Lightning Strikes

#815: Let It Go

“I was the one who talked about the other man,
I thought he was my friend but you had other plans!” – Loudness

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #815: Let It Go

The first time I saw Loudness on the Pepsi Power Hour, I was hooked. I can remember being fascinated by Japanese culture for a long time, but Loudness made it deeper, because now I had Japanese heavy metal to be interested in.

“Rock and roll Crazy Nights!” sang the quartet.  “You are the hero, tonight!”  Sounded cool to me.  I was 13.

Minoru Niihara on MuchMusic, 1986

The Power Hour didn’t play a lot of Loudness, just two songs.  “Crazy Nights” was the first, but by 1986 the band were becoming more Americanized.  “Let It Go”, the only other video they played, was a real attempt to crack the US market.  I was an instant fan.  Contrived or not, “Let It Go” is one of the ultimate 80s rock anthems.

Some brief Loudness history is in order.  Akira Takasaki, lead guitar, is the Eddie Van Halen of Loudness.  He formed the band and is the only member to play on all the albums.  He and drummer Munetaka Higuchi came from an earlier band called Lazy, named after the Deep Purple single.  Lazy was far more pop rock and Takasaki, a true virtuoso, was dissatisfied.  Metal was growing in Japan.  Soon Masayoshi Yamashita had joined on bass, and the band just needed a singer.  Minoru Niihara of Earthshaker to the rescue.  Within months they had a debut album:  1981’s The Birthday Eve.

The band recorded four albums in Japanese.  But the fourth, Disillusion had an English version recorded as well.  This led to their breakthrough Thunder in the East, released on Atco in the US.  The opening track was “Crazy Nights”, which led to video play.  And that’s how I came on board.

“M-Z-A!”

“You, come to see the show, well we’re gonna rock and roll you!”  I never ask too much lyrically of any band whose second language is English.  Still, “Crazy Nights” was about as good as the American rock of the 80s.  Niihara’s accent is thick but this only adds to the appeal.  The music, compared to their earlier Japanese albums, is toned down, more mainstream.  But it’s still clearly heavy metal.  The emphasis is on the riff.

Also important is the image.  Despite the cultural differences, Loudness still looked cool to American audiences.  When everybody else (cough cough Iron Maiden) were wearing rising sun T-shirts, these guys were actually from the rising sun!  Their stage moves also translated perfectly.  And check out Takasaki’s metal-plated guitar.  He understood the kind of visual flash that he needed.  His outfit matched, but Vince Neil was not amused.  When Loudness opened for the Crue, Takasaki was ordered to wear a different top.  His was too similar to Shout-era Motley.

But what’s with that strange chant, “M-Z-A”?  According to Niihara, he didn’t have lyrics in place for that section, and on the guide vocal just sang random sounds, “M-Z-A”.  It made the album, and puzzled fans the world over!

Like Thunder in the East, the followup album Lightning Strikes was produced by Max Norman.  Under Norman, the band recorded “Let It Go”, their most commercial song yet and one that will stick with me for life.

In 1986 I had mono, and I was housebound for weeks and weeks on end, except for doctor’s appointments.  I sat in the basement recording MuchMusic videos, and “Let It Go” was early in that batch.  To me, Loudness had never looked or sounded cooler.  I thought Niihara was really slick in that suit jacket.  The image was clearly toned down to “hard rock” from “heavy metal”, but the new casual-looking Loudness also appeared more natural.  The video even showed the construction of a guitar (Takasaki’s), the likes of which I had never seen before.  When I was well enough, Bob came over and watched all the videos I taped.  He loved “Let It Go” too.

“It’s Godzilla!” 

I continued to love the song into adulthood, partly because of the lyrics.  They were almost autobiographical!

I was the one who talked about the other man,
I thought he was my friend, but you had other plans,
I just can’t take that chance,
There ain’t no looking back,
Just a victim of circumstance,
I helped you fall in love so, Let It Go!

That happened to me!  I did tell her about the other man.  They totally would not have met if it wasn’t for me.  Fuckin’ hell!  Niihara knew my pain before I even did!  What about the rest of the words?

Driving to the top of the city,
Drive until I reach the view,
Where we used to try and see,
Our dream come true.

There was this one location where you could park the car and just look down at the city.  I did this sometimes when I was feeling romantic, or alone and feeling down.

Stop the car, light a cigarette,
Fill the air with the radio,
And there’s nothing I can do,
But think of you.

I never smoked a cigarette in my life; I wish I could just delete that line!  Otherwise, everything so far is bang on.

When I dial your telephone number,
It’s like you’re never home,
But I know it isn’t true,
What’s he doing with you?

Oh man.  So many times.  So many times.

They almost could have called this “The Love Life of Young Mike”!  That’s one way a song you like can stick with you for life.  Today I just really like the music.  “Let It Go” has all the right stuff.  Brilliant riff, great verses and chorus, and a well-composed melodic guitar solo.  It’s literally the perfect hard rock song.

Loudness with Mike Vescera

What happened next to Loudness?  They made one more album with Niihara called Hurricane Eyes, with Eddie Kramer producing.  It failed to have an impact, and Takasaki was convinced to hire on an American vocalist.  It seemed to be the only option, to grab that brass ring of success.  After one more EP (Jealousy, released only in Japan), Minoru Niihara was let go.  He was replaced by Obsession’s Mike Vescera for two albums.  “You Shook Me” from 1989’s Soldier of Fortune gained some video play.   Ultimately though, Mike had to make a go of it with Yngwie Malmsteen, with whom he recorded the excellent Seventh Sign album.

Like many metal bands, in the 90s Loudness faced an identity crisis.  Bassist Yamashita departed, and Mike Vescera was replaced by former E-Z-O lead singer Masaki Yamada.  E-Z-O had two US-released albums, and some name recognition due to a Gene Simmons produced record.  Releasing albums in Japan, Loudness carried on after original drummer Munetaka Huguchi departed as well.  The band experimented musically and lyrically, with Eastern and nu-metal influences, like the song “Dogshit” from 1998’s Dragon.

Loudness with Masaki Yamada

Takasaki kept Loudness going while also taking care of a very busy solo career.  Through the 1990s, Loudness made five albums with Yamada singing, all released only in Japan.

Ultimately, though Yamada was an ideal replacement, he could never be the original.  He suggested that Loudness reunite their classic lineup for their 20th anniversary, and so it happened.  Akira Takasaki, Minoru Niihara, Masayoshi Yamashita and Munetaka Higuchi reformed the classic lineup, and proved it was not just a one-off.  They continued to crank out new albums starting with 2001’s Spiritual Canoe, losing no momentum.  The reunion seemed built to last, until Higuchi sadly succumbed to liver cancer in 2008.  The beloved drummer was replaced by Masayuki Suzuki the following year and Loudness carried on again.

It’s an inspiring tale of perseverance, talent, and determination.

Strangely enough I have only now bought my first Loudness album.  They no longer have a huge presence here and their CDs are very hard to find.  Lightning Strikes seemed the right one to go with.  It’s enjoyable.  Everybody knows that Takasaki is frighteningly good, but really the whole band is.  Quite a lot of fun, to hear a classic 80s metal album so long after it came out.  It’s a trip.  And I’m glad Loudness never “Let It Go”, and kept going on despite all the changes.  Time to get Thunder in the East next.  I love it Loud…ness.

 


“Let It Go” with friends at the memorial concert for Munetaka Higuchi

 

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Rock in a Hard Place (1982)

Be sure to check out Deke‘s loving review over at Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond by clicking here!

ROCK IN A HARD PLACE_0001

AEROSMITH – Rock in a Hard Place (1982 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

I sometimes wonder what it was like to be an Aerosmith fan in 1982.  Their last album, Night in the Ruts, showed signs of decay.  Then out came Rock in a Hard Place.  Joe Perry and Brad Whitford were both gone*, and in their places were Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay.  Both guys are good players and writers, but they are not Perry and Whitford, who were 2/5 of the Aerosmith sound.  Changing two guitar players in the space of an album, especially when you’re losing a guy like Joe Perry, is always risky.  It’s risky because you’re losing a very recognizable member (musically and visually), and you’re changing the creative chemistry of the band.  Whatever was special about the first six albums, there was no guarantee it would carry over to the seventh.  Add to that an unfortunate album cover featuring Stonehenge.  There was nothing wrong with that, until This Is Spinal Tap came out in 1984.  It was a movie that Steven Tyler took very personally. Rock in a Hard Place looked like a joke, now.

Thankfully the record opened with two great songs in a row. The frantic “Jailbait” immediately recalled previous high points like “Toys in the Attic”. New guitar players or not, Hamilton and Kramer were more than capable of laying down that speedy Aero-groove on their own. Unusually for a rhythm section, they have a signature sound together, which makes “Jailbait” naturally sound like Aerosmith. Tyler is a sassy as ever, singing from experience I’m sure. Incidentally “Jailbait” is the only song with a Rick Dufay writing credit. Jimmy Crespo on the other hand co-wrote seven tracks.

Richie Supa, co-writer of “Chip Away the Stone”, returned to help out on the single “Lightning Strikes”. Maybe that’s one factor that makes the song so classic to me. Brad Whitford was still with the band when it was recorded, so that’s him on rhythm guitar instead of Dufay. “Lightning Strikes” was accompanied by a cool music video featuring the new guys. It’s cool how they fit in with the band, looking right at home, smoking on cigs. In the video, the band double as greaser gang bangers, ready to rumble in the middle of the night…when the lightning strikes.

Unfortunately, album quality takes a dip after that!

“Bitch’s Brew” is OK but it’s easy to hear the fatigue. The groove is there and the riff is solid, but there aren’t enough hooks to go around. That’s Crespo on the backing vocals, by the way. “Bolivian Ragamuffin” features some sweet slide guitar and really harkens back to what I like about Aerosmith. It’s just not a good enough song!

“Cry Me a River” is the old Ella Fitzgerald classic, and who but Aerosmith are better at doing unusual classic covers? “Cry Me a River” isn’t one of their best, but it is good. They do it as a smokey, lounge number complete with electric guitars and a monster called Joey Kramer on the drum kit!

Skip “Prelude to Joanie”. What happened here? This song intro is pretty silly.  Did Tyler listen to The Elder and say, “Jeez I have to get more sci-fi and conceptual sounding in my music!” Skip it, and get to the much better “Joanie’s Butterfly”. This sounds fresher. In a way it foreshadows some of the more exotic textures that Aerosmith would try out 15 years later on Nine Lives. It starts acoustic, but when the electric part kicks in, it’s old Aerosmith all over again and it works. It was an ambitious song and for the most part, they pulled it off. It could stand a little more cohesion, but think about the drugs swimming in their veins at the time!

ROCK IN A HARD PLACE_0003“Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)” again recalls the good ol’ days, sounding a bit like “Same Old Song and Dance”. Not as good, mind you, but in the ballpark.  “Jig is Up” is an attempt to get back to the funkier Aerosmith vibe, but it’s a completely forgettable track.  Truly filler, B-side material.  (Great guitar playing though.)  “Push Comes to Shove” ends the album on a slower, lounge-y note.  Once again I can’t help but hear the band burned out and running on fumes when I listen.

Aerosmith would tour around, in smaller venues, for the next few years.  Tyler was in some serious shit with his problems, falling down and passing out on stage.  Meanwhile as the band aimlessly toured the country, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford began to talk about what it would take to rejoin the band.  As if fated, Rick Dufay killed his own job with Aerosmith by suggesting to Steven Tyler that getting the other two guys back would be his best option.  Wheels were set in motion.

Record deal with Columbia now done, the label were free to issue live albums and outtakes.  Even as Aerosmith were on tour behind a brand new studio album for Geffen (Done With Mirrors), Columbia ensured there was also a live album on the shelves.  That’s what we’ll be looking at next time.

3/5 stars for Rock in a Hard Place.

* Be sure to check out the Joe Perry Project, and Whitford/St. Holmes.

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)
Disc 5: Draw the Line (1977)
Disc 6: Live! Bootleg (1978)
Disc 7: Night in the Ruts (1979)
Disc 8: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980)
Disc 9: Rock in a Hard Place (1982)