The Loco-Motion 45 by Grand Funk

August 13, 2012

“The Loco-motion” is one of those songs that just kept on ticking. Little Eva took it to number one during 1962 and Kylie Minogue to number three in 1988. Perhaps the oddest group to release the song was the rock band, Grand Funk, during 1974.

Guitarist Mark Farner, bassist Mel Schacher, and drummer Don Brewer formed Grand Funk Railroad during 1968. They were a hard rock band who found immediate success and went on to sell tens of millions of albums and became a huge concert attraction.

All That changed during 1973 when they shortened their name to Grand Funk and took on a lighter rodk approach. They immediately hit number one with “We’re AnAmerican Band,” which was a catchy rocker.

Why they chose this old Goffin/King tune to release as a single is beyond me but you can’t argue with success. It first reached the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart during late July, 1973, and during its 20 weeks, spent two weeks at number one. Who would have thought?

Jump 45 by Van Halen

May 17, 2012

The career of Van Halen is closing in on the four decade mark. They are now recognized as hard rock icons and one of the most popular and commercially successful bands in rock history.

They are primarily recognized as an album band but they have managed to issue 22 singles that have made the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

Their biggest hit was an unusual song for the band. “Jump” began with a synthesizer solo and shared the limelight with Eddie Van Halen’s guitar licks. Plug in David Lee Roth’s vocal and you have have a classic and catchy hard rock song that was very different from the band’s usual fare.

It first reached the BILLBOARD chart, January 14, 1984, and before it was done 21 weeks later, it had spent five weeks in the number one position.

Hit and Run by Girlschool

March 5, 2012

Girlschool is a rare all-female heavy metal band that, despite never having attained superstar status, has produced good music for over three decades. Lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Kim McAuliffe and bassist Enid Williams formed the British band in 1978, soon adding lead guitarist Kelly Johnson and drummer Denise Dufort. Johnson passed away from spinal cancer in 2007 and has been replaced by Jackie Chambers.

They reached their commercial peak in the early ’80s with a string of successful albums in their home country, proving they could hang with the best male metal bands of the era. Their aggressive brand of in-your-face, pulse-pounding rock was emblematic of ’80s metal. On the other hand, it also had melodies that made Girlschool’s sound more accessible than many of their contemporaries.

Their sales and commercial appeal declined in the mid-to-late ’80s but the band has remained active in the studio and on the road down to the present day. At times they’ve expanded to a five-member unit but now their basic four-person configuration has returned to re-record the band’s most successful and arguably most creative album, 1981’s Hit and Run.

They wisely do not attempt to reinvent the wheel but rather make it just a little heavier. The sound is not as raw as on the original but it contains a fair degree of finesse. McAuliffe’s rhythm guitar is a little more prominent. It all adds up to a being a modernized version of this classic album rather than a complete overhaul.

The intensity and sledgehammer power of the music is still present. “C’mon Let’s Go” is a frenetic invitation to a mosh pit. “I’m Your Victim” is a prime example of ’80s high-speed metal. ZZ Top’s hard-rock classic “Tush” gets revved up into a heavy-metal classic. And such tracks as “Yeah Right,” “Hit and Run,” and “Future Flash” deliver a smooth ride through the collective mind and music of Girlschool.

This is not music for candlelight and wine, but rather for Jack Daniels and headphones. If you are into heavy metal and have yet to get into Girlschool, then Hit and Run will be a treat.

Read more: first published as Music Review: Girlschool – Hit and Run – Revisited on Blogcritics.

You Really Got Me by The Kinks

February 12, 2012

The Kinks were formed during 1963 and a year later they were stars in the U.K. and the United States. Original bassist Pater Quaife, drummer Mick Avory, vocalist/rhythm guitarist Ray Davies, and lead guitarist Dave Davies played, wrestled, and fought their way to induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990.

My first exposure to The Kinks came at a church youth dance. There were a number of door prizes, and who won a brand new sealed copy of You Really Got Me? Yours truly. Looking back, it must have been a cool church to have even offered a Kinks album as a prize.

You Really Got Me was the American version of their English debut with a few song differences. It was named after their chart topping U.K. single, which also reached the American top ten. “You Really Got Me” remains not only their most memorable song but was one of the most influential songs of the 1960s and probably in rock history.

There will always be a debate as to the first hard rock/metal guitar riff but the opening power chords from “You Really Got Me” will usually be part of the discussion. The Ray Davies composition and the Dave Davies guitar playing were like nothing that had been heard in rock music up until that time. The riff has been copied by and inspired almost three generations of guitarists. Just for the record, while a young Jimmy Page did play on the album, he did not contribute to this particular track.

The rest of the album did not live up to the quality or the historical nature of the first track. At this point in their career, the group mixed rhythm & blues and rock covers with a few original tunes. The results were average at best and somewhat amateurish at worst. Songs such as Chuck Berry’s “Beautiful Delilah” and “Too Much Monkey Business,” Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It,” and the traditional “Bald Headed Woman” are cover versions similar to what hundreds of bands were playing at the time.

The only other two songs of additional note were a couple of Ray Davies compositions. “Stop Your Sobbing” and “So Mystifying” were both competent tracks that presented the beginnings of one of rock music’s better songwriters.

This album remains more of a historical artifact than a necessary listen. “You Really Got Me” is the only essential track and it has been reissued on many superior compilation albums over the years. However, if you want a classic rock band at the beginning of their career, then have at it.

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Made In Japan by Deep Purple

February 6, 2012

Made In Japan was the live album that almost wasn’t. Originally intended to have only been issued in Japan, its release in the United States was pushed back five months so as not to interfere with Deep Purple’s studio release of Who Do We Think We Are. Finally released in the U.S. in April of 1973, it sold over one million copies and reached number six on the Billboard Pop Album Chart.

Whether by design or accident, the album caught Deep Purple at the right moment in time. The Mark II incarnation of Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice, Jon Lord, and Roger Glover were at the height of their power. Gillan’s vocals were never better, and Blackmore was engaged and interested.

The album was recorded August 15-17 from concerts atKosei Nenkin Kaikan in Osaka and Budokan in Tokyo. The sound was excellent for the day, especially for the haphazard nature of the process. The album has been released in several expanded forms down through the years, but I am still attracted to the original.

Though it contained only seven songs, the initial vinyl release was a two-disc affair with two tracks to a side and one on side four. The band was touring in support of their Machine Head album, and elongated performances of four of its songs appear in this live set.

Made In Japan blasts out of the gate with a powerful rendition of “Highway Star,” making it immediately clear that the band members are in tune with one another and firing on all cylinders. A 12-minute “Child In Time” follows, allowing the band to stretch out a bit as Lord and Blackmore begin to improvise.

“Smoke On The Water” doesn’t get the audience reaction one would expect but the song had yet to become a hit at this point. This is a fairly loose interpretation of the song but the signature Blackmore guitar licks remain intact.

“The Mule” contains arguably the best drum solo of Ian Paice’s career, which given the quality and longevity of that career is saying a lot. Paice has provided the foundation for Deep Purple’s music for decades and this track illustrates him at his best. Ian Gillan’s voice now reflects the years of stress and strain but this live rendition of “Strange Kind Of Woman” finds him hitting notes that have rarely been reached. The 10-minute “Lazy” serves as a vehicle for some interplay between Lord and Blackmore.

The album comes to a close with a spectacular and nearly 20-minute version of “Space Truckin,’’ which begins with an extended jam before settling into its familiar melody. Just when you think the song is drawing to a close, one of the band members takes off in a new direction. This is probably the definitive version of this often-played hard-rock classic.

Made In Japan remains one of those live albums that that serves as a template against which all live albums should be judged. If a band is measured by its live work then Deep Purple receives an A+ for this effort. It is an essential listen for anyone interested in hard rock.

Article first published as Music Review: Deep Purple – Made In Japan on Blogcritics.

Inglewood – Live In California by Deep Purple

January 26, 2012

The original Deep Purple line-up included singer Rod Evans, bassist Nicky Simper, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, keyboardist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice. This Mark I incarnation of the band was together for three albums before Evans and Simper were replaced by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover.

For years it was thought that no live footage of the early Deep Purple existed. It turned out that one 1968 concert in Inglewood, California, where they opened for Cream, was recorded on a primitive open reel recorder. The tape was lost for years but ended up in the hands of the Deep Purple Appreciation Society. The music was finally issued on CD for the first time during 2002. Inglewood: Live In California contained some of the very few live Mark I recordings that have survived.

The sound leaves a lot to be desired due to the primitive and haphazard recording process. They probably cleaned it up as well as modern technology allowed but the result was average bootleg quality, at best.

Rod Evans was a good vocalist in the studio but on stage he paled next to his future replacement Ian Gillan. Still, it’s nice to hear him interpret the band’s early material. Bassist Nick Simper comes across as an excellent bassist as he and drummer Paice formed a very competent rhythm section. Blackmore was a presence on some of the tunes but it was Jon Lord on the keyboards that provided the dominating instrumental sound.

The set list is very different from every other Deep Purple live recording. Their two early hits “Hush” and “Kentucky Woman” are psychedelic rock and hard rock respectively. “Mandrake Root” and “Wring That Neck” enabled Blackmore and particularly Lord to jam together and separately.

They couldn’t translate their brilliant cover of The Beatles’ “Help” from the studio to the stage. They just didn’t get the textures and tempos right. They finished with an almost 10-minute rendition of “River Deep Mountain High” and the old Leaves psychedelic classic “Hey Joe.” The Phil Spector/Ike &Tina Turner tune was turned into a psychedelic/hard rock hybrid. “Hey Joe” was a raw and gritty performance that would look ahead to some of their future work.

This early live material is not for the Deep Purple neophyte. It is for fans who want to explore their history and in that regard it is a valuable addition to their catalogue of music.

Article first published as Music Review: Deep Purple – Inglewood – Live In California on Blogcritics.

Rapture Of The Deep by Deep Purple

January 23, 2012

Deep Purple released Rapture Of The Deep November 1, 2005, and it remains their last studio album to date. The Mark VIII line-up of vocalist Ian Gillan, guitarist Steve Morse, bassist Roger Glover, drummer Ian Paice, and keyboardist Don Airey returned for this, their second album together, and they continue to play together as of 2012.

It was a solid modern day Deep Purple album. If you want classic Deep Purple, however, then track down Machine Head, Fireball, In Rock and the like because they are different from what the band was producing in the studio during the 1990s and 2000s. The group, on this release, produced more of a straight-forward hard rock sound that has remained the same from recent album to album. It took fewer chances than during the 1970s and 1980s, which meant not as many low points but also fewer high points as well. What remained were songs that ran together not only on individual albums but from album to album. The band also had the experience to produce songs that translated well to the live stage.

Steve Morse emerged as a guitarist of the highest order when he joined the band, and now the instrumental sound revolves around his expertise. Airey had several tours and an album under his belt and has emerged as more of a presence since his first release with DP. Paice and Glover have remained one of the more powerful rhythm sections in rock.

With all that said, it was Ian Gillan who was at the heart of the album. His lyrics were some of the best of his career and while his voice may not have been as strong as in the past and some of the high notes were not reachable anymore, he had adjusted and his voice remained one of the superior instruments on the hard rock music scene.

There are a number of solid songs that add up to 55 minutes of listening enjoyment. “Money Talks” was a heavy blues/rock fusion piece with a thumping bass foundation. “Clearly Quite Absurd” was a gentle ballad and a nice counterpoint to much of their modern day material. “Junkyard Blues” can be best described as a southern hard rocker that had its roots in Morse’s former, and once in a while current, band the Dixie Dregs. “Don’t Let Go” was another southern rock-type song with some honky tonk piano by Airey. “Back To Back” found Airey establishing himself with an excellent synthesizer solo.

Rapture Of The Deep was an intelligent album from a veteran band. It may not have broken any new ground, but it covered the old very well. And at close to 40 years into their career at the time of its release, that was more than enough.

Article first published as Music Review: Deep Purple – Rapture Of The Deep on Blogcritics.

Bananas by Deep Purple

January 13, 2012

Change was in the air for Deep Purple as the new millennium progressed. Original member Jon Lord decided to retire from the group, so veteran keyboardist Don Airey officially replaced him in 2002. This Mark VIII version of Deep Purple remains intact to the present day.

Airey was a long-time veteran of the hard rock scene. He had played with such bands and artists as Rainbow,Ozzy Osbourne, Colosseum II, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, Whitesnake, and Judas Priest. His musicianship and personality fit smoothly into the Deep Purple line-up and sound as the band moved seamlessly into the future.
Even though Airey was new at the time, his presence didn’t change the fact that Deep Purple’s music revolved around Steve Morse’s guitar work and Ian Gillan’s vocals. Airey could play Lord’s parts in a concert setting but did not have his history with the band to be a force in the studio.

Bananas was released in September of 2003 and was representative of their modern day albums. It contained a few very good songs and a number of what can be best described as professional hard rock tracks. The commercial success was limited but many of the songs translated well to a live setting, which was important as Deep Purple remained one of the top concert attractions in the world.

There were three-and-a-half stand-out tracks on it, including “House Of Pain,” which was a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll track that Deep Purple was so good at producing. “Walk On” was a haunting ballad that featured outstanding bass work by Roger Glover. “I Got Your Number” was the album’s longest track at just over six minutes. It was a song made for the concert stage as the bass, guitar, and keyboards all traded riffs. The half-song was “Contact Lost,” which was a sad 90-second Steve Morse instrumental composition honoring the seven Columbia astronauts who perished earlier in the year.

Two other tracks were interesting, as the band added some unusual elements to its sound. “Haunted” was a moody track with a creative Morse solo and strings to fill out the sound. The middle of “Sun Goes Down” contained a drum/vocal break which was unique and striking.

Deep Purple did not reinvent the wheel with Bananas, and at this point in its existence, it is doubtful the band will change very much. In the final analysis, it was a competent hard rock album and at 45 years into their career, that will have to do.

Article first published as Music Review: Deep Purple – Bananas on Blogcritics.

Purpendicular by Deep Purple

January 5, 2012

When Deep Purple went into the studio to record their new album during 1995, there was a new kid on the block. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had quit the band in the middle of their last tour and had ridden off into the sunset for the third time. His replacement was former Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse and so the Mark VII line-up of Deep Purple was born.

Morse was a different type of guitarist than Blackmore. He was not as flashy but was just as technically adept. He had a more fluid style and was a more straight-forward rock guitarist who did not incorporate as many styles as his predecessor. He fit into the band’s line-up surprisingly well and it did not miss a beat in the studio or on the road.

Purpendicular (1996) emerged as a very good modern day Deep Purple hard rock album. Gone were a number of outside influences that Blackmore tended to bring to much of their material, and in their place was a cohesive album of hard rock. Songs such as “Ted The Machine,” “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming,” and “Somebody Stole My Guitar,” have remained a part of its live act for the past 15 years.

The album was only a moderate commercial success and signaled a transition from the band relying on album sales to fuel its popularity. Now it was the band’s constant worldwide touring that enabled it to remain one of the premier concert attractions in the world.

It also marked a change in approach for singer Ian Gillan. His voice was beginning to show the years and miles he had put on it. Now he began to rely on phrasing and showmanship rather than the constant upper range that made him one of the best rock vocalists in the business.

The record began with “Vavoom: Ted The Machine,” which emphasized the guitar-based foundation that once did and now again increasingly dominates their music. While keyboardist/organist Jon Lord would remain an active participant; his influence would begin to decline. The long-time balance that had existed between the guitar and keyboards now moved back toward the guitar sound. In the final analysis, “Vavoom” was a no frills rock song which looked ahead to a lot of the material that would inhabit their future releases.

“Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” featured an acoustic beginning, a technique and style that Morse would return to on a number of occasions. “Hey Cisco” was a track that went in a different direction, as it got a little jazzy in places. The most interesting track was “Soon Forgotten,” which contained a number of tempo changes by Morse and Lord.

Purpendicular proved that Deep Purple was alive and well in the post-Ritchie Blackmore era, as it was an album of proficient and modern hard rock. If you want to explore the music of Deep Purple beyond their classic releases, then this is an album for you.

Article first published as Music Review: Deep Purple – Purpendicular on Blogcritics.

The Battle Rages On by Deep Purple

January 3, 2012

Like moths drawn to the flame, the Mark II line-up of Deep Purple reunited one more time. Joe Lynn Turner, former vocalist from Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, had been imported to provide the vocals for the band’s 1990 release, Slaves And Masters, which ended up sounding like a Rainbow album in many places. The Turner experiment ended after one album when Ian Gillan decided to return to the band, making the band’s classic grouping of Blackmore, Paice, Lord, Glover, and Gillan complete once again.
The reunion lasted for one album. Blackmore resented Gillan’s meddling with many of the already written songs.

The resulting album, The Battle Rages On, issued during July of 1993, was a disjointed affair that featured many songs that seemed like Deep Purple was imitating itself and not quite getting it right. While it would remain as one of the top concert draws in the world, this album would mark the beginning of a commercial downturn in their album sales.

The Gillan and Blackmore reunion was like trying to combine oil and water. It ended when Blackmore quit in the middle of their 1993 world tour.Joe Satriani agreed to finish the tour as their guitarist.
The album itself was OK in places but in retrospect, many of the songs can be regulated to filler tracks and are further hurt by a sameness. Songs such as “Lick It Up,” “Solitaire,” “Talk About Love,” and “One Man’s Meat” just do not measure up to Mark II’s classic work.

On the other hand, there was a little life left in the band. The title track is excellent hard rock bordering on a metal sound. I can’t help but think that if the band had gone with this type of approach throughout the album, it would have been better off. “Ramshackle Man” had a nice bluesy feel to it. “Anya” is the album’s best track, as Ritchie Blackmore gave one last and great guitar performance.

There have been no more Mark II reunions since then. Ritchie Blackmore rode off into the sunset and formed Blackmore’s Night during 1997, which produced a far different sound than either Rainbow or Deep Purple. His relationship with Candice Night was also vastly different than his Deep Purple bandmates.

The Battle Rages On remains a somewhat forgettable album in Deep Purple history despite a few memorable tracks. It is not the place to start when exploring the music of the famous Mark II era of Deep Purple.

Article first published as Music Review: Deep Purple – The Battle Rages On on Blogcritics