Classic Rock Review

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Montrose 1st Album (1973)

Montrose - FrontFrom amazon.com

Arguably the greatest American hard rock album ever, Montrose’s 1973 debut is a stunning display of instrumental and vocal prowess.

As the prototypical 4-piece – guitar/vocals/bass/drums – they recorded one of the all-time essential slabs of heavy rock. Ronnie Montrose makes a tremendous leap from in-demand session musician to bandleader and legit guitar hero, Sam Hagar (wasn’t even Sammy yet) sets the standard for American rock vocals, Bill “the Electric” Church lays down some amazingly fat basslines, and Denny Carmassi smacks his drums with intense precision and manly vigor.

Track by track rundown: 1) Rock the Nation is the boldest possible statement of purpose – fast, super hard, and highly energized. Like all the songs on this album, it features fiery guitar, strong vocals, walloping drums, and solid bass. 2) Bad Motor Scooter starts out with the guitar imitating a revving motorcycle, as Hagar wails about how bad he wants to see his girlie. Seething with energy. Brilliant lead playing. 3) Space Station #5 burns with intensity! Epic multi-tracked soloing, cool sci-fi lyrics about leaving a dying planet, and a crazed hi-speed ending. 4) I Don’t Want It – an in-your-face rocker sporting immortal couplets such as “…just quit my job/makin’ toothpicks outta logs” and “flowers make me sneeze/and prayin’ hurts my knees”. Hagar sings like he means it.

Starting side two on the original LP, 5) Good Rockin’ Tonite revamps the old Elvis hit in a live-wire fashion. The overwhemingly massive 6) Rock Candy has the heaviest drums since When The Levee Breaks. Thick yet fluid bass, titanic drumming, powerful vocals, highly-sexed lyrics, massive Ronnie riffage. Big rock indeed. 7) One Thing On My Mind is a lightweight party song, advancing the literature on chicks and rockin’ out and kickin’ back. The anthemic 8) Make it Last closes out the album in a more “philosophical” mode, with some trademark Hagar lyrics about growing pains, loss of innocence, blah blah etc.

Montrose is a truly groundbreaking album, wildly influential on future generations of hard rock and metal bands. Incredibly tight, musically exciting, with relatively short songs (for the era) Montrose forged a new, bracingly kinetic sound, fresher than the competition. Eschewing the lengthy jamming of Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, much less crushingly heavy than Black Sabbath, not needing the theatricality of Alice Cooper or Kiss or Queen, more talented and less over-reaching than Grand Funk, tighter than BTO or The Amboy Dukes, less overtly boogie/blues oriented and more streamlined than Foghat or the James Gang, less ponderous than Rush or Uriah Heep, less myopic than Mahoghany Rush, not at all scary like early BOC, more catchy than Cactus or Crow, harder rocking than the southern rock bands. Note: I honestly adore all (well, most) of the above-mentioned bands, I’m just using them for contrast.

Important precedent – Their brand of commercially viable (yet still diamond-hard) rock and roll was the template for Van Halen. Van Halen used to cover Montrose songs in their LA club days. Montrose actually shares much more with VH: several albums released on Warner Bros Records, produced (with great clarity) by Ted Templeman and engineered by Donn Landee. The influence made it across the Atlantic – Iron Maiden covered at least two different Montrose songs.

Sammy Hager and Ronnie Montrose managed one more album together (1974’s fine Paper Money, also including Carmassi) before collapsing under the weight of the two competing gigantic egos, but the debut album is the real classic. Montrose has always had a permanent high spot on my top-ten “desert island disc” list. Perpetually a steady catalog seller for Warners, a remastered cd version is long overdue. At least three songs (tracks 1,2 and 6) on this album still make frequent rotation on most hard rock and classic rock stations, at least on the west coast. Both Hagar and Ronnie Montrose admit it was a career peak. Say, how about a reunion album and US tour while we’re dreaming? Crank it on up!

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June 30, 2013 Posted by | Montrose 1st Album | | Leave a comment

Montrose 1st Album (1973)

imagesCANLB9V1From sfloman.com

The first album featuring future Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar, Montrose is the best album The Red Rocker has ever been involved with.

Of course, much of that has to do with the hotshot guitarist that this band is named after, as Ronnie Montrose (a session veteran who had recorded with Van Morrison and Edgar Winter) has a raw, thick, flat-out monstrous guitar tone and delivers several tremendously exciting solos, often towards the end of songs.

The album gets off to a rousing start with arguably its three best songs, beginning with “Rock The Nation,” an energetic, anthemic track on which the band just wants to have fun while making sure that we do as well.

These guys were heavy as hell for 1973, and a track like “Bad Motor Scooter,” which fittingly starts with Montrose’s guitar approximating an engine revving up, still hits like a ton of bricks, with a great overall groove and a catchy chorus too, plus a superb guitar solo from Ronnie. Also excellent is “Space Station No. 5,” which starts slow and atmospheric before powerfully surging forward, ultimately climaxing with a frenetic finish.

In general, the unheralded rhythm section of bassist Bill Church and drummer Denny Carmassi is far more than merely adequate, and Sammy sings impressively. Unfortunately, though he generally sounds good (though he can still grate at times), it’s what he’s singing that’s the album’s primary problem.

Lines like “well I gave love a chance and it shit back in my face” (on the still-formidable “I Don’t Want It”) are bad enough, as are simplistic “let’s rock out” lyrics elsewhere, but mindless cock rock lyrics like “you’re rock candy baby, hard, sweet, and sticky” can be hard to overlook.

Fortunately, the Brontosaurus-sized stomp largely overcomes said lyrics on “Rock Candy,” and Ronnie’s fierce guitar also manages to reinvigorate “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” a golden oldie associated with Elvis Presley that’s the album’s lone cover song. Rounding out the track list, “One Thing On My Mind” is a melodic and catchy if not quite as heavy party tune, and “Make It Last” is a bluesy slide guitar showcase that gets anthemic and provides a satisfying finale.

So, as you can see, there’s not any filler on the album, perhaps in part because it’s rather short at a mere 32 minutes long. True, some of these songs are rather generic, and the silly lyrics are regrettable, but the incredible energy and intensity of the performances (expertly captured on tape by future Van Halen producer Ted Templeman), particularly from Mr. Montrose (who Eddie was a big fan of), makes this debut album extremely enjoyable despite its minor flaws.

Certainly Montrose deserved more recognition and acclaim than it received at the time, though the band can take solace in the fact that many a middle-aged headbanger now considers it something of a “lost classic.”

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Montrose 1st Album | | Leave a comment