Monday, May 22, 2006

HE WAS THE METAL MAN BEFORE YOU, II: Nothing but crap by '78

Tonight VH1 will begin airing HEAVY: The Story of Metal. One can hope it will include how the term was coined in the music press by a young rock critic, Metal Mike Saunders. They keystone pieces/citations were in a review of a Humble Pie record for Rolling Stone in 1970 and perhaps more importantly, a review of Sir Lord Baltimore's Kingdom Come LP for CREEM magazine in early 1971.

"Heavy metal" in print and in its proper context before anyone else, Saunders had the opportunity to be taped for VH1 by HEAVY's producer, Michael Warren, but declined. The Grim Reapers, the Wingers, ecchhh, keep 'em, was his message. The genre went bad a few years into the Seventies and never recovered. Screw the Eighties, Nineties and new century.

Saunders had been a big fan of Grand Funk, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Blue Oyster Cult, but by the latter part of the decade, "after Bon Scott died and Kiss and Aerosmith had gone bad for sure, not that the latter two were considered metal bands anyway, I liked only the tiniest bit of the genre . . ."

He was blunt in discussion, furnishing his thoughts on Van Halen from the practice space of the southern California punk rock group he founded, the Angry Samoans.

"[W]hen our band formed in summer 1978, the 5th guy (whose folk's garage we practiced in for free) had a next door neighbor whose sister worked at Warners/Reprise, so he was always getting test presssings from her. One day he brings over the white label test pressing LP -- no pictures or graphics, just the track list -- of the 1st VAN HALEN.

"He was smirking like he knew he was gonna get a reaction from us. About 20 seconds into track 2, the lead single/hit, "You Really Got Me" . . . our [middle fingers] were in the air. FUCK. THIS. SHIT. It represented everything that was going wrong with arena rock. "

"It was the new enemy, supplanting everyone's locally-based musical enemies, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac," explained Saunders.

Harsh opinions, not shared by everyone, but the Angry Samoans came from of the boiler of the southern California/LA punk rock scene. They played short, nasty and brutish eruptions of hard rock. "Rats in the street gnaw[ed] at your bones" on "Inside My Brain" and when the girls took their clothes off, Saunders laughed -- "baby, suck my dick!" -- in "You Stupid Asshole." But the Samoans didn't supply mich much in the way of classic metal/hard rock guitar solos. And most of their tunes were done and gone in thirty seconds to two minutes.

Judas Priest, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden -- they were "so our musical enemy."

As for the term "heavy metal," there was no "Big Bang" moment in the early Seventies when everyone started to use it. Employment was uncommon. Interest in it, if any, was desultory except for one or two publications. It gradually crept into the lexicon, maintained Saunders, replacing other terms -- like "heavy rock" and "downer rock" -- that didn't have the same magic.

Saunders and another long-time contributor to CREEM magazine, Richard Riegel, combed through the periodical's issues from 1971-1972. They were surprised to find, Saunders said, the term had been edited out of "almost every possible use in reviews or articles of genre bands." And within the pages, Lester Bangs -- often mentioned prominently in "histories" of how the word was coined -- could not "be found to have used the phrase in print even once by the end of '72." Bangs' was one of Saunders' editors.
Saunders in Hollywood, '72: Tyranny & Afronation
Of this, Saunders' says on his MySpace blog: "CREEM editors Dave Marsh and Lester Bangs instead pushed/used the phrase 'Third Generation' (ie, third generation rock) heavily in CREEM all through 1972, not once using the term 'heavy metal' . . . not even in [Lester] Bangs' huge 2-part feature article on Black Sabbath in summer 1972! But the term was picked up and used by other reviewers in other magazines during spring 1972, [especially] re Deep Purple's MACHINE HEAD album, and slowly spread out to layman -- non critic/record collector -- usage [conversational] during the next few years."

However, in Phonograph Record Magazine "in particular," another publication Saunders contributed to, it was "all over the place" as 1972 progressed.

Saunders continued to employ it frequently (although not so by any standard of common use in the urban slum metal 'zines of 2006). In an April '73 review in Phonograph Record, Saunders wrote: "YOU MIGHT remember my brief mention of Blue Oyster Cult's new album in the heavy metal piece. That was after only one listen, however, and I really shoulda known better. You have to remember the context, though. Blue Oyster Cult's great first LP, an absolute mind-boggling unreleased live album, and then . . . Tyranny and Mutation just doesn't measure up . . . " If the band's second LP was something of letdown, Saunders emphasized the fan had to get the act's promo-only live record -- "probably the closest thing to a definitive hard rock or metal statement ever set to vinyl."

Coincidentally, the elusive BOC promotional live record eventually took on the name For the Heavy Metal Kids and the Yardbirds.

Here is my not-so-old Village Voice review of a CD reissue (probably a bootleg) of it.


(2001) At the end of the movie The Stoned Age, Eric Bloom and Don Roeser are standing outside a Southern California convenience store at midnight, lamely trying to peddle Blue Oyster Cult concert T's to two teenage fans (the boys even drive a battered VW with the mark of Saturn spray painted on the hood) who are the central characters of the flick. They fail. Offstage, the kids don't recognize their rock and roll heroes and accuse them of selling pirated merchandise. As heavy metal Rodney Dangerfields, Eric and Don were funny.

But it was only an act!

You see, for the last 10 years or so, every time I go into a record store I check the Blue Oyster Cult bin. It's a task that has required a generous helping of sunny-minded, blind optimism. For more than 10 years there has been no respect--nothing but belligerently mediocre and redundant reissues of greatest-hits packages, a two-CD collection (far too graciously termed a ''box set'') distinguished only by one of the most intelligence-insulting band histories committed to glossy paper, yet another ''classic hits'' package pointlessly rerecorded with ringers used to replace the Bouchard brothers, an unenthusiastic ''new'' recording uncannily named Heaven Forbid (on an indie), and one really worn-out scam: the ''24-karat gold'' master series that fanatics, the band's target audience, discovered could be surpassed with an evening's time, a vinyl original in average condition, hacker homebrew music-file editing software, and $1.00-a-copy CD-R blanks bought at the office supply store.

Even the original art was screwed on its way to the digital age, many BOC tray cards being defaced by the addition of a hideous white strip of no obvious value other than to accidentally create the impression that one is purchasing, well, a counterfeit knocked off by someone who didn't give a damn.

It is a shameful profile for one of the country's original breakthrough hard rock/heavy metal bands. So shameful, it suggests that those responsible for the BOC catalog are not only unimaginative and technically slack but also goldbrickers of some stature--people seemingly more benighted than even Stoned Age caricatures notorious only for consumption of illness-provoking drafts of budget sweet liquors and urinating in ice-cube trays when nobody's looking.

Very few hard rock bands from the same generation have been on the rotten end of similarly shabby archival treatment. For instance, such utter nobodies in terms of sales as Paris, Legs Diamond, and Earth Quake--and there are many more to mention--have fared better in the last year alone. Call this phenomenon Smith's Hysteretic Integration of Total Excellence (SHITE), where the probability that legacy catalog will be rendered into crap can be predicted by a curve that rises exponentially to absolute certainty as the hard rock act's net profit approaches or exceeds one million dollars U.S. It works: Earth Quake, for example, having accumulated approximately 20 dollars or less in net profit over the course of their career, would have been expected, employing SHITE, to get the red-carpet treatment. And the equation neatly explains why Judas Priest also suffer from wretchedly remastered CDs and white-stripe disease.

But the real reason for this tear is the re-arrival of For the Heavy Metal Kids and the Yardbirds, a live EP/CD of BOC performing at a pizza parlor in Rochester in '72 that, I am informed, floats in and out of limited bootleg circulation every few years. The provenance is that it's a CD of a famous Columbia promo issued to radio shortly after the appearance of the first Blue Oyster Cult album.

For the Heavy Metal Kids has fairly obviously been mastered from original plastic. Listen close and you detect the light surface noise and rumble of turntable machinery, perfect in this case because it is precisely what BOC sounded like back in someone's smelling-of-caked-joy-rag bedroom circa 1972. The tone is hot, airless as if heard in a stereo-equipped pine box, the band pressing stiflingly close upon the audience through a paralyzing smog of brutish, antique amplification.

Eric Bloom laughs maniacally and asks, ''Wazzup, man?'' as japing bullyboys chant, ''You'd kill, you'd maim.'' This is eclipsed by the best performance of ''Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll'' on record. The number stalks the room in a transfixing exhibition of vulgar power, the signature riff pitting the guitar against the kick bass and floor tom in a bare-knuckles gang fight with the singer as referee. The packaging is a gatefold decorated with the half-menacing faux--Hunter S. Thompson gibber of ''Transmaniacon MC.'' The disc even takes a stab at furthering the mythos of Gawlik.

In other words, the beating heart of For the Heavy Metal Kids brings everything BOC's history merits to the table--its early mysterious harshness, the strong whiff of an impression that those who partook of it were members in a dream-world club of intellectual men of action and heavy-handed motorcycle thugs--everything the expected age-of-information product does not or will not provide.

And it's on a weird label named Munster.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Au contraire.
Eric Bloom and Donald Roeser have received all of the respect their ouevre and county fair/chilifest circuit (where THE Coaster is also a perennial fave) deserve.

9:22 AM  

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