September 17 – No Illusion, GNR Were Hot 31 Years Ago

A few days back we commented upon Guns’N’Roses #1 single from 1988, “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Today we look at their most ambitious project, which came out this day in 1991. Use Your Illusion dumped 30 songs and over 150 minutes of hard rock on their fans, on two CDs (simply entitled Use Your Illusion I and II). Rather than put it out on as a single two-disc release, Geffen records decided to sell them separately (to add to the continuity of the project they packaged them with the same picture on the covers but in different colors – orange for I, blue for II). The albums were huge hits and helped GNR dominate rock radio for over a year. In fact, between the two of them, they hit #1 in most markets including the U.S., UK, Canada and Australia, and the final single off them didn’t come out until 1994!

Fittingly the album had taken over a year to record in fits and starts. Overall I did a tad better than II, selling some 16 million worldwide instead of 15 million for II. Both are 7X platinum in the U.S. I spawned the rather remarkable nine- minute hit single “November Rain” (a top 5 in North America) as well as “Don’t Cry” and their cover of Wings “Live and Let Die” (which Rolling Stone described as “Wings on steroids”) while II gave us the rockin’ “You Could Be Mine” and their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” which had been released a year before on a movie soundtrack.

Reviews were surprisingly good for “metal” albums. Rolling Stone graded them 4-stars although noting they were physically assaultive and verbally incendiary, at times downright screwy” and that songs with names like “Back off Bitch” and “Double-talkin’ Jive”, they weren’t going to appeal to everyone. Entertainment Weekly rated it “A” pointing out that the band has “gained more fame for their riots and uncontrollable blasts of temper than for the excellence of their mega-platinum albums,” which it considered a shame. It wondered whether these two albums, “as diverse as the band’s moods” which showed an ability to “write songs that are complex structurally and emotionally” would change that perception.

Whether or not they did is debatable. Although the records sold more than their predecessor GNR Lies, it didn’t match their Appetite For Destruction‘s success – not that anybody at Geffen was complaining. However, after that in-fighting among the members and other troubles more or less sidelined the band for years and they never again rose to the lofty heights of the late-’80s,early-’90s. In 2016, Axl temporarily took over for Brian Johnson as the lead singer of AC/DC on their tour but in 2019 GNR were back at it with a hugely popular tour.

September 10 – Sweet Love Letter Rose To Top For GNR

The ’80s may be largely remembered for the new wave movement but the “hair metal” phenomenon was also a large, although more dubious, sound that characterized it. For all the Cinderellas, Poisons or Ratts that MTV could throw at us, none did it better than Guns N’ Roses. Perhaps that’s because they seemed the most sincere in their hard-rock posturings, less interested in the coifs and makeup than in the loud, authentic rock music they made. Anyway, GNR had a big day this day in 1988, hitting #1 on Billboard‘s singles chart with “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, making it their only chart-topper.

It certainly stood out in a year when Tiffany and Debbie Gibson each had #1 hits and Michael Jackson scored three! Singer Axl Rose wrote the lyrics for his girlfriend, soon-to-be-wife (and also soon-to-be-ex-wife) Erin Everly – daughter of Everly Brother Don. The song, along with “Paradise City” and “Welcome to the Jungle” helped their debut Apetite For Destruction album hit #1 in the U.S., sell 18X platinum (and go diamond status in Canada as well) and replace Boston as the biggest-selling debut ever. To date, the album’s sold over 31 million copies worldwide, about as much as their two next-biggest albums combined.

Although top-hatted Slash thought the song a little too simplistic, the fans disagreed. Not only being the #5 single of the year on Billboard, it’s one of the few videos from that decade to have been watched over a billion times through YouTube. It’s also ranked among Rolling Stone‘s 200 Greatest songs of all time. They describe it as “southern rock cosplay” noting that Axl “went out and got some old Lynyrd Skynyrd tapes (to listen to) to make sure we’d got that down-home heartfelt feeling.”  Apparently a little love, a little Sunset Strip flash and a little backwoods Southern flavoring can be mixed up into a winning formula.

August 25 – Apparently It’s Their Day

August 25 is designated “Kiss and make-up Day” – boy, those good people at Hallmark never stop trying do they? – so what better day to look at the band Kiss…and makeup!

If ’70s bands like Pink Floyd or Chicago were known widely for their songs but without many of their fans having a clue what they looked like, Kiss was the opposite. Even people who didn’t know one tune by them instantly recognized them by their looks… or at least, their on-stage, on-camera looks. Because Kiss created a huge brand for themselves by way of their costumes and, more importantly, crazy face designs, of striking black (or in one case, silver) painted designs on ghostly white background makeup. There was guitarist Paul Stanley “Star Child”, drummer Peter Criss as the “Cat Man”, guitarist Ace Frehley, the “Space Ace” or “Spaceman” (using the flashy silver makeup) and the focal point, bassist Gene Simmons, with his bat-wing eyes as the “Demon.” That coupled with heavy leather outfits, full of spikes, metal inlays and high-heel, S&M-ready boots. It would be hard to walk down the street in their stage outfit without being noticed, no matter where the street. Ironically, it actually did help them go about their ordinary, off-stage lives anonymously. In the pre-internet, pre-social media age, no one really had a clue what they looked like, which Stanley liked. He says now “there is a certain mystique that is gone because everything is known. I think mystique is healthy.”

The idea for the makeup and wild costumes, not to mention the envelope-pushing stage show with the pyrotechnics and blood-spitting displays, was all Simmons who from the start had an idea of making Kiss a very lucrative “rock brand” instead of another “rock band”.

At the same time we were forming in New York (around 1973), there was a very big glitter scene,” he told reporters some years back. “Boys were basically acting like girls…we were more like football players. All of us were over six feet tall, and it wasn’t very convincing.” Still he was game for it, but “the very first pictures (of Kiss), we looked like drag queens.”

But Simmons wasn’t going to be another, run-of-the-mill, long haired, jeans-clad band. ”We weren’t a Grateful Dead kind of band that would get on stage and look worse than the roadie who delivered our stuff. That doesn’t negate what the Dead were doing, it just wasn’t us.”

So, looking silly as glam rock pretty boys, he hit upon the idea of being larger-than-life comic book-style characters. He designed the makeup and personas himself. That, coupled with the wild, much talked-about, high-energy shows worked to make them huge quickly. He mentioned to the Pittsburgh Tribune recently that within two years of them starting, it was clicking. “It wasn’t about the albums. It was about the shows getting bigger and bigger. And it was about the fervor, how crazy the fans were getting…we didn’t have any hit singles, and here we were (headlining a show at Anaheim Stadium in California).” Which was fine with him, because he also says “anything that prevents a band from becoming as mega as possible is complete idiocy to me.”

Of course, soon they did have the hit singles, notably “Beth” and “I Was Made For Loving You”, but it is worth noting that unlike the vast majority of bands, their first hit album was a live one, Kiss Alive. Since then they’ve racked up ten platinum albums at home, and 15 more gold ones. And toured around the world numerous times to enthusiastic crowds. Except perhaps for awhile in the ’80s and early-’90s. In 1983, they famously decided to go naked…well, not “naked” really, but without their famous makeup and costumes. Although the album that brought that in, Lick It Up, did no better nor worse than most of their earlier material, the tour was met with noticeably smaller, less wild crowds. Eventually, they returned to the Comic Book characters.

They’re currently on what they say will be their farewell tour, a lengthy world tour running through next year. In full costume. Which says 70 year old Paul Stanley, is part of the reason they’re calling it a day. He notes that it takes him a minimum of an hour to get into full garb before a show and “if we were a band wearing t-shirts and jeans, we could do this into our 90s.But we’re carrying around 30 to 40 pounds of gear, running around, making it look easy.” So rather than be reduced to jeans or carrying around the gear, groaning and limping, he says they want to go out with a bang.

August 20 – An ‘Empire’ Built On Prog Foundations And Metal

An album that made a band an overnight sensation… after a decade and three previous albums. People learned how to pronounce Queensryche this day in 1990, or soon after, as that’s when they put out their biggest album, Empire.

Queensryche were an unusual sort of band that had begun in Washington state a full decade earlier. As allmusic note, they work “drawing equally from guitar pyrotechnics and art rock.” Basically, it you like the big, artsy sounds of ’70s Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes as well as the in yer’ face rock of the ’80s Scorpions and Quiet Riot, Queensryche could be the band for you! They’d signed to EMI Records early in the ’80s, after changing their name. They’d originally gone by The Mob, but management wanted that changed, so they opted to co-opt one of their early songs for a name – “Queen of the Reich” became Queensryche. They changed the spelling of the second part to reduce the chance of being considered Nazi sympathists and added an accent – the dotted “umlaut” – over the “Y”, which they say “has haunted us for years. We spent 11 years trying to explain how to pronounce it.”

They didn’t have to try that often perhaps during the ’80s, since although they had a loyal fanbase, they never really connected on a big scale or had a legitimate hit record. This album would change that.

Like many Seattle acts, they headed across the border to Vancouver to record, and they got producer Peter Collins back to work with them. He’d worked on their previous release, Operation Mindcrime, and made a name for himself working on several records for another prog rock/hard rock crossover act, Rush.

Guitarist Chris Degarmo was the main writer for the 11 song, 63-minute effort, but singer Geoff Tate and guitarist Michael Wilton also took part. When it came out, it didn’t really jump out at most people as being a surefire hit or radio fodder…except for one song that almost didn’t make it on – “Silent Lucidity”.

The song many people figured sounded more like Pink Floyd than recent Pink Floyd had, was an elegant, orchestral piece about lucid dreaming (where one is aware of being in a dream while having it.) Degarmo wrote it but Tate says “I love that song. I think it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece.” However, producer Collins didn’t like it initially and lobbied to have it cut. That was in its original, acoustic guitar and vocals version. But the band liked it, and decided to bring in Michael Kamen and an orchestra to fatten up the sound for it, even drawing on a piece of Brahms classical music for it. Apparently it was worth the effort. The song alone got nominated for two Grammy Awards, and put the band on the musical map.

Other than that, the album was rather uneven in sound, but rooted in longer songs. Two topped seven minutes and only two clocked in just under five. Reaction was mixed. Rolling Stone gave it 3.5-stars but Entertainment Weekly reluctantly graded it “D”, calling it “tuneless bombast” by “relentless killjoys.” Later on, Record Collector gave it a middling 3-stars, and allmusic 4.5. The former praised it for being “intelligent, subtle and immaculately played” and for singer Geoff Tate “at his best throughout.” but they did suggest the album was “more progressive” than its predecessors making it “pleasant…also a little boring.” Allmusic liked that they seemed a little less “involved with the darker side of love,” and thought the love songs like “Another Rainy Night” and “Hand on Heart” were noteworthy, as was “Silent Lucidity.”

The album took awhile to take off, but eventually did thanks to the popularity of “Silent Lucidity” on FM rock stations. That one ended up being a #1 rock hit and top 10 single overall in the States and Canada (just missing it at #11 In New Zealand but failing to crack to top 40 in Australia). That was followed up by two more rock radio successes, “Jet City Woman” and “Another Rainy Night.” The album slowly lifted itself to #7 at home, and the top 20 in the UK, Canada, Norway and several other countries. At triple-platinum, it’s by far their biggest seller to date…but not for lack of trying. Since Empire, they’ve put out 11 more studio albums with another scheduled to drop this fall, featuring the new single “In Extremis”.

August 18 – Third Time Was The Charm For Jon

On this day in 1986, the world found out that New Jersey had more in its musical closet than just Bruce Springsteen. That was when Bon Jovi put out their third album – but first one most noticed at all – Slippery When Wet. Love it or hate it, there was no avoiding it back then and not only did it put Jon Bon Jovi and his band on the map, to many like allmusic, it “bridged the gap between hard rock and pop.”

Bon Jovi had been kicking around for about four years or so by that point and put out two albums with Mercury Records. They were fairly conventional heavy metal albums that attracted very little publicity outside a limited head-banger’s crowd. Their previous album, 7800 Fahrenheit , for example peaked at #37 at home and they’d scraped into the top 40 singles charts, barely, once. This didn’t suit them well. So even though they were so rooted in their New Jersey home that they picked the state’s name as the title for their fourth album, for this one they wanted a change in scenery…and looked west. And north.

Bon Jovi particularly liked the song “It’s Only Love” by Bryan Adams and Tina Turner and wanted to find a similar sort of sound for his band. And he loved the studio work of Bruce Fairburn, who like Adams was from Vancouver, Canada. So they packed up for B.C., and had Fairburn and his sidekick, Bob Rock craft the album with them. They even brought in another Vancouver rocker, Mike Reno of Loverboy (who incredibly enough were a bigger name than Bon Jovi at that point) to add backing vocals. It all turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. Or at least what Mercury Records did.

Slippery When Wet was a ten song effort that effectively introduced “hair metal” to the widespread masses. There were foot-stomping sing-along rock anthems like “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ on A Prayer”, the slower, more brooding “Wanted Dead or Alive” and party soundtrack readies like “Raise Your Hands” or “Wild In the Streets.” In retrospect, Jon figured all 11 they recorded should have been on the initial release, but “Edge of A Broken Heart” was omitted despite the fact that “it was absolutely appropriate for the Slippery album.” He corrected that, adding it in a 1998 special edition re-release.

JBJ and lead guitarist Richie Sambora wrote most of the material, but they brought in Desmond Child (a songwriter who also worked with Michael Bolton) to help sweeten up a couple of the tracks. As allmusic put it, “the band made no attempt to hide its commercial ambition.” Although they had to a wee bit with the packaging. They got the idea for the title watching a girl at a strip club in Canada soap herself up. “Out testosterone was at a very high level back then,” Sambora suggested. Fittingly, they picked a close-up picture of a busty girl in a wet yellow t-shirt for the cover. Mercury vetoed it though, figuring it would be boycotted by some retail chains because of it, and they substituted the familiar “not very impressive” (in the words of Sambora again) wet garbage bag cover. Except for Japan, where Vertigo – the Asian distributor – kept the t-shirt gal cover.

When it came out, critics by and large weren’t all that impressed. The Village Voice snippily suggested that it proved “sure, seven million teenagers can be wrong,” and suggesting that if this was rock to the new generation then “”youth rebellion is toothless.” Similarly, Rolling Stone, although initially giving it 3.5-stars, soon wrote that Bon Jovi delivered “condescending sentiment, reducing every emotional statement to a barefaced cliché.”

That didn’t seem to matter to fans, of which there were quickly more than seven million of. The singles “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” both went to #1 in the U.S., the first time a “metal” act had back-to-back chart toppers. “Wanted Dead or Alive” peaked at a respectable #7 and eventually sold enough to go 4X platinum as a single. Together they helped, as Jason Chow of the National Post puts it “did the unthinkable…turn heavy metal into a pop genre women would be able to love.” That they did, and plenty of men too it would seem. The album would quickly hit #1 in fall of ’86 for a week, but then would return to the top for seven more weeks in 1987 and end up as the year’s biggest-seller domestically. It also topped charts in Canada and New Zealand (it hit #10 in Japan, thanks to its unique cover, or perhaps, it stalled there due to the cover). In both the U.S. and Canada it’s diamond-selling, contributing to its worldwide tally of 28 million copies sold…and blending heavy metal and pop together in a way that would soon be the defining sound of the rest of that decade.

July 30 – People Woke Up To Metallica

What Rolling Stone described as “possibly the first metal lullaby” appeared 31 years ago today, changing one band’s fortunes…and perhaps making sleepy-time a little more unsettling for some!

Me being brought up in Denmark…I didn’t get it…apparently the ‘sandman’ is like this children’s villain?” So says singer James Hetfield of Metallica about their massive, break-out hit “Enter Sandman”. It was put out as a single this day in 1991, two weeks ahead of the self-titled album of theirs it helped propel to 30 million copies sold.

Metallica by this point were seasoned, and popular heavy metal/thrash rockers who had quite a following. By that time, they’d been recording for about eight years, toured relentlessly and had fans by the score around the world. Their previous album, And Justice For All, had been a commercial hit at the cash register, hitting the top 10 in several countries including the U.S., UK and Germany. But they were still a rather fringe act in many ways. Their fans were loyal but their music was out of step with the times, too fast or loud for mainstream acceptance. They didn’t have the perfectly-coiffed hair and colored leathers MTV preferred hard rockers to have. They’d never really been played on North American radio. They, and Elektra Records, set out to change that with Metallica.

They brought in Canadian producer Bob Rock for one thing. Rock had been a member of a couple of fairly successful bands within Canada in the early-’80s, but had turned his attention to the studio and by 1990 had helped The Cult and Motley Crue come up with hard-rocking but radio-friendly hits. Rock brought in a couple of changes to the Metallica process. He had them play together in the studio, rather than all record separately, and then pumped up Jason Newsted’s bass in the mix. Previously, that had been remarkably under-stated in their works. And it seems, he guided them towards writing slightly more mainstream-sounding songs.

Enter Sandman” was the first music they wrote for the ’91 album, with it coming from a simple riff Kirk Hammett came up with after listening to Soundgarden records. The lyrics however, took awhile and it was apparently next to the last one they finished writing words for. Hetfield was OK with the title but felt it was a bit too “commercial” so he went out of his way to write dark lyrics, ones that “destroy the perfect family, a huge horrible secret in the family.” Think of that as you close your eyes in the dark, little one!

They played together in the recording, but the record wasn’t a “straight off the studio floor” deal. They played it around 50 times, with Rock picking and choosing the best bits from them and mixing them into the final version. Hetfield alone is playing the same riff on three different guitars in the final mix to build a “wall of guitars.”

It worked. The song was remarkably heavy compared to most of the music of the day (preceding the mass acceptance of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the inspirational Soundgarden by a few months) but still perfectly suited to rock radio, and MTV.

The song rocketed up the charts faster, and further than any song of theirs to that point. Eventually it hit #16 at home, #17 in Canada and the top 10 in the UK and Australia. In Germany, it would hit #1 30 years later , in 2021, when re-released as a CD single fundraiser for flood victims!

Although it peaked at #10 in ’91 on the Mainstream rock airplay charts, it’s popularity has grown if anything through the years. In fact, Nielsen lists it as the eighth most-played song of the 2010s on U.S. rock radio stations. VH1 picked it as the #22 “greatest metal song ever” and Kerrang magazine pick it as the fourth greatest single of all-time. It’s been used in various action video games, used by NASA as a wakeup alarm for astronauts and picked as a walk-on (to the field) anthem by athletes including the Virginia Tech football team and baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera, who took the nickname “Sandman” from it.

April 11 – The Cult Find The Religion Of Rock?

Was the priest in the temple Jimmy Page or Ozzy? The Cult more or less completed their decade-long transition from neo-psychedelic post-punk new wavers to full-out metalheads on this day in 1989. That was when they put out their fourth album, Sonic Temple, which carried on where the previous one, Electric, left off, turning their sound away from fellow Beggar’s Banquet label-mates Bauhaus/ Love & Rockets and towards the likes of Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

The Sabbath comparison has a little more heft when one considers that they needed a new drummer for the record, so they at first brought in Eric Singer, who’d most recently worked with that band…he left to join Kiss not long after mind you and was replaced by Micky Curry (who’d worked with the decidedly less-metallic Hall & Oates before) for the final recording sessions. Sessions which took place in Vancouver, with Bob Rock producing; Rock seemed to approve of the changes Rick Rubin had brought to the band with their previous album.

The result was a 10 song, 52” album of lengthy, crunchy rockers – only one clocked in under four minutes, and “Soul Asylum” ran seven and a half. Oddly, if you somehow were in Saudi Arabia at the time, you could have picked up an extended version of Sonic Temple, containing 14 songs. It’s unclear why they got to rock the casbah a little more than the rest of the world, but if you’re a completist…

The band’s sound didn’t change that much from the earlier days though, primarily because they were led by the core duo of Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy all along. Astbury is the lead singer, Duffy the lead guitarist and the duo serve like the band’s Mick and Keith, writing most of the songs together. Among the more notable of them on this album were “New York City”, with a little help from Iggy Pop in the background and the hit singles “Fire Woman” and “Edie (Ciao Baby)”. Obviously there was a little bit of a Big Apple influence going on; “Edie” was about Edie Sedgwick, a member of Andy Warhol’s entourage in the ’60s. She’d died of an overdose at 27, but not before being Bob Dylan’s girlfriend for a time (apparently his inspiration for “Just Like a Woman”) and starring in the Warhol film Ciao Manhattan! Astbury says “I was really interested in Warhol’s scene…really into Edie Sedgwick and was just compelled to write something.” Duffy added “being in New York City can get you very wrapped up in it.”

Critics took note… and didn’t all hold their noses. Reviews were mixed, but typically not great. The New York Times considered it “The Cult’s most conventional album and the most convincing one.” Crosstown, the Village Voice‘s Robert Christgau rated it “B-” but opined that they had “risen from cult-dom as a joke metal band (with this one) they transmute into a dumb metal band.” Rolling Stone and allmusic both give it 3.5-stars, the latter noting they were “trying several different metal styles, from crunchy ’70s grooves to…commercial ’80s hard rock. Not all of the experiments work, but enough do.”

Fans thought enough did too. While “Edie (Ciao Baby)” and “Sun King” were both rock radio hits in North America, “Fire Woman” was one of the band’s biggest-ever hits, hitting #1 in New Zealand, #15 in the UK, and while not being a major seller as a single in the States, reaching #2 on the Alternative rock charts. The album hit #10 in the U.S. and #3 in Britain, their best showing in either land, and hit #2 in Canada where it was double-platinum, double the level achieved in the other major markets. The band’s fire began to fizzle in the ’90s though, with two more albums receiving considerably lower sales and less praise before they broke up in 1995 (after which they have regrouped a couple of times.)

January 26 – Mudd-y Sounds Ruled 20 Years Back

Grunge had run its course by the end of the 20th Century, but the teen angst that apparently inspired it never quite went away. Twenty years ago, a new generation of p.o’d youth were growing up, seemingly thinking grunge was OK in its morose outlook on life but a tad too quiet and musical. Enter “nu metal”, or “alternative metal” the way Millennials chose to annoy their parents. It was the sound de jour , as shown by the success of band’s like Limp Bizkit, Alien Ant Farm, Sum 41 and of course, Puddle of Mudd who rose to the top this day in 2002. Their song “Blurry” went to #1 on Billboard’s Alternative Rock chart. It would stay there for nine weeks and end up as the year’s top Alternative song; about three weeks after topping the alt rock list, it also went to #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, where it also ended up on top of the year-end list. As a single, it hit #5 in the U.S.

Puddle of Mudd had by then been around for over a decade. They been formed by singer/rhythm guitarist Wes Scandlin in Kansas City in 1991. He says they got their name from the rehearsal space they used initially; right by the Missouri River, it often flooded a little although they were unconcerned since their space was on the second floor. They put out an indie EP in 1994 and played fairly regularly but with little attention until Scandlin decided to send a tape of their music to Fred Durst, the leader of Limp Bizkit. Durst liked them, signed them to his own label, Flawless Records (which was distributed by Geffen so therefore well-represented) and even found a new guitarist to back Scandlin, Paul Phillips. Mind you, if you ever end up talking to Scandlin, you may want to avoid Mr. Durst’s name. “He doesn’t write our songs, he doesn’t produce our songs, he doesn’t do anything for us…I don’t know what he’s doing, all I know is he’s ‘Mr. Hollywood Guy, Mr. Celebrity’…every single…interview I get asked about that …guy” he once noted to an interviewer in a highly expletive-laced rant.

Be that as it may, Durst took them to L.A. to record their first album with his company, Come Clean. It didn’t do much initially when released in 2001…hitting the shelves just days before 9/11 didn’t help any record. Nor did the reviews. Rolling Stone, for example gave it 2.5-stars but commented “it’s hard to imagine a record more indebted to the leading lights of grunge and less imaginative”, suggesting “Alice in Chains and early Days of the New seem almost visionary by comparison.” The first single “Control” got a little airplay in the States and Britain, but it took “Blurry” to vault them into the spotlight.

The song seemed to clearly be recognized as the album’s standout. Scandlin says he wrote it for his child, wanting to be a good father. His real-life son appears in the video. The song rocketed up the charts, topping both different rock ones for weeks as we noted, and winning the ASCAP Award for Song of the Year. It pushed Come Clean to the top 10 and triple-platinum status at home and made it difficult for a whole generation of school kids to correctly spell “mud.

Puddle of Mudd never matched that level of success again, although they did alright for a few years, notching three more Mainstream Rock #1 hits in the first decade of the ’00s. They’re still active, led as always by Scandlin…who’s probably still being asked about Fred Durst.

January 12 – Zeppelin Was Up, Up And Away

A group that moved the British blues movement forward and in new directions caught our ear this day in 1969 Led Zeppelin. Their eponymously-titled debut was released 53 years ago today, after the band had established themselves with months of touring Europe.

At the time, the band was essentially Jimmy Page’s project, having picked the other three members and written most of the band’s original material. That said, John Paul Jones had accrued an impressive resume by that point as well. While Page had recently been in the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and before that was a much in-demand session guitarist (working on records ranging from the Kinks and The Who – rhythm guitar on “I Can’t Explain” – to Van Morrison and even Petula Clark’s “Downtown”) , Jones was potentially even busier. He’d been one of the top English session musicians for much of the decade, both as a bassist and arranging string sections for everyone from the Rolling Stones’ (“She’s A Rainbow”) to Lulu. Surprisingly, Page’s first pick for drummer wasn’t John Bonham, but B.J. Wilson of Procol Harum. Robert Plant, a singer Page had seen in less-successful bands was recruited and sold them on Bonham. Good call!

They funded the recording of the record themselves, at a cost of just under 2000 pounds (about $4000 at the time or perhaps $30 000 today) and put it together in just nine days! This was accomplished, according to Page, by knowing the material well from the tours and putting it together in studio as essentially a live recording with little overdubbing or other studio enhancement. Page produced it but with help from Glyn Johns, the great Abbey Road sound guy who features prominently on the Beatles documentary Get Back. The album which gave us “Good Times, Bad Times,” “Communication Breakdown” and “Dazed and Confused” was panned by most critics. Rolling Stone gave it a famously bad review, noting that it did little Jeff Beck hadn’t done better already, comparing Robert Plant to a second-rate Rod Stewart imitator and saying while Page was “admittedly, an extraordinarily proficient blues guitarist” that he was a “writer of weak, unimaginative songs.” Only Melody Maker seemed to like it back then. That publication called it “a gas” and noted “their material does not rely on obvious blues riffs, although when they do play them, they avoid the emaciated feebleness of most so-called British ‘blues’ bands.”

The public agreed – by summer it had gone gold in the U.S. and was a top 10 hit there and in the UK, eventually selling some 15 million copies worldwide. It does bear noting though that the popularity wasn’t staggering right out of the gate. It peaked at #6 at home and #7 in the U.S., making it their only studio album not to get to #1 in the UK or at least #2 in the States. Oh, and Rolling Stone– they changed their tune. By 2003, they considered it the 29th best album of all-time! they now say of it that the band was “Still in the process of inventing their own sound…an astonishing fusion of Page’s lyrical guitar-playing, Robert Plant’s paint-peeling love hound yowl and John Paul Jones and John Bonham’s avalanche boogie” which “heavy metal still lives in (the) shadows of.”

January 3 – Dog-gone, Softer Approach Worked For Scot Rockers

This day in 1976 was a good one for Scottish bands. As we already noted today, the tartan-adorned heartthrobs, the Bay City Rollers spelled out what it takes to have a #1 smash in the U.S. with “Saturday Night” and the same chart saw Nazareth hit the American top 40 for the first time. The song that put them there was not only their biggest, but one of the first examples of a hard rock band doing a “power ballad”, a tender love song to widen their appeal. “Love Hurts”, but changing your sound up once in awhile doesn’t!

Love Hurts” was originally written as a country tune by Nashville writer Boudleaux Bryant, but was first recorded in 1960 by the Everly Brothers. It was a well-liked song but never released as a single, and remained largely unknown until the mid-’70s. Then, oddly enough, not only did the Scottish metalheads take a go at it, so too did Cher, and Jim Capaldi (who actually did the best on the British charts with the song, almost simultaneously with the Nazareth release.) Others including Gram Parsons have done it since.

Nazareth were by 1975 a successful touring act and albums band in their homeland and in Canada, where they’d already had three gold (or later, platinum) albums, as well as a few spots in Europe. But U.S. success had eluded them, so by the time of Hair of the Dog, their fifth album, they decided to change that. They had their own guitarist, Manny Charlton, produce the album, and of course, had the aching love song added in to their usual fare compared to Black Sabbath by allmusic. Mind you, record buyers in the States would have a taste of the more usual sound of the group if they flipped the single over, as the cowbell-ringing, hard rock staple “Hair of the Dog” was the b-side.

Although the song stalled at #41 at home, it did indeed break open the North American market for them. It was a top 10 in the U.S. and pushed the album to platinum status; to the north in Canada it was a #1 hit. But no one liked them like the Norwegians. There it was #1 for a record 14-straight weeks, making it chart-wise the biggest hit of the decade. So perhaps Norway love Nazareth, but it hurts that the entire country’s population is barely larger than that of Los Angeles.

Nazareth are still going but only one member of their “Love Hurts” lineup, bassist Pete Agnew is still a part.