Wednesday , April 17 2024
Several rock bands of the 1960s deserve more credit than many metal fans give them.

The Proto-Hard Rock, Heavy Metal 101 Syllabus

Hello everyone, are you ready to rock? Class is starting!

To begin, I’ve been listening to some of your comments before class, and I gather many of you think heavy metal and hard rock began with Sabbath, Zeppelin, Rainbow, Kiss, and the Mark II Deep Purple. Some of you even credit Blue Oyster Cult. For you, classic rock means Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Metallica. Nothing wrong with that.

But, believe it or not, rock and roll before “Iron Man” had many, many examples of what would become the genre you love, more than you likely think. True, The Beatles weren’t often on the hard edge beyond songs like “Helter Skelter.” But “She’s So Heavy” was pretty heavy, seems to me. The Stones? Too riff rock for you? Everything else too much psychedelia?

Well, I have a pile of records here for your consideration, and I’m going to share them in no particular order. Perhaps you’ll come to think, as I do, that the years 1968-1969 laid the foundations for all the heaviness that followed. Perhaps you’ll find some nuggets even your grandparents would recognize.

Mountain “Blood of the Sun” (Live at Woodstock, 1969)

It’s surprising to me that, even among devotees of the era, Mountain has continually been among the most underappreciated bands of the late ’60s. Many remember “Mississippi Queen” (1970), the group’s appearance at Woodstock (not shown in the movie), but little else.

The glory days for Mountain centered around singer/guitarist Leslie West and producer, songwriter, and bass player Felix Pappalardi. As Pappalardi admitted at the time, keyboardists like Steve Knight were there mainly to provide texture; you could barely hear a note from them. I can attest from two concerts I attended—Mountain was ear-bleeding loud. They were, in many ways, too ahead of their time, frankly too heavy for many listeners groovin’ in the tie-dye era.

But, with continually changing line-ups, Leslie West has persevered. If you need more heavy metal credentials, Mountain released Masters Of War in 2007 with guest vocals from Ozzy Osbourne. In 2008, Mountain opened for Joe Satriani with a new bass player, Rev Jones from the Michael Schenker Group. How’s that for hard rock continuity?

Vanilla Fudge “Need Love” (1969)

It isn’t news to connect the Fudge with heavy metal. Drummer Carmine Appice alone is a virtual one-man history of rock, from the psychedelic Vanilla Fudge through Cactus through Beck, Bogert, and Appice, to Blue Murder. He’s worked with Ted Nugent, Paul Stanley, Ozzy Osbourne, and written songs for Rod Stewart. Even as we speak, he has a great new album out with one of his current bands, King Kobra.

But, back in 1967 it was Appice with Mark Stein (vocals, keyboards), Vince Martell (guitar), and Tim Bogert (bass), who’d work with Appice in two succeeding bands. That year, their debut, Vanilla Fudge, a batch of psychedelic covers, included their most famous hit, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” In 1968, they released the sadly forgotten concept album, The Beat Goes On and then two more before the first break-up. Ever since, happily, Vanilla Fudge reforms, re-unites, and keeps on hangin’ on. Here in the link above is “Need Love” from 1969’s Rock and Roll. Pretty heavy, don’t you think?

Crazy World of Arthur Brown “Fire” (1968)

Drummer Carl Palmer, who toured with Brown, told me last year he felt Arthur Brown was a forgotten father of shock-rock. Indeed, Brown was an incredibly gifted singer, with a four octave range, and had an eye for stagecraft no one else was using at the time. For example, he had various mishaps with his flaming metal helmet and was known for stripping naked on stage. His use of heavy make-up preceded Alice Cooper, Kiss, and Marilyn Manson.

His debut album, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, produced by Kit Lambert (The Who) with Pete Townshend as Executive Producer, was just as theatric on vinyl as the band was on stage. Side one, in particular, was a long suite on the pain of hellfire including poetic recitations, recurring musical motifs, and the use of strings and horns to capture the dramatic dimensions that couldn’t be demonstrated visually. This was the side that contained the million-seller, “Fire.”

Ironically, Brown wanted the full album to be a two-sided rock opera, but Lambert preferred half the record to be a tad more commercial. The irony is that only a year later, Lambert and The Who organization would be heavily involved in a little project called Tommy. Side two, as it happened, opened with Brown’s homage to an earlier pioneer of spooky rock, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” Back in the late ’50s, Hawkins arrived on stage in a coffin and had props including rubber snakes and a smoking voodoo skull named “Henry.” Sound familiar?

Today, the strange thing is that the album is still billed as psychedelic rock. Try side one some enchanted evening and you might think proto-prog rock, maybe. But this was miles away from flower power.

Blue Cheer “Summertime Blues” (1968)

The Who “Summertime Blues (live)” (1969)

For Blue Cheer, “Summertime Blues” was one of those happy accidents. Needing to fill out their debut album, Vincebus Eruptum, the original trio of Dickie Peterson (bass, vocals), Paul Whaley (drums), and Leigh Stephens (guitar) quickly knocked out their overdriven version of Eddie Cochran’s hit. To everyone’s surprise, it was a major chart success. Further, it more or less kept Blue Cheer’s career going for 40 years. You can hear, and see, the last live recorded version on Blue Cheer Rocks Europe which was taped in Germany in 2008, one year before Peterson’s death.

Blue Cheer has been adopted by many a heavy metal devotee as a harbinger of things to come, and if so, then most of the rest of this list fits the same criteria. Speaking of “Summertime Blues,” we gotta credit The Who’s version captured in 1970 and issued on the Live at Leeds package. This isn’t hard rock? Why not?

The Amboy Dukes “Baby Please Don’t Go” (1967)

MC5 “Kick Out the Jams” (1969)

The Stooges “Down on the Street” (1970)

Grand Funk Railroad “Inside Looking Out” (1969)

Frijid Pink “House of the Rising Sun” (1969)

We could spend an entire period on the contributions of Michigan (especially Flint and Detroit) to the heavier side of rock. I’ll just note five of the legendary bands.

In the case of the Amboy Dukes, they might have been forgotten if not for band member Ted Nugent and their hit, “Journey to the Center of the Mind.” Famously, Nugent has long maintained “Journey” had nothing to do with mind-expanding drugs. Perhaps so. No one I knew heard it any other way. As everyone already knows that little dittie, I’m here plugging in the Dukes’s first single, one of many versions of the standard, “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” The vocals are a bit evocative of Eric Burdon and Van Morrison’s Them, themselves deserving some mention. But mainly, the clip here is a very early sample of Nugent’s lead guitar work.

MC5-KickOutTheJamsFar, far on the other side from Nugent’s political bent were the MC5, whose first album was designed to be a political statement supporting John Sinclair’s “White Panther” party. Kick Out the Jams was one of the few debuts recorded live, as the heads of Elecktra Records knew MC5 was at its best before appreciative audiences. All these years later, the album and its title song remain what hard rock is all about—rebellion, speed, and screaming vocals. Their follow-ups, Back in the USA and High Time sounded like a very different band, and that’s another story.

At exactly the same time and playing on the same stages as the MC5, The Stooges were a band that didn’t quite set the world on fire, at least in terms of record sales or concert tickets. Now, Iggy Pop (vocals), brothers Ron (guitar) and Scott Asheton (drums), along with Dave Alexander (bass), are legendary for opening the doors to punk, heavy metal, and hard rock. In their early experimental days, they often used homemade instruments for droning sounds, and Pop was famous for spreading peanut butter on his chest and self-mutilation on stage. Their first album didn’t do much for me, but Fun House is a rock essential. If “Down on the Street” trips your trigger, well, meet the Stooges. You might also enjoy 1973’s Raw Power and join the debate over which mix version you prefer.

If you think Grand Funk Railroad and you think the hits “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home),” “We’re an American Band,” and “The Loco-Motion,” you’re probably scratching your head to see them in this list. But these songs don’t really represent what Grand Funk was when it began as a power trio of Mark Farner (guitar, vocals), Don Brewer (drums, vocals), and Mel Schacher (bass). If you want to hear what the pre-pop GFR was all about, the best examples are the group’s second album, Grand Funk (a.k.a. “The Red Album”)—where “Inside Looking Out” first appeared—and 1970’s Live Album. Admittedly, Farner’s vocals were never A-list, hence the switch to Brewer when the hits began, but the early sets were full of very heavy guitar leads and strong bass lines that rivaled those of Jack Bruce in Cream.

Frijid Pink? Weren’t they just another one-hit wonder with their distorted version of “House of the Rising Sun”? Well, their story was very similar to Blue Cheer’s. Pink knocked out “House” as a filler for their first album and wasn’t released as a single until after two others flopped. But there was a time when Zeppelin opened for them and the Pink shared the stage with the MC5, Stooges, and Amboy Dukes. True, subsequent line-ups changed so much that there was never a cohesive group after their debut. Still, “House” shouldn’t be forgotten, even if it is on the hard-edged psychedelic side.

Deep Purple “And the Address” (1968)

Goodness, I see we’re about out of time and we haven’t gotten to Hendrix, Iron Butterfly, or Steppenwolf. Well, we’re going to have to pick this up next time.

We’ll close out with Deep Purple. No, I don’t mean the much adored Mark II line-up—I mean the very first group that was much more than “Hush” and “Kentucky Woman.” Shades of Deep Purple was their debut album, recorded even as new vocalist Rod Evans was being integrated into the still-nameless band. The first tracks were instrumental jams like “And the Address” and “Mandrake Root” before lyrics were added to the latter. So here’s Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, and Ian Paice back in the very beginning, and a very good place to stop today.

For our next time, your homework is to bring in songs you think should be added to the list. The only requirement: they have to have been recorded by 1970.

About Wesley Britton

Check Also

The Who Shea Stadium

Music Reviews: The Who’s ‘Live at Shea Stadium,’ plus Rockabilly Anthologies and Albums from Johnny Adams and Tyrone Cotton

Music Reviews: a 1982 Who concert plus two rockabilly anthologies, R&B singer Johnny Adams, and Tyrone Cotton's debut.