Tuesday, June 5, 2007

It's STILL Rock 'N' Roll to me...

One of the coolest things about Rock ‘N’ Roll is it has the power to overcome the bullshit that even its own creators sometimes put forth and make you forget all about their pettiness, stupidity, arrogance, politics, etc., and it makes you remember what drew you to them in the first place.  For me, Ted Nugent is Exhibit A of that phenomenon.  As much as I’ve grown to dispise him these last few years for the things he’s said and what he represents to me now, I have to say that his music still stands up (most of it, anyway) after tracking through it this week.  I can't think of any other person I've ever been a major fan of who I've completely turned on like I have with Nugent (although Gene Simmons is pushing his luck with me, big-time), but even though he’s a complete dickhead to me now, this man was once my Rock ‘N’ Roll idol, and now I remember why…

The "Motor City Madman" first came to fame as a member of Detroit’s Amboy Dukes, one of the first American hard Rock bands to emerge in the late ‘60s, who were best known for the classic "Journey To The Center of The Mind", as well as a primal remake of Joe Williams’ "Baby, Please Don’t Go" (later a Nugent concert staple).  The early lineup of the group clashed with Nugent’s anti-drug stance and most of them were replaced by the early ‘70s and Nugent added his name to the band’s official name.  The best album from the Amboy Dukes era was the final one, 1974’s Tooth, Fang & Claw, which featured the classic "Great White Buffalo" and a manic version of Chuck Berry’s "Maybelline".

Ted went solo (if you want to call it that—he still had a steady band) in 1975, and began working with singer-guitarist Derek St. Holmes on the eponymous Ted Nugent album, featuring the classic "Stranglehold" as well as "Hey Baby", which wound up being a fairly sizeable hit, and still gets regular airplay today on the radio and is also a bar-band standard.  St. Holmes’ smooth vocals combined with Nugent’s guitar playing was a formidable combination on tracks like "Stormtroopin’", "Just What The Doctor Ordered" and the hidden gem "Queen of The Forest", but Ted’s ego couldn’t handle having another member of his band—especially a good-looking one that female fans were partial to—stealing any of the spotlight from him, so for 1976’s Free-For-All, he brought in the then-unknown Meat Loaf to sing on several tracks just a year before he got really big (both literally and figuratively).  Even with his diminished role, St. Holmes still sang on standout tracks "Dog Eat Dog" and a personal favorite of mine, "Turn It Up".

The high point of Nugent’s career is 1977-78, as by that time he was selling out arenas and stadiums across the land on the strength of the Cat Scratch Fever LP.  The title track even made the Top 40 (at the height of the disco era, no less), and the album included the classic "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang", as well as three grossly underrated Nugent songs, "Sweet Sally", "Out of Control" and the instrumental "Home Bound".  Double Live Gonzo! followed in ’78 and documented Nugent in concert quite well, featuring a good mix of old and new songs (including "Yank Me, Crank Me" and "Gonzo"), but curiously, nothing from Free-For-All.  The album is worth it alone for Nugent’s stage raps—"Anybody wants to get mellow, you can turn around and get the fuck outta here!"; "This guitar can blow the balls of a charging rhino at 60 paces…"; "This is a love song—I wanna dedicate this to all that Nashville pussy…" (hence the band named Nashville Pussy).  Gonzo! was Nugent’s finest hour, in my opinion, and probably my second-favorite live album of all-time behind Kiss Alive!.

(Yes, I know, Alive! was loaded with overdubs and wasn’t totally live, but Kiss ain’t the only major band guilty of this practice--Cheap Trick At Budokan wasn’t all live either, nor was Frampton Comes Alive, and I have my suspicions that neither of W.A.S.P’s "live" albums were truly live at all! But I digress…)

Derek St. Holmes left Nugent to form Whitford-St. Holmes with Brad Whitford of Aerosmith during that band’s temporary disintegration in the late ‘70s, and Ted replaced him with singer-guitarist Charlie Huhn.  Huhn’s a decent singer, but he didn’t command near as much attention from the fans as St. Holmes did—just the way Nugent wanted it—but still, the next couple albums weren’t too shabby.  Although Weekend Warriors wasn’t chuck-full of hits, it was a very solid effort with great tunes like "Need You Bad", "I Got The Feelin’", "Cruisin'" and the title track.  State of Shock followed in 1979 with Nugent branching out a little by including a ballad called "Alone" (sung by Huhn) about his divorce from his wife Sandra (who later was killed while driving drunk in 1982) and a terrific cover version of George Harrison’s underrated Beatles tune "I Want To Tell You".  The album’s opening track, "Paralyzed", featured Ted playing with his wah-wah (pedal), and "Snake Charmer", "Bite Down Hard" were both standout tracks.  Then things began to unravel…

Nugent stumbled into the ‘80s with Scream Dream, an album I really liked at the time, but one that hasn’t aged well with me over the years, particularly because of sophomoric songs like "Wango Tango" and "Terminus Eldorado".  The wheels came off altogether in 1981 with the release of Intensities In 10 Cities, a live album that featured ten new tracks, each recorded in a different city while on tour.  As if the contrived album title wasn’t bad enough, the songs were even worse with bullshit macho bravado like "My Love Is Like A Tire Iron", "Spontaneous Combustion", "The Flying Lip Lock" and a really lame version of Wilson Pickett’s "Land of 1000 Dances" (which is a lame song to begin with, IMHO).  "Terrible Ted" was living up to his nickname here—that album was just abysmal!

Nugent’s career hit rock bottom with Intensities, and he never has fully recovered from it.  Long about that same time, Epic Records dropped him like a bad habit, and Ted also went bankrupt (blaming other people he had hired for it, rather than looking in the mirror first), but just when everyone was about to write him off, he made a nice little comeback after resurfacing on Atlantic Records with 1982’s Nugent album, and oh, what a coincidence—Derek St. Holmes was back!  Suddenly, the songwriting and vocals improved and the record was pretty solid, featuring songs like "Good And Ready", "Fightin’ Words" and "Bound And Gagged", Nugent’s reaction to the Iran hostage crisis that he sang with great gusto, back when his psuedo-patriotism actually seemed sincere.  Unfortunately, the reunion with St. Holmes was short-lived, and Nugent slid backwards with 1984’s Penetrator, featuring singer Brian Howe (who later joined Bad Company) and most of Billy Squier’s band, plus something I never thought I’d hear on a Ted Nugent record (gulp!)—synthesizers!  Little Miss Dangerous in 1986 was pretty lackluster too, and Nuge bottomed-out again in 1988 on the uninspired If You Can’t Lick ‘Em…Lick ‘Em, with Ted handling all the vocals himself.  Surprisingly, the result was downright dull—a rare description for any Nugent record.  The only halfway-decent track on that album was "That’s The Story Of Love", for which Nugent needed an assist from Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora just to reach mediocrity.

Then came the Damn Yankees era, which gave Ted a perfect excuse to abandon his own career for a while and play with two guys from bands he used to term "wimpy"—Tommy Shaw of Styx and Jack Blades of Night Ranger.  The two DY albums were highly successful, but Nugent's contribution to them is barely noticeable at times—they could have just as easily brought in Neal Schon of Journey or Craig Chaquico of Jefferson Starship and those albums would have sold just as well because the material was more of a draw than Nugent's name.  After recently watching a Damn Yankees concert video on VH-1 Classic, it really hit me how out-of-place the Rev. Theodosius Atrocious looked with this band—sorta like if David Lee Roth joined Toto or something...

Nugent somehow managed to re-emerge in 1995 with his best album in years, Spirit of The Wild, and wouldn’t you know it, Derek St. Holmes was back again!  Anyone notice a pattern here?  The album went largely unnoticed, but I thought it was a damn good record with St. Holmes’ vocals standing out on "Heart And Soul" and the title track.  It also included a song Nugent originally recorded in 1989 for some wildlife cause called "Fred Bear".  Even though I couldn’t give a monkey’s spleen about hunting, I still think it’s a cool song all the same.  Spirit also contains what has become a Nugent concert staple, "Kiss My Ass", replete with its role call of people who chafe Ted’s hiney—the Clintons, Janet Reno, Howard Stern, liberals, et al.  I simply substitute Dubya, Cheney, Geraldo, Bill O’Reilly, Barry Bonds, etc., when I sing along to it and the song works just dandy!

Sadly, we haven’t heard much musically from Sweaty Teddy since then, just a lot of radical right wing vitriol and bigotry, but I’ve been through that already (see my December entry "Fallen Idols").  I do have one new little point about Ted that I previously omitted:  if Nugent is so gung-ho about the military and defending his country, then where was he during the Vietnam War?  Oh, that’s right—his tour of duty then was with the Amboy Dukes, not the Armed Services…

My all-time Ted Nugent Top 10:
1) "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" [Live] (1978)
2) "Stormtroopin'" [Live] (1978)
3) "Turn It Up" (1976)
4) "Great White Buffalo" [Live] (1978)
5) "Motor City Madhouse" [Live] (1978)
6) "Just What The Doctor Ordered" (1975)
7) "Kiss My Ass" (1995)
8) "Bound And Gagged" (1982)
9) "Free-For-All" (1976)
10) "Home Bound" (1977)

No comments: