classic rock

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

Part Eight of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (2009)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983 (2009 deluxe edition)

Leppard were riding high when they hit the L.A. Forum in 1983.  Pyromania was selling hot enough that every kid in the neighbourhood had heard at least one of its singles on the radio.  MTV was factoring in now, and its impact can’t be understated.  Leppard had some high budget and good looking videos on offer.  Their live show was just as impressive.

Widely bootlegged, the second night in Los Angeles must have felt like a victory lap, even though there were still months left on the tour.  They hit the stage psyched to perform.  Earlier, Frank Zappa phoned up to ask if he could score some tickets for his kids, Moon Unit and Dweezil.  Members of Van Halen and Heart were in attendance.  Best of all, Queen legend Brian May was in town, and he surprised  Leppard by playing them the twin guitar part of their hit “Photohraph” all by himself!

Remixed and remastered, the second L.A. show is now easily available on the Pyromania deluxe edition — the first official release of a live album with Steve Clark, although it did not come until 2009.

“Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is a natural opener.  Since it already opened Pyromania itself, it was well suited, but its extended (taped) intro made for a dramatic band entrance.  Joe’s road-worn scream is employed to great effect.  Even so slightly faster than LP, “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” defined the mood.  Rock rock till you drop indeed!  Keeping with the “Rock” theme, “Rock Brigade” was locked and loaded for the second spot.  It sounds fresh with Phil Collen on lead guitar and backing vocals.  His solo is balls-out technical, and completely unlike those of Pete Willis.

Joe pauses to say “good evening”, and then it’s straight into “Saturday Night (High ‘N’ Dry)”.  This ode to getting wasted from 1981 is not a vast departure from the album version despite Phil amping up the guitar work.  Into “Another Hit and Run”, it’s pure adrenaline and foot on the gas pedal.  Screaming into the ether, Joe sings of youthful self-destruction.  It turns into a jam towards the end, before careening through the finish line.

“Billy’s Got a Gun” is one of those songs that can get a bit rickety live, but this version is solid.  The excellent “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes” follows, and it’s very slightly revised to increase the tension.  Some won’t notice the differences.  As usual, the chorus kills.  It’s been all album cuts thus far, and no hits.  But then Joe invites Steve Clark to the spotlight to play an acoustic guitar solo, which becomes “Foolin'”, the first of the three massive hits rolled out in a row.  This might be considered the center of the show:  “Foolin'”, “Photograph” and (a slightly fast) “Rock of Ages”.  Each one a perfect gem, but with the live edge intact.  To take it over the top, a ragged “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”, Leppard’s other recognisable hit, is rolled out immediately after.  What do you do for an encore?  We’ll get to that.

“Switch 625” follows “Heartbreak” as it should.  With the hits behind them, Leppard spend the end of the set rocking really, really heavy.  “Switch 625” is already a steamer, but it’s followed by “Let It Go”, “Wasted” and an encore tease, and then “Stagefright”.  Clearly, this setlist was designed to rock!  “Wasted” in particular stands out from this trio.  Phil’s blazing solo technique adds that extra dimension to the song, but it is just as amped up and the best versions from the early years.

But “Stagefright” isn’t the real encore.

“Right, I said we got a surprise for ya.  And we have a big one at that.  Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome all the way from England — Queen’s Brian May!”

Queen were not on tour, but they were in Los Angeles recording their 1984 album The Works.  The long friendship between Leppard and Queen began right here.  A cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelling Band” is the earliest recording of Joe and May together, but certainly not the last!  This is not only a piece of history, but it’s a brilliant track!  Joe’s screaming voice is strangely well suited to an overblown CCR cover.  But hearing the guitar trio solo together, each with their own style, is the real icing on the cake.  May is so creamy!

There are no other live releases from the Pyromania era, and the band’s sound transformed permanently when they next hit the road.  This live album is the end of an era, and an excellent good time of it too.

5/5 stars

The Pyromania tour wrapped up 18 December in Dortmund Germany, another two-nighter.  Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, Rick Allen had the car accident that severed his left arm.  In a heartbreaking twist, the arm was reattached, but after an infection set in, had to be removed again.  This devastating tragedy united the band.  Ambulance-chasers were ready and waiting to take the drum stool away from Rick Allen, but the band refused to see it as the end for the drummer.  We all know what happens next.  It was total Hysteria!

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  • Hysteria

REVIEW: Aerosmith – The Road Starts Hear (2021)

AEROSMITH – The Road Starts Hear (2021 Universal RSD vinyl)

Are Aerosmith kicking off a series of official bootlegs too?  That would be just swell!  The label on this record indicates it comes from the “Vindaloo Vaults”.  It seems likely there would be more in the vaults besides this October 1971 recording.  But even if this is all there is, we sure got lucky.  This tape from Boston is Aerosmith’s earliest known recording, and sounds bloody great.  Currently it’s only available on RSD vinyl, but don’t be surprised if it gets a CD reissue when Aerosmith re-release their entire catalogue.

Aerosmith’s first LP was different.  Tyler hadn’t found his voice yet.  The distortion wasn’t cranked up.  But there is certainly a fondness for that period, which birthed “Dream On” and a number of other classics.  That’s the setting for The Road Starts Hear.

This record commences with some slow, laid back guitars jamming on “Somebody” while the people in the venue chit and chat amongst themselves.  Then it really starts – Tyler kicking it up, but drummer Joey Kramer being the real driving force.  This recording is clear!  There is some minor distortion on Tyler’s microphone, but you can hear both guitars distinctly, along with bass, drums and cymbals.

The blues cover “Reefer Head Woman” wasn’t recorded by Aerosmith properly until 1979’s Night in the Ruts, but this version predates the familiar by eight years!  They’re very different but both boast a Steven Tyler harmonica solo.  This transitions into “Walkin’ the Dog”, slower and bluesier than the other versions out there.  This is a long jam, and for the brilliant guitar work, it’s likely the best take of “Walkin’ the Dog” that you’ll hear.

“Moving Out” leads side two, definitely edgy and sharp.  Tyler is at the top of his game and the rest of the dudes provide the momentum.  Then they lay back on “Major Barbara”, another song they didn’t release until much later.  Though they did record it in a proper studio in 1974 for Get Your Wings, it didn’t get a release until it was added as a bonus to Classics Live in 1987!  On this version, listen for a detour into “Hail to the Bus Driver”!

“Dream On” is fully realized, Tyler tinkling on the piano, but the guitar solos still in prototypical form.  This brilliant version is probably the heaviest.  Finally “Mama Kin” closes the record, a bit different than the way it sounds on the Aerosmith album: more garage-y.

What a band Aerosmith always were!  The chemistry is evident on their earliest recordings, as is their hard edged approach to rocking the blues.  You cannot go wrong with this record.

4/5 stars

AERO-REVIEWS:

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RE-REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (Bonus tracks)

Original review:  2016-09-27

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (Reissue with bonus demos)

By the time the Four Horsemen managed to get a second album on the shelves, it was already far too late.

It didn’t matter how good the album was; the climate was completely different in 1996.  Not only had grunge come, but it had already gone!  Sadly, so had original T4H drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery.   He was not the only casualty.  Struck by a drunk driver in late 1995, their charismatic frontman Frank C. Starr fell into a coma he would never come out of.  (Starr finally passed away in 1999.)  The Horsemen had a second album in the can with Starr, but were all but out of action.

Even though the debut was produced by the biggest name in 90s rock, Rick Rubin, the mercurial Starr had always been the key.  When the band first arrived, his shriekin’ AC/DC mannerisms earned the band some series MTV play.  The frontman had a whole lot to do with that.  Then he blew it.  Starr wound up in jail for a year while Kurt Cobain took over, something addressed in the lyrics on several tracks.  Horsemen guitarist Haggis attempted to move on with new singer Tim Beattie and, through trials and tribulations, recorded a southern rock album called Daylight Again that was not released.  Then guitarist Dave Lizmi tried to give the can one more kick, and reunited with Starr for what could have been an incredible second ride.  They had the tunes to back it up, and Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By is the proof.  With Canadians Randy Cooke on drums and Pharoah Barrett on bass, they finally had a second Horsemen album on the shelves.  But with Starr in a coma, they were stuck in the mud once again.  They toured with Little Caesar vocalist Ron Young doing an admirable job of it, but it was the end.

For shame.  A forgotten album that could have been mega was largely ignored.

You can’t really tell that Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By was made through such hardship.  The songs are largely upbeat and party-hardy.  The exceptions are the contemplative “Song for Absent Friends”, dedicated to the passed Dimwit Montgomery, and the angry “Back in Business Again”.  This ode to Seattle was certainly not a love letter to Kurt or Eddie.  Singing about his year in jail, Starr says he “heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers, complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down.”  Ouch.

Otherwise, this a rip roarin’, liquor snortin’ good time.  “Lots of whiskey and beer!”  Starr’s singing style had changed too.  No longer was he trying to be Brian Johnson (one has to assume doing that is hard on the voice).  Singing in a more natural throat, Starr could still pull it off, just shoutin’ instead of screamin’.

Here’s something else:  13 tracks, and no filler.  Not one skipper, and more variety than the first LP.  Most of the tracks are fast or mid-tempo rock n’ rollers, adorned with some absolutely stunning lead guitar work from Dave Lizmi.  The man has not seen a slide or a wah-wah pedal he couldn’t master, and the album is drenched in that kind of feel.  It also sounds more loose.  Frankie seems to crack up laughing mid-sentence on “Drunk Again”.   “It’s been 40 days since I looked at my face (laughs)…ah shit…”

Some of the tunes that deviate from the norm are the highlights.  “Song For Absent Friends” hits hard, right in the feels.  “And I know that you all are out there somewhere, on a leave of absence from this place.”  Then there’s the aforementioned “Back in Business Again”, probably the heaviest tune the Horsemen have put to tape.  The anger is palpable, but it’s not without a smile and a wink.  It’s more a declaration of the kind of music the Four Horsemen represent in the era of “wussy rock n’ rollers” from some “nowhere town”.  As Frank sings, they’re a “trail blazin’, skin lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, motherfuckin’ rock and roll band”.  The exact opposite of the kind of groups Frank seemed to despise.

There are a couple singalongs (“My Song” and “Hit the Road”) and the traditional Horsemen album closing epic.  Seven minutes long, Frankie asks “What the Hell Went Wrong”, and I’m sure there are many different answers to that question.  A slow blues rocker with some sweet organ, it’s kind of like two songs in one.  They pulled a similar trick on the debut album with a track called “I Need a Thrill / Something Good”.  Regardless, when Lizmi starts soloing it goes into epic territory.

Like other Horsemen releases, Gettin’ Pretty Good was reissued on CD by the band with bonus tracks.  These are 1995 demos for “Livin’ These Blues”, “Keep Your Life” and “Hit the Road”.  All three tracks differ in some ways from the album versions, either in lyrics or solos. These feature Canadian Ken Montgomery’s brother, Chuck Biscuits, on drums.*  Surprisingly, the soulful backing vocals on “Livin’ These Blues” was there from the demo stage.  The demo of “Hit the Road” is even looser than the already pretty lubricated album version!  More twangy, too, with a wicked dobro solo.  The demo of “Hit the Road” is probably the superior take for its genuine party atmosphere.

These albums are finally available from the Horsemen shop on CD once more.  You know what to do.

5/5 stars

* Drum credits confirmed by Pharoah Barrett.

COMPLETE FOUR HORSEMEN:

  1. Record Store Tales #224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business
  2. Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  3. Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  4. Nobody Said It Was Easy (2018 double vinyl LP)
  5. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  6. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By… (1996)
  7. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  8. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)
  9. Death Before Suckass – Live at Miami Arena (DVD)

 

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania (1983)

Part Seven of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (1983)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania (1983 Polygram)

Disruption!  Midway through the recording of Def Leppard’s crucial third album, guitarist Pete Willis was fired.  It had been coming for a while.  His alleged alcohol consumption was causing problems and the band had their eye on Phil Collen from Girl already.  They were lucky to get Phil, as he had already been approached about joining Iron Maiden to replace Dennis Stratton.

This was serious.  Once again working with “Mutt” Lange, whose schedule was booked solid, time was money.  And music, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a business.  The third Def Leppard album was critical.  The potential of the band was not underestimated.  “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” made the top 20 in the US and the new album was intended to do better.  Lange has a songwriting credit on every song, indicating the level to which he was involved to make the album as perfect as could be.  It took 10 months to record, a mind-numbingly long time to the young band.  If only they knew….

Pete Willis had writing credits on four songs, including two singles.  With rhythm guitars laid down on all tracks by Willis, Collen just needed to whip up a few solos and finish off some bits and pieces.  He and Steve Clark made a formidable duo.  Collen had a more schooled sound than Willis and the contrast added a new dimension to Leppard’s solos.  Meanwhile, the songs were streamlined.  Sleaker, more hooks per minute, more direct…more commercial.

Some feel this is where Def Leppard started to go over the cliff.  The majority probably see it as Def Leppard becoming the real Def Leppard.

The opening music would have been familiar to anyone who caught Def Leppard live in the early years.  “Medicine Man” was an early track with an absolutely killer Clark riff.  With Mutt’s help they re-wrote it into the now-esteemed “Rock! Rock! Till You Drop”, but that riff is still the main feature.  After the headbanging commences, a screamin’ Joe Elliott lays down one of his most raging lead vocals.  Collen’s style is audible from the solo; a fretburner.  “Rock! Rock!” isn’t really that far off from High ‘N’ Dry, but you can tell it’s spent more time at the polishing wheel.  The production also seems colder and more clinical.

The triumphant “Photograph” really showed where Leppard were going.  Sure there’s a riff, but the main features here are the vocal melodies and harmonies.  Noticeable keyboard accents de-clawed the Leppard, and the sweetened harmonies have the full-on Mutt Lange treatment that you hear elsewhere with Bryan Adams and Billy Ocean.  None of that is necessarily a bad thing, but this is where Def Leppard decidedly left the New Wave of British Heavy Metal behind them.  “Photograph” went to #1 in the United States.  Mission accomplished.

Track three, “Stagefright” opens with a faux-live intro and a biting riff.  Credited to Joe Elliott, Mutt Lange and Rick Savage, it’s surprisingly one of the heaviest songs.  Back then Joe’s voice could deliver both menace and melody simultaneously, and he does that here.

While not a deep cut (#9 US), “Too Late For Love” is a lesser-known classic.  No music video was made though they did a lip-synched TV appearance that later ended up on their home video Historia.  A dark ballad with edge, “Too Late For Love” has cool atmosphere and just the right amount of scream.

“Die Hard the Hunter” opens with synthesised war sound effects and a soft guitar melody that deceives into thinking it’s another ballad; but no.  This rocker burns hot, but damn those drums are really sample-y sounding.  Rick Allen had a better sound on High ‘N’ Dry, but of course the times were changing.  Eliminator by ZZ Top was out the same year.

One of the big singles (#9 US once again) is the undeniable “Foolin'”.  Mixing rocker and ballad formulas, it set a template for bands to attempt to copy on their way up the charts.  The stuttering chorus is now a Leppard hallmark, and not a second of the song is boring.

You can imagine, spending 10 months in the studio, how monotonous some tasks must be, take after take after take.  The simple act of counting in a band — one, two, three, four — must be tedious the hundreth time.  Perhaps the next time, to stave off boredom, it’s uno, dos, tres, quatro.  Then something else, language by language until finally you end up with “gunter, glieben, glauten, globen”, a nonsense phrase that sounds vaguely Germanic.  And suddenly, without knowing it, you’ve created a catchphrase.  At least that’s how it happened for Mutt Lange on “Rock of Ages”!

That’s the story of “Rock of Ages” (#1 US), one of Leppard most irresistible hits, and also one indicative of the shift in Leppard’s sound.  A very synth-y bassline and tech-y drums stamp out a a robotic 80s groove that was destined for radio and video stardom.  The chorus was even more potent.  “What do you want?” yells the band in harmony.  “I want rock and roll!” you respond, fist in the air.  It all seems very contrived, and perhaps it was.  Is that so bad?  Back then, it really felt like you had to fight for rock and roll.  It seemed every church and every politician wanted to neuter rock bands.  A good, defiant, radio-ready smash hit like “Rock of Ages” tapped into the 80s.

The killer deep cut here is called “Comin’ Underfire” which, had there been five singles, would have made a fine fifth.  Tapping into the angst and tension of earlier tracks like “Lady Strange” and “Mirror, Mirror”, this is nothing but awesome wrapped up in a taut chorus like a bow.  Steady, strong, and loaded with hooks.  Pete Willis had a hand in writing it, demonstrating the guitarist’s often overlooked value.

Another wicked deep cut is the terrifically fun “Action! Not Words”, which, if there was a sixth single… Anyway, the slippery slide-y riff is reinforced by a simple and effective chorus.  Let’s face it, there’s very little fat on Pyromania.

If anything, perhaps it’s the closing track “Billy’s Got a Gun” that might be the the only one that could be argued as filler.  Laid back and emoting a dangerous vibe, it’s less exciting than the preceding material.  It is, however, the closer, which has to draw the album to a proper close, and end it on the right vibe.  “Billy’s Got a Gun” does the job.  The album concludes with a song that feels like an ending, especially with that “bang bang” at the end.

A brief record-spinning coda is tacked at the end of the album for those who let it play all the way to the end.  It probably fooled a few kids into thinking their turntable was broken, as the record seemingly spins fast and slow, over and over.

There were no B-sides or bonus tracks recorded.  No extras, no unreleased songs.  Talk about having your eye on the prize!

Pyromania had broad appeal.  The numbers showed it.  It put Leppard in the big leagues.  To date it has sold 10 million copies in the US.  It was the end of obscurity.  The band toured relentlessly.  Though they did not release a live album, the 2009 Pyromania deluxe edition contains one from the L.A. Forum in 1983.  We’ll look at that next time.

5/5 stars

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  • Pyromania bonus disc Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Rocks Donington 2014 (CD/DVD)

AEROSMITH – Rocks Donington 2014 (2015 Universal 2 CD/1 DVD set)

Aerosmith enter the stage as the sun at Donington makes its final descent.  Opening with the stalwart “Train Kept-A-Rollin'”, Steven Tyler leaps, covered by a traditional native headdress.  (Strangely nobody screamed “cultural appropriation!” in 2014.)  It’s off before he can start twirlin’ across the stage anyway.  Though desiccated, the band are cookin’ like a group 1/3 of their age.   Brad Whitford takes a welcome solo on “Train” and the band look happy to be up there.

Without missing a beat, Aerosmith travel forward in time two decades to “Eat the Rich”.  At first it sounds as if Tyler’s voice can’t hack it but then he’s right back in the game.  Nice to see Joe employing a whammy bar, but has the young crowd any idea what Grey Poupon is?  Tyler throws down a solid burp before the skippable “Love in an Elevator”.  His older, rougher voice gives it a tougher vibe but it’s overplayed radio filler now.

It’s a string of Geffen hits during this portion of the show.  “Cryin'”…interesting only because the band thought they had to play it for the millionth time.  “Jaded” has the stage bathed in purple but it’s Aero by the numbers.  Tyler spends the end of the song hanging out with some girls in the front row.  But when Joe Perry starts the growling drone of “Livin’ on the Edge”, things come back to life.  The song still has teeth.

The Geffen hits are interrupted by the legendary funk of “Last Child”, and then we see why this band is really special.  It’s not just Tyler and Perry, but it’s the sweet jam that the five of them make together when they really get down.  Brad Whitford is the captain of this particular ship, taking us to the green waters of Mt. Funk with Mr. Joey Kramer in the engine room.  Highlight of the show.

Aerosmith couldn’t have shown less enthusiasm for their newest album Music from Another Dimension.  “Freedom Fighter” with Joe Perry on lead vocals is the only new song presented.  Tyler’s not even on stage for it, but he’s back for “Same Old Song and Dance”.  Kramer’s absolutely the backbone, with his pal Tom Hamilton on bass.  That necessary piano part is provided by Buck Johnson near the back of the stage.  But they just can’t keep playing oldies without giving the kids a hit, it seems.  “Janie’s Got a Gun” is overdue to be retired.  It’s not the band, who are at 110%, it’s just the song and the years.

“Toys in the Attic” is like a sudden wake-up!  Second best tune of the night and no small thanks to Tommy and Joey on rhythm.  Unfortunately all this momentum is spent by playing “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, which should be buried and never resuscitated.  But what do we know, Doningon goes absolutely nuclear for the movie hit ballad.  Fortunately, Steven’s favourite Aerosmith song, “No More No More” is just what we needed to keep the train a-rollin’.  You just have to listen to the guys play and interact with each other to appreciate what makes ’em special, but it’s trippy seeing a big passenger jet landing in the middle of the song.

“Come Together” belongs to Aerosmith as much as it belongs to the Beatles now.  Their version is their own jam.  Unfortunately this perfect moment is ruined by the robotic “Dude Likes Like a Lady”.  Moving on to “Walk This Way”, an oldie but surely just as familiar.  It’s certainly just as cool, especially when Tyler starts playing loose with the words.

The first encore is also the only serious deep cut of the night, an abbreviated “Home Tonight”, followed by “Dream On”.  It’s kind of cheesy when Steven changes the words to “Cream on, cream until your jeans are blue.”  “Sweet Emotion” (with Tom bass solo) and “Mama Kin” complete the night, with the ravishing applause from a crowd of 80,000, breaking curfew to do it.

After a chant of “fuck curfew!” the band launch into “Mama Kin” with the energy of a first song instead of an after-hours closer.  And that’s the proof that there’s nothing wrong with Aerosmith aside from some question of how many hits you need to play vs. deep cuts.  The engine still motors ahead like they haven’t been through multiple splits and illnesses.  Long live Aerosmith!

The concert is well edited with excellent camera angles, relying on minimal slow-motion gimmicks.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)

Part Six of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – The Early Years 79-81 (2019 EMI)

The fine folks in Def Leppard have been doing an outstanding job of getting their rarities and fan-wishes on the store shelves.  We wanted the Def Leppard EP reissued, and they did it.  A few times in fact, including a cool 3″ CD included in a recent box set.  We wanted all the early B-sides available on CD, and here they are.  We begged for decent remastered CD editions of High N’ Dry and On Through the Night, and the band delivered.  More than once.

Now there is a wealth of Def Leppard riches out there for you to buy in your format of choice.  The Early Years 79-81 is the way to go for a complete set of the music from those years.  We’ve gone over it all disc by disc so let’s talk about the box itself.

The 10″ x 10″ box format is awkward to store, but Leppard seem committed to the size, with their London to Vegas set having the same dimensions.  They’ve at least maximised the space, with a generous hardcover book included inside.  This book has the liner notes and essays you expect, broken down disc by disc.  A generous set of unreleased photos keep the eyes from being bored while your ears indulge themselves.  The CDs are stored separately in a cardboard folder, and they don’t seem to move around in there.  Each one has its own cardboard mini-sleeve.  The packaging works.

The sequencing is perhaps the only complaint.  The set is not a chronological anthology of the early years.  In terms of sequencing it’s best looked at as a On Through the Night / High N’ Dry deluxe edition.  Two albums, remastered in their original track listing (not the 1984 track listing for High N’ Dry) with a bonus live CD, a bonus disc of B-sides and rarities, and a bonus disc of BBC sessions from the period.  Which really doesn’t matter so much, except when trying to review a chronological Def Leppard series and figuring out what order to do it in!  The sequencing matters little because the discs are so complete.  All those singles, B-sides, edit versions, unreleased versions, and live recordings are what fans have been demanding ever since the idea of “deluxe reissues” were conceived.  This is it!

Oh sure, there are a few things left in the vaults.  We know of a couple more early tracks called “Heat Street” and “See the Lights”.  These are unlikely to ever see official release, but one must leave some scraps for the bootleggers.  If the band ever changes their minds, that’ll be cool, but the best stuff is right here.

Consider that these three complaints about The Early Years 79-81 (box dimensions, sequencing, missing bootlegs) are so minor, we can disregard them in our final score.  This box accomplished what it set out to do, and when listened to in completion, offers up a real clear picture of the band’s ability and determination.  They had a bright future ahead, and a chapter was about to close while a new one opened.  With the band scheduled to re-convene with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange in early 1982, life would never be the same again.

5/5 stars

 

 

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  • Pyromania

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Turning to Crime (2021 / bonus track)

DEEP PURPLE – Turning to Crime (2021 Edel / mailing list bonus track)

Deep Purple are more known as the kind of band that people cover, rather than a band known for doing covers.  Sure, “Hush” (Billy Joe Royal) was a hit.  “Kentucky Woman” (Neil Diamond) was almost a hit.  Their first three records are cover-heavy, but that was the 1960s.  Live covers, like “Lucille” (Little Richard) or “Green Onions” (Booker T. & the M.G.’s) were more of an in-concert thing.  Until the surprising inclusion of “Roadhouse Blues” (The Doors) on 2017’s InFinite.

Stir in another surprise: a worldwide pandemic!  You get one of the world’s greatest bands doing a covers album to keep from going stir-crazy!  Re-teaming with producer Bob Ezrin, the boys in Deep Purple decided to turn to crime and steal songs from other artists.  With twelve tracks plus one bonus, it’s 53 minutes of Deep Purple doing their thang all over the oldies.  How salacious!

The excellent packaging even tells you who did the original tunes if you didn’t already know.  Love’s “7 & 7 Is” has been covered numerous times by our beloved rock artists, including Alice Cooper (twice) and Rush.  Without comparing, the charm of Purple’s version is threefold: 1) Ian Gillan’s mannerisms on lead vocals, 2) Ian Paice’s pace, and 3) Don Airey’s quaint 80s backing keyboards.  Not to be outdone, Steve Morse turns in a solo that can only be described as brief but epic.

Sax and horns join the for “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”, once covered by Aerosmith.  You so rarely get to hear Deep Purple gettin’ down with a horn section (although they once did a whole tour based on that concept).  It’s brilliant, and listen for a nod to “Smoke on the Water” in a musical Easter egg.  “Rockin’ Pneumonia” is reminiscent of “Purple People Eater” from Gillan/Glover.

Like a polar opposite, Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” is built tough and heavy.  Morse plays the main blues riff on an acoustic, while Don Airey’s big Hammond roars behind.  This smoker will sound great if Purple play it live.  Meanwhile, 73 year old Ian Paice plays those drums like a berzerker.

Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels were an influence on early Purple.  Ritchie Blackmore confessed to appropriating their kind of beat for “Kentucky Woman”.  You can absolutely hear that here on “Jenny Take A Ride!”.  The two songs are connected via Purple’s playing.  There’s also a mid-track segue into one of Gillan’s big influences, Little Richard’s “Jenny Jenny”.

Bob Dylan isn’t an artist you think of in conjunction with Deep Purple.  “Watching the River Flow” has a beat you can get behind.  Ian Gillan’s actually the perfect singer to do Dylan, isn’t he?

The horns return on Ray Charles’ “Let the Good Times Roll”.  It sounds like “Deep Purple go Big Band”!  Which is not a bad thing.  Especially if you want a varied covers album.  Airey and Paicey really go for that jazz band vibe.  You can picture this one in a big smokey club somewhere in Chicago.

It’s Little Feat next with “Dixie Chicken”, a track we can assume came in via Steve Morse.  Airey and Morse are the stars here, but as a cover it’s a little nondescript.  The Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things” is similarly like sonic colourlessness, though Roger Glover gets to shine a little.  They can’t all be highlights on this album.

Speaking of album highlights, this one will doubtless be divisive.  Some will think it’s too corny for Deep Purple, others will love the fact that it’s so different and Purple’s take is so original.  Lonnie Donegan’s version of “The Battle of New Orleans” is the main inspiration rather than Johnny Horton’s.  You can hear that in the beat.  But what might really surprise people about “The Battle of New Orleans” may be the singers.  For the first time, that’s Roger Glover up front.  Ian Gillan, Steve Morse and Bob Ezrin are also credited singers.  As for Purple’s arrangement, it’s jaunty and slightly progressive where the guitar is concerned.  It’s certainly not pure country though it does have plenty of twang and fiddle.  Crossover hit material?

The album has not necessarily peaked as there are still great tracks ahead.  “Lucifer” by the Bob Seger System is right up Purple’s alley.  Purple could easily put it in a concert setlist.  It’s jam-heavy and sounds right at home.  Another track in the same category is Cream’s “White Room”.  Keen-eared Purple aficionados will recall Purple opened for Cream on their first US tour.  Of course, only Ian Paice is still around from that tour, but he got to witness the original band play it every night.  It’s certainly odd hearing a band that is clearly Deep Purple playing such a recognizable Cream song, but damn they do it so well!  What’s amazing is these jams were recorded separately in home studios by family members.

The final track on CD and LP is “Caught in the Act”, a medley of famous songs that they Purple-ized.  Many of these, Purple have played live such as “Going Down” and “Green Onions”.  We’ll save some of the others as surprises.  They finish the medley with “Gimme Some Lovin'” by the Spencer Davis Group, and it’s a totally smashing way to finish an album that was some massively fun listening.

But it’s not really the last track if you signed up for Deep Purple’s Turning to Crime mailing list.  A specially numbered 13th track was emailed to those who subscribed.  “(I’m A) Roadrunner” by Junior Walker & the Allstars is another horn-laden Deep Purple soul jam.  Just drop it in the folder and it’s already pre-numbered as the last track on Turning to Crime.  Great sax solo!

What you won’t hear on Turning to Crime are any of Purple’s earlier classical influences, for those members are gone.  Nor will you get any Beatles whom Purple covered twice in the early days.

How many times will you end up reaching for a Deep Purple covers album to fill your speakers?  Hard to say, but know this — you will enjoy it every time you do.

3.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Raw – Early BBC Recordings (The Early Years Disc 5)

Part Five of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Raw – Early BBC Recordings (The Early Years Disc 5) (2019)

This final disc of Def Leppard early tracks consists of two separate BBC sessions: 1979, and a few songs from Reading in 1980.  Due to this fact, there is some minimal repeat in the song selections, but you won’t mind getting two versions of “Wasted” instead of just one!  This disc offers a variety of early Leppard songs and rarities.

BBC Andy Peebles Session – June 7 1979

The EP was out and Leppard were starting to get radio play.  They were invited to the BBC and recorded four songs for broadcast.

Opening with “Glad I’m Alive”, Leppard get one of their most underwhelming non-album tracks out of the way early.  It sounds better and heavier than the studio cut on Disc 4 produced by Nick Tauber.  Solos and backing harmonies are fire.  “Sorrow is a Woman” follows, with a quiet, cool laid-back intro of a different flavour.  Things kick in on the chorus of course, but this is not the definitive version of the track.  The guitar solo section has a nice shimmer to it.  Third up is “Wasted”, which opens with a growl.  That guitar is vicious, and Joe just goes for it on the vocals.  This recording has bite.  The final track, “Answer to the Master” is absolutely fine.

Friday Rock Show Session – October 3 1979

“Satellite” enters with a crash of drums, a little hesitant on the pace.  The fun “Rock Brigade” is similar to the early version on Disc 3, but heavier.  The second version of “Wasted” sounds heavier than the first — the band was growing.  Really this song is a highlight of anything it’s on.  This BBC sessions ends with “Good Morning Freedom”, probably the fastest and most pumped-up version we’ve heard yet.  This might be the best recording of the track available.

Live at the Reading Festival – August 24 1980

The next time the BBC caught up to Def Leppard, they had an album out.  With Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Whitesnake and UFO on the same bill, Leppard were anxious.  Then Ozzy dropped out, and Leppard had to follow Slade in one of their best festival performances — a daunting task.  Fortunately the bandt fought hard and had some killer new material up their sleeves.

Opening with “Satellite” (2nd appearance on this CD) and “When the Walls Came Tumblin’ Down” mashed into a medley, you can hear that the band were fired up.  After this workout, it’s the unreleased “Medicine Man” which today we know as “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)”.  Imagine getting to hear that track back in 1980, and then when it was finally released in ’83 on Pyromania, going “I know that song!”  The early “Medicine Man” version is cool because that riff is unstoppable.

The apocalyptic epic “Overture” is right in the middle of the set, but it was already well known due to its inclusion on the original Leppard EP.  Joe’s unholy yelp of “Go!” at 1:50 is the moment that the band just tear it loose.  Then it’s another new song in “Lady Strange”, absolutely off the hook and hammering with delicious chord after chord, each one more addictive than the last.  Finally after some audience participation noise, it’s “Getcha Rocks Off”.  The audience goes nuts and Leppard leave triumphant.


This excellent disc collects some seriously well-recorded and preserved archival material.  It’s all valuable, showing the growth of the band as they get more comfortable with themselves and performance.  They were always great, with a serious knack for riffs, and this disc delivers plenty of them in unreleased format.  Untampered, unhampered, and unchained.

4.5/5 stars

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  • The Early Years box set wrap-up.

DVD REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Death Before Suckass – Live at Miami Arena

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Death Before Suckass – Live at Miami Arena  (DVD – Version 2.0 sourced from original 8mm tape)

The Four Horsemen were so fucking good, and this DVD really is the proof.  Man, how cool did they look?  Frank C. Starr, rocking the stage all confident in his pirate shirt, black gloves, and white sneakers.  A look I admittedly tried to emulate in the 1990s.  Haggis wonders how this “guido car mechanic from Long Island” managed to end up opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd?  Because he was born to be there!

The video quality is surprisingly good for an audience bootleg.  The camera is high in a balcony, but close enough to the stage to get some great shots.  The camera moves around and zooms in from its vantage point, getting clear images of pretty much the whole band except the “big fucking Yeti” behind the drum kit.  The video isn’t all that grainy, and there’s a consistently entertaining commentary by guitarist Haggis!  He’s very grateful to whoever smuggled a suitcase-sized video camera into the arena to film the band with such care.

Opening for Skynyrd, Dimwit Montgomery (the aforementioned Yeti) swiftly kicks things into motion with “’75 Again”.  According to Haggis, the band were practising their “big stage rock star posing”, something he learned from the Cult.  Onto “Let It Rock”, the groove is honed and the band is synced up like conjuring “the ghost of Bon Scott”.  Frank Starr and Dave Lizmi are the most mobile of the band, moving from one side of the stage to the other, back and forth, while the others tend to stay put.  Haggis wonders how Lizmi could hear himself solo when his amps were on the opposite side of the stage!  Though the tune starts as a groove, it quickly turns into a blitz.

Onto “Hothead”, a track partly stolen from Humble Pie, says Haggis.  Apparently nobody noticed.  Frank’s in total rock star mode, just killing it vocally.  Then a cover of Savoy Brown’s “Can’t Get Next to You”, the band settle into a low groove.  An excuse for Lizmi to show off his stuff, but any excuse is a good excuse.  When he solos, he owns the stage.  You can see him break a string mid-solo; he just sweeps it out of his way and keeps going.

Moving on to “Wanted Man” (the first song recorded for Nobody Said It Was Easy).  Frankie is just fun to watch.  He truly was a great frontman.  Lizmi’s solo is out of this world, completely different from the album version.  A shirtless and tattooed Haggis is so skinny he looks like he should be hooked up to an IV instead of a guitar.  But enough with the deep cuts.  It’s time for the hits:  “Nobody Said It Was Easy” and “Rockin Is Ma Business”.  Why was this band not huge?  They were so fucking good and their songs were fucking brilliant!

Ironic fact I learned:  the man named after a pudding made of a sheep’s innards was a vegetarian.

This DVD can be acquired directly from the Four Horsemen store.  It is certainly worth it, even if you already own the Death Before Suckass CD.  It’s a different show with a similar setlist, but the audio seems superior.  The commentary seals the deal.  Essential Four Horsemen buy.

4/5 stars

COMPLETE FOUR HORSEMEN:

  1. Record Store Tales #224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business
  2. Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  3. Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  4. Nobody Said It Was Easy (2018 double vinyl LP)
  5. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  6. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By… (1996)
  7. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  8. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)

Coming next:  Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By… (CD with bonus tracks)

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Too Many Jitterbugs (The Early Years Disc 4)

Part Four of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original reviews:
The Def Leppard EP (1979)
“Wasted” / “Hello America” (1979)
“Hello America” / “Good Morning Freedom” (1980)
“Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” (1981)

DEF LEPPARD – Too Many Jitterbugs (The Early Years Disc 4) (2019)

Because of the non-chronological nature of The Early Years box set, we are now back at the beginning:  Def Leppard’s first rare EP, and singles releases.  Only on Disc 4 do we finally get to go back to the original Def Leppard EP, which has seen a few re-releases over the years, but none as convenient as this.

The story goes that young Def Leppard used money loaned to them by Joe Elliott’s father, and booked a studio for one weekend.  Drummer Tony Kenning was fired just before the start of recording, for being sidetracked by a girlfriend.  Frank Noon from The Next Band (featuring Rocky Newton on bass) was chosen to fill-in temporarily.  It was The Next Band’s own three-song EP release that inspired Leppard to make their own.  They only had a handful of rehearsals with the drummer completed before it was time to hit the studio.

“Ride Into the Sun” was properly perfected when it was re-recorded in 1987 as a Hysteria B-side.  The original still boasts the same relentless riff, but without the increased velocity.  The chorus is a bit different, but here it is:  the beginning!  Out of the gates with a good song, with room to improve.  And improve young Def Leppard would.

Next on the EP is “Getcha Rocks Off”, the only track that has been available on CD for three decades.  It saw its first digital release on Lars Ulrich’s excellent 1990’s NWOBHM compilation.  The version that eventually made its way to On Through The Night is heavier, but this ground-floor version has an identical arrangement.  The solo work shows the band had early talent, and the riff demonstrates their ability to come up with the goods.

Finally: “Overture”, the big Def Leppard epic that later closed On Through the Night.  A little progressive, the 7:45 track meanders from mellow acoustic opening to galloping riff to blasting guitar workouts.  Much of it is first takes, with Joe having little time to finish the vocal.  However the job was complete.  The record was made.

All that was left was to ask Frank Noon to join the band full-time, which he declined.  15 year old Rick Allen was selected instead.  (Noon later reunited with Rocky Newton in Lionheart.)

All 1000 copies of the EP sold within a week.  Radio started to play Def Leppard.  Finally they signed the big record deal and the rest is history.  Still, there are plenty of rare tracks from the early years that were recorded.  Most were released but some are here in this box set for the very first time.

“Wasted” with “Hello America” on the B-side was originally released in 1979.  These are early versions that differ from the Tom Allom-produced tracks on the album.  Neither are as as heavy, with “Wasted” in particular needing more bite.  These versions, by Nick Tauber, were deemed not worthy of album release by the record company.  The ferocious “Wasted” riff is there but needs to be turned up – way up!  “Hello America” fares better as a more melodic rock tune.  It lacks that synth riff on the chorus of the song, which makes it a little more raw.  It also has a really long fade-out.

The Tauber sessions yielded two more songs that were never released.  “Rock Brigade” and “Glad I’m Alive”, for whatever reason, were held back until The Early Years box set.  “Rock Brigade” is probably the best of these tracks.  Rick Allen’s marauding drum rolls steal the show, but not as much as on album.  In general, the Tauber versions are less aggressive recordings, and Joe’s vocals are not as unleashed as on the final album.  “Glad I’m Alive” is the only one that didn’t make the album.  It is the song with the lyric “too many jitterbugs”, but is otherwise unremarkable.  Not many hooks (if any).  It is only available in The Early Years.

Leppard’s next B-side was “Good Morning Freedom” from the eventual “Hello America” single.  This is a song that surprisingly and delightfully was resurrected by Leppard live (more on that later in the series).  It is early quintessential early Leppard, centered on the riff and designed to get the heads-a-bangin’.  It is not without hooks, and might be as good as anything else On Through the Night has to offer, “Wasted” notwithstanding.

The next tracks are the disc are single edits, which are padding to some and valuable curiosities to others.  Moving into the High ‘n’ Dry era, they are edits of “Let It Go”, “Switch 625” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”.  Nice to have to be complete, but not essential listening.  All three are obviously better in their full length versions, but you gotta try what you gotta to get on the radio.  “Let It Go” has a shorter intro, and a truncated middle section, weakening its impact.  “Heartbreak” fades out early.

“Heartbreak’s” B-side was a fast and heavy fan favourite called “Me An’ My Wine”.  It was given a raucous and fun music video when it was remixed by Mutt Lange in 1984.  Both “Wine” and “Heartbreak” were remixed for 1984 reissue, and were included in updated editions of High ‘n’ Dry.  All versions, original and remixed, are present in this box.  For some, the remixed “Heartbreak” with added keyboard accents will be the favourite, because it’s the one they grew up with.  It sounds more like a Pyromania single.  The keys do help spruce up the song, which honestly has a couple dead spots otherwise.  As for “Me An’ My Wine”, it has a longer intro and the drums have been treated to sound a little more 80s.  Incidentally, though you can get them on old High ‘n’ Dry CD pressings, this is the first time that these remixes have been available in a remastered form.

And that’s the disc — a damn fine one in fact, because it manages to include every non-album track that Leppard released during those early years.  It makes for a fun listen, as you hear the band evolve.  Even if some songs repeat, they are different enough to not interrupt the flow.  Many of the B-sides have never been released on CD format before, so the value here cannot be understated.

4.5/5 stars

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  • The Early Years Disc Five – Raw – Early BBC Recordings