The Top Ten Underrated Hard Rock Songs, Part Two

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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.

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Jade Helm 15 a Conspiracy Theory With No Basis in Fact

When Hollywood puts together a movie or television show, the better ones always have some basis in fact or reality. No matter the genre – horror, suspense, action, romcom, etc. – the closer to reality it is, the more impact it has on the viewing audience. In many cases, it is because it MIGHT have a chance of happening or it is factually feasible to someone or something that makes the thrills, scares or emotional investment viscerally important to people. The same thing can be said books; although some (alongside their acting brethren) do like to be removed to a fantasyland that allows the brain to take a pause, the more realistic a book is in the mind of the reader, the more of an impact it will have.

In many ways – possibly because they are works of fiction created by someone’s mind – the multitude of conspiracy theories that abound in today’s world fall into the same category that Hollywood’s best cinematic, theatric and episodic efforts reside in that they sometimes need just a flake of truth to them to be believable. Without the slimmest of possibilities that it could actually happen, conspiracy theories often die an ignoble death or, at best, find a life in the alternate history genre.

Before we dive into the latest example of the conspiracy theory concept, we have to look at why conspiracy theories abound. What is it about conspiracy theories that draw people in? Why do conspiracy theories continually pop up in society? What should be done if they’re false claims? These are all good questions and we’ll start at the beginning.

The thing about conspiracy theories that draw people in is the desire by humanity to understand their conditions for existence. For humans it is highly desirable to know that the sun comes up in the morning, sets in the evening and it will do the same thing tomorrow. It can be highly desirable to believe that good always vanquishes evil, right triumphs over wrong and all is copacetic with the world when they lay their head on the pillow at night. These desires, if not met, can cause otherwise normal people to concoct an alternate reality that fits into their desired existence.

For example, let’s take a look at one of the greatest conspiracy theories of all-time, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. People who saw the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, couldn’t believe that such a “small” person could be responsible for taking down the most powerful leader on Earth. To help their minds cope with this, many dredged up scenarios that helped their minds to make sense of the situation:  the Cubans were involved because of the Bay of Pigs fiasco; the Chicago and Miami arms of La Cosa Nostra joined forces with the Central Intelligence Agency to do the deed; the Russians (for being shown up in the Cuban Missile Crisis)…the list goes on. For many, believing that these powerful and mysterious bodies killed the President of the United States made more sense than a single man who was allegedly an awful shooter picking off the President from the window of a building as he drove by in a limousine.

As the world draws closer together, it also becomes much more difficult to explain; this causes an increase in conspiracy theories in society. Whereas 30-40 years ago it would have been unheard of for some of the actions that, for example, the twenty 9/11 terrorists took – training for over two to three years and immersing yourself in a foreign culture for what would eventually be a suicide mission – today those jihadists have the spiritual, emotional and “obligation to duty” wherewithal to pull off these horrendous acts. It would be easier for some to force up a story that the attacks of 14 years ago were the work of a “shadow world government” or even our own political leadership (to push us closer to a military state and allow for those in power to take more of it) rather than to believe a group of people could even get close to the destruction that occurred on 9/11.

Recently one of those “conspiracy theories” came to a close and it gives us an opportunity to look at how we should handle those that promote them when they are proven to be untrue. On Tuesday, the military exercises known as Jade Helm 15 came to a close after eight weeks of operations across the Southwestern United States. Troops from every branch of the U. S. Armed Forces spread across several states, including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Colorado (if I left you out, don’t feel bad), to train in terrain, temperatures and combat situations that they would be facing in the Middle East. This training is much like what U. S. Marines do with their amphibious landings off the coast of North Carolina or Virginia or the U. S. Navy or Air Force does with bombing runs or aerial combat in the deserts of Death Valley or Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

This time, however, a preconceived “conspiracy theory” was developed, by which jackass nobody knows. The “conspiracy theory” promoted by these brain-dead individuals was that the federal government, under the auspices of the Muslim king Barack Obama, was going to take over Texas and put it under government martial law. To achieve this goal, the training exercise “Jade Helm” was the cover to allow armed troops to move freely across the Southwest, picking up “true patriots” and putting them into “internment camps.” These “internment camps” were linked by underground tunnels between closed Wal-Mart stores, which the Walton Family (a dastardly part of the conspiracy due to their complicit involvement in the New World Order) had donated to the government for this exact purpose. Once martial law was in place, King Barack would “eliminate” any opposition through mass executions or reeducation programs.

Hopefully you were able to read through that mass of crazy…

The first inklings of this story worthy of Hollywood bubbled up in meetings of the County Commissioners of Bastrop, TX, where “concerned citizens” forced their way to the front of the meetings demanding answers from their elected officials. Were they a part of the conspiracy to enslave their constituents? Were they letting the feds “take over?” Even after bringing in a highly decorated Army officer to explain the situation, people still believed the “conspiracy theory” rather than the logical explanations provided by some in government and the military men who met with them.

The story took on a life of its own when other idiots began to pump it ad nauseam. In the media, conspiracy wacko Alan Jones was the major driver of the short bus, pushing the gruel of misinformation to the point where there was no tinfoil left in the H-E-B’s located around the Lone Star State. Then former actor Chuck Norris – yes, Walker, Texas Ranger himself – fanned the ignorance flames by saying that the exercises could be related to an attack by the Islamic terrorist group ISIS. Most special about Norris is that, to mainstream media, he tried to say he had been misquoted, but to other members of the Insanity Posse he repeated his beliefs.

While these two men made some extremely idiotic statements regarding the federal government and our U. S. troops and their exercises, they have to be cut a little slack. Both are preening celebrity members of society, not news correspondents, reporters or respected anchors that are expected to be held to a high standard (Brian Williams, anybody?). While both Jones and Norris have sizeable followings, they often have to carve up some red meat for them to nosh on to keep them around, listening and contributing millions to their bank accounts for bullshit “survival” items or trying to maintain their relevance that disappeared 25 years ago.

The problem comes when the adults in the room – the elected officials who run the governments – fail to meet their responsibilities. First on the list is now-Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who ordered the Texas Guard (not the Texas National Guard, a branch of the U. S. Armed Forces, but a special militia under the auspices of the Governor of the state) to “monitor the Jade Helm exercises.” Eventually outrage – including the statement “Why are you pandering to idiots?” uttered to his face – forced Abbott to reexamine his stance and the Texas Guard didn’t head out into the field.

Not one but THREE members of our current Presidential campaign also bought into the conspiracy. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry stated that Obama was going to allow IS terrorists into the U. S. during the exercises to allow for more upheaval, being sure to express that nothing like this would happen under “President” Perry’s watch (he dropped out last week, ending that dream for the second time in four years). Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Senator Ted Cruz both opined on the subject, with Cruz saying he thought that the exercises weren’t nefarious but that the President wasn’t “trustworthy” and could pull something along the invasion line and Paul saying he “wasn’t sure” what was going on with the exercises. Finally, another member of Congress, current Texas Representative Louie Gomert, said the exercises were meant to be the vehicle for Obama to target “right wing conservatives” by declaring certain states “enemies” of his administration.

You can give hucksters and entertainers such as Jones and Norris leeway, but you cannot give sitting elected officials, members of Congress or people who wish to be the leader of this nation carte blanche to say whatever they want and inspire the imbecilic minds of some people to take action (there were three men arrested in North Carolina who were looking to stop the “Jade Helm” exercises by attacking a military base in the state and, in Mississippi, don’t forget about the disturbed man who drove by bases firing a rifle at them). At the minimum, these elected officials should be forced to apologize to the elected officials that they’ve slandered with their words. In particular, they need to apologize to those troops that they supposedly love so much that they thought they would take over their state. At the maximum – and I am looking at Abbott, Paul, Cruz and Gomert here – they should be officially sanctioned by their appropriate legislative bodies (but that isn’t going to happen because their party controls both houses). All should look in a fucking mirror and wonder how far that they’ve sunk that they would fall for what was an extremely easy “conspiracy theory” to decipher rather than fall into.

Part of intelligent dialogue – whether in debate or other discussion about particular subjects – is being able to sift the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. In this case, it means garnering the useful kernels of information (military exercises are necessary for a well-prepared armed forces, the government has to have some place to train, etc.) from the brainless meanderings of those that are the product of a lobotomy class. Once that is done, then a lucid conclusion can be reached. The “Jade Helm” exercises were a perfect example of a segment of society that has been left to run amok and, rather than use rational thought and reason to figure out what is happening, latch onto something that only serves to exacerbate their fears and not aid in any way reaching a logical conclusion.

Will the advent of “conspiracy theories” go away? Hell, no! There are those out there that see the boogeyman behind every tree, under every doorstep and in the halls of governments around the world. There is also no way to alleviate these unfortunate individuals pain, either; it just has to rot them from the inside until maintaining the many “conspiracy theories” leave them but a former shell of themselves rather than a functioning member of society.