Archive for the ‘British bands’ Category

Where’s That Confounded Bridge?

In 1970s, 1973, British bands, Led Zeppelin, Rich's House of Vinyl, rock on August 12, 2016 at 10:22 pm


Earlier this week, my 20-sided dice told me to listen to Led Zeppelin’s classic 1973 album, Houses of the Holy. I listened to it several times. I will now report my findings.

I have no specific memories of March 1973. Just hazy impressions.

I was in second grade at a smallish Catholic school in southeastern Pennsylvania. Each morning, I’d eat breakfast while I listened to powerhouse AM Philadelphia radio station WFIL on the radio. After I’d leave my house to walk to school, I would turn around at two or three specific spots to wave to Mom, standing inside the front door. Eventually, of course, there was no looking back, and I’d make the short trek to school.

My second grade teacher had a name that to this day I probably wouldn’t be able to spell. I am sure there was a basic second grade routine, but the details are lost to me now. Friday mornings, all the kids from first through eighth grade would walk in two neat rows over to the church for Mass. Our First Holy Communion would be happening in May, so it’s a safe bet that we were practicing for that.

In short, my life in March 1973 was about as different from that of Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert “Don’t Call Me Bob” Plant’s life that year as you can possibly imagine.

In fact, it might sound improbable, but I think I was unaware of the existence of Led Zeppelin in 1973, despite their lofty status as Rock Gods. I certainly liked music, and my tastes were gradually being formed, but no one was guiding me toward the kind of heaviness that Zeppelin represented. I can safely say that I had no idea that Led Zeppelin had released their fifth album, Houses of the Holy, in the spring of my second grade year.

Despite this, Robert Plant and I did share one common interest in 1973: spinning tales of the endless journeys of thousands of adventurers on some kind of mystical quest.

When school ended each day, I would wait for the old man crossing guard to part the traffic on Concord Road and I’d head down the long catwalk back into our neighborhood. As I walked, I’d often gaze at the ground and imagine that it was the terrain for some kind of epic journey being taken by massive groups of explorers or soldiers, facing danger at every turn. On rainy days, water streaming down the street would become mighty rivers on which imaginary sailors took endless, perilous journeys. Some survived, some did not, but the journey/battle/quest went on forever. At least in my mind. Each afternoon on my way home from school, I’d pick up the story where I’d left off the day before.

Though I certainly hadn’t heard the song, I was essentially acting out “No Quarter,” a dark story song from Houses of the Holy. It’s a mysterious song about a shadowy group of (presumably) men who are facing a raging snow storm and the “winds of Thor,” as they walk “side by side with death,” while “the devil mocks their every step.” The point of the march? To “carry news that must get through” and to “build a dream for me and you.”

I don’t know precisely what Plant was getting at with those lyrics, but hearing them now reminds me of those tales I’d make up during those walks home from school so long ago. Tales that existed completely in my head for more than 40 years, until I mentioned them to my wife Donna last night.

Of course, I guess Robert Plant and I both have Homer to thank for putting these kinds of stories in our heads. And in the head of any kid who ever grew up anywhere over the last few millennia.

I missed out on Houses of the Holy in 1973. When I think of the music from March 1973 that might have resonated with me, I find that it’s the soul songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 from late March of that year that feel the most foundational to my musical tastes. In short, the songs by the Spinners, Stylistics, O’Jays and so many more are the ones that I was probably hearing the most those mornings on WFIL, and they’re the ones that sank deep into me. Bands like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd–whose Dark Side of the Moon was also released in March 1973 and whose popularity has arguably eclipsed that of Houses of the Holy–would have to wait for me to catch up to them.

But I did catch up eventually. I’m sure that I had heard all eight songs from Houses of the Holy on rock stations like WMMR by the time drummer John Bonham’s death brought Zeppelin to an untimely end in 1980. I got over my fear of “heavy” music and began to dive into Zeppelin’s albums, first by borrowing them from my high school classmate Dave, and then by buying them one by one for about $5.00 at my local Listening Booth record store.

And so it was that about 10 years after its release, I heard Houses of the Holy for the first time. I don’t remember the first time I listened to it, beginning to end, but I was likely amazed at how I’d already heard every song from the LP on ‘MMR. Houses of the Holy was just that damn important to the burgeoning “classic rock” culture of the early 1980s.

I don’t know that Houses of the Holy was universally acclaimed at the time of its release, but I think it holds up well. It’s a diverse album, ranging from raging Zep stompers like “Dancing Days,” “Over The Hills and Far Away,” and “The Ocean” to the ethereal “The Rain Song,” still one of the most gorgeous songs Plant has ever sung (and dig those mellotron-generated strings!). Plus, you get a goofy reggae tribute, “D’yer Mak’er” and the James Brown parody, “The Crunge,” both rare displays of a Zeppelin sense of humor. Where is that confounded bridge, anyway?

During my college years, I was falling in love with all kinds of new music, but I wound up burrowing deeper into the classic rock canon as well. More than a few times, Houses of the Holy would be the soundtrack to college dorm backgammon matches. Yes, indeed, I knew how to party.

Houses of the Holy and I sometimes spend years apart, but every now and then I rediscover it and listen to it for days or weeks on end. This is what happened after I met an online friend named Tommy back around 2008 or thereabout. He was a big Zeppelin fan, and he reignited my love for Houses of the Holy. I never met Tommy in real life and he is now sadly gone. But I feel his presence, along with the presence of those still here–Rick and Greg from college, Dave and Joe from high school–with whom I’ve shared the mighty Houses of the Holy through the years. And even the presence of seven-year-old me, telling myself the story of “No Quarter,” as I walked home from school, long before I’d ever heard of “No Quarter,” Houses of the Holy, or even Led Zeppelin itself.









Daily Record 11/12/11: We Do ’em Our Way-various artists (1980)

In 1970s, 1974, 1978, 1979, British bands, compilations, cover songs, new wave, Rich's House of Vinyl on November 12, 2011 at 5:58 am

Recording a cover song can be a dicey proposition for any band, particularly a new one. A cover song will probably get the band some attention, which is probably always a good thing, but the band could easily get typecast, with audiences subsequently paying little or no attention to the band’s original music.

We Do ’em Our Way, a 1980 British compilation (I got it as a cheap import somewhere a long time ago), highlights bands that came out of the punk explosion, disassembling a variety of beloved rock classics with varying degrees of reverence. You’ve got Devo covering the Stones; Sex Pistols exploring both Bill Haley and Monkees’ tunes; the Slits taking on the iconic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine;” and the Dickies spending some “Nights in White Satin.”

To me, one sign of a great cover is when the covering artist takes the song to a place you never would’ve imagined and that’s what happens in nearly every case here.

I would imagine that most of these bands recorded these songs at least in part in the hope that listeners would be intrigued enough to dig into the band’s original tunes. It’s hard to tell to what extent that happened, but the fact remains that, three decades later, We Do ’em Our Way, is still a cool, fun record to spin late on a Friday night/early on a Saturday morning.

Daily Record 2/23/11: Spiders-Space

In 1990, 1996, British bands, pop on February 23, 2011 at 10:43 pm


Listening to today’s Daily Record, 1996’s Spiders by British pop rock band Space, felt like homework to me. While the album spawned a “modern rock hit” (i.e., a popular song that did not make Billboard‘s Top 40) in “Female of the Species,” Space was destined to become a one-hit wonder, at least in the U.S.

I was a big fan of “Female of the Species,” and still am. I don’t know if you remember it, but it’s this kind-of-spooky, kind-of-Bacharach tune in which the singer intones “The female of the species is more deadly than the male.” Great tune, but the previous sentence includes a clue to my ambivalence about listening to the whole <i>Spiders</i> album this morning: I don’t even know the singer’s name!

I do not remember buying the Spiders album, though the purchase probably went something like this. One evening in Northeast Philadelphia, Donna and I drive up Roosevelt Boulevard to Tower Records. For those who might not remember the pre-iTunes era, Tower was indeed a magical place where nearly any song you wanted could be found on bright shiny compact discs. When I first stepped into a Tower Records (probably the one down on South Street, also in Philadelphia) I’m sure I was barely able to contain myself.

Anyway, having heard “Female of the Species” by Space on a still-somewhat-novel modern rock station, I decided to buy the whole CD. Brought it home, maybe listened to it once and dutifully placed “Female of the Species” as a key track on a few mix tapes over the next years.

Then forgot about it. Forgot about Spiders. Forgot about Space. There was never a follow-up single that I remember being in rotation on that radio station, so I was never enticed to give the album a chance, as I had other albums that had grown to iconic status in my mind.

And I never even bothered to learn the singer’s name.

Then we moved to Phoenixville. Jimmy was born. We bought a house. Chris was born. My life changed over and over and I never got around to listening to Spiders.

Now, here we are, more than a decade and a half later and I am in the self-imposed position of having to listen to an entire album by a one-hit-wonder band from the mid-1990s, an era that is growing ever more distant in my life’s rearview mirror. I was concerned that this listening session would be merely an academic exercise. I soldiered on though and listened to the Spiders album, along with the four-track bonus disc (two tracks of which are “Female of the Species,” one an instrumental version).

My verdict: Spiders is OK. Not sure it ever would have grown on me though, even if I had applied the effort back in ’96.

For the record, there are two or three songs, other than “Female of the Species” that will probably make the cut on my MP3 player-for now. My favorite of these is a breezy pop song called “Dark Clouds” that sounds almost nothing like “Female of the Species.”

The rest of the songs sound to me like overt attempts to be “dance clubby” circa ’96 or they’re just that standard issue pop rock that seemed to fill up the Clinton Decade. I seem to have issues with certain aspects of pop rock music made in the 1990s, but I’ll discuss these another time.

For now, I just want to be done my homework. Can I go play now?

Daily Record 2/4/2011: Costello Music-The Fratellis (2007)

In 2000s, 2007, British bands, Friday music, pop, Rich's House of Vinyl, rock on February 5, 2011 at 1:33 am

I just had a brief moment of existential angst. I was out walking Jolie in the freezing Pennsylvania night. The snow was a foot high all around me and glazed over with a thin sheet of ice that glowed in the moonlight. It was eerie and kind of weird, and I often like eerie and kind of weird, but not tonight. I just wanted to have Jolie do her business so we could get back to the house. It was an all-business/no-pleasure kind of walk.

Anyway, I didn’t completely tumble into the angst thanks to the Daily Record, Costello Music by the Fratellis. This 2007 album proved to be fairly excellent “Friday music.”

I think we can reach a general consensus about what makes good Friday music: something kind of big and dumb and fun, but not so dumb so that the listener’s IQ doesn’t automatically tumble into oblivion. Despite the fact that “Working for the Weekend” is sort of cliché at this point, I think Loverboy is actually a pretty decent Friday music band, but of course there are other great Friday music bands across the spectrum of music.

Randomly generating Friday music can be a dicey proposition. For example, I appreciate Philip Glass (I appreciate Philip Glass. I appreciate Philip Glass. I appreciate Philip Glass.) as much as the next post-post-postmodern guy, but I don’t necessarily want to be listening to the Low Symphony during the Friday commute.

The Fratellis, however, fit the bill nicely. This British band came to our attention, as they did for many people, when their infectious song “Flathead” was soundtrack for one of those flashy Ipod commercials. Donna and I both enjoyed the song and quickly determined that we would enjoy the album as well.

Costello Music is indeed a fun listen, featuring lots of loud, sort of obnoxious rock songs about girls and stuff. I like the whole album, though driving to work this morning, it seemed a little bit longer than it needed to be. I would have liked to have knocked the whole disc out on the drive in, but I only got a little more than halfway through it. This seems to violate some unwritten Friday music rule: Friday albums should be as punchy as can be and should be able to be listened to in a single sitting. Then, if things get carried away and everyone involved is enjoying the Friday album, you can just hit repeat and let it play until you get tired of it.

My point is that brevity is a virtue when it comes to Friday music and if the Fratellis needed to lop some tracks off of Costello Music (though, as I said they’re all enjoyable) to achieve brevity, then they should have bitten the bullet and done that. But this is a minor complaint.

I suppose writing about Friday music should be a study in brevity too, though at 480 words, I’ve clearly blown that. However, I can have the good sense to stop now.