Five Great Covers EPs you should check out

Some bands build their early careers on a well-placed cover, like Van Halen blasting right out of the gate with a redefining take on The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Some bands make a point of avoiding covers altogether. And some love covers so much that at a certain point in their career they’ll release an entire album of the dang things. Buried somewhere in the middle of it all though is the covers EP. For many listeners a covers EP hits a certain sweet spot: enough tracks to feel like a little treat, not so many as to lose focus or have listeners impatiently drumming their fingers waiting for the next album of original material. A covers EP says “dude, listen to these songs that we loved when we were starting out” but it doesn’t say “and you must listen to everything I listened to in order to understand where I’m coming from.” There are countless covers EPs out there but these are my personal favorites. What are yours?

Skid Row – B Side Ourselves

Skid Row released this EP between their Slave To The Grind and Subhuman Race albums, and it stood out for me because in those pre-Spotify/YouTube/iTunes days you couldn’t simply command a song to appear in your ears: you had to either catch it on the radio or encounter its physical representation in the form of a CD or cassette. Wild, I know. So for me, this was the first time I’d heard a song by The Ramones, and although I was already a Jimi Hendrix fan by age 13 I hadn’t yet come across “Little Wing.” The Judas Priest cover features a guest appearance by the metal god Rob Halford himself, and there’s an energy throughout this disc which captures the power of Skid Row in this unique era, when they successfully survived the last days of rock’s hair metal era and before grunge temporarily put the boot in to bands like Skid Row. This was a band with the world at their feet and a song in their hearts.

“Psycho Therapy” (Ramones)

“C’mon and Love Me” (KISS)

“Delivering the Goods” (Judas Priest)

“What You’re Doing” (Rush)

“Little Wing” (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)

Metallica – The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited

This EP represented Metallica’s first release with Jason Newsted on bass following the tragic death of Cliff Burton, and the band chose to go back to their roots before diving in to new music. These tracks are all available on the band’s 1998 Garage Inc double album too, but for me they tell an entirely different story when heard in their original context instead of fitting in amongst other covers, B-sides and one-offs. If Garage Inc is the story of a band using their platform as The World’s Biggest Metal Band to shine a light on the songs that inspired them, Garage Days Re-Revisited tells a story of a band who was struggling to cope with the emotion of the situation, and who retreated to the comfort of the jam room and the songs that inspired them in their early days before life became so complicated. 

“Helpless” (Diamond Head)

“The Small Hours” (Holocaust)

“The Wait” (Killing Joke)

“Crash Course In Brain Surgery” (Budgie)

“Last Caress/Green Hell” (Misfits)

Stone Sour – Meanwhile In Burbank…

I get a feeling we’ll be seeing more of this as time goes on: covers EPs that feature songs released post-1990. While most of Stone Sour’s recent covers EP (the first of a trilogy) focuses on tracks from the 1980s, the inclusion of Alice In Chains’ “We Die Young” acknowledges AIC’s rightful place in the Great Heavy Rock Songbook. It’s interesting to note that this EP features songs by Judas Priest and KISS, just like Skid Row’s. And it’s also cool to see a band paying tribute to Metallica, who have done so much to share cool covers with the world.

“We Die Young” (Alice In Chains)

“Heading Out To The Highway” (Judas Priest)

“Love Gun” (KISS)

“Creeping Death” (Metallica)

“Children Of The Grave” (Black Sabbath)

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Covers EP

The Chili Peppers released this EP in 2012 as an iTunes-only digital download to celebrate their induction in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The idea was to pay tribute to other bands who came before them in joining the ranks of the Hall. The tracks themselves date from between 1991 and 2011, with three guitarists represented: John Frusctiante, Dave Navarro and Josh Klinghoffer. 

“A Teenager in Love” (Dion and the Belmonts)

“Havana Affair” (The Ramones)

“Search and Destroy” (Iggy Pop and James Williamson of The Stooges)

“Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” (Neil Young)

“I Get Around” (The Beach Boys)

“Suffragette City” (David Bowie)

Rush – Feedback

Alright, this one is probably long enough to qualify as an album if you really wanna stretch it, but this eight-song release clocks in at just over 27 minutes. While most of the EPs covered (ha!) in this list feature songs from the ‘metal and onwards’ era, Rush’s reflects an earlier era, an era we now think of as ‘classic rock.’ Heck, it even includes two songs apiece by Buffalo Springfield and The Yardbirds, and you might as well count “Summertime Blues” as a The Who song too and at them to the ‘two songs by…’ list. What’s really great about Feedback is that it gives the listener a clear indication of where Rush derived their energy, yet it provides virtually no hints whatsoever as to how they developed such a progressive, iconic sound of their own.

“Summertime Blues” (Eddie Cochran/Jerry Capehart)

“Heart Full of Soul” (The Yardbirds)

“For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield)

“The Seeker” (The Who)

“Mr. Soul” (Buffalo Springfield)

“Seven and Seven Is” (Love)

“Shapes Of Things (The Yardbirds)

“Crossroads” (Robert Johnson, Cream)

The Last Action Hero: best soundtrack ever

These days it’s common – nay, expected – for a big blockbuster movie to have a kickass soundtrack packed with original new tracks by the big heavy-hitters of the day. But it wasn’t always like that. Once upon a time the ‘movie soundtrack’ section of a record store was populated largely by recordings of the actual orchestral music scores of films. If a soundtrack featured pop songs, they were often classic tracks that everybody knew. Even in the case of big blockbuster soundtracks which featured a healthy amount of original new songs – like the album which accompanied the release of Dirty Dancing in 1987 – the tracks were very much mainstream radio-friendly pop. So the 1993 release of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero and its soundtrack sent shockwaves through the hard rock and heavy metal scene of the day because it was fricken loaded with crushing tracks by metal, thrash, grunge and alternative icons.

This was an album which featured new, never-before-heard tracks by some of the biggest names in heavy music at the time, including two of thrash’s Big Four. Check out this track listing:

“Big Gun” – AC/DC
“What The Hell Have I” – Alice In Chains
“Angry Again” – Megadeth
“Real World” – Michael Kamen and Queensrÿche
“Two Steps Behind” – Def Leppard
“Poison My Eyes” – Anthrax
“Dream On” [Live] – Aerosmith
“A Little Bitter” – Alice in Chains – 3:53
“Cock the Hammer” – Cypress Hill – 4:11
“Swim” – Fishbone – 4:13
“Last Action Hero” – Tesla – 5:44
“Jack and the Ripper” – Michael Kamen & Buckethead – 3:43

AC/DC’s “Big Gun” kicks off the album, and although they’ve never played the track at a concert, it was heavily visible at the time of its release, particularly due to the pervasive presence of Arnie himself in the video. A classic driving AC/DC twelve-bar-blues-based track with a monster single note riff punctuated by a slinky, bendy melody, the song is classic Acca Dacca. Check out the video, and watch for Arnie doing his own version of Angus Young’s famous duck walk, complete with Gibson SG. While the SG looks huge on Angus’s diminutive frame, it looks like a ukulele in Arnie’s hands.

Alice In Chains’ two contributions, “What The Hell Have I” and “A Little Bitter,” are especially noteworthy entries in the band’s catalog because they represent the first tracks recorded with bass player Mike Inez, who was fresh from Ozzy Osbourne’s band at the time, replacing the departed Mike Starr. (Trivia buffs will know that Inez wrote the bass riff to Ozzy’s “No More Tears”). The two songs were mixed by Andy Wallace, although both were remixed by Toby Wright for the band’s 1999 Music Bank box set.

Three of the soundtrack’s songs continued to be played live regularly by their respective creators for quite a while afterwards. Def Leppard’s “Two Steps Behind” was released in two versions: an electric version from the band’s Retro Active compilation of rare and unreleased tracks (the song was also a B-side to the “Make Love Like A Man” single) and a stripped-back acoustic version. It’s the acoustic rendition that was used for the Last Action Hero soundtrack, and this is the version of the song that the band still plays live to this day.

Another enduring live track is Megadeth’s “Angry Again.” Written specifically for the film and later appearing on Megadeth’s Hidden Treasures rarity EP, the song was nominated for Best Metal Performance at the 1993 Grammy Awards. Apart from Marty Friedman’s brilliant guitar solo and the impressive handlebar moustache sported by Dave Mustaine in the video, the song is particularly interesting for a neat little songwriting trick used in the verses. During the first verse, Mustaine sings over the second half of a two-bar riff, but in the second verse he sings over the first half. It’s a great way of creating a sense of movement from one verse to the next, and probably one of the reasons it’s such a fan favourite.

The album’s other thrash legends, Anthrax, contributed a song leftover from the sessions for their 1993 album Sound of White Noise, their first with Armoured Saint vocalist John Bush and last with lead guitarist Danny Spitz. While the song features the same big riffage as the Sound of White Noise tracks, it has a much more adventurous arrangement, including the use of record scratching.

Queensrÿche and composer Michael Kamen collaborated on “Real World,” a sweeping epic in the vein of their previous work together, “Silent Lucidity.” In fact, “Real World” represents a step beyond “Silent Lucidity,” with Kamen set free to push the Pink Floyd-esque progressive elements of the band’s sound even further. Like “Angry Again” and “Two Steps Behind,” “Real World” was performed live on many Queensryche tours.

A few of the album’s tracks had been released previously, including Fishbone’s “Swim” (from their album Give A Monkey A Brain And He’ll Swear He’s The Center Of The Universe). Cypress Hill’s “Cock The Hammer” is from their 1993 classic Black Sunday. And of course Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” presented here as a live version with orchestration by Michael Kamen. Tesla’s “Last Action Hero” is a powerful 80s rocker, although it felt a little out of place in the grunge-friendly climate of 1993, even on an album with such 80s megastars as Def Leppard and Queensryche. But it’s a rockin’ song with some very cool Thin Lizzy-esque twin guitar harmony work.

The album is closed out in spectacular fashion with another collaboration between Michael Kamen and unlikely partner: Buckethead, whose alternatingly haunting and rocking guitar weaves through orchestral ambience and electronica. Although Buckethead was already known to hard-core guitar fans, this was probably his first ‘big time’ exposure, and as an introduction to the world at large it’s a very impressive one.

There have been plenty of innovative soundtrack albums since Last Action Hero – the rap/rock collaborations of Judgment Night later in 1993 being a particularly noteworthy example, pairing Dinosaur Jr. and Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Helmet and House of Pain, Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul, Living Colour and Run DMC, Slayer and Ice-T, Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill, Mudhoney and Sir-Mix-A-Lot, Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill, Faith No More and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. and more. In fact the Judgment Night soundtrack may have been a big factor in the rise of rap-rock and nu metal a few years later. But perhaps that’s a story for another time.

Podcast: Jerry Cantrell of Alice In Chains

So. If you know me, you know I’m a huge Jerry Cantrell nut-swinger. I celebrate the man’s entire catalogue. The new Alice In Chains album Ranier Fog is released at the end of this week and it’s a killer evolution of the Alice In Chains sound: just like everything else AIC, it’s recognisably them yet recognisably different at the same time. I had the chance to talk with Jerry about it, along with as many other nerdy guitar questions as I could cram in to the chat. I hope you dig it. You can check it out on iTunes, at BlogTalkRadio or on pretty much all good podcast catchers (and if it’s not on yours, let me know and I’ll change that). 

Alice In Chains – Dirt

Man, I’m continually blown away by how well Dirt by Alice In Chains holds up today. For all its darkness and brutal honesty there’s something strangely beautiful about it. It’s not an easy listen. You can tell even at this stage that the band was surrounded by and drawn towards self-destruction. The lyrics speak not just of addiction in an abstract sense, but of surrendering willingly to it, throwing yourself into it and letting it take you over completely. Embracing the hopelessness and the fuck-it-ness of it all. 

When I first heard the record, I couldn’t relate to that at all. Hell, the biggest addition I had was playing guitar, and I managed to turn that into something constructive. But as I got older I started to understand Dirt a little more. I was never a drug guy but I came to understand self-destruction, hopelessness, the compulsion to see how far you can take something that is bad for you, how low you can get before you admit you need help, how much you can dislike yourself before you decide to either do something about it or give in. 

There are a lot of albums I love that I don’t particularly feel like I need to listen to regularly any more, just because they’re so burned into my brain. But this one keeps calling to me and I keep hearing new things. And although Dirt has been out there in the world for 25 years now and has been a part of my life since my teens, I don’t listen to it for nostalgia. I listen to it because it feels like a living, evolving document of the human condition. It’s filtered through the lens of depression, addiction, desperation and surrender but as a listener you can superimpose all sorts of demons onto it and hopefully exorcise them in the process. 

Dirt is still not an easy listen. If you’re a sensitive soul, you’re going to feel a lot of things and you’re probably going to want to just sit in silence for a few minutes afterwards, letting your mind come back from wherever you’ve just been. But it’s a very worthwhile listen too.

My Favourite Guitar And Bass Intros

IntrosIs there anything better than a good song intro? Well, yeah. I can think of a few things, and some of them even have something to do with music. But still, there’s just something magical about a great song intro. Whether it’s an unaccompanied slab of guitar wizardry, some kind of unexpected time signature, a chunk of mysteriously atmospheric ambience or even just  some kind of silly bit if dialog recorded in the studio, a good intro can set the scene and build anticipation for the song proper. So in celebration of the glories of the intro, here are a few of my favourites, divided in to guitar and bass examples. What are yours?

To buy music by any of these bands, hit up Amazon.com
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RIP Alice In Chains’ Mike Starr

Awful breaking news – original Alice In Chains bass player Mike Starr has died in Utah, USA.

Police tell TMZ that Starr’s body was found in a Salt Lake City home. Starr has had a long and much-publicised battle with substance abuse and was last month arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance.

As an Alice In Chains fan I’m devastated by this. Mike’s bass playing on Facelift and Dirt was great, and his intro to Rain When I Die was one of the coolest moments of Dirt. Those albums, especially Dirt, were huge for me back in the day, and still are today.

Riki Rachtman has posted his feelings here, calling it like he sees it. It’s a powerful read.

VIDEO: G&L Jerry Cantrell signature series

Whoa! Check out this Premier Guitar video about the G&L Rampage Jerry Cantrell model. The guitar will be available in Tribute and US-made versions in 2010.

Look at the specs of the Tribute version.

Kahler 4300 bridge
Alnico 5 humbucker designed with Jerry
Soft maple body
Maple neck
Ebony fretboard
Matching headstock

The US-made version will have a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker and an upgraded Kahler bridge.