Archive for category: Classics: Music

Advisory Committee • Mirah

Advisory Committee

37:50 min • K Records • March 19, 2002
Andrew Darley reviews

An extraordinary feeling occurs when you discover an album that is genuinely unconcerned by definitions. In 2002, Mirah delivered her third album, Advisory Committee. Audibly more confident and ambitious, it is a work of musician coming into her own, unafraid to cross boundaries. Teaming up with Phil Elvrum, best known for his work with The Microphones, the collaboration resulted in an album that plays with big and small, using them to their best advantage. Opening with ‘Cold Cold Water’, it quietly starts off with folky pop strumming before thundering in with electric guitars, dramatic drumrolls and bemoaned wails that make you feel like you just stumbled into a Western shoot ‘em up (complete with horse trotting sounds). It’s imaginative. It’s gripping. Totally unexpected.

In many ways, the first sets the benchmark for the breadth of the songs ahead: expect anything. The surface theme of the album is succinctly put in the opening number when Mirah sings of “how tough it is to be in love”. The album is an exhibition of introspective thoughts and insecurities. Her way with words at times feels like an internal monologue, describing the things we talk ourselves through when alone, the things we never got to say and reliving moments that have passed. It could be lazily boxed into a confessional record because of its lyrics and recording style but Mirah has made something that is much more than that.

Mirah and co-producer Elvrum disregard the concepts of lo-fi and streamlined studio production in favour of simply giving the songs the treatment they need, and taking them wherever they need to go. As a result, the album makes a number of sonic shifts in communicating the emotion of the songs. The foundation of ‘Body Below’ is a buzzy, swirling loop of reverb that is repetitive, disorientating and disenchanting, cleverly echoing the hypnotic words of fading love. ‘Special Death’ sounds like a mourning sung whilst walking through the streets of a French town which is juxtaposed by the next song ‘The Garden’ featuring a snaring powerful stomp of unrequited love and abandonment. A sense of inhibition underlies the songs as they incorporate several instruments, including string sections, guitar, percussion, accordion, melodica, synthesizers and Caribbean-sounding xylophone to bring them to life. She seems to channel on some level the finer moments and power chord structures of the ‘90s rock scene in the album’s bursts of chaos. On the title track, the gushes of guitar on the chorus call to mind Sonic Youth and the early albums of Cat Power.

By the time ‘Monument’, and the closing untitled song comes around, it feels as if you’ve been on a trip through the singer’s life lessons and lost loves. There is a sense of resolve and acceptance of the way things are in life. As the record title suggests there is an element of advice and comfort to this album. Her closing lyric of the record offers a sense of reassurance,

If you feel an emptiness, if you want to hide
Think about the blood that’s pumping keeping you alive –

Her palette is wide and she uses many colours. There is a simple in joy in finding an artist whom is arguably unaware of the lightness and spirit their music embodies with an air of effortless. Advisory Commitee is an assertive, sprawling record with moments that jump out to surprise and describes our conflicted dynamics in life.

An Innocent Evening of Drinking • Declan Bennett

An Innocent Evening of Drinking

Declan Bennett
57:20 min • CovBoy Records • April 14, 2008
Little Bastard reviews

My definition of a classic album is an album where every song is amazing. All killer, no filler, with a cultural or political relevance that will defy music fashion in order to be timeless. And whilst others might look to Rufus Wainwright,  k.d. lang, George Michael or Elton John for classic albums by gay artists, I wanted to look closer to home.

Declan Bennett is something of a hero of mine. Unashamedly open about his sexuality, but never succumbing to a stereotype, he’s one of a handful of gay artists I truly identify with, and this album cemented my love affair with his music. But of course, I was always going to fall in love with an album that opened with the line,

He’s diluting my innocence, but I really don’t mind –

It’s a wickedly evocative lyric, and that sense of lyrical empathy never lets up from start to finish. One of the most enchanting things about Declan is his incredibly visual way with words. Lyrically brilliant throughout, Declan sends you directly into his head and locks the door behind you, forcing you to feel his music rather than purely listening to it. Throughout the album, Declan gives us locations (“Lying on the floor in someone else’s clothes” in the song ‘Blu-Tack’, for instance) and metaphors, such as the wonderful Scrabble metaphor in ‘Z’s & Q’s’,

My brain feels like Scrabble, and I’m losing the game,
Cause all I’ve got is Z’s & Q’s –

The acoustic instrumentation, which travels through glorious to somber, transports us through his own emotional journey so successfully that I’m not sure if he’s written about my life or if he’s made me feel like I’ve lived his.

‘Therapy’ is the perfect mid tempo pop song, with a luscious melody, gorgeous instrumentation and lyrics that create a short film in your head without you even realising. In fact, the storytelling in this song is so effortless that its video was the result of a fan competition, where Declan chose the treatment he liked the most, and then the video was made. (I was always annoyed at myself that I never entered.) The song was released as a single, and it’s always amazed me that it never catapulted him to stardom.

Other standouts for me include ‘4 or 5 Beers’ with it’s gorgeous melodic refrain of

I’m not sorry for staring,
Oh it’s only ’cause you’re beautiful –

being one of the album’s strongest choruses; the superb title track, with its tale of drunken sex with someone you shouldn’t (we’ve all been there, right?); the bare, DiFranco-esque guitar of ‘Lessons In Love’, which is as up tempo as we get, but again the pathos prevails, and we’re definitely not in a happy place.

Musically, he sits somewhere between heroes Ani DiFranco and Damian Rice, but with an underlying pop sensibility that comes from his background in pop music and his love of indie pop artists like Robyn. An Innocent Evening Of Drinking is folk pop perfection, that hugely affected me on it’s release in 2008, and it’s a testament to our current throwaway music culture that Declan’s never had, what people refer to as, “a break”. Despite having a large following in America, due to extensive work on Broadway and the national tour of grunge Opera Rent, and a sizeable following in the UK, helped by his recent stint in the musical Once, he still remains somewhat of an unknown. A recently landed role in Eastenders might change that, and people might finally see Declan for the accomplished artist he is. Until then this album is essential listening for any fans of well written pop, folk, or just music in general. It’s also the most lyrically arresting album I’ve heard in years, and deserves to be heard for that reason in general.

There are many gay artists around nowadays, but Declan remains at the top of the list. I love artists that write without fear, and there’s a certain fearlessness that comes with anonymity. I just hope that, as Declan becomes more successful, he retains that unashamed honesty that makes me regard his music as classic and important. If he does, and if his last studio album Record:Breakup is anything to go by who knows, he may have another classic album in the digital pages of Polari Magazine before we know it.

Valentine’s Day • Pansy Division

Valentine’s Day

Pansy Division
6:13 min • Lookout! Records • January, 1996
Walter Beck reviews

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Pansy Division released this seven-inch single on Lookout Records, featuring three tracks from Jon Ginoli (guitar, lead vocals), Chris Freeman (bass, vocals) and Dustin Donaldson (drums). Pairing up one original number with a couple of good and silly cover songs, Jon and the boys take a humorous stab at love, lust, and loneliness, backed with their signature brand of poppy punk rock.

The A-Side of the single features the title track ‘Valentine’s Day’, the only original on this release. Soaked in Pansy Division’s signature sauce of pop-flavored power chord punk rock, backed with Ginoli’s snarky humor, the title cut tells the story of what should really be called ‘Single Awareness Day’ as Jon sings about the nice dinner he prepared, but how lonely he really feels because he has no one to share it with.

It’s gonna be a special date,
A day to celebrate,
But I think I’d have more fun,
If I was cooking for more than one –

It’s the refrain that really cuts close to the bone, with Jon’s loneliness and the sense of humor he uses to keep his sanity throughout the year.

I guess Cupid’s got bad aim,
‘Cause every year’s the same,
Another day to feel forgotten,
Another occasion to make you feel rotten –

If Jon and the boys are lonely on Valentine’s Day, the B-Side of the 7-inch shows them to be in a much more light-hearted mood and still on the look for love and romance. It features a couple of obscure cover songs originally performed by Josie Cotton and Depeche Mode.

‘He Could Be the One’ (Josie Cotton) is the first cover. The band keeps the basic structure and rhythm of the original, but replaces Cotton’s synthetic new wave sound with their rip-roaring punk rock noise. It injects a sweaty energy to the song, with Jon and Chris shredding through the lyrics at frantic pace, passionately intoning,

He could be the one (I like his style).
He could be the one (love’s on trial).
He could be the one to make it all worth while (yeah) –

The band keeps their new wave fascination on this single with ‘Pretty Boy (What’s Your Name?)’ (Depeche Mode) and while the song is certainly dripping with Pansy Division’s three-chord queer rock ‘n’ roll, there’s a strong ’60s pop rhythm underneath, almost Beach Boys like in a way, especially with Dustin Donaldson’s popping drum work in the intro and throughout the track.

It doesn’t seem the band is out for love with this one, just someone to spend a hot sweaty night with,

All the boys have got to get together.
All the boys together in one bed.
Down below, here we go,
Show the things we need to show.
Hey you’re such a pretty boy –

This is a pretty good seven-inch single and definitely a worthy one to have in your record collection. If it’s Valentine’s Day and you’re single and lonely (like your writer here), crack a bottle of cheap champagne for one and give it a spin to rock ‘n’ roll your broken heart away.

Ripe • Banderas


46:09 min • London Records • April 16, 1991
Bryon Fear reviews

Ripe is possibly one of the best queer albums of the 1990s. It was recorded by duo Banderas, who rose from the ashes of the Richard Coles and Jimmy Somerville collaboration, The Communards. There is something inherently comforting about Ripe, like spending time with an old friend – which is less wooly than it might at first sound, since the album plays like the kind of esoteric conversations had with friends after hours, covering subjects such as faith, loss, love, self empowerment and prostitution. For this reason, Ripe feels like the feminist sister to George Michael’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, which was released a year earlier. In terms of production it is not dissimilar either, using a variety of laid-back beats, strings layered with catchy pop hooks which sit in the mix at the top.

The album commits itself to the esoteric and philosophical right from its opening lines,

Where is the purpose in your life?
Where is the truth? Do you remember your hopes, your dreams?
They are no longer your own –

These are grand questions, and they set the album firmly on a path that shirks any notions of pop frivolity. ‘This Is Your Life’ is perhaps a little earnest, but the song’s insistent and unceasing rolling rhythm lends a sense of urgency to the commentary that works in its favour. The result is an intelligent and energetic dance track, which provided the duo with their biggest hit, charting at 16 in the UK. It is also the first of several songs that pivot around a central question. “Tell me, is it faith or fear that makes you believe?”,  “I’ve done everything I can, so why aren’t you in love with me?”, and “Please where does it say, life has to be a certain way, show me where it says that you’re too old for love?” are some of the questions asked. The songs invite and often challenge the listener to engage more deeply with the material and it is truly affecting.

Strong melodies are a characteristic of all the songs. When coupled with the keenly perceptive lyrics the tracks are highly memorable. Musically, the album keeps the listener engaged, shifting its colours and tones effortlessly from danceable pop songs to heartfelt ballads. The rapturous ‘The Comfort of Faith’ slips into the dark pulse of ‘May This Be Your Last Sorrow’, an almost intoned mantra of a song, which then segues into the uplifting ‘First Hand’. Later in the album, ‘Too Good’ changes the landscape a little by borrowing the same middle-eastern sample used on ‘So Cold The Night’ (the closest thing here to anything from The Communards’ oeuvre) but the album maintains its course, passing through a series of musical valleys of upbeat highs and heartbreaking lows – but the journey is always with a sense of hope.

And hope is indigenous to Ripe. It is at its heart. As the album gently comes to its end we are treated to the yearning ‘Never Too Late For Love’, a song of sparse clarity with an unnervingly beautiful sentiment. It is a hymn to hope at its most painful and has been known to move me to tears. 

Sally Herbert and Caroline Buckley crafted an album of ten perfect pop songs that effortlessly traverse a range of emotive states, each with their own distinctive melody, which makes for an extremely satisfying listen. It’s an album that leaves you wanting more, which is sadly ironic as this was (to my unending dismay) Banderas’ only album. But what an album it is: beautifully composed, profoundly perceptive and deeply affecting.

Evil Empire • Rage Against The Machine

Evil Empire

Rage Against The Machine 46:39 min • Epic Records • April 16, 1996 Walter Beck reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………

One of the most incendiary bands to ever crossover into Mainstream America, Rage Against the Machine proved they weren’t just a novelty act, packing more musical chops and plenty of righteous anger with their second album Evil Empire.

The album starts with the triple punch of ‘People of the Sun’, ‘Bulls on Parade’ and ‘Vietnow’ (three of the album’s five singles). It is rare that an album starts with such a sonic blast. ‘People of the Sun’, a two and a half minute burner about the Zapatista movement in Mexico, starts with a warped, warbling sound from guitarist Tom Morello, with drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford providing the tight, hard rhythm. Of course, it’s a fitting background for vocalist Zack de la Rocha, one of the few vocalists to adopt a rapping technique and make it work in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

‘Bulls on Parade’ showcases a lot of Morello’s traditional heavy metal roots, with a bombastic chorus and slow dragging verses that almost bring a taste of sludge to the album. If there is a marching song on this LP, this is it. It’s just as easy to envision an army of young radicals marching down the street as de la Rocha barks out “Rally ‘round the family with a pocketful of shells!” as it is to imagine them slamming against each other in the pit.

The third cut ‘Vietnow’ brings the anger a bit closer to home, a nearly-swinging rhythm ropes in nearly five minutes of venom directed at right wing talk radio, then rising in America (and still popular today). Backed by the band’s swaying rhythm, de la Rocha lashes out at the country’s conservative talking heads, intoning “Fear is your only god on the radio!”

‘Revolver’ is one of the darkest, most experimental tracks the band ever cut, soaked heavily in Morello’s guitar work, with the opener sounding like something to come out of early American noise music scene. The soft/hard dynamic works well here, with de la Rocha nearly whispering the verses and then exploding during the chorus. A tale of an abused woman finally shooting her husband dead in hot blood, this track remains one of the band’s hidden gems.

The sixth track ‘Tire Me’ is a merciless, chaotic burner, showing Zack de la Rocha’s roots in the hardcore punk underground, back when he first started out as a singer. The sonic tricks from Morello are kept to a minimum as the band immolates themselves through three-minutes of pure, no frills anger.

‘Down Rodeo’ was the fourth single from this LP and like ‘Vietnow’ it brings the anger back home to America. A showcase for Morello’s guitar mastery and the Wilk’s wall of sound drumming, the track is a powerful indictment against racism in contemporary America with de la Rocha barking, “I’m rolling down Rodeo with a shotgun/these people ain’t seen a brown-skinned man since their grandparents bought one!”

‘Without a Face’ ups the gonzo factor, packing noise-filtered musically mellow verses, punctured with de la Rocha’s rapping before exploding into a mosh-worthy chorus. Zack rants against the profit raking prison industrial complex, smashing the ideas of inmates for money and the inherit racism of the prison system, while Tom and the boys pack just as much revolutionary fire with their instruments.

The album closes with the eleventh track and final single ‘Year of the Boomerang’, a smooth, thumping rocker with de la Rocha’s rhymes front and center. After all the full front assault in the rest of the album, this track is the perfect ending as de la Rocha spits passionately about the coming victory for the oppressed, the underclass, all of us. The fighting will not have been done in vain, our day is coming, at least Rage Against the Machine thinks so.

This album was a huge hit for the band, selling over three million copies, with ‘Tire Me’ winning the 1996 Grammy for Best Metal Performance. Rage Against the Machine were the spiritual heirs of legendary ’60s revolutionaries the MC5; they had the anger and they had the fireball musical chops to back it up. And with a multi-platinum album, they brought the musical revolution into a lot of homes on Main Street USA.

I’d Rather Fight Than Swish • B. Bubba

I’d Rather Fight Than Swish

B. Bubba
6:27 min • Camp Records • August, 1964
Walter Beck reviews

In the early 1960s, there was a record label in California called Camp Records. They released a series of ten singles and two LPs, all of which were queer novelty songs recorded under pseudonyms. These obscure records were an important part of early American queer pop culture, being risqué by the standards of the time.

B. Bubba recorded one of these singles, a two part rock ‘n’ roll parody called ‘I’d Rather Fight than Swish’/’I’d Rather Swish than Fight’. The first part of the parody features a tough sounding motorcycle rider, in the in cocky tone of a rock ‘n’ roll juvenile delinquent. He sings around about his love for leather and steel and his fetish of beat up of gay guys who get in his way. But as the first song comes to an end, our motorcycle hood speaks about his tools being in his purse,

Sure sweetie, it’s in my purse,
The one with the beads on it –

‘I’d Rather Swish than Fight’ continues the story of our motorcycle hood, the other character in his story being a stereotypical feminine gay man. The hood listens to the guy and about how he’d rather walk around as he is instead of fighting over it. And despite the hood’s threats to the guy, he ends up accepting his inner gayness. As the gay guy says,

Don’t you know,
That open toed boots are passé with leather jackets –

The music isn’t half bad; it’s a set-up of early rock ‘n’ roll, featuring a strong drumming rhythm, a dirty guitar riff, and a growling saxophone sound, backed with an vocal chorus. I can’t really comment on the individual musicians, since they’re not credited on the single, but it’s pretty good early rock ‘n’ roll, created to add to the comedy of the songs.

The lyrics were considered raunchy for the time and even today, they would probably be considered offensive, given that they satirize violence and the hero of the song is a stereotypical effeminate pansy character. But it’s an important part of American queer history, these songs were the first to speak about queer culture and the first time to make fun of it in an inside joke sort of way. These records were pressed to make closeted gay folks laugh a bit and take the edge off their constant stress. And if you’re not afraid of being a little politically incorrect, this single and others on the label are still pretty funny.

Camp Records disappeared after their string of singles and LPs. Their musicians and singers were never credited for their work and the label remains an obscurity in American queer culture. But thankfully, since the label has fallen into the public domain, there are websites out there that have resurrected these dirty little treasures for new generations to discover their musical and comedic roots. Dig up these weird and funny little records sometime, you’ll be glad you did.

The Troubled Troubadour • GG Allin

When I Die – GG Allin

The Troubled Troubadour

GG Allin
9:42 min • Mountain Records • August, 1990
Walter Beck reviews

GG Allin was without a doubt the most notorious punk rocker who ever existed; his shows were brutal excesses in violence and depravity, often featuring fist fights, human excrement, sex acts on stage, the works. GG was the living embodiment of the nihilism that punk often preached. But outside of his on-stage violence and depraved punk records, Allin had an admiration for country music and in 1990, he turn a brief strange turn with musician Mark Sheehan for this acoustic 7-inch.

On side A is ‘When I Die’, probably one of the best songs Allin recorded in his career, a stark acoustic tribute to the strange life he led. With a strong country riff from Allin and a backing steel from Sheehan, Allin sings of his life of decadence with seemingly no regrets,

So when I die put that bottle by my side,
Bury me with ol’ Jim Beam and I’ll be on my hell ride.
When I die, when I die,
Down to Hell is my final destination –

But there are two lines that offer a glimpse into what Allin really thought about his life,

Never lived nowhere long enough to call home,
I’m just an outlaw scumfuc, playing my rock ‘n’ roll –

In the end, that’s all that mattered to him, was rock ‘n’ roll and all the excesses that went with the way Allin played it and lived it.

On side B are two more country numbers, the first ‘Liquor Slicked Highway’ has a stronger rocking riff than ‘When I Die’, albeit still in a stark country vein. Here Allin isn’t in a reflective mood, rather his sings of his booze and dope in a snotty way that only GG could,

I’m the guy who won’t give,
Can’t get close to anyone or anything,
Except the bars and all the drug whores.
Give me you for a night and I’ll even pay for yours –

Allin’s vocals are markedly off rhythm with his and Sheehan’s guitars, but in a strange way, it seems to work. The choppy rhythm invokes the drunken stupor he lived in constantly.

The last song on the 7-inch is ‘Sitting in This Room’ and it has the choppiest rhythm of the entire record, it’s a hard strummed stop and stop country blues number. But it’s also one of the loneliest songs here; Allin reflects his boredom, isolation, drug use, and ultimate desire for escape from it,

Oh, in this room,
With my needle and my spoon,
And a bottle in my arms, pills in my mouth,
In this room.

Oh, in this room,
Four walls of Hell inside this room,
I’m makin’ love to myself,
Inside this room –

GG may have been one of the most anti-social personalities in the history of rock n roll, but this song shows that maybe he still felt a glimmer of human emotion.

This 7-inch stands above the rest of Allin’s discography for its markedly different tone and lyrics. GG built his career and legacy on violent punk rock, sounds soaked in rage and distortion, and lyrics that could frankly offend anybody (check out Allin’s 1988 LP Freaks, Faggots, Drunks, and Junkies if you need verification), but here, with just his acoustic guitar and Mark Sheehan, he carved out a strange bit of musical territory that showed maybe there was more to punk rock’s violent animal than people gave him credit for.

The Troubled Troubadour lived on in the annals of the American underground as one of the first scum country records and Allin recorded a couple other records in a similar vein, his strange gritty country sounds would go on to influence other artists in the contemporary country underground such as Hank Williams III, Joe Buck, and Randy Buttsex.

If you’re not familiar with Allin’s strange and violent musical legacy, this may not be the best place to start, but it is a surprisingly good detour on the back roads of GG Allin.

Bat Out of Hell • Meat Loaf

All Revved Up With No Place To Go – Meat Loaf

Bat Out of Hell

Meat Loaf
46:33 min • Cleveland International/Epic Records • October 21, 1977
Walter Beck reviews

In 1977, Meat Loaf was a fairly successful actor, having worked in such productions as Hair and, of course, taking the role of Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but he wasn’t really a successful musician. His first album Stoney & Meatloaf, released six years prior, went nowhere and was mostly forgotten. Then he met composer Jim Steinman and together they created one of the most powerful progressive rock albums of all time, Bat Out of Hell.

Opening with the title track, ‘Bat Out of Hell’, the album gets going with nearly ten minutes of multi-layered thunderous rock ‘n’ roll. Taking a cue from the teenage “splatter platters” of early rock ‘n’ roll, the song is the tale of a boy on a motorcycle and the girl he loves. Pushing his bike to its limits, the boy dies in a blaze of glory, still in love with his girl.

And the last thing I see is my heart,
Still beating,
Breaking out of my body,
And flying away,
Like a bat out of hell.

‘You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)’ is a classic love song, steeped in a percussion heavy sound. It’s not as frantic in sound as ‘Bat Out of Hell’, it’s slowed down but not quite a ballad. It’s a good, mid-tempo rocker and while the lyrics may seem a bit clichéd, Meat Loaf’s voice makes them work.

If there is a ballad on the album, it’s the third cut, ‘Heaven Can Wait’. Stripped down to a piano and some strings in the background, this song really lets Meat Loaf’s vocal cords shine through. A song of isolation and hope, Meat Loaf is torn between death and life, singing,

I got a taste of paradise.
That’s all I really need to make me stay.

The first half of the album ends with another full throttle rocker, ‘All Revved Up With No Place to Go’, as Meat Loaf steps back into the role of a cocky boy on the lookout for a girl to share some physical young ecstasy with. The song builds, with the first part dominated by a thumping snare drum rhythm, backed with some classic hot saxophone playing. Then as it builds in hot physical passion, it takes a speedy turn, the band burning along as Meat Loaf repeatedly barks, “All revved up and no place go!”

The second half of the album slows it down a bit again with ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’. It’s a piano driven song about lost love, how Meat Loaf only loved one girl in his life, but she’s gone, never to be seen again. With this new girl, he says he can give her a lot, but he can never give her his love, since his old girl still has his heart. He tells her,

Now don’t be sad,
‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad.

‘Paradise By the Dashboard Light’ is the last multi-layered rocker on the album, burning for eight and a half minutes. In a duet with Ellen Foley, Meat Loaf sings a classic teenage love song, a young couple parked out somewhere making out, moving towards a full out fuck – or as Meat Loaf sings “We’re gonna go all the way, tonight’s the night.” But the girl demands that he love her forever, that he always cares for her. The boy responds that he needs to sleep on it, that he needs time to make such a commitment. They end up going all the way and the song ends with the boy and girl remembering back to that night, as the girl sings in the final chords,

It never felt so good, it never felt so right
And we were glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife.

The album comes to an end with ‘For Crying Out Loud’, a nine-minute soul wrenching ballad, backed mostly with a subdued piano. This is another track that really lets Meat Loaf’s voice shine through, singing once again of the girl who left him. He laments about their lost love and how empty he feels without her, finally telling her “For crying out loud, you know I love you”.

Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman created a masterpiece with this album, Steinman taking the basics of rock ‘n’ roll and love and rearranging them, layering them, turning them almost into a classical music vein. Producer Todd Rundgren’s mastery behind the mixing board added the sonic punch and thick sound that became a signature of the album.

Bat Out of Hell became one of the biggest selling albums of all time, with an estimated sales of 43 million copies worldwide. Meat Loaf and Steinman created something rare and special, a multi-layered rock album with not one stale track on it. Every cut works, every cut is a gem in its own way.

Meat Loaf continues to tour and record today, but no record he made or will make will come close to the sonic perfection of Bat Out of Hell.

Here’s Little Richard • Little Richard

Ready Teddy – Little Richard

Here’s Little Richard

Little Richard
28:30 min • Specialty Records • March, 1957
Walter Beck reviews

If James Brown is the Godfather of Soul, then Little Richard is the Godfather of Queercore. Nobody rocked harder or more flamboyantly than Little Richard, he was the physical embodiment of raw rock ‘n’ roll sexuality. While his lyrics weren’t openly queer, his personality and style certainly were; he was out, loud, and proud before anybody else was. His debut album Here’s Little Richard was the wildest LP cut during the early days of rock ‘n’ roll.

Opening up with one of the wildest songs of early rock ‘n’ roll, ‘Tutti Frutti’, Richard gets the album kicking off with a high energy explosion that sets the tone for the entire album. A lot of the lyrics seem nonsensical, “Tutti frutti, oh Rudy/A whop bop-a-lu a whop bam boo”, but underneath the surface, it was a raw, sexual number captured by Richard’s frantic voice and the burning hot blues-soaked sound of his backing band.

The band slows it down half a step for ‘True Fine Mama’, locking into a solid blues groove, backed by some excellent, somewhat restrained backing vocals; but Richard’s vocals sound just as raw as ever, even though he isn’t screaming himself hoarse at a thousand miles an hour.

Richard’s lament in the first half of the album is ‘Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave’; backed by a slow dragging blues sound, he rips his heart out trying to keep his girl in his life. It’s classic bluesy begging and it works like gold on this record.

Apparently the lament is short lived as he comes back to burning fast and mean with ‘Ready Teddy’, two minutes of raw, rock ‘n’ roll speed. There’s nothing romantic or sentimental here, Richard’s got his girl and he’s ready to dance the night away and maybe do some dancing of his own with her later. While this track wouldn’t necessarily be a hit single on its own, it became a mainstay of early rock ‘n’ roll with artists such as Buddy Holly, Elvis, and others covering it in their careers.

The first half of the album comes to an end with another rocker, ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’’, a burner driven by not only Richard’s screeching vocals, but by his powerhouse piano playing. Richard certainly never earned the reputation that Jerry Lee Lewis did for his piano slinging, but he can lay the hot rhythm down.

‘Long Tall Sally’, one of Richard’s biggest hits, kicks off the second half and it remains one of the most blatant expressions of rock ‘n’ roll sexuality ever laid to tape,

Oh baby, yes, baby,
Ooh baby, havin’ me some fun tonight, yeah.

Well, long tall Sally, she’s built for speed,
She got everything that Uncle John needs –

Spitting such shocking lyrics (for the time at least), Richard’s band cuts loose behind him, pounding out the hottest sound that rock ‘n’ roll had seen up to the point. It was a middle finger with a boner to white middle class America. The song was so raunchy that according to legend, white bread crooner Pat Boone refused to cover it.

Bringing it back down to the blues, ‘Miss Ann’ follows as the eighth cut on the album, the music may have slowed down, but Richard’s libido hasn’t stepped down an inch, calling out for Miss Ann, a lady who can do what no other can do, or as Richard says, “Boys, when I’m with Miss Ann I’m living in paradise”.

‘Rip It Up’, track ten, is another that became a rock ‘n’ roll standard, covered by a wide array of artists. It perfectly captures the carpe diem, live for the moment spirit of rock n roll, with a fiery musical backing and Richard’s barking voice capturing the youthful hedonism,

Well, it’s Saturday night and I just got paid,
Fool about my money, don’t try to save,
My heart says go go, have a time,
Saturday night and I’m feelin’ fine,

I’m gonna rock it up, I’m gonna rip it up,
I’m gonna shake it up, gonna ball it up,
I’m gonna rock it up, and ball tonight –

The album comes to a close with one last sexually charged burner, ‘She’s Got It’, two and a half minutes of full throttle ripping rock ‘n’ roll, with Richard’s voice front and centre, his eyes (and his groin) focused on a hot young thing in the crowd. It closes out the album the same way it began, with nothing short of fire.

In half an hour, Little Richard shocked America with a hot, bluesy sound and a libido that screeched just as loud as his vocal cords. This was raw, this was vulgar, and it remains one of the best American rock albums ever cut. Here’s Little Richard is ground zero for those in the LGBTQ community who wanted to pick up a guitar and rock harder and meaner than anyone else. Little Richard laid the groundwork for us and it would be years before anyone else came close to matching it.

Sliver • Nirvana

Sliver – Nirvana


6:11 min • Sub Pop Records • September 1, 1990
Walter Beck reviews

The last non-album single released by Nirvana and their final release before they became the biggest rock ‘n’ roll band in America, the ‘Sliver’ single found the band evolving in their sound, stripping back their stronger metal influences heard on their debut album Bleach and moving towards the melodic hard-edged punk-soaked grunge that would make them famous.

The recording of the single itself is legendary amongst Nirvana fans, recorded during a dinner break by the band Tad and with temporary drummer Dan Peters (from Mudhoney), the fly-by-night pace of the recording resulting in one of the strongest moments the band had as an underground act.

‘Sliver’ is a thumping melodic rocker, featuring the soft/hard dynamic that became a signature of the band’s sound. Front man Kurt Cobain shifts from a mellow, relaxed singing as the song begins before nearly shredding his throat with his hoarse screaming as the song builds and finally ends.

Kurt’s voice isn’t the only part that shifts – instrumentally the band follows as well, with bassist Krist Novoselic starting with hypnotic plucking before forcing it out with Kurt’s guitar and drummer Dan Peters’ increasingly violent pounding.

Lyrically, ‘Sliver’ encompasses the exaggerated autobiographical tales that became Cobain’s signature. Describing a broken home and loneliness, the song rings through the strongest during the chorus;

Grandma take me home,
Grandma take me home,
Grandma take me home,
Grandma take me home,
Grandma take me home,
Grandma take me home,
Grandma take me home,
Wanna be alone –

The B-side ‘Dive’ is much noisier assault, with Kurt’s distorted guitar, Novoselic’s low and dirty bass and Dan Peters’ thick drumming. While there is a melodic, poppy undertone to this song, it’s buried underneath the audio destruction of the band. This song remains one of the purest examples of “grunge” Nirvana ever cut, it’s noisy, soaked in punk rock, and has that thick sounding tone that became a hallmark for grunge.

Lyrically as well the song reflects classic grunge sensibility, a powerful sense of self-alienation and a violent cry unto the world;

Pick me, pick me, yeah,
Everyone is waiting,
Hit me, Hit me yeah,
I’m real good at hating.

Dive, dive, dive, Dive in me,
Dive, dive, dive, Dive in me,
Dive in me,
Dive in me,
Dive in me –

A little more than a year after this single was released, Nirvana would explode into mainstream America as their major label debut Nevermind shot up the charts and turned the nation’s youth on to the sounds happening in the Northwest.

But for the die-hard Nirvana fan, this single is a gem, capturing their peak as an underground band. Even for the casual fan, this single is worth seeking out (it’s still in print), if only to hear what the band was before they became household names.