This latest effort from Australia’s legendary hard rock group is perhaps their best work since 1980’s “Back In Black”.
Decades ago, the loss of singer Bon Scott was thought to be their end. All the years in between AC/DC have proven nobody can ever count them out.
There have been solid outings like “Black Ice” and “Rock or Bust” in recent years.
This time round they once again had a lot to prove to themselves as well as fans. Singer Brian Johnson’s future was in doubt on the last tour which was completed by Guns N Roses vocalist/lyricist Axl Rose when he had hearing issues.
This release is the best news ever for any fan of the group. It brings most of the “Back In Black” line-up back together. On the inner sleeve above the band’s famous logo are the words “This One’s For Mal”. Angus’ dearly departed brother co—founded the group. His nephew Stevie now plays in the line-up.
Indeed all 12 tracks on PWR UP are written by Malcolm and Angus Young. I was blown away by the fact that there was not a single track I did not enjoy. The first single “Shot In The Dark” is third in the sequence on side 1.
Then get ready for a scorcher of a set. Perfecting their dirty blues style for over four decades you hear Malcolm Young’s rhythm work on every song.
Brian Johnson has never been better. Achieving gritty eighties style heavy rock that reminds me of “For Those About To Rock” and “Flick of the Switch”.
Opener “Realize” has understated harmonic thrust to get the adrenaline flowing in your ears. And then in perfect sequence each song stands alone as pure electric AC/DC power.
The album is on black vinyl; Yellow vinyl if ordered from the AC/DC online store; a deluxe CD light box that illuminates their logo and plays a portion of “Shot In The Dark” is also available.
This record will make you feel great during these dark times.
Full of honest, humble, and heavy duty experience comes a memoir you will never want to put down.
Rob Halford from the “Black” Country of Birmingham, England grew up to be the front man for the heavy metal band Judas Priest.
He relates stories of family life in a post-war landscape. Nothing was ever assured. The only thing Rob knew early on was that he was not like other boys.
This is really the story of how a gay man went from being a scared, lonely, and frustrated boy into an honest, sober, and loving person.
Since this boy was to become a world famous rock star we have the memoir of the year.
Rob goes into great detail of his many misadventures with straight men. He had run-ins with police too.
He describes his identity this way following a painful breakup in the late 1970’s:
“It was five years since I’d been seeing Jason. Apart from the odd snatched, random fumble, I had been alone ever since…not just alone, but forced to suppress my longings, my needs, myself. I had to live a stifling life, or kill the band I loved.
Outside of that bedroom door, I was Rob Halford from Judas Priest, macho talisman and emergent metal god. Inside it, I was Robert John Arthur Halford, a sad, confused late twenties bloke from the Black Country, longing for the forbidden fruit of intimate male company”.
Rob Halford pg.134.
Judas Priest’s first line-up disbanded before Rob showed up to audition. His sister Sue was dating the band’s founder, bassist Ian Hill who is still in the group today. She insisted he try out. Their town, Walsall breeds humble people. Rob was told by Ken Downing that he was in the band.
British Steel became their watershed moment. Named for the filthy foundry plant in their village, recorded in a house once used by The Beatles, owned by Ringo, and used by John and Yoko for their Double Fantasy album, sold millions and spawned the now classic, ‘Living After Midnight’.
The group adopted an all leather look. They went full in as a metal band. Rob could not believe his mates did not realize he was a gay man.
Well before this time Rob had written a song called ‘Raw Deal’ about a doomed romance on Fire Island! He had never been there but imagined it.
The song ‘Metal Gods’ off British Steel was inspired by Frank the robot on Queen’s News of the World album. Rob Halford’s rock hero was Freddie Mercury. In the polarized homophobic culture of those days all of this remained unknown.
Priest fans will discover so much about their favorite group. Nicknames like K.K. Downing for Ken were used, but they were going to call Rob, ‘The Queen’. That would not have gone down well in my opinion.
A humorous book as well. He describes his arrest for lewdness in America. The cops knew who he was and asked what he was doing. Being famous can be like armour.
Rob Halford would encounter his idol, Freddie Mercury on the Greek island of Mykonos, a prime destination for gay men. They were at a yacht party. He describes a crowded space. His nerves got the better of him despite receiving a wink and wave from Freddie.
After all these years Rob Halford was ready to Confess. In his words it feels great and was just good for his soul. Perhaps it will do the same for his readers.
The year 2020 will not be fondly remembered for many reasons.
Perhaps the music being released in this fourth quarter can serve as consolation.
Veteran rockers AC/DC; Blue Oyster Cult; Bon Jovi and more recent upstarts Greta Van Fleet; The Struts have new music that may provide uplift and inspiration.
Here are my reviews of these new tunes:
AC/DC’s ‘Shot In The Dark’ from their upcoming album, PWR/UP, reminds you why they have been around for decades.
The late Malcolm Young’s rhythm work can be heard throughout the cut.
A variation on the song ‘Giving The Dog A Bone’ from the iconic Back In Black LP, adds to the long line of AC/DC tunes filled to the brim with sexual innuendo.
Three singles and videos are featured. The first track, “That Was Me”, is a defiant statement set in a late 1970’s groove. It reminds the listener of BOC’s past glories. After all this group is known for ‘Burnin’ For You’ and ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper ‘. They deserve to attract many young listeners to their fold.
This song was released right before Covid-19 hit our shores. A straight forward shot of a bottle rocket to shake our routines at a moment when life seemed to stop.
This track encourages people to take risks, forget plans, and live. The past 3 years saw these young lads travel the world on their first big tour. The video shows their self filmed antics in these difficult times. A great way to cheer up!
This title song for the band’s new album is about staying grounded during these uncertain days.
Two sublime voices on a cut that makes you feel better about what life should be. Those smaller moments of kindness provide us with a bounty of smiles and joy.
It also asks kids to stop their seeming obsession with online antics and take time to grow, slowly.
American Elegy—Our Nobel Laureate Publishes Another Masterpiece
In a career now spanning six decades Bob Dylan has been through numerous phases in a life that has itself become the stuff of living legend.
Now revealed that this song is the third side on his upcoming, Rough and Rowdy Ways, he continues to inspire and write brilliantly about history.
His ability to connect our ‘modern times’ with the ancient culture that brought it about, specifically the Romans, enabled his new life as a Nobel Prize recipient.
Murder Most Foul is Mr. Dylan’s longest song. if you take the time to listen to this track you will learn a lot about this wonderful country and its brutal past and present.
You will also discover an underlying feeling of hope in the soft accompaniment with its piano, light timpani, and strings.
Dylanologists are going to have another great track to explore for many years to come. There are a ton of deliberate references to all kinds of cultural arcana in this track. Too many in fact for a single blog entry.
But herein I will discuss some of my takes on this peerless work. The closest thing to a spoken word song or a revival of the beat poet in the vast Dylan catalog.
It was a dark day in Dallas, November ’63 A day that will live on in infamy President Kennedy was a-ridin’ high Good day to be livin’ and a good day to die Being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb He said, “Wait a minute, boys, you know who I am?” “Of course we do, we know who you are!” Then they blew off his head while he was still in the car Shot down like a dog in broad daylight Was a matter of timing and the timing was right You got unpaid debts, we’ve come to collect We’re gonna kill you with hatred, without any respect We’ll mock you and shock you and we’ll put it in your face We’ve already got someone here to take your place The day they blew out the brains of the king Thousands were watching, no one saw a thing It happened so quickly, so quick, by surprise Right there in front of everyone’s eyes Greatest magic trick ever under the sun Perfectly executed, skillfully done Wolfman, oh Wolfman, oh Wolfman, howl Rub-a-dub-dub, it’s a murder most foul
Here in the beginning of the poem we are explicitly told how Mr. Dylan feels about the day President John F. Kennedy was murdered.
Using a phrase as his title, he frames the dreadful event as a Murder Most Foul. As the track continues there will be an evolution or rather a de-volution through the following decades as America’s culture and politics slowly decays.
The great hope of a young, handsome, and brilliant leader is cruelly blown off the face of the Earth. The promise of a new frontier delayed by his killing.
Mr. Dylan further frames the President’s murder as that of a lynching. Mr. Kennedy was white on the surface, but he was also the nation’s first Catholic elected to the Presidency. In Bob Dylan’s view he was ‘led like a lamb to the sacrificial slaughter’.
The first verses also make clear how this crime was such an American scene. Committed in broad daylight in front of the world; ‘greatest magic trick ever under the sun’.
The Second Section
Hush, little children, you’ll understand The Beatles are comin’, they’re gonna hold your hand Slide down the banister, go get your coat Ferry ‘cross the Mersey and go for the throat There’s three bums comin’ all dressed in rags Pick up the pieces and lower the flags I’m goin’ to Woodstock, it’s the Aquarian Age Then I’ll go over to Altamont and sit near the stage Put your head out the window, let the good times roll There’s a party going on behind the Grassy Knoll Stack up the bricks, pour the cement Don’t say Dallas don’t love you, Mr. President Put your foot in the tank and then step on the gas Try to make it to the triple underpass Blackface singer, whiteface clown Better not show your faces after the sun goes down Up in the red light district, they’ve got cop on the beat Living in a nightmare on Elm Street When you’re down on Deep Ellum, put your money in your shoe Don’t ask what your country can do for you Cash on the barrelhead, money to burn Dealey Plaza, make a left-hand turn I’m going down to the crossroads, gonna flag a ride The place where faith, hope, and charity died Shoot him while he runs, boy, shoot him while you can See if you can shoot the invisible man Goodbye, Charlie! Goodbye, Uncle Sam Frankly, Miss Scarlett, I don’t give a damn What is the truth, and where did it go? Ask Oswald and Ruby, they oughta know “Shut your mouth,” said a wise old owl Business is business, and it’s a murder most foul
The last lines of these first 2 sections of verse connect to reinforce this crime as foul cold-blooded murder. ‘Rub-a-dub-dub, it’s murder most foul; Business is business, and it’s a murder most foul’.
The actual neighborhood near the crime scene of Kennedy’s death is referenced following the pop culture explosion of The Beatles who became a salve for the real pain young people felt at the time. Deep Ellum, the arts and entertainment hub of Dallas, TX had a rise in crime too.
Referenced in the song’s second section above: ‘When you’re down on Deep Ellum, put your money on your shoe’.
‘Don’t ask what your country can do for you’, the famous Kennedy line to demand public service of youth is juxtaposed to remind people now trapped in poor communities not to expect any government assistance. The social contract was murdered too.
Explicitly calling out Woodstock and Altamont and the Age of Aquarius with the mythology of free love and the violence of Altamont. America has always created myths to soothe the wounds of very real crimes.
The reality of the made up summer of love is the real slaughter of men, women, and children in Vietnam. The daily death toll were surely murders most foul.
Mr. Dylan performs a conjuring trick as well raising the original sin of race hatred in a line that also references his hit “Hurricane”. Blackface singer, whiteface clown Better not show your faces after the sun goes down Up in the red light district, they’ve got cop on the beat Living in a nightmare on Elm Street
Also quite cleverly references a Wes Craven horror film released in the decade that followed his hit song about boxer Ruben ‘Hurricane’ Carter.
The name covers Dallas’ real murder of a President and the fictional murders of teenagers in a genre called the slasher film. The cruelty on display in Dallas would continue to resonate for the decades that followed.
The Third Section
Tommy, can you hear me? I’m the Acid Queen I’m riding in a long, black Lincoln limousine Ridin’ in the back seat next to my wife Headed straight on in to the afterlife I’m leaning to the left, I got my head in her lap Hold on, I’ve been led into some kind of a trap Where we ask no quarter, and no quarter do we give We’re right down the street, from the street where you live They mutilated his body and they took out his brain What more could they do? They piled on the pain But his soul was not there where it was supposed to be at For the last fifty years they’ve been searchin’ for that Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free Send me some lovin’, then tell me no lie Throw the gun in the gutter and walk on by Wake up, little Susie, let’s go for a drive Cross the Trinity River, let’s keep hope alive Turn the radio on, don’t touch the dials Parkland Hospital, only six more miles You got me dizzy, Miss Lizzy, you filled me with lead That magic bullet of yours has gone to my head I’m just a patsy like Patsy Cline Never shot anyone from in front or behind I’ve blood in my eye, got blood in my ear I’m never gonna make it to the new frontier Zapruder’s film I seen night before Seen it thirty-three times, maybe more It’s vile and deceitful, it’s cruel and it’s mean Ugliest thing that you ever have seen They killed him once and they killed him twice Killed him like a human sacrifice The day that they killed him, someone said to me, “Son The age of the Antichrist has just only begun” Air Force One comin’ in through the gate Johnson sworn in at 2:38 Let me know when you decide to throw in the towel It is what it is, and it’s murder most foul
I set the third section above in big bold type since at this point forward the song becomes full and explicit. Brimming with anger at President Kennedy’s demise, whom Mr. Dylan likens to a King as the Kennedy White House became Camelot, then in a blink ‘his eyes, nose, and ears were filled with blood.’
The Zapruder film in some way becomes America’s first slasher film, only it’s real.
Mr Dylan describes the piece which he claims to have seen over 30 times, as ‘vile and deceitful’.
That first piece of social media created an infinity of conspiracy theories. I see it as a reflection on his own youth. In his youth the repetition is easily performed. Now, at 79 Mr. Dylan only needs a single reading.
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free
This is my favorite line in the poem/song. Using Whitmanesque phrasing to connect Lincoln with Kennedy. Both men were after all the great hope of a wounded nation. Slavery in Lincoln’s era and Vietnam/Racism in Kennedy’s time. Both men were victims of murder most foul.
Mr. Dylan has undergone phases of life where he composed Christian influenced records. He has deep personal beliefs that crop up nicely here.
Declaring, ‘the Age of the Antichrist’ has just begun following the Kennedy assassination the nation saw a steep rise in cult activity, the crimes of Charles Manson, and satanic music also came into being in American culture.
Echoing the conventional wisdom that the nation had lost its soul are Mr. Dylan’s lyrics describing the Kennedy post mortem: ‘No soul was found where it should be.’
The Fourth Section
What’s new, pussycat? What’d I say? I said the soul of a nation been torn away And it’s beginning to go into a slow decay And that it’s thirty-six hours past Judgment Day Wolfman Jack, he’s speaking in tongues He’s going on and on at the top of his lungs Play me a song, Mr. Wolfman Jack Play it for me in my long Cadillac Play me that “Only the Good Die Young” Take me to the place Tom Dooley was hung Play “St. James Infirmary” and the Court of King James If you want to remember, you better write down the names Play Etta James, too, play “I’d Rather Go Blind” Play it for the man with the telepathic mind Play John Lee Hooker, play “Scratch My Back” Play it for that strip club owner named Jack Guitar Slim going down slow Play it for me and for Marilyn Monroe
It’s Mr. Wolfman Jack to you. Bob Dylan has reached a point in his career that he can compose a poem that includes 1970’s icon Wolfman Jack.
This is a reference to the alter—ego creation that he underwent in the 1960’s, Robert Zimmerman became Bob Dylan; Robert Weston Smith became Wolfman Jack.
Also in the new age of the antichrist men were literally becoming beasts. It’s in this section that Mr. Dylan begins to recommend recordings using the word ‘play’ as a command.
It references his 2 years as a D.J. himself on satellite radio. Using famous titles/lyrics from the era’s violent refelctions include “Only The Good Die Young”, published in 1977, the year of the Son of Sam killings in New York.
Bob Dylan makes his listeners do a lot of history homework. I strongly believe this is why his work ranks so high.
Playing up the description of President Kennedy’s car of choice, ‘a long black Cadillac’, itself a coffin on wheels.
Take me to the place Tom Dooley was hung Play “St. James Infirmary” and the Court of King James If you want to remember, you better write down the names
For my take these 3 lines set up why Bob Dylan has become such a master at connecting seemingly disparate ideas.
You see the ‘place where Tom Dooley was hung’ is in North Carolina, where the Wolfman took his last breath.
Being white, Wolfman Jack died of a heart attack not a lynching. Tom Dooley became the subject of many folk songs, a genre that gave artistic birth to Bob Dylan.
Tom Dooley is part of a sad American tradition known as Appalachian Murder Ballads. A murder most foul.
St. James Infirmary references blues music. An alternate title for the song was “The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime”) about a soldier who uses his money on prostitutes and then dies of venereal disease. The theme ties in with Kennedy’s death.
Then closing the section with a simple notation of why the name checking will continue unabated for the rest of the piece—to remember with clarity write down the names.
Only an artist of Bob Dylan’s caliber tells the listener his intent in writing this or any other song/poem is to preserve it for the ages to come beyond his mortal years.
The Fifth Section (Conclusion)
Play “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” Play it for the First Lady, she ain’t feeling any good Play Don Henley, play Glenn Frey Take it to the limit and let it go by Play it for Carl Wilson, too Looking far, far away down Gower Avenue Play “Tragedy”, play “Twilight Time” Take me back to Tulsa to the scene of the crime Play another one and “Another One Bites the Dust” Play “The Old Rugged Cross” and “In God We Trust” Ride the pink horse down that long, lonesome road Stand there and wait for his head to explode Play “Mystery Train” for Mr. Mystery The man who fell down dead like a rootless tree Play it for the reverend, play it for the pastor Play it for the dog that got no master Play Oscar Peterson, play Stan Getz Play “Blue Sky,” play Dickey Betts Play Art Pepper, Thelonious Monk Charlie Parker and all that junk All that junk and “All That Jazz” Play something for the Birdman of Alcatraz Play Buster Keaton, play Harold Lloyd Play Bugsy Siegel, play Pretty Boy Floyd Play the numbers, play the odds Play “Cry Me a River” for the Lord of the gods Play Number nine, play Number six Play it for Lindsey and Stevie Nicks Play Nat King Cole, play “Nature Boy” Play “Down in the Boondocks” for Terry Malloy Play “It Happened One Night” and “One Night of Sin” There’s twelve million souls that are listening in Play “Merchant of Venice”, play “Merchants of Death” Play “Stella by Starlight” for Lady Macbeth Don’t worry, Mr. President, help’s on the way Your brothers are comin’, there’ll be hell to pay Brothers? What brothers? What’s this about hell? Tell them, “We’re waiting, keep coming,” we’ll get them as well Love Field is where his plane touched down But it never did get back up off the ground Was a hard act to follow, second to none They killed him on the altar of the rising sun Play “Misty” for me and “That Old Devil Moon” Play “Anything Goes” and “Memphis in June” Play “Lonely at the Top” and “Lonely Are the Brave” Play it for Houdini spinning around in his grave Play Jelly Roll Morton, play “Lucille” Play “Deep in a Dream”, and play “Driving Wheel” Play “Moonlight Sonata” in F-sharp And “A Key to the Highway” for the king on the harp Play “Marching Through Georgia” and “Dumbarton’s Drums” Play darkness and death will come when it comes Play “Love Me or Leave Me” by the great Bud Powell Play “The Blood-Stained Banner”, play “Murder Most Foul”
In this final section of this elegiac piece Mr. Dylan reminds us of the worst scene of racial violence in the nation’s history.
The Tulsa race massacre (also called the Tulsa race riot, the Greenwood Massacre, or the Black Wall Street Massacre) of 1921 took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district—at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street”.
This awful history was dramatized on the Premiere of HBO’s ‘Watchmen’. Here the line takes us back to the scene of the original crime.
He connects it to the currents of hate/racism that from 1921 became a tsunami that killed another American President.
Then swirling through the American history of Jazz music and its iconic progenitors he adds crime figures like Bugsy Siegel who builds Las Vegas and on and on in a dizzying meter of names that arrives at “Love Me or Leave Me” by Bud Powell.
This is Dylan’s response to the hateful crowds that state, America love it or leave it.
The final line is perhaps the most stinging reminder of how far America needs to go to overcome its bloody past and present: Play The Blood Stained Banner , Play Murder Most Foul.
‘The Blood Stained Banner’ was a Confederate anthem and a version of the Confederate Flag presented in 1865. Bob Dylan is telling the nation to never forget this happened.
And to kindly play the song just ended, his American Elegy, Murder Most Foul.
Their debut release in 1969 on indie label Gull was a bluesy hard rock affair that went unnoticed by most.
Naming the band for a Bob Dylan song seemed off. “The Ballad Of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” is a crossroads tale of two strangers meeting on a road in the forest.
Only in hindsight does this become an ingenious origin for their moniker. If you listen to the song the idea is really cool. Judas Priest is a dark figure. Embued with a mystique that fits the band’s image.
Black Sabbath are widely acclaimed as the fathers of heavy metal music. The formative period for Judas Priest were spent in the shadows cast by the bigger acts of the time.
Until Deep Purple’s Roger Glover produced their major label debut, “Sin After Sin” on Columbia.
Covering Joan Baez’s “Diamonds & Rust” would broaden their sound. Their composition, “Vicitm of Changes” became a live staple during this era.
The late 1970’s was quite exciting for heavy music. Van Halen debut. Queen’s ‘News Of The World’ album goes multi-platinum in America. Judas Priest were about to unveil two metal masterworks.
Judas Priest unveil their best work to date. The name of the record is changed to ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ in America (‘Killing Machine’ in the rest of the world). The band present a new image wearing leather and studs.
Songs celebrating the biker lifestyle incorporate new guitar techniques that would become part of the heavy metal art form.
“Rock Forever”, “Take On The World”, and the title track formed a trio of anthems. “Before The Dawn” is a power ballad that I think tops them all.
The record brought a sound that would continue to develop over the next three decades.
The band’s cover of the haunting ‘Better By You, Better Than Me” by Spooky Tooth became a fan favorite. The song was at the center of a trial years later.
Proving Their Steel
The dawn of the 1980’s would bring Judas Priest into the long out of reach limelight.
The album ‘British Steel’ stripped down the music to a lean muscular form. “Living After Midnight” became a rock radio hit. The song began their music video history.
Priest continued to evolve using different sounds on each album. “Point Of Entry” followed in 1981.
Three singles with videos: ‘Headin’ Out To The Highway’, ‘Don’t Go’, and ‘Hot Rockin’ were all catchy songs that took pop melodies into metal.
Visions of motorcycle rides in the desert was the overall feel of the work.
‘Desert Plains’ was part of the current Firepower tour playlist.
“Screaming For Vengeance” became the defining statement that Priest were the metal band. The anthem ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ hit radio rising to the top. The band toured extensively. American rockers fell in love.
The album featured the first in what became a series of mythic metallic monsters on their covers.
The Hellion is a metal Eagle soaring above looking for justice for those who have been wronged. ‘Fever’ , ‘Devil’s Child’ , and ‘Ridin’ On The Wind’ are stellar songs often overlooked.
By 1984 heavy metal music was a primary force in the American rock scene. Small towns/suburbia felt besieged by the culture. Long haired kids in denim and leather; patches of bands decorated their jackets.
“Defenders of the Faith” in my opinion is still the modern most influential metal record. Every fan owns this record. The Metallion is the beast of choice on its cover.
It’s a take no prisoners anthemic, macho declaration of heavy metal glory.
The radio smash ‘Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” followed by the sex driven ‘Eat Me Alive’ and ‘Love Bites’ alarmed conservatives.
The band rose to the top. Then hysteria in the form of local teen suicide being blamed on the music. Judas Priest were blamed for a fan death. They were acquitted in court.
Pushing the art form of metal into new directions was part of the band’s mission. Their records always incorporated the latest technologies.
The Turbo Age
Then in the summer of 1986 the Priest changed direction. ‘Turbo’ featured guitar synths. Giving their sound a much more pop friendly polish. There was a decidedly mixed reaction.
Singles like ‘Turbo Lover’ and ‘Locked In’ gave the band great top 40 success. A lot of kids at the time listened to Priest for the first time.
The record was envisioned as a double record by the band. Columbia records would decline to allow such an ambitious project despite the band’s popularity.
Bound For Glory
“Ram It Down” was the second half of “Turbo” released separately. No metal beasts on their covers; anthems & ballads. I love both albums. Some fans became disgruntled by the new sounds.
The band even recorded a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’ for a movie soundtrack. Quite a commercial move for a metal group. This track appears on ‘Ram It Down’.
The ups and downs are inevitable in the music business. Opinions change over time. Some of the more pop oriented moves are now seen as a blip in a history full of mostly metal glories.
After leaving the band for solo albums in the early 1990’s, Rob Halford returned as lead vocalist for an album that would once again raise the bar for metal music.
Ripper Owen’s Era
Things change. When their iconic frontman left the band the future became foggy.
A singer in a Judas Priest tribute band by the name of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owen’s became their vocalist. His nickname from a classic Priest song.
Two albums are released. It’s the 1990’s. “Jugulator” features a metallic beast on its cover. The music is solid metal. Fans were indifferent.
I had the opportunity to meet them after a show at Roseland ballroom here in New York. It was gratifying to tell them how much I loved their music and concerts. I gave Tim Owens a pat on the back. No one could fill Rob Halford’s boots.
Back On Top
“Painkiller” is arguably the best metal record ever made. The metallic biker on the cover is a winged hero. Every song is heavy. Halford’s voice was never better. The twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing are at their peak.
I got to see them in their peak years. Never a disappointment. The songs were always representative of their entire career.
“Angel of Retribution” was Rob Halford’s return to the band. A solid effort. During this time the band’s albums showed a marked return to their late 70’s early 80’s sound.
“Redeemer of Souls” was a great follow-up album to “Painkiller”; “Nostradamus” was a double album that returned the band to their roots. A decidedly non-commercial epic aimed at their most dedicated fans.
Today the band enjoys their fame. Rob Halford has the nickname, Metal God, for the song and his amazing voice. Always proud to be metal, the community loves Judas Priest.
“Firepower” was their 18th studio album released in 2018 and the tour is still going strong. Well received by critics and topping the charts the group is poised to celebrate their 50th Anniversary in 2020.
They are nominated for induction into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame in 2020.
A wayfarin’ hitch-hiker takes a journey back out to big sky country to reflect on a life gone past. Along the way we learn he was a B-movie Stuntman whose proudest moment was a scene with screen icon John Wayne.
Painting a deceptively simple picture of creeping isolation, lost love, and futile attempts to outrun a road that has to end, Mr. Springsteen has composed a romantic yet melancholy tribute to the American ideals of the West.
Remembering good times at a local cafe where the work is left behind; ‘Monday is a million miles away’. Forgetting the mounting sadness of lost opportunity because the western stars are out tonight.
The thematic thread woven through are light and dark; sunrise and sundown; the sun and the moon.
Evoking this vision are understated orchestrations that support the vocals in even tempo. At times the sweeping beauty of the notes will fill you with longing.
This is because our western star is waiting for his lost love to return. He knows this is a fool’s errand. “Tuscon Train”, “Stones”, and “There Goes My Miracle” are songs of tortured romance literally gone south.
The album’s centerpiece track, “Drive Fast” (The Stuntman), shows a physically broken man whose wounds are his only companion. The steel rod in his leg walks him home each night.
The last song on the album is “Moonlight Motel”. A memory of lost lovers enjoying an afternoon delight in a derelict place. The physical structures have gone to seed while their love blossoms. A place once made for nighttime pleasures becomes the sight of a self-made Eden.
Quite a beautiful album that is able to relate this tale of loss and loneliness without making its listener feel too sad. The melodies are uplifting; the vocals are empathetic.
In the daylight chasing wild horses, running for countless miles is enough to outrun the impending gloom. There is a deep abiding respect for this rugged place by the man at the center of it all—The Boss.
In lieu of a tour for this record, Bruce Springsteen makes his directorial debut on October 25, 2019 with “Western Stars”.
The film is a performance of the album with orchestra before an audience. An album, “Western Stars” Film Version will be released. It’s the same track list as the studio LP except for the addition of “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell.
“Sundown” is the first single released from the film version album. The new versions seem to have even more developed orchestration.
E Street Stardom/Solo Magic
For decades now Bruce Springsteen has piece by piece constructed a music career that continues to inspire longtime listeners and attract newcomers.
He has enjoyed commercial success but did not count only on selling his music but by creating a persona that was larger than his self but true to who he is offstage.
After listening to “Western Stars” over and over digitally I found my own take. His E Street albums are the rockstar track built with hits like “The River”, “Born To Run”, and “Born In The USA”.
The solo albums have been allowed by an audience that deeply appreciates his hard work in not just entertaining them but making them think too. This is the internal track of non rock Lp’s that delve into Americana, Folk, and Protest music.
His catalog is like a puzzle with thousands of pieces. For years I was distracted enough not to see what he was doing. Building his following slowly in bars/clubs on the Jersey Shore then reaching a zenith with sold out stadiums. He never relies on just hit singles. He becomes by word of mouth a legendary presence. His audience bestows the nickname, The Boss, to signify to them what he represents in the music world.
The solo work allows Bruce to work on music that he knows will not sell stadiums nor spend weeks at the top of the chart. It’s material he hopes will alternately take listeners down musical byways that cannot fit into the mainstream rock frame of the E Street Band.
I feel there are few solo artists doing such consistently fine work as Mr. Springsteen. Bob Dylan comes to mind. The Boss seeks long term attachment with his audience. He gets it because of the trust built upon decades of great work both rocking and reflective.
I hope the puzzle is not near completion.
Bruce Springsteen is performing at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 5th. A benefit for Stand-Up For Heroes.