Thursday, May 25, 2006

HEAVY IS THE NEW LITE: VH1 Metal special entertaining but much goes missing

HEAVY: The History of Metal has aired three episodes this week. All have been snappily edited, entertaining one-hour enjoyments. Moving briskly along, they attempt to furnish a colorful, easily digestible look at the genre of music which is the dominating force in guitar rock.

But while the series has been eminently watchable, it's not more than a prescription of sugar pills to fans of the music. Replete with color commentary from hagiographers masquerading as music journalists and semi-famous metal musicians who ebulliently describe everything in exclamations that dub whatever is coming next on the screen great and exciting, it serves to reinforce the idle observer's impression that the genre has been drinking too much of its own Kool-Aid for a good long time. It's not the ultimate sin since every branch on the tree of pop music has been reduced to this type of inflated cant by the marketing imperatives of the entertainment media. But it greatly dilutes an interesting story, making what could have been a more complex examination merely ordinary.

Accompanying the praise are sweepingly grandiose claims and statements to reduce the viewer to either tetany or laughter. We learned in the first segment, according to Chuck Klosterman, that all metal bands spring either from Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. Then the show segues into a bit on the Alice Cooper band, an act which has spawned and still spawns imitators, and which itself had nothing to do with either.

We learned that the first metal album was Kiss Alive in 1975.

Rockin' the 'fros in Atlanta, 1970
No doubt this comes as a great surprise to Mark Farner of Grand Funk, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and a few others.

Funk's success sent Dave Marsh of CREEM magazine into an apoplectic rage in its December 1970 issue. In a now notorious rant about "Live Album," Marsh wrote "Are [Grand Funk] as slow and doped out of their wits as their audience?"

In another paragraph, Marsh growls that Funk were first popular in the South, "down in the very heartland of honk." His objection seems to be that Funk were little more than copyists of Cream, and the southerners didn't like Cream but were fans of Grand Funk because they were of like minds -- stupid and blowing their brains out on marijuana.

But others had proclaimed Funk metal monsters, most notably Metal Mike Saunders, who would continue to do so in print through the early '70's. In a long review ("A Brief Survey of the State of Metal Music Today") in a 1973 issue of Phonograph Record Magazine, Saunders stated a "risible chasm" had opened up between what was considered Good Music -- the stuff pumped by the rock critic mainstream -- "and what the kids were actually listening to." It was obvious, he wrote, with regards to Grand Funk and Black Sabbath.

Live Album, which reached number five in the States with no obvious airplay, showed Funk at its metallic best and worst, said Saunders. For Phonograph Record, it was fifty percent good, fifty percent "awful." In Fusion in '72, "The entire first side [of the four-sided double LP] is crass, energetic and rocking, until the very end of 'In Need'. " This album, a good five years before Kiss Alive.

US LP was with gold background Deep Purple's Made In Japan went platinum in 1973. Coming out at a time when the group was at the height of its popularity in the US, it contained all the band's signature tunes, often drawn out in genuine metal excess for the fans to cheer, or be bored shitless by. Ritchie Blackmore's guitar prowess, Ian Gillan's gymnastic screeching, sometimes dueling each other -- it was another double LP which had it all, like it or not.

Also skipped in VH1 glee over Kiss, were the Rodney Dangerfield's of early heavy metal, Uriah Heep.

For Phonograph Record, Saunders wrote Heep had produced two "essential" albums -- Look at Yourself and Demons & Wizards -- out of five studio shots by 1973. One can also add their debut -- simply called Uriah Heep or known as the "worm" album in the States, and recipient of the infamous review in Rolling Stone that if the band made it, the reviewer (Melissa Mills) would have to kill herself.

Visually faceless, try to make this LP more bland-looking, huh?
Although Heep were "faceless punkoids" more similar to Black Sabbath's image live, onstage "they still move around and put on a fine show." While Demons & Wizards was the first Heep LP to enter the charts, on the back of the single "Easy Livin'," their albums would continue to chart Top 40 up to and including Wonderworld in 1974, according to the "Virgin Encyclopedia Of Heavy Rock" (Larkin, 1999).

The highpoint of Uriah Heep Live is a midset of rendition of "Gypsy" from Uriah Heep. Live, the band gives the song's sledgehammering riff far more power and groove than granted the studio version. One almost believes wailing singer David Byron was man enough to take on the angry Gypsy father of his girlfriend for "taking him to a little shack and laying a whip across [his] back."

While VH1's Heavy did not touch on these, by Thursday night it had moved on to the Eighties and hair metal. However, by turning to Twisted Sister's Dee Snider, the show got what it had lacked in all of its other color commentators: a man with genuine opinions. Snider was frequently, well, snide, particularly when speaking about hair band's making knee-jerk power ballads and going "unplugged." Back to back quick edits of big-for-a-minute-but-who-are-they-now acts like Extreme and Mr. Big bawling over acoustic guitars for soggy videos custom made for, one presumes, young girls thought to have their panties in a bunch, were a riot. Snider grinned, sneered and laughed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a sunny friday afternoon in May 1989 on the outskirts of Boston proper, Kenne Highland of the Gizmos/Akrika Corps/Hopelessly Obscure etc on VCLS/ELEC GTR, and I with naked palms onto a very noisy car hood/fender i was sitting on --

played/performed the entire GRAND FUNK / LIVE ALBUM version of "Into The Sun" on an Allston (boston) street corner in the town's boho business district.

we'd just finished an entire 18 song "coffeehouse set" practice (for that night's elect/acoustic duo we called The GIZMO BROS live! and in person!) over in someone's back yard (using a loud battery-run practice amp that was way bigger than any Pignose)so

we felt it was time to rock the fuck out

not Zeppelin, not Sabbath or Kiss or some dumb VNWOBHM or even dumber speedmetal band


when we decided, enough with the "intellectual 18 song cover song set (Gants, Lyres, Lobo, Dave Davies/Kinks, Beatles, and a dozen others)" that we had worked up (in one long practice that)

cause it was time to ROCK
and do it outdoors in public!

kenne had that song down like crazy (as vcls/gtr) so i believe it was a pretty dead-on performance, plus/minus fuckups on the drum parts (on the right fender/hood of someone's parked car)

actually, the impromptu street performance site was around the corner from the grocery store where Kenne had a full time job 6am-3pm each day, loading/unloading in the back as deliveries came in

let me repeat = no Zep or Sabbath, no NHOBHM or anything else post-1970, but rather =

Grand fucking Funk Railroad

um, please retype that in CAPS dear sir


hell hell hella hella yeah!

--metal mike

3:03 PM  

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