No Jakes Were Actually Harmed

July 15, 2010

Donnie lived a few houses down from me as a kid. As we were the same age, we knew each other from school, but he was one of those second-tier friends we all have growing up – not your first choice but someone to hang out with if options were limited.

(or, if the kid’s family had a pool)

I actually hung out with Donnie a fair amount during those last summers before I could drive. There were only a handful of kids in our age group in the neighborhood, so, we needed every warm body we had to have a baseball game.

When we opted to play hoops, Donnie had the home-court incentive of having a court with an eight-foot goal on which some of us could dunk. So, we’d hang out at his house.

There was usually a boom box when we played hoops, especially during the summer, which meant an inevitible argument. It was Donnie’s court and, by law, Donnie’s decision.

I was good with most of his choices. I remember him having stuff like The Go-Gos and Missing Persons, and I vividly recollect him having Men At Work’s second album, Cargo, as he played that one into the ground.

And, then, overnight, he went metalhead.

He was the first metalhead I’d ever known.

Donnie was a slight kid, with lank strands of blonde hair. His eyes were rather beady and darted back and forth behind wire-rimmed glasses. His nose would twitch in a manner that made me think of a rodent.

The offbeat music of Men At Work suited him.

It created a juxtaposition that struck me as odd and comical when I’d look through his cassettes and find Krokus, Mötley Crüe, and Twisted Sister titles where The Fixx had been a week before.

He was quite serious about these bands that I knew mostly from leafing through Circus in the drugstore, having already read Rolling Stone.

(those were pretty much the only music magazines that the store stocked on a regular – or even erratic – schedule)

Sometime in ’84, my buddy Beej informed me of cassette that his brother David had. The tape had a home-made cover that made me think it could have been done by a very rambunctious six-year old with poor motor skills.

It was Donnie.

As best as we could make out, the band was called Room Of Doom and one of the songs had the same title.

(it did work for Big Country)

The songs were actual metal songs by other bands – and not instrumentals – over which Donnie delivered his own lyrics, sometimes using a cookie monster-style. I suppose that he was a bit of a visionary.

It was dreadful. I still remember one of the lyrics from Room Of Doom – “I met a man named Jake, so I killed him with a rake.”

I suppose that a rake could be wielded with menace. Maybe.

The tape made the rounds for a few days and was soon forgotten. I had forgotten about it until, for whatever reason, the incident popped into my head the other day.

Of course, in a post-Columbine world, Donnie would have likely been disappeared.

Then, again, in a post-You Tube world, he might have become a sensation.

The outcome was more mundane and less tragic. Donnie was just some kid who liked heavy metal. I saw him several years ago on a trip to our hometown. He was cruising the main drag of town near the movie theater.

Something loud was blaring from his car stereo.

It was like being back in 1984.

1983 saw heavy metal go mainstream with acts like Def Leppard and Quiet Riot selling millions of albums and getting airplay on radio and the fledgling MTV.

Though I suppose it could be debated as to what bands were or weren’t heavy metal, here are four songs from acts that, during the summer of ’84, I’m sure I saw while perusing Circus or heard on 96Rock…

Van Halen – Panama
from 1984

Panama immediately makes me think of MTV as the channel finally became available in our town in 1984 and, that summer, I must have seen the video for the song several hundred times (and we didn’t even have cable). I’d go over to my friend Beej’s house, we’d turn on MTV, and, more often than not, we’d hear the drone of the airplane that opened the video before the band crashed into the song.

What odds would you have gotten in Vegas that a year later, Van Halen would be no more?

Def Leppard – Bringin’ On The Heartbreak
from Vault: Def Leppard Greatest Hits (1980–1995)

Def Leppard’s Pyromania had been one of the best-selling albums of ’83 and I think that I heard just about every song on the album on the radio at some point. As it began to lose steam in ’84, the band’s previous album, High ‘N Dry, was reissued.

Bringin’ On The Heartache was remixed and gave radio something new to play from the band, but it was the video for the song Me And My Wine – a new track added to High ‘N Dry – that seemed to be on MTV when Panama wasn’t.

(we waited for almost three years to get MTV and the only two songs that I got to see that first summer were those two)

Ratt – Wanted Man
from Out Of The Cellar

By the time school ended in ’84, there was a lot of hard rock/heavy metal on the radio, but it was Ratt that had one of the songs of the summer with Round And Round. The song seemed to be everywhere that summer – especially blasting from cars – and it truly is difficult to dislodge it from the brain.

It didn’t get played as much, but I quite liked the more mid-tempo Wanted Man . It has a swagger and I always picture a spaghetti Western in my head when I hear the song.

Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
from Through the Fire

HSAS brought together Sammy Hagar, Journey guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and drummer Michael Shrieve – the latter two had been in Santana together.

Hearing the group’s version of Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale on radio might have been the first time I ever heard the song.

I don’t think that the original is quite as iconic here in the States as it seems to be in the UK, but it’s a beautifully trippy song and I could have done worse in experiencing it for the first time than hearing this version.

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Auf Wiedersehen Scorpions

January 27, 2010

So, I began to see reports pop up here and there the last few days that The Scorpions are calling it a day.

The German export was one of the few metal acts that I cared enough about to buy an album or two as a kid. My interest in the band began during the summer of ’82, coinciding with two events. One was a heavy dose of them on the radio with the song No One Like You.

The other thing which prompted an interest in the band was a friend, Beej, who made an annual pilgrimage to spend a few weeks in Arizona with his dad each summer. He’d usually return with music that we weren’t hearing in the Midwest. In ’82, his return home was with a passion for The Scorpions album Blackout.

It struck me as odd because his younger brother was a little metalhead and he caught his share of grief from us for it.

But we dug Blackout. It was metal, but it had ridiculous hooks. It had a sheen. It was wiry and lean.

I’d stare at the album cover and wonder what the hell was up with that.

(and is that Rollie Fingers?)

Beej would call the nearest rock stations, long-distance, and request No One Like You. He’d tell DJs he wanted to dedicate it to his girlfriend who had downed a lethal dose of Coke and Pop Rocks on a dare. He’d go into graphic detail as to how the urban legend was true and her stomach had burst.

(the entertainment value of this skit to me and my friends was incalculable)

Two years later, I think all of my friends had a copy of Love At First Sting. No matter how varied our individual tastes might have been, we all dug The Scorpions.

(and they had a drummer named Herman “The German” Rarebell which, for some reason, amused us)

And then I pretty much lost interest in and track of The Scorpions. Their next album, Savage Amusement, didn’t come out until I was in college and my head was in a different direction musically. I heard some of it, but it dropped from my radar pretty quick.

I couldn’t escape hearing Winds Of Change years later. This was not how I wanted to remember The Scorpions of my childhood and that whistling in the song…I wanted nothing to do with it.

But the band has had a good run and they will always occupy a two, two and a quarter album space in my heart…

The Scorpions – Arizona
from Blackout

“Arizona really was a gas.”

Me and my friends were bummed when Beej took off for Arizona each summer. We were stuck in Sticksville and he was in exotic Tucson.

Arizona was a favorite even if it did make us feel like we were missing out on the fun that Beej was experiencing out West.

The Scorpions – No One Like You
from Blackout

Not only were the rock stations I was listening to playing No One Like You, but so were the pop stations. It was fine by me as the song was an excellent reason to turn up the radio.

Nearly thirty years later, few songs conjure up the summer of ’82 more vividly for me than No One Like You.

The Scorpions – Big City Nights
from Love At First Sting

Sure, Rock You Like A Hurricane was the big hit from Love At First Sting and future staple on every Monsters Of Rock-like compilation to come down the pike. But, I did burn out on the song pretty quickly.

(also, I was at an age where my taste in music was undergoing a seismic shift)

So, the album didn’t get nearly as much attention from me as Blackout, but Big City Nights was one of its better tracks.

The Scorpions – Rhythm Of Love
from Savage Amusement

As I noted, Savage Amusement came and went for me in a fingersnap. We played it a few times in a record store where I worked and I seem to recall MTV showing the video for Rhythm Of Love a lot.

I remember the video having a spaceship in it. It’s 2010 and I could easily confirm that detail, but it can’t be as entertaining as I picture it in my head, so I won’t.


Some Metal For Steve (Or, How I Got Stuck On A Tour Bus And Watched Human Evolution Take A Step Backwards)

October 15, 2009

heavy_metal_280265I never went through a metal phase during my high school years (or at any other time, for that matter).

Oh, I thought some of it was marvelous, simply smashing stuff, but I was never drawn to an album merely because it was an excuse to make devil horns, offer diabolical instructions when played backwards, or had been endorsed on MTV’s Headbangers Ball.

During high school, my friend Chris did have a cassette onto one side he had taped the first album by Men Without Hats; side two, Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast.

(I still enjoy the works of both bands to this day – as documented here, and here)

In college, though, I shared an apartment with a roommate whom I worked with at a record store. He was an excellent roommate, though, there were moments of friction, but these rifts were limited to the five to seven nights a week that I’d wake him at two in the morning after a night of watching cover bands and having a few drinks.

Between the two of us, I think we had somewhere in the range of five-hundred CDs, which was a staggering amount in 1989/1990. Visitors to our apartment would stand slack jawed and addled before the towering wall of music we had amassed.

(these visitors, usually village lasses charmed by the roommate, would often end up being angry and vengeful once the roommate had moved on, resulting in the need to leave my German Shepherd uncrated to ward off the ones who threatened to break in – no one ever did, but the dog did rip up most of the kitchen linoleum)

This roommate was a metal enthusiast.

Oh, he listened to a lot of different music, but its Danger Danger’s Bang Bang – or is it the other way around – that would end up on a soundtrack of our time together. Or, some rare, early Mötley Crüe self-issued releases on their own Leathür Records imprint.

And, one of the more goofily memorable events of those years was attending a club show – a triple bill of Steelheart, Bullet Boys, and Great White.

(this was a good decade before the last act became infamous)

The tickets were comps, the club was packed, and the roommate and I enthusiastically mocked Bullet Boys’ lead singer and David Lee Roth knock-off Marq Torien as he practiced Roth-like jumps in the parking lot.

The Spinal Tapness of that scene paled to one occurring later as we hung out on the tour bus of Steelheart with their label rep – who had invited us – and a rather dim contingency of cardboard cut-out metalheads.

As Bon Jovi’s relatively recent hit Wanted Dead Or Alive blared from the stereo, one of Steelheart’s members stood in the middle of the bus and hoisted a beer.

Bon Jovi sang of being a cowboy, but riding on a steel horse as opposed to one of the equine variety.

Steelheart guy shook his head in agreement with the words.

“This is like being a cowboy.”

He raised his arms, motioning all around him.

“And this is the steel horse he’s singing about.”

It was a stirring thing to have witnessed.

It must have been how the guys who were present for the invention of fire felt.

The roommate and I still e-mail on occasion. He recently took me to task for posting music by Ray Parker, Jr. So, here’s some hair metal to balance out the universe…

Mötley Crüe – Too Young To Fall In Love
from Shout At The Devil

Mötley Crüe always struck me as being…well, not exactly Mensa candidates. They did have a handful of songs that I thought were good, mindless fun (and Too Young To Fall In Love was accompanied by a bizarrely comical video)

Years later I would actually have a neighbor that was an ex-girlfriend of lead singer Vince Neil.

Ratt – Way Cool Jr.
from Reach For The Sky

While hardly rediscovering fire, Ratt never seemed to suffer from a shortage of insanely hooky songs. I mean, even their album cuts would immediately lodge in my brain upon hearing them.

And, in another odd connection, I own an amp that allegedly belonged to one of the band’s members.

Lita Ford – Kiss Me Deadly
from Back To The Cave

Lita never did much for me, not that I was ever exposed to much of her music aside from a couple of songs. Of course, Kiss Me Deadly was inescapable on the radio and a record store co-worker (not the roommate) would throw on Back To The Cave each and every chance that she got.

And, yes, I actually have a connection to Lita as, years after she had her brief period of success, I would become friends with someone that had been a member of her band during that short heydey.

Scorpions – Still Loving You
from Love At First Sting

Despite my relative disinterest in metal, Scorpions hooked me with their Blackout album and the song No One Like You. Unlike the other acts here, I actually owned several of their albums.

As for a connection to them, I don’t think I have even a tenuous one. However, if I recall correctly, the ex-roommate’s father was a big fan of Still Loving You on which lead singer Klaus Meine cranks the angst, melodrama, and remorse in his vocals to eleven.