Xero – Oh Baby!

Today’s single is a curiosity from the early 1980’s. This is a band that never wound up recording a proper album. They released one single, featured here today, as well as a handful of songs on compilation albums. A retrospective CD would come many years later, long after the band called it quits.

There are a number of ways to market a single for an emerging band. In the early 80’s, one such way would be to feature a guest spot from a famous rock star. It would appear from the cover that Xero have that part nailed down.

But, appearances are deceiving. Yes, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden does have a vocal track on this single. But Bruce never sang for Xero, he did not drop by the studio and lend his vocal talents to the band.

Here’s what happened, this rather obscure tale is sourced through the Discogs page for Xero as hard info is hard to come by. The common thread between Bruce Dickinson and Xero is a band called Shots. Bruce sang for them for a bit before joining Samson in 1979. Shots recorded a few songs with Bruce, one of them being the track Lone Wolf.

At one point in Shots before they broke up, guitarist Billy Liesegang joined. It does not appear that Liesegang was in the group at the same time as Dickinson, but I can’t confirm one way or the other. Shots would break up and Liesegang formed Xero.

As Xero were preparing the release of their lone single, it would appear that the band’s manager was the one who had the idea to take the Shots recording and tack it on to the Xero single. I can’t source this definitively, but I have seen it mentioned at the Bruce Dickinson Wellbeing Network, an archive of Bruce-related news and releases. This concept that it was the manager’s idea also comes up in discussion, but again, a super hard and fast source is tough to come by. It doesn’t appear to have been Billy Liesegang’s idea, that much seems clear.

Whatever the case, Xero released the single with Lone Wolf on it. It apparently didn’t take long for Iron Maiden management to come calling in regards to the unauthorized use of Bruce Dickinson’s vocals. The track was replaced with a different song in subsequent pressings of the single.

So, with all that commotion out of the way, let’s get into the songs themselves. Bear in mind that these are not hosted by any official source and, as is often the case with YouTube, these clips may vanish without warning.

Oh Baby!

The lead single is a melodic rock affair with, uh, not the greatest production but good enough to hear what’s going on. The song seems a bit “light” given that the group have a New Wave of British Heavy Metal billing, and it’s especially light when compared to the B-side. I think the song is fine, I don’t at all mind listening to it. The single apparently moved a few copies back in the day but I don’t have solid information on that, just Internet anecdotes.

Hold On

On to the B-side and a very nice track. This is more along the lines of what I expected when I first checked this single out. It is a very straightforward song with a nice solo passage and I, like many, think maybe they should have led the single with this instead of Oh Baby. This song did appear on a comp record called Brute Force so maybe that’s why they didn’t release it as the A-side.

Lone Wolf

Here we have what is not really the band Xero, but the band Shots instead. This was one of a few tracks that Shots recorded with Bruce Dickinson and it was illicitly used on this single (again, an apparent management decision and not the band’s).

The song is pretty cool but it does stand out a bit from the other two recordings, this one is clearly a bit older than the other two songs. One can be forgiven for not thinking that Bruce is singing on this, but recall that he was still a teenager when he recorded this and hadn’t fully fleshed his voice out, something he’d do more of in Samson. After a few listens I can find him in there a bit, it’s interesting to hear him on an old recording so young.

So that’s the tale of Xero and their big single release, something that would be derailed by a pesky thing called performance rights or something like that. I don’t know what caused Xero to not get around to a full-length or to break up, again, info on them is super hard to come by and almost all of it revolves around the Bruce stuff.

Given the difficult nature of putting all this together with very few good sources, if anyone out there reads this and has any true, factual source material about this release I’d be happy to be pointed to it so I can make sure my stuff is accurate. I’m not really expecting much since few concrete leads turned up in my searches, but hey, never hurts to ask.

Album Of The Week – July 18, 2022

This week I’m going to “cheat” and save myself some time by talking about an EP. It might be short in length but its significance to metal is vast.

Queensryche – self-titled

Released September 1983 via 206 Records

The EP was a demo in the true sense of the term – the band then known as The Mob were looking for a record deal. At the time they didn’t even have a singer, they convinced Geoff Tate of rival local act Myth to handle vocal duties on the demo.

The group changed their name to Queensryche, and altered the spelling of “reich” to avoid accusations of Nazism. They also put an umlat about the “y” but I’m going to be lazy and not do that in my post today.

The EP got around in quick order and the band quickly found themselves with a major label record deal with EMI. Geoff Tate agreed to join the band in full and one of metal’s most unique acts was on its way.

Today we have a whopping four songs to discuss. There are two other versions of the EP, thankfully I should have the time and space to talk about those a little bit.

Queen Of The Reich

The EP’s opener was also released as a single with The Lady Wore Black as a b-side, so half of the EP was made available on a separate record. Environmental waste aside, the band spared no time establishing themselves as a force in the metal world. Even with the sound of a self-funded production effort, the band’s talent is evident in this blistering attack.

While the band gets down to business, the song is a showcase for the immense vocal talent of Geoff Tate. He could hang with the very best singers in metal and that is established right off the bat on this song.

And check out the music video for the song. It is … uh, just watch it.

Nightrider

The guitars of Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo put in some work on the second track. While still a traditional metal track, this song does offer a taste of the sound Queensryche would explore going forward.

Blinded

Another brief yet savage metal attack that shows off more of the sound the band would pursue on their full-length debut. There are definite points of comparison between Blinded and songs from The Warning, I hear some of Roads To Madness going on here. Tate goes into insane territory with his voice at the song’s close.

The Lady Wore Black

A longer effort, the EP’s closer was unfinished when Tate agreed to help record and he composed the song’s lyrics. This was an early sign that Queensryche were not interested in simply playing metal, the band were going to be a thought-provoking force that explored soundscapes from multiple directions. This song stuck around in the band’s set for a long time.

Queensryche not only established the band in and of itself but it spread quickly and got the word out about the new outfit. They would make full use of their record deal and release three magnificent albums throughout the 1980’s. This EP only hinted at what was to come.

There are a few different reissued versions of the EP. In 1988 EMI released a version with a fifth song, Prophecy. The song was played live in the band’s beginning but was actually recorded during the Rage For Order sessions. It served as a bonus track both here and on a future reissue of The Warning.

The definitive reissue of the EP was released in 2003 and has a whole heap of bonus tracks – a nine song live set recorded in Japan in 1984. This live set was available on video as Live In Tokyo and was a very welcome addition to the reissued EP. The entire EP is performed, as well as Prophecy and a few songs from The Warning. It is a great set and I was very happy with the decision to include it as the EP’s bonus material.

It’s very uncommon for a demo to be an official part of a band’s discography. Usually demos aren’t even noticed and the songs are just reworked as part of a group’s debut. Demos were typically only sought out by hardcore collectors and were curiosities. But Queensryche were able to get a lot of mileage out of their demo – it is considered an essential part of their catalog and it was even certified gold. It would mark the start of a run of albums that would both shape and defy music.

Album Of The Week – May 9, 2022

This week brings one of heavy metal’s all-time classic albums. There’s a bit of a celebration in order for it as the album was just certified double platinum in the US. But shiny things on walls don’t really matter when we’re talking about one of heavy metal’s greatest statements.

Dio – Holy Diver

Released May 25, 1983 via Warner Records

My Favorite Tracks – Holy Diver, Gypsy, Rainbow In The Dark

The debut effort from Ronnie James Dio’s newly-formed band was a big deal from the word go. Dio had made his mark with turns in Rainbow and Black Sabbath and was stepping out on his own to take control after arguments over live album mixes and such. Dio would secure the services of former bandmates from both groups – Jimmy Bain from Rainbow on bass and drummer Vinny Appice from Black Sabbath. Rounding out the group was a younger hand, guitarist Vivian Campbell.

Holy Diver entered a landscape in 1983 where heavy metal was growing to become a major force in the music world. Hair metal was well on its way to taking over the decade, thrash was emerging from either US coast and even the beginnings of extreme metal were showing up. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal had already launched its most successful bands and the foundation for power metal was laid down.

Dio would enter the landscape along those lines, with a melodic-driven, classic approach to metal. It wasn’t a massive departure from work done in Rainbow and Sabbath and it brought the older form of metal into the new age. The music would also offer elements of fantasy in theme and lyrics, something that stood a bit apart from the subject matter of hair metal or thrash.

While the album is a heavy metal monolith, it’s also an easy piece to get into at 9 tracks in 41 minutes. Let’s have at it.

Stand Up And Shout

It’s an up-tempo offering to open the proceedings. While the song’s main riff would be at home on a Scorpions album, the song is given an extra bit of kick by the rest of the band. The song offers a positive, uplifting message – it’s one of many motivating tunes that would come from Dio and became one of his calling cards. And Vivian Campbell offers the first of many electric solos he would perform in his time with the band.

Holy Diver

There is a bit of an intro here that serves a bit of an anticipation-builder for the album’s title track and its signature song. Then the band launches into a mid-tempo ass kicker while Ronnie sings about some messiah figure on another planet or some such shit.

There isn’t a lot I really need to say – Holy Diver is one of heavy metal’s best songs. This is the top of the mountain, in 1983 or any other year really. It is every bit the masterpiece it is made out to be.

Gypsy

A high-flying number with Vivian going off from the word go, the song goes on about that kind of bad girl you just can’t help getting tied up with. The song has been a bit under the radar compared to other Dio standards but it’s always been a favorite of mine.

Caught In The Middle

The pace keeps going with another song about conquering inner doubt and rising up. For all of the talk about negative theme and energy in heavy metal and music in general, Dio always provided a fair amount of “self-help” type of stuff that always got left out of those conversations. Songs like this were at the forefront of heavy metal’s motivating power.

Don’t Talk To Strangers

Often highlighted as a personal favorite by many, we get a slow-builder to change things up a bit. After a quieter first verse, the band launches back into the heaviness and pace. Vivian is really putting on a show here without any hint of wankery, it’s some very solid guitar work all over the song. Ronnie has said the song is about his distrust of people after his Sabbath experience but the track is really about not taking candy or rides from strangers, which we 80’s kids were brought up to avoid.

Straight Through The Heart

This stomping number turns the heaviness up to 11 and lives up to its title. Ronnie apparently wrote the song about the woeful love life of their recording engineer. Suffering always makes for the best art, even better when it’s someone else’s suffering. Learning the easy way is great.

Invisible

This haunting tune delves into the issue of feeling lost to the world. Even in dealing with the tough issues of confusion and trauma, Dio still manages to impart an uplifting conclusion to the proceedings. And it’s more brilliant shredding from Vivian, something not in short supply through the album.

Rainbow In The Dark

The album’s second single has become one of Dio’s signature anthems alongside the title track. It’s another song Ronnie wrote after his acrimonious split with Black Sabbath and the darkness of that time period led to one of his greatest triumphs. Everything on the track works like magic, even that synth line that stands out like a sore thumb.

Shame On The Night

We close the record with a slow burner that uses the day and night as symbolism for life and death, light and dark. Again Dio offers triumph over the evil and darkness. The music provides a bit of atmosphere to contrast from the general heavy attack but still also stomps its way through the track.

That wraps up Holy Diver and one of heavy metal’s finest moments. Dio would go on to establish a legacy nearly three decades long before his death in 2010. The band on the debut would not hold, led by the acrimonious departure of Vivian Campbell in 1986.

But nothing can diminish the legacy of Holy Diver. The album is a cornerstone in the foundation of heavy metal and its influence is felt to this day. The album got its first US platinum certification in 1989 and just recently received its second certification. And no matter the sales, it is always at the forefront of heavy metal discussion. When someone new to metal asks for a list of recommended albums to explore the genre, Holy Diver is always toward the top of that list.