Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Raindogs

A Boston based band lead by Mark Cutler but the rhythm section came from The Red Rockers, The Raindogs took their name from a Tom Waits album.  Secret weapon was fiddler Johnny Cunningham who bought a Galactic feel to Cutler's Tom Petty/Rolling Stones/Del Fregos type of music.  They may have been ahead of their time for their type of alt rock preceded The Counting Crows by about three years.

Their albums for Atco went straight to the bargain bins soon after their release but they always had the best producers available: Peter Henderson (Supertramp, Rush) produced their first Lost Souls and Don Gehman (Mellencamp, later Hootie And The Blowfish) for Border Drive In Theater which became one of my favorite albums of 1991 due to the title alone.  Some Fun actually got played on the FM station for a time and Iggy Pop gave the bizarre introduction of Dance Of The Freaks.  But as fate would have it, Atco Records folded up shop and never did give the proper promotion for both of The Raindogs albums.  They would break up, and Mark Cutler would go on to a solo career.  Cunningham died in 2003.

Lost Souls (Atco 1989) B+
Border Drive In Theater (Atco 1991) B+

Friday, December 28, 2012

Raised On Led Zeppelin

As a schooler growing up in Marion, the epitome of being cool is if you knew somebody that had Led Zeppelin in their music collection, or in my case one of my friend's older brother that had the first two (but oddly not the third).  In my generation we missed out on the Beatles but when Zeppelin was around they were our ultimate band.  And for 11 years the band that everybody liked.

The Zep started out from The Yardbirds to which members of that band would eventually bailed out, leaving Jimmy Page and Chris Dreja,  Dreja would soon leave (although he is credited for the band photo on the first album). Page was a established session player who joined the Yardbirds around 1967 before Jeff Beck would leave for his own solo career.  Little Games (EMI) was produced by Micky Most and it was actually the most pop sounding of all Yardbirds album with the exception of a fiery Think About It which kinda gave a direction of sound that Page would succeed with Led Zeppelin.  A live album Yardbirds With Jimmy Page (Epic 1971)  came out with fake crowd sounds but a version of I'm Confused stands out.  Keith Relf and Jim McCartney would leave.  John Paul Jones, was also a highly sought after session player as he played on many tracks featuring the likes of Herman Hermits became a replacement.   The other two main players, Robert Plant and John Bonham came from the lesser known Band Of Joy,  Plant has a hard to find 45 on Columbia You Better Run/Everybody Gonna Say under the band name Listen  (Columbia 4-43967) which is a Rascals cover.  Bonham would play mad drums on Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man in 1968.

Fulfilling contracts as The New Yardbirds, they renamed themselves after a Keith Moon quirk but their first album wasn't anything you heard on the radio.  More heavy blues rock then heavy metal (the term wasn't coined yet) Led Zeppelin raided the Willie Dixon songbook and took Dazed And Confused away from Jake Holmes.  The urgency of Good Times Bad Times (a failed single hard to figure) and Communication Breakdown showed that Led Zeppelin could keep things at two and half minutes but everything is there that would make them the rock gods that they would become.  You want a organ solo, there's the beginning of Your Time Is Gonna Come, you want a messy drum solo, it's on How Many More Times (basically a rewrite of How Many More Years, a Howlin Wolf comp), if you want a cool guitar piece Black Mountain Side is there too.  Glyn Johns adds a very heavy mix to the songs, but Jimmy Page's guitar antics and bow effects on Dazed And Confused makes this a still great album.

Led Zeppelin 2 was more of the same, more rock, more blues including the 5 and half minute Whole Lotta Love and stealing more Chess blues goodies, (hey if you're going to lift songs from the past go with the real sources and they did, Wolf's Killing Floor becomes The Lemon Song and Rice Miller's Bring It On Home, Miller being Sonny Boy Williamson Number 2).  And even mellow numbers like Ramble On and Thank You had a bit hard rock thrown in for good measure but for me the sloppy guitar solo on the metallic Heartbreaker remains worth the price of admission.

I never could understood why my best friend's older brother never did buy Led Zeppelin 3 but perhaps he was put off by the almost acoustic second side of the album to which when I was younger didn't quite get but as I got older, I come to find that's one of my favorite sides.  Oh it rocks, Immigrant Song, Celebration Day and the forgotten Out On The Tides are standouts but side 2, cover of Leadbelly's Gallows Pole, plus Tangerine and That's The Way a song that sounded more Fairport Convention than hard rock and the then odd weirdness that is Hats Off To Roy Harper makes 3 my all time favorite LZ album.

But then there's Led Zeppelin 4 or the ZOSO album.  For all it's overplayedness on the radio, when I put it on the turntable here at home it sounds as fresh and original as the first time I heard this.  Black Dog, the straight ahead Rock and Roll, Sandy Denny put to great use on Battle Of Evermore and of course it all winds down to the epic Stairway To Heaven.  Side 2 kinda lets a bit, Four Sticks remains the weakest of the bunch, Going To California gets better with age but the hard blues of Memphis Minnie's When The Levee Breaks is classic Zep.

A Led Zeppelin album was the big event no matter what day or year it was. Houses Of The Holy was beginning to show the excess and bombast and the start of the albums that while great to some, didn't catch much on me.  The Song Remains The Same when I first heard it on the radio blew my mind and the first time of hearing D'yer Maker about the same although that song sounds a bit dated now.  Over The Hills And Far Away was a top thirty hit here but I never been much of a fan of the Rain Song.  The albums does end on a high note with the brooding and mysterious No Quarter and rock stopping The Ocean.

Psychical Graffiti is probably my 2nd favorite Zeppelin album with Custard Pie, The Rover and a 11 minute in your face of In My Time Of Dying to which the guys tackle an obscure Josh White number to which Ron Nevison put together a definite mix to which Bonham's drums stand way out in front.  Kashmir shows the Western flavor that would pop up on later Zep and Robert Plant's efforts, but for me the rocking Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again were better.  Even throwaways like Boogie With Stu, Black Country Woman kick major butt and of course the ballads like Ten Years Gone were excellent.  For a record that's all over the map, it still remains definitive.

Presence on the other hand was whipped out in 18 days and might be the least album in their catalog, Tea For One and For Your Life are hard to get through but I love Candy Store Rock and Hots On From Nowhere.  Not bad.

The Song Remains The Same in its original context is Led Zeppelin in it's warts and all glory, bombastic pompous and self indulgent, that's the 27 minute Dazed And Confused and the bloated Moby Dick.  In 2007, 6 new tracks makes this a lot more easier to take which The Ocean, Since I Been Loving You, Over The Hills And Far Away, Heartbreaker and Misty Mountain Hop makes this worth getting, even though How The West Is Won and The BBC Sessions are much better but then that was a much younger Led Zeppelin more hungry and ambitious, the Madison Square Garden show that was Song Remains The Same shows a more content Zeppelin that follows it's own bloated way.  Basically you had to be there.

In Through The Out Door is the album to which John Paul Jones gets his own spotlight since this album is the least metallic of all Zeppelin albums with In The Evening anything close to hard rock.  More keyboard driven such as songs like Fool In The Rain or All My Love shows but there's a wicked sense of humor on the country fried Hot Dog as well.  It all ends on the seductive I'm Gonna Crawl.  But then John Bonham died and the band ceased to exist.  Coda wraps things up with three rockers that didn't make In Through The Out Door and some odds and ends and a John Bonham drum piece with some Page electronics thrown in for good measure but nobody bothered to add Hey Hey What Can I Do.  That would have to wait for the 4 cd box set that came out in 1991.

To usher in the new CD era Jimmy Page cherry picked his favorites for Led Zeppelin Box Set 1 (The second would appear a year later) and added some unreleased stuff in the process.  Then Early Days and Later Days came out and then Mothership, if you have the studio you really don't need these.  Jimmy Page would play on a couple Robert Plant songs for Now and Zen and Plant returned the favor for one song on Page's 1988 Outrider album.  Then they got back together again for the listenable No Quarter and the not so much Walking Into Clarksdale, Steve Albini's mix didn't do them any favors.  John Paul Jones joined them for the ill fated 1985 Live Aid show and a Atlantic Records showcase a few years later but Led Zeppelin's finest and perhaps final moment of the Post John Bonham era was getting son Jason to sit in and do the 2007 O2 tribute to Arment Ertugan which became Celebration Day.  With Plant singing in a lower voice and Page and Jones tuning down, Celebration Day might be the most metal album that Zeppelin ever did.  Plant's vocal more subdued than the MSG show, it shows the surviving members enjoying and shining in the moment one last time.  You have to admire Robert Plant not succumbing to big bucks to rehash the favorites all over again although one should never say never if everybody is still alive.  But if it's their last moment together, they went out in style.

Long live Led Zeppelin!

PS It's basically pointless to give out grades to these albums, they're all essential, including the updated Song Remains The Same S/T with the bonus tracks adding continuity and filling in the gaps that the original album omitted.  I'm sure most of you out there have these albums in your collection in one form or another.  From the opening notes of Good Times Bad Times, to the end of Rock And Roll on Celebration Day, Led Zeppelin was truly THE BAND THAT ROCKED from the word GO! 


Led Zeppelin (Atlantic 1968) A
Led Zeppelin 2 (Atlantic 1969) A
Led Zeppelin 3 (Atlantic 1970) A
Led Zeppelin 4 (Atlantic 1971) A
Houses Of The Holy (Atlantic 1973) A-
Physical Graffiti (Swan Song 1975) A
Presence (Swan Song 1976) B+
The Song Remains The Same (Swan Song 1977) B-
In Through The Out Door (Swan Song 1979) B+
Coda (Swan Song 1982) A-
BBC Sessions (Atlantic 1990) B+
How The West Was Won (Atlantic 2002) A-
Celebration Day (Rhino/Swan Song 2007) A-