Sunday, April 28, 2013

Gotta help me juke it, baby

Exemplified on those pillars of heaviosity from the ground zero year of 1970, In Rock and Very 'eavy, Very 'umble, organ driven hard rock litters the eras releases big and small. One tune I keep coming back to is Boomerang's "Juke it" from their self titled 1971 LP. Boomerang's organist Mark Stein helped start it all as a member of Vanilla Fudge in the sixties, and formed Boomerang following the Fudge's break up.
"Juke It" announces its arrival with a lead lined boot kicking down your front door, and we're thrust headlong into a juggernaut of a guitar/Hammond riff, one that struggles to negotiate each beat as the weight of every note seems to drag down its forward movement. Jo Casmir intones the sorry state of his sorry existence, one on the verge of collapse lest his woman lend a hand and help him "juke it," the tune building up and spilling over via a tumbling phrase that sounds like the guitar and Hammond are engaged in an electric whip battle.

"Juke It's" extended bridge finds guitarist Richard Ramirez1 in full stranglehold mode on the neck, first via a descending lick that pierces the meaty underbelly of the rhythm section, then a meandering solo that steps on the wah-wah for some expressive note wringing, howls of nickel plated pain summoned forth. "I know you'd feel so warm inside" bellows Casmir, now in the full throes of carnal frustration, Boomerang propelling the song back home to it's finale, one that finds that lashing lick dismantled, reassembled and repeated in a psychopathic attack on the listener. Oh, the humanity!

Though tracks like "The Peddler" and "Cynthia Fever" come close, the remainder of Boomerang fails to reclaim the might of "Juke It," slipping in too many soul ballads and some flaccid funk that strangely predicts Deep Purple's own stumbles on Stormbringer, even employing a dual lead vocals that are a dead ringer for Coverdale/Hughes.

1 yes you read that correctly, but I'm assuming this is an unfortunate coincidence and not a young Night Stalker on guitar?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sadness kills the superman: SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH


While I expect most folks' point of entry into the world of Black Sabbath came through the radio staple studded Paranoid or possibly the We Sold Our Souls For Rock 'n' Roll compilation, I came in the side door via a TDK-90 dubbed with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath on side one and Sabotage on the reverse (today I still anticipate the tape garble that existed on that copy's "Symptom of the Universe"). I don't remember much about the guy in my 10th grade art class who made the tape for me, other than that he wore a Slayer cap every day which he refused to remove. I think we initially bonded over a shared affection for Ummagumma though, so it makes sense that he chose these kaleidoscopic albums from the middle of the Ozzy years rather than the aforementioned Paranoid or perennial catalog favorite Master of Reality to crack open my cranium to the Sabbath oeuvre.

One thing missing from that tape and well worth taking a look at is Sabbath Bloody Sabbath's killer cover art from illustrator Drew Struzan. A guy on the front is about to be consumed by demons while another on the back is dying or recently dead in bed surrounded by loved ones - but I've always seen it as the same guy, from different perspectives. The original gatefold (reproduced in the 1996 CD booklet along with lyrics and requisite live shots) features the four Sabsters in weird poses superimposed over what appears to be the bedroom of some old manor house. Mysterious, creepy stuff that really adds to the character of the album.

"Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" opens things with a towering grinder of a riff that could only emanate from the hands of Iommi before the track unexpectedly slips into an arid chorus of jazzy acoustic picking, a harbinger of the light and shade sensibility permeating the LP. Lyrically Geezer has the listener staring down a gun barrel of clinical depression, "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" serving as an incantation for the band's loyal army of dead end kids lost amidst this world of deception - extra points for Ozzy's defiant "You bastards!" pre-solo time. Even on this clear remaster the frothy low gear chording of the tune's second half serves as glorious sonic quicksand leading into its frantically whirlpooling end. 

Stately and ominous, "A National Acrobat" follows, it's harmonized main theme lending gravity to words of wisdom from a disembodied soul destined for eternal reincarnation - "the unborn child that never was conceived." Wild stuff. The track closes with a rapid succession of contrasting movements, like a crash course in Sabbath riffology. The instrumental titled "Fluff" could be seen as just that, featuring only Butler and a ruffle-cuffed Iommi laying down multiple overdubbed acoustic guitars, piano and harpsichord. It's a simple moment of pillowy beauty that at the very least gives the eardrums a chance to recover, though I hear it as an essential ingredient to the album's overall flavor profile, helping to draw out those other moments of ornamental eloquence that pop up throughout.

Amps buzzing again, "Sabbra Cadabra" begins life as a sweaty boogie rocker straight from the Foghat/Humble Pie playbook (if one given an extra malevolence when rendered by the Sabbath gang) before Rick Wakeman drops a sheet of Moog conjured ice all over the song's minor key breakdown for a sudden shift in atmosphere. "Sabbra Cadabra's" groovy finale has some buried electronically treated vocals that I mistakenly heard as a flute solo on my old cassette copy.

"Killing Yourself to Live" opens the album's second half steady and confident despite its burned out theme, Iommi's guitars bubbling underneath with a light tremolo effect, Ozzy's stereo panned "smoke it... get high!" ushering in a tempo shift into a rolling phrase that slowly peels back the blinds of reality. A bluesy shuffle that could've been lifted from the band's first album carries the tune home with some mad licks from Tony. "Who Are You?" may be the album's most unique number, replacing guitars with a layered, automated synthesizer melody that plods along like a sci-fi death march. Directed at some unseen god/overlord/oppressor, the tracks electronic foreboding extends through the moonlit piano/mellotron interlude inserted in its center.

Bill Ward's snare rolls drive along the music-biz lament "Looking for Today" which features an appropriately catchy melody, and like the title track eases into an acoustic chorus, this time featuring a flute in the distance. The lyrically rich "Spiral Architect" is set up with a brief classical guitar intro before electrics and acoustics combine on the songs vibrant main riff, one that signals the album's grand finale is underway. Tympani and strings appear and create an air of expansiveness swirling around the songs central theme of grounding oneself in a world gone mad, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath closing out with a break in the clouds, a final push forward to continue the fight.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

WIRED: original motion picture soundtrack (an alternate history)

The following blurb appeared in the January 1975 issue of "Variety":
Peter Hyams directs John Cazale in his first starring role in the new Twentieth Century Fox film WIRED.  Along with short-fused partner Peter Boyle, they are out to bust vicious Harlem drug kingpin Yaphet Kotto.  Linda Haynes offers fine support as the strung out hooker with a heart of gold who provides Cazale's connection into Kotto's sinister underworld.  Small, but pivotal roles from Allen Garfield as informant "Fatso" and the lovely Joanna Cassidy as Cazale's suffering wife.  British rock guitarist Jeff Beck provides the instrumental soundtrack to this gritty, fast-moving picture.
The tale of Frank Tescado (John Cazale), a self-destructive NYC detective who's own smack addiction threatens to sabotage his pursuit of Kgosi (Yaphet Kotto), the city's biggest drug lord, the vibrant street scenes of Wired were propelled by the insertion Beck's rippling funk and molten-hot fusion cues. However in a bizarre twist, the LA studio where the film was being edited was entirely consumed in a freak sinkhole - all the footage vanished and the project was abandoned. Still retaining his master tapes, Beck decided to release the music as his next album but removed all references to the film, save for the title. Recently I sat down with Wired's director and a copy of the LP, recording his recollections on how each track fit in to the film.

"Led Boots"
PH: Physical Graffitti was burning up my stereo in early '75, and when viewing rushes of the opening credits/chase sequence where Tescado and Huff (Boyle) run down Fatso (Garfield) and threaten him into becoming a snitch, I heard "Trampled Underfoot" playing. But there was no way in hell Zeppelin would license the track. I asked Jeff to come up with something equally groovy, but heavy and mean, and I think he did a blockbuster job. I know he always wanted a little revenge after Page ripped off the first Jeff Beck Group LP all over Led Zeppelin I, anyways.

"Come Dancing"
PH: You hear this when Kgosi first enters the sleazy Harlem strip club he uses as a front for his operation. A deal goes bad, resulting in a gunfight where bunch of patrons and dancers have their brains splattered across the dump's walls. That wild harmonizer sound on Jeff's guitar solo perfectly complemented the carnality and violence of this sequence.

"Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"
PH: Hanging out with Jeff one day, I heard him fooling around with this Mingus tune and immediately knew it would be perfect for the scene where Cazale is shooting up on the floor of his bathroom - the ecstacy and agony was all there in Jeff's fingers. I demanded he record an arrangement for the film.

"Head For Backstage Pass"
PH: Originally titled "DV Blues" (cop slang for a domestic violence call), this one played under a scene where Cazale took out his frustrations on Joise (Cassidy). An intense scene, but both actors gave their all. They're pros - I expect no less. Tasty intro by Walden/Bascomb, yeah? 

"Blue Wind"
PH: The pivotal scene where Calazale goes undercover wearing a wire for a meeting with Kotto. But the sarge had just thrown in him detox and his nerves are on fire - he needs a fix bad and can barely hold it together. So there's the double-meaning in the title, get it? Anyways, Jeff came up with a simple, but intense melody that mirrors Tescado's struggle for control while sensing it could all fall apart at any second.

PH: Originally "Sophie's Theme," a musical sketch of the complex forces at work in the character, wonderfully realized by the beautiful Linda Haynes. A delicate outer shell hides the manic energy at the heart of this one, danger cloaked in desire.

"Play With Me"
PH: Whenever Cazale and Boyle hit the streets, this provided the soundtrack. Jeff and Jan's harmonized playing buzzes with a neon-hued verve, and the tune swings like a mutha - it says "I own this block," from the top of the skyscrapers down to the gutter.

"Love is Green"
PH: The film's love theme, with Jeff and Jan moving over to acoustic instruments. The track really ebbs and flows, Jeff composing to a rough cut of the Cazale/Haynes love scene, which incidentally would have run about 15 seconds longer on the European release. But yeah, a real lovely tune I think. 

(Special thanks to BC and SES for their invaluable assistance.)