"The Heavy Metal Hall of Fame"
By Jim Miller
THE YARDBIRDS - Yardbirds' Greatest Hits (Epic BN 26246)
Torn between their innovative guitarists and Keith Relf's whining lead
vocals, the Yardbirds were generally schizophrenic, with few thoroughly
cohesive tracks to their credit. Although the band's pop/blues approach
recalled the Rolling Stones, Jeff Becks' brittle guitar and exotic
experimentation forged rock's original metallic sound, evoking everything
from snake charmers ("Over Under Sideways Down") to psychotic delirium
("Shapes Of Things"). When Beck and Jimmy Page locked horns on "Happenings
Ten Years Time Ago," they created one of pop's most manic singles.
CREAM - Fresh Cream (Atco SD 33-206)
Cream pioneered the power trio format (guitar-bass-drums), imitated by such
later metal giants as Grand Funk Railroad. Eric Clapton likewise set new
standards with his imaginative lines and singing tone. Although the band
suffered from weak material and exhibitionist solos (especially by Clapton
and drummer Ginger Baker), Cream played potently and concisely on several
early cuts: Clapton virtually floats his phrases on "I Feel Free," one of
early metal's headiest moments.
JIMI HENDRIX - Are You Experienced? (Reprise 6261), Electric Ladyland
(Reprise 6307), The Cry of Love (Reprise MS 2034).
Jimi Hendrix was arguably the greatest rock instrumentalist of the Sixties.
His blunt attack contrasted sharply with the meticulous virtuosity of an Eric
Clapton; Hendrix preferred an angry metal whine, molten steel to Clapton's
polished chrome. His rough edges conveyed far more than his awesome
dexterity. In a genre where computerized pyrotechnics seem the rule, Hendrix
played with a rawness transcending idiomatic formalities.
LED ZEPPELIN - II (Atlantic SD 8236), "ZOSO" (Atlantic SD 7208).
While elaborating heavy metal's finer points, Led Zeppelin has developed an
audacious style without frills. Jimmy Page is the master of gunpowder guitar,
while Robert Plant executes a freakish variety of vocal somersaults, all with
tongue in cheek. As the prototypical heavy-metal band, Led Zeppelin has
created its fair share of masterpieces, from the orchestrated frenzy of
"Whole Lotta Love" to "Stairway To Heaven," a carefully structured track,
sustained by its variety of textures. Despite its knack for uncompromising
rock & roll, Led Zeppelin remains among the most underrated contemporary
groups, perhaps because it occasionally relies on hackneyed formulas.
DEEP PURPLE - In Rock (Warner Bros. 1877), Machine Head (Warner Bros. BS
In guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboard whiz Jon Lord, Deep Purple boats
two distinctive solo voices. Unlike Led Zeppelin, Purple liberally indulges
its wildest ambitions. Often the result is mere clutter, but Purple's
classical inclinations have also produced several infectiously nimble
exercises in leaden jive (such as "Lazy" -- B. Bumble and the Stingers would
be proud). Although the band's cardinal sin remains fatuous soloing,
Blackmore's guitar cuts a clean swath across many an otherwise pallid Purple
BLACK SABBATH - Paranoid (Warner Bros. 1887)
Most heavy metal thrives on uptempos; Black Sabbath prefers sludge and
slow-motion fuzz. Ozzy Osborne's shrill vocals contribute to a mix of
rudimentary riffs and obsessive lyrics, creating an angst-ridden punk poetry
of the semi-conscious. Despite an impressive list of potential rivals, Black
Sabbath may play the ultimate downer metal.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND - White Light/White Heat (Verve V6-5046).
While some aficionados consider "Sister Ray" a masterpiece, the Velvets'
17-minute foray into metal better qualifies as a conversation piece, or, if
it's actually on the record player, a conversation stopper. White noise
predominates, but laconic lyrics set the style for subsequent sleaze. Tres
MC5 - Back in the U.S.A. (Atlantic SD 8247).
An ill-fated venture into agitprop pop, the MC5 cultivated rock's subversive
tendencies as a matter of principle. Depending on your point of view, their
brusque instrumental approach either catalyzed or obviated the politicized
lyrics. A palpable commitment and energy animates the Five's best recorded
efforts, although credible eyewitnesses claim the band's live magic never got
captured on vinyl.
THE STOOGES - Fun House (Elektra EKS-74071).
The Stooges perfected moronic metal, stripped to its most elementary
components and elevated to the level of aesthetic nihilism. Spurred on by
Iggy Pop's bestial growls and onstage antics, the band stumbled through some
of the dumbest, most abusive rock ever waxed. The titles suggest the content:
"Dirt," "TV Eye."
BLUE OYSTER CULT - Blue Oyster Cult (Columbia C 31063).
While they're often derivative, and lack a wholly distinctive image, Blue
Oyster Cult is America's most competent exponent of British-style virtuoso
metal. Lead guitarist Buck Dharma's sizzling expertise sparks the band, while
the cerebral looniness of the lyrics adds an unusual twist of urbanity. In
contrast to much of the native competition, the Cult shuns intentional
NEW YORK DOLLS - Too Much Too Soon (Mercury SRM 1-1001).
The Dolls have successfully fused the jerky swagger of early Jagger with Lou
Reed's jaded outlook, filtered through high-tension metal sonics. Although
they are perfectly capable of creating anthems ("Human Being") as well as
characters ("Chatterbox," in '74 "Yakety Yak"), the Dolls traffic in energy
more than expertise. But they evince an intrinsic stylishness that eludes
such polished rivals as Blue Oyster Cult.
- Rolling Stone, 7/4/74.
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