No More Mr. Nice Guy

I have spent part of my time in the van lately listening to Alice Cooper.  Many people already know that the early Alice Cooper albums, the band ones up through his first few solo albums, are fantastic pieces of work.  But for those of you that don’t, do you know that John Lennon was a friend and fan, Bob Dylan spoke highly of Alice Cooper’s songwriting, and Frank Sinatra covered one of his songs?  The Alice Cooper band, which is all the Alice Cooper albums up through Muscle of Love, was a really great rock n roll band.  If you are a fan of bass, drums, two guitars, you have to hear these records.  (The albums got technically more complex as they went along.  However, that core lineup, aside from when they would hire an extra guitar player in the studio at times, is often at the core of these recordings.  They sound like a band playing with just a couple extra overdubs for the most part.)  My favorite of these records is probably Billion Dollar Babies, though Killer and Love it to Death are front to back great as well.  These albums are just the sounds of one of the best rock bands ever firing on all cylinders.  As a bass player, I find the work of their bass player, Dennis Dunaway, particularly inventive.  He often played nontraditional melodic lines that still hold down the bottom, while doing very little of what a bass player typically does.  There are many great hard rock songs here that feature big pop choruses.  There are many excellent singles and album tracks.  Somehow lyrically Alice Cooper was able to provide a lot of entertaining horror fun, reflect how adolescents felt, and satirize American culture all at the same time.  The above song, No More Mr. Nice Guy, is one of my favorite tracks of theirs, one that I have liked since I was a teenager myself.  The music and the melody are just fantastic.  Listen to all of the cool little guitar bits going on.  The lyrics are humorous, without being cute, which is a harder trick to do than one would think.

Let There Be Rock

Was listening to the album Let There Be Rock by AC/DC all day.  It is an absolutely fantastic rock n roll album.  I have no idea how the album was recorded, but it sounds like an album recorded by a band live in a room while rolling some fat tape.  It may seem simple to some, but the playing, writing, and recording are tremendous.  Every groove is deep in the pocket.  The guitars sound like snarling dogs.  The lyrics are funny and witty and delivered for maximum effect by Bon Scott.  There aren’t many overdubs that couldn’t be performed live, a guitar part here and there.  I love records like this, that sound like an actual band.  A great deal of the magic is from the way the musicians interact with each other.  This is primal physical stuff.  At the same time there is more sophistication going on in the arrangements then appears.  This can be seen in the way there are long pauses on the title track, and then all of a sudden the band explodes back into the song.  That’s not amateur hour there.  Angus Young’s lead work sounds like he is taking the paint off of an entire countryside of barns.  There is a reason that every one from metal bands to Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye love this band.  They are the very best at what they do.  The title track, which may be my favorite AC/DC song will be posted above.  It’s also one of my favorite rock videos.

AC/DC Play Ball

The rock n roll monolith that is AC/DC continues, even without brother Malcolm Young.  The new track sounds like, well, AC/DC.  Would you want anything else?  As a heavy metal drummer once told me, “Their shit is so simple, but it drives people fucking crazy.”  At this point the band should probably be added to the periodic table.

Heavy Metal in Japan

No Show Ponies played a show while we were in Japan.  It was a two man show as it was just my brother Ben and I.  It was a four hour deal, which to be honest we weren’t really prepared to play as a two piece.  But it all worked out thanks to our new friend David, who lent us equipment, and to an enthusiastic crowd.  We played an English speaking expat bar, though the crowd was a mix of different nationalities.  I knew it was a good sign when I spotted a Philadelphia Eagles helmet right above the stage. 

In many ways it was just another gig.  We had to play a long time and we did a set mostly covers to kill some time.  However, some of the requests were great; Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses, and even Whitesnake all made appearances, not that we played any of them.  I was thinking how if English wasn’t your first language, as it wasn’t for at least half the audience if not more, you don’t really care about anything but the sound.  That big American rock n roll sound probably sounds pretty damn fun if you aren’t troubled by things like having to dwell on the musings of David Coverdale.  In truth I would put Guns N Roses on an entirely different plain then all of the other 80’s rock bands, but that’s my own private war. 

I have long known that they like American heavy metal and rock in Japan.  Band’s that have long worn out their welcome here still have big followings in places like Japan.  Remember Mr. Big?  I know that they can still tour successfully in Japan and Asia as a whole. 

To sort of get myself in the proper mindset I broke out a lot of metal and hard rock records on my headphones as I traveled around the country.  I was listening to a lot of Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath.  I especially spent a lot of time with Iron Maiden’s The Final Frontier, which is their newest record.  I’ve read that the record isn’t mastered.  To be honest I can’t tell, but I hope that’s true.  I like thinking that a group with that money, and whether you know it or not they are still huge everywhere, has taken such a primitive approach to recording.  I also enjoy the fact that a band is singing about death and referring to it as the final frontier.  That makes me smile. 

I strangely find heavy metal and hard rock to be relaxing.  I can listen to it and fall asleep.  I don’t mean that it bores me.  It occupies my mind in such a way that blocks other thoughts from keeping me awake.  One of the things I’ve been thinking about in reference to that style of music is that bands like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden are so much more interesting musically then many of the newer bands I’ve heard in that genre.  One of the reasons for that, and there are many, is that the rhythm sections swing.  A lot of newer metal has drummers that play with metronomic precision with little feel.  Because those bands came out of the traditions of 60’s rock their drummers till play with a deep pocket.  That means no matter how heavy they get there is still something interesting rhythmically going on there.  Anyway, just a thought on the way to the mountaintop. 

We certainly don’t want to always be serious around these parts man.  Sometimes it is good to put on a loud rock n roll record and drift off to space.  The final frontier….

Up the Irons

I thought my first real post upon returning should be about a very important topic.  This is a topic that has stood the test of time.  That topic is Iron Maiden.  While out on tour I became strangely obsessed with them.  When I am out on the road I use my endless hours in the van to explore new worlds.  I read and listen to as much music as I can.  There’s not much else to do.  On this particular tour I found myself exploring the world of Iron Maiden.

As a bass player they are an easy band to love.  Steve Harris does things that require incredible physical endurance.  The whole band is highly musical though.  I’m sure a good portion of people think of heavy metal music and hard rock as music that is largely brawn and little brain.  It might be a stretch to call these guys jazz cats, but they can paint incredibly vivid pictures with their musical brushes.  Have a listen the solo section of the song Where Eagles Dare off of their Piece of Mind album.  It actually sounds like a dog fight between two airplanes in a way that it would be hard to imagine a piece of music doing a better job of.

Another thing that is so great about their records is the complexity of the playing along with the simplicity of the recordings.  Their records, up through their first five especially, have bass and drums in the middle with a guitar in each speaker.  Solos and a few other overdubs come into play, but they are rare.  All those images and sounds being created are being created by a band and not through much studio trickery.  Especially in this day and age it is refreshing to hear.  I think this is one of the reasons their records have stood the test of time.

Once I become interested in something, I tend to want to learn as much about something as I possibly can.  This led me to watch a documentary about the band called Flight 666.  This film is about a tour that the band goes on where they have their own plane called Ed Force One.  What is so unique about this tour is that the band is able to move their entire production on this flight.  Not only that, but the bands lead singer is also the pilot of this plane.  Imagine another rock n roll star that flies a full sized airplane between shows.  Bruce Dickinson is someone that seems to have boundless energy.  He has an enthusiasm and comic timing that almost makes him seem as if he could have been in Monty Python in another life.

What might be most interesting in this film is when the band goes to South America they inspire an almost religious devotion.  Despite singing songs that often deal with elements of fantasy, and featuring a giant creature named Eddie on stage, they have remained true to themselves and who they are over time.  Other than AC\DC there aren’t many bands that have kept such an identifiable sound over so long a time.  By being themselves, they have become something that these kids in these countries can depend on.  In many of these countries there is immense poverty and in places like Columbia even political turmoil.  Iron Maiden has remained passionate about what they do and have remained unique in who they are  In a world where change is a constant and art is usually a popularity contest, they have provided a compass to these working class kids.  Although their songs sometimes deal with eternal themes of war and turmoil, their music isn’t political in the current ripped from the headlines sense.  However, they do have a sound and a vision.  It’s good to see that such simple things as those can still inspire so much.