Graded on a Curve: Nazareth,
Hair of the Dog

The Scottish clods o’ peat in this hard-working, hard-rocking man’s man band never won any originality awards, and weren’t exactly well-versed in the songwriting arts either, and given their high scunge factor, I doubt they’d even be allowed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as paying customers, much less as inductees.

They’re not going to be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame anytime soon, either. Hell, they only hit two homers over the course of their long career, and their lifetime batting average is in the .233 range. Forget about Cooperstown; these guys would be lucky to earn a spot on the bench of the 1962 New York Mets.

But I’ll say this for ‘em–way back in 1975 every badass or wannabe badass in my home town was blaring Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog out of their car 8-track speakers, whether that car be a GTO or a rusted-out Ford Pinto. The title track–with its “Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch”–was a blast of pure unbridled belligerence and without a doubt the orneriest cut of the summer, hell the whole year probably. Alice Cooper may have put out “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” but that was play acting; Nazareth’s Dan McCafferty came on like the Real McCoy.

As for the album title, me and my buddies prided ourselves on knowing what it meant even though we’d never cracked a beer (much less suffered a hangover) in our lives–it made us feel adult, worldly even, just as that “Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch” made us feel tough, when in effect we were probably the wimpiest band of geeks to ever gingerly trod the halls of Littlestown High School, on the lookout for the real sons of bitches.

Nazareth’s other home run–which is also to be found on Hair of the Dog–was their cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts,” one of the biggest heartbreak songs of ‘em all. Again: I’d yet to have my heart broken in 1975, but I knew this was what it would feel like–I would sing along with it until I felt very, very sorry for myself, and it would take a whole lot of Elton John to pull me out of what was in effect a completely imaginary romantic funk.

As for the rest of the album, I drew a complete blank until I listened to it again last week. And there’s a reason for that; while none of the remaining six tracks are unlistenable, not one of them is memorable. Even on their best album, the division bottom-dwellers in Nazareth only managed to hit .250.

Then again, maybe I’m being too hard on the boys. “Miss Misery” may be nothing more than a hard rock mash-up of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, but I can’t fault its crunch; it makes me wonder what rough beast slouches towards Nazareth, Pennsylvania, waiting to be born. As for “Changing Times,” it’s a pretty good Led Zeppelin rip–replace McCafferty’s screech with Robert Plant’s banshee wail, and I doubt anybody would know the difference.

Nazareth’s cover of “Beggar’s Day” pales in comparison to the Grin original; if Nils Lofgren and his bandmates boogie on the latter, Scotland’s Average Rock Band brutalize the poor song, like a buncha Neanderthal amateurs on Talent Nite at the Feldhofer Grotto. They’re about as subtle as a hammer to the thumb, our boys, or so you think until they follow “Beggar’s Day” with the really rather pretty instrumental “Rose in the Heather.”

Ah, but don’t get your hopes up: next up is “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman,” and–just as you’d guess from the title–it’s a lackluster, cliche-ridden affair, and belongs in an institution for retarded songs. This baby is the idiot cousin of Procol Harum’s “Whisky Train” and really shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets except maybe on a leash; left to its own devices, it’s would almost surely wander into the path of a bus.

Which leaves us with odd man out “Please Don’t Judas Me,” which drags on for almost ten minutes and boasts a vaguely Indian feel thanks to the tabla. I like Manny Charlton’s guitar and synthesizer work–they increase the song’s exotica quotient–but really wish the song did something besides proceed at a slow, saturnine march towards New Delhi or wherever. This is one song you’ll want to avoid if you’re prone to depression; verily, friends and neighbors, it’s the rock equivalent of “The Volga Boatmen.”

Nazareth is the ultimate journeyman’s rock band, and they’re the ultimate survivors too; they got their start in 1968 and they’re still on the road today–why just last year they released a brand new studio album, Tattooed on My Brain. I don’t know who goes to see ‘em or who buys their albums but you have to admire their staying power–when they got into rock’n’roll they got into it for life, and barring a plane crash or mass spontaneous combustion they’ll still be rocking long after you and I are pushing up daisies. They weren’t just talking the talk when they said they were sons of bitches–they were in dead earnest. So don’t mess with ‘em.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B-

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