Review: Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Patient Number 9’ – Glorious Metal LP Packed With An All-Star Band

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“It’s one of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus…” – Ozzy Osbourne, “One of Those Days”

I can’t tell you how good it feels to have a new Ozzy album out in the world. It’s like having your favorite, cool uncle who used to slip you beers at wedding receptions in town for a long visit. Ozzy went a decade between 2010’s Scream and his next album 2020’s surprise comeback LP Ordinary Man. We loved Ordinary Man here at B&V. But then we’ve been an Ozzy fan from the start. Well, almost from the start. I merely taped a friend’s copy of Blizzard of Ozz. At the time I was actually more into the Dio incarnation of Sabbath but there’s room for both in any record collection. My first Ozzy album purchase was actually Diary Of A Madman, his second LP. I had to wait until I was in college to finally see Ozzy live on the Ultimate Sin tour in Wichita. Jake E. Lee was his latest guitar wizard in 1986 and it was a great show.

Rather than waiting a decade for another album, apparently only four days after Ordinary Man came out, Ozzy grabbed producer/guitarist Andrew Watt and headed back into the studio to record the follow-up. I really like Andrew Watt as a producer. Besides Ozzy he also produced the fabulous Eddie Vedder solo LP, Earthling. The strategy on this LP was very similar to the last album – recruit top notch players and rock out. Much is being made about the all-star cast of guitarists who play on this album, but there are great musicians on every instrument here. While Chad Smith mans the drum kit for most of the songs on Patient Number 9, like he did on Ordinary Man, there are a few tracks where the late Taylor Hawkins drums. It makes me wonder if these songs were Hawkins’ last recorded tunes? Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, who actually played in Ozzy’s band before joining Metallica, plays bass on most of the tracks. But, Duff McKagan from Guns N Roses mans the bass on several of the tracks. And former Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney plays on “Nothing Feels Right.”

When you have a bunch of guest stars playing on an album I always wonder about continuity. Will the songs hang together well as an album? Recently Edgar Winter did a fabulous tribute album for his brother Johnny, creatively titled Brother Johnny. There was a host of guitarists who showed up to pay tribute to the late, great bluesman. I felt the album, reviewed in these pages, held together well because all the tunes were in a blues framework. I think despite all the guest appearances Patient Number 9 holds together so well as an album because a) it’s all in a heavy metal framework which keeps everyone rocking in the same direction and b) the base band for this album: Andrew Watt/guitar, Robert Trujillo/bass, and Chad Smith drums – who all play on a majority of the tunes – hold the continuity together from Eric Clapton to Metal Viking Zakk Wylde. It doesn’t matter who plays lead guitar, they have to play with the band. Everybody, including Ozzy, plays with enthusiasm and gusto. Despite some heavy themes you can feel the joy coming off this album.

It’s clear Ozzy has mortality on his mind. With titles like “Dead And Gone,” “Immortal” and “Mr. Darkness” it’s not hard to figure out where Ozzy’s head is at. But in the years since Ordinary Man the Ozzman has “been through hell.” He was diagnosed with Parkinsons. He got Covid. It’s a wonder he got this album out. While I doubt he’ll ever tour extensively again I think having this wonderful metal LP is a blessing. I can understand after all he’s been through why Ozzy sings, as I quoted above, about it being “One of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus.” I think we’ve all had those moments when we feel abandoned by Fate. I will say, and it was the Rock Chick who noticed this first, Ozzy’s voice does sound a bit treated on this album. It’s auto-tuned in quite a few places. But hey, it’s Ozzy I can forgive that. And again, you can tell everyone including Ozzy had so much fun on this project the heaviness doesn’t get to you.

I just love this album. If push came to shove I’d probably admit I liked Ordinary Man just a smidge more but that’s mostly because it’d been 10 freakin’ years since we’d heard from Ozzy and it was such a pleasant surprise. There is a lot to like here. As promised it’s a smorgasbord of guitarists. Ozzy managed to get two of the three former Yardbird guitarists to play on this record. Jimmy Page was approached and declined but I don’t think Jimmy plays that much any more which is a shame. Mercurial Jeff Beck plays lead on two of my favorite tracks here. I love the title track which features Beck’s fabulous solo’ing but I reviewed “Patient Number 9” already. Beck also plays on the power ballad “A Thousand Shades” and his playing is so melodic it’s one of the absolute highlights of the LP. Jeff Beck needs to rock out more. I was stunned when I read Clapton agreed to play on this album. He shows up on “One Of Those Days,” quoted above. I don’t know how they did it but Clapton plays like he’s still in Cream. It’s a great solo and perhaps the best solo Clapton has played since he guested on the Steve Winwood tune “Dirty City.” (Seriously, check that tune out).

While much has been made of Ozzy getting the former Yardbirds to play on this record for me two of the best moments on this album are when Ozzy teams up with his erstwhile bandmate from Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi. Those two go together like peanut butter (a substance I was forced to give up) and jelly. “Degradation Rules,” reviewed previously, an ode to masturbation – although I can’t decide if it’s pro or con – is a wonderful, sludgy metal tune and sounds like an outtake from Masters of Reality. Iommi’s guitar is unmistakable. Ozzy even plays some harmonica on the track, which I love. The other Iommi track is the epic “No Escape From Now.” It starts off like the spooky “Planet Caravan” from Paranoid but then the band shifts through several time changes. They go fast, they slow down. Then the band falls away and Iommi drops some of the heaviest riffage I’ve heard since Vol 4. His solo’ing on this song is so epic and beautiful it belongs in an opera.

Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready shows up on the heavy track “Immortal.” His solo verges on Eddie Van Halen territory. Many notes are shredded. It’s wonderful. He really acquits himself well here. Dave Navarro of Janes Addiction (and briefly the Red Hot Chili Peppers) shows up on the other power ballad here “God Only Knows” and it’s actually one of my favorite tracks. There’s a track on here that doesn’t credit any lead guitarist, “Dead And Gone” that is also an absolute highlight. It takes me back to “Shot In The Dark” just a bit. I’m guessing Andrew Watt saved that solo for himself. Although I’ve heard that Josh Homme from the Queens of the Stone Age played on here somewhere – I can’t find him in the credits – and maybe it’s him. All of these are great moments.

Ozzy’s longest tenured guitarist Zakk Wylde shows up on more tunes than any other guest guitarist. The guy is just a Heavy Metal Viking. He’s got to be a  head taller than Ozzy. I saw them together on the Black Rain tour and it sounded like an airplane landing in the arena. My favorite of the Zakk tunes is probably “Evil Shuffle.” That’s pretty much how the Rock Chick sees me walking through the house – with my evil shuffle. Its a typical, HEAVY Zakk tune. “Mr. Darkness” about an obsessed fan “stanning” over Ozzy is another Zakk highlight. “Nothing Feels Right” which was released as the third single could be seen as Ozzy giving us the state of his health over Zakk’s soaring guitar. It’s all great stuff.

If I had any complaint about this record – and I don’t really – it’s that it feels a little longer than the sixty minute running time. They likely could have edited a few things out. There’s a little bluesy throwaway at the end, “Darkside Blues,” where Ozzy again plays harmonica that they could have cut. It’s only a minute and a half long. Although I kind of wish they’d fleshed that out into an actual tune because well, I love the blues. They could have cut the “scary monster, b-movie, horror film” intro on the title track. And they likely could have cut one of the four Zakk tracks to streamline this thing a little bit. But again, complaining about too much Ozzy on an album is like complaining about too much money in your checking account.

This is a great album and a wonderful celebration of the man, the myth, Ozzy Osbourne. The Ozzy comeback or renaissance continues strong on Patient Number 9. I’ll probably spend most of my weekend up in the B&V lounge cranking this metal mayhem up to 11 and spilling Woodford Reserve on the carpet. This one is a must have for all you hard rockers out there. Enjoy this one at max volume!

Cheers!

New Song: Ozzy Osbourne, From ‘Patient No. 9,’ – “Degradation Rules” Reunites Him With Sabbath Pal Tony Iommi – Heaviness Ensues

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While I was busy putting together my 1982 themed playlist last week Ozzy Osbourne released the second track from his upcoming LP Patient Number 9, a new song called “Degradation Rules.” I think everybody knows by now that I’m an Ozzy fan from way back to his early solo days working with Randy Rhoads. Although, I’m embarrassed to admit I was only vaguely aware that Ozzy had originally been in Black Sabbath… the ignorance of youth. I was very into the Dio era of Sabbath and somehow didn’t connect that with Ozzy. Admittedly that ignorance didn’t survive graduating high school. When I got to college I realized that Ozzy and his former bandmates in Black Sabbath invented heavy metal as we know it. It was during my college years I started to grab up Sabbath’s classic albums like Paranoid and Masters Of Reality. Although admittedly I only had the latter taped on a blank cassette.

Speaking of Sabbath, on this new song “Degradation Rules,” Ozzy is teaming with his erstwhile guitarist from that legendary band, Tony Iommi. Ozzy and Iommi go together like peanut butter and jelly. I was blown away by Black Sabbath’s reunion album back in 2013. I was also lucky enough to see them live on that tour with a miscreant group of guys from Salina (Black Sabbath Live; The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse). That album, 13, ranks among Black Sabbath’s best in my opinion. I only wish B&V had been around to review it when it came out. It was produced by Rick Rubin who told the band, “Pretend Paranoid just came out, what would you do next?” I don’t know if Rubin is very technical as a producer but he does capture a vibe. I would recommend 13 to any heavy metal fan out there.

I think Iommi and Ozzy go together so well I actually also picked up the track they did together on Iommi’s 2000 sol-LP creatively entitled Iommi, “Who’s Fooling Who?” It’s definitely worth a listen. I would also highly recommend the track “Flame On” from that LP sung by the Cult’s Ian Astbury… but I’m getting off track. Ironically Iommi and Ozzy were joined by Sabbath’s original drummer Bill Ward on “Who’s Fooling Who?” but bassist Geezer Butler didn’t play on the song. And then when they reunited for 13 it was sadly Ward that was left out and Iommi/Butler/Ozzy performed on that LP. Such drama…I blame Sharon. What I’d give for a full Black Sabbath reunion!

It was only a few weeks ago Ozzy released the title track from the upcoming Patient Number 9. That song featured legendary guitarist Jeff Beck and I dug it. Although I must admit the Rock Chick was merely lukewarm. I think she liked it, but she didn’t love it like I did. But then again, I really like the way Jeff Beck plays guitar from way back to his days with the Yardbirds and with Rod Stewart in the Jeff Beck Group. I have to admit I’ve been listening to “Patient Number 9” a lot and it sent me back to listen to 2020’s Ordinary ManIt really sounded like Ozzy was having fun on that Andrew Watt produced gem. Watt is back onboard and has produced this new album which comes out in early September…

I was delighted when I played “Degradation Rules” for the Rock Chick and she sat bolt upright on the couch and said, “Now this is what I’m talkin’ about! Heavy Ozzy!” I also checked in with my buddy Drummer Blake and he agreed, “It’s awesome.” It’s hard not to dig the heavy, sludgy riffs on this song. It sounds like it could have been an outtake from Masters Of Reality. It’s just so… “Sabbath-y.” The first thing you hear is that Iommi signature riff-age. He takes us down into the sludge in a very good way. There is also a great harmonica which reminded me of Black Sabbath’s song “The Wizard” from their debut album. RHCP drummer Chad Smith bashes out the beat here.  I can tell Ozzy is still having a good time – he must be to record 2 albums over 2 years after being away for a decade. On the last LP he did songs about cannibalism (“Eat Me”) and alien invasion (“Little Green Men”). “Degradation Rules” tackles the thorny subject of masturbation. “Stuck inside a dirty dream, The hand that feeds you also turns you blind, turns you blind.” Ahem.

Here’s the track:

Ozzy has always seemed to find stellar guitarists to work with. He started with Iommi, then went on to Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, and Zakk Wylde to name but a few. It looks like on this next album he’s playing with a bunch of different ones both from his past and some unexpected guitar collaborators: Eric Clapton, the aforementioned Jeff Beck and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. I heard he tried to get Jimmy Page (to collect all three Yardbird guitarists?) but Jimmy declined. I don’t know if all of this will hold together over the course of an entire album, but I trust Andrew Watt to navigate those riffy waters.

Turn this one up LOUD and prepare to RAWK!

Cheers!

LP Review: Scorpions ‘Rock Believer’ – They Return To Rock You Like…It’s A 1984 Hurricane

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I think I’m like most people. I’m guilty of not taking Germany’s hard rock/heavy metal band the Scorpions seriously enough. I don’t know why that is? They’re a great, melodic hard rock band. Yet they’re not spoken of or thought of with that same reverence people seem to have for say, Aerosmith. They’ve always been more of a fun band than a menacing one, maybe that’s it? The Scorpions have rarely been dour. And the Scorpions’ lyrics – typical for heavy metal – fixate many times on sex – and that may make them seem “sophomoric.” At the end of the day, they’re a really stellar (or in the parlance of heavy metal, kick ass) band who deserve more attention and respect. With a lead guitarist as skilled as Rudolf Schenker, you’d think they’d get more reverence from the hard rock faithful.

Perhaps its my lack of taking them seriously that has caused me to lose track of them for large gaps of their career, as I alluded to when I reviewed their first single from the new LP Rock Believer a few months ago, “Peacekeeper.” I admitted in that post that I have lost track of the Scorpions several times over the years. Oh, and by the way, I dug “Peacekeeper.” The first time I saw them live, when I was in early high school, they opened for Nugent (and Def Leppard opened for them) and I was sufficiently impressed to buy Animal Magnetism. The album didn’t hit me like I thought it would, although listening to it now I love it. The cover art probably kept some of the female fans away… a woman kneeling in front of a guy with doberman and a cold beer probably didn’t win them any points… (pictured below),

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But Klaus Meine was a charismatic front man and Matthias Jabs and the aforementioned Rudolf Schenker were a dynamic dual lead guitar threat. Those guys ran around the stage opening for Nugent that night like meth addled maniacs and we ate that up! I almost enjoyed them more than Nugent. Of course at the time I had no idea they’d been around for a decade already. I still don’t know anybody who has any Scorpion’s LPs from prior to say, 1979.

After a few furtive spins of Animal Magnetism, (another album cover that disturbed my mother much like the cover for Sabbath’s Mob Rules that I was listening to around that time as well) I sort of spaced off the Scorpions. It wasn’t until I was in college that the Scorpions exploded with the metal masterpiece Blackout. We were all into that album. There was a guy from Dodge City who lived down the hall from us and he’d show up drunk in the middle of the night and beg us to play the Scorpions. He loved the song “Can’t Live Without You.” His name was Les (name changed to protect the guilty) and he was a big dude, so it wasn’t like we were gonna say “no” to him. He more demanded the Scorpions vs begged us to play them. He’d stand on a chair and JAM with is air guitar. It was actually quite terrifying. At that point I was all in on the Scorps, Les’ frightening, drunken displays of rock n roll intensity aside. I bought Love At First Sting the day it came out. Songs like “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “Bad Boys Running Wild” were in high rotation on my stereo… and coincidentally also in high rotation on MTV. Although I do remember playing the Scorpions for my friends back home that summer of ’84 and one of the many friends named Steve derided me for listening to “cheesy metal.”

Regardless of that particular Steve’s opinion, the Scorpions were huge in the mid 80s. All hard rock enthusiasts dug the Scorpions. At the time, it was rumored that Robert Palmer was thinking of dabbling in heavy metal and after some exhaustive research had reached out to the Scorpions to collaborate, much in the same way he had with Little Feat at the beginning of his career…sadly it didn’t come to be. But talk about respect! I didn’t know many people who didn’t own at least Blackout. Love At First Sting was actually more popular with help from MTV and the pervasiveness of heavy/hair metal in those days. The Scorpions even dabbled in politics on Love At First Sting with the anti-war and at the time anti Cold War track “Crossfire.” The Scorpions, after years of toiling, had finally gotten near the pinnacle of hard rock. They were thought of like Van Halen or Motley Crue. It was around that time I heard the older LP from 1979 Lovedrive and was again impressed. But then… things changed. The Scorpions waited four years – a lifetime back then – to release the follow up to Love At First Sting, Savage Amusement. By then I had left college and had entered my corporate exile in Arkansas. I was an adult now… the party was seemingly over. I would hear “Rhythm Of Love” on the radio occasionally when I was driving from Ft Smith to Shreveport, Dallas, Kansas City or any place but Arkansas but it didn’t reach me. Maybe it was because I was living in a rock radio void but I completely lost track of the Scorpions.

I’m embarrassed to say it wasn’t until I met the Rock Chick around the turn of the millennium that I rediscovered how great the Scorpions were. She bought their 2-CD greatest hits album, Deadly Sting, on one of our first dates where we’d gone to a record store. We sat around jamming on that thing all summer. I did see the Scorpions a couple of times in that time after Arkansas and before the Rock Chick. I think I thought of them as more of a touring band – the type of act you go see live but don’t buy or investigate their LPs. Grunge had made my listening turn a little more serious. I felt at the time that the kind of anthemic, hard rock they played had no place alongside Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Silly me… there’s room for all kinds of music in someone’s collection. Play what you like, screw the trends. I took the Rock Chick to see the Scorpions but my friends got too drunk and we had to leave early… she still hasn’t forgiven me for that. They weren’t taking the show seriously. The Scorpions always delivered live. After the Rock Chick turned me back onto the Scorpions, I was actually paying attention again and picked up their 2010 LP Sting In The Tail, an album that to me was a real return to form. But as usual… after buying their Unplugged LP in 2013… I lost track of them again.

True to form, I didn’t even know they’d put out another studio album in 2015, Return To Forever. Oh well.. But I was thrilled when I heard that former Motorhead drummer Mikkey Dee had joined the band and brought back some of that early energy. They were re-energized enough to go back into the studio. They had been urged by a fan in Greece to get back to that sound of their 80s heyday. When I heard the first single “Peacekeeper” my thought was, “this could be from ’84-/85.” It’s a great first single and frankly with it’s theme of putting war behind us it’s even more relevant today than a few months ago when released.

2015’s Return To Forever was, by all accounts, a disappointment. If that album left you wondering if the Scorpions still had anything left, all you have to do is crank the opening track on Rock Believer, “Gas In the Tank” and you’ll have your answer. The Scorpions, re-energized by drummer Mikkey Dee (formerly of Motorhead) are still Klaus Meine on vocals, Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs on guitars with Paweł Mąciwoda on bass. This album really does harken back to their heyday. If you dug them in the 80s you should absolutely check out Rock Believer. Oh yes, the Scorpions have plenty left in “the tank.” The aforementioned opening track’s lyrics include references to a “Trans Am,” and they actually say the words “Wham bam thank you ma’am.” What’s more 80s than that?

The album starts with a trio of classic sounding Scorpions’ hard rock tunes in their classic style. While the tracks feature squealing, crunchy guitars they are melodic and really drill into your brain through your ear. “Gas In The Tank” and the second track “Roots In My Boots” set the stage. They’re both big, arena-rock style tunes. You’re not going to find any introspective truths here, just fun. They follow those up with a crunchy rock song “Knock Em Dead” and I love that guitar sound. The songs are so upbeat they’re almost lilting.

The album shifts down to more midtempo, bigger riffing in the second stage. The title track is catchy as hell and I love that tune. I keep waking up with it in my head every morning. The song rocks but it’s a slower pace than the first three. “Scream for me screamer, I’m a Rock Believer, just like you…” Hell yes! “Shining Of Your Soul” is another slower paced rocker. I almost thought it would be a ballad, but with its big riffs and drums, its just midtempo. “Seventh Sun” has a slow, almost plodding, heavy riff but it builds and builds. The elastic guitar solo at the end is worth the journey on that song. The chorus is tailor made for a stadium full of drunken fans to sing along with. I’d be remiss not to mention that Klaus Meine’s vocals are still razor sharp. He hasn’t lost a step.

“Hot And Cold” takes it up a notch at that point. It’s a very standard Scorpions song and it rocks. It’s the only track that didn’t resonate with me and I have no explanation as to why not. Things really kick into high gear for the “meet-me-at-the-finish-line” of “When I Lay My Bones To Rest.” I can’t wait to listen to that one in my car on the highway. “Let me see your haaaaands!!” The album finishes on some (relatively) mellower notes. “Call Of The Wild” is a sexy “come on” kinda song again with a great solo at the end. The lyrics tell the story, “I will treat you right girl, it’s a summer night..” which takes me back to my college days on summer break. You had to be there. Finally they end the main album with a ballad, “When You Know (Where You Come From).” I think it’s a gorgeous track but I’ve always been a sucker for those power ballads… well, some power ballads… Aerosmith went a little nuts with them.

On the ‘Deluxe’ version of the album – and I think it’s the only one you can buy – there are five additional tracks on a second disc. At first I thought they should have omitted the bonus tracks. I really did not like “When Tomorrow Comes” or “Unleash The Beast.” However, upon repeated listens I really liked the rockers “Shoot For Your Heart” which is a great driving rock song that would also be fun to, yes, listen to in the car. “Crossing Borders” is a crunchy rock song about a woman vs anything political but it’s a great rocking song. Then the bonus tracks end with an acoustic version of “When You Know (Where You Come From)” which is a perfect bonus track. I might have cut out “When Tomorrow,” and “Unleashed” and just given thirteen tracks as the proper album with the acoustic track as a bonus, but hey, when the music is this good I’ll take what I can get from the Scorpions.

While many people won’t take this review or the Scorpions themselves very seriously, this is a great hard rock album. The 80s are much maligned, rightly so, but some of that hard rock from the era was really quite good. I mean, we can’t listen to Leonard Cohen all the time, right? This is great, beer drinking, head banging rock n roll. It’s precisely the kind of album B&V was founded on. I told the Rock Chick that no one takes the Scorps seriously and she said, “I guess we’ll see how the tickets to their Vegas residency sell…” I see a trip to the hated Vegas in my future… I have to make up for those two drunk friends who ruined the show I took her too all those years ago. Turn this one up, dance around with a bottle of Southern Comfort and enjoy yourselves! Good times require good time music. You’ve earned it!

Cheers!

New Song: Scorpions Release “Peacekeeper”- First “Rawking” New Song From The Upcoming LP ‘Rock Believer’

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I don’t know what it is about the Scorpions but I keep losing track of them. I always know they’re out there rocking, or perhaps better said “RAWKING,” but for some reason I never know about it when they release new music. Thankfully I saw on Twitter a little while ago that they’d released a new single entitled “Peacemaker” and intend to release a new album in the spring, Rock Believer. I think the world is a better place when there is new Scorpions’ music out there to turn up to 11.

My history with the Scorpions is almost like a hide and seek game. They’re there, right in front of me on stage or on my turntable and then suddenly I’d lose track of them. I’ve probably mentioned this somewhere but the Scorpions were a part of my first ever concert. A friend of mine had tickets to see Nugent and couldn’t go. This was when Nugent was a guitar-wielding, rock n roll wild man, not his current incarnation as a gun-wielding moron. Nugent was still cool in the late 70s/early 80s. My friend sold me his ticket to “the Nuge” for something like $10. It was a crazy night at Kemper Arena. The opening act came out and they were all kids my age. It was Def Leppard on their first tour in support of On Through The Night. They played “Wasted” and “Rock Brigade.” And yes, we were a wasted rock brigade up in the cheap seats where I was sitting. I remember thinking that I needed to keep an eye on those nutty kids.

It was after Def Leppard… the drummer had a Union Jack diaper on, that lo and behold the Scorpions rushed the stage. I’d never seen a band with that much energy but admittedly, this was my first concert. The only song I recognized, well the only song of theirs I knew was “The Zoo.” I was completely unaware that they’d been around for almost a decade at that point in 1980. I had never heard or even heard of those Micheal Schenker led early records like Virgin Killer, In Trance or gads Taken By Force. I thought they were a brand new band and Animal Magnetism, their then-current LP, was their debut album. I’m embarrassed I hadn’t even heard the classic album Love Drive at that point. Although I have this funny memory of hearing Klaus Meine on an interview show and they asked him about the meaning of the title of Love Drive and in that heavy German accent that makes him sound like a villain in a World War II movie he said, “It’s both about making love while driving in the car but also it’s about that urge we all feel for “love.”” Oh Klaus, that ain’t love you’re talking about…

While I was impressed with the Scorpions enough to go out and buy Animal Magnetism, I wasn’t moved to do any deeper inspection and figure out the back catalog. Let’s face it, on that crazy night in 1980 at Kemper Arena, I was there to see “Ted the Sledge.” It’s hard to believe that within two years the Motor City Madman would have faded so quickly and the Scorpions would explode with the landmark heavy metal LP Blackout. We used to stand on our desk chairs and air guitar to “Dynamite” all night long. I taped my roommate’s copy of that album and played it in my car almost constantly. I remember I still had that cassette in my “cassette briefcase” in my backseat when I was sent into exile in Arkansas… When 1984’s LP Love At First Sting came out, I bought it on the day it was released and pleased that I have the original album cover on that vinyl treasure. Walmart made them change the cover. Prudes.

After college, I again lost track of the Scorpions. Somewhere along the line I picked up Crazy World but that was it for me and the Scorpions for years. I did see them again in concert, this time as headliners, out at the local “shed,” Sandstone Amphitheater. They were even better that time but despite the fact that 15 years had passed, their energy level on stage was exactly the same – full tilt. Other than that show I wasn’t listening to much of the Scorpions. And then… I met the Rock Chick. On one of our first dates we went to the CD store. She bought a stack of CDs that day… and one of them was the two-disc, greatest hits compilation Deadly Sting: The Mercury Years. We poured some red wine and cranked those 2 CDs up loud! It was a revelation. I quietly admonished myself for losing track of those guys. They’ve got so much great music out there. I realize they changed their sound to a more radio-friendly, heavy rock sound vs the hard edged metal of their early years but still they’ve remained really consistent in terms of sound over the years. They haven’t really chased fads as far as I can tell. They’re kind of like AC/DC, they know what they do well so they keep doing it. And the thing they do well is to RAWK.

I actually picked up their 2010 album Sting In The Tail and it was a fantastic hard rock, Scorpions’ album. It sounded like not a day had passed since their heyday. It’s one of those LPs that B&V was founded to talk about. When I heard they had a new song out, I rushed to Spotify. It was then that I realized that, true to form, I had lost track of them again and missed that they had released an album in 2015, Return To Forever. That’ll be another LP I’ll have to put in the stack as I prep my review of the upcoming album this spring, Rock Believer. The fact that I didn’t know about that record tells me that the Scorpions need to fire their PR person. Either that or they’re purposely eluding me…

From the opening riff of “Peacemaker” I knew I was listening to a classic Scorpions hard rock track. Rudolf Schenker and Mathias Jabs guitars weave together for a heavy yet nimble riff to open this thing. When Klaus Meine’s vocals kick in it’s race to the finish line time. The guitars and drums start rolling faster. And by the way, I think the coolest name in rock may be Mathias Jabs. He’s like 7 feet tall too…or at least that’s what it looked like from the cheap seats. The Scorps can play a heavy riff and then jump to intensely melodic guitar faster than anyone this side of Metallica. Rudolf breaks off a tasty guitar solo in the middle. Pinch me, am I dreaming, is it 1985? I’m really impressed with the lyrics to “Peacemaker.” This isn’t their first stab at a socio-political statement in their lyrics. I can still remember the track “Crossfire” from Love At First Sting that also took up the cry for peace. I was impressed that in between calls to blackout or to be bad boys running wild they had the presence of mind to speak about peace. I think this opening lyric says it all:

“We could turn another page
Keep the lions in the cage
The battlefield is bleeding red
Land of glory, monster dead
Into a world without frontiers
With no hate, regret or fears
We’ll burn to ashes in a flash
If we don’t change, we’re gonna crash”

Here’s a link to “Peacekeeper”:

The only bad news here is we’re going to have to wait until February 2022 for Rock Believer. If Sting In The Tail and “Peacemaker” are any indications, this may be another great, late-period Scorpions LP. I know I’ll be looking out for it since it’s clear after all these years… the Scorps are purposely eluding my attention.

Cheers!

Lookback: Metallica’s ‘The Black Album’ Turns 30 This Month – My Conflicted Thoughts

There have been a number of significant anniversaries this year. Well, rock and roll anniversaries anyway. Most of the milestones have been around albums that were released in that seminal year of 1971. I’ve been kind of wrapped up in all of that having posted a playlist for 1971, blissing out on CSNY’s Deja Vu and currently listening to George Harrison’s masterwork All Things Must Pass – 50th Anniversary. It’s hard not to get caught up in the whole “50th anniversary thing,” that’s a big number. While I’ve been focused on all of that, I didn’t realize that another album had reached a significant milestone as well. Metallica’s self-titled 1991 LP, aka The Black Album, turned thirty years old this August. In many circles it’s considered a stone cold classic. I have to admit, I dig this album, but I have a bit of a complicated relationship with both it and Metallica in general. To be more accurate I used to have a conflicted feeling about Metallica. I love them now. But I still have a conflicted relationship with the album Metallica.

Metallica’s first album the classic Kill ‘Em All came out in 1983. I had to rub my eyes and look at that again. In 1983 I was just barely in college, struggling to make the adjustment to living away from home and trying to become an adult. Needless to say, I was distracted and completely unaware that Kill Em All even existed at the time. In my defense, most heavy metal bands in those days dressed like chicks in spandex and bandanas with giant blow-dried hair. Every band looked the same and their videos looked identical. Well, the bands we thought of as heavy metal back then anyway. And while some of those bands rocked hard – Motley Crue springs to mind – a lot of them didn’t – Bon Jovi springs to mind. Metallica was authentic, balls to the wall heavy metal. Their influences were all those great British 70s heavy metal bands that arrived in Black Sabbath’s wake. Their sound was significantly heavier and more menacing than anything around. There was a touch of punk in the thrash metal they played and more than a touch of prog rock in the way they played on their early LPs. No wonder we never heard them on the radio.

Metallica took a quantum leap forward on their second album, Ride The Lightning. The first album was already a classic but no one expected the long, complicated tracks with multiple time changes and even heavier lyrics. Most bands sang about partying and chicks while Metallica sang about dying in the electric chair. There was an intelligence and power in what they were doing and yet… I still had no idea who they were. It wasn’t until March, 27th 1986 when some buddies of mine and I drove all the way down to Wichita, Kansas to see Ozzy Osbourne that I became aware that Metallica even existed. We were Ozzy fans. We dug Van Halen and AC/DC. The opening act comes out onto a foggy stage covered in big white crosses. There was a collective, “who the fuck are these guys?” Metallica were opening up for Ozzy and touring behind their third LP (who knew?) Master of Puppets and the stage evoked the album cover. When I tell Metallica fans that I saw them on this tour they tend to freak out. This was original bassist Cliff Burton’s final tour. He was killed in a bus crash on the European leg later that year. I didn’t even know which one he was on stage… That night at Ozzy, I’m embarrassed to admit – they didn’t make an impression on any of us. They opened with “Battery” and went right into “Master Of Puppets.” They played faster than anything we’d ever seen before. We kept yelling, “Louder, faster!” They had their heads bowed down and all we could see was bobbing heads with shaking hair. I wouldn’t have been able to recognize any of them in a line up… I don’t think I saw a face. We were all loaded on beer and No-Doz and couldn’t be bothered with this gloomy opening act. We walked in Ozzy fans, we left as Ozzy fans. I did pick up some Metaphysical Wisdom that night…

It was 10 years later when I crossed paths with Metallica again. By then I at least knew who they were. On a drunken night in Westport years earlier we’d run into an old college buddy who I’ll call Al (name changed to protect the guilty) and he kept singing at the top of his lungs “Aaaaand nothing else matters!!” Do you want another drink Al? “Yes… AND NOTHING ELSE MATTERS…” So by June 27, 1996 when Lollapalooza came to Kansas City (specifically, Longview Lake), I was familiar with the 1991 LP, Metallica. By then they had a new LP out, Load. It was a bit controversial that Metallica was headlining Lollapalooza. They were metal, Lolla was an alternative rock thing. The tribal lines were drawn more firmly back then. I remember going over to my friend’s little brother’s place to “pre-game” and have a few beers. His roommate, who was in med school, had “Metallica” tattoo’d on his bicep. I can just imagine some poor old lady in surgery, coming out of the anesthesia induced fog and seeing that tattoo and dropping into a coma. I had been talked into going all the way out to Longview Lake to see this show because Soundgarden was playing right before Metallica.

I’m standing in the beer line on a ridge overlooking Longview Lake (naturally) and I hear the Doors’ song, “Waiting For the Sun.” But it’s not Jim Morrison, its Chris Cornell. I turned and ran back to the area where the stage was set up as fast as I could. What a show! As he was leaving, addressing the Lolla controversy of Metallica headlining Cornell said, “I bet you’re all glad now Metallica is still coming up next.” I have to admit, I really didn’t care. But then Metallica came out and they rocked. My friend’s little brother, who I’ll call Young Goodman Brown says that during “Ain’t My Bitch” I nudged him with my elbow and said, “These guys are kind of good. I like this tune.” What drew me in at first was Kirk Hammett’s fluid, soaring solo’s on guitar. That guy is amazing. But as I listened I started to realize what a great drummer Lars Ulrich is. Maybe there was more to this band than I’d realized. Sometimes you just have to see a band live. I do remember Lars made a mistake on one song and James Hetfield (lead singer/guitar) gave him a ration of shit, live in front of the crowd.

I went out the next day and bought Metallica and the then-current Load. Mind you, I had no knowledge of their first iconic four LPs. They rank up there with Sabbath’s first five or six LPs. Classic heavy metal and I hadn’t heard a note of any of it. Well, except the two live shows I’d seen. They’d even played “Whiplash” at Lolla, not that I could have identified it. While I really loved “Until It Sleeps” off of Load, I spent most my time after that listening to Metallica. There’s a theory in rock n roll that says when a band, later in their career, releases a self-titled album (ie, it’s not their debut) it signals a rebirth or a new direction for the band. Unbeknownst to me, that was utterly true for Metallica. They had taken the epic length song, thrash-metal style of Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …And Justice For All as far as they could. They pared the songs down in terms of length and made them more concise and even heavier, if that’s possible. They were still rocking with the same intensity but that change in style also made them… oh no!… more popular. The hard core following they had up to that time felt betrayed. There were accusations of “selling out.” Of course that LP sold in the millions.

I struggled a bit with The Black Album. The Spinal Tap art work didn’t help. “How much blacker can we get it?” There were five big “hits” that I really liked. “Enter Sandman” (great f’ing song and video), “Nothing Else Matters” (cheers Al), “Unforgiven” (their first ballad), “Sad But True” and “Wherever I May Roam” were instant classics. The rest, however, felt like filler. I remember taping the album for use in my car – yes, this was pre-iPods – and I only taped those five songs. I then did a bit of a pick and choose on Load as well. I could go so far as to say I liked Metallica, but I didn’t love them. I struggled to understand what the rabid fans saw in these guys. And, I’ll admit, I thought Hetfield was kind of an asshole. Of course back then those guys drank more than my friends and I did which didn’t really help. In my mind I’d kind of relegated them to a big band I could only connect with on a few tracks. I decided I just didn’t “get” Metallica. For me, I thought the issue was settled.

Then a strange thing happened. Another 12 years passed. It was 2008 and I was now a married guy, living in the suburbs. Metallica released a new album Death Magnetic which was seen as both a comeback and a return to the style of their earlier LPs. I kept hearing “The Day That Never Comes” on satellite radio…and to my surprise, I loved it. I heard “Cyanide” next. After hearing “All Nightmare Long” I’d heard enough… I bought the album and something just clicked for me with Metallica. I know that’s a weird on-ramp to this band but it’s how it happened. I quickly snatched up their first four albums and I was suddenly amongst the converted. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t own that miserable Re-Load album… gads that was a wrong turn. But I now consider Metallica to be amongst the most important heavy metal bands ever.

Hearing the first four LPs helped me put The Black Album in clearer context. I could see how the people who’d followed them up to that point were disappointed. That said, I thought it was a nice change of direction. Even the songs beyond “the big five” tracks that everyone knows started to grow on me. “Holier Than Thou” and “Don’t Tread On Me” started to find their way onto my heavier playlists. I’ve gone from thinking it was a weak album with a handful of great tracks to understanding that it is a very good Metallica album. Although, hearing their early stuff, I have to say, it’s not a great Metallica album. Beloved by millions of new fans at the time, it’s really not the essence of who they are…at least not to me. Their last LP, Hardwired…To Self Destruct was another triumph in the same vein as that early stuff. I now look forward to new Metallica with the same excited anticipation as I do anybody else in the B&V canon. Having listened to The Black Album repeatedly over the last few weeks it’s an album we should be celebrating on it’s 30th anniversary in a big way. Although I have to admit I’m a little stunned it’s been 30 years… as Dylan said, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.”

Cheers!

New Single: Ozzy’s Triumphant Return, “Under the Graveyard”

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“Today I woke up and I hate myself, Death doesn’t answer when I cry for help…” – Ozzy Osbourne, “Under the Graveyard”

You can always count on Ozzy Osbourne to deliver the goods…

I have to admit, my introduction to “heavy metal” did not go well. I didn’t get a stereo until Christmas of ’78 – well sort of a stereo, it was one of those “all-in-one” units (turntable/cassette/radio with hardwired speakers). I wasn’t even in high school yet. My first album, as I’ve documented, purchased with a little bit of my own cash I’d received for Christmas was the Stones’ Some Girls. After that I started to tentatively expand my record collection. Most of the stuff I had early on in my collection was “of that time,” or released in the late 70s. The idea of going back in time to buy an artist’s back catalog, like my brother had done with the Beatles or the Byrds, was inconceivable to me. Rather than realizing I could buy all the Stones’ albums, I just taped my brother’s copy of Hot Rocks and listened to it on the cassette player.

Beyond the Stones, I picked up ZZ Top’s Deguello, Queen’s News of the World and Supertramp’s Breakfast In America which I traded to my brother for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. I had heard the Blues Brothers’ Briefcase Full of Blues playing from the room of my friend’s older, beautiful, buxom sister so I bought it in the hopes that a musical connection would lead to a more…temporal connection. It didn’t, she was in high school and I was in junior high. Dare to dream big, young man. It did solidify my love of the blues. I also purchased the Doobie Brothers’ Minute By Minute not because I’m a Michael McDonald fan, but because I’d heard it at a party and saw that it had a joint on the inner sleeve art work, which gave it an instant stamp of “cool” or at least tacit approval, if you will. My record buying habit grew as quickly as my thirst for beer until my father once made a rare appearance in my room and scratching his head said, “You’ve got all of these records, why do you need any more?” Apparently he didn’t realize there was different music on each record.

My Sainted mother, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care. At the time, her best friend was this lady I’ll call Betsy (name changed to protect the guilty). Betsy had a daughter my age and a son my brother’s age. They were a bit more rough and tumble than we were. Betsy’s daughter was one of those hang around behind the school smoking cigarette types. Nice girl, just a bit too dangerous for my taste and speed. Betsy was a boozy woman who liked to smoke red Marlboro 100s. I would come home from school and more often than not, Betsy was sitting at our kitchen table, a few empty brews scattered in front of her, with an ashtray nearby. When she found out that I was suddenly “into music” she decided she was going to bring some of her children’s records over so I could listen to them and record them on cassette if I found them to my liking. I seem to remember nodding and thinking this was probably nothing but also being intrigued at getting to expand my music collection.

I was all of like, maybe 13 years old and the next thing I know I’m staring at a stack of vinyl from Betsy whose cover art images were like nothing I’d ever come across up to that point. I’m not sure what was going on over at Betsy’s house, but these were scary images. I wondered if Social Services had been called. I don’t remember all of the albums but the first one I saw was Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. This is the image I beheld:

image

While it was nice to see some of these rumored nipples, it depicts some poor bastard being ravaged and killed by demons, on a bed with a skull and a 666 on the headboard. I was still Catholic at the time and that put a little jolt of fear in me. I’ll admit, I read the Book of Revelation and these Sabbath characters scared me. I couldn’t help but think, what the fuck is this? I dropped the needle on the album and the sound emanating out of the headphones was not at all comforting. I couldn’t help but think…Betsy’s kids are listening to this noise? Where’s the melody, where’s the hook?

The stack went on. Judas Priest’s British Steel, I have a vague memory of some Iron Maiden and I think, Sabbath’s Volume 4. I know there was more, but after that mind numbing collection, I was done with Betsy’s kids’ records. I made a mental note… avoid Betsy’s kids, they’re Satanic. Oddly, all these years later, I own and love all of these albums.

Sometimes, it just takes a little time before we’re ready for certain music. It only took me a year until my tastes had turned to harder rock. I say harder rock because it’s increasingly difficult for me to identify what exactly Heavy Metal is supposed to be. I started listening to Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith who I’ve heard called Heavy Metal, but I consider more “hard rock.” I bought AC/DC’s Back In Black which may have crossed the line into Heavy Metal, but in my mind they’re too bluesy to be Metal. It wasn’t until the Dio fronted Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell that I bought my first metal album. I didn’t even know it was the same band as that frightening day with Betsy’s kids’ records. I had heard Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” and loved it, but for some reason never bought the album. I also never connected this Ozzy guy with Black Sabbath until much later. We all have to grow up in ignorance. And while I consider myself a fan of heavy metal… it’s not like I’m sitting around listening to Opeth or Samson. I need some melody. I hear that “cookie-monster” vocal stuff and I can’t turn it off fast enough…

I remember working at York Steak House in Oak Park Mall, near the house, when I heard on the back kitchen radio, “Flying High Again” by Ozzy. I bought the album the next day. “Mama’s gonna worry, I’ve been a bad, bad boy… no use sayin’ sorry, it’s something that I enjoy.” I was hooked. I realized this guy is the Prince of Darkness and I wanna bathe in that darkness. The music rocked, it was melodic, there was a sense of humor and yeah, I’ll say it again, the music rocked. I’ve been on the Ozzy bandwagon ever since. And while Ozzy has had some down moments in his career, for the most part his albums are of the highest quality. He always seems to find a great guitarist to play with him – from Randy Rhodes to Jake E. Lee to Zakk Wylde and so forth.

I was thrilled to discover the other day that Ozzy is back for the first time since 2010’s Scream, which was a solid record. I have to admit, I liked 2007’s Black Rain more than Scream and it is one of my all time favorite Ozzy records. I saw him on that tour and I can only tell you my hearing will never be the same. I can’t believe it’s been almost a decade without any new solo Ozzy. Although, he did reunite with Sabbath for a fantastic record, 13 and tour (Black Sabbath Live & The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse).

Ozzy’s upcoming 2020 album is called Ordinary Man and he’s released the new single, “Under the Graveyard” and I love this track. Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays drums and, among others, helped write the track. Duff McKagan of GnR fame is on bass and producer Andrew Watt plays guitar. I guess he and Ozzy met while Ozzy was laying down some vocals for a Post Malone (?) song. I heard the track and Ozzy is the best part of it. It’s his best cameo since that Lita Ford duet back in the 80s.

“Under the Graveyard” starts off as an epic ballad. Ozzy’s vocals are introspective and vulnerable. It’s pretty amazing lyrically… and yes, I’m sure Ozzy had help writing the lyrics. I thought, well this is a pretty mellow comeback until about half way through the song when Watt unleashes this monster riff… I looked at the Rock Chick, a fellow Ozzy fan, and said, “Shit, that sounds like Sabbath!” I can’t believe I’ve come full circle from young tween afraid of Sabbath to elated that Ozzy sounds like them for a brief moment on the track. Watt’s guitar is fabulous and helps build this to a fabulous crescendo. This is probably the best thing I’ve heard from Ozzy in quite a while.

All of us here at B&V are thrilled Ozzy is coming back with a new album. I think this track is going to be a great harbinger of RAWK to come!! Turn this one up loud and remember… don’t be afraid kids. It’s only rock and roll… and you can’t kill rock n’ roll, you can only sing along.

 

 

Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40

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I’ve been traveling a lot lately. It’s hard to keep up with what’s going on in the world, especially considering how much is actually going on. All of that aside, I saw last month that on February 10th, Van Halen’s self-titled, debut album turned 40 years old. I was thirteen when that album came out and while that seems like a lifetime ago, I didn’t think it had been forty years, or an actual lifetime. As Dylan sang, “Time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.” I saw several of the rock websites and magazines give mention or even full articles to the anniversary, but I couldn’t help but think back to my own experience with this landmark album.

As I’ve often mentioned in the pages of B&V, the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls was the first album I ever purchased with my own money. It was money my Sainted Grandmother had given me for Xmas. She didn’t want to be the one to buy me Some Girls because the back cover was an old-time add for woman’s bras. Grandma was concerned those images might corrupt my young mind… oh, little did she know, that cat was out of the bag. My actual first album ever, which was a gift that Christmas, was Steve Martin’s Wild And Crazy Guy. Comedy albums used to be, as we say, a big fucking deal. Everybody had a copy of that album and would perform the bits in school to make the girls laugh, but that’s another post.

What I don’t often talk about, are the albums I bought after Some Girls. I had been a bit of late bloomer when it came to music. If my brother hadn’t insisted that my mother turn the radio to the rock station in KC, KY/102, while I was in the car, I never would have heard “Shattered” and gotten on this whole rock n roll train. Well, I probably would have, but it would have taken a lot longer. After hearing the Stones that fall, I started tuning into KY/102 regularly. Previously I had only turned on the radio to listen to sports. My God, I was missing out. After hearing the Stones, the world of rock and roll was rapidly opening up to me. Well, as much as it could in the midwest.

While I bought Some Girls over Christmas break of ’79 (again, I was late to the party), buying more albums came slower. To purchase an album you had to have almost $10, a major investment in those times. The second album I ever purchased, was the classic debut album, Van Halen. It had been almost the constant soundtrack of my early rock and roll experience, how could it not be my second ever album? Hearing that band, at that time, you had to own Van Halen’s debut or you had absolutely no street “cred.” We were young, experimenting with beer and other things, and girls were taking up more and more of our mental capacity… Van Halen captured all of that energy in one album.

I can still remember the spring of ’79, eager to show off my new stereo, after riding our bikes around the neighborhood one weekend (pretending we were a motorcycle gang), where there may have been some herbal remedies invoked and drinking a stolen 40 ounce beer between four of us, we made our way back to my room. I unveiled my turntable/radio/cassette unit and two big speakers to my friends. I had just made a major investment on this new album and played Van Halen’s debut three or four times. I decided to show off my depth of music and put my only other album, Some Girls on the stereo. I can still remember my friend (who to protect the guilty, I’ll call) Paul saying, “Dude, put the fucking Van Halen back on.” That’s how huge that record was for us. We listened to it constantly.

1978 was a weird time. The energy and fury of punk was slowly evolving into “new wave” best represented by the music of say, the Cars. Disco was still a poisonous and potent force, especially with my mother, sadly. The legendary rock stars of old had gotten slow… The Stones had sort of captured and absorbed the punk thing on Some Girls. Punk seemed to wake Pete Townshend out of his torpor and he at least came up with a response on “Who Are You?” Springsteen took a huge stylistic left turn from Born to Run and turned up the anger and the guitars (or perhaps the angry guitars?) and put out Darkness On The Edge of Town. Less successful at dealing with punk were Led Zeppelin who just added synths (although that might have been because Jimmy Page was in a heroin cocoon) or Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham with his experiments on Tusk. 

Hard rock was somewhat lost. Kiss was really big at the time, even with some of my comrades. I never got that. I didn’t like Kiss… Aerosmith were at their peak, but they never had the commercial reach of some of the older bands. Judas Priest and the new British metal were doing great things, but you didn’t hear a lot of that out in KC, or at least I didn’t get into that until much later in high school. We were too young to even realize the gravity that rock and roll, hard rock or heavy metal was in such peril. Enter Van Halen.

Their debut wasn’t without controversy. Many critics panned it and the band, especially for their lyrics. They thanked Gene Simmons on the album cover (he’d recorded some demos for them) and the biggest, most nefarious rumor, to my friends and I, was that Van Halen was actually Kiss without their make up. I remember a group of my friends staring at the inside sleeve picture of Michael Anthony, Van Halen’s bass player and harmony vocalist, and thinking, “Hmm, that might be Gene Simmons with his hair dyed.” I laugh now at what a big deal that was to we, the rock purists, a group I had only newly joined.

But my God, the music on this album. It was like nothing we’d ever heard before. It’s always hard to understand the magnitude of something that is so vastly influential that it colors everything that comes after it. The riffs that Eddie Van Halen played had no precedence in the Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, blues-based riffs we’d all heard before. Aerosmith, while good, didn’t really break any new ground. They were heavier, perhaps. You could draw a line from Chicago Blues to the Stones/the Yardbirds to The Jeff Beck Group to Led Zeppelin to Aerosmith. You couldn’t draw a line from anything to Van Halen. It was like Eddie was a space alien who had landed with his guitar to teach the world to shred. Nobody played like him. It wasn’t until I saw video of him playing up the neck of the guitar that I realized how he was doing some of this stuff. In the early days of Van Halen, Eddie played with his back to the crowd so other guitarists couldn’t rip him off. The song “Eruption” was the most amazing thing we’d ever heard. It was more influenced by classical music than anything I’d heard in the blues rock dominated scene of the time. There would have been no Randy Rhodes without Eddie Van Halen.

Looking at the inner sleeve of the record, and the pictures that had been taken at The Whiskey after a gig, these guys looked like the coolest people on earth. David Lee Roth, the lead singer, was THE MAN! Clearly these guys had discovered what Jeff Beck said when he recruited Rod Stewart to be his front man. The dudes come to see the guitarist, the chicks come for the big, blonde, good looking guy on vocals. There was a menace to the music of Van Halen, but Roth gave it a smirking wink. On the track, “I’m the One,” a great rocker, there’s a barbershop quartet breakdown right in the middle. Out of nowhere. Only someone as cocksure as Roth could have pulled that off. “Bop Bop Shoobie Doo Wah…”? What? Roth and Eddie’s yin/yang thing was magic. Every front man who came after him in the 80s, and many of them sucked, were emulating Roth… Don’t blame him for the pale imitations. Roth was, and in some respects remains, the ultimate teenage boy, full of lusty innuendos and drug references.

The first track I ever heard on the radio was their definitive take on “You Really Got Me,” a Kinks cover. I had to be told by a friend that it was a Kink’s cover. In Van Halen’s hands, they made it their own. The song that drove me to my piggy bank and then to the mall was the epic “Runnin’ With the Devil,” a song that still scares my mother. Although once Valerie Bertinelli married Eddie, she said, “Well, he must be a nice boy after all…” Jesus, mom. “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” was another epic, menacing rocker. I read somewhere that to record that track, Roth had been fasting from pot and booze and bad food. When he just couldn’t get the vocal right, he called for a cheeseburger, coke and a joint. After consuming all three, he stepped in and nailed the vocal in 1 take.

“Jamie’s Crying” was as close to this album came to a ballad. It takes the viewpoint of a young girl besieged by horny men after only one thing… “Atomic Punk” is a riff that still is so epic and so original that 40 years in, I’m still not over it. It makes me stand up every time I hear it. The most Roth song here is the only other cover, “Ice Cream Man.” Roth is at his comic best on this one. He starts off with “Dedicate one to the ladies…” In his day he was both cool and funny.

I listen to this album and even at the ripe age of forty it still sounds fresh and original. I wish these guys could have held it together after the wild success of 1984. At this point I’d settle for another reunion album, although this time, I’d like to hear Michael Anthony on bass and harmony vocals. I think that, like Pink Floyd, this is a band we’ll never hear from again. But I urge everyone who is a fan of rock’n’roll and hard rock to purchase this album. It’s essential to any collection.

Cheers!

 

 

Queens Of The Stone Age Release New Single, “The Way You Used To Do,” And Save Rock n Roll

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“But it doesn’t matter now
Just come and love me how
Like the way you used to do
Yeah”

Well, just as I went on record as saying Dan Auerbach’s light, strummy tune, “Shine On Me” was my “jam,” as my daughter would say, for the summer, The Queens Of the Stone Age come storming back with their new single “Like You Used To Do.” I have bad news for Mr. Auerbach… I have a new summer song, er I mean, “jam.”

We last heard from the Queens Of The Stone age in 2013 when they released the amazing album, ‘…Like Clockwork.’ I was actually driving in my car when a local DJ, Afentra on 96.5 the Buzz played the whole album the day it was released. That was so old school, my respect for Afentra jumped off the scale. Nobody plays an entire new album on the radio any more. I was impressed. And this from a man who believes terrestrial radio is dead. I immediately bought ‘…Like Clockwork’ and it remains one of my favorite records. It’s a dark record, written after leader Josh Homme had suffered a near death experience in the hospital. It’s powerful stuff. I can point to a number of strong songs on it, but I like to listen to it the way I discovered it, as a piece. It’s like a Pink Floyd record in that the themes and tone of the music hold together so well, you can listen to the entire album all at once.

In the long, four year interim since ‘…Like Clockwork’ Josh Homme has not been idle. He co-wrote and produced the astounding late-career gem ‘Post Pop Depression’ for Iggy Pop, reviewed earlier on B&V. QOTSA also provided the backing band for Iggy on that record and I highly recommend it. Josh was also part of the Eagles of Death Metal’s return to Paris to play the Bataclan. In the HBO documentary, ‘Mon Amis’ Josh and Jesse Hughes’ friendship is front and center to the story. My respect for Josh doubled, if that was even possible.

After all of that activity, Josh finally pulled the QOTSA back together for their new album, out in August, ‘Villains.’ The first single, “Like The Way You Used To Do” came out this last Friday and I love this song. It’s built around a nasty, greasy, fuzzy riff, bass drum and hand claps (if you can believe it). This would be a great song to play as a football team comes out on the field. Or when a futbol team hits the field… pick your sporting event. There’s always that moment right before the game starts or before the team hits the field when your individual excitement joins that of the collective crowd excitement and your heart soars… that’s the moment for this song. When I hear that riff and those hand claps, I find myself suddenly on my feet, moving around the room.

I love the lyrics as well. The song is about a relationship… it sounds like a modern day Bonnie and Clyde who met in high school… I love the line, “Is love mental disease or lucky fever dream?” I’ve often asked myself that same question. Well, until I met the Rock Chick, that is.

There’s been some great new music that’s come out lately but I needed some hard rock music for the summer and nothing really scratched that itch. I heard this song and the first words out of my inarticulate mouth were, “Fuck, yes!” I can always count on the QOTSA to save rock and roll! My drummer friend Blake says they’re way too much of a  musician’s musicians band, but I defy you put on “Like The Way You Used To Do” and not feel the power of rock n roll!

Put this one on, turn it up to 11, and enjoy this by the pool! I can’t wait for ‘Villains’ out late August.

Cheers! (and please use sunscreen folks, tan skin is not healthy skin).

Concert Review: Soundgarden, Kansas City May 14, 2017

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*Photo taken by your intrepid blogger

My friend’s younger brother, who I call Young Goodman Brown for no good reason, emailed a couple of months ago. He lives in Tulsa now and is a successful orthopedic doctor. And here I remember him as high school kid with a bleach blonde mullet. Time passes quickly, folks. Young Goodman Brown was excited about this year’s line-up for Rocklahoma, the annual hard rock/heavy metal festival held out in some field in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma. He’s always trying to convince his brother and I to come down there. After using “the Google” to find the line up, I too was impressed. The Cult was playing this year and you know how much I dig the Cult. I was surprised to also see Soundgarden on the line-up. It’s always great when a band gets back together. At the time it was the only gig they had scheduled but I knew they’d have to be doing some sort of spring/summer tour. Nobody goes out for just one gig.

To my delight and Young Goodman Brown’s disappointment, I found out that Soundgarden was indeed touring more extensively and better yet, coming to Kansas City. There would be no heavy metal camping in Oklahoma for me this year. I was a little shocked a band as heavy as Soundgarden was playing at Kansas City’s venerable Starlight Theater – it’s usually the host of Broadway type musical theater, my parents have season tickets every year, but not so last night. Right before I left for college my parents took me out there for the first time to see Elton John, which was actually awesome (much to my surprise at the time) which tells you Soundgarden isn’t the usual Starlight fare. The Rock Chick, my old friend Steven and I snapped up tickets as soon as they went on sale and Ubered out there last night. I even saw my stereo guy out there and he’s a bigger music junkie than even I am. I knew this would be a special evening.

I will say, the evening started off with the opening act, The John Dillinger Escape Plan and it was not a good start. It was three guys pounding their instruments while the lead “singer” screamed at the crowd. I literally told the beer guy I felt like I’d done something wrong and was in trouble. The lead singer was that angry… It’s hard being Catholic. It’s best to spend the time the opening act is on stage in the beer garden like I did last night. In the interest of full disclosure, I did take ear plugs out there… I knew this was going to be a loud evening.

I’m embarrassed to admit, I forget how heavy and how hard rocking Soundgarden is. I tend to think of them along with the other great grunge bands like Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. And while all those guys rocked hard with an almost punk sensibility, none of them rocked as hard as Soundgarden. I remember thinking back in the 90s that they were the Sabbath of the grunge movement. My buddy Steven told me last night he heard someone say that on MTV so my “Sabbath” analogy may not be purely original, although I sure thought I came up with it. These guys rock with a fucking vengeance. Why they’re not in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame is a mystery and perhaps even a scandal.

I knew Chris Cornell was a great front man, that’s expected. His vocals are simply amazing live. I was blown away by his singing. I went out there thinking, “Well, Cornell is awesome, but Thayil will be the hero of the evening.” Kim Thayil, the lead guitar player is one of those great, great guitar gods you never hear anything about. He’s quiet, unassuming, and just shreds. He was laying thick slabs of monster riffs in the most laid back manner. He also plays some intricate, beautiful solos. The guy is the definition of virtuoso. However, I wasn’t nearly as impressed with him as I was with drummer Matt Cameron, which is saying a lot. Cameron is the engine that drives this band. After seeing last night I must say he ranks up there with Neal Peart or Tommy Lee, two of my favorite hard rock drummers. His back beat with Ben Shepherd’s loud, insistent bass guitar was the rock-bed, solid foundation from which Cornell and Thayil soar. Their chemistry is fabulous. Cornell kept having issues with his ear buds and at one time had to run backstage. The first time that happened, Cameron played a great, brief drum solo to cover for Chris. The second time it happened, the whole band joined in on a improvisational jam. I like the moments when things fuck up on stage almost as much as the precision moments.

The opening track, “Incessant Mace,” was a track I was not familiar with. My history with these guys only goes back as far as ‘Batmotorfinger,’ so the opening track wasn’t in my memory bank. Usually when I see a show, I’m such a completist I know every tune they’re playing, which I will say, helps me enjoy the show more. “Incessant Mace” is a slow rolling heavy rock number. I didn’t know it but I really enjoyed it. They played a couple other tunes I didn’t know, which I enjoyed, but then they hit their stride when they played “Spoonman.” Cameron really had the chance to shine on that one. They actually opened with the beginning of “Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” which I wish they’d played in it’s entirety.

After “Spoonman” they launched into “Outshined,” a muscular, slow dirge-y “Black Hole Sun,” and then the hard “By Crooked Steps” from the great, overlooked comeback LP, ‘King Animal.’ The band played tunes from their entire career. It’d be easy at this point for them to come out and play most of ‘Superunknown’ and phone it in. These guys played all over their catalog and played with passion. “Rusty Cage” is a Rock Chick favorite and I can now say it’s one of my favorite since I heard it in all it’s glory last night. Steven turned to me last night after “Jesus Christ Pose,” and said, “I never really liked that tune until this very moment, seeing it live.” Support live music folks, it’ll change your perspective of the music and the songs. You haven’t experienced a song until you’ve heard it live.

“Fell On Black Days” was a particularly high point for me. The song came out when I was going through some bad shit, and the song means a lot to me personally. I’d announced it’s the only tune I’d be disappointed not hearing. They did not disappoint. It was built around Cornell’s fabulous vocal. I was blown away. It was truly the high point in an exceptional concert. Cornell actually played a lot more guitar than I expected last night and I have to admit, he can play. Cornell said at one point, before the encore, that his grandparents lived in Kansas City and it was always a special place to him. I don’t know if it’s true, but it seemed genuine and it was a really nice moment. Then they launched into the encore tune, “Slaves and Bulldozers,” which Cornell said was named by a 5 year old. If you want a hard rock/heavy metal clinic, put on “Slaves and Bulldozers.” It led to a feedback frenzy as each band member slowly left the stage.

This was an exceptional night and an exceptional performance. These guys are just astonishingly good. From guitar solos to vocals to drums, there were so many jaw-dropping moments. It was so heavy and so loud I felt like I was in college again. Never underestimate master musicians practicing their craft. If you’re in a city lucky enough to be on this Soundgarden tour, do yourself a favor and get a ticket. Buy the ticket, enjoy th ride! Hell, I might even go down and camp in Nowhere, Oklahoma to see them again… and that’s saying something.

Cheers!

Artist Lookback: Black Sabbath, 1980-1981, The Superb Dio Era

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A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about Ozzy Osbourne’s albums with Randy Rhoads. It was one of Ozzy’s greatest eras. I think, in the interest of “equal time,” that it’s only fair to take a look at what his old band mates were up to while Ozzy was launching his solo career. Fed up with Ozzy’s erratic addict behavior and diminishing album sales, Tony Iommi and the gang decided it was time to make a change. Ozzy was sacked. The choice for replacement was none other than former Elf and Rainbow lead singer Ronnie James Dio. It was an inspired choice.

Other than a brief flirtation with the ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ album when my mom’s friend brought her children’s records over for me to tape on cassette, I really didn’t know anything about pre-Dio Sabbath. That LP frankly, scared me at the time. I had to wonder what was going on at my mom’s friend’s house. Sure, I knew the song “Paranoid” but I’m not even sure I connected that with Ozzy. I was into bluesier rock like The Stones, ZZTop, Foghat, not heavy metal. Looking back, one has to wonder why Dio would quit Rainbow, who seemed to be on the upswing, and join Sabbath who were sinking under the weight of their own addictions and commercial failures. Coming off two absolute clunkers, “Technical Ecstasy” and “Never Say Die,” Sabbath was in need of a shot in the arm. “Never Say Die” seems like a joke now, considering they blew up the band by firing Ozzy right after that LP.

I remember the first time I heard the first “single” if you an call it that, from ‘H&H,’ “Neon Nights” on KY102, the local radio station in Kansas City. With it’s galloping pace and heavy guitar, and that voice, who was that singing I wondered, it was the type of tune you’d put on before riding into battle. Perhaps I’d been wrong and there were non-blues-based music out there I needed to check out. This was my inauguration into heavy metal. Oh, and I was hooked!

The two 80’s albums Sabbath did with Ronnie James Dio are absolutely essential to not only heavy metal fans, but fans of rock and roll of any stripe. While it was only a brief period lasting a little over 2 years and only two albums, it was one of Sabbath’s most fruitful periods. Let’s look at both LPs.

‘Heaven And Hell’ (1980)

When I saw the album cover of ‘Heaven and Hell’, with the group of angels smoking cigarettes and gambling, I thought, “Oh, yes, I’m in the right place.” This was going to be a special listening event. I went downstairs to use my parents considerably better and more powerful stereo. I put the headphones in the jack and dropped the needle. Unfortunately, my parents stereo had a knob that had to be turned to “auxiliary output” before it would divert the music to the headphones, so while I thought I was privately enjoying “Neon Nights” it was actually blasting out of the speakers overhead sending my mother into a gasping, screaming fit of rage as she ran from the kitchen all the way to the living room to throw her body on the stereo. In her defense, I had it turned up to “11.” Sorry, mom.

Side one of the original vinyl LP of ‘Heaven And Hell’ is as good as any in the Sabbath pantheon. Not only does it kick off with “Neon Nights,” but side one had “Lady Evil,” just a great, spooky tune with a furious bass line and the title track, “Heaven And Hell.” “Heaven And Hell” ranks amongst the greatest tracks of all time. “Children of the Sea” rounds out side one and is another stand-out tune. For me the key track on side two is “Die Young” a hard rocking basher that could be argued was the template for Dio’s whole career. There’s a quiet bridge in the middle of “Die Young” with an acoustic guitar and Dio singing that’ll stop your heart. “Wishing Well” is another great, heavy track on side 2. They end with two very strong tracks, “Walk Away” swings and “Lonely Is The Word” is an epic Sabbath tune. This album is a must have. There isn’t a bad note from start to finish. This album equals anything Ozzy was doing on ‘Blizzard of Oz’ at the time. This was a lot heavier than anything Ozzy was doing, certainly. Bringing in Dio completely rejuvenated the creative process in Sabbath. In short, this tour de force is a triumph.

‘Mob Rules’ (1981)

The follow up to ‘Heaven And Hell,’ ‘Mob Rules’ came out so quickly afterward I didn’t even realize it had come out. Actually the follow up to ‘Heaven’ was a quick and dirty live LP where Dio sang a number of Ozzy-Sabbath tunes. They probably did that to piss Ozzy off, which I’m sure it did. My future college roommate Matthew and I were driving up to Kansas State to check out the campus one weekend when he slid a cassette tape of ‘Mob Rules’ into his super-powered, Subaru stereo. Sabbath was back with another great album. I went to the vinyl store Sunday afternoon right after we got back home to buy the album, post haste. Once again, the album art was terrific. When my mom saw this album, for the first time ever, she started to question what I was doing up in my room with the headphones on. I could see it in her eyes, “was my son in a Satanic cult?” No mom, I’m just a metal fan.

‘Mob Rules’ kicks off with “Turn Up The Night” which almost feels funky. Is there such a thing as disco metal? Geezer Butler’s bass almost makes you want to dance. The epic “Sign Of The Southern Cross” is the centerpiece of side one of this album. It leads into an atmospheric instrumental “E5150” that bleeds into the fast and hard title track, “Mob Rules.” “When you listen to fools, the mob rules…” was something I would quote to my parents when they’d take me to church, which may have been the proof my mother needed that I was indeed in a Satanic cult. Side two starts with “Country Girl” which is an OK tune, but not my favorite. I’ll admit I like they were branching out on subject matter. Side 2 immediately picks up with “Slipping Away,” the fantastic “Falling Off The Edge Of the World,” (which has my all time favorite Sabbath quote, “I’ve seen some visions of Hell that are horribly strange”) and finally the dramatic “Over And Over” to end things. This is top shelf heavy metal and while perhaps not as mind altering as ‘Heaven And Hell’ it’s certainly still a stunning album. I would label ‘Mob Rules’ as another must-have, essential LP for any rock and roll fan.

Sadly, as quickly as it had begun, and as fruitful as it proved to be, the Dio Era in Sabbath ended. There was a sudden announcement that Dio had left for a solo career (which was great on its own) and that former Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan had joined Black Sabbath. In my mind Sabbath didn’t really do anything I liked again until ’13’ the Rick Rubin-produced reunion album with Ozzy. They even reunited with Dio briefly in 1992 for the lackluster LP ‘Dehumanizer.’ Alas, the magic was gone. When you find lightning in a bottle folks, hold on tight.

I recommend immediate purchase of both these records. If you can find them on vinyl, all the better. Turn that stereo up to 11 and Rawk! Oh, and make sure you have that “auxiliary output” thing taken care of… we wouldn’t want to scare mom again.