The Top Ten Underrated Hard Rock Songs, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme, “Decadence Dance”

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

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

Faster Pussycat, “You’re So Vain”

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

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

Damn Yankees, “Piledriver”

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

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

Dangerous Toys, “Scared”

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

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

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

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2015 Postseason Baseball Preview: NL Central Will Provide the World Series Champion…

Even though most everyone has gotten themselves wrapped up in college and professional football (and there’s something going on called the WNBA playoffs, but I haven’t seen signs of life for that yet, as well as preseason action in the National Hockey League), Major League Baseball’s regular season is coming to a close this week. What began back at the beginning of April will, over the next week, determine their six division champions and four Wild Card teams that will make up their postseason schedule. It will all wrap up in ANOTHER month with the conclusion of the World Series…in November, if the Series goes seven games.

I’ve heard all the arguments about the game of baseball…”How can you like something that goes so SLLLOOOWWW?” “They’re all on ‘roids!” “I’d rather watch paint dry than watch a baseball game.” The folks that haven’t realized the comforting blanket that the game of baseball is are missing out on one of the rare treats we still have in the world today. I could attempt to explain it, but it sounds so much better when it comes from the mouth of James Earl Jones, who could probably read a grocery list and make it sound like grand prose:

Just to further emphasize the point, the final paragraph from Jones’ Terrence Mann (his character in Field of Dreams) drives the ideas home. “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

I’d add in there that baseball is perhaps more embedded in our country’s (and our citizens’) DNA than many think. There is no clock, indicating that the game (and the country) could potentially last forever. The boundaries are strictly drawn, but through creativity and athleticism you can reach beyond those boundaries for greatness. Finally, anyone can play the game and excel if they are willing to work hard at improving.

OK, getting a bit sappy here. Let’s just move on…

With the postseason getting ready to begin, who has the best shot at winning the World Series? There are 10 teams that will contest for baseball’s World Championship and 30% of those teams come from one division. That’s where you’re going to see the next World Series champion come from. (And this comes from a person who is a die-hard Yankees fan, in full disclosure.)

American League

As of right now, there are only two teams – the AL Central champion (and defending American League Champion) Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays – that have been able to lock down playoff spots. These two teams are also tied for the best record in the AL, which means they’ll spend the next week fighting it out over home-field advantage. Either one would make for a difficult opponent in a seven game series, but I am going to give the edge to Toronto due to the fact they are still trying to win the East Division over the New York Yankees while Kansas City relaxes with the division title firmly in their pocket.

In the AL West, the Texas Rangers and the surprising Houston Astros are battling down to the wire for the division title. Houston, whom many thought was still a year away from making moves in the AL, has been atop or in second place in the West throughout the entire season. I don’t see them making up the 2½ games that the Rangers lead by, however, but I do see the Astros making the Wild Card playoff game against the Yankees. In that one-game playoff in Yankee Stadium, the Yankees will prevail and get on a plane to play the Royals in Kansas City the next day.

Toronto is going to be tough to stop in the postseason. They made a flurry of moves around the trading deadline, bringing in SS Troy Tulowitzki and P David Price to shore up their defense and pitching. They should be able to get by the Rangers and head on to face…the Yankees, who I believe will get out of the Wild Card game and stun the Royals. In the end, however, I see the Blue Jays earning the AL pennant on the back of some dominant pitching and head to the World Series for the first time since 1993.

National League

The real story of the National League has been the performance of the NL Central. Long the doormat of the league (the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 barely were a .500 team (83-78) before winning the World Series), the NL Central is guaranteed to send three competitors to the postseason. The Cardinals are vying with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the division title, with the team that fails to take it down earning the right to host the Wild Card elimination game against the Chicago Cubs (yes, get your provisions in order for the coming Apocalypse if the Cubs go to the World Series). I’m going to take the Cardinals in this battle and, in a surprise, the Cubs will shock the Pirates to set up a Cards/Cubs playoff series for the first time since 1886.

The New York Mets have been the surprise team – and the darlings – of baseball fans over the course of the season. Rising up with young pitching leading the way, the Mets were able to vanquish the pre-season favorite Washington Nationals to win the division. I don’t think they’ll get any farther than that, however, as they will face the Los Angeles Dodgers and their buzz saw pitching twosome of Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke.

The Dodgers will head to Busch Stadium after the Cardinals dispatch of a pesky Cubs squad that takes them to the brink of elimination. In what will be probably the defining series of the 2015 postseason, the Cardinals will emerge as the champions of the National League for the third time in the past five years (in 2011 they won the World Series, in 2013 they lost to the Boston Red Sox).

2015 World Series

Honed by the season-long battle in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals should beat the Toronto Blue Jays in six games. If Toronto is able to push the Series to a seventh game, they would have the home field advantage at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, at which point all bets are off the table as anyone can take a Game 7.

You may not be watching when baseball drives towards its World Champion, but the drama is always worth a look. If you’ve never given baseball a chance – or if you’re someone who has drifted away from the game – the postseason is always a stage where its greatest moments occur.