Sunday, April 11, 2010

From the archives: Rock Guitar Blowout

Today’s assignment: The epitome of kick-ass rock. Uptempo guitar riff blowouts, heavy and smokin': the MOTHER list of all foot stompin' rock tunes that we were raised on.

Unfortunately, heavy and smokin’ ain’t always uptempo. In fact, because it’s so heavy, it’s frequently very slow, and unable to stomp it’s feet at all. Here’s a random sampling:

Love- Seven and Seven is (Da Capo LP- 1967, single- 1966)
Proto-something or other and the baddest dude on the Sunset Strip.
Oop-bip-bip, oop-bip-bip, YEAH!

MC5- Looking At You (single- 1968)
Frantic testimony from Brother Tyner over a furious fuzzy squall recorded on a Radio Shack condenser mic at the far end of the airplane hangar.

Beatles- I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Abbey Road LP- 1969)
Shit. Judging by this monster track, if The Beatles had stuck around, every proggy girl’s blouse would have their clocks cleaned REAL quick. So long, ELP!

Randy Holden- Guitar Song (Population II- 1969 LP)Like it says: just Randy, a drummer, sixteen 200-watt Sunn amplifiers, and Dickie Peterson nowhere in sight. Far-out.

Free- All Right Now (Fire and Water LP- 1970, single- 1970)
Black Sabbath- Paranoid (Paranoid LP- 1970)
1970: being a good year for the chance indelible guitar figure (see below).

Fleetwood Mac- The Green Manalishi (single- 1970)
Peter Green didn’t want the money or fame, and gave us this instead (see The Clash: Jail Guitar Doors). Thanks, Pete!

Sir Lord Baltimore- Hell Hound (Kingdom Come LP- 1970)
Slippery, choppy- how can that be? And it feels like this: “Woo-muhn is uh hal-hown-duh, you know I got the fee-vuh”!

Chicago- 25 or 6 to 4 (Chicago LP- 1970)
The fastest gun in the (Mid-) West (sorry, Ted) versus Chicago’s horn section, and wastes them cold (careful with that pistol, Terry)

The Stooges- T.V. Eye (Funhouse LP- 1970)
Ron Asheton finds a chord sequence he can almost master, repeats till he needs to use the bathroom halfway through, but returns in time to remember where he left off. A Rock masterpiece is born. I’m kidding.

Groundhogs- Cherry Red (Split LP- 1971)
Spartan power-rock. One tap of the cowbell (rock percussion’s most effective weapon) and TS McPhee’s greatest distillation of Heavy Blues is off and running with dynamics galore. Feverish.

Focus- Hocus Pocus (Moving Waves LP- 1971, single- 1973)
Alternating between wickedly fluid guitar turns by Jan Akkerman and Thijs van Leer’s keys, flute, and truly bizarre gnomic vocalizing, plus an ace rhythm section, this bears no resemblance to anything else from these Dutch Prog masters. The single edit belatedly hit the US Top Ten in ’73. So someone bought it. Now fess up.

Deep Purple- Highway Star (Made In Japan LP- 1972)
I chose this over the studio version (Machine Head) simply because it’s more muscular and loosey-goosey. Ian Gillan sounds like he knows he’s the luckiest man in the world. See Amboy Dukes (below).

Alice Cooper- School’s Out (School’s Out LP- 1972, single- 1972)
An anthem to those of us leaving life-phase one (8th grade/Junior High), while assuming things would improve for phase two (it didn’t). Also, Hard Rock was becoming more rare on AM radio that summer. Need a reminder? Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from August 5, 1972:
1. Alone Again (Naturally)- See?
2. Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)- I do like this one, though. A LOT.
3. If Loving You Is Wrong…
4. Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast- I said SEE?
5. Too Late To Turn Back Now
6. Where Is The Love
7. School’s Out
8. How Do You Do- Man, this one didn’t waste ANY time on its trip to History’s dustbin.
9. Long Cool Woman- Fake CCR (doesn’t count).
10. Layla- And neither does this.

From Wikipedia: Cooper has said he was inspired to write the song when answering the question, "What's the greatest three minutes of your life?", Cooper said: "There's two times during the year. One is Christmas morning, when you're just getting ready to open the presents. The greed factor is right there. The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you're sitting there and it's like a slow fuse burning. I said, 'If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it's going to be so big.'"

Blue Oyster Cult- The Red and The Black (Tyranny and Mutation LP- 1973)

They get their man in the end: hyper riff-o-rama, tight as a bull’s arse, but it ain’t no sheep (it’s Buck)

Amboy Dukes- Pony Express (Call Of The Wild LP- 1973)
Most anything from Nugent is going to have a killer riff. This album is full of them (and THIS one happens to be borrowed from Highway Star)

The Troggs- Strange Movies (single- 1973)
Reg Presley encounters porn and (shock!) approves, while minimalist guitar master Chris Britton riffs on Joe Meek’s staircase, and Ronnie Bond thumps between pulls on the jug. A Rock masterpiece is born. No kidding.

ZZ Top- Tush (Fandango LP- 1975)
This one reached the Top Twenty in the sweltering summer of 1975, but in Philly I’ll bet it went way higher than that. Smart and ballsy, just the right length (2:14), and loud enough to drown out Jive Talkin’ playing on that dude’s transistor over there.

Television- Friction (Marquee Moon LP- 1977)
Tense and slashing raga-punk rave-up stretched to the breaking point.

Buzzcocks- Fiction Romance (Another Music In A Different Kitchen LP- 1978)
Why do people find the Buzzcocks wimpy? This driving, angular dual-lead workout starts Motorik, then careens all over the M1 before missing the J42 interchange.

Black Flag- Rise Above (Damaged LP- 1981)
I wasn’t thinking of including anything more recent than the 1970s here, but I just counted 19 songs on the list, needed 20, and this one came immediately to mind. A furious, funny anthem from an adult record made especially for kids, or School’s Out for Gen X tykes.
-Michael Mooney

After mulling it over I pretty much knew where I was headed, but used a couple of Google searches after the fact to see if I forgot something important. The searches were ultimately weak and pathetic (that's why we are doing this damn guide). The only song found that made me think twice was Ram Jam - Black Betty. I concluded that if I didn't think of Black Betty originally, it must not be in my bonecrushing best of pile. Maybe this should've been split into separate lists for the 60's/70's/80's. The 70's obviously dominated my list; some might say it shows my bias from early listening habits. I simply think that the guitar was king in the 70's and the producers made sure it was up front in the mix.

1.) The Kinks - You Really Got Me - Dave Davies bludgeons the world. Bonus points that it's from 1964,and such a brutal riff that was copied and slightly varied into so many other classics that it's rightful influence can't be denied.

2.) MC5- Kick Out The Jams - I feel like I'm at the 1968 Chicago riots.

3.) Mountain - Mississippi Queen - The Great Fatsby's finest hour.

4.) Steppenwolf - Born To Be Wild - The most perfect match of music to lyrics in the history of the planet.

5.) Led Zeppelin - Communication Breakdown - Page stole Whole Lotta Love from Willie Dixon; at least here I don't know who he nicked it from (I still love the thieving bastard).

6.) ZZ Top - Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers - I'm dreaming of an ice cold Lone Star

7.) Deep Purple - Burn - Spinal Tap idiots will pick Smoke On The Water or Highway Star (nota bene: I picked Highway Star!- mm). Ian Gillan was at his best as Jesus. A room full of apes could've come up with Smoke On The Water (some say did). Burn does sound like a witch is being burned at the stake, and has the added bonus of Ian Paice's finest drum track ever.

8.) Johnny Winter - Still Alive And Well - The albino is back with a vengeance.

9.) Robin Trower - Day of the Eagle - A 70's guitar rock classic. Robin never topped Bridge of Sighs.

10.) The Stooges - I Wanna Be Your Dog - This is so primitive I almost left it off, but the Darwinian connection between animals and certain rock musicians was too great to pass up.

11.) The Clash - Complete Control - A true buzz saw riff.

12.) Black Sabbath - Paranoid - A lot to choose from with these guys.

13.) Blue Oyster Cult - Hot Rails to Hell - Buck Dharma has to be on the list somewhere.

14.) Focus - Hocus Pocus - A ferocious riff, it dropped down because of the yodeling.

15.) Guns & Roses - Welcome To The Jungle - I hate to put this on because Axl is such an ass, but this is more about Slash.

16.) Sex Pistols- Anarchy in U.K. And to think no one at first believed they were playing their own instruments.

17.) Cactus - The Swim - Blistering.

18.) Ted Nugent - Great White Buffalo - Michigan is well represented in the top 20

19.) Thin Lizzy - Are You Ready - A live staple of the band.

20.) N.Y. Dolls - Puss N' Boots - Johnny Thunders fat riff rounds out the list.

Honorable Mention:

Aeroshite- Train Kept A Rollin', Black Flag- Six Pack, Blue Cheer - Summertime Blues, Foghat- Honey Hush, Guess Who- American Woman, Rory Gallagher- Shin Kicker, Montrose- Space Station No. 5, Nazareth- Razamanazz, Romantics- What I Like About You, Stiff Little Fingers- Suspect Device, Undertones- You’ve Got My Number .
-Jim Webb

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