New Prince Album Reveals the Creative Process; Slash Just Rocks the Joint on His Return

In the world of music, there is nothing that is more interesting than the creative process. Hell, with ANY artistic endeavor, the most interesting thing is the process of bringing disparate parts together into a cohesive and entertaining form. The late Prince Rogers Nelson were arguably one of those people that had a tremendous artistic process, something that he often kept in secret for simply privacy’s sake. With his new CD, Piano and a Microphone 1983, we see the artist just before his big explosion on the musical scene, working out the kinks on some compositions that would go on to be huge for his career and some that have never seen the light of day. On the other side of the dial, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash is continuing on without Axl Rose (again) and his new collaboration, his third time teaming with Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, just flat out rocks.

Prince1983

In 2016, the music world lost one of its greatest voices and one of its greatest creative musicians when Prince passed away from an opiate overdose. But back in 1983, Prince wasn’t the icon he had become by 2016; Prince was still a man looking to make his mark in the music world. Coming off a highly successful double album in 1999, the man known as the Purple One was considering his next step. One night, with only a microphone and a piano as accompaniment, Prince put some of those ideas onto a simple cassette tape.

The result of the recording session was the latest release from “The Vault,” the treasure trove of Prince material that was locked up for decades in his Paisley Park home. Entitled Piano and a Microphone 1983, the nine-song CD clocks in at less than 40 minutes (37, if you’d like the exact number). But what Piano and a Microphone 1983 shows is the artist in the midst of the creative process as well as some of the genius behind that process.

Leading off the album is “17 Days,” one of your typical Prince-type songs that one would expect but, stripped down to just the piano, is riveting. The fact that it is a “Prince-type song” isn’t surprising as Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin, who were part of The Revolution, helped in the writing of the song (along with Revolution keyboardist Matthew “Doctor” Fink). From there, Prince goes into a little noodling of what would become “Purple Rain,” but the version found on this album is melancholier then you might expect. Other songs that Prince would become known for – “International Lover” from 1999 and “Strange Relationship,” which would show up on 1987’s Sign O’ the Times, also make their experimental debuts here.

PrinceAtPiano

It is when Prince delves into new material that the CD takes on a life of its own. Prince performs a cover of the African-American spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep,” with a blues styling for the song bringing out so much emotion you can actually feel what Prince is trying to say. The song was used in director Spike Lee’s latest film BlacKKKlansman because Lee felt it was perfect for the film. After unveiling the emotions for “Mary Don’t You Weep,” Prince then goes back into his “funky era” with a song called “Cold Coffee & Cocaine,” complete with James Brown-esque yelps and howls. He wraps up the compilation with a beautiful song called “Why the Butterflies,” an amazing coda to a short practice session.

Even though it is fascinating to listen to the creative process that Prince is going through with the creation of this music, I’m still a little bit disappointed. It is obvious that Prince never meant for these tapes to be released; at certain points in the recording, he clears his throat, speaks directly to the technician in the studio recording this session (surprisingly, Prince tells him to turn the tape over, as if he knew how long he had been playing) or clears his throat with a cough. For Prince’s family to release these songs from “The Vault” as the first posthumous music from Prince, I feel it takes a little bit away from not only the man himself and his tremendous process in creating such wonderful music but also cheapens what should have been a grandiose occasion.

Even with this criticism, Piano and a Microphone 1983 is a priceless piece of music from what was one of America’s greatest artist. Prince may not be with us anymore, but “The Vault” should provide us with decades of music to come. Just imagine what jewels await us from Prince? Piano and a Microphone 1983 is simply the first chip off the diamond that Prince and his music was.

SlashMylesKennedyConspirators

Somebody who may be as prolific as Prince in the musical output department is Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. While Axl Rose was sitting around for the decade or so after Guns N’ Roses’ last release in 1993, Slash would go on to do his own music with a dizzying array of talent backing him up. Counting the five albums he did with the Gunners, Slash has also put up two albums with Velvet Revolver, two with Slash’s Snakepit, and one straight solo album, not to mention guesting on several songs by such artists as the late Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Bad Company’s Paul Rogers and Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies, Alice Cooper and Rhianna. Slash’s latest album is Living the Dream (technically his 13th studio release) and it features some of that talent in vocalist Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge and an array of talented musicians called The Conspirators, who are joining Slash for their third album together.

Although his time in Guns N’ Roses has made him a hard rock and metal icon, Slash goes into his own style when he picks up with Kennedy and The Conspirators, a simply hard driving, blues-based rock and roll approach that you really don’t hear much of anymore. From the start with the song “The Call of the Wild,” Slash and Kennedy groove together instantly, with Kennedy’s soaring vocals only outdone by Slash’s crunching guitars. This continues on through such songs as “My Antidote”  and “Mind Your Manners,” but there are two songs in particular that deserve mention from this record.

SlashMylesKennedy

First song of note from Living the Dream is “Lost Inside the Girl,” a very good up-tempo rocker that is a love song about a lady that has entranced Kennedy. The song that is really the piece de resistance on the album is its first release, “Driving Rain.” It is a typical trope for rock musicians – a song about being out on the road and having to come through a whole lot of pain and torture to get to the one that you love  – but it displays both Kennedy and Slash at the top of their game. Both of these tunes are well worth the price of admission for Living the Dream.

Whether you’re looking for the remembrance of a great artist that has passed far too soon or you’re looking for something from a rocker who is still cranking it out at 53 years old, you can’t go wrong with these two releases.  Piano and a Microphone 1983 from Prince and Living the Dream from Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, while offering greatly diverse material, will give you plenty of enjoyment if you’re willing to take the ride.

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Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time – The Final Battle: AC/DC vs. Metallica, Part One

HardRockMetal

Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last week alone, such as his rewriting of the history of the Civil War, not only in interviews but on his own fucking golf course), I’ve decided to do something that will be much more fun. Since college basketball completed the NCAA Basketball Championship in April, I thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

Here we are – we’ve finally made it to the Final Battle for the right to wear the crown of the greatest hard rock/metal band of all-time. Both bands have slogged through their respective regions – including knocking off the #1 seed in both regions – to meet on this hallowed battleground. Without further ado, here are your two heavyweights vying for the championship, with a brief history of each combatant. In Part Two, we will see how they match up with the criterion we’ve set for determining the victor and crown the champion.

AC/DC vs. Metallica

AC/DC – The True “Thunder” Came From “Down Under”

ACDC

AC/DC was founded in the wilds of Sydney, Australia, by the Young brothers, lead guitarist Angus and rhythm guitarist Malcolm, in 1973. In their early years, they tried to perfect the “three chords and thunder” sound that would become their trademark, but they also needed the right personnel to bring that sound to the people. Their first break came in finding their rhythm section in Phil Rudd (drums) and Cliff Williams (bass), but it was the vocals of Bon Scott that started the group on its way to glory and success.

AC/DC received some accolades for their early work, particularly High Voltage in 1975, but it was their 1979 album Highway to Hell that broke them as an international superstar act. With such songs as the title track, “Girls Got Rhythm,” “If You Want Blood (You Got It)” and “Touch Too Much,” AC/DC would eventually sell eight million copies of the record. It would also mark a moment that shook the band to its core.

BonScott

As they were in the studio creating their next album, Scott would die of accidental alcohol poisoning. The band briefly considered breaking up but, encouraged by Scott’s father, decided to soldier on with the band. With new lead singer Brian Johnson at the front of the stage, the band released what would arguably be their masterpiece, Back in Black. The record featured no noticeable change in the style of the band and the title track, “Hells Bells,” “Shoot to Thrill“ and the legendary “You Shook Me All Night Long,” became staples of classic rock stations. The success of the album has been seen in its longevity – it is second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller in worldwide album sales and been certified double diamond (20 million sales) in the States of America. It is also arguable that AC/DC is now known more for Johnson’s voice than for Scott’s.

CONCIERTO DE ACDC

Over the next 30-plus years, AC/DC continued to pound out classic hard rock for its legion of fans around the world. This would eventually lead to their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, but they haven’t even come close to slowing down since then. Lately they’ve gone through some issues – in 2014, Rudd was replaced after being charged with a litany of offenses, including “attempting to procure a murder;” also in 2014, Malcolm Young cited his health in departing the band; in 2016, Johnson was replaced (by Guns ‘N Roses singer W. Axl Rose) after doctors said his hearing could be permanently lost if he continued touring; following the final show of their 2016 “Rock or Bust” World Tour, Williams announced his resignation, citing that the loss of Johnson and Rudd made AC/DC “a changed animal.” But the constant of the band has been the sight of Angus Young, in his schoolboy outfit, still doing his modified Chuck Berry “duck walk” to the delight of crowds worldwide.

Metallica – Bay Area Thrashers Fueled by Inner Demons

Metallica2

Metallica was founded in Los Angeles, CA, in 1981, but for the entirety of its career has called the San Francisco area its home turf. The band’s drummer, Lars Ulrich, put an ad in a local newspaper looking for a singer/guitarist for the band he wanted to found. That band would take on a new form of hard rock/metal, the skate-community inspired “thrash metal” and the pieces of the band had to fit perfectly together. When guitarist James Hetfield– and fellow original members in lead guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist Cliff Burton – all came on board, the band Metallica was born and exploded on the music scene.

“Exploded” is a rather tame term for the power and aggression that Metallica attacked the then-Euro-driven synth pop and “hair metal” of that era. From their first album, Kill ’em All, in 1983, the band’s in-your-face approach was evident:  hard core guitars crashing around machine gun drumming and the angry growl of Hetfield crushing anything in its path. The aural assault also brought something else that hadn’t been a part of the hard rock/metal scene:  lyrics delving into issues such as isolation, religious issues, anger, militaristic thought, drug usage and the damage of such usage, not exactly the thing that the “hair metal” acts were singing about on the Sunset Strip.

HetfieldAndMustaine

With these demons, however, came changes to the band. Mustaine was ejected from the group allegedly because of his drug usage and would be replaced by Kirk Hammett. As their star was on its ascendance, tragedy would strike the band in the death of Burton while the band was touring in Sweden in 1986. After receiving the blessing of Burton’s family, the remaining members of Metallica decided to keep the band going, replacing Burton with Jason Newstead, at which point they would enter arguably their most creative and successful era of their career.

In 1988, Metallica released …And Justice for All, arguably their most creative work, and the music world responded. The album, driven by such songs as “One“ (it’s video, splicing scenes from the film Johnny Got His Gun in with band performance, is considered one of the Top 100 videos of all-time), “The Frayed Ends of Sanity,” “Harvester of Sorrow“ and the title track, rocketed the band into notoriety. It was also one of the first competitors in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental category at the 1989 Grammy Awards, but was comically bested by Jethro Tull‘s Crest of a Knave for the inaugural honor (something that is recognized as one of the greatest gaffes in the history of the Grammys; it was corrected somewhat the following year when Metallica won the Grammy in the category).

Metallica3

Not content to sit on that success, Metallica would next release arguably their masterpiece. The entirely black cover – hence many fans and others calling it “The Black Album” but officially an eponymous album – sparked even bigger things for the band. Through such songs as “Enter Sandman,” “Wherever I May Roam,” “The Unforgiven,” “Sad But True,” and others, Metallica solidified its place in the pantheon of “thrash metal” gods (alongside Mustaine’s Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax). It also etched its place in music history; Metallica would be the band’s first #1 album, has sold 16 million in the States of America, and started their consecutive streak of studio albums that have debuted at #1 (six, including their latest Hardwired…to Self-Destruct).

To this day, Metallica continues to pound out their brand of metal to an appreciative audience, even though Newstead left the band in 2001 and was replaced by Robert Trujillo. They have also brought attention to many social issues, including mental illness, often depicting their own struggles with those subjects (mental problems and drug and alcohol abuse) in documentary fashion. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 (first ballot), but Metallica shows absolutely no signs of slowing down as we get deeper into 2017 (and the “Hardwired” tour rolls along with two bands they’ve influenced, Avenged Sevenfold and Volbeat). In fact, if the Hardwired record is any indication, it is possible they still can get better – hard to believe, but potentially true.

Now it is up to you, the voters. We will break the competitors down by the criteria in our final essay and make the decision – who is the greatest hard rock/metal band of all-time? Vote, argue, fight about it (just keep the chains, brass knuckles and knives out of the battle, thank you!)…just let us know who the ultimate champion is going to be!

Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time – The Final Four

HardRockMetal

Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last week alone, such as his stream of consciousness interview with the Associated Press that featured more errors than a five-year old T-ball game), I’ve decided to start something that will be much more fun. Since college basketball just recently completed the NCAA Basketball Championship, I thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

It’s been a long journey, but we’ve finally reached the pinnacle, the mountain – the Final Four. The four combatants have worked their way through their “regions” – the 1960/70s, the 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s/10s – and are all champions. There can be only one, however, and they will now square off against each other to see who is the final band standing. In our first battle, the 1960s/70s will square off against the 2000s/10s:

ACDC

AC/DC (2) vs. Disturbed (1)

It was an incredibly tough vote, but longevity seemed to be the deciding factor in the battle between AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, despite the factor that the individual members of Led Zeppelin have had outstanding careers since the band dissolved. Over in the 2000s/10s division, Disturbed was finally able to end the run of Slipknot, sending the six-seed home and moving on to take on arguably one of the most loved bands in the history of hard rock/metal.

AC/DC has endured the slings and arrows of critics that labeled their three-chord grinding music as “mindless” and “simple” since their inception in the early 1970s, constantly touring and churning out new music for their legion of fans. How many records have they done? Sixteen studio albums, including the guaranteed classics Highway to Hell and Back in Black and their title tracks, with sales of over 200 million albums worldwide. Toss on 21 world tours in their history, basically touring from 1973 to 1986 without pausing, and there is no way that you can doubt the veracity of their fans nor their ability to give the people what they want.

Disturbed comes to their success during a different era of music, but they’ve garnered their own accolades through their success. As stated during the Elite Eight, Disturbed’s latest record Immortalized debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, making their fifth consecutive studio album to do that. Only Metallica and the Dave Matthews Band can say that they have done that – not Led Zeppelin. They have also sold more than 35 million of their seven albums over their 17-year existence and they show no signs of slowing down.

If you were to break down the band by members, the edge vocally would be a tossup. The late Bon Scott and then Brian Johnson left an indelible mark on AC/DC’s sound – really, could you imagine anyone else fronting the band (it remains to be seen if Guns ‘N Roses vocalist W. Axl Rose will remain with the group)? But Disturbed is as much David Draiman as Draiman is Disturbed and his immediately recognizable smooth bass vocals drive that group.

You might say that the guitar work of Angus and Malcolm Young stand out over Disturbed’s Dan Donegan, but Donegan has been just as instrumental (no pun intended) to his group’s success as the Young brothers were to theirs. Donegan has also added in work on keyboards (something key to the experimentation that Disturbed is known for) and, along with drummer Mike Wengren, are the only two men who have been part of the group since its inception.

Disturbed

The question will come down to which do you value more – do you value the length of the career and the virtuosity shown by AC/DC, or do you value the outstanding musicianship of a career that really is still just getting going in Disturbed?

And now for the matchup between the 1980s and the 1990s:

Metallica

Metallica (2) vs. Rage Against the Machine (2)

This one seemed to be dictated from the start, but both had to overcome the #1 seed in their regions to make it to this point. Metallica had to knock down the boys from New Jersey in Bon Jovi (and I can hear the screams already – Metallica was far more influential and critically acclaimed than Bon Jovi could ever hope to be) and RATM had to best only the “godfather of grunge” in the late Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Unfortunately, now one must go down.

So, who has the edge with creativity? Both bands have written and sung about subjects that you normally don’t find in hard rock/metal, such as religious and military leaders, rage, drug usage, anger, loss, and retribution (for Metallica) and political opinions related to not only the States of America but worldwide (Rage Against the Machine). Both bands have been the trendsetters in their genres, with Metallica considered the creators of “thrash” metal and RATM furthering the cause of “rap” metal with their work.

Even the band members are considered equals. Whether you are looking at James Hetfield (Metallica) or Zack de la Rocha (RATM) on vocals (Hetfield also wields a mean rhythm guitar), first Dave Mustaine and then Kirk Hammett versus Tom Morello on lead guitar, the triumvirate of the late Cliff Burton, Jason Newstead and now Robert Trujillo against Tim Commerford on bass and the thunderous drum work of both Lars Ulrich or Brad Wilk, they all are considered the best in the business in their respective fields. There is one thing that may swing the needle, however.

Metallica has been in this game since the early 1980s, grinding out their brand of hard rock/metal for more than 35 years solid. They’ve had a few pauses, especially after Newstead left the band in 2001, but they’ve been at the forefront of the hard rock/metal genre for decades. Although RATM was extremely powerful in their music, they also were more of a Roman candle in that they burned bright but burned out quick. Rage Against the Machine’s last studio album was in 2000 (of four; Metallica has 10 in its still-active career) and, although there have been teases in the past, there are no indications that the group is going to come back together for another run. In fact, Morello has taken the other two musicians in RATM and gone on to form Prophets of Rage along with Chuck D and DJ Lord of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill.

RATM

The evidence has been presented and now it is up to the voters. Who will move on to the Final Conflict? Who will vie for the crown and reign supreme as the greatest band in hard rock/metal history? By this weekend, we will learn the two that will battle it out…

Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Second Round Part 2

HardRockMetal

Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last weekend alone, such as his foray into international diplomacy at the end of a Tomahawk missile), I’ve decided to start something that will be much more fun. Since college basketball just recently completed the NCAA Basketball Championship, I thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

The first round of the four “regions” – the 1960s/70s, the 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s/2010s – is complete and there were some big surprises. It’s now time to move into the second round of two of the regions who will match up in the Final Four of Hard Rock/Metal – the 1980s and the 1990s – and work them down to one half of the Sweet Sixteen. As always, cast your vote and/or opinion on who should win each battle by commenting here or on one of the many social media outlets where you might read this.

Without further ado, here’s the 1980s second round:

BON JOVI

Bon Jovi (1) vs. Mötley Crüe (8)

Part of me would like to see this be a real battle, but that’s not the case. Longevity is on the side of Bon Jovi in this case, as is virtually every other category that might be tallied. Sales, award recognition, fan support – all those things flow in the direction of the boys from New Jersey over the gang off the Sunset Strip. Although they might be “lightweights,” Bon Jovi for many WAS the 1980s and, as such, they will be moving on.

Guns ‘N Roses (4) vs. Iron Maiden (5)

This is going to be too close to call. The Gunners breathed new life into hard rock/metal in the late 1980s with their “take no prisoners” approach and bawdy behavior, but Iron Maiden’s throng of loyal supporters and longevity in the business can’t be overlooked. Even though GNR came back last year for a few concert appearances (and Axl Rose did some great work with AC/DC after the questionable circumstances regarding Brian Johnson’s departure), Iron Maiden almost always has seemed to “been there” since the early 1980s. The voters will have to make the call here.

Metallica (2) vs. Anthrax (10)

Anthrax, with their highly influential style of speed metal mixed with social commentary, emerged with an upset victory against Queensrÿche, but that may be where the train ends with running up against Metallica. If there were a group that could play just as fast as Anthrax, just as loud and have similar things to say, it would be Metallica. What puts it over the top? The 2009 induction of Metallica into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which says it best on their website when they comment, “Heavy metal went mainstream thanks to Metallica.”

Slayer

Def Leppard (3) vs. Slayer (6)

Opposites go to war in this matchup, with the poppier hard rock from Def Leppard running headlong into the death metal stylings of Slayer. Don’t be so quick to hand this battle to Def Leppard; Slayer, while a polarizing entity because of the style that they play, has been tremendously influential over ALL forms of music. They have influenced everyone from Pantera to Hatebreed and even reached to Italy to inspire Lacuna Coil. When you’ve got that type of power, it has an impact…but will the voters accept it?

And now, let’s look at the 1990s:

Nirvana (1) vs. Nine Inch Nails (9)

Although I’ve long had a fondness for Nirvana and the late Kurt Cobain, there is plenty of room for argument that Nine Inch Nails and front man Trent Reznor were more influential on hard rock/metal. Reznor’s influence runs the gamut from pop to industrial, dance to rock, and he’s also been a highly successful scorer of films (along with his partner Atticus Ross, they won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for The Social Network). While that may not be hardcore, it still shows tremendous talent, making this matchup not the slam dunk that many might have thought.

"Gone Girl" Special Screening

Pearl Jam (4) vs. Foo Fighters (5)

Another tough battle in the 4/5 seedings. You would think that Pearl Jam, coming off their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and nearly 30-year career (not to mention leading the “Grunge Revolution”), would be able to handle the Foo men easily. But Dave Grohl and Co. aren’t that easy to knock off. They’ve been getting raves over one of their recent efforts, Sonic Highways, which saw the band travel to eight different cities to “get a feel for” the cities as they recorded it (the production was followed by HBO for a miniseries of the same name). Grohl also carries some gravitas from his days with Nirvana. Is it possible that Grohl’s two bands could face off against each other in the Sweet Sixteen?

Rage Against the Machine (2) vs. Korn (7)

Although Korn ably defeated Tool to reach the second round, I don’t see a way that they get past RATM. In all areas, Rage Against the Machine are the dominant forces – popularity, commercial and critical success, influence and many others. About the only thing that Korn may have is longevity, but that would change if Rage guitarist Tom Morello and singer Zack de la Rocha buried the hatchet and hit the studio again (if not, there’s always Morello leading the other men from the band in their new outlet, Prophets of Rage). A bit of a mismatch here, unfortunately.

GreenDay

Green Day (3) vs. White Zombie/Rob Zombie (11)

A bit of a surprise as White Zombie and front man Rob Zombie were able to upend Alice in Chains to reach the second round of the tournament. They’ve got a great chance to take out the three-seed in Green Day as their style of “nightmare metal” has been mimicked by many bands in the early 2000s, even though Rob Zombie still performs. Green Day, however, has their own legion of devotees and can even say that they’ve gone to Broadway (the musical American Idiot brought punk music to the Great White Way). It is another battle that will be decided by the voters.

That closes the second round for these two regions. Be sure to get your votes in on who deserves to move on to the Sweet Sixteen! Starting this week, we’ll cut the Sweet Sixteen down to only one band, who will walk off with the title of the greatest hard rock/metal band in history!

Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Second Round Part 1

HardRockMetal

Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last weekend alone, such as his slashing of the Department of Interior budget by $1.5 billion while donating his first quarter’s pay for sitting on his ass – roughly $70,000 – in the White House to the National Park Service), I’ve decided to start something that will be much more fun. Since college basketball just recently completed the NCAA Basketball Championship, I thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

The first round of the four “regions” – the 1960s/70s, the 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s/2010s – is complete and there were some big surprises. It’s now time to move into the second round of two of the regions who will match up in the Final Four of Hard Rock/Metal – the 1960s/70s and the 2000s/2010s – and work them down to one half of the Sweet Sixteen. As always, cast your vote and/or opinion on who should win each battle by commenting here or on one of the many social media outlets where you might read this.

Without further ado, here’s the 1960s/70s second round:

Led Zeppelin (1) vs. Rush (8)

The Zep was not even challenged by their first-round matchup against Steppenwolf, but now they might have a fight on their hands. Surviving their first-round battle against Queen, Rush is primed to take down the legends from the U. K. One of the things that might sway some voters is simply the longevity issue; Rush is still around to this day, more than 40 years after their creation. Led Zeppelin, however, still has the panache as one of the most influential bands in music history (how many kids learned “Stairway to Heaven” as their first tune?). Plenty to think about when it comes to this matchup.

Motorhead

Judas Priest (4) vs. Motörhead (12)

Fresh off their upset of Black Sabbath in the first round, Motörhead is loaded for bear with another tough battle against another legend. This is going to be difficult because both bands have longevity, influence and popularity on their sides. It is arguable that the Priest have had more of an impact on the genre than Motörhead, but it is an argument that Lemmy lovers would love to fight over. Mark this one down as “too tough to call” and let’s see where the voters take it!

AC/DC (2) vs. Van Halen (7)

Another matchup that will raise the ire of fans of both bands. AC/DC has an iconic sound that, while simplistic in its three-chord approach, is still as good today as it was when they started back in the early 1970s. Not to be overlooked, Van Halen worked through the latter part of the 70s, made an adjustment to the MTV 80s, stayed popular into the grunge 90s and still is viable today (although some might say that Eddie Van Halen and Co. have fallen from their lofty perch of late). Perhaps the deciding factor? AC/DC’s three vocalists have been the late Bon Scott, Brian Johnson, and Guns ‘N Roses’ Axl Rose. Van Halen? David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar, and Gary Cherone. Who wins that comparison?

TheWho

KISS (14) vs. The Who (6)

Three upsets in the first round for the 1960s/70s! KISS took down Deep Purple in the first round, but the second-round match against The Who is going to be a bit tougher. The two bands are quite similar, with duos at the lead (Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons for KISS, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend for The Who) who basically became the faces of their groups. They had iconic members (Ace Frehley and John Entwistle) who were virtuosos on their respective instruments and members that had issues outside of the band with drugs and/or alcohol (Peter Criss and Keith Moon) that either killed them or nearly did while in their prime. Influence might be the key here – who had the greater influence on the history of hard rock/metal?

And now, here’s the second round for the 2000s/2010s

Disturbed (1) vs. Black Label Society (8)

Chalk for the top of the second round as Disturbed pushed aside the assault of Killswitch Engage to get to the second round and BLS got past Mudvayne in a contest decided by longevity. Black Label Society might not go any farther, however, because Disturbed is looking like it might be a juggernaut in this region. Nothing against Zakk Wylde and the members of Black Label Society, but Disturbed could very well be the band that is representative of the early part of the 21st century.

Halestorm

Halestorm (4) vs. Godsmack (5)

Emerging from the matchup of the female-led bands in defeating Evanescence, Halestorm now gets a shot at Godsmack – or is Godsmack getting their shot at Halestorm? The big point that may sway voters in this competition is that Halestorm is still getting their engines revved, with Lzzy Hale simply getting better with each new CD. Godsmack left their label in late 2016 and it doesn’t appear that any new music is coming out of the band in the immediate future. Things like this – how visible you are and how popular – sometimes will be the tipping point in these competitions.

System of a Down (2) vs. Avenged Sevenfold (7)

Avenged Sevenfold took down the old guard Deftones in round one and it faces another legend in round two. System of a Down has long been regarded as one of the preeminent bands of the past decade and a half, at the minimum, selling 40 million records. That type of popularity is tough to overlook in a match where the two competitors are so evenly matched up.

FiveFingerDeathPunch

Five Finger Death Punch (3) vs. Slipknot (6)

And chalk holds true for the entirety of the first round in the 2000s/2010s. This matchup, however, is different in that both bands are similar in their musical stylings and have equal impact and influence on up and coming bands. Slipknot has had some periods of inactivity that are tough to overlook, but their record at the Grammys – ten nominations and one victory – push them past FFDP. It is tough to overlook a band that is still performing strong, however, and FFDP is doing that.

That closes the second round for these two regions. Be sure to get your votes in on who deserves to move on to the Sweet Sixteen! And don’t forget that we’ve got the other side of the bracket – the 1980s and the 1990s – coming soon. We’ll determine the champion, hopefully next week, as to who is the greatest hard rock/metal band in history!

Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Part 2 – The 1980s

HardRockMetal

Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last weekend alone), I’ve decided to start something that will definitely be much more fun. Since college basketball is deciding the 64 teams (OK, 68 teams because of those simply idiotic play in games the NCAA conducts) that will compete for their championship, thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

As it is one of my personal fortes, hard rock/metal music is essentially celebrating its 50th Anniversary since the release of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” which contained the lines “Get your motor running/heavy metal thunder.” With this in mind, I’ve put together a compilation of the top 64 hard rock/metal bands from four different eras – the 1960s/70s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s/10s – and split them up in accordance with those eras into “regions.” We’ll break down the matchups in each bracket and, with hope, readers will make their own comments and vote on the matchups and perhaps they’ll be some sort of prize at the end – the management here (re:  me) is still trying to come up with that prize.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

We talked about the 1960s/70s in Part 1, so now we’re ready to head into what was arguably the most diverse era of hard rock/metal over the past 50 years – the 1980s. From “hair metal” (basically pop-infused hard rock music that could be ballad intensive – something previously unheard of in the genre) to “death metal” and beyond, there were many candidates for this “regions” bracket. I am sure there will be some complaints as to the selections and, if so, please include those when you discuss the matchups in your reply!

BON JOVI

Bon Jovi (1) vs. Pantera (16)

As ugly as it is to admit, Bon Jovi was one of the most popular acts of the 1980s. Using enough Aquanet to put his own personal hole in the ozone layer over New Jersey, John Bongiovi – who would become the namesake of the group as Jon Bon Jovi – guitarist Richie Sambora and the rest of the group became the band that was OK with your parents to “rock out” to. They also brought the “power ballad” into its heyday, those songs that brought the girls out to the “rock shows” so the guys would come along.

Pantera, on the other hand, was everything that Bon Jovi wasn’t. Hard core, in your face – sometimes with a fist or a boot – fast and furious, guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell and Phil Anselmo mounted an offensive of thunderous rock that still resonates across the genre. While they were influential to many, they weren’t commercially successful – at least not on the level that Bon Jovi was. It will be an intriguing battle to see who emerges from this clash – but we know who would emerge if it were an actual fight!

Mötley Crüe (8) vs. Skid Row (9)

This is a typical battle of two bands that are closely matched. Strangely enough, though, most people are fans of one and not of the other, with those on the side of Skid Row and front man Sebastian Bach calling their opponents a rip-off of KISS and those taking up the fight for the Crüe and singer Vince Neil and Co. calling Skid Row a Guns ‘N Roses clone. What is true about both bands is they cranked out some memorable music over a short period; Skid Row’s heyday was roughly three years (1989-92), while the Crüe would be relevant for a longer period of time (1981-92). That may be the factor that weighs the winner of this matchup.

Guns ‘N Roses (4) vs. Ratt (13)

It is arguable that Guns ‘N Roses may be the top non-“hair metal” band in the 1980s region, setting them apart from Ratt, who firmly embraced their place in that subgenre. The Gunners captured the rebellious nature of rock and roll that was born in the 1960s and had been lost over the previous 20 years as rock became “corporate.” They also would serve as an inspiration to many bands, with such influence eventually leading to their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Ratt? Unfortunately, it looks like they ran into the “immovable object” here…but the votes will be what matters.

IronMaiden

Iron Maiden (5) vs. Faith No More (12)

This may look like a mauling, but you’ve got to look deep at the subject. Faith No More were one of the few practitioners of what became known as “rap metal,” or rapping the lyrics instead of singing them, setting them apart in the business and spawning bands that still employ Faith No More’s style today. Iron Maiden was one of the most ferocious bands in the genre who had a great longevity in the business. They also had their impact on future bands, but they weren’t the groundbreakers that Faith No More was in their short time. It will be another tough matchup for the voters to decide.

Metallica (2) vs. Whitesnake (15)

Even considering the ample success that Whitesnake and David Coverdale enjoyed during the 1980s, there’s simply no way that I can see voters taking them over a band that is still going strong today (and if you haven’t heard Metallica’s latest Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, you’re missing out on their best record since the Black Album). Metallica has inspired many a kid to become the next great James Hetfield or Lars Ulrich, consistently powering out epic albums and taking down accolades left and right for their work. They also – whether you agree with them or not – have fought against piracy in the industry, something that all should applaud them for. Whitesnake might have had a chance against anyone else on this list…but not Metallica.

Metallica

Queensrÿche (7) vs. Anthrax (10)

This is another difficult clash between two talented bands. Queensrÿche arguably introduced the “rock opera” concept into hard rock music in the 80s (OK, don’t remind me of Quadrophenia or other monumental albums) and served as a conduit for politically charged rhetoric (“Empire” delves into the effects of drug trafficking in the inner cities). But of course, their main claim to fame? “Silent Lucidity,” a Pink Floyd-esque power ballad that made the Billboard Magazine Top Ten in 1990.

Anthrax had their own political stances, talking about the plight of Native Americans (“Indians”) and dabbling with rap and classical music in creating their sound. They are one of the few bands to have had success with two different vocalists, Joey Belladonna and John Bush, and they have influenced thrash metal wannabes for over two decades. Do you take style over substance? Or do you award a long, healthy career that has spawned new generations? Tough vote here…

Def Leppard (3) vs. Cinderella (14)

Another matchup between two bands that, at first look, are mirror images. It is only in looking deeper do you see their differences.

The Leppard were a part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) that came out in the late 70s/early 80s, but they weren’t content with staying in that category. They firmly embraced the “hair metal” groove of the decade and became one of the biggest acts of that time. They also demonstrated a great deal of craftsmanship to their records, taking lengthy amounts of time (in some cases, they had to, such as drummer’s Rick Allen’s unfortunate amputation of his arm after an auto accident that forced him to learn how to play drums on a specially created kit) to put out some of the best rock music of the era.

Cinderella was part of that “hair metal” act and even sucked into it a bit by going the power ballad route (“Nobody’s Fool”), but in essence they were a blues band looking for a groove. Singer/guitarist Tom Keifer is a tremendously underrated musician and the rest of the band provided the base for which Keifer could demonstrate his virtuosity. That their era of commercial success was short (1986-1990) was more a fact of the explosion of grunge and rap than any disqualifying factor from the group.

Slayer

Slayer (6) vs. Megadeth (11)

Man, the 1980s were a tough decade! It’s too bad that one of these bands has to depart in the first round as both, against the right competition, could go deep in this tournament. Slayer was the purveyor of “death metal” with their seminal album Seasons in the Abyss reaching their creative and critical high point. Megadeth, with singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine, have continued performing and releasing highly praised music for almost three decades now, including winning a Grammy Award this year for best metal performance for the title track from their album Dystopia. A knockdown, drag out fight is what to expect here.

That’s it for the second “region” of our tournament. We’ll look at the 1990s and the 2000s/10s (and be thinking of who could be the #1 seeds for those “regions” – would love to hear those opinions) later this week and get into the second round, hopefully by next Monday. Don’t forget to vote by replying here and I will compile the responses – and maybe award a prize once a champion is crowned to a reader!

The Top Ten Underrated Hard Rock Songs, Part Two

guitarist

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the first five songs that made up this list (and they are in no particular order other than awesome!). In that discussion, such bands as Faith No More, Body Count, Motörhead, Extreme, Faster Pussycat and Dangerous Toys, among others, and how certain songs performed by these bands just missed rocketing them to metal immortality. But there was something else that derailed these bands just as they were beginning to find their groove.

Hard rock and metal were staples of the late 80s/early 90s, but the times they were a changin’. Just as some of these bands began to work on their sophomore efforts (Dangerous Toys were particularly victim of this), the rumble out of the Northwest was heard. The “Seattle sound” – driven by its early popular practitioners such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana but also by such groups as early as Mudhoney and the Melvins and by such powerhouses as Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots – took over the ears of the disaffected youth and reflected their angst with life. The band Temple of the Dog was an amalgam of these groups, with members from Mother Love Bone, Green River, Bad Radio and Skin Yard joining with members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam for one of the monster efforts of what came to be called the “grunge” era.

If grunge couldn’t do the job by itself, then the second punch of gangsta rap finished off the 80s-hard rock/metal scene. Technically coming out at the same time as the 80s-hard rock/metal took off, gangsta rap became more accepted on both radio and in the culture as the 90s rolled around. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Ice-T (he was also known for his metal work, making him one person who was going to win either way), Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Nas…they all had a hand in the demise of hard rock as the 90s moved along. With the double blow of the emergence of both the gangsta rap and grunge genres – not only in popularity but also on radio and in the record stores – the “good times” were over for the 80s-hard rock/metal scene.

Alas, it probably couldn’t have been sustained much longer. By the early 90s, many of these bands were succumbing to the curse of the “rock and roll lifestyle” in the form of drug and alcohol addiction and becoming exactly what they had hated – the establishment (this was something that grunge carried on). Thus, even if these next five bands had found success with these underrated gems, they may not have been able to keep the fire burning for much longer.

Contraband, “All the Way to Memphis”

This was a group that should have been so much bigger than it was. Contraband was conceived as an outlet for members of several other groups to record while their “day jobs” (re: the band’s they were members of) were on hiatus. Members of Ratt, L. A. Guns, Vixen (one of the few all-female hard rock/metal bands), the Michael Schenker Group and Shark Island all contributed at least one member to the proceedings, which some might have thought would have been uncontrollable but came together quite well.

This particular song was a great choice. Originally done by Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople (Hunter would prove to be a popular writer for hard rock bands; his “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” was a huge hit for Great White), it lent itself well to the canoodling guitar work from Schenker and Tracii Guns and the howling vocals of Richard Black. The rest of the record was, if you’re a fan of the hard rock/metal genre, an outstanding effort (especially “Loud Guitars, Fast Cars and Wild, Wild Livin’”).

Unfortunately, Contraband was eventually devoured by what we discussed above. It also didn’t help when their eponymous debut record was poorly received by the public. Eventually, the players all went back to their original teams and a second record was never recorded.

Saxon, “Dallas 1PM”

This is one of the older selections on our list as Saxon was at the forefront of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM) scene of the late 70s/through the 1980s. The British act never did find the same acclaim as bands such as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden did, but they did not disappoint in driving out album after album for their rabid fans. Wheels of Steel and Solid Ball of Rock are two of their more notable efforts and, to this day, they still are on tour and in the studio.

This song comes from their 1980 effort Strong Arm of the Law and, if you don’t recognize the significance of the title, you probably didn’t pay much attention in history class. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald as the President visited Dallas. At 1PM, doctors at the hospital declared Kennedy dead, hence the unlikely subject for a hard rock song.

There were a couple of problems that Saxon had with “Dallas 1PM.” First, citizens from the States of America hate having to think, especially about history. And second, citizens from the States of America hate having British people try to teach them history. The combination doomed what would have otherwise been an excellent chance to learn (and it is stunning how much you can learn if you listen to the lyrics of a hard rock/metal song…try it sometime).

Warrant, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

One of the original deviants of the “hair metal” genre, Warrant was all about the party. From their songs such as “Cherry Pie” and their hedonistic touring “pleasures,” Warrant was known more for their fun-and-games persona than their music. They were all excellent musicians, however, who wanted to be known for their music rather than their outside activities. Thus, when they issued “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” from the Cherry Pie album, people weren’t quite sure what to think.

The song was supposed to be the first song released off the album (the record company overruled and selected the title track) and it is arguable whether they would have found success with it. The opening acoustic guitar shows some nimble finger work and the story – of two men (an uncle and his nephew) witnessing the local sheriff and a deputy dumping two bodies they murdered into the local swamp – was more adult than anything else ever attempted by Warrant.

By trying to make their sound a bit more adult and include some seriousness to their compositions, Warrant signed their…well, death warrant. Their next album, the much more serious Dog Eat Dog, did not reach the level of success of earlier Warrant efforts and the band broke up. In a demonstration of the changing scene, the late Jani Lane (the vocalist for Warrant) said he knew “the proverbial writing was on the wall” when the band’s framed photo in the foyer of the Columbia Records (their record label) offices was replaced by the Seattle band Alice in Chains.

Cinderella, “Shelter Me”

Here’s another entry into that “consider us serious musicians” category that didn’t end up working well for the group. Cinderella was pretty much a blueprint for the “hair metal” bands of the 80s. Big hair? Check. Big guitars? Check. Raspy vocalist screaming loudly? Check. The band broke through with such rock anthems as “Save Me” and ballads like “Nobody’s Fool” but, by their third album, they were wanting to stretch their musical legs.

On the album Heartbreak Station, lead singer/guitarist Tom Keifer began to add in different touches that you normally don’t see in a hard rock effort. Dobros, saxophones and horns, female backing vocals and a boogie piano were put into this song, making it a bit of a departure from the earlier work by the band. Then there were the lyrics, pointing out the things that people will utilize to get relief from a maddening world. Overall it was more of a blues song than a traditional hard rock song and people didn’t know what the hell to do with it.

Perhaps that change in styles was the thing that sent the band into a downward spiral. The album didn’t reach the level of their earlier efforts (Night Songs and Long Cold Winter) and their swan song, Still Climbing, never got off the ground. Kiefer still performs today with a version of Cinderella, but they haven’t released a studio album since Still Climbing in 1994.

Junkyard, “Hollywood”

Junkyard was about five years too late to be the big success they should have been. Formed in 1987, they didn’t get their debut effort out on the scene until 1989. That eponymous debut record had many comparing them to Guns N’ Roses, but Junkyard was unique (in my mind, at least) in their full-on embrace of the biker culture. With this addition, there were also some sounds in mind that would give one pause to think they were a Southern rock band.

This tune captured the essence of both the Sunset Strip and Tinseltown in its attitude and its decadence. A raucous assault of guitars and moxie, Junkyard would never again reach this level. Their second album, Sixes, Sevens and Nines, failed miserably and their third record wasn’t released by their label, Geffen Records. They would disband in 1992 but are now back together, rocking crowds if not the charts.

So, there you have it (although I’d love to hear some other thoughts on the subject). Although the bands on this list might have had some success, just what could they have been if the fates had shifted differently? One will never know.