Hammer of the gods.
For some inexplicable reason I stayed up to watch the Beeb’s “Greatest Rock Band” finale show last night, I never did see the other five episodes (phew!). Like most great rock stars hairstyles it had now shorn itself down to various three horse races to find the best (favourite) bands and players over the last forty odd years. That in itself is a strange fact as is hearing a wide age range of young and woefully inarticulate celebrity fans arguing about the merits of rockers their parents would know much better. And then there were the celebrity arguments, most of which were along the lines of “I really like him (no hers here) so you should vote for him”. Each time the name was mentioned a block of stock footage was shown just to add to the now indistinct and pallid world of hazily recalled greatness these guys live in. Page nursing the double neck, Slash with a top hat and fag, Hendrix on the Lulu Show, Freddy Mercury in drag and so on.
Of course this kind of for fun competition never works and really only displays the gulf between genres, the variety of style and the disparity of contribution between the exponents, particularly when you get into the “who invented the riff” or who first used the mike stand as a “phallic prop” arguments, as if they were discovering X-Rays or landing on the moon. Even the terminology is completely misunderstood, Slash’s (orgasmic (?) as it was described) intro to Sweet Child of Mine keeps being referred to as a riff, eh? whilst Flea’s bass playing is “orchestral” and nobody really understands what drummers do because its all just an “engine room”, a bit like going below on the Titanic and having to wear ear defenders then?
Queen of course featured strongly, they however inhabit a unique place in the land of the cartoon undead owing more to pantomime and camp cabaret than actual grimy, grungy rock. or the mean blues that it sprang from. A few great singles, six shite albums and an overblown stage show, really they were the UK’s Kiss but with a bit less make up and they have aged and died out rather badly.
So we had the usual suspects but no keyboards section, a glaring omission which may have been explained or simply didn’t work within the “power trio or front man” structure that the show seemed to be stuck with - the truth is that apart from the odd Hammond heavy chord, Rhodes fill or a few synth pieces I could live without rock keyboards quite nicely as could the rest of the world. They should’ve been in there however if only to maintain some proper balance.
So however irritating it may be to reduce thousands of albums and performances down to a ridiculous short list a winner eventually arrived, thanks to numerous drunk punters phoning from the pub, in Led Zep being the best band ever. The space between the 70s and the present day seems now oddly devoid of a brute force in music, that can’t be right, where have all the big bands gone wrong? We need to move on. Anyway the result is ok with me albeit it’s guitar players I rate and for the record my current list would, in no particular order be:
Jeff Beck - technically brilliant and innovative but always in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong combination of musicians and so criminally dodged the massive career he deserved. Not strong on personality or self awareness I fear.
Jimmy Page - did everything except sing which is probably just as well, stole riffs and developed them, wrote 20 killer originals, explored highs and lows, did the twin mike ambient recordings, used little amps, invented forward echo and played a Danelectro live. Just don’t describe his playing as “strident” please, we’re all fed up with that. He virtually make it impossible for any average player to pick up a double neck and look cool or comfortable.
Joe Walsh - in the James Gang used power chords brilliantly, did slide and echo better than anyone and had a perfect sense for build and dynamics, lost it eventually but a truly great early player. Three fine albums and then the smoker you drink etc. Not a bad career.
Jimi Hendrix - a gentle, spaced, fruitcake feedback genius who made the perfect 27, if only a wider range of his material was played and remembered rather than just Purple Haze or Hey Joe. The Experience were the ideal power trio.
Steve Howe - not sure why but he seems to get more tonal variation out of his guitars so has no distinct signature sound but still is unique, surprisingly melodic, not blues based and nicely unpopular and unfashionable, or so I’d imagine. Shame he didn’t like “Owner of a lonely heart” though.
The James Gang Rides Again - and in style.