soundstreamsunday #101: “Those Shoes” by the Eagles

eagles3The dark end of late 70s rock culture makes for strange bedfellows on the weekly infinite linear mixtape.  One week after Judas Priest released Unleashed in the East in September 1979, a career milestone kickstarting broad commercial success, the Eagles issued The Long Run, a (mostly) career-ending album that took too long to make, wore on too many nerves in a group of too many egos, and while feeling generally sapped of energy was still a giant hit.  Go figure.  They were a beloved band at the end of their (Seven Bridges) road.  But while the album may not have been as strong as its predecessor, 1976’s Hotel California, pieces of it shared qualities with those other California-centric, dark star rock albums of the era, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (1977) and Steely Dan’s Gaucho (1980).  The party goes unexpectedly wrong, and as night sets in the sparks that fly leave an even darker fringe.

The Long Run’s spark is “Those Shoes.”  As an airtight funk backs a story parallel to Judas Priest’s “Victim of Changes” — delivered with icy remove by Don Henley — Joe Walsh and Don Felder twine their talk-boxed guitars together in a dual attack as hard-hitting, in its way, as anything delivered by K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton.  It’s the swing of it, still in the late 70s a rock’n’roll staple embraced by blues to punk, country to metal, and too soon largely abandoned by the harder end of rock, that moves both songs forward.  Just as Priest’s rhythm section, with Les Binks drumming, made you pump your fist and shake your butt, when the Eagles got down to business they were masters of the hard groove.  But this is no good times, party-on disco boogie.  The song’s power is multiplied by its downer lyric, a troubling view of the predator-prey club hookup scene, ringing at once with compassion, cynical chauvinism, and studious intention.  If it’s revealing of the seamier side of the west coast lifestyle as the 70s limped to an end, in it also is the last flash of a band who commanded the era.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #99: “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath

blacksabbath1.jpgIf they’re the only band on the infinite linear mixtape to be featured twice, and back-to-back at that, it’s because of the singularity of their two lead singers, who so influenced their respective versions of Black Sabbath that each iteration of the band made a distinct impact on rock and metal.  Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has stated that the difference lay in writing for Ozzy Osbourne, who sang the melody of the riff, versus writing for Ronnie James Dio, a far more technically accomplished singer, who sang around the song’s chords.  But even with Dio’s vocal expertise stretching Sabbath’s range, the core of Black Sabbath’s legacy really does belong to Ozzy, whose shakily intoned shriek conveyed — at least across their first six records, and before it became Ozzy’s schtick — the terror of a man trapped inside a nightmare.

When Sabbath took to the studio in October 1969 to make their first record, they were like dozens of other post-Cream British blues rock bands struggling to find their own voice.  But, they had some advantages that maybe weren’t immediately apparent.  Iommi’s short and ultimately unsuccessful stint in Jethro Tull in 1968 was an education, as that band was finding its own, heavier feet following the departure of Mick Abrams (Martin Barre, the definitive Tull guitarist, would be hired shortly after Iommi filled in, with a thunderingly loud but finessed guitar style not unlike Iommi’s).  And Ian Anderson provided an object lesson for Iommi when Iommi went back to his band Earth: success would largely depend on the labor you put in.  Tull worked for its fortune.  As Earth transformed itself into Black Sabbath, Iommi demanded the band become a workhorse, and the group began developing a set of songs around bassist Geezer Butler’s night frights, a fascination with horror movies (e.g., Black Sabbath), and two significant technical issues that became key to a conceptual breakthrough: the tips of Iommi’s fingers on his right (fretting) hand had been shorn off in an accident in 1965, and it was while developing his newly renamed band’s sound and songs that he down-tuned his guitar to make it easier to play with the plastic tips he adhered to the tops of his fingers; also, Butler’s facility on bass was limited in their early days, so he ditched melodic runs and just mimicked Iommi, also down-tuning his bass.  The result was literally diabolic.  From the opening notes of “Black Sabbath,” the sound sends shivers, and it is here that heavy metal was born, out of imaginative use of limitation — such is Art — and the doom-laden tritone, the diabolus in musica, that Sabbath employed as its calling card.  Iommi, riffing on Butler’s attempt to mimic Gustav Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War” from The Planets suite, produced a metal manifesto so potent that it resonates almost 50 years on, remaining a rock touchstone of its era as significant as Velvet Underground & Nico, Astral Weeks, Forever Changes, or Funhouse, ever begging the question: What is this that stands before me?

Studio version here but also the Paris ’70 version, with Ozzy jumping like Iggy.

There is, in fact, none more black.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #97: “Mistral Wind” by Heart

heart2As a commercially successful American hard rock band fronted by two women in the 1970s, Heart was unique, and while it’s Patti Smith and the Runaways that have turned legendary (with merit, no doubt) for their stories, Heart’s impact on women in rock is, must be, outsized, and deserving of the same attention.  While their 80s albums were marred by a soft rock sheen (but still, wildly successful), the early catalog resonates strongly: “Barracuda” with its gallop and biting reaction to a record company and music press that wanted, badly, to portray the Wilson sisters as objects of sexual intrigue; “Crazy on You”; “Magic Man”; “Straight On”; “Heartless”; “Dog and Butterfly”; “Dreamboat Annie.”  For what they did and when they did it, Heart’s story is that of women in rock and roll itself, playing off and pushing against an industrial complex bent on making them something they weren’t.

What Heart was in the 70s was a band with a heavy jones for Led Zeppelin, a singer with unearthly vocal breadth and firepower, and a band with the chops to back it up.  They could bring it live and in the studio, and even if their records had the typical filler allowed for groups tasked with putting out an album or two a year, Ann Wilson’s vocal flights had every bit of Plant-ish Zep swagger with room to spare.  Nancy Wilson’s light acoustic touch was given heft by Roger Fisher’s advanced, melodic shredding, and was propelled by a cracking rhythm section.  They could lay waste.

“Mistral Wind” is straight out of the school of Houses of the Holy, with, in its no-nonsense thundering second section, a darker lean towards Sabbath.  Written with friend and co-writer Sue Ennis for Dog and Butterfly (1978), the song never received radio play but maybe describes Heart — both the music and the relationships and tensions in the band –as well or better than any of their other work.   Along with the studio version here are two live versions, one from the year of its release and the other from the 2007 Dreamboat Annie anniversary show.  All are worthwhile in their way, but the 1978 Largo version, even with all its bad lighting and video dropouts, is most compelling, the song still fresh, growing as a performance piece.  Get out your lighter….

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.