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.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Best Cover Version of an Osmonds Song by a NWOBHM Band

Let's face it, it's probably Crazy Horses by Tank.

Tank were talked up quite a bit at the time, but I have to say I always saw them as the British version of Anvil and as such could never take them that seriously. Still, I do like the fact that they called their debut album Filth Hounds of Hades.

This is great though, even if they never really nail the guitar neighing after the chorus. They also did a cover version of I Lost my Heart to a Starship Trooper. Best not to think about it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Heroes, Saints & A Foolish Promo Video

It was July 1982 and Saracen's keyboardist Richard Lowe was talking to Kerrang!'s Howard Johnson and feeling bullish:
"Our last album was originally released last November on the same day as AC/DC and it outsold For Those About to Rock in our home area of the North Midlands by a considerable amount. Our manager was distributing the album himself, running all over the place, and no sooner had he got back home than the phone would ring with people demanding more!"
The album was Heroes, Saints & Fools, which Saracen released on the small Nucleus label in 1981. I like the idea that it in charity shops across the North Midlands it can be found rubbing sleeves with Paul Young's No Parlez and James Last's 40 Golden Greats. It's not a bad album, consisting mostly of slightly slapdash prog metal leavened by a corny attempt at writing a single ("No more lonely nights for me / Neon lights have set me free").

Saracen received a bit of attention back in 1981/2 and were seen by some as the next big thing. Admittedly these people tended to be either members of the band (in the same interview quoted above they claimed they could go "one better" than Uriah Heep) or Tommy Vance, who was a fan of the album and gave them a Friday Rock Show session. They never made it big in the end. Apart from anything else, they took too long to release their second album, which didn't come out until 1984, by which time a lot had changed.

However along the way they signed to Neat Records and released a much better attempt at a single We Have Arrived, which despite a slightly ropey sci-fi lyric thumps along pretty well. They even got a chance to make a promo video for it when Neat decided to make a compilation VHS called Metal City.
It's a wonderful capsule of a certain time and place. Look at the sweatbands! The drummer in his football shorts! The Eddie Van Halen guitar decoration! The scantily clad girls trying to find something to dance to!

I also really like how it depicts Saracen's Rock & Roll lifestyle as driving round the countryside in a Bedford van while girls overtake them in a Vauxhall Cavalier (note the RAC sticker). It's got the NWOBHM written all over it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rox: Northern Glam

British Hair Metal never really took off, thank the Lord. The NWOBHM bands grew up with Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and AC/DC rather than Kiss or the New York Dolls, neither of whom were that popular in the UK in the 1970s. So, while the early 80s saw bands like Motley Crue gearing up in California, back in the UK, metal bands favoured denim and leather, and there was an unwritten rule that anything beyond a pair of striped Spandex trousers was venturing dangerously into New Romantic territory.

Of course, there were exceptions. The above picture of Rox appeared in Kerrang! No. 27 in October 1982. You kind of see why Hair Metal never really caught on in the UK. First of all, cloudy skies and council houses just didn't provide you with the same backdrop as Sunset Strip or Laurel Canyon. Then there was the matter of giving yourself cool names. Rox did have a go at this, but you have to say that Kick-ass Kev Kozak, Red Hot Red and Bernie Emerald just didn't have the same quality as Ace Frehley.

The overall impression is a bit like one of those "American Burger Bars" that you sometimes come across when traveling in Europe, which operate under the belief that a poster of the Statue of Liberty and couple of black and white photos of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe will make you feel that you've magically crossed the Atlantic (I don't think it's a surprise that the one British Hair Metal band that did make it big- Def Leppard - plastered themselves in Union Jacks).