Friday, September 30, 2016

Izzy Stradlin: A Key Cog Missing From Guns N' Roses Reunion

With prominent and recognizable members like W. Axl Rose and Slash at the forefront of Guns N' Roses, it's easy to forget about Izzy Stradlin.

And, as their "reunion" tour resumes Oct. 16 in Peru, some fans of the band may not know how much of a key member the guitarist/vocalist was during his time in the band's heyday (1985-1991).

Not only was Stradlin a founding member, he was a main songwriter who brought a laid-back, Keith Richards-like stage presence to the group that a hired hand like touring guitarist Richard Fortus can't really replace.

Stradlin and Rose both grew up in Lafayette, Ind., and were buddies in high school, playing in bands before moving to Los Angeles and forming Hollywood Rose in 1983. They wrote a some songs (including "Anything Goes" and "Reckless Life") in that band which ended up as Gun N' Roses tracks.

No doubt Stradlin's early friendship with Rose was a key component to the band and the band's chemistry, certainly during the booze and drug-filled Appetite For Destruction days.

And some of the best songs on the Appetite album were largely thanks to Stradlin including "Sweet Child O' Mine", "Mr. Brownstone" and "Paradise City", and then "Patience" from the Lies album.

Not to mention his major input on the Use Your Illusion records where he wrote "Double Talkin' Jive" and "Pretty Tied Up", co-wrote on "Right Next Door To Hell", "Dust N' Bones", "Don't Cry", "14 Years" and "You Could Be Mine". Those are some of the best songs on those records, and it's Stradlin handling lead vocals on "14 Years"(a song about his relationship with Rose), "Dust N' Bones" and "You Ain't The First" and "Double Talkin' Jive".

Stradlin More Than Just A Hired Sideman

Given his contributions to the band (far more in terms of songwriting than bassist Duff McKagan), Stradlin isn't some fill-in or studio muscician, and he was understandably miffed when he wasn't offered equal pay to take part in the "reunion", where the band was rumoured to be asking for $3 million per show (reports on say they're getting around $2.75 million).

You've gotta give Stradlin credit for sticking to his guns and not settling for a lesser payday than Rose and Slash are getting from the tour.

Now, Stradlin has done some gigs with the Guns N' Roses since he quit in 1991 (sober and frustrated with Rose's chronic lateness for shows and the Guns N' Roses touring circus). He played with them for five shows in 1993, a few gigs in 2006, plus several shows as recently as 2012. Unlike former drummer Steven "Popcorn" Adler, (fired in 1990) who has played a few times on the latest tour, Stradlin hasn't played a single show.

For the fans who haven't seen Guns N Roses live, this tour is the closest they've come to seeing the original lineup (the real Guns N Roses), but it's not the same as seeing the original lineup with Izzy Stradlin there.

"14 Years" live in 1991 - Feat. Stradlin Vocals

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Five Best Metallica Songs Co-Written by Cliff Burton

Revered and influential Metallica bassist Cliff Burton died 30 years ago today during the Master of Puppets Tour in Sweden. He was 24 years old. Burton was killed when Metallica's tour bus skidded off the road and flipped over into a ditch. He was thrown out the window and the bus landed on him. Burton helped write many of the great tracks from Metallica's first three albums. Here are five of the best songs Burton co-wrote before his untimely death in 1986 (not including his (Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth".

"Creeping Death" from Ride the Lightning

One of Metallica's best tracks, period, "Creeping Death" got it's title from Burton who coined the term as the band watched The Ten Commandments movie. There's a part where a plague wipes out every Egyptian first-born child, and Burton is noted as saying "Whoa, it's like creeping death." From there the band wrote a song about the Egyptian plagues and titled it "Creeping Death". Burton's bass playing on the track is somewhat down in the overall mix, but you can pick it up pretty well in the middle "Die, Die, Die" section, thundering along.

"The Call of Ktulu" from Ride the Lightning

One of the greatest metal instrumentals, "The Call of Ktulu" is a nearly nine-minute masterpiece of mood and melody, with Burton's playing featuring prominently throughout the track. Whether it's the bass squeals throughout, the subtle intro notes or his using the pedal wah to create unique bass runs, Burton makes Ktulu an amazing piece of music that perfectly captures the mood of H.P. Lovecraft's mythical figure Cthulhu rising from the depths of the underground city in the short story "The Call of Cthulhu".

"For Whom The Bell Tolls" from Ride The Lightning

Another track from Metallica's sophomore album, "For Whom the Bell Tolls" features Burton playing a nice lead part to open the song and, from there, his bass line - with its amazing sounding tone - carries the track as it marches into battle. The video shot at Day on the Green in Oakland, back in 1985 (and shown on the Cliff 'Em All video) is probably the best pro-shot performance of Burton live with Metallica. He takes "For Whom the Bell Tolls" to a new level with that intro solo.

"Orion" from Master of Puppets

One of Metallica's more progressive pieces at the time, "Orion" is a chugging, spacey instrumental prominently featuring Burton's amazing bass playing, particularly the two bass solos he plays. The first, a section of repeated notes, comes in at 1:42 and goes through until 2:13. There's a melodic bass interlude in the middle of the track, followed by a Kirk Hammett solo, then Burton really goes to work at at 6:36 on his second solo. As an ode to Burton, James Hetfield has the bass notes from the middle section of "Orion" tattooed onto his left arm, along with Cliff's name over top of it.

"Damage Inc." from Master of Puppets

The closing track on the Puppets album, "Damage Inc." sees Burton creating the build-up intro with bass swells and harmonies, laid out over what he said in an interview with Rock Hard magazine was "eight or 12 tracks of bass, a lot of harmonies and volume swells effects and stuff." It's a total thrash monster of a track, propelled by Burton and drummer Lars Ulrich. It's the last full song recorded on an album with Burton's playing.

Check out Cliff Burton's influence on Ride the Lightning and how helped shape the songs on that album

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Best Rolling Stones Songs Mick Taylor Helped Write

Guitarist Mick Taylor's time in the Rolling Stones was brief, but he helped them create a handful of their best songs from 1969-1974, several of which he never got writing credit on, despite basically co-writing the tracks. The autocratic nature of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards didn't allow for Taylor to get his due in terms of the writing. In fact, he is only properly credited as a co-writer on one song, the heavy-bluesy "Ventilator Blues" off Exile on Main St. during his illustrious five-year tenure with the Stones. As he told the Daily Mail in 2009: "‘I believed I’d contributed enough. Let’s put it this way – without my contribution those songs would not have existed. There’s not many but enough, things like "Sway" and "Moonlight Mile" on Sticky Fingers and a couple of others. Here are five of the best songs Taylor co-wrote with the Rolling Stones:

"Winter" from Goat's Head Soup

Credited as a Jagger/Richard's penned-track, Richards doesn't even play on the recording and was not around when it was recorded at Dynamic Sound Studio in Kingston, Jamaica. One of three ballads on the Goat's Head Soup album, "Winter" is better than the rest. Taylor's licks throughout the verses are amazing, and the solo is simply stunning in the feel it has. Below is a version Taylor recorded (with Carla Olson) with plenty of extra fretboard virtuosity:

"Moonlight Mile" from Sticky Fingers

Another phenomenal ballad, again with a cold feel to it like "Winter", "Moonlight Mile" was written by Jagger and Taylor at Jagger's Stargroves estate during another of Richards' absences. The story goes that Taylor was promised he'd get credit on the song, but never did as Jagger and Richards took the credit. Taylor's playing is suitably subdued to echo the vibe of the song and it was his idea to add the string section to the track. As an aside, the song was the result of an all-night writing session and a "Moonlight Mile" is taking a large amount of cocaine after a long day's work.

"Sway" from Sticky Fingers

Arguably one of the best songs on Sticky Fingers, the main contributor on "Sway" was Jagger, but it was composed with Taylor present and one would reasonably assume some input from him as well. Jagger came up with the main riff (first grunge riff ever?), while Taylor filled in the blanks with some stellar licks. Again, Richards does not play on the track (he added some sweet backing vocals) and gets writing credit. Taylor's outro solo is amazing. Check out the stunning version below with Carla Olson

"Till the Next Goodbye" from It's Only Rock 'n Roll

This is a song Taylor has said, in interviews, he co-wrote with Jagger. Again, he was promised writing credits, but, of course, received none. It's a decent song, and one Richards actually plays on. It's the final track Taylor would record as a member of the Rolling Stones.

"Time Waits for No One" from It's Only Rock 'n Roll

Taylor also said publicly he co-wrote "Time Waits for No One" with Jagger. You know the story by now and it's the lack of credit he received (among other things) that led to Taylor resigning from the band in 1974. The solo to end the song is yet another sparkling Taylor highlight as the rest of the band is just jamming away. The metronome at the end signalled Taylor's time in the band was quickly ending.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How AC/DC's Bon Scott Got His Distinctive Voice

While former AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott left the world all too soon in 1980, he left AC/DC fans a musical legacy in recordings with the Australian hard rockers.

And his former wife believes his distinctive vocals are the result of a motorcycle crash in 1974.

Scott's ex-wife, Irene Thornton, noted in her book Bon Scott, his voice changed after the accident, where he suffered a neck injury, broken collarbone and a cut throat.

"Well I did feel that after he had the neck injury and broken collarbone and a cut in his throat, his voice didn’t sound the same," Irene said in the book. "He didn’t seem to be able to do the same thing - he was doing a lot of melodic singing before, had a beautiful tone in his voice, but I don’t think that (tone) was the voice he ended up with or that what he had (before) was the AC/DC voice everyone knows."

Scott was drunk on that night in May in the suburbs of Adelaide and just prior to the crash had been in a huge fight with bandmates from the Mount Lofty Rangers. The accident left him in a coma for three days and another 18 long days in hospital.

It was partly a blessing in disguise, that crash, as he was no longer a member of the Rangers and shortly thereafter joined Angus and Malcolm Young in AC/DC.

Thornton may be right that the motorcyle accident changed his voice, perhaps giving it that gravelly edge AC/DC fans instantly recognize.

Listening to the following clip from Mount Lofty Rangers' "Round and Round and Round", Scott still has that nasal sound to his voice, but it's not as gravelly.

Then when you take a track from AC/DC's amazing Powerage album, the production is way better and Scott's voice has a different tone to it:

Fans can ultimately decide for themselves if his voice is that much different.

Either way, Scott still had one of the best hard rock voices. Ever.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Five Greatest Tony Iommi Riffs in Black Sabbath Songs

There's not one guitarist who has had more influence on heavy metal than Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi. Iommi, now 65, is the godfather of heavy metal as we know it today, impacting several generations of bands from Judas Priest to Metallica to Soundgarden to Slipknot. And it's his killer riffs (his solos are stellar as well) that are Iommi's trademark as he's come up with some of the heaviest and intense chord progressions. While there are so many outstanding riffs within the Black Sabbath catalogue, here are five of Iommi's greatest riffs.

"Into the Void" on 1971's Master of Reality

"Into the Void" at first might seem not to belong among the greatest Iommi riffs ever, but it's an example of a hypnotic verse riff that grinds like no other that had come before it. It's a perfect example of a riff that opened the door for other guitarist to emulate down the road and the riffs foreshadows the birth of doom and stoner metal. That doomy Iommi sound comes from his Gibson SG, old Laney amp and Rangemaster Treble Booster. Interestingly, Metallica's James Hetfield lists "Into the Void" as his all-time fave Sabbath track.

"Black Sabbath" from 1970's Black Sabbath

The epitome of the evil chord progression, the riff for "Black Sabbath" prominently uses the devil's interval with the flatted fifth of a power chord. The sound harkens to satanic connotations and musicians in times of old were burned at the stake for using it. It's the perfect signature riff for Sabbath to gain their false satanic label, which actually helped them garner more recognition. The riff haunts your brain and is a staple in modern metal.

"Snowblind" from 1972's Vol. IV

One of the best songs ever from Sabbath, the verse riff on "Snowblind" is an Iommi masterpiece with the first five power chords absolutely grinding along and, with the accompanying hard-hitting drum and bass accents, there is an added drama and tension, essentially driving home the hyped-up, altered reality of cocaine. Black Sabath thanks the "Coke Cola" on the album, and so do us fans if it inspired Iommi to create the "Snowblind" riff. As as aside, the band wanted to call the album Snowblind, but their record label wouldn't allow it.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973)

One of Black Sabbath's signature songs, the track is propelled by Iommi's monstrous riff, which is another grinder that moves power chords down and then up again for that ear-pulverizing motion and power. The riff is even more amazing given the context that when Iommi wrote it, he was struggling to write anything. He thought the well had run dry, but then boom, he comes up with this timeless classic.

The Mob Rules from Mob Rules (1981)

This riff is one of those Iommi masterpieces that's like a runaway train of pure heaviness. The explosive riff combines some single notes and bending that gives a high-octane hint of blues to the sludge-fest. Sometimes it seems that the "Mob Rules" is a bit of a forgotten Sabbath album, but the title track features some of Iommi's finest work.

- Thanks to MMO for the valuable input.

Learn how a massive riff saved Black Sabbath in 1973

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Five of the Greatest Metal Concerts Recorded on Video

There's nothing like watching a great band rocking at their peak on a night when they really have their proverbial shit together. These five videos are among the best hard rock/heavy metal concerts ever recorded live. Not necessarily the best ever, but certainly among them.

Guns N Roses live at the Ritz in 1988

This amazing gig was recorded on the second leg of their North American tour at the Ritz in New York on Feb. 2, 1988 for MTV. The pro-shot video captures the Gunners at their best, well before they became the world's biggest rock band. The punky rawness and intensity are there as Slash, Axl, Duff, Izzy and Steven Adler give 'er on stage. It's a great look at the band in such a small setting.

Judas Priest Live Vengeance Tour in Memphis (1982)

Judas Priest were peaking when they released Screaming for Vengeance in 1982 and the concert footage filmed in Memphis, Tenn. shows how good they sounded live. Sadly, there used to be the full concert shown on one Youtube video, but Sony has monetized it and broken it down song by song (17 tracks in all). But it's still worth watching as the band absolutely kicks ass. There's hardly a mistake throughout and Priest vocalist Rob Halford doesn't miss a note in this show. It's a must see for Priest and classic metal fans. "Riding on the Wind" is stellar, as is "Victim of Changes".

Iron Maiden Live After Death from 1985

Released as video along with a double album of the same name, Live After Death captures Iron Maiden on their first ever released pro-shot video. The video was shot during the World Slavery Tour in 1985 in Long Beach, Calif. At that time, Iron Maiden was the biggest metal band in the world and it features their classic lineup in fine form. Again, there is no single youtube video of the entire show, but all songs from the full video can be found.

Van Halen Live Without a Net from 1986

Recorded on the 5150 tour in 1986 at New Haven, Conn., Live Without a Net captured the mighty Van Halen on its first tour without David Lee Roth. The video shows Sammy Hagar - their newly minted vocalist at the time - and Eddie Van Halen getting along famously, while the band is simply kicking it - just watch "5150".

Alice in Chains live at the Moore in 1990

This is one of the few pro-shot Alice in Chains shows with Layne Staley and was recorded in December, 1990 at the Moore in Seattle, before the band would begin a year on the road touring to support the Facelift album. The video captures a night where Staley is dialled in, his voice simply booming as the band cranks out material from Facelift. This was Alice in Chains before Staley and bassist Mike Starr became addicted to heroin. The sheer power they had live is all right there on tape.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Making "Killers": How Iron Maiden Got the "Maiden Sound"

Most Iron Maiden fans rave about the Killers album, while others think it's overrated. But everyone agrees it's the record that gave birth to Iron Maiden's unique sound.

Released on Feb. 2, 1981, Killers featured a much bigger, better sound than Maiden's self-titled debut album. And that is thanks to Maiden uber producer Martin Birch, whom the band first believed was too big to work with them.

Prior to recording their 1980 debut, Maiden bassist and leader Steve Harris originally wanted Birch to produce the record, but didn't think someone of Birch's stature would want to work with the band at the time, when hardly anyone knew who they were. "We all talked about him, but we thought, like, 'We’re not worthy'," recalled Harris.

Birch had just been busy in 1979 working on Black Sabbath's massive Heaven and Hell album, and he'd also worked with Deep Purple, Rainbow and Wishbone Ash, so it's no wonder Harris thought he was out of their league.

But Birch was certainly up for the task. He met Harris, likely in June 1980, and told him he would have loved to have worked on Maiden's debut album, which ended up being sloppily produced by Will Malone. From there, the rest is history and Birch would hone Iron Maiden into one of the greatest metal bands of all-time, working on every album through 1992's Fear of the Dark.

Killers Essentially Recorded Live in Studio

The first thing Birch - who was dubbed Martin 'Headmaster' Birch on the Killer's liner notes (one of many nicknames the band bestowed upon him) - did was set up mics in one room and get the band to play live. He told the band to play the songs as if they were playing a concert, and they'd work on overdubs and different takes from there. They recorded Killers in just three months (November 1980 - January 1981) at Battery Studios in London.

Guitarist Adrian Smith, who had just joined the band after they'd booted Dennis Stratton, recalls how Birch was quite the taskmaster in the studio - fair but firm: "I’d never worked with a producer who was so totally involved in the whole process. He was a good laugh, but when we were working, he cracked the whip," said Smith.

What Birch did on Killers was help create the unique sound fans instantly recognize as Iron Maiden. There's a dark tone edged into the overall sound, with a low end, fat drum sound, guitars that are perfectly slotted in the mix, dominant, but not over-the-top bass and Paul Di'Anno's vocals coming through at just the right level. A key to the Maiden sound was how every element of every instrument sound stood out. There was nothing buried in the mix.

Most of the songs were around from when the band had gone into the studio to do their first record, and every track, save for "Killers" (co-written with vocalist Paul Di'Anno) was penned by Harris. And the only two songs that were new were "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "Prodigal Son", a ballad.

Part of the unique Maiden sound comes on "Murders in the Rue Morgue", where Harris helps create the dark mood in the intro by playing bass harmonics.

There are two instrumentals on the album, the opener "The Ides of March" and the phenomenal "Genghis Khan", which features an amazing beat from drummer Clive Burr and some seriously heavy, thrashing guitar riffs.

"Wrathchild" had originally been recorded on the Metal for Mutha's compilation, released a year before Killers. The version that appears on Killers shows how much Maiden had matured in just a year. Burr's drumming in particular is much more smooth, while the overall sound difference is night and day.

While most rock critics at the time gave Killers unfavourable reviews, it has some of their best songs: "Drifter" and "Purgatory" among them. And Harris still looks back on the album with great reverence, saying "I loved The Number Of The Beast, but I didn’t think it was our best album at the time, and I still don’t."

Killers Artwork Cements Eddie in Maiden Lore

Along with the music, Killers really brought the artwork (see above) of Derek Riggs and Maiden's mascot, Eddie, to the forefront with that instantly recognizable album cover.

It depicts a late night scene in East London near a sex shop where Eddie is gleefully clutching a hatchet dripping blood, while his victim clutches hopelessly in vain to his T-shirt while assorted peeping toms peer down at the scene from behind drawn curtains. It’s become one of heavy metal’s most iconic cover images.

The cover also helps get the listener into the mindset of the album's dark tone and lyrics.

Check out how Iron Maiden made and recorded their amazing Piece of Mind album

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Izzy Stradlin Not Offered Equal Pay for Guns N Roses Reunion Tour

There had been rumblings in the rock world as to why former Guns N Roses rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin isn't part of the ongoing reunion tour.

Those rumblings centred around money and earlier today, Stradlin basically confirmed on Twitter he wasn't given his fair share of cash to take part and share the stage with Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan as part of the original band (sans drummer Steven Adler) on the "Not In This Lifetime Tour".

Now Izzy's tweet isn't directed at anybody, but it comes hot on the heels of Axl Rose explaining why his former song-writing buddy isn't on tour. Below is Stradlin's tweet, just his fourth ever. It's pretty clear who the "they" refers to.

Yeah, in true Stradlin fashion he says "moving right along."

His words seem to be responding to Rose, who spoke to a Brazilian TV station ahead of the band’s fall run of South American gigs — though Rose proclaimed not to know much more about Stradlin’s thoughts than anyone else.

I don’t really know what to say about Izzy," said Rose. "It’s like you could have a conversation and think it’s one way, and the next day it’s another way. And I’m not trying to take any shots at Izzy. It’s just his thing is kind of his thing, whatever that is."

Sounds like Izzy's thing is getting paid equally compared with the rest of the band. He may not be as recognizable as Slash or Rose, even McKagan, but make no mistake, Stradlin was an integral cog and key songwriter on Guns' Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusions albums, as well as the Lies record.

It's a similar situation to that of Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward, who wasn't offered a fair share of the revenue to partake in the legendary band's The End tour, so he declined to participate.

Best Selling Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Albums of All Time

When it come to worldwide album sales, these are the hard rock and heavy metal heavyweights with the best-selling records. The numbers aren't exact as there's no body or association that tallies sales from around the world (the RIAA - Record Institution of America does only U.S. sales), but many sources agree on the following numbers for the most hard rock albums ever sold. As an aside, black is a good cover colour to go with if you want to sell tons of albums.

1. Back in Black - AC/DC (50+ million albums sold)

Released on July 25, 1980, Back in Black has attained a legendary status among AC/DC fans and rock fans in general. Produced by hard rock genius Mutt Lange, Back in Black was a tribute to former singer Bon Scott with it's all-black cover and dark subject matter like "Hells Bells" and the title track. The album brought the Australian rockers to the top of the rock and roll world with new vocalist Brian Johnson stepping in nicely for Scott. It's also the No. 2 selling album of all-time behind Michael Jackson's Thriller.

2. IV - Led Zeppelin (37+ million)

Led Zeppelin IV didn't have a title and no band name on the cover, and so became known as "Led Zeppelin IV". Released on Nov. 8, 1971 it was unnamed to avoid being put into any particular niche by the the media, who had been harsh on Zeppelin album reviews in the past. Backed by the epic "Stairway to Heaven", and classics like "Black Dog", "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Rock and Roll", IV is regarded by many as one of the greatest rock records of all-time and the sales certainly back that up.

3. Metallica - Metallica (30+ million)

When the "Black Album" came out on Aug. 12, 1991, many "original" Metallica fans quickly criticized the band for "selling out", but the album sure did sell and sell and sell. With Bob Rock at the production helm, the band wanted a bigger, leaner sound and they got it from the uber producer. With ample radio airplay for "Enter Sandman", mainstream music fans quickly picked up on Metallica and the band took off into the stratosphere to become one of the greatest bands of all time. "The Black Album" went to No. 1 in 10 countries - pretty amazing for a band that previously had no radio airplay and only one video. It's the heaviest record on this list.

4. Appetite for Destruction - Guns N' Roses (29-30 million)

When Guns N Roses released Appetite for Destruction in July 1987, nobody really noticed (it went to No. 182 initially) save for a few metal fans who saw the band and heard the music as a welcome change from the endless glam/hair metal shlock coming out at the time. At first only bolstered by the video for "Welcome to the Jungle", the gunners kept touring, slowing building a fan base, and when "Sweet Child O' Mine hit the radio in 1988, the album took off and went to No. 1 a year after its release.

Nevermind - Nirvana (28-30 million)

Nirvana took the rock world by storm in September 1991 with the release of their second album, Nevermind, which took off thanks to the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" single. But nobody knew how huge Nevermind was going to be -not the band, and not even Nirvana's label, Geffen, which anticipated sales of about 250,000 total. The album hit No. 1 in January, 1992, much to the chagrin of singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, who didn't really want to become a famous rock star. The impact of the record spawned the grunge phenomenon and brought alternative rock to the forefront of the music industry.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Why Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" is one of the Greatest Records of All Time

While Fleetwood Mac's Rumours album is considered to be one of the greatest rock records of all time, what makes it transcend into that musical stratosphere is the real emotion inherent behind the amazing harmonies and sound within the songs.
The emotional turmoil the members of the group were going through as they began recording Rumours in early 1976 was the perfect catalyst to create some of the most amazing songs that still stand out nearly 40 years later.
It's been well documented how singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham ended their relationship of several years right before heading into the Record Plant in Sausalito, Ca. to record the album. At the same time, keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie and bass player John McVie had just divorced after nearly eight years of marriage. Drummer Mick Fleetwood also ended his marriage to his then-wife, Jenny.
Their feelings towards each other back then created the perfect charge in the songwriting and lyrics that emerged during recording, which lasted a year until Rumours was finally released in 1977, quickly going No. 1 on the Billboard charts. To date it has sold more than 40 million copies, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time.

The Songs Tell the Story in Rumours

Stevie Nicks in studio with Fleetwood & Buckingham

The album's finished title (the working title was Yesterday's Gone) came from John McVie, who felt the band was writing diary entries about each other in the songs. And they were.
The acrimony of Buckingham and Nicks ending their relationship was the catalyst for Buckingham to write "Go Your Own Way" which deals with his feelings about Nicks at the time. It's one of the best songs Fleetwood Mac has ever laid down. Naturally Nicks felt the lyrics were "angry, nasty and extremely disrespectful". In fact, she tried to get him to change the lyrics "Packing up, shacking up is all you wanna do" but he wouldn't. Also, listen to the guitar solo for Buckingham's raw emotion.
And then, one song that didn't make the original Rumours release was the Nicks-penned "Silver Springs", a tale of her feelings about Buckingham. While being a standout track, it didn't make the record because there wasn't enough room, but Fleetwood Mac first released it - appropriately - as a B-side to the "Go Your Own Way" single. In "Silver Springs" the magic comes from Nicks belting out how she'll "follow you down till the sound of my voice will haunt you. You'll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you." You can see that in concert, every time she looks over to her left and sings to Buckingham. She's bitter and angry, with her heart on her sleeve in that song. It's so poignant, there's a video of Fleetwood Mac playing it live in 1997, and Nicks clearly breaks down, hugging Buckingham at the end of the song.
It's Christine McVie, a great songwriter in her own right, who brings the happy, optimistic light to the Rumours album with her songs "Don't Stop", "You Make Loving Fun" and "Songbird".
Interestingly, the only track where every band member gets writing credit is "The Chain", which paradoxically has the band writing "Chain keep us together....". So there's also a notion of holding it together in the midst of all the relationship and emotional turmoil. It was also the last recorded track on the album and stands today as the only song the classic Fleetwood Mac lineup wrote together.

Making Rumours: Working on Songs

Rumours era Fleetwood Mac

Every track on the album was written in the studio, with band members coming and going at all hours. While McVie and Nicks stayed in two condos in town by the harbour, John McVie, Buckingham and Fleetwood were at the studio apartments, so one of them was always present during recording. Christine McVie recalls how "The sessions were like a cocktail party every night—people everywhere." But the band members did not socialize outside of the studio together, so the drinks and drugs were the tonic to help them function around each other when they were writing songs.
Even though it took a year to create, there was never any pressure from Fleetwood Mac's Label, Warner Bros. The label gave the band free reign and as much time as they wanted to get it done because the previous album Fleetwood Mac reached No. 1 in August of 1976 (it was released in 1975), as Mac was working on Rumours. So there was no "hurry up and get it done. This is costing us a fortune" or "We need a hit single. Now." from the record company.
Rumours is the epitome rock and roll in the 1970s: from three-part harmonies to the excessive, hedonistic lifestyle, with cocaine being the go-to drug. Co-producer Ken Caillat, who worked on the album with members of Fleetwood Mac and Richard Dashut, recalls there being a "group bag" of cocaine on the studio mixing console, but adds things weren't as out of control as they would become when the band recorded Tusk, the follow up to Rumours, a couple of years later.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Producer Jimmy Miller's Impact on The Rolling Stones

Most Rolling Stones fans and aficionados agree the bands' best albums came during the period of 1968-1972.

And a big reason for the success of Beggar's Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. (the Stones' top four albums) was the work of producer Jimmy Miller.

Now, the Stones during that time were at their peak, but before Beggar's Banquet, they'd gotten away from their roots and tried to tap into the psychedelia that was so popular back then (while trying to be like the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) by releasing the brutal Their Satanic Majesties Request in December of 1967, an album they produced themselves. It was mostly a flop, and alienated their core audience of pop and blues fans.

So the Stones decided to get back to rock and blues roots when they began writing for their next record, Beggar's Banquet. They also took the advice of their recording engineer, Glyn Johns, who recommended they check out Miller's work. So Mick Jagger dropped in on a recording sessions for Traffic's first record, Mr. Fantasy, which Miller was producing, to see how he approached things and worked with the band. Jagger was impressed enough to ask Miller to help out on Banquet.

Beggar's Banquet: Miller's First with the Stones

Miller, who was born in New York and died in 1994, talked about those early days working with Mick, Keith and Co. in Richard Buskin's book Inside Tracks saying "Musically they were just coming out of their psychedelic period, which hadn't been too successful for them, and I think that was lucky for me, because I didn't insist that they change direction, but they were ready to do so, as was evident from the new songs that they played me. What they had written was rock and roll, yet I subsequently received a lot of credit for getting them back on course, so I benefitted a lot from being in the right place at the right time. There again, I think it's fair to say that being American also helped, because - as was the case with many successful British bands during that era - they had been raised on American records. As things turned out, it was not always easy - they could take a long time over certain things - but it was always a pleasure, especially when they'd eventually hit those magic moments as they inevitably seemed to do. The first of those just happened to be on the very first track that I produced for them, ‘Jumpin' Jack Flash.'"

"Jumpin' Jack Flash", was originally released as a single in 1968, and never appeared on Beggar's Banquet. Trademark elements of Miller's input are there in the song: A thumping, groovy backbeat, plenty of energy and layers of percussion (Keith Richards played the booming floor tom) - all made that much better by a remarkable guitar riff driving the song.

Interestingly, Phil Brown, one of the original engineers at Olympic Studios where the Stones were working, said "the kind of producers I worked with originally were people like Jimmy Miller who were producers who set up situations and controlled things, but they were vibe merchants. Jimmy Miller was this incredible kind of energy and drive and force. He made the session feel like you wanted to be there and make music. But he wasn't a hands-on producer. There was more of an overall control, a bit of a vibe." And Miller agreed with that statement saying he sees his view of the engineer and producer's roles: "As a producer I pretty much let the engineer get the sound together, and I might add my own suggestions if there's a particular sound I'm after or if there's something that I would like to change."

So you can see Miller was more involved in how the band sounded from listening to them verses working the mixing board. As Brown said, Miller was a "vibe merchant." That statement is echoed by noted recording engineer Andy Johns, who said Miller "was an extremely talented man. His main gift I think was his ability to get grooves."

Taken as a whole, Beggar's Banquet sees the Stones returning to their blues roots, but with a new, modern rock sound. You can hear it right away on the opening track "Sympathy for the Devil" in how crisp and clean it sounds. Many would say it's the best-produced album of 1968, and features some unorthodox techniques to capture certain sounds and feels like Miller choosing to record the basic track for "Street Fighting Man" (guitar and drums) on a cheap cassette because the song needed a rawness to capture its violent political leanings.

Let It Bleed: Miller & the Stones Hone their Craft

The Rolling Stones began working on Let It Bleed in early 1969 at Olympic Studios in London. Miller again was instrumental in helping shape the feel of the album, which was released in December 1969.

"Honkey Tonk Women", a single that came out ahead of the record in July, is a Stones classic featuring a funky cowbell played by Miller, who was first and foremost a percussionist and drummer.

On "Gimme Shelter", the opening track on Let It Bleed - one of the Stones' best songs, period - Miller helped them find an urban soul vibe featuring Merry Clayton's soaring background vocals and some prominent percussion work. On the song Miller even leaves in some studio background sounds like at the 3:02 mark, when Clayton punches out a particularly high note, someone in the studio goes "Whooo" in response to her amazing vocal prowess. Classic stuff.

Miller plays drums on "You Can't Always Get What You Want" because Charlie Watts had trouble with the quirky beat. And for an example of him helping create a great vibe, "Monkey Man" has that rocking swing made better with a nice bit of tambourine thrown in by Miller.

Certainly Let It Bleed saw the Stones and Miller honing their craft, while it was the last album Brian Jones would play on, as Mick Taylor made his Stones debut on the record playing slide on "County Honk" and guitar on "Live With Me".

Sticky Fingers takes Stones to new Heights

One of the Stones' best selling albums, Sticky Fingers (released in April, 1971) saw Miller and the band doing more work away from Olympic Studios as they used the Stones' mobile recording truck to record at Jagger's estate home, Stargroves, in the summer and autumn of 1970. Some recording was done at Olympic Studios in March and May of 1970 as well.

The sound on Sticky Fingers has more texture than the other records Miller produced. Some say the hardwood floors and high ceilings at Stargroves added a natural acoustic vibe to the album. The Stones also used two or more guitar parts on many songs, with more vocal harmonies between Jagger and Keith Richards. "Brown Sugar" is an example of all that, while Miller nicely integrates a certain crispness and rhythm into the song.

Miller helped capture the airy quality on the standout "Moonlight Mile" as if the feel of the song was mimicking the lyrics of "let the airwaves flow, let the airwaves flow." On "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", he helped the Stones refine it (listen to the original alternate version of the Sticky Fingers re-release of 2015) into the grooving song that made the original album cut.

By this time, Miller, like the Stones, was dabbling in hard drugs and living the lifestyle of the band.

Exile On Main St.: Lesser Role for Miller

For the Sticky Fingers follow up, the band took their mobile recorder to the NellcĂ´te villa in south France, which Keith Richards had rented. Unfortunately for Miller and the Stones, the sound in the basement just wasn't up to snuff. Despite trying many different microphones and mic locations, they could never get the proper sound they were seeking.

At this time, in the summer of 1971, the Stones has begun to take greater control over the recording process, leaving Miller more and more out of the picture, while ignoring a lot of his input and ideas. Engineer Andy Johns recalls that "when they first started working with him, he was a lot of help. Then after a year or two, they kind of used Jimmy for what they wanted, and learned Jimmy's tricks, and started shutting him out a bit. So by the time of Exile on Main St., they weren't listening to Jimmy very much, and it did him in. They weren't really rude, but they would ignore him a lot more than he would have liked."

Nevertheless, Exile is still a fine, fine album and arguably the best Stones record because of that feel it has, which certainly has something to do with Miller's input.

He played drums on "Happy", "Shine A Light" and on the outro for "Tumbling Dice". Miller also handled percussion on "Sweet Black Angel", "Loving Cup", "I Just Want to See His Face" and "All Down the Line", so he did leave a mark. But as the sessions wore on, and the band relocated to Los Angeles to finish the recordings and add overdubs, Andy Johns noted Miller was "burnt out on the thing". He added "moral support" to Johns who finished mixing Exile's 18 songs.

While Jagger is on the record as saying Miller "was not functioning properly", Exile has gained an almost mythical status.

There's no doubt of Jimmy Miller's impact on the Stones' sound during their recording pinnacle - that period between 1968-1972 - when they produced their four best albums. He helped take the Stones to the next level and usher in the modern-sounding rock and roll era.

Keith Richards sums it up nicely concerning Miller: "Jimmy Miller was the key in tightening the band up and refocusing us, so to speak… It was, I think, after the Satanic Majesties, we’d reached the end of our tether. We’d been working 350 days a year for, like, four years. Jimmy Miller put the lens into focus. He was a drummer, he had a great sense of sound, and he loved the band, and he brought out the best in us.”