Tag Archives: blues rock

180. The Doors – Morrison Hotel

 “I’ve been singing the blues ever since the world began” 

– Jim Morrison, “Maggie M’Gill”.

The Doors - Morrison HotelFor all the musical skill floating around in the band, the fact is that it’s hard to separate the story of The Doors from its uniquely talented but similarly ridiculous lead singer. Just as Melody Maker mocked The Doors’ 1993 reunion as akin to the Jimi Hendrix Experience reforming, Jim Morrison was, and is, The Doors.

By the time their fourth album, “Morrison Hotel”  turned up in February 1970, the band had gone from creating their eponymous and classic debut to the decidedly iffy (but hugely successful) “The Soft Parade”, packed with experimental weirdness and pomposity. Meanwhile Morrison had degenerated into full-blown alcoholism and whipping his todger out on stage in Miami (and facing the prospect of imprisonment and hard labour for his troubles).

For “Morrison Hotel”, they decided to return to their blues-rock roots, and it’s an album with far less of the psychedelia that their following had gotten used to. From the opening “Roadhouse Blues”, it oozes blues respectability, even with Morrison’s slurred lyrics, making it perhaps the best-known track from the album.

There’s also a Crystal Method remix out there which I enjoyed far more than I’m proud of, but I digress.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_cpnrtmK5A

Anyway, moving right along, “Waiting for the Sun” is a subdued affair that’s arguably the most Doors-ey track of the bunch, and with reason, originating in sessions for their album of the same name two years previously.

It works in sharp contrast with “You Make Me Real”, a proper funky rock stomp complete with electric piano and cries of “roll baby roll…”. Lester Bangs called it ‘a thyroid burst of manufactured energy worthy of a thousand mediocre groups’ but then he was hardly the band’s biggest fan. Actually it’s a hidden gem.

“Peace Frog” is a brave and exciting effort, full of funk with a delightful interlude of Morrison’s spoken word poem “Newborn Awakening”, and it always draws a smile. It segues seamlessly into “Blue Sunday”, romantic, drifting and quite lovely, with some rather nifty guitar from Robby Kreiger.

That surprising funky twist comes back on “Ship of Fools”, which closes Side A, leaving you with a feeling of optimism that is, let’s be honest, kind of unexpected.

With “Land Ho!”, which kicks off Side B, it turns out that not only do The Doors have a happy side, but are more than capable of a little humour when it suits them (who knew?). “Land Ho!” is full of Davy Crockett-inspired mischief and is joyful for it.

“The Spy” floats on by with bluesy harmony, and coins the phrase “I am a spy in the house of love” decades before Was (Not Was) got their hands on it. It’s more a filler track, as could also be said for the following “Queen of the Highway”.

“Indian Summer” evokes memories of “The End” with its sublime bassline, even though it’s far less ambitious, but still works as a charming and gentle ballad, despite being just 156 seconds long.

The final track, “Maggie M’Gill”, reeks of the blues, and with its starting bars could be mistaken for BB King. It’s a lyrical treat too, with lines like “Illegitimate son of a rock and roll star, Mom met Dad in the back of a rock and roll car, yeah”. It ends an album that, while far more interesting in the first half, keeps its energy and spark throughout and establishes the band as a legitimate blues-rock performer. While their days were numbered, they were still capable and energetic with this, their penultimate studio album.

179. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath - Black SabbathI think it was about March last year, when I reviewed “Tommy”, that I pointed out one key fact about this list – the book is entitled “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die”, and that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the best, just the ones you MUST hear.

This one fits the latter camp. It’s not quantifiably a GREAT album. It was recorded in a single 12-hour session on a meagre budget. It’s short, rough and for much of the 40 minutes, disappointingly mundane, and it was a critical failure on its release. But, and this is a but Sir Mix-a-Lot would be proud of, this album deserves a blue plaque, because, on this album, heavy metal was born.

In the gloriously meta opening track (“Black Sabbath” from the album “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath), those first bars from Tony Iommi’s guitar come down hard, followed by our old buddy Ozzy’s ominous vocals. The lyrics, designed to scare, seem tame these days, but combined with that sonic canopy, they still sound nice and evil. And oh my word, does the riffing at the 4:30 mark sound fresh.

“Wizard” scales down the ominous, incorporating some blues harmonica, but the guitar keeps growling, and there’s some fine drum work going on too.

“Behind the Wall of Sleep” is a low point on the album, with an arguably archaic sixties vibe. On the other hand, the main riff sounds quite similar to their later “Iron Man”, so that’s nice.

“N.I.B.” is probably the best-known track from the album, and one that they went on to soar with in their live shows. Rumoured to be an abbreviation for “Nativity in Black”, it was later revealed to be named after Bill Ward’s goatee. It’s a guitar-heavy first person narrative from Lucifer, with a riff that’s been described as “the raucous defiling of Cream”.

“Evil Woman” was a cover of a track from Minneapolis band Crow, and it’s more a blues rock track than genuine metal. It was released as Sabbath’s first single, which is slightly disappointing as it doesn’t really represent the sound of the album. There’s even a crude fade-out at the end of the track that just doesn’t belong.

Despite opening bars that sound just like Metallica’s “Unforgiven” and a nice drum solo, “Sleeping Village” is mostly nothing to write home about, but the album closer, the epic “The Warning”, most certainly is.

It’s a track with more conventional “woman-done-me-wrong” lyrics than the more pagan mischief from the rest of the album, but for the whole of it’s 10 and a half minutes, it’s a sonic resume of what guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward could do, and it’s quite a magnificent closer to the album. There’s more than a nod to the blues-rock from the likes of Cream and John Mayall in here, but the sound is truly Sabbath’s own, with the promise of many great things to come.

Tony Iommi famously lost the tips of his middle fingers in an industrial accident, leading him to detune his guitar to make chords easier, and it’s widely suggested that the distinctive dark sound that that created was the nucleus of heavy metal. Certainly, at the 8-minute mark in “The Warning” the guitar sounds like nothing that went before and opened up some great ideas.

There’s no doubt that Black Sabbath were pioneers of the genre, and there’s enough great music to redeem Ozzy from his missus’s later X-Factored crimes against music. There are better metal albums out there, sure, but this is a growling, abrasive little belter that has a lot of history about it. Certainly worth 40 minutes of your time.