Bloodrock's "D.O.A." 45 RPM single
Bloodrock was formed in Fort Worth, Texas in the 1960’s by Jim Rutledge (vocals), Lee Pickens (guitar), Nick Taylor (guitar), Ed Grundy (bass), Stevie Hill (keyboards), and Rick Cobb (drums). Rutledge and Taylor had been together since the early 1960’s; however, their band underwent multiple lineup changes and name changes before they settled on the lineup of Rutledge/Pickens/Taylor/Grundy/Hill/Cobb and the name Bloodrock in 1969. Later that year, Grand Funk Railroad producer Terry Knight discovered the band and soon the band was signed to Capitol Records. Knight produced the first three Bloodrock albums. The first LP, “Bloodrock” (1970), was well-received by fans, but it was the second album, “Bloodrock II”, that would see the band reach its commercial peak. A single was released from this album: “D.O.A.” b/w “Children’s Heritage” The version of “D.O.A.” on the single would be about half the length of the album version (which clocked in at 8 minutes and 22 seconds) and would become the band’s biggest hit, peaking at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100. This single is today’s featured single.
One listen to “D.O.A.” and it’s clear why this is the stronger side, even if it is an unconventional hit. The song begins with an eerie-sounding organ followed by a cymbal, and the sound of guitars. The lyrics open with the chorus: “I remember/We were flying along and hit something in the air/I remember/We were flying along and hit something in the air”. It is unclear whether the lyrics are referring to a plane crash or a car accident: most seem to think that the words “we were flying along” indicate that the main protagonist was in a plane, but “flying along” could mean being high on drugs or alcohol. Pickens said that it was inspired by his seeing a friend die after being in a plane crash. This becomes somewhat academic as the music and lyrics become increasingly gruesome: there’s the mournful-sounding organ (pounding out a three chord bass line and mimicking an ambulance siren at the same time), and the fate of the song’s protagonist looks increasingly grim: “I try to move my arms and there’s no feeling/And when I look I see there’s nothing there”. Unlike some other songs about confronting death (e.g. “Seasons In The Sun”, “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”), there is no sentimentality in this song, just the singer dispassionately describing his condition as he bleeds to death, although he does end the song with “God in Heaven, teach me how to die”. At the end of the song, the siren shuts off, indicating that the patient has indeed died. “D.O.A.” was banned by many radio stations upon its release. And it’s easy to understand “D.O.A.” not getting much airplay on Top 40 radio – compared to some of the popular music of the day, “D.O.A.” would have sounded like the musical equivalent of fingernails running across a chalkboard. Yet the very attributes that caused radio stations to turn their back on the song caused many people to embrace the song. It’s cynical treatment of death made it popular with rock fans jaded by the war in Vietnam; Bloodrock became popular amongst soldiers in Vietnam as well.
“Children’s Heritage” is a straightforward blues-rock number; if the listener didn’t know any better, he might think that he was listening to Steppenwolf or Grand Funk Railroad. The lyrical content is somewhat more interesting than the typical arena rock song, however: Rutledge sums up the generation gap pretty well when he kicks off the song with “I like music; it makes me feel so good/And none of my children are gonna like it like they should/Some don’t like it yes it’s true/They can’t do what they wanna do”. This is a raucous song that gives the impression that Bloodrock is an unstoppable musical juggernaut. The song alternates between sections in which the Bloodrock wall of sound thunders forth, and sections in which their sound is somewhat restrained, in which the bass guitar, keyboard and drums are the only instruments heard. Bloodrock indeed presents the picture of an incredibly tight band, at least on this track. “Children’s Heritage” is definitely worth a listen.
The single (catalog #: 3009) was issued by Capitol Records in early 1971. It featured an orange and yellow label (gone was the swirl featured on Capitol’s 1960’s single releases); there are concentric yellow and orange bands (with the yellow band being closer to the center). Instead of featuring the old-style Capitol logo with the Capitol building, we get a rather generic-looking logo (black with concentric circles) on the left side. The track listing is across the top and the artist name is across the bottom. Publishing information and the catalog number is on the right. Bloodrock would never match the commercial success of “D.O.A.”, although their third album, the aptly-titlted “Bloodrock 3” (1971), briefly became Capitol’s fastest-selling album. This was followed by “Bloodrock U.S.A.” (1972), the first album to be produced by the band without Terry Knight. By now, the band was in a commercial decline, and Capitol released “Bloodrock Live” (1972), featuring a live version of “D.O.A.” After the release of “Bloodrock U.S.A.”, Jim Rutledge and Lee Pickens left the band, and Rutledge was replaced by Warren Ham. Bloodrock changed musical directions, becoming more of a progressive rock band. They would release two studio albums during the Ham era: “Passage” (1972) and “Whirlwind Tongues” (1974). They had recorded a third album, “Unspoken Words”, in mid-1974, but the band broke up before it was released. The band remained inactive for the next 25 years. In 1999, three of the six original members reunited for a fan convention. Rutledge, Pickens, Grundy and Taylor (joined by Chris Taylor, in place of Rick Cobb, on drums) reunited in on March 12, 2005, for a benefit concert for Stevie Hill, who has leukemia. Nick Taylor died on March 14, 2010.
"The Boys Are Back in Town" 45 RPM single with sleeve
Today’s review covers the Irish hard rock band Thin Lizzy. Not only were they a great band, but Lynott was not your typical arena rock band front man; his songwriting drew upon rather eclectic influences, including the entire Irish literary tradition, as well as contemporary artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Bruce Springsteen. Formed in Dublin, Ireland in late 1969, the band originally consisted of Phil Lynott (vocals, bass guitar), Eric Bell (guitar), Eric Wrixon (electric organ), and Brian Downey (drums). Eric Wrixon, of course, was also a founding member of Them (the one whose parents wouldn’t sign the recording contract and who was replaced). Wrixon was gone by early 1970, and the group relocated to London in 1971. Thin Lizzy signed a recording contract with Decca Records, and in 1973, they had their first major hit, “Whiskey in the Jar”. The band initially had problems matching the success of “Whiskey in the Jar”, and Bell left the group in 1974.Gary Moore briefly replaced Bell while the rest of the group auditioned replacements; eventually they recruited a pair of guitarists, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. Their 1975 album “Fighting” contained some memorable songs, such as “Wild One” and a cover version of Bob Seger’s “Rosalie”. But their real breakthorugh would come in 1976 with the release of “Jailbreak”, and that happens to be the LP that produced today’s featured single: “The Boys Are Back in Town” b/w “Jailbreak”.
“The Boys Are Back in Town” supposedly began life as “G.I. Joe Is Back in Town”, as Phil Lynott originally intended to write a song about a soldier returning to the U.S. after the Vietnam War. The main melodic riff was apparently based on the early Bruce Springsteen song “Kitty’s Back” (from “The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle”). Eventually, the song was transformed into a song about a bunch of rowdy friends going out and having a good time. The song opens with three chords strummed on a guitar (Lynott’s bass guitar is interspersed between the first and second chords). About 1 minute into the song, we get the first appearance of the second lead guitar; the twin lead guitar attack of Gorham and Robertson was a key element of the Thin Lizzy sound starting with the “Fighting” LP. But arguably it is on “The Boys Are Back in Town” that they really made the interplay between their guitars work in a big way. And what can be said of Phil Lynott’s lyrics? Once again, he shows a knack for making the common man seem sublime: they’re not just local toughs hanging out, they’re hanging out at Dino’s Bar and Grill, picking up chicks and driving the old men crazy, “[a]nd if the boys want to fight, you’d better let them.” Lynott’s voice is part of the appeal of the track, his light touch is a perfect counterpoint for the brutality of the take-no-prisoners twin lead guitar attack, and Lynott could croon with the best of them. “The Boys Are Back in Town” was destined to become one of Thin Lizzy’s signature tunes and a major international hit, reaching number 1 in Ireland, number 8 in the U.K., and number 12 in the U.S.
"The Boys Are Back in Town" single with alternate blue label
“Jailbreak” is such a good album that virtually any song off the album that had been selected as a B-side would have been a great choice, but as it turns out, the B-side is the title track itself. “Jailbreak” also happens to be another of the band’s signature tunes. It starts off with a single chord, followed by what one critic referred to as a “wonderfully sparse three chord riff”. Once again, Gorham and Robertson build a twin lead guitar attack that conveys the drama of the jailbreak referenced in the song title. They use this to build tension in the music, dancing on the edge of losing restraint, but pulling back, until the final jailbreak signaled by the “Breakout!” cry of Lynott and the subsequent siren-filled middle section, which gives way to the song’s ending, in which the song pulls back from the fury of the midsection. Downey’s drumming deserves some acclaim here, as it really fills out the sound and gives the rhythm section some muscle. “Jailbreak” was not the hit that “The Boys Are Back in Town” had been: released as the second single a few months later, it only reached number 31 on the U.K. charts and did not chart in the U.S., but it’s still a great song and arguably one that is more representative of the classic, hard-driving Thin Lizzy sound than “Boys” is. It was also a great vehicle for the band in live performances, and the band rarely held this one back for encores: rather, they would use it early on in the show to get the crowd going.
This single (catalog #: 73786) was not issued with a picture sleeve, but it did come with a company sleeve for Philips/Mercury/Vertigo Records. The label is the typical Mercury Records label from this period, with the Mercury logo across the top, the song title across the bottom, superimposed over a background of the Chicago skyline.
"September Gurls" b/w "Mod Lang" 45 RPM single
Memphis musician Chris Bell was involved in two separate projects in the late 1960s: Icewater and Rock City. These groups involved a revolving set of musicians; among those involved in them were drummer Jody Stephens and bass guitarist Andy Hummel. By the early 1970s, Bell, Stephens and Hummel formed the lineup for Icewater. Around this time, Bell invited Alex Chilton, who had been the lead vocalist in the Box Tops before their break-up in 1970, to join Icewater. He accepted, and the quartet was re-christened Big Star (after the grocery store chain). The band was signed to Ardent Records, and soon began work on their debut album. Their first album, “#1 Record”, was released in April 1972. Although the album received favorable reviews from several publications, Stax Records, Ardent’s distributor, couldn’t get the album into many record stores; the situation did not change when Columbia became distributors for Stax’s entire back catalog, and Columbia even had existing copies of “#1 Record” pulled from record store shelves. Without adequate distribution, “#1 Record” became a commercial flop. Disappointed with the failure of the album and at odds with his band mates, Bell quit the band towards the end of 1972. For a brief time, Big Star was defunct, but a few months later, the band reformed as a trio with Chilton, Stephens and Hummel. This lineup recorded “Radio City” (1974), which spawned two singles, the second of which was “September Gurls” b/w “Mod Lang”. This is today’s featured single.
“September Gurls” initially evokes comparisons to jangle pop, and it could be classified as such. At the same time, it’s comparable to the melodic guitar pop of The Beatles, and the angst-ridden energy of the early Who. It’s an interesting amalgam of these influences, and a great pop song. The lyrics don’t rival the obliqueness of a Dylan or a Leonard Cohen, but not every great song does: “September gurls do so much/I was your butch and you were touched/I loved you well never mind/I’ve been crying all the time”. The result is an insouciant tone and an angst that was not lost on 1980s bands like The Replacements as well as other bands who cited Big Star as an influence. Although the song clocks in at a mere 2 minutes and 49 seconds, we get a catchy instrumental break about halfway through the song, concluded by a nice, staccato drum beat. Although many consider this song a classic, the fact remains that few people are aware of it, a result of Stax’s chronic distribution problems which resulted in the failure of Big Star’s commercial aspirations. This is not to say, however, that they did not influence other artists; their influence can be discerned, if from nothing else, from the number of bands that have covered “September Gurls” (The Bangles, covered it on their breakthrough album “Different Light”, as well as The Searchers and Cheap Trick). “September Gurls” is definitely on of the band’s most enduring songs.
The B-side, “Mod Lang” may not be the classic that “September Gurls” is, but still has a lot working in it’s favor. We have the similar, barely coherent, almost random lyrics: “I can’t be satisfied/What you want me to do/And so I moan/Had to leave my home”. We have a similar jangle pop feel, even the same cowbell which punctuates the A-side. Although the song doesn’t reach the stature of “September Gurls”, when the song abruptly ends after about 2 and a half minutes, it left me hungry for more, a feeling I did not have after listening to the A-side. One of the side effects of good albums is that virtually any two songs from the album would make a good single. “September Gurls” was especially good and thus was ideal material for a single, but for a B-side, “Mod Lang” is pretty good and up to Big Star’s high standards.
The single (catalog #: ADA-2912) was released on Stax subsidiary Ardent Records in May 1974. The label (shown here), with what appears to be an azimuthal projection map of the world, may or may not have reflected the global aspirations of the record company. Whether or not this was the case, Stax’s poor distribution seemed to ensure that any record released by the label was not likely to become a hit. This was the case with Big Star: sales of “Radio City” were minimal (though much greater than the first album, with sales of 20,000 copies, the improvement suggesting what might have been achieved with good distribution). Andy Hummel left the band after the release of “Radio City”, and the two remaining members, Chilton and Stephens, entered the studios to record another album, this time accompanied by what Big Star biographer Bruce Eaton described as “a large and revolving cast of Memphis musicians”. The group broke up in late 1974, and the resulting album, “Third/Sister Lovers” was not even released until 1978, but it became a cult classic, although, as with the previous Big Star releases, did little commercially. Original guitarist Chris Bell died in a car accident in 1978. Big Star reformed in 1993 when guitarist Jon Auer and bassist Ken Stringfellow joined Chilton and Stephens. Although initially the band did not release a studio album of new material (instead, two live albums were released in the early 1990s, one being a recording of the first performance of the reunited band at the University of Missouri spring music festival in April 1993), Big Star released “In Space” in 2005 on the Rykodisc label. Alex Chilton died on March 17, 2010 after being admitted to a hospital three days earlier with heart problems. Andy Hummel died of cancer on July 19, 2010, leaving Jody Stephens as the only surviving original member.