Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve: Public Image Ltd.,
Second Edition

Remembering Keith Levene.Ed.

Okay, so in everybody’s life there comes a day so bleak that not even Joy Division can do it justice. And on that day there’s only one recourse: to crank up Public Image Ltd’s Second Edition. John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols band’s sophomore release, also known as Metal Box because it initially saw light as a metal 16mm film canister containing three 12” 45rpm records in 1979, was re-issued in 1980 as a double LP.

But regardless of format it was designed to brutalize the listener with music that was as remorselessly and relentlessly down-in-the-mouth as it was utterly hypnotizing, thanks to Lydon’s deranged vocal stylings, Jah Wobble’s loping and rhythmic dub-inspired bass, and Keith Levene’s splintered and utterly unique guitar riffs. Me, I find it soothing when I’ve reached the end of my tether; it lets me know I’m not alone.

Lydon was wise to abandon punk rock; he’d said everything that needed saying in that genre and knew damn well it was a dead end. And it’s a credit to his musical knowledge—which was far more wide-ranging than anyone would have given him credit for—that he went the avant-garde dub route.

Sure, the Sex Pistols posed an existential threat to everything that had come before them; but Second Edition is downright SCARY at times, and sounds every bit as demented as the Sex Pistols did menacing. Plus you could dance to it, as the band’s legendary (and hilarious) performance on American Bandstand proved.

The “death disco” (the alternative title of the song “Swan Lake”) of Second Edition marked a radical move away from the (relatively speaking) more conventional punk of 1978’s First Issue, and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that Lydon was not interested in making music for the masses.

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Graded on a Curve:
Frank Zappa,
Baby Snakes

I’m in the mood for a diatribe so here goes: Frank Zappa is, without a doubt, the most annoying rock act who’s ever lived. More annoying than Rush; more annoying (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) than Emerson, Lake & Palmer even. He was prissy, pretentious, punctilious, arrogant, and smug, possessed a sense of humor that atrophied during his early adolescence, and never met a decent song he couldn’t render unlistenable with his incurable proclivity for impossibly intricate arrangements. He even came close to fucking up “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama,” which is impossible.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about Zappa was his knack for writing condescending and not very funny novelty songs. “Jewish Princess.” “Bobby Brown.” “Dancin’ Fool.” “Valley Girl.” And on 1983’s Baby Snakes, “Disco Boy” and “Titties and Beer.” If Zappa was so smart, how was it he wrote satire so facile, juvenile, and petty? I mean, talk about your low-hanging fruit.

Baby Snakes was the soundtrack to a film of the same name, and features several of the songs from the film. It shares the same characteristics of most of Zappa’s innumerable other live LPs, which feature “zany” interactions between the players that increase the annoyance factor considerably. On “Titties and Beer” for instance, there’s an exchange between Zappa and another player in which Zappa repeats the song’s title about ten times in a row. You may as well be back in the playground, and it’s a pity they don’t give out Grammy awards for impersonating an eleven-year-old.

But before that you get the title track, which would be a nice straight-ahead rocker if it weren’t for the cartoon voices repeating “baaaby snaaaakes” over and over again. The frantic piano is nice, but the only thing that even made Zappa’s music listenable was his guitar solos—the guy was truly one of the greats—and you won’t find one here, or on most of the rest of the album either.

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Graded on a Curve:
Neil Young,
Roxy: Tonight’s
the Night Live

Celebrating Neil Young in advance of his 77th birthday tomorrow.

When the legendary LA Roxy Theatre opened its doors on July 20, 1973, it was another legend who greeted the club’s first customers. Neil Young, who was then, as he put it, down in the ditch in the wake of the drug-related deaths of two close friends, played a triumphant bummer of a set with a band calling themselves the Stray Gators. And at long last the show (or three of them actually) are available in the form of 2018’s Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live.

The studio versions of the songs Neil plays on the live disc wouldn’t see the light of day until 1975’s Tonight’s the Night, but Young more or less runs through them all here, omitting only “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown” (which was actually recorded live at the Fillmore East in 1970 with Crazy Horse guitarist and drug casualty and Danny Whitten and adding “Walk On” from 1974’s On the Beach.

On both the live and studio LPs Young sounds like a man trying to come to terms with the anguish he was feeling after the drug-related deaths of both Whitten and roadie pal Bruce Berry. Don’t let the Vegas-style stage patter Young engages in between songs on Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live fool you; Young was one hurting individual.

And it wasn’t just Neil who was feeling gloomy; America’s youth were suffering a collective bring down from the loss of the idealism that marked the psychedelic sixties. On both LPs Young puts paid to the crystal visions of the Age of Aquarius, and channels the pain and disillusionment of a generation of innocents ravaged by hard drugs, Altamont, and the Manson family.

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Graded on a Curve: Ecstatic Vision,
Elusive Mojo

Iggy and the Stooges were probably the most influential rock band to ever wanna be your dog, but that influence doesn’t run across the board. Countless bands, both famous and anonymous, have covered “Raw Power,” “Search and Destroy,” and the aforementioned “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” but how many have dared try their hand at “Funhouse” from the 1970 album of the same name? One, so far as I can tell—the Birthday Party took a crack at it on Live 1981–82.

The reason is obvious. “Raw Power” and “Search and Destroy” were straight-up punk songs. “Funhouse” is pure sonic chaos, murky and anarchic, and no band in their right mind wanted to touch it. Iggy himself performs a self-exorcism, as his vocal cords crawl up the walls and across the ceiling—if he stops howling and making horrible noises, he’s afraid he’ll self-combust. It was for good reason the late rock critic Lester Bangs called him “a blowtorch in bondage.”

And so I’ve spent years convinced no one would be able to recapture the sound of “Funhouse,” much less its spirit. That is until I heard Philadelphia quartet Ecstatic Vision’s 2022 release Elusive Mojo on Heavy Psych Sound Records. They don’t exclusively mine Stooges territory—far from it—but the Stooges’ 1970 LP Funhouse is a primary template, and Ecstatic Vision are ballsy enough to ‘fess up to it. They loosely base “Deathwish70″ on the Stooges’ “1970, ” and that “Deathwish” isn’t so far from “Death Trip,” the final cut of 1973’s Raw Power.

Distinguishable from the muck and murk of Funhouse was Steve MacKaye’s saxophone skronk, and Ecstatic Vision goes the same route with Kevin Nickles, whose echoing horn is incorporated into the din of the unforgivably brief opening cut “March of the Troglodytes.” And you take yet another step into the funhouse on the feral title track, with Doug Sabolik’s Ron Asheton-school wah-wah guitar and Nickles’ sax, which comes squealing in to gain extra credit in anarchy. Sabolik’s vocals don’t evoke Iggy—his voice is too gruff (sounds like a two-pack a day guy), but it sounds like he has some demons of his own to expel.

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Graded on a Curve:
Alice Cooper,
Billion Dollar Babies

Remembering Glen Buxton, born on this day in 1947.Ed.

Alice Cooper had the music world’s head in a guillotine in the year of our dark lord 1973; his cartoonishly ghoulish song matter and macabre on-stage shock rock shtick were thrilling to outrage-hungry teengenerates like my older brother, who went to a show on Alice’s Billion Dollar Babies tour in a suit covered with a billion dollars’ worth of stapled-on Monopoly money.

While your more sophisticated tastemakers were deriding poor Alice as so much P.T. Barnum hokum–a low-brow sensationalist who lacked the talent, subtlety and immediacy of such glam era creatures as David and Lou and Iggy–Alice was winning the big youth vote (“Elected” indeed!) and laughing all the way to the bank.

Who cares if his oh so chic contemporaries dismissed him with a smug wave of the hand? Sneered an offended David Bowie: “I think he’s trying to be outrageous. You can see him, poor dear, with his red eyes sticking out and his temples straining… I find him very demeaning.” Which didn’t stop Lou Reed, for one, from stooping to his own brand of low-rent on-stage theatrics; if shaving Iron Crosses onto your skull and mimicking shooting up on stage isn’t “straining” to be outrageous, what is?

Fact is Billion Dollar Babies isn’t really that different from Diamond Dogs or Berlin (whose producer, Bob Ezrin, also produced this baby). It’s not a concept album, per se, but it has the feel of one–on it Alice grapples with having money tossed at him, threatens to parlay the success of “School’s Out” into an apocalyptic run for higher office which he’s sure to win in a “generation landslide” cuz he’s got the toxic kiddie vote wrapped up, and in general flexes his skinny biceps while singing “God, I feel so strong, I am so strong.”

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Graded on a Curve: Nazareth,
Hair of the Dog

Remembering Dan McCafferty.Ed.

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.

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Graded on a Curve: Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, On Tour with Eric Clapton

Celebrating Bonnie Bramlett on her 78th birthday.Ed.

Poor Eric Clapton. Having been through the supergroup wringer with Cream and Blind Faith, there was nothing he craved more than a little anonymity. No more “Clapton is God”; all he wanted to be was a player in a band that wasn’t being hyped to the stars, and where he could perform his six-string pyrotechnics in the background, as it were. Those are rich man problems, for sure, but Clapton was truly burnt out, and given the opportunity to tour with the American soul/rock/blues band Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, he happily said yes. It was a respite and it paid off, as his guitar playing on the resulting LP, 1970’s On Tour with Eric Clapton, testified.

During the early seventies the Bramletts fronted a musical family that saw them taking in lots of famous orphans, including Duane Allman, George Harrison, Rita Coolidge, Dave Mason, and King Curtis. Despite a host of studio LPs Delaney and Bonnie were best regarded as an incendiary live act, one that led Clapton to not only say, “Delaney taught me everything I know about singing,” but “For me, going on [with Blind Faith] after Delaney and Bonnie was really, really tough, because I thought they were miles better than us.” In any event his time spent with Delaney and Bonnie was a happy one for the troubled musician.

On Tour with Eric Clapton didn’t just feature Clapton. In fact it was populated by a veritable who’s who of the best of rock’s supporting musicians, many of whom also played on that same year’s LP Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Clapton’s next project, Derek and the Dominos. You’ve got Dave Mason on guitar, Bobby Whitlock on organ and keyboards, Carl Radle on bass, Jim Gordon on drums, Bobby Keys on saxophone, Jim Price on trombone and trumpet, and Rita Coolidge on backing vocals; the folks who saw this iteration of the band live were lucky indeed.

Opener “Things Get Better” is a Booker T. and the M.G.’s song, and the band does Stax Records proud with a great horn section, Delaney and Bonnie’s soulful singing, and lots of funky organ by Bobby Whitlock. Things really do get better when Rita Coolidge throws in on vocals and Clapton rips into a guitar solo that never fails to sock my knocks off.

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Graded on a Curve:
Joni Mitchell,
Court and Spark

Celebrating Joni Mitchell on her 79th birthday.Ed.

My great ambivalence about Joni Mitchell, she of the beret and the aloofly confessional lyrics, is best expressed by the critic Robert Christgau, who addressing her 2000 LP Both Sides Now wrote, “My favorite Joni story is that they tried to do a TV special on her and none of her old friends would pitch in. Even if it’s a dumb rumor or a damned lie, it’s a hell of a metaphor for someone who loves herself so much nobody else need bother, and yet another reason to scoff at her concept song cycle about the rise and fall of an affair. But after decades of pretentious pronouncements on art, jazz, and her own magnificence, this very if briefly great singer-songwriter proves herself a major interpretive singer.”

It’s no mystery Mitchell thinks very highly of herself, but it can be argued she has good reason. There has never been another folk-rock-jazz artist like her; she possesses a voice as clear as a bell and a mode of phrasing that is all her own, with which she sends her semi-confessional lyrics out into the world. That’s the good part, along with her remarkable songwriting skills. The bad part is that if her music sometimes reminds me of that of Steely Dan, it unfortunately lacks their sense of irony and humor.

But that’s just carping. Mitchell may be a prima donna with delusions of grandeur, to say nothing of jazz-lite and boho pretensions, but her music is beloved by many, and admired at a great distance by numerous other folks like yours truly. I mean, I love “Coyote” and “Raised on Robbery” and even “Free Man in Paris,” despite its beatnik affectations and the vocal contributions of those two horrible, horrible people, David Crosby and Graham Nash. (Okay, so only the former is horrible. Sorry, Graham.) Why, I even have a sneaking admiration for her failed 1979 homage to the great jazz bassist Charles Mingus, which she kinda screwed up by recruiting members of that middling jazz-fusion band Weather Report as sidemen. But her early work terrifies me and her later work leaves me stone cold.

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Graded on a Curve:
Black Oak,
I’d Rather Be Sailing

The list of Yacht Rock admirals is long and illustrious. We know their names and we’ve all hoisted sail into the gently lulling breeze of their mellow. Christopher Cross. Pablo Cruise. Jimmy Buffett. Michael McDonald. Kenny Loggins. George Benson. Ambrosia. Player. Captain & Tennille. Toto. Little River Band. Black Oak.

Black Oak what now? Are we talking about Black Oak Arkansas, the acid-fried Southern rockers and rural commune dwellers from a land-locked state some 330 miles from the nearest body of salt water? The Black Oak Arkansas led by the charismatic hillbilly metaphysician Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, whose washboard abs, washboard playing, flowing blond locks, and inability to hold a tune made the band a highly successful seventies live act? Well sort of. By 1978’s I’d Rather Be Sailing Mangrum had dispensed with virtually every member of the original band and shortened its name to Black Oak in a futile effort to play down the group’s Southern rock roots. I’m betting the great state of Arkansas has never forgiven him.

But if tacking in a new direction is one thing, going Yacht Rock is a whole other bucket of chum. I doubt Mangrum’s ever seen a dolphin outside of a rerun of Flipper, and his knowledge of sailing is limited to an aluminum two-seater fishing boat with an outboard motor and a King Syrup can of worms as first mate. You might as well slap a captain’s cap on Ted Nugent and set him on a cabin cruiser.

And the results, as you might expect, are beyond dismal. I’d Rather Be Sailing is a mediocre collection of songs so generically bland they make Player sound like the Rolling Stones in their prime. Songs like “Daydreams” and “Wind in Our Sails” make I’d Rather Be Sailing one of the least seaworthy albums ever to founder within hailing distance of my ears, and are what you’d get if you lobotomized Christopher Cross with a harpoon then set him down at a piano.

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Graded on a Curve:
Art Garfunkel, Breakaway

Celebrating Art Garfunkel in advance of his 81st birthday tomorrow.Ed.

It was blasted dastardly, the way Paul Simon gave poor Art Garfunkel the old heave-ho. Absolutely duplicitous. So duplicitous in fact that I coined a shiny new word for the sad fate that befell the kinky-haired half of the famous duo—he got Garfunkeled. The word is slowing entering the popular lexicon, and I plan to patent it and thereby grow filthy rich.

Because it’s the ideal word for all manner of occasions. Say your boyfriend should, without due warning, terminate your relationship. And say said abrupt news should fall upon your heart like a ton of Mick Jagger solo albums. You are left with two alternatives. You can shed bitter tears of the sort that wilt flowers. Or better by far, you can run to your friends and cry, “The sleazy bastard just Garfunkeled me!”

In any event, having been Garfunkeled following 1970’s Bridge over Troubled Water, Art of the magic golden Jewfro found himself at loose ends. I like to imagine, although it doesn’t fit the historical time line, that he spent many a dour hour sunk in the funk at the home of Jim Messina, the poor fellow who got Garfunkeled by Kenny Loggins. In reality Garfunkel did some acting, released 1973’s Angel Clare (for which he took much abuse for his treacly version of Randy Newman’s “Old Man”), and then followed Angel Clare with 1975’s Breakaway.

Breakaway is Garfunkel’s most successful LP and a soft rock classic. Garfunkel’s choirboy vocals can rankle, but on Breakaway he gathered up a bunch of songs that made effective use of those inimitable tenor pipes of his. He also dragooned every crack studio musician in the known world, to say nothing of such folks as David Crosby, Bill Payne, Graham Nash, Toni Tennille, and (erk!) Andrew Gold. Why even Garfunkeler-in-Chief Paul Simon reunited with the Garfunkeled one on “My Little Town.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Alice Cooper,
Muscle of Love

Sooner or later the guillotine falls on its inventor. Just ask Maximilien Robespierre, or better yet the Alice Cooper Band, whose outré subject matter (necrophilia, anyone?) convinced a generation of parents that everybody’s favorite shock rock prankster was out to decapitate their children’s morals. Alice’s string of four excellent (and boa constrictor friendly) LPs between 1971 and 1973 made the band’s namesake one of the era’s icons, and there was no end in sight.

Then came 1973’s flaccid Muscle of Love. Gone was the macabre subject matter that had the kids coming through the turnstiles, and most of its songs were neither funny nor particularly memorable. And the band sounded like it was going through its paces. Muscle of Love’s shortcomings were no mystery along the lines of the disappearance of that other great Cooper, D.B.

The band had released four albums in three years and spent large swathes of time on the road,, and a fall-off in song quality was almost inevitable. What’s more, the band had dismissed long-time producer Bob Ezrin and made a conscious decision to lower the dial on the theatrics in favor of a more straight-up hard rock sound. “More balls” was the way Cooper put it. It seems never to have occurred to him that theatrics were exactly what the kids wanted.

A rundown of the songs on Muscle of Love demonstrates two things. One, it’s desperately short on great hard rockers, the title track being the only exception. No others come even close to matching the mighty triumvirate (“Caught in a Dream,” “I’m Eighteen,” and “Long Way to Go”) that open 1971’s Love It to Death. And two, the band doesn’t abandon the camp theatrics altogether; the two novelty tunes on Muscle of Love simply pale in comparison to the best on their previous LPs.

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Graded on a Curve:
Adam and the Ants, Kings of the Wild Frontier

Celebrating Adam Ant in advance of his 68th birthday tomorrow.

Who’s better qualified to talk about New Wave legends Adam and the Ants than a real, live ant? Or better yet, anthropomorphic cartoon superhero Atom Ant? I recently caught up with everybody’s favorite atomic-powered New Frontier insect at a retirement anthill outside Phoenix, Arizona, and took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the band that invented Antmusic.

Before we start, how’s Secret Squirrel?

Squirrelly. Very squirrelly. All of that International Sneaky Service stuff went to his head. I was always having to remind him it was only TV. I occasionally get coded letters from him with handwritten return addresses from places like Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But they’re all postmarked Erie, Pennsylvania.

So what do you think about Adam and the Ants’ striking visual image?

It’s a disgrace to Family Formicidae. Real ants don’t wear make-up, although we do have our fair share of Goth Kids. Don’t get me wrong; in one sense their look is a return to the campy outrages of Glam Rock, and I don’t know a single ant who doesn’t love him some Glam. Hell, even their patented two-drummer Burundi beat is a salute of sorts to Gary Glitter.

What was your response to the “Antpeople Phenom”?

I took it as a left-handed complement to our eusociality and this mythical notion that we share some kind of “hive mind.” Hell, if that were true we’d all like straightedge–if that ain’t a terrifying example of programmed hive behavior, I don’t know what is. But speaking for myself, I think Antpeople are good people. You could do worse than imitate us. Let’s face it: acting human certainly hasn’t gotten the human race very far. The shit you people do on a daily basis is appalling. Cooperation and peaceful crisis resolution just aren’t your thing. Remember the episode where arch-enemy Karate Ant and I faced off and ended up having a friendly chat? Donald Trump would have called him “Little Rocket Man” and escalated that little contretemps into WWIII.

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Graded on a Curve: Beastie Boys,
Licensed to Ill

Celebrating Ad-Rock who turned 56 yesterday.Ed.

Well here it is: the album that changed everything–for the better! The fiery shot of hip hop fired across the bow of rock’n’roll that succeeded (spectacularly!) by swiping its most monstrous riffs from rock’n’roll itself, and its brash, crass, and hilarious attitude from punk.

As I remember it, 1988’s Licensed to Ill did the impossible by converting predominantly white hardcore punks and rockers to an almost exclusively black musical genre (hip hop) OVERNIGHT. I recall attending a party being thrown by a couple of Johnny Thunders wannabes at a roach-infested crash pad in Philly, and lo and behold all every sneering personality crisis in attendance wanted to do was jump joyously around to Licensed to Ill until the morning hours.

Do you think it’s easy to instantaneously win hearts and minds? To turn cynical hive-minded hardcore kids (just like the Beasties when they started out) into the kinds of responsible world citizens who immediately rushed out to buy Public Enemy’s black-consciousness-expanding It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back after a single playing of “No Sleep till Brooklyn”? Licensed to Ill was the boldest blow for race mixing this side of P-Funk. Or Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka even. Or Public Enemy for that matter. True, even the most cursory glance at Kid Rock should be enough to tell you this remarkable phenomenon had its downside (God Save Us From Vanilla Ice!) but STILL.

But Licensed to Ill was more than just a remarkable blow for instant integration. The Beastie Boys muscled their way to the front of the bus on the basis of sheer bravado and a snotty sense of New Yawk humor not heard since the Dictators released the great Go Girl Crazy! Mike D., MCA, and Ad-Rock were that crazy kid down the block who lived to get high, liked to egg cop cars, and had that insane stash of Hustler magazines. And who thought everything was funny; hell, he even laughed while he was PUKING.

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Graded on a Curve:
Jerry Lee Lewis,
“Live” at the Star Club, Hamburg

Remembering Jerry Lee Lewis.Ed.

When it comes to the strange and ornery case of Jerry Lee Lewis, it’s illustrative to look to genetics. And the fact that it could be claimed that Jerry Lee got his contrary and bellicose genes from his great grandfather, of whom it was said he could knock a horse to its knees with a single punch. But it doesn’t really matter where he got his meanness; all that matter is he’s a volatile menace with a police record longer than a king cobra, and is every bit as venomous.

Exhibit one: following a dispute between The Killer and Chuck Berry over who would open a show, Jerry lost. He proceeded to drive the audience mad, set the piano on fire, and continued playing despite the flames before finally stalking off stage and saying to Berry, “Follow that, n____.” Exhibit two: At a birthday party for Lewis, he produced a .357 magnum, pointed it in the general direction of his bass player Norman “Butch” Owens, announced, “I’m gonna shoot that Coca-Cola bottle over there or my name isn’t Jerry Lee Lewis,” and proceeded to shoot Owens twice in the chest. Guess he wasn’t Jerry Lee Lewis that day. And to add insult to injury, Lewis’ current girlfriend’s only response to what amounted to near homicide was to holler at Owens for bleeding on her carpet.

Why, the Killer doesn’t even give a flying fuck about you or me. A fervent believer in the firebrand form of Christianity purveyed by his televangelist cousin Jimmy Lee Swaggart, he is dead certain that playing rock’n’roll buys you a one-way ticket to Hell, and has been quoted as saying, “I’m dragging the audience to Hell with me.” Dress for warm weather, people.

Over the course of his long and checkered career Lewis has gone from playing rock’n’roll to playing country and back, but he has always believed he’s destined for Hellfire, as if predestined not for Heaven but for fire and brimstone. He makes all those satanic metal guys look like pussies; how many of them, if pressed, really believe they’re going to Hell because of the music they play?

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Graded on a Curve: Budgie, Budgie

There are lots of reasons you should own the 1971 LP Budgie. There’s the cool cover with its fierce-looking budgerigar in samurai garb riding a mighty steed across a lavender sky. Then there are the three guys in the band, who are Welsh and scruffy and look like they enjoy heading down to the tafarn to drink cwrw like everybody in Wales. And let us not forget (who could?) song titles like “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman,” which not even a consortium of French surrealist poets could come up with. But the real reason to own Budgie’s debut LP is its 1,280 HP riffage, which has made Budgie heavy metal legends amongst both fans and subsequent bands like Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, and Metallica, the last of whom have covered a pair of Budgie’s songs.

The Cardiff power trio featured singer and bass player Berke Shelley, whose high-register vocals bring to mind Robert Plant or a less annoying Geddy Lee, who has over the course of his long career mastered the daunting feat of sounding like a parody of himself. Shelley and drummer Ray Phillips put the heavy in the metal, but it’s guitarist Tony Bourge’s Stonehenge-sized riffs that make Budgie one of the finest of metal pioneers.

Aside from drippy fifty-second acoustic throwaway “Everything in My Heart” and the quite pretty acoustic love song “You and I,” Budgie is one kick-ass, high-octane, stick-to-the-basics metal mover. The obvious point of comparison is Led You Know Who, cut with Black Sabbath, but Budgie aren’t as eclectic as the former (no California hippie rock) or as heavy as the latter. Still there’s no denying Zep’s influence on “The Author,” with its acoustic guitar intro and (once the song kicks into gear) guitar riff that is pure “Immigrant Song.”

Meanwhile, “The Rape of the Locks” is all Bourge, from the opening squall of feedback to the fire sale of a guitar solo that dominates the proceedings. But what really makes the song indispensable is its storyline, which has some cretin (the unmitigated gall!”) out to give Berke’s a haircut, which ain’t going to happen because Shelley needs his long hair the way Popeye the Sailor Man needs his spinach (“I grow my mind inside my head/I grow my hair to keep it fed”)!

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