No genre has been more neglected by reissue labels—legitimate ones anyway—than late ‘60s and early ‘70s hard rock. While meaningless folk wimps and AOR turds—titles you can’t even give away on vinyl—get digitized and remastered, many heavy rock titles that people actually want and are willing to pay upwards of three figures to obtain are left to bunch of crummy European bootleggers for reissue. So what do we get? Usually, guys with no experience mastering CDs dubbing off scratched vinyl, occasionally remixing and almost always putting out half-assed packages. Seriously, what the fuck?
So finally, 20 years into the reissue trend, the Sanctuary Group (via Castle, a subsidiary) decides to embrace obscure hard rock for a compilation series, Tremors, billed as “A Collection of British Hard Rock Nuggets, Obscurities and Rare Cult Classics.” The label gets an A for effort, for interesting liner notes and credible mastering, but a considerably lower grade for the material. Tremors contains the first good remaster of an all-time classic, the Troggs’ early-seventies fuzz mauler “Feels Like a Woman,” but basically it’s all downhill from there.
With all due respect, I have to question Sanctuary’s definition of hard rock. Fat Mattress, that sorry-ass Traffic knockoff Noel Redding led post-Hendrix, does not belong on a hard-rock comp, nor does prog like Quiet World, Gravy Train, and Paul Brett’s Sage. Neither does Black Widow, a second-rate bar band exciting in name only. The inclusion of “Jericho” by Stray also has me scratching my head, because Sanctuary has now done two Stray comps and still hasn’t reissued the band’s best (and heaviest) song, “After the Storm.” Overall, it’s pretty disappointing and, for the most part, not that heavy. As a guy installing windows in my apartment put it: “What is that, Wings?”
Not that I mind pop. Matter of fact, I’ve mellowed with age, and I’m now just as likely to listen to the Beach Boys or Astrud Gilberto or Curt Boettcher as I am rock ‘n’ roll. My definition of hard rock, however, is unchanged: I like it dirty, nasty, loud, skull-splitting and above all, riff-laden. No cream, no sugar, no decaf. And the riff oughta grab you like your lover during a good night in the bedroom.
But I’m not just ranting into air. Last time I was in the mood for hard rock, I burned a comp of some of my favorite tracks (mostly from the late ‘70s), which went from a CD-R to a blog to what you’re reading now. So here’s what I came up with, in order, sequencing like a disc jockey for continuity:
1) TIN HOUSE: “I Want Your Body” (1970)
Killer steamy sex-crazed Floridians who were friends with Johnny Winter. Guitarist Floyd Radford, in fact, later played with him. This song conveys everything about lust you’d want it to convey regardless of whether you’re male or female.
2) GODDO: “Drive Me Crazy” (1977)
Okay, so you wanted his/her body; now you’re in the bedroom getting some, as this Canadian power trio adds to the heavy breathing with this track from their first album. Both that and the second are great, but the third is a piece of shit, and the fourth and fifth just okay. I know they’ve reunited, but I haven’t heard much of the new stuff. (Oh, and they’re responsible for one of the best rock ‘n’ roll sayings ever: “If indeed it is lonely at the top, who cares? It’s lonely at the bottom too!”)
3) LEFT END: “Bad Talkin’ Lady” (1974)
The best band ever to come out of Youngstown, Ohio, period—better than even power pop gods Blue Ash. This starts with a trademark ripping Left End rhythm before vocalist Dennis T. Menace’s visceral rasp rants about the title subject and how “she’ll bring ya down, down, so-o-o-o-o down!”
4) MASTERS OF THE AIRWAVES: “Gettin’ Tight” (1974)
Back to the sex theme, this band had the involvement of a genuine sex pervert, Kim Fowley, on their lone album. In spite of the cornball name, it’s a mostly great effort, sparked by this extended workout that features one of the best dual-guitar wanks ever in the middle.
5) MARCUS: “Pillow Stars” (1976)
Now a respected blues singer in the UK, Marcus Malone recorded a great prog-inflected heavy metal album, Marcus, while still living in Detroit. If Robert Fripp got drunk or if Manfred Mann’s Earth Band cranked up the distortion, it might sound something like this. The whole album is excellent, nothing more so than this incredibly complex yet driving jam where Marcus’s raspy vocals add to the drama.
6) GROWL: “Who’s This Man” (1974)
From one great vocalist to another, Growl features one of the gruffest belters ever, Dennis Rodrigues, who sounds like he’s been gargling with lighter fluid. After one album as Utopia (not Todd—different band) for the Kent/Modern label circa 1970, this LA band changed its name and made an even better one for Frank Zappa’s Discreet label four years later. This cut exudes an evil blues vibe a la Robert Johnson or Dock Boggs, infused with plenty of modernity. In Spinal Tap fashion, Growl’s album cover pictures all six members as severed heads on a silver platter.
7) NITZINGER: “Witness to the Truth” (1972)
After making some great ‘60s garage tracks with the Barons and contributing songs to early albums by Texas hardrockers Bloodrock, best known for “D.O.A.,” John Nitzinger struck it out on his own with predictably excellent results. Both Capitol albums are essential bluesy-psych-heavy-rock affairs; this riff-burner about religious indecision comes from the first.
8) ROAD: “Spaceship Earth” (1972)
Fuck Fat Mattress; this ass-kickin’ power trio is the real gem from Noel Redding’s post-Hendrix years. Boosted by an insistent wah-wah riff from former Rare Earth axe man Rod Richards and a solid bottom by Noel and soon-to-be Stray Dog drummer Les Sampson, this one blasts into orbit faster than the space shuttle.
9) YESTERDAY & TODAY: “Earthshaker” (1976)
Best known for the metal recordings they made under the truncated Y&T moniker in the ‘80s (remember “Summertime Girls”?), these guys started out as bluesy hard rockers with one foot in melody and the other in the sound of their Bay Area home turf. Their two pre-acronym albums are both essential, and the aptly titled “Earthshaker” (from the self-titled debut) is among the highlights. Dig that amazing rhythm by drummer Leonard Haze.
10) HIGHWAY ROBBERY: “Lazy Woman” (1972)
Also hailing from the West Coast, this power trio cut one mostly cool record for RCA, including this raging riff inferno. For sheer intensity, check out the rave-up in the middle. (Oddly, a legit reissue of their lone album, For Love or Money, appeared on Collectables a few years ago and is still available as of this writing.)
11) THUNDERMUG: “Bad Guy” (1973)
These Canadians made a lot of great music, from funky white-boy rock to melodic hard rock to this, the heaviest song they ever cut. The vocals and ear-splitting layers of guitar are enough to convince me that the protagonist is indeed one nasty son of a bitch.
12) THREE MAN ARMY: “Irving” (1974)
Tossing evil aside, here we come to an instrumental where the meanness is all in the playing by brothers Adrian and Paul Gurvitz (post-Gun, pre-Baker Gurvitz Army) and Tony Newman (post-Jeff Beck, May Blitz). What can you say? All three of ‘em are wailing.
13) BOW WOW: “Silver Lightning” (1975)
Perhaps the greatest cut by this long-running Japanese hard rock/metal band, culled from their 1975 debut album, Signal Fire. With its infinitely catchy riff and virtuosic drumming by Toshihiro Niimi, this lightning bolt could kill Godzilla. Sadly, longevity wasn’t good for this band, as the albums it released under the name Vow Wow in the ‘80s—including, ironically, the only one ever to get released stateside—were pretty forgettable AOR metal.
14) STRAPPS: “Pain of Love” (1977)
Featuring ubiquitous drummer Mick Underwood, who seemed to end up in almost every Deep Purple spin-off without being in the band itself, UK band Strapps released four albums in the late ‘70s. None rocked harder than the second, Secret Damage, which included “Pain of Love.” For the full Strapps story, check out Simon Robinson’s excellent liners to Cherry Red’s fine reissue of their debut. (Hey, how about reissuing album number two?)
15) DIRTY TRICKS: “Back Off Evil” (1975)
Produced by Rodger Bain, who produced Black Sabbath’s early albums, Budgie and the early ‘70s Troggs material—need I say more? This has the same wall of fuzz that Bain achieved for those three bands, plus a slow-driving riff rhythm that threatens everything good and evil. At least one informed observer says they were great live, too—even if the second and third album weren’t even close to the first, which included this monster.
16) MOXY: “Moon Rider” (1976)
Rock-solid riffer from the should-have-been-famous-almost-were Canadian hardrockers with killer guest guitar by Tommy Bolin and great vocals by Buzz Shearman, both sadly in rock ‘n’ roll heaven. The first three Moxy albums—Moxy, Moxy II, and Ridin’ High—are all essential listening. No comment on the fourth, Under the Lights, where Shearman was replaced by (baaaaaarf!) Mike Friggin’ Reno, before he joined Loverboy.
17) DIAMOND REO: “It’s a Jungle Out There” (1976)
After a lame Mott the Hoople imitation (or something) on their first album, this Pittsburgh band came alive on the second, Dirty Diamonds, a non-stop power-chord assault with macho to spare, including “It’s a Jungle Out There.” After one more album, the band broke up, with guitarist Norman Nardini carving out a long career as a blues rocker.
At this point, the CD-R ran out of space, but I’ve done my part to further the discussion. Now do your part and demand that reissue labels stop ignoring hard rock. The sunshiny pop has had its day on the reissue scene; now it’s time for some rock ‘n’ roll!
P.S. Next time I’m in the mood, I’ll be burning a comp of the best hard rock obscurities from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s era.