Friday, 9 December 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #17: "East" by Cold Chisel

Cold Chisel - East

Bogans have stolen my music!

Or at least that's how it looks. But, it was never meant to be that way.

NOTE: For overseas readers, the term "Bogan" is the widely accepted Australian equivalent of the American term "Redneck" or the British term "Yobbo"; someone who appears to be of a lower intelligence than most, with an affectation of being "lower class" and "rough around the edges".

Cold Chisel never asked for the ubiquity their music has received over the years. Since first splitting up in 1984, their legacy has snowballed. For a country of 21 million, they have allegedly sold 6 million records, over 1 million of those were for their compilation LP "Chisel" (the one with the gold cover). Their legacy has now been almost physically tied to that of the image of the bogan - the sort that patronises commercial rock stations like Triple M and who seem to think that they can escape their Australian music quotas by playing 11 out of the 12 tracks off today's featured album.

Of course, the charm of Chisel is their ability to craft a great song and also to write lyrics that specifically reflect Australian life. The irony is that the sometimes oblique references are lost on most of their fanbase. It has been said that more people know the words to "Khe Sanh" than they do the Australian national anthem. The sad fact is that the song is actually about a drug-addicted Vietnam Vet who can't integrate into society properly after returning from his tour of duty.

"East" is by far the most well known Chisel LP, and indeed it has most of its 12 songs played on commercial radio frequently. And indeed, if you grew up in Australia in the 1980s you will be more than familiar with most of these tracks. The meaning of most of these songs could be lost on most 21st century listeners, however the themes are largely universal.

Starting with the original Side 1 of the LP, "Standing on the Outside" is a tale of sympathy for inmates of the nation's jails. Indeed, Don Walker, the writer of the song, has never been "inside" (hence the title), he sings of the stories of inmates, from his vantage point of being outside the prison walls.

"Never Before" is an atypical relationship song, that is rhythmically interesting, with some stellar guitar work from the song's writer, Ian Moss.

Hands up who knows the real meaning of the lyric to "Choir Girl"? Yep, didn't think so. It's about a girl getting an abortion. I bet you'll never hear it the same way again…

We all know that Barnesy was a hell-rasier in his day. So much so that his future wife Jane didn't like his behaviour very much, and nor did her parents. So she fled back to her home country after he had a spat. Hence came the song "Rising Sun". The fact that Chisel are legends in this country is probably the only reason why a song with these racist anti-Asian lyrics still get played on the radio…

"My Baby" was a perfect pop song written by bass player Phil Small and sang by Ian Moss. The song was popular and the writer so shy that he didn't submit another song to the Chisel canon for the next 18 years when another modest track appeared on the comeback LP "The Last Wave Of Summer".

"Tomorrow" sings about the tension of living and making ends meet in the seedy parts of the city, like Darlinghurst and Kings Cross in Sydney. Tales of damp squalor and hookers abound in this one.

The original Side 2 of the LP starts with the now-Bogan anthem "Cheap Wine". The tag line "Cheap wine and three day growth" was easy fun in the sagging economic climate of 1980. Now it is a rallying cry for the cheap drunks and those complacent with their personal hygiene.

"Best Kept Lies" is, in my opinion, a companion piece to "Never Before" on side 1. A nice rhythmic shuffle with some great guitar work. Lyrically nothing special, maybe that's the reason it has escaped airplay.

"Ita" is a strange tale of unrequited love for the journalist and one-time editor of Cleo magazine Ita Buttrose. Lyrically similar at times to "Tomorrow" (minus the hookers), Barnesy sings of a bizarre animal lust for Ita while watching her TV show on a cheap crappy television in his squalid digs in inner-city Sydney.

"Star Hotel" is a well regarded track but one whose meaning has been lost on most listeners who don't remember the incident. This track details the attitudes and emotions surrounding the riots in King Street, Newcastle after the closure of the Star Hotel in 1979. The sleeve notes of the "Chisel" LP state that the closure of the pub was the last straw for a generation fed up with high unemployment and zero prospects, but in reality it was more than that. In reality, it had more to do with the police trying to eject patrons by force after closing time and shutting down the band on stage by hitting the singer in the mouth. The moral to this story is God help you if you ever try to get between a Novacastrian (i.e person from Newcastle, NSW) and his drink. Contrary to popular belief, Cold Chisel were NOT on stage on the night of this riot. Indeed, they never played a show at the Star Hotel.

"Four Walls" - a companion piece to "Standing on the Outside", but a lot more sober and stark. It still contains heavy amounts of empathy for inmates, much like the aforementioned jail ditty.

"My Turn to Cry" is a barnstorming closer. Mossy's guitar is the star here. The track is classing boy-girl breakup stuff - young boy and girl meet and go out. She dumps him. She finds someone better. Baby baby it's my turn to cry.

The playlist below features the 1999 remastered version of the LP with three tracks recorded around the same time for inclusion on the LP, which were subsequently dropped. One of the tracks, "The Party's over" was featured on a bonus 7-inch single that came out with the first copies of the LP (earlier copies of the CD and cassette are missing this track, and indeed the A-side of the single, a tepid live version of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" found its way onto the "Swingshift" double live LP). This track carries on Don Walker's fascination with Ray Charles-styled soulful ballads. "Hands Out Of My Pocket" was issued as a single when it was rediscovered and released in 1994. The last track, "Payday in A Pub" is a throwaway that would have made a nice single B-Side. Still, it's way better than most other bands best work. These three bonus tracks were previously released on "Teenage Love" in 1994, which was deleted when these bonus track reissues were released.

These days, if I had to play a Chisel album at all, East is probably the one Chisel album I'd avoid playing. Circus Animals, 20th Century and the first record all hold far more charm, mostly because they haven't been overexposed in their entirety! More on those later...

For now, here is Chisel's commercial high point. Enjoy!

Cold Chisel - East by David Kowalski on Grooveshark

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #16: Aerosmith by Aerosmith

Aerosmith - Aerosmith

For a while, in the mid-1990s, my vinyl collecting phase took me to some interesting places, both musically and geographically. Musically, I found a entire group of albums that were common in only one theme - first LPs by a famous band that sound completely different to the artists we know and love. Bands that have staked their reputations and careers on a certain sound, for better or for worse, but their first LP was radically different from the rest of their work. The reasons are different in each case, but in a lot of cases the bands have found what works for them and then taken off on that tangent.

Among the bands whose first record that caught my attention in those days were:

Chicago (then known as Chicago Transit Authority)
Electric Light Orchestra
Midnight Oil
Cold Chisel
The Rolling Stones
Wishbone Ash
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Pink Floyd
Bob Seger
The Who

…among others. All mainstream I know, but one needs to start somewhere...

The first Aerosmith album is notable due to the fact that it sounds hardly like anything the band are famous for.

The real star of this album is not Steve Tyler's voice (although this is remarkable in itself here, for reasons that will be explained later) but Joe Perry's guitar work. His playing is stellar throughout, but the guitar sound is curious - it sounds like he is using a Gibson Les Paul through a tiny 20-watt or so practice amp, turned up full boar and close-mic'ed. Still, the guitars are way up in the mix to give a big sound, whatever the origins.

It sounds like it was recorded cheaply in a tiny studio, giving a grit and edginess that is missing from later records. It is almost as if the band were getting down the core of their live set onto tape as quickly as possible. There are very few overdubs or little evidence of studio trickery.

Steve's voice is such that he doesn't use the high-pitched screech on this record, rather it is more of a smooth croon. It would appear he hasn't developed that sound yet (or he hasn't taken too many drugs yet), although there are small hints of it on "Dream On" and "Moving Out". Also curiously absent is the sleaze and double entendre that is ubiquitous in their later work and, for my money, the record makes for a refreshing change. Here, the lyrical themes are of a small bar band trying to make a go of it, as mentioned in "Moving Out":

…"working like a dog in a rock 'n' roll band".

The band hadn't mastered that 4-on-the-floor rhythmic groove that characterised some of their later work, like on "Walk This Way" or "Sweet Emotion". However, the band was firmly entrenched in their Rolling Stones obsession; churning out loud twin-guitar riffs reminiscent of Mick Taylor and Keef on "Exile On Main Street" and "Sticky Fingers". Indeed, the final track is a version of a song that the Stones tacked on their first LP, "Walking The Dog". Aerosmith's version is well-intentioned but misguided, it sounds more like a lumbering elephant than a swaggering beast that the band were capable of.

The rest of the songs here are originals, and they are all killer. "Dream On" became a rock radio staple in the US upon its re-release as a single in 1976, and it still gives me goosebumps listening to it. Indeed it was sampled by Eminem for his track "Sing For the Moment", but the original features these creepy, snake-like guitar lines that are just amazing to hear as the rest of the band ebbs and flows, driving the emotion up and down as necessary. "One Way Street" is a very cool 7 minute blues jam where the guitars just rule. "Mama Kin" was covered by Guns 'n' Roses on their first EP, but they don't come close to the crunch of the sound here.

The band's next record, "Get Your Wings" had a much more polished and clinical sound, again borrowing a song made famous by a British Invasion band ("Train Kept A-Rollin" by the Yardbirds), but the band completely slaughter it. The polish drained any edge from the sound and left the songs feeling flat. This was all fixed again for 1975's "Toys In the Attic", which sent the band into the stratosphere. But that's another story...

Aerosmith - Aerosmith by David Kowalski on Grooveshark