Week 20: Bruce Springsteen

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Born In The USA

It’s probably one of my more bizarre associations but Springsteen’s Born in the USA album always reminds me of our first family VHS video recorder.  It wasn’t our first video recorder though.  People remember the video format battle being between VHS and Betamax but there was a third format that if it had been a little or probably a lot more reliable could have been a contender.  This was back in the day where most people rented their TVs and video recorders from the likes of Radio Rentals.  TVs weren’t that reliable so it paid to just rent and call out an engineer when it stopped working which in my memory it did on a regular basis.  It also allowed you to keep up with the changing technology like getting a remote control.

For some reason Radio Rentals were pushing a different video format backed by Phillips and Grundig called the V2000.  The big advantage this format had over its rivals was the ability to record on both sides of the tape like a standard music cassette which doubled the capacity and allowed a recording time of 6 or 8 hours depending on the size of the tape.  At that point VHS could only do 3.   This was before VHS brought out machines which could do something called long play which meant you could get 6 hours on a 3 hour tape which they did by slowing down the recording speed.  They also eventually brought out 4 hour tapes that could record 8 hours using long play.

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So the big selling point for the V2000, pictured above, was the increased capacity available which was all well and good but the machines were completely unreliable and I think over the time we had them it was away getting fixed more than it worked which was a shame as the quality of picture was far superior to VHS.  My dad is a big film buff so he saw the advantage of all that increased capacity but eventually he gave in and got the much more reliable VHS which by this time had the option of long play and that finally sold it so my dad and it was cheerio to the V2000.

And the whole point of that story is this conversion to VHS coincided with the release of the Born In The USA album and Springsteen getting plenty of TV time including one particular programme, an Old Grey Whistle Test Special about the album which included some live footage and that, my friends, became the very first thing I recorded on the our new VHS video machine.  I think I still have the tape somewhere.

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I have to admit I’m mainly a Springsteen tourist although a little bit more than just a greatest hits type of fan.  He is one of those artists you can throw yourself into but despite being a huge admirer of him I’ve never immersed myself fully in his music unlike some of my friends who know the rarest of tracks and can pinpoint how rare a live outing for any of his songs are.  I just don’t have the time and dedication for that kind of devotion given my other musical obsessions but I can’t  help but admire it.

Springsteen has an aura and authenticity that surrounds him that so many of the current music acts whose manufactured personas would crumble under any kind of detailed scrutiny,  would die for.  Springsteen like all the great singer/songwriters of our time can tell a story from the viewpoint of the protagonist and its this ability that has gained such a massive and dedicated fan base over the years. People understand and feel his lyrics on a day to day basis.  He understands the fight of the common man because he is one despite his undoubted riches and accompanying fame and fortune.  He has somehow managed to continue to understand the trials and tribulations and the hardship that people go through on a daily basis.

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Oddly, despite BITUSA being his most successful album it is probably the most divisive among the Springsteen community.  This was the album that propelled him from arenas to stadiums and I guess many Springsteen fans felt they had lost him to the masses at that point. Possibly a bit of a selfish stance to take but one I can sympathise with as many bands I’ve loved have been swallowed up by the success of reaching the arena or stadium circuit and have become shadows of the band I originally fell in love with.  To Springsteen’s credit he still has the ability to this day to release some very good albums although occasionally a bit of quality control wouldn’t go amiss, much like Neil Young.  Sometimes less is more.

BITUSA though is for me just a great album that was right place, right time. It was packed full of immediately accessible and memorable songs. Lyrics that meant something and told stories so many could relate to. It was a time when America was looking at itself in a different way. The Cold War with the USSR was coming to an end as glasnost and Gorbachev changed the Iron Curtain forever.  America was trying to come to terms with the fall out of the Vietnam war, Reagan politics was devastating small and large American towns as communities who were reliant on one large business to supply employment had to watch as these businesses closed down or moved away and left behind shattered towns some of which have never recovered.

Legendary rock star and icon Bruce Springsteen performs during his "Born in the U.S.A." tour in Philadelphia

Springsteen touched the zeitgeist perfectly on this album as a similar scenario was taking place in the UK as Thatcher’s all out attack on the unions and the working man in the UK was also taking place. Whole mining communities were left devastated along with steel workers, car builders and anyone else who had stood up to the destruction being wrought across the land as Thatcher pursued policies designed to break the spirit of the proud working man. Springsteen’s lyrics easily crossed continents and communities.

We had the title track that dealt with Vietnam and a damning commentary on those who were left to deal with the aftermath in a country that preferred to forget the war took place and the shameful way their veterans were treated.  Bizarrely many US politicians have used this song as some kind of patriotic rallying call and clearly have never read or understood the lyrics or are completely lacking in irony.

Familiar Springsteen subjects like road songs (Darlington County), nostalgia (My Hometown, Glory Days) and of course boy meets girl (Dancing in the Dark, Bobby Jean) litter an album that produced seven hit singles from the albums twelve tracks.

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The album also came out when MTV was making the music video the must have accompaniment for any single release.  This saw Dancing in the Dark doing the unthinkable and rivalling Born to Run as his most famous song. The video also famously had Friends star Courtney Cox in pre Friends days joining Springsteen on stage.  With so many singles released Springsteen was on regular rotation on the video channels and this all added to the subsequent rise in popularity and the inevitable stadium tours.

Despite this massive popularity though Springsteen has always come across as a very down to earth normal guy given his fame.  No doubt some of this is part of his PR persona but this is a difficult act to portray for any length of time.  He seems to me the kind of guy you would happily go for a pint with and just talk about normal every day things.

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His live shows are justifiably legendary clocking in at 3 hours plus and the energy and passion shown by Springsteen and his E Street band would shame bands half their age. It took me until Dublin in 2003 before I witnessed him live with another 4 shows since then including a memorable evening at Hyde Park in 2009 when my wife was around 6 months pregnant so going down the front wasn’t an option so we got ourselves a blanket and sat in front of one of the big screens and got a close up view of proceedings.  This is normally something I absolutely hate massive outdoor shows for but on this day it was just perfect.  A beautiful sunny evening, a great crowd, a few beers and Bruce providing the soundtrack. I’ll never forget the brilliant rendition of Racing in the Streets which silenced a massive Hyde Park crowd.  I also saw close up the love Springsteen had for the ‘Big Man’, Clarence Clemons who clearly wasn’t in the best of health.  Springsteen shows haven’t been quite the same since he left us.  It was just a great show by a great performer surrounded by a great band.

I have many pals and also my doctor who are massive Springsteen fans and who travel all over the place to see him. My doc goes to Australia, the US and mainland Europe to see his idol.  I usually forget why I’m there as we chat about music for most of the time.  My old friend Craig, who will get many mentions in these blogs as he was my main accomplice in discovering new music, his particular obsession was collecting Bruce bootlegs which at the last count numbered over 400 and I thought I was bad with over 200 Pearl Jam bootlegs.  Later in life I met one of a number of Paul Smiths I now know who is also a huge fan and I asked him to give me his view on the album that split a fan base.

Over to Paul.

I first heard Bruce Springsteen when I worked in Listen Records in Cambridge St, Glasgow. An American lad , who was backpacking round Europe, worked alongside me for a while, and played The Wild, The Innocent and The E St Shuffle one day, telling anyone who’d listen that this guy Bruce was “Awesome”, It didn’t really leave a mark on me at the time, as I was still hooked on the Bowie/Roxy thing. The next time I heard Bruce, Johnny Walker was playing the single Born to Run on Radio 1. He played it twice in a row. I was completely hooked. I bought the Born to Run album on release day, and have been a fanatic Bruce fan since.

Born in the USA was a game changer.

Bruce had returned from the highly successful 1981 River Tour of Europe with his eyes opened to the outsiders view of the USA, through the experiences of being in Europe and his own reading, which included The History of The United States of America.

He settled into his rented house in Colt’s Neck, New Jersey to write about his experiences and his feelings about his homeland. He also wanted to demo his new songs so that he could save studio time when the Band started to record. The sessions were extensive, and the untouched four track demos became the stark, genre defining Nebraska album. The songs recorded, but not used for Nebraska, included Born in the USA, which was the only new song that was improved when the band recorded it. Many of the E Streeters say it was their greatest moment in the studio, and the very first take would ultimately surface as the title track of Bruce’s next record.

Born in the USA was a huge rock record. It benefited massively from the rise of MTV and the recent invention of CD. The lead single , Dancing in the Dark, became an enormous radio/tv hit, with it’s cheesy video putting Bruce in the public eye like never before.

This didn’t sit all that well with the old , hardcore fans, and as the BITUSA album spawned 7 top 10 singles Stateside , and dance re-mixes by Arthur Baker of Cover Me and Dancing in the Dark compounded the feeling that Bruce had “sold out”.
The World tour which followed moved Bruce from Arenas to Stadiums overnight, with the attendant hangers-on, and the general consensus was that we had lost Bruce to the masses.

The songs on BITUSA told a different story though, and even President Reagan was able to mis-interpret the title songs savage attack on the post Vietnam USA , and used the somewhat jingoistic chorus as a rallying call to Republicans. Bruce, to his credit, didn’t miss, and onstage said ” I hear the President was listening to my records. I guess it wasn’t this one” before launching into Johnny 99 from Nebraska.

Born in the USA became an easy target for long term fans, as it elevated Bruce to worldwide superstardom, and seemingly stole the real Bruce in the process. Songs that were left off the finished record, including masterpieces like Murder Inc, Frankie and This Hard Land became undergound fan favourites, while the more obvious hit list of Dancing in the Dark, Cover Me, Bobby Jean, My Hometown and BITUSA itself became ubiquitous radio fodder.

In hindsight, and with over 30 years distance between , BITUSA was a defining record in Bruce’s canon. He shied away from the publicity in its wake, and became the writer/performer we have witnessed over the years that followed. Most fans learned to live with the impact, and would now acknowledge the BITUSA album as something of a classic.

Seems Paul and I have similar thoughts on the BITUSA period and how it affected Bruce and his fans. Many thanks to Paul for contributing his thoughts.

I doubt there are many who will read this who aren’t familiar with a lot of the songs from BITUSA but I’ve put in my top 5 below for your listening pleasure.

Cheesey video alert.

See you on week 21.

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Week 19: Steve Earle

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Guitar Town/Exit O

I can vividly recall the very first time I heard Steve Earle, although on first listen I thought it might be John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp.  I was in Lost Chord, a famous 2nd hand record shop in Glasgow’s West End, Park Road to be exact.  This was the proverbial oasis for a record buyer and many a gem I picked up there after hours of flicking through the albums.  When you came across something you really wanted your pulse quickened and you couldn’t wait to get home and and play it.

My friend Craig and I had a routine that involved visiting Listen/Joe Bloggs in Union St,  23rd Precinct in Bath St, underground to Kelvinbridge for Lost Chord then a walk over to Byres Road to visit Lost in Music in De Courcy’s Arcade and Echo in Byres Road itself.  We also occasionally included the Record Exchange that had a shop at the bottom of Oswald St and another in Shawlands but it was always a bit on the expensive side for our pockets.  Other record shops came and went and we included those while we also occasionally visited Futureshock a book store that specialised in fantasy and sci-fi books, comics etc.  I was an avid reader of the fantasy genre in those days but grew out of them as I got older.

Sadly I think only Lost Chord still exists now although it has passed through a few owners and last time I was in I only stayed a few mins.  I remember the original owner who I think was called Gordon, or at least the guy who owned it when we first went in,  had a son with cerebral palsy and he sold the shop and his house and was going to move to Budapest so he could take his son to the Peto Institute which at the time was leading the way in teaching children with this condition.  Never heard if he actually did go or not but he was a really nice guy and introduced me to a lot of new music.

The aforementioned record shops all contributed to both our growing record collections and in later years added to our cd collections.  In a world before the Internet trying to find that elusive or rare album took a bit of leg work and good old fashioned luck.  The record shops like HMV who only carried new stock didn’t cater for the back catalogues of lesser known artists so 2nd hand record shops could be potential gold mines and each visit would usually unearth a curio that would lead to tape decks being utilised unless we could find two copies. Whoever found the album had first dibs unless the made the school boy error of putting it back when undecided if they were buying it or not.

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I didn’t buy the Steve Earle album on first listen though but my interest was piqued and on a return a week later the same album was playing, which may have been a coincidence or a clever ploy by the owner, but this time, even though I still thought it was Mr Mellencamp, I purchased Guitar Town without hesitation.    A decision I’ve never ever regretted.  The added bonus as it turned out was that the album was a year old and his 2nd album, Exit-O was also out and it soon was also added to the collection. Two great albums discovered just by browsing in a record shop. Not the first or last time this happened it has to be said.

These two albums are country rock at its finest.  Country music in general isn’t a genre I listen to but Earle brought an anger and realism to the music that was missing in most of the mainstream country music that seemed to have the most contrived and almost laughable lyrics.  Earle was, as one of his song titles declared, An Angry Young Man.  He snarled and spat out his lyrics and his road songs told of the loneliness of being on the road and trying to make it while leaving his family behind.  He also does what all the great singer/songwriters do and tell a great story from someone else’s perspective.  Many of his songs are about the forgotten small town America where the industries and companies that provided employment for a whole town have long since departed or closed down and there was nothing to replace those lost jobs.  He can paint a vivid picture of a depressing and heartbreaking landscape of hopelessness of the America that has largely been forgotten about.

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To me these albums are companion albums that are the perfect starting point to explore Steve Earle further.  It’s hard to not listen to one album without putting on the other straight after.  Almost 30 years since first hearing Steve I’m still a huge fan and have seen him live over 20 times with both his band or solo acoustic.  Rarely has he failed to deliver a thought provoking show and is as angry today as he was all those years ago.

He’s a man who has lived a life and then some.  Married 7 times, including the same women twice, is currently separated from wife number 7, has 3 children, did some jail time and is a recovering heroin addict who quite frankly really should have been another rock n roll casualty but somehow he pulled himself back from the abyss and has now been on the straight and narrow for about 20 years.  I can highly recommend the book Hardcore Troubadour which tells the story of Steve’s highs and lows and is an excellent story of his life although it can be rather harrowing at times.

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He’s never scared to tackle political issues in his songs or even as an activist.  He has campaigned all his life for justice be it for farmers, death row in mates, he’s a vocal opponent of the death penalty.  He’s also made the odd TV appearance including a role in the Treme the story about New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and the struggles that were taking place.  He also appeared in the Wire among other TV shows.

After these two albums Steve left his country roots behind and moved more into being a rock artist with albums The Hard Way and Copperhead Road with the latter’s title track bringing him his most successful moment.  Like all the great singer/songwriters though he can switch between electric and acoustic without pausing for breath.  The last couple of times I’ve seen him once was with a full band and before that he was on his own where he didn’t even have any road crew or personnel with him and all he carried was a mandolin and a guitar around with him from gig to gig.  He really is one of the last of a dying breed of true road artists.

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In my opinion Earle is up there with Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan as one of the greatest singer/songwriters of his generation.  He may not have had the success of those mentioned but his songs more than deserve to be acclaimed alongside those of his contemporaries.

Guitar Town

Exit O

See you on week 20.

Week 18: Judas Priest

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British Steel

Hard rock and heavy metal were my first real music love and as Priest in the 80s were one of the biggest metal bands of the time they were a regular spin on my turntable. They were the self proclaimed ‘Metal Gods’ and no one was going to disagree with them.  Albums like Stained Class and Killing Machine, (released in limited edition red vinyl dontcha know) and live release Unleashed in the East were the albums that made me a big Priest fan and I still am to this day. Amazingly both studio albums were released in 1978 only 8 months apart, you don’t see that these days and how much of the live album was actually live is open to question but whatever they did it still sounds great.

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At the end of the 70s and the early 80s heavy metal/hard rock actually wormed its way into the mainstream for a while with Priest, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Iron Maiden and many others all appearing regularly on Top of the Pops and being played on day time radio.  The fame was short lived though and rock music soon slithered back into the shadows where it felt more comfortable. It is very unlikely anything like that period would happen today, despite rock music containing some of the world’s biggest selling acts you’d never hear a heavy metal or hard rock song on mainstream radio these days.  Also around this time there was a music movement called the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with the easy to remember acronym of NWOBHM which saw the likes of Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Diamond Head and 100s of others of varying talent suddenly getting their time in the spotlight.  There were some great bands who never made it and there were some real clunkers who were just awful but it coincided with my growing love of metal music and many of those bands I still listen to today.  Some weren’t very good but had a certain charm like Witchfynde, some bands who should have been huge inexplicably didn’t make it like Diamond Head, others set their course and never deviated and were rewarded with success like Iron Maiden.

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Priest’s rise to fame just preceded this era but they could be regarded as not quite the fathers of NWOBHM but maybe considered the big brothers as their most successful period happened during this time and there is no doubt the NWOBHM phenomenon helped them along the way.  The British Steel album produced 3 hit singles that saw Priest appear on TOTP.  Breaking the Law, complete with one of the worst music videos you’ll ever see, Livin’ After Midnight and football terracing chant song United.  Considering the album only had 9 tracks that was a pretty good hit rate.  British Steel was regarded as a much more commercial album than previous releases but without losing the power that made Priest the band they were.   There were better songs on the album than the singles, in my opinion, Metal Gods, Grinder and The Rage which was a little darker and a little different to the usual Priest.

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Live was where Priest excelled though.  The twin guitars of KK Downing and Glenn Tipton produced mighty riff after mighty riff with solos being traded throughout the songs.  Ian Hill stood pumping his bass at the back providing the solid back beat along with drummer Dave Holland who had replaced Les Binks drummer on the aforementioned albums.  Out front we had Rob Halford who possessed the most incredible voice.  From ear piercing scream to guttural growl his range was quite astonishing.  My one major gripe with Priest was when they decanted to the US and tours in the UK became quite a rare occurrence until relatively recent times.  The band also went through a few line up changes with only Tipton and Hill retaining their places through the years.  Founding member KK Downing left in 2010 and even singer Halford left in 91/92 before rejoining over a decade later.

I remember when Halford finally announced officially to the world that he was gay and everyone shrugged and said, yeah we knew.  It was metal music’s worst kept secret. In the macho world of heavy metal where the narrative is often all about partying and sleeping with women it could have been a career destroying moment to admit you were gay but it turned out the metal community didn’t really give a feck, it ‘is’ really all about the music.  Although songs like Turbo Lover certainly took on a different slant.

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In 1990 Priest were subject to a court trial when 2 young men tried to kill themselves, one of them successfully, after listening to the Priest version of Spooky Tooth song Better By You Better Than Me that was claimed to have had subliminal messages when played backwards telling them to commit suicide.  It was complete and utter nonsense but it still went to trial but was thrown out.  I still remember watching a programme about heavy metal that included a story about the trial and Priest decided to play some of their other tracks backwards to see what came out.  Most of it was of course garbled nonsense but some phonetic recognisable words and phrases could be heard like ‘Hey ma, my chair’s broken’ and ‘Give me a peppermint’ and ‘Help me keep a job.’  It was a all a bit Spinal Tap without the humour.

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More recently Priest threatened to do a farewell tour which then became a new album and a further tour.  Live they are still great to see, Halford’s vocal power may not be the power of old but it’s still pretty formidable and with KK being replaced by an almost identikit younger version of himself in Richie Faulkner complete with flying V in 2010 and drummer Scott Travis who has been on drum duties since 1989 still going strong Priest seem good to go for a few years yet.

There may have been faster, heavier bands who came after Priest but they will always be the Metal Gods for this Metal Head.

See you on week 19.

Week 17: Guns n Roses

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Appetite For Destruction

It’s pure coincidence that Guns n Roses followed AC/DC on the blog given the recent hybrid mash up that’s been going on with Axl and AC/DC.  This album has to go down as one of the greatest debut albums ever released. From opener Welcome To The Jungle to closer Rocket Queen there just isn’t any filler.  Twelve tracks of sleazy, down and dirty hard rock.

I was a little ahead of the curve with GNR.  As stated on a previous blog I worked in the Daily Record in my first real job and music writer Billy Sloan was always being sent stuff and the heavier stuff often made its way to me.   GNR’s first single It’s So Easy backed with Mr Brownstone was in one of those bundles.  I fell in love on first listen and pretty much wore the single out until the album was released a month or so later which I also got free although I kept asking if it had arrived yet as he often got albums a little before release date.  It was also one of the original album releases with the controversial Robert Williams painting “Appetite for Destruction” as the cover.  It was later changed to a skull and crossbones featuring each of the band members head on a cross.  It of course had the parental advisory sticker telling me explicit lyrics were contained within.  That just made it that little bit more exciting.

GUNS N ROSES, STUDIO, 1987, NEIL ZLOZOWER

The album just blew me away.  There are not many better album openers than Welcome to the Jungle.  A song my wife and I contemplated having as our first dance but felt it may not be appropriate particularly with the middle section asking ‘You know where you are?  You’re in the jungle baby and you’re gonna die’.  We thought that might be a bit too much for some guests but it would have been brilliant to see their faces.

GNR totally lived the rock n roll lifestyle even before they were rock stars and this album just has an edge to it that bands just don’t have any more. Having read many stories and biographies about the band it’s one of life’s great mysteries how they are all still alive.  The drink, the drugs, the partying were an ever present but it was also what broke the band apart and members were lucky to survive. In 2001 guitarist Slash was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy a form of congestive heart failure and was given 6 weeks to live, in 1994 bassist Duff McKagen  was diagnosed with acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis and was told he’d be dead within the month unless he stopped drinking.  Drummer Steven Adler has battled drink and drug addiction even before he was fired from the band.  You can only imagine the extent of his drug problem when you get fired from GNR for your drug taking.  His sacking from the band led to one of my favourite headlines when Kerrang ran with ‘Axl axes addled Adler’.  Recent interview footage of Adler shows him cutting a rather sad figure these days.  Izzy Stradlin had to leave the band before it killed him and has pretty much retreated from the music business only making sporadic appearances.  Axl wasn’t so much into the drugs, he was just plain bonkers and become increasingly erratic as the band progressed and when he took full control of the Guns N Roses name the band really ceased to exist for me.  10 years to record Chinese Democracy was just ridiculous and it wasn’t even very good.

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There have been many millions of words written about GNR and it’s members and I couldn’t even begin to do the story justice in a blog like this.  Suffice to say I regard them as the last of the truly great rock bands.  I doubt a band like GNR would be allowed to do what they did any more the way the music business is these days.

I was lucky enough to see GNR twice and the Axl fronted tribute version once.  The first time was at Donnington in 1988.  GNR were third on the bill below Megadeth, Dave Lee Roth, Kiss and headliners Iron Maiden.  People tend to forget the Appetite album was almost a flop and took over a year to become a hit album thanks to the playing of the Sweet Child of Mine video on MTV which is a whole other story.  So when they were initially booked for Donnington they were relatively unknown although the UK had got into the band before everyone else and were well down the bill but really should have been moved up the bill.  Their show was nothing short of incredible.  They had an energy and drive and sound that even at 3 in the afternoon just attacked the senses.  It was  an absolute triumph.  Sadly it also turned into tragedy unknown to most of the crowd until the end of the whole event two people died during GNR’s set.  There had been a steady downpour for most of the day and the stage was located at the bottom of a slope with some steep areas.  A mix of wet weather, a crush to see GNR saw two people go down under the crowd never to get back up.  RIP Alan Dick, 18 and Landon Siggers, 20.  It was quite a sobering moment and a life lesson for me and ever since I’ve kept that memory with me and I’m always aware of my surroundings at a gig and make sure I look out for other people and hope they look out for me if the need arises.  I’ve been in some mental crowds when down the front but being a fairly robust 6 footer I can take care of myself but there have been some moments where I haven’t been in control of what’s’ happening and it can be quite scary until the control returns.

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My 2nd GNR experience was during the Use Your Illusion tour in 92.  We drove down to Gateshead to see a bill that included Soundgarden and Faith No More as support.  This was the bloated over indulgent GNR that had backing vocalists,  saxophonists, trumpets, horns and a keyboardist.  It couldn’t have been any more removed from the 5 hungry young men who played at Donnington 4 years earlier.  It was still a good show but they had started to lose the essence that had made them great.  It was also the beginning of the end of the band as Izzy left during the Illusion tour.

As an aside I remember I queued outside Tower Records in Argyll St to be one of the first people to get the Illusion albums which they started selling after midnight.  There is some brilliant stuff on both albums and although the band had lost the rawness of Appetite they had written some great songs.

My biggest regret though was not seeing them as a 5 piece on their own.  I did have the chance.  I remember seeing an advert in the window of the record shop 23rd Precinct located in Bath St stating they were running a bus to Newcastle City Hall for the GNR show.  Having checked this was back in October 1987.  At the time I really couldn’t afford it but I really wish I could go back and go on that trip now.

I did go to the SECC to see the Axl’s GNR and Axl did his usual turning up late and came on about 10.30.  Some people clearly weren’t aware of his tardy timekeeping as some folk were leaving about 15 mins into the set to get their transport home.  It was funny watching people start to get annoyed and one minute they were booing then 2 seconds into the first song they were cheering.  Despite Izzy joining Axl that night it wasn’t the same without Slash and Duff and I wasn’t going back to see that line up again.

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And now after all the years of rumours the band have partially reformed with Axl, Slash and Duff.  I really hoped we’d see a full classic line up reformation but at this stage it seems unlikely.  I’m not really sure what to make of it.  It looks like Slash and Duff are just hired hands in Axl’s band and they’ll all walk away with a load of cash.  I’m not sure what I will do if they do come over to the UK to do a headline tour.  I’ve no interest in seeing them in a festival setting.  I can see ticket prices being exorbitant but can I really not go?  I guess we’ll see.  I just think about all the lost years when the band could have been making great music but sadly we’ll never know what they might have been capable of.

A superb album from a band that had it all and pretty much snorted and drank it all away.

I’ve avoided some of the more obvious songs.

See you on week 17.

Week 16: AC/DC

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Powerage

It’s a clear and vivid memory but I remember coming home at lunchtime from school on February 20th 1980 and listening to the news on the radio.  The newscaster told me Bon Scott had died the previous day after a drinking binge.  I was devastated, he was the first of my music heroes to die and there have been many since but you never forget your first.  I thought it was a valid enough reason for given afternoon school a miss and playing all the AC/DC albums very loudly in tribute.  I was a few weeks short of my 15th birthday.

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I’m sure my first encounter, as it was for many, was their appearance on Rock Goes To College in 1978.  Rock Goes to College was a BBC programme that showed bands live in educational establishments across the country shown both on TV while also simultaneously he gig was live on the radio which allowed us tapers to get a live recording of the gigs.  I think my first thought was who are these nutters and why is the guitarist dressed up as a schoolboy?  But the music was the thing.  Loud, fast heavy rock that you couldn’t help but nod your head to, a guitarist that to my untrained ears looked like he could really play and a singer who had the most brilliant gravelly voice and the kind of grin that screamed trouble.

I was hooked and went on a pocket money sending spree in the Soundtrack record shop in Mount Florida.  At that time Soundtrack was owned by Tom Russell who was to become a rock DJ on Radio Clyde and a familiar face, even now, around many Glasgow rock shows.  I spent a lot of money in that shop.  At the time Atlantic records were selling AC/DC albums at £2.99 to cash in on their growing popularity.  A bargain.

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Bon left an incredible legacy behind, when I was spending my hard earned cash there was High Voltage, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Let There Be Rock, live album If You Want Blood and my favourite and subject of this blog, Powerage, available for purchase.  At this point Highway To Hell was still to be released.  That’s a pretty impressive canon for any band/singer to leave behind.

Sadly I never got to see Bon in the flesh.  I was just a bit too young to see him and the band in full flight.  Anyone who did will tell you how great they were.  There is of course some live footage of the Bon era but that sometimes just makes you feel worse for not getting to see him.   The recent large turn out to see the Bon Scott statue being unveiled in his birthplace in Kirriemuir a couple of weeks ago shows how much he is still held in great esteem more than 35 years after his death.

bon angus

I often return to listen to AC/DC and it will usually be a toss up between the live album If You Want Blood and Powerage although the others do get their turn.  Powerage really doesn’t have a bad track on it.   The album opens with Rock n Roll Damnation which contains the opening line of:

‘They say that you play too loud, Well baby that’s tough’

There’s your statement of intent right there.  There are some serious classics on this album, Sin City, Riff Raff, Gimme A Bullet and my own personal favourite AC/DC song Down Payment Blues.  Bon may have been known for his lewd and occasional sexist lyrics but on Down Payment Blues we saw a new maturity in his lyric writing.  In fact the whole album saw a subtle shift in the sound and feel of the band as they attempted to take their music into new worldwide territories.  It was also the last album to be recorded by the Vanda and Young team who had produced all the previous albums.  It also saw the debut of Cliff Williams who took over bass duties from Mark Evans.

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Bizarrely when there was a run of remasters and reissues of AC/DC albums they left off the song Cold Hearted Man and also messed about with the running order.  Why they did this I’ve no idea as the album is only about 40 mins long.

Powerage for me comes top of all the AC/DC releases and it has some competition to overcome to reach that exalted spot.

I don’t consider any of the Johnston era albums to come anywhere near the Bon period.  Back in Black is a great album and For Those About To Rock had a few good tracks on it but it was diminishing returns and although they are/were still capable of releasing the occasional great rock song after Bon died it was never going to be with the same consistency.

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It took me a few years to accept Johnston in the AC/DC role.  It was actually 96 before I first saw them live and I do regret not being at the Back in Black dates which became legend.  Angus is still one of the great rock guitarists of our time and Johnston was a good front man but for me it will always be a case of what might have been had Bon not died.

I’m still not sure what the feck is going on these days with Axel Rose taking over vocal duties.  One of the most bizarre things in rock music for many a year.  If I already had a ticket for a gig I’d probably go out of curiosity but I doubt I’d buy one.  It’s wrong on so many levels and I have watched videos of recent gigs and it’s not as bad as it could have been but it’s just not right.

In 2015 I saw the band for what will probably be the last time at Hampden.  I was in two minds about going as Phil Rudd was out of the band and sadly Malcolm had succumbed to dementia  but I thought I should go and see Angus one more time and I’m glad I did as he didn’t disappoint.

There will never be another Angus or Bon for that matter.

See you on week 17.

Week 15: Tangerine Dream

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Tangram

Bit of a musical left turn after Oasis last time.  Some electronic music with German pioneers Tangerine Dream.

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I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with electronic and synthesizer music since I first started getting into music.  I remember Space doing Magic Fly and The Crunch by The Rah Band both piquing my interest in the 70s followed by Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene and Equinox singles and albums in 1976 and 1978.  Jarre in particular opened the door that led to Tangerine Dream and onward to krautrock.  I just loved the sounds he got from his synthesizers and was just something I’d never heard before.  Later, acts such as Tubeway Army and ‘Are Friends Electric’ became guilty pleasures through my metal years.

I have my friend Craig to thank for bringing Tangram into my life.  He also used to do a mean light show with 2 cigarettes along to the album and there were a few burn holes in the carpet as a result of a few collisions during the performance.

Tangram was released towards the end of the ‘Virgin Years’ the label Tangerine Dream were signed to between 1973 and 1983.  It’s often regarded by fans as their most productive period and my favourite TD albums are all from around this time.  For much of the Virgin Years  TD had a stable line up of Edgar Froese,  Peter Baumann and Christopher Franke but Tangram saw Baumann replaced by Johannes Schmoelling.  Some fans say this was the album that saw the band take a change in direction in a more soundtrack type of musical direction.  The album is basically 2 sides of music.  Tangram set 1 and Tangram set 2 and just over 40 mins long.

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Tangerine Dream were considered one of the great pioneers of electronic music in the early 70s.  The introduction of electronic sequencers had an enormous impact on TD but also on a wider audience as this opened up new areas for bands to explore.  I don’t quite class TD as krautrock, they were influential on it but for me always seemed to stand just outside of that genre.

I also found out that Tangram is the name of a Chinese puzzle game.  Every day is indeed a school day.  It’s kind of fitting for this album as although there are 2 sides of music, contained there in are a lot of different passages all merging into each other.  There could easily have been 4 or 5 tracks each side if they were so inclined.

Although this album was released in 1980 it was probably a couple of years later before I heard it.  Also 82 was the first time I went to see the band at the Apollo.  I’ve only seen them a couple of times since with their ever changing line up with only Edgar Froese being the only constant until he sadly died in January 2015 and the future of the band is uncertain although Peter Baumann was rumoured to be returning and the band are also due to play a gig in Poland in June.  Without Froese it doesn’t feel right to carry on under the Tangerine Dream name.

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It’s amazing that Tangerine Dream have released 103 studio albums and 34 soundtrack albums.  Few bands can claim to be quite so prolific.

As the album is only 2 tracks I’ve included the full album below but also some of the tracks mentioned at the beginning as they were the sign posts towards bands like Tangerine Dream for me.

Space – Magic Fly

The Rah Band – The Crunch

Jean Michel Jarre -Oxygene Part 4

Jean Michel Jarre – Equinox Part 5

See you on week 16.

Week 14: Oasis

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Definitely Maybe

Okay I have to come clean here.  I wasn’t at the King Tuts gig when Alan McGhee ‘discovered’ Oasis.  I always think the Tuts story was a bit overplayed and mythology has overtaken the event.  I doubt Oasis would have gone unnoticed for long when you hear the songs on Maybe but it makes a great story I suppose.

I always say you should play music loud although sometimes it isn’t always possible but this album demands to be played loud, this isn’t some background incidental music.  It’s loud, in your face, rock n roll with a swagger. This record just drips attitude and it has the songs to back that swagger and attitude up.

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It’s actually quite remarkable the album sounds so great when you realise how many attempts were made to record the album followed by even more attempts to try and mix it.  I didn’t know that they ditched the first producer then Noel tried to re-record the album with a new producer and the results weren’t much better.  It was down to producer Owen Morris who was brought in to salvage the disaster who managed to strip away all the crap and produced a raw sound that perfectly encapsulated the whole Oasis sneer.

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As debut albums go this one was pretty special and much anticipated having been preceded by three singles, Supersonic, Shakermaker and Live Forever.  For my sins I missed the first wave of Oasis and came in at the tail end of the Maybe period and ran headlong in to the What’s the Story phase as Oasis took off and became far and away the biggest band in the UK.  They not only attracted headlines for their music but the Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, were a whole publicity machine of their own.  Internal fights, external feuds, celebrity relationships etc.  They were a tabloid’s dream.  The bad boys of rock n roll were never far away from a front page and it all helped build up the image of the band and helped boost their fan base.  Unfortunately a large part of that fan base were complete and utter bams and made going to see them live an ‘interesting’ experience. I’ve only seen Oasis five times as I stopped going when they hit the large arena/stadium circuit as it really wasn’t worth the hassle.  This meant I almost stopped going to see them before I’d started.  I saw them three times in 95 on the What’s the Story tour.  Two nights in a tent on Irvine beach which was mental but in a good way and later in the year at Earls Court in London which at the time held the record as the biggest indoor crowd for a concert in Europe. I then saw them at the Barrowlands on the 10th anniversary Noise and Confusion tour in 2001 before my final Oasis show at the Usher Hall in 2005.

band 2I felt the Barrowlands show was over the top mental and although I enjoyed the show there was an odd atmosphere to it all.  I realised my decision not to go and see the band in bigger venues was kind of vindicated and that I really wasn’t interested in this kind of crowd being 20 times the size with the the number of bams exponentially growing as the crowds got bigger and becoming harder to avoid.  I don’t mind a bit of pint throwing etc. but when it becomes an almost threatening atmosphere tinged with violence it ceases to be fun and suddenly you have one eye on the crowd rather than concentrating on the band.  That’s not why I go to see live music.  I could of course have stood way at the back and avoided or tried to avoid the nutters but I like to be in the middle of the action at the front and I can look after myself but sometimes it’s not worth the hassle.

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Their rise to massive venues also coincided with them releasing some very mediocre albums although there are plenty of Oasis fans who think subsequent albums are still really good but they weren’t for me.  They were never going to sustain the Maybe/Glory period but some of the stuff released was a pale imitation and all a bit Oasis by numbers but it didn’t seem to dent their popularity much.  There were some good songs along the way but they seemed to lose that urgency and rawness that attracted me to them in the first place.  It’s a story often played out in music.  Success sees a band lifted out of the circumstances and surroundings that made them great in the first place and they just can’t recapture that feel and sound again.  It’s what made Definitely Maybe and to a lesser extent What’s the Story such great albums.  They were also often accused of being Beatles copyists but I never really heard it, an influence yes but that was it as far as I could tell.  Although I was never a fan of The Beatles other than a couple of tracks so maybe I’m missing something obvious.

That all said Definitely Maybe is a fantastic album full of great songs.  It was Columbia that first made me sit up and take notice.  I love the drumming on that song and along with the guitar hook makes this my favourite song on the album.  Opener Rock n Roll Star sets down the marker and there isn’t really a low point just lots of high points.  Supersonic, Slide Away, Live Forever all brilliant and were to become classics of their time.  There isn’t a bad song on this album and Definitely Maybe was, at the time, the fastest ever selling debut release and went straight in at No 1.

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Liam and Noel were a pair of ‘lads’ but Noel especially could be very observant and humorous and I enjoy hearing him talk.  He has a great knack of cutting through the bullshit and his scathing attacks on other artists and celebrities in general usually hit the spot.  Liam often gets criticised for his outbursts but I like my rock stars to be a bit out there and be a bit more interesting than someone like Chris Martin.  These are two brothers brought up on a tough housing estate in Manchester.  They don’t suffer fools.

Since the band split in 2009 there have been the usual rounds of rumours about reunions that have never come to anything.  I thought the 20th anniversaries of Maybe or Glory might have brought them back together again but despite a making up between Liam and Noel a reunion still seems highly unlikely.  Of the two Noel has made the best of his solo career with his High Flying Birds.  Liam had limited success with Beady Eye who split in 2014.  Neither band did anything for me and I’ve lost complete interest in either of them outside of Oasis.  I have given both bands a listen but just seems a bit Oasis lite without the swagger and attitude that made this album so good.

See you on week 15.