The Top Ten Underrated Hard Rock Songs, Part One

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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.

The Paradox of Ted Nugent

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There are occasions in our lives when we regret some of the things we’ve enjoyed. Everyone has that particular hair cut that, if there are photos still in existence, they cringe when the Polaroids come out. There are clothes that have been – or, in many cases, still are – in our closets that are so far out of style that they might be coming back into favor any day now. But what happens when it is some of your favorite music, actors or other performers who have gone so far off the rails that you’re in a paradox of how to justify supporting them anymore?

The man that is known as Ted Nugent has worn many a hat in his nearly 70 years on planet Earth. First known as a guitar virtuoso with the Amboy Dukes in the late 1960s, Nugent segued into a highly successful career as a solo artist through the 1970s and 1980s, the era of “Album Oriented Rock.” As the grunge movement of the 1990s began, however, the “Motor City Madman” suddenly fell out of favor, which ushered in the next, more controversial phase of his life.

Long an outdoorsman that talked about his connection with the “spiritual” nature of the world (AKA in relation to the Native American mode of thought and lifestyle), Nugent suddenly moved into more dangerous territory as a vehement supporter of the National Rifle Association and its vigilant (some might say dangerous) support for the Second Amendment. That was fine when there was a Republican in the White House, President George Bush (Bush II), but when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Nugent went off the deep end…in fact, it started before President Obama was even elected.

In 2007 during a concert appearance, Nugent allegedly said to the audience, “This country should be ashamed. I wanna throw up. Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun.” When the elections came around again in 2012, Nugent piped up again in stating, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will be either dead or in jail by this time next year.” Nugent has also gone to the lengths of calling the President of the United States a “sub-human mongrel,” a term so vile and racism-laced that virtually no one supported him. Obama hasn’t been the only one who was the target of Nugent (no pun intended), in fact it seems that anyone with a “D” in front of their name has drawn the ire of Nugent’s political scat.

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Political viewpoints aside, Nugent has also gone after homosexuals, the poor, “foreigners” (“Foreigners are assholes, foreigners are scum.”) and feminists (“What’s a feminist? A fat pig who doesn’t get it often enough.”). But it seems that Nugent finally found a group that he couldn’t take on…or maybe it was a subject that he shouldn’t have broached.

In February, Nugent went on a rampage on his Facebook page, accusing prominent Jewish leaders of promoting the anti-gun agenda in the United States. In his screed, Nugent scathingly and derisively touched on their association with anti-gun activities in saying, “They hate freedom, they hate good over evil, they would deny us the basic human right (hey, Nugent’s words) to self-defense & to KEEP & BEAR ARMS while many of them have tax paid hired ARMED security!” While some of his fans tried to point out that he might have gone too far, Nugent instead ranted further, stating, “Never fucking again, assholes!”

The targets of Nugent’s rant? Such prominent Jewish leaders as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (called “Mikey” on the rant, as many of the photos had some sort of derisive commentary that mentioned their ties to Israel), California Senator Dianne Feinstein, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz, among others. Naturally, the comments drew a huge amount of outrage, not only from those that disagree with Nugent but also those who support the NRA that went as far as calling for Nugent’s removal from the Board of Directors of the organization. Perhaps realizing that he’d finally stepped too far (and apparently the NRA was about to pull the trigger on his removal), Nugent issued an apology and said he “wasn’t anti-Semitic” (but that was after he had already said…well, here).

As a fan of hard rock music, I like Nugent’s work. While we’re not talking Beethoven or Mozart, some of his work is among the best classic rock and hard rock tracks in existence. When his solo career slowed in the 80s, he formed the powerhouse super group Damn Yankees with Tommy Shaw of Styx and Jack Blades of Night Ranger and put out a couple of albums of really good music. And Nugent puts on a great live show, if you can get by the political rants that he goes off on nowadays.

I’ve also had the chance to meet him on a couple of occasions through my days in radio. Both times were like a force of nature had swept through the room as Nugent – who says he has never had any drugs or alcohol – bounded through the fans with an energy that would rival that of a 20-year old. He also always seemed to have time for his fans before, during and after every show.

But that doesn’t negate his actions of today nor those of his past. When I was younger, I could overlook Nugent’s history due to that youthful ignorance. Today – and especially with the power of the internet – it is difficult to do that.

There are several questions regarding his proclivities with wanting his ladies to be – and I will put this as delicately as possible –a little on the younger side. Spin Magazine found that Nugent somehow persuaded the parents of a 17-year old girl to allow him to became her legal guardian, naming it the 63rd “sleaziest” moment in rock history (and that’s saying something). And there are legends that Courtney Love – yes, the widow of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobainonce performed a sex act on Nugent when she was 12.

Now, if that weren’t enough, there’s also the question regarding Nugent’s method for avoiding service in Vietnam. Of draft age when the war was at its apex in the late 1960s, Nugent was able to get a deferment, but just exactly how is the question. According to a 1977 High Times interview, Nugent supposedly let personal hygiene go for up to a month – including performing bathroom functions in his clothing – to get the military psychologists to give him the deferment. In 2006 – not surprisingly at the height of his paramilitary, right-wing rebirth – he told the British newspaper The Independent that he made that story up. Whether he is a draft dodger or not – he did actually get a 4F deferment, the question being was if for a worthy reason or not – is the big question.

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This is where the paradox takes place and it is something that we have seen in many of our pop culture icons throughout history. Arguably the first noted case of this type of situation (since we have a hard time going back before “yellow journalism” or the paparazzi) was popular) was in the case of actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who was a popular actor and performer in the 1920s. Despite his bulk, he was a noted dancer and his comedic timing was impeccable, leading many to admire him and Hollywood to pay him $1 million in 1920 for his talents.

That was before a highly publicized rape trial, however. From 1921 through the next year, Arbuckle was the defendant in the rape and manslaughter trial of actor Virginia Rappe. Two trials ended in hung juries and the third finally acquitted Arbuckle, but the damage was already done. Arbuckle would never again reach the level of success he previously found, passing in 1933 of a heart attack at the age of 46.

That type of situation – celebrities with public admiration tainted or destroyed by scandal – has been seen through the 20th century to present times. Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, the “Hollywood Blacklist” that ensnared Dalton Trumbo and the “Hollywood Ten,” to O. J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, Sinead O’Connor or Jared Fogle…all have seen or saw their careers either crippled or ended by scandal in their lives. But what do people who admire them do?

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There is no easy answer for this situation. I can still enjoy listening to Nugent’s music, but there is a constantly nagging voice in the back of my head that will not silence some of the things he’s done. Others might be able to easily separate the juxtaposition – it seems that fans of Donald Drumpf find it far too easy to do that – but does that say more about their either pleasure of enjoying an artist or thinking that an egregious error is “OK” (sorry, there’s some things that just aren’t allowable)?

You might be able to put a different subject in its place and you might have a different answer for each different subject, but the paradox that is Ted Nugent is still something that I have to ponder and, unfortunately, I’ll probably never come up with an acceptable answer…either to myself or to anyone else.

Top Five or Six Songs You DON’T Want To Hear While Driving

If you’re anything like me, you do like to hit the road for a good drive. I don’t mean the little trip to the grocery store or Macy’s (although those are fun too), I mean the good old fashioned “road trip” where you throw caution to the wind and see how far the gas takes you…or, OK, a good long trip to visit family, friends, go to a concert or a sporting event, etc. The thing that makes any road trip easier to traverse is when you have good music to go along with the journey.

Good music makes the trip easier to bear, especially when you have friends and/or children in the car. There does come a problem, however: the songs that, once they begin to play on the radio, immediately cause your right foot to get about a ton heavier and causes the needle on the speedometer to reach levels that are highly unsafe. These are the songs that, when they come on either the radio, a CD or off of our iPod, we certainly hope that A) we are alone in the vehicle and B) hope that there aren’t any sheriffs, deputies or other law enforcement officials in the near vicinity as they would surely stop us for our upcoming display of speed.

The Outlaws – “Ghost Riders in the Sky”

The Outlaws were never one of the big “stars” of the music industry. They barely were able to catch on in the heyday of Southern rock in the mid-70s with a couple of hits, “There Goes Another Love Song” and “Green Grass and High Tides.” It was their 1980 remake of a tune from the 1940s, however, that would put them in this list:

One of the big things that a great “don’t drive while listening” song has is guitars that seem to ascend to Heaven or drive straight to Hell, there is no in between. In this particular song, it seems that the guitars take the listener both ways. The original lyrics paint the picture of either salvation or damnation and, as the tempo increases towards the end of the song, there is an immediacy brought about to make the listener try to decide which side to ride with. It also causes the scenery to rip by if you’re driving in a car and get into the music.

KISS – “Detroit Rock City”

Many people have a love/hate relationship with the band KISS. One of the longest lived bands of the rock era (founded in 1973 and continually recording and touring since that time), they have cranked out their brand of music for almost four decades. While long reviled for their “amateurish” music and “cartoonish” stage shows and makeup, KISS actually proved over the long run that they were consummate musicians who knew how to work the stage, beguile the audience and make a mint while doing it! As far as their contribution to the “unsafe at any speed” list, here you go:

The song itself is about a maniacal drive (which alone should get it in the pantheon) but it also was called by VH1 the #6 Greatest Metal Song in history. The song (and KISS themselves) inspired a movie of the same name and the tune has been used to promote both the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings. On the other hand, if you’ve got a copy of the original single, you always had something to play for a girlfriend or significant other – the “B-side” (normally not the more popular song) was a little ditty called “Beth.”

Ted Nugent – Wango Tango

Whether you like his take on politics or not, the one thing that Ted Nugent can never be denied is his borderline insane work in rock music. Nugent has a list of songs that could contend for this list – “Piledriver” from his days with the Damn Yankees, “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” and “Motor City Madhouse” just to name a few – but this one captures the increase in speed as the potency of the song itself goes up:

Although the entire song is blasting from the start, it is that center segment when you’re taken down to just the base line and the drums that the true intensity begins. As Nugent gets deeper into the lyrics (the “pretend your waist is a Maserati” line is priceless) and builds to the climax, you can only hope that your foot isn’t on a gas pedal. If it is, you better hope it is a stretch of open road!

Metallica – “Fuel”

They will probably go down as one of – if not the – greatest band in hard rock/metal history. Along the way, Metallica has given some gems to the “Lead Foot Legion” – “Master of Puppets” comes to mind immediately. This one, however, was done with the automobile in mind:

One of the things with Metallica, however, is that their songs could be viewed from several different aspects. The chorus of the song – “Give me fuel, give me fire, give me that which I desire” – could be applied to any addiction that a person has. That they hide some depth in writing a great driving song is intriguing to me.

Tie:  Megadeth – “Symphony For Destruction” and P.O.D. – “Boom”

Former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine was tossed out of the group (supposedly over his own addictions) and, as the ultimate “Fuck You,” went on to form his own syndicate that matched his former band nearly note for note. This tune in particular is never a good one to hear if you are behind the steering wheel:

The band P.O.D. never has gotten the recognition that they should have received in their career. Helping to drive the rock/rap genre in the early 2000s, this particular song was the theme to my radio show for several years:

Even today, it still gets the pulse racing as well as the RPMs when I am behind the wheel.

There are a host of songs that didn’t make my final cut (that’s why you may see a Part II, Part III, etc.), but there is one band that may punch a hole in this roster at some point. While some may think that Southern rock is dead, the band Blackberry Smoke stokes the fires of that Southern moonshine still even today, cranking out some powerful songs. Blackberry Smoke, keep it up and perhaps one day “Leave A Scar” will make this list:

Another line for the ages:  “I may not change the world but I’m gonna leave a scar…”

Music is one of mankind’s greatest creations. Whether it is used as a salve, as a confession, as a testament, as a declaration or as a way to inspire or psyche up oneself, there is something out there for everyone. When it comes to songs you don’t want to hear when you’re behind the wheel, what are your choices?