Friday, 27 June 2014

Replacement vocalists

It must be difficult, if you're in a major rock band, so decide what to do when a core member of your band decides to split. Especially if it is the frontman. And even more so if the vocalist is the one that most people associate with your band. In Queen's case it must have been especially difficult - the singer they had for 21 years died rather suddenly. Freddie was iconic. No matter who replaced him, that person would be constantly evaluated against the late great Fred. But for the band, what decision do you make? Do you retire the passion of your life's work? Or do you keep going, knowing that the gamble could possibly only deliver ever diminishing returns?

Here are a few bands who decided to replace their original lead singers after only a few releases. These bands didn't descend into quagmire as a result, but rather they went from strength to strength.

Van Halen
David Lee Roth replaced with Sammy Hagar

David Lee Roth was with Van Halen for 10 years, from their inception in 1974 to his acrimonious split with them in late 1984. It was always going to be a big task to replace him, and yet Montrose guitarist and solo artist Sammy Hagar has more than comfortably handled the role. If there was any backlash as a result of the switch, it was very short lived, as the bands first 4 records with Sammy hit #1 in the US album charts.

Deep Purple
Rod Evans replaced with Ian Gillan

Rod Evans was the founding vocalist for Deep Purple . He sang on the band's first three LPs "Shades of Deep Purple", "The Book of Taliesyn" and "Deep Purple" before he was either sacked or he resigned - most sources seem to contradict each other. He fronted what is regarded as the "Mark I" lineup. The Gillan years are known as the "Mark II" lineup, most famous for the albums "Deep Purple In Rock", "Fireball", "Machine Head" and "Made In Japan".

Iron Maiden
Paul Di'Anno replaced with Bruce Dickinson

Paul DiAnno wasn't the first vocal with Maiden, but Paul Di'Anno sang on the first two albums. His increasingly erratic off-stage behaviour led to the band replacing him with Bruce Dickinson in 1982. From that point on, the band was unstoppable.

Dave Evans replaced with Bon Scott
And you thought I was referring to Brian Johnson, right? Dave Evans was the first singer in AC/DC. The band released their first single "Can I Sit Next To You, Girl?"/"Rockin' In The Parlour" in 1974, but it was a very glam rock/platform boot style of music. Malcolm hated it, and as that was the direction that Dave wanted the band to head in, Malcolm sacked him. Dave took his platform boots with him and formed Rabbit, which lasted two albums, while AC/DC cranked up the amps and added Bon's working class swagger to the mix and the rest, as they say, is history...

Wall of Voodoo
Stan Ridgeway replaced by Andy Prieboy
Wall of Voodoo started out as a project for providing music for film soundtracks, started by Stan Ridgway. They eventually morphed into a band for a while and had one hit record in the US: "Mexican Radio". It was a bigger hit in the UK and Australia, but it was the last time they troubled the US charts. Most of the band had started to develop drug issues so Ridgeway left in 1983. The band got their act together and recruited vocalist Andy Prieboy for the big local hit single "Far Side of Crazy" and the album "Seven Days in Sammystown".

Manfred Mann's Earth Band
Mick Rogers replaced by Chris Thompson
Manfred Mann has had a long and convoluted career. His first eponymous pop band had two major lineups until 1969, when he changed direction into a heavy progressive jazz-rock sound as Manfred Mann Chapter Three, before settling in for the duration as Manfred Mann's Earth Band (by far the worst name of all of them). England-via-Australia guitarist Mick Rogers was stellar on the Earth Band's first 6 albums, but then he left for a solo career that went nowhere. In came Chris Thompson, who saw the band hit #1 in America with their version of Springsteen's "Blinded By The Light", but Mick's departure left such a void that another guitarist had to be drafted in. When Chris left in 1979, the Earth Band had a revolving door of vocalists that even saw Chris and Mick singing on some records over the intervening years, but as to who is the vocalist in the band today is anybody's guess. These days it could be any or all of the above!

Black Sabbath
Ozzy Osbourne replaced by Ronnie James Dio
Replacing Ozzy in Black Sabbath was always going to be a hard task. Especially since, as soon as he left, his solo career took flight in a huge way, and this made it tough for his old band to compete. The band drafted in former Blackmore's Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio for two spirited albums, before a revolving door of vocalists ensured the band's fortunes were to decline for the rest of their career.

Faith No More
Chuck Moseley replaced by Mike Patton
Faith No More are a classic example of a band with a revolving door membership. The band went through no less than five vocalists before settling on Chuck, who lasted two albums before being fired for erratic behaviour, including falling asleep on stage during an album launch of their second LP "Introduce Yourself". Mike Patton joined, bringing with him his gonzo sense of humour and massive vocal range to make classic albums such as "The Real Thing" and "Angel Dust". Mike stayed with the band until their initial demise in 1998.

Neil Turbin replaced by Joey Belladonna
There seems to be a lot of conjecture about how Neil Turbin was ejected from Anthrax. Did he jump, or was he pushed? It is this writer's opinion that the band were better served by the vocal stylings of Joey Belladonna anyway, and I think that classic records like "Among The Living" and "Persistence of Time" would have been very different albums (and not for the better) had Neil still been in the band.

Check out all the before and after vocalists in the playlist below. Let us know of any we have forgotten.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Tribute Bands

Tribute bands are against my religion.

So why, then, do I intend to go and see one?

It is Gary Mullen and The Works - One Night of Queen. A British tribute band who intend to recreate the stage show of Queen with a singer who won a TV talent quest.

Reading over the sentence above, it fills me with horror. TV talent shows. Tribute band. *shudder*

So what is the problem here? First, let's examine the opposition.

I am opposed to the idea of a tribute band because I feel that a band usually contains talented musicians that, by rights, should be trying to further the cause of popular music by writing their own material and developing their own style. Slavishly imitating another band seems like a cynical marketing ploy, especially when said original band(s) is still performing. Mind you, if I was in a phenomenally successful band and there was a tribute act imitating my work the performance royalties due to me would be welcome, but I would hate to be losing ticket sales to an imitation act.

The case in point was some years ago (mid-1990s I think) where a Cold Chisel tribute band were playing in one suburban pub, while a few doors up on the same street, in another pub Ian Moss was playing. The tribute band show outsold the band's original guitarist gig by a factor of three-to-one. If there was any justice in the world, it would have been the other way around.

So, why have I caved into this? And after all, Queen + Adam Lambert are touring Australia later this year.

Reason #1: Adam Lambert is NOT Freddie Mercury.
How can you replace an icon? Especially one so fundamentally integral to Queen? And even the original bass player, John Deacon, won't tour with them, so really you're only getting half the original band. And also, I'm not a big fan of Lambert's voice. And Gary Mullen has an uncanny vocal similarity to Freddie, which brings me to...

Reason #2: This is as close to seeing Freddie Mercury live as I'm ever going to get in my lifetime.
Queen never toured Australia in a time when I could have seen them, so this will have to do, I guess. Even Peter Freestone, former personal assistant of Freddie, has admitted this that is as close as you will ever get to seeing Fred in the flesh. High praise indeed.

Reason #3: It's pure escapism.
And it's nostalgic. This is the reason I think most people would opt for a tribute band as opposed to seeing one or two members of the original act. Sure, they'll both play the same songs, but will the experience be the same?

Reason #4: It's cheaper.
$80 a ticket vs. anywhere from $200-$1200+ for Queen/Adam Lambert.

After Freddie Mercury died, Queen did the right thing and took their time before they decided to go back out on tour with another singer. They did, however, sow the seeds for future tours and records by billing themselves as Queen+ to indicate that there are other people filling the role of frontman. Record releases as far back as 1992's "Five Live" have been billed like that. Queen's 1999 release "Greatest Hits III" had a number of songs that were billed Queen+ because they featured other vocalists, so in a way it was inevitable that they would go back out on tour with someone else behind the microphone.

But again I come back to the question: "How do you replace an icon"? I'm not sure if I could bring myself to see an iconic band with a less-than-iconic substitute singer.

Maybe I should go anyway so I can compare and contrast the imitation with the real thing.

Until next time...

Monday, 16 June 2014

Vale Jim Keays

Briefly I mentioned last week about the news of Jim Keays in hospital with a serious illness. The news that he has passed feels somewhat like deja vu - we knew it was going to happen, but it still sucks to know yet another Australian music legend has gone off to the great gig in the sky.

Jim Keays was the vocalist for Adelaide-originated band The Master's Apprentices. The Masters were of an era that I have no direct connection to, by virtue of the fact that I wasn't even born at the time their career stalled. I bought a lot of their albums second hand after hearing the buzz about them in various music publications. The Masters' were one band whose music has held up surprisingly well over the years, whereas a lot of bands of the era haven't aged well and sound quite dated.

Most bands of the 1960s in Australia had their core influence from one of two sources: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. The Twilights may have been able to to accurate knock-offs of the Beatles but The Master's Apprentices were firmly in the Stones' camp. Their early records traded in tough, streetwise R&B before going through the obligatory psychedelic period and then settling into serious rock artists.

The story of their first single is hilarious: the band recorded a four track demo live to tape in their rehearsal room, which they shopped around and then sent off to the major labels. They heard nothing back from any of them. That is, until one night when Jim was reportedly with his girlfriend at the drive-in cinema. In the intermission he turned on the radio to hear one of the tracks on the demo, "Undecided", blasting out of the radio. It had been issued as a single by Astor records without the band even knowing!!!

Like most bands of the 1960s in Australia, the band constantly struggled with what seemed like a revolving-door-membership of musicians. Reading the sleeve notes of any compilation album from a 60s Aussie band and the stories of the turnover of members take up miles of precious space in a gatefold sleeve. In 1969 they finally settled on a core group of Jim Keays on vocals, Doug Ford on guitar, Glenn Wheatley (yes, THAT Glenn Wheatley!) on bass, and drummer Colin Burgess. This was the lineup that produced the band's most notable records, such as "Because I Love You", "Future of Our Nation", "5.10 Man", "Think About Tomorrow Today" and "Turn Up Your Radio".

The band spent time recording at Abbey Road in 1970 but by 1972 the band was done and dusted. Jim Keays had both a solo career and spent a few years fronting Southern Cross. He was also a radio DJ for a few years as well as a writer for the music press. He has performed with the reunited Masters a few times and since 2000, he had played with nostalgia act Cotton, Keays and Morris alongside Russell Morris and Darryl Cotton. Jim's 2012 solo album "Dirty, Dirty" found him still in fine voice.

The Master's Apprentices' work still sounds amazing and their legacy is still intact. Copies of their original vinyl releases now sell for hundreds of dollars each, despite being available in reissued, remastered versions. They are rightly in the Australian Music Hall of Fame. Swedish prog-metal band Opeth cite the Master's Apprentices as a major influence.

Jim was only 67, but Australian music is far better for having his and the Master's Apprentices contributions. Vale, Mr Keays.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Vale Rik Mayall

Yet another icon of Gen-X has shuffled off the mortal coil: Rik Mayall, cast member of the satirical, and bordering on psychotic, comedy group The Young Ones.

A lot of my peers were right into his work in The Young Ones and Bottom. I, for one, missed it all, due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time: being too young to stay up late enough to watch them, and not old enough to convince my parents to let me record them and watch them later.

I did, however, get to hear a lot of his contributions to music (if you could call them that).

In 1986, it was very difficult to escape the ubiquity of the charity single issued by Cliff Richard and the Young Ones, a remake of Cliff's 1959 million seller "Living Doll". It took a rather pallid original and pushed it far over the line into the ridiculous. It went to number 1 in both the UK and Australia. This would have pleased Rik's character in the Young Ones, Rick, no end, being a huge Cliff fan himself.

Like most of the great parody or comedy items we all know and love (i.e. The Blues Brothers, Spinal Tap), these characters got their start in smaller, sketch-based shows. The Young Ones grew out of a revue the guys started called The Comic Strip Presents, before making their way into television. One of their many other character sketches that, beginning in the same sketch show and becoming somewhat famous later on, was Bad News. A garishly bad heavy metal band, trying hard to exhibit genuine authenticity by trading in typical metal stereotypes.

In 1987, Bad News got the gig of a lifetime - making a record for EMI with Queen guitarist Brian May as producer. Rik Mayall starred as the hapless bass player Colin Grigson. Colin always tried to be the voice of reason and usually got mecilessly was put back in his box, usually by Adrian Edmonson's egotistical lead singer Vim Fuego.

The Sydney Morning Herald described Rik as "the King of Crude, the Rumplestiltskin of Rude" in a gushing opinion piece this morning. The Bad News excursion is no exception. It is very difficult to find an excerpt from the record that isn't laden with expletives.

There are two moments from the album that can be mentioned on a family program. Firstly is the band's the eponymous song, complete with solo breaks from each member. Note Vim Fuego's lead guitar solo: it sounds alot like two other famous guitarists, don't you think?

And secondly, the Freddie Mercury-endorsed cover of Queen's magnum opus "Bohemian Rhapsody".

We've seen a lot of pop culture greats leave us this year and I'm sad to commemorate the passing today of yet another one. Vale Mr Mayall, you will be missed. Thanks for your good fun.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Jaket - Denim EP


Is it a typo? Or something more sinister? Either way, the Grammar police have been onto it.

This is Andrew Crowe's "Jaket". The bad spelling at least ensures his Soundcloud page is the top result in a Google search.

Andrew is a pop musician based on the NSW Central Coast. A recent graduate of the Sydney chapter of the Australian Institute of Music, this is his debut EP, entitled "Denim". This one was crowd-funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign.

From the outset, it's a striking piece. The CD (remember those?) features a beautiful (faux-) denim-clad digipak cover with hand-drawn cartoonish graphics. It appears simple enough, but what's within is another thing entirely...

Musically, there is a lot to take in. A single listen doesn't do this justice. It takes a few listens to dig through the dense layers of heavily synthesized sounds in order to get to the songs. But, in this reviewers opinion, that's a good thing. It leaves the listener plenty of scope to discover something new with each repeated playing.

Starting off, "Good Man" kicks off with 808-thin drums and gurgling synths, before working its way to a chorus featuring Destx. One thing is for sure, Andrew has selected an amazing supporting cast of female vocalists. Destx has a timbre to her voice that reminds me somewhat of Stevie Nicks. The song itself has a very simple structure, ensuring the song doesn't outstay its welcome. But if he ever gets a band happening to play these songs live, the song has plenty of room for growth and expansion.

Track 2, "Cool Kids" has some strange, pitch-altered vocals to kick things off, adding a retro-futurist vibe to the proceedings. Guest vocalist Elaska's voice floats elegantly above the subtle arrangement. Her involvement is sadly limited by the arrangement, which allows the synths to dominate however.

Track 3, "Super Love" sees Andrew give his own voice a treatment that suggests he's been listening to a lot of Kraftwerk's "Autobahn". A cool idea, but I feel it strips the tune of a compelling melody it so desperately lacks. Guest vocalist Lucy Lowe makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance.

Track 4, "You See The Sky" has achieved some notoriety on the ABC's digital radio station Triple J Unearthed, picking up more than a few plays and heaps of good reviews. And why shouldn't it? It's a fun summer jam. And Claryssa Tolentino's crystal clear voice sparkles against some twinkly percussive effects throughout.

The jewel in the crown of this record, however is the two-part "Darkness To Sun". Part 1 sees Andrew indulging himself in his beloved synths, creating a piece that wouldn't be out of place on side two of David Bowie's "Heroes" (in fact, it would probably brighten up an otherwise bleak set of songs). Part 2 strips back the synths and lets the music breathe in an arrangement that emphasises space. It gives the vocal line room to shine. It's another worthy summer jam and a great way to end this compelling release.

Andrew has a bright future in music ahead of him. Definitely one to watch, it'll be interesting to see where his music takes him. Bring on the next batch of tunes, Andrew!

Take a listen to the record below and leave a comment telling us what you think. Available on iTunes, Google Play and Bandcamp.


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Vale Doc Neeson

Image source: The Music

We knew it was coming. We just didn't know when, and we all wished like nothing else that it wouldn't.

And now it has.

Fellow teacher, fellow musician, and leader of one of the greatest ever Australian rock bands, Bernard "Doc" Neeson, has passed away, of a brain tumour. He died in his sleep this morning.

Hot on the heels that another Aussie music legend, Jim Keays, is in hospital battling cancer, this is indeed a sad occasion, even if it was impending. But it still hurts. This was a musician in a band, whose music I grew up with, whose talents I had the utmost respect for.

You can't underestimate Doc and The Angels' impact on Australian music. Doc was one of the great idiosyncratic frontmen of Australian music. Sadly, they're a dying breed. Aside from Tim Rogers, I'm struggling to think of too many lead singers in Australia that are as identifiable in the same was as Doc was.

The Angels' music was consistently solid. They were reliable - you can almost always buy an Angels album back in the day with the assurance you were getting quality - great songs masterfully written, powerfully played, with Doc enunciating the lyrics in such a way that was both unique, unsettling and wholly reassuring - you wouldn't expect anything but.

By all accounts, despite playing the Mad Irishman onstage, Doc was a perfect gentleman offstage. It's a shame that he leaves the planet still in conflict with the Brewster brothers, with whom he shared the band with for over 30 years. At one point there were no less than three different touring lineups doing the rounds of the nation, all using variations on the name "The Angels". I'm not too sure of the reasons why, but it has unfortunately done more damage to the legacy of the band than anything else.

Right now the Brewsters are touring the band under the original moniker with Dave Gleeson as the frontman. But, in the opinion of this writer, Dave doesn't hold a candle to a mad genius of Doc.

Doc's was a voice that always lifted the band's music to greatness. The band's music was always around as I was growing up, and I have a great affinity with the band's music as they released it between 1986 and 1991. During which time they issued the studio albums "Howling" and the essential "Beyond Salvation", as well as the killer double live LP "Liveline". This was a period in which their music was at their very best, easily on par, if not better than their highly regarded first 3 albums for Albert Productions (the same label as Rose Tattoo and AC/DC).

The Late 1970s and the 1980s saw Australian rock music enter a golden period, and it wouldn't be the same without the Angels. Thankfully, Doc left us with a veritable textbook in the art of leading a rock band, which can be found on the recorded legacy of the Angels, and in the many surviving live performances, including the incendiary set under a full moon at the Narara '83 festival, and the 1989 Newcastle Earthquake relief show, where he thrilled punters by climbing the stage scaffolding, among other things (sadly I cannot find this on YouTube...).

Vale Doc. Thanks for the music. Thanks for the memories and for the contribution you made to popular culture in Australia. As Brian Mannix, of the Uncanny X-Men wrote earlier today, you really are with the Angels now. Rest In Peace.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

May 2014 Mixtape

First day of the Australian Winter and it felt a lot more like a nice Autumn day, the rain notwithstanding!

Anyhow, here is the hand-picked collection of songs loving compiled for you, gentle listener, by yours truly throughout the month of May.

This month you get:

Australian Gems from The Mavis's, Little Bastard, Johnny Diesel, Icehouse, Iron On, Giants of Science, Ghostwriters, Divinyls and heaps more
Classics from Electric Banana, Eagles, Dusty Springfield, Faces, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, John Hiatt, J Geils Band, and heaps more
New Music from Iron Reagan, Jonathan Wilson, Lindi Ortega, Mark Kozelek, Architecture in Helsinki, The Black Keys, Declan Kelly's Diesel 'n' Dub and many more
Jazz with Al DiMiola, Paul Desmond, Abdullah Ibrahim, Miles Davis, Eddie Roberts, Ella Fitzgerald, Mamiko Kitaura and more

All told, there's plenty of awesome music here to keep you warm this month. Discover your new favourite song here.

Set the button to random, turn it up and, most importantly, ENJOY!!!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Neil Young - "Cinnamon Girl"

Some days, you just need good music, irrespective of the age or of the genre. It just has to lighten your mood and make you smile.

This track ticks all of those boxes for me. As a song, it would have sounded out of place upon its original release in 1969, but it sounds perfectly at home in 1995, or 2014 even. The huge guitar sound and drop-tuning would be a fixture of 90s music, but was arguably first used here. And how cool is that one-note guitar solo?

Enjoy this classic slice of Neil Young and Crazy Horse from the end of the 60s.