Heavy metal’s own woodland elf, singer Ronnie James Dio has died, aged 67.
Dio has a rock pedigree as long as Gene Simmons’ tongue. After more than a decade earning his rock’n'roll stripes, in 1975 Dio joined ex-Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in the first line-up of Blackmore’s post-Purple project Rainbow. Their debut album is a classic of mid-’70s rock, an overblown, rich, creamy Baked Alaska of an album, full of guitar-posing, pseudo-classical wankery. (Here’s one of my favourite tracks, “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves“.)
Fast forward a few records and Dio has split with Blackmore to take over vocal duties for Black Sabbath, following the departure of Ozzy Osbourne. This is where I first came across the pint-sized vocalist, on his first outing with Sabbath, Heaven and Hell from 1980. What a corker! Sabbath fans could rest assured that their beloved band was in good hands.
Here is the promo video for the first track, “Neon Knights”, a manic rocker which has our friend Ronnie James delightfully invoking dragons, kings, circles, rings, and a host of other quasi-Tolkienesque imagery. Sort of like Bilbo Baggins on speed. (Please ignore the sloppily tacked on faux applause.)
Dio stayed with Sabbath for one more studio album and also appears on their double live record “Live Evil” – which I begged for, and happily received, for my 14th birthday. Yippee!
In the years that followed, Dio released numerous solo records, re-joined Sabbath and lived life to the full. Perhaps he should be best remembered for his stirring vocal on the 1974 hit “Love Is All”, the animated video clip for which I have fond memories of watching as a youngster. (It still brings a tear to the eye…)
Rach and I spend a fair amount of time in op shops, and often the pickings are slim. The most disappointing area of the op shop, for me, is usually the record bin. Most op shops have one, and they are typically crammed with the absolute worst horrors ever committed to vinyl: pan pipe music, Hammond organ instrumentals, strange German orchestral easy listening (often with saucy semi-nude women on the cover), Kamahl records, and so on.
Imagine my surprise when on a recent op shop excursion, among the usual dross I came across this record sleeve:
It was a little beaten up, and had a large black texta mark diagonally across the cover, but nevertheless my pulse quickened considerably. To explain why, let me go back in time 25 years or so …
In 1984 I was committed to the cause of metal. But owing to my miniscule music-buying budget I was interested in only the best that metal had to offer, and I was especially keen on any record that could offer up some killer guitar solos. Around this time a good buddy of mine – let’s call him Pete – travelled to the US with local High School concert band The Marching Koalas. On his return he had a suitcase crammed with records and cassettes from the States, apparently having spent his entire travel budget on music. One of the tapes he brought back was by a band I had never heard of, called Vandenberg.
Vandenberg were a Dutch metal band that formed in 1981, centred around the guitar exploits of Adrian Vandenberg. The tape Pete had bought was their second album, Heading For a Storm, from 1983. The cover illustration, featuring a pack of sharks cruising down a desert highway, is surely a classic of the genre.
The first I heard of this record was a song called “This is War”, specifically the guitar solo. Pete played it to me on his ghetto-blaster while we were on a bus during a school excursion. My mind was well and truly blown. We must’ve listened to the guitar solo fifty times on that bus trip, until someone threatened to throw Pete’s tape player out the window. You can hear the song in the clip below (audio only). Mr Vandenberg starts warming up his fingers around 2:03 and hits full stride at 2:30. Imagine it’s 1984 and you are an impressionable 14-year-old wannabe metal guitar hero …
Anyway, the years passed. I made a dodgy copy of Pete’s cassette and eventually bought the Heading For a Storm LP (available here only as an expensive import) in the late ’80s, but never got around to tracking down their first, self-titled album. Which brings me back to the Gosford Vinnies in 2010.
There I was, standing at the record bin, with a copy of the first Vandenberg album in my hands. Questions flooded my brain. How the fuck did this record get here? Who donated it, and where are the rest of their records? Am I dreaming? I quickly slipped the disc from the sleeve to make sure it wasn’t some shitty Perry Como LP, which thankfully it wasn’t. The vinyl was even in decent condition. The asking price was $1. Thank you very much.
The circle is closed.
Vandenberg split in the mid-’80s after a third LP, with Adrian leaving to join David Coverdale in Whitesnake. Here’s a video of Vandenberg’s biggest “hit”, a classic metal-ballad called “Burning Heart”.
While flipping through Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald I came across a section entitled “Christmas Gift Guide 2009″. The idea is a bunch of “experts” in various fields – design, fashion, technology, music, and so on – provide a list of Christmas gift ideas, presumably for those who lack inspiration or imagination.
The first item on the “Music” page was this:
My first thought was, “what the fuck?”
If you can’t work out what it is, I’ll help you out. This is a Johnny Cash figurine, which can be purchased from Hobbyco for the bargain price of $29.95 (or from Amazon.com for US$6.99 plus shipping). But who would buy this?! It looks awful! His face is all screwed up – he looks more like the Incredible Hulk than the Man in Black.
It’s a bit hard to tell from the picture above, but Johnny is walking along a railway track, and in fact he is striding purposefully along a single rail. Get the reference? He’s “walking the line”. How literal-minded are these people?
If poor Johnny was alive today, I’m guessing his response would be something like this:
But that’s not all. On the same page was this:
Yes, it’s Kurt Cobain, as seen in Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session, complete with mic and music stands. Good Lord, who gave permission for this travesty?! Does anybody seriously think Cobain himself would approve?
Amazon has dozens more of these things. Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, John Lennon, Jimmy Page, The Ramones, AC/DC, Sid Vicious, the list goes on and on. And some of them are truly terrifying. Here’s Mick Jagger:
Hmm, I’ve just been doing some sums, and in fact these are quite cheap given the present US$ exchange rate. I could ship out, say, 15 or 20 of these suckers, and that would cover just about all my Christmas gifts for 2009 …
OK friends, if you’re expecting a gift from me this year, pretend you didn’t read this, and act surprised for my sake. Thank you and Merry Christmas.
A belated tänan väga to Christina and Pawel for the hospitality they displayed at their recent Estonian/Polish bash. After being greeted by the hosts, who were resplendent in Estonian traditional dress, we settled in for a pleasant evening of Esto-Polish delights.
The vast array of dishes on offer is a blur to me now, although I remember the blood sausage with special fondness. Served with potatoes, Estonian sauerkraut and cranberry relish … mmm, delicious! Also on offer – courtesy of Yusuke – was okonomiyaki, a sort of “Japanese pizza”, which was a revelation. This is definitely something to look out for. But perhaps my favourite was Pawel’s Polish apple pie, which had me saying “tak, proszę!” to a second (and third) helping.
Another highlight of the night – at least for Rach and I – was our discovery of Żubrówka, a distilled rye vodka flavoured with bison grass from the ancient Białowieża Forest. Polish infants are weaned on this stuff at an early age, but sadly I had to wait 39 years for my first taste. The customary drinking technique is for all present to drink a shot in unison, with a hearty cry of “terviseks!”, followed by a swig of apple juice. Alternatively the two can be mixed, but the vodka is pleasant on its own.
Each bottle of Żubrówka traditionally contains a blade of bison grass, purely for decoration, although this didn’t stop certain Antipodean party-goers from attempting to consume the grass once the bottle was empty.
Topping off a perfect evening, Rach and I were lucky enough to win what was possibly the first ever Estonian/Polish trivia competition, our prize being a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka! Jah!! (I always knew my encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of Polish trade unions would come in handy one day.)
During the course of the night I couldn’t help but be impressed by the music that was playing quietly in the background. The unusual mixture of traditional Eastern European folk, eighties pop and Lloyd Webber-style musical theatre was ear-catching to say the least. I made a mental note to see what I could find out about the Estonian rock music scene.
Although viewed as undesirable by Soviet authorities, popular music established itself in Estonia in the seventies, in the form of a heavy-style progressive rock. One of my favourites is Gunnar Graps Group (or simply “GGG”), who in appearance and sound are very similar to UK metal pioneers Judas Priest, while also incorporating a distinctive Eastern-European melodicism.
Here is GGG performing the song “Hingeleegid”:
Of course, the story of Estonian music doesn’t end with Gunnar Graps Group. There is something for everyone, whether it be the runic-folk-metal of Metsatöll, or the chart-topping girl group Vanilla Ninja. Let me end by playing another clip, this time by subversive punk rockers Singer Vinger. Here they are in 1987 performing “Mina pean sambat tantsida saama”. (I’d give anything for the lead singer’s T-shirt.)
Well, it seems the Muses deserted me there for a while – nothing new from Snu in six long weeks! But let me tell you, if there’s anything that can shock someone out of a month of writer’s block it’s a night at Chatswood RSL Karaoke.
This being our first visit to the hallowed turf of Chatswood RSL we didn’t know exactly what to expect of the Karaoke venue. Perhaps a dark, tastefully lit den with low ceilings and comfy booths, a place where a group of hip cats such as ourselves would not feel unwelcome.
Instead what we found was a cavernous bistro-slash-auditorium, fully ablaze with light, populated by the motliest assortment of individuals that Homo sapiens has to offer. The singing was well underway, and we were greeted by the strains – and I really mean strains – of “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles, as interpreted by one of the intellectually challenged poppets (bless them) who apparently frequent the Friday night event. A lone dancer – another of the Karaoke regulars – cavorted on the dance floor, dressed in red bustiere and tastefully torn black stockings. I sipped at my schooner of Tooheys New, desperately wishing for something stronger – like cyanide.
I had earlier decided that my personal appearance on stage was out of the question, but some others in our group – including the ever brave Rachael – set about choosing their song for the evening. Meanwhile, the parade of performers continued. My mind has thankfully erased most of what I saw last night, but a few images remain.
There was John, a short, bald, sturdy, fifty-ish man, whose voice is almost beyond description. It’s a gravelly, grumbly freight train of a voice, devoid of almost any inflection of tone or pitch. His rendition of “Come a Little Bit Closer” by the Delltones was a definite highlight. As I sat watching John sing, and as the solo dancer continued with her deranged pirouettes, it occurred to me that I felt like an extra in a David Lynch film.
As John left the stage – to rapturous applause – he walked past our table, where he paused long enough to ask Rach in his billy-goats-gruff voice, “It’s Warwick, isn’t it?” Rach was a little confused by this, having never before been mistaken for someone called Warwick.
A while later I was waiting at the bar when I sensed a looming presence at my side. I turned to find John standing there, hand thrust out towards me.
“It’s Warwick, isn’t it?” he asked.
I smiled and grabbed his meaty paw.
“Yeah mate, nice ta meet ya.”
I complimented him on his singing and we parted best of friends.
So, if you’ve got no plans next Friday night, why not try the Karaoke at Chatswood RSL. The drinks are cheap and a good time is guaranteed for all. But remember, it’s only a short step from Karaoke to Hari-kiri.
P.S. I have to mention Rachael’s impressive performance of “Escape” (aka “The Piña Colada Song”) by Rupert Holmes. Here is Rupert in all his nerdy glory, singing live on US music show Midnight Special:
While the world breathlessly awaits the release of the remastered Beatles back-catalog, I have just made an even more important musical discovery.
On a recent excavation in a dusty basement of the Snubian archives I came across a small wooden box. Inscribed on the lid were words from a language beyond my understanding, seemingly burnt into the wooden surface. Upon opening the box I was shocked to discover a monkey’s paw, withered and black. I removed it carefully, but as I did so the light by which I was working dimmed suddenly. I fell backwards and tossed the clammy paw into a dark corner of the room. Looking into the box again I saw that it contained a small parcel wrapped in velvet of the darkest blue. Slowly I peeled back one corner, then another, until the object inside was revealed. It was a cassette tape. Written on the tape was a single word: Battleaxe.
When I was in Year 10 at High School, a few friends and I formed a metal band. We called ourselves various names – Zenith, Red Alert – but Battleaxe was the one that stuck.
My good buddy Dave was on drums. Dave played trombone in the school band but was desperate to break into the percussion section. He was essentially a self-taught drummer, learning from his ever-expanding collection of hair metal albums. I had known Dave since he arrived at my primary school in Year 5. He was what was then called a “sissy”. That is, he played piano and organ, tap-danced, performed jazz routines to Village People songs at school assembly, stuff like that. But we got on well and started hanging out, moreso as our musical tastes started to form and converge.
Our singer was called Sasha. He was a few years older than us, a local identity who could often be seen speeding about the suburb in his dad’s hotted-up Ford Charger. Sash is I think the only person I have ever met who was truly tone deaf. Seriously, he could barely sing “Happy Birthday”. Great choice for a singer, I know. Sadly, his rhythm and timing were pretty poor too – he would often come in at the wrong time, or sing an extra verse when you were least expecting it.
On bass was another guy from our year at school, who was known by all simply as “Wacka”, although I think his real name was Robert. Wacka was a small-time drug dealer of some note as well as an electronics whiz and regional cross country champion. I’m sure these three attributes often proved to be mutually beneficial. (In fact, we had another bass player before this, who was summarily dismissed for forgetting to bring his guitar lead to rehearsal. Wacka commandeered his instrument, quickly soldered together a new lead and took over bass duties.)
I was on guitar and backing vocals. At this stage I didn’t have my own amplifier, so was playing through some kind of ancient radiogram that Dave’s parents had kicking around that looked like it was from the 1930s. My only method of achieving anything approaching a “metal” guitar sound was a rudimentary fuzz-box that Wacka had made from a design in an electronics magazine, and which I had bought from him for $12. It provided a little crunch but was far from the distortion-drenched sound I desired. At this stage I hadn’t been playing electric guitar long and was yet to discover the all important “power chord”, so I was still working from the cheesy chords in my Iron Maiden songbook.
Our rehearsals were held at Dave’s house, as his elderly parents (Dave was the youngest of a large but unspecified number of children) seemed to tolerate just about anything to keep him off the streets. We practised in Dave’s tiny bedroom, which was empty except for a pile of school-related mess, his drumkit and a bunch of mattresses that lined the walls – probably his long suffering mother’s futile attempt at “soundproofing”.
We rehearsed most Saturdays, choosing our material from the current crop of metal bands: Iron Maiden, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, W.A.S.P. etc., as well as old favourites such as Black Sabbath. It is not false modesty to say that we were fucking awful. We were all beginners, certainly, but what we lacked in talent we made up for in volume and stupidity. We even gave ourselves fake names. I was known as Izzy Fareel. Dave became Dave Death. Sash and Wacka couldn’t be bothered.
Anyway, back to the mysterious cassette tape. At some point we decided to start recording ourselves on Dave’s ghetto blaster, and miraculously one of these tapes has remained in my possession for the intervening 24 years. There are a bunch of songs on the tape but only one features all four of us, what with Wacka’s various other pursuits often keeping him from rehearsals.
So, I present to you a cover of Iron Maiden’s “Running Free” performed by Battleaxe, c. 1985. Please excuse the poor quality of the recording, but remember that this is a historical artefact we’re dealing with here!
You can tell by our squeals of delight at the end that we thought we were pretty shit hot. (That’s me exclaiming “That was tops!”) Apparently we suffered from a form of collective audio dysmorphia.
Here’s what the real thing sounded like, Iron Maiden performing “Running Free” with original singer Paul Di’anno on Top of the Pops in 1980.
So where are the members of Battleaxe now?
Dave was expelled sometime in early Year 11 after he broke into our school’s music department and stole some cymbals. He later got in with the wrong crowd – or maybe he was the wrong crowd – and has had serious problems for many years. Sasha did a runner after getting himself into some unspecified hot water with local heavies. He not only took his dad’s car but also cleaned him out of pots and pans, according to his younger brother who we grilled for information at the time. Wacka had always wanted to go into the Army – a career where his many and varied skills could be put to use – but I’m not sure if he got his wish. If he did he’s probably a Major-General by now. As for me, I have survived the dizzy heights of metalmania to become a calm and semi-responsible adult.
Following on from yesterday’s post, long-time listener, first-time caller Vern has fond memories of Macca and Jacko’s duet “Say Say Say” which appeared on McCartney’s Pipes of Peace album in 1983. The promotional film for the song was an epic affair in the mold of Jackson’s “Thriller” video in that it begins with a brief acted segment providing a back story for the song itself. Here it is:
Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, but when you put Linda McCartney in between Paul and Michael you’d have to admit she is only a mildly talented woman. And that’s being generous. Nevertheless she gives it her all as ever.
As someone who has been a longtime follower of the Beatles and their respective solo careers, I can say that this is not my favourite McCartney period. (But I do agree with Vern that this is a catchy tune!) It seems as the ’80s progressed Paul became more and more irrelevant as his style of melodic pop gradually fell from fashion. Around this time he seemed determined to prove himself as a kind of all-round entertainer. (Witness the song and dance routines in the above clip.) He wrote and produced an animated film for children (Rupert and the Frog Song), also writing a theme tune (“We All Stand Together”) and contributing some of the voices. He wrote and starred in an awful feature film (Give My Regards to Broad Street) in which he committed the ultimate sin of re-making some of his own Beatles songs, and then spent a year of his life trying to flog this particularly dead horse. As it turned out, “Say Say Say” would be his last US #1.
Paul also caught on early to the idea of the 12-inch single. I have before me the 12″ of “Say Say Say” – not only do you get a version of the title track re-mixed by John “Jellybean” Benitez, but there is an instrumental remix too. Woo-hoo! The B-side track “Ode to a Koala Bear” is not only taxonomically incorrect (it’s not a bear, it’s a marsupial) but one of Paul’s more forgettable tunes. Next time you’re around Vern, we’ll give it a spin together.
Macca and Jacko living together in perfect harmony…
News just in. Apple’s online music store iTunes is reporting that it has completely sold out of all electronic copies of Michael Jackson’s back catalog. Owing to increased demand following the singer’s sudden death, and a shortage of electrons at their Jacksonville plant, they are unable to produce digital files until an emergency shipment arrives from an electron supplier in Taiwan.
Meanwhile, what’s your favourite Michael Jackson album?
We’ve got a few of Jacko’s records, but our favourite would have to be Off The Wall. This was Jackson’s first solo record as a grown-up, and I don’t think he ever improved upon it. I know Thriller had the hits, but Off The Wall to my ears is the winner. The arrangements are more sparse, there’s some room to get in there and boogie! It’s a bit like comparing Revolver to Sgt Pepper. Sure, Thriller sold a gazillion copies, but the production is just so dense, and lurking in between the hit singles are tracks such as the McCartney-Jackson duet “The Girl is Mine”, a song so painfully mawkish and contrived it almost makes me physically ill.
The mention of McCartney’s name raises the question of what will happen to the publishing rights to the majority of Lennon/McCartney songs, which are currently part of Sony/ATV Music, of which Jackson owned a 50% stake. (Background: Northern Songs, the company created in 1963 to publish Lennon & McCartney’s Beatles output was aggressively bought out by ATV in 1969, with ATV Music then being bought by Jackson in 1985. He later merged with Sony to form Sony/ATV Music.) There has been some speculation that Jackson had of late felt sorry for nicking his old mate Paul’s songs and had included a clause in his will that they be returned to McCartney upon Jackson’s death. This seems optimistic in the extreme given the realities of the music industry today, and Jackson did not have total ownership in any case. Still, I personally would like to see the day when a living Beatle has control of their own music!
Finally, there seems to be some sort of frenzy on eBay with countless auctions for Jackson-related domain names. Most of them are awful, such as MichaelJacksonNaked.com or LifeAfterMichaelJackson.com, with asking prices in the millions of US dollars. Seriously, what sort of clown is responsible for this nonsense! I tells ya!
I am just listening to Holy Roller Novocaine, the debut EP by Kings of Leon. I was inspired to buy this when it came out in 2003, mainly because of the cracker opening track “Molly’s Chambers”. It’s two minutes and 18 seconds of ballsy, straight-ahead Southern Fried rock.
I didn’t really keep up with the band after that. But recently I was shocked to find what difference a few years in the “music industry” can make to a band’s appearance and sound.
This is how Kings of Leon looked circa 2003:
Then the record company got its hooks into the band. This is how they looked a few years later:
Is this an ad for Schick or Sunsilk?
I saw the above photo in the newspaper a year or so ago, to promote the band’s tour of Australia, and I honestly thought they had made a mistake and printed a promo photo of some ponced-up boy band. You may be familiar with Kings of Leon from their 2008 worldwide hit “Sex on Fire”, which is a favourite on Australian Idol, and almost as annoying as that Eskimo Joe song about black fingernails and red wine.
Now enjoy Kings of Leon as they were back in the day, playing “Molly’s Chambers” live on the Late Show.
This has been part 1 in the series “Why the Music Industry Sucks”.
Rach returned from a recent op-shop expedition with a couple of additions to the record collection, one of which was a K-Tel compilation from 1973 called Souled Out! As you might guess from the title, it gathers together a number of soul hits from the ’60s and early ’70s. We gave it a spin last night, and it’s a great record, but what caught my eye was an advertisement on the back cover for the K-Tel Record Selector.
If you’re younger than about 30, you will probably struggle to remember the K-Tel Record Selector, or even K-Tel for that matter. Though for many Australians K-Tel will always be associated with TV ads flogging dodgy compilation albums, it is in fact an American company that began with door-to-door kitchenware sales, before moving into the music business. K-Tel is allegedly responsible for releasing the world’s first “compilation” album, 25 Great Country Artists Singing Their Original Hits, in 1966.
Anyway, back to the K-Tel Record Selector. It’s nothing more or less than a simple plastic storage rack for vinyl LPs:
I can’t improve upon the ad copy on the back of Souled Out:
Record Selector is a new space age device for storing and selecting your favourite records. Simply place all your albums in record selector, move the first record forward and all the other records flip slowly forward. When the selector reaches the album you wish to play, simply remove it and return all albums to their starting positions. When you wish to return the album to the record selector, again flip the first record forward. The other albums will automatically flip slowly forward and the selector will stop at the spot where the record was removed. You can then replace the album.
Below this text is a series of bullet points, summarising the many outstanding features of the Record Selector:
Finger touch starting
Runs fast or slow
Works like a computer
Find your favourite music in seconds
Holds 24 records
Firstly, to address the most obviously ridiculous part of the above spiel, this is no “space age device”. It’s a milk crate with the sides cut off. And it works like a computer? Of course, because when I need to find a document on my computer I tell it to start at the first one and proceed slowly through each document until it chances upon the one I’m after. I also doubt that the records will “flip slowly forward”. More likely, at the slightest touch, the entire contents of the Record Selector will topple forward like dominos, sending your valuable vinyl rolling across the rumpus room floor.
Seriously, I can’t see how this device is any more efficient than a cardboard box and careful application of the concept of alphabetical order. And it only holds 24 records! The Record Selector is, however, a very efficient way of extracting $3.99 for a shonky piece of plastic whose design is based solely on the earth’s gravitational pull.
So, I know the question on your lips right now is, “Where can I get one?”
Once again, from the back cover of Souled Out:
This record selector is available now from your nearest Majestic Record retailer at $3.99, or enquire from K-TEL International (Aust.) Limited, 46 Pyrmont Bridge Road, Pyrmont, 2009.
Sadly, K-TEL went belly up in 2007, when it was “taken private in a 1 to 5000 reverse split” – whatever that means – so I doubt that enquiring at 46 Pyrmont Bridge Road will get you very far.
P.S. Check out the fantastic K-Tel blog to enter compilation album nirvana (those aren’t the real covers by the way).