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tower records movie

The Belcourt showed a few screenings of the documentary on the once great record outlet; All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall Of Tower Records which documents the once billion dollar music retail chain while trying to gain some understanding as to what happened to the great mothership of deep catalog outlets.

Tower Records Fresno

Tower Records Fresno, 1978, The Fresnan

So many of my teenage years were spent going to and deciding what to buy at the Fresno Tower Records location after opening in the mid 70’s next to a brand new Pacific Stereo store. While I waited for the “everything-in-the-store-for-the-same-low-price” sale that came every so often, I would go through every bin of vinyl as well as the eight tracks, cassettes and reel to reel releases.

I knew where everything was. I learned during the screening that Elton John has me beat. He knew where everything was at the Los Angeles store which dwarfed every other location back in the day.

I remember the day they opened at the strip mall on Blackstone. They had a rock trio on the back of a flatbed truck in the parking lot blasting through Orange Amp Stacks. They were playing ZZ Top covers. They sounded great and that was the first time I had ever heard or saw Orange Amps.

One time, they had a Wet T-Shirt Contest out in front and I was little embarrassed because a girl from my Drama class at Hoover High School who was 16 and posing as “over 18” won.

van halen women and childrenI finally got to the Sunset location in Los Angeles when I was down in the area with the Snow College Jazz Band in 1980. I purchased a copy of Van Halen Women and Children First on cassette for the car while we drove around Southern California.

After I moved to L.A.in 1984, I avoided going into the store for fear of spending my entire paycheck. I mainly would just drive by to see the big cover art displays and signage. I saved my dollars for the occasional purchase at a local record store in Costa Mesa, California because of my tight budget at the time.

the smiths how soonI noticed every store was different. It was like every location had its own vibe and bands they would push. I saw how big The Smiths were in Orange County at the Mission Viejo / Lake Forrest store near my work. The Smiths had their own display rack of every single they ever made.

ramones sheenaTower Records in Buena Park had a lot of Punk Rock and obscure Ramones stuff.

I actually made the trek to Tower Records when I lived in Birmingham, Alabama after seeing that there was one in Nashville, Tennessee. By the time I moved here in 2008, it was either gone or on the way out.

I remember FYE was there for a while but they never had the deep catalog of Tower Records.

the cretones

The last thing I bought from Tower Records Nashville was a Russian 2 CD set of the Best of Angel. Angel was difficult to find on CD. In fact, there are a lot of things that never were released on CD that were at the top of my list. There has never been a CD release of The Cretones Planet Records catalog. The Cretones were kind of like Elvis Costello & The Attractions if they lived near Joni Mitchell’s house in Laurel Canyon. In fact, three cuts made it onto Linda Ronstadt’s “new wave” album Mad Love including the title track.

There-in lies the rub: the turning back to vinyl for music lovers of all ages. I now own The Cretones first two albums in pristine quality for a few dollars as well as a couple of 7 inch singles.

The big question is how did Tower Records grow into a billion dollar business only to file for bankruptcy a few years later? They try to answer that question in the last fifteen minutes.

They talk about not selling singles. The youth quit coming and that meant death to future development business. The seven inch and twelve inch singles had the artwork and some exclusive B-Sides and mixes prior to the advent of YouTube. A CD single was not worth a dime. It still isn’t.

The other one was the price of a CD. The list price and average price was exorbitant. The actual cost of manufacturing was much less than vinyl so while this was to cover some marketing and the cost of promotional videos, much of this was a cash cow for the record companies and retailers that actually made the record business bigger than the film business in the Nineties.

The beginning of the end was Napster and file sharing. Lars Ulrich [Metallica] was right. At the time, he was demonized by other bands and his own fans for suing downloaders. If the record companies and bands had lined up behind Lars and took the whole file sharing scheme on in court and stiff fines were imposed for stealing music maybe the industry would not be where it is today.

It is missed opportunities like that which eventually drove the once gigantic Tower Records to be liquidated by its own creditors. It is hard to believe that every time a Tower Records opened up, there were hundreds of people lined up at the door much like an In N Out Burger joint opening is today.

The big chains are all gone and the small Mom and Pop shops and segmented Indie start up stores have taken their place. This is a mere ghost reflection of what sales figures were less than twenty years ago.

herb alpert whipped creamRecord buying was a part of almost everybody’s life whether it was Mom and Dad buying Herb Alpert & The Tijuana BrassWhipped Cream and Other Delights or some stoner blasting an 8-track of Black Sabbath Vol. 4 from a 1969 Chevelle SS with a 396 and tuck and roll interior.

Everybody was building their collection, a physical collection that was where friends and party goers gravitated.

Songs and records were a framed reference for friends, loved ones and events that transpired through the time space continuum. It was not background fodder or best of song lists in Pandora or Spotify.

There were jobs involved in the music business; everything from retail clerks to buyers, distributors, manufacturers, advertising and so forth. There are thousands upon thousands of jobs that are gone.

The one bright spot in the documentary was how Tower Records founder, Russ Solomon pushed to get a store open in Japan after a couple of investors came forward. He was met with a lot of resistance but pushed forward and in 1980 opened in Sapporo, Japan. As the business de-construction Managers came in, Tower Records was forced to sell off the Japanese division. Tower Records Japan exists to this day with 85 locations.

The implosion of the music business story begins to show a real personal toll as the story of Tower Records is told from the very beginning to the aftermath by Russ Solomon and the key players, some of whom breakdown telling the story of the final days of the once renowned Retail Giant.

  • Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN
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backtoback recordRecord Store Day has been a major phenomenon not just for the resurgence of vinyl, but, for musicologists and developing a deeper palette for this emerging generation.

One of the big features are Back-to-Back 7inch releases which have usually been two different bands performing the same song such as this year’s Deep Purple “Highway Star” with the flip side being Type O Negative’s version of “Highway Star.”

One release that could have been improved upon would have been The Stooges’ “No Fun” backed by the cover version by The Black Keyes. The current  relativity of The Black Keyes should not have been overshadowed by The Sex Pistols performance of “No Fun” as the only song performed at their final gig not only in the United States, but, as a band where Johnny Rotten stated ”We will perform one song and one song only…No Fun.”  At the end of the song Johnny is heard saying, “Have you ever felt you’ve been cheated?” That singular performance ignited the Northern California punk scene that brought forth The Avengers, MX-80 Sound and the Dead Kennedys to name a few. The Sex Pistols should have been the flip side. Can you music company tastemakers get it right? We shall see.

Let’s start with some serious suggestions for future 7 inch releases.

(Hyperlinks will get you a listen)

backtoback terry reidTerry Reid – Rich Kid’s Blues  / The Raconteurs – Rich Kid’s Blues

Terry Reid was Jimmy Page’s first choice for The New Yardbirds. Terry was busy enough with his solo career and suggested Jimmy Page check out Robert Plant who was in a band called Band Of Joy. The Raconteurs did a spot on rendition on their second album. This would be an easier one to see happen since Jack White has the label and reissue experience to make this one. “Rich Kid’s Blues” could be a great first introduction to most people for little known Terry Reid in the United States.

backtoback jimiChuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode / Jimi Hendrix – Johnny B. Goode

Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” could be the de facto rock and roll song. It is a 1-4-5 in major chords instead of 7th’s like the blues and the beat was fast. This was the song that any band could sit down and jam to see if things would work back in the 60’s and 70’s. When Jimi Hendrix performed “Johnny B. Goode” in Berkeley, California, it was caught on film and featured on Hendrix In The West and Jimi Plays Berkeley.  Jimi did “Johnny B. Goode” like he did “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, this was a total barnburner not only showcasing his ability, but, there may even be more of a mental back story then you know. Jimi’s mother named him Johnny when he was born while his Dad was away in the war. One of the last places Jimi was known as Johnny was staying with relatives in Berkeley, California before he went back to Seattle and his father legally changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix.  He wasn’t too happy about it. He insisted on being called “Buster” after a character from Flash Gordon.  So, in a way, Jimi is the real Johnny B. Goode in disguise.

backtoback hey judeThe Beatles – Hey Jude / Wilson Pickett – Hey Jude

Okay, while The Beatles “Hey Jude” may be one the longest singles ever and had a great story about Paul McCartney writing a piece of music for John’s son, Julian to help him get over his parent’s divorce, being a great supportive “uncle”’ Wilson Pickett’s version has an interesting twist as well.

It goes like this. Wilson Pickett was in the middle of recording an album at Muscle Shoals Sound in Alabama when the band decided to take a break and head out to go get some food and drinks. Wilson decided to hang out in the studio because he was black and didn’t feel like getting harassed by the locals and Duane Allman who was playing guitar on the session stayed with Wilson because he had long hair and would face some teasing by local folks as well. So, Wilson started jamming on the organ the recently released Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and Duane liked what he was doing, putting a little gospel soul into the British rock ballad. He started laying some guitar on Wilson and by the time the band got back in the morning, Duane and Wilson had the making of one heck of a “Hey Jude” cover. It was not only a great cover, but, is considered the record that started southern rock. The groundswell hit that spawned the Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band and countless other Capricorn Records.

Okay how about some call and response 7inch?

backtoback bear catBig Mama Thornton – Hound Dog / Rufus Thomas – Bear Cat

Okay, we all know about Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”, but, let’s go with the original on this. Big Mama Thornton singing something that Elvis’ probably heard on the “Red, Hot and Blue” radio show in Memphis. Well, Sam Phillip’s over at Sun decided it would be good to put out a response to “Hound Dog” with the cut “Bear Cat.” The only problem was it was too close to the original and “Bear Cat” ended up in a big lawsuit at the time. Now this all happened before Elvis recorded at Sun.

Okay here is a call and response that is a really sly one. Let’s see if you caught this one.

backtoback the holliesThe Hollies – The Air That I Breathe  / Pink Floyd – Breathe

Both songs move at similar tempo and feature some lucid beautiful guitar. The Hollies have almost that slow Eric Clapton sans George Harrison lead while Pink Floyd has the flowing pedal steel going on.  It’s almost like Pink Floyd came up with the idea while listening to The Hollies. They say that Pink Floyd may have been watching film of The Wizard of Oz, but, maybe it was The Hollies as Pink Floyd sang, “Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care, leave but don’t leave me,” was really lead-n bridge as the first lines after the chorus by The Hollies, “Sometime all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.”

Hey here is a debate I started.

freecovers.netQueen – Bohemian Rhapsody / Mott The Hoople – Marionette

You really need to know the back story on this to see a link. Queen and Mott The Hoople used to tour together in England before Queen really broke big.  They really got along well and Queen even referenced Mott in the song “Now I’m Here” off of Sheer Heart Attack in the line, “Down in the city just Hoople and me.” One time while enjoying “Marionette” which was written a couple of years before “Bohemian Rhapsody” I was really paying attention to the story line in the song. “Marionette” was similarly like a mini rock opera piece with changes in tempo and dynamics and told the story of a person trying to keep from selling-out, told in first person it starts out, “No Puppet, no liar, won’t bend my lips to wire.”  Before going to the chorus, “Marionette – I Aint One Yet, Teacher’s pet – will you better forget it.” Before the outro, “They gambled, with my life and now I’ve lost my will to fight, Oh God these wires are so tight … I’m just a Marionette.” It is a whole conceived story that could be with a true to yourself musician eventually losing his soul to the corporate music entity, but, the way the story is told is really resembles how Queen went through structuring a “song” like Bohemian Rhapsody” another mini-opera.

I decided to contact Ian Hunter directly through his website and the interactive Horses Mouth page to see if he ever felt Queen got the idea to do “Bohemian Rhapsody” from touring together and Mott doing “Marionette?”  Ian Hunter responded, “I’ve no idea. You’d have to ask them. You know Freddie was kinda like that anyway. They were what they were and we were what we were. We got on famously though. Still do.”

Okay, how about similar riffs?

back to back xX – White Girl / Nirvana – Come As You Are

Okay, the verse parts include similar almost dead-on riffs. X, who was considered the flag bearers of the Los Angeles punk scene, included “White Girl” on their second critically acclaimed album Wild Gift in 1981 while Nirvana slowed the riff down a little and featured “Come As You Are” on their second album for major label Geffen, oh, I mean DGC. While Nirvana did do a song called “About A Girl” I could never find a cover version of “White Girl.” The part where Nirvana sings, “No, I don’t have a gun,” is almost like X’s tag of “She’s a white girl, but I’m living with a white girl.”  Kurt Cobain described “Come As You Are” as lyrics about “people and what they’re expected to act like”. “White Girl” was John Doe’s ode to The Germs’ bassist – Lorna Doom.  John was dealing with attraction and good ol’ Catholic guilt being married to Exene.  While, he may have cheated a little “mentally” it was not John’s “Norwegian Wood” since Exene knew what it was all about at the time.

backtoback black sabbathRed Hot Chili Peppers – Give It Away / Black Sabbath – Sweet Leaf

Okay, hey, Red Hot Chili Peppers sampled “White Girl” in one of their songs off of Mother’s Milk, so, were they just funkin’ thing up a bit while listening to Sweet Leaf off Masters of Reality? Hey Rick Rubin was producing the thing. Rick was also working with Slayer around the same time and he just produced the new Black Sabbath album. Rick was known for mashing things up like sampling Led Zeppelin on Beastie Boys tracks. Okay, here is my presumptive back story. Rick throws Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” up loud and lets the Chili Peppers jam with it until they come up with their own funky masterpiece.

Dude, you don’t want me running your record company because I’ll be too creative with these back to back 7 inch records and your mind won’t be able to handle it.

Well, the “Iko,Iko” super secret release was not bad.

–          Brad Hardisty, Nashville, Tn     thenashvillebridge@hotmail.com