(Note: Click on any image for full-size view)
PRIOR ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:
(Note: Click on any image for full-size view)
PRIOR ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:
Who They Are: One of the longest-running and most highly-acclaimed/respected acts in modern American hip-hop/rap culture. Lyrical prophet Chuck D and hype-man Flavor Flav are the sole permanent members and most visible faces/names in the group, though there have been a variety of core/key collaborators in their posse across the years, including DJ/turntable masters Terminator X and DJ Lord, guitarist Khari Wynn, singers/philosophers/media assassins Harry Allen, Professor Griff and Sister Souljah, The Bomb Squad production team (Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler and Gary G-Wiz), and the “Security of the First World” (S1W) dance/support/security team. Public Enemy have always been a strongly political group, merging hard, trenchant messages with some of the most incredible beats ever laid down on wax (or encoded into bits and bytes). Since emerging from their Long Island homes in 1985, they’ve taken their messages, their styles, and their sounds to a global audience, with varying degrees of commercial and critical success, but without ever compromising their commitment to their causes and their communities. Their most recent album, 2020’s What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?, was an unexpected gem, one of the finest releases of their long and illustrious career, after a period of churn and turmoil when Flav was allegedly kicked out of the group and their future seemed uncertain, though they’ve since claimed that the announcement of Flav’s firing was an April Fools stunt designed to measure and demonstrate the ways in which the media market and mismanage their stories.
When I First Heard Them: Soon after their debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, dropped in 1987. They received a lot of attention in the music press of the era, and they made me rethink what it meant to be a member of a musical group when I first read about and listened to them, as most of the people who appeared in their press shots of the era didn’t actually sing or play any instruments, in the traditional uses of those verbs. They really cemented their standing as one of my favorite acts a couple of years later, when Marcia and I went to see Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (one of my all-time favorite films) in Washington DC on or very near to its release date. That great film opens with Rosie Perez dancing and boxing on the big screen with Public Enemy’s most lasting anthem, “Fight the Power,” just absolutely kicking!!! It remains the only time I can ever recall an audience clapping, standing and whooping for an opening credit segment. (You should watch it now). As provocative and inspirational as the song was in and out of its original context, it’s dismaying to think that it’s been 32 years (“1989, a number . . .”) since Spike released that great film, in which the climactic scenes hinge upon a black man being choked to death by a police officer. I guess I hoped, dreamed, maybe even believed in 1989 that things would have changed by 2021 in ways that such acts would be inconceivable, not commonplace. Nope. We’ve still got a ways to go on that front, alas. Public Enemy issued an updated version of “Fight The Power” in 2020, and included it on the aforementioned fantastic Grid album. The core riffs, beats and rhymes of the song are just so iconic all these years on, and I am most pleased that P.E. returned to that classic with a topical and timely update, involving some of the many talented folk they have inspired over the years. I didn’t think the original version of the song could be topped or improved. I was wrong. The new version is absolutely astounding, and you’ll get to see/hear it in my favorite PE songs list below.
Why I Love Them: Public Enemy hit all the marks for me. Their music has always been ground-breaking from a creative and critical standpoint, Chuck and Flav are charismatic and distinctive front-men who have helped to shape the ways that modern hip-hop music looks and sounds, and their lyrics are cleverly crafted and drop-dead timely on cultural, social and political fronts, year after year after year. Their influence is huge, but rather than just sitting back and reaping the acclaim that their historic stature and status accord them, they have continued to issue albums and singles at a fairly steady pace, pushing themselves to share their important sounds and messages, even in years (or decades) when it has seemed like the record-buying, political science, and/or critical arts communities weren’t necessarily interested in receiving them. Not much more to say than this, at bottom line: they make me think, and they make me groove, and I’ll always love anybody who can push both of those buttons as well as Chuck, Flav and compatriots do and have done for so many years, in so many ways.
#10. “Son of a Bush,” from Revolverlution (2002)
#9. “Bring The Noise,” from It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
#8. “He Got Game,” from He Got Game (Original Soundtrack Recording) (1998)
#7. “Harder Than You Think,” from How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? (2007)
#6. “R.I.P. Blackat,” from What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? (2020)
#5. “Shut ‘Em Down,” from Apocalypse ’91 . . . The Enemy Strikes Black (1991)
#4. “Burn Hollywood Burn,” from Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
#3. “WTF,” from Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp (2012)
#2. “Fear of a Black Planet,” from Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
#1. “Fight The Power (2020 Remix),” from What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? (2020)
Marcia and I decided to do a little road trip this weekend, to tease ourselves a bit about the prospects of some semblance of post-COVID normality returning at some point in the year ahead. We drove up to the Northeastern part of Arizona, making stops at Meteor Crater, Homolovi State Park, and Petrified Forest National Park.
We spent a night in Winslow, Arizona (just a couple of blocks from that famous corner upon which one stands, hoping for a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford) at the lovely and historic La Posada, and had dinner in their Turquoise Room, which was wonderful. They’re taking health precautions seriously there, still, for which we are grateful. It was the first meal we have eaten indoors in a restaurant in 13 months, as best we can recall. Well-spaced tables, staff in masks, temperature checks before admission reduced the anxiety reactions to acceptable levels, and we enjoyed being reminded about why dining out can be a nice thing. Well, except for when the asshole at the table behind us decided he needed to have a shouted business conversation into his cell phone while awaiting his entree. Hell is other people, still, I guess. But not all of them, thankfully.
We came back over the mountains and enjoyed the cool pine forests at high elevations. From the summit near Payson to the point where we got back on the highway in Camp Verde, there was a 23 degree temperature differential, which we experienced in less than a 30 minute drive. We also experienced radically different geologies and biomes over the course of fairly limited drive, all things relative and considered. Arizona continues to blow my mind at the breadth of natural experiences one can have here. And we’ve still not made it to the southwestern part of the state, so we have lots more to see, and expect it to look different from anything we’ve seen to date, which has been par for the course on any trip we’ve taken here.
We’re sketching out other travel plans for later in the summer, and will report on them here, as always. I snapped away this weekend, per usual, so if you’d like to see some views, click on the image of the Blue Mesa Badlands below, deep in the heart of the Petrified Forest Park. It’s an incredible place!
But . . .
Yeah, understood. Okay. Carry on.
I said “Carry on” . . .
But . . .
My thesis is that the Grateful Dead were the Silliest Band in the World. I will attempt to prove this through misquotes, malicious lies, and just plumb crazy talk; everything in these pages is, of course, satire.
Except for the stuff about Bobby: Bobby actually thought he was a fucking cowboy. He was also a terrorist, but we’ll get to that.Bob Weir is a fucking prince.
This is my first time making blog. If you enjoy what I’ve done, then that’s entirely your decision. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them, along with your choice for #16 Mississippi Half-Step OF ALL TIME.
All of us?
Who They Are: Named after an odious, unctuous character in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Uriah Heep are an English hard rock band that have been doing what they do since 1969, through myriad line-up changes, with guitarist/songwriter Mick Box as the sole constant in their long and convoluted history. Despite all of their many personnel configurations, there is an identifiable Heep sound to which each and every one of the group’s incarnations have hewed, more or less. Box’s wah-heavy guitar stylings are a key part of that, as are heavy organ riffs, massed male vocals, driving rhythm section work, and song structures that are punchy and progressive in equal measure. I’m not quite sure exactly why it’s the case, but the Heep sound has made them super-stars in Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and parts of Asia, while the English and American fan bases are smaller, but deeply devoted. Me among that posse, of course. The modern core of the group, since 1986, features Box, his primary songwriting partner and keyboardist Phil Lanzon, and vocalist Bernie Shaw. Drummer Russell Gilbrook has been pounding the skins with aplomb since 2007 (replacing the late, great Lee Kerslake), and bassist Dave Rimmer joined in 2013, after long-time bassist-composer-singer Trevor Bolder (once one of David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars) succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I last caught the current five-piece live in March 2018 at the great Arcada Theater in the Chicago suburbs and they were just utter dynamite, delivering the classic tunes that the audience expected, mixed with new material that (to these ears) stood and stands up as well as anything they’ve ever done. The group had a deep history with Chicago, as one of the first markets where they broke big in the United States, and as an act of respect for the venue’s management, who had been involved with promoting the group regionally in the early 1970s, and the fans in attendance, the group members did a wonderful impromptu Q&A session before the show, making the evening even more memorable. Here’s what that looked like, from the cheap seats (left to right: Gilbrook, Shaw, Box, Lanzon, Rimmer; click to enlarge this and all subsequent images):
When I First Heard Them: Not exactly sure, honestly. I must have heard their AOR hits from the ’70s on the types of radio stations that I listened to in that era, but I think I actually started tuning into them a bit more when I got into King Crimson and started exploring that group’s convoluted family tree, which connected to the Heep via bassist-vocalist John Wetton. (Wetton’s peripatetic career also introduced me to Wishbone Ash, Roxy Music and Family, three other great bands in which he served short, but memorable, stints). As a “Rock Family Trees” nerd and avid liner-note reader, I loved the fact that the Heep’s first U.S. Best Of collection from 1975 included a way cool back cover image that charted the group’s membership changes and band members’ earlier projects. I learned about The Gods and Toe Fat (more on them below) from that chart, happily. For the record, that sleeve, which I pored over a lot in various record stores and libraries before actually buying the thing, looked like this (it might be hard to read, I can’t find a higher resolution image, alas):
I scored that Best Of record and the 1973 Uriah Heep Live double album sometime in the latter half of the ’70s, and those were my stalwart delivery vehicles for their classic-era material for a good number of years. The first non-compilation Uriah Heep studio album I purchased was Abominog in 1982. It was a re-boot for the band, of sorts, as the first disc released after long-time songwriter-keyboardist-guitarist-singer Ken Hensley left the group. It was a big hit for them, critically and commercially, laying out a glide-path for the Mick Box-helmed incarnation of the group that continues to this day. Plus, Abominog had a truly heinous title and album cover image if you wanted something to rub your religious parents the wrong way, which I did. Check this out:
Why I Love Them: I guess I must have some sort of Eastern European-Scandinavian-Russian thing working deep within my critical consciousness, as I hear and perceive of the Heep as a charismatic arena-caliber rock band, which they are in those territories. Years and years ago, I wrote a piece here about Heavy Organ Music, a self-named genre that I particularly enjoyed then and continue to enjoy, and which Uriah Heep embody as well as anybody. Their back-story bands also fit that idiom perfectly: I’m quite fond of The Gods and Toe Fat, which featured Hensley and Kerslake as members in their pre-Heep days, and I listen to their small catalogs of great albums regularly to this day. Look ’em up, along with other things recommended in that prior link, if you like this sort of music. You’ll be glad you did, I promise! I do deeply appreciate the fact that Uriah Heep have released some of the finest music of their 50+ year history on their most recent albums, and that those songs fit and sit soundly alongside the classics of their canon. They’re not a nostalgia act, at bottom line, though their body of work would certainly allow them to rest on their laurels and profiteer on the path of least creative resistance were they so inclined. The years have been tough on the group, it must be noted: Mick Box is the only surviving member of the “classic” Uriah Heep era, as Kerslake and Hensley recently flew away, singer David Byron and bassist Gary Thain were early rock-lifestyle casualties in 1985 and 1975 respectively, and bassists Bolder (died in 2013) and Wetton (2017) are also no longer anchoring things on this mortal coil. I’m certainly hopeful that Box can continue on for years to come, as he is an utter delight, wonderfully fun to watch and hear onstage (he’s got a very distinctive visual style and flair in his playing, in the ways that he uses his hands and body to emphasize what he’s doing with his guitar), and equally enjoyable in video and printed interviews, a real gentleman who seems pleased and proud to have made his way all these years doing exactly what he loves to do the most. Bravo, Mick! While it’s not directly related to their musical output, as a creative person who has been highly active online since the very dawn of the World Wide Web, I also have to share my appreciation for the fact that Uriah Heep have had a vibrant and useful presence in virtual space since ~1996, long before most bands arrived in this our virtual play-space. Hats off to long-time webmaster Dave White for that fine feat!
#10. “T-Bird Angel,” from Into the Wild (2011)
#9. “Sweet Lorraine,” from The Magician’s Birthday (1972)
#8. “Lady in Black,” from Salisbury (1971)
#7. “Rocks in the Road,” from Living the Dream (2018)
#6. “Poet’s Justice,” from Demons and Wizards (1972)
#5. “Nail on the Head,” from Into the Wild (2011)
#4. “Easy Livin’,” from Demons and Wizards (1972)
#3. “Stealin’,” from Sweet Freedom (1973)
#2. “One Way Or Another,” from High and Mighty (1976)
#1. “Waters Flowin’,” from Living the Dream (2018)
Who He Is: A man of multiple names and career phases, born in England of Greek Cypriot and Swedish ancestry, and christened Steven Giorgiou by his parents. In the mid-1960s, he began performing as Cat Stevens, recognizing (probably correctly) that his “ethnic” name was not going to be a draw or a grab in the venues and idioms that he wished to play. He quickly rose to (UK) chart-topping prominence as a prototypical and stereotypical Carnaby Street pop star, with multiple successful singles culled from a pair of fine, richly-orchestrated (bordering on over-wrought) albums. In 1969, Stevens contracted tuberculosis and spent over a year in convalescence and spiritual reflection. His career re-launched in 1970 with the Mona Bone Jakon album, a stripped-down folk record that put the focus squarely on Stevens’ voice and songs. It also marked his first collaboration with guitarist Alun Davies (more on him below), and featured a young Peter Gabriel playing flute on one track. Over the next eight years, Stevens issued eight studio albums, one live record, and a hugely-successful Greatest Hits collection, cementing his commercial and critical reputation as one of the era’s finest singer-songwriters. In the late 1970s, Stevens converted to the Muslim faith, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and retired from the music industry. He sadly became something of a cultural pariah in the the early 1990s based on reported comments about the fatwa imposed on author Salman Rushdie. Many years later, he stated that his remarks at the time were the result of leading questions posed by a journalist to a man young and naive in his new faith, and that he regretted and rebuked any interpretations of his words that supported a bounty on the head of the (in)famous author of The Satanic Verses. His public life, on a macro basis, has included so much goodness and so much charity that I accepted and continue to accept his explanation and apology in good faith. In 2006, Yusuf returned to the pop music world with the release of his An Other Cup album; he has since released four additional studio albums, and (pre-COVID) had returned to touring in secular venues, after decades of only recording and performing in religious settings.
When I First Heard Him: Probably on AM radio in the early 1970s, though my deepest connection to him came a bit later. As was the case with Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Bee Gees (among others), my father’s cassette tape collection served to get me obsessed with the artist in question, in this case through Stevens’ 1975 Greatest Hits collection. I loved it to pieces, and I know that the first one of his albums that I bought (as a vinyl record, not as a tape) with my own money was Buddha and the Chocolate Box (1974), which probably remains my favorite of his classic-era albums to this day. I also scored the guitar/vocal music book for that Greatest Hits album, and spent a lot of time playing and singing those songs, both for myself and for others. One Cat-related incident sticks to mind above all others: I was asked by my church’s youth pastor to offer a solo acoustic version of Stevens’ arrangement of “Morning Has Broken” at a sunrise Easter service in a town park on Long Island, some time in the late ’70s. I did so, and it went down gangbusters, if I say so myself. After my opening performance before the rising sun and the church’s large congregation, the grown-ups got down with getting their faith on, while I slipped into the nearby woods with my girlfriend of the time, where we made out in the chilly morning dew. Who says the spiritual and the physical can’t occupy the same times and spaces, if we really want them to?
Why I Love Him: Steven/Cat/Yusuf has a great, emotive voice, generally deployed in the service of deeply-melodic, thematically-sensitive songs with ear-worm caliber hooks and smart lyrics. His AM radio hits are mostly great, but some of the deep-cut tracks on his classic-era albums offer the greatest return on listening investment. I must note that the very best Cat Stevens albums and songs are the ones that he recorded with his core ’70s band/team: guitarist Alun Davies, drummer Gerry Conway, keyboardist Jean Roussel, bassist Bruce Lynch, and producer Paul Samwell-Smith. Lots of solo artists (David Bowie comes to mind, for example, with his Davis-Murray-Alomar-Visconti team) have long and fulfilling careers working with an evolving cast of supporting players, though one era clearly rises above all others in terms of recording and concert quality, because the typically-anonymous musicians who work on behalf of their marquee-named group leaders make collective and collaborative magic together, without ever receiving the critical credit they are due. Cat Stevens’ 1970s band was a killer ensemble of that variety, and every one of my Top Ten Cat Tracks below features some combination of that team, hitting it out of the park, over and over again.
#10. “Peace Train” from Teaser and the Firecat (1971)
#9. “On the Road to Find Out” from Tea for the Tillerman (1970)
#8. “Lady D’Arbanville” from Mona Bone Jakon (1970)
#7. “Where Do The Children Play” from Tea for the Tillerman (1970)
#6. “Trouble” from Mona Bone Jakon (1970)
#5. “Majik of Majiks” from Numbers: A Pythagorean Theory Tale (1975)
#4. “Music” from Buddha and the Chocolate Box (1974)
#3. “Longer Boats” from Tea for the Tillerman (1970)
#2. “Sitting” from Catch Bull at Four (1972)
#1. “Sun/C79” from Buddha and the Chocolate Box (1974)