Ozzy Osbourne - Diary of a Madman

Album cover of the week: Diary of a Madman

It’s been a long time coming, but a huge wrong has finally been righted with the recent release of Ozzy Osbourne’s first two metal classics, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. I’m talking of course about the restoration of the original bass and drum parts as recorded by Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake, respectively.

So in honor of these most excellent re-releases, let’s enjoy the vintage ’80s metal cheese of the Diary of a Madman cover.

Ozzy Osbourne - Diary of a Madman

I guess I can kind of see why some people got up in arms over the imagery on Ozzy’s albums, but to me this is nothing but pure escapist fun. The whole thing is obviously an homage of sorts to vintage horror movies, right down to the B-movie title font.

The set for this cover was designed by Ernie Spruces and Denise Richardson (no, not that one). The delightfully cheesy makeup was by Cheryl Hubbard, and overall design is credited to Steve “Skull” Joule. Finally, photography is credited to Fin Costello and Tony Harrison.

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My favorite music: 1972

If there’s one thing the internet lacks, it’s pointless music lists. So to fill that void, here’s a sampling of my favorite albums from some random year. Let’s say, 1972.

Fleetwood Mac, Bare Trees — Oh sure, I love Rumours as much as the next person. But there’s something about this particular, pre-Buckingham/Nicks incarnation of the band that speaks to me. Bare Trees is a bit uneven in spots but I keep coming back to it just the same. That said, the original version of Bob Welch’s “Sentimental Lady” found on this record is far superior to the 1977 hit single version.

Steely Dan, Can’t Buy a Thrill — I don’t care if Donald Fagen and Walter Becker want to disown this record, I love it and I know a ton of Dan fans love it. Like all classic Steely Dan records, the hits are only part of the picture. “Fire in the Hole” has a killer hook and an arrangement that presaged their more refined work on Katy Lied. And holy shit, that chorus on “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again” is so damn smooooooth.

Chicago, Chicago V — This is the perfect marriage of Chicago’s progressive arty side and their burgeoning pop sensibilities. “A Hit by Varèse” opens the LP and is as angry as the band got back in the day, while this album also boasts the bulletproof “Saturday in the Park.” How’s that for extremes? Peter Cetera, long before he discovered the glory of love, absolutely kills on bass all through this record. What the hell happened to that guy?

Yes, Close to the Edge — One of the crown jewels of progressive rock, bar none. Three songs, 38 minutes of pure bliss. “And You and I” and “Siberian Khatru” are fantastic all on their own, but the centerpiece is the nearly 19-minute title track. It encapsulates all that the genre has to offer musically, driven mainly by Steve Howe’s stabbing guitars, Chris Squire’s meaty, nimble bass, and of course Bill Bruford’s spastic, wrist-snapping percussion.

The Crusaders, Crusaders 1 — No longer the Jazz Crusaders, the newly christened Crusaders were finally free to embrace their funky side. The in-your-face horn section is still present and accounted for, but guitarist Larry Carlton brings a whole new dimension to the group’s sound.

Can, Ege Bamyasi — Even if you think Can would be too out there for your tastes, this album is not to missed. The skittering, insistent beat and nerve-fraying guitar on “Vitamin C” is the highlight of the record, but the whole thing is a case study in how Krautrock need not be scary.

Focus, Focus 3 — Man, what a year for prog rock eh? If you think this Dutch outfit is all about “Hocus Pocus,” you are mistaken. And it turns out that tender Focus (“Love Remembered” and “Focus III“) is just as entrancing and effective as rocking Focus (“Round Goes the Gossip” and “Sylvia”). Jan Akkerman is a guitar god but you almost never his name outside of fan circles anymore.

Genesis, Foxtrot — I can only imagine what a thrill it must have been to hear this band follow up on the promise of Nursery Cryme and just explode creatively. This seminal prog album is book-ended by two of the greatest songs the genre has to offer — “Watcher of the Skies” and “Supper’s Ready.” All of the other tracks (with the exception of “Time Table”) are just as strong.

Neil Young, Harvest — I’m not even that big a Neil Young fan, and this album is a must-own.

Deep Purple, Machine Head — Yeah yeah, “Smoke on the Water” and all that. Thing is, even without that song Machine Head is a stone cold classic. “Highway Star” is one of the few songs about car racing that is every bit as furious musically as it is lyrically. It’s all singer Ian Gillan can do throughout Machine Head to match the sheer intensity of Blackmore, Lord, Glover, and Paice. The album ends with “Space Truckin’,” which sounds like a stupid title but in fact has the riffage and groove to stomp your face into the mud and have you asking for more.

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Album cover of the week: Mob Rules

It’s hard to believe, but we lost Ronnie James Dio one year ago today. It seems only right to pay small tribute to his musical legacy, and so here we have 1981’s Mob Rules. It was the second and last studio album Black Sabbath released with Dio as frontman until the one-off reunion disc Dehumanizer in 1992. It’s every bit as sinister and metal as the cover indicates.

The cover painting is by fantasy/science fiction artist Greg Hildebrandt. It’s essentially a recreation of his 1971 work, Dream 1: Crucifiers. Here’s the original:

I’m guessing the addition of the band and album names didn’t escape your notice, but did you catch the fact that the hook on the left side of the original was changed to a crucifix for the album cover? Also, the blood stain in the fabric (skin?) was made to look more like a devil’s head on the album. Subtle, I know.

Oh yeah, here’s the title song from the album. RIP Dio.

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Deep Cuts: Judas Priest

You don’t even have to be a heavy metal fan to know who Judas Priest is. Over the past several decades, they’ve cemented their status as metal legends time and time again. This year marks the kickoff of the band’s Epitaph World Tour, stated to be the last Judas Priest world tour ever. Who knows if that’s really true (KISS, anyone?), but now seems as good a time as any to examine the band’s lengthy discography and pick out a few hidden treasures.

1. “Burnin’ Up” (Killing Machine/Hell Bent for Leather, 1978) — By the late ’70s the Priest had largely moved on from more complex song structures and the occasional foray into metal balladry. Few songs from this period typify the band’s more streamlined approach than “Burnin’ Up,” a musically muscular and lyrically charged slice of metal. The slow burn of the bridge section builds to an unbearable tension until an oh-so-satisfying release of guitar solo orgasm. Giggity!

2. “(Take These)” Chains” (Screaming for Vengeance, 1982) — After the relatively tame (by Judas Priest standards) Point of Entry, Screaming for Vengeance was an atomic blast of vintage ’80s headbanging. It brought the group to even higher levels of popularity, thanks in no small part to “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”. But tucked away in the middle of the album is “(Take These) Chains,” as moody and melancholy as the Priest ever got. But fear not, it still kicks much ass.

3. “Between the Hammer & the Anvil” (Painkiller, 1990)Painkiller is Exhibit A in how a metal band can revitalize their commercial fortunes and their artistic relevance in one fell swoop. Just how strong was the album? This song, an oblique reference to the absolutely insane civil court case brought against Judas Priest over a teenager’s suicide, was relegated to the B-side of the single for “A Touch of Evil.” The entire band sounds rejuvenated after a few less-than-stellar albums, particularly Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing on guitar and new drummer Scott Travis.

4. “Cheater” (Rocka Rolla, 1974) — I love hearing debut albums from bands that went on to bigger and better things. A lot of times those records show a group still wearing their influences on their sleeves. Such is the case with Rocka Rolla and “Cheater” in particular. Rob Halford busts out the harmonica and the band does their best Led Zeppelin/Nazareth/Aerosmith impression on this bluesy tune. Priest almost never released another song like this again, but that’s cool. There’s always that chugging guitar riff to remember.

5. “Judas Rising” (Angel of Retribution, 2005) — Rob Halford split from the Priest in the early ’90s. The band did what many in their position have unfortunately done, which is to hire a sound-alike (Tim “Ripper” Owens) and forge ahead hoping no one would notice the difference. Well no one noticed alright. After two albums with Owens went in the tank, Halford returned to the fold. The lead track from Angel of Retribution is clearly indebted to the band’s past, while still sounding modern. After an intro that evokes the JP classic “Victim of Changes,” we get a wall of shredding guitars, slamming drums, and Halford’s often imitated, never duplicated vocals. It sounds like it could’ve been released just a few years after Painkiller, which is a good thing.

6. “You Say Yes” (Point of Entry, 1981) — It’s not the best song from “Point of Entry,” but it’s as funky as the band ever got and it needs to be heard. It’s actually a close cousin to “Cheater,” so if you didn’t like that you won’t like “You Say Yes” either. The slow burn of the bridge and the move back to the groove is what takes this over the top for me.

7. “Epitaph” (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976) — It’s hard to make the case that any song from Sad Wings of Destiny, perhaps the band’s most beloved release, is underrated. But I’m going to make it anyway. Glenn Tipton is credited as the sole composer on this number, which features only Rob Halford’s layered vocals and Tipton’s beautiful piano playing (he got his start in music with the instrument). I guess you could say the pair channels their inner Queen on “Epitaph,” a doleful number about facing one’s mortality. Back before Judas Priest locked into their successful metal formula they weren’t afraid to take chances on offbeat songs like this. Their catalog is the richer for it.

8. “Saints in Hell” (Stained Class, 1978) — I never fell in love with Stained Class like I did Sin After Sin or Killing Machine, but damn this song is hot. It’s textbook metal performed by the masters for the first few minutes, and then it gets downright evil. Listen to those echoed guitars, that punchy bass (go Ian Hill!), and that nuanced but driving drumming from Les Binks. That, my friends, is what sinister sounds like.

9. “Jawbreaker” (Defenders of the Faith, 1984) — It wasn’t apparent at the time, but the Priest were running out of steam by the time Defenders came out in ’84. Oh sure it’s a good album, and there are some excellent tracks on it, but dark days were just around the corner. Still, there’s no denying the power and ferocity of “Jawbreaker,” possibly the best song on the LP next to “Love Bites.”

10. “Raw Deal” (Sin After Sin, 1977) — Rob Halford publicly disclosed his homosexuality in the late ’90s, but any fan who had been paying attention should not have been surprised. Take this track for example. In addition to being a great example of a very un-commercial Judas Priest song (it’s really just a much more accomplished take on the music from Rocka Rolla), it’s lyrically a Gay Rights manifesto. Halford sings about Fire Island, spike bars, and so on. But don’t get hung up on the words if that gets in the way for you; revel in the pile-driving performance by the band, including short-term drummer Simon Phillips.

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Listening booth — Judas Priest, “Sinner”

It is a sad day in the metal world, as K.K. Downing of Judas Priest has retired from the band. I was totally psyched to see them on their Epitaph World Tour, as it’s supposed to be the last one. He will be replaced on the tour by Richie Faulkner. No offense to Richie, but now I’m less excited. Anyway, K.K. leaves behind a legacy as one-half of an all-time great guitar duo (with Glenn Tipton).

There are so many great Downing moments to choose from, but I have to go with one of my favorite Priest songs ever. This is the lead track from 1977’s Sin After Sin, “Sinner.” That lead break and solo are Kenneth Downing at his best my friends. Raise your devil horns and bang your heads in tribute to one of the best ever.

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Platters that matter: 20 albums that changed my life (#10—#1)

At long last, I present the conclusion of my list of 20 albums that have had the most impact on me and my love of music. For a brief refresher, you can check the back half of the top 20 here. But for your convenience, here’s the list:

#20 — Queen, The Game
#19 — Seals & Crofts, Summer Breeze
#18 — Kiss, Creatures of the Night
#17 — Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast
#16 — Run-D.M.C., Raising Hell
#15 — Kiss, Alive!
#14 — Rush, A Farewell to Kings
#13 — Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
#12 — Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pictures at an Exhibition
#11 — various artists, Jazz Master Files

OK, now that we’re all caught up, let’s finish this thing already. As a reminder, this is no particular order but I know people love countdowns so there you go.

#10 — Genesis, Duke

If Rush was my gateway drug into progressive rock, then Genesis was my first major score (damn, I suck at drug references). Anyway, while Nursery Cryme opened me up to new possibilities in musical composition, it was the more straightforward and pop-leaning Duke that became part of the soundtrack of my life. Although it signaled a further break from the group’s progressive past, the dynamic performances and raw, emotional lyrics hit me like a bag of bricks.

I got into Duke during my freshman year of college, an emotionally turbulent time for me to say the least. While I loved the music on this record, the themes of troubled relationships and emotional loss really left a mark on me. Part of the album was informed by Phil Collins’ crumbling marriage, which was brilliantly reflected in “Misunderstanding” and Please Don’t Ask.” But the songs that will stick with me forever are Tony Banks’ dreamy and slightly morose “Heathaze” and the dense, dramatic “Cul-de-Sac.”

#9 — The Beach Boys, Endless Summer

This album is proof positive that compilation albums aren’t always a cheap record company money grab. I knew and dug a handful of Beach Boys songs when I nabbed this collection many years ago, but by the time I made my way through all of its 21 songs I was totally converted. This is no ordinary greatest hits package, rather it’s a document of much of the best pop music American had to offer in the 1960s (which is funny when you consider that I bought this in Canada).

I quickly moved to snap up as many classic Beach Boys albums as I could after hearing this, and I’ve never looked back.

#8 — Mr. Bungle, California

Some time around 1999—2000 I was in a huge rut with my music. I felt like I had explored as much as I could with pop, rock, and metal, and there was nothing left to discover. So I went to one of the few places on the internet you could go back then to research music — the All Music Guide. I started plugging in my favorite bands to see what it recommended, and it was likely my love of Faith No More that brought me to Mr. Bungle, Mike Patton’s “other” band. I read about their most recent album, California, and decided to give it a shot.

Good call on my part. I got no further than the second song, “None of Them Knew They Were Robots,” when I felt my passion for music rekindle. I felt like I had been dropped in the middle of a strange, exotic land where I didn’t know the language but I understood what everyone was saying. Bungle’s brand of schizo music jumps from gentle pop crooning to techno to surf music to death metal, usually in the course of a single song. California excited me like no album had in a long time, and led to my second Great Musical Awakening.

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Here’s some stuff I enjoyed this week

Here’s a fresh batch of some quality interweb finds I’ve come across over the last 7 days:

  • Fantastic batch of color photos from the early 1900s taken by French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn. (Citynoise)
  • An fancy interactive map of heavy metal, with sub-genres I’ve never even heard of. (Map of Metal)
  • Sports columnist Michael Rosenberg puts the epic fail of the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers into perspective with a look at the worst single-season drop-offs ever. And look, my Oakland Raiders made the list! (CNNSI)
  • Cool bootleg of the week; a reunion show featuring jazz greats Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart (Slim & Slam to fans) at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival. (T.U.B.E.)
  • An excellent column by Jennifer Floyd Engel on the recent dustup between Peter King and Jason Whitlock over the transparency (or lack thereof) and rules of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process. (Star-Telegram)
  • It won’t be quite the same with Benjamin Orr, but I’m still stoked that the Cars are back! (Rolling Stone)
  • Remembering NASCAR legend Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt (Onion Sports)
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Album cover of the week: Paranoid

Is there anything left to say about the music on Black Sabbath’s Paranoid?  It, even more than their debut album from earlier in 1970, pretty much became the template for heavy metal.  “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” and “Electric Funeral” are some of the most essential songs of all-time.  But man, what’s up with that cover?

Black Sabbath - Paranoid

So the background on this weird dude is this – Sabbath originally wanted to call the album War Pigs, and that’s what the guy in the Day-Glo outfit, sword, and shield is supposed to be.  Vertigo, the band’s label, was uncomfortable with that title since the Vietnam War was going on and they didn’t want to offend people.  I guess they figured a lot of pro-war types were Sabbath fans too?

So anyway, they switched the title to match the second song on the record, “Paranoid.”  But it wasn’t just pure record company cowardice at work here.  They pegged “Paranoid” as single material and were also hoping to boost sales by changing the record title.  Problem is, once the title was changed the cover art made no sense at all.

It’s a neat photo all the same, although it would be ridiculed were it put on a modern metal disc.  Love the title font, though, which looks like something from a 1950s horror movie starring Vincent Price or Christopher Lee.

Photography and album design for Paranoid is by Marcus Keef, known mostly as just “Keef.”  He did a number of other covers for the Vertigo and Neon (RCA) labels in the ’70s, including Sabbath’s first album and their third, Master of Reality.

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2010 – The year in recorded musical performances

I really need to find a way to turn music listening into a paying, full-time gig.  Because that’s the only way I could ever hope to have time to take in all the good (and not-so-good) music that comes out every year.  Life really was much simpler when I didn’t even want to make time for anything that wasn’t by Kiss, Rush, or Iron Maiden.  So instead of approaching this as a “Best Albums of 2010” or “Best Music of 2010” list, it’s more of a “My Favorite Albums/Music of 2010 That I Had Time to Listen To” list.  These are the albums that moved me one way or another this year, although obviously this is not (and cannot be) an exhaustive list.  I’m sure lots of really swell records got left off, but that’s why there are other year-end lists on the internet, right?

#10. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [Roc-A-Fella]

I honestly haven’t had enough time with this album to decide if it’s worthy of all the praise being heaped upon it.  The sheer density of the production means anyone claiming to have figured it all out after a few listens is full of shit.  What I can say at this point is that it’s ambitious, hooky in spots, and utterly fascinating.  And hey, anyone who can seamlessly integrate a sample of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” into one of his songs gets love from me.

#9. Deftones, Diamond Eyes [Reprise]

My interest in Deftones pretty much began and ended with White Pony, one of the great metal albums of the decade.  I can’t say why, it just happened.  So on a whim I gave Diamond Eyes a shot, and it instantly recalled White Pony for me.  It’s not quite at that level, as some of the pure aggression and epic scope has been dialed back a bit.  This is understandable given how much the album is informed by a tragic car accident involving bassist Chi Cheng, who was in a coma for several months and is still in a bad way.  That’s not to say Deftones have wussed out, even though some of the songs have a relatively softer edge.  This is still high-octane, adrenalized metal, and well worth your time.

#8. Tame Impala, Innerspeaker [Modular Recordings]

It would be easy to dismiss the debut album from Australian trio Tame Impala as one of the scads of albums released each year that do nothing more than recreate bygone eras of popular music.  Easy, but not really right.  On the surface this is vintage 1960s psychedelic/garage rock with some modern seasoning (it probably doesn’t help that Kevin Parker’s vocals eerily recall John Lennon).  But really this is an album in the true sense – 11 chapters that combine to evoke certain feelings or moods.  The fuzzy guitars and swirling bass lines merely provide the framework with which Tame Impala delivers their vision.  Sure a few more standout hooks or singles would be nice, but I really don’t think this album would be that much better with them.

#7. The Doobie Brothers, World Gone Crazy [HOR Entertainment]

Yes, those Doobie Brothers.  As with most legacy acts, it should go without saying that this is not quite on par with their prime ’70s work.  But really, this is a surprisingly strong effort with no real weak points.  Longtime Doobies Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons have turned in an album of that sounds like good classic rock without being dated.  And hey, longtime producer Ted Templeman is back too!  Michael McDonald even pops in for one track (“Don’t Say Goodbye”), which is one of the strongest.  The inimitable Willie Nelson also joins the festivities.  Seriously, check this out.

#6. Iron Maiden, The Final Frontier [EMI/UME]

I’m still amazed at Iron Maiden’s ability to not only retain a core of longtime fans but win new ones as well.  There is a sizable group of fans who came on board after the end of the band’s golden age (aka the ’80s), and who swear by albums like Brave New World over Piece of Mind.  I always found that a little nuts, but I admired their fierce loyalty.  And with this album those fans have ammo for their arguments.  The Final Frontier, while by no means an all-time classic, is definitely the best post-reunion release from Iron Maiden.  Mid-tempo tracks like “Coming Home” are much more effective than they used to be, and the band manages to experiment a little with the leadoff song, “Satellite 15… The Final Frontier”.  A little more songwriting along the style of the latter would’ve been very welcome, but this album still delivers anything a metal/Maiden fan could want.

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