So, I’m charging at speed to 41. And to cope with this, I’m making a playlist. Unlike last year’s, I’m trying to be cheerful! It seemed a sensible thing to do, to wallow in songs that bring me joy. (Yes, I do have some) Not misery, bleakness or rage, but that full tilt Bill and Ted, air guitaring like a mad thing kind of joy. The sort of songs that I tell stories about. Actually, stuff it – you’re getting some now. Strap in.
The Ramones, Iron Maiden and Ronnie James Dio feature prominently. Why? Because the Ramones are the finest rock and roll band known to mankind, a fact once acknowledged by no less than Lemmy Kilmister, who was something of an authority of the subject. Rockaway Beach is a *perfect* pop song and that it didn’t sell millions is a stain on humanity.
For some years now I’ve tried to put into words just what rock and roll feels to me, exactly why it matters. I was reminded by my therapist recently about how people exist on a scale, so X amount of people feel really invested in New York rock circa 1976, compared to Y number of people who care about, I dunno, rugby league or something. I’m butchering it no doubt, but there’s the general gist that people have different levels of intensity. It’s good to be reminded that not everyone feels as intensely about things. There are Doctor Who making of documentaries I’ve watched more than the show for starters. So yes, I’m very into rock and roll and you may not be. And that’s OK. I mean, you’re wrong, but you’re allowed to be, much like it’s allowed that there are people who aren’t in tears at the mere mention of the Tale of Iroh. (I am not one of those people) Anyhow, I think I can answer it, and it’s Rockaway Beach. Just listen, it’s all there.
I can still remember clear as day the first time I heard Iron Maidens The Number of the Beast and my exhilaration at that big scream (A product of their singer having spent umpteen hours singing the opening again and again before the producer liked one enough) has not faded one bit in the years since. As for Dio, he specialized in songs that sound like games of Dungeons and Dragons, alternating with songs about the glory of rock and roll. Whether with Rainbow, Black Sabbath or his solo group, that voice is incredible. You should know Holy Diver, but try Kill the King, written when Rainbow realized they needed something fast to open shows with.
The playlist itself. First off, the Damned’s Love Song is *the* greatest love song ever written. The Sunnyboys and the Ramones (Whose I Wanna be your Boyfriend played at my wedding) come damn close, but no cigar. HammerFall’s Hearts on Fire is up there on the list, but I mostly remember the video for it which featured the band up against the Swedish national women’s curling team. Delightful.
The interplay of Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain’s guitars make the New York Dolls Jet Boy essential listening. Balance that against fellow New Yorkers the Dictators, whose Two Tub Man has a spoken word intro matched only by Manowar’s Black Arrows for sheer hilarity. There are reasons why Handsome Dick Manitoba (AKA the Handsomest Man in Rock and Roll) was listed as secret weapon in the liner notes for their first album. As for unkind accusations about the song Master Race Rock, have they read the lyrics? Besides, half the band are Jewish.
Probot (an early 2000’s project of Dave Grohl) produced Shake Your Blood, which is the greatest Motorhead song not written by Motorhead. As for the Head, I couldn’t not have Ace of Spades and We Are The Road Crew. Lemmy is as close to universally adored as you can be in heavy music circles and despite his continual insistence that Motorhead were a rock and roll band, it’s nigh impossible to go to a metal show and not see at least 1 Motorhead shirt. Books could, and should be written about Overkill, but the last word on that should be about drummer Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor. As Lemmy told it “He hit everything on the kit in about 2 beats and Larry turned to me and said ‘What a horrible little cunt, he’s perfect.”
There’s only the one TV theme here, but it’s Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts Tank. If the next words in your head aren’t “OK everybody, I think it’s time we blow this scene” are you even alive? Only the theme tune to Monkey comes close and I’m willing to accept no small amount of childhood nostalgia is a factor there.
Dub War’s Strike It blew my mind as a teenager – the mix of jazz, reggae, hip hop and metal stunned me. Though they split far too young, their spirit lives on in singer Benji Webbe’s current act Skindred, who are one of the most ridiculously entertaining live bands I’ve seen. There’s not many support acts who’d enter to the Imperial March and leave to a burst of Nobody Does It Better. The bass in the opening of Under Attack hits like a hammer and the chant of ‘Rock and roll, save my soul’ in Machine speaks to me in a way no religion has ever managed to.
You want some brevity? There’s Napalm Deaths You Suffer, which has the distinction of being the shortest song ever recorded, at roughly 1.13 seconds long. They had something to say and they said it. No mess, no fuss, no fucking about.
Yes, Stairway to Heaven is there, but it’s Dread not Led Zeppelin. What is this you ask? They cover Zeppelin tunes in a reggae style with an Elvis impersonator on vocals. It’s so stupid an idea it works.
You want riffs? I got em by the truckload. Heaven and Hell’s (AKA Dio era Black Sabbath) Mob Rules is a stand out, with Tony Iommi’s guitar ripping out and Ronnie James Dio’s voice soaring overhead in full sword and sorcery mode. It is one of the highlights of my life that I saw that line up live. For a more meat and potatoes rock and roll, there’s AC/DC’s Riff Raff and TNT, coupled with Airborne’s Back in the Game, whose single minded focus on being AC/DC: The Next Generation has to deserve some sort of award. Breadfan by Budgie is bonkers and has an acoustic interlude that would have fit on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but holy shit that opening riff is amazing. Metallica’s cover is far from bad either and is where I’d wager most of you know it from.
The stomping late 70s glam drum sound of Iron Maidens Running Free and the spiky aggression of Wrathchild stand against the blood and thunder of the Bruce Dickinson era – the opening drumming on Where Eagles Dare is fucking incredible (I’ve heard it described as a drum kit being thrown down the stairs) and the old school gallop of Death or Glory is positively infectious, in a good way. When they performed Flight of Icarus on their recent tour, they let Dickinson wield a pair of flamethrowers on stage, something so absurd and glorious it’s matched only by the mid 80’s Dio tour where he fought a dragon with an electric sword. I told you he wrote songs that sounded like Dungeons and Dragons, but did you believe me?
Turning to Detroit, we have the MC5’s mission statement Kick Out The Jams, one of the finest live albums out there. You can hear the Stooges evolve from the fuzz tone stoner rock of I Wanna be Your Dog to the hallucinogenic freak out that is 1970 and the full tilt everything’s about to explode feel of Search and Destroy. Someday I’ll sing that at a karaoke event. Be afraid, be very afraid, and not just cause I sing like Dave Lister plays guitar.
Sonic’s Rendevous Band’s immortal City Slang is a song unique in that every version I’ve heard has different lyrics. Radio Birdman’s Aloha Steve and Danno has one of the greatest solos ever put to tape and the Lime Spiders Slave Girl has a groove to it that’s rarely matched. Go for the original and not the Goo Goo Dolls cover. The Bellray’s maximum rock and soul was a revelation to me and it’s a gospel I will happily preach.
I could continue, and if you ask me in person I will, but I really should sleep. I’ll leave you with one last note: Yes, the Cantina Song is one there, because WHY NOT?
Happy listening, and be seeing you…