In its inception, 70's Metal was simply known as "Hard Rock". Monster bands paved the way for some of the finest metal bands in the industry today, and I can recall, during those waning days of the sixties, some of those pioneers of heavy metal. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer, and many others were responsible for giving me the notion that I should turn my speakers up on high, and step into a world where guitar amps were slashed in half by searing bolts of guitar lightning.
Let me begin my foray into 70's Metal with my two very first introductions to hard rock:
Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" and The Beatles' "Helter Skelter". Riding high from the 60's came The Who. Their "Live at Leeds" LP was pure speaker nuking rock. Pete Townshend, innovator, guitarist, songwriter, and accidental frontman, taught me that guitar was meant to be played with passion. When I first heard Led Zeppelin in 1969, I realized that the guitar was a serious instrument, and drums were for more than just keeping a beat. I was always afraid that Zep would be a nowhere band, a one-album wonder; they were far too hard and heavy to be accepted by the mainstream norm. I was happily proven wrong.
Moving on toward the great epicenter of 70's Metal , one of the hottest albums I could get my paws on was Deep Purple's magnificent "Made in Japan". Catching this band live was no mistake; they were insanely good. What I loved about Deep Purple, and what set them apart for me, was the keyboard work of Jon Lord, using a heavier, grinding sound that matched the liquid purity of Ritchie Blackmore's guitar work. Then came Ian Gillan, a powerful singer with a voice like a singular instrument. Anybody who knew me back in the day, knew that I gravitated towards live albums as they proved the merit of the band in concert, and captured the energy and excitement that studio albums rarely touched. Made in Japan was a double record live album so hot that it required oven mitts.
"Machine Head" (guitar terminology for tuners on stringed instruments) was a magnificent album. "Smoke on the Water" became their anthem. It was to be a song that would change the face of rock history forever, with an unforgettable, and easily learned guitar riff. "Space Truckin'" and "Lazy" were the top runners-up for me on this incredible LP.
Lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was one of the rare stylistic gems to come out of the 70's, incorporating an almost classical approach to his lead patterns. Blackmore often appeared very stiff on stage, very mechanical, and definitely non-animated. The photo at left shows a rare moment when he actually looks like he's having fun with it.
The Judas Priest album "Sad Wings of Destiny" was a truly fine 70's entry. "Victim of Changes" was hot, and the vocal range of Rob Halford made Priest stand far and above the rest when it came to bands with a lead singer. This album stuck to my turntable like velcro. Their original logo (shown above) was far superior the razor blade effect of the future logos, and told me whatever I needed to know about the band before even listening to them. The guitar duo of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing was a great pairing.
I saw Judas Priest in 1977 at the infamous Paramount Theater in Portland, Oregon when it was a preferred venue for rock bands. The Paramount was the Holy Grail of concert halls. Though it was only a movie theater-turned rock house, it boasted the best sound and view ever. Wherever you sat at the Paramount, you had a good view of everything. Halford rolled out on a Harley-Davidson, and the rest was JP history. I also liked "Rocka-Rolla" (mostly for the cover), but in no way was it up to par with Sad Wings.
"Guess who just got back today? Those wild-eyed boys that had been away. Haven't changed, haven't much to say, but man, I still think those cats are great."
As a matter of fact, I still think those cats are great also. Thin Lizzy put the itch in me to think about stepping up to a better quality guitar. I never got the money together in those whacked-out 70's, but that's another story. I loved Thin Lizzy, upside down and backwards. There was something different about them, and whatever doubts any new listener may have had, were instantly erased by blazing guitar solos from the power pac of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. There were several hot players in the Lizzy lineup including the ever-amazing Gary Moore, but my favorites were the Gorham-Robertson tag team.
Phil Lynott was also a charismatic front man whose voice took me a bit to get used to, but when I did, it seemed like I'd been hearing him all my life. Lynott is the 70's Thin Lizzy.; without him, half their impact would go down the drain. "The Cowboy Song" was my favorite live piece, though there were some very tough songs in their repertoire. "Emerald" was great. "Johnny the Fox" was a fun record, with a very unusual and haunting paean "Sweet Marie" featuring some very nice guitar passages.
To this day all I can say is WOOOOWWWW! This British conglomerate of heavy metal harbingers that blasted stages all over the world never failed to please me. When UFO registered on my radar screen, I was living in an apartment off 112th off Division Street. I bought the album Force It which, after studying the cover closely, I wondered if the album was titled that due to all the faucets pictured. Was it a cockney inside joke referring to "faucet"?
Michael Schenker, guitarist extroadinaire, (possibly even extraterrestrial), provided the razor's edge to this demonically dynamic band. The albums just got better and better. In 1978 When I first picked up the album "Obsession" I realized I had found metal nirvana.
The release of the double-record live album "Strangers in the Night" was the pinnacle of their performance level. I'd be hard-pressed to choose a favorite album, but as for songs, I really like "Lights Out", "Shoot Shoot", "You Don't Fool Me", "Pack it Up and Go", "This Kid's" and their immortal anthem "Rock Bottom" as a live piece.
When they first entered my world The Scorpions caused, within me, an immediate meltdown of pure heavy metal bliss. The first album I picked up was "In Trance" which I bought for the cover . For myself, a gorgeous blonde getting all excited over a Fender Stratocaster guitar was as good as it was ever going to get. Knowing nothing about the band, except for their great name and better album cover, I found them to be one of the richest treasures in my musical library. The song "On Top of the Bill" turned me inside out with excitement. Roth's dive bombs and awesome double bends on the final solo driven by Schenker's powerful rhythm guitar created within me a new awakening. From that first listen, I was a Scorpions disciple. As it turned out, the whole album was great.
The only thing that truly saddened me about this band was the constant changing of members. More troubling than member changes was the departure of Uli Jon Roth - or Ulrich Roth (as he was credited on the albums). Roth may have channeled a little too much Hendrix, but at least he had a beautiful playing style and offered some rather nice surprises in his approach. In my opinion, the addition of Matthias Jabs was tragic. He may have been a hot guitarist, but he was just a run-of-the-mill shredder, an affliction that would soon plague 80's metal.
This is where it got good! Rush single-handedly presented the world with a cutting edge sound and astonishing presence of what a heavy metal power trio should sound like. Their level of sophistication was staggering, the songs were stunning, and their first epic "2112" was nothing short of a masterpiece. Hard rock was getting more and more sophisticated, and Rush was one of the original pioneers of this refinement. Super-bands were on their way in, and by 1975, serious metal was coming into its own.
Not only were Rush songs top notch, but their performances were legendary. Drummer Neil Peart's use of tuned percussion and Roto Toms were (in my opinion), as much a singular instrument as what Carl Palmer presented to us in earlier years with EL& P. It took me some time to get used to Geddy Lee's voice, in fact, I don't think I ever got used to it, but Rush remained one of my most favorite bands. The song "Fly by Night" is still my most cherished Rush song ever with anything else from the "2112" suite a close second.
Sadly, I never got to see Rush in concert. Though I'd seen many bands in the 70's, Rush was not one of them.
Like water to a man in the desert, Blue Oyster Cult came to me when I needed them most. Ashamedly, it took me a long to time to give them a listen simply because they came highly recommended by a girl who really only listened to top 40 and 70's soul music. As it turned out, she was impressed by one of their albums where the song cuts off abruptly in mid-sentence: "Flaming Telepaths". My first adventure with BOC was with the poorly recorded, yet dynamic live album "On Your Feet, Or On Your Knees".
The entire presence of Blue Oyster Cult was strangely appealing. Whips and chains seemed to be a subliminal theme running through the background of their music and presence. Though it's never stated physically, the black leather, some of the song titles and references, and the word "cult" in their name suggested this. The 70's were still a tame and relatively low-key proving ground where the ideas that we take for granted today, were new experiences then. For all intents and purposes, the Blue Oyster Cult did present exactly as that: a cult. Cults were very controversial in the 70's, so naturally, they afforded this reputation of darkness and badness quite easily. I do speak more of BOC here.
I was only a Black Sabbath fan for a few short years. After the "Paranoid" LP, I lost interest. I'm not sure why, maybe it's because I felt that they weren't growing with the times, and their music was still grinding on 3-chord structures that all sounded pretty much the same. Granted, there's nothing wrong with that at all, many incredible and indelible bands have used this recipe, it's just that with Sabbath, I expected them to seriously turn some corners. As it turned out, they never did.
However, their first album, eponymously titled "Black Sabbath" was a landmark achievement! In fact, I would venture to say that Black Sabbath could have been the original forefathers of heavy metal. Although other bands had come along before them that could claim this title-, Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Blue Cheer, Sabbath brought an entirely different sense of style to the 70's scene. Black Sabbath gave us brain-folding power chords and unique imagery not only to the music, but to themselves as well. They were the new kings of darkness with power and deliberation, and they brought it up to us like room service. When I first had access to import albums, I bought the European release of their first LP on the Vertigo records label. This version did have a nice bonus: the additional song "Evil Woman". This album cover with the ghostly woman standing in front of the old mill is very reminiscent of a scene from the film "The Innocents" where a ghost appears in broad daylight to children near a lake.
Black Sabbath, with all their guts and glory, were what they were, and they did manage to offer up a completely novel idea to hard rock: a sense of gothic horror. Though I was never a long-time fan, I'm still very sentimental when it comes to this band, and Sabbath will live in my heart forever as probably one of the greatest heavy metal bands in the history of the world.