Month: May 2021

Diamond Head – Lightning to the Nations

ARTIST: Diamond Head 

TITLE: Lightning to the Nations (The White Album)

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Sweet and Innocent (#39 UK Indie)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Prince, Am I Evil?, It’s Electric, Helpless

LINEUP: Sean Harris, Brian Tatler, Colin Kimberly, Duncan Scott

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An album from a small band in the UK inspired many cover versions due to tape trading.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Diamon Head was part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but unlike some bands they struggled to find a record company that would sign them. So they recorded their best songs, pressed them on their own label, and sold them at their shows.

The record got them noticed, and people traded tapes of the album and sent them all around the world. That’s how Metallica heard them and recorded some of their tracks as B-sides. This got them noticed, and soon enough they were signed.

The record definitely is worth the underground hype, and then some. The seven tracks feature riffs a plenty, fast tempos, intricate solos, and the swagger and heft that metal needs. 

One can hear how this record, little known at first and heard only on tapes made from tapes, inspired metal heads in the US to go faster and more intricate. It should be on any music fans list of records that inspired 80’s metal.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: At first, 100 copies were pressed, then another 1,000. The cover was blank because their manager could print blank sleeves at no cost. The first pressing didn’t have song titles on the cover either, and Lightning for the Nations was chosen as the title by others since it was the first track.

The tapes were sent to Germany for a pressing, but never came back. Some faulty remixes were released on CD before they finally found the tapes again and that’s what’s streaming now. They also re-did the album in 2020 but you don’t need that.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a B-side and their singles that bridged to their second album. Those show why their career derailed quickly, as they tried to get more commercial, slicker and less metal. They also re-recorded songs from this record. Sigh.

GRADE: A: It fit right in there with Iron Maiden, and is still a classic of the NWOBHM.

Motorhead – Ace of Spades

ARTIST: Motorhead

TITLE: Ace of Spades

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION:  #201 US, #4 UK

SINGLES: Ace of Spades (#15 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Love Me Like a Reptile, (We Are) The Roadcrew, The Chase Is Better Than the Catch

LINEUP: Fast Eddie Clark, Lemmy Kilmesiter, Philthy Animal Taylor

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Landmark album from as Lemmy says, “a rock ‘n’ roll band”.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Every rock ‘n’ roll fan worth their salt knows “Ace of Spades”, right? How about 11 other tracks almost as good?  You got it here folks!

Riffs? Yeah, Fast Eddie has the riffs. Power? Yeah, Lemmy and Philthy Animal bring that? Swagger and attitude? In spades, as it were. Volume? The switch is broken – it’s full blast all the time.

Motorhead came into their own here, and it was due to producer Vic Maile that they harnessed their power. He was a no-nonsense producer that didn’t cotton to their outlandish behavior and arguments and got them to focus on the songs. He also mixed the album himself, making it clear and bright (well, as bright as Motorhead can be). The result? A rock ‘n’ roll classic.

Some of the songs may not be…um…suitable. But it was a rock ‘n’ roll album that celebrated the lifestyle of the 70’s. It also included a tribute to the road crew. I fully believe Lemmy and Motorhead lived this album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Lemmy summed up this album: “We only thought of ourselves as a good time rock ‘n’ roll band, really… But we weren’t trying to get a message across, apart from have a good time, you know: get pissed, get stoned, and fuck a chick. And that’ll do.”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, their EP with Girlschool is appended.

 

GRADE: A+: You gotta crank this record, if only to piss off the right people.

Judy Henske & Jerry Yester – Farewell Aldebaran

ARTIST: Judy Henske & Jerry Yester

TITLE: Farewell Aldebaran

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Snowblind

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh…no. Not at all

LINEUP: Judy Henske and Jerry Yester with help from Zal Yanovsky and a bunch of studio players.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Married couple fuse their talents together to make a fascinating album that was lost to the public.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Judy Henske was a rising star in folk before she made some poor decisions about material (cabaret?) and Jerry Yester was a long-time producer, writer, and former member of the Lovin’ Spoonful. They had been married for a few years but never really collaborated until a suggestion from her manager that they combine forces to record an album.

Henske wrote lyrics and Yester put them to music and arranged the songs. And the result was an album that explored genres and instruments. From baroque pop to shanties to hard rock and space rock explorations, this album has it all. Yester adds in harmonium, an early Moog synthesizer, mellotron, and instruments such as the marxophone, a hammered dulcimer, a Chamberlain keyboard (on the choral setting), and a toy zither to the mix.

Henske’s voice was adroit enough to handle all of the changes. She can belt out a rock song, yet has a gentle quality that fits with the sunshine pop aspects of the tracks.

The eclectic nature of the album probably prevented it from being a hit, but this really should have found a home with sophisticated listeners. Alas, as sunshine pop and baroque psychedelia was on the way out, it didn’t find traction. It’s definitely something to explore in detail.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Yester and Henske then formed a band called Rosebud, which released one album that was conventional soft-country rock, then they split as a couple.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A+: It probably could only be recorded in 1969 or so, but it sounds timeless and really sucks you in with the arrangements and production. The more you listen, the more it opens up to you.

Dead Confederate – Sugar

ARTIST: Dead Confederate

TITLE: Sugar

YEAR RELEASED: 2010

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Run from the Gun, Giving It All Away

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Hardy Morris, Bradley Senn, Walter Howle, John Watkins, Jason Scarboro. Ben Wigler, J. Mascis, and Heidi Vandertee make appearances.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from the moody Southern-psych-alt band tightens up their meanderings while not sacrificing the moodiness of the songs.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Dead Confederate still sounds like a soundtrack to a Southern Gothic dramatic film., but their second album is an improvement over their debut.

While they’re still full of angst, minor riffs, and moody arrangements, they’ve shed all of their former jam band proclivities and tightened up their arrangements so that the songs get from A to B without being stuck in the mire.

This album is good mood music for dark, dreary, thunderstormy, humid days. The kind that you find in the South in the summer. It’s also apt to give you some interesting dreams if you fall asleep to it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: After this record, their drummer, Jason Scarboro, left to start a family. They went through scads of drummers before settling on one for their next recordings.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE: A-: A leap forward for a band that should have gotten more ink and play.

Dead Confederate – Wrecking Ball

ARTIST: Dead Confederate 

TITLE: Wrecking Ball

YEAR RELEASED: 2008

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: The Rat (#39 Alternative), Start Me Laughing

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Heavy Petting

LINEUP: Hardy Morris, Bradley Senn, Walter Howle, John Watkins, Jason Scarboro

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album from a grungier southern alt-country-rock band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After stints as a jam band that played long long songs, Dead Confederate regrouped themselves as an alt-rock band with a country tinge and some grungy influences from My Morning Jacket and other southerny rock bands.

The songs are split between guitarist Hardy Morris and bassist Bradley Senn, with Senn having the more melodic voice and more hookish tracks. (He wrote “The Rat” which was a minor radio hit). They still linger on songs for a bit too long – can’t take the jam band out of the band I guess.

Because of their tendency to meander on a track, the album rather much stands still at times. Some tracks are worthy, and the moody sound can entrance you, kind of a Southern Gothic. It’s a decent debut that’s worth a spin.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They used to be called Redbelly or The Redbelly Band. Ick.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A bonus track on iTunes. Remember when that was a thig?

 GRADE: B: Some tracks go on a bit long, but it’s a decent listen.

Saxon – Wheels of Steel

ARTIST: Saxon

TITLE: Wheels of Steel

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION:  #5 UK

SINGLES: Wheels of Steel (#20 UK), 747 (Strangers in the Night) (#13 UK), Suzie Hold On

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not around these parts

LINEUP: Biff Byford, Graham Oliver, Paul Quinn, Steve Dawson, Pete Gill

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from UK band becomes a NWOBHM classic and showed the commercial potential of that genre in the UK.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Saxon’s second album was a revelation to the UK music business. It hit #5 and spun off two singles, showing that the New Wave of British Heavy Metal could be a commercial force.

The album is full of riffs, guitar interplay, melodic solos, driving tempos – you know, the usual NWOBHM menu. Not only do they have riffs and guitars all over the place (the title track riff – my goodness), they also can write hooks on occasion.

A lot of the record is at a quick tempo, but I think the detriment of singer Biff Byford. His high-pitched vocals don’t have a lot of power when he’s got to sing ultra fast. When he slows down a bit, his vocals really work, and that’s why “747 (Strangers in the Night)” is such an effective track.

I can see why this was a hit in the UK – the US music industry didn’t have the machine to bring this out to the general public, so it became a underground metal community gem.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “747 (Strangers in the Night)” was written about the Northeast Blackout in 1965 and how a Scandanavian airliner had to land in the dark.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, demos and live cuts and a b-side

GRADE: B+: One of the hard-to-get albums (in the US) that kick started the tape-trading era of metal, which then developed into a full-out metal scene.

ZZ Top – Deguello

ARTIST: ZZ Top

TITLE: Deguello

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION:  #24

SINGLES: I Thank You (#34), Cheap Sunglasses (#89)(!)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I’m Bad I’m Nationwide, Manic Mechanic, Dust My Broom

LINEUP: Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A long rest and an absorption of new musical influences revitalized the band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a short break turned into a long break, where the three members went their separate ways to separate countries, ZZ Top got back together and started their revitalization with new approaches and ideas.

They dug into the blues, soul, a little funk, and even some new wave. The band learned how to play saxes, added keyboards and electronic effects. The end result was a glorious mix of styles, and all with an attitude and style epitomized by “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”, and “Cheap Sunglasses”

This is ZZ Top at its freshest and most exciting. Every track seems well thought out and not just filler. For some reason it didn’t sell right away, but FM radio started to pick this up and it went platinum.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: One – this isn’t streaming, but you can put it all together except for the last track (“Esther Be the One” – which is a fine song). Two – they asked the Phil Donahue show for the technology that they used to mask and distort voices, and they used it on “Manic Mechanic”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE: A-: A rest refreshed the band and they came through with one of their best

ZZ Top – Tejas

ARTIST: ZZ Top 

TITLE: Tejas

YEAR RELEASED: 1976

CHART ACTION:  #17

SINGLES: It’s Only Love (#44), Arrested for Driving While Blind (#91), Enjoy and Get It On (#105)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Probably not

LINEUP: Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A mediocre record from a tired-sounding band.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: ZZ Top had been touring basically non stop since their founding, and seemingly lost its mojo when they went into the studio to record their fourth (and a half) studio album.

The album is more country and blues based than much of their previous efforts, and utilized a shuffle rhythm more than anything. The songs seem less adventurous and lascivious, repeating many of the same things. Only some interesting wordplay saves some of the tracks (“I’ve gotten good at missing her / I practice all the time” from “Pan Am Highway Blues”) and Gibbons uses his deeper growl for “El Diablo”. The tracks also seem padded out a bit with extended outros on some tracks.

It’s not to say that it’s a horrible album, it’s just flat and uninspired for the most part. After this album and another tour, the band took a 90-day-into-two-year break and came back with a revitalized crowd pleasing album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: On the abomination that was the Six Pack (remixed versions of six of their first seven albums with ‘updated’ Eliminator-like drums and mixes – avoid!), the geniuses cut out the first line to “Arrested for Driving While Blind”. Get the real version.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE: B-: They were worn out here.

The Who – Live at Leeds

ARTIST: The Who

TITLE: Live at Leeds

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION:  #4 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: Summertime Blues (#27 US, #38 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I mean, it’s a live Who album. You’re gonna know the songs.

LINEUP: Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the best live albums of all time, and a showcase for the Who in their glory years.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The original Live at Leeds was just a teaser. Only six tracks, and it blazes in with “Young Man Blues’, their cover of Mose Allison. “Summertime Blues” rumbles in the middle, and their workout of “My Generation” dazzles everyne, and it’s over after six tracks.

Of course there was more to that concert, and twice, they’ve delivered more. First, they gave us all of the non-Tommy songs and slotted in two tracks from the live performance of the rock opera. Then, they released every track, putting Tommy on the second disc.

If any live album is worth your streams or CD purchase it’s this one. The Who do justice to their singles, covers album tracks, B-sides, and Tommy. Starting out with John Entwistle’s “Heaven and Hell” is genius, as the song gets everyone’s attention even though it’s a B-side. The best track for me is their live version of “A Quick One (While He’s Away)”, which was a prelude to Tommy. Townshend’s introduction is genius, and Entwistle’s falsetto in the final part of the track is incredible.

 The power and performance and the songs are spot on. There hasn’t been many live albums to surpass this, as all of the elements that make a live performance worthwhile are captured.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: If you really want to be anal about it, you can program a play list with the actual running order by slotting the Tommy songs between “A Quick One” and “Summertime Blues”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: As listed above, and one of the versions has Live at Hull, recorded the next night. It’s a little more ragged than this performance, but still worth hearing.

 GRADE: A+: If anything should be played loud, this is it.

The Who – Tommy

ARTIST: The Who 

TITLE: Tommy

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION:  #4 US, #2 UK

SINGLES: Pinball Wizard (#19 US, #4 UK), I’m Free (#37 US), See Me Feel Me (#12 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: We’re Not Gonna Take It (which also includes See Me Feel Me), The Acid Queen

LINEUP: Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Not the first rock opera, but the first one people really noticed.

 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: For better or worse, the Who’s Tommy popularized the concept album and ‘rock opera’. Lauded by the press and fans, performed in whole (well…not exactly whole), staged, and filmed, Tommy mostly succeeds in long form storytelling. Even the cover of “Eyesight to the Blind” and two sinister John Entwistle tunes fold in seamlessly to the narrative.

The performances on the studio album are tight and among the Who’s best. The only real embellishment to the core quartet was Entwistle’s work on French horn, Datlrey’s harmonica, and some keyboards played by Townshend. The four of them collaborated and pulled this off, and then pulled it off on stage.

There are many classic songs on this, of course, and the climactic cut presages the anthems the Who would put forward in the early 70’s.

However…it’s not perfect. A few songs seem forced for length or shoehorned in to move the story, and “Underture” is probably filler to make up the sides. It’s long, unnecessary, and I exiled it. The drawback to many concept albums are making a cohesive narrative with no filler or padding and this is no different.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: For live performances, four tracks (“Cousin Kevin”, “Underture”, “Sensation”, and “Welcome”) were excluded. The more contemporary performances reinstate “Cousin Kevin” and “Sensation”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes a couple of outtake tracks are on a couple of editions.

 GRADE: A-: Worthy of praise, worthy of its historical significance, but it has flaws.