rock and roll

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)

 

Sunday Song Spotlight: REZ – “Shadows”

To go along with the occasional Sunday Screenings and Sunday Chuckles, it’s the Sunday Song Spotlight!  With all due respect to John at 2Loud2OldMusic, who has been doing a feature called My Sunday Song for years now.  I’m going to try and spotlight songs that I have loved for a long time, but have not written about in recent years.  Hoping to shine a light on some great music that you missed.

For the debut Sunday Song Spotlight, I want to talk about a tune that I first heard in 1986.  All I had was a taped copy of a taped copy of an original cassette, but the power of the song remained among the hiss:  “Shadows” by Rez.

Rez were a Christian rock band (Resurrection Band) and that was all I knew.  I had no other information.  I’d never seen a picture of them.  But I loved “Shadows”!  And you don’t have to be Christian to love it.  There’s only a hint of religion in the words.  A warning tale of drugs and suicide, “Shadows” is a power ballad with emphasis on power.  It resonated with us as kids.  Singer Glenn Kaiser has the rasp of Rod with lungs to spare.  What a singer!  The way his voice powers through the song takes it to another level.  Add in a cool guitar solo and relentless rock beat.  “Shadows” kicks ass.  The most powerful power ballad you’ll hear today.  Truly an awesome song, and the words still give me chills.

 

In the words of his mama, “He was my only son.”
In the words of his sister, “He was on the run.”
In the words of his girl, “How could it end this way?”
In the words of his daddy, “Well he never had much to say.”

Goodbye Kathy and goodbye Mom, there’s voices in my head
Angel dust and tortured dreams say I’d be better dead

You, you chased the shadows because your hopes
And dreams have been lost to the night

Hey, Billy, did you hear the news?
Johnny’s gone for good
They say his mama’s all broke up
They found him in the woods
Kathy just couldn’t understand
Sheriff, he just looked tired
Some will play and some will pay
And Johnny played with fire

Goodbye Kathy and goodbye Mom, there’s voices in my head
Angel dust and tortured dreams say I’d be better dead

You, you chased the shadows because your hopes
And dreams have been lost to the night

You, you chased the shadows because your hopes
And dreams have been lost to the night

Johnny’s dead and buried now out on the edge of town
Drove by his grave the other day, that’s when the fear came down
I hate the night that took his life, but now it’s haunting me
I may be young, may be confused but I gotta be free

God, are You there, can You hear me now?
Show me how to hope
Lost in the dark on a dead end road, please save me from myself

Lord, You, You took the shadows
All my fears and doubt and brought me out of the night
Lord, You , You take the shadows
Give me hope and love and turn my darkness to light

Lord, You, You took the shadows
All my fears and doubt and brought me out of the night
Lord, You , You take the shadows
Give me hope and love and turn my darkness to light

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

 

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)

Sunday Screening: The Four Horsemen – “Nobody Said It Was Easy”

In honour of our special surprise guest yesterday, Mr. Dave Lizmi!  One of the truly greatest hits 30 years ago in 1991 was “Nobody Said It Was Easy” by The Four Horsemen.  Its dirty rock and roll sound clashed with everything going on at the time.  They were rock, they were punk, they were southern, they were screaming, and they were truly special.  “Nobody Said It Was Easy” is the song that hooked us.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN

  • Frank C. Starr – vocals
  • Haggis – rhythm and slide guitars
  • Dave Lizmi – lead and rhythm guitars
  • Ben Pape – bass
  • Kenneth “Dimwit” Mongomery – drums

Thank you Dave!  Rest in peace Frank and Ken.

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Honkin’ On Bobo (2004)

AEROSMITH – Honkin’ On Bobo (2014 Columbia)

Sometimes we take one for the team. For no reason other than to get it done, we take out albums we strongly dislike just for the sake of writing them up. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises and time has been kinder than our memories have been. And sometimes you’re just Honkin’ on Bobo, whatever the fuck that means. It could be code for Sucking the Big One.

Necessary background:  After 2001’s putrid Just Push Play, Aerosmith were eager to strip it back to basics and record an album live in the studio.  They returned to producer Jack Douglas and picked an album’s worth of blues covers to Aero-fy.  This is a formula that rarely works out well for rock bands, and Aerosmith fell into the blues cover trap with both feet.

The only exception is one new original, a ballady blues called “The Grind”.  It happens to be one of the best tracks, though firmly within that Aerosmith bluesy ballad niche that they carved out for themselves in the early 90s with “Cryin'” and “Blind Man”.  That this is an album highlight is a warning as sure as a watchman yelling “iceberg dead ahead!”  We’re about to take on water, and there aren’t enough lifeboats.

One of Aerosmith’s issues since the mid to late 90s is how they’ve become a caricature of themselves.  Bob Diddley’s “Road Runner” is thick with Aerosmith clichés to the point that it sounds like an Aerosmith covers band filling their set out with standards.  “Road Runner” isn’t limber, it’s thick in the thighs with thuddy rock tropes.  Joey Kramer injects some life into “Shame, Shame, Shame” but it only makes you wish Aerosmith had tackled the track in 1974 instead of 2004 so it wouldn’t sound so contrived.  “Eyesight to the Blind” (Sonny Boy Williamson) isn’t convincing, as Tyler huffs through the song like a burlesque singer.  “Baby Please Don’t Go” makes you crave AC/DC’s superior version, although the groove on this one is positively unearthly.  It’s an unbelievable groove that perhaps should have been made into an Aerosmith original rather than a throwaway cover.

Aretha’s “Never Loved a Man” is transformed into “Never Loved a Girl”, and with the Memphis Horns on board there’s some value to it, but compared to Aretha they sound like rookies.  Like an amateur artist copying a master with crayons.  “Back Back Train” is actually OK, and it might be that Joe Perry is a more appropriate vocalist for a blues classic.  Tyler’s histrionics wear thin on this album, but Perry’s laid back singing works better.  Tyler surely doesn’t aid the sluggish “You Gotta Move”.

A dreary “I’m Ready” (Muddy Waters) is still a long way from the end.  “Temperature” also drags along, Tyler turning it into a parody.  Fleetwood Mac get the Aero treatment on “Stop Messin’ Around”, at least the second Mac cover that Aerosmith have done after “Rattlesnake Shake”.  Please welcome Joe Perry back to the microphone on “Stop Messin’ Around”, and please keep Tyler away!  Unfortunately it’s a boring tune (blazing fretwork aside), and so is the closer “Jesus is on the Main Line”.

Even the most stalwart defender must concede that Honkin’ On Bobo isn’t a blues album for a blues lover.  It’s a blues-rock forgery that occasionally captures the odd highlight for posterity, but is otherwise expendable.  In other words if you’re in a Zombie apocalypse looking for CDs to chuck at the undead, Honkin’ On Bobo can be flung guilt-free.

1.5/5 stars

And once again, it’s the return of the dreaded flaming turd!

 

 

AERO-REVIEWS:

MORE Aero-Reviews:

 

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Just Push Play (2001 2 CD Japanese edition)

AEROSMITH – Just Push Play (2001 Sony Japan 2 CD set)

Funny thing about some pretty bad albums: sometimes the bands con you into buying them twice. They do this with bonus tracks you may need and can’t find elsewhere. Aerosmith have been guilty of this on multiple occasions. You know what they say about fools and money.

In 2001, Aerosmith did it with Just Push Play. They placed a bonus track on the European CD (“Face”), and a completely different set of bonus tracks in Japan…but excluding “Face”. As one of the looser songs on a pretty stiff album, “Face” is pretty enjoyable.  So what about Japan’s exclusive song, “Won’t Let You Down”?  Well, for one it’s heavy.  For Aerosmith, it’s really heavy.  You could picture it on a better album like Nine Lives.  Though not perfect it’s a damn fine latter-day Aerosmith track.  It just needs another hook.

“Won’t Let You Down” and its associated Joe Perry guitar wizardry is the most interesting of the bonus tracks, but that doesn’t mean the rest are not.  Though “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” is more than slightly boring today, it was Aerosmith’s biggest hit to date.  This was the first time it appeared on an Aerosmith album, and only in Japan.

The second CD has a diverse stew of bonuses.  The first is a 3:17 radio remix of “Just Push Play”.  It’s mostly a matter of making the guitar, drums and other elements more prominent in the mix.  It’s quite a bit better than the album cut, though just as silly.  You gotta wonder if anybody in the studio told Steven to try it without the rasta accent.  That’s the remix I want to hear, because the chorus is great.

Moving on to live rarities, Aerosmith included a handful of previously released tracks that weren’t necessarily already in your collection.  First up:  California Jam II.  “Same Old Song and Dance”, “Draw the Line” and “Chip Away the Stone” were all available on the various artists album California Jam II.  If you have this, you don’t need to buy that.  The year was 1978 and Aerosmith were still cooking live.  Whether it comes from youthful or chemical energy, these tracks are faster than their studio counterparts.  Rough and dirty live Aerosmith without the backing tapes and fixes:  what’s not to love?  “Draw the Line” has more…definition?…than the original.  Still, smoking so hot that Joe Perry probably melted his strings.  It’s just plain great to any live version of “Chip Away the Stone“.  Top five Aerosmith song?  Welcome to the collection.

That’s not all folks, as we stick to 1978 and the famous Texxas Jam.  “Big Ten-Inch Record” and “Lord of the Thighs” would be familiar if you own Pandora’s Box.  Strange they included two tracks that were readily available, but here they are and there’s nothing wrong with ’em.

A brief word on the album Just Push Play itself.  We’ve already reviewed it in full, so let’s not rehash.  Joe Perry’s least favourite Aerosmith albumy panders for hits in the most embarrassing ways.  Hi-tech recording and outside songwriters watered it down.  The old Tyler/Perry combination was not to be found on a single track.  The other three guys have not a single writing credit between them.  It’s a sad state of affairs.

If you’re a masochist like me, you’ll want to get this one for the bonus tracks.  If not, just stay away.

Just Push Play1/5 stars

Bonus CD – 3/5 stars

#752: Chip Away the Stone

GETTING MORE TALE #752: Chip Away the Stone

I didn’t have any childhood friends who were into Aerosmith.  I had to get into them on my own.

Well, that might not be entirely true.  Next door neighbour George may have been into them, but the rest of us ignored Aerosmith because they were “the band with the singer with the weird lips”.  They weren’t “metal” enough to be in my wheelhouse at that young age.  There wasn’t much Aerosmith being played on MuchMusic in the early 80s.  Maybe “Lightning Strikes”, but that was about it.  The music video with the greasers didn’t appeal to us metal kids.  The Joe Perry Project didn’t do it for us either.  The video with the pink saxophone?  (“Black Velvet Pants”.)  Not metal enough!  We were strict metal heads as kids, and pink saxophones were not metal.

What was it that finally caught my Aero-attention?  Joe Perry’s plexiglas guitar.

This all seems silly from an adult perspective, but we were just kids.  We loved metal, not just for the music but also that all-important image.  Videos were so important to us.  A band not only had to sound cool, but they had to look it.  Aerosmith didn’t look cool to us, with the tights and the lips.  That changed in early ’86.

Ironically enough the video was called “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  It was and is a killer song.  I didn’t know, or care about its history as a song by the Joe Perry Project.  What caught my eye was that guitar.  A transparent guitar?  I’d never seen anything like that before.  My best friend Bob and I were obsessed with unusual guitars.

“I have to tape this and show it to Bob,” I said.

The video itself was pretty cool.  A group of bootleggers snuck a camera into a concert to make their own video.  It was a glimpse at an adult activity we’d yet to experience: the live concert.  “Let the Music Do the Talking” made concerts look just as cool as we imagined they would be.  There was even a twist ending.  And like that, Aerosmith began to chip away the walls around me.  Once they got me to pay attention, I was loving the song!  Sure it wasn’t “metal”, but it was fast and rocked hard.  The singer may have looked kind of weird, but the guitar player was cool as hell!  I’d never seen anyone use a slide before.  Watching Joe Perry hammering away at that clear guitar gave me a million new air guitar moves.

What came next was “Walk This Way” with Run DMC, Permanent Vacation and mainstream recognition.  Before long everybody was into Aerosmith (again).  “Angel” came out when I was really into ballads, and it was a fantastic ballad.  On a kid’s allowance, I wasn’t able to get the album for many years, but Aerosmith were still on my radar.

Only a year after Permanent Vacation came the song that I grew to love the most.  What came out a year after Permanent Vacation, you may be asking?

Many people didn’t catch the 1988 release of Gems.  It was on their former record label Columbia and didn’t get a lot of notice.  What Gems had wasn’t a new song, just an obscure one dusted off:  “Chip Away the Stone”.

Written by Richie Supa, “Chip Away the Stone” is one of a few hit songs the guitarist gave to Aerosmith.  Others like “Amazing” might be more well-know, but “Chip Away” is special.  When the music video hit in late ’88, Supa was featured in it via archival footage (look for the guy with the moustache).  If anyone knew “Chip Away” in ’88 prior to Gems, it would have been through their album Live! Bootleg.  The studio version was only available on a rare single!  If you were a kid living in Kitchener in the late 80s, good luck finding it, or even knowing it existed.  For us, and the majority of fans, “Chip Away the Stone” was a brand new song.

I was getting into piano in rock songs around this time too.  “Chip Away the Stone” had just a hint of boogie-woogie and it hit the right chords for me.  Even though I was expanding my musical horizons slowly but surely, the music video still had a huge impact.  Considering it was made up of old live footage, it was surprisingly well edited, fresh and cutting-edge.  The shots of the piano were spliced to look like somebody was playing on one super-long piano keyboard.  I assumed it was Richie Supa playing piano:  the credits are unclear.  Either way, that video got me deeper into Aerosmith.  Way deeper.

Today my two favourite songs are “Chip Away the Stone” and “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  I have plenty of others — “Seasons of Whither”, “F.I.N.E.”, “Draw the Line” — but those first two just stick with me.  Part of that is nostalgia, but the other is that they are just great fucking songs.

REVIEW: The Buddy Holly Story – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1978)

THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1978 Epic)

The Buddy Holly Story was a remarkable movie, not because it was terribly accurate (it wasn’t).  Some of the best music biopics, like The Buddy Holly Story, feature the movie cast doing the singing and playing.  In a rare stroke of fortune, Gary Busey was cast as the perfect Buddy Holly.  He could sing enough like the rock and roll legend, and with some curly hair and glasses, Busey fit the bill.

The “Clear Lake Medley” is made up of Buddy’s greatest hits like “Peggy Sue”, “That’ll Be the Day”, “Oh Boy”, “Maybe Baby”, and “Not Fade Away”.  They’re amped-up, made to sound like the live concert experience.  Busey’s more manic in this setting than the old familiar studio versions.

The most interesting track, possibly, is the a-Capella “I’m Gonna Love You Too”, with just Gary Busey’s voice.  You can’t fake it in that setting.  The guy managed to sound enough like Buddy Holly through this whole soundtrack that you often drift away and forget that’s what it is.  The suspension of disbelief is complete.

All this and you’ll get a collection of some pretty amazing songs too.  You’ll know most of ’em, including “Everyday” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”.  As seen in the film, “Everyday” is a slow, ballady version.  That is certainly compensated for by the “Roller Rink Medley”, another adrenaline-pumped live set.

Truly a great soundtrack and a worthy addition for Buddy Holly fans.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Nobody Said it Was Easy (2018 vinyl reissue)

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Nobody Said it Was Easy (originally 1991 Def American, 2018 vinyl reissue with bonus tracks)

Though defunct for well over two decades, the Four Horsemen are like the gift that keeps on giving.  When they bit the dust, all they initially left behind were two albums and an EP.  Today there are a set of reissues with bonus tracks, live releases, and a “lost” second LP that was never released before.  In 2018, another handful of unreleased tracks came to light on a brand new vinyl reissue of Nobody Said it Was Easy.  This is the second reissue of the album now, the first (on CD) having three completely different bonus tracks (“She’s Got It”, “Homesick Blues (harmonica version)” and “Born to Boogie”).  The vinyl replaces those with a bunch more you didn’t have.

First, about the album Nobody Said it Was EasyWe reviewed it back in 2016 and stand by every word.  It was a shining beacon of rock n’ roll when it was in danger of drowning in a sea of grunge.  Rick Rubin gave the album an edgy, loud and crisp sound.  The band had a dirty vibe at odds with the Poisons and Motley Crues on the charts.  And they boasted one of the greatest unsung frontmen ever:  Frank C. Starr.  A real life bad boy, there was nothing phony about Frank, nor any of the Four Horsemen.  The nucleus was the man known as Haggis, ex-The Cult, ex-Zodiac Mindwarp.  His slippy-slidey guitars melded perfectly with the southern soloing of Dave Lizmi.  On bass was a chap named Ben Pape, but the secret weapon was drummer Kenneth “Dimwit” Montgomery.  This mountain of a man, a Canadian punk rock veteran, had presence and a deep Bonham-like beat.  The Four Horsemen couldn’t be touched by anyone in their field.  The 12 songs that made up Nobody Said it Was Easy sound derived in equal parts from early AC/DC and the American South, with a healthy dose of sleazy intent.

“My name is Frankie, let’s fuck up the place!”

The three singles are flat-out indispensable.  I wouldn’t want to live my life without “Rockin’ Is Ma Business” any more than I would want to live it without “Let There Be Rock”.  “Tired Wings” is a greasy southern revelation, while the title track has more hooks than a tackle shop.

As an added bonus, this package also includes the first Four Horsemen EP, Welfare Boogie.  It was available separately on a remastered CD with bonus tracks, but now you can get it on vinyl right here.  The four EP songs were pretty high octane.  “Hard Loving Man” remains a ridiculous highlight.  Tattooed pecker indeed!

Onto the unreleased tracks, of which there are six:  five songs and an interview.  All of these are exclusive to this LP; nowhere else.  The interview is a vintage road call from a humorous Haggis to a Calgary radio station, but it’s inconsequential at only 2:30 long.  (My copy of the second LP has the sides labelled incorrectly.)

Check out the original open-G tuning of “Tired Wings”.  It’s remarkable how changing the tuning made the difference between a good song and a great one.  Now it’s timeless.  Frankie did a completely different lead vocal on “’75 Again”, without the screaming (some of the guitar bits are missing too).  I think I prefer the screaming version when you hear them side by side.  An alternate version of “Can’t Stop Rockin'” is a different take, also without screaming (or backing vocals).  These versions that didn’t make the original album are as well produced as the record, but ultimately it’s a matter of taste which you prefer.  It’s certainly startling to hear different versions after this many years.

“The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” is an instrumental, recorded Christmas Day 1991.  This certainly foreshadows the direction the Four Horsemen would go on their “lost” second album, Daylight Again, which was more Band than AC/DC.  Finally it’s an extended 8:32 live jam on “Can’t Get Next to You”, a non-album rarity.  Another version can be found on the CD/DVD set, Left For Dead.  Dave Lizmi really gets to cut loose on this.

It doesn’t really matter which version of Nobody Said it Was Easy you end up with.  The original 12 track CD was 5/5 stars then and now, but which is best?  The remastered CD gives you unreleased tracks exclusive to the format, so there’s that.  This LP gives you even more, plus the original Welfare Boogie EP, but it is limited to just 500 copies.  Better act fast before it’s too late.

5/5 stars

MORE 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. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  5. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By (1996)
  6. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  7. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)