Not a classic at all
Black Sabbath, Paranoid (Vertigo)
Recorded in two days on a budget that would barely keep a
goldfish alive. That didn’t stop “Black Sabbath” from becoming
one of the most stunning debut-albums ever made. It was dark, it
was heavy, it was scary, it was wonderful.
Arriving in February 1970 and dressed in a sleeve you could
hardly ignore. That photo is not a photo, it’s alive, it’s as if
you been lost in the woods and have just found a clearing;
there’s a vacant mill, there’s a lake, oh, but you don’t feel
any relief, because right in front of you, in the dying
daylight, out of nowhere, stands a mysterious lady, clutching a
black cat, she’s watching you, she’s most definitely gonna do
you harm. The fonts, the words, the Vertigo logo – it’s all
perfect. I knew nothing about this band when that sleeve caught
my eyes, but I knew right away that I had to buy the album.
I’m not gonna argue with those who claim that it’s an uneven
album, but “Black Sabbath” is not a collection of individual
songs that you evaluate separately, it is a total package that
resonates deep down in the Vincent Price-crypt. It was conceived
just when rock records, thanks to improved studio technology,
delivered better ambience and more bottom, and the
guitar-players began stealing attention from the vocalists.
The cool thing was long tracks with lots of guitar, a huge,
punchy bottom and the familiar doses of the electric blues.
“Black Sabbath” had all that, but it simultaneously confronted
the listener on a completely different level than the hippy
trippy bands that were the darlings of the student communities.
Black Sabbath were in your face, confrontative, they apparently
sank their fangs into Christendom, it was as if Satan had bought
himself an electric guitar, they sounded like doomsday and
“Black Sabbath” was the darkest record ever made. It was both
extremely enjoyable and dead scary, just like a great horror
movie. Highlights were the title track (those fantastic first
seconds are pure cinema, the sound of thunder, the torrential
rain, the chimes of a distant church bell… and then the guitar
arrives, so slow, so alarmingly evil – wow!) and the album’s
roaring 14-minute finale, “Sleeping Village” / “Warning”.
When the group’s second album, “Paranoid”, arrived seven months
later, expectations were high. The title track had already
ravaged the single charts for a few weeks, three minutes of
anxiety and testosterone built on a superb, fast moving guitar
riff. I was ready for great things but was greatly disappointed
by its sleeve. The sword-waving figure coming out of the woods
looks as if he is heading for a kindergarten-carnival, sporting
a scooter helmet borrowed from his sister. The fonts aren’t very
impressive either. The packaging left a lot to be desired.
A feeling of desperation came creeping as the needle worked its
way through the record. Black Sabbath were equally heavy,
Iommi’s guitar just as incisive and brutal, the riffs hit your
cerebellum like nails from a nail gun, Ozzy’s hollering,
everything sounded like it should, except that the album lacked
its predecessor’s dramaturgy, and the demons had gone on
vacation. And where oh where was the long one, the 14 minute
Many critics hold “Paranoid” as one of the greatest
heavy-rock-albums of all-time. I do not understand why.
The opening track “War Pigs”, hardly gets anywhere at all, for
its first six and a half minutes it’s stuck in a sequence nicked
from Jimi Hendrix’ “If Six Was Nine”. The track is screaming for
something, anything to release it, and Iommi eventually comes to
the rescue, but unfortunately only briefly, because just when
everything takes off, it’s all over. Iommi’s marvellous
guitar-solo could have lasted for ever, but is cut short after
one minute. Unforgiveable!
“Planet Caravan” is a slow, semi-psychedelic space walk, not
much of a tune, but it does work as a breather among the more
brutal sounding tracks.
“Iron Man” on the other hand, is a sure fire Sabbath-classic. It
even has a storyline. Someone should base a science fiction
movie on it. “Iron Man” is hooked on a massive monster riff, the
drums attack in full widescreen with a bottom punch to them that
make the basement rumble. Ozzy belts the story, and the whole
thing is spiced with Iommi’s trademark riff-based solo-runs.
What a spectacular rumble!
“Electric Funeral” glides lazily on a leaden, wah wah treated
riff and could have turned into something if they had come up
with a better solution than the messy change of pace midway.
They use a similar structure on “Hand Of Doom” but with a much
better result, the slow sections are dark and so quiet they
could sneak into a blues club without anybody noticing, while
the fast and hard hitting parts are fired up by some outstanding
“Rat Salad” is Sabbath’s version of Cream’s “Toad”, i.e. an
instrumental built around a drum solo. Fortunately Bill Ward
restricts our suffering to two and a half minutes while Ginger
Baker went on for weeks.
The album concludes with “Fairies Wear Boots”, its intro a
minute long a very inspired Iommi-solo, before the band hits the
turbo and takes off in a shower of sparks delivering a
heavy-rock boogie where Ozzy loses himself in a lyric he must
have thought up while strolling through the park high on
jazz-cigarettes. What is he on about? The song fades the moment
Iommi discovers what sounds like a promising detour. Annoying.
And that’s the album. A huge disappointment Of the longer tracks
“War Pigs” takes a long time not getting anywhere, and when it
finally decides to blast off, it stops. “Hand Of Doom” is fine
craftsmanship, but has no surprises up its sleeves. And the
album’s only heavy rock classic, “Iron Man” (“Paranoid” is a
super-cool pop single, but it’s a ditty, not a heavy rock
classic), is in turn not exploited for all it’s worth. In this
song Black Sabbath had all the ingredients for a thunderous
15-minute epic, but chickened out after six.
The lyrics are not up to their debut’s standard either. The
group probably felt the need to distance themselves from their
undeserved, but partly self-inflicted Satanist image. The main
topics are still evil and doom, but now it is the manmade
versions. They dislike wars and the politicians who causes them
(now who doesn’t?), they fear that final nuclear blast and they
convey gloomy thoughts about drug addiction. And most of all, of
course, they (or rather Ozzy) are terrified of fairies running
around in boots.
With “Paranoid” Black Sabbath present themselves as social
critics dressed up in silly kids-costumes, waving toy swords.
Not very convincing. If only the songs had been better.
On their next album, “Master Of Reality”, they blended the best
parts of the lyrics from both predecessors and nailed them to a
fine-tuned heavy-rock machinery, pouring out what sounds more
like movements in a dark symphony than individual songs. That
album is their masterpiece, not “Paranoid”.
Released: Sepember 28, 1970
Produced by: Rodger Bain
Contents: War Pigs/Paranoid/Planet Caravan/Iron
Man/Electric Funeral/Hand of Doom/Rat Salad/Fairies Wear Boots
Tony Iommi – guitar, flute
Geezer Butler – bass guitar
Ozzy Osbourne – vocals
Bill Ward – drums, congas
Tom Allom – piano on “Planet Caravan”
Nothing left to prove
The Moody Blues: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (Threshold)
With “A Question Of Balance” The Moody Blues had an ever so small go at
social criticism. The album’s proposed theme was global and turned its
blurry focus on conflicts that pestered the planet; the balance of
power, the Vietnam War, stuff like that.
They were never very specific, no reason to take any chances with the
fans. This was The Moody Blues, after all, a bunch of would-be
philosophers disguised as hairdressers (or Arsenal-players) looking for
a guru. But the album was a conscious move towards a more basic
The slightly stripped down arrangements would make it easier to
reproduce the album live. The change was not as dramatic as one might
fear. A mellotron is after all a mellotron, and the band were masters of
harmony singing, but nevertheless, “A Question Of Balance” - except for
the wonderful hit “Question” – was a tame collection of songs.
Lesson learned, with “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour” they took a
U-turn, immersing themselves in the laboratory of Wessex Sound Studios
in London, searching for that old magic of 1968-69. The mellotron would
however not dominate as much as it did on their late 60s classics.
Pinder was just as active on the piano and organ, and they finally
introduced the Moog synthesizer on a Moody Blues-album. In the opening
collage “Procession” they even used electronic drums. Some achievement
actually, both reaching out for the future and falling back on a tried
and trusted formula.
The album’s title is the English mnemonic used to remember the musical
notes that form the lines of the treble clef: EGBDF. E(very) G(ood)
B(oy) D(eserves) F(avour), right? Beautifully captured by the cover
With such a pedagogical approach to it, one would expect the album’s
soluble theme to be about music, the importance of music for mankind
through history, or something like that. It may also have been the
group’s original intention. The opening cut “Procession”, an almost five
minutes long collage of music history from the Stone Age through the
mythical Orient to modern Western music, certainly points in that
direction. The experiment only works while it is fresh to the listener
though, after some spins it just gets on your nerves.
They probably lost interest in the plot, and we should be grateful for
that. Vanilla Fudge tried something similar in 1968 with “The Beat Goes
On” with disastrous results. It’s as if The Moody Blues say “enough of
this” the moment “Procession” fades out, and deliver what should have
been one of the biggest hit-singles of 1971, Justin Hayward’s extremely
commercial and well crafted “The Story In Your Eyes”. It’s a sweet love
song with a worried urgency to it, made even more explicit as it punches
out after less than three minutes. For incomprehensible reasons, this
potential no. 1 was not released as a single in the UK; they pressed it
all right, with picture sleeve and all - but only for export! What was
the record company thinking?
A messy opening, a wonderful second track, unfortunately the rest of the
album is just as tame as its predecessor. They play well, the
arrangements are superb, they are after all professionals, but the music
doesn’t sound very inspired, it’s as if they’re sleep walking through
it, drowsy, satisfied, with nothing left to prove.
Only occasionally songs of substance peer out from the laidback
dullness, particularly Hayward’s other contribution, “You Can Never Go
Home”. I don’t mind Lodge’s charming “Emily’s Song” or Pinder’s
spectacular mellotron performance “My Song” - marking the swan song of
the instrument’s omnipresence in The Moody Blues sound (Pinder switched
to Chamberlin on the next album).
Is there a theme here? It should be, it’s a Moody Blues-record. Being
generous one could say there’s some sort of global environmental
awareness connecting the dots: tiny paper boats carrying fragile
glimpses of hope across a dark sea of pessimism about the future.
It is not a record for the big events. But it’s still unmistakably The
Moody Blues; the sound, the melodic beauty, the gorgeous production
qualities, and on days like these that can be more than good enough.
Besides, it’s got “The Story In Your Eyes” on it.
Hmm, I planned to be brief with this LP and ended up talking to myself.
Blame it on the rain.
Released: July 23, 1971
Produced by: Tony Clarke
Contents: Procession/The Story in Your Eyes/Our Guessing
Game/Emily’s Song/After You Came/One More Time to Live/Nice to Be
Here/You Can Never Go Home/My Song
Justin Hayward – vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, sitar
John Lodge – vocals, bass, cello
Ray Thomas – vocals, flute, tambourine, oboe, woodwinds, harmonica
Graeme Edge – electric and acoustic drums, percussion
Mike Pinder – vocals, mellotron, harpsichord, Hammond organ, piano,
keyboards, Moog synthesizer
The triumphant return of Ian Hunter
Ian Hunter, You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic (Chrysalis)
*From the vaults of Carl Meyer,
and original album review written in May 1979.*
In 1977 Ian Hunter reached rock bottom with the awful
“Overnight Angels”. Seeing him ‘live’ in Oslo at the time was so depressing.
His music had turned into a mediocre noise.
Of course we all knew the real Ian Hunter would return.
And now he has: inspired, on fire, high on nine brand new quality songs.
He’s got blood brother Mick Ronson and members of Bruce Springsteen’s E
Street Band backing him. Ellen Foley is doing some mighty hollering. Even
John Cale lends a helping hand on one of the tracks. It just can’t go wrong.
There’s slight glam traces of the Mott and Bowie of old
in the fat and insistent soundscape, there’s the delightful keyboard
floorboards and a rolling boogie beat. Sparks fly as Max Weinberg hits the
skins and the guitars cut white gashes in the dark backdrop. And Ian is the
captain, completely in control. His voice, hoarse and hungry, caresses the
words and spits them out. When the band rocks, the music is a joyous and
thundering celebration with a mean sneer. When it slows down, it kisses your
Ian moves effortlessly between the punchy stuff and his
signature elongated melancholy ballads. The lonely beauty of “Ships” is so
overwhelmingly emotional it makes you wanna cry. “The Outsider”, with its
cascading climaxes, is a stunning portrait of a man on the run. Then there’s
the sizzling “Cleveland Rocks” and the delightful Mott-pastiche “Just
Another Night”, Ian’s voice so in command that it grows legs and starts
Is this his best album yet? I’m willing to stick my neck
Note: Later that year (November 22) I had the
pleasure of seeing Ian Hunter at The Hammersmith Odeon in London. What a
triumphant return! The audience went completely bananas, and towards the end
of the concert Ian was so moved he gave one of his golden Gibsons away to a
fan. The boy couldn’t believe his luck and headed for exit, but was
overtaken by the minders who grabbed the guitar and put it back on stage.
This aggravated Ian who handed it over to the guy yet again, only for the
same thing to happen. That really pissed Hunter off. He told the minders to
leave the boy alone, and this time they made it out, both the boy and the
guitar. It was one of those nights.
He’s turning 76 in June, and he’s still out there
playing, baring his soul to us. Simply amazing! Thank you Ian! - Carl
Meyer, May 2015.
Released: March 27, 1979
Produced by: Mick Ronson & Ian Hunter
Contents: Just Another Night/Wild
East/Cleveland Rocks/Ships/When the Daylight Comes/Life After Death/Standin’
in My Light/Bastard/The Outsider
*The deluxe CD-version released in 2009 contains 5
outtakes from the sessions plus a full 14 track live CD including 5 tracks
from The Hammersmith Odeon.
Ian Hunter – lead vocals, guitar, piano, Moog, ARP,
organ, harmony vocals, percussion
Mick Ronson – guitars, dual lead vocals on “When the
Daylight Comes”, harmony vocals, percussion
Roy Bittan – ARP, organ, Moog, piano, harmony vocals
Max Weinberg – drums
Garry Tallent – bass
John Cale – piano & ARP on “Bastard”
George Young – tenor saxophone
Lew Delgatto – baritone saxophone
Ellen Foley – harmony vocals
Rory Dodd – harmony vocals
Eric Bloom – harmony vocals
Hermania made Ramones tick
Herman’s Hermits, 20 Greatest Hits (K-tel)
Talkin’ to Joey and
Johnny when The Ramones visited Oslo in 1980, I was quite unprepared for
their total lack of enthusiasm when questioned about punk rock and new wave.
They kept interrupting me, wanting to know if I ever saw Herman’s Hermits
live. At first I thought they were putting me on, but then it dawned on me
that these guys were absolutely serious. They were fans. Hard core. They
didn’t care much for the Sex Pistols but they adored Peter Noone.
They bought Herman’s Hermits’ “20 Greatest Hits” in a record shop downtown,
beaming like schoolboys when they passed it around to the other members of
the band. “All the hits are on it!”, Johnny said, cheeks blushing with
It does make sense. The Ramones were the perfect power-pop band; they never
wasted time but went straight for the chorus, sticking like glue to your
brain. They adopted Peter Noone’s hilarious link between verses one and two
in the British music hall classic “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”: “Second verse,
same as the first!”, turning it into their own proud battle cry. Check out
“Judy Is A Punk”. The Ramones didn’t wanna be the snotty bad guys, they
loved pop music, that’s what they were playing. And remember, they had long
“20 Greatest Hits” is a no brainer released by K-tel in 1977 and advertised
on TV. It didn’t exactly set the charts on fire, reaching no. 37 before it
stalled. It was the year of punk, true, but 1977 was also the year of The
Shadows, Slim Whitman, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Diana Ross & The
Supremes and Bread, who all topped the British charts with compilations, and
The Beatles reached the summit with a “live” set recorded in 1964 and 1965.
Herman’s Hermits were probably too corny for British taste at the time, and
it didn’t help that the sleeve was tacky and looked every bit as cheap as
the record was. Ramones didn’t care about such things when they found the
album in a cut price rack in Oslo. Then again, Herman’s Hermits were always
bigger in America.
Armed with the hit producer Mickie Most, the youngsters from Manchester
arrived on the scene in August 1964 with their insanely commercial version
of The Cookies’ minor hit “I’m Into Something Good”. Noone’s light and
boyish voice, the band’s happy-go-lucky backing, the interplay between lead
vocal and chorus, it was a winning formula, and they stuck to it for ever
Peter Noone looked good on TV, and the Americans adored him from day one.
With his shy little boy lost looks and huge toothy smile he could have been
a young Kennedy, and he talked funny, how charming. The girls screamed. The
parents nodded. What a polite young man - nothing like that weird
Lennon-guy, or horror of all horrors, The Rolling Stones.
In 1965 Herman’s Hermits were even challenging the mighty Beatles, spamming
the US with seven Top 10 singles, two of them reaching no. 1, and three Top
Unlike other great bands of the area, they didn’t write their own hits, and
that would eventually lead to their downfall. But for a while they ruled the
airwaves with quality arrangements of other people’s songs. They were good
at picking tunes, or rather, Mickie Most was. His uncanny knack of creating
three minute classics made him one of the most successful record producers
of the 60’s and 70’s. Among his clients were The Animals, The Yardbirds,
Donovan, Lulu, Jeff Beck and The Nashville Teens. In 1969 he launched RAK
Records, a bona fide hit factory all though the 70’s.
What he did with Herman’s Hermits was to build on the Peter Noone-image and
his Englishness, keeping the main ingredients from that first hit, an intro
that catches your ear immediately, a hook line that you can’t escape, a
friendly sound, a quality backing – sometimes beefed up by hired hands like
Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.
Herman’s Hermits’ sauntering version of doo wopers The Rays’ 1957 recording
“Silhouettes” is a magnificent treat. So is their warm and freewheeling take
on Sam Cooke’s 1960-chestnut “Wonderful World”. Eventually Most switched
from cover versions to handpicking new songs from young and promising
songwriters, like Tony Hazzard, P.F. Sloan and Graham Gouldman. Some of
those recordings are as close to the classics as Herman’s Hermits ever came:
“Listen People”, “A Must To Avoid”, “You Won’t Be Leaving” and the
delightful “No Milk Today”.
Most was also aware of the Americans’ taste for British music hall
traditions, George Formby and all things cockney. Herman’s Hermits was the
perfect vehicle for this too, and scored enormously with aforementioned “I’m
Henry VIII, I Am” and “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” (neither of
them released as singles in the UK but both no. 1’s in the US) and to a
lesser degree with “Leaning On The Lamp Post” and Ray Davies’ “Dandy”
(neither of these two nor “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” are included on “20
Greatest Hits”, unfortunately).
Entering 1967 Most started pushing the Hermits into sugary territory. The
quality of the songs were uneven, they stuck to your brain for all the wrong
reasons, sounding like they were heading for the Eurovision Song Contest.
The Hermits kept clocking up hits, but I bet those were not the ones Ramones
were raving about.
Noone left the band in 1971, and his solo-career got off to a good start
with David Bowie’s “Oh! You Pretty Things” (Bowie even plays on the record),
a Top 20 hit in Britain. But he never managed a follow-up. So this is where
the “20 Greatest Hits” ends.
Is the album relevant in 2015? I’d say yes, absolutely. Of their 22 British
hits only three lesser ones are missing. For a while, Herman’s Hermits
(1965-1966) delivered inspired and colourful pop music, right up there with
the best of them. OK, so they went fishing after that, but there are one or
two gems among these later releases too, like the gloriously sad “My
Sentimental Friend” and that eccentric choice of Peter’s, “Oh! You Pretty
This is summery music, perfect for late afternoons with a cold beer as
company. The Ramones recommend it. Or they would, if they were still around,
Released: September 1977
Produced by: Mickie Most
Contents*: I’m Into Something Good (1-13), Silhouettes (3-5),Can’t
You Hear My Heartbeat (-2), Wonderful World (7-4), Just A Little Bit Better
(15-7), A Must To Avoid (6-8), You Won’t Be Leaving (20-), This Door Swings
Both Ways (18-12), No Milk Today (7-35), There’s A Kind Of Hush (7-4), I Can
Take Or Leave Your Loving (11-22), Sleepy Joe (12-61), Sunshine Girl (8-),
Something’s Happening (6-), Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter (-1), My
Sentimental Friend (2-), Years May Come, Years May Go (7-), Bet Yer Life I
Do (22-), Lady Barbara (13-), Oh! You Pretty Things (12-)
*Highest position on the UK and US charts in brackets after each title, UK
Peter Noone – vocals
Karl Green – vocals, bass
Derek Leckenby – lead guitar
Keith Hopwood – rhythm guitar
Barry Whitwam – drums