Don’t you wish you could sometimes write cover versions of books, in the way that bands cover each other’s songs? I was listening to a bunch of cover versions on Youtube and all I could think was that it would be way easier to do that than to have to come up with anything original. And, yes, I am trying to write a new book. How did you guess?
Well, rather than get on and just do the new book, this seemed like an excellent excuse to write a blog post about cover versions of famous songs, and in my personal opinion, these cover versions are better than the originals. You can disagree of course. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. 😉
Nights in White Satin, by The Moody Blues, covered by Rock Goddess
Rock Goddess were one of my favourite heavy metal bands from the 80s. They never hit it really big, but they are still going and they are still awesome. This is their live cover of Nights in White Satin, done originally by The Moody Blues:
How can you not love that rough, powerful vocal?
And, for comparison, here is the original:
I’m right, right?
Diamonds and Rust, by Joan Baez, covered by Judas Priest
Of course the original is absolutely brilliant, but I love how Judas Priest kept so close to that original while making their version entirely their own. (Priest were enormous fans of both Baez and Bob Dylan, of course.)
Here’s the cover version:
And the original:
Rasputin, by Boney M., covered by Turisas
Okay, this time I’m not going to claim the cover is actually better, because I have a big soft spot by Boney M., but Turisas are, well, they’re Turisas, and I love the idea of blood-soaked Vikings covering a Boney M. song.
Of course, Boney M. were a bit of a fraud in that the male ‘lead singer’ didn’t actually do the singing because he wasn’t a good enough singer, but.
Here are Turisas:
That’s it for now. I have proved myself entirely right, and I’m glad you admit it.
I used to blog about music a wee bit on here, but I’ve realised I haven’t done if for, wow, over a year.
One of the great things about YouTube is that, if you use it enough for listening to music, it starts to suggest things you’ve never heard before.
I got into heavy metal in about 1985, or perhaps early 1986 (it was a long time ago now…). By that time, what was being called NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) had been going for quite some time. It started in 1979 (well, the name was coined then; some of the bands had been around for a few years) as a little bit of a reaction against punk. It had the same energy as punk, and some of the same attitude, but it put a higher value on musical talent and melody, and it grew as an underground musical movement, without any real coverage from mainstream media, with news of bands being spread by word-of-mouth and hand-produced fanzines.
Well, because I didn’t start listening to it until 1985-86, I missed a lot of bands that didn’t break out of those underground scenes and were essentially gone by the mid-80s. Which brings me back to now and YouTube. I’ve been exploring around, clicking from band to band, exploring the music I didn’t get a chance to experience the first time around.
There’s an awful lot of it, and I don’t have space to talk about it all here, but here are a few highlights I’ve come across.
Tokyo Blade were a band who really should have made it. They had the talent and their music had enough potential. There were certainly similarities with Iron Maiden in the guitars and vocals (although Iron Maiden had a more complex, full sound). But they, like a lot of bands, went through far too many line-up changes and didn’t kick on as they should have done.
Nonetheless, they put out some good stuff and are, in fact, after disbanding several times, still around.
Here’s one of their songs, “If Heaven is Hell”:
Virtue were formed in 1981, right when NWOBHM was at its height, but they didn’t actually release anything until their single, “We Stand to Fight”, in 1985. This was unfortunate because, to be honest, if they had released it three years earlier they might have had more success. But by 1985, the genre had shaken itself out a little bit. Iron Maiden had already released their first five albums and were a global phenomenon. Ozzy Osbourne had released Bark at the Moon and Diary of a Madman. Dio had put out Holy Diver and The Last in Line. Def Leppard, Accept, Queensryche, Warlock, and so on were all becoming big.
Even if you don’t know who these bands are, what I’m saying is that the major bands were already becoming superstars and releasing what would later be acknowledged to be the best albums in the genre. Virtue’s single felt just a few years too late.
Nonetheless, this is a classic bit of early NWOBHM that just happened to not appear early enough.
To be honest, I think I was vaguely aware of Praying Mantis, but I don’t think I ever actually listened to anything they put out. Which is a shame, because I think I would have liked them, and they were putting out good music. They were on the slightly ‘softer’ end of the heavy metal of the time – more AOR influenced, perhaps.
Praying Mantis had a reasonable amount of success and, although they broke up for a while, are now back together and playing again.
This is “Children of the Earth” from their first album.
For this last band, we’re going really obscure. This is a Danish band called (rather unfortunately) Randy. They only put out a few songs, and their best work came out as the two sides of their single, “Shadows are Falling / The Beast”. So, I’m going to put both here, because I really can’t decide which I prefer.
Here is “Shadows are Falling”:
And here is “The Beast”:
There are a lot of other great bands from the same era that I didn’t catch the first time around and which didn’t make it big, bands like Overdrive, Crucifixion, Excalibur, Mendes Prey, Cloven Hoof and so on. You can hear a bunch on this playlist (the playlist includes a couple of bands that were relatively successful, too):
I’m doing a blog countdown until SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is published, on January 12th, 2016. Today, there are seven days to go, so it must be time for some rock ‘n’ roll.
Well, kind of.
Back when I was … quite a bit younger, before I had children and before 10 o’clock sounded like a late night, I used to go down the pub every Friday or Saturday night with my friend, Neil. The pub we usually went to was one of those that has a band playing most weekends. Not always great bands, but not bad bands, either. Most of them were pretty good, musically and technically. But a lot of them weren’t great performers.
They would play, and nobody much would be paying attention.
These bands, it wasn’t that there was anything wrong with their ability, but they seemed to have forgotten that they were playing to an audience. They would look at each other. They would peer at their shoes. They would stare into empty space. But they never looked the audience in the eye. They never tried to grab your attention.
The difference between them and the bands who really got an audience rocking was painfully obvious. The bands who engaged would be right there at the edge of the stage, leaning forward, grabbing your gaze, refusing to let go.
And it occurred to me: that’s not so different to being a writer.
No, no. This isn’t just an attempt to make being a writer seem as cool as being in a rock band, because we all know that’s not true. Sorry, it just isn’t. No one ever became a writer to look cool. Somehow, being hunched in front of a laptop just isn’t as rock and roll as having a Les Paul or a Gibson slung low.
Here’s the way I see it: when you write, you need to be looking your audience in the eye. You need to be telling the story to them. It’s easy to stare at your feet when you’re a writer, to focus on the processes of writing, the technical challenges and the act of putting the words on the page. It’s easy to forget you are writing a story for readers.
That’s not to say that you should try to “sell out”. I’m not for a moment suggesting that you change your story to please an audience. No really great rock ‘n’ roll band changed their music to please listeners. But you do need to remember that you are writing for someone to read. You need to write with that audience as a focus and build a story that they will respond to. You have to look them in the eye, force them to engage, and never let them go.
Your audience, of course, can be anyone you like. It can be as small or as large as you want. It can be your child or wife or husband only. It can even just be you.
Whoever that audience is though, when you write, write as though you are telling them a story and you want them to be as excited by it as you are.
Don’t stare at your feet. Your feet don’t care.
And, in case you came here expecting some rock ‘n’ roll and feel cheated, and in memory of the great Lemmy, here is Motörhead with “Rock n’roll”:
I don’t know how many of you do this. You know how it is when you’re working on a novel (or maybe you don’t) and you don’t have much free time. You need to get into the right headspace as quickly as you can. For me, the best way to do it is by coming up with a playlist of songs for each particular book.
I don’t always choose songs that fit thematically with the book I’m writing (I wrote one whole book listening a single song, Blind in Texas, by W.A.S.P. on repeat, even though neither blindness nor Texas featured in any way in the actual book.)
For the book I’m writing now, tentatively called The Mystery of Firelake Hall, though, I’ve come up with a list of songs which all, in some tenuous way at least, link in to the themes or events of the book. Here it is. Ten points if you can figure out the themes of the novel from this. (And what do points mean? Well, pretty much nothing. Have ’em anyway.)
The songs are:
7 Days to the Wolves – Nightwish
Empire of the Clouds – Iron Maiden
Coming Home – Iron Maiden
Paschendale – Iron Maiden
Beyond the Realms of Death – Judas Priest
Tears of the Dragon – Bruce Dickinson
Wish I Had an Angel – Nightwish
Les Morts Dansant – Magnum
So, what do you reckon? And does anyone else use playlists?
Music Monday is a series where I, you know, occasionally talk about old music. On a Monday.
We don’t get enough horror in music anymore.
No, I’m not talking about the horror of a reforming boy band or even the kind of gore show that some bands put on. I’m talking about the genuinely creepy songs that seem to be the products of truly deranged minds.
Admittedly, back in the 1970s, there seemed to be an awful lot of deranged minds out there making music (possibly due to all the more interesting drugs). Take dear old Arthur Brown or Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull*, for example. These days, how often do you get musicians appearing as deranged as Arthur getting pop hits? Not often enough, I say!
But despite the abundance of deranged musicians, the person who was synonymous with the creepy horror song was Alice Cooper (although none of his songs was quite as horrific as the fact that he has morphed into a golfing Republican in later life). Most people know some of his more popular hits like School’s Out, I’m Eighteen and Poison, his more creepy stuff is a little less well-known.
Perhaps his most epic contribution comes in the form of the trio of songs Years Ago / Steven / The Awakening:
I have no idea whether Mr. Brown ever took any drugs of any type, and I’m pretty sure Ian Anderson never did. But here is Arthur Brown with his best-known song, Fire:
This is my occasional series about old music that I like and you’ve never heard of (or maybe you have; how would I know?)
This time around I thought I’d go local, or at least local to where I grew up.
Bristol, in the U.K., is a great city. It’s diverse, progressive, with a lot of history and culture. It even has its own science fiction and fantasy convention, BristolCon. What it doesn’t have, though, is a great deal of native heavy metal. As I’ve pointed out before, heavy metal grew out of the industrial cities of the British midlands. Bristol isn’t part of that, and although it used to be a port city and still has an aerospace industry, it was never the kind of heavy industrial centre that the midlands were.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t any bands, of course. Wherever there were working class neighbourhoods, there were going to be heavy metal bands.
So I’m going to talk about two of the better-known bands from my home city.
First up is Onslaught. Onslaught were formed in Bristol in the early 1980s, before I was really into metal, but in 1989 they released what I think is their best album, In Search of Sanity. This album contained their most complex songs, and while there is certainly a clear influence from Metallica, the vocals from their singer Steve Grimmett led to a more melodic sound. Welcome to Dying, below, is the longest song on the album, coming in at over 12 minutes:
If you’re looking for a rather shorter song from them, here’s the band doing a cover of AC/DC’s classic, Let There Be Rock.
The second local band I’m going to highlight is band called Jaguar. I’ll be honest, there’s nothing particularly exceptional about Jaguar. They never had a great deal of success, but their music is fairly representative of (although slightly faster than) a lot of the young heavy metal bands around in the period of about 1979-82. Listening to them, you can see why bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Def Leppard became such international successes and Jaguar didn’t. That’s not to say that they were a bad band. They weren’t, and they’re still worth listening to. This is a single they released in 1981, called Back Street Woman. I didn’t actually hear them when they were first around (they folded in 1984, before I got into the music), but I came across this track some years later on a compilation album. Here it is:
These weren’t the only heavy metal bands in Bristol, of course (hell, every school probably had half-a-dozen wannabe bands playing to a few dozen friends), but they were the most successful and worth a few minutes of listening.
That’s all for today. Next blog entry is going to be about something else entirely. Stay tuned… :)
Music Monday is a very occasional feature where I talk about music that is often forgotten these days and which deserves to be remembered.
Back when I was young, Heavy Metal was a pretty male genre of music. Most of the bands were male and most of the fans were too. It had grown up among the young, working class men of the industrial towns in the British Midlands. But even though it was sweaty and unfashionable, it was also pretty open and accepting, and it wasn’t entirely male.
Today I thought I’d highlight a couple of the female heavy metal bands who made a name for themselves back in the 1980s.
First up is a band who were every bit the match for more famous Motörhead (with whom they also collaborated with), Girlschool. This band was as uncompromising, heavy and in-your-face as anyone else out there. Girlschool were pretty big news in the early 1980s, and they’re still active now. Here they are with the first track from their 1980 album, Demolition. The track is “Demolition Boys”:
Another band who could give anyone a run for their money in terms of energy and sheer musical aggression were Rock Goddess, formed by sisters Jody and Julie Turner while they were still at school (Julie was only 9 at the time and was still at school when their first album was released). The band never really hit the major league, but they did support bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. This track is from their second album, Hell Hath No Fury. The track is “Hold Me Down”:
These weren’t the only female metal bands of the time, of course, and there were plenty of bands with individual female members (Doro Pesch in Warlock being probably the most prominent), but they were still a rarity and you probably won’t hear much about them when people talk about the history of heavy metal. You should.
Back when I was a teenager, oh so many years ago, there was this great show on the radio. It was called the Friday Rock Show and it was presented by the rather unique Tommy Vance. The show was on from 10pm to midnight, and as a teenager, I was always out then, but I didn’t want to miss it, so I set it up to be taped. (This was pre-streaming, and pre-anything that would be recognisable as the internet these days as well. Hell, back then even most computers came with cassette players rather than incredibly modern and swish floppy discs.)
Anyway, this was a proper music show, and that meant that Vance would play four tracks back-to-back. That meant I didn’t always catch the name of the band or the track when listening to it on tape the next day. But some of the songs stuck in my head anyway.
Anyhow, fast forward to this year (yep, you could fast forward tapes; if you pressed play at the same time, you got a much improved rendition of certain tracks…) and I finally bought myself a turntable to play my old vinyl. I even had a couple of records that I’d never actually listened to, because I’d bought them on sale when I didn’t have a turntable.
One of them was a LP by White Lion, called Fight to Survive. It’s a mixed album. Some of the tracks are good, some a rather by-numbers rock. But only when I listened to it did I realize that one of the tracks that had stuck in my head since those Friday Rock Show days was on this album, and it was called All the Fallen Men. The way I see it, if a track can stick in your head for well over twenty years, it’s got to have something going for it. So, here it is for those of you missed the 80s the first time around.
And if you enjoyed that one, here’s another, this time Lady of the Valley, from their album Pride (in my opinion a better album than Fight to Survive):
Hey, but one good thing about today over the 1980s is that back then you couldn’t find every song ever recorded on YouTube and stick it up on your blog.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a turntable. I’ve been wanting one for ages because, well, they’re cool, but also because although I like the convenience of having everything digitised and on my computer, there’s something lacking in the sound quality. It just doesn’t seem to have the same body to the sound.
Anyway, for the first time in well over 20 years I now have access to a turntable, so I went digging around the garage (oh, yes, I do keep everything) until I found my box of old vinyl, and in that, in completely the wrong sleeve (which it was in when I bought it second hand all those years ago) I came across an album that I’d totally forgotten I owned: Technical Ecstasy, by Black Sabbath. And one of the best songs on that album is a song called “Gypsy”.
It made me realise that I seem to have quite a few songs that are some variation on “Gypsy” and that they’re all pretty good songs. So, in the interests of random blog posting, here are the songs I own that are called “Gypsy” (or similar):