Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve:
Bon Jovi,
Slippery When Wet

Celebrating David Bryan, born on this day in 1952.Ed.

I’ve always considered Bon Jovi a disease–like kuru, say, only a helluva lot scarier. To contract kuru you have to live in New Guinea and eat contaminated human brains. You can contract Bon Jovi by turning on your car radio.

That said, I never–and I know I sound just like those people on TV commercials talking about horrible contractable diseases–thought it could strike me. I was certain I possessed the necessary modicum of native intelligence and impeccable musical taste to serve as a prophylaxis against Bon Jovi. I was sure it only afflicted those who in some way “deserved it.”

Then one day I was in the car with my girl and “Wanted Dead or Alive” came on the radio. And instead of throwing my arm out of joint in a python-quick lunge to turn the dial to another station like I’ve done hundreds of times before, I sat back in my seat and started singing along instead. And just that fast I was another victim. I had Bon Jovi.

We’ll talk more about how the disease spreads in a moment, but first let’s take a look at the disease itself. Jon Bon Jovi’s a kind of hybrid animal, a mediagenic mule–part unthinking man’s Bruce Springsteen and part hair metal satyr. Problem is he’s no Springsteen and too MOR to be a glam metal god, and you would think these would make him an unlikely candidate as a contractable disease.

Like Bruce he’s a New Jersey populist, but he lacks the Boss’ smarts and grit; if Springsteen’s spiritual hometown is Asbury Park, Jon’s is the Paramus Mall. And in comparison to your average glam metal sleazeball Bon Jovi comes off as the boy next door. Unlike Tommy Lee or Nikki Sixx, he would never slip your sister a mandrax or give her a dose of the syph; he’d have her home by 11 and your mom would love him.

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Graded on a Curve: Punky Meadows,
Fallen Angel

Celebrating Punky Meadows on his 73rd birthday.Ed.

Well I’ll be damned. The last time I spoke with Punky Meadows at his tanning salon in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, the legendary pretty boy guitarist for the long-defunct “Anti-Kiss” Angel told me he had no interest in returning to the rock stage, and was solely listening to, and playing his guitar along with, country music. But over the intervening years Meadows must have changed his mind, for he has just released his first-ever solo album, Fallen Angel, on Main Man Records.

Interviewing the famously androgynous Meadows, whose hair was invariably perfect and whose pout could beat Ben Stiller’s “Blue Steel” hands down, was an enjoyable experience, largely because Angel—which released six LPs during its career, which ended in 1981—was one of the most histrionic and inadvertently hilarious bands to ever mount a stage. All-white outfits, a giant head with laser beam eyes for a backdrop, Angel and its label Casablanca Records spared no expense in putting on a glamtastic hard rock show. The boys even appeared on stage amidst smoke via lifts under the stage floor, which once led to a real-life Spinal Tap moment when a band member’s lift refused to work. As he cried for help the band milled around on stage, uncertain of what to do. You’ve got to love them for that.

You’ve also got to love Punky for his good humor—when Frank Zappa produced a song called “Punky’s Whips,” which was anything but laudatory, Meadows gladly agreed to appear with Zappa on stage in his outrageous Angel outfit, to play the very song that mocked him. He could’ve held a grudge, but didn’t because as I can attest having spent time with the man, he’s a nice guy.

Anyway, new album, wow. Didn’t see that one coming from a guy who hasn’t played since 1981, and whose attitude towards the music biz was best demonstrated by the fact that after the demise of Angel he turned down offers to join not only The New York Dolls, but KISS, Aerosmith, and Michael Bolton to boot.

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Graded on a Curve: Lewsberg, Lewsberg

This review could not have been written without the formidable knowledge and translation skills of Martijn de Vries. Dank je wel, mijn vriend. Lang leve Louis-Ferdinand Céline!MHL

Forget tulips, windmills, canals, and tall people (tallest in the world!)—what the Netherlands should best be known for are Rotterdam’s Lewsberg, the greatest rock and roll band (they’re certainly better than that decimated band of animated corpses the Rolling Stones) in the world. Lewsberg may sound like the name of a state penitentiary in Olathe, Kansas, but the band actually took its name from Robert Loesberg, notorious author of the scathing 1974 novel Enige Defecten (Some Defects).

Lewsberg are strongly influenced by the Velvet Underground during their jangly period, but Lewsberg are no one-track pony—their eponymous 2019 debut also includes some far stranger moments. Lewsberg’s members—English-speaking lead singer Arie Van Vliet, guitarist/keyboardist Michiel Klein, drummer Joris Frowein, and bass player/vocalist Shalita Dietrich (who bears a more than passing resemblance to Ulrike Meinhof of the West German terrorist organization the Baader-Meinhof Gang) forego slick professionalism, preferring to get by with sheer spunk. Van Vliet has said, “The idea was to start a rock band with really good songs, played very badly.” He’s also a big proponent of being “out of tune during a crucial guitar solo.” He’s my idea of a goddamn rock and roll hero.

As noted, Lewsberg have inherited the aesthetic of the Velvets and their acolytes, who include the Feelies, the Modern Lovers, and (why not?) England’s the Wedding Present. You can also detect the faintest whiff of Scottish twee heroes Belle and Sebastian in Dietrich’s vocals. But onto the album. Opening track “Vaan” is introduced by a chiming keyboard riff akin to the one on VU’s “Sunday Morning,” then dissolves into some aimless chit-chat between Frans Vogel (a Rotterdam poet and actor) and poet Cor Vaandrager (hence the song’s title).

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Graded on a Curve:
LCD Soundsystem,
Sound of Silver

Celebrating James Murphy in advance of his birthday tomorrow.

LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver—the only electronica LP you need ever own! You can forget about all the rest of them—they blow! It’s like the Beatles, and all those bozos buying all their LPs when the only one that conceivably matters is The White Album. The same goes for 2007’s Sound of Silver, so get rid of all your other dance-punk LPs. Just toss them in the trash; they’re nothing but rubbish cluttering your bedroom!

Okay, so everything I’ve just written is wrong-headed and absurd. Sue me! Because I mean every word of it. Sound of Silver gets my vote for best electronica LP ever, and I would hold that opinion even if it was nothing but 43 minutes of “North American Scum.” Why, just the other night I was in a car with “North American Scum” playing and I couldn’t help myself; I lowered my window and screamed at the crowds thronging 14th Street here in DC, “I need ecstasy now! Who has ecstasy? I want some fucking ecstasy right this instant!”

And I’ve never even done ecstasy! LCD Soundsystem just makes me want ecstasy. Anyway, LCD Soundsystem was, as everybody knows, the brain-child of New York City’s James Murphy, who spent some time in bands, then some time as a producer, before finally striking out in the early 2000s with his own take on dance punk. More or less a one-man band, Murphy turned down a paying gig to write for Seinfeld to produce mesmerizing and hard-edged dance tracks, starting with 2002’s underground hit “Losing My Edge.” When he wasn’t doing remixes or a long promotional piece for Nike he was writing irresistible dance tunes with great and frequently funny lyrics about life on the dance floor.

Why is LCD Soundsystem so great? It’s the beats, fool! And Murphy’s uncanny knack for finding subtle ways to dress them up. He also has the perfect voice for his material—cool as Nico on some cuts, and frenetic on others. Why, on Sound of Silver’s long opening track “Get Innocuous” he even manages to sound like The Talking Heads, mixed with some English band I can’t recognize. A funky groove that features the backing vocals of Nancy Whang, the snaky “Get Innocuous” throbs and percolates, thanks to some feisty percussion and who knows what else.

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Graded on a Curve:
Jeff Beck, Truth

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! Because the truth is that Truth, guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Beck’s 1968 debut solo LP is, well, a mere notch above meh. Truth—a collaboration of sorts with Rod Stewart aided by Ronnie Wood on bass and Mickey Walter on drums, has been lauded by fans and critics alike as a masterpiece.

But how great can it be when it includes covers of both hoary folk traditional “Greenssleeves” and 1927 show tune “Ol’ Man River”? To say nothing of a re-recording of “Shapes of Things,” a song first released by The Yardbirds during Beck’s stint with the band? Nor does it speak well of the LP that it includes only three Beck/Rod Stewart originals, supplemented by songs by Jimmy Page, folkie Bonnie Dobson, and three de rigueur covers of songs by Black American bluesmen. And have I mentioned that one of its songs boasts canned applause, much like the laugh track on The Brady Bunch?

Three things save the LP from mediocrity. The first is is its heavy sound—Truth has been lauded as a seminal work of heavy metal. The second is Beck, who despite his myriad faults shoots guitar shoots sparks and sounds like said guitar is powered not by an amp but by a large industrial generator. And then there’s Rod Stewart, the ex-Steampacket vocalist with the raspy voice who would go on to become one of rock’s greatest vocalists and songwriters with the Faces and as a solo artist.

Opener “Shapes of Things” is a much heavier lift than The Yardbirds’ original—sounds to me like Beck shot the this song full of steroids. And it works. Gone are the psychedelic pop overtones of the original, replaced with raw power and a higher excitement quotient. Beck joins Stewart on co-lead vocals on the powerhouse “Let Me Love You,” one of the three Beck/Stewart collaborations on the album. It doesn’t win any originality awards—truth (there’s that word again) is it could be a Cream song, with the exception that Eric Clapton is no Stewart, or Jeff Beck for that matter.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Kinks, The Kinks
Are the Village Green Preservation Society

Celebrating Dave Davies in advance of his 76th birthday tomorrow.Ed.

Ray Davies is without a doubt the most fascinating and enigmatic figure to emerge from England’s whole Merseybeat movement. Was he a hard rocker or music hall romanticist, an ironically distanced and gimlet-eyed chronicler of an England in terminal decline or the biggest mourner at the funeral?

One can only conclude that he’s all of the above, and add that he was, during the late sixties, the smartest fellow on the entire English rock scene with the possible exception of the Bonzo Dog Band’s Vivian Stanshall. That he chose to exercise his estimable talents during this period writing seemingly modest vignettes—miniatures if you will—of middle-class English life should not stand in the way of our adjudging the results—in this case 1968’s The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society—to be undeniable masterpieces.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society—which was released on the same day as the Beatles’ White Album—is probably Davies’ finest hour. Indeed, I for one think it’s the finest of the “concept” albums to be released by the great bands of the era, although I’ll hardly argue with you if you go with Pet Sounds. On its 15 tracks Davies attempts to do what Marcel Proust did with his seven-volume novel À la recherche du temps perdu—namely, to recapture lost time, and in specific his lost childhood spent in the little village green near his home in Fortis Green.

The album is a wistful look back at a “simpler” time, albeit one tinged with knowing irony—the Ray Davies who sings, on the title cut, “God save little shops, china cups, and virginity” is, without a doubt, having us on. And yet there’s an edge of sincerity there too—why not save vaudeville and variety, if they’re sunny childhood memories? But the truly wonderful thing about this remembrance of things past is the way Davies holds out the hope that—as he sings in “Do You Remember Walter?”—memories remain even as people change.

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Graded on a Curve:
Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

Celebrating John Lydon, born on this day in 1956.Ed.

Well here it is–the first and best punk album ever vomited upon an unsuspecting public. And I don’t want to hear any naysaying or quibbling. With 1977’s Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols Johnny Rotten and Company fired a shot heard round the world, and the aftershocks of this LP will be felt as long as kids continue to form punk bands, which is forever.

Never Mind the Bollocks sounds every bit as snotty and uncompromising as the day it was released, but hindsight affords us the opportunity to look at where it fits into the history of rock ’n’ roll. The first thing I would note is how much it has in common with smart English hard rock. Given a large quantity of speed and set loose in the studio, Mott the Hoople might have sounded like this. Which brings us to another point. Like Mott’s Ian Hunter, Johnny Rotten is one smart bloke. He may not have attended Oxford, but our lad Johnny had a knack for saying what was on his mind. And he summed up what was on his mind when he said, “Sometimes the most positive thing you can be in a boring society is absolutely negative.”

The songs on Never Mind the Bollocks are slower than I remember, and their sound is fuller; they don’t have that razor-thin edge one associates with, say, the Ramones or the Clash. And they don’t have the pop overtones of those bands either. Listen to the Ramones now and they sound like a bubblegum band; the Sex Pistols don’t blow bubbles and their songs might as well be Brighton rock. The Sex Pistols roar thank to Steve Jones’ blunderbuss guitar, and Johnny Rotten is purest ferocity. The Sex Pistols produce a ferocious din, and I can’t think of a punk band that has ever come close to equaling them in sheer savagery.

I prefer the cartoon nihilism of the Sex Pistols to the pretend revolutionary tendencies of the Clash; if nothing else, cartoon nihilism is far funnier. By “cartoon nihilism” I mean to imply that the anarchy advocated by this band probably goes no further than ripping the occasional car radio antenna off. I do not mean to suggest Johnny Rotten’s disgust, hatred, and bile are not real. It only takes a few seconds of LP opener “Anarchy in the U.K.” to demonstrate the man isn’t just taking the piss.

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Graded on a Curve: Television,

Remembering Tom Verlaine.Ed.

Sometimes I flabbergast myself. I think I know what I like and what I don’t like, only to find out I don’t know a damn thing about anything, least of all my likes and dislikes. Take KC and the Sunshine Band. I hated them with a passion for like 30 years and now I think they’re great. Or Elton John’s Caribou, which I liked for like 80 years only to realize just yesterday it only has two good songs on it, although to Captain Fantastic’s credit they’re two really great songs.

But occasionally I get it right the first time, as with Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” which I hated when it came out and still hate to this day. And the same goes for Television’s sophomore LP, 1978’s Adventure. People—as in every sentient human breathing air the year it came out—wrote Adventure off as a lackluster follow-up to the band’s 1977 debut, Marquee Moon. Everybody but me, that is. Because I had never heard of Marquee Moon. I didn’t even know it existed. Hell, I can’t even remember how or why I came to buy Adventure, because I had no clue as to who Television was and absolutely no inkling that they were an integral part of a musical revolution in progress at a ratty club in New York City called CBGBs.

But buy it I did, just as I bought Kill City without having ever heard the Stooges, which just goes to show you how isolating rural living was back in the days before the internet gave you access to all kinds of information, including who was who on the rock circuit. About all you got exposed to back in those days were hoof and mouth disease and square dancing, which is why I spent my teen years doing my level best to do as many drugs as I could get my greedy paws on, while trying to wrap my vehicle around a utility pole, which I finally accomplished on March 1, 1980. You’ve got to have goals, even in the boondocks, or life isn’t worth a damn.

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Graded on a Curve: Humble Pie,

Remembering Steve Marriott, born on this day in 1947.Ed.

I have an unwholesome relationship with Humble Pie. It may not be as unsavory as my obsession with the impossibly déclassé Grand Funk Railroad, but still. The fact is I return again and again to Steve Marriott and Humble Pie’s refried boogie like a dog chained to its vomit, seeking in vain to be sanctified. And occasionally—as on such songs as “Beckton Dumps” and “Shut Up and Don’t Interrupt Me” off 1973’ live Eat It LP—I am. But all too often—and believe me when I say I keep trying—I’m left wondering how the electrifying former frontman of the Small Faces went so wrong when the regular-sized Faces went so right.

The answer lies, I think, in the fact that while the Faces played ‘em fast and loose with an irrepressible spirit of camaraderie and fun, Marriott—who certainly had the pipes to pull it off—wanted desperately to be a testifyin’ boogie man. While Rod the Mod and Company were getting soused on stage and having fun, serious Steve was rewriting Ike and Tina Turner’s “Black Coffee” to make clear that his skin was white but his soul was black. And unlike the Faces, who had a deceptively light touch, Marriott opted to go—for the most part at least—the hard blues route.

Finally, Marriott liked to stretch ‘em out live—it gave him more time to testify, brothers and sisters—as is evident on 1971’s Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore. None of these things have helped Marriott’s posterity—everybody loves the Faces, but Humble Pie is more of a footnote and acquired taste for the kinds of tossers drawn to the Brit Blues likes of Savoy Brown, Blodwyn Pig, and the Groundhogs.

Yet I continue to turn to Humble Pie, attracted by Marriott’s astounding vocals, mean guitar work, and occasional ability to come up with a song that boogies as hard as the soulful “30 Days in the Hole” off 1972’s Smokin’, which demonstrates that Marriott had at least one borderline excellent boogie record in him. It was the song that would help make Smokin’ Humble Pie’s highest charting LP ever, and it’s a riff’n’roll triumph with lots of great vocals, some great bass by Greg Ridley, and the imaginative drumming of young Jerry Shirley.

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Graded on a Curve:
Dan Hill,
Longer Fuse

Dan Hill is the most sensitive person on the planet. He sobs when ponies sneeze, weeps uncontrollably when anvils fall on Wile E. Coyote’s head. And the proof lies in “Sometimes When We Touch” from 1977’s Longer Fuse, the most wince-worthy song ever recorded. For complete effect you have to watch the video. If cringing could kill, YouTube would have a host of corpses on its conscience.

On Longer Fuse the namby-pamby Canadian folk rocker’s emotional palette ranges from vomit-bag earnestness to shudder-inducing naked honesty—honesty that will make you wish it would put some clothes on. Seemingly without effort Dan makes Janis Ian look like Sid Vicious, James Taylor like Attila the Hun. Hill didn’t invent the man bun—he is one. If emotional fragility was radioactive we’d best be advised to erect a containment dome around the guy—we don’t want an emotional Chernobyl on our hands.

Maudlin is the byword of Longer Fuse, and nowhere does he do it better than on the feelings tenderizer that is “Sometimes When We Touch.” Wracked by a deep and painful hurt he sings (and it’s worth quoting in full):

“And sometimes when we touch
The honesty’s too much
And I have to close my eyes and hide
I wanna hold you ’til I die
‘Til we both break down and cry
I wanna hold you ’til the fear in me subsides.”

“Sometimes When We Touch” topped the pop charts in Hill’s native Canada, which I find inexplicable—could it be that the moose hunters, ice fishermen, and burly lumberjacks of the Great White North are tender shoots requiring plenty of empathetic sunlight? Hell, the moose themselves probably break down in tears when they hear it.

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Graded on a Curve:
Thin Lizzy,

Celebrating Brian Downey on his 72nd birthday.Ed.

You wanna hear a miracle? I lived for almost five-and-a-half decades without ever hearing Jailbreak, or any other Thin Lizzy album for that matter. Here vocalist/bassist and chief songwriter Phil Lynott and his Irish compatriots put out a truly tremendous LP in America’s Bicentennial Year, not to mention a parcel of other great LPs, and what was I doing? Listening to Elton John and John Denver and England Dan and John Ford Coley, any band basically with a guy named John in it. If Debbie Gibson’s middle name been John, I would have listened to her too.

I would love to be able to say I simply wasn’t into hard rock back then, but I owned albums by Bad Company, UFO (UFO? Me? Inexplicable!), Robin Trower, and Foghat, so that’s sheer bunk. But there’s no point in crying over guilty milk, and it’s never too late to make up for past mistakes, that is unless you’re Lee Harvey Oswald or that chimpanzee (name: Travis) who ripped a woman’s face off in 2009, and I’m neither of those personages.

So here I am making up for atoning for my inexplicable oversight, and listening to Jailbreak which mixes tremendous twin-guitar hard rockers with sweeter fair, all of which I love with the possible exception of “Cowboy Song”—in which Lynott, a black Irishman, plays rodeo cowpoke.

But I take that back. “Cowboy Song” may start slowly, but its guitar solos are tremendous and Lynott’s vocals are impassioned (especially when he sings, “It’s okay amigo/Just let me go/Riding in the rodeo”) and the jam at song’s end is a bono fido guitar marvel. Turns out I love the damn thing! Just as I love everything about the LP, except for its cover. Too sci-fi for my decidedly earthbound tastes.

Thin Lizzy was founded in 1969 in Dublin by two former members of Van Morrison’s Them and two members of the band Orphanage (which reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s quip about orphans, to wit: “To lose one parent is misfortune; to lose two parents is sheer carelessness.”). The band moved permanently to London in 1971, and recorded their eponymous debut LP that same year.

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Graded on a Curve:
Luke Haines,
New York in the ‘70s

Luke Haines is your classic English eccentric. Following the disbanding of his Britpop band The Auteurs and between a stint with Black Box Recorder, the notoriously irascible Haines has released numerous songs about musicians, artists and miscellaneous, and a series of concept albums. One, released in 1996 under the name Baader-Meinhof, brilliantly chronicles the history of the infamous German terrorist group, while another takes a headlock on British professional wrestling (2011’s remarkable 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s & Early ’80s.) The man’s interests are Catholic, to say the least.

But the Haines concept LP with the broadest audience appeal is undoubtedly 2014’s New York in the ‘70s. On it Haines expresses his love for the NYC punk, literary and art scenes, and over the course of the album he name drops everyone from Suicide’s Alan Vega, the New York Dolls, the Ramones, Lou Reed, William Burroughs, Jim Carroll, Richard Hell, and I may have missed some. Conspicuous by their absence are Patti Smith (no big loss), Andy Warhol, Jayne County, Debbie Harry, Television, and the Talking Heads.

The LP opens with the slow “Alan Vega Says” (a tribute to Lou Reed’s “Candy Says” and “Lisa Says,” most likely). Haines is a one-man band on New York in the ‘70s, and on this one he uses keyboards and guitar to chronicle Vega’s days in the Chelsea Hotel. Vegas name drops Sharon Tate, Marilyn, and Elvis, and the song’s key line is “Alan Vegas says it’s going to be a great hit/If Alan says so it probably is.” And the following track, the bottom heavy and fuzzed-out “Drone” is a straight-up tribute to Vegas’ band Suicide and its unique sound.

The title track—which features a repetitive guitar riff, one spazzed-out synthesizer, and glam vocals—is a slow and simple tribute to a period we’ll never see the likes of again. When Haines isn’t repeating the title over and over again he tosses off lines like “American days become American nights/We’re going to have fun with the scary transvestites, oh!” and “Everybody’s gay or bisexual/A man called Jim getting experimental.” On the fast-paced “Jim Carroll” Haines goes downtown with the poet, rocker, and junkie who penned The Basketball Diaries and the super-bummer “People Who Died,” and over the course of the song Haines has Carroll say things like “Coke is just meth dressed up in drag” and “They put a man up in space/And I can’t even score in St. Mark’s Place.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Van Halen,
Women and Children First

Remembering Eddie Van Halen, born on this day in 1955.Ed.

What to say about the passing of Eddie Van Halen? Sad? Tragic? Heartbreaking? If the words are trite ones, it’s because death is the mother of a vast brood of cliches. What I’ll carry with me forever is his impish grin in the video for “Jump.” Can a smile sum up a man’s life? It’s the smile of a show-off making it look easy when you know damn well it isn’t, but there’s nothing smug about it. He’s simply bequeathing us a gift, the giving of which makes him happy. As for the fireworks he produced with his guitar, they speak for themselves.

I fell in love with Van Halen as a result of that video, which many–including my lovely other half–view as a sell-out. But the song’s sheer exuberance won me over, and led me to do something I would never have done otherwise–go back and listen to, and fall in love with, the band’s earlier albums.

One of said albums is 1980’s Women and Children First, which I put in third place in the Van Halen discography behind their self-titled 1978 debut and 1984’s 1984. On Women and Children First Pasadena’s greatest ever metal band pulverize the competition–Eddie shows off his hair-raising chops while David Lee Roth does his patented Borscht Belt shtick, and drummer Alex Van Halen and bass player Michael Anthony make like a steamroller with swing. In short, it’s business as usual.

The LP’s two opening tracks are its best. “And the Cradle Will Rock” is one of the heaviest songs in the Van Halen catalogue–less blitzkrieg than juggernaut, it boasts (as do the other songs) a guitar solo I’m sure has led many a lesser guitarist to take up the tuba, and a message (“Well, they say it’s kinda frightnin’/How this younger generation swings”) that’s resounded the whole way back to the origins of rock ’n’ roll and beyond.

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Graded on a Curve:
Neil Diamond,
Hot August Night

Celebrating Neil Diamond on his 82nd birthday.Ed.

So my physicist buddy Stoner Doug finally managed to construct an actual time machine and was like, “Where should we go?” And we looked at each other and without even having to think about it shouted in perfect sync, “Hot August Night!” Because who wouldn’t have wanted to be at The Greek Theater on that historic August night in 1972 when Neil “Beautiful Noise” Diamond put it all out there in an orgiastic celebration of cosmic shlock?

Forget Elvis! Forget Chuck Berry! Forget Jesus Christ! This was NEIL at his Forever in Blue Jeans best, giving it his all! The Greatest Concert Ever! You don’t hear about it much because the story got suppressed by Neil’s record label, but 15 people died on that sultry August night! Steamed to death by sheer joy!

And Doug and I wanted to be two of them. So we climbed into his primitive time capsule made out of aluminum siding and flattened Dr. Pepper cans with a big sign on a stick reading “We LOVE you Neil!” And following a dramatic WHOOSH and the shriek of the time machine’s 350 Small Block Chevy engine there we were, sitting in Row Three beside a 50-year-old woman from Reno who told us she owned 13 cats all of whom were named Neil (if male) or Diamond (if female).

And there he was! Neil in the flesh! Just like on the cover of Hot August Night on which he appears to be jerking himself off! And why not? If anybody has the right to stroke his shtupper in front of an audience of thousands it’s Neil, who is THE songwriter of our time! The Brill Building savant who came up with such master strokes of pop brilliance as “Cherry, Cherry,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Song Sung Blue”! To say nothing of the deep philosophical meditation that is “I Am, I Said,” in which an existentially alone Neil complains that nobody will listen to him, not even his chair!

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Graded on a Curve:
Cheap Trick,
Heaven Tonight

Celebrating Robin Zander on his 70th birthday.Ed.

What a cheap trick. Here Rockford, Illinois’ finest put out Heaven Tonight which I considered the coolest album in the galaxy, only to follow it up with Cheap Trick at Budokan and the heinous “I Want You to Want Me,” which I’ve had to suffer through like 80,000 times over the years. Every single person I know loves the damn song. I’d sooner listen to the death rattle of a unicorn.

That said, 1978’s Heaven Tonight–the band’s third–still makes me as giddy as an axe-wielding maniac at a remote summer camp. It’s a knee-trembling, rock ‘em sock ‘em, wham bam than you ma’am classic, and it solidly established Cheap Trick amongst America’s Power Pop elite alongside the Raspberries, Big Star, and (my campy faves) Redd Kross.

What set Cheap Trick apart from the power pop pack was hard rock crunch. They infused their catchy melodies with steroids: had they been ML baseball players they’d have gone the way of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Songs such as “Surrender,” “On the Radio,” and “How Are You” may not be cement mixers, but “High Roller,” “Auf Wiedersehen,” and “Stiff Competition” all fall into Robert Christgau’s characterization of Heaven Tonight as “power-tooled hard rock product.”

Heaven Tonight is a case of eclecticism at work. “Surrender” is an ecstatic-making monument, like Mount Rushmore but with a better chorus. And it’s funny to boot. Robin Zander comes downstairs to discover his parents going at it, and with his Kiss records playing to boot. It’s a friendly bridge across the generation gap; if the kids are alright, so are the parents. Mom and dad aren’t out of it, they’re with it, and it’s a life-altering revelation.

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  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text