Cinematically stoned

 

© Omni Zoetrope / United Artists

 

In my previous post I wrote about the late Anita Pallenberg and her finest cinematic moment, the dark and twisted 1968 crime / rock movie Performance.  This also starred Mick Jagger, fellow Rolling Stone and best buddy of Pallenberg’s then lover, Keith Richards.

 

Performance’s cocktail of rock stars, gangsters, drugs, decadence and debauchery was seen as representative of the culture surrounding the Stones in the late 1960s; and this, along with Pallenberg and Jagger’s participation, surely means it can be classed as a ‘Rolling Stones movie’.  Which begs the questions, “Are there other Rolling Stones movies?  And if so, what?”

 

After all, there’s been plenty of Beatles movies over the years: A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Help! (1965), Yellow Submarine (1968), Let It Be (1970), I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), The Birth of the Beatles (1979), Give my Regards to Broad Street (1984), The Hours and Times (1991), Backbeat (1994), Two of Us (2000), even The Rutles (1978).  But what of the Liverpudlian moptops’ less wholesome London rivals?  What’s been their contribution to cinema?

 

On the face of it, there isn’t a lot.  That is, if you don’t count the various documentaries made about them like Charlie is my Darling (1966), Jean Luc Godard’s oddball Sympathy for the Devil (1968) and Gimme Shelter (1970), a chronicle of their 1969 American tour that ended bloodily with Hells Angels-inspired carnage at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival.   And if you don’t count their many concert movies like The Stones in the Park (1969), Let’s Spend the Night Together (1982), Julien Temple’s The Stones at the Max (1991) (the first feature-length movie to be filmed in IMAX – because what you really want to see is a 100-feet-tall close-up of Keith Richards’ face, right?), The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1996) (plug your ears for the bit with Yoko Ono) and the Martin Scorsese-directed Shine a Light (2008), which provided the gruesome spectacle of leathery 60-something Jagger duetting with 20-something pop-moppet Christina Aguilera and prowling around her like a camp velociraptor.

 

There’s been little effort to film key events in the history of the Rolling Stones.  Off the top of my head, the only one I can think of is the little-known Stoned (2005), about the possible circumstances of Brian Jones’s death.  And as for movies featuring Stones-members as actors, well, there’s just a couple of items with Mick Jagger – epics such as Ned Kelly (1970) and Freejack (1992).  Ouch and double-ouch.

 

© Walt Disney Productions / Jerry Bruckheimer Films

 

Actually, you could make a case for the Pirates of the Caribbean series being Rolling Stones films as their star Johnny Depp famously based the voice, mannerisms and swagger of his Captain Jack Sparrow character on Keith Richards.  I thought Depp-playing-Keith-playing-a-pirate was a rib-tickling gimmick that elevated the first Pirates of the Caribbean instalment, back in 2003, from being a middling film to being an entertaining one.  Alas, Captain Jack / Johnny / Keith has gradually lost his novelty value as the sequels have become ever-more convoluted, repetitious and tedious.  For the third in the franchise, At World’s End (2007), the filmmakers had the bright idea of bringing in the real Keith Richards to cameo as Captain Jack’s pirate dad.  You can see his cameo here on Youtube, which saves you the ordeal of sitting through the whole poxy movie waiting for him to show up.

 

However, there’s one thing you can say about the Rolling Stones and celluloid.  In the right film, blasting over the soundtrack at the right moment, a Stones song can help create a splendid musical, visual and dramatic alchemy, turning a good cinematic scene into one that’s truly awesome.  Here are my all-time favourite uses of Rolling Stones songs in the movies.

 

© Taplin-Perry-Scorsese Productions / Warner Bros

 

Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Mean Streets (1973)

Wow.  Martin Scorsese really likes the Rolling Stones.  Not only has he made a concert movie about them, the above-mentioned Shine a Light, but he’s used their music in umpteen films: Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), The Departed (2006) and the one that first put him on the map, 1973’s Mean Streets.  Even today, more than 40 years later, the scene in Mean Streets where a young Robert De Niro comes swaggering through a bar, in slow motion, towards a pensive Harvey Keitel, while Jagger hollers in the background about being “born in a cross-fire hurricane”, is a great synthesis of rock ‘n’ roll music and rock ‘n’ roll cinema.  Indeed, Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a fitting accompaniment for the arrival in popular consciousness of De Niro, who’d spend the rest of the 20th century showing Hollywood how to do proper acting.  (The 21st century, containing The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000), Little Fockers (2010), New Year’s Eve (2011) and Dirty Grandpa (2016), is a different matter.)

 

Satisfaction in Apocalypse Now (1979)

The Stones’ early, primordial and still potent stomper Satisfaction gets a brief but memorable airing in Francis Ford Coppola’s baroque Vietnam War masterpiece, playing on the radio while Captain Martin Sheen and his not-exactly-fighting-fit crew go cruising up the Nùng River in search of Marlon Brando.  Cue some funky on-deck dance moves by a frighteningly young-looking Laurence Fishburne and some funny / cringeworthy water-skiing moves by Sam Bottoms that knock various Vietnamese people out of their fishing boats.

 

Sympathy for the Devil in Alien Nation (1988)

Graham Baker’s sci-fi / cop movie Alien Nation isn’t very good.  Its premise of an alien community getting stranded on earth and having to integrate as best as they can with the curmudgeonly human natives was handled much better in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009).  But I do like a woozy, hypnotic scene in it where alien-loathing cop James Caan enters a sleazy alien bar while a lady-alien performs an erotic dance to the strains of Sympathy for the Devil.  Not the original Stones song, but a correspondingly woozy, hypnotic cover-version of it by the great Jane’s Addiction.  I can’t find a film-clip of the scene, but here’s the Jane’s Addiction cover.

 

© Légende Entreprises / Universal Pictures

 

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking? in Casino (1995)

While Martin Scorsese serenades Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel with Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Mean Streets, he employs the 1971 Stones song Can’t You Hear Me Knocking? for another of his regulars, Joe Pesci, in Casino.  Remarkably, Scorsese plays all seven minutes of the Santana-esque Can’t You… as an accompaniment to a lengthy sequence showing how Pesci’s Casino character Nicky Santoro gets established in Las Vegas.  Predictably, the sequence has Pesci doing what Pesci usually does in Scorsese movies: being a psychotic shit, barking orders at hoodlum sidekicks twice his size, eating in restaurants, ingratiating himself with fellow Mafiosi, being a psychotic shit, cursing and swearing, getting a blow-job, being a psychotic shit, talking about food, knocking off jewellery stores, acting the loving family man with his non-criminal relatives… and being a psychotic shit.

 

Sympathy for the Devil in Interview with the Vampire (1995)

It’s Sympathy for the Devil again.  And again, this isn’t the Rolling Stones original but a cover version, this time by Guns n’ Roses.  It’s as ramshackle, shonky and (for me) enjoyable as Guns n’ Roses’ other covers, which include ones of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and Wings’ Live and Let Die.  In Interview with the Vampire, Sympathy… kicks in during the final scene when, to nobody’s great surprise, the supposedly-vanquished vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) reappears and takes a bite out of reporter Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater).

 

© Strike Entertainment / Universal Pictures

 

Ruby Tuesday in Children of Men (2006)

Wistful Stones ballad Ruby Tuesday features briefly on the soundtrack of Alfonso Cuarón’s gruellingly pessimistic science-fiction thriller Children of Men.  It’s another cover, sung by Franco Battiato.  We hear it during one of the movie’s calmer moments when Theo (Clive Owen) is visiting his mate Jasper (Michael Caine), whose home provides a small pocket of sanity amid the unfolding dystopian grimness.  Amusingly, Caine, well known in real life for being a right-wing old grump given to moaning about his tax-bill, here plays a left-wing old hippy given to smoking super-strong pot.

 

© Plan B Entertainment / Warner Bros

 

Gimme Shelter in The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorsese loves the Rolling Stones and he loves their apocalyptic 1969 number Gimme Shelter in particular.  By my count he’s used it in three movies: Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed.  It’s best deployed at the beginning of The Departed, rumbling in the background while gangland thug Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) expounds his philosophy.  “I don’t want to be a part of my environment,” he intones, imbuing his words with that leery, languid menace that only Nicholson is capable of.  “I want my environment to be a part of me.”  Strangely, in Scorsese’s Shine a Light two years later, Gimme Shelter was one of the songs the Stones didn’t perform on stage.  So Marty missed a trick there.

 

Street Fighting Man in Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

Director Wes Anderson also sticks Rolling Stones songs into his movies, but so far I haven’t mentioned him because I find most of his work insufferably smug and pretentious.  (Play with Fire figures prominently in 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, an Anderson movie so twee it’s the cinematic equivalent of being force-fed with chocolate cake-mix.)  However, I like the scene in his stop-motion-animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox where, to the sound of the rabblerousing late-1960s Stones anthem Street Fighting Man, Farmers Bean, Boggis and Bunce use three diggers to tear up the den of the titular Mr Fox; forcing the den’s inhabitants to frantically dig an escape-route.  As Keith Richards might say: “We’re the Stones – you dig?”

 

© 20th Century Fox

 

Farewell, Black Queen

 

© Dino de Laurentiis / Paramount Pictures

 

A word that frequently came up in tributes to the Italian model and actress Anita Pallenberg, who passed away last week, was ‘muse’ – i.e. muse to the Rolling Stones, a couple of whose members she was involved with during the 1960s and 1970s.  She started off as girlfriend to Brian Jones, was Keith Richards’ partner for more than a decade and was rumoured to have had a fling with Mick Jagger, though this rumour she always denied.

 

It was no doubt frustrating for Pallenberg to have her life defined almost entirely by the Rolling Stones, even though she was only associated with them for 15 years.  I read somewhere that she abandoned a project to write an autobiography because the publisher kept demanding that she put more in it about the Stones.

 

Still, if you’re a Stones fan, as I am, you should be toasting Pallenberg’s memory just now because she was with them during a period when they were truly on fire and deserving of the moniker ‘the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world’ – from the Beggar’s Banquet album (1968), through Let It Bleed (1969) and Sticky Fingers (1971), to Exile on Main Street (1972) – and her influence surely played a part in the band’s greatness at the time.  It’s said that once Beggar’s Banquet was in the can, Jagger took her advice and remixed the tracks; and she provided backing vocals for the album’s most famous and notorious song, Sympathy for the Devil.  The Stones’ then bodyguard and drugs procurer Tony Sanchez claimed that Pallenberg was into the occult and would carry around garlic and holy water to ward off evil, and I like to think her esoteric interests contributed to the spooky vibe that Sympathy is famous for.

 

Years later, when her relationship with Keith Richards was on its last legs, she at least provided the inspiration for Richards’ song All About You, one of the few good things on that duff Stones album Emotional Rescue (1980).

 

As an actress, Pallenberg’s filmography included the Marco Ferreri-directed Dillinger is Dead (1967) and the Marlon Brando film Candy (1968), but for sheer iconic-ness it’s her role as the villainous Black Queen in Roger Vadim’s sex-comedy-sci-fi-fantasy movie Barbarella (1968) that she’ll be remembered for.  Sporting a piratical eye-patch, Pallenberg doesn’t really have to do much acting in Barbarella, since her voice is dubbed by veteran actress Joan Greenwood.  But she looks great.  I have to say that for me she’s the only reason to watch Barbarella, as I’ve always found it annoyingly smug and leery and – worst of all – totally not funny.  Then again, I don’t think there’s any ‘swinging 1960s’ comedy movies that I like.  Yip, Help! (1965), What’s New Pussycat? (1965), Casino Royale (1967), The Magic Christian (1969), even The Italian Job (1969) – I hate them all.

 

© Goodtime Enterprises / Warner Bros

 

Pallenberg also appears, of course, in Performance (1968) – the famous and psychedelically weird crime-rock movie co-directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg, which tells the story of an on-the-run gangster (James Fox) who holes up in a mansion belonging to a burnt-out rock star (Mick Jagger) and gets involved in some mind-bendingly druggy goings-on.  Pallenberg plays one of the mansion’s female inhabitants – she memorably welcomes Fox when he rings the doorbell by saying over the intercom, “Please leave a message after the beep.  Beep, beep, BEEP!”  Performance neatly captures the dark, dangerous aura that was popularly associated with the Stones at the time and it did the film’s scary reputation no harm that afterwards Fox underwent a ‘crisis’, dropped out of acting for a decade-and-a-half and became an evangelical Christian.  When I first saw the film as an impressionable teenager, it certainly blew my socks off.

 

Talking of socks…  Keith Richards had and still has a deep-rooted aversion to the film, thanks to the sexual shenanigans that Pallenberg supposedly got up to with Jagger during filming.  He believed these shenanigans were orchestrated by Donald Cammell, presumably as a way of getting Pallenberg and Jagger further ‘in character’.  In his autobiography Life, Richards describes Cammell as “the most destructive little turd I have ever met.”  But actually, if you’re to believe Life, old Keith didn’t have that much to complain about.  He claims that he got his revenge on Mick Jagger during the filming of Performance by nipping around to the house of Jagger’s then girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, and getting up to some ‘hot and sweaty’ hi-jinks with her.  Supposedly, while they were in the middle of this, Jagger unexpectedly arrived home – which led to Richards having to shin his way down the drainpipe from Faithfull’s bedroom window.  He was in such a hurry that he forgot to put his socks back on and left them lying on the floor.  However, Jagger, who was obviously a bit of a slob, didn’t think there was anything amiss about a pair of rogue socks littering Faithfull’s bedroom and suspected nothing.

 

Thanks to Richards’ loathing of Performance, one Jagger-Richards song that’s never been played at Rolling Stones gigs and is unlikely to ever be played at future ones is Memo from Turner, which soundtracks a particularly strange sequence at the movie’s climax.  On the Performance recording of the song, Jagger is the only Stone involved, doing vocal duties, while Ry Cooder plays slide-guitar (wonderfully) and Randy Newman plays piano.  It’s a shame that we’ll never hear a live Stones version of it as it’s a belter.  (I’m also partial to this cover of it by forgotten 1980s retro-rockers Diesel Park West.)

 

Then again, I guess the omission of Memo from Turner from Stones concert set-lists is another example of the lasting influence that the late Anita Pallenberg had over a band who, for a few heady years at least, really were the best in the world.

 

Edinburgh has fallen

 

From you.38degrees.org.uk

 

It was announced back in 2013 that the Picturehouse on Lothian Road, the main venue for rock and pop gigs in central Edinburgh, had been bought by big, bland, corporate pub-chain J.D. Wetherspoon and would be transformed into another of Wetherspoon’s big, bland, corporate pubs.  At the time, I lamented on this blog about how Edinburgh’s powers-that-be seemed hellbent on destroying any spaces where music fans could congregate and hear music played in its proper form, i.e. live.

 

I compared the situation in 2013 with how it’d been in the 1990s, when I’d lived in Edinburgh for a wee while: when you could go to gigs at The Venue at 17 Calton Road, “which started trading as The Jailhouse in the early 1980s and spent the next quarter-century hosting bands big and small” but which closed its doors in the mid-noughties; the Cas Rock on West Port, “now a bland glass building that houses, among other things, a Sainsbury supermarket”; and punk-loving pub the Tap O’Lauriston just up the road from the Cas Rock on Lauriston Place, “which was demolished to make way for a Novotel.”

 

Alas, the slaughter of Edinburgh’s gigging spots has shown no sign of abating since Wetherspoon banished live music from the Picturehouse.  The news broke at the end of last year that the nightclub, cabaret and music venue Electric Circus on Market Street is due to be taken over by the adjacent Fruitmarket Gallery, which plans to use the premises to “greatly improve and expand” its exhibition area and boost its “café, library and bookshop.”  It’s depressing to see culture in one of its most egalitarian, communal and spontaneous forms – being in the same room as some musicians giving it their all and sharing the experience with a like-minded crowd – being displaced like this in favour of culture in a far more elitist, moneyed and rarefied form.  (If you’ve ever had a nosey around the Fruitmarket Gallery’s existing bookshop and taken in the topics and prices of the books on sale, you’ll know what I mean.  It’s provides art for the few rather than the many, which is the opposite of the service provided by a good live-music place.)

 

© The Skinny

 

Also due to close – sometime this month in fact – is the Citrus Club on Grindlay Street, whose description on Google Reviews as a “no frills, black-walled dance club and live music venue with an emphasis on indie and retro sounds” chimes with my fond memories of it.

 

Now comes the news that the owners of Studio 24 on Calton Road, which functioned as a nightclub offering ‘eclectic’ (i.e. non-mainstream) music and occasional gigs, have decided to sell up following a long war of attrition waged by local residents complaining about noise levels and the city council imposing expensive soundproofing regulations.  In a statement, they said: “We’re gutted we’ve had to come to this decision, but with years of investing thousands upon thousands in soundproofing and legal fees in order to stay open, alongside complaining neighbours and harsh council-enforced sound restrictions, we feel these problems won’t leave us, with more complaints recently received and no real support from licensing standards officers, therefore threatening our ability to stay open.”

 

What’s particularly annoying is the fact that Studio 24, while admittedly not contained in the most gorgeous building in Edinburgh, was on the site before the soulless glass-and-concrete apartment buildings that’ve sprouted up around it.  The inhabitants of these complain about the noise from the Studio, which begs the question: if you want to live in brand new yuppie apartment with zero noise levels, why move into one that’s been built on a street next to a long-established and much-loved music club?  Shouldn’t you move into one instead that’s been built on a street next to a crematorium?

 

Given that Calton Road would probably be noisy even if Studio 24 wasn’t there – thanks to the trains entering and exiting nearby Waverley Station – I wonder if the noise complaints were a smokescreen for the real gripe, which was that the venue was luring so-called undesirables into the neighbourhood, lowering its tone and lowering potential property prices.

 

I’m depressed to see Studio 24 go because for a decade from the late 1990s, when I lived in Edinburgh, to the late noughties, when I’d still visit the city for a night out, I’d go there if it was hosting a heavy-metal or goth night.  I have to confess, though, that when I last went to a Studio 24 heavy-metal night, the guy at the desk clocked my time-worn features and asked politely if I didn’t want to check out the 1970s rock-nostalgia night being held upstairs instead.

 

Anyway, Edinburgh is now in the seriously embarrassing position of being the capital city of Scotland yet hardly having a decent music venue to its name.  It’s ridiculous that a city that makes such a hoo-ha about being the world’s cultural capital when the Festival and Fringe and a zillion well-heeled tourists set up camp there every August is, for the rest of the year, as musically bereft and barren as one of Simon Cowell’s armpits.

 

So music lovers of Edinburgh, heed my advice.  Your once-proud city has fallen – into the hands of a bunch of suits, nimbies and money-chasing ghouls whose iPods are no doubt crammed with James Blunt and Coldplay songs and whose idea of musical edginess is probably to tuck into a salad in the Hard Rock Café while a paunchy, balding cover band play Hotel California in the corner.  There’s only one thing you can do now.  Pack your bags.  And move to Glasgow.

 

But before you start packing, sign this petition to save Studio 24 on the off-chance it might work.

 

The sound of Soundgarden

 

From trashhits.com

 

Bloody hell.  It’s common knowledge that rock stars suffer from a high mortality rate.  Though superficially glamorous, their lifestyle is an emotionally bruising and dangerously hedonistic one.  But if you made your name as a rock star thanks to the grunge movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was centred on Seattle and briefly made contemporary music feel thrilling again, it seems your life expectancy is short even by the short standards of rock stars generally.

 

I say this after hearing the sad news about the death of Chris Cornell, singer with the mighty grunge band Soundgarden, three days ago.  This means that not only the frontman of Soundgarden, but also those of Nirvana (Kurt Cobain), Alice in Chains (Layne Staley) and the Stone Temple Pilots (Scott Weiland) are now pushing up the proverbial daisies.  In fact, there can’t be many of those iconic grunge frontmen left now.  There’s just Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and the Screaming Trees’ Mark Lannegan.  Oh, and that bloke from Mudhoney.

 

For many years, a debate has raged in heavy metal circles about whether or not grunge music should be seen as a branch of heavy metal – indeed, broadcaster Sam Dunn devoted a whole episode of his TV documentary series Metal Evolution to the question and never quite reached a satisfactory answer.  However, Soundgarden were definitely the most metal of the grunge bands, initially at least.  While I was living in London in 1992, I went to see them play at the Town and Country Club (now the O2 Forum) in Kentish Town, where they were supported by the sludge / groove metal band Corrosion of Conformity.  Shortly before Soundgarden came on, a couple of technicians were on stage performing some last-minute soundchecks and the sledgehammering bass-sound that suddenly reverberated across the floor prompted one of the guys I was with to exclaim: “Christ!  I can feel that going right up my balls!”  Soundgarden duly took the stage.  The ensuing gig was as noise-some as the soundcheck had promised and sent many more vibrations through the audience’s trousers.  Afterwards, I felt like my testicles had well and truly trembled.

 

Two years later, Soundgarden released their finest album Superunknown, which showed they had more strings to their bow than simply being heavy and grungy.  It contained such great songs as the jaunty Spoonman and the irresistibly anthemic Black Hole Sun, whose lyrics (“Black hole sun…  Won’t you come… And wash away the rain?”) became so ingrained on a generation’s consciousness that nowadays sad middle-aged men with terrible singing voices sing them in the shower when they think nobody is listening.  (I should know.  I’m one of them.)  So compelling was Black Hole Sun that it was later covered by artists as diverse as Peter Frampton, Paul Anka, Anastacia and, inevitably, Weird Al Yankovic.  Soundgarden’s next album, Down on the Upside (1996), was less enthusiastically received but it did have the whoozy, trippy and strangely Lennon-esque number Blow up the Outside World.

 

After Soundgarden split in 1997 – they would reform in 2009 – Cornell’s most notable project was Audioslave, the group he formed with three former members of Rage Against the Machine (Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk).  Audioslave never quite reached the heights of either Soundgarden or Rage Against the Machine, though the song Conchise off their eponymously named debut album in 2002 is pretty epic.

 

And in 2006, as a solo artist, Cornell got to sing the theme song You Know My Name for that year’s Bond movie Casino Royale.  Cornell’s song didn’t altogether work as a Bond one, though he was a brave and worthy choice for a movie that took some brave and worthy risks overall – casting a new actor, Daniel Craig, in the role of Bond and also rebooting the entire franchise.  And whatever the song’s shortcomings, Cornell was still a thousand times better than Sam f**king Smith.

 

© Spin Magazine

 

Respecting the Sabbath

 

© Rolling Stone

 

The third commandment tells us to keep the Sabbath holy.  Well, I believe in respecting the Sabbath but I’m not talking about the seventh day of the week.  I’m talking about Black Sabbath, the 49-year-old heavy metal band who played their last-ever gig two nights ago.

 

Fittingly, Black Sabbath’s farewell performance took place at the Genting Arena in Birmingham, the city where it all started for them.  Guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward and incomparable – many would say incorrigible – singer Ozzy Osbourne grew up in Aston, one of Birmingham’s working-class suburbs.  Prior to forming the band, they did a variety of unglamorous jobs there, including delivering coal, labouring on building sites and working in a sheet metal factory, car plant and abattoir.  Iommi ended his time in the steelworks with an accident that sheared off two of his fingertips and nearly ruined his budding career as a guitarist.  Osbourne, meanwhile, took up housebreaking and got jailed for six weeks.

 

Butler told the BBC recently, “It wasn’t a great place to be at that time.  We were listening to songs about San Francisco.  The hippies were all peace and love and everything.  There we were in Aston.  Ozzy was in prison from burgling houses, me and Tony were always in fights with somebody… we had quite a rough upbringing.  Our music reflected the way we felt.”

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-birmingham-38768573

 

If they felt miserable in Aston and channelled that misery into their music, I can only say the misery was worth it.  The first, eponymously-named song on their first, eponymously-named album in 1970 sets the tone for Black Sabbath’s career of evil.  It’s a gloriously dark and doom-laden affair, opening with rumbles of thunder, the sluicing of rain and the clanging of altar bells.  These give way to a funereal chug of heavy guitars and the eerie high-pitched squalls of Ozzy’s voice (“What is this that stands before me?  / Figure in black which points at me-e-ee?”), which later speed up for a tumultuous but still ominous climax.  I imagine that if any of those peace-and-love hippies whom Butler referred to had gone to a Sabbath gig in 1970 (having ingested some psychedelic substances beforehand) and the gig had opened with this number, they’d have probably fled from the venue screaming in terror with their hands clamped over their ears.

 

© Vertigo

 

Iommi and Butler were horror-movie fans and their music had a horror-movie vibe.  Even the band’s name came from a scary film, 1963’s Black Sabbath, directed by the legendary Mario Bava and starring the legendary Boris Karloff.  Also horror-movie-esque is the cover of the first Sabbath album, showing a black-robed lady looming spectrally in the middle of a spooky autumnal landscape – the building in the background is actually Mapledurham Watermill in Oxfordshire.  I find it cool that nobody knows the identity of the woman, presumably a briefly-hired model or actress, who posed for the picture.  Iommi has claimed that, later, she turned up at one Sabbath concert and said hello to the band.  But I like to think she’d never been at the original photo-shoot at all.  Rather, she was a ghost that haunted the watermill – and when the cover-photo was developed, her wraithlike image had somehow imposed itself on it.

 

Black Sabbath produced another album in 1970, Paranoid, which was choc-a-bloc with groovy tunes – the famous title track, the skull-crushing Iron Man, the nihilistic War Pigs and the sublimely dreamy and trippy Planet Caravan, which has been described as ‘the ultimate coming-down song’.  The following year’s Master of Reality gave us the jaunty but provocative After Forever (“Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope / Do you think he’s a fool?”) and the wonderfully sepulchral Children of the Grave.  Other classic songs included Supernaut, which turned up on the 1972 album Vol. 4; the exhilarating title track of 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, which is perhaps my favourite Sabbath song ever; and the similarly exhilarating Symptom of the Universe on 1974’s Sabotage, which suggests (to me, anyway) Sabbath were secret forebears of punk rock.  1976’s Technical Ecstasy and 1978’s Never Say Die are less acclaimed and lack a truly killer track, but I’m still partial to them both.

 

© WWA Records

 

In 1980 we got Heaven and Hell which – shock! horror! – didn’t have Ozzy Osbourne doing vocals.  The singer had been sacked from the band due to his massive substance abuse and consequent massive unreliability.  While Ozzy maintains that he was no worse a wreck than the other three band-members were at the time, it was surely tough working with a man prone to such misfortunes as snorting a line of ants he’d mistaken for a line of cocaine or being caught by the San Antonio police urinating over the Alamo whilst dressed in a frock.  Making a Black Sabbath album without Ozzy sounds as feasible as filming The Lord of the Rings without Gandalf, but Iommi, Butler and Ward wisely recruited the late, great Ronnie James Dio as a replacement.  Dio gave Black Sabbath a new lease of life.  He made them sound different – his operatic voice a contrast to the wailing alienness of Ozzy’s – but I have no complaints about the resulting album, full of spiffing tracks like Children of the Sea, Neon Knights and Die Young.

 

From blabbermouth.net

 

Dio sang on the next album for Black Sabbath, 1981’s Mob Rules, and returned to sing on 1992’s Dehumanizer; but they were the only Sabbath albums for a long time that were any good.  During the 1980s and 1990s Iommi was the sole founding member who stuck with the band and a succession of jobbing musicians contributed to the records.  Singers included Ian Gillan and Glenn Hughes, two alumni of Sabbath’s more mainstream 1970s rivals Deep Purple.  Meanwhile, the band seemed to get through drummers at a rate worthy of Spinal Tap, with the ELO’s Bev Bevan, the Clash’s Terry Chimes and the ubiquitous Cozy Powell banging the skins at various times.  To be honest, the band’s output during this period – 1983’s Born Again, 1986’s Seventh Star, 1987’s The Eternal Idol, 1989’s Headless Cross, 1990’s Tyr, 1994’s Cross Purposes, 1995’s Forbidden – is pretty rubbish.

 

Happily, the original line-up had reconciled by the late 1990s and they’ve played together sporadically since then, at least when other work commitments (like Ozzy’s solo career), illness (Iommi was diagnosed as having lymphoma in 2012) and feuding (Bill Ward fell out with everyone else and quit in 2012) didn’t get in the way.  In 2013 they even managed to produce a new album, 13, which while not quite up to their former standards got some positive reviews and produced a decently apocalyptic single, God is Dead?  Filling in for Ward on the drums was Brad Wilk from Rage Against the Machine.  For Wilk, I imagine getting this job must have been a dream come true.

 

Well, it seems they’ve finally called it a day.   Maybe that’s just as well in Ozzy’s case, since the old boy’s 67 now and surely needs to take it easy after a lifetime of drugs, alcohol, excess and idiocy.  (At Christmas, after the news that George Michael and Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt had died within the space of 24 hours, a friend said to me worriedly, “At this rate Ozzy’s not going to make it to the Bells.”)

 

They deserve to enjoy their retirement for their legacy is huge.  Their weighty fingerprints are all over musical movements like grunge and hardcore punk.  And they’re clearly major influences on such metallic sub-genres as black metal, doom metal, goth metal, power metal, sludge metal, speed metal and stoner metal.  Indeed, they’re responsible for producing more metal than the Brummie steelworks where the young Tony Iommi lost his fingertips and almost lost his future in music.

 

From epictimes.com

 

Cramping their style

 

© Trebuchet Magazine

 

I’ve just finished reading Journey to the Centre of the Cramps, written by music journalist Dick Porter and dealing with the American rock band the Cramps, who blazed a sonic trail for three memorable decades from the mid-1970s to the late noughties.

 

The Cramps wore an awful lot of influences on their black-leather sleeves but somehow managed to meld those influences into a sound and style quite unlike anyone or anything else.  They took as inspiration classic 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, surf music, garage rock, the velocity and bad attitude of punk and the darkness and glamour (but not the pomposity) of goth.  The band’s heart and soul were guitarist Poison Ivy (Kirsty Wallace), who was responsible for their sometimes juddering, sometimes twangy, always captivating guitar sound and who wasn’t averse to posing for album-cover photos in high heels, fishnets, suspenders, shades, devil’s horns and body-hugging PVC; and her romantic and musical partner, the towering vocalist Lux Interior (Erik Purkhiser), whose sepulchral voice and ghoulish lyrics channelled a 1950s American childhood spent immersed in trashy horror, sci-fi and exploitation movies and gruesome sensationalist comics like Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt.

 

© The Medicine Label

 

Under Ivy and Lux’s supervision, the Cramps became a Frankenstein’s Monster fashioned out of pieces of Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Link Wray, Dick Dale, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the New York Dolls, the Ramones, Roger Corman, Russ Meyer, Ed Wood, the Marquis de Sade and the Addams Family; but this was no lumbering misshapen monster.  This was something cadaverously elegant and it rocked.

 

As usual, I came late to the party.  I didn’t get into the Cramps until the late 1980s, a dozen years after they’d started, thanks to my brother giving me a crackly cassette-tape recording of their 1983 compilation album Off the Bone.  (On the other side of the cassette was the 1988 Sugarcubes album Life’s Too Good.  Wow, those were the days.)  But at least by then I’d heard of the Cramps.  Indeed, the band had been credited with inventing their own musical genre, psychobilly.  And their alleged progeny, such raucous psychobilly combos as the Meteors, Guano Batz and King Kurt, with their greased quiffs, brothel creepers, tattoos and fondness for slapping a double bass, had lately been rampaging through the sweatier, dingier music venues of 1980s Britain.

 

As Porter’s book notes, the Cramps were certainly responsible for the term ‘psychobilly’ – because they’d made the word up and stuck it on a promotional flyer when they were trying to get themselves noticed in New York a decade earlier.  But they maintained a polite and slightly bemused distance from the musical scene they were supposed to have spawned.  Porter quotes Poison Ivy as saying, “I think our songs have a more sensuous tempo.  I’m not sure what exactly defines psychobilly but it seems to have taken on a life of its own.  But it’s not quite what we do.”  Porter himself observes that “whereas the Cramps drew on a smorgasbord of influences that included R&B and doo-wop, the psychobilly groups tended to eschew blues-based influences and splice rockabilly to a punk template that hadn’t existed back when the Cramps got started.”

 

© The AV Club

 

Anyway, as soon as I heard Off the Bone, I was hooked.  And I snapped up their releases in subsequent years – albums like Stay Sick (1990), Look Mom No Head (1991) and Flamejob (1994), which were choc-a-bloc with irresistible songs like Bikini Girls with Machine Guns, Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon, Journey to the Centre of a Girl, All Women are Bad, I Wanna Get in your Pants, Eyeball in my Martini, Bend Over I’ll Drive, Let’s Get F***ed Up and Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs.  Even now, when I’m feeling a little down or stressed about something, I only have to listen to one of those songs, with Lux Interior singing his macabre, funny and innuendo-laden lyrics and Poison Ivy’s guitar buzzing or stuttering behind him, and after a minute I’ll feel right as rain again.

 

Take Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs, for instance: “I fell in love at a terrible pace…  When someone gave her a shove down a staircase…”  I mean, how can anyone not love a song called Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs?

 

I never saw them live, though, which is something I really regret now.

 

Porter’s book suffers from a problem typical of rock biographies.  It’s interesting while it describes how its subjects started life and struggled to establish themselves musically.  But then, once a certain level of success and fame has been reached, it becomes an inevitably less-interesting litany of record-deals, album releases, tours and line-up changes.  (Outside the creative nucleus of Ivy and Lux, the Cramps underwent a lot of line-up changes.  Among some 20 band-members over the years, only guitarists Bryan Gregory and Kid Congo Powers, bassists Candy Del Mar and Slim Chance and drummers Nick Knox and Harry Drumdini were around long enough to make much impression.)  Tellingly, it takes Porter about 200 pages to get to the end of the Cramps’ first decade; but then the remaining two decades of Cramps history are shoehorned into the book’s remaining fifty pages.

 

From The Roper Files – Word Press.com

 

One thing that reflects well on Porter is how he acknowledges the Cramps’ powers of musicianship.  He details the skill, attention to detail and hard graft that went into composing and recording their songs, which gives the lie to the perception of the band (popular among certain snooty British music critics) as a kitschy, campy and not-to-be-taken-seriously novelty act.  Ivy and Lux were extremely knowledgeable about their influences and extremely committed about what they did – and they put the work in.  Their finished songs might’ve made it look and sound easy, but this illusion of effortlessness was the result of high standards of talent and professionalism behind the scenes.

 

Inevitably, the book ends on a melancholy note, for in 2009 Lux Interior died suddenly and unexpectedly from a tear in his aortic wall.  Not only did his death deprive rock ‘n’ roll music of one of its most striking and amusing figures; but it also brought the curtain down both on his lifelong romantic and creative partnership with Poison Ivy and on the Cramps themselves.

 

That partnership and the band were of course one and the same thing.  As Poison Ivy remarked to the author in 2006, “That’s all the Cramps is – a folie à deux.”

 

© Omnibus Press

 

And just when you thought 2016 couldn’t get any worse…

 

© Columbia

 

I’ve just read in the news that the great Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen has passed away.  With Donald Trump newly elected to the White House, I suspect Cohen decided it was time to check out because the world had reached a point where it was even more depressing than one of his songs.

 

Cohen produced many tunes that were marvellous because of their very sadness.  Their melancholia was delicious.  No wonder his most recent album, released only last month, was called You Want It Darker – he knew what his audience expected of him.

 

I’m not a great fan of 1984’s Hallelujah (1984), perhaps his most famous song, which for me has just been covered (and X-Factored) to death.  But I love The Stranger Song, Winter Lady and Sisters of Mercy from his debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), all of which featured on the soundtrack to Robert Altman’s classic western movie McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971).

 

© Warner Bros

 

Indeed, the beginning of McCabe and Mrs Miller where Warren Beatty and his horses plod across a bleak, windswept mountainside to reach the muddy, back-of-beyond frontier town that’s the setting for the film’s action, to the strains of The Stranger Song, is my all-time-favourite opening sequence in a western.  Though I have to admit that starting the film with a Leonard Cohen song gives the game away somewhat.  The moment Cohen starts singing, you just know there’s going to be an unhappy ending.  Warren Beatty is going to die.

 

Incidentally, the other day, I was watching Taika Waititi’s amusing comedy-drama Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) when, suddenly and unexpectedly, Cohen started playing on the soundtrack. This was during a bleak-looking sequence where Sam Neil and Julian Dennison struggle across some wintry New Zealand mountains.  Of course, this was an affectionate nod by Waititi towards McCabe and Mrs Miller, though the song played here wasn’t The Stranger Song.  It was The Partisan, a 1969 cover Cohen did of La Complainte du Partisan, written in 1943 by Emmanuel D’Astier de la Vigerie and Anna Marly.

 

© Defender Films / Piki Films / Curious

 

Two other Cohen songs I’m fond of that also have a strong cinematic connection are Waiting for a Miracle and The Future, both off the 1992 album The Future.  These book-end Oliver Stone’s ferocious 1994 movie about the American media’s adulation of two mass-murderers, Natural Born Killers.  The slow, gruffly-intoned and doom-laden Waiting for a Miracle plays at the film’s opening, which sees Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis arrive in a fly-ridden, redneck-infested diner in the New Mexico desert.  The song warns you that something horrible is about to happen.  And yes, since this is an Oliver Stone movie, something horrible soon does happen.

 

Played at the close of Natural Born KillersThe Future is a jauntier affair, but it contains the worrying refrain, “I’ve seen the future, brother – it is murder.”  Actually, I rather hope that Cohen has arranged for that to be played at his funeral service.  Then the joke really will be on us.

 

© Regency Enterprises / Warner Bros

 

AC / Deceased

 

From ultimateclassicrockcom

 

One of the saddest things I’ve seen in recent years is the gradual but relentless demise of the heavy metal band AC/DC.

 

First of all, in 2014, AC/DC lost its founder member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young after memory-loss and concentration-loss caused by dementia left him unable to play.  Later that same year, the band parted company with long-time drummer Phil Rudd after he ended up in court on drugs charges and, bizarrely, an allegation of ‘attempting to procure a murder’ (though this was dropped soon after).  And then early in 2016, its cap-wearing gravel-voiced Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson departed due to damaged hearing, although Johnson claimed this was caused less by his fronting one of the world’s loudest bands than by his love of auto-racing.  And finally, a week ago, AC/DC’s veteran bassist Cliff Williams, who’d announced his retirement in July, played his final gig with the band.

 

It reminds me of one of those Final Destination horror movies, wherein a group of people manage somehow to cheat death.  But then by way of revenge, Death – though in AC/DC’s case it’s plain old Bad Luck – starts to ruthlessly hunt them down one by one.

 

AC/DC and myself go back a long time together, so seeing the band disintegrate like this feels as painful as seeing a once-strong friend grow old and succumb to infirmity and senility.  Their 1979 album Highway to Hell was among the first albums I ever bought and rarely have the opening chords to an album (and its title track) sounded so much like a statement of intent: DUH-DUH-DUH!  DUH-DUH-DUH!  DUH-DUH-DUH, DUH, DUH-DUH!  Here were an outfit, it seemed, who were seriously determined to blow your arse off with their guitars.  Which was surely what heavy metal – and for that matter, rock and roll itself – was all about.

 

© Atlantic Records

 

Around the same time I took it upon myself to throw a party for my school friends at my family’s farmhouse near Peebles, Scotland, one Friday while my parents were away for the evening.  The inevitable happened.  Most of the guests turned up armed not only with copious and illegitimately-purchased bottles and cans of booze but also armed with AC/DC records.  Indeed, it seemed that the AC/DC song Touch Too Much, recently released as a single, wasn’t off the turntable for the entire, chaotic, alcohol-drenched evening.  No wonder that after that the music of AC/DC was indelibly linked in my mind with images of drunken teenage debauchery.

 

(During the short margin of time between the party ending and my parents returning, I managed to cram all the empty bottles and cans into two big sacks and hide them in the rarely-accessed roof-space of a rarely-used outhouse, where they remained undiscovered for nearly 20 years.  They weren’t found until the late 1990s when my parents had the outhouse converted into a holiday cottage.  After the discovery, the building contractor jokingly asked my Dad if he was a secret drinker.)

 

Briefly, it looked like I’d discovered the band too late, for in 1980 AC/DC’s original vocalist Bon Scott died a sudden and very rock-and-roll death – heavy-partying-related alcohol poisoning.  The band’s two driving forces, Malcolm Young and his brother and fellow guitarist Angus Young, considered calling it a day at this point.  Instead, though, they recruited Brian Johnson as a replacement and AC/DC rumbled on for a further three-and-a-half decades.  It helped that the band’s first post-Bon Scott album was a cracker – 1980’s Back in Black, featuring such splendid tunes as the title track, You Shook Me All Night Long and the epic Hell’s Bells, which begins with the clanging of a huge church-bell before Johnson starts hollering apocalyptic lines like “Lightning flashing across the sky / You’re only young but you’re gonna die!”  By now I was a senior pupil at Peebles High School and Hell’s Bells never seemed to be off the turntable of the stereo in the senior-school common room.

 

The nice thing about AC/DC was that they never changed.  No matter what terrible events took place in the world – wars, revolutions, earthquakes, droughts, famines, plagues, Simon Cowell – they just carried on, churning out the same (or very similar) riffs and singing songs about partying, shagging, boozing and having a generally good time.  I tracked down and listened to their back catalogue: albums like 1976’s High Voltage (whose opening track It’s a Long Way to the Top if You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll exposed me to the lethal combination of electric guitars and bagpipes – despite being officially Australian, the Young brothers and Bon Scott had been born in Scotland and liked to honour their Caledonian roots); the same year’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, with its storming title track and the naughty music-hall pastiche Big Balls (whose lyrics included such gems as “Some balls are held for charity / Some balls are held for less / But when they’re held for pleasure / They’re the balls that I like best” – yes, it’s sad that I still remember this stuff); and 1978’s Powerage, which no less a personage than Keith Richards has identified as one of his favourite albums ever.

 

From teamrock.com

 

There was a lot of love for AC/DC in the world, though you wouldn’t have thought so reading the music press then.  Writers in 1980s music magazines like the New Musical Express and Melody Maker, if they got around to acknowledging the band’s existence at all, were of the opinion that AC/DC and heavy metal generally represented everything ignorant, crass and embarrassing in modern culture – unlike the two ‘in’ musical genres at the time, punk rock and indie music.  (For the record, I should point out I’m a big fan of punk and indie too.)

 

This disdain was shared by many people I met when I went to college in the early-1980s, who seemed to be either Smiths fans or Style Council fans or Simple Minds fans.  I remember one early college flatmate, a supercilious type who’d been schooled at the prestigious Glasgow Academy, wandering into my room one day, finding me listening to Highway to Hell, and demanding, “How can you listen to that shit?”

 

To be honest, AC/DC didn’t help their cause during the 1980s because they released a series of shonky albums that were shadows of their 1970s predecessors: 1983’s Flick of the Switch, 1985’s Fly on the Wall and 1988’s Blow Up Your Video.  In 1986 they also did the music for the dire Stephen King movie Maximum Overdrive, released as an album under the title Who Made Who.  Stephen King is a huge AC/DC fan, by the way.

 

It wasn’t until 1990 that the band rediscovered their mojo with The Razor’s Edge.  Although it wasn’t great, it served up two of their best songs for a long time, Are You Ready and Thunderstruck.  The latter track is still considered so rousing that, Wikipedia informs me, Atlético Madrid play it on their team coach every time they approach their opponents’ stadium for an away game.

 

Another reason why the band’s star was back in the ascendant was because those pretentious music critics who’d dissed them in the 1980s had been replaced by a younger generation of critics who, like me, had grown up listening to and loving AC/DC and were happy to give them some praise.  AC/DC had also proved more influential than anyone had predicted – their sound imprinted on the DNA of acts like the Cult, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and the Beastie Boys.  It’s even said that Back in Black was the first song a 14-year-old Kurt Cobain learned to play on guitar.

 

Thankfully, the band managed to preserve their reputation through the 1990s and early 21st century with a series of albums that, while not earth-shattering, at least delivered the goods and always yielded a single or two that sounded satisfyingly AC/DC-ish: 1995’s Ballbreaker, 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, 2008’s Black Ice and 2014’s Rock or Bust, which contained the jolly single Play Ball.  As you may have gathered, the word ‘ball’ has an important place in the AC/DC lexicon.

 

But sadly, it now looks like it’s almost over for AC/DC.  I say ‘almost’ because since Brian Johnson left the line-up, the band has continued performing with vocals provided by Axl Rose of the legendary Los Angeles metal band Guns n’ Roses; and it’s lately been reported that Angus Young and Axl Rose intend to keep recording and performing under the AC/DC moniker.  Rose’s recruitment was met with dismay by many fans, though I have to say I don’t dislike Axl Rose or Guns n’ Roses.  Indeed, I have their albums Appetite for Destruction (1987), Use Your Illusion I and II (1991) and The Spaghetti Incident (1993) in my record collection.  It’s just that Rose’s tremulous American voice doesn’t sound right singing the AC/DC back catalogue.

 

And call me superstitious if you like…  But the fact that he debuted with AC/DC confined to a wheelchair, with a broken foot, and looking like a heavy metal version of Doctor Strangelove, doesn’t seem a good omen for the vitality and longevity of this weird new incarnation of the band.

 

© Metro

 

No, I can’t help but think of AC/DC now in the past tense.  But I’m sure I’ll be reliving that past in years to come by listening to Highway to Hell, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Powerage and Back in Black a billion more times.

 

This week’s favourite song of all time

 

From www.dinosaurrockguitar.com

 

Great news!  I’ve found a brand new Favourite Song of All Time.  For this week anyway.

 

Actually, I find a brand new Favourite Song of All Time practically every week of my life.  In the past this title of Favourite Song of All Time has been held by everything from Jubilee Street by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to Duality by Slipknot, from The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash to Bikini Girls with Machine Guns by the Cramps, from Welcome to the Terrordome by Public Enemy to Touch Too Much by AC/DC, from Dayvan Cowboy by Boards of Canada to John Carpenter’s theme for Assault on Precinct 13.  (All right, those last two are ‘tunes’ rather than ‘songs’.)  A very long time ago, when I was very young, I remember the title being held by such epics as Benny Hill’s Ernie (“And he drove the fastest milk-cart in the west”) and David Bowie’s The Laughing Gnome (“Ha-ha-ha, hee-hee-hee, I’m a laughing gnome and you can’t catch me!”)  See?  Poor David Bowie is dead now but I still can’t shut up about The Laughing Gnome.

 

I discovered this week’s Favourite Song of All Time when recently I visited a second-hand CD, vinyl and DVD fair held near where my family live in Scotland.  While I scoured a rack of old rock-and-pop CDs, a sudden and inexplicable impulse compelled me to fork over four pounds for a compilation called The Very Best of Rainbow.

 

Rainbow were formed by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after he quit the seminal heavy metal band Deep Purple in the mid-1970s.  Actually, lots of people were quitting Deep Purple and starting new groups in those days.  Another was former Purple vocalist David Coverdale, who formed the band Whitesnake.  I became aware of Blackmore and Coverdale’s post-Purple projects when I noticed at school how the heavy metal kids had split into two antagonistic factions, those who had the Rainbow logo stitched onto the backs of their denim jackets and were always slagging off Whitesnake, and those with the Whitesnake logo on their jackets who were always slagging off Rainbow.  It resembled a head-banging version of the rivalry that broke out in the Soviet Union between Stalin and Trotsky after Lenin was incapacitated.

 

There was actually a third musical splinter from Deep Purple – the band Gillan, run by Ian Gillan, who’d been the Purple vocalist prior to Coverdale.  However, the one thing that seemed to unite the Rainbow and Whitesnake factions at my school was the belief that Gillan’s outfit were a pile of old bollocks.

 

Rainbow found fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s when they reached the UK singles top ten with rocked-up power ballads like Since You Been Gone and I Surrender, the former with vocals by Australian Graham Bonnet and the latter sung by Bonnet’s replacement, American Joe Lynn Turner.  These songs gave me the impression that, for a supposed heavy metal band, Rainbow were a bit lame and soppy.  This was an era, after all, when Mötorhead were blowing the roofs off teenage parties and giving parents ear-bleed with Ace of Spades.  However, a listen to The Very Best of Rainbow has reminded me that in the years before Bonnet and Turner, the band had a very different type of vocalist: Ronnie James Dio.

 

From wikipedia.org

 

Dio, at five feet, four inches tall, wasn’t the biggest physical presence in heavy metal.  But he had a big voice – an Italian-American, he was heavily influenced by opera, especially by the 1950s tenor Mario Lanza.  He also had a big vision, for he was into all things medieval and particularly into Lord of the Rings-style medieval fantasy.  No wonder that he was fronting a band called Elf when he hooked up with Blackmore.  And his obsessions inform the highlight of his collaboration with Blackmore: the stomping anthem Stargazer, originally found on the 1976 Rainbow album, Rising.  When I listened to Stargazer the other day, I immediately thought: “Wow!  That’s my favourite song of all time!”

 

Stargazer begins with a madcap cacophony of drums courtesy of Rainbow’s then drummer, the late Cozy Powell.  (By the time of his death in 1998 Powell seemed to have belonged to every heavy metal band that’d ever existed, including Whitesnake, the Michael Schenker Group, Black Sabbath and Yngwie Malmsteen.  For a while he was even in Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who renamed themselves Emerson, Lake and Powell during his tenure.)  Then we get into the song proper: an unstoppably slugging riff and Dio hollering ominously about a wizard who glides ‘lighter than air.’  When the song rises towards the first of many crescendos, so the hairs rise too on the back of your neck as Dio wails: “Oh, I see his fa-a-ace!”

 

So what’s going on?  As the song progresses, it transpires that a powerful wizard – one of the Saruman rather than the Gandalf variety – has enslaved an army of people and set them to work constructing an impossibly-high tower, as in the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel.  But his purpose is not to reach heaven.  When the thing is finished, he intends to jump off the top of it and fly.  I like how Dio gives the tale a proletarian tone by telling it from the point of view of one of the wizard’s slaves.  Thus the chorus goes: “In the heat and the rain / With whips and chains / Just to see him fly / So many die! / We build a tower of stone / With our flesh and bone / Just to see him fly / Don’t know why!”

 

Right on, Ronnie.  Up the workers!

 

Much of the music is splendid, flavoured with a delicious Middle Eastern sound that accords with lyrics like “Hot wind moving fast across the desert.”  Supposedly, Blackmore used an unidentified Turkish instrument during the recording and I assume it contributes a lot to Stargazer.

 

© Polydor Records

 

Incidentally, if the song sounds heavy even by the standards of 1970s heavy metal, it’s because you’re not just listening to Rainbow.  For the recording, Blackmore managed to recruit the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, so you can hear them clunking around in there too.  Yes, if you’re going to go over the top, you might as well do so in style.

 

Also going over the top, two-thirds of the way through, is the wizard, who climbs the completed tower in preparation for flying.  And guess what happens next?  “No sound as he falls instead of rising / Time standing still, now there’s blood on the sand”.  With the vainglorious wizard reduced to a sticky red smear back on terra firma, the slave-narrator finds himself unexpectedly free.  The song ends with Dio singing, “I’m coming home, coming home, I’m coming home!”

 

The song isn’t perfect.  Around the five-minute stage, Blackmore’s guitar doodlings reach barely-acceptable levels of wankiness.  But overall, those eight minutes and 26 seconds of Stargazer are a great deal of fun.  Its crunching riffage would, for instance, sound brilliant played in a cheesy giant monster movie, during a scene where two Godzilla-type behemoths slug it out in the middle of a city and flatten everything around them.  Actually, Guillermo Del Toro could do worse than buy the rights to Stargazer when he finally gets around to filming Pacific Rim II.

 

Rainbow initially folded in 1984, but returned for four years in the 1990s with Scotsman Doogie White as their fourth vocalist.  And I’ve heard that during the summer of 2016 the band has been playing concerts again, though apart from Blackmore the line-up is a completely new one.

 

Meanwhile, Ronnie James Dio formed his own band, Dio, in 1982.  He also managed, over the years, to be a member of Black Sabbath – his albums with them, Heaven and Hell (1980), Mob Rules (1981) and Dehumanizer (1992), are the only Sabbath ones without Ozzy Osbourne on vocals that are worth listening to.  An endearing and witty character who clearly didn’t take himself too seriously – check out his cameo appearance in the Jack Black comedy Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny (2006) or his interview in the 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey – he sadly died from stomach cancer in 2010.

 

By the way, it’s said that Dio invented the ‘devil’s horns’ salute that’s ubiquitous at heavy metal concerts today.  He allegedly got the idea for it from a superstitious Italian grandmother who’d raise her index finger and little finger as a way of warding off the evil eye.  If this is true, then heavy metal fans owe a lot not just to Dio, but also to Dio’s granny.

 

From www.geeksofdoom.com

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ble0pQHUb8c

 

You sexy thing

 

From fatterolder.wordpress.com

 

When I saw the headlines a day ago about ‘Prince’ being ‘dead’, my first thought was that the 67-year-old Prince Charles had popped his clogs.  And he’d done so with impeccable timing.  Expiring on April 21st was the perfect way to upstage the celebrations going on in the UK for his mother’s 90th birthday.

 

Alas, the dead person in question turned out to be Prince Rogers Nelson, i.e., the singer and musician Prince; who for a time used the moniker ‘the artist formerly known as Prince’ and who was sometimes represented by this squiggly symbol, half-tomahawk and half-bugle:

 

From www.wikipedia.org

 

People around the world have reacted to news of his death with shock, but personally I’m not surprised that Prince has passed away.  The wee man just didn’t seem to sleep, which can’t have been good for him.  Rather, he spent 24 hours a day living life to its creative full.  And then some.

 

By this year he’d composed and recorded enough songs to fill nearly 40 albums, and I’m sure he’s left vaults crammed with enough unreleased material to keep a posthumous Prince-albums industry going for decades to come.  And he played most of the music on his songs – it’s said he had mastery of 27 musical instruments.  And he produced records.  And when he wasn’t toiling in the studio, he was on the road, doing 28 tours in 37 years, playing gigs that lasted for hours at huge venues like London’s O2 Arena and huge events like the American Superbowl (where his 2007 half-time gig was hailed as the best ever) but also in tiny late-night clubs and bars.  And he was writing his memoirs, and doing the odd bit of acting and directing, and chapping on doors on behalf of his local branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and funding public libraries in black neighbourhoods, and partying, and, ahem, possibly indulging in some heavy duty love-action with the ladies – such as Vanity, Sheila E, Kim Basinger, Madonna and Sherilyn Fenn from Twin Peaks.

 

Yes, in human years, he was only 57 when he died.  But in Prince years, he must have been well into his nineties.

 

(c) Paisley Park Records / Warner Brothers

 

It seems unlikely that someone with my musical tastes and outlook on life could get into Prince’s funky, soul-infused brand of psychedelic pop music in the 1980s, but that was the pint-sized Minneapolitan’s charm – he could appeal even to people like me, whose idea of bliss was to sit in a darkened room with a crate of Newcastle Brown Ale listening to Happy When It Rains by the Jesus and Mary Chain.

 

And I did get into him for a time.  He was responsible for great albums like Purple Rain (1984), Around the World in a Day (1985) and Parade (1986) and great songs like Let’s Go Crazy, Pop Life, Raspberry Beret and Kiss.  In 1987, he reached his high-water mark with the release of the double album Sign o’ the Times, whose title song is one of his best – it remains splendid despite the fact that Simple Minds did a cover version of it.  The album also featured the salacious If I was your Girlfriend, the belting Housequake and the rocking U Got the Look, which is splendid too despite the fact that Sheena Easton sings on it.  Thinking about it now, Prince did well in the late 1980s to survive this conspiracy by duff musical acts from Glasgow to ruin his reputation.

 

It couldn’t last, of course.  Lovesexy (1988) and Graffiti Bridge (1990) suggested that things were getting wobbly, though I really like Thieves in the Temple and Melody Cool from that latter album.  And in between the two, in 1989, he released the Batman soundtrack album, which was, frankly, pants.  No wonder that in Shaun of the Dead (2004), while they’re rifling through his vinyl record collection in search of some anti-zombie ammunition, Simon Pegg gives Nick Frost permission to chuck a copy of Batman at an advancing ghoul.

 

(c) Working Title / Universal Pictures

 

Thereafter, Prince never stopped churning the records out and I kept buying them: Diamonds and Pearls (1991), The Black Album (1994), The Gold Experience (1995), etc.  It seemed I couldn’t avoid buying them, as there were so many of the bloody things and they turned up everywhere, including at the second-hand music shops and record fairs where I did so much of my musical shopping.  Their quality was variable, but there was always something on them that I liked – for example, Pussy Control on The Gold Experience, a song so lewd I suspect even AC/DC would have turned it down on grounds of taste.

 

When someone dies, we’re usually urged not to dwell on the sad fact of the person’s death but to celebrate their life instead.  And that’s actually easy to do with Prince, because he lived such a hectic, endlessly-creative and no-second-wasted life.

 

He talked the talk and he walked the walk.  Which is important when your songs are mainly about bonking.