HMO salutes Malcolm Young, AC/DC’s legendary rhythm guitarist, who has passed away aged 64. As the driving force behind the band’s unmistakable sound and phenomenally successful career, it’s impossible to over-estimate the importance and influence of his work. A huge loss.
When their debut album Breaking The Chains stiffed in the US, Dokken’s record deal with Elektra was on thin ice. Backs against the wall, the band would have to fight Tooth And Nail (see what they did there?) to keep their rokken roll dream alive. But when they should have been forming a united front, the band members were fighting among themselves. Producer Tom Werman decided early on that he’d had enough and the band had to complete the record the only way they could. Separately. Guitars, drums and bass were finished up with Roy Thomas Baker during the day, while frontman Don Dokken recorded alone with Michael Wagener during the night.
Fortunately the struggling, warring band had some top notch material to draw from. Superb L.A. glam meets Ozzy/Scorpions-style Euro metal. A lush and ominous guitar intro leads into the superb thrashabout title track. Just Got Lucky and Into The Fire have humungous raunchy hooks. Alone Again is classy manfeels and When Heaven Comes Down is a heavy, stately centrepiece.
And, amazingly, considering the fractious nature of the album’s creation, it’s the raw, live vibe and delivery that is the real magic on Tooth And Nail. There’s a moment in Heartless Heart where a drum and vocal bridge suddenly explodes into harmonised arena rock heaven. It sounds like a band playing the gig of their lives, having their moment of world-beating peak performance flow. George Lynch firing off godly guitar licks left, right and centre and Don, aloof and weedy on the debut album, now generating massive sparks of excitement with committed and charismatic ease. Tearing it up in the daytime, burning it down at night, straight to the top… Tooth And Nail is the sound of a band fighting for their lives and winning heroically.
Humble Pie was one of those 70s bands that struggled to capture their magic in the studio before scoring big with a live album. But following the success of the essential Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore they were then faced with the challenge of coming up with a satisfactory studio follow up. An even more daunting prospect given that the supergroup was now rendered considerably less “super” following the departure of founding member Peter Frampton.
Frampton felt that the audience had decided the heavy blues rock direction that The Pie had to go in and that meant the pastoral acoustic diversity that he contributed to previous albums was no longer required. The accepted narrative is that the band’s first post-Frampton outing, 1972’s Smokin’, is a harder rocking affair but that’s only partly true. The whole album is more consistently rooted in soulful, bluesy rock but there’s still plenty of mellow diversity. So for every hard-riffing track like Fixer you get an Exile On Main Street-style rootsy outing like Old Time Feelin’.
But the standout moments of Smokin’ are undoubtedly the louder tracks. The smouldering boogie of Hot N’ Nasty, a fat riffing cover of C’Mon Everybody and the superbly greasy rocker 30 Days In The Hole are all brilliant showcases for the peerless vocal power of Steve Marriott and the guitar chemistry he forged with new recruit Clem Clempson. The mellow tracks aren’t as exciting or memorable but tracks like the Zep-blues of I Wonder impress and add crucial depth and variety.
Smokin’ lives up to its name. It’s a rockin’, feel-good time with a loose and natural production and delivery that successfully captures the band’s live prowess. A gradual, coke-fuelled decline in quality on subsequent albums makes this Humble Pie’s studio peak and ensured that the band would remain overlooked and under-rated, especially in their native UK. But fans of rootsy rockers like The Stones, The Faces and Cream (as well as more modern acolytes like The Black Crowes) should definitely check out The Pie and Smokin’ is the perfect place to start: a great band and legendary frontman at the top of their game, proving that they could rock in the studio just as well as they could in the Fillmore.
In Trance was the Scorpions’ third album, their first of many with producer Dieter Dierks and their first proper hard rocker. But we’re still back in the Uli Roth years here so there’s a strange mix of styles and moods. There are real driving, hard-hitters like Dark Lady and Top Of The Bill but there are also many songs like Life’s Like A River and Living And Dying that are mystical, almost-psychedelic and loaded with melancholy. Two different kinds of heavy, basically. Scorpions’ circa 1975 show off a complex mix of styles and influences: Uli Roth’s post-Hendrix, pre-Malmsteen guitar mastery; the mellow wistfulness of UFO’s Phenomenon; the epic scope, bludgeon and layered vocal harmonies of Uriah Heep and Queen and a distinctly European/power metal vibe. The combination of Rudolf Schenker’s granite riffs and Uli Roth’s scorching leads create real sparks and edge that never appeared in other incarnations of the band. There’s so just so much to love here and tracks like the bombastic pomp-rocker In Trance and the bonkers cyber-metaller Robot Man just never get old. The Scorpions would score big later with a simpler, streamlined metal style so this strange and formative early effort isn’t in the hallmark Scorps style but it is one of their best and the album, and era, I return to the most. By a long way. And that’s why it’s the first of the Germans’ albums to make it into the HMO Hall Of Fame.
I’m not sure I could have picked a less Easter-y album to listen to tonight. Then again, I’m fairly sure that vast swathes of my music collection aren’t exactly appropriate for most religious holidays. There’s never a bad time to listen to Thy Mighty Contract though. It’s brilliant early black metal with remarkably restrained and melodic riffs, impassioned warrior shouts and dark force. It’s often pleasingly dreary and gothic in a Paradise Lost/My Dying Bride vein and it has that influential and unique sun-baked atmosphere that Greek black metal has become known for. It’s atmospheric, accessible and totally classic: a great entry point for anyone new to the genre and an eternal favourite for long-time devotees.
[Rotting Christ – The Fourth Knight Of Revelation]
Alex Harvey was not only one of Scotland’s most legendary rockers, he was also steeped in showbiz. This album, his third with SAHB, came out in ’74 but Alex had been around in music and theatre since the late 50s. He formed his “Sensational” band, with members of prog rockers Tear Gas, in the early 70s and often referred to them in terms of movies and the stage: he was their director. And The Impossible Dream is their most theatrical and cinematic album, the culmination of Harvey’s decades of experience. It’s comparable to Alice Cooper’s School’s Out: an adventurous extravaganza. From the tribal, comic book stomp of Vambo and Man in the Jar‘s gonzo noir to the dancehall Sergeant Fury, the skittery blues of Weights Made of Lead and the riffing pirate yarn Tomahawk Kid this album is a total romp. Yo ho ho! And as Anthem closes the album out, it’s extremely moving too. It’ll make ye greet.
Chase the Dragon and On a Storyteller’s Night are the sturdier, rockier picks of the Magnum back catalogue but they reached their peak of life-affirming, pop rock joy with Wings of Heaven: one of the most feelgood albums ever created. Tony Clarkin writing simple, catchy AOR rockers par excellence delivered with winning passion and panache by the ever-lovable Bob Cately. Boaby sings like he would take bullets for Magnum. “It’s a flame that keeps burning… everLASTing torrrchhhh!”, “Too old to die young, too big to cry… MAMA!” The guy’s a total hero. As soon as he chimes in on genius opener Days of No Trust (“Pray to the future…”) you are on your feet. The album continues with the vista of Wild Swan and the sublime power pop of Start Talking Love. Classics all. Different Worlds is a mid-album lull but Pray for the Day and the WWI epic Don’t Wake the Lion (Too Old to Die Young) end the album with weight and compassion: breathtaking, heartrending but still triumphant, mighty and melodic. It’s a colossal climax to an excellent album. File this in your collection alongside your Jovi, Lep and Whitesnake and it won’t be long before it steals your heart. A heavenly magnum opus.