Uriah Heep Forever

August 2, 2011

Working in one of the larger record stores I’d ever stepped into for much of the ’90s provided the opportunity to encounter a collection of characters that one might ordinarily have to do time to experience.

(an outcome that one co-worker narrowly avoided after being busted for manufacturing his own money)

Of these compatriots, The Drunken Frenchman was certainly one of the more memorable.

A good decade older than most of us, he had eased into the role of gruff, cantankerous elder so effortlessly that there was a yard no doubt lamenting his absence to chase neighborhood children from it.

The Frenchman quickly became a fixture in a group of a half dozen or so of us who would head straight from our shift to the cantina we had staked out as our own.

Throughout the successive rounds, The Frenchman would offer up bits of wisdom he’d accrued such as, if you’re good with your barkeep, you’re good, or, all a man needs is the love of a fine dog and an ingenue that understands him.

Questionable life lessons aside, The Frenchman likely knew as much about rock music, pre-1980, as anyone I have ever known, so there was usually a toast to commemorate the birthday of Hugh Grundy, original drummer for The Zombies, or the anniversary of the release of Small Faces’ Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake.

During one of those countless evenings, the discussion turned to the fact that there were acts whose heydey in the States might have been twenty years passed – and brief – and, yet, were able to still pack venues in Europe and even notch the occasional hit.

(I believe Status Quo having a Top Ten single in the UK prompted the topic)

“Once you’re in over there, you’re in forever,” The Frenchman noted. “Uriah Heep still tours in Europe.”

I took him at his drunken word.

The only time I’d ever heard Uriah Heep on the radio had been somewhere in eastern Ohio, maybe West Virginia, rolling down an interstate as the family made the annual, summer trek to the ancestral homelands of western Pennsylvania.

It was 1982, late summer, and music had, during the past six months, become the shiny, new object in my life. The idea of not having the radio stations I knew for two weeks was distressing.

I sat in the backseat of the car, jockeying for space with my brother and listening to a transistor radio until the final station familiar to me dissolved into a drone of white noise.

I was in uncharted territory, but I quickly learned to hunt, surfing the band for a song that I recognized to materialize.

Then, we hit a stretch of dead air and few options and I had to settle on a station that was a bit harder than the Top 40 to which I usually listened.

(it helped that they played Journey’s Stone In Love)

And I know that the station played a song by Uriah Heep as their name – and that of their new album, Abominog – struck me as totally bizarre.

Some fifteen years later, not long after The Frenchman informed us of Uriah Heep’s fervent fanbase in Europe, I visited the UK for the first time. Emerging from The Tube, listening to Smashing Pumpkin’s Adore on my Walkman, I stopped.

Covering a section of the wall was a massive poster…touting tour dates for Uriah Heep.

Here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s album rock chart from twenty-nine years ago when some unfamiliar radio station gave me my one and only (as far as I know) dose of Uriah Heep…

Uriah Heep – That’s The Way That It Is
from Abominog

I got to thinking about Uriah Heep after reading a recent entry at 70s Music Mayhem on the debut of what would be the band’s lone Top 40 hit, Easy Livin’, in the US during late July, 1972.

(I don’t think that I’d ever heard the song before)

That’s Just The Way It Is apparently got enough airplay to give the band their biggest album in a decade and it’s not a bad song at all. It’s catchy, rumbles along quite nicely, and certainly wouldn’t have sounded out of place next to Journey and Foreigner at the time.

Nazareth – Love Leads To Madness
from 2XS

I’m familiar with little by Nazareth aside from Love Hurts and its accompanying album, Hair Of The Dog. My buddy Will had an older brother and the eight track seemed to be permanently lodged in his Trans Am’s player.

I dig Dan McCafferty’s gruff vocals which I’ve heard influenced Axl Rose and Love Leads To Madness is pretty cool. With what little I do know of Nazareth’s catalog and the fact that they’re Scottish, I’d be interested in hearing more.

The Sherbs – We Ride Tonight
from Defying Gravity

My buddy Beej would go to visit relatives out west most summers. He’d return after a couple weeks with tapes of exotic songs recorded from the radio and The Sherb’s We Ride Tonight might have been on one of those mixes.

I did hear the song here and there on WEBN or 96 Rock, but I never knew who it was or what it was called. It was one of those songs that was filed deep in my brain, making cameos throughout the years and causing me to wonder if I’d imagined it.

We Ride Tonight is a taut rocker with a mysterious vibe and a chorus reminiscent of the Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen classic Because The Night.

Billy Squier – Emotions In Motion
from Emotions In Motion

Billy Squier was about as popular as any act in my junior high/high school during his Don’t Say No/Emotions In Motion period.

There were three cities that were on most tour stops and within a two-hour drive of my hometown; Squier was playing one of them every few months, opening for some major headliner.

(there were more Billy Squier concert shirts per capita in my high school than any high school in America)

But it was straight-ahead, groove-driven rock that sounded great on the radio (and both Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion had four or five songs that got played heavily in our part of the midwest).


Life Post Rapture (It’s Not Just The Pious Who Are Bummed)

May 26, 2011

Since that whole Rapture dealio surprisingly fizzled, I can’t help but think that the real losers were the non-pants wearing inhibitants of this planet.

Imagine how elated the animal kingdom would have been had several hundred million humans simply vanished.

I picture camels, cockatoos, coyotes – all creatures great and small – breaking into song and dance like cartoon characters at the idea of fewer of us humans mucking up the scene.

Word would obviously be spread by the whales as they are able to communicate to all of the world’s oceans through their song. I know this because Charlotte Rampling’s professor character said so in Orca.

(I feel that a Dino De Laurentiis’ flick I saw as a kid at the drive-in in 1977 is a credible source for ichthyological information)

I thought that Prof. Rampling also told the hungover college kids something about some philosopher who had speculated that God would return to earth as a whale.

Maybe The Old Fellow Who Cried Judgment Day needs to factor that concept into his calculations.

In the meantime, the animals no doubt have champagne on ice. Here are four animal songs…

The Judybats – Animal Farm
from Down In The Shacks Where The Satellite Dishes Grow

I’ve stumbled across songs from Southern jangle rockers The Judybats twice of late as I’ve looked for songs to post and I’m surprised that its taken me nearly twenty years to discover them.

(especially since I’ve had Down In The Shacks Where The Satellite Dishes Grow since it was released in ’92 when I snagged a promo copy)

Better late than never, though, and the charming Animal Farm is not only a cover of a song by The Kinks, but it’s nowhere near as dystopian as the classic novel of the same name.

Talking Heads – Animals
from Fear Of Music

One of my high school buddies was a rabid fan of Talking Heads, so I was familiar with the band’s catalog before the mainstream success of the stellar Burning Down The House and its parent album Speaking In Tongues.

I dig The Heads and own a good chunk of the band’s catalog, but there is a portion of their output that is difficult to embrace. If I had to choose one Talking Heads’ album, though, I would likely opt for the textured Fear Of Music.

Somehow I’d forgotten about the delightfully paranoid Animalson which David Byrne expresses his great distrust of the titular creatures – “I know the animals are laughing at us” – and concern that, since “they’re living on nuts and berries” and “they say they don’t need money,” “they’re setting a bad example.”

(damned socialist animals!)

The Fixx – Calm Animals
from Calm Animals

I’ve long liked the idea of The Fixx more than the actual band and much of their music. Their albums were uneven and I didn’t like One Thing Leads To Another even before it got played into the ground in the autumn of ’83.

But, when things truly jelled, The Fixx had some killer tracks – Red Skies, Saved By Zero, Secret Separation – and, listening to it for the first time in years, the more rocking Calm Animals is pretty cool.

Def Leppard – Animal
from Hysteria

It’s Def Leppard, man. I mean, once we’re gone, the animals are certainly going to have a major blowout and why wouldn’t they throw on some Def Leppard?


Today, My Best Friend…Tomorrow, Who Knows?

May 11, 2011

Sometime last week, during the spate of coverage on the demise of Osama bin Laden, I happened upon a program on the life of the iconic terrorist.

One of the people interviewed was described as bin Laden’s best friend as a teenager.

It must make a pretzel of the mind to have such a notorious character as a former best friend.

The first best friend that I can remember having was a kid named George. There’s little else I recall aside from his name and I have no recollection as to what earned him status as numero uno amigo.

I do recall that I stripped him of the title and I slotted another classmate into the position.

I wanted John as my best friend because he was tall, a head taller than everyone else.

(people have been placed in high office using such logic, but I was five)

I’ve had no contact with either of these kids in almost forty years, but it seems as though George is a DJ in the upper Midwest, so perhaps I was being prescient about the interest I’d someday have in music.

By the time I reached high school, I was in a transitional period with friendships. The concept of best friend had evolved into a group of eight or nine of us who would end up together in different permutations and numbers.

One of these buddies was a bit of a fire enthusiast and devotee of things that go kaboom.

During senior year, Kirk The Pyro went to California with another of our friends for spring break.

(most of us settled for wandering the malls in Cincinnati)

This dynamic duo returned to the grimness of March in the Midwest with tans and dynamite.

“Where did you get dynamite?”

“Tijuana”

“So, you brought dynamite from Tijuana on your flight home from California?”

It was a simpler world and a time when – relative to today – the airlines essentially had a don’t ask/don’t tell policy.

The interviewee on the television screen had described bin Laden as quiet and polite, their friendship rooted in a shared love for soccer.

I could only describe Kirk The Pyro as like Woody Woodpecker in human form and our bond forged by a common appreciation for antics, hijinks, and shenanigans.

And though I haven’t had contact with him since college, I also haven’t seen him become the target of a global manhunt.

Here are four friend songs…

Clarence Clemons And Jackson Browne – You’re A Friend Of Mine
from Hero

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band were probably as big as any act in my lifetime. During the mid-’80s. Born In The USA sold ten million copies and pretty much every song on the record got extensive airplay on the radio. The group’s success was so massive and demand for more music so great that b-sides like Pink Cadillac and Stand On It got played heavily.

E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons even had a solo hit during the winter of ’85 when he duetted with Jackson Browne on the upbeat and catchy You’re A Friend Of Mine.

The Rolling Stones – Waiting On A Friend
from Tattoo You

Personally, I’ve always thought that Waiting On A Friend was one of the Stones’ finest post-’70s moments. The song is so casual and the vibe so laid-back that it’s always welcome when it pops up on shuffle.

Apparently it was the first video by the Stones played on MTV (with reggae great Peter Tosh hanging out on the steps).

Grateful Dead – Friend Of The Devil
from Skeletons From The Closet: The Best Of Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead got discovered my generation while I was in college when A Touch Of Gray put the venerable band all over MTV. I liked the song and I even liked a lot of its parent album, In The Dark, which was played often in the record store where I worked.

I’ve also enjoyed stuff from their catalog as I’ve been introduced to it here and there, but I’ve never felt the rabid passion for The Dead that they inspired in a lot of my peers.

Jellyfish – He’s My Best Friend
from Spilt Milk

I discovered Jellyfish when the record store where I worked received a promo copy of the band’s debut, Bellybutton, in 1990. The psychedelic album cover was eye-catching and the music earned the group from San Francisco comparisons to greats like Queen, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, XTC, and Cheap Trick.

Despite plenty of swooning by critics, Jellyfish was unable to find mainstream success and would split up after just one more album, 1993′s Spilt Milk, but the group has continued to loom large in the hearts of power pop devotees for the past two decades.