“Nobody give me trouble, cause they know I got it made”
HMO salutes Dusty Hill who has passed away aged 72. The first album I spun today to celebrate his life was my favourite ZZ Top album Degüello. And I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide is one of my very favourite ZZ Top tunes. It’s the kind of cruising, carefree rock they did so well. Stonesy chords, gutsy guitar and the coolest lyrics: “a bluesman in the back and a beautician at the wheel”. And best of all, Dusty powering the song to a close with a bottom end of monstrously filthy proportions. He was the baddest and waaay more than merely nationwide. A phenomenal bassist, singer and songwriter with a classic career of over 50 years and the owner of one of music’s most famous beards, Dusty was absolutely global.
Could Have Done Better is one of just two songs that Alien left behind after their brief visit to a NWOBHM scene in the north east of England that was teeming with hairy life. It was recorded as a demo and selected by Neat Records to open their 1982 compilation EP One Take No Dubs. It’s a bit too simplistic and punky for comfort. Even with the wild guitar sound the full and strummy chords sound dated compared to the next generation riffing that many of their contemporaries were putting out. But you can instantly hear why it was picked. It’s a strong tune that instantly implants itself in your mind and it has the electricity and energy of pub-hardened performers. Even if it’s not quite the real deal, it’s the kind of fun obscurity that makes trawling the depths of the NWOBHM so rewarding.
Turn it off: that was basically my opinion when I first heard it on the radio in 1992, but who knew Def Leppard’s cheesemongous Let’s Get Rocked would prove to be such a grower? It’s three chords’ worth of dumb with cringey lyrics, but after countless listens, live performances, steamin’ singalongs and noticing just how incredibly euphoric that guitar solo is, it would be churlish not to appreciate that this song makes me happy. And surely that was the goal. OK, it’s not Lep’s best song by a mile, it’s not even the best song on its parent album Adrenalize, but I’ve got a real soft spot for it. A rock is definitely not out of the question.
Back to 1989 for a song that puts the “power” into power metal. It’s German legends Helloween with a storming version of How Many Tears from their Live In The U.K. album. It’s a full-on assault of pounding vrrrs, grrrs and drrrs. The riffs are Scorpions-on-steroids, late drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg is on ferocious form and when the intro riff returns after a dreamy interlude it manages the impossible feat of being even more gigantic than before.
It’s also a thrill to hear Michael Kiske add his high-flying vocal stamp to a song originally sung by the grittier Kai Hansen (who just plays guitar here). And I believe this is the last recording to feature both Kiske and Hansen until they reunited with the band in 2017. Both are set to appear on the band’s new studio album Helloween, released 18th June. If the album is even half as good as this then I’ll be one happy pumpkin.
Bow to evil sorcery as Nazareth sell their soul to you-know-who. It’s a well-worn story: guy is desperate; thinks God and Jesus aren’t listening; sells his soul to the Devil. And it sounds like it wasn’t a great idea. No Manowar-style “Lucifer is king, praise Satan” triumphalism here. Nazareth sound more like they have a hellhound on their trail.
Sold My Soul isn’t all that exceptional lyrically or compositionally, but succeeds on the strength of its rootsy, swampy delivery and Dan McCafferty’s vocal torment as he repeatedly yelps “I sooold my souuull” in various degrees of anguish. Taken from the band’s 1973 breakthrough Razamanaz, it’s not the first song you’d pick for a playlist but it’s great deep cut that forms the dark heart of one of my favourite albums.
Y&T had, in the less streamlined guise of Yesterday & Today, made ripples in the 70s with two studio albums and their exciting live performances. But they would make major tremors with their first album of the next decade: 1981’s Earthshaker. The Bay Area band hardened their cock rock with a bold, metallic edge that positioned them (along with bands like Riot) as the Stateside answer to the new wave of heavy bands appearing in Europe.
With their powerful rhythm section, blocky riffs and Dave Meniketti’s Hagar-esque vocals, Y&T stick so close to the Montrose blueprint that they don’t score many points for originality. But these road-hardened rockers know how to show you a good time. Hungry For Rock and Dirty Girl are all pocket and swagger. Meniketti cuts loose with wild Nuge-esque guitar on Shake It Loose and Squeeze and Rescue Me cunningly reworks Zep’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You into a stomping dancefloor anthem.
Earthshaker‘s musical one-track mind starts to wear a little thin on side two. But the rousing Hurricane, blazing Knock You Out and moody closer I Believe In You more than make up for weaker tracks like Young And Tough. And ensure that Earthshaker is a hearty, hefty serving of meat and potatoes that will satisfy anyone hungry for rock.
Magnum. The minute the weather starts getting cooler I reach for this veritable comfort-blanket of a band. Here’s Les Morts Dansant, the centrepiece from their excellent 1985 album On A Storyteller’s Night. Set in WWI, the song describes the execution of a British soldier who has refused to leave the trenches and go over the top. The song title translates as “the dancing dead” as it illustrates the pirouette of the dying soldier as he’s riddled with bullets from the firing squad. It’s a horrific topic but Magnum’s keen moral sense ensures the song is written and performed eloquently and compassionately. Bob Catley sings movingly with his heart on his sleeve as warm keyboards and celestial guitars gradually build to a climax of Baba O’Riley-style power chords. The album cover depicts a wizard relating a fireside tale to a bunch of captivated dwarfs and Les Morts Dansant is basically the musical equivalent. Spellbinding storytelling from a magical band.
Sammy Hagar has always been a divisive figure, not least for being the interloper who dared replace Dave Lee Roth in Van Halen. But when Hagar supporters find themselves unable to convince anyone of Van Hagar’s merits or the quality of his various other outings, they can always rely on one thing: the 1973 debut album from Montrose. It’s an unassailable classic of 70s man rock and one of the earliest examples of party-hearty American metal. Other 70s hard rockers would enjoy more fame and rewards but Montrose‘s cult influence would be heard everywhere from the clubs of the LA glam scene to the garages of the NWOBHM.
So kudos to Sammy for his charismatic vocals and songwriting contribution (“I gave love a chance and it shit back in my face”). But the real star of the show is the band’s guitarist and founder Ronnie Montrose. His superior playing and hot rod riffing is timeless and, in tandem with producer Ted Templeman, he colours the band’s meat and potatoes simplicity with a deceptively rich range of tones. From the spacey, hard-charging Zep chug of Space Station #5 and the revved up intro to Bad Motor Scooter to the monster-plod bludgeon of Rock Candy, Montrose is a treasure-trove of stealable guitar parts and sounds. The old-timey Good Rocking Tonight and One Thing On My Mind lean towards filler but both are served up with charm and stop the album from getting too po-faced.
Unfortunately, Montrose couldn’t make it last. One more (underrated) album later, Sammy would be fired. And he wouldn’t be involved with anything quite this good again. But it can be 1973 forever. Just take your top off, stick on Montrose and rock the nation.
Pentagram were formed in 1971 and are renowned as early doom pioneers but nearly 15 years passed before the cult US band was able to rise from the underground and put out their first album. It was worth the wait. The 1985 self-released debut was originally just called Pentagram but in 1993 it was reissued by Peaceville Records and renamed Relentless after this awesome track. Relentless was penned by charismatic guitarist Victor Griffin and has a walloping tone and simple, strident riff that fully lives up to the promise of the song’s title. The lyrics are a bit clunky but endearingly catchy and they’re a good vehicle for the ‘Ram’s wayward frontman Bobby Liebling to strut his swaggering, streetwise stuff. But the real joy here is the riffin’ of Griffin. His electric axe is gonna knock you on your back.
The Dark Are The Veils Of Death 7″ was released in 2017 to celebrate 30 years of Peaceville Records and features two rare working versions of tracks from Candlemass’ classic 1988 album Nightfall. But although Dark Are The Veils Of Death would become one of the band’s greatest tunes, they hadn’t quite nailed it down here. Messiah Marcolin sounds great but seems to be making the lyrics up and throws the song title in at a different spot than it appears in the final version. Also, short-lived guitarist Mike Wead appears, which is historically interesting, but you can also hear why his noodly playing didn’t quite fit the bill in comparison to Lars Johansson’s molten soloing on the album. The B-Side features the funereal instrumental Codex Gigax: decent enough music but pointless as a standalone side of vinyl.
Recorded on a ghetto blaster, it’s lo-fi stuff but it has a blustery power. It’s just odd material for a single as you will rarely listen to this, if at all. And if you’re into Candlemass enough to buy this then you will have bought the later 3CD reissue of Nightfall that included these recordings (and much more). So this single was worth owning for about seven months. Dark are the travails of the music collector.