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As a 7 year old, I loved Earth, Wind & Fire. They were one of my favorite groups as they were a band whose records were a constant part of my childhood. My favorite EW&F album was, and will always remain, 1974′s Open Our Eyes, and that year also gave us Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess, two songs of which had EW&F involvement (in “Hot Dawgit” and the title track). Their music was always on the radio so while I didn’t get That’s The Way Of The World or their live album Gratitute until later, there wasn’t a time when songs like “Sing A Song”, “Can’t Hide Love”, “Reasons”, “Shining Song”, “Happy Feelin’”, and “That’s The Way Of The World” was not on the radio. Plus, one of my auntie’s had those albums so it wasn’t a problem to listen to it if I visited her apartment. My next EW&F experience, however, was Spirit. I remember sitting down in front of my parents’ stereo, sitting with the record, looking at the cover, and wondering what it meant for the pyramid to be there as they close their eyes with different hand gestures and body stances. The true significance of the lyrics in their music wouldn’t come clear until later, but it was obvious they were about positivity. Alongside groups like the Ohio Players, Brass Construction, and Parliament, it seemed that ideal music groups were eight members or more, it looked like they were all brothers, a family vibe, and it sounded like they were having an incredible time in the studio. By the time All N’ All was released on November 21, 1977, it seemed like there was something in the air. Yes, even at age 7 I could tell there was a bit of a musical difference between what they had done on Open Our Eyes and what I heard on All N’ All, even though I didn’t know how to put that together in words.
For me, All N’ All was their “go for broke” album, something they had already been testing out with the surprise pop success of That’s The Way Of The World, which placed three songs in heavy rotation which continues to this day. “Shining Star” and “That’s The Way Of The World” are often played back to back, the soul/pop equivalent of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”/”We Are The Champions”, and there aren’t any soul groups who can make that back to back claim in the mainstream. I remember my dad buying All N’ All and bringing it home. He put on the record and things began with a bit of a funky groove. All of a sudden, here came the horns, the drive towards something, and with a mega blast, Maurice White, Philip Bailey, and the rest of the band sang out with passion, “OH!” It was glorious and jubilant, although at age 7 I didn’t come up with those words. It just sounded new and fresh, and hearing new music from my favorite band was awesome. Forget the fact that I had no idea what White was singing about, or that Bailey sounded like he was singing all about the “serpentine fah”, but I loved the funkiness and that was all that mattered. I would learn about the spiritual tone of the song later on, but what stood out about this song was how solid and polished it sounded compared to what they had released before. What I also loved about this song was the breakdown with the percussion, and how with headphones, there was always a little extra information going on in each channel. Nonetheless, “Serpentine Fire” was the first single to be released from the band’s new album.
On a historical note, if you were able to track down the promotional white label 12″ single, you would find that “Serpentine Fire” was extended by an extra minute. This version has yet to be digitized officially.
“Fantasy” was song #2, and this was Bailey’s showcase. Lyrically, the words were a bit more easier to understand for this 7 year old. As a fan of the P-Funk, it was cool to hear that Earth, Wind & Fire were also going to head into space, with a lyric like “take a ride in the sky on our ship fantasise”. In the year of Star Wars, when all of us of a certain age now looked forward to heading to space one day, it was very cool to realize that along with the Mothership Connection, I would be able to travel to a planet and see Earth, Wind & Fire one day. While the front cover of All ‘N All was a look at African traditions and archival of the past, if you opened the gatefold cover, it showed what it would be like for the future, taking hints from Clinton and Sun Ra to let people know that perhaps, space will indeed be the place to be.
“Fantasy” was very cool, with incredible bass work from Verdine White, the powerful string and horn arrangements, and just the thought of the song, making it possible for dreams to come true and go further than you could ever imagine. It was a very happy and positive song, or at least a song where a kid like myself could listen to and want to achieve better because the sky was no longer the limit, we could go beyond. They were inspirational songs, and upon reading the lyric sheet, I discovered that there were a few lines printed that was not in the song. “Where are the lyrics in the song?” I asked, and “is this sung, or do we talk over it?” What I also loved, and still do, is that while some songs would have a chorus, it felt like this song had four different choruses. As I got older, I realized the White was simply offering a bit of lessons and guidance through his words, and these choruses came off a bit like mantra:
Come to see victory In a land called fantasy
Loving life for you and me
To behold, to your soul is ecstasy
You will find other kind
That has been in search of you
Many lives has brought you to
Recognize, it’s your life now in review
And as you stay for the play
Fantasy has in store for you
A glowing light will see you through
It’s your day, shining day, all your dreams come true
As you glide in your stride
With the wind as you fly away
Give a smile from your lips and say
I’m free, yes I’m free, now I’m on my way
It felt as if each chorus helped the song to build until it would reach its conclusion, and you can’t help but go “yes, this is what life should be like”, a means of finding freedom. “Fantasy” would become the album’s second single.
Earth, Wind & Fire also were the masters of the interlude, I considered them a brief intermission in the program of an album. “In The Marketplace (Interlude)” was cool, for it had an instrument I loved the sound for, the kalimba, but instead of song, you heard about three or four, mixed in with White humming along and creating a verbal bassline. I would play this song over and over because it was only 43 seconds long and I wanted to hear more. The song would eventually slow down before White moved his thumbs furiously on the thumb piano before going right into the next track.
If the band were giving hints about going to space, then “Jupiter” showed them finding a planet and talking about their surroundings. Even though they were in a new place with new things to see, they also explained how the two planets had many things in common. On top of that, the horn section was tight and playing incredibly, and I know I danced my ass off when I played this. What I also loved was the horn breakdown and shift in keys at around the 2:14 mark, as if it’s looking for a bridge, doesn’t find it, but wants to find a way to fit in. What also moved me was the “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah/yao!” chant at 2:39 and 2:47, and right before it could get better, it fades a bit before going into the album’s first ballad.
“Love’s Holiday” shows how much of a romantic White can be, with a song that became an immediate slow jam for anyone and everyone who listened. I didn’t know what a “slow jam” was or its intentions, but this was just “ooh, the band are playing slower, it’s still funky, but it sounds like a love song.” Everything about this song is perfect, from White’s ad libs throughout the chorus, the vocal arrangement, the string section, and when the song makes a shift at 2:54 before it makes its way home. Guitarist Johnny Graham takes it to a place where it needs to be, and as White sings “look into your eye”, you know something is going to happen. That “something” comes when he let’s out a powerful and soothing “hey” as Graham understands the feeling and plays the song out with endurance and strength.
It would normally be the end of Side 1, but Earth, Wind & Fire have other intentions: another interlude. “Brazilian Rhyme (Beijo)” would become a live favorite as it allowed the crowd to sing along to the groove, as Bailey gets a chance to scat jazz style. The drums and percussion are deep, Verdine White’s basslines color a picture that becomes clear as the song goes on, and as the song fades out before the 1:20 mark, we hear another guitar solo that is never heard. It would be great if one day this recording is released with its full cold ending.
Flip the record over, and Side 2 begins with All ‘N All‘s second of three ballads, another Bailey gem called “I’ll Write A Song For You”. While the strings and acoustic guitars give the song a very big deal, it can easily be compared to some of the other ballads Bailey had done before then, including “Reasons” and even some of the songs on their Last Days And Time. What I enjoyed about this song is the last two minutes, when the flutes come in and Bailey passionately sings about writing this song of love before the band get into a nice jazzy vibe. Before the song reaches its conclusion, we hear him go higher than higher as he climbs for that last note, almost to where it sounds like he’s singing two different notes at the same time.
“Magic Mind” is one of my favorite songs on the album, incredibly funky from start to finish. I also love the word play in the chorus, and as a kid who loved to write and put together poems, this just seemed clever: Take a chance as you dance
In romance in a trance
To advance and expand
Got a dime and a rhyme
Brilliant mind, still inclined
In your prime to design
When they repeat the chorus at the end of the song, they add a few more lines: Moving soon
paid your dues
‘Cause you’re through feelin’ blue
I had no idea what an “upper room” meant at the time, but realized that the song was talking about doing what you can in this existence called life before we all eventually “move soon” to a metaphorical final resting place, which for some may be that “upper room” in the sky, or simply dealing with the eventuality of finality. It was a way of saying that in life, we have to deal with the crap and pain that exists, but when we have paid our dues, we no longer have to worry about it when we’re dead, but we must realize this before we die. What I also liked about this section too was that the reference to “’cause you’re through feelin’ blue” seemed to be a link to the band’s “Feeling Blue” song from their Open Our Eyes. The band would sometimes make subtle references to other songs in their past (i.e. “anytime that you’re ’bout to cry/one more time…head to the sky” from “Mighty Mighty” refers to “Keep Your Head To The Sky”) and this is a perfect sample of it.
While “Runnin’” could loosely be called an instrumental because it lacks proper lyrics, it’s another showcase for the entire band, along with Bailey and Maurice White to do a bit of jazz scat. In part it sounds like a slight update to Ramsey Lewis’ “Sun Goddess”, but with more percussion, a vibrant horn arrangement, and during the song’s second half they increase the tempo and bring in Brazilian and jazz influences to show how festive things can be in a positive world. The coolest part of the song, however, is when the song sounds like it’s coming to a close and it appears that everyone in the recording studio is just listening to the first song on the album, “Serpentine Fire”. Without knowing how a recording studio or tape recording worked at the time, I know I thought something like “how did they get “Serpentine Fire” in this song when it’s on the other side of the record?” It could have been a separate interlude on its own, and when the band have had their fill of “Serpentine Fire”, they go back into “Runnin’” before allowing the song to fade. To my ears, it sounds like the same section of “Runnin’” that starts the recording, but we’re hearing different sections of the multi-track. I would love to find out one day if this is true. The song ends with a bit of a groovy keyboard riff from Larry Dunn and sadly, another EW&F song ends.
The last interlude is a Dunn spotlight track, “Brazilian Rhyme (Ponta de Areia)”, a Milton Nascimento composition that, if anything, reveals one of the album’s biggest influences: the sound and spirit of Brazil.
The album ends with a beautiful ballad, “Be Ever Wonderful” performed in 3/4 time. After an album full of fun and festivities, it’s as if Maurice White put this on there as if to say “time to take it back home, time to go to sleep, and time to say goodbye”. Lyrically, it almost seems like a slight continuation of “That’s The Way Of The World”. In that song, they talked about how a “child is born with a heart of gold/the weight of the world makes his heart so cold”. A child can’t be a child forever, so in song, Maurice White speaks to a woman of interest and sings “Be ever wonderful, stay as you are/
Time is right, in your life tonight/Find your place among the Broadway light/and be ever wonderful, stay as you are/
Stay as you are, won’t you stay in your own sweet way/Don’t let the world change your mind”. In other words, no matter how much of life you have to deal with, never forget where you are from and who you are. If you don’t lose sight of who you are, you will never be lost.
Musically, it’s a lot to digest but I loved what I could understand. After playing this album all the time at the age of 7, my dad told me that he saw something at a record store that he’d like to show me. I went to Ala Moana Shopping Center and we went to one of his favorite record stores, and on the top level were the instruments. Behind the glass display was a kalimba. I probably had the biggest smile on my face. “A kalimba! A kalimba!” I wanted to play it so bad, but was not able to. I told my dad that I wanted it for my birthday, but considering how expensive it was, I thought maybe when I grew up, I’d get it. On my 8th birthday, I received that kalimba. I could now be like one of my music heroes, Maurice White. I could never play it like White, but it was great to be able to touch the instrument that was partly the source of some of my favorite songs.
Looking back, All ‘N All seemed to be the last great EW&F album before they decided to make deliberate hits. I loved “September” when I heard it, and still did, and I thought it was great that the band were not just on Columbia Records, but had their own record label, American Recording Company (ARC). A year later, they came out with “Boogie Wonderland”, which featured a group they were associated with, The Emotions. I loved that song as well, and had that in my record box. It’s hard to say if it was truly the last great EW&F, or was it for the fact that it was the last EW&F album my parents had bought. We definitely did not buy I Am although I always heard “In The Storm” and “After The Love Is Gone” on the radio, along with “Boogie Wonderland”. Nor did my parents buy the follow-up to that, a 2-record set called Faces, which had the great “Let Me Talk”. A big part of my music listening habits originally came from my parents, although by the age of 9, I was already making initiative to listen to what I wanted to hear without their interference. They bought the records of course, but by late 1979 I renewed a love for Pink Floyd when they started doing a song about not needing education, great lyrics for a 4th grade to sing. Plus, it was that song which featured the lyric “all and all you’re just another brick in the wall” and at a time when I was already trying to figure out more things about music and the fun of discovering influences, I did wonder if Pink Floyd were influenced by Earth, Wind & Fire. “All and all”, All ‘N All, both were bands on Columbia Records so… was there a link? No, but the radio would become my spot to listen to the latest Earth, Wind & Fire hits until I started buying my own records.
But was it their last great album? Some fans and critics will say yes, that the band finally achieved what they wanted to achieve in terms of chart success, something they had gained from the success of That’s The Way Of The World. All ‘N All would push the band into the forefront, making them one of the biggest bands of the 1970′s. While they were a part of the disco era, they were not a disco band even though some of their songs were disco-tinged. They also managed to record a Beatles song better than The Beatles, “Got TO Get You Into My Life”, and have a big hit with it. They were, in 1978, bigger than The Beatles. All ‘N All showed a band who had surprise pop success and wanted more. Bailey’s introduction to EW&F in 1972 was also the introduction of a poppier side to their music, whereas before they were more than happy to get trippy with their jazz and funk. In essence, a need for pop success may have been in place all along but it would be five years after Bailey’s entry into EW&F that finally made it happen. All ‘N All is an album that shows a group who had everything in place, in the right place at the right time, managing to not only get more acceptance from the pop world, but getting hit songs that would be a bit closer to home for the band’s core audience, even though that was growing too. The album was a means to spread a universal message, as expressed in the illustration in the gatefold cover of different religious and spiritual symbols, mixed in with an image of the kalimba. Just as these symbols may have provided guidance and wisdom for those who chose to believe in them, maybe it was a way of saying that this album could be guidance and wisdom for those who listened, regardless of the path each individual would take. It did for me. The words and music of Maurice White came off like a father, an uncle, a teacher, and a preacher, along with someone who just wanted to pass you some funky jams. I will forever be grateful for the impact White and Earth, Wind & Fire made on me as a person, and my music listening habits.
When Pebbles released her debut album on November 16, 1987, she was in a world where Whitney Houston was a champion of the charts, and hip-hop music was becoming championed by a growing amount of young listeners. On the rock side, glam metal ruled the airwaves, and soul and R&B continued to challenge itself. It still wanted to be soulful while showing its mature edge, but still desiring a younger audience for maximum coverage. Rap music was there but there was a distinct line between the two. You also had a younger generation of producers who were ready to show off what they were doing, and that would happen very soon after the release of Pebbles’ debut.
As with most female artists, the moment someone steps up to the microphone and the spotlight, it’s a battle of talent and vocal power vs. attractiveness. The music video meant some relied on the visuals more than the voice, but when you bought the cassette (as the cassette was the format of choice in late 1987), you relied solely on the music. When you did, you also relied on more than just the hit.
Pebbles perhaps came through at the right time, with a year that began with the surprise success of Jody Watley’s debut. As a member of Shalamar and a longtime dancer on Soul Train, everyone wondered what happened when she left the group and “suddenly” disappeared. The last time most had seen her was in Band Aid’s Feed The World, which made people go “what is she doing in England?” When her debut album was released by MCA in February 1987, the hits seemed to come one after the other, so that by the holiday season, she had four hit singles to her name. In 1986, the success of the movie Beverly Hills Cop not only resulted in high box office returns, but ended up with a soundtrack that did extremely well, to the point where half of the album turned out hits in their own right. That started a new era of soundtrack albums where one didn’t have to specifically create a unified score. With a need to bank on the success of the first, a Beverly Hills Cop II was called for and thus the accompanying soundtrack, sure to be packed with potential hits. It was, as the album would feature The Jets’ “Cross My Broken Heart”, Bob Seger’s “Shakedown”, The Pointer Sisters’ “Be There”, and it managed to market George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” five months before Michael himself would release his debut album, Faith. Part of the success of “I Want Your Sex” was due to this soundtrack and placement in the movie. The soundtrack also featured music by James Ingram, Corey Hart, Charlie Sexton, Ready For The World, and Jermaine Jackson. Many of the songs were released as singles, including the debut single from one Pebbles. Her song was called “Love/Hate”, but because of the cluster of singles from Beverly Hills Cop II and other songs on the charts at the time, it got lost in the shuffle and received very little airplay. If you purchased the single, it simply had Eddie Murphy on the cover, not distinct to stand out. No one could picture a “Pebbles” or even a Perri McKissack with the record, so it quietly faded away.
Her initial success as a background vocalist with Con Funk Shun is what lead to a bit of label interest, seeing that if a background vocalist could do it, why not bring her to the forefront? While the first single was a bit of a flop, MCA Records was convinced that there would be success with her, especially when they saw how much success they were having with Watley and other artists on MCA. They had hoped to continue this with Pebbles, and through executive Producer James H. Smith, they brought in some of the best talent in music at the time, including L.A. Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Andre Cymone, Charlie Wilson, brothers Michael and Danny Sembello, Taavi Mote, Louis Silas Jr., Paulinho Da Costa, Yvette Marine, Cherelle, and Siedah Garrett, among others. In terms of 80′s music, production, musicians, and singers, that’s some of the best people right there, so while “Love/Hate” was not the hit, they all knew there was a hit to come and the album was designed that way.
The album was promoted with its first single, “Girlfriend”, where she got a chance to show off her lead and background vocal capabilities, along with the talents of producers L.A. and Babyface, both of whom appeared in the video with her. As for the video, it presented Pebbles as a sensuous diva of sorts, not really smiling but not needing to, considering the tone of the song.
It was the second single from the album that would become the big hit for her, the great “Mercedes Boy”, which she not only wrote, but co-produced. It uses the pop music tradition of using an automobile as a sexual metaphor, although one can ask was she really inging about a car of status, or was she comparing herself to a Mercedes? If the latter, she told the “boy” in question that if he takes her invitation, there are so many things that she could do to him. The song is complimented with background vocals featuring a male and woman, including former Mary Jane Girls’ vocalist Yvette “Corvette” Marine, who also found herself as one of the dancers in the video. The effectiveness of the song, the complimentary guitar solo, and her vocal tracks, is what helped make this song a hit in early 1988, making it to #2 on the Billboard Singles chart and #1 on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart. More was expected, and more would come.
“Do Me Right” would be the third single from the album, and while it definitely had great pop chart success written all over it, this one seemed to cater more to the R&B charts, or at least music fans who understood the power of a mid-tempo love jam. It did get a fair amount on BET’s Video Soul and Video Vibrations.
By the time MCA decided to release a fourth single, “Take Your Time”, perhaps the album had outlasted its welcome or fans simply were happy with the hits, liked her album, and perhaps wanted something new. On top of that, you also had Guy’s debut album, Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel and New Edition’s Heartbreak gaining attention, all of which were released by MCA. They had their hands full, so “Take Your Time” faded out a bit. It didn’t take away the fact that the first Pebbles spawned four singles and featured five, as “Love/Hate” from Beverly Hills Cop II was also on there. There could only be bigger and better to come from this Oakland-lady, especially when the city is known for its rich love of soul, funk, and disco.
She would gain two more #1′s on the R&B charts, including a duet with Babyface, and as she was getting radio and TV airplay, she wanted to get into the background part of the music industry with her production company. That is when she helped three ladies from Atlanta, collectively called TLC, get to the top of the charts. Pebbles as an artist may have had her star dimmed, but Perri McKissack was aware of it and embraced moving from one part of the industry to the other. She eventually married producer L.A. Reid, which lasted a few years. She would eventually become a gospel artist and would be known as Perri Reid or sometimes Sister Perri, and has since been heavily involved in the ministries.
Not many artists can make it with a hit single, but Pebbles had four. She also had two albums that sold quite well, including her 1987 debut, which went platinum (i.e. U.S. sales of over a million). “Girlfriend”, “Mercedes Boy”, and “Giving You The Benefit”, along with the Babyface duet “Love Makes Things Happens”, receive airplay everyday. Some of the songs may sound dated for some, but it’s considered dated because they are considered of value to someone who loved that style of production and arrangements. 25 years ago, many of us wanted to know who and why Pebbles was treated so bad with “Girlfriend” but in the end, despite a few bumps and bruises in her career and personal life, we realize that in the words of Pebbles herself, “baby, don’t be sad”, for she has done quite well.
(The Spotify playlist is my version of Pebbles’ debut album, placing an emphasis on the single versions and edits of “Girlfriend” and “Mercedes Boy”, the latter of which was a remix made for the single that I prefer. The album versions of each song are included at the end.)
Today is the 25th anniversary of Def Leppard’s fourth and biggest selling album, Hysteria (Bludgeon Riffola/Mercury). We now know that they made this album in the hopes it would become hard rock’s Thriller. They managed to release seven singles from it, I think the goal was nine since the picture sleeves for each 45 would have made a puzzle of the entire album cover. This album was massive, and in a time when hard rock and heavy metal’s influence was all over the place, the music also leaked into the pop world because of the band’s accessibility, and made them huge superstars. Has the album held up 25 years later? A little bit of yes, and a little bit of no. Allow me to explain.
Hysteria was the long awaited follow up to the band’s third album, Pyromania. The album and band were pushed with a major help from MTV, who had loved the group when videos from their second album, High’N'Dry, were in heavy rotation. There wasn’t a time in the early 80′s when you could not see “Let It Go”, “High’N'Dry”, and “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”, three rockers that one can always hear on classic rock radio today, and one song more than the others would help take them to the next level of popularity. Both “Let It Go” and “High’N'Dry” were solid rockers, but “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” was a ballad. While you had hard rock and heavy metal groups who slowed it down a bit on their albums, it seemed different from Black Sabbath’s “Changes”, but maybe not. It could have been a slow hard rock song, but “ballad” status was given because the song was viewed as a romantic one, which it is. When MTV started on August 1, 1981, High’N'Dry had already been a few weeks old. There was no music video outlets in the United States, but the heavy rotation on MTV gave the album a major promotional push. Their debut album, On Through The Night had decent radio success but didn’t cause major damage on the charts. If anyone remembers a song from that debut, it’s most likely “Hello America”, but America didn’t say hello back. At least not before High’N'Dry.
The success of Def Leppard would push Mercury Records to give their next album a major push. For Pyromania, the band would release singles for “Photograph”, “Rock Of Ages”, and “Foolin’”, complete with videos that would develop into a number of the band’s trademarks: Joe Elliott’s hair, Rick Allen’s shirtless ways while playing drums, and the use of the Union Jack in their clothing. In England, they released “Too Late For Love” as a single. At the height of Pyromania-mania, they reissued High’N'Dry with a remix of “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”, which came with a new video. What was the difference? For one, original guitarist Pete Willis was no longer in the band, being replaced by Phil Collen. It is Collen’s guitar work you hear in the remix version. Also, there’s additional keyboards that seem to be an attempt to cash in with what someone felt was the hip sound of popular hard rock and heavy metal. Blame it on Saga, blame it on Bon Jovi, blame it on Dio, blame it on Rio, I don’t know. It worked, for the remix became a big hit. (Once the song went down the charts and out of MTV rotation, radio stations would bring back the original High’N'Dry mix, although some seem to play the song with it fading right into the next song, “Switch 625″, perhaps due to the fact that most radio stations are rarely locally programmed, so instead of using the single edit or creating one, most stations will allow “Switch 625″ to play until the end.)
When one turned to MTV, it seemed it was packed with nothing but hard rock and heavy metal, and fans were anxiously awaiting for Def Leppard to follow up Pyromania with a new album. On New Year’s Eve 1984, drummer Allen got into a car accident, leading to his left arm being amputated. Most people thought that this was truly the end of the band, or at least they could not carry on with Allen as their drummer. Allen was determined, and the story from this point on should be familiar to most. With a need to prove themselves even more than ever, and having a chance to take the metaphorical crown as hard rock’s monarchs, the band wrote material and eventually recorded the tracks with Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who worked with them for Pyromania. If the third time was truly the charm, why get rid of the genius that helped the band get to the top of the charts? It is now known that Lange had a more-than-heavy hand in the production of Pyromania, although in 1983, no one knew that most of the drum tracks were sequenced and recorded electronically. However, anyone with a keen ear could tell that something was up in “Too Late For Love” when the funk of the drums seemed a bit too tight. The synthy rhythm track that follows “Billy’s Got A Gun” was perhaps a footprint to say “this album was made differently from most hard rock albums”, but those synthy ways would be the driving force behind the sound of Hysteria.
While the album format is still strong as a format in 2012, it seems artists and fans aren’t take it to well, to the point where some are saying that the album will cease to be before 2020. Artists can become massive successes with one or two songs. For many, the effort is in creating a solid album from start to finish, and this one was finely tuned. Look at Side One:
4. Love Bites
5. Pour Some Sugar on Me
6. Armageddon It
Every single song on Side 1 was released as a single, each one a hit. For those who love the album, I’m sure those six songs may be a chunk of your childhood soundtrack. While the UK and Europe went for the pop-friendly “Animal” as the first single, the U.S. chose to cater to the hard rock desires of radio listeners with the slightly-more-abrasive “Women”, which sounded like “Rock Of Ages” with slight adjustments.
It worked fairly well, but “Animal” worked more for pop fans, and if you listen to it now, it could have easily been performed as a cover by Shania Twain.
This is mentioned because producer Lange would eventually marry Twain and end up producing a string of songs that would be her greatest success. Without the production techniques and issues of Hysteria, Twain’s career in the 90′s would not have been as massive as it was.
Side 2 was just as solid as the flip, but some of the tracks definitely had an edge similar to that of songs on Pyromania:
1. Gods of War
2. Don’t Shoot Shotgun
3. Run Riot
6. Love and Affection
Out of these six tracks, only “Hysteria” was released as a single, although any of these songs could have become the 8th and 9th pieces in the picture sleeve puzzle. Musically, the intro guitar riff reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye Blue Sky”.
Because of the strength of each of these songs, you could pretty much hear the entire album on the radio at any given time. If it wanted to become hard rock’s Thriller, it definitely became their Rumours (Fleetwood Mac), for this was the album that pretty much secured their history as one of the more successful bands in hard rock and heavy metal.
With success came a sacrifice. Some who loved and embraced the band’s first three albums felt that Hysteria was too nice, too clean, too “pop”. It didn’t hit as hard, some would say, but they always had an accessible side on those early albums. It was almost the equivalent of fans who loved early Spandau Ballet, but the moment they put on suits in their video and released “True” and “Gold”, they were deemed soft. With success came cries of sell-out, and while part of their formula changed, it really wasn’t that drastic of a change. What did change was the pop success, for they were no longer the darlings of hard rock, they had a bigger audience they did not have with Pyromania. Nonetheless, the 12 songs on the album (alone with the string of great non-LP sides you could find on their singles) showed a band at their best, and they would reach their peak, never to be duplicated again or attempted by any other hard rock or heavy metal bands. Guns N’ Roses would become the darlings of heavy metal at the same time Hysteria was climbing the charts, but some felt they were both in different leagues. GN’R were the sleazy kids, Def Leppard were now metaphorically sporting Spandau Ballet’s suits.
While the band would continue to have successful albums and singles for the next few years, the 90′s would be rough for them as music fans became fascinated with what they felt grunge and alternative rock represented. Their follow up to Hysteria had taken them a year longer than the four year gap between Pyromania and Hysteria, but when you had Hysteria-type success, you could afford to relax. The time away didn’t change their musicianship or songwriting, but for me, hearing “Make Love Like A Man” was a bit too corny for my ears, while “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” were okay, but not as strong as “Love and Affection” or “Rockit”. To me, it came off like an effort to try to recapture the success of Hysteria, but rarely does a pop artist take risks. Why do that when you can simply tinker with a trusted formula and hope for pay dirt twice? It worked, but for me it was the last time I paid attention to what the band were doing. Plus, music fans were worshiping the grunge movement and the power of alternative rock, Def Leppard now seemed way too safe for most ears. Hard rock and heavy metal still had the diehard fans, but Def Leppard were now considered “higher than” the pack, thus it was pop or nothing.
25 years later, I still enjoy Hysteria but because of the classic rock radio format, some of these songs have been played to the death. It’s overkill, and while one does not have to rely on radio to hear the album, you can bet that somewhere in this world at this minute, there’s a radio station playing “Pour Some Sugar On Me” or “Armageddon It”.
As for “Armageddon It”, outside of the reference to “jangle your jewels”, my favorite part of the song is when Elliott says “c’mon Steve, hit it”, and guitarist Steve Clark plays a riff that is a nod to The Who’s “Rael“, the riff of which would be used to greater effect in “Underture” from their 1969 album, Tommy
I think Side 2 holds up better because they are songs that ended up becoming what they are: “album tracks”. They are not drilled in the mind too deeply, but then again, that’s my experience with the album. As a whole, Hysteria is the type of album that may not happen again at the level it had taken for two years. For a style of music that was the front of hate and ridicule by the Parents Music Resource Center, Def Leppard proved that you can create music that rocked, sounded sexy, but could satisfy audiences of all ages. No dragons, no castles, no running up hills to unknown villages. It was Def Leppard at their musical and creative best, and nothing can change the impact they made on a generation who would fall in love with them because of it.
How does one begin to talk about one of the most talked about albums in rock’n'roll, and music in general, from one of the biggest and most influential bands ever? Even the first sentence of this article is so grandiose, younger generations might go “right, another celebratory Beatles article. Great.” But there are a few reasons why people continue to celebrate the music of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Other albums released on June 1, 1967: Elvis Presley‘s Double Trouble David Bowie‘s debut
Both are not celebrated as other albums in their discography.
1967 was also a year that gave us the debut albums by Pink Floyd, The Doors, Grateful Dead, The Amboy Dukes (featuring guitarist Ted Nugent), Big Brother & The Holding Company (featuring vocalist Janis Joplin) and The Velvet Underground & Nico. What was the saying, that maybe only 5000 copies were sold of the first Velvet Underground, but everyone who did formed their own band? If that’s not influence, I don’t know what is. You also had great albums by Jefferson Airplane, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, The Young Rascals, The Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones and many more. Yet somehow, if one talks about a few of these album, the trail will lead to Sgt. Pepper. Why does it always have to be so absolute?
The Beatles were a pop combo, a boy band that were not meant to last, if some critics and parents had their way. When The Beatles came to the United States in 1964, it came with a promotional push from Capitol Records that did not exist a year before. In fact, when Capitol initially rejected the offer to sign them, they had to be persuaded by Parlophone Records in England to do it, that it would be beneficial for everyone involved. When they did arrive with their “long” hair, they were seen not only as a “British invasion”, but some would say an intrusion. In less than a year, there were countless Beatles tribute records (including one by Bonnie Jo Mason, who would later be known as singer/actress Cher) but also their share of anti-Beatles records. With every hate song, there was a group who looked and sounded like them, even having names that might sound like they were “bugs”. Every other label wanted to cash-in, and did so without a problem. Labels who had signed them but had lost the rights to release new music by them kept on reissuing what they had left, before their license to do so expired. By being a pop combo/boy band, they were in countless teen magazines, and were a group who would license their own merchandise, one of the first to do so. That would lead to companies illegally making their own Beatles memorabilia. It was truly Beatlemania and it seemed for a good 30 month period, not only did the United States go nuts, but the world. While countless artists have falsely claimed to have worldwide status, there’s proof that The Beatles were being heard everywhere. Groups in India, Singapore, Australia, Brazil, the Philippines, Japan, and Israel had their own Beatles knock-off bands. There were also countless Beatles fan clubs, and if for some reason being a Beatles fan in your country was considered a disgrace to your culture, you had to do it in secret/hiding.
Covering a Beatles song was considered good promotion, and artists did not have a problem covering a song or two, releasing it as a non-LP side, or even full albums. Even Capitol Records cashed in by having their house orchestra, The Hollyridge Strings, release many albums filled with nothing but Beatles songs. Having the Union Jack on your cover made you seem hip and cool, and speaking with a fake British accent? Ooh, you were intriguing.
When The Beatles performed their last concert on August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the group felt it was the right type to do so. They had gained an amount of fame in three years that very few artists up to that point had ever accumulated. Rock’n'roll music wasn’t quite 10 years old when The Beatles broke through, and there wasn’t the term “rock band” just yet, or even “rock’n'roll band”. You were a “pop combo”, and The Beatles were the biggest pop combo in the world. But after playing live shows around the world for years, and not being able to hear themselves play over the screaming of fans (there were no pre-amps during those days, just the amplifiers behind them), they felt it was time to try something new. As the story goes, they decided to concentrate on staying in the recording studio and allowing their music to tour for them. Doing live shows was and still remains the bread and butter for most music artists, so for the biggest band to actually say “we had enough, no more live shows” seemed insane. For some, that meant the end of The Beatles was near, the fad was over, and 1967 would result in new fads and trends. Little did anyone know what would happen what the following year would bring.
The story from this point on is familiar to most Beatles and music fans. The group releases “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” as a single. Technically a double A-side, but “Strawberry Fields Forever” was the true A-side.
The song was loved in England, but U.S. audiences thought it was too weird and freaky. On top of that, the song faded out and came back, which freaked out countless radio disc jockeys who would talk over the record when it faded out, only for the group to quickly return. American DJ’s preferred the pop-friendly (and easier to consume [read "not freaky]) “Penny Lane”, and it would reach #1 on the Billboard singles chart. “Strawberry Fields Forever” made it as high as #8.
As the story goes, “Strawberry Fields Forever” was monumental for many in the world of pop music, allegedly becoming the start of Brian Wilson‘s mental decline when he was creating the Smile album for the Beach Boys. Both “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were originally meant to be part of the band’s forthcoming album, which was to be an album with a running theme about childhood. After the success of the single (the picture sleeve for which showed the group sporting new mustaches, a first for the band), they decided to scrap the two songs from the album and move forward.
Well, we all know the impact of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that has always been analyzed from the moment the first review was printed. It gained a buzz from various musicians/close friends to The Beatles who were able to obtain test pressings/acetates of the album-to-come. The “summer of love” hadn’t quite sparked yet, but the album has now become a staple when it comes to mentioning the summer of 1967, with many wishing the connection would stop. Reason? There have been many who have said that The Beatles were never really a part of those who celebrated/participated in the summer of love, that it was bands like the Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and The Doors whose music was a part of what was in the air, along with the sounds of Pink Floyd and Velvet Underground.
What Sgt. Pepper also did was somehow change the way pop music was looked at. With a new “wave” in sound came a new look, and with that came a new breed of critics. If pop music was “toss off” music for teens who could buy their 45 rpms and throw it around in their rooms like plates, then what to make of a group who were actually saying “we want you to listen to this album was if it was a concert, as if this was a show being presented to you”? Jazz artists have always recorded albums as if they were bringing you a concert, making sure it started off with something powerful, keeping you interested throughout, and then ending with something that kept you coming back for more. Rock’n'roll artists were slowly changing how albums were programmed and thus heard, but for the most part, a long playing (LP) album was just a coaster with 11 to 14 songs, not really done with much thought other than “we have new music, let’s sell it”. People felt that Sgt. Pepper was an important piece of music, and that it should be treated as “serious art”, and that alone has left many resentful of the album and perhaps The Beatles themselves. Fans loved the rawness of rock’n'roll, the potential of sex, drugs, and dancing the night away. With Sgt. Pepper, things started to get more business-like, a bit more corporate, and that did coincide with record labels also becoming more firm with how they ran their business. In the early 90′s, there was a great garage rock band called The Mummies who would release music on their own label, Pre-B.S.. I had interviewed one of them for a fanzine I did in the 90′s, and I asked about the name of the label. They felt that before the “bullshit” happened in rock’n'roll, the music was a lot better, vibrant, and festive. The Mummies were representatives of the ruthless rock’n'roll, before the bullshit. What did they view as “bullshit”? A certain British group sporting mustaches, which changed the dynamic of what people wanted out of their rock’n'roll. In other words, Sgt. Pepper was an album that sparked the start of bullshit music.
Can an album that has been celebrated for 45 years be considered “bullshit”? Let’s be realistic: not everything has to be liked. Just because someone is celebrated doesn’t mean everyone has to agree. Again, look at all of the bands that made themselves known for the first time in 1967, all of the great debuts, all of the artists who released new music. 1967 is so much more than Sgt. Pepper and yet it somehow goes back to an album based on a group of musicians that did not exist, but wanted to go on tour in place of the real group that did not. Regardless, the album had done its damage, for better or worse, and the world would never be the same. It would be #1 on the Billboard Album Chart in the U.S. for 15 weeks, and #1 on the UK Album Chart for a massive 27 weeks. Even with no singles released from the album, radio stations would play each song as if it was a single, “forcing” fans to buy the full album. The album was meant to be listened to as a whole in one sitting, like a concert performance, and that would help to change the way music fans listened to their rock’n'roll. For better or worse.
The facts on how The Beatles recorded the album with only 4-tracks is a story onto itself. It lead to countless musicians and producers wanting to do the same within the limitations, leading to many innovations in recording studio technology in the next five years. But even if you don’t get technical about the music or the songwriting, why does this album hold up so well? Then again, some will say that out of the more celebrated Beatles albums, this is one that has not aged well. I feel it has aged gracefully and while it can be “of its time”, it too is very timeless. Some of the arrangements are meant to sound like that on purpose, things are deliberate. Sgt. Pepper is meant to represent the youth of The Beatles, and thus the sounds of the 40′s and 50′s were meant to date its sound from day 1. Day 1. The way it was used and mixed, along with sounds of audio tape moving backwards, tablas and sitars, and an orchestra dubbed a few times to create an orgasmic cacophony, was very much due to the expertise of producer Sir George Martin along with Paul McCartney‘s keen ear for arrangements, for as the other Beatles were at home or elsewhere, McCartney was becoming a studio rat wanting to know how the studio worked. Being someone who also loved orchestras, symphonies, and a bit of the experimental and avant-garde, he brought all of these elements into what would become Sgt. Pepper. Some of the things brought in were deliberate, other things were happy accidents, but it ended up creating one of the biggest happy accidents in rock’n'roll.
Regardless of what the music is or isn’t, the album continues to be a starting point for fans who want to find out more about its music, influences, and how The Beatles got from “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” to “A Day In The Life”. It also leads them out of The Beatles circle and into every other avenue of music. You don’t even have to be a fan of The Beatles to understand its mystique, you might even hate it, but it has a place in history as the bridge from one level of creativity and awareness to another, something that had not been considered to be something a rock’n'roll artist could or should do. No one cared, rock’n'roll stars were meant to offend and make young girls cry.
As for me, perhaps my fascination began with my dad, who was The Beatles fan of my family, but he did not play their records at home. Their music was always on the radio, as if they were new songs, but I grew up in a post-Beatles world. I heard all of the solo material, but as a kid I was also aware that people wanted these four people to reunite and become one. I don’t remember what was the first Beatles song I heard, but one of the first that struck me first and foremost was “Eleanor Rigby”. My dad went to his friend’s apartment for a bit of “smoking” and he had the red 1962-1966 album. I asked if I could borrow it, he wasn’t sure if a 9 year old kid could handle a record, but my dad said “he is okay”. I borrowed it. After a week, I had to return the record but asked if I could borrow it again. He said sure. I still have that album. I’m not sure if it was because I was hearing a rock band doing a song that sounded nothing like rock’n'roll, or if the string played by an eight piece orchestra created something that sparked something in me. I didn’t quite understand who Eleanor Rigby was or her role, or why people were lonely. It wasn’t an emotionally sad song, it just sounded cool, and I think I felt if “Eleanor Rigby” was this cool, what else did these Beatles do.
They would damage my brain for life. When my mom created my first savings account, I eventually withdrew all of what I had left and bought Beatles 45′s at Music Box Records in downtown Honolulu. It wasn’t just the music that moved me, I wanted to know more and The Beatles became the first group that I became “nerdy” for, wanting to know who did what, how, and why, and every little aspect that I could find at book stores. The reason I became a record collector was the fact that I might be able to find a Beatles 45 with one extra T in their name, and I could sell it for $200 or more. In elementary school, I carried a Beatles discography book (All Together Now) that my friends said looked like I was carrying the bible. I not only wanted to know about the music, but felt I had to know catalog numbers, session people, release dates… if there was a possibility to find something new, something more, I had to know that more. When I found out one of my dad’s best friends had a Ravi Shankar album, I had to borrow that album too. It was the Capitol pressing of Three Ragas, and while I knew that Shankar helped to inspire George Harrison move deeper into Indian music, culture, and spirituality, I started to enjoy Indian classical music on its own merits. Again, one door leads to many doors, and it was never ending.
Oh, as for my first copy of Sgt. Pepper? My dad gave me money to buy a copy at DJ’s Sound City at Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu, probably for $6.99 or $7.99, late 70′s/early 80′s purple label variation. I was sold. As someone with parents who loved swap meets, I clearly remember going to the Aloha Flea Market and seeing someone with a mono pressing of Sgt. Pepper, which I had known at the age of 11 that it was different from the stereo mix. I asked how much it was, and the guy was selling it for $5. Most swap meet records would go for a dollar or less, but $5? I asked my mom, and she said no. I held the album in my hand, saw that the catalog number was MAS-2653. I knew, from reading my Beatles “bible”, that MAS-2653 was mono, while SMAS-2653 had an S at the beginning to signify Stereo. I wanted it, even though it was just to listen. I couldn’t get it. Years later, I saw another copy of that album at a used record store for $75. I would eventually find a beat up copy of the mono pressing, sans cover, for under a dollar. I’ve heard the mono mixes since then, but still, to be able to just have it, U.S. or UK, doesn’t matter…
Looking back, it’s an album that represented a lot in the world of music, and perhaps the world, or at least it became a market in time for what happened back in 1967. I did not exist in 1967, but I know there have been times where I said “if there was a time machine, I’d love to be able to exist in a world right before Sgt. Pepper was released.” As I got older and understood world and cultural politics, I wonder if someone with my racial mixture would be able to explore music in the same way I do in the 21st century. Or would someone like me be considered as exotic as the Nehru jacket or a tabla? All I can do is wonder “what if?”
Realistically, the album just shows what happens with passion, drive, and creativity can be used for something that was not meant to be celebrated as it is today, 45 years later, but merely as what was to be next for those four kids from Liverpool. Let’s hope it continues to excite and delight people in 2067. For a younger generation who wonder why albums that are 45 years old, by a group who haven’t been together in 42 years, continues to be praised as if it was something sacred: simply open your mind and listen. Forget the hype, forget the myths, and just listen. This was a collection of 13 songs that drove people to delight, because this was a boy band who decided to show that had been grown-up for a long time. Now it was time for everyone else to realize that too. It was by a group who felt they had the world, but wanted to see what happens if they pushed everyone’s limits and expectations, including themselves. That’s the beauty of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For better or worse, it exists. Listen or not.
It doesn’t seem that long ago, but so much has changed since January 26, 1987. When the album was released, I was 16 and a junior in high school. I was not aware of Public Enemy until the end of the year. The means of rap music promotion was still limited in 1987, but let’s face it, one of the biggest albums in the land was the Beastie Boys debut album, Licensed To Ill and they were pushed heavily. It wasn’t just a Def Jam thing, but Def Jam was distributed by Columbia Records so Licensed To Ill became a major cash cow for everyone involved. I was very aware of Def Jam, for I was also a fan of L.L. Cool J and loved “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”, “Dear Yvette”, “Rock The Bells”, and the entire Radio album. Unlike now, rap music would be pushed in limited streams. The music had yet to be “proven” or validated by the mainstream, but those who wanted to hear it had to truly seek it. Since I lived in the Pacific Northwest, the only ways I could find something was hoping Rolling Stone or Spin reviewed it, or maybe see a display ad in either magazine. RS barely covered anything rap-related, but Spin had columnists who were in tune with what was going on, and if a review read well (i.e. explained that it was the hot record of the moment), I would try to find it. Back then, unless you lived in a city/town that had a radio station that played rap music, the best way would be to go to a record store and spend a long time browsing.
Artists could have “sleeper” albums and not get a buzz for months, if not a full year, and at least in my part of the world, Public Enemy was not on anyone’s list. I would see a few reviews for something called “Rebel Without A Pause”, but could not find the record at the time. The first time I heard them was on the Less Than Zero soundtrack, released by Def Jam. I had no interest in seeing the film, but the soundtrack featured music by Aerosmith, The Bangles, and Slayer, the latter doing a cover of Iron Maiden‘s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. I was a radio DJ for a high school station whose sole format was hard rock/heavy metal, so I was able to play Aerosmith and Slayer. Before I did this though, I was at home and flipped Less Than Zero to Side 2. There were three taps of a hi-hat, and all of a sudden I heard a song that completely blew me away. I had already been a rap music fan for eight years, but this was nothing like it. What floored me at first was the boldness of Chuck D.‘s voice, the funny boasts of Flavor Flav, and the production just went everywhere. The Beastie Boys upped things by sampling Led Zeppelin but this fucked my brain up big time. For the rest of that day, I played “Bring The Noise” over and over, and probably did the same thing for the next few days.
At the end of the year, Spin looked at albums that they felt was some of the best of the year, and it highlighted two albums on Def Jam: Original Concept‘s Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High and Public Enemy’s debut album, YO! Bum Rush The Show. Back then, Def Jam had already branded themselves where the name and logo was a “trademark of quality, so regardless of what it was, people were willing to give it a chance. I bought both albums, and loved what Original Concept did with “Charlie Sez” and “Runnin’ Yo Mouth”, but I wanted to hear more from this Public Enemy group. I put the needle on.
The first track was immediately a favorite: “You’re Gonna Get Yours”. I went to read the liner notes, with the Def Jam logo, a male shooting target, and the lyric sheet. I discovered that the main rappers were Chuck D. and Flavor Flav, but I’ll be honest, when I looked at the cover, I had no idea who Chuck or Flav were, for there was no captions, no music videos, nothing. In 2012, we all know how both of them look, but I’d stare at the album for the longest time wondering “is the guy looking at the DJ Chuck D.? He looks like someone who would deliver that voice.” No, that was Terminator X. I wondered if the guy with the glasses was Chuck D. No, that was Flavor Flav, and I’d like to think that I was not alone in these assumptions. It’s funny to even talk about something like this, since these days we are immediately bombarded with identities and images. Then again, I remember thinking the same thing about the Wu-Tang Clan, knowing who Method Man was through the “Method Man” video but trying to figure out which voices fit in with what face. Public Enemy had yet to brand themselves to the public, but this would soon change.
I was not immediately drawn to “Sophisticated Bitch”, but I remember looking in the liner notes, knowing who Vernon Reid was as he was one of the upcoming guitarists trying to get himself known. He was known amongst guitar fanatics, but Living Colour had yet to break through. It was nice to hear his work in this song, but I’ll admit: after reading how much praise Reid was receiving, I thought “is this really it?”
But the song that immediately floored me was “Miuzi Weighs A Ton”. I loved the slow funk of it, the attitude Chuck D. was displaying, and for years I thought the “get down” vocal of Flavor Flav was a Joe Walsh sample. I also loved the groove of “Timebomb”, and “Too Much Posse” was a silly solo track from Flavor but it showed how he could change the pace of the music program at any given time. Loved “Rightstarter (Message To A Black Man)” and felt that the way it ended was the perfect way to end the first half of the album. Flip over to Side F.
“Public Enemy No. 1″ was pure awesomeness from the beginning, with the lazy scratch and Flavor talking about how some people swear Chuckie D. is nice, but Flav saying “the brother don’t swear he nice, he knows he’s nice, youknowwhatI’msayin’?”, that showed support and friendship and when he asked the listener if we wanted to know “what goes on?” Chuck then says, with a significant amount of echo, “what goes on? Well…” and then proceeds to tell us exactly why he is that nice. The album was produced by Bill Stephney, Hank Shocklee, and Carl Ryder, the latter being a pseudonym for Chuck D., with an executive producer credit for Rick Rubin. It was not a Bomb Squad credit just yet, but you could hear the type of beat construction they enjoyed doing. It felt like someone going into their record crate and just slapping it on for the hell of it, as if they were at home, at a party, or on a radio station, and this was very much like hearing a great radio show that you usually had to stay up after midnight hearing. Now, it could be played at any time of the day. Except this sound sounded a bit rougher than much of the rap music that came before this, and during this time, it seemed every record released was getting musically harder and more abrasive. It was the power of the “boom bap” sourced from funky drums, basslines, horns, and samples, a bit like someone making a true mix tape and not knowing what most of it was. It came off like hearing what Double Dee & Steinski did with “Lessons 1-3″, but taking that kind of production and sound manipulation to the next level. Most of the samples were fairly basic, just simply loops with occasional layering, but it sounded nothing like anything out at the time. It was a distinct sound, it was Public Enemy and you respected them for it.
I also got into “YO! Bum Rush The show”, “Raise The Roof”, and “Megablast”, the latter a song where both Chuck D. and Flavor Flav were talking about smoking crack and getting “super stupid shit”. It was just a drum machine and vocals, and once the song reached the paranoid chant of “oh please, oh please, oh please, just gimme just one more hit”, it felt like they were ready to reach the point of no return, but how? They would answer back by simply reversing Flavor Flav’s dialogue so a simple production technique would sound like he was a lunatic, and metaphorically, Flav sounding “lost” represented what crack cocaine could do to someone. Before it got too deep, the group decided to create a megamix of sorts of various highlights of the album, a reprise but not an actual “moral” to the story, for there wasn’t a story. This was just an album of music by a new group who celebrated the L.I. (Long Island) mystique, but it was an album that felt good to listen to. It was raw, it was dope, it was fresh, it was hot. What did it exactly mean to “bum rush” a show, and how would it feel to be in the middle of a “bum rush”? I wanted to know.
Looking back, YO! Bum Rush The Show represents a time when hip-hop already had the urgency to be heard, and devoted audiences who were willing to do anything and everything to tap into a frequency that did not exist as it does today. It was obvious in the mid to late 80′s that there was something incredible coming out of New York, and what made it feel good as a teenager was that it was very much my music. We loved the fact that the music honored the sounds of the past, but what they said felt like it was made for us, even if the lyrics had to do with rocking tapes, finding cool cars, and a sexy lady. In a way, the music was still as innocent as early rock’n'roll but it sounded great to hear something that was not only jamming, but obviously left of center. There was a bit of disorganization in the sound, and I loved those noisy elements too.
What I also loved about the album was the cover photos, taken by Glen E. Friedman, whose pictures of countless rap, punk, and hardcore groups would help to define the artistry and creativity that existed. Friedman’s cover shot has been honored and parodied a number of times, but I also liked the photo that was on the back cover, which had always been a mystery to me.
It’s just Chuck D., Flavor Flav, Terminator X., Professor Griff, and the S1W’s hanging out with their rides, chillin’ in… a McDonald’s parking lot? Considering how political Public Enemy would become with later efforts, the photo seems so innocent. Chuck D., in his mid-20′s, kicking back with a bag between his feet, looking like he was ready to see what the world could offer him if given a chance. Yet for me, the question remained: why McDonald’s? I went to Twitter and went directly to the source:
Chuck D.: It was a center point in Hempstead back in the day, in fact its no longer there… one of the few McD that moved.
Nothing extravagant, just a simple photo of Public Enemy relaxing it in what was the center of their world, circa late 1986. It almost feels like a backyard barbeque, just asking some friends over and being cool amongst one another. No perceptions, no deceit, no jealously, just for the love of music, wordplay, and what you felt represented you as a person, be it culture or taking pride in the place you call home. If Public Enemy were indeed going to bum rush a show, it may have been towards rap music as a whole, and yet hearing this makes the listener realize they were not giving any major hints as to how they would commit the attack of the senses/on the senseless. That would happen with album #2.
Eventually I would find the 12″ single for “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, which featured “Rebel Without A Pause” as its B-side. This was the “it” song as described in Spin, and I played it. When I heard Chuck D. say “yes!”, you had to stop doing whatever you were doing and devote complete attention to it. Then you heard what sounded like sirens or a balloon, and it just looped over and over like crazy. It was insane, but I loved it. Then again, a group who would freely say “beat is for Sonny Bono/beat is for Yoko Ono” and “wax is for Anthrax” was someone I had to know more about, this wasn’t just guys who wanted to be a local phenomenon, they wanted to be global and did so with those lyrics. This song was as chaotic as Yoko Ono, and I say that was an Ono fan. They were basically applying an Ono aesthetic of noise, in a music that was rooted in the melodic. Like “Rapper’s Delight”, “Rebel Without A Pause” and “Bring The Noise” became songs I had to memorize, even if at first I had no idea who some of the people who they were speaking about. They were not teaching me about people like Louis Farrakhan or JoAnne Chesimard (Assata Shakur) in my school, but as someone who loved discovering “odd” references in songs, I wanted to know why it applied to them. This was not just funky music, they were bringing in lessons at a time when I was developing my sense of politics and social interaction. It was as if they were saying “you may know this or this, but I think you should know about this too”, and in a time before the internet, that meant going into a library or maybe looking in your encyclopedia at home to see if you could get a better sense of who these people were.
With “Rebel Without A Pause” and “Bring The Noise”, these songs made me want to try my hand at producing too, even though my means were pretty much non-existent. I loved the sample spotting and realizing I could do that if I was able to find the tools of the trade. But these two songs made me wish the group would make an entire album that sounded like that from start to finish. I really liked YO! Bum Rush The Show but I felt if Public Enemy could do this, it might sound incredible.
The first hint of what was to come was when I bought what I thought was the 12″ single for “Prophets Of Rage” in March of 1988, at Eli’s Records in Kennewick, Washington. The only time I could break the hard rock/heavy metal format of the high school radio station I was at and play rap music was on April Fool’s. In other words, it would be a joke for listeners if they heard something that was not the format, but I played Public Enemy’s “Prophets Of Rage” on April 1, 1988 and had a few people call in and say “this is nice” and “turn that shit off”. Then a fellow student came in and said “you’re rocking the good shit.” I felt proud, and I was happy to do so, for Public Enemy was now “my group”. I didn’t find out until I had read an article later that “Prophets Of Rage” was the B-side, and “Don’t Believe The Hype” was the A. I didn’t take to “Don’t Believe The Hype” at first, which is why I played the other side, but that would soon change two weeks later
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back came out, and I don’t remember if I bought it on the release day (April 14th), but I know I bought it that week. Like millions of other kids my age, I put that record on and I was floored. Did Public Enemy make it to London? I want to be on the Def Jam tour, I want to make some noise. Then the sirens came on. I was now witnessing, with my ears, the sound of revolution. With a scratch of “YO! Bum Rush The Show” and hearing Professor Griff telling the crowd to make some fucking noise to get busy, it lead to an excerpt from what I discovered to be a recording of Malcolm X, where he spoke about having a coffee that is too black, which means it’s too strong. Yet the only thing that was heard was the words “too black… too strong”. Then the music kicked in, and I felt like my world opened up big time. YEAH BOYYEEEE… BASS!!! It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back entered my life at the right moment, and will remain my favorite hip-hop album of all time for so many reasons.
Also keep in mind that my initial consumption of Public Enemy happened in a five month period: from Less Than Zero to YO! Bum Rush The Show to “Rebel Without A Pause” to “Prophets Of Rage” to It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. There was no means of a major or forced push, you wanted to seek and find, you had to go into it accepting the possible results.
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back would not exist if it wasn’t for the initiation that was YO! Bum Rush The Show, so perhaps the calm gentlemen hanging out in the McDonald’s parking lot represented what they were doing before the storm that would become the “bum rush”. If Spectrum City‘s “Check Out The Radio” could be considered the seeds, then YO! Bum Rush The Show was a vinyl blueprint of the mission, with the group looking at the plans through the grooves. While it seems at times that the blueprint has been placed in the bunker by the powers that be, its assumed secrets are well known by those who were educated the first time, and it will be re-learned again sometime in the future.
Dust It Off is a series of articles, a section of ThisIsBooksMusic.com where I wanted to talk about my favorite albums and artists, and this year was one where these articles received a good amount of attention. I covered albums by Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Leaders Of The New School, A Tribe Called Quest and others, and it was not only a way to reflect, but for me to see how long ago these albums were released, how much life has been experienced (or not) and if these articles were a way for readers to do the same, I’m thankful, so mahalo nui (thank you very much) for taking time to read it.
Outside of some of the albums I plan on covering next year for Dust It Off, I’ve been thinking of some of the key songs that will be celebrating anniversaries, specifically those released in 1982. They include Malcolm McLaren & The World Famous Supreme Team‘s “Buffalo Gals”, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force‘s “Planet Rock”, and George Clinton‘s “Atomic Dog”. I was in the 6th grade in 1982, and for me that meant looking forward to stepping up to move from elementary school to intermediate. These songs are not only a major part of my youth, but I hear these songs and I revive some of those memories from my life back then, very fond memories. I was a P-Funk fan for years, but this was George Clinton “on his own”, and “Atomic Dog” seemed very cool. The video had him in a video game room, just like a lot of us kids in 1982. Him being an old funky man in a video game room was not an issue, for he was like an uncle to me, a music uncle who wore goofy clothes and hair. I’m popping over to Wikipedia to see the actual date of George Clinton’s birth, and I now realize that as I write this, I am now the same age George Clinton was when he shot the video for “Atomic Dog”. Bow wow wow yippie yo WTF, right?
Anyway, thank you again for reading Dust It Off and if any of you have suggestions or comments about this or any other section on my website, by all means post a reply, I love the feedback.
Different generations come to the music of Kraftwerk for different reasons. I became aware of Kraftwerk in 1981 with the release of their album Computer World/Computerwelt. The music was electric, it could make you dance, especially the robot. When Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5 danced like robots as part of their routine in “Dancing Machine”, they were looking towards the future. It looked incredible, and it sounded funky. Then you had Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back at theaters, Battlestar Galactica and Space: 1999 were on TV. Kraftwerk, however, sounded like the future. It was not of 1981 even though it very much was. A lot of people at my school heard “Numbers” and that was the song we all wanted to dance, pop, and break to. I loved the song because it consisted of nothing but numbers said in different languages. Then MTV played the video for “Pocket Calculator”. “Whoa, these guys ARE German.” “Whoa, look at that person in the crowd pressing the key to play a little melody!” MTV had also put “The Model” in rotation, so their music was very much a part of my upbringing as I explored the double digits. Little did I know how much of an influence Kraftwerk was making in New York City, where MTV made its start. That same year (1982), Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force came out with “Planet Rock” and that felt like an anthem. All of my friends were singing it, and it was our 6th grade year, our last year in elementary school. The rockin’ wasn’t going to stop, and you know why? Because the rockin’ don’t stop. Then a song that changed my world for good: Malcolm McLaren & The World Famous Supreme Team‘s “Buffalo Gals”. It was all on the same level, the same wavelength, and these were sounds that were our “coming of age” soundtrack. Throw in Yellow Magic Orchestra‘s “Computer Games/Firecracker”, then we could head to a video game room and waste our quarters on candy, ice cream, coda, cracked seed, and video games. We were now of the future, this felt like “our toys”, not board games we played during Christmas and ignored. This rap music felt like “our music”, not what our parents gave us. Nothing wrong with that, but all of these new, electric and electronic sounds felt like we were ready to fly. Maybe in space, maybe to the park, maybe to the shopping center, but we loved it.
In 1983, I remember going to the GEM department store in Honolulu and seeing a new Kraftwerk record, a 12″ single of “Tour De France”. I had to have it, begged my mom that I needed it. This was a year that would also give us Yes‘ 90125, The Police‘s Synchronity (my favorite album of 1983, BTW), and the mandatory Into Battle EP by Art Of Noise. I needed Kraftwerk in my life, and I would get the record. Brought it home, and all of a sudden I’m hearing these German guys breathe hard. I hear them riding a bicycle. I hear them singing in German. It was incredibly funky, and it made by body move. Less than a year later, Breakin’ was released and as Turbo was told by Ozone to sweep outside, he had his boom box ready to go. The cassette inside? “Tour De France”. I remember that moment in the movie theater all too well: we all knew that song, we all cheered him on, and then he made that damn broom float. When we got home, we all looked for brooms to do the exact same thing. It was not only a Breakin’ moment, but our Kraftwerk moment.
It would be five years before Kraftwerk released a follow-up to Computer World/Computerwelt, and three years before fans heard new music from the group. By then, I had moved from Honolulu to the Pacific Northwest, and the culture shock of my new surroundings were bad. On the positive side, I had more access to music than ever, although that probably had to do with me being older and more aware of what other music was out there. Kraftwerk remained a personal favorite, I played their albums continuousy. I then saw a magazine ad for their new album, and now it seemed like the future was here. The computer love talked about on Computer World/Computerwelt made the group into genuine digital architectures, they were now showing us the future: today. I believe I saw the video for “Musique Non Stop” before I bought the new album, but for days I would find myself saying BOING! BOOM TSCHAK! over and over. Kraftwerk were speaking, and this was nothing new, there were always voices (their own and computerized) on their albums, but these were “new” voices. Their music had a way of hypnotizing you. Well okay, me, but it was really just hearing these sounds and wanting to dance, or simply create something as powerful.
Electric Café was the album, and while it didn’t floor me as much as Computer World/Computerwelt did, I liked most of it. Side 1 was basically variations of the same song, with the lyrics serving as the song titles: “Boing Boom Tschak”, “Techno Pop”, “Musique Non-Stop”. Up until that point, synth pop and techno pop were terms one would read in magazine articles, but for Kraftwerk to call what they did “techno pop” was bold. This was their music, and Side 1 just felt like “the next shit”. I played Side 1 of my tape over and over, I’m surprised it didn’t snap.
Like Side 1, Side 2 also had three songs but they were three distinct songs. “The Telephone Call” reminded me a lot of “Computer World”, but it almost felt like the group were willing to look back at history and go back to the old ways of the telephone. “Sex Object” was a cross between the past and the future, while “Electric Café” established what the album was about. We were now in their café, and we were free to roam and explore. It sounded fun, and it didn’t matter what it was. For me, it was new Kraftwerk, and I just hoped it wouldn’t take another five years for the group to come up with new music.
Why the wait between albums? It seems the group did have plans to release an album in 1982, called Techno Pop, with the title track being a 16 minute suite of the three songs that would end up on Side 1 of Electric Café. “The Telephone Call” and “Sex Object” would pad the album, along with “Tour de France”. When the album didn’t make it out in time, they chose to release “Tour de France” as a single. 1983 would have been the perfect time for the group to release an album, but it would be another three years until Techno Pop would be released, removing “Tour de France” and replacing it with “Electric Café”, which would become the album’s title track. What is amazing is, while we know the album as being that from 1986, most of the songs originated in 1982. Elements would carry over with new versions and revisions, so while we know and maybe hear of it as being a mid-80′s album, it isn’t too distant from the music on Computer World/Computerwelt.
It would be another five years before the group released a new album, and that was a recreation of some of their hits and key album tracks in the form of The Mix. At that point, the group were truly of the digital and computer age, albeit a bit primitive compared to what it would become a few years later, but their integrity and influence would remain solid. Electric Café became the last sound of Kraftwerk from the distant old world of the 1980′s, and yet it still sounds as pure and shiny as it did 25 years.
How does one add to the discussion of an album that has never been away from the recorded music and pop culture spotlight for 40 years? Some well known random facts:
1) It is the first Led Zeppelin album to be released without a proper title. The album is represented by four symbols that have been misinterpreted, tattooed, and written on notebooks, Pee-Chee folders, and school desks for generations of youth. The album has a number of unofficial titles, including Led Zeppelin IV, Zoso, Zofo, Runes, and Four Symbols (Peru simply released it as The New Led Zeppelin Album.) Since there is no actual title, I choose to call it (untitled 4th album), since that’s what it is and I know exactly what I’m referring to.
2) Each of the four symbols are said to represent each member of the group. Robert Plant, being the lofty vocalist who once wore jeans that did not hide his breathing patterns, was represented by a feather within a circle. Awwwww. The complex funky drums of John Bonham was represented by three circles, which were chosen for different reasons but I like to think it represents the fact that his one bass drum and wicked foot sounded like his drum kit had three bass drums. That would called a flashback to my assumption, feel free to share your own.
Regardless of what the symbols actually meant or represented for each member, it seemed to help give the group identities in an unexpected way. The group were not teen sensations by any means, but the mystery of each symbol made it possible for listeners to come up with their own associations. John Paul Jones‘ symbol might be a way to describe his complex bass playing, while Jimmy Page‘s could be Satanic, a viking something or other, or absolutely nothing. Some may not have known or cared about the members until they were represented with a “symbol”, but for the last 40 years we can look at the four symbols and say “oh, that’s Jimmy, John, Bonzo, and Robert” in that order, placing it alongside “John, Paul, George & Ringo”.
3) The album would feature vocalist Sandy Denny in “The Battle Of Evermore”, becoming the first and only non-LZ member to appear on an album throughout the band’s entire discography. Denny, better known as a vocalist for Fairport Convention, was 24 when she did the vocals with the group. Just as Billy Preston will forever be known as “the fifth Beatle”, Denny was credited on the album with her own unique symbol as well, three triangles that is said to represent pyramids.
She would die seven years later of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 31.
4) The band specifically did not want to give the album a title, nor did they want anything on the cover to identify it as being a “Led Zeppelin” item. Atlantic Records thought the band was nuts, either Jimmy Page was consuming too much demon dust or he was confident enough to understand the popularity of the group and take a risk to say that their music could be represented by symbols and imagery. Atlantic felt there had to be one way to show it was a Led Zeppelin record, so they compromised. On the record itself, the record label is the only place on the entire album where you see the words “Led Zeppelin” printed.
Their name was not printed anywhere on the cover, including the spine. In fact the spine lacks any type of identification, including label name and catalog #. Outside of knowing how the cover looked beforehand, the only way you could identify it as Led Zeppelin was their name on the sticker placed on the cellophane.
The inner sleeve does reveal a production credit to Jimmy Page (and manager Peter Grant as “executive producer) but not a band name in sight.
The UK and US were the band’s primary markets, so Atlantic in both countries granted the compromise. However, that did not stop other Atlantic divisions in other countries to place the words “Led Zeppelin” on the spine or cover, or in some instances, calling it Led Zeppelin IV, done so since their second and third albums were called Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III. It also didn’t stop Atlantic from printing their name on other formats for the album, so if you purchased the cassette, reel-to-reel, and a decade later on compact disc, you would see their name on places other than the label:
5) It was the first Led Zeppelin album to have a lyric sheet, although in this case it was only just for “Stairway To Heaven”, so that added immediate emphasis on that song. Was it special? Like the lyrics indicated, did the song also have two meanings? The song was the band’s double rainbow, because everyone continues to ask what the song really means? People thought the song was a disgrace, if not blasphemous, because they were a hard rock/”acid rock” band singing about something with spiritual and religious references, which you did not do. If people used to think John Lennon‘s suggestion that his group were treated as if they were more popular than Jesus Christ was a means for a public burning, one can only imagine what the moral majority thought about a bunch of savage, British long hairs, who were open about having sex, drinking, and “loving the blues” (which was a “savage endorsement” for anything that was black), singing about going to heaven looking as they did.
In the entire song, the word “heaven” is only mentioned three times: the beginning, a verse long before the drums kick in, and the ending. Yet people feared this song as if it was the coming of the apocalypse. Was it the piper calling everyone to join him, and if so, who was the piper? Satan? It sounds funny, as if it was some Saturday Night LiveChurch Lady skit, but it was these people who later felt that by backmasking, the technique of playing the record backwards, you would be able to detect the song’s true “double meaning”. If you do so, there’s a part of the song which sounds like Plant is singing “here’s to my sweet Satan/the one who’ll lead the path, who makes me ad, whose power is Satan”. WHOA! THIS ALBUM AND BAND ARE DEMONIC!!!
The song would become the one song out of many that would help define the group permanently. In many articles throughout the years, “Stairway To Heaven” is defined as the song that explains the power and majesty of their sound in under 8 minutes, from the gentle and delicate ways of the singing and acoustic guitar, to the introduction of the rhythm section, to the moment when Page creates “the parting of the skies” with the pathway towards his guitar solo, and then that guitar kicks in and vacuums everyone into the sky before Bonham pulls everyone in with one serious pull with his flourishes, the brief calming heard with Plant singing brief harmonies which leads us to the climax of Page’s solo, which then leads us to the inevitable walk down the road where we eventually see the lady we all know whose brightness keeps us looking before she tells us how everything still turn to gold, and some how if we all listen very hard, the truth will come to us at last. WHAT?!??!?! You’re listening with open ears and open eyes, and then the revelation comes in: “when are are one and one is all/to be a rock and not to roll!” Now everyone is climaxing on each other, everyone is touching each others skin for the first time, and then the afterglow allows the listener to finally settle down. What can one possibly do next? In the old days, you would clean your afterglow off and go on a “Misty Mountain Hop”, where you talk about walking in the park the other day and what do you, what do you think you saw? The lady? Who knows, but then again, you know how it is, right?
Despite its popularity, the song was never officially released as a single. In fact, Led Zeppelin insisted that none of their songs were to be released as singles, since they didn’t need it. Singles were a representation of “pop success”, and they were what you would call an “album oriented” band, a group that sold on the power of their albums. Atlantic UK did not release any LZ singles, but the U.S. market did have singles. In different articles over the years, Page and Plant would say they were a bit angry by Atlantic in the U.S. trying to push them as a “singles band”, and yet they continued to this throughout the group’s existence until Bonham’s death. Atlantic did press up a promotional, radio-only 45rpm single with “Stairway To Heaven”, compressing the song’s 7:55 length onto one side of a little record. 7″ 45rpm singles sound good up until a point, the general rule by pressing plants is that a song should be 3 minutes and 30 seconds or less for optimum quality (if you collect ska/reggae/dancehall records, many artists and producers obeyed that pressing plant golden rule). The moment you go over 3:30, quality suffers due to a need to compress the sound in order for it to fit it on one side of a 45. 4:00 to 4:30 is okay, 5:00 to 5:30 is pushing it, but an 8 minute song? It’s laughable to think that there were radio stations who used that promo 45 as the only way to play “Stairway To Heaven”, and with that kind of compression, one false touch and the record could have a skip/scratch that would lead to record replacement.
As for the public, they did not have a choice. “Stairway To Heaven” was played on FM radio constantly, and since there was no U.S. 45 released for it, fans had to buy the album in order to have the song at home. It has been said that the (untitled 4th album) was purchased at a rate similar to buying a 45, which helped it not only climb the charts, but helped to keep that album selling for years and now decades. (When the Philippines released it as a 45, it was separated as Part I and Part II. Not sure how radio stations are programmed there, but there may be a small population of Filipino LZ fans who may have never heard Part II.)
The (untitled 4th album) finally broke the band into pop territory without them making that effort, there was not a deliberate effort for the group to be teen sensations (other than to whatever young groupies were showing up backstage after a show). It was because of this that fans realized: there are seven other songs on this album. At a time when record buyers “obeyed the ritual” of listening to an album in full, fans discovered the band’s musical diversity, which lead to some buying the band’s previous three albums if they didn’t do so, and perhaps sticking around for future releases. It was with this album that Led Zeppelin became mega superstars, and that would stay that way until the end, for better or worse.
If there’s one Led Zeppelin album you’ll find at yard and garage sales, thrift store and charity shops, and of course used record stores, it’ll be this one.
6) “Stairway To Heaven” would become the band’s metaphorical holy grail, it was the song you chose to understand but never meddled with it. You dare not be any other band and cover it, even though many would, with terrible results. In pop culture, it was put to the test in Cameron Crowe‘s Fast Times At Ridgemont when Side One of the album was part of the Mike Damone 5-point plan in insuring a great make out session. However, when that plan was used by Rat when he went on his date with Stacy Hamilton, you heard “Kashmir”. For years I assumed it was because Rat was a dork and simply bought the wrong tape, but Crowe revealed that Atlantic Records did not grant them permission to use anything from (untitled 4th album), so “Kashmir” from Physical Graffiti was used instead. Rapper and deep music fan Rusty Redenbacher states that some probably assumed it was an intentional mistake, but it was not, and that using “Kashmir” was better for dramatic effect than anything on the (untitled 4th album). While that can be argued, Crowe did eventually get to use more Led Zeppelin songs in his 2000 film Almost Famous. with one scene shot with “Stairway To Heaven” in mind. Page and Atlantic ended up not granting Crowe permission to use the song, but the scene was used (sans-”Stairway”) on an extended version of the film released on DVD as Almost Famous: Untitled. The viewer was given instructions on when to play “Stairway To Heaven” during that specific scene. The DVD of Almost Famous: Untitled was packaged to look like an old bootleg record. The same can be said for the vinyl pressing of the movie’s soundtrack, complete with ringwear and a photo that looks very similar to Led Zeppelin’s arrival in Honolulu with the band holding multitrack tape boxes for what would become Led Zeppelin II. The Untitled subtitle for the director’s cut DVD and the vinyl soundtrack is a reference to the (untitled 4th album).
Actor Mike Myers would use it in the Wayne’s World film as his Wayne character and Tia Carrere‘s character, Cassandra Wong, would walk into a music store, attempt to play a certain guitar melody which lead to the cashier telling them to look at the sign and obey the unspoken golden rule. Music store employees rejoiced.
7) Of course, this album is much more than just the “Heaven” song. The album begins with the sound of what sounds like someone starting up the tape machine, and Page and Jones tuning up and checking their strings before the song begins. Led Zeppelin would have a reputation for starting out their albums with incredible songs with maximum impact, and “Black Dog” is a perfect example of this.
Because of its popularity among fans and radio DJ’s, it became one of three songs that helped represent the album, the other being “Rock’N'Roll”. Anyone who has listened to their music or read articles and books about them know how much their influences played a role in what they recorded, written, and played. Plant had a huge fascination with American rock’n'roll from the 1950′s, and “Rock’N'Roll definitely played on his love of Elvis Presley, which he would also do in the live version of “Whole Lotta Love” on The Song Remains The Same when he had to “shake it one time” for him. In the band’s live bootleg album legacy, Plant and the band would make it a regular practice to honor Presley and other 50′s songs with full on medleys, often done within the context of “Whole Lotta Love”. Whatever came to Plant’s mind at the time is what they ended up playing, which is the same process they’d use in the studio. That process ended up with great songs, but it also lead to eventual litigation as singers, songwriters, and musicians who heard their own songs on Led Zeppelin’s wondered about the lack of songwriting and publishing credits. But for “Rock’N'Roll”, it was pure admiration and homage to their childhood fantasies, and over the years its frequent time on the radio makes it feel as if it gets more airplay than “Black Dog”.
The folk qualities of “The Battle Of Evermore” may have some as a surprise, if not a shock, to those who loved the band’s vibrant electricity, but it was a way to calm the listener down a bit, at least in theory, as it was something they did in concert, especially when they started to incorpirate acoustic material with Led Zeppelin III. The mammoth attack of “Stairway To Heaven” would lead to listeners flipping the record over and becoming playful with the happy “Misty Mountain Hop”, and what exactly was this bop, perhaps discovered once the listener went over the hill? As Plant may have hinted, he really didn’t know.
I remember as a kid hearing “Four Sticks” and wondering if it referred to Bonham’s drum sticks, since the song had a cool rhythm to it and it sounded fuller than someone who normally played with the regular two sticks. (The Wikipedia entry for “Four Sticks” reveals that Bonham did indeed play the song with two pairs of drumsticks, or “four sticks”, thus the song title.) The song starts out with a 5/8 time signature, moves into 3/4 (or a 6/8) briefly before bouncing back into 5/4, then back to 3/4. Page eventually introduces a moody guitar solo/passage which keeps the song at 3/4 for a bit before the band move back to the 5/4 and 3/4 thing. I always thought that was cool, since the standard pop/rock song would always be in 4/4, and maybe a 3/4 just to be adventurous. To go back and forth like that with time signatures appealed to me, especially as I was a young Pink Floyd fan who wanted to hear more bands like this, which lead me to Yes, King Crimson, and the vast world of progressive rock, which would play around with different time signatures and tempos throughout an album, if not the same song. As a math nerd, all of this was cool to me because I felt I discovered the secret to the song by understanding the time signatures, and little did I know that this was also influencing a younger generation of music fans and musicians to where it would lead to the sub-genre of “math rock”.
Speaking of Pink Floyd, while the album lacked any proper credits, it should be noted that with Jones, the group incorporated the piano, organs, keyboards, and synthesizers in a way that would not overwhelm or completely change the band’s sound. In “Four Sticks”, Jones is credited as playing the VCS3 synthesizer, which was used extensively by Pink Floyd as the hypnotizing melody in Dark Side Of The Moon‘s “On The Run”. Jones never shied away from playing instruments other than the bass throughout their catalog, making “The Rain Song” on Houses Of The Holy reach a slight country music feel in the second half, or turning “Kashmir” into a distant-yet-familiar masterpiece with its Mellotron wall mixed in with an Indian orchestra, or making “In The Light” sound spacey and out-of-this-world. When the band released In Through The Out Door in 1978, many fans and critics cited it as a far departure from their core sound, with some assuming that by being a “dinosaur rock band” competing in the disco era, they had to conform to the “modern ways” when Jones had been using some kind of keyboard instrument since the debut album, such as the organ in “Your Time Is Gonna Come” and the Mellotron in “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”.
The band got acoustic again with the charming “Going To California”, showing a respect for musicians that would help to create and define what is now known as The California Sound. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the band always loved acoustic music, and maybe due to half of the 4th album being recorded in California, it may have been a subtle tribute to the place they spent a lot of time in.
The untitled 4th album ends where things began: with the blues. “When The Levee Breaks” was pulled from the Memphis Minnie songbook, and it became the album’s official climax. If the band were slowly reaching higher, perhaps heavenly heights on Side 1, they allowed themselves to return down to Earth as mortals by bringing things back down to the people and more specifically the mud and flood waters that have often been used as metaphors for countless blues songs. That incredible loud and booming drum sound came from Bonham’s drums being placed in a long hallway, and the microphones being positioned above in the distance that would allow it to catch the reverb and the “sound of the room”. In the 50′s and 60′s, before producers and engineers would mic a drum set in complex ways (sometimes for each piece of percussion so that the hi-hat would have a mic, the bass drum would have a mic, the snare, etc. so that it would result in a preferably cleaner and “accurate” sound during the mixing phase of the drum track and eventual song), they would simply place a microphone above the drummer and that’s the sound you would get on tape: the immediate sound of the drums below and a bit of the sound of the room which catches the reverb of the drums bouncing off of it. Countless pop, rock, soul, R&B, and jazz records of the 50′s and 60′s were done this way, and as Bonham was a huge fan of James Brown‘s records, Page was able to capture that feeling in the band’s early records, including “When The Levee Breaks”.
Also, the reason the song has a slightly eerie and sludgy feel was due to two reasons. For one, the song was recorded at a certain tempo and key. In order to give the song an earthier, bluesy feel, it was slowed down by a few percent. For those of you who play around with audio programs, ripping the song from a standard redbook CD will result in a WAV file at 44.1 kilohertz, or kHz. Adjust (not convert) the sample rate so that it will be at 48 kHz. Doing this will compact the song from 7:07 to 6:33, and by doing this, you will hear the instrumental backing track as it was originally recorded.
Another reason why “When The Levee Breaks” and a few other songs on the album have a slightly muddy feel was, according to Page in interviews, the equipment used in the mixing process. The entire album was recorded before Page decided to mix the album at Sunset Sound Studio in Los Angeles, which had been used for countless albums over the years, including The Beach Boys‘ Pet Sounds. Page, who not only produced the band’s music but oversaw the mixing sessions, was not happy with how those mixes sounded. Time being of the essence (and of course money), and while Page came close to scrapping everything and mixing the entire album from scratch, he decided to delay its release until dealing with the consequences, touching up a few spots, and releasing it as is. The sound of the album was distinctive for its slightly muddy, perhaps American, sound, compared to the cleanliness of how music was recorded in the band’s native England. In fact, with The Beatles being lovers of all that was American, during one of their many American visits, they visited the Capitol Records recording studio to investigate and see what kind of equipment was found in their studios. It was there and in other American studios that they found the tools that they had hoped to duplicate in their recordings, but were not able to since the equipment at EMI in London (build by and made to the studio’s specifications by EMI themselves) was made differently. For a short time, a number of 7″ 45rpm records were mixed and mastered in the U.S. by one Dave Dexter, Jr., who did not like the mono mixes meant for single release. He would use echo and reverb in a way that was distinctive to a number of records on Capitol, and some were even mixed in Duophonic, Capitol’s way of creating “fake stereo”, or where one channel would be mixed with a lot of low end, the other channel with a lot of high end, to create a false sound image of “stereo”. Some fans hated it and felt it was not what The Beatles intended, and yet there are a few interviews with Beatles members who, when asked about the Capitol “Dave Dexter Jr.” mixes, they said “I actually prefer that one”. It may have been one way for The Beatles to sound like some of their musical heroes, to drench it in that “country & western” reverb that would make them sound like Buck Owens records. (On the other hand, as some Beatles fans hated the Dave Dexter Jr. reverb, done by running it through Capitol Records’ echo chambers made exclusively for the studio, Beach Boys fans praised the same echo chambers when Brian Wilson used it for their music in the 1960′s, including Pet Sounds, an album that prompted Paul McCartney to answer back with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which has its share of audio quirks that made it sound very different from what the band had recorded before.) During the same year that the (untitled 4th album) was being mixed, the Rolling Stones would find themselves at Sunset Sound in L.A. recording and mixing what would become their double LP masterpiece, Exile On Main St., a record that would also become known for its doomy, gloomy, and murky/muddy sound, which was perfect for the band’s own blues fetish. That album comes off more American than the band themselves, and yet 39 years later still stands out as incredible genius from the group.
8) Led Zeppelin had a bit of life ahead of them, but with the (untitled 4th album), their fate was sealed. It would become one of the most important rock’n'roll albums of all time, one of the most influential hard rock and heavy metal albums, it became everything that every music artist wants to achieve: immortality. I’m certain there are people who do not have any other Led Zeppelin albums in their hard copy or digital collections, and for a lot of them there’s no reason to. By limiting themselves to just this album, released on November 8, 1971, they are missing out on a band who loved what they did and played their hearts out, and they definitely rocked out with their cocks out, from London to Seattle, with special oils and mud sharks. With this album, they moved away from playing college venues to playing bigger arenas, and eventually stadiums when the mid-1970′s made that a common practice among rock’n'roll’s elite.
They wanted bigger, better and more, and Led Zeppelin experienced all of this. They became bigger than life by making an album that seemed to follow a “back to the essence” mentality a lot of artists were going through. Joni Mitchell wrote the song “Woodstock” even though she wasn’t at the festival, but her words “we got to get ourselves back to the garden” helped to define the Woodstock generation when it was covered by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young a few months after the festival. You would see bands known for their big sound and themes creating albums with artwork that was simple in tone. Some might say as rock’n'roll started to become ROCK, it started to become believers of its own hype, but some were saying “get out of the concert hall, stop inhailing that hashish and breathe in some fresh air.” For a few years, a number of artists did.
I had parents who saw that I loved my music a bit too much, so they would say “go outside, play with friends, go to the park, ride your bike, go to the store get some ice cream.” Which I did, and I’m forever grateful. I grew up in Hawai’i, surrounded by loads of trees, ponds, rivers, streams, and oceans. Seeing all of these images was just automatic, it was part of my childhood, so there’s all of these associations with growing up and these album covers. Which of course leads us back to Led Zeppelin. As the song once said, and it makes me wonder when I see the cover of the (untitled 4th album) and I ask mysef “what does it mean?”
Who is the old man, carrying the weight of a bundle of sticks? Is it really an old 19th century painting that Plant found somewhere during his worldly travels, or was that nothing more than B.S. to cover the truth? If it was a then-new photo, who is the man and does the image signify anything? We do know that the word “fag” means “a bundle of sticks”, and in England it is slang for a “cigarette stick”. “Fag” is a derogatory term for a homosexual, and in Led Zeppelin’s travels it has been said that some people did not like them because they were long haired men who looked feminine. Is the old man carrying a bundle of sticks a reference to some metaphorical “old man”, a/k/a establishment, carrying the weight and burden of the new generation of “young girly men”? If so, then is “Four Sticks” double entendre as a slur for the four men in the band? As a kid, one could come up with a bunch of theories and upon reading a Led Zeppelin article or book, you’d discover… absolutely nothing. Then you open up the cover and see a man holding a lamp on a mountain top, perhaps getting up there with the help of a misty mountain hop, but you see a long haired man trying to reach the old man with the lantern. Who are these people? Then you’d read on how some interpreted the river in the painting as that of being the Styx River, as depicted in Green mythology as being “a river that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead.” Is this a myth? Is this Biblical? What does it mean? If this is indeed the Styx River, does the Styx have anything to do with the bundle of sticks and “Four Sticks”?
Let’s get deeper. You look at the front cover again and of course note that the portrait of the old man with a bundle of sticks is on a wall, but when you look at the back cover, you see that this is an abandoned wall and behind it, an apartment building that looks quite “modern” compared to the relic imagery of the man. You then think “why is this portrait hanging on this wall, and is this wall an abandoned or condemned building or home that has to do with the apartment building in the distance? Is this to suggest that one day, that apartment building now considered modern will become like an old man, and be viewed as a relic with a future generation? What else lies in the distance, and can we as Led Zeppelin fans do anything to resolve this, if it is meant to be resolved at all?”
Getting back to reality, I did find the truth to where that apartment building is. According to an article I found at FeelNumb.com, the building is located at Butterfield Court in Eve Hill, Dudley, England, and was still there as of December 2010. There are still theories as to what the cover represents, one being that the front is meant to represent the England of the past, but behind the demolished wall is modern England, one can say that you are seeing a level of progress. Is that progress a metaphor for the band’s growth and/or success? If so, what’s the significance of going to a place like Butterfield Court? Or if it is true that Page wanted the album to be as anonymous as possible, were the images merely random things meant to fuck with people’s heads for decades?
Perhaps that’s the point. We all enter the world seeing people, buildings, books, portraits and paintings unsure of their actual origin, so that all we have to do is apply a bit of guesswork and motivation to research and see where our minds (and curiosity) end up. The same could be said about the music, although I existed in “the life of the album”, so it was of my life even though I was too young to comprehend any of it when it was released. The cover was placed in our laps and we wondered if the imagery and symbols had anything to do with anything. As a kid it was cool to figure out the why’s and what’s, but we allowed ourselves to just take in the music and let that consume us. The cover was just that, a book cover that wrapped up a mighty audio dialogue that lasted a mere 42 minutes and with that that last “spank” of the guitar at the end of “When The Levee Breaks”, it was over. Yet 40 years later, we are still talking about the band, this album, the songs, the imagery, and everything extra that has little to do with one simple fact: four British guys loved writing, playing, and recorded music. They enjoyed reading about different theories and belief systems, along with different styles of music played by different cultures and ethnicities, and by looking at various aspects of the world and including it in their music, some viewed them as being evil. They were and still remain “a band of the occult”, and that could very well be why The O’Jays wrote and recorded a more spiritual song about their “Stairway To Heaven”, just so that mythical place would be nicer to hear about without the Satanic overtones.
Whatever. Those who bought Led Zeppelin III discovered there was a secret message written in the matrix (run-off groove) of the record. It said “Do What Thou Wilt, So Mete It Be”, a quote credited to the composer of the Satanic bible, Aleister Crowley. That fact alone has made millions of people play records backwards and try to find the truth behind their music and alleged demonic ways. Yet if you take away the Satan out of the equation, read the quote. You can interpret it as “do what you want, just let it be.” But the truth is that Crowley actually discovered the phrase from celebrated American, the 6th President of the United States, Benjamin Franklin. Not only was he a man of science and theory, but apparently he was an 18th century freak and an alleged occultist as a member of the Hellfire Club. Perhaps the last laugh was on Page, who may have understood how a bit of controversy could stir up attention and no surprise, most of the controversy surrounding their 4th album and “Stairway To Heaven” has originated from the United States. Page could’ve easily said “but friends, all of this wizardry you assume us in having comes from us being curious by the ways of the land that is the United States.” If you do a bit of research, it suggests that these devilish clubs were nothing more than political and scientific nerds gathering to talk shop, get drunk, find some nature to be influenced by, and have fun. In many ways, this is exactly what Led Zeppelin did in a late 20th century context. Perhaps the hermit in The Song Remains The Same movie, portrayed by Page,is meant to be a metaphor for past scientists and theorists, and maybe Page was saying nothing more than “I love to read, I love to think, and I’m not a genius, but I’m a bit more smarter than the dumb things you assume me of being.”
So mete it be.
EPILOGUE: Led Zeppelin were one of the most bootlegged bands in the vinyl era, not bad for a group that only released eight studio albums and one live album during their existence. There are some fans who now avoid the studio albums and feel the true Led Zep can be discovered in live recordings, where the band went out of their way to perform songs that were different from a performance the night, week, month, and year before. There have been a wide range of bootleg albums dedicated to studio outtakes, including those for the (untitled 4th album), and outside of a small handful of unreleased tracks, Page has never given an outtake project to Atlantic.
The second half of 2011 has revealed an overwhelming wealth of reissues, deluxe edition, super deluxe editions, amd mega super deluxe editions of various albums by respected bands, with a Smiles Sessions box from the Beach Boys to a number of massive Pink Floyd box sets which include demos, outtakes, live performances, and video footage, packaged in a way where you’ll know that will be the final version you’ll ever need. With the recent announcement that major labels will most likely stop releasing compact discs at the end of the year, it would have been the perfect time to give the (untitled 4th album) a super massive mega deluxe edition treatment.
According to an archived thread at the SteveHoffman.tv boards, The International CD Exchange (ICE) newsletter had posted that in 2002, there were plans to release a 2CD edition with the original CD and a disc with unreleased studio outtakes and tracks. The final word at the time was that a representative for WEA said that it was not going to happen.
With the release of Pink Floyd Immersion Box Sets, that has left some fans to post their ideas for what they’d like to see and hear if they could have a hand in making an Immersion-type box set for the (untitled 4th album). One thread, also at SteveHoffman.tv, show that many fans are aware of what exists, such as original mixes, specific outtakes and unreleased tracks, live performances of songs on the album recorded in 1971, and any existing footage that may be in the vaults for DVD inclusion (Page went out of his way to document Led Zeppelin’s career, but has held the majority of it in seclusion.) Some music fans over the years have created unofficial 5.1 surround sound mixes for the album, and it has been suggested that it would be cool for the album to be given an official surround sound mix. In the days of quadraphonic, there had always been rumors there would be LZ albums mixed in 4-channel stereo, but that never happened. The 40th anniversary for this record is here and now, it would have been the perfect opportunity to put together a box but no such luck. For now, you have to resort to the bootlegs such as All That Glitters Is Gold and IV Outtakes, or random compilations like Studio Gems. If there is ever a chance this album is compiled into a super deluxe edition, it would be great to witness its creation, or at least to hear it all in one place. Maybe in the digital era it will simply surface eventually and become a free download, but until then, the bootlegs are the only way to discover what else lurks behind the old man with a bundle of sticks on his back.
Happy 40th birthday, (untitled 4th album).
(For a look at the original Los Angeles billboard that promoted the album, click over to LedZeppelin.com.)
Junior year in high school, 1986. My childhood dream of becoming a radio disc jockey came true when I found out that there was a vocational skills center for all high schools in the region. I had to do it, this is what I wanted to become, and I joined. It was a radio/TV production course, and while I paid more attention to the radio side of things, the TV production portion would become essential for working in news eight years later. The radio station’s music format was hard rock and heavy metal. Perfect, I grew up listening to hard rock and metal and I still listened to metal so it was not an issue. However, my level of metal up until that point was the mainstream stuff, which meant Black Sabbath, Dio, Def Leppard, and whatever could be read in Hit Parader and Circus. I was aware of small scenes involving something new: thrash metal and speed metal. These styles of music was the “indie rock” of heavy metal in the mid-1980′s, Metallica had yet to break big but their buzz was growing by the time I joined the radio/TV class (their third album, Master Of Puppets, had come out in March of 1986).
When I became a radio DJ, a lot of my classmates were into the heavier stuff. Some of them were into punk and hardcore, styles of music I was aware of but never listened to. In my high school, only the exchange students were aware of anything goth or new wave, but “that” was “meant” for schools in other cities. Nonetheless, kids in those “other” schools were open to listening to it, most likely passed on by older relatives. As a teenager who was open to listening to anything and everything, and had done so for years, I felt like an introvert at my high school. When I joined radio/TV class, it was more than technical knowledge, it would become music. In that time, I’d eventually discover Metallica, would become a huge fan of Anthrax, and Megadeth‘s first album was awesome. MTV had Headbanger’s Ball, the must-see show for all metal fans. We were also in the era of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a parents organization that were able to make record labels place warning labels on music they felt was offensive. If it was sexual, violent, or explicit, they wanted a sticker. Before 1985, if you saw a voluntary label or warning, it was generally on comedy records. But if it had an illustration of a demon-like figure with horns, that would mean it was promoting Satanism, and thus needed a sticker. As with any discussion of Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth, all roads eventually lead to Slayer.
When I joined the radio station, Slayer was a favorite amongst my classmates. Show No Mercy, Hell Awaits, and Live Undead would be played and talked about religiously. The music was fast, furious, and it sounded sinister. But did it sound evil? I think the perception was that it sounded that way, but on purpose. The music was not telling its listeners about cutting off the heads of goats and sacrificing babies, most of the time they were talking about social and political ills. There’s a generation of people who will still chant the words !SU NIOJ !SU NIOJ !SU NIOJ !SU NIOJ and those within listening range will answer by saying WELCOME BACK. But the release of Reign In Blood blew up everything, not only for the group but thrash and speed metal.
October 7, 1986. I know for a fact I didn’t buy this album on opening day, but I did buy it. The band had been signed to the California indie label Metal Blade, where they released two albums and a live EP before being picked up by Rick Rubin and Def Jam. Metallica had been signed to Elektra, Anthrax would gain distribution via Island Records (then associated with Atlantic/WEA), and Megadeth were a month away before releasing their major label debut for Capitol. Hard rock/heavy metal was a hot music, but majors were picking up on “the new, harder shit” and just like hip-hop, other labels were still clueless as to its appeal but signed bands because there was an audience. Fortunately they were able to take risks by signing them, and what appealed to fans was that the music didn’t sound glamorous, and neither did the bands. Look at the back cover of Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All. They look like a group of friends ready to skip class, smoke cigarettes at the church across the street, and get high while listening to Deep Purple. That perceived ugliness was something the “ugly youth” loved. For a lot of listeners, hearing the fast and aggressive music would often become the gateway towards punk and hardcore, something that would be called “crossover”. A few punk and hardcore kids would end up checking out some of these brutal metal bands because it didn’t look or sound like Motley Crue and Def Leppard. Slayer just seemed different, but then again you also had an album cover with a bunch of evil beings on the cover. If you had parents who were religious or spiritual, this might get you grounded. At least in my case, music was music and listening to metal was not an issue. I didn’t smoke or drink, nor did listening to thrash and speed metal cross me over to “the other side”, this was just something that was loud and raw, and I loved it.
“Angel Of Death” was a song about the Nazi atrocities of World War II, it didn’t celebrate it but rather focused on its brutality and pain. That loud scream from vocalist/bassist Tom Araya became a rally cry, and those riffs (the “mosh part”) from Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman would turn into meditative drones (the repetition of which would be perfect for Rubin when he sampled them for Public Enemy in the song “She Watch Channel Zero”). As the album goes on, that heaviness never seemed to end. There were moments of progressiveness, all of which would be explored by the band in future albums, but this seemed like a punk effort at times, just going into the song and coming out soon after. Guitar solos were wicked and fast, Araya’s bass came off like drills, and the sick ass drums of the almighty Dave Lombardo made all drummers stop and go “I need to play as fast and good as him.”
Fans loved the album because it lasted as fast as the songs themselves, and just mentioning song titles will bring memories to those who embraced each track: “Necrophobic”, “Jesus Saves”, “Altar Of Sacrifice”, “Criminally Insane”, “Post-Mortem”.
The greatest high on the album comes when “Post-Mortem” is played on Side 2, especially when the song breaks down for a moment before “filling up” before the last drive home. Araya sings the last verses at a rapid pace, including the lines “The waves of blood are rushing near, pounding at the walls of lies/turning off my sanity, reaching back into my mind/non-rising body from the grave showing new reality/what I am, what I want, I’m only after death”. About 10 seconds later, King and Hanneman do one last vamp and then you hear the thunder. Upon first listen, one has no idea what’s about to happen, and then you hear guitar feedback and distortion, along with a tribal drum pattern, going through the echo chamber. You then hear the sound of heavy pouring rain and you think “oh oh”. The song is called “Raining Blood”, and it’s the album closer. It already sound epic, but at that point you have no idea how big it will be. Then the thunder claps, the cymbals come in, and a guitar melody comes in. You’re sitting down, looking at the cover, flipping it to the back cover seeing them smile and grin with a broken beer can. The riff feels awesome, you have that shiteating grin, the drums pound, you want to turn your stereo up loud, but it’s already loud as it can get. Then comes the last thunder clap until the end, and then SATAN HAS ARRIVED!!! The music gets locked into that fast groove, and you feel like making your evil horn hand gesture annd rocking out, and you do. You don’t care that your neck becomes sore, this moment means something to you. You can’t believe how great this sounds, and then out of nowhere it leads to the “JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA-JAGGADA” and they play faster. Holy shit. Araya finally sings:
Trapped in purgatory
A lifeless object, alive
Death will be their acquisition
The sky is turning red
Return to power draws near
Fall into me, the sky’s crimson tears
Abolish the rules made of stone
Pierced from below, souls of my treacherous past
Betrayed by many, now ornaments dripping above
Awaiting the hour of reprisal
Your time slips away
It is at this point where the band finally break down a bit into another groove, at half the speed but still as intense. You don’t know where this song is going, but you look at the needle on the record and you see there isn’t much time left until it reaches the label. The riffs keep on going, and all of a sudden one last verse:
From a lacerated sky
Bleeding its horror
Creating my structure
Now I shall reign in blood!
You then feel like Slayer is speaking not only to you, but about you. You feel the horror and disgust of your own young life, wanting better, and you want to tear up your room. Then all of a sudden, you hear the band drone, and then TSSS-TSSS-TSSSTSSSTSSSTSSSS. There’s complete mayhem coming out of the speakers, the riffs keep on getting faster, Araya and Lombardo have no problem in keeping up, you hear King and Hanneman fucking up the tremelo and it feels like the guitars are about to explode in their hands. If there is such a thing as a hell, it truly awaits and we all want to go there to party, for hell is the place where great music like this comes from, and you want to celebrate that in unity. You now want to get the closest piece of glass and start slashing your wrist or abdomen to spell out SLAYER or SLATANIC WEHRMACHT, and at the moment you feel you’re about the mentally ejaculate, the thunder rips one last time, the raining blood falls, and you realize you have just experienced the biggest heavy metal orgasm ever.
25 years later, the oddity of Reign In Blood being on Def Jam, the label that gave us LL Cool J and Public Ememy, seems perfect. Rick Rubin knew what he was doing, and taking a complete left turn for what he would become known for was what he needed to solidify a career that continues to this day. I was able to witness Slayer when they had taken part in the 1991 Clash Of The Titans tour, where I was up front, feeling the pressure of the crowd and the heat of everyone being in there, plus the drums pounding in my chest as it was macked into the speakers, hip-hop style. For over an hour I felt like I was in the hell Slayer had created in their music, and I loved it. To this day, it remains one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had.
To Tom Araya, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman, Dave Lombardo, and Rick Rubin: eternal gratitude for your major contribution to my life. Mahalo nui.
Some will say it is Prince‘s best album, while others say he needed to make this album at a time when his sales were gradually declining to the point of BATMAN stupidity. No one really wanted to hear him molest Kim Basinger with honey and chocolates, right?
Anyway, Prince found the success he felt he deserved with 1984′s Purple Rain, and rather than repeat the formula and create “Let’s Go Crazy Once More” and “When Doves Fly Higher”, he went down his own path. His core audience was those who bought his records and went to his concerts between 1978-1983, who didn’t mind seeing someone who sang with a high falsetto, did it with a trenchcoat and bikini briefs, and combined a wide range of styles that was as diverse as the musicians he brought on tour with him. Purple Rain cracked the pop mainstream that “Little Red Corvette”, with its heavy rotation on MTV, started to do in 1983. In the process, Warner Bros. Records had hoped for similar success with his next project, but Purple Rain became the spark for an incredible string of music that was based on Prince’s and only Prince’s terms, for better or worse. Sales would gradually decline for him, despite success with hit singles for “Kiss”, “U Got The Look”, and “Alphabet St.”, and the failure of the Graffiti Bridge project and somewhat lackluster music on the Batman soundtrack made his label, fans, and critics reconsider. Prince may have become his own muse, at least in the eyes of everyone outside of his inner circle, but if he could prove himself as a moneymaking artist, then it can be said that he needed to make his “owners” some money. Thus, a hit-worthy album of accessible music was made, to the delight of his label and fans.
Away from the initial seeds that would lead to his name change and writing the word “SLAVE” on his face, Diamonds And Pearls was very much Prince doing what he knows how to do: make great music. Even with songs that would lead to another level of success he hadn’t seen in a few years, he was still doing it on his own terms. For his birthday in 1991 he released a promotional 12″ single for “Gett Off”, and fans felt this was him getting as nasty as he used to be. He never shied away from songs with sexual overtunes, but this seemed a bit raw, almost as if he was trying to say “yeah rappers, you can be explicit, but I can still do it with a bit of preferred attitude”, and he did it as if he was seducing a woman that no rapper could ever have. A few months later, Prince, The New Power Generation, hundreds of dancers and sexy people gathered on stage to perform the song on the MTV Video Music Awards, and proceeded to show how doing “23 positions in a one night stand” actually looks and sounds. Working on that zipper? Here, I’ll show you my ass. Goofy, stupid, hilarious, but very much Prince. These were mere promotional announcements that Prince was not to be messed with, and if he could put his ass out (figuratively and literally) for all the world to see, it was time people actually listened.
The spectacle may have been one thing, but Diamonds And Pearls was meant to be listened to. If you’re going to look at Prince, he’ll give you something to look at, but with vision came the sound, and he would deliver this using the many elements that made Prince an important and influential musician in the 80′s. A new decade was upon us, and he was not about to stop and allow his creativity to be taken by a new generation of music, not when he felt he had the Power to do to. The album started with “Thunder”, which brought on the excitement of fear through a weather condition, but touching on his religious and spiritual beliefs without being forceful. He went played on the idea of him being a gentleman and scholar, but still being playful about it with songs like “Strollin’” (which should’ve been a single), “Jughead”, and “Willing And Able”.
The album would help create four singles: “Gett Off”, “Cream”, “Diamonds And Pearls” and “Money Don’t Matter 2Night” (the UK would release “Thunder” as the album’s fifth and final single.”) Even with the hits, some of his best work remained to be the album tracks, and at a time when poeple still cared for the album format as a whole, people loved Diamonds And Pearls as a whole, enough for it to hit #1 on Billboar’s R&B Album Chart, #3 on the Pop Albums Chart, and #2 in England. (Even though most view Graffiti Bridge as a failure, the soundtrack album did hit #1 in England, which means it did better than Diamonds And Pearls, if only by a statistical spot.)
By the end of the year, it seemed a lot of music was being celebrated, or in truth, music as a whole was being celebrated. Prince made a “comeback” (even though he never left), the rock world loved Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and A Tribe Called Quest were causing permanent head nods with the release of their second album, The Low End Theory, proving that the sophomore slump did not exist for them. Prince could not be messed with, and yet when those who loved him wanted more of the same, he did this with a few hits of something new. For those who understood how he wanted to challenge himself and simply create music for the sake of creating and discovering, this was just Prince’s 13th album that proved to be his lucky number. While he would continue to create hits for a few more years, including “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” released as a symbol for his name, this would be one of the last “big events” the mainstream would see from him. Yet what he was able to do in 13 years (there’s the number again) was something that a lot of artists continue to strive for.
It’s 2011, and not only are we celebrating the 20th anniversary of this album, but the fact Prince continues to push himself, the envelope, and his limits, 33 years after being signed to a major label. Some of his choices in what he has released can be considered questionable, but he has put himself at a pace that leaves everyone out of the territory he has created for himself. He would eventually return to making “hit worthy” music, but creating music for yourself isn’t about being a slave to the hit. It’s about creating and not stopping, and fortunately with Diamonds And Pearls, he didn’t stop.
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Discovered this book review blog when someone had posted a review of a music book. Went through it and saw a number of books I immediately put on my want list. Created by Maria Popova and features a number of contributors.
Cool slew of goodies from books and diaries to T-shirts, bags and soaps. Now based in Portland.
The show is no more, but you may explore the archives of this great Portland-based podcast while you can. You may now listen to Cort & Bobby in Welcome To That Whole Thing, listed below.