Aerosmith – Part 1

Philadelphia, PA – 1976-1977

I’ve wanted to write this for a while. Aerosmith is to American hard rock as Star Wars is to SciFi. I’ve loved Aerosmith since I was 13 years old. I’ve not only purchased nearly every album they’ve ever released, but I’ve also bought the same records in different formats. Vinyl, cassette, and CD. So I’ve made all of the payments necessary to this band as a fan.

I’m not going to review them as a band, or as a professional music reviewer. These are my personal opinions based on how old I was, how the music made me feel, what was going on in my life at the time, and what I felt were quality songs. If you want real history on this band, go buy a book or read online about them. I’m not going to get into personalities or anything about the inner workings of this group because that’s not what this is about.

Let’s face it, it’s not the guys, it’s what they did for you and how their music made you feel. I feel I’m warranted to say all of the following things because I’ve made all of the donations I’m ever going to make to this band’s bank accounts by buying their records and seeing them live. I love them, and will always love them for the decades of joy they’ve brought to my heart.

Sometimes I will be harsh with my words, but it comes from a place of pure love. So let’s get started.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerosmith

Aerosmith – Debut album – 1973

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerosmith_(album)

My older sister hung out with a neighborhood band back in 1975/1976. They were called The Grim Reaper. I think because they played that song by Blue Oyster Cult. They also played the song, Dream On’ by Aerosmith and she must have liked that song because she brought this record home. I had heard that song played on the radio for several years but didn’t think much of it or even knew who did it. I was too buried in my love for the band Steppenwolf.

Tales of Rock – Steppenwolf – First Love

Let’s start with the cover of this album. I’ll run through this from left to right. This is a pretty furry band. What’s with Joey Kramer’s mutton chops? Then we have Joe Perry looking like Injun Joe from Twain’s book, Tom Sawyer. Tom Hamilton looks like he cut his hair with kid’s scissors and a razor blade. Steven Tyler looks kinda cool. Brad Whitford looks like a girl no one ever wants to date, let alone be seen with.

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1977

On a side note, the name Injun Joe came from this kid named Tony Riccardi. He was this guy that met my older sister and fell in love with her in the summer of 1977. He would be sniffing around our house trying to get her to go to the beach or take her out on a date and she just wasn’t into him. He was a moderately good-looking Italian guy about a year or so older than me. He was fit and I didn’t get why she wasn’t into him. Except for the fact that he seemed to only own one bathing suit. It was this dark blue and yellow striped speedo-looking thing he wore every day. Sis wasn’t into him, but I got to know him and he seemed nice. We started hanging out a little bit. But I’m thinking now he may have been just spending time with me to get to my sister. Distract the brother, bag the sister.

I noticed he was missing the pinky on his one hand. I asked him about it and he told me that he lost it in a bane saw accident in woodshop at school. My friends and I had all taken woodshop in school and heard all of the horror stories, myths, and legends about mishaps in wood and metal shop at our collective schools, but we never met anybody that some stuff had actually happened to. Tony Riccardi was that man. All that was left of the digit was a little knuckle.

I remember we were sitting in Sam’s Pizza and he asked our waitress for a pen. She gave it to him and went back to waiting tables. “What are you going to do with that?”

“Watch this.”

When the waitress returned to retrieve her pen, Tony asked her if she wanted to meet Herbie.

“Umm… okay.”

Tony held out his fist to her. On the little pinky knuckle stub, he had drawn a smiley face with her pen. He could actually wiggle it and make it say hi.

The waitress turned away in revulsion.

“Ton… I think I’m starting to get why my sister doesn’t want to date you.”

Anyway, Tony Riccardi was the person who upon viewing my records, saw the Aerosmith cover and called Joe Perry, Injun Joe. I never forgot that because he looks dead-on like an angry or sad native American from popular literature.

When you’re 14 years old every guy who is older than you looks like a grown man. All of the guys in Aerosmith were only in their early 20’s but to me, they might have well been in their 30’s.

The album had modest sales and I suppose they had to put, Featuring: “Dream On” on the jacket so people would say, Oh yea, that song’s pretty good.

I was in our basement listening to records on my dad’s stereo and shooting pool on our billiard table. One of the records I put on that day was this one. I’m going to go through this song by song. (Don’t worry, I’ll be brief.)

Make It: Great song. A kick-ass opening and it felt like it was about becoming a rockstar, so I was down.

Somebody: Another great song. Loved it more than Make It.

Dream on: Already tired of it by then.

One Way Street: Great jam song where I got to hear the different guitar playing styles by Joe and Brad. Also some fine harmonica work by Steven.

Mama Kin: Another solid rocker. Yes, I like this song too!

Write Me: I wrote letters to girls back then so I could relate because getting letters from girls in the mail was a big deal back then. Great song.

Movin’ Out: Not bad. It has its moments. (I always liked the little laugh in the beginning)

Walkin’ the Dog: They didn’t write it, but it’s a sweet little closer for the record. My mom loved this song.

This record got me really interested in this band. It was like Steppenwolf, but harder and faster. I really liked the songs and how they made me feel. I was beginning to have some real love for this band.

I eventually learned how to play nearly every song on this album on guitar. But that wouldn’t happen for another 2 years.

Let’s move on.

Philadelphia, PA – 1976.

I was in the garage with my friend Michael and we were listening to various records on my little green and white record player. We were listening to Bill Cosby, George Carlin, and some other rock music records. Out of all my friends back then, Michael was probably my best friend. He was a year younger than me, but we just sort of worked as friends. He lived a few doors down and wasn’t like the other kids in the neighborhood. We had some great times together and were super close. I felt bad for him because unlike me with my zit face Mike had full-blown acne. That’s different. That scars your face for life. Also, his parents never got his teeth fixed and he always had an overbite. I never understood that. but we were good buddies and at some point, I want to write about our adventures together.

I had the first Aerosmith album and we were listening to that and smoking cigarettes. I asked him if his brother Jimmy had any more Aerosmith albums. He said he had this one and their second record. I asked him what it was called.

Mike: “Get Your Wings.”

Me: “I don’t want to listen to Paul McCartney and Wings right now, besides it’s my sister’s and she probably doesn’t want me bringing it out to the garage.”

Mike: “What?”

Me: “What’s Aerosmith’s second record called?”

Mike: “I said, Get Your Wings.”

Me: “But I don’t want… wait, is that the name of the record? Get Your Wings?”

Mike: “I’ve been trying to tell you…”

Me: “That’s a crap name for a record, but yea… go get it. I want to hear it!”

Get Your Wings – 1974

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Get_Your_Wings

So here we are.

Okay, again with the cover. Joe looks cool. Joey Kramer actually looks the most handsome and rugged in the band. Steven looks hungover and on drugs, and why is he showing off his bulge? Brad looks sad or stoned. (Understandable) Tom Hamilton has let his razor cut grow out and looks presentable. (and a bit, impish!) It looks like the title for the record was an afterthought because it’s just this little lame phrase slapped on the cover like a little sticker. Look at it! Crap.

Michael returned with the record. Let’s run down the playlist. But before I do, let me say this. You have your whole life to write your first album. If you get signed to a label by some miracle, you have to come up with 8 to 10 more songs by the next year. Super pressure, and frankly I don’t know how bands did it back then, but maybe that’s why I never ended up in that vocation.

Aerosmith was a relatively new inexperienced act that had some magic between them. I later heard that they brought in some hired guns to play on the album to punch up the tracks but that’s not what this story is about.

Same Old Song and Dance: Cool opening track. Joe always had a knack for coming up with cool riffs and he definitely hits it on this one. A solid opening rocker. I liked it.

Lord of the Thighs: A little long and slow for me back then. But Brad Whitford plays some killer guitar on that tune. I later grew to like this song because of its theme and my adoration of women’s legs.

Spaced: Ahh… it is the title. A little spacey and kind of a dated-sounding song at this point. I wasn’t feeling it. But it has a cool psychedelic late 60’s vibe.

Woman of the World: Too long and lame. It’s a throwaway song that finishes side one, and I just never felt it no matter what it did.

S.O.S Too Bad: They used to play this a lot in concert and I never understood why. Maybe it was to get it out of the way to get to the good songs. Never liked it.

Train Kept a Rollin’: This is a retread of an old Yardbirds tune. They must have performed it live as a young band and people liked it. But I will say this, It’s a great rendition of the song, and Aerosmith went on to make it their own. Their live version is an incredible song and I love it. We played this song in my first band, Renegade so there’s that.

Seasons of Wither: This is the most beautiful song on the album. I love this song. (Renegade played this too) It’s a lovely song and the arrangement is gorgeous. I loved that although I loved Aero for the way they made me feel with the energy, this song was gentle and really touched me. Steven really touched the melancholy sound of the song. Oh god, and the strings on the cello on the second chorus. Bliss!

Pandora’s Box: This is a piece of trash song written by Joey Kramer that is about cunnilingus. It’s cheap and obvious and it’s clear they were out of songs for this record to produce this turd.

To sum up, Same Old Song and Dance. Cool song with a good Perry riff, and good lyrics. Train Kept a Rollin’, very exciting song. Seasons of Wither. Gorgeous.  That’s it for this record. I’m just going to talk about what was happening at the time, and how the songs made me feel.

At this point, I love the first record, but I’m not thrilled with the sophomore effort of this band.

But there is definitely something happening here with this new band.

Tune in next Thursday for the next chapter of the 9 part series!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Tales of Rock -10 Most Notorious Hell-Raiser Rock Bands

Rock ‘n’ roll, as a rule, is not built for the faint of heart. You can be a sensitive soul with a message to get across in your emotionally wrought lyrics, sure, but if you’re looking to live that life, you’ve got to be prepared for a little rough and tumble.

The travel, the expectations, the screaming fans – it can become pretty grueling. And in such circumstances, it’s no surprise that some – most – rockers decide to kick back and party.

There’s indulging in a little carefree leisure time, though – and then there are the extremes to which some of rock’s most legendary hell-raisers take things. The music industry is filled with tales of excess and wild behavior, some of them funny, some of them impressive, some of them downright sinister.

The age of the degenerate, uncontrollable, pure id rockstar seems to be fading away – which may be for the best, given some of the legacies left behind – but with a century of hard-hitting, fast-living cowboys behind us, there’ll always be the stories to revel in, to be wowed by, and often appalled by.

10. Happy Mondays

Few bands have caused so much chaos with such good nature as the Happy Mondays. As part of the Madchester scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s, hedonism was naturally on the cards, and the band embraced the chemicals as much as any raver. And then, they took things that little bit further.

The Mondays’ drug habit was such that they would burn through their record label’s money at an astonishing pace, a lifestyle which has led to several members of the band declaring bankruptcy post-heyday. The uber-mellow ecstasy scene of the band’s early period led to some great psychedelic throwback records.

Things got sinister when the hard stuff set in during the early ‘90s. In an attempt to wean the band off heroin, the 1992 album Yes Please was recorded in Barbados, where Shaun Ryder successfully kicked his habit by transitioning onto crack. The sheer excess of this excursion led to the ruination of Factory Records.

Hearteningly, the majority of the Mondays seem to have come out the other side, and while one might argue that the modern mannerisms of Ryder and Bez show remnants of former drug use, the fact that they’re still in one piece, and still intermittently performing, is impressive indeed.

9. Guns N’ Roses

In a heartwarming postscript to the band’s ‘80s heyday, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash now seems like one of the soundest musicians in rock. Always good for a quip and still clearly in love with what he does, he has, it seems, escaped a grubby scene unscathed.

Things seemed like they could go the other way for a long while. In the 1980s, as well as a brief stint as the biggest band in the world, few acts could have been consuming more booze and gear than Axl and the boys.

Slash took things the furthest when he briefly died in the early ‘90s after overdosing on speedballs. Resuscitated after eight minutes, it was the wake-up call he needed – a scant 15 years later, he got himself clean. Bassist Duff McKagan, meanwhile, managed to drink enough that his pancreas was swollen to the size of a football by age 30.

Most worrying, though, was the behavior of frontman Axl Rose. While less famous for his substance abuse, the man was a ticking time bomb for much of his career, challenging the entirety of Nirvana to a fight, ruining gigs with his timekeeping and temper, and hiring and firing band members at will.

8. Led Zeppelin

The band that wrote the rule book for rule-breaking rock bands, Led Zeppelin had seen it all and done it all before most notable bands had picked up a guitar or a needle. Some of their exploits are classic tales of wild rockers; others are downright sinister and indecent. One thing’s for sure, though: few if any have cleared the bar that Zeppelin set over 50 years ago.

There are particularly famous anecdotes (the mud shark incident, which doesn’t bear repeating, for one), but the band was just excess personified full stop. The hotel room trashing, hard-partying, the fast-living group was given its template by the success of Zeppelin, who only got more successful the faster they lived.

They all had their own vices – John Bonham, booze and fast cars; Robert Plant, ladies and eventually heroin; Jimmy Page, black magick and questionable romantic pursuits (to say the least). They flaunted their chaotic lives while putting out eight good to great albums in 10 years, which isn’t bad going.

They’ll forever be one of the most influential bands ever, but it’s debatable which part of their legacy is more important: the sound, or the decadence.

7. The Beach Boys

The clean-cut California surf enthusiasts may not strike you as the hardest partying outfit, but between the precise harmonies and musical innovation was a shockingly dark side, particularly in its most talented and most charismatic members, Brian and Dennis Wilson.

Brian, the epitome of tortured genius, raised hell primarily in his own mind. With the weight of the group on his shoulders and feeling in direct competition with the Beatles, he pushed himself into increasingly ambitious works through unconventional means, turning his mansion into a recording studio and filling it with sand.

His drug usage made him a hermit for a while, but that streak of self-destruction was more explosive in younger brother Dennis, who embraced the fast living sixties more than most. A major star before his 20s, there was no way he wasn’t going to embrace the lifestyle afforded to him by his group’s success.

So free-spirited was Dennis that he allowed the Manson family, pre-murders, to crash with him for a long while, an association he regretted to his premature death. It doesn’t get much more literally hell-raising than that.

6. Butthole Surfers

The legendary Texas band thrived on pure chaos. Their records are brash and irreverent, at times impenetrable, others brilliant. Their live shows were known and loved for their visceral, unpredictable nature (which later became pretty predictable, with audiences showing up specifically to become embroiled in the chaos).

The band built their own mythology, telling anyone who would listen of their daily routine – LSD-laced cornflakes, whisky, and gin being the regular diet for a six-month-long European tour – but they were no idle talkers. For those caught up in their drift, they were a frightening proposition, with concerts turning into orgies, brawls, or both.

The band’s music has been influential for heavy hitters like Kurt Cobain, but few since have been able to capture the sheer weirdness of the Surfers, who have burned enough bridges to sabotage a dozen careers, but always seem to come bouncing back,

Now well into middle age, the band’s core members have barely changed at all, still more than willing to catch a ban from various prestige festivals through sheer belligerence. Somehow, though, they always seem to bounce back.

5. Aerosmith

You don’t get a nickname like “The Toxic Twins” without putting in some serious mileage. From the late ‘70s to the tail end of the ‘80s, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Stephen Tyler were unstoppably indulgent. Given their status in the scene at the time, they’ve partied to extremes few could afford to top.

Perry, for example, hired a roadie whose sole responsibility was to sort him out with a bump of powder during a performance. Aerosmith had no time for admin – they had the money to ensure that they were fully topped up at all times; they had only to enjoy the spoils of war.

Burnout was inevitable, of course, and the rampant self-destruction led to infighting and a downturn in quality. Gigs were ended prematurely by Tyler, too blasted to notice they’d only just started playing. In due course, the band decided they had too good a thing going to let substances get in the way – they entered rehab and came out an entirely different proposition.

Aerosmith is now the power ballad band, rather than a group of raucous rockers. And while their bank balance and their health have taken a step in the right direction, the danger and the riffs are long gone.

4. The Sex Pistols

It’s no secret that the Sex Pistols, far from the new voice of gritty British discontent, were essentially a manufactured act. While they may have been the image-centric brainchild of Malcolm McClaren, though, they used their status as the country’s most dangerous group to live faster and harder than any other boyband you’d care to mention.

The Pistols were pure combat and codified much of what we now associate with punk: the antagonism, the spitting. Their gigs could turn into brawls, especially when they took the act to the USA, where crowds could be riled into launching glasses at the group, who lapped up the hatred like milk.

Chief among the miscreants was bassist Sid Vicious, hired for his look and attitude rather than his musical skills. While he didn’t contribute much musically, the band’s mythology resolved majorly around him. He attacked journalists, leaped with both feet into the heroin scene, and overdosed not long after (allegedly) murdering his girlfriend – a charming character all around.

They took on the monarchy and won (sort of), and brought unpalatable music and lifestyles to the mainstream. They may have been performatively outrageous (see: the Bill Grundy show), but few acts have made as much of a scene with so little time.

3. Robert Johnson
Wikipedia

Among the most mysterious figures in the history of rock, the famous Robert Johnson story purports that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his legendary guitar prowess. One of the masters of the Delta Blues, Johnson’s relatively small back catalog means it is his wild and mysterious life that is now better remembered than the music itself.

Johnson spent much of his brief time wandering the earth (or, more specifically, America), peddling his blues and enjoying the fringe benefits afforded to a musician of his caliber. He would form relationships in every town, staying with various women who knew nothing of one another’s existence.

Johnson’s (possibly apocryphal) demise only serves to add to his legend: it is said that the notorious womanizer was poisoned – by a jilted lover, a jealous husband, or a rival, no one can be sure. Historians suggest he may have died of boring old syphilis – which, given his lifestyle, seems believable.

Whether or not he bartered with Satan, Johnson was one of 20th-century music’s first great wildmen, in a time when you could simply split town once you’d pushed your luck too far.

2. Mötley Crüe

Quite bad Mötley Crüe’s film The Dirt shows the group being out-extremed by Ozzy Osbourne, who cheerfully laps up urine and snorts a line of ants to wow the Californian rockers. While that anecdote sees Ozzy come out on top, though, there can be few acts for whom partying took such precedence as the Crüe,

The lifestyle suited the quartet, who embraced every faucet of rock stardom from the off. More groupies, more drugs, more booze. The band’s increased status directly correlated with the scale of their partying. They behaved like monsters for a good decade and got away with it because they were so popular.

Perhaps the most metal moment of their careers came when Nikki Sixx wrote the song “Kickstart My Heart” based on an overdose which led to his heart genuinely being restarted with adrenaline, allowing the Crüe bassist to join Slash in the “has been dead for a bit” club.

In one of the easiest gigs in journalism, author Neil Strauss got a book published simply by writing down all the grotty stuff Mötley Crüe got up to in the ‘80s, and it remains a classic of the genre – basically the Bible for bands whose ambition is to live the rock star cliche.

1. GG Allin & The Murder Junkies

You know you’ve sealed your credentials as a hell-raiser when you’re far, far more famous for being an undeniably disgusting human being than you are a musician. You know you’re not in for a gentle night of cheery tunes when you go see a band called “The Murder Junkies”, but audiences had never seen anything like GG Allin.

Allin would appear on stage, undress, and swiftly soil himself – and that was for starters. Fights with audience members were routine, and if a Murder Junkies gig ended without the frontman filthy, bloodied, and in the bad books of the venue owner, then you’d caught him on an off night.

The music was secondary to the performance, but in his lyrics Allin was ever incendiary, cheerfully throwing in racism and misogyny, ostensibly to provoke controversy and debate, rather than out of any real hatred. Naturally, you’ll find few backers for his discography these days.

Allin died predictably young, and he went out as he would have wanted – with his unpreserved, bloated corpse taking pride of place at a funeral-cum-party, during which his friends got loaded and posed with the carcass. There’ll never be another GG Allin, and that’s probably for the best.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Tales of Rock -10 Greatest Rock Documentaries You Need To See

Few areas of life lend themselves better to the documentary format than music. The life of a rock star is undeniably fascinating: alien to the likes of you and I, a little scary at times, but undeniably desirable. They do and say outrageous things, they perform before baying crowds, they often end up doing something out of order – what’s not to love?

There are rock docs, though, and there are rock docs. These days everything merits a camera presence – an album launch, a tune on a film soundtrack, a tour which needs that little extra oomph to get it over the line. Candid footage is commonplace these days.

Some docs, though, will stand the test of time and have cemented themselves as classics not just of the subgenre, but of non-fiction film full stop. A good rock doc can capture a time and a place, shifts in society as well as the inner thoughts of some of the culture’s greatest icons. They’re a window not just into the stars themselves, but the worlds they inhabit and sometimes affect.

And if they’ve got a whole bunch of smashing tunes, well, that’s just an added bonus.

10. Amy

Altitude Film Distribution

 

The tragic tale of Amy Winehouse is hardly a new one in the music business – star after promising star has succumbed to the temptations of substances and the pressures of fame. Few have done so as publicly as Winehouse, however, whose 2011 death felt at the same time heartbreaking and somewhat inevitable.

Asif Kapadia’s documentary is a sensitively made look into the life of a star who looked like she could be one of Britain’s best in many years (and perhaps, even in such a short time, still was). It takes a simple biographical approach, but crucially builds a deeper image of Winehouse than the troubled and self-destructive hellraiser of her public profile. She was all those things, of course, but there was far more to her than that, as the tremendously affecting interviews with her family and close friends go to show.

For Winehouse novices, the film provides a great life and career retrospective that ably demonstrates why she’s so beloved; for those already enamored with the late singer, there’s great early and rare footage of a woman who wasn’t around for long but left an indelible mark on modern music.

9. One More Time With Feeling

This isn’t a watch for a cheery night in. The death of Nick Cave’s son in 2015 came after the majority of his 2016 album Skeleton Tree had been written, but he was yet to step into the studio with his band The Bad Seeds.

Naturally, the loss cast a shadow on the entire production. Rather than subject himself to press junkets and interviews, Cave and Andrew Dominick collaborated on the masterful One More Time With Feeling, through which the singer could explore and explain his grief, as well as give fans a sneak preview of the upcoming record. Skeleton Tree’s sparse, haunting songs made their debut in the gorgeously shot black and white film, and they capture their singer’s feelings of distress, emptiness, and ultimately hope, better than words ever could. Cave doesn’t spill his guts to the camera, but the performances, weary yet driven and brilliant, tell us all we need to know.

It’s one for the fans primarily, but the lush camerawork, beautiful music, and terrible but universal story can appeal to a far wider audience. It’s an exercise in grief, but a wonderful and strangely uplifting film, too.

8. Amazing Grace

AP/AP

Blessed with one of the greatest voices music ever produced, Aretha Franklin’s legacy was guaranteed long before she was immortalized in this 2018 film (shot in 1972, but held up by legal proceedings until shortly after her death). Sydney Pollack’s Amazing Grace is a masterfully made concert film and a gift for a younger generation who can appreciate the power of Franklin’s awe-inspiring talents the way an audience should.

Backed up by a community choir, Amazing Grace is a testament to the healing powers of song and faith. You don’t need to sit Franklin down and interview her to get to the heart of the woman. You simply need to watch her perform and listen to her sing. At this time especially, her voice is astonishing and appears effortless. Her early life was far from easy, and she has spoken previously of the release music gave her; Amazing Grace is her opportunity to give that back to the world.

There will be others who can sing with the same technical proficiency or range or control as Franklin, but it’s hard to imagine there will be many if any who can access so naturally the purity of emotion that Pollack unobtrusively captures in Amazing Grace.

7. The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson

HBO

An underrated figure in UK rock, Wilko Johnson was the guitarist for pioneering pub rock act Dr Feelgood. With his distinctly aggressive playing style and imposing physical presence (he played Ilyn Payne in the first few seasons of Game Of Thrones), he was hugely influential, a trailblazer.

When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, this was unsurprisingly an eye-opener for the taciturn axeman, and he allowed Julian Temple, key documenter of UK punk, to chart his final days. Johnson faces his mortality with trademark humor and an admirable calm, reflecting on his life and his achievements, and concluding it time well spent. He embarks on a goodbye tour, rocking venues like old times, bringing together friends and collaborators to say farewell to fans and well-wishers the only way he knows how.

Then, the twist – the cancer which seemed so final suddenly goes into remission, and Wilko is given another chance – more time than he knows what to do with. The film celebrates life in all its forms, but it’s clear that Johnson will go on rocking and creating until the real final curtain.

6. The Decline Of Western Civilization Part 2

New Line Cinema

The first film in the Decline series was a relatively serious look at the often-po-faced world of hardcore punk. For the follow-up, director Penelope Spheeris cast an eye on the hair metal scene of 1980s LA, where things were a little wilder.

The documentary is a riotous look at acts famous and otherwise, from the heavyweights of the rock and metal scene to upstart bands hoping to make it as big as their idols (spoiler: none of them do). Highlights include Ozzy Osbourne making a colossal mess in his kitchen as he concentrates more on his anecdote than pouring juice into a glass, and Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P, who floats around his pool drunk off his head while his disapproving mother watches on. They put on a brave face, the folks of the scene, but many are stricken with sadness (others still are outright creeps).

While there’s the suggestion that elements of the film are a put-on, Spheeris captures an accurate portrait of one of music’s most indulgent and tacky scenes. Everyone involved is keen to show just how rock ‘n’ roll they are, and to one end up making prize fools of themselves in the process.

5. Beware Of Mr. Baker

SnagFilms

Cream drummer Ginger Baker died in 2019, and while his passing is a great blow to the world of rock and jazz, after watching this captivating documentary, you’ll be amazed a man so gnarly was even capable of death.

Director Jay Bulger traces Baker’s musical journey from South London to South Africa, where he now lives on an imposing compound. Baker’s career is a remarkable one, having pioneered a jazz/rock fusion style with Cream, traveled to Africa to drum with Fela Kuti, and kicked and taken up heroin enough times to kill most ordinary men. Ordinary Baker most definitely is not, though: he is a fascinating but utterly cantankerous individual, ultimately clashing with and physically assaulting Bulger after a line of questioning is not to his liking.

The man lived hard and fast and achieved an incredible amount, and it’s great that his life story was aired in such an engaging piece of work. Formally inventive and ever engaging, this is proof if proof be needed that the devil has the best tunes.

4. 20 Feet From Stardom

RADiUS-TWC

A celebration of some of the music business’ unsung heroes, 20 Feet From Stardom is all about putting a name to the voices you’ve heard so many times, as Morgan Neville’s Oscar-winning doc digs into the world of backing singers.

Featuring the likes of Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, and other incredible performers whose names you may not know but whose vocals you’ve certainly danced to, 20 Feet From Stardom is a melancholic look at a business that can be so rewarding, and so frustrating, all at the same time. There are incredible anecdotes from those on the periphery of the world’s biggest rockstars, and superb performances, like Clayton’s isolated vocal track from the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. Many of those interviewed are jobbing musicians who accept their status, but it can’t help but feel cruel that their contributions so often go uncelebrated.

With talking heads from bonafide A-listers like Bruce Springsteen, this is a star-studded production, but more than anything else it’ll give you an appreciation of the sheer physical graft that goes into the singing business. You may just be harmonizing on a chorus, but it’ll take it out of you.

3. Gimme Shelter

20th Century Fox

An era-defining documentary, this still-harrowing film captures The Rolling Stones at their world-conquering finest as they tour their incredible run of records between the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It also pinpoints the moment the hippy dream died and something altogether more sinister settled into American counterculture.

Gimme Shelter serves as a concert film for a band who, at the time, may have been the world’s greatest. This ultimately pales into insignificance, however. The documentary is most famous for its recordings of the Stones’ 1969 concert at the Altamont Speedway, during which 18-year-old Meredith Hunter was fatally stabbed to death by a member of the Hell’s Angels, who the UK rockers had hired as their tour security. Co-directors Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin adopt a hands-off approach to their film making, simply observing the chaos that unfolds as a peaceful scene turns ugly.

The ‘60s ended literally and metaphorically around the time of Altamont, but if there are lessons to be learned, it’s a stroke of luck that there was a camera there to record the destruction.

2. Don’t Look Back

Leacock-Pennebaker, Inc.

D. A. Pennebaker’s 1967 masterpiece invented the rock doc and the myth of Bob Dylan in one fell swoop. Following the Nobel prize-winning songwriter on his 1965 UK tour, the documentary was one of the first opportunities an audience had to watch a rock star simply exist in his natural environment.

As a subject, Dylan couldn’t have been much better. He is riding the crest of a wave, writing and playing some of the best music of his career, and coming to the tumultuous end of his relationship with Joan Baez. He is captivating but unprecious with his public image: indeed there are moments in which he acts like a real jerk, one-upping Donovan with a bravura performance just because he can, and needlessly abusing a poor jobbing journalist. The opening scenes serve as a music video for the track Subterranean Homesick Blues, another of the film’s groundbreaking moments.

Dylan has been documented and hagiographed half to death by now, but Pennebaker’s passive camera catches him in the flesh, and at a pivotal point of an incredible career. Taking aside all it influenced, it remains a superb piece of work.

1. Dig!

Interloper Films

A friendly rivalry turns into an all-out indie war in Ondi Timoner’s wild documentary. The director shot over 10,000 hours of footage as two upstart bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, came up together before dramatically falling apart.

The narrative comes down to jealousy, as the Massacre, arguably the better band, stew over their former friends’ sudden burst of success. Petty swipes turn to open hostilities as one band rises and the other turns in on itself. The subjects are fascinating, most notably Massacre frontman Anton Newcombe, whose musical talent is outstripped by his self-destructive street. He has the aura of a cult leader but the temperament of a stroppy child, and slowly alienates those around him and blows chance after chance at the big time.

Musicians from either camp have refuted the realism of the finished product, but that hardly matters when the documentary is this outrageously entertaining. Dig! may not hit as heavy as some other acclaimed rock docs, but few films can match the uproarious fun – and killer tunes – of this bonkers film.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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Tales of Rock – What Happened When the Sex Pistols Threw a Christmas Party

A new book showcases a collection of photos that captures the band’s last concert in England—they were in their pomp, on their mission, and fully charged.

The Sex Pistols, avatars of sociopathy, threw an afternoon Christmas party for the families of firefighters on strike. What could be nicer?

By the end of 1977 the Sex Pistols were so drenched in notoriety that, as a band, they could barely function. Punk rock, originally an American import, had activated the imagination of Great Britain at a hysterical, medieval level, and the Pistols—swearing on live TV, getting to Number 1 with the banned single “God Save The Queen” (She ain’t no human being!)—were overnight bogeymen. Pale and twisted, neurally disenfranchised but making a huge, thick, derisive, airwave-jamming noise, they seemed to have limped out of the psychic shadows and seized power. The frontman Johnny Rotten would hang off the mic stand like a licentious scarecrow; the new bassist Sid Vicious, his long limbs clanging, was an icon continually in the process of dismantling itself—a human Jean Tinguely sculpture. Their manager Malcolm McLaren, meanwhile, had an agenda for uproar and no interest whatsoever in the well-being of his charges; for over a year, his provocations and imbroglios had kept the band on the front pages of a gratefully disgusted tabloid press.

And they had reaped the whirlwind: In June, in two separate attacks, Rotten was slashed with a razor and the drummer Paul Cook was beaten with an iron bar. Now, in the depths of winter, a projected U.K. tour had collapsed as the burghers of one municipality after another—local councilmen and members of Parliament—rose up with quivering jowls to denounce, reject, and foreclose these leering scapegoats. Nowhere to play.

Except for Huddersfield. On Christmas Day. At a venue called Ivanhoe’s, in a market town in West Yorkshire, the Sex Pistols would play a benefit show for the Fire Brigades Union, which had recently called its members out on strike in pursuit of a 30 percent wage increase. This was a very McLaren-esque piece of business: The Sex Pistols, avatars of sociopathy, would throw an afternoon Christmas party for the families of striking firefighters. Gifts, games, a cake, a performance, t-shirts for the children. What could be nicer? What could be worthier? Then they would play a second set for their fans.

The first show, the one for the kids, was extraordinary enough. Thank God we have the footage. Pre-teens with soft 1970s hair bounce and jive unselfconsciously, and with even a strange solemnity, as the band rips in gusts of joy through “God Save The Queen” and “Anarchy in the U.K.” No future for YEEEEEW! “Bodies”—She was a girl from Birming-HAM-uh / She’d just had an a-BOR-tion-ah!—acquires the pure and vicious resonance of a playground chant. The kids take the mic, sing along to the chorus: Mum-my! I’m not an animal! Johnny Rotten mashes his face into the Christmas cake during “Pretty Vacant.” The kids wave flags. Credit here the unscrupulous McLaren and his nose for the carnivalesque. An event this wholesomely riotous, this innocently lawless and punk-rock-paradoxical, if it happened today … well, it wouldn’t happen. It would be held in an art gallery.

But it’s the second set, for the grown-ups, that concerns us here. Sex Pistols: The End Is Near 25.12.77 collects the in-show shots of the photographer Kevin Cummins, who was covering the concert for New Musical Express. That afternoon, at his parents’ house, Cummins had committed small-scale anarchy by getting up and leaving in the middle of Christmas lunch. This meant that he was also skipping the Queen’s televised speech, traditionally watched with boozy fealty by every single person in the country. “My father didn’t speak to me for at least three weeks,” he writes in his introduction.

 

No one, not even the ferally alert McLaren, knew it at the time, but this was the last show the Sex Pistols would play in England. Days after the Huddersfield show they would leave for a short, fiasco-filled tour of the U.S., a jaunt across the un-punk-rock South (Atlanta, Memphis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge) that was essentially an extended act of incitement. The band, as an entity, would not survive it. In less than three weeks, at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, the Sex Pistols would explode, fall to bits, end. “Oh bollocks. Why should I carry on?” asked Rotten, pertinently, in the middle of a half-hearted assault on the Stooges’ “No Fun.” All of which adds a film of wistful irony to the power of Cummins’s photographs from Ivanhoe’s, because here are the Pistols in their pomp, on their mission, fully charged.

The images, from this distance, have an almost fairytale familiarity. Rotten, pint in hand, his hair still matted with cake icing, grins and writhes Uriah Heep-ishly, twisting his body to accommodate the demonic projections of the English unconscious. Steve Jones is slouched red-eyed over his guitar, raffishly infusing his glam rock mega-chords with Chuck Berry’s momentum and heavy metal crunch. Sid Vicious, soon to be infamous, soon to be dead, bass slung super-low, looks like a drawing from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series: His small scowling features are etched blackly onto an empty white face. He’s there and he’s not there, an accident that might have already happened. (McLaren would later characterize Sid’s aura as a “halo of anarchy.”) The current of the performance never seems to slacken. Cummins’s lens catches the band in no instants of shapelessness or non-Sex-Pistols-ness; their art possesses them at all times. Cook, the band’s thunderous timekeeper, is hardly represented, but maybe that’s appropriate; the drummer should be a kind of nonentity. (What a superbly physical drummer he was, though, Paul Cook. His whole kit would quake like the ribcage of some enormous, panting animal).

Towards the end of the show, the end of the reel, Rotten puts on a beret. It suits him, giving him a ghoulish sort of Parisian presence—he looks arty, he looks Left Bank. And there was this weird French strain to the Sex Pistols’ enterprise. McLaren was, or thought he was, or said he was, a devout reader of Guy Debord: all of his various art-acts were somewhere between pop mania and Situationist disruption-of-the-spectacle. But the Pistols were also a rock ‘n’ roll band, a very good one. Left to themselves, who knows what they might have achieved?

The die, however, was cast. The great music writer Paul Morley, in the foreword of The End Is Near that appears to have taken him about 10 minutes to write (although 10 minutes of Paul Morley is worth three weeks of [insert name of the writer]), makes the point that by late 1977 the Sex Pistols had already become “as much a part of British history as Churchill, the Royal Mail post boxes, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare.” They had become more than a band, less than a band—something else. So look upon these images from Huddersfield, and remember them this way: at the depth of ignominy, at the height of glory, making their music.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

The Weirdest, Creepiest and Most Annoying Songs of the 70’s – Part 2

If you were like me in the 1970’s you listened to top 40 radio most of the time. You heard a lot of great songs and instant classics. But among them were many unforgettable songs that were just weird or strange. I’ve tried from memory to remember the ones that stand out in my mind.

For weird reasons they became hits. They either made no sense or having any musical merit. Just a bizarre era of story songs.

Of course, this stuff is all pretty subjective but I did have a few criteria for what should be here. I decided to include a song if it:

    • made me sick without even listening to it again
    • made me want to break my radio
    • made my stomach turn
    • brought out violent thoughts of hatred, revenge, etc.
    • reminded me how lame the radio and record companies are
    • could make me want to break my stereo
    • would make me leave a bar or club if they started playing it
    • would make me boo a band who started playing it
    • suspended my belief in a divine force that governs the universe
I’m not saying that there weren’t ANY good songs during the 70s but there was just a truck-load of waste back then. If anybody’s stupid enough to think that ALL disco sucks, remember that it’s just a bastard son of rhythm & blues just like rock’n’roll is- so they’re related, see? Also, the 1970’s definitely didn’t have a monopoly on shitty music- there was tons of crap unleashed on us in the decade before and after and now also (there’s a future article there somewhere). Clothes-pin anyone?

The 70’s was an interesting time for music. There was a lot of experimentation and creativity from that decade, but there was also plenty of crap as well. Here is my list of the worst and most irritating songs of the 70’s.

 

Torn Between Two Lovers – Mary Macgregor – 1977

This is a song written by Peter Yarrow (of the folk music trio Peter, Paul & Mary) and Phillip Jarrell. The song describes a love triangle and laments that “loving both of you is breaking all the rules”. Mary MacGregor recorded it at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 1976. The song became the title track of her first album.

“Torn Between Two Lovers” reached No. 1 on both the U.S. pop chart in February 1977 as well as the Easy Listening chart in the final week of 1976 and the first week of 1977. It also reached No. 1 on the Canadian charts. The song also peaked at No. 3 on the country charts of both nations. In March 1977, the song peaked at No. 4 in the United Kingdom.

I think the use of the word, “torn” is what always bothered me about this song. I’m not alone here. I had a girlfriend in the 80’s who felt the same way. That title conjured up some sort of DP coupling between the singer and two dudes. However, I like the idea of someone being in love with two different people for different reasons. I’ve been there several times myself, but it’s just an odd song.

If you really listen to this song and read the lyrics, this chick is obviously married, and she’s already cheated on her husband. She decides to tell him, and it feels a bit too graphic. This other guy knows he can’t own her, but he can fill a place that’s been empty for a while and only he can fill it. So the sex and romance have definitely dropped off in her current relationship. She doesn’t love her husband any less but this other dude is delivering the D on the reg, and she’s digging it. She should have just left well alone and rode it out, but what do I know? It’s a sweet song about cheating and adultery. Nice.

A  sad song that’s a little gross.

Sing a Song – The Carpenters – 1973

is a 1971 song written by Joe Raposo for the children’s television show Sesame Street as its signature song. In 1973, it gained popularity when performed by the Carpenters, who made it a #3 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Raposo was one of the staff songwriters on Sesame Street, and the song became one of the most popular on the program, sung in English, Spanish, and sign language. In its initial appearance, it was sung by adult human cast members of the show (the most frequent lead singer was Bob McGrath) and Muppets, including Big Bird.

I will say this. I love the sound of Karen Carpenter’s voice. That low, contralto is like honey to me.

But this song is pure drivel. Then again, this seemed to be the decade for such saccharine-laden happy-happy songs—see the previous selections plus “Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr., and “Playground in My Mind” by Clint Holmes (“My name is Michael/I got a nickel…”)

When I hear this song, I want to drive knitting needles into my ears. It doesn’t make me want to throw up because we all know what can happen if you do that all of the time.

Sorry, Karen.

You’re Sixteen – Ringo Starr – 1974

Is that a kazoo I hear in this song? Really, dude? You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and the 33-year-old guy singing this to you is a pervert. Nuff said.

Couldn’t you have picked any other song in the world, Ringo? I can imagine back in the 60s when you’d approach the other Beatles with a song you had composed. They’d congratulate you and then stick it to the refrigerator to show how proud of you they were. Then they’d get back to cranking out the greatest songs ever written.

I Just Want To Stop – Gino Vanelli – 1978

This is a song by Canadian singer/songwriter Gino Vannelli. Released as a single in August 1978, the song is his biggest hit single to date, reaching number one in his native Canada and number four on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It appears on his sixth album, Brother to Brother. The song was produced by the three brothers Gino, Joe, and Ross Vannelli, and written by Ross.

“I Just Want to Stop” by Gino Vanelli. It probably doesn’t deserve to be on this list (he barely eeked out masterpieces by Peaches and Herb, and Sean Cassidy), but I have a visceral reaction to this song: every time it comes on, I want to crash my car through the guardrail and plunge 3,000 feet to my death.

Precious and Few – Climax – 1972

This is a song recorded by the American group Climax which became a major North American hit in early 1972. Written by the band’s guitarist, Walter D. Nims, it spent three weeks at number three on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and hit number one on the Cash Box Top 100. It also reached number six on Canada’s RPM 100.

Lead vocals were provided by Sonny Geraci, who also sang lead on “Time Won’t Let Me” by his previous band, The Outsiders. Nims had also been a member of The Outsiders.

“Precious and Few” was released on Carousel Records in 1971. The song featured The Ron Hicklin Singers as backing vocalists, a piano, drums, strings, and a horn section.

Climax was mostly Sonny Geraci with some backing musicians to create this sappy, syrupy ballad. I also get tired of trying to explain that this song has nothing to do with the Climax Blues Band (aka Climax Chicago).

Kill me now.

Let ‘ Em In – Wings  – 1976

This one is bad. From its annoying opening to its simply awful baseline (one can practically feel the musicians falling asleep) to its trombone solo (trombone solo!) to its stupid flute riff to its inane lyrics, this song absolutely takes the cake. Side note: Why does everyone love McCartney? More than half of his hits are silly little love songs. (What’s wrong with that? Everything.) Hard to believe this turd fell from the mind of a Beatle.

Go ahead, have a listen. See if you disagree.

Dancing Queen – Abba – 1976

Musically, “Dancing Queen” is a Europop version of American disco music. As disco music dominated the US charts, the group decided to follow the trend, replicating Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound arrangements. The song alternates between “languid yet seductive verses” and a “dramatic chorus that ascends to heart-tugging high notes.” It features keyboard lines by Andersson, which accentuate the melody’s sophistication and classical complexity, while Ulvaeus and Andersson interlace many instrumental hooks in and out of the mix. Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog’s layered vocals have been noted for their dynamism, “[negotiating] the Abba’s many turns flawlessly.”Lyrically, the song concerns a visit to the discotheque but approaches the subject from the joy of dancing itself. The music video on YouTube has over 456 million views as of November 2020 and has become ABBA’s most recognizable and popular song.

I hate this song and everything this singing group ever created. Not because my dad brought this music into our house one day. Because I just hate the way this music sounds. My dad first heard the song at a party where some woman who was employed at the bank where he worked was dancing to it. He liked what he heard and saw, and bought the record. He later carried on an affair with her, which was his usual MO during the 70s and early 80s. He told my sister that he liked the song because it made him think of her when she was dancing. Which was a bald-faced lie. I also hated that he liked the song, “I Am The Tiger from the album Arrival. I know for a fact he thought he was the living persona of that shitty song too, so more hate for Abba.

When I heard this horribly cold, processed music coming from his apartment I wanted to jump out a window and plummet to my death on the concrete below. This music is terrible, but the world loves them. At one point I remember reading that this band generated more revenue than Volvo.

I hate this music and I think my dad was a prick for lying to my sister and for all of his lascivious affairs while he was married to my mom.

So there you have it. Enjoy!

HATE!

Wildwood Weed – Jim Stafford – 1974

After my rage fest in regard to Abba, let’s close with this little ditty.

This is a 1974 hit song written by Don Bowman and recorded by Jim Stafford. It was the fourth of four U.S. Top 40 singles from his eponymous debut album. Musically, the song takes its inspiration from The Carter Family’s instrumental recording “Wildwood Flower”. The lyrics in the verses are spoken, rather than sung.

The song is a story about farmers who take a sudden interest in a common wildflower on their farm and soon discover and enjoy its hallucinogenic and mind-altering properties after one of them begins to chew on one. They begin to cultivate the plant in earnest; however, federal agents raid their property and destroy their crops. Nevertheless, the men are undeterred by the destruction of their plants, as they have saved a supply of seeds, overlooked by the agents.

“Wildwood Weed” reached number seven on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, number five on Cash Box, and number three on the Canadian pop singles chart. It was a crossover hit onto the Adult Contemporary charts of both nations (reaching number two in Canada),] as well as the U.S. Country chart.

However, some AM radio stations banned the song because of its reference to marijuana. Funny and cute by today’s standards!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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