The Top Ten Underrated Hard Rock Songs, Part One

guitarist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme, “Decadence Dance”

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

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

Faster Pussycat, “You’re So Vain”

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

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

Damn Yankees, “Piledriver”

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

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

Dangerous Toys, “Scared”

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

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

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

Advertisements

“Timeless” A New Television Show That Will Work Your Mind

timeless1

If it’s fall, then it is time for the new programs to hit the television screen from not only the traditional networks but also cable and streaming services. Most of the time the programs presented – especially by the traditional network outlets – are simply retreads of past programs that do little to engage the audience or test their thinking capabilities. But there are some programs that have come out that might be worth checking out. We’ll take a look at a few of them over the next couple of weeks, but let’s start with the best of the lot.

NBC has been the purveyor of some excellent programs over the past few years. It’s been three years since The Blacklist premiered on the Peacock Channel and, just last year, NBC put on another fine action-drama with Blindspot. They may have topped themselves, however, with their most recent entry, Timeless.

Timeless is the story of Lucy Preston (actor Abigail Spencer), a college professor with an ailing, bedridden mother and her stay at home sister, Amy, who takes care of her while Lucy attempts to gain tenure and follow in her mother’s footsteps. Things take a turn, however, when the college she teaches at (and where her mother was quite famous) refuses to grant her tenure, leaving her in a difficult spot. That changes when Homeland Security calls Lucy in for a project.

Coming into a warehouse, Lucy is dumbfounded to meet Connor Mason (Paterson Joseph), a brilliant scientist who has been working on undisclosed “experiments” for the government. According to Homeland Security agent Denise Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey), one of Mason’s projects was a time machine that, after a raid by terrorists led by Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic, who has been making an excellent living playing bad guys of late…or is he…well, not yet), has been stolen. Flynn and his cohorts have taken the time machine back to May 6, 1937.

hindenburg

As a historian, Lucy knows the significance of the date. It is the day the Hindenburg exploded upon landing in Lakehurst, NJ, but she still doesn’t understand why she’s there to help Mason and the government. Mason explains that, with her knowledge and background in history, she is the best person to send to make sure that history doesn’t change, lest something happens and the “future” from 1937 is altered. Mason explains that there is a creaky prototype of the “Mothership” (the time capsule stolen by Flynn), but it only holds three riders; going along with Lucy on the trip are Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter), a military man (probably Navy Seal from his apparent expertise) who has recently lost his wife and will provide the muscle for the team, and Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett), a computer wizard and engineer on the creation of the “Mothership” who can handle the prototype and get it to and from whatever period of time they have to enter and return.

Upon reaching the flight line where the Hindenburg is landing, the threesome notice that the ground crew (the men catching the lines dropped by the dirigible to anchor the ship) are keeping the ropes off the ground, long thought to have been a theory as the cause for the grounding of the ship and the subsequent spark that set off the hydrogen gas in the blimp. The trio also see Flynn among the ground crew (having told them to keep the lines off the ground) and make chase, but are unable to catch him. Thus they have failed in their mission – keeping history the way it is known – and now must figure out why Flynn wanted to change it.

timeless2

Doing some research, Lucy learns that many noteworthy people – bankers, politicians, royalty and the elite – will be on the return flight of the Hindenburg to attend the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in England (which actually was supposed to happen in “our” history) and that Flynn is potentially looking to destroy the ship at that time to have the maximum impact on the future. Meanwhile, Wyatt hooks up with a reporter who reminds him of his deceased wife (and who was supposed to be one of the people killed on the ground in the original history of the crash), who doesn’t quite believe their story but does help them on their trek.

Our set of adventurers eventually end up in jail after killing one of Flynn’s associates (and finding a detonator in his pocket) and, in an attempt to escape to stop Flynn from destroying the Hindenburg, Rufus – who had previously stated to Mason that he didn’t want to go on the mission because as a black man “there isn’t a time in history that was good for me” – causes enough of a ruckus that the police come in, billy clubs brandished, ready to beat him senseless. This gives Wyatt enough time to pick the lock and, with Rufus’ help, immobilize the guards to stop Flynn.

The threesome board the Hindenburg and find the bomb, but are unable to stop it from exploding. They do, however, save everyone on board after forcibly taking over the ship and making it land, thus giving the passengers the quickest way off. During the resulting hubbub, Lucy comes face-to-face with Flynn and, to be honest, this is where it gets a bit interesting.

Flynn tells Lucy that he is looking to preserve history for the better, not destroy it, and tells her to ask Christopher about a certain group known only as “Rittenhouse.” He also shows her a diary that, to Lucy’s horror, is in her handwriting and apparently talks about the trips that are in the future. Wyatt comes upon them and tries to shoot Flynn, but he returns fire and misses Wyatt but hits the female reporter behind Wyatt after he jumps out of the way and kills her. With the Hindenburg now destroyed, the adventurers return to present time not knowing what they’ll find when they get there.

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much wrong other than some altering affected by the crew’s forcible crash landing of the blimp. The team has learned that Flynn is there to alter U. S. history but, even though the history of the Hindenburg has been slightly altered and the passengers who were killed in the original history survived (while none perished in the new historical trek), there doesn’t appear to be much out of line. Christopher sends the team home, at which point the show takes another stunning turn for one of the characters.

Lucy returns home and calls out for her sister but, to her utter amazement, her mother calls for her and comes out of the kitchen. A flabbergasted Lucy breaks down in tears at the sight of her mother in vigorous health (remember, she departed with her mother bedridden), but she still wants to know where Amy is. Her mother doesn’t know what or who she’s talking about and, to Lucy’s horror, she picks up a photo that used to feature the three Preston women that now just features Lucy and her mother. As the pilot ends, Lucy is called back by Christopher as Flynn has taken off to another point in history in the “Mothership.”

The second episode – which dealt with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – is pretty much along the same lines, but a couple more twists are tossed in. Rufus and Mason now seem to be in cahoots as Mason has Rufus recording all the interactions between him, Wyatt and Lucy while they are on their missions, with those recordings going to the shadowy group that Flynn talked about with Lucy after the Hindenburg crash. Second, upon returning from the Lincoln mission, Lucy learns that her father in her original history met and married one of the survivors of the Hindenburg disaster and that is the reason why Amy doesn’t exist. This also leads Lucy to wonder about her OWN background (logically) and, lacking an answer on that front and returning home, finds another change in her history as her mother is throwing a party for her wedding engagement (imagine if you walked in and your mother was doing THAT for you!).

Personally, I’ve always held a fascination with alternative history (if you’ll remember, I was also big on The Man in the High Castle last year) and this show definitely taps into that vein. It goes back to the conundrum about a variation of the Grandfather Paradox known as the Hitler Paradox – if you could go back in history and kill Hitler before he begins World War II, would you do it? The problem with these types of questions – and something that is done well in Timeless (albeit only to Lucy right now – it is supposed to also affect Wyatt and Rufus at some point) – is that changing any point in past history would have an effect on what occurs in the future.

HighCastle

Without Hitler and let’s just add in World War II also, would the United States have achieved all it did as a world superpower? Would there have been the Korean War, the attempts to stop the Russians and the Domino Theory? Maybe someone who died in WWII would go on to commit worse atrocities than Hitler? Would nuclear weapons have been developed? There’s plenty to think about there (and it does apply to everyone’s life – change one thing in your past and it would alter who you are today).

Timeless taps into this uncertainty and, while Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus are attempting to keep history as they know it correct, there are just enough things that they don’t or can’t prevent that it still has an impact on the present day world (Lucy’s sister disappearing, her mother healthy, etc.). What happens, for example, if they come back from a mission and Wyatt’s wife is suddenly alive? Does he quit? And what about Rufus? What is his purpose and why is he recording the crew?

timeless3

The possibilities are endless with this show. Future episodes are looking (and this is from my own knowledge of history and the titles of each episode) at the Manhattan Project, the siege of the Alamo and the Watergate burglary, but there is a wealth of situations that could be investigated. The characters are what keep you interested, critical for any drama, as you try to figure out if Lucy goes mad at some point from all the changes in her personal history, which in some way causes Flynn to start his criminal (hey, we’ve yet to figure out if it is criminal or not, remember) actions, can Wyatt overcome the loss of his wife and the mystery of Rufus (not to mention Morgan, Christopher and this mysterious organization).

Airing at 10PM on Mondays after The Voice, Timeless is a way to test your mind and expand your thinking while being entertained at the same time, making it a fresh show amidst the mindless banter out there (really, do we have to see Kevin James doing a new version of King of Queens? He really isn’t that funny to begin with!).