Posts Tagged ‘Led Zeppelin’

The Cult

When I was younger I wanted to find a band that rocked as hard as AC/DC but that didn’t view women as subhuman breeding stock. A band that was as heavy as Led Zeppelin minus all the mystical claptrap. I don’t know if this band has ever existed (I’m open to your recommendations), but I do know that there are albums that qualify. One is Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991). Another is my subject this evening.

Southern Death Cult was formed in 1981 by four boys from Yorkshire. By 2012, when they released their 40,000th comeback record, Choice of Weapon, 23 boys had worn the uniform. The only constants were Ian Astbury (vocals) and Billy Duffy (guitar). Ian and Billy were goths with a taste for metal and a fixation on North American Indians. Sure, why not.

Southern Death Cult gradually phased out the goth and the Indians and the Southern and the Death. (Why would you mess with a name as venomous as Southern Death Cult?) For their third album, they corralled a new producer, Rick Rubin, a man who eats transformation for breakfast, and with his help they broke the chains of gravity with their magnum opus, Electric.

What we have here are songs that embody the one thing we love about AC/DC – mindless butt-shaking – with the one thing we love about Led Zep – guitar solos that pull 4 or 5 G’s. There’s no moody-teenager philosophizing, no misogyny, no Middle Earth, and no intelligence. This album rocks like 12 Republican governors running for president inside a cement mixer.

Tracks 4 through 8, the heart of the order, hit harder than a brass knuckle barn dance. “Bad Fun” has so many layers, it’s as if somebody cloned every dork in Yes and suctioned them into a Yugo. The guitar solos – all of the guitar solos – are awesome because they all sound like metal guitar solo gibberish. Were The Cult subversive or satirical? There’s no way to tell. I don’t care. I love this shit.

An homage to “I Am the Walrus” or plain old drug abuse?
And yet Electric is also one of the funniest albums ever recorded. The lyrics have been brilliantly deconstructed and rebuilt, often with no translatable meaning, as in this unrhymed couplet from “Aphrodisiac Jacket” (a song that sounds like Cream has a brain tumor):

Sittin’ on a mountain looking at the sun
Plastic fantastic lobster telephone

In “Bad Fun,” a song that mixes atomic bombs, “fancy clothes,” and “ghetto stars” without telling you why, the boys break into a chorus about a woman alone with her personal assistant:

Spirit like a rumblin’ train
Spirit of the thunderin’ rain
Vibrations got you on the run
Electric child on bad fun

You can’t not laugh when Ian rolls his r’s or when they swing into their insightful commentary on intimate relationships, “Love Removal Machine,” a song my wife claims she has never heard and yet her life runs along just fine. You can’t not laugh when Billy lights this candle with another solo he checked out from the library, or when the band chants PEACE. DOG. PEACE. DOG. PEACE. DOG. on a song that’s called – let me see, what was it? I knew it a moment ago – yes, I have it: “Peace Dog.”

The only poor choice on this disc was covering “Born to Be Wild” at two-thirds the speed of Steppenwolf. If you’re headin’ down the highway and people on the sidewalk are passing you than you’re not born to be wild or even mischievous.

On The Cult’s previous release, Love (1985), you can hear the transition to a harder rock sound, but it was not until Electric that these ex-goths achieved nirvana. Oh right, “Nirvana” is a song on Love. “When the music is loud, we all get down,” Ian sings. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Postscript courtesy of the concert listings at
AC/DC, Tuesday, Feb. 2, Tacoma Dome
“The band isn’t playing Portland tonight – apparently we’re not good enough – but it’s probably worth the drive to Tacoma. Because, you know, they might die soon.”


To end the old year and start the new one, Éowyn and I re-watched The Lord of the Rings. (We did plenty of non-Middle-earth activities, too, so Shut. Up.) In watching all three movies I developed a theory about Sauron. This theory goes as follows and begins now.

Here’s the situation: Sauron must conquer his powerful neighbor, Gondor, if he’s ever going to achieve his world-domination goals. To ensure his success, he orders his stooge, Saruman, to march against Rohan, Gondor’s most likely ally. Saruman has a whole new army to play with. The Riders of Rohan haven’t been doing much riding lately, though they still have perfect hair. The upcoming battle looks like a mismatch, but in the ninth inning Rohan calls in some timely relief help and Saruman’s army falls apart like the Red Sox over the Labor Day weekend.

At this point, Sauron knows all of the following:

  1. Gandalf is back.
  2. Aragorn has doubled his supply of girlfriends.
  3. The Elves said they were leaving, but they didn’t say when.
  4. Saruman is useless. He’s like the ex-husband who keeps reminding you why he’s your ex-husband.
  5. By now, Sauron’s ravens should have reported that the eagles and the butterflies have turned against him, which means that Audubon is against him, too.
  6. Sauron’s shock troops, the Nazgûl, have failed at every task they’ve been given. They were totally fooled by four pillows masquerading as Hobbits, a trick I pulled on my parents when I was 7.
  7. The Nazgûl can’t even kill a pillow on the first try.
  8. Sauron’s advanced surveillance technology cannot locate one Hobbit and one Ring, even though both are heading straight at him.

I think most of us, in Sauron’s place, would reconsider this situation and turn to Plan B. Sauron sticks with Plan A. This is how you get to be the CEO of Mordor. He moves forward with his hostile takeover of Gondor, and nevermind the threat from Rohan, Gandalf, Aragorn, Audubon, etc.

(Naturally, Sauron assigns his go-to guys to the Gondor project. Good call. The Nazgûl team leader tries to impress the blonde shield maiden with the news that he’s invincible. She immediately slices him into fettuccine. The Nazgûl were geniuses with women. His co-workers control the skies and yet somehow miss the approach of the fluorescent-green Army of the Dead until it storms ashore and slaughters everybody. If the Nazgûl worked for Chase Bank, they’d all get bonuses. Oh wait, the Nazgûl do work for Chase Bank.)

Finally: When Frodo and Samwise stagger to the top of Mount Doom, what do they find? The cave that leads to the lava swimming pool is not guarded by a locked door or armed guards or a Nazgûl who’s been placed on administrative leave. Even an idiot blogger could waltz right in and kerplunk toss the Ring into the fire.

And so my theory, which I invite you to vote on. Sauron is either:

  • Blinded by hubris, or
  • Blindingly stupid.

I’ll eventually reread the books to gain a more nuanced view of Sauron’s foreign-policy blunders. Until then, remember that Hobbits eat a lot, but they’ll still roll you for a nickel and stick you for the extra dime.

Random Pick of the Day
Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Led Zep IV is today’s Pick because Robert, Jimmy, John, and John may have been the first rock stars who had read Lord of the Rings. Ringwraiths and Mordor pepper their songs, though I don’t know if that helped them get girls.

Led Zeppelin doesn’t get any heavier than Led Zep IV. Led Zeps I and II are wilder and stupider, but IV has “Stairway to Heaven” so IV wins. I’ve been listening to “Stairway” since I was in high school (that’s right, halflings, I was born into a world that knew not of this song), and yet every time I hear the guitar accelerate, my pulse does, too. When the drums enter at 4:18 I start playing along, even when I’m driving, unless there’s a shield maiden riding beside me.

Random Pan of the Day
Led Zeppelin, just about everything
It’s fashionable for today’s rock critics to praise Led Zeppelin as innovators and condemn the critics of the 1970s, who hated Led Zep, as double dumb asses.

Bullshit. The critics of the ’70s got it right: This band did not make music for adults. You don’t need them once you’re old enough to vote, though they may be an evolutionary stage in adolescence (they were in mine).

Random Thought for My Fellow Nerds
Éowyn declaring “I am no man!” before skewering the misogynist Witch-king of Angmar is the high point of the movies and the books.

So say we all.

“Pictures of You”
The Cure

“Space Age Love Song”
A Flock of Seagulls

I coach a chess club at a local school, grades 3-8. My toughest challenges are not explaining how to castle or how the knights move. It’s not the 4th-grade belching contests or the two 5th-grade boys I had to separate because they were fighting over the good-behavior trophy. The real problems are the 12- and 13-year-old girls.

One year, Madison, a 6th-grade girl, came to the club in a torn denim jacket and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. Trying to bond with her, I said that I’d seen Led Zep in concert. Madison rolled her eyes and I suddenly saw myself as she saw me: an old man, claiming to know something about her music! The following year she showed up with black hair, black lipstick, black fingernail polish, and a Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me Cure T-shirt. I could’ve told her that I’d seen The Cure, too, but I’m a nice guy. I didn’t want to ruin another band for her.

The Cure have been around long enough to draw pensions. They (“they” meaning Robert Smith) are best known for being gloomy. Right up my alley! I’ve already written about my favorite Cure song, “Pictures of You,” a ballad of lost love that is 278 words long. That’s like a Dickens novel in rock ’n’ roll years.

Let’s instead move on to A Flock of Seagulls (affectionately known as A Flock of Haircuts). Loyal Reader Julius questions their existence. My apologies, Loyal Reader. No ’80s dance party would be complete without their two biggest hits, “I Ran (So Far Away)” and “Space Age Love Song.”

There’s not much to say about “I Ran (So Far Away)” that the song doesn’t say itself:

And I raaaaaaan.
I ran so far away.
I just raaaaaaan.
I ran all night and day.
I couldn’t get away.

“Space Age Love Song” is a simply structured number that moves from start to finish in an unvarying line. Sort of like an object in space. It was in constant rotation on MTV in 1982. As Springsteen put it, “57 Channels (and Nothing On).” It is exactly 73 words long, of which 15 are “I was falling in love” and 12 are “Falling in love.” Pithy. “I saw your eyes/and you made me smile,” the Haircuts sing in stanza 1, which is sweet, but the next line is “For a little while,” which is ungrateful. What have you done for me lately, person with eyes? In stanza 2, the narrator sees the eyes again, and this time “you touched my mind.” Cool. Telepathy. No wonder you fell in love.

Don’t take my word for it. Here are A Flock of Haircuts at the height of their powers.

A few years ago in chess club we had a boy who loved Culture Club. When I made the mistake of telling him that I didn’t, he started singing “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” By the end of the school year my answer was yes. Music from the 1980s can heal us – or it can be weaponized. Madison understood this when she adopted The Cure as a lifestyle. I’m sure it was her defense against the world and her rebellion against her parents. In the early ’70s I did the same thing to my parents with The Doors (minus the drugs, alcohol, and multiple sex partners).

You wouldn’t think these issues would arise in a roomful of kids playing chess, but they do. Adult themes play out in miniature, just as we play this miniature substitute for war. All you can do with these children is be patient, try to put yourself in their place, and don’t let on that you know anything about their music. Kids need to rebel, and The Cure are a good ally in a rebellion. Or The Doors. But not A Flock of Seagulls.

Women dislike Pink Floyd. Certainly all the women I’ve married dislike Pink Floyd. I’ve only married one, but she’s not backing down on this subject. Or any subject.

I can’t recall ever meeting a woman who publicly stated that she liked Pink Floyd. I wonder if there’s an unattached woman anywhere in the world with Pink Floyd in her music library, and I don’t mean something left behind by some long-gone guy. In college I remember a mistreated girlfriend burning holes with her cigarette in her ex-boyfriend’s copy of Meddle. It all seemed very sophisticated, plus it taught me to hide my LPs.

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon may be the most gender-imbalanced record in music history. When Floyd released their masterwork in 1973, it immediately went to the top of the Billboard Hot 200 albums. Plenty of albums surface in the Hot 200, but Dark Side of the Moon was still bobbing around there 15 years later. Dark Side of the Moon is the third best-selling album of all time, trailing Justin Bieber’s My World but outpacing Honus Wagner’s entire Ring cycle. If women aren’t buying this thing, every man on the planet must be.

This leads me to ponder what makes music palatable to women. Here are my hypotheses:

What Women Like in Music
1) Something you can dance to, or might dance to if you could find the right partner.
2) A doomed romance.
3) The possible start of an exciting long-term relationship.
4) Living your own life and setting your own rules.
5) Attractive performers.
6) Four minutes and you’re done.

Here’s how Pink Floyd matches up with What Women Like in Music:

1) Pink Floyd is every bit as danceable as Led Zeppelin.
2) Everyone who has ever appeared in a Pink Floyd song was doomed.
3) Floyd’s idea of a long-term relationship: “There’s someone in my head/but it’s not me.”
4) Empowered women are scary.
5) Even when they were young, Dave, Roger, Nick, and Rick were nobody’s idea of a boy band.
6) They managed to hold “Echoes” to just under 24 minutes.

Given that Dark Side of the Moon is my favorite album of all time, ever, period, it’s a wonder I’ve been able to form and sustain relationships. Fortunately, God gave us headphones before She gave us Floyd.

Pink Floyd fun fact: “San Tropez” is a hybrid of “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Lovely Rita.”

I love Dark Side of the Moon so much that I only play it a couple of times a year. I always want it to be a treat. This same principle explains why I waited 20 years to go back to Apocalypse Now.

Wise men say that you’re never too annoyed for Floyd. Notice that it’s only men who say that. The truth is that once you leave the safety of Dark Side of the Moon you can get very annoyed with Floyd. Pink Floyd can be as bloated as Yes, but without the hysteria. They can be as pompous as Queen, but without the camp. They can be as meaningless as Black Sabbath, but without the medieval camouflage. They can touch your heart with “Comfortably Numb,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Fearless,” and then try to trap you in “Echoes,” which starts well but after 7 or 8 minutes veers straight into Spinal Tap’s “Jazz Odyssey.”

It’s about time someone said this: 75% of the Pink Floyd catalog is Deep Purple with a PhD.

Shine on you crazy diamond
Thus we can define Pink Floyd Syndrome as a two-part phenomenon:

  • Men are from Pink Floyd, women are from Pink.
  • If you’re a man, you either love everything Floyd or you only love Dark Side of the Moon. Either way, you’ve learned how to hide your record collection.

In a future post we’ll entertain the proposition that Nebraska is Bruce Springsteen’s best album. Until then, keep your headphones on and your partner happy.

There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark. 

’70s Week at Run-DMSteve concludes with some of my favorite songs of the decade. I’m not saying these are the best songs of the decade, and they’re not all of my favorites. I just stopped at 25. To keep things manageable, I limited myself to one song per artist (except in one instance), but to make them less manageable, I included some runners-up.

A few words about women, of whom my list has only one, Joan Armatrading, recording on her own. (I do have Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of The B-52s and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads.)

There were plenty of remarkable women in rock in the ’70s. Minnie Ripperton could reach all of the known octaves and a few that she must’ve invented. But I can’t digest her music. Ditto Cher, Blondie, The Runaways, and Susie Quatro. I’ll see you in hell before I listen to Heart. If I added another 25 songs, I’d include Patti Smith (“So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star”), Donna Summer (“I Feel Love”), Joni Mitchell (tough one, but probably “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire”), and The Slits (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”). How I wish The Slits could’ve opened for Hole. I’ll try to field a more balanced squad during ’80s Week.

My heartfelt thanks to Brother Bob Lingard, who started me on this week’s theme when he kindly loaned me a CD with hundreds of songs from the ’70s and ’80s. Though listening to this collection often seemed like an endurance test, especially when I collided with Christopher Cross –

“I’m on the runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn/no time to sleep”

– Phil Collins, and the REO Styxjourneywagon dud machine, I learned a lot. I’d forgotten how much I like Roxy Music and Squeeze, how overrated REM is and how undeservedly obscure Steve Winwood is. Party on, Brother Bob!

Here’s the list:

Aerosmith, “Sweet Emotion”
It pains me to type “Aerosmith,” but at least they’re not Foghat.

Joan Armatrading, “Love and Affection”
This is the female “Bolero”!

The B-52s, “Rock Lobster”
How amazing that “Rock Lobster,” the greatest song ever recorded by anyone in any language on any planet, was produced in the same decade that gave us “Kung Fu Fighting” and “You’re Having My Baby.”

David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream”
My favorite Bowie album is Station to Station, but this is my favorite song.

The Clash, “Complete Control”
Runner-up: “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”

Elvis Costello, “You Belong to Me”
Could easily have gone with “Mystery Dance,” “Watching the Detectives,” or “This Year’s Model.”

The Dickies, “Nights in White Satin”
One of the best covers in the history of covers. You get every note of the original but all of them played five times as fast. The single was released in 1979 on white vinyl.

Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On” and “What’s Going On
If this had been ’60s Week, I would’ve picked “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Al Green, “Love and Happiness”
I can listen to this over and over. In fact, I have.

The Guess Who, “No Time”
What this song means is anybody’s guess. The live version, recorded in Seattle on the same stage where Special D and I saw The Roches and Guys and Dolls, rocks harder.

George Harrison, “Isn’t It a Pity”
Harrison’s talent seems so very different from Lennon’s and McCartney’s. George’s work floats on a slow-moving undercurrent of grief.

Isaac Hayes, “Theme From Shaft”
Shaft. Any questions?

Michael Jackson, “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough”
The video of Jackson dancing to this song was the first thing I ever saw played back on a VCR.

K.C. & The Sunshine Band, “Get Down Tonight”
By your command!

Led Zeppelin, “Kashmir”
I’ve tried for years to dismiss Led Zeppelin as AC/DC with a library card, but songs like this rebuke me.

Paul McCartney, “Maybe I’m Amazed”
The best thing Sir Paul did on his own, and good enough to compare to his work with John.

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”
Thelma Houston’s version is more disco. I had to flip a coin to pick one.

Pink Floyd, “Fearless”
Dark Side of the Moon is my favorite Pink Floyd, but this is my favorite song. Always brings tears to my eyes.

Lou Reed, “Walk on the Wild Side”
To save space, the term “Lou Reed” includes the term “The Velvet Underground.”

The Rolling Stones, “Wild Horses”
If I hadn’t limited myself to one song apiece, The Stones would’ve dominated this list. For ’60s Week I would’ve picked “Street Fighting Man.”

Tom Rush, “Urge for Going”
Joni Mitchell wrote this one. Tom Rush is not in her league, except here. Not what you’d call a bouncy number.

Bruce Springsteen, “Backstreets”
One of the few times Bruce surpassed “Wild Billy’s Circus Story.”

Steely Dan, “Bodhisattva”
Steely Dan is not the most annoying band of the decade, though they’re right behind Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Bee-Gees in that department. “Bodhisattva,” however, is too ridiculous to resist. Plus it packs more swing than anything else in the Steely Dan catalog.

Talking Heads, “Heaven”
As I wrote here, I never appreciated this song until I heard them perform it during the Stop Making Sense concert tour.

Stevie Wonder, “Superstition”
Almost every one of his songs bursts with joy. Runner-up: “As.”

Your suggestions, comments, and suggestive comments are welcome. Thanks as always for reading. See you for ’80s Week!