Today’s story is a quickie and not much of a specific story. The song in question is Shakedown, a 1987 tune from the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop II. It was performed by Bob Seger and, oddly enough, was Seger’s first number one Billboard Hot 100 hit. He’d had plenty of past success on the chart and had other number one songs on other charts like the Mainstream Rock chart, but it took a song from a soundtrack and originally shopped to someone else for Seger to finally hit number one on the big chart.
That other person was Glen Frey, who’d had huge success on the first Beverly Hills Cop movie with The Heat Is On. He turned down Shakedown and his loss was Seger’s gain.
Bob Seger is an artist who, while I can certainly respect and appreciate him, I’ll admit I’m also not his biggest fan. I don’t mind his songs but I don’t have any of his music in my collection or playlists. There’s just a disconnect where I don’t really “get into” his stuff that much. It’s not that I’m annoyed by his songs or anything, I just have other stuff to listen to.
Shakedown is a pretty funny song. It’s good, but it’s also really damn dumb. Most of the song is just the chorus repeated, to the point that even Klaus Meine and Bruce Dickinson would probably think the chorus is repeated too much. But the song does fit the late 80’s aesthetic very well, it is absolutely a product of its time. The most striking thing about it is that, again, it was Seger’s first number one overall as compared to his prior body of work.
The “story” here is extremely simple. I was at the grocery store the other day when Shakedown came on over the store’s PA playlist. It’s the first time I’d heard the song in many, many years and it’s quite possible that it’s the first time I’ve heard Shakedown in the 21st Century. It took me more than a minute to even remember that Bob Seger had done the song. I was seriously breaking my head trying to remember who the hell did the song or what it was even from. Let’s face facts – Beverly Hills Cop II pretty well sucked, so it’s not like I even want to remember that. It was finally remembering it was a Seger song and getting sucked back into that wormhole of old lore that led to a flood of 1987 memories and this post.
It is kind of funny, the effects of age and all that. I am accused of having an encyclopedic knowledge of music, it’s true that I can often identify a song on its first few notes or name some random dude who played in a band for part of a tour in 1996. But as the years go on, the distance from the stuff of youth grows, and it doesn’t come back quick enough to win bar trivia or whatever. But no one else usually answers those questions either, so I still feel comfortable on my throne of arcane music lore.
And, simply put, that’s all there is for today. This one didn’t dive the depths of any obscure knowledge, but I do feel like it hit on something with it being Bob Seger’s first true number one hit. One would think Turn The Page got there, but I guess it only got to number four. And he scored on quite an array of other songs, but him getting over the mountain was this silly ass soundtrack song. Funny how it works sometimes.
On through the singles series we go, today we essentially re-visit the very first one. While Live Plus One was a Japan-only release, this one was released in a wide variety of formats and to many different countries.
Already with the cover art we have some differences in versions. Posted above is the typical cover for most of the versions. It features British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in an army uniform with a gun, ready to ambush Eddie as he strolls along with a few lovely ladies. Maggie’s revenge is for Eddie killing her on the cover the of the Sanctuary single.
Now you can see that I have a different version of the release and a fairly generic cover that’s just the debut album cover with some hype text. I don’t know if they did this in case they needed a censored version of the cover, but it seems the Thatcher original got to market in good shape.
Women In Uniform
On now to the songs, and the feature track this time is a cover. The original was a very recent tune from 1978, the original artist were Skyhooks, an Australian glam rock act. Skyhooks had achieved some level of success in their home country but didn’t break through internationally. Women In Uniform as a Skyhooks single charted at number 8 in Australia and hit a modest 73 on the UK charts.
Iron Maiden were persuaded to record the song by their management team and record label. The recording process did not go the way Iron Maiden wanted, with information provided in Mick Wall’s 2004 edition of his biography of Iron Maiden, Run To The Hills: The Authorised Biography Of Iron Maiden.
Steve Harris and his outfit were keen on recording a heavy version of the song. The record label hired producer Tony Platt, who had worked as an engineer when Mutt Lange produced his run of AC/DC albums. Platt was under instructions to get a hit out of the Maiden recording sessions, and tinkered with the mix behind Harris’ back. When Harris found out, he canned Platt and did the final mix himself.
Harris was always dissatisfied with how Women In Uniform came out and this led to a deep distrust of outside interference in his music after that. It wouldn’t matter much, as Iron Maiden’s remarkable run with Martin Birch as producer was just on the horizon. But the incident might have contributed greatly to a “control freak” approach from Harris, which has been a topic of much discussion in Maiden circles in years since.
Women In Uniform was a decent single for Iron Maiden, heading to 35 on the UK charts. The band also filmed a music video for the song, the band’s first. This was also a bit before MTV was a thing so it was something of a novel concept for an up and coming act to film a video. This was the only time Maiden released a cover as a single – while that statement isn’t technically true, the other instance is a very limited promo item and also I don’t own that one so as it stands, this one is all we need to worry about.
The single is noteworthy as the final work of guitarist Dennis Stratton in Iron Maiden. Stratton left the band soon after, citing musical differences, but truly due to conflicts with Steve Harris and manager Ron Smallwood. Stratton reportedly was complicit in helping Tony Platt attempt to re-engineer this song as a radio hit, so this might actually be his reason for exiting. He would be replaced by some guy named Adrian…
There is another issue surrounding the song, and that is how it is viewed in a modern context. In short, it isn’t viewed highly. It is considered crude and objectifying to women, and has been dismissed by a fair number of people. Sure, it’s a bit raunchy, but there’s far worse out there. I honestly don’t see the huge problem with it – the lyrics are pretty dumb on the surface and this isn’t a song that should be taken seriously. I don’t think the song is that bad and I feel like it’s a bit of posturing over what are some juvenile at worst lyrics. I don’t have a problem with people wanting their music to be more conscientious, but I think this song is barely a blip on the radar and isn’t worth the hassle.
The rest of this 12-inch single has two live cuts that are also found on the Live Plus One release – Phantom Of The Opera and Drifter. I’ve already been over them (link is below on the list if you missed it) so I’ll just leave things at that.
Three more cuts from Paul Di’Anno’s tenure in Maiden await. Also the list continues growing, at least for as long as I keep finding decently priced stuff. That time might soon be at an end.
The past few years have been hard on everyone and every aspect of life, and that certainly includes music. It was impossible for bands to tour in 2020 and even in 2021 tours were on a much more limited basis, both in availability and capacity. 2022 saw touring come back in full force, though venue closures and other factors have altered the landscape.
And yes, ticket prices are more expensive now than they were before the pandemic. I don’t have a data-driven point to make here, but I’m pretty sure anyone who attended shows before 2020 and after 2020 can attest to the steep increase in ticket prices.
But today’s post doesn’t concern the fans’ side of the equation. It isn’t just more expensive to go see a show – it’s more expensive to put one on. And that has been throwing a wrench in the works of a lot of acts as they try to recover from the lost year of 2020.
A quick check of music news from any genre will find a now common headline – “Tour canceled due to logistical issues.” I recall that both Anthrax and Stryper called off European tours last year, citing the costs associated with gigging. And those are just two names common to my site – this has gone on across music as a whole, affecting absolutely everyone. While tours are still happening, it’s concerning to see veteran names like Anthrax and Stryper on a list of bands calling it off due to cost.
Putting on a tour involves a lot of expenses, and those prices were huge in 2021, just like everywhere else. Fuel costs were a massive concern and possibly high enough to derail a tour all on their own. A band’s crew has to be paid, and there are less available crew after the pandemic, a lot of folks had to switch careers to get by. That leaves the remaining ones at a premium.
And just like for us at home, everything else was more expensive – food, basic consumables, what have you. All those expenses snowballed to a point that made bands throw in the towel on heading out to tour.
In the pandemic climate of counting every dollar, venues have added a brutal twist – some venues are now demanding a cut of bands’ merch sales. Not only does a band have to absorb the higher costs of touring, they also have to part with a cut of the one thing that actually brings them some decent money. And with the idea now out there, this insidious idea probably won’t go away.
It all becomes a grind perhaps too much to bear for a musical act. As we’ve all known for quite some time now, the way for an act to make money is through touring. Album sales haven’t been much in years and record label deals keep bands from the money anyway. Streaming famously pays squat to anyone but those who get billions of plays. Being on the road is where the money is, or at least was.
In some respects, the issues of high-cost touring may wind down some. Prices are on a general decline and the economic forecast is at least decent in that regard. Shifting employment trends may lead more people into the road crew, helping that shortage. And more money in consumer pockets is more opportunity for acts to tour in front of them.
2020 and the pandemic obviously hit the live music scene very hard, in fact halting it for awhile. And the return to touring has been full of obstacles, some insurmountable at times. Sure, ticket prices are higher and there entities to blame for that, we all know who they are. But the musicians can’t catch a break either, and being unable to earn money on the road threatens the very ecosystem of music. I don’t know if a doomsday scenario is imminent in this case, but the struggles of the touring musician at all levels of success are a cause for concern.
This week it’s a deep dive into one of the pivotal albums of thrash metal. This record has come to be the defining moment of one of thrash’s most enduring institutions and would launch the group into heavy metal royalty.
Anthrax – Among The Living
Released March 16, 1987 via Megaforce and Island Records
My Favorite Tracks – I Am The Law, Among The Living, A Skeleton In The Closet
Anthrax had been a band on the rise after their second album Spreading The Disease. The group had toured extensively with a variety of metal luminaries and were in Europe opening for Metallica when a bus accident claimed the life of Cliff Burton. Anthrax were motivated by grief at the loss of their friend and peer, and hit the studio to vent their anguish. They chose to record at Compass Point Studio in the Bahamas, and purely because it was where Iron Maiden had laid down their classic run of albums.
Anthrax worked with super producer Eddie Kramer on the album. Kramer has an extensive list of works to his credit, for my own purposes he is best known as the caretaker to the legacy of Jimi Hendrix. Among The Living was recorded in quick and easy fashion, but then Kramer had an idea for a mix laden with more modern techniques. Anthrax did not like Kramer’s embellishments and it was decided to proceed with the original, dry mix. A wise choice, as what was released truly captured the music in its pure form.
The album was primarily written by drummer Charlie Benante and guitarist Scott Ian. It is 9 songs with a 50 minute run time, so a fair bit to go over here.
Among The Living
The opener/title track bears lyrics inspired by Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand and the main antagonist Randall Flagg. The song thrashes hard and also lays down a groove foundation, an element that would go on to redefine and carry metal several years later.
As with all of the songs here, Anthrax deftly walk a line between heavy and melodic, incorporating more melody than their thrash peers were known for. Much of that had to do with the talents of singer Joey Belladonna, a more accomplished vocalist than what was found across much of thrash.
Caught In A Mosh
The lyrics see Scott Ian venting frustration at any number of dumb people and occurrences, but the song itself became a calling card for the mosh pit and outgrew its original meaning. In life or at a show we are all often caught in a mosh. At least the second one is fun (if you’re under 30).
I Am The Law
It’s geek time on the album as Anthrax offer up a homage to Judge Dredd, the gritty comic book character from an apocalyptic future. While it’s not rare for bands to offer up tribute songs to fictional characters they like, it is pretty rare for the songs to turn out as great as this. This truly does capture the essence of Judge Dredd and the harsh atmosphere of his comic series.
I Am The Law was the first single from the album and was backed with I’m The Man, Anthrax’s first foray into combining rap with their metal. They are chief among acts who deserve credit/blame for the 1990’s.
Contrary to popular opinion, the song is not about the National Football League. Rather the NFL refers to the song’s full title backwards, “Nise Fuckin’ Life.” It’s a song warning of the dangers of drug addiction and, unlike last week’s band, Anthrax walked the walk in that regard. The primary inspiration for the song was John Belushi, the beloved actor who died of substance abuse at age 33.
A Skeleton In The Closet
It’s back to the dark, dark world of Stephen King, this time his story Apt Pupil provides the backdrop for the song. The story involves a very sadistic teenager discovering his neighbor is a Nazi war criminal in hiding and a lot of murder and other bad stuff, like faking report cards. The songs does a pretty good job of summing up the story.
This tune pays tribute to the Native Americans who were genocided off their lands by evil colonizers (i.e., our ancestors). Lest they be accused of cultural insensitivity, singer Joey Belledonna has heritage from the Iroqouis tribe. This was another single from the record and remains one of Anthrax’s most popular songs. The “war dance” riff is one of the band’s most memorable.
In a bit of a twist for thrash metal, this song actually warns of the dangers of environmental destruction and nuclear holocaust, rather than wishing for it to happen like many in the thrash world. It is steeped in Cold War-era dialog, which was still simmering in the late ’80’s when this hit.
A.D.I./The Horror Of It All
The first part of the song is an instrumental, the second pays tribute to Cliff Burton. Though the lyrics are a bit vague in that regard, Scott Ian did eventually shed light on their true meaning.
Imitation Of Life
No science fiction here – the final track is about all of the slimy people in the music industry. Far more than what can be compressed into one song, for sure.
Among The Living saw Anthrax rise to a new level of recognition. The album would go gold, and I’ll admit that I’m a bit shocked it wasn’t platinum. It does appear the band never had a US platinum, which is surprising. But no matter, Anthrax were now a band of note with this 1987 magnum opus.
One area where Anthrax got a lot of love was the skateboarding world. The Anthrax image didn’t quite “fit” the thrash scene, even if the music did, but they were a big hit among the skateboarding faithful. And while I myself never really got into skateboarding, my peers who did were who I got a lot of my early music from, including this.
This album essentially “made” the careers of Anthrax, giving them a far bigger platform and bigger tours to go along with it. It can be tough to haggle over the best of their catalog, what with their different phases and shifts, but this is the album that probably lands a consensus number one.
It’s on to week 2 of the Album A Day series. For anyone new to this, what I’m doing here is playing an album a day to reach 365 albums played by year’s end. It turned out to be a pretty simple goal and I’ll be way over that by 2024, but I’m doing this weekly wrap-up still for the hell of it.
One note – I’m most likely going to move this post to Sunday next week. That’s simply for the purposes of getting it set up ahead of time.
ZZ Top – Degüello
I gave this a spin on a weekend bike ride. I’ve been meaning to go through their albums and this whole deal makes that a pretty easy task. I’m not sure I’ve played this album all the way through since childhood, but there are some very recognizable songs on here like Cheap Sunglasses and their cover of I Thank You. This one sees the band still in a blues-based rock mode, though they started messing around with pitch shifting effects as kind of a prelude to their 80’s synth era. It was good to catch up with this one after so long, I still have a lot of the 70’s ZZ Top to explore more.
Asphyx – Last One On Earth
This was the second album from the Dutch death metal outfit. There’s some funny trivia behind it – vocalist Martin Van Drunen recorded the vocals for this without realizing he’d been fired from the band. The group decided to just use his vocal tracks. The band would reconvene with Van Drunen decades late. This 1992 album was a remarkable piece of death metal of the death/doom variety. Death/doom has been one of my favorite sub-strains of death metal and early Asphyx was a big reason why.
Vicious Rumors – Digital Dictator
I never listened to Vicious Rumors at all way back when, they were a band I simply missed out on. I’m getting familiar with them now because they have a gig booked here in March. I can say this was a gem I totally failed to grab back in the day. This is some great power metal of the US variety, which is a strain of the genre I’m horribly unfamiliar with beyond Savatage. This is a badass album I’ll spend more time with and I’ll also be visiting the rest of their catalog in advance of their show here. World And Machines is an absolute ripper on this one, though the whole album is fantastic.
Russian Circles – Gnosis
This is another of the long list of releases I missed last year. Russian Circles are an instrumental act from the US, they get the “post-metal” and “post-rock” tags as genre descriptors. I’m not the world’s biggest connoisseur of instrumental stuff but I like good music when I hear it and these guys are really good. It’s suitably heavy and dirty, and their noise evokes a very gritty and dark atmosphere, which I love considering my CD shelves full of grimy metal. I would go so far as to say this might have even been a miss on my top albums list from ’22, but that’s all over and done with. No time like the present.
Obituary – Dying Of Everything
2023 releases started coming very early and the first on my radar was the new one from Florida’s death metal legends. Obituary were one of the foundational bands of death metal and their fairly simple style of gnarly riffs and insane vocals has been an institution of the genre for decades.
This new one, honestly, didn’t hit me right out of the gate. I found it a bit too simple, I guess, I was wanting more from the riffs than what I was getting. I did feel like the album picked up in the second half, I felt more at home with it. I heard it again over at my buddy’s house after I’d enjoyed a few refreshing beverages and I can confirm that there is a direct relationship between blood alcohol content and enjoyment of this album. I don’t mean that as an insult – I’m simply saying that this is a “catch a buzz and enjoy the ride” album. This one won’t rank as my favorite Obituary but there is something here for me to enjoy after all.
Candlemass – Ancient Dreams
I wonder if I should count this here, as this will certainly be an album of the week at some point in time. But I don’t have plans for it anytime soon so I’ll go ahead and talk about it here. This was the third album from the Swedish doom metal outfit that has gone on to legendary status and this one is a big reason why. It is the band’s second with singer Messiah Marcolin and part of a magnificent three-album run with him. This is an amazing collection of doom tunes, highlighted by the opener Mirror Mirror. There’s also an interesting medley of Black Sabbath songs at the end.
Municipal Waste – The Art Of Partying
A pretty fitting way to conclude this post, since the topic of having a few and cranking some tunes came up already. That’s exactly what this band and album is for. Municipal Waste have been one of the godsends of the thrash revival, with a fantastic crossover sound and a general theme of getting messed up. Municipal Waste is gonna fuck you up, indeed.
That’s all for this week’s recap. Only 351 more albums to go.
I was just about ready to copy and paste today’s post from my typin’ program over to WordPress when I was alerted to the presence of a new Metallica song. I called an audible and decided to make today’s offering about the new song.
The song is called Screaming Suicide and is the second single from Metallica’s upcoming album 72 Seasons, out April 14th. The album kicks off a new tour cycle where Metallica will play two nights in each town with no-repeat setlists across the two nights. (Also, be aware that the two nights are not in a row – there is a day off inbetween)
Screaming Suicide has a pretty upbeat musical side but the lyrics delve into a pretty dark place, along the lines that the title would suggest. I’m totally confident in assuming that this is a bit of a point-of-view or character piece and Metallica isn’t literally suggesting suicide, I’d be certain that their intent behind it is the exact opposite.
But it is a bit funny to think of this song in 2023, when back 40 years ago a lot of songs that had no mention of suicide at all were blasted in the media and courtrooms for causing troubled people to take their lives. It’s highly unlikely anything of the sort would befall Metallica today. Even if people get mad over things for no reason, the days of high-profile lawsuits over lyrics seem to be over.
We’re two songs in now and so far I’m digging the new Metallica. This song doesn’t quite pack the same punch the first single did, but this is still a good track and I like the groove of it in contrast with the heavy tone of the lyrics. If the rest of the album holds up to what we’ve heard so far I will be a fan.
That about does it for this hot off the press post that fell in my lap last evening. Enjoy the weekend, I’ll be back tomorrow with another run through my Album A Day series.
On we go through the Iron Maiden singles series. There is still a handful of Paul Di’Anno stuff to get through and today’s 12-inch record sports a studio track, two live songs and a cover tune.
Sanctuary was released in a variety of formats, though most everything has the same contents. Mine is a press from the Netherlands, totally no-frills packaging, just a sleeve and record. The cover art is its own bit of lore, of course. We clearly see Eddie having just finished with the act of gutting then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The cover was designed because Thatcher had just finished a visit with the then-USSR, who dubbed the PM the “Iron Maiden.” The band was not into having to share their name with the politician, hence the cover.
Some pressing covers were “censored” by having a strip placed over Thatcher’s eyes so as not to recognize her likeness, as though that would work. The idea to censor the cover actually originated from Maiden manager Ron Smallwood, who guessed that the whole thing might get more press. He was right, and Maiden’s salacious cover art got news articles and condemnation from Thatcher fans.
The following video has 3 of the single’s 4 tracks, omitting only Prowler.
Our title track was not released on the debut album in England but did get added to the album pressings for the US. Sanctuary worked its way through the UK on a compilation record and then this single.
Sanctuary is a good mash-up of rock and punk, the hybrid sound Maiden took out in their early days. The rolling guitar is signature early Maiden and the lyrics plead the case of a fugitive needing a place to hide out after doing some really bad stuff. It has been a staple of many live sets over the years and I’d guess it’s one of their most-played songs overall.
This is a bit of a bonus to the single and only available on the 12-inch vinyl format. Prowler was the opening track to the debut album and a pretty big statement from the band – it introduced the band’s sound in a big way and even has the feel of stuff Maiden would do after the first few albums. I’ll save the discussion for whenever I cover the debut record, but this is one of my favorites from that album. The main riff on this just screams MAIDEN! It is something to behold.
The B-side opens with a live version of Drifter from the Marquee Club in London. While a live version of Drifter from the Marquee was on the Live Plus One EP, this is actually an earlier gig from April of 1980. It’s a good performance with an extended call and response bit where Paul Di’Anno mimics the end refrain of The Police’s Walking On The Moon. Pretty funny stuff. Drifter would appear in studio form on the band’s next album, 1981’s Killers.
I’ve Got The Fire
And we head out with a slightly modified title and a cover of the Montrose song I Got The Fire. Maiden do kind of pound through it, which is fair for both their sound at the time and the live club setting. While this doesn’t outshine the original by any stretch, it is a pretty good rendition. This won’t be the last time Montrose comes up in one of these Iron Maiden singles, either.
That wraps it up for Sanctuary. Next week is a special treat because I’m going to talk about a handful of songs I already talked about before. That’s why I didn’t really talk much about one of them last time. And we’ll get to see ol’ Maggie again.
Once again it’s time to add to the list of S-Tier songs. For the list as of now and the basic guidelines about it all, head here.
Today’s entry is quick and to the point. It’s about two minutes long, it’s about being unable to “perform” while drunk, and that’s really about it.
Elastica – Stutter
As I said, this one is pretty cut and dry. It’s a simple punk tune, though delivered with smooth women’s vocals as opposed to some shouty drunk guy. The song is expertly constructed in its simplicity and walks a fine line between hard and catchy while getting both sides right. No need to reserves space to evaluate a guitar solo here, this song is out just a quick as it came in.
The lyrical content, while simple in two verses and the chorus, doesn’t quite “come and go.” The song is about a well-known phenomenon where a fella can’t quite get to business after having too much to drink. I suppose “erectile dysfunction” is the proper medical term here. Vocalist Justine Frischmann, also the songwriter, handles the problem in stride, she seems willing to encourage her down and out lover rather than be too upset about it. Though it’s clear she’d also prefer to get to some action.
Stutter was released as a single before Elastica had recorded a full-length. The single was packaged as a limited run of 1,500 records and they flew off store shelves. A series of British media articles shined more attention on the band, and the meteoric rise to fame was on. Two more singles would light up UK charts in 1994, then their debut album released to smash success in early 1995.
The powers that be delayed the release of Stutter in the US until late 1994, a move that likely paid off as the full-length was close to release at that point. Stutter did nominally well on the Billboard charts at position 67, though it did hang out on the charts for 9 weeks. It also broke the top 10 of the alternative rock chart. Subsequent singles would climb higher on both UK and US charts.
The music video was a simple yet effective shot that was in heavy rotation on MTV and other video channels in 1995. Stutter served a number of outlets at the time – “post-grunge” was coming in and Elastica were exactly in the right place at the right time for that. And Britpop was a movement with legs around this time. While Elastica’s sound might not “vibe” with what most consider Britpop, they were undeniably a successful act on the scene at the time. And they were one of the more successful Britpop outfits in the US, second in sales only to the mass success of Oasis. Also, Elastica even outdid Oasis in their shared home country of England – Elastica’s debut album outsold Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, handing Elastica the crown of “highest-selling debut album” in the UK until the Arctic Monkeys came around over a decade later.
There is one other bit of trivia surrounding Stutter that also, uh, sort of involves the Britpop phenomenon. It is widely speculated that the song’s lyrics might be about another of the luminaries of the Britpop movement. Justine Frischmann was an early member of Suede and was in a relationship with that band’s frontman Brett Anderson. Frischmann wound up leaving Anderson for Damon Albarn, frontman of Blur (and later Gorillaz). Frischmann and Albarn were together for a handful of years and were linked at the time Stutter was conceived.
So the question is often asked – is Stutter about either Anderson or Albarn? No answer has been provided and I doubt one ever will. It’s the fodder of endless speculation on ye olde Internet, but it’s also pretty slimy in a way. It’s not like I’d ever ask Justine that question were I in the same room as her. Kind of personal stuff there.
And also – it’s entirely possible the song has nothing to do with either Anderson or Albarn. It might have just been an idea that Frischmann ran with. I thought about not even including this part of the post, but honestly the post was kind of short for my tastes and it’s not like Frischmann is gonna read this and be like “you’re gross.”
Why is this an S-Tier song?
Stutter is a short and to-the-point affair that communicates its message in a clever and coy way despite the aural assault of the music. Justine Frischmann lends some subtle qualities to her vocal delivery that makes the song work in a more playful manner, even though she’d prefer her lover to get to business. The song was a moment in time that fit the time perfectly, as 1995 was a period of transition out of the darker air of the early 90’s. Elastica were in a great place to offer up a ligher-hearted and funny take on an issue not really getting airplay in the grunge years, and the result was very well-received.
This week I’m going back to the beginning of time. Or, the beginning of heavy metal, anyway. Well, it wasn’t really the “beginning” since they already had an album out that same year. It’s like the continuation of the beginning of heavy metal.
Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Released September 18, 1970 via Vertigo Records
My Favorite Tracks – Paranoid, Electric Funeral, War Pigs
This isn’t an album that needs a huge introduction. Paranoid is the most famous album in heavy metal. It was a rush job of a record, with the label wanting to cash in on the success of the debut album, so everyone crowded into the studio and banged the new album out. Paranoid was on store shelves roughly 7 months after Black Sabbath.
The quick pace of album creation led to a few last-minute decisions – the album was originally going to be called War Pigs, with the album art reflecting that. The single Paranoid was doing great business though, so the album name was changed without redoing the album art. Hence, some dude swinging a sword on an album called Paranoid.
And War Pigs itself was originally going to be called Walpurgis, a Satanic holiday/ceremony of some sort. The record label vetoed that title, as they were (rightfully) concerned about the link being drawn between Sabbath and Satanism. War Pigs summed up the lyrics nicely and was used instead.
Paranoid comes in with 8 tracks at a 41 minute run time. It’s a fairly quick process to get through, though we are talking about the most famous songs in heavy metal here so there’s some exposition to be had.
The once-titled Walpurgis opens the album with a scathing take on the Vietnam War. The band’s intent was to show the politicians who start wars as the real Satanists, a case plainly stated in the lyrics but missed by the “Satanic Panic” movement that would see Black Sabbath as arch enemies.
War Pigs is one of metal’s most significant songs. Its darker topical fare, combined with the signature riffs from Tony Iommi as well as Bill Ward literally pounding the piss out of the drums, totally recast what rock music could do or be about. This song was a stark dividing line, even considering the prior Sabbath album that same year. It is one of the more widely played and covered song in Sabbath lore.
The title track was a hit single in advance of the album’s release and, as stated above, the warm reception was the cause of the album’s name change. Paranoid as a song was a unique Sabbath achievement – it is the their only Top 20 UK hit, peaking at number 4. That seems odd for such a popular act, but Sabbath never were singles-minded hit makers.
The song was conceived in quick fashion and wasn’t really thought of in any significant terms by the band, which is often how hits go. Geezer Butler’s lyrics tell a despondent tale – of depression, not paranoia. The song’s quick pace and pounding riff was reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown, something that Sabbath members were cognizant of and worried about, though no harm came from the similarity.
Paranoid is short, spooky and to the point – a winning formula for a hit. The song has remained in constant rotation on classic rock radio for 53 years and will likely be a fixture of radio playlists until the death of the format.
An odd turn but one not out of bonds for a band who, while shaping heavy metal, would also be massively influential to “stoner” culture. This song is trippy and ambient,with several layered effects to generate a calm and muddled atmosphere.
For some the song is a skip because it doesn’t fit the mold of Sabbath heavy metal, while for me and others it’s a welcome change of pace and nice diversion. A band that lasts any length of time is going to record a bunch of songs – might as well branch out here and there.
Sabbath have several highly recognized songs and many are from this album. But none may be as widely known as this one. Iommi pulls riffs straight from Hell to shape this song about a guy who time travels and sees the end of the world. On his return he is turned to steel and mocked by the populace, who ignore his warnings about the apocalypse. Instead of saving the world, he decides to become the end and takes his wrath out on the people who mock him.
Iron Man joins Paranoid and War Pigs as Sabbath staples that have seen constant rotation in the five decades since the album’s release. I believe it’s a felony for a radio station not to play Iron Man at least once a day. (don’t’ quote that) Iron Man was Sabbath’s biggest “hit” in the US, though only charting at 52, the song has become immortal. And while having nothing to do with the Marvel Comics character of the same name, this song was used in the 2008 Iron Man film that saw that character go from an afterthought to the lead role in the MCU.
Here Sabbath combine their doom-laden heavy metal with some groove and jam from the music of their time. It’s a pretty interesting mash-up that sees some groove and boogie over lyrics about nuclear holocaust. These for me are some of the more interesting parts of the Sabbath catalog, getting to hear heavy metal shaped alongside the other music of the day. It wouldn’t be until the 1980’s when heavy metal ran along established lines, so this early stuff contained a lot of cool asides and nods to other forms of rock.
Hand Of Doom
This appropriately named track was, in all reality, some ground-level field reporting exposing one of the many horrors of the Vietnam War – the drug use of soldiers. Heroin was the drug of choice among the GI’s in the field, then it came back with them along with the often-untreated horrors of war. The song is a stark admonition against drug use, which does sound a bit odd coming from the lips of Ozzy Osbourne or honestly anyone from Black Sabbath. But the message is on point and this song was a harrowing early account of just how messed up the Vietnam War was.
A brief instrumental, this was based on Bill Ward’s super long drum solos of the early days when Sabbath had to fill large amounts of time between sets in order to land gigs. It’s a nice jam, I’ve always enjoyed the heavier jams of the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Fairies Wear Boots
The final song is a striking title but isn’t about some mythical creatures who sprinkle pixie dust and wear Doc Martens. Instead the lyrics take aim at skinheads, this was in Britain before “skinhead” became synonymous with “nazi.” Sabbath had run-ins with the anarchist-minded skinheads, including a fight that left Tony Iommi injured and hence served as the inspiration for the song. Iommi has also admitted that the lyrics might be unusual due to the band’s habitual weed use.
Paranoid was a breakout hit for Black Sabbath – it did what they were only able to accomplish one other time, that being top the UK album charts. (the other time being the band’s final album 13) The album was a hit in many other countries including the US, where it peaked at number 12 and has 4 official platinum certifications.
But the legacy of Paranoid goes far beyond its sales figures or chart positions. This is the definitive album of heavy metal. It is the band’s most recognizable effort and the point where they laid the blueprint for their new, mutated form of rock music. The shadow that Paranoid casts over the heavy metal landscape is immense and inescapable. The Black Sabbath legacy is undeniable and this album is a large reason why.
It’s time to debut my new series, An Album A Day. As I mentioned before, this is a way to do something like what book people do – rather than read 52 books a year or what have you, this is listen to 365 albums a year, or one a day.
I’ve barely started and I quickly realized something – this is easy street. Listening to 365 albums in a year is not some kind of lofty goal, it’s taking candy from a baby. I’m gonna roll with this whole thing since it’s a fairly easy way to generate some new content and also cover stuff I don’t normally talk about, but this is not a challenge at all.
Anyway, this first post covers the first week of 2023. The next 52 weeks will be filled with – stuff. My missives on these will be brief but there will be several of them so I can still be too wordy.
Opeth – Watershed
It’s been awhile since I listened to anything besides Blackwater Park so I took the time to sift through the 2008 album that was widely hailed as a masterpiece. There’s a lot going on, as there often is with Opeth, but this is a grand moment in their catalog. The Lotus Eater is one of the best songs they’ve ever done, and Hessian Peel offers a grab bag of everything Opeth.
Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking
This is one I listened to “back in the day,” though that day was in the mid-90’s and nearly 10 years after its release. And I don’t think I’ve played it in at least 20 years. It was nice to revisit this one, a cool “vibes from the youth” kind of thing. The notable tracks from this are The Mountain Song and the signature Jane Says, but the whole album is a pretty cool offering.
Kalmah – 12 Gauge
Back to a band I was very into in the early 2000’s, Kalmah are a huge part of the Finnish melodic death metal scene, alongside Children Of Bodom. While the bands draw comparisons to each other, I was always more drawn to Kalmah. This 2010 album saw the band combine their early melo-death stuff with the more harsh sound they took on just prior to this. I played this while on a long bicycle ride and it was a great compliment to the ride.
An Abstract Illusion – Woe
This is one from the very long list of “stuff I missed in 2022.” And this was a pretty huge miss. A progressive death metal album, this does draw favorable comparisons to Opeth’s prime era, but there’s also a lot more going on here. This is one of those that needs a lot more than one listen to properly digest and discuss, and it’s one that really was a true miss for me last year. Something I’ll be visiting again for sure.
Jimi Hendrix – Los Angeles Forum April 26, 1969
This is the most recent release in the eleventy hundred posthumous Hendrix albums. This one is pretty nice, it is a very jam-based album with most of the songs being extended improv renditions. There is also some pretty cool stage banter from Jimi, including a call for stage crashers to get off the stage or the show will be shut down. I am of the “wannabe Hendrix completionist” school so I don’t mind the countless releases and this show seems to have some cool stuff that stands out from the clean presentation of the more landmark live gigs.
Suede – Autofiction
This is another from 2022 but wasn’t a miss for me – rather, this was most likely album 11 on a list of 10. I suppose we’re calling Suede alt-rock now rather than the movement they helped create and now can’t stand, that being Britpop. Suede explored some different sounds on their last effort in 2018, but on Autofiction they got back to basics and put out a kick ass alt-rock album. No one was expecting Suede to be bad, but this blew past peoples’ expectations and was monumental.
Jerry Reed – Super Hits
I ended week one with a greatest hits collection of a country star from years past, and also the hilarious bad guy in The Waterboy movie. Reed had a fair few hits in his music career, including When You’re Hot, You’re Hot and She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft). Of course, his most well-known work is probably the theme song from the hit film he also starred in – East Bound And Down from Smokey And The Bandit. Reed was also a pretty underrated guitar player on top of his songwriting prowess. And, to top it all off, listening to Reed reminded me of a story from way back when, so I’ll get a whole other post out of this.
That covers the first of 52 rounds of this new format. While the “goal” idea of it wound up being silly, this does feel like a worthwhile thing to do so I’ll keep at it. It’s a nice way to cover some more ground that I don’t typically get to in a few posts a week and it can occasionally plant the seed for a new post idea. And it doesn’t take up a huge amount of my time to write, so this whole thing is truly off to the races.