Genre: Blues Rock, Psychedelic Rock
Preceded by: –
Followed by: Outsideinside (1968)
Fortunately for the development of music in all its variation, especially the heavier genres, there were always bands out there that asked themselves if things couldn’t be played a little louder. Blue Cheer certainly was such a band.
It’s 1968 and a big part of the music scene was embracing the progress technology had made with regard to improving amplifiers and electric guitars. Especially the possibility to significantly amplify the sound of the bass guitar made it possible for bands to play as loud as possible without losing the sound of the bass. This was the deciding development that notorious blues rock artists like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were waiting for to form their own power trios, consisting of guitar, bass and drums. Bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who in fact used the same concept, adding a seperate singer. 1967 subsequently brought us Hendrix’ Are You Experienced?, 1969 Led Zeppelin’s debut album and 1968 had Blue Cheer’s impressive debut: Vincebus Eruptum.
Just like those two acts, Blue Cheer reinterpreted old blues songs and took them to higher and louder levels using loads of amplifiers. Hendrix ofcourse added the psychedelic influences that were characteristic for those times. With Blue Cheer being located in San Francisco and being called after a kind of LSD (at its turn called after a washing product), it may not be surprising that those influences are also present on their debut. If you’re looking for extensive improvisation, hyperamplification and lots of distortion, this is the album that definitely should be in your record collection. No other band of that time in my opinion had the raw intensity and energy of Blue Cheer, making them blow up their complete equipment the first time they tried to record this album.
Blue Cheer was founded in 1966 with the original line up consisting of Dickie Peterson on bass (which he played since the age of 13) and vocals, Leigh Stephens on guitar (ranked 98 on Rolling Stones’ 100 greatest guitarists of all time) and Eric Albronda on drums. Albronda was subsequently replaced by Paul Whaley and the band recruited some extra members on guitar, keyboards and harmonica. But, according to the myth, they brought the band down to a power trio after witnessing Hendrix’ mind blowing performance with his Experience at Monterey. So Dickie Peterson, Leigh Stephens and Paul Whaley remained as the line-up for the first album, consisting of 6 songs with a total length of about half an hour. But don’t worry, just turn the record over again.
The LP starts with the bands only real hit, a cover of Eddie Cochran’s blues song ‘Summertime Blues’. This must be the ultimate example of transforming a classic blues song into blues rock, played that hard that it’s drawing the outlines of hard rock. The first part of the song combines an extremely pounding rhythm section with a crying guitar, immediately giving you the opportunity to test your own sound equipment. The riff in the middle of the song reminds of Hendrix’ ‘Foxy Lady’, after which the guitar becomes a rollercoaster, steadily taking off and at its peak crushing down at high speed. This version beats The Who’s interpretation of the song hands down if it comes down to muscular strength and roughness.
An even greater blues classic follows quickly, when B.B. King’s ‘Rock Me Baby’ sets in. Also covered amongst others by Otis Redding (a great idol of singer Peterson), this song sticks to the typical blues sound of the guitar with another pumping combo of bass and drums adding the rock here. If not already taken place, everthing goes mental on the third track, Dickie Peterson’s self-proclaimed drug anthem ‘Doctor Please’. Peterson experienced a lot of funny feelings in his head at the time and sings about them after a rough intro of Paul Whaley. The song is about 8 minutes long and offers you the best definition of the term ‘power trio’. The energy drips out of your speakers when guitar solos, kicking drums, the screaming voice of Peterson and heavy bass sounds keep interchanging before exploding together now and then. This also reminds of later stoner rock from bands like Kyuss.
The next song, ‘Out of Focus’, lasts four minutes but was written in ten minutes according to Peterson. This song also has some psychedelic lyrics about angels in mystic dreams, propelled by a haunting guitar riff from Stephens. The roughness of the instruments and Petersons howling voice on this track marks the difference between Blue Cheer and more polished power trios like Clapton’s Cream. It’s followed by another cover, ‘Parchment Farm’, from jazz and blues pianist Mose Allison. This song offers some space for some extensive jamming just when you think the song has ended, while Peterson sings sightly funny lyrics like “I’ve been sitting over here on Parchment Farm. Ain’t ever done nobody no wrong. All I did was shoot my wife. She was no good! “. ‘Second Time Around’ offers you one last chance to pick up your air guitar, as the riffs are very sweet again. Towards the middle of the song, Paul Whaley throws in a wild drum solo, after which all the remaining distortion and psychedelic effects out there are used to close the album, definitely a personal favorite.
After their debut album, the group was confronted with a lot of personnel changes, with their style developing towards a more commercial sound during the seventies and eighties. Periods of activity and temporary break-ups followed eachother, before breaking up for once and for all in 2009 after the death of Peterson, the only continuing member troughout the years. But Vincebus Eruptum remains an essential album to understand the concept of a power trio. Enjoy.
Genre: Blues Rock, Hard Rock
Preceded by: –
Followed by: Led Zeppelin II (1969)
It’s January 1969 and The Beatles are digging their way through the Get Back-sessions. During a little break they are talking about a new album that Jimmy Page has produced. ‘Wasn’t he the one who was in the Yardbirds?’, asks George Harrison. The Yardbirds was the favorite band of Jimi Hendrix when he brought together blues rock, psychedelic rock and hard rock on his 1967 debut with the Experience. Two years later, Page has his own band, releasing their own album. ‘With a kid called John Bonham on drums. He is unbelievable.’, according to the rattling Fab Four.
Later that year, this new band called Led Zeppelin would release their classic hard rock album Led Zeppelin II, which would knock The Beatles’ Abbey Road from #1. But what about their bluesy debut album? And what about this band in general?
The Yardbirds were falling apart in 1968 with Jeff Beck forming his own band (The Jeff Beck Group) and bass player Chris Dreja becoming a photographer. However, they still had some contractual obligations for a tour in Scandinavia. So remaining member Jimmy Page decided to bring in singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham, two members from Band of Joy, and complete the tour as The New Yardbirds. Some guy called John Paul Jones contacted the band himself to become the new bass player. They performed in Denmark for the first time together and completed the tour successfully.
Shortly after the tour, the band began to record their first album, consisting of songs they had played during their live gigs. It was recorded in a very short time period, with Page covering all the costs. But Dreja forced the new band to change its name, as they were only allowed to use ‘The New Yardbirds’ for their final tour. This is how Led Zeppelin was born, choosing an image of the famous burning Hindenburg (the former pride of nazi Germany), a ‘lead zeppelin’, for the album cover. The album would contain a heavy blues rock sound (including some covers of traditional American blues songs), combined with some extreme guitar-driven and riff-based hard rock sound, just like Hendrix did two years earlier.
Sure thing is that the traditional blues is better represented on this album, most notably with the Willie Dixon covers ‘You Shook Me’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’. The first one has a typical slowly lingering blues beat, with a very cool instrumental part in the middle of the song where a screaming Plant is continually echoing Page’s guitar sounds. The song caused a dispute with Page’s former buddy Jeff Beck, as he had recorded the same song some months before. The other Dixon song is also a typical blues rock song, with a jazzy drum and bass combo, filled up by a plonking Page. A little less bluesy is the ballad ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ (about an unfaithful girl), which is instead characterized by a beautiful organ intro by Jones and a sing-along chorus.
The hard rock songs on the album are easily to distinguish by their higher pace. One of them is the fantastic opener ‘Good Times Bad Times’. I still consider this one of the best opening songs ever: the intro with the guitar and cymbals combo, the bass loop in the bridge, the guitar solo, the rocking kick-drum: from the very start of this debut you can hear what kind of geniuses those instrumentalists actually are. This is even taken one level higher on my favorite Zep track and one of my all-time rock favorites overall: ‘Dazed and Confused’. There’s the thrilling bass intro, the absolute superb drumming from Bonzo, the haunting middle part where Plant’s voice serves as a fourth instrument, and then… a huge instrumental explosion with Bonzo’s drumming seeming to chase Page’s solo like a mad dog, an absolute rock masterpiece. Especially those kind of songs show that Led Zeppelin probably was the best group of rock instrumentalists ever having played together. A last song of this kind is ‘Communication Breakdown’, a very uptempo song with again a fast drum and bass section, it even reminds you of a punk song.
The three other songs can not really be placed in one or another category. Sure, closing song ‘How Many More Times’ kinda sounds like a blues song, but it’s best known for the fantastic bolero rhythm, which pushes the song along in a very bombastic way, another favorite. ‘Black Mountain Side’ to the contrary is a kind of strange song on a Zep record. It’s an instrumental, with Page on a steel-string guitar and a guest appearance on tabla to give the song its eastern character. Those sounds will return in several songs on later albums. The same goes for ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, which is as mystic as some famous songs on for example Zep’s fourth album. It’s basically a duet between Plant’s voice and Page’s acoustic guitar, but the strange balance between calmness and anger makes this song a real gem.
After Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin would continue to make high quality and very successful albums, incorporating folk en Celtic music influences, becoming the absolute number one rock act of the seventies. The band disbanded in 1980 following the death of Bonham and was described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as being ‘as influential in the seventies as The Beatles were in the prior decade’. So if you still haven’t heard a song of those guys, start with one of those first two albums because they will kick you in the face like an angry gnu.
Genre: Blues Rock, Hard Rock
Preceded by: Led Zeppelin (1969)
Followed by: Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Related to: Pixies – Doolittle
Let’s stay in 1969 for one more week. This week’s album is for those who like their rock a little harder, as it’s time for one of those real rock ‘classics’: Led Zeppelin II.
The British band Led Zeppelin released their bluesy debut album the same year, after which they started touring all over North America and the UK. They used the time they had between concerts to record material for a new album, in all kind of studios over the world. That’s how Led Zeppelin II was born: while completing seven concert tours.
This situation really influenced the sound of Led Zeppelin on this album. While touring, the band played long improvised versions of ‘Dazed and Confused’ from their debut album and experimented with all kinds of riffs and solos. They brought the best parts in the studio, and riff-based songs like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Heartbreaker’ were created, along with the drum solo dominated ‘Moby Dick’. That way, it became the loudest album of the band and with ‘Whole Lotta Love’, it had a real rock anthem.
The influence of this album was huge, as it was personally responsible for the big guitar bands revival during the late eighties and early nineties. Bands like Guns ‘n Roses tried to reinvent Led Zep, Jonny Greenwood stated that all Radiohead was trying in their early days was to play Led Zeppelin II and what about bands like Pixies and Nirvana? Listen to the alternate soft-loud approach on ‘Ramble On’ and ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ and compare them to nineties classics like ‘Gouge Away’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.
One more interesting thing about this album is it’s cover. The band told some guy to come up with an idea and he came up with a picture of a German Air Force Division from World War I, led by the famous Red Baron. They painted the faces of the band members on it and the album was released.
So check out those top tracks and decide whether or not to get the album. Or just listen to it one more time. For those who are not convinced: it knocked Abbey Road from #1 twice in the US.