Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

While The Music Has Achieved Worldwide Acclaim (the people behind the scenes have not)

I went to “The Powerhouse Museum” in Sydney today with the family. It was the “Game Masters” exhibition that sealed the deal. Video games are one of those peculiar cultural items where the games are well-known, however the actual designers are only known to the geeks.

This is what the “Game Masters” exhibition is trying to highlight; the key designers who have had a large influence on video games and video game culture.

I loved the exhibition (my only gripe is that you are not allowed to take photos inside the exhibition as I wanted to snapshot my boys playing Outrun). The retro arcade games made me relive some of my youth. Seeing “Outrun”, “Galaga”, “Space Invaders”, “Pac-Man”, “Donkey Kong” and “Elevator Action” in all of their glory, ready to be played, reminded me of visiting the local bowling alley with a pocket full of change.

Even my kids enjoyed themselves. This is when game play was simple. Insert a coin, move the joystick and press the only button you have to kill the baddies. How simple. I remember a comment from the Steve Jobs bio, that his motto about Apple products had to have the same ease of use as a Star Trek game that Steve Jobs played as a kid. The instructions where, insert coin and kill Klingons.

As the exhibition states, “While the games have achieved worldwide acclaim, their makers have yet to become household names.”

Does anyone know the names of Tomohiro Nishikado (“Space Invaders”) or Toru Iwatani (“Pac-Man”) or Yu Suzuki (“Outrun”)? I didn’t, however I knew the games. I spoke about the games to my kids.

And it got me thinking about some names behind some of the great music that I love.

Tom Werman is one person that comes to mind immediately. Regardless of the different versions of history out there from some of the artists that he worked with, one thing is clear; Tom Werman was a pop producer who got selected by the A&R people of the labels as the man to get hard rock acts on the radio.

This is what Werman had to say about it;

In those days, AM radio sold records and FM didn’t. FM played only album tracks, and AM played only singles. So I made singles with bands who were only being played on FM radio. This is why Doug Morris called me when he was the president of Atlantic Records and said I was the only producer he knew who could make a hit with Twisted Sister, who up to that point was a little known band in America. So I made sure there were two singles on the record, and they sold several million albums as a result. Same with Ted Nugent. Same with Cheap Trick. Same with Molly Hatchet. Same with Mötley Crüe. Same with Poison.

The first album I came across with a Tom Werman production was Motley Crue’s “Shout At The Devil”. Werman said that it was a hard record to make because Nikki Sixx had broken his shoulder when he drove his car off the road and that in turn affected his bass playing. However he credits Tommy Lee as the second-greatest drummer he’s ever worked with and Mick Mars as a guitarist who doesn’t get the recognition he should. History has shown that this album was a career defining album for the Crue in the same way that Master Of Puppets was a career defining album for Metallica. What a coincedence that both bands would go on to make their biggest albums with Bob Rock producing.

The second album I came across was Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry” album. Tom Werman said that Dee Snider was a solid writer and that his songs were almost like nursery rhymes as Dee wanted everybody to understand his melodies. And didn’t we enjoy them, sending the band to the top.

The third album was Dokken’s “Tooth N Nail” and then it was a torrent.

Motley Crue’s “Theatre of Pain” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” followed. Krokus “Change of Address”, Poison “Open Up And Say Ahhh”, Kix “Blow My Fuse”, Junkyard’s self titled album, LA Guns “Cocked and Loaded”, Love/Hate “Black Out In The Red Room”, Stryper “Against The Law” and Babylon A.D. “Nothing Sacred” and Steelheart’s “Tangled In Reins”.

Michael Wagener is another that comes to mind. He was a producer, an engineer and a mixer.

He produced’s Dokken’s “Breaking The Chains” and then mixed the follow up “Tooth N Nail”, the same album that Tom Werman produced. He was on deck again to produce and mix “Under Lock and Key”. He then produced and mixed Stryper’s “Soldiers Under Command” and was on deck to also mix Poison’s “Look What The Cat Dragged In”. He then mixed Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.”

Other production credits include Alice Cooper’s “Constrictor” and “Raise Your Fist N Yell”. White Lion’s “Pride” and “Big Game”. Skid Rows self titled debut and “Slave To The Grind”. Bonfire’s “Point Blank” and “Fireworks” albums. Extreme’s “Pornograffiti”. Ozzy Osbourne’s “Ozzmosis” and Warrant’s “Dog Eat Dog” followed.

He mixed WASP’s “Inside The Electric Circus”, Warlock’s “True As Steel”, Megadeth “So Far, So Good, So What”, Motley Crue’s “Decade of Decadence” and Ozzy Osbourne “No More Tears”.

What about Randy Staub? He engineered “Dr Feelgood” from Motley Crue, the black album from Metallica, “Keep The Faith” from Bon Jovi, Motley Crue’s self titled album, “Subhuman Race” from Skid Row, “Load” and “Reload” from Metallica, “Satellite” from POD and many others like Five Finger Death Punch’s “War Is The Answer.”

Mike Fraser is another whose name is in the majority of albums that I like as mixer. The two John Sykes/Blue Murder albums, “Blue Murder” and “Nothin But Trouble”. Most of AC/DC’s stuff, especially all of the remixes for digital transfer, Metallica, The Cult and many more.

Looking at the above list, I guarantee that you have at least 80% of the albums that the names mentioned have worked on in your collection. Of course there was Max Norman, Roy Thomas Baker, Jack Douglas, Bruce Fairbairn, Bob Rock, Duane Baron/John Purdell, Dave Prater and many more that shaped the albums that we have come to known to love. The music has achieved worldwide acclaim, the bands and the song writers have achieved worldwide acclaim however a lot of the people behind the scenes that captured the sounds, mixed them, edited them, spoke out about arrangements and so forth, have not.

What they have done is work on a consistent basis? That is what artists need to do today. Release on a consistent basis. It’s back to the single format. The great song.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Music

Black Hearted Woman – Blue Murder

John Sykes could have followed the Whitesnake formula he established on the 1987 album with Blue Murder.  John Kalodner even pressured him to come up with Whitesnake style songs.  In the end Black Hearted Woman and Out of Love were delivered to appease Geffen Records.  Blue Murder was guitarist/vocalists John Sykes, bassist Tony Franklin (from the Firm) and drummer Carmine Appice (King Kobra, Jeff Beck).   

The album was produced by Bob Rock who would go on to greater glory with Motley Crue’s Dr Feelgood and Metallica’s Black album.  It was mixed by another Canadian in the super experienced Mike Fraser.  The album even has the following comments: WARNING!! THIS ALBUM HAS BEEN “FRAZZED”.

When I first heard the album, i was blown away.  This was an artist being creative and pushing his own boundaries.  There where no commercial pop singles to push on this album.

Black Hearted Woman has that Children of The Night/Aint Gonna Break My Heart Again vibe from the Whitesnake album.   The riffs are very similar.  It was written by the band.  It is perfect and sleazy.  The small lead break before the bridge is reminiscent to what Sykes did in the Cold Sweat solo break by Thin Lizzy.  He is referencing his past.  His influences.

Even the lyrics are classic Coverdale style lyrics.

When she walked in the room
I was drawn like a fool almost hypnotised
You made my heart beat, baby, like never before
Underneath her disguise I saw trouble and lies
But I walked right in
She said tonight I’m gonna make you push it
And that’s the score

The sad thing about all of this is that David Coverdale threatened to delay the follow-up to Whitesnake’s 1987 album if Geffen Records put cash behind Blue Murder.  It didn’t matter if John Kalodner was a big fan of John Sykes and that he organised his signing to Geffen Records.  Whitesnake was where the money was at the time, so David Geffen complied with Coverdale’s request.  The label failed to promote it and the album more or less disappeared.  

To be honest, David Coverdale hasn’t really released anything as good as the 1987 album and John Sykes hasn’t either.  The Blue Murder albums combined could rival the 1987 album.  Basically the two of them together, that was the magic.  Add Aynsley Dunbar on drums and Neil Murray on bass.  Rock Metal History.     

Hear Black Hearted Woman on vimeo.

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