As of this week, the Rockforward Music blog has posted 308 times since we started watching all things roots-rock back in mid-2009. I’ve written and posted video about Indiana music, and bits from a more national perspective, that are either interesting to me, a bit odd, or maybe just some damn good, goosebump-inducing rock and roll that’s worth spending four minutes of your day on.
There ‘s been weeks when it has been all great rock video posts from YouTube. There’s been weeks when I have posted my diatribe on the uselessness/irrelevence of MySpace. Some weeks find me writing every day, some weeks produce one (though high-quality and award-winning) post.
And since we started, there have been two posts that reign as the most popular, day-after-day, stretching for months at a time. Their daily traffic many times surpasses the roots-rock news updates, the concert previews, the album reviews, the show reviews and even the the behind-the-scenes peeks at the sleazy underbelly of rock music that get passed to you, the reader.
One of these two popular posts (I will write about the other next week) has been a ten-minute, three-song live video featuring the legendary R&B/rock stylings of the J.Geils Band, recorded with one camera, close to the Fenway Park stage as the band opened for Aerosmith in August, 2010.
Why this video? My guess?
I don’t really know. In the big rock picture, J. Geils is, for right or wrong, not a huge band (and still waiting to get into the R&R Hall of Fame), though they picked up a second generation of fans with the “Centerfold”/”Freeze Frame” punch. It is a pretty clean side-stage shot, though only slightly above-average sound. A big, unique setup at an old baseball park, so that is intersting. The bill is shared with Aerosmith. It is a vintage, interesting, from-the-soul performance. It is all those things. But why this more traffic-worthy than of the other 307 entries, many of which took a whole lot more time to write than putting the one video on the blog.
Truthfully? I have no fuckin’ idea.
But I like it.
And the nicely trashy rumor at the show was that J. Geils singer Peter Wolf got into a heated argument with Aerosmith front dude Steven Tyler before the show after Wolf was told he couldn’t take his moves and romps onto the ramp that stretched into the crowd – only Tyler was going to be doing that.
There once was, and is again, a rock and roll band from Detroit called The Rockets. A helluva rock band. No big hits, but Detroit rock radio embraced them, and they were local heroes from 1972 until they faded away in 1983.
The pedigree that made them noteworthy were two leaders that were driving forces behind the Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. Johnny (Bee) Badanjek (drums) and Jim McCarty (guitar) both fueled the R&B rock and roll craziness of Ryder’s sound, and, as musicians do, eventually left the band to do their own thing.
They became the Rockets.
You could have dubbed them “Kings of the Openers”; they opened for the big rock bands of the time – and not just in Detroit. They traveled with KISS, Seger, ZZ Top, among many. But they never could get any bigger than that. Never had a big radio hit beyond the Motor City. But even the band’s later stuff , like “Rollin’ By The Record Machine” elicited a vintage Bob Seger energy.
With lead vocalist Dave Gilbert, the Rockets reached their biggest success in 1979 with a Top 40 hit doing a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”. The hard partying Gilbert ended up taking a job hanging drywall, and died in 2001 at age 49.
Badanjek is one of rocks truly great drummers. And McCarty an engaging, gritty rock guitarist. They had continued to play music, just not together. That changed when they formed the Motor City Music Review in 2009, a Motown/rock and roll cover-type band. Then into a band called the Hell Drivers, with new frontman Jim Edwards. Things started to happen.
Another in the series called “Long Player – Listening to Vinyl”. We pull out an actual vinyl 33 1/3 rpm LP from the sleeve, put it on the JVC turntable and let ‘er rip. Our opinion, honesty and gut feelings follow….
This edition features the late Doug Fieger’s band The Knack – Get the Knack (1979)
Yeah, it’s gonna be about girls and love and sex. And if you listen to the words, it’s also the story of someone who covers up most of his vulnerability with bravado. Get The Knack was recorded in just 11 days for a miserly $17,000. Isn’t that the way it should be? According to the web, The Knack performed the songs “live” with minimal overdubs, as producer Mike Chapman (who had hit big with Blondie’s disco-fied “Heart of Glass” single) basically slammed the record button and let the band play. He would go on to produce the follow up album that sold significantly fewer copies, so this record was capturing magic – the band would never be bigger than the summer of 1979. Let’s let the record roll….
“Let Me Out” – Keith Moon drums, punk-with-lip gloss vocal shouts and rhythm section that is threatens to push Doug Fieger to keep up. “Tonight! Tonight! Tonight! followed by 25 “Let me Out!” and a scream. It is, really, fucking brilliant. Call to action: we’re gonna hit it hard tonight.
“Your Number or Your Name” – Here’s we get that Beatles influence. (Whooo!) vocals atop a 60s rocker. They beat REO Speedwagon to the sound that would send the Illinois road dog band to a zillion album sales a couple years later with Hi Infidelity. Just a clean, powerful production. Again – flying drums from Bruce Gary.
“Oh Tara” – I love guitars that duel out of each speaker. Georgia Satellites were one of those underrated bands whose albums were so much more than “Hands to Yourself”. They split dualing rock guitars into one big hairy, raunchy snarl of rock. “Oh Tara”, a lightwight lyric, is saved by a rock and roll band. Nobody ever listens to anything other than “My Sharona”, but dammit, they should.
“(She’s So) Selfish” – Bo Diddley beat. See. They get it. Hiccup vocals ala Buddy Holly. Firmly planted in the Elvis Costello sound, which launched a year or two earlier. This, though, is a part of the misogyny arguement against the band “She’s got you by the short hairs” pops up midway through the tune. Girls ain’t giving the boys the respect – or sex – they want. So Doug shouts “Gimme, Gimme Gimme.”
“Maybe Tonight” – A ballad, in the tradition of Sgt Pepper. As close as they get to psychedelic. Gentle, by band standards. The yearning, shy side comes out of the Knack. They want the girl but haven’t had the courage. Maybe tonight. A counterpoint to the whole misogyny thing.
“Good Girls Don’t” – the other hit from the album. Leering lyrics, from the high school viewpoint, about the girl who wants “it”. Or so the guy tells himself. Great, angry, wrong-and-right pop song. It’s the tune that critics point to when they want to trash the band, Yes, it’s sophomoric. And it’s a song that sticks in your ear after the album is done. Teen lust hitting us over the head with a backbeat.
SIDE 2 “My Sharona” – I think we have a enough distance between the summer of 1979 and now that we can look at the song as a near-perfect slice of American power pop. Did you know there is a raunchy, two-bar quick quitar solo right in the middle? Almost out of place on the glossy cut. That helps to make the song even more of a brilliant pop-rocker. And the band lets loose like a skinny tie freight train near the end of the song. A musical tension build and release (complete with false song ending) that pushes the tune to be more a rock and roll piece than just a slice of radio pop that burned too bright to survive.
“Heartbeat” – Buddy Holly again. Really? A 50’s throwback – lightweight and odd in it’s placement on the record. Why here, after the best song on the album? The production is even a bit muddy. Somebody must have been hungover behind the mixing board.
“Siamese Twins (the Monkey and Me)”
I hear Graham Parker in the grooves. And these boys like to repeat lyrics. They take a line (“he’s on my back”) and chant it, yell it, croon it. Again, the guitars of Fieger and Berton Averre save the day. Sing-song lyrics about escape fall flat. But the guitars are garage.
“Lucinda” – Man, this second side isn’t nearly as good as the first side. The more I listen, the more this side sounds like early 80’s midwest rock. And I don’t think that is good or bad, only less-than-groundbreaking. Fieger sounds like Kevin Cronin, while the song is about “cutting down” Lucinda, and “it’s going to hurt you”. That’s just not nice. Beatles “Hold Your Hand” ending.
“That’s What the Little Girls Do” – Boy tells girl she’s the one. Girl runs away, because “that’s what little girls do – to you”. Boy begging on his knees. She says she’s sorry. She doesn’t mean it. Guitar solo. Boy dreams of girl. Girl doesn’t give a shit. Music crashes to a cold ending.
“Frustrated” – The last cut of the record. Here’s a book that needs written: analyze the last songs on rock albums. They are usually a different than the other songs on a record. Many are hyper-personal. Somebody usually plays like they are high, and there are assorted screams, clunked notes and odd bits that were put off until the end. Like Fieger chirping, howling and gurgling for the final :45 seconds of “Frustrated”. We hear the fading lyric “I need it, I want it” behind a band banging its way through a loose garage-rock throwaway. A perfect ending.
I will call “Get the Knack” a classic. You arguing? Listen to it before you do that. Music worthy of a template called power pop. And they nearly killed the genre by being so successful. And most of this album (especially side one through “My Sharona”) is as great as that kind of music would get. It was essentially the same sound as Tom Petty was making at the time, until he hit another gear with Damn the Torpedoes, and songs like “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That” toughened up the sound to make the sound inviting to radio again…
Do the Knack deserve slings and arrows? Were they poison or worthy of Rock Hall of Fame love? I’d say certainly much closer to the hall (though they will never get in) than the arrow, if only because of side one of this record.
This edition: Should Bryan Adams be remembered or forgotten?
We look back at the follow-up to his mega-successful “Reckless” album
Here’s the question: is Bryan Adams an overrated rocker, tainted by three or 12 too many vapid soundtrack songs?
Or is he underrated and prematurely forgotten? How safe is his legacy of loud rock and roll, filled with generic lyrics, cranking guitars, slamming drums, and hooks made of bubblegum? How has time treated the music of a guy who best took the Mellencamp/Springsteen template and covered it with a bunch of sugar?
Here’s what I did. I slapped the 1987 album (yep, the vinyl LP) “Into the Fire” on the turntable Friday night, and gave the volume knob a pretty good twist.
It’s the album that followed “Reckless”, which ranks as one of the 10 best rock albums of the 80’s. (Argue if you want. “Summer of ’69?” “Run to You”? That shit sounded great coming out of the car radio. And the album tracks on it were just as good). The problem in 1987 was “Into the Fire” came at the point when Adams had worked hard for about 10 years, with probably too few breaks.
“Into the Fire” is a loud, excessive, indulgent record, with more 80’s reverb lacquered into grooves than necessary. But turned up, with a beer in hand (which is how Bryan Adams music should be consumed,right?), something about the music is righteous. Or so I hoped…
Side 1 Track 1 “Heat of the Night” was the song first sent to radio; this was also the first chance to hear him since the previous album’s smashing success. Not enough soul, but the sound is trademark Bryan Adams.The song didn’t soar like the tunes on the previous record. A little leaden.
Track 2 “Into the Fire” – Everything said about track one applies here – overwrought.
Track 3 “Victim of Love” is a forgotten power ballad that could be his best; nicely straddling a line of schmaltz and balls.
Track 4 “Another Day” is the first tune on side one that gets a little loose, and harkens back to the “Cuts Like Knife” era. I dig it when the band goes nuts at the end before Bryan pulls them back together.
Track 5 “Native Son” really sounds Canadian. Reminds me of Tragically Hip and a lot of the other 80’s and 90’s rock bands out of Canada. (Remember Honeymoon Suite?) It’s one of two similary-themed songs on the album, along with “Rememberence Day” on side two. Bryan is shooting for an anthem. Didn’t quite make it. But dammit, the drums sound good.
This record echoes those snares on the U2/Alarm/Simple Minds albums that had a slammin’, gated reverb sound. So did Phil Collins, Springsteen, Prince and nearly every band that made rock records from 1983-1987. I’m just a fuckin’ sucker for that crack. It reminds me of being 20, working nights at a radio station, drinking beer and staying up late. It resonates with part of my soul that responds to sounds, especially that specific sound, in the midst of rootsy guitars and raspy vocals.
So, when Bryan lets “Native Son” die down, before kicking back in, it occurs to me that the record may have gotten beaten up a bit too much by critics. Hell, it still sold. It got radio play. But I remember disappointment after the hits on “Reckless”.
Side 2 Track 1 “Only the Strong Survive” is all uptempo plodding, if that’s possible. Bryan again straining; it doesn’t connect.
Track 2 “Rebel” trying to replicate his a “Heaven” ballad gene, and it proves to be a rewrite that sounds OK yet isn’t a home run. But again, the drums sound good.
Track 3 The aforementioned “Rememberence Day” continues the anthem push. A bit of Canada seeps in, with namechecks of Kingston and Brighton. I’m from Indiana, so trying to make the regional connection is a bit tough. The guitars panned left and right are killer. And the strings at the end work. Adams’ voice is one of his gifts; the whole raspy Rod Stewart roar.
Track 4 “Hearts on Fire” was always my favorite, though buried on side two. It’s the “Summer of 69” rewrite for the album, and I don’t care if it sounds like a ripoff. The cut is the perfect blend of all that is good about Bryan Adams, before Mutt Lange got to him and “Def Lepperd-ed” the sound. You’ve got keyboards emulating a Hammond B3. It is start-stop chunking twin guitars from longtime band guitarist Keith Scott and Adams. The music pushes forward with the best energy on the record. And I hear cowbell too. The song was actually written for the “Reckless” album…
Track 5 “Home Again” tries to hard too, and ends the record with a bit of a thud.
RECAP: I saw Bryan Adams on this album’s tour, with The Hooters (!) opening up, at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. My buddy Tom and I would go see live music every weekend, either at a club or a concert. I spent every bit of my money on music. And Adams was part of a rush of 25 or so national artists we would end up seeing over the course of a year. Bryan’s energy didn’t disappoint. We were standing on chairs in the 22nd row. I still recall “Hearts on Fire” as three minutes of meaningless rock and roll that meant everything.
Adams came back after this release with another couple records, teaming with producer Lange, and had hits with the post-Def Lepperd, pre-Shania Twain recipe of sound. By the mid 90’s, Bryan was essentially musically spent. His later records echo the classic sound but have never quite recaptured the mystery of what made him memorable, as the embodiment of 80’s pop-rock.
So is where is Bryan Adams’ place in rock and roll? In the end, his music holds up because it is tightly constructed rock and roll. It is ear candy, done well. And it certainly sounds like American rock music. I listened to the whole record, and never wanted to turn it off. Even the mediocre songs contain moments of rock band thrills and noise that make my dumb rock fan heart expand. Whatever you think that is worth, I would argue there is great value in hearing music that penetrates to your musical soul, whether it stays forever or for just a few moments.
RECORDED LIVE / VIDEO
Here’s Bryan at Abbey Road in 2008. He still has the voice, man. and the last line he sings on here, “Cuts like a …nah nah nah, na na na na nah”, is brilliant. No shit. Underrated.