Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Tuesday Tuneage
James Gang - "The Bomber"

When I was in my mid-teens, I bought a couple of small paperbacks at the B. Dalton store in Grand Forks. They were short rock biographies published by Tempo Books and both were authored by John Swenson. One was about The Who, the other was about The Eagles. The Who went on to become my obsession in high school, ignored through much of my twenties and thirties, and now once again one of my all-time faves. The Eagles? Well I tried selling the Eagles book last time I moved but the bookstore wouldn’t buy it and now I’m glad I kept it because it has a photo of John Belushi wearing a Vikings windbreaker in it. The Eagles book also doubles as a bio of Joe Walsh and his original version of the James Gang. Swenson wrote that the James Gang blew away Pete Towhnshend when they opened for the The Who circa 1970 and this was enough for me to seek out James Gang LPs in high school. Swenson's descriptions of them - as I recall, and it's been thirty years or so - seemed to place the James Gang in a high tier of the great also-rans in American rock history. They were a homer-or-strikeout band to me, but when they went deep it was brilliant hard rock.

For instance, their second album, James Gang Rides Again, featured a tune called “The Bomber.” which was a montage of:
1) A killer proto-heavy metal piece called "Closet Queen" (Closet what??) (Which makes me wonder what these lines exactly mean ... "So I began to notice some things I hadn't seen before/That's what's brought me here knockin' on your back door");
2) Maurice Ravel's "Bolero"; and
3) Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate To The Wind."

The inclusion of “Bolero” was no doubt influenced by “Beck’s Bolero” from a few years earlier. But Ravel’s estate forced the band to delete it from future pressings, so only the first 10,000 copies of Rides Again LPs featured "Bolero." Of course, the only reason I was aware of this "Bolero" controvery was because had I read that Eagles book - which described the Ravel estate's legal action - right around the same time as the movie 10 was popular and "Bolero" was a significant part of that movie. But I'm not sure I ever even saw that movie, it starred that tiny British guy with kinda long hair who I understand some people thought was funny and it also starred Ursula Andress Linda Evans Bo Derek.

I had mentally misplaced all this "The Bomber" stuff until the other night when for some reason I remembered it while listening to “Beck’s Bolero” in the dark on headphones. This lead me to YouTube, which featured The James Gang’s version of “The Bomber,” complete with the controversial "Bolero" excerpt fully intact. This made that YouTube moment A PROTO-METAL HOLY GRAIL! I hadn't been this excited over a proto-metal finding since: 1) Discovering a copy of the Stooges' quasi-bootleg Metallic K.O. in the racks at Let It Be in the mid-nineties. (Note, the album is not titled Punk K.O.); and 2) Hearing some of Rocket From The Tombs' recordings - officially released as the album The Day The Earth Met The Rocket From The Tombs - at Treehouse Records early last decade. I bought it on CD and came to find out that it was made up of recordings from various RFTT bootleggs. (One of those bootlegs was titled A Night Of Heavy Music - note, not titled A Night Of Punk Music.)

So what, you say, a minute-and-a-half of some Ohio band's interpretation of a tune was missing and now you found it. Big deal. Well here's another story, maybe it'll clear things up as to my state of mind, maybe it won't: As a teen, I bought a Canadian version of The MC5's Kick Out The Jams LP hoping as an import it would have the REAL intro to the title track. But I was bummed that it had the cleaned-up "brothers and sisters" intro to the title track. Imagine my joy when I bought the album on CD in the nineties and got my long-promised, never-heard "motherfuckers" version ... ANOTHER PROTO-METAL HOLY GRAIL ...