The Top Ten Underrated Hard Rock Songs, Part One

guitarist

As a method of getting away from the madness that is the 2016 General Election, I’ve been pondering other issues. Of course, I’ve been keeping up with Timeless (which, if you haven’t checked it out yet, you’re missing some good television) and I’ve been trying to finish reading a book that a friend of mine wrote long ago (and, with him in failing health, I’d like to tell him that I read it and enjoyed it, despite some early problems with his usage of an occurrence in our line of work). Then there’s always something going on in sports that can be talked about, whether it is Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton whining to the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, that he’s being hit too often (there are times he has a point, but not every time), the “Chase for the Sprint Cup” (ZZZZZZZZZZZ!) or baseball’s World Series (and congrats to the Chicago Cubs for winning this year and ensuring that Hell is freezing over; even as a New York Yankees fan, it’s great to see a team win it that hasn’t done it in 108 years).

But one thing we can always discuss (and something that I do like thinking about) is music. In the 20+ years I spent in the radio industry, I was always looking to pick the “next big song” to get on the air. I remember one time when I was the Music Director for a station where we debated whether to put the band Faith No More and the song “Epic” on the air. “It’s rap, it isn’t rock,” our Program Director stated. “No, it is a hybrid,” I replied. “You’ll start seeing more of this in the future – the melding of genres to reach as big an audience as possible (something I was proven correct on – for good or for ill).” After the debate, the PD finally added it as the song became one of the biggest tunes of 1989 and has since gone on to be called one of the greatest metal songs of all-time (#30 on VH1’s list) and one of the biggest one-hit wonders of all time (#67, once again by VH1), a bit of an insult to a band that had a great influence on many others.

Along this line, I found myself recently reflecting on what were some of the most underrated hard rock songs in history. To be honest, some of these bands were quite popular, even without these listed songs having a great of success, but it could have been so much better for them if these songs had touched on their audience better than they did. Look through the list and enjoy the songs, then be sure to let me know whether I’ve got it right, I’m completely fucking nuts and/or the songs that you think deserve to be on the list!

Motörhead, Ice-T and Whitford Crane (Ugly Kid Joe), “Born to Raise Hell”

Separately these performers had some success. Motörhead, led by the late Lemmy Kilmister, was always at the forefront of the heavy metal scene from the late 70s to this decade. Ice-T, through his rapping, was quite well known, but T had a desire to do hard rock (to the point of forming Body Count, which barely missed this list with “There Goes the Neighborhood”). Crane was, at this point in time, the one well known by the listening public as, with his band Ugly Kid Joe, Crane had several hits by this point in 1994 (“Everything About You,” “Neighbor” and a remake of balladeer Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle”).

This was a chance for everyone involved to get together and have a bit of fun doing a song for the soundtrack to the movie Airheads (a highly underrated movie, lots of fun and entertaining). Taking an old Motörhead song that Lemmy had written for another band, they blasted the tune that became the theme song for the film. Unfortunately for everyone, it didn’t go as far as they thought it might; the film has become a cult classic but didn’t do well at the time of its release and the soundtrack album even less so. As such, it finds its place on this list.

Extreme, “Decadence Dance”

This was a band that should have gotten more attention in their time than they did. With vocals from Gary Cherone (who would go on to join Van Halen after the departure of Sammy Hagar) and guitar work from Nuno Bettencourt (a classically-trained virtuoso if ever there was one), Extreme did have a big hit with the power ballad “More Than Words” (history lesson here, young ones – hard rock and metal bands and artists could play as hard as they wanted if they included one ballad on their albums…that was what drew in the ladies). Their perceived magnum opus, Three Sides to Every Story, didn’t hold a candle to their 1990 effort Pornograffitti, from which this song came.

Along with “Get the Funk Out” (also found on this album and a gem in its own right), Extreme could meld hard rock, funky horns and the classical guitar work of Bettencourt into a sound that was quite intriguing to fans of the genre. Unfortunately, it didn’t ensure a long career for the band. Once Cherone left for Van Halen in 1996, the band broke up. They’ve since reformed (as most bands do) and are releasing a new album that is set to drop in 2017. Perhaps they wouldn’t have lost Cherone if this and other tracks had been more than moderately successful.

Faster Pussycat, “You’re So Vain”

The first of our two remakes on this list, Faster Pussycat was a part of the L. A. club scene of the 80s that produced such acts as Mötley Crüe, L. A. Guns and Guns N’ Roses, among others. Named after the Russ Meyer film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, the band earned some kudos for their power ballad (sensing the trend here?) “The Ballad of Jayne,” but this remake of the Carly Simon classic should have propelled them to higher points. Perhaps it was because of where it was released; the 1990 double album Rubaiyat:  Elektra’s 40th Anniversary saw artists as diverse as The Cure, Tracy Chapman, Metallica, the Georgia Satellites and others joining Faster Pussycat in doing songs made famous by past Elektra artists. The sheer number of outstanding performances led to difficulty in only picking one great remake.

What I liked about this song was that they took what was a kind ballad (despite its lyrical bite, courtesy of Simon) and put the edge to it that Simon had in writing the song. The guitar work of Brent Muscat and Greg Steele alongside the sneering vocals of Taime Downe worked perfectly with the material they had to use. We could have gone perhaps with “Bathroom Wall” (one of their earlier works), but this one was one of their last chances at success before…well, we’ll get to that in Part Two.

Damn Yankees, “Piledriver”

It is tough for some to accept that Damn Yankees were underrated in anything. With Jack Blades (formerly of Night Ranger), Tommy Shaw (of Styx) and the Motor City Madman, Ted Nugent, handing the musicianship, they had some Top 40 success with this supergroup. But while Blades had his “Night Ranger”-esque songs (“Coming of Age” and “High Enough”) and Shaw had his Styxian tunes (“Come Again”), it was Uncle Ted who was left without a display of his talents.

You’ve got to dive deep on their eponymous debut album to find “Piledriver,” a Nugent-esque tour de force that reaches out and grabs you from the beginning. The jingling doodling from Nuge suddenly explodes in a blitzkrieg of guitar that never again lets up on the listener. “Piledriver” is also the only song that Nugent sings for Damn Yankees, who normally utilized Ted just as a guitar god, harkening back to his pre-“Cat Scratch Fever” days when artists such as Meat Loaf were the vocalist on his solo albums.

Dangerous Toys, “Scared”

This Austin, TX band could have been so much bigger than they were in the 80s. Most often compared to Guns N’ Roses, Dangerous Toys had a lot of the same stylings as the Axl Rose led outfit, but also incorporated plenty of blues licks and Southern rock attitude into their music. You just have to listen to “Teas’n, Pleas’n” to get this sound in your head.

Scared” was the tune that was supposed to have carried them over the top into superstardom, but it only served as a place marker while the audience waited for their next effort. Their second album, Hellacious Acres, didn’t do quite as well as expected and the tour that would have supported their effort, called “Operation Rock & Roll” (it was just after the start of the First Gulf War) with such acts as Motörhead, Judas Priest and Alice Cooper, was shut down only 10 weeks into the schedule. Dangerous Toys never again reached the levels of success that they did after their eponymous first release which, from front to back, is a classic.

There’s plenty for you to listen to here, so we’ll take a break. But Part Two will bring you more of those underrated gems of hard rock and the reason why the genre seemingly disappeared overnight.

Advertisements

Goin’ South: Pick For the Next NASCAR Champion and Why NASCAR’s Popularity Died

Irwin Tools Night Race

After a week like the one the world has been having, everyone just needs to step off this weekend and let their minds dwell on less testy matters. The start of college basketball season has been a nice salve for me as it is always interesting to watch the next crop of multi-million dollar NBA pros ply their trade…I mean, play for the honor of the school they are attending. Add in the NFL, the NBA and NCAA college football and the plate is pretty full.

I happened to glance at the calendar and realized this weekend is “Championship Weekend” for NASCAR, the venerable stock car racing body in the United States. On Sunday, four men (and we will get to details on them in a moment) – four-time champion Jeff Gordon, defending champion Kevin Harrick, “wild child” Kyle Busch and “steady Eddie” Martin Truex, Jr. – will be eligible to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in the final race of the “Chase for the Sprint Cup (oddly enough, also its final race…a new sponsor takes over in 2016).” Usually I would have been all over this – who doesn’t like a good stock car race? – but, as I have grown older (and NASCAR has made mistakes), it isn’t a priority to me anymore.

One of the problems with NASCAR is that the season lasts WAY too long. Beginning at the start of February with preparations for the Daytona 500, NASCAR only takes about three weeks off between then and almost the end of November, when they conduct the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. That’s nine months of week-in, week-out events and they all can’t be “edge of your seat” entertainment. There’s more times than not that the product put on the stage is more a solution for insomnia than bringing somebody back to life.

Secondly, there is this manufactured “Chase for the Cup” as a method of determining a champion. About ten years ago, NASCAR thought they needed to add some drama to their method for determining a champion. Some years a driver would win so much that, by the end of the season, said driver had already locked up the championship and made the final race of the season a snooze fest, something that didn’t set well with NASCAR brass from a fan perspective as well as a television (advertisers) perspective.

To counteract this, NASCAR came up with the “Chase.” Using a variety of different point qualifying methods over the years, essentially after 26 races (leaving the final 10 as a “playoffs”) the top ten racers would be separated from the field and deemed the “only” drivers who could win the Sprint Cup. This “playoff” system has been derided by many old school fans of the sport but can be given credit for drawing some eyes towards the battle for the championship over the years (usually after some big crash has caused a fight between the drivers while in the pits).

Thirdly, if you haven’t seen a race on television lately, the reason is that it is harder to find than a virgin in the infield at Talladega. With the current television contract (split between the Fox Television Network and its Fox Sports 1 cable outlet and NBC and their cable side, NBCSN), there are at least four different networks you’d have to search over to find the race. If you don’t have the proper cable package, you might not get NBCSN or Fox Sports 1; that means you’re going to miss some races that have been shuffled off of the major network to these cable sister stations.

Finally, have you looked at attendance at the tracks over the past couple of years? There is hardly anyone in the stands for some of the biggest events on the schedule. It is almost expected that some areas like Kansas, Kentucky or even California might not be able to fill the grandstands (due to location or just plain boring racing), but when such popular racetracks as Talladega and Bristol have empty seats, something is going wrong.

The problems facing NASCAR aren’t exclusive to that sport alone, however (OK, having races somewhere in Kansas might be, but we’ll let that alone for now). Much like the National Football League, with the advent of HDTV and internet services, fans are more likely to stay at home – where they can see pretty much everything going on rather than just when the race screams past them for the umpteenth time – and kick back in their recliner to watch the event. Count in cheaper beverages, not having to pay for a ticket (a family of four could spend as much as $400 to attend one race) and not having to deal with pre- and post-race traffic, it isn’t hard to see why attendance is down and, perhaps, even viewership (due to the television contracts and the different stations).

OK, if you’ve reached this far, you’re probably interested in a prediction on who will win the Ford 400 (look, you have to have a bigger name for your Championship Event than this!) on Sunday. Let’s break the four contenders down in their “Pros and Cons.”

Jeff Gordon

PROS:  This Sunday is the final race in what will eventually be a Hall of Fame career for Gordon. The four-time NASCAR champion would like to go out on top with a fifth championship and there is a sentimentality factor for the fans to send him out that way.

CONS:  For the past few years (he won his last NASCAR championship in 2001), Gordon has been hanging on the edge of the game. Sure, he gets a win once in a while and, for the most part, always was in the Chase for the Cup, but he never was a serious contender. If Gordon was to win the championship, the screams of “FIX!!!” would be heard at racetracks from Fontana to New Hampshire.

Kevin Harvick

PROS:  The defending champion of the series, a likeable character nicknamed “Happy” (once a tongue-in-cheek ode to his temperamental outbursts), Harvick would demonstrate that his 2014 title wasn’t a fluke. He’s been at or near the top of the leaderboard all season long and has won three races over the course of the season.

CONS:  While leagues may like dynasties, NASCAR fans don’t (just ask six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who won five of them in a row). Harvick also rubs some people the wrong way with his attitude towards other drivers, especially when he uses the same tactics. Thoughts are if he hadn’t caused a huge wreck at the end of the November Talladega race, he wouldn’t even have made it to the Round of Eight in the “Chase.”

Kyle Busch

PROS:  One of the most winning drivers in NASCAR and its different racing series over the past decade. Huge talent that has never been this close to claiming a championship. Has a racing pedigree with his brother, Kurt, also winning a NASCAR Cup title. Won four times over the course of the season.

CONS:  Bratty, arrogant, pompous – these are a few of the kinder adjectives used to describe Busch. All those wins hasn’t exactly bought him a great deal of respect from the fans, either. Missed a great deal of the season after a crash at Daytona in February broke his leg; he needed a waiver from NASCAR (and a bit of hard work on his part) to even make the “Chase” to begin with.

Martin Truex, Jr.

PROS:  The epitome of hard work. A single car team from outside the South (the Furniture Row team Truex drives for is based in Denver, CO), Truex has been able to bring this team to the precipice of the goal of any competitor – being a champion. One of the most popular drivers with both fans and fellow drivers in the garage…don’t think that anyone would begrudge him winning the title.

CONS:  Who? Truex isn’t exactly the fan-favorite like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and he nor his team have the history of being among the best in stock car racing, a field that is dominated by three or four large teams for the most part (racing teams operated by Hendricks, Gibbs and Childress, for the most part). If he were to win the title and not win on Sunday (the champion will be determined by who finishes the highest amongst these four men in the race), his one win would be the least by a champion since Matt Kenseth in 2003.

I’ll probably tune in for the final 20 laps or so of the race on Sunday, but I certainly won’t be glued to it as I might have been in the past. While the story of Gordon is nice, the story of the “underdog” Truex is a better story, so I’ll be rooting for him. Hey, it isn’t like they won’t be starting the next season in a month or so anyway.