Tim Catz’ 70 RPMs

Posted in 70 RPMs on July 11th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

In his third column for the site, Roadsaw bassist Tim Catz takes a look at a few of the “Evil Women” from classic rock’s days of yore. From ELO to Black Sabbath, there never seems to be a shortage of witchy ladies to serve as muse. Please enjoy:

Been a while.Tim Catz’ 70 RPMs
“Evil Women”

It is a premise so old and familiar it’s hardly worth mentioning. But for the purposes of this article I’ll explain: The idea is women are evil. They have been since the dawn of time. And the badder they are, the more inspiring they are those who honor them in song, story and art. Just ask Adam about Eve. Shakespeare had Macbeth. Greek mythology had Pandora. And rock ‘n’ roll in the ‘70s had scores of hit records about them.

Probably the most popular was Electric Light Orchestra‘s “Evil Woman.” Taken from their 1975 album Face the Music, it was the band’s first Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. With its sing-song chorus and crazy phasor string breaks, “Evil Woman” very succinctly packed every ELO pop-rock trademark neatly into a four-minute spoonful of pure FM sugar that still gets ample play to this day on “classic hits” radio.

Crow‘s “Evil Woman (Don’t Play Your Games with Me)” may have shared the same name, but not the same music, nor the same popularity. Driven by a muscular bluesy rhythm section, the Minneapolis quartet was quite surprised to find an “enhanced” version of their original “Evil Woman” on their Columbia Records debut. Whether against their wishes or even unbeknownst to Crow members, label bigwigs conspired with the studio engineer and overdubbed a full horn section over the song in an effort to cash in on the wildly popular Chicago/Blood Sweat and Tears sound of the day. And it worked. Crow‘s “Evil Woman” was a Top 20 hit, peaking at #19.

My personal favorite is Spooky Tooth‘s version. Deep on side one of Spooky Two, their nine-minute version of Larry Weiss‘ much covered original finds frontman Gary Wright in prime form, with his ragged voice switching between a pleading growl to high-pitched accusations, all while smashing on organ keys. The entire record resonates with a loose rough ‘n’ ready sound, which is nowhere more evident than on this track. Of course Gary Wright would soon leave the Tooth of Spook and smooth out much of his rough edge in a bid for the Pop charts. “Dream Weaver” and “My Love Is Alive” are evidence of such.

Whether its “Witchy Woman” by The Eagles or “Devil Woman” by Cliff Richards, one thing remains certain even to this day: Bad girls are good for rock ‘n’ roll.

Also:

* Black Sabbath recorded a version of Crow‘s “Evil Woman” and released it as their first single. Though it didn’t appear on their Warner Bros. debut in the US, it was on the UK version.

* Before everyone sends terse emails my way, yes, I know both Spooky Tooth and Crow released their versions in 1969. That’s close enough for me…

 

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Tim Catz’ 70 RPMs

Posted in 70 RPMs on March 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

In his second column for the site, Roadsaw bassist and expert on classic heavy Tim Catz takes us through the story of Blue Öyster Cult‘s Spectres album and the laser-fied controversy that followed its release in 1977. Enjoy:

Tim Catz’ 70 RPMs

This month’s record: Blue Öyster CultSpectres
“Raise your cans of beer on high / And seal your fate forever
Our best years have passed us by / The Golden Age Of Leather”
Blue Öyster Cult, 1977

By the time Blue Öyster Cult released Spectres in 1977, the band was already showing signs of fatigue both artistically and personally. While the record was well received by fans, sales dipped for the first time in their career. Up until then, BÖC had enjoyed a slow but steady rise to the top of the hard rock heap. But following the massive popularity of Agents of Fortune, BÖC stumbled and would never again return to form. Though they would enter the ‘80s with the platinum selling Fire of Unknown Origin, much of the band’s mystique had been stripped away. In short, Spectres would be the last good album BÖC would make.

From ‘72 to ‘74, Blue Öyster Cult released what is widely regarded as their artistically best records. Blue Öyster Cult, Tyranny and Mutation and Secret Treaties became hard rock classics and all bore the unique BÖC brand, the famous “hooked cross” symbol. Brimming with obtuse lyrical mysticism, expert musicianship and vague occult leanings, these three albums quickly established BÖC as force to be reckoned with in the burgeoning rock scene.

By 1976, BÖC was poised for a commercial breakthrough. Agents of Fortune brought the band huge success and gave them their first Top 40 hit, the now-infamous “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Slicker production and leaner song arrangements, together with a growing reputation for their live shows, brought BÖC out of the underground, onto FM radio airwaves and into the stadiums.

But joining the big leagues brought new pressures to the band . After all, this was the heyday of KISS, Queen and Alice Cooper and enormous and often outrageous stage theatrics were the rage. So on the advice of their manager, BÖC gathered up all their freshly-earned money and purchased the latest and greatest in light show technology: lasers. Designed to blow stoned adolescent minds, the enormous and cumbersome rig shot dozens red laser beams that cut through billowing banks of smoke, shot out of guitars into piercing prisms that showered the entire crowd through Eric Bloom‘s walnut sized diamond ring. The kids loved it.

The tours were a smash and kids everywhere scrambled into stadiums to bear witness. However as the show rolled on, rumors began to circulate about fans in the audience being blinded by rays that hit them directly in their bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils. Other problems arose with the lasers as well. The size and awkward design of the rig made transporting it difficult and expensive. So big in fact, that it required its own 18-wheeler and crew to care for it. Nonetheless, BÖC soldiered on.

With pressure mounting from Columbia Records to capitalize on Agents’ success , the band quickly wrote and recorded Spectres between breaks in their relentless tour schedule. Released in ’77, the record did well even if side one’s opening track , “Godzilla” was no “Reaper.” Many longtime fans balked at the song and called it a “novelty” on par with “Disco Duck,” which had topped the charts earlier in the year.

There are great moments as well. The album improves immediately with “Golden Age of Leather.” An ode to bikers who go to war with unknown forces in the desert, the song is forged in classic BÖC form. “Searching for Celine” and “I Love the Night” also stay true to BÖC’s best nature. Other tracks, however, show signs of lyrical laziness and overt “pop” leanings. The goofy “R.U. Ready 2 Rock ” is a no-brainer call and response crowd pleaser at best. Similarly disappointing is “Going through the Motions.” Co-written by Ian Hunter, the song is an obvious attempt to hit the charts and has a lukewarm mid-tempo feel throughout.

As sales of Spectres slipped, complaints from fans about retina damage from the laser show increased. Soon the FDA and other government agencies were involved and quickly handed down their ruling. BÖC’s infamous laser show was deemed unsafe for audiences and ordered to be removed from their live show. It was a huge blow. After having invested so much of their earnings into the rig, the band was now the proud owners of an unusable and unsellable monstrosity. The lasers were immediately warehoused and rumored to have eventually been donated to the Smithsonian Museum as a tax write-off.

The damage was done. The financial fallout was enormous as BÖC scrambled to find new props for their show to keep audiences interested and ticket sales from dwindling. They tried wheeling out a huge rubber Godzilla head during “Godzilla.” that breathed smoke and waved around over the head of drummer Alan Bouchard, who would routinely flip drum sticks into the spewing mouth of the monster. Truly a sight to see, but a far cry from laser beams.

In the years that followed, BÖC lost much of their power, popularity and original lineup. And while Spectres is by no stretch BÖC’s best album, it is the last album that even slightly resembles the imaginative force they once were. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” may have made them stars, but it was their costly laser failure that made them bona fide rock legends.

Post-script:
* In the 1994 movie Stoned Age, there’s a running gag where one of the “stoner dudes” keeps seeing a flaming eyeball following him every time “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays.

*The first three BÖC albums are known to fans as, “the black and white years,” due to the stark, colorless nature of the album covers artwork by illustrator Bill Gawlik.

* Keyboardist Allen Lanier‘s close friend, singer and punk icon Patti Smith contributed lyrics and backup vocals to a number of BÖC’s songs over the years.

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Tim Catz’ 70 RPMs

Posted in 70 RPMs on February 14th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Making his debut this week, bassist Tim Catz of Massachusetts heavy rock magnates Roadsaw brings you his brand new column, “70 RPMs,” and takes a special look at Sweet‘s 1975 opus, Desolation Boulevard. Enjoy:

Tim Catz’ 70 RPMs

This month’s record: SweetDesolation Boulevard

By 1974, the four fancy lads in The Sweet had grown tired of the bubble gum glam pop that had made them famous. Under the wing (and contract) of writing /producing duo Nicky Chinn and Michael Chapman, the band had already struck gold with hits like “Little Willy” and “Wig Wham Bam.” Despite their teeny-bopper success, or perhaps because of it, the group felt they needed to move toward a harder, heavier sound like many of their peers had already done.

The result was Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard. Released in the US in 1975, it was an instant hit and widely regarded as the band’s best work. But distancing themselves from their sugary past proved more difficult than simply dropping the “The” from their name. Contractually Chinn/Chapman were still on board and ended up controlling side one of the record (which would yield a bona fide hit with “Ballroom Blitz”). “No You Don’t” and “I Wanna Be Committed” are classic Sweet, even if they lacked some of the toughness the band desired.

But on side two, Sweet assumed full control and gave it their all. It kicks off with “Sweet F.A.” a juggernaut that showcased the band’s incredible and previously under-appreciated musicianship. Propelled by Mick Turner‘s frantic drumming and Andy Scott‘s wild lead guitar lines, the song also introduced some new studio finesse in the form of deep multi-tracked vocal harmonies from singer Brian Connolly and bassist Steve Priest. Though probably nicked from fellow Brits Queen and ELO, Sweet‘s new sound helped create what would become their biggest hit ever.

Starting with the unmistakable sound of a bubbling synthesizer, “Fox on the Run” smashed open with three huge power chords and straight up the charts worldwide. With its long echoing, “I……..” intro and muscular back beat, “Fox” silenced critics and thrilled fans. The song was a smash and became the anthem of every longhaired pimple-popping boy struggling through puberty in the summer of ‘75. And from then on, little sparkly-eyed feather-haired girls would forever be lovingly known as ever-elusive “foxes.”

Post script…

Producer/songwriter Michael Chapman would go on to produce Blondie‘s Parallel Lines and by changing the beat of one of their songs from slow reggae to disco, gave them their first number one hit: “Heart of Glass.”

Sweet‘s last single to chart in the US was 1978’s “Love is Like Oxygen.” Singer Brian Connolly would leave the band the following year. Both he and bassist Steve Priest are now dead, making a much-desired Sweet reunion impossible.

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