Bong-smoking skeleton rides motorbike

The magic and mystery of heavy metal is somewhat of a closed book to me. That the musicians are skilled is not in question, and their fans are models of admirable loyalty. But the merch? Not for me, that whole “black tee-shirt with a picture of a bong-smoking skeleton riding a motorbike across a desert which is also the body of a tanned Amazon warrior in a metal bikini” look.

Mens-Funny-T-Shirt-Darth-Vader-Heavy-Metal-Designer-T-Shirts-Short-Sleeve-Cotton-Tee-Shirts.jpg_640x640And a lot of metal lacks, to my ears, light and shade. Often enough it is just pitch-black, from screaming beginning to screaming end.

But I have met and chatted to pleasant and cultured people wearing the black tees, and they are not the perpetual adolescents the art-work might suggest. Their passion for and appreciation of the music is real. What is more, metal fans put their money where their pierced tongues are.

This record is a seriously obscure early release by a Melbourne, Australia, band Virgin Soldiers. It was put out by a label called Metal for Melbourne (their fourth, and last, release). It is also seriously metal: the two sides are labelled Metal A and Metal B. There are people who love it – enough that a Netherlands outfit put out a bootleg CD in 2008.

Someone in Japan bought it from me for A$50, plus postage. Looking at what the record is selling for now (A$130+) I let it go pretty cheaply, but that is fine. I am glad the record has gone to a home where it will be played and loved.

This is “Metal A”, track 1, a song which the same name as the band, “Virgin Soldiers”. (Which came first?) More than many metal tracks, there is light and shade. The band is tight, the production excellent. I won’t be buying the black tee with the skeleton anytime soon, but I can agree that for what it is, it is genuinely good.

Just listen.

  • Artist: Virgin Soldiers
  • Album: Watching The World
  • Track: Metal A, Track 1 “Virgin Soldiers”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Metal for Melbourne
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: M4MLP0004
  • Year: 1990

Pelted with bourbon bottles

To dare question the might and majesty of AC/DC in Australia is to risk being pelted to death with empty bourbon bottles.

They are an iconic, much-loved band, titans of popular music. They are Australia’s most successful international act, for decades. Not just success: AC/DC has street cred as well. They have a lane-way in Melbourne named after them. Bon Scott, lead singer in the band’s glory years, has a bronze statue in Fremantle. People come to see it, and all.  The hip and young as well as the plump, middle-aged and nostalgic love them.

BON

Notes TripAdvisor: “Great statue of Bon. Was surprised it was a bit small  … Not sure what Bon would make of the seagulls landing and pooping on his head though.

Now. I am happy for AC/DC that they followed their dreams and made a lot of money and in course of doing so thrilled millions of fans. I am sad for Bon Scott that he drank himself to death. I remember when they burst onto the scene with “Long Way to the Top” and a surfie’s panel-van-full of other hits. I quite liked them then. But I was eight years old then. I have moved on.

ex hits 75Not that they need me. Their early records are valuable collectors’ items. I have this track only because it appeared on Explosive Hits ’75, one of those compilations the record companies used to put out each summer. This LP makes for strange listening now: Al Martino, the Bay City Rollers, Frankie Valli … and AC/DC! This is their take on the blues-rock classic “Baby Please Don’t Go”. Me, I think they make a meal out of it. A Jim Beam bottle flies overhead, shattering on the wall behind me. But this is Planet Vinyl. Ignore me, and just listen!

  • Artist: AC/DC
  • Album: Explosive Hits ’75 (compilation of various artists)
  • Track: A6 “Baby Please Don’t Go”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: HMV
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: TVSS.19
  • Year: 1975

Wealth, status, friends, etc

“The rollyng stone neuer gatherth mosse,” wrote John Heywood in his collection of “all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue”, published in London in 1546. A modern dictionary explains the meaning of this durable saying: “a person who does not settle in one place will not accumulate wealth, status, friends, etc … with allusion to the proverb, moss is occasionally used to denote money.”

0847 upI don’t know what John Heywood would have made of the Rolling Stones, 500 years on, but the band’s story rather gives the lie to its name. They accumulated a great deal of wealth, status, friends, etc, not to mention a legion of fans who have made Mick’n’Keef the joint subjects of an annoying personality cult. It’s a bit off-putting, the whole hero-worship thang.

But Planet Vinyl is an open society, the fellowship of the fair listen. When seven inches of Stones came my way, I cleaned off the moss and gave it a spin. I already knew the A side,  “The Last Time,” which was released in 1965, and was a number one hit in the UK. Good, bluesy rock.

But the B side was a surprise. “Play With Fire” belongs to that sub-genre of songs in which a working-class lad scoffs at a society girl for her privilege and lack of life experience. You ain’t lived in the real world, honey. The lyrics are a tad trite, but the mostly acoustic arrangement (the work of Phil Spector, who also plays bass) is lovely, and there is subtlety to the delivery.

  • Artist: Rolling Stones
  • Single Title: The Last Time
  • Side B “Play With Fire”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Decca
  • Catalogue: Y 7217
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1965

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

Out of the Shadows

Terence “Jet” Harris was a star bass player in the early days of British skiffle and rock. In the late 1950s he joined Cliff Richard’s backing band, the Shadows, and became famous. But he suffered depressin, and began drinking heavily. He quarreled with the other Shadows, leaving the band in 1962.

Jet at Abbey Road

Jet Harris recording at Abbey Road Studios. Image: http://jetharrismemorialfund.org/

By 1963, Harris was on the slide, in trouble with the law for alcohol-fuelled violence and badly injured in a car crash. He slid out of music, and worked as a labourer, a bus conductor and a hospital porter – drinking all the while. In 1988, he was declared bankrupt. But at that time he also, for the first time, admitted to his alcoholism, sought help, and gradually began to return to music and rebuild his career and his life. He successfully performed with old mates, including other former Shadows, and Marty Wilde, and remained active on the stage until his death in 2011.

After the Shadows and before the drinking really took hold, Harris had some solo hits, including this one, a version of the Mexican song “Besame Mucho” (roughly “kiss me a lot”). It might be reading too much into things, but is there, in the dark, moody twang of Jet Harris’ guitar, a portent of things to come?

  • Artist: Jet Harris
  • Single Title: Besame Mucho
  • Tracks: A “Besame Mucho” Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Decca
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: Y-7081
  • Year: 1962

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

Twang!

Duane Eddy was one of the first rock ’n roll guitar heroes. He used the bass strings of his Grestch guitar (the one on the right on the album sleeve picture below) to play a melody line. This was recorded through an echo chamber to create a distinctive, almost grungy rock sound.

2977-coverEddy is best remembered for the theme to the detective show Peter Gunn, but he did a lot else, including movie and television soundtracks, and with his band The Rebels had a long string of huge hits, selling more than 12 million records between 1958 and 1963. Eddy’s ‘twang’ sound made him a rich man, and inspired legions of teenagers to learn guitar. Among his admirers were Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ry Cooder.

This track was his first release. It was only modestly successful, but it is a perfect jukebox number. The low-down guitar is complemented by a brassy, sleazy saxophone. It’s wild, and sexy. Imagine hearing this bursting out of the speakers in a small town diner in 1958. Twang!

  • Artist: ‎Duane Eddy,
  • LP Title: $1,000,000 Worth Of Twang
  • Track: B1 “Moovin’ ‘N Groovin’”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: London Records
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: HAA 7621
  • Year: 1962 (this track first released 1958)

They don’t have many songs, but they don’t need them

It would have been about 1985. I clearly remember that it was Anzac Day, 25 August. This is a solemn public holiday in Australia, our annual commemoration for fallen soldiers. The weather was lousy and everything was closed, and I was in my bedroom doing schoolwork. The radio was on, tuned into EON FM.eon-fm-1980

Eons ago it seems, but EON was then the cool young person’s rock radio station in my part of the world. It was one of the first commercial radio stations broadcasting on the FM band, and it made much of being in stereo. One station jingle had exaggerated stereo separation.

It’s on the LEFT,
It’s on the RIGHT
It’s got the BEAT
Day and night

It seemed impressive at the time. Anyway, back to this slightly dreary Anzac Day. James Reyne, an Australian rock musician who was big then (and still is) was being interviewed on EON. Actually interview isn’t quite the word – the regular DJ was there, but he had almost lost his voice, and so just let Reyne talk and play music for the best part of two hours. Given time and space to chat he showed himself to be unexpectedly thoughtful and interesting. reyne-hammerheadHe had just returned from a trip to America, and he spoke having been to see a Van Halen concert. Van Halen, still fronted by David Lee Roth at this time, were in their pomp, but I could not really see what the excitement was about. Roth was a clown, and the music didn’t really grab me. But Reyne said something which has stuck with me. “They don’t have many songs,” he said, “but they don’t need them”. It was all in the show, the theatre, the stadium spectacular.

Something must explain their popularity. One of their few “songs” came out a bit later, post Roth, with Sam Hagar on vocals: “Why Can’t This Be Love” is good pop rock, but not really what Van Halen were about.

0022-b-sideThe B-side to that single is more representative. “Get Up” seems to be about nothing in particular, although Hagar mostly screams so it is hard to tell. It is the sound, the noise, the vibe, the aural assault that matters. This kind of thing: It doesn’t do much for me listening to the recorded version, but I kinda see that it would be fun to jump along to in a big sweaty stadium, with lights and lasers and dry ice and the volume at eleven. Better live.

  • Artist: ‎Van Halen
  • Single Title: Why Can’t His Be Love
  • Track: Side B “Get Up”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Warner, 7-28740
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1986

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

That old black magic

I had never heard of Billy Daniels until this shellac disc – battered and scratched and with a crack running through it – came into my life. I was unsure whether it would even play, as the crack runs almost through to the label, but it worked okay. There is a noise, but no worse than a moderate scratch. And what a voice travels up the needle.

3075-a-sideDaniels was a genuine star in the 1950s. He was the first person to have a hit with “That Old Black Magic” – I have heard perhaps a dozen versions, but never his. He was the first African American to host a mainstream variety show on television in the United States. He worked the cabaret circuit, and was an early attraction on the Las Vegas casino show scene. It is said that he had mafia connections, which helped him get ahead. Probably true – how else to get a gig in Vegas? – but if so he was in good company.

What matters is that Billy Daniels could sing. On this disc he waxes between the casual and the impassioned, and he shifts style and tempo, and somehow this delivery lifts the (frankly lame) Tin Pan Alley lyrics of the song. It acquires an emotional power which it doesn’t really deserve. On this track, Daniels anticipates Tom Jones, even Elvis, and, like that old black magic, sends shivers down your spine.

  • Artist: Billy Daniels
  • Title: The Game of Love / I Still get a Thrill Thinking of You
  • Track: A side, “The Game of Love”
  • Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
  • Label: Esquire Mercury, A-1106
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1951

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs. Mention this code “MSD519” to receive a free 7” disc of your choice (up to the value of $5.00) with any purchase.