Classic Rock 277 (Sampler)

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SPECIAL COLLECTOR’S EDITION

ISSUE 277


December 5, 1932 – May 9, 2020 Ian Fortnam looks back at the life and music of the self-acclaimed “architect of rock’n’roll”, who changed the face of popular music.

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ittle Richard always knew his true worth and was more than aware of his legend. “I am the originator, I am the emancipator, I am the architect of rock’n’roll,” he informed me with all due modesty back in 1996. “I am the engineer, I am the one that brought the train to the city… What a pity.” There was no ‘off’ switch on the self-styled Quasar Of Rock. He’d learned his craft drumming up business for snake oil salesmen, and he never forgot how to dazzle. He beamed, his eyes wide, seemingly bordering on frenzy; a pompadoured, cosmetics-drenched, star-spangled vision. He was – depending on who you spoke to – either the King or the Queen Of Rock’N’Roll, King Of The Blues, Creator Of Soul and, back in the early 1950s when the young James Brown was engaged as his tour support, customarily introduced as ‘The Hardest-Working Man In Show Business’. And that extraordinary voice, soft and charming in conversational repose, had an explosive power that was way beyond the reach of his peers. An irresistible clarion call that united both black and white audiences, even in the segregated US South, it rang out across the world and changed the face of popular music forever. In the beginning was the word, and the word was ‘Awopbopaloobop-Alopbamboom’. As an unaccompanied statement of intent, it was as nonsensical as it was inarguable. The secret language of nascent rock’n’roll, of teenage, of rebellion. Tutti Frutti, Richard’s ground-breaking debut for Art Rupe’s Speciality Records in October ’55 ,was

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produced by Robert ‘Bumps’ Blackwell, and captured a level of raw excitement that was entirely without precedent. Against a driving R&B beat laid down by double-bass player Frank Fields and drummer Earl Palmer, Richard, urged on by dual saxophonists Lee Allen and Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler, pounded out insistent piano lines and unleashed a rapid-fire vocal fit to wake the dead. Shrieks, hollers, screams; volume, power, passion. It was the sound of a damn bursting. The sexual revolution’s year zero. Little Richard had been performing an unexpurgated version of Tutti Frutti live for years, but its original lyric (‘Tutti Frutti, good booty/If it’s tight, it’s alright, if it’s greasy, makes it easy’) was considered unsuitable for release, so Blackwell got local lyricist Dorothy LaBostrie to clean it up. Even censored, Tutti Frutti lost none of its potency. It roared to No.2 on the R&B chart and crossed over to No.21 on the US national chart. With the floodgates open, Little Richard and Bumps Blackwell set about recording a series of singles that defined rock’n’roll: Long Tall Sally b/w Slippin’ And Slidin’, Rip It Up b/w Ready Teddy, Heeby Jeebies b/w She’s Got It, The Girl Can’t Help It, Lucille, Jenny Jenny, Keep A-Knockin’, Good Golly Miss Molly. He took America by storm. His tightly drilled backing band, The Upsetters (Lee Diamond Smith on sax, Buster Douglas on guitar, Olsie ‘Bassy’ Robinson on bass and drummer Chuck Connors) accentuated the back beat of his recordings when they played them live, and in so doing – according to no less an authority than James Brown – pioneered funk.


GETTY


I WAS 88 WHEN A BOY Jeff Lynne’s ELO

Following the spectacular rebirth of the Electric Light Orchestra in Hyde Park in 2014, a disbelieving Jeff Lynne hunkered down pretty much alone to create his first album of all-new material in almost 15 years. Its charming lead-off single presented the autobiographical tale of Lynne as a young boy in his bedroom and setting his sights on stardom: ‘Don’t want to work on the milk or the bread/Just want to play my guitar instead.’ DL From: Alone In The Universe, 2015

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DAKOTA

Stereophonics

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Dynamic duo: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

86 ONLY FRIEND

85 SOAP ON A ROPE

The opening track of their debut album, this catchy, classy cocktail of Rolling Stones swagger and Faces-via-southern gospel passion set The Temperance Movement’s bar very high. Put simply, it made them the modernday classic rock band to beat. With singer Phil Campbell’s departure it’s unclear what the future holds, but with gems like this they already occupy a special place in rock’n’roll’s latter-day renaissance. PG From: The Temperance Movement, 2013

YORK 84 NEW CITY COPS

The Temperance Movement

Chickenfoot

He might be a technically eyepopping guitarist, but Joe Satriani is a classic rock guy at heart. So when he joined with Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith in this supergroup it was no surprise that the results, of which this is the pinnacle, were nothing short of joyous. Chunky, loose-limbed and enormous fun. PG From: Chickenfoot, 2009

The Strokes

The Strokes’ debut album Is This It was the perfect marriage of new-millennium cool and vintage attitude, and everything great about them was bottled in New York City Cops, a song that could easily have been wrenched straight from the CBGB stage circa 1975. DE From: Is This It, 2001

83 JUST BECAUSE Jane’s Addiction

The freak-rock visionaries’ muchanticipated reunion album Strays might have been a damp squib, but it did offer one flash of

CHICKENFOOT: ROSS HALFIN

Classic Rock said Dakota (one of only two songs in our countdown to make the UK No.1 spot) was “a breathtaking anthem whose cutting-edge production belies a depth of feeling that Kelly Jones has rarely shown before”. The singer was no less enthusiastic about his band’s return to full-throttle rock after a couple of albums dominated by laid-back acoustics. He told us he strove to write a song “that sounded great when you were driving or dancing or in bed with someone. I wanted it to sound sexy and dark and spacy.” And it is. SL From: Language. Sex. Violence. Other?, 2005

Chickenfoot: Soap On A Rope was chunky, looselimbed and enormous fun.


““You don’t watch 133 AC/DC shows, as we did, and not have something rub off on you.”

WORDS: MALCOLM DOME

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NOWHERE FREEWAY The Answer

From: Revival, 2011

pon its release, Classic Rock said that Nowhere Freeway “is irresistible, an AOR Born To Run, shot through with dead-end romanticism”, and we still stand by that assessment. This is The Answer at the top of their game. The band glide irresistibly through a song that hums with poise and class. It has roots in the styles of Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher, but also offers a passing nod to Aerosmith, The Black Crowes and Sammy Hagar. The track opens with a simple, tremoloed guitar riff from Paul Mahon, before vocalist Cormac Neeson bursts in wearing his heart on his sleeve. What truly elevates it to another level

is the presence of Lynne Jackaman, who at the time was the singer in Saint Jude. What she and Neeson achieve is a brilliant interaction that sounds so organic you’d think they were being spontaneous. Each time one of them raises their game with another fiery vocal line, the other responds emphatically. It was originally released as a single from 2011’s Revival, The Answer’s third album and perhaps their finest to date, by which time Neeson had also matured as a lyricist. ‘I take my chances, I don’t care if I burn’, he snaps in an ode to the open spaces he so obviously craved. To focus on the vocalists and lyrics is not to

take anything away from the taut instrumentation as the band deliver the sort of widescreen backdrop that soon marked out The Answer as one of the most energetic and exciting bands around. You can hear how much they’d learned from touring alongside the likes of AC/DC, Whitesnake, The Who and the Rolling Stones. “A huge amount,” Neeson says, of the impact those elder statemen had on them. “You don’t watch 133 AC/DC shows, as we did, and not have something rub off on you. The way they go about things is just so tight and professional. They were good to us. They told us never to forget where we’d come from. That meant a lot.” If there’s one track to highlight to anyone not familiar with this band’s catalogue just why they should care, then Nowhere Freeway is it.

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Inside Marillion’s latter-day masterpiece, and the standout cut that made our Top 100.

INTERVIEW: RICH WILSON

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LIVING IN FEAR Marillion

From: F.E.A.R, 2016

ost bands don’t sound this urgent, ambitious or just plain good by the time they get to their eighteenth album. Then again, Marillion are not most bands, and Living In Fear is not your average politically charged progressive anthem. “We’re successful enough and have enough resources to be able to do exactly what we want, but we’re not so successful that we can do fucking nothing,” keyboard player Mark Kelly reasoned at the time. “We’re still hungry.” If you believe the maxim ‘longer is better’, you’ll be happy to hear that three of the five tracks on F.E.A.R (Fuck Everyone And Run) run to more than 15 minutes. They’re lovingly crafted musical journeys that have all the nuances of a ‘classic’ Marillion album. This is the sound of a band with a revived sense of self-respect and belief, shouting defiantly: “We are Marillion and this is what we do,” and not trying overtly to get down with the kids. It’s an allconsuming record with an intensity to both the lyrics and the music that is at times overwhelming and emotionally draining. Musically, at least, Living In Fear, is something of a refresher (although still substantial, at just under six and a half minutes). Led by plaintive piano chords and singer Steve Hogarth’s uniquely expressive vocal tone, it escalates into emotional fierceness, soaring guitars and a sublime earworm of a chorus. Ostensibly a song about peace, with archetypal 60s sentiments of disarmament, it’s a polished, succinct track. “That was one of the tracks that we worked on at Real World Studios [owned by Peter Gabriel],” Hogarth explained. “They’ve got this big screen in the studio at Real World because they occasionally do soundtracks for films as well. So we can drop the big screen in the evening and put

a movie on, with the sound off and just have that running while we are jamming as well. So we’d be in the dark and there would be a vibe going as well. We were also able to work late, stop and have dinner and then go back into the studio space at nine or ten at night, and there’s always a different atmosphere than there is during the day.” The end result is by turns sweet, brooding and biting, not to mention lyrically adroit. Indeed the whole album is packed with thought-provoking passages that often venture into the dangerous area of politics. That’s not to suggest Marillion are suddenly turning into Billy Bragg – the songs on F.E.A.R are far from unsubtle, chest-beating protest songs – but there are undertones that delve into areas that some might find controversial and/or disagree with vehemently. For example, they cover Syrian refugees being denied access to Europe, the greed of bankers and oligarchs, Hogarth’s apparent feeling of shame at being British, and a sense of the loss of a nation. Remarkably, many of his lyrics demonstrate an acute perception, given they were written years ago and are becoming even more relevant and accurate with the passage of time. And in the current climate especially, his words acquire a darkly prophetic quality. Hindsight is all very well, one might say, but still… “This album really is about a sense of foreboding,” Hogarth told Classic Rock in 2016. “What is kind of interesting is that a lot of these words are about three years old. Now we’re all sitting here, post-Brexit, on the day the Chilcot report into the Iraq war comes out. But all these words were on paper years ago, and some even date back to unused jams from the last album. So it’s about that foreboding and a feeling that everything is going to change in this country.”

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52 FINEST HOUR Black Star Riders

As frontman Ricky Warwick said of the band born out of Thin Lizzy: “Black Star Riders has its own identity, but the Lizzy connection is always there.” And in Finest Hour, all hardrock swagger and teenage-dream nostalgia, the influence of the late, great Phil Lynott was writ large. A song best appreciated, as Classic Rock stated, “blasting from a jukebox in the best spit ’n’ sawdust bar in town.” PE From: The Killer Instinct, 2015

51 WAR OF KINGS Europe

SOUNDING OFF Brian Fallon on the The Gaslight Anthem’s enduring, er, anthem.

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H.e.a.t

In our album review earlier this year, we said that this song “couldn’t be more 80s if it pulled up in a vintage DeLorean with Max Headroom behind the wheel”. Dangerous Ground is essentially the soundtrack Top Gun should have had, topped with loads of additional shimmering guitars and harmonies. But because it’s 2020 and not 1986, such qualities have not brought the Swedish band the fame they could have reasonably expected 30-odd years ago. Should that stop you playing it on a regular basis? Hell no! In such worrisome times we need music like this. PG From: H.e.a.t II, 2020

49 THE ’59 SOUND The Gaslight Anthem

Question: when does ‘influenced by’ become ‘a blatant rip-off’? It’s a fine line, but New Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem walked it brilliantly. Unashamedly indebted to both their home state’s favourite son Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements, the quartet skilfully managed to sound like no one but themselves. The title track of the band’s second full-

THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM: ASHLEY MAILE/PRESS; ERIK GRÖNWALL: GUSTAF SANDHOLM ANDERSSON/PRESS

ack in 2008 when the Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound was the buzz of the Classic Rock office, their singer Brian Fallon was a man refreshingly without guile. “Oh, we’re not reinventing the wheel,” he told us cheerily. “I’ve got hundreds of albums that sound like us. If it does sound like we’re different, then it’s because we don’t know what we’re doing. Mistakes are okay, though. I read that Springsteen was trying to sound like Van Morrison early on but couldn’t get it right, and look at his mistakes.” New Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem had been making a series of glorious mistakes since their 2007 debut Sink Or Swim, but their second full-length album was a belter and its title track rides high in our list. The ’59 Sound came from the album’s initial writing sessions, and Fallon, quite rightly, thought it was one of their best. “We were aware that it sounded better than anything we’d ever done before,” he said, “and that everything had to come up to that standard, so it was exhilarating and daunting all at once. “When it came, it came in one chunk,” he told The Ringer. “Music and lyrics all right there. It came flying out of my hands, a strange bolt of lightning. It took maybe 15 minutes.” Staples of the Warped Tour in the US, the band had been readily compared to contemporary punk artists like Against Me!, but The ’59 Sound leaned more towards early Springsteen, The Replacements and even tThe Hold Steady. “I grew up on The Replacements’ Let It Be, it’s amazing,” said Fallon, “And Springsteen’s everywhere here. He did it first and best. We all tell the same stories, they’re the same streets that people like Sinatra and Bon Jovi grew up on, it hasn’t changed.” The Boss clearly approved of his statemates’ signature song, and joined them to perform it at both Glastonbury and Hyde Park Calling in ‘09. Can’t get much higher praise than that.

This was the sound of the Swedish rock band being just that – a rock band – as they revelled in their heavier musical roots and audibly recalled the reason they got into this game in the first place – i.e. before The Final Countdown happened and planted them firmly in ‘glossy 80s poodle’ territory. With War Of Kings’ toughened layers of classic rock muscle, it felt more Deep Purple than Def Leppard, with keyboard player Mic Michaeli swapping their parping synth sounds of old for a moodier tone. Plus it sounded like the band were having the best time doing it. PG From: War Of Kings, 2015

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length album, The ’59 Sound is a blinder. With its gloomy subject matter of kids dying in car wrecks, it manages to be melancholy, insidiously catchy and bizarrely uplifting all at the same time, with vocalist Brian Fallon spinning a tale of small-town heroes that avoids mawkish clichés, over a backdrop of massive, anthemic (pun intended) guitars. Jon Bon Jovi might dearly wish he was heir apparent to The Boss’s throne, but on the evidence of this track it looked like The Gaslight Anthem had him whipped. It’s just a shame it didn’t last. SL From: The’59 Sound, 2008

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WISH I HAD AN ANGEL

EUROPE: TALLEE SAVAGE/PRESS; ROYAL BLOOD: ANDREW WHITTON/ PRESS

Nightwish

47 DANGEROUS Def Leppard

The fact that we wished Def Leppard would play this on their Hysteria tour (in the section of the show dedicated to other career highlights) spoke volumes. Leppard’s selftitled 2015 studio album was their best since that seminal 1987 hit – at least in part because they had a lot in common – and Dangerous was its crown jewel. A rollicking glitter-bomb of rock, pop and 80s panache, it didn’t try to be the least bit trendy and turned out beautifully for it. PG From: Def Leppard, 2015

Europe: revisiting their heavier roots with War Of Kings.

Royal Blood: figuring it all out with Figure It Out.

46 FIGURE IT OUT Royal Blood

When this drums ’n’ bass duo played under canvas at Download 2014, the demand to see them was such that the tent was way too small. So there was a definite buzz, but what new and exciting tricks were Royal Blood pulling here? The answer appeared to be none. Everywhere you look in their song catalogue you’ll find other bands, from Them Crooked Vultures to The White Stripes. All of which seemed to crystallise in album highlight Figure It Out. FL From: Royal Blood, 2014

Nightwish were nearing the end of a five-album run with original, co-founding singer Tarja Turunen when they had their biggest- selling album, Once, and their highest charting single in the UK (No.60) with Wish I Had An Angel. Given the Finnish band’s current arena-headlining status, it’s odd to consider that this commercial high point was more than 15 years ago. Some people have speculated that the anthemic Wish I Had An Angel is about a Valkyrie that craves spending her life with a human, ‘burning [her] angel wings to dust’ to sacrifice immortality in order to do so. Regardless of the subject matter, the track is a sublime summation of the band’s symphonic bombast. DL From: Once, 2004 CLASSICROCKMAGAZINE.COM 45


“Instead of just doing big, blunt commercial statements, I’m trying to do things in a more cinematic way.” 48 CLASSICROCKMAGAZINE.COM


How Ghost’s Tobias Forge built a world around a myth, and reaped a gleeful “pure eighties rock-club banger”.

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DANCE MACABRE Ghost

INTERVIEW: MERLIN ALDERSLADE. ADDITIONAL TEXT: POLLY GLASS

From: Prequelle, 2018

hat I’ve tried to do is make Ghost a little more Queen than AC/DC,” Tobias Forge says, of the ambitious menagerie of sounds of his band’s 2018 album Prequelle. “I don’t mind a good rock banger at all, but with Ghost every song has to have its own clear idea and structure. What I expanded on in Infestissumam and Meliora was that a Ghost song is not necessarily something that just starts with a big guitar intro. With Ghost you can do pretty much anything.” He pauses, before adding with a smile: “I’m a little rock opera with my music.” By this point the hitherto ‘secret’ (but not really) identity of frontman Papa Emeritus (reborn as Cardinal Copia, but more on that in a moment) was officially out. A lawsuit involving former bandmates accelerated Forge’s decision to ‘unmask’. Come 2018 and the release of fourth Ghost album Prequelle – with a new band – and the spotlight moved to the songs themselves. They didn’t disappoint, least of all Dance Macabre. Classic Rock’s album review said it was “a pure 80s rock-club banger that’s as audacious as it is glorious”. If Europe revisited The Final Countdown, with Satan, and swapped some (but not all) of the synths for guitars, this could have been the result. Warmly embraced by the metal world, despite being about as un-metal as ABBA, Dance Macabre defied heavy music conventions and nailed one of the most irresistible choruses of the century. Like Maiden, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot before them, Ghost have become one of those rare bands for whom a new album is so much more than a new album. It’s an event, a chance for fans who’ve waited with baited breath to see what new imagery, storytelling and feats of showmanship await them. In the way only the best bands manage, it seemed that just as we were starting to get used to the Ghost formula, Tobias had fucked with it spectacularly. “I’ve always tried to make things hard for

myself,” he says with a sly grin. “Instead of just doing big, blunt commercial statements, I’m trying to do things in a more cinematic way. If we just continued with Papa to Papa to Papa to Papa, that would grow very boring.” If this talk of Papas and secret identities has thrown you, here’s a brief explanation. PrePrequelle, Ghost’s frontman had always taken the form of Papa Emeritus, a corpse-painted, Pope-like figure delivering sermonic odes to life, love, death, sex and Satan on behalf of the mysterious Clergy, backed on stage by hooded, anonymous musicians known as the Nameless Ghouls. Each new album meant a ‘new Papa’ with a modified new look. Then, just in time for Prequelle, things changed with the arrival of the more youthful, agile Cardinal Copia. Dressed in a black cassock, his sunken, haunted eyes peeking out from under his biretta, and sporting the kind of villainous ’tache that would have Dick Dastardly twiddling with glee, Cardinal Copia is part Monty Python, part medieval nightmare; the kind of character who perfectly occupies the murky space between camp showmanship and gothic horror that Ghost have inhabited since day one. In short, he’s the personification of Prequelle, of which Dance Macabre is the ultimate drug that metalheads, rockers and pop fans alike just can’t resist. In the run-up to the album’s release, its gleaming, musical theatre-rivalling refrain of ‘Just wanna be, wanna bewitch you!’ was the one that everyone in the Louder offices sang at some point. For Forge, being recognised as a shadowy, face-painted lothario, rather than his actual trendy Swedish 30-something self, feels comfortable for the time being. “I will never be able to outshine my characters,” he says. “And I’m fine with that. I am quite happy not being the main visual aspect of the creation. I would like to take credit, in as much as I’m responsible for it happening, but I don’t have to be the focal point.”

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Its release in the aftermath of 9/11 seemed incongrous, but Andrew W.K.’s brilliant upbeat party anthem lifted spirits.

INTERVIEW: HENRY YATES / PHOTO: GETTY

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PARTY HARD Andrew W.K.

From: I Get Wet, 2001

t’s October 2001. One month has passed since the 9/11 terror attacks on New York. Grief and fury mix like a Molotov cocktail on the streets of America. George W Bush’s war machine rolls into Afghanistan to extract Osama Bin Laden, while back home popular culture is defanged to soothe a raw nation, with a list of 160 ‘lyrically inappropriate songs’ allegedly delivered to US radio stations. The party is over. Andrew W.K. just wasn’t made for those times. His debut single, Party Hard, was ostensibly everything that post-9/11 society could not tolerate, particularly if viewed in tandem with its video: dressed in grubby whites like some anti-Messiah, in the mirror of a sinister, strip-lit bathroom, he inspects deep facial cuts; a robot voice gabbles: “When-it’s-time-to-party-wewill-party-hard.” Then begins an adrenalin shot of pop-metal, its chant of ‘Let’s get a party going!’ seeming deeply out of place amid the debris and body bags. The consensus was split: W.K. was either a beer-chugging rock pig, or an irony-monger deconstructing the clichés of the rock lifestyle. In fact he was neither, revealing himself in the press as Andrew Wilkes-Krier, a soft-spoken former piano prodigy from Michigan. Similarly, while most listeners inferred (wrongly) that Party Hard was about alcohol, it’s never mentioned in the lyrics. “In 1998 I’d just moved to New York,” Andrew recalls. “I had never been drunk, I didn’t do any drugs and I didn’t have any friends. I never was a very social person. I had always felt awkward at parties; social interaction was tricky for me. But I loved the atmosphere of being at a party, the way it felt in the air, so creating music that encouraged partying was a no-brainer. “I didn’t want anyone to feel they had to act a certain way to ‘party’,” he says of Party Hard’s lyric. “I’d had many life experiences that told me something about me was wrong, or I couldn’t be part of this club… all that crap. I hated being at a party and someone coming up and saying:

‘Why aren’t you drinking?’ ‘Why aren’t you dancing?’ So I thought: ‘I’m gonna make a song telling people to party, but party however they want.’ I never dictated what people should do.” The lyrics of Party Hard were settled, but musically “I wanted it to start with a riff that was one note,” he says. “I had a vision of being on stage and the sound is just: ‘duh! duh! duh!’ No chord changes, everyone playing just one note with as much intensity as they could. I wanted it to be this… heartbeat. “I was clear this was going to be ‘my song’,” he says. “I had a strong feeling it would make other people go crazy and run around the room. It’s got a giddy kind of energy, that feeling of breaking through all the bullshit and confusion that tells us that it’s not amazing to be alive.” But that was before 9/11. After the twin towers fell, voices higher up the record company food chain questioned whether America wanted to ‘get the party going’. Andrew saw it another way: “At that moment, celebrating what you had was never more important. To be grateful for the life we have and this incredible city… it’s all just hanging by a thread. Is singing about having fun just a big waste of time, and a disgrace? Or is putting people in touch with the parts within them that make them feel good in fact a very worthwhile pursuit? The feelings of joy and power that come from music, that’s what allows humanity to rise up and be at its best.” Party Hard got its release, and the musician’s instincts were vindicated by the response it received, with the song storming the US and UK charts. Refreshingly, Andrew is neither jaded by its ubiquity nor tired of playing it live: “Drop it? Oh God, no. I love it more every day. It’s given me so much, brought me so many opportunities and happiness, and I hope into the lives of other people. I bow down to this song. I don’t feel like it’s mine, it’s just a song I got to play. I could never imagine a day not playing it. I’ll die playing that song – and that would be a great privilege.”

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29 VERTIGO U2

Opinions about Bono, The Edge and co. tend to mostly fall sharply into two camps: the old-school, Joshua Treeworshipping purists, and the increasing contingent who rail angrily against Bono’s propensity for ostentatious piety (and plastering himself, uninvited, all over our iTunes accounts). In the middle of all that, Ireland’s colosso-rock four-piece released what even the latter would agree were some absolute classic songs. Of those, Vertigo was the biggest and brightest. The band sought a more hard-hitting sound with their 2004 album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and Vertigo, with its mighty, propulsive riff (simple enough for kids to learn at home) and irresistible refrain, was its ultimate anthem. PG From: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, 2004

28 BETTER

Guns N’ Roses

It took 14 years, and a cast of thousands, for Axl Rose to complete Chinese Democracy, and even then it was a flawed masterpiece, its great, monumental songs (Madagascar, There Was A Time) sitting uncomfortably alongside woefully substandard tracks such as Shackler’s Revenge. Ultimately, Axl’s reinvention of GN’R was perfected on Better, which Metallica’s Lars Ulrich said was “my favourite song on the record”. Written by Axl with former (and later) Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, it had an industrial rock edge, but also a classic rock sensibility, in both the music and that unmistakable voice. It was the sound of an artist pushing himself. PE From: Chinese Democracy, 2008

THE END OF AN ERA? (OR GOING OUT ON A HIGH?) If you’re going to end it, then end it on a high. Inside Black Sabbath’s crowning career-end masterpiece, in their own words.

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GOD IS DEAD? Black Sabbath From: 13, 2013

od Is Dead? was Ozzy’s title,” Geezer Butler says. “I wanted to call that song ‘American Jihad’. Ozzy was going: “Jihad? We’ll get assassinated if we say that!” But that’s what the song is about – a religious fanatic that sets out to prove that God isn’t dead. He’s read people – philosophers, communists – saying God is dead, and he wants to prove them wrong. To be honest, I thought ‘American Jihad’ is less likely to get us assassinated than ‘God Is Dead?’. You offend everybody with ‘God Is Dead?’.” Offensive or not, God Is Dead? was a clear highlight of Black Sabbath’s studio swansong. Musically it built tension gradually, with atmospheric layers crescendoing into the sort of heavy, riffy swagger and ominous bravado that no one really expected of them at this point. Lyrically it was pure 1972; the overriding preoccupations remain the triple-headed terrors of science, religion and death. The imagery is stark and often hopeless, with ‘Rivers of evil run through dying lands’ and ‘Out of the gloom I rise up from my tomb into impending doom.’ At just shy of nine minutes, its sprawling length, tempo shifts and vintage Iommi guitar sound gave

the track a proggy backdrop. Best of all was the stomping groove-off in the last quarter, in which you could practically feel them all smiling and having the best time. Neither this nor the rest of parent album 13 came together easily. “This was not the first attempt,” Ozzy told us at the time. “We’ve tried to do an album about five times, probably more. But the end result is mind-blowing. I’m my own worst critic, but this album is a work of art. When I got the finished master, my wife was in Europe. I called her and said: ‘Sharon, I can’t believe what I just fucking heard.’” “We’re very proud of it,” Tony Iommi agreed. “The big thing was that Ozzy was really into it this time. When we’ve worked with him in the past, even on the tours, he’s been in and out. That’s just the way he was. But with this album he’s really put his mind to it and he’s come up with some great stuff.” For Butler, 13 was the culmination of their lives’ work. “This is the perfect way to finish,” he said. “It’s an album that we’re all proud of. As far as I’m concerned, that’s my life done and completed.”

27 CHECK MY BRAIN Alice In Chains

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“I reckon we’ve got something a bit special with this song God Is Dead?, Tony.”

IN THE STUDIO: JOHN FENTON/PRESS; MAIN: SAM TAYLOR-WOOD/PRESS

The pinnacle of William DuVall’s triumphant first album with AIC, the supremely cool, commanding title track of their fourth album (their first since 1995’s self-titled record) offered everything we loved about the grunge icons’ grounding era – plus a boatload of fresh enthusiasm, depth and swagger. To date it’s their only song to chart on the US Billboard Hot 100. Anyone still bitching and whining about Cantrell and co’s post-Staley days would do well to remind themselves of it. PG From: Check My Brain, 2009


“This is the perfect way to finish. It’s an album that we’re all proud of.” Geezer Butler

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LIKE CLOCKWORK

Caravan’s parent album was the record that changed a lot of people’s minds about not liking Rush.

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CARAVAN Rush

WORDS: NEIL JEFFRIES AND GRANT MOON. INTERVIEW: JERRY EWING.

From: Clockwork Angels, 2012

hen Rush’s Clockwork Angels album was released in 2012, few suspected it would turn out to be the band’s final album, not least because it sounded like the work of a group that still had plenty of fuel in the tank. But what a way to close out a quite remarkable career. A muscular yet intricate concept record, it included some stonecold classics, led by the incendiary, one-two punch of Caravan. If you didn’t ‘get’ Rush before, this was likely to be the track that converted you. For a band who often revelled in the polarising sides of prog rock, Caravan had an instant, swaggering sense of funk, while retaining the nuances and textures that had served them well for 19 albums already. ‘I can’t stop thinking big,’ Geddy Lee sang in the song’s soaring chorus (his voice now a little lower and arguably more palatable with age), conjuring the image of a world ‘lit only by fire’, over guitarist Alex Lifeson’s swathes of crunchy tone and an especially tasty blues-drenched solo. “The concept of doing a concept album is an anxious one,” Geddy Lee told Prog. “Especially for me. I was so sensitive to going out there and be seen as being rooted in the past. I was so conscious of wanting to move forward. It’s a kind of sticky wicket, as you guys would say, and we wanted to make sure, by working all the way through with Neil on these lyrics, that there was a freshness and a vitality running through it.” Given that their album sales in the US are right up there with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, outside the prog world Rush kept a pretty low profile over the years. But by the time Clockwork Angels was due to be released their mainstream status had shifted noticeably. They’d been absorbed by popular culture. They enjoyed

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an affection reserved for only a handful of enduring rock bands (AC/DC are one that comes to mind). Forty years into their career, Rush were now reaping the rewards for being themselves. “There have always been people with this fanatical reaction to Rush and people who just don’t get it at all – who are grossed out by what we do,” Lee says, laughing. Neil Peart’s story for Clockwork Angels percolated through many literary seams, notably steampunk. Filtered through the Victorian fiction of HG Wells and Jules Verne, this idea of ‘a future as seen from the past’ was championed by current writers including Peart’s friend, Kevin J Anderson. On Clockwork Angels this was used, as the drummer put it, to “tell a story set in an alternate timeline, with alchemy, clockwork, and steampunkery”. And so, as listeners, we followed a character on a quest through an antique sci-fi world teeming with pirates, anarchists, explorers and carnival dwellers. It was a heady theme, and Rush cranked up their unrivalled power-trio smarts to set it to some of the toughest music they had made, of which Caravan was the ultimate rock earworm. “Being progressive is what we’ve dedicated our lives to,” Lee says. “Trying to be interesting within our hard-rock framework. Moving it. Trying to make it a bit more interesting. It’s hard to look at it objectively, for me. I felt that we’d reached a happy medium in telling a story in a rock-opera style – and that’s a dangerous place to go – but telling it in a rock framework. But I think we’ve achieved that with this album.”


‘Clockwork Angels had some of the toughest music Rush had made, of which Caravan was the ultimate rock earworm.’

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It’s hard to single out one great song from a band who have so many classics. Thankfully this one picks itself. Words: Paul Elliott

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ROCK N ROLL TRAIN AC/DC

From: Black Ice, 2008

t was a song good enough to have been on AC/DC’s all-conquering Back In Black, and it’s on the last of the studio albums recorded by the Back In Black line-up. Rock N Roll Train also has the distinction of being one of only two songs recorded after 1981’s For Those About To Rock to remain in AC/DC’s live set after a first touring cycle, the other being the mighty Thunderstruck. And in a long-running tradition of great AC/DC songs with ‘rock’n’roll’ in the title, albeit spelled in slightly different ways, Rock N Roll Train is right up there with the best of them, alongside Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution from Back In Black, and others, such as Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation and It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll), from the years when the legendary Bon Scott fronted the band alongside their talismanic lead guitarist and eternal schoolboy Angus Young. Rock N Roll Train didn’t actually start out with that title. When the song was written by Angus and his rhythm guitarist brother Malcolm, it had the working title Runaway Train. And that’s how the chorus remained in the finished version, with Brian Johnson yelling ‘Runaway train’ and gang vocals adding ‘Running right off the track’. It was changed to Rock N Roll Train only after the Youngs considered that there were already other songs titled Runaway Train (one of them a hit for Soul Asylum in ’93, another recorded by Elton John with Eric Clapton in ’92). But changing it to Rock N Roll Train

was for AC/DC a no-brainer. As Angus told Guitar World in 2009: “Certain songs just seem to come to life when you add that phrase.” And as with those earlier songs, the new title was perfectly in tune with the simple ethos that had driven AC/DC from the very start, an ethos summed up by Malcolm in 2003: “It’s just loud rock’n’roll, wham bam thank you ma’am!” They knew instinctively how good a song they had with Rock N Roll Train. It was chosen as the opening track for AC/DC’s 2008 album Black Ice for the simple reason that it was the best track on it. The same logic had been applied to previous albums of the Brian Johnson era, in which the first shots fired were mighty anthems – Hells Bells, For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) and Thunderstruck. And in every respect, Rock N Roll Train was classic AC/DC – knockout riff, typically no-messing, straight-ahead beat from drummer Phil Rudd, shout-itout-loud chorus, killer guitar solo from Angus, and Brian singing at scrotumtightening pitch about getting it on and, indeed, getting it up. There is, however, a sad postscript to all of this. Rock N Roll Train was the last great song that Malcolm Young saw through to the end, before he succumbed to the dementia that led first to his withdrawal from the band and then to his death in 2017. But what he left behind – with this and so many other classic songs – was some of the greatest rock’n’roll music of all time.

‘In every respect, Rock N Roll Train was classic AC/DC.’

GETTY

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Some songs are so unique that they occupy their own space, outside of time and place. The Darkness’s I Believe In A Thing Called Love is one of them. Words: Henry Yates

“I don’t think I Believe In A Thing Called Love has ever really sat well with what’s contemporary. It’s just its own thing.” Justin Hawkins

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CAMERA PRESS / NICK WILSON

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I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE The Darkness

From: Permission To Land, 2003

rom the first spin of I Believe In A Thing Called Love, it was clear that here was a song to go the distance. Back in September 2003, The Darkness’s signature tune was instant, heroic, effervescent and just the right side of ludicrous. All factors amplified by the dour mewlings of nu metal’s fag-end. Seventeen years down the line, with I Believe In A Thing Called Love prancing atop our poll of the 21st century’s greatest rock songs thus far, its giddy power remains undimmed. “Playing that song is like slipping into a comfortable bath with a loved one,” frontman Justin Hawkins tells Classic Rock. At the time, of course, not everyone was quite so enamoured. Rewind to 2001, and The Darkness were a band out of time. Vintage rock disciples adrift in the wrong century, their misfit status was embodied by the aforementioned Justin Hawkins: a former jingle writer, with a glass-shattering falsetto and a taste for man-made fabrics. Flanking him were younger brother Dan (a sometime session guitarist), drummer Ed Graham (a friend from the Hawkins’ native Lowestoft) and Scottish bassist named Frankie Poullain (who dressed like a pirate). “We were desperately poor,” Justin remembers. “No hope whatsoever of achieving anything at all. But as long as we stayed alive – and I mean that literally – we were happy. We had nothing to lose, and so the reasons for doing music were pure and simple enjoyment. I think that’s why we felt so free to record something as different as I Believe In A Thing Called Love. I was in love with the experience of being in a band, and I’d known the others for years, so I felt super-comfortable and cradled. I suppose that song says a lot about the experience of being in The Darkness, in three or four minutes.” The band’s home base was the top-floor flat (a “shit-hole”) shared by Dan Hawkins and Poullain in London’s Primrose Hill. Here, the four members would drink plonk late into the night, smoke heavily and arrange themselves in a circle to spit out song ideas. “There’d be a huge ashtray in the middle, absolutely full to the top,” recalls Justin. “Red wine everywhere, although not the expensive stuff, unfortunately. But it wasn’t like a chimps’ tea party. It was a very focused affair. It allowed us all to contribute honesty to the songwriting. There was no hiding. We still try and do that today.” On the fateful day when a chunky chord sequence rolled off Justin’s acoustic guitar, ears pricked up. “It just popped out, that ridiculous opening riff,” he recalls. “It just sort of naturally

emerged from the ether. Dan had the chords for the pre-chorus. With the ‘touching you’ bits, that just seemed like a natural thing to do. You need to sort of put the brakes on a bit after all that information about steering wheels.” When Justin belted out the octave-straddling chorus, his younger brother worried that it was overly frivolous. “When I hear something that sounds too serious,” Justin says, “I tend to worry that it sounds like we’ve climbed up our own arse, whereas I think Dan has the opposite concern. There are moments when we pull each other in opposite directions, and times when we meet in the middle. If we’d gone any further, that song would have become a parody. The question was: ‘Can we get away with this?’ And the answer was clearly, ‘Yes’. “But it wasn’t until we fired it up in rehearsals that we realised how good it felt to play loud,” he continues. “It felt real and fun and silly, at the same time. It never sounded of its time. I don’t even think it sounded like the eighties rock thing that people compared it to, apart from the middle section when the synthesiser comes in. I don’t think I Believe In A Thing Called Love has ever really sat well with what’s contemporary. It’s just its own thing.” The final recorded version of I Believe was a tapestry of overdubs, and there’s a good reason why Justin recalls the exact date when he tracked his lead vocal at 2khz Studios in North London: “The vocal that we ended up using on the recording was from September 11, 2001. I remember coming into the studio as it was all unfolding. There were people watching it on the TV. I just thought there’d been an accident of some sort. Somebody said there were two planes and a building, and in my head I arranged that to mean two planes had crashed into each other, then landed on a building. I didn’t understand what had happened. I didn’t realise the implications until afterwards. I just got on with my work.” While a horrified world watched, glued to their TVs, as the New York terror attacks unfolded, the oblivious band bottled I Believe In A Thing Called Love in anarchic fashion. “You wouldn’t have liked what you saw in the studio,” Justin recalls. “I was naked in the vocal booth. At first I did it as an experiment to see if it would help, because I was still quite self-conscious about my singing voice and I was struggling with the vocal. I had a tendency to over-sing or to push it too hard. Then I just started singing naked because it made Ed a bit uncomfortable. Then it became a tradition. Perhaps I was just showing off. But that is part of my job, I suppose.”

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