Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Summer of 1984

I bought a copy of the above record this weekend, the third one of the Now series. By coincidence, it was released exactly 30 years ago, on July 23, 1984. I never bought the Now albums back in the day of course, I was far too cool for that, with my Marillion and Dio records. So if we use this album to look back, what was the Summer of 1984 like?

It's better than I remember, to be honest. There's a healthy slice of good stuff: Thinking Of You, Two Tribes, Time After Time, White Lines, Robert de Niro's Waiting and Small Town Boy are all good songs to start with. One Better Day and I Want to Break Free aren't my favourite Madness or Queen singles, but I do like the albums they come from. Above all, I'm struck by how young most of the acts are. Someone looking at this in the summer of 1984 could have been forgiven for thinking that the future lay with Duran Duran and ZTT rather than The Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan, unless something happened.

Which of course, it did. By the end of the year we had Band Aid, and the Summer of 1985 gave us Live Aid, after which everything began to change. Moreover, within a few years, all the best music of the 60s and 70s was being reissued on CD. A young band at the end of the decade was duking it out with Pet Sounds and Revolver for rack space and pocket money.

So was the last summer before Live Aid the end of an era or am I reading far too much into a ragbag bunch of synth pop tunes? And what are your memories of the Summer of 1984?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Eddie Chimney

The proud gentleman on the left is Scott McGuire of Prospect, Illinois, who in December 1983 appeared in Kerrang! No. 58 after having redesigned his chimney stack to look like Iron Maiden's Eddie.

I know we're meant to shake our heads at the reckless eccentricity here (the article begins "Only in America!") but the truth is, I'm all for this sort of thing. In fact, the only downside I could see to this would be a desire to fill up your fireplace with old car tyres and other such muck so that you could get a good head of smoke coming out of the top.

(When I was growing up, if someone did manage to "put their lum up", usually by overloading their fire with coal, empty Domestos bottles and wet sticks, then half the neighbours would go out in the street to stand in the smog and watch. You took what entertainment you could get before the internet came along).

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Heavy Metal T-Shirt Confessions

In the comments section of the last post about Kerrang! T-Shirts we got to talking about band T-Shirts that we used to own. With that in mind, I reckon it's time to come clean about the ones I had, and I encourage you to do the same. Think of this post as a place where you can stand up among friends, say your name and then tell everyone that you used to have a Scorpions baseball shirt.

1. Rainbow and Black Sabbath
The first piece of clothing merchandise I owned actually wasn't a T-Shirt; it was a scarf similar to the one in the picture, which I bought at Rainbow's concert at the Ingliston Exhibition Centre in 1981, the first concert I attended. Unfortunately when I wore it to school everybody thought it was a Multi-Coloured Swap Shop scarf. To be fair, it doesn't look very rock & roll, does it? I also bought a bright red sweatshirt with the artwork of the Rainbow Rising album (this was before black had consolidated itself as the colour of choice for rock T-Shirts). Despite this looking even less metal than the scarf it was actually stolen from our washing line.

On the same trip I bought (from Ingliston Sunday market) a Mob Rules T-Shirt (with the tour dates on the back).

This was more like it! A real bona fide Metal shirt! Looking back with mature eyes, it's a pretty unpleasant T-Shirt for a 12 year-old boy to be wandering about it, but perhaps that was the attraction.

2. The Marillion Period
The early 80s were when bands really started to wake up to the idea of making money by selling "official" merchandise. Two bands who were at the forefront of this were Iron Maiden and Marillion. Both were signed to EMI and had album artwork that they could transfer to T-Shirts. I was going through my Marillion phase at the time and had a grey T-Shirt with the Punch & Judy single sleeve as well as the Garden Party one below.

In its own way it was even more ugly than the Sabbath T-Shirt. At the time I was discovering Prog and like many other 14 year olds I thought that The Wall was a work of staggering genius. So while others were going around with "Frankie Say Relax" T-Shirts I had the one below:

3. Alice Cooper Raise Your Fist & Yell Tour T-Shirt
As the 80s went on I lost touch with Metal. I never really got into Thrash and as for Hair Metal... Well I'd rather have worn a Frankie Say Relax T-Shirt. So the last one I bought would have been the Alice Cooper shirt I bought when I saw him at the Edinburgh Playhouse in 1987 or so, when he was touring the Raise Your Fist & Yell album with a guitarist that looked like Rambo.

Pretty ugly, eh? Mind you, it's nowhere near as repulsive as Raise Your Fist & Yell.

And that concludes my relationship with Rock T-Shirts. Except that it doesn't of course, I've started buying them again in the last few years, and have a liking for faux-vintage shirts for tours that I was far too young to have seen at the time (so I have a Kiss Cobo Hall 1975 shirt, despite the fact that in 1975 I was 5 years old and hadn't traveled further than Aberdeen). In the Metal: A Headbanger's Journey film, Bruce Dickinson speculates that metal fans have managed to preserve their inner 15 year-old into their adult selves. I think he's onto something, and I'm sure my Black Sabbath Vol 4 T-Shirt would agree.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Kerrang! T-Shirts

It strikes me that you can illustrate how Heavy Metal evolved in the UK in the 1980s by looking at the two advertisements below for Kerrang! T-Shirts which appeared in the magazine exactly five years apart (both magazines had Alex Lifeson as the cover star, oddly enough).

1. From Kerrang! No. 26, October 7-20, 1982

We're in 1982, and the well-dressed manic is wearing jeans, a bullet belt, a Wrangler jacket and perhaps a touch of Brut 33. Oh, and a simple black T-Shirt with the Kerrang! logo in "sickening pink" which could be yours for £2.95 plus postage and packaging. Simpler times.

2. From Kerrang! No. 158, October 17, 1987

Fast forward to 1987 and things have changed. First of all, the price has gone up to £6, an impressive 100% increase in just 5 years (that's Thatcher's Britain for you), while the T-Shirt is also different, with the logo going all spiky and the addition of a cut-price Iron Maiden rip-off artwork on the chest. But with Hair Metal reaching its peak it's the models Lisa Dominique and Pepsi Tate of Tigertailz really show how things have moved on by 1987. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Axe Attack Vol II

K-Tel's Axe Attack compilation was the introduction to the dark pleasures of Heavy Metal to many a plukey youth in the early 80s, your author included. It did this by cramming far too many songs, K-Tel style on two sides of vinyl. With it being such a success, a follow-up was probably inevitable.

Axe Attack Vol II came out a year or so later in 1981. A first glance indicates that they stuck to the successful template of the first record: a safe mix of big hitters (Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Motorhead, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Whitesnake) joined by some US cousins and a couple of NWOBHM bands. If you look at the track listing a bit closer though, you come to the conclusion that Axe Attack Vol II was a bit more eccentric than it's elder brother.

First of all Rush are present with The Trees, otherwise known as the Rush song that people who don't like Rush tend to cite whenever they feel the need to justify why they don't like Rush. Then we've got a three track weirdfest halfway through Side Two. Gillan's truly awful Mutually Assured Destruction kicks things off, a bad O'Level English essay on Nuclear War wearing a denim jacket. This is followed by Ted Nugent's bizarre Flesh & Blood, a pretty scary song coming from someone with as many guns as Ted has. Still, it's not all bad, as Blue Oyster Cult's wonderful Godzilla saves things, and leaves you mulling over its profound refrain: "History shows again and again / How nature points out the folly of men / Godzilla!"

As for the NWOBHM, Iron Maiden are present with Murders in the Rue Morgue, a brilliant song that reminds you just what an energetic and exciting band the Di'anno Maiden were. Then there's Def Leppard, whose amateurish Rock Brigade will have you scratching your head once again at how they ever made it so big. And finally there's Samson, whose Earth Mother is against all odds great fun, propelled by a terrific riff.

There was no Axe Attack Vol III. I guess Vol II didn't sell as well. Besides by 1981, the glory days of heavy metal bands having unlikely Top 20 singles was largely coming to an end. Hair and Thrash metal were waiting.