Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Contrary to popular belief, I never really was what you'd call a big heavy metal fan. True, back in my even-more-moronic-than-I-am-now high school days I would plunk down the coinage in order to sample something in the realms of "metal" here and there maybe just to "try it out," but I never really was stuck on the stuff unlike most of my so-called "peers." In fact, I eventually developed an intense dislike for the form once the fun and snide mid-seventies wooshed into the disco and arena rock-drenched late-seventies, and in no way did I want to be associated with this stoner pimple-farm of a box boy music that heavy metal had become. It always happens that way; when a rock & roll genre is young and fresh the lumpen prole audience doesn't care one way or another about it, though once this style of music becomes worn out and boring suddenly this music's the rave fave amongst the lowlier aspects of any High School USA. Look at "underground" (ne. punk, garage, even new wave) rock...back in the mid-seventies when it was perhaps at its height only a few CREEM reading kids dared to pay attention. However, once punk settled into "new wave" and then eventually into "new music" (of course I ain't talkin' the other variety of splinter directions the form took such as "garage revival" or "hardcore"), every high school seemed to sport its own clique of pseudo-intellectual mousse-domes! Same with heavy metal...I mean, I wonder how many kids who went to high school with Kenne Highland shared his unique heavy metal visions back when he was cranking out ROCK ON in the early-seventies??? I'm sure a check of the same high school ten years later would turn up a whole slew of imitation Highlands without the swagger or punk drive Highland could put into not only his music but his equally stellar written appreciations of the metal form.

Despite the metal genre going from hard crunch to Ted Nugent-ized blowhardisms, I gotta say that I did acquire a liking for heavy metal, but only if this "aesthetic" was firmly planted on punk rock terrain. And frankly, any idjit could tell you that both styles sprang from the same roots starting with Link Wray's pre-Beatle exploits up through the early-Kinks and garage bands on to Yardbirds experimentation, Detroit rock and even late-sixties heavy accomplishment. However, somewhere down the line the two fraternal twins were separated...I mean, in 1973 it was common to see the Stooges lumped in with the heavy metal brigades, but by the late-seventies FORGET IT!!!! Whereas punk remained a grass-roots, localized phenomenon enveloping a variety of styles and movements encompassing everything from sixties rock, pop, bubblegum, r&b and even metallic flange, heavy metal proper became big biz and was ultimately stunted because of its success. While punk and its kin flourished on the stages of small, intimate clubs metal found a home in the arenas of the nation, spawning grounds for the downer generation that never could find a direction and never did go anywhere for that matter.

Yet, heavy metal on punk turf was a fine experience, in fact I could make a valid point by saying that it was punk rock that saved heavy metal from a totally bleak future that Andy Secher and his HIT PARADER minions seemed to think the best thing, at least for their bank accounts! Whether it be Patti Smith's RADIO ETHIOPIA (which was probably the best redux of the MC5's avant rock for the seventies, though I doubt any critic woulda said that at the time), or the groups on the LIVE AT CBGB'S album that the Britsters thought were totally metal, not to mention such local faves as Rocket From the Tombs playing a "heavy metal night" at the Agora or MX-80 Sound (and who besides me could forget a whole slew of heavy metal groups with names like Sorcerers and Junior Birdmen who were playing CBGB and Max's during the days of Alan Arkin haircuts and "quirkiness") and who could forget VON LMO, it seemed that if there was a direction heavy metal should have gone it, it was that of the underground which tossed off the trappings of metal and reshaped it in a style that seems a more sensible metallic direction than had it devolved into its infinitely more popular yet hollow early-eighties plod mode.

So where do Thundertrain fit into all this? They fit in mighty FINE, that's where, since they encapsulate a lotta what was just RIGHT about heavy metal in the late-seventies...high energy ROCK & ROLL played with style and verve with more than a pinch of the dreaded punk rock to keep this from going the Epic Records route to BLAH. Thundertrain had the name, the sound, the volume, the sweat and the aarrgh! as well...imagine if Aerosmith never got signed to Columbia and continued on as a bigname local act retaining a lot of the Dolls/MC5 punk-drive they started out with (well, I remember Jymn Parrett calling Aerosmith a "punk rockin'" band in DENIM DELINQUENT, plus the reviewer who wrote up the first Aerosmith disc in HYPE said the advance buzz on 'em had 'em pegged in the Dolls vein!), and you'll get an idea of where Thundertrain stands.

Anyway, this CD's taken from a 1979 FM broadcast. A jockette emcees the show and I gotta laugh because she reminds me of just about every other FM female deejay of the day with her suave hip puton! (And the show reminds me of about a hundred other FM broadcasts of the same stratum that I've heard, with the same opening schpiel and the usual club audience reactions.) Then Thundertrain proceed to blast a few eardrums with their particular brand of high energy music. Now, it ain't avant garde heavy metal like the kind I've been praising to the rafters for years on end, but it's fine heavy metal that continues to zoom you just like it did when you were twelve, first heard this sorta racket and thought....wha???????

You get two covers: Thundertrain not only have the intelligence to do Slade's "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" which not only pays homage to a Thundertrain FAVE but also cover the Standells classic "Dirty Water" if only out of respect for home town Boston. The original stuff ain't no slouch either, with heavy metal titles such as "Readin' Riotin' Rock 'n' Roll" and "Hot For Teacher!" (Van Halen stealing the title for a comparatively substandard metallic shuck-take) pointing the way towards great, raw and exciting live jamz. My fave of the bunch just has to be "I Gotta Rock," a newer version of the same track that closed out the wild LIVE AT THE RAT double-disc set only a few years earlier. This is the song where Thundertrain lead singer and patented wildman Mach Bell does some mighty rips on the then-current hit parade, mocking such putricities as "You Light Up My Life" and the Village People before screaming at the top of his lungs what-else-but DISCO SUCKS!!! which the radio station actually FUZZED OUT if you can believe that! Booklet says that this was because (in those pre-BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD days) the word "suck" was considered obscene, but I dunno... After all, I remember FM radio being very oh-so-hip daring at the time...y'know, all those coked out deejays snickering over sexual perversion reference in songs like they were ten-year-olds just discovering these things, and hey, WMMS-FM even aired Peter Laughner singing "Ain't It Fun" with "c-word" intact back in 1975, and that was four years prior to Bell's anti-disco tirade! You were even hearing "suck" regularly on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE...remember Dan Akroyd doing his "Leonard Pinth-Garnell" character hosting "Bad Theatre/Musical/One Man Play..." ending each performance with a snooty "Really sucks!"?? I dunno, maybe they're just more straight-laced in Boston.

If you have Gulcher's CD reissue of the Thundertrain LP I reviewed in BTC #25 and liked it, make a point to pick this one up. I think it's even better, mostly because it proves that Thundertrain weren't just some studio whiz project that probably sounded half-assed in a live setting. This here is energy, and come to think of it considering some of the lame musical acts we have to put up with today don't you think we're in need of some raw power NOW just as much as we needed it way back in the energy-crisis seventies???

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