My friend Dave Murray has posed this question a few times. It would be a good subject for a poll of music fans, a chance to explore what seemingly essential artists one would elect personally to just skip entirely. I’d think the discussion should be limited to the plausible; you wouldn’t expect a 58-year-old rockin’ pop fan like me to have much–if any–current Top 40, country, metal, or hip hop in my listening queue, so that’s not what we’re talking about. It’s also not about an iPod specifically, nor any other portable music player. It can be about the music in your head, the stuff you’d listen to when you call the shots and you make the playlist. For the sake of expedience, let’s call that your iPod.
So. What’s not on your iPod?
Dave and I have bounced the question back and forth for a good long time. For me, a lot of my expected pop bogeymen are on my iPod. I’ve got Bob Seger (I like “Get Out Of Denver,” “Heavy Music,” and “Hollywood Nights”). I’ve got The Eagles (“Take It Easy” and “Already Gone”). I’ve got Styx (I love both “Lorelei” and “Kiss Your Ass Goodbye”). I even have the hated REO Speedwagon (“Tough Guys”). I don’t have a lot of Dylan or Springsteen, but they’re there. The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd, too. Amidst my preferred mix of Beatles, Kinks, Ramones, Flashcubes, Monkees, Chuck Berry, power pop, Motown, British Invasion, soul, bubblegum, surf, punk…well, it’s all part of my preferred mix, up to and including Phil Ochs, Percy Faith,and Grandmaster Flash. It’s all pop music, anyway.
What’s not on my iPod? Well….
As I was listening to the radio the other day, the local airwaves reminded me of a popular classic rock act whose music always prompts me to change the station, every time. And that act is Lynyrd Skynyrd.
It’s not that I hate Lynyrd Skynyrd. Lynyrd Skynyrd is in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and it’s a group that deserves to be in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. I’m not hostile. I’m not exactly indifferent, but it’s music that I just don’t care to listen to. Ever. I understand its appeal. The audience for that appeal does not appeal to me.
There are, of course, many other acts whose records are likewise alien to the rich ‘n’ fertile playground of my iPod. There’s no Frank Sinatra or Stevie Ray Vaughan. There’s no Van Halen, though it’s theoretically possible I would consider adding “Dance The Night Away” or “Runnin’ With The Devil” someday. There’s for damned sure no Dave Matthews Band; that one’s probably a given. And I’d take a truncheon to the damned thing if it tried to play Kid Rock, whom I loathe. But, among worthy acts that just ain’t my cuppa, Lynyrd Skynyrd tops the list of what’s not on my iPod. Turn it up? Turn it off. Your iPod may vary. What’s not on your iPod?
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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes,Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins’ Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.
Over the past several years, Nick Frater has assembled a gaggle of albums, EPs and singles that have collected gushing reviews from all those who have had the pleasure of experiencing these endeavors. Based in Croydon, England, the multi-diversified musician has always professed a penchant for seventies pop rock, but here on his latest album, Earworms, his love for the sounds of the decade is ramped up in full force. Although such influences are boldly expressed, Nick’s sharp-edged songwriting, combined with his industrious arranging and production techniques sit at the head of the class, preventing the material from coming off as mere mimicry.
One of the first things that attracts listeners to a song is the singing. And Nick’s butter-melting vocals, which are squarely schooled in Beatlism, extending to the mannerisms of The Raspberries, Electric Light Orchestra, 10cc, Gerry Rafferty and Elvis Costello, certainly do give the songs on Earworms instant appeal. You couldn’t ask for a better frontman than Nick, who delivers these perfectly-tuned compositions with clarity and strength.
A great choice as the opening number, It’s All Rumours, is a power pop marvel from the get-go. Ignited by slapping drums and stabbing riffs bleeding with distortion, the song is further engraved with twisty breaks and a fluttery falsetto. Jaunty piano chords jumpstart Lucky Strike, which transforms into a catchy vaudeville groove, while the rolling rhythms and punchy hooks of What’s With Your Heavy Heart? also features bluesy licks straight from the George Harrison playbook.
A dreamy piano-driven ballad iced with a lightly-battered jazz flavor, Star-Crossed would have fit nicely on a Walter Egan album, where the absolutely infectious Buggin’ Out, beams brightly with twinkling guitars, spunky melodies and merry doo-wop harmonies.
In typical seventies fashion, Earworms concludes to a grand and majestic climax. Patterned after a glitzy Queen inspired presentation, How To Survive Somebody swells and soars to a chorus of melodramatic vocals, sweeping keyboards and thundering chords.
In a parallel dimension, the songs on Earworm would be parked neck to neck on the AM dial with chart-toppers by Elton John, Paul McCartney and Wings, The Bay City Rollers, The Eagles and the Captain and Tennille. But good music is good music no matter what era it reflects, so there is no reason why Earworms can’t be enjoyed now, and reward Nick Frater with the widespread success – both artistically and commercially – he so clearly commands.
We’re not even halfway into the year, and already an abundance of phenomenal music has been released. Parked right at the top.of the pile is the third album from The Legal Matters, which is appropriately dubbed Chapter Three. Comprised of singers, songwriters and instrumentalists Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith, the Michigan-based band roped in “unofficial member” Donny Brown to play drums on this remarkable album.
Brimming brightly with layers of luscious harmonies and reels of rock solid melodies, Chapter Three spools out one serviceable pop tune after another. Echoes of artists such as The Beach Boys, The Eagles, The Smithereens and Matthew Sweet may be apparent, yet The Legal Matters possess the proper tools to refurbish these influences into their own recognizable style.
An exquisite ballad, The Painter, pins heart-wrenching lyrics to plush and expansive arrangements, resulting in a spellbinding survey of sadness and beauty. Vibrant vocals, teeming with power and polish, aided by a spot of swirling Hammond organ fills a la Procol Harum, also carpet the striking track.
Conceived of shifting tempos, Independence Well Spent juggles soft textures with a menacing crunch, and the jingling bounce of Please Make A Sound captures everything that constitutes a perfect pop song. Spiked with the whirring zoom of a synthesizer, Light Up The Sky illuminates the band’s incredible lung prowess and telepathic musicianship to towering heights.
Fashioned of a dance hall beat that would prompt Ray Davies to glow with paternal pride, The World Is Mine pedals in as a subsequent revelation, while the atmospheric patterns of Passing Chord yields a lovely choral pop vibe.
Stuffed to the stars with smooth and stately pop pleasures, Chapter Three is the kind of album that has no expiration date. These great songs are so timeless that they could have been recorded in any era. The Legal Matters boast both the talent and wisdom to craft and perform long-lasting music, and having said that, I can hardly wait to hear their next chapter of sonic creations.
Record stores used to have cut-out bins, overflowing with deleted albums that the labels had given up as lost causes. The cut-out LP covers had been deliberately damaged: a corner chopped off, a puncture, some sort of premeditated defacing to mark them as clearance items, as soon-to-be discarded product that had been written off, as Grade B, as “other.” The cut-out bin was a record buyer’s last chance to grab a record on the cheap before it slipped into the out-of-print zone. In addition to the cut-outs, there were also budget albums, produced and priced for discount sales.
Cut-outs. Budget albums. I may have purchased a few of these over the years.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Heavy Metal (Warner Special Products, 1974)
Now that’s what I call music.
Mind you, it’s not what I call “heavy metal music;” while some of the acts contained in this oddball double-LP could fall within the peripheries of the genre, and Black Sabbath should qualify for sure, it would take some seriously heavy-grade ’70s-style medication to alter one’s perceptions to a hallucinatory fuzz sufficient to regard Van Morrison, War, The Eagles, or The Grateful Dead as a metal act. Feel free to view this peculiar marketing choice as antecedent to the GRAMMYs’ eventual award to Best Heavy Metal Artist Jethro Tull.
So forget about the label; calling this “heavy metal” is delusional no matter how you look at it. But as a various-artist set of no discernible theme? Even though it includes some tracks from the ’60s, Heavy Metal is 1970s rock in microcosm.
When we think of budget-priced compilation albums in the ’70s, we may think first about cheesy K-Tel, Ronco, and Adam VIII sets hawked on TV, sonically-deprived hatchet jobs cramming too many songs into too little space, sacrificing sound quality and aesthetics alike as an offering on a Me Decade altar praying to the decadent god of MORE!! I feel a little queasy even considering it. But the ’70s also produced a bounty of compilations from major labels, business entities whose motives may or may not have been inherently purer than those of a Ron Popeil, but whose methodology and ability to execute were an immediate world apart.
Count the Warner Brothers empire among those major labels. By the mid ’70s, that empire encompassed Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Reprise, Elektra, and Asylum, the record-label equivalent of the gathering of The Mighty Avengers (or perhaps The Justice League Of America, since Warner also owned DC Comics). Let’s pound the comic-book comparison one nail further: Warner’s muscle and deep vaults gave it powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal record labels. Those super powers produced Lenny Kaye‘s seminal ’60s garage compilation Nuggets, and a long series of loss leaders that introduced deep cuts by obscure artists to legions of cash-strapped music fans. And it gave us Warner Special Products, the low-priced subsidiary imprint that concocted Heavy Metal.
I have no idea of the thought process that created Heavy Metal; if there’s a definitive account of the record’s genesis out there somewhere, I’d love to read it. The great and powerful internet suggests that Heavy Metal was a sequel to a 1973 four-record set called Superstars Of The 70’s, and I kinda wish I’d snagged a copy of that one when I was a young teen. The lineup on Superstars Of The 70’s includes Otis Redding, The Kinks, Todd Rundgren, Wilson Pickett, The Rolling Stones, Roberta Flack, Joni Mitchell, The Beach Boys, and Gordon Lightfoot, a diverse menu that whet the ol’ Me Decade musical appetite. MORE!! Heavy Metal met the next stage of that insatiable demand.
I bought my copy of Heavy Metal at The Record Theatre near Syracuse University in late ’76 or early ’77. I was a senior in high school, sixteen-seventeen years old, and the sheer buzz of Marshall Street and the SU hill was intoxicating with possibilities for me. I loved going up there whenever I could, for lectures at Hendricks Chapel (where I saw Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and my favorite author, Harlan Ellison), the occasional cult film, pizza, books, fruitless flirting with co-eds, one frantic, exuberant run up the outdoor flight of stairs at Crouse College as I bellowed the theme from Rocky, and sifts through the garden of delights at The Record Theatre on Marshall Street. Good times? To this square peg kid, desperately looking for a place to belong? Yeah. Good times.
I’m not sure what specific tune or combination of tunes drew me to Heavy Metal. I’m sure I would have been interested in owning some Alice Cooper, and probably “Ramblin’ Man” by The Allman Brothers Band, maybe “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image, and maybe the Yes or Doors tracks. My cousin Mark had hooked me a little on his Deep Purple cassettes, so it was certainly cool to claim ownership of “Smoke On The Water.” I betcha I was eager to crank some Sabbath, just because.
The album opens with “Kick Out The Jams.” That was the revelation for me. I’d never heard The MC5 before, never heard of The MC5 before. This was the censored version, with brothers and sisters standing in for the unexpurgated original incitement to kick out the jams, muthafuckas. I knew nothing about any of that; I just knew this track rocked, and I discovered its raucous, ragged splendor just before I discovered the concept of punk rock. Within less than a year, I would be an enthusiastic punk fan.
The mixed styles offered on Heavy Metal were A-OK with me. My first T. Rex track. My first Buffalo Springfield track (the now-rare nine-minute version of “Bluebird”). My first Jimi Hendrix, my first J. Geils Band, my first Led Zeppelin, James Gang, Uriah Heep, Faces, War, Grateful Dead. I didn’t love all of it, and I still don’t. But I loved the overall experience of this album, and I look back on it with great fondness.
The period spanning the winter of 1976 into the spring of 1977 was the spark of my personal rock ‘n’ roll crucible. I saw my first rock concert (KISS). I became a fan of The Kinks. I started reading Phonograph Record Magazine, prompting my curiosity about this “punk rock” craziness. I deepened my appreciation of The Monkees. I switched from AM radio to FM radio. I turned that collective jam-kickin’ mother up. The crucible would turn its heat even higher after graduation, as I heard The Sex Pistols that summer and The Ramones, Blondie, Television, and The Runaways at college that fall. But the spark first ignited when I was still in high school. Heavy Metal was one of the records I used to bring in to school, tunes to play during an abundance of time spent in the office of my high school literary magazine. Desolation Boulevard. Raspberries’ Best. Through The Past, Darkly. History Of British Rock, Volume 2. Anything by The Beatles. Heavy Metal. Other friends brought in more records to play, and my soundtrack at 17 began to form. The crucible never sounded better.
Over a span of decades, through countless periodic purges of my record collection, every time I’ve been tempted to shed my copy of Heavy Metal, I’ve retained my sense and put it back on my LP shelf instead. I still have it. Hell, I may have it cremated with me when that time comes. And how heavy metal would that be? Kick out the jams, muthuhs and bruthuhs. Kick out the jams.
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes,Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins’ Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.