, cool, and crisp going into the lungs. It was like walking out of an underground bunker from a four-month stay and having the first blast of air hitting you. I don’t know why I don’t usually notice the air that surrounds me normally, but today it hit me. Could be that driving the company van from the plant to one of our suppliers gives me the urge to just keep driving and not look back until the sun has sunk into the west. It’s probably the fact that every time I’d get out of the van that fresh air taunted me and begged me to stay in it. Just leave that lousy van running and start walking. Where? Who cares. Just keep your feet moving, one in front of another until you come across something worth stopping for.

If only I’d a worn my walking shoes today.

Be that as it may, I didn’t leave the company van running in the parking lot of the local anodizer and begin walking the earth like Caine in Kung Fu. I merely took a couple big hits of that freshly squeezed oxygen, hopped in the van, and made my way back to my lonely desk that sits on a large dock and received in those anodized parts. I couldn’t just walk away from it all. I have yardwork to do and Marvel flicks to see with my son this year yet. The wife and I have plans to hit a brewery or two in Michigan and stay the night up north sometime soon. We’re heading to Chicago at the end of the month so my wife and daughters can go see Hamilton at the Chicago Theater, while the boy and I pretend to be men of wealth and fame in the hotel for the afternoon. Maybe we’ll swim or drink scotch in the hotel bar. Maybe even hit on a beautiful baroness or an Italian beef sandwich, whichever one comes with steak fries and an IPA.

Plus, I’ve only just begun to get to know Karin Krog.

Karin who? What? Whaaa? Hey now, just simmer down and let me talk here. You see, I found out that one of my favorite record labels Light In The Attic was having this spring clean sale where they were parting with a bunch of albums at nearly half off the original price. My local record guy said he could get ’em direct from LITA and save me the shipping. Well hell yes! So I headed to the sale page and started perusing to see what I could find. I figured I’d do the old blindfold and dart trick and pick some random albums. Some stuff I wouldn’t normally buy but since it was half off why the hell not? I picked out Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg, Martin S/T by Donald Rubinstein, and Karin Krog Don’t Just Sing An Anthology : 1963-1999. I put my children through the Gainsbourg album last night. Through the moans and breathy whispers of “Je t’aime…moi non plus” my son asked as he sat in the living room with an aural advantage “What are we listening to?” Birkin and Gainsbourg will be for me on those lonely afternoons and evenings. Or when the wife and I want to get all French New Wave on some tawdry Saturday evening. I haven’t listened to Romero’s vampire soundtrack yet, but I did crack the gatefold sleeve of Karin Krog’s 2LP gatefold and I have to say I’m loving it.

Prior to this, I had never heard or heard of Karin Krog. The album cover appealed to me, and also the fact that it was a double LP they were selling for $12. Oh, and Dexter Gordon played with her on a few of the 60s cuts(bonus.) Krog is obscure here in the states, but in Norway she’s a household name as a famous jazz singer, collaborating with a who’s who of musicians over her 40+ year career. In 1994 she was the first Norwegian artist to ever release an album on the US jazz label Verve.

So the album. I have to say my favorite is album one. It seems to have the more bop-style jazz with bits of experimental vocal stuff. Krog has a hell of a voice and she shows it off beautifully on a be bop cover of Bobbi Gentry’s “Ode To Billy Joe”. It’s groovy and full of swing, with Gordon laying down some great tenor saxophone. The rhythm section of Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass and Espen Rud on drums is a pivotal ingredient here. Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” gets the Karin Krog treatment here as well, and to stunning effect. “Lazy Afternoon” is another great one with Krog showing her precise melodic skills vocally. She uses her voice like an instrument playing its part. At times she’s like a psychedelic Rosemary Clooney, and other times she’s something quite cosmic, chanting, panting, and squealing through drone-y experiments like “Glissando”. I don’t care for the experimental stuff as much, but I can appreciate it for sure.

Most of these tracks were recorded in the late 60s and early to mid-70s, with just a handful scattered throughout the 80s and 90s. There’s a killer cover of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” that is as soulful as it is unique to Krog. “Cloud Line Blue” has some seriously amazing horn playing by John Surman. Seriously, holy cow. And there’s even a reading of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” that closes out this anthology. It’s nothing but Karin Krog singing and Nils Lindberg on a church pipe organ. It’s actually quite haunting as Krog sings Coltrane’s Psalm from “A Love Supreme” poem. I guarantee you haven’t heard anything quite like it before.

Occasionally I like to do the blind grab with music. I’m not independently wealthy so I need to make my money stretch as far as I can, especially with this horrible vinyl addiction of mine. So far I’m not disappointed with my “go for it” choices. If you like jazz and occasionally adventurous music, I can’t recommend Karin Krog enough. She’s 79 years young and still creating music in her home country of Norway. She sounds amazing on this LP set, and it’s a beautiful sleeve with a great booklet inside that includes an interview with Krog. Grab it. Why not?

I wonder if the air will be as crisp tomorrow? I’ll bring my walking shoes, just in case.

 

 

Alien Boy Scouts and Dark Knights

An idea can be an exciting thing. You get this spark of something and it lights up your brain for days. You think if you can pull this idea off it could be the greatest thing ever. You plan and mull the idea over in your head and map out how you can make this thing happen for days, weeks, months, and even years. Maybe you give the idea up and pass it onto someone else who may have the means to make this idea sprout from your meager beginnings into something close to what you’d imagined in the first place. Or maybe you just pack the idea away for a time when you can make something of it. Or worse yet, maybe that idea’s spark fizzles. Maybe it never sees the light of day.

After having lived with Zach Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice for a year I’m starting to feel like maybe the spark of that idea needed to have been put on hold a little longer. At least until that story could’ve been pounded out a bit more…or a lot more. That movie had so much potential to be great had they just followed the blueprint left for them by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. That story would’ve been an amazing intro into the dynamic between Batman and Superman. The dichotomy between the alien boy scout and the American vigilante. The first half of the story was an all out Batman tale, with Bruce Wayne now in his 50s coming out of a drunken retirement(10 years after the death of Jason Todd) to help stop the rampant violent crimes of “the mutants”, a new gang in Gotham. Batman must defeat their leader in order to stop them. There’s also a Joker confrontation at an amusement park, with occasional shots of Superman meeting with President Reagan about the problem in Gotham. He is eventually is asked to “take care” of the problem, leading to a battle between Batman and Superman at the end.

If you haven’t read the book I won’t tell you how it ends. I’ll just say from there they could’ve worked in the Justice League, and maybe even gone full circle with The Dark Knight Strikes Back. Sure, it would’ve started out as more of a straight up Dark Knight film, but who would be complaining about that? Not me. The best bits of Batman V Superman, in my opinion, were the Bruce Wayne bits anyways. I thought Affleck did a pretty damn good job, despite the boos from the Peanut Gallery. Jeremy Irons as Alfred was on-point, and the shots of the burnt out Wayne Manor worked well to fold in Nolan’s films. The shot of Todd’s bloodied Robin suit in the Batcave could’ve foreshadowed a future Under The Red Hood film which I would’ve been extremely happy with. Instead of staying true to a certain comic writer’s vision they whip up this comic book gumbo of a film that throws in all these different storylines(The Dark Knight Returns, Doomsday, and even hints of Under The Red Hood) and create this colossal mess of a film. At times engaging with some great looking shots here and there, but for the most part lacking any light, humor, or steady footing.

But hey, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL hit it out of the ballpark with their soundtrack!

If there’s anything truly redeeming about the film besides Gal Gadot in that Wonder Woman outfit(pants uncontrollably) is the score. Beautifully constructed more like a classic film score with grand orchestration and dramatic twists and turns, it pushes all the right emotional buttons without getting schmaltzy. To me, thanks to Junkie XL’s modern touches and percussive additions this album sounds more like an industrial take on the classic John Williams score. It’s very doom-laden, but with shards of light pushing through the muck and mire. You never get the feeling these guys called this score in(unlike the film itself at times.)

The gentle piano refrain of “Day of the Dead” works into something more triumphantly morose and almost has hints of post-rock inside of it. “Do You Bleed” is all swirling synthesizers, tribal beats, and doom-laden voices. You get the feeling that something bad is going down here. “Black and Blue” is that which action sequences are made of. It’s over 8-minutes of propulsive orchestration and darkly lit percussion. “Is She With You(Wonder Woman Theme)” is probably the most well-known piece on the soundtrack as it’s Wonder Woman’s intro music. It’s probably the catchiest thing as well with it’s Middle Eastern slant and tribal percussion. You could definitely see this one following the character into many adventures(and sequels.)

So what you have in this score is a beautiful collaboration of modern and classical touches. “This Is My World” is as dramatic and melancholy as things can get, while “Men Are Still Good(The Batman Suite)” is a 14-minute piece that exemplifies the best of dark and light. It’s simply magnificent. I think Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL are two of the best working in film scoring today. They seem to be fans of Snyder and Christopher Nolan films, too.

Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was a grave disappointment. An overshot. An overstuffed mess of a film, but not without its tiny pleasures. My son and I enjoyed seeing it together in the theater. It was an excuse to get out and enjoy the cinema. The Batman segments were pretty great, too. And of course the Hans Zimmer/Junkie XL score. Well worth the price of admission.

 

South of Heaven…North of Kentucky

I can remember in those formative years of mine it was taboo to listen to Slayer. It was bad enough getting caught listening to something like Megadeth’s “Good Mourning, Black Friday” or Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” by yourself in your bedroom with the lights off, your comforter draped over you like a cape while praying over a bucket of chicken blood. I mean, the rules were ALWAYS never take a bucket of chicken blood in your bedroom. You could stain the carpet. Anyways, for me listening to Slayer was like a filthy little secret. It was tantamount to keeping Playboys under the mattress or worn copies of Faces of Death 1, 2, and 3 hidden under puzzle boxes and Hot Wheels in your closet. Those California thrashers were just so dark. You got the feeling there was very little laughter going on behind the scenes. I could be wrong, but the band that wrote songs titled “Crypts of Eternity”, “Aggressive Perfector”, and “Dead Skin Mask” surely wasn’t getting stoned on the tour bus and laughing at Tex Avery cartoons and singing along to “Penny Lane”.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

You see, Tom Araya, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, and Dave Lombardo looked like dudes you did not cross. I imagined someone mouthing off at one of their shows and Araya pulling out a trident and forking them in front of the entire Palladium crowd. Maybe there were moments of levity in-between cases of Heineken and devouring the souls of virgins from town to town. But I’m sure those only lasted until the bloodlust returned and the band had to feed once again on the blood of the young. Okay, okay, so these guys weren’t monsters, but for the 16-year old me they scared the hell out of me. They were the musical version of those video nasties I always heard about. I knew a girl named Karrie in 10th grade. She was in my geometry class. She’d moved to our Republican stronghold of a town in 1990 from the east coast. I’m not sure exactly from where but I think I think maybe Massachusetts as she had a bit of a Bostonian accent. I may have had a bit of a crush on her as she dug metal and had teased bangs that were at least 8 inches long. She even sold me her VHS copy of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder. How could I not be smitten? I was putty in her hands. Anyways, Karrie had told me a story about how she and a girlfriend had partied with Slayer and that her girlfriend slept with Tom Araya. Back then I was a little jealous, but now that I’m an adult and a dad with daughters I’m horrified at that story. I mean, she was 16. Ugh.

Point I’m trying to make is that Slayer were an infamous band in my mind. My junior year in high school I became a fan with Seasons In The Abyss, but my first true exposure to Slayer was actually the Beastie Boys. Both “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” had Hanneman playing his famous squealing, all over the place guitar solo. I believe he was in the “No Sleep” video as well. I thought, “Hey, if the Beasties dig Slayer maybe I should too?” Of course that didn’t happen, but two years later my brother was inviting me into his bedroom so he could show me what he procured from Butterfly Records that afternoon. It was Slayer’s South Of Heaven. He put it into his console stereo and I was feeling like I did the first time I watched Henry : Portrait of a Serial Killer, which means I felt a little queasy.

South Of Heaven felt like this overwhelming of the senses. It was this perfect melding of their hardcore roots and what would become speed metal. But they weren’t singing about Stephen King books, drug addiction, or covering the Sex Pistols. Slayer seemed to be summoning Satan himself in their breakneck rhythms, speed-picked solos, and Araya’s manimal vocals. Songs about serial killers, devil worship, the horrors of war, and general depravity felt more like hearing a psychotic’s journal being read over death marches than four drunk California punks having a good time. You took these guys at their word when they sang lines like “Bastard sons beget your cunting daughters/Promiscuous mothers with your incestuous fathers.” Songs like “South Of Heaven”, “Live Undead”, and “Mandatory Suicide” were relentless. They seemed to push the boundaries of musical dexterity and human decency. But still, there was something about them that kept me wanting to hear a bit more. There was this lawlessness to their music that was appealing. I sort of looked past the lyrics about necrophilia, masks made of human skin, and wartime atrocities in order to appreciate what was going on musically.

All these years later and I feel like I’m having a bit of a speed metal renaissance. Last year I got a little overzealous on Discogs and located some first pressings of Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood, and South Of Heaven. Out of those I’d have to say that South Of Heaven is my favorite. It’s still that perfect mix of youthful aggression and disgruntled middle age, bashing each other into a bloody pulp. Lyrically they go for the jugular, but it’s more about shock value than actually summoning demons from Hell. I think Tom Araya had one of the best metal vocals in the 80s. It was this spitfire delivery. It was strong, upfront, and not to be stifled with. Rick Rubin’s production was near perfect. No overused effects or studio trickery. The songs were raw and in your face. Hanneman and King weren’t intricate players, but they’d built up their speed and could speed riff better than anyone. Their solos sounded like wounded animals or howling damned souls, which seemed to suit the songs well. And Dave Lombardo? Man, the best drummer of the era period. That guy’s double kick drumming was unlike anyone else. There was power and finesse, but he could also kick it old school and knock out some serious hardcore beats. Lombaro was Slayer’s secret weapon, and once he left for good they just weren’t the same for me.

I’ve learned to not fear Slayer, but embrace them. And I’ve learned that first pressings can be a little expensive. More expensive than a VHS copy of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder? Hell yes. Worth every penny? Oh hell yes.

 

 

“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.