hear n’ aid

#832: This Is Spinal Tap

GETTING MORE TALE #832: This Is Spinal Tap

I can admit it.  I was only 13 years old, and I thought Spinal Tap were a real band.

How was I to know?  A lot of media surrounding Spinal Tap took them seriously.  When MuchMusic’s J.D. Roberts interviewed Ronnie James Dio about the Hear N’ Aid project in 1986, he played it straight.  David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap appear on the track “Stars”, which Ronnie produced.

Roberts:  “I think that one of the great coups of Hear N’ Aid, and I think you’ll have to agree with me, was having David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap enter the project.”

Dio:  “Yeah that was a real special moment. I must tell you that there was a little consternation on the part of some of the people who did not turn up, who were asked to take part in ‘Stars’, that the inclusion of those two people, or anyone from Spinal Tap, made this project a laughing stock.  I’d like to be able to reply to anyone who thinks that’s a valid point.  Again, we are human beings.  And part of human nature is to laugh.  Probably the nicest part of human nature is to laugh.  And these are two wonderful people who made us laugh, not only in this project, but in Spinal Tap.”

Even though Dio actually broke the wall for a moment and entered the “real” world with his answer, Roberts shot right back into the fictional world with his followup question.  Dio played along this time.

Roberts:  “It’s a good thing, as Derek says, that you didn’t let them do the lead vocal, because they would have blown everybody away.”

Dio:  “Well they did a lot of singing when the tape wasn’t rolling, and they were better than all of us.  And they happen to both be the best guitar players I’ve ever heard too.”

Never mind that Derek plays bass!

Shortly after the interview rolled, Much played the video for “Hell Hole” and I had a chance to hear Spinal Tap for myself.  Yeah, that blonde guy could sing.  It was a decent song.  I expected something heavier — more thrash like.  Maybe the reason I hadn’t heard of them was they were a thrash band?  If they were so highly praised by Ronnie James Dio, I couldn’t understand why I never heard of them.  I didn’t have much to go on either.

According to the Dio interview, there were some unnamed rock stars who felt that Spinal Tap would turn Hear N’ Aid into a “laughing stock”.  Why?  I turned various scenarios over in my head.  Were they satanic?  Well, they had a song called “Hell Hole” and there was a big demon skull head in the backdrop, but that didn’t make them satanists.  Just what was the story exactly with this Spinal Tap?

They did seem arrogant in the Hear N’ Aid “making of” video.

David St. Hubbins:  “They asked us to do the leads, but like I said before, I didn’t wanna blow these other blokes away, you know.  I’ve been doing this a lot longer than they have.  I’ve got pipes I haven’t used yet.  Haven’t located them yet.”

Derek Smalls:  “He could break the board in there.  It’s really an act of mercy to the engineers that he doesn’t sing lead.”

Arrogant yes, but…St. Hubbins has been doing this this a lot longer than they have?  Just why haven’t I heard of Spinal Tap before?  Analysing the video for “Hell Hole” revealed little.  Yes, there was a comedic slant to it, but the song actually rocked.  Other bands put comedy in their music videos too, like Twisted Sister.  There was no reason whatsoever to suspect the truth.

The only real clue that I had was when Dio briefly mentioned a film.  There, the trail went cold.  Never heard of it, never seen it, didn’t know anybody who did.  It was a couple more years before I eventually put the story together.  While continuing my education in KISStory, I learned that their film, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, was shown in a double bill with This Is Spinal Tap for a limited run.  This happened in England, a “Headbanging double feature”, around October 1984. I began to read names like “Michael McKean” and “Harry Shearer”.  Eventually a highschool friend named Andy recommended that I see the movie ASAP so I rented a copy from Steve’s TV.

The truth is, I did not like This In Spinal Tap the first time I saw it.  I didn’t laugh.  It certainly wasn’t a gleeful rock and roll comedy, as I watched the hard times roll out one after another.  But then the next day back at school, talking about it with Andy, I started to get the jokes.

“…and then when they’re stuck in those pods for ‘Rock and Roll Creation’ and the bassist can’t get out…they have to bring out a blowtorch…” said Andy.

“Oh yeah, that was pretty funny actually.  You know what part I did like, was when they were lost in the basement trying to find the stage.  Did you notice Billy Crystal was the mime?  Mime is money!”

I finally got it.  I rented it again, and this time I dubbed a copy for myself.  I understood Rob Reiner’s role in the concept and recognized the actors from other roles.  Christopher Guest, the other singer, was Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, only one of the greatest movies ever made.  Also directed by Rob Reiner!  I watched Spinal Tap again, and again.  I think I had a new favourite movie!

There’s no shame in admitting being fooled by Spinal Tap.  That was the whole point, wasn’t it?  Otherwise the band wouldn’t have continued doing interviews in character.  The idea was to always keep it believable enough that you can fool a small minority.

My dad used to say, “If that band is just a bunch of actors, then I guess it doesn’t take much talent to play rock and roll.”  But my dad missed something then, that he now understands.  Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest are actually excellent musicians on multiple instruments.  And that is why Spinal Tap was so believable.  When Nignel Tufnel rips a solo in the video for “Hell Hole”, it looks right because Christopher Guest performed that solo.  You know, maybe Spinal Tap should be considered a real band after all!

 

 

 

* Thank you Dale Sherman for that detail!

VHS Archives #2: Hear N’ Aid Special – Pepsi Power Hour (1986)

The one VHS tape I’m working on currently spans a period of recordings from about July 1986 to September 1987. This Hear N’ Aid special features a MuchMusic interview conducted by J.D. (John) Roberts. There’s lots of exclusive information in this valuable video, including a tidbit on bands who refused to be in the same project as Spinal Tap!

Part 215: Mono

RECORD STORE TALES Part 215:  Mono

Today, I was listening to some old-school Dio, and I had a thought.  A sudden thought that I wanted to explore:

“My taste in music was 100% solidified by that month in 1986 that I had mono!”

Yeah!  I think it’s true!  I was sick at home for a month (at least) too tired to do anything except record videos on the Pepsi Power Hour!  I was inundated with a steady intake of incredible songs, in many cases for the first time.  And because I still have the old VHS tapes, I know exactly what’s on them.  This brief but intense period of my life was rocked by this soundtrack, over and over again:

power hourOzzy Osbourne – “The Ultimate Sin”

Hear N’ Aid – “Stars”

Dio – “Rock and Roll Children”

Black Sabbath – “Die Young”

Lee Aaron – “Shake It Up”

ZZ Top – “Rough Boy”

Kim Mitchell – “Lager and Ale”

Thor (Jon Mikl Thor) – “Keep the Dogs Away”

Triumph – “Never Surrender”

Loudness – “Let It Go”

Spinal Tap – “Hell Hole”, the theme song that my sister and I dedicated to our old Catholic grade school!

These songs were first impressed upon me during that period, the visuals always cool and intriguing to me.  Especially Lee Aaron.  Ahem.  Anyway.  I watched these videos over and over again.   I recorded the audio (in mono) (…hah, I made a pun!) to a cassette so I could listen to them on my Walkman.  This came in handy at the cottage.  We didn’t have a VCR or cable there, so the only way to bring my songs was to tape them from the TV.

That one intense period of being stuck at home with nothing but heavy metal heroes might have made me the LeBrain I am today.  I’m glad something good came out of it!  I couldn’t even go swimming that entire summer!

REVIEW: Hear N’ Aid – Stars (1986)

HEAR N’ AID – Stars (1986 LP, Japanese CD)

It is hard to believe that this monumental album, a piece of rock history, was only issued on CD in Japan! Finding a domestic LP or cassette isn’t hard (I’ve owned it on all three formats including CD) so hunt your record shops.  I know Wendy Dio has a CD/DVD reissue lined up, hopefully including the full album, single edit, and the video and interviews.  If you’re reading this Wendy…

At the time, all funds went to starving people in Africa, hence the name Hear N’ Aid.  The inspiration was something fairly obvious:  No heavy metal people outside of Geddy Lee was involved in the numerous famine relief projects of the time!  (Geddy sang a lead on the excellent “Tears Are Not Enough” (1985) by Northern Lights, but nobody metal could be seen in “Do They Know It’s Christmas” or “We Are the World”.)

“Oh, you knoooow that we’ll be there!”

Showing the world that heavy metal bands and fans aren’t a bunch of assholes, Jimmy Bain and Vivian Campbell of Dio came up with the concept for Hear N’ Aid.

The main track, “Stars”, by Hear N’ Aid is a tour-de-force. Written by Bain, Campbell and Dio, this is essentially an epic extended track with a soft intro and heavy verses, and tons of guests. They assembled virtually every major metal singer who was willing and available to take part. That means you will hear Quiet Riot singers Kevin DuBrow and Paul Shortino (still with Ruff Cutt at the time) singing together for the first and only time in history! Rob Halford, Don Dokken, Eric Bloom, Geoff Tate, Dave Meniketti, and Dio himself all take lead vocal slots too.

When the guitar solo kicks in, prepared to be blown away. With Iron Maiden guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith playing backing harmonies, you will hear the monstrous talents of George Lynch, Yngwie Malmsteen, Vivian Campbell, Craig Goldy, Neal Schon, Buck Dharma, Carloz Cavazo, Brad Gillis and Eddie Ojeda all taking a few bars. No charity track had ever attempted to assemble not just singers, but guitar players, on one track before.

All this is backed by drummers, bassists and keyboard players from Dio and Quiet Riot. There are more backing singers than I can name, but most notably, Derek Smalls and David St. Hubbins from Spinal Tap. Of course.

The rest of the album is filled out by songs donated by bands who couldn’t take part in the song, but still wanted to help the starvation situation in Africa. Therefore you will get a live “Heaven’s On Fire” from Kiss, from their Animalize Live Uncensored home video. This is the only place that the audio track was released on. There is an unreleased live “Distant Early Warning” by Rush, and rare ones by Scorpions and Accept as well.

Tracklist:
1.Hear ‘n Aid – “Stars”
2.Accept – “Up to the Limit” (live)
3.Motörhead – “On the Road” (live)
4.Rush – “Distant Early Warning” (live)
5.Kiss – “Heaven’s on Fire” (live)
6.Jimi Hendrix – “Can You See Me”
7.Dio – “Hungry for Heaven” (live)
8.Y&T – “Go for the Throat”
9.Scorpions – “The Zoo” (live)

5/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: KISS – Animalize Live Uncensored (1985)

Part 22 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!  I’m generally not going to be covering DVDs, but this one was crucial to me.  I heard a lot of these versions so often, that they were the “original” versions for me.  So I have a soft spot for Animalize Live Uncensored.

KISS – Animalize Live Uncensored (VHS, 1985)

 This video was recorded live at Cobo Hall, Detroit Michigan December 8th, 1984. It has never been released officially on DVD, although as you can see there are unofficial versions to be had.  (It’s clearly unofficial since it has a picture of Carnival of Souls era Kiss on the back!)  Annoying subtitles are the only real drawback to the DVD.

There’s not much crossover between this and the two Alive albums, as it leans heavily on newer material (Creatures, Lick It Up, Animalize).  The tempos are, in general, faster. The energy is high, and Paul is singing at the peak of his talents.  The solos by Bruce Kulick are flashy in that 80’s sort of way, which isn’t my thing. Basically this is 80’s KISS, like it or lump it. I like it somewhat, probably due to nostalgia. 

Visually, Gene and Paul are all over the stage, while Eric stands on his drums and demands to be seen and heard.  At the end, the band climb onto a flying platform. Very cool live show.

One special treat was Eric’s lead vocals on “Young and Wasted” and “Black Diamond”. I also quite enjoyed Eric’s drum solo. Gene’s bass solo is nothing much to speak of, just a chance for him to introduce “I Love It Loud”, but far more musical than solos past or present. Actually he only speaks twice on the whole DVD. Before “I Love It Loud” he says to the crowd, “Oh yeah? Ohhh yeeeah? Well alright, come on.” And then at another point Paul says, “How you doing Gene, alright?” to which Gene responds, “Welll ooooooohhhh yeeeeaaaah!” Quite comical really. Paul’s raps are some of his all time classics. “Paul, what you are doing with a pistol down your pants?” (“Love Gun”)  His story about Gene’s “little child” (“Fits Like A Glove”) is also classic. His guitar solo is nothing special, I guess Bruce Kulick was just too new to the band to warrant a big solo? The fact that Paul has one is somewhat a rarity in KISStory.

The video quality of the DVD is fairly low. Don’t quote me on this, but I think I heard that this concert is going to be reissued on the next installment of the KISStory DVDs. 

3/5 stars

There are several CD bootlegs (incomplete however) of this concert.  The only live audio from this concert to be officially released was “Heaven’s On Fire”.  Kiss contributed that track to Ronnie James Dio’s Hear N’ Aid LP (also being reissued!) which donated proceeds to feed people in Africa.