Saturday, March 1, 2008

Black is Black

Time to salute yet another favorite band of mine, those swingin' cats from Birmingham, EnglandBlack Sabbath.  Any band that releases their debut album on Friday the 13th is alright in my book!

Truth to tell, I wasn't much impressed with Sabbath when I first heard them.  "Iron Man" got played to death on the radio, and I never did much care for it (I still don't, honestly), but when I first heard "Paranoid", I thought there might be something there after all.  Ironically, it wasn't until Ozzy Osbourne left Sabbath that I began to fully appreciate what we had here.  First off, I loved that first album they made with Ronnie James Dio in 1980, Heaven And Hell, and when Ozzy recorded his 1982 live album Speak Of The Devilcomprised solely of Black Sabbath tunesI became a convert to the church of Sabbath (in the loosest sense).  "Children Of The Grave" blew me away, as did the underrated "Never Say Die" and "Symptom Of The Universe".  Initially it seemed like both Sabbath and Ozzy were going to be wildly successful in the '80suntil the lead singer carousel started spinning for Sabbath as Dio was replaced by Deep Purple's Ian Gillan, and he was replaced by Glenn Hughes, and he was replaced by Tony Martin, etc., while the Ozz-Man lapped up the gravy.

Throughout it all, there is no denying what a great riff-meister guitarist Tony Iommi is.  Apart from Hendrix, he's the greatest left-handed guitar player ever, and one of the most underrated, too.  Much has been made about him losing the tip of one of the fingers on his right hand in an industrial accident (which is barely noticeable when you look at it), but I don't think it was that big a dealthe guy just plain knows his way around the ol' fretboard!

In a weird twist of fate, Black Sabbath's 1973 album Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath became one of my favorites of theirs on September 11, 2001.  Apart from the song "Sabbra Caddabra", I hadn't thought much of that record until then, but I played it that night while I e-mailed friends and sought comfort, mostly because Ozzy screams "You bastards!" during the title track, thus echoing my feelings very succinctly.  As the CD tracked out, I noted a couple other really cool songs from it, namely "Killing Yourself To Live" and especially "Spiral Architect".  As prolific as the Ozzy years were, the post-Ozzy years of Sabbath had their moments too, so I'll separate them as I count down my favorite Sab songs of all-time:

My All-Time Top 10 Black Sabbath Songs (Ozzy-era)
10) "War Pigs" (1970)  "Time will tell on their empowered mindsmaking war just for fun."  Sound familiar?
9) "Fairies Wear Boots" (1970)  Yes, I knowdrugs are bad, mmmm-kay?  Still, this is one of the funniest Sabbath songs ever.  "Fairy with boots on, dancing with a dwarf...I saw it, I saw it with my own two eyes!"
8) "Symptom Of The Universe" (1975)  Ozzy opened his 1982 show/live album with this one, and it wasn't a bad choice.  Crunchy riff from Iommi, too.
7) "A Hard Road" (1978)  Not to be confused with the Deep Purple song "Hard Road (Wring That Neck)".  Even though Ozzy was pretty fucked-up at this juncture, he still managed to sing his heart out on songs like this, and for such a "downer" band, this was a pretty uplifting song.
6) "N.I.B." (1970)  "Nativity In Black", "Nobody In Between", "Never In Boston"hell, I don't know what it stands for, nor do I care!  It's just a really cool riff and a really cool song...
5) "Spiral Architect" (1973) See above.  One of those songs that's really grown on me since 9-11.
4) "Never Say Die" (1978)  This was Ozzy's swan song with the band, but ironically it festered a positive outlook on life in general.
3) "Sabbra Caddabra" (1973)  I love the first two minutes of this song with Iommi's catchy guitar figure and Ozzy's enthusiastic vocals.  Sadly, it gets bogged-down during the second half of the song with synthesizers and such...
2) "Paranoid" (1970)  Downright irresistible riff and great lyrics courtesy of bassist Geezer Butler.  "Can you help me occupy my brain?"
1) "Children Of The Grave" (1971)  Another killer riff here, and I just love the overall attitude of the song, which is very anti-war/anti-nuclear.  My favorite version of it is Ozzy's live take on it with the late Randy Rhoads on the Tribute album.  Check out Ozzy's platforms in the video here, too!

My Top 10 All-Time Black Sabbath Songs (Post-Ozzy era):
10) "I Witness" (1994)  Love the continually-climbing guitar figure from Iommi during the intro here, and Tony Martin's vocals are very Dio-esque throughout...
9) "The Mob Rules" (1981)  Title track off Sabbath's second Dio record that promised great things.  Unfortunately, the rest of the album was pretty flaccid...
8) "The Shining" (1987)  No, Jack Nicholson's not in this one, but it's a nasty little song, all the same...
7) "T.V. Crimes" (1992)  Nice little body-slam on T.V. evangelists courtesy of Mr. Dio.  Oh, please, send me a plastic Jesus!
6) "Hard Life To Love" (1987)  For you Sabbath fans who overlooked the Eternal Idol album, I highly suggest you check it outit doesn't suck!  That would be future Kiss drummer Eric Singer on the skins, btw...
5) "Trashed" (1983)  From the poorly-recorded, yet highly-energetic Born Again album with Ian Gillan on vocals.  The big downside here is how it celebrates drunk driving, which is never cool...
4) "Heaven And Hell" (1980)  R.J. Dio's signature song.  For a brief while, anyway, no one seemed to miss Ozzy...
3) "In For The Kill" (1986)  The only even halfway-decent song from the "Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi" periodthis thing could move in nextdoor to you and make your lawn die!  Killer fucking riff here, and the song succeeds in spite of Glenn Hughes' screeching vocals.
2) "Lost Forever" (1987)  Tony Martin's finest hour.  "All your life you've been slippin' and slidin', trying to find a way..."  Kinda sums up my life story, in a lot of ways...
1) "Neon Knights" (1980)  Ronnie James Dio's finest hour.  True, "Heaven And Hell" was Dio's signature song, but this sucker came charging out of the gates with Iommi's chugga-chugga-chugga riff and it never let up.  "Your captain's at the helm," indeed!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Concert Trek--Episode 6

Before I resume on this little musical journey thru the past, I have need to do a little house-cleaning first.  I began this anthology with Summer Jam ’79, featuring Ted Nugent, which I consider to be the first true Rock concert I ever attended, but there were actually a couple others before that which are worth noting.  First, there was the summer of ’71 when my entire family (except Dad) attended the Paul Revere & The Raiders concert at Starlight Theater when was a mere seven years old.  As good as my memory is, I can’t dial up too much from that show because I was so young, apart from my brother begging me not to sing along with Mark Lindsay on "Arizona", as I was often prone to do at home.  When I met Mr. Lindsay in person in 2001, he said that a lot of people claimed to have been at that show while he was signing autographs.  The only other big-name act I ever recall seeing live prior to ’79 was Three Dog Night (or what was left of them, anyway) in 1978 at Worlds of Fun's amphitheater, and they were so bad we left in the middle of the show.  They didn’t even sing any of their big hits.  Good thing the show didn’t cost us anything extra to attend, or we’d have been royally pissed!

In rummaging through my old concert ticket stubs, I was also reminded of the Robin Williams show at Starlight on June 19, 1982, and although technically it wasn’t a music concert, Robin’s opening act was John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful, who played a solo acoustic set.  Not a terribly enthralling performance, but I loved his intro to the song "Welcome Back" when he said, "This one helped pay for my new house."  Robin was pretty funny that night, as one might expect, and practically reveling over the recent cancellation of "Mork & Mindy".  Okay, enough palaver—let's re-board the ol' Way Back Machine…

26) Z.Z.Top/Quiet Riot (Friday, June 10, 1983—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $11.50

To date, this is the closest I’ve come to attending a concert on my birthday (June 11th), and after thoroughly enjoying that Little ‘ol Band from Tejas the first time, I was quite pumped to see them again, and they didn’t disappoint.  They hit the ground running with the opening number, "Got Me Under Pressure" from the new Eliminator album, and they didn’t let up all night.  Eliminator provided a treasure trove of new songs to mix in with the old favorites, like "Sharp Dressed Man", "Gimme All Your Lovin’" and the underrated "Dirty Dog".  Surprisingly, they didn’t play "Legs", which wasn’t actually a hit until the following year, thanks to the classic video for it on MTV.  Rev. Billy G. was wailing away on his guitar all night, and this was just another damn good Z.Z. Top show.  It’s too bad they’ve never put out any full-length concert videos (or albums, for that matter) from back in the day to display what a truly great live band they were.

Quiet Riot opened the show with a most excellent opening set, and on that night I thought we might be seeing a band that would dominate the rest of the ‘80s—another Van Halen, you might say.  Alas, as we all know now, they were already at the apex of their career, as "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)" and "Cum On Feel The Noize" were all over MTV and the radio.  Too bad the late Kevin DuBrow’s ego and machismo did Quiet Riot in so quickly—they coulda been a contender.  In a strange twist of fate, Quiet Riot opened for Z.Z Top in Kansas City again just this past September in one of DuBrow’s final performances before his death in November.

27) Dave Edmunds/Jim Sweney & The Jump Shotz (Thursday, June 16, 1983—Uptown Theater) Ticket price: ???

DE and crew blew through town again just a little over a year after his splendid show in ’82 at the Uptown.  Although not quite as splendid as the first time, Dave still put on a great show with his band, which this time around included former Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner, whom Dave handed the vocal chores over to on "Trouble Boys".  The show was loaded with stuff from Dave’s new LP Information, on which he collaborated with E.L.O.’s Jeff Lynne, and which was loaded with synthesizers and—horror of horrors—electronic drums!  In the words of Deep Purple’s Ian Paice, "There is no such animal."  While the "Edmunds Light Orchestra" sound did net him a Top 40 single with "Slipping Away", it wasn’t nearly as pleasing as his previous output of just plain stripped-down old-school Rock ‘N’ Roll, therefore this show didn’t totally satisfy me, although it still was quite good.

I can’t remember a thing about the opening act, but with a name like Jim Sweney & The Jump Shotz, it seems they would have slotted in perfectly on the soundtrack of the average Scott Baio movie.

28) Journey/Bryan Adams (Tuesday, July 12, 1983—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $12.50

It seemed in the early ‘80s like Journey could do no wrong, and everything they touched turned to gold.  They were all over the radio and MTV, and they even had their own arcade video game, which I remember playing often while cutting class during college!  Journey was also selling concerts out right and left, and they had no trouble packing Kemper on their Frontiers tour.

This show was noteworthy, if for no other reason, because it was the first time we’d seen a band utilize video screens to enhance their show, a practice that is now standard operating procedure at most concerts.  The screens came in real handy for us too, as we had nosebleed seats at a fairly severe angle toward stage right.  As for Journey’s set, it was pretty much what we expected, with Steve Perry wailing and crooning, and girls swooning over him during songs like "Open Arms" and "Faithfully".  I particularly enjoyed the underrated guitar work of Neal Schon, as well as the equally-underrated Steve Smith, who was no slouch on the drums.

What’s ironic is I remember Bryan Adams’ opening set more fondly than Journey’s, mostly because he and his band damn near blew them off the stage.  "Cuts Like A Knife" was the highlight of the evening for either act, and I remember BA’s song "Take Me Back" got a pretty good reaction after he went into some bit about telling his ex-girlfriend to fuck off (or something like that).  It was actually rather fun to see an upstart like Adams give the opening act a run for its money for a change.

29) The Police/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (Sunday, July 24, 1983—St. Louis Arena) Ticket price: $12.50

In the summer of ’83, my best friend Tom and I were both 19 and we decided it was high time we did our first road trip together.  Tom’s birthday was July 23rd, and it just so happened that The Police’s Synchronicity tour was booked for St. Louis for the night after, so we opted to pay a visit to the Gateway City in what turned out to be a busy weekend.  After frying in the sun all day at Six Flags on Friday (and whiffing on a chance to see Divinyls in concert there), and taking in the Cardinals-Dodgers game at Busch Stadium on Saturday night, we did the concert Sunday night, which was the first of many visits for me to venerable St. Louis Arena.  The Arena was then owned by the Ralston-Purina Co., and known as The Checkerdome, but I refuse to call it by that awful name.

Oh, there was one other interesting little component to our road trip—it was fucking hot!!  Damn hot!!  Stupid-hot!!  The great Heat Wave of ’83 had this region in its evil grips for pretty much all of July, with daily high temperatures reaching triple-digits with alarming regularity, and this may well have been the hottest weekend of them all.  Thankfully, Tom’s ’79 El Camino held up quite well throughout the trip, as did its air-conditioner, and ditto for the A/C in our hotel just a few blocks down Oakland Avenue from The Arena.  Their shaded swimming pool was a most welcome relief for us, too!

Another quick aside:  Tom and I found ourselves with some time to kill before the concert on Sunday afternoon, so we hung out in Forest Park, which was just a Frisbee's toss from The Arena.  We tossed a Frisbee around for a bit while listening to the radio, and that’s how we heard something about George Brett going berserk at Yankee Stadium that afternoon.  Yes, folks, the infamous Pine Tar affair took place that day, and upon hearing the news, Tom and I were both like "Huh?"  We couldn’t wait to get home to see the video of it, but there was the little matter of attending a concert first.

As for the concert itself, it was déjà vu all over again as we got the same bill as from the year before with Joan Jett opening for The Police.  Nothing special about Joan’s set this time, as I recall, and I found myself more interested in checking out the building itself while she played.  Even though the place had A/C, it still felt like a sauna all night.  The Police came on a while later, opening with "Synchronicity I" from the new album.  This time around, they augmented their show with a horn section for certain songs, and three chirpy girl back-up singers (a gambit I’ve never particularly cared for at Rock concerts).  The show leaned pretty heavy on the new album, and with good reason, as there was so much good material from it, especially "Synchronicity II".  Every time I hear that song (along with Stevie Nicks’ "Stand Back" and "Don’t Cry" by Asia), it reminds me of St. Louis because those songs were all over the radio that weekend.

Then about midway through the show near the end of a song, Sting announces that the band was going to "take a little break and go have a spot of tea."  Take a break?  Spot of tea?!?  Confounded, man, this is Rock ‘N’ Roll, not the New Christy Minstrels!  I know it was a hot night, but considering these guys were still in their ‘20s/’30s and only played a little over two hours, I didn’t see much need for an intermission—Sting, buddy, you’re worthless and weak!  Anyway, they disappeared for about 15 minutes, then continued on with the show, which overall, was quite good.  In fact, I found both Police concerts I attended in ‘82 and ’83 satisfying enough that I have no desire whatsoever to shuck out upwards of $200 to see them at Sprint Center on their current "We’re only in it for the money" tour.  It only cost me a total $24 to see them twice back when it was real.  Sorry, Sting…

30) AC/DC /Fastway (Wednesday, October 26, 1983--Kemper Arena) Ticket price: ???

In spite of touring for the rather forgettable A Flick Of The Switch album, AC/DC put on a pretty damn good show on this night, and what most pleasantly surprised me was how good they sounded.  Considering how raw as AC/DC's records sounded, I feared they would sound about as fidelic as the Sex Pistols in concert, but how wrong I wasthis concert had some of the best audio of any that I've attended, yet was still plenty loud.  I also marveled at Angus Young and how he could roll around on the floor and still not miss a note!  He did all his usual antics too, including mooning the audience and appearing to have epileptic fits all night.  This little dude is one fine guitar player, though.  Singer Brian Johnson belted out the vocals loud and clear on classics like "Back In Black" and "Hells Bells", and he sounded great on the old Bon Scott songs as well.  "For Those About To Rock" provided the perfect closer with its cannon fire.  Strangely enough, as much as I love AC/DC, this was the one and only time I ever saw them live in concert.

The opening act, Fastway, was on their own little roll with their self-titled debut LP and the hit "Say What You Will", as well as a song called "Easy Livin'" (not to be confused with the Uriah Heep song of the same name).  At the time, I was blissfully unaware that guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke already had amassed a fine body of work with a band I would fall in love with about five years later, the mighty Motörhead.  Fastway's set wasn't anything earth-shattering, but it didn't suck, either.


I hope to hell these guys at least sound like Journey, 'cuz they sure's hell don't look like 'em! I'm curious if the dude on the right is supposed to be Steve Perry or if he ate Steve Perry!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Drive-by blogging

Just a few odds and ends today...

MYRON COPE, 1928-2007
During a long road trip in 1992 while cruising the Pennsylvania Turnpike en route to Philadelphia on a beautiful Fall Sunday afternoon, I dialed up the Pittsburgh Steelers game on the radio.  At the time, I was totally unfamiliar with this strange announcer dude they had who sounded like the late Larry "Bud" Melman (on steroids), but I came to learn later on that this guy was a Steel City legend, one Myron Cope.  Unlike their baseball brethren, football radio announcers aren't quite as well-known since they only play once a week and all the games are on TV anyway, but Mr. Cope was an exception to that rulethis guy was as popular in Pittsburgh as Terry Bradshaw, Willie Stargell and Mario Lemieux, and he passed away today at age 79.  Also known for creating the Steelers' dreaded "Terrible Towel", Cope had his own unique lexicon of phrases"Yoi!", "Okel-Dokel" and "Double Yoi!", for exampleand he had the longest continuous tenure with the same team (1970-2004) of any broadcaster in NFL history.  Rest in peace, Myron, ya crazy mutha!

The Chicago Cubs' top brass are now saying they haven't ruled out selling the naming rights to Wrigley Field.  First off, if they think I'm going to call the Friendly Confines anything else besides Wrigley Field (or Friendly Confines), they're nuckin' futs.  Second off, isn't "Wrigley Field" already a corporate moniker?

In case you're wondering why I had no commentary on the Academy Awards, I have to confess that I slept through most of the broadcast Sunday night.  I lasted about 20 minutes into the show before Morpheus went to work on me.  I got tired of looking at George Clooney every other minute anyway.  Just a couple brief thoughtsJon Stewart is totally out of his element as host here.  Might I suggest bringing back Billy Crystal?...I could really have done without the big tattoo on the shoulder of that Diablo chick that won for Juno...Can we please make it a rule that heterosexual men over the age of 50 who aren't Rock stars should not be allowed to wear earrings?  This goes for you, Harrison Ford and Daniel Day-Lewis!...Apparently I missed my girl Renee Zellweger presenting an award while I was snoozingd'oh!...Of all the flicks that won awards, La Vie En Rose looks to be the most interesting.  I read the bio on the late Edith Piaf, and her life story was one big soap opera, so the movie might be well worth a look, even with FrenchI'm sorry, Freedomsubtitles...And finally, I was impressed that they somehow managed to finish this show off ten minutes early for a change.  That writer's strike must have done some good, after all...

"N.I.B."--BLACK SABBATH (1970)  "The sun, the moon, the stars--all bear my seal."  Or as I thought Ozzy sang it, "The sun, the moon, the starsall that I steal..."

Seems there's quite a buzz this week in the tabloid world about a sex video featuring famous blood-spitter Gene Simmons.  The site where it originated has been taken down, but you can see a couple brief clips of it here.  Evidently in the fully-erect version of the video, one gets to see Gene's manhood full-monty, and based on what I've read, he's hung more like a chihuahua than a pit bull, as he would have you believeergo, there's apparently enough room in those codpieces he wears on-stage to park a Hummer.

Meantime, the Simmons camp issued the following statement on his website:

You should know for the record, the garbage was recorded without my knowledge and is a page from my past.  It happened and there's nothing I can do to repair that.  The black and white footage may have been decades old.  The entity behind the garbage has repeatedly tried to make money off of this and we have always refused.  This is not the first time the entity has tried to blackmail and extort us.  We have always refused and we will continue to refuse.  I'm told the legal team has been tracking down the parties involved and they will be dealt with appropriately.  Most importantly, the love I have for Shannon, Soph and Nick I hope is evident in our relationship.  Yes.  We have a TV show, but the people in the show are real and the love you see between us is real.

Okay, why should this video even faze our beloved tongue-wagging bat-lizard?  After all, this is the same guy who's spent the past 30 years bragging about shagging 3,000 womena claim which I have never ever boughtand the "entity" he refers to is merely one of his supposed conquests.  I've said it before, and I'll say it againif Gene Simmons doinked as many women as he boasts about, he'd be dead by now!  Come on, Gene, let's see video of your other 2,999 "entities", and maybe then I'll believe you.  Once again, as Fred Sanford said to Merv Griffin, "I used to like youDummy!"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Classic Old-School Store Chain #1

Time to salute an oldie but a goodie, the old T.G.&Y. store (AKA the "dime store").  Long before Target and Wal-Mart took over everything, we had smaller all-purpose stores like these to shop in when I was a kid.  In Raytown, we basically had three non-grocery stores my family frequentedSam's Drugs (not to be confused with Sam's Club), Spartan Atlantic and T.G.&Y. (which stood for Thomlinson, Gosselin & Young).  I was always more partial to the smaller stores like in the top photo, as opposed to the big "Family Centers" like in this pic.  It seemed like they always had everything Mom and I ever needed when we dropped in there.  I miss stores like these (sorry, but Dollar General doesn't cut it), so I plan to salute them from time to time.