"It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular. We have recorded each composition with the one thought - that it should be unique, adventurous and fascinating. It has taken every shred of our combined musical and technical knowledge to achieve this. From the outset we have abandoned all preconceived thoughts of blatant commercialism. Instead we hope to give you something far more substantial and fulfilling."
This grandiose declaration appears inside the record sleeve of Gentle Giant's second album, Acquiring the Taste. To the band's credit, they consistently delivered on that promise, recording some of the most intricate, challenging, and downright strange music in the progressive rock genre.
Gentle Giant was formed in 1970 by Scottish-born brothers and multi-instrumentalists Derek, Ray, and Phil Shulman, formerly of the soul group Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. They were shortly joined by classically trained keyboardist Kerry Minnear, blues guitarist Gary Green, and jazz drummer Martin Smith. However, the band's "classic lineup" did not solidify until new drummer John Weathers joined in 1972 (replacing Smith's successor Malcolm Mortimore) and Phil Shulman departed the following year.
The band cast a wide net with their musical influences, which included rock, jazz, soul, and classical, although they also heavily featured elements of baroque and medieval chamber music in their compositions. Their lyrics, usually written by Derek Shulman, reflected the band's interest in philosophy, literature, and the Shulman brothers' childhood experiences. It's also worth noting that each member of the band was a talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, which allowed for extensive experimentation and vocal harmonies and counterpoints. If I'm harping a bit too much on their collective pedigree, it's only to hammer home the point that Gentle Giant created something truly original and unique, even when compared to their peers in the prog rock community.
Unlike many of those aforementioned peers, Gentle Giant sadly never enjoyed sustained commercial success, despite the large crowds drawn by their impressive live concerts. When their initially respectable American record sales began to falter, the band began producing more radio-friendly material, and briefly experimented with the emerging new wave genre before quietly disbanding in 1980.
As they themselves predicted, Gentle Giant's obsessively complicated music ensured their lack of mainstream popularity while initially active. However, the years since have seen a new interest in the band's catalog, largely thanks to timely album re-releases and retrospective praise from industry fans. So, in celebration of their richly deserved renaissance, here are all eleven Gentle Giant studio albums, ranked:
"What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales. We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked."
That was Marvel Comics' VP of Sales David Gabriel, when questioned by online trade magazine ICv2 about the publisher's current sales slump. I won't spend too much time debunking these claims, because plenty of great articles have already done that (Vox, Nerdist, the New York Times and many more). Most of them cite an over-reliance on bloated "event books" and associated tie-ins as a major factor in declining readership (which incidentally is the reason I stopped buying single issues a few years ago).
Also worth mentioning is the fact that Marvel's writing staff is not nearly as diverse as their characters. This is nothing new: after all, well-meaning progressive white guys (like myself) have been writing tone-deaf "socially aware" comics since at least the seventies, though it's unfortunate that hasn't changed by now. And like most major comics publishers, Marvel's sales strategy relies heavily on outdated direct marketing strategies and specialty retailers (one can learn a lot from an honest conversation with comic shop employees, believe me).
But here's the thing: Marvel knows all of this. How could they not? They have the sales numbers. They know Ta-Nehisi Coates's Black Panther was a massive success, as was Thor, featuring Jane Foster as the titular hero. Nevertheless, according to Bleeding Cool, they're still planning a relaunch of their titles after their next "event book" concludes, one that will apparently set a more traditional status quo. Why?
Because, in the short term, it will help sales. Relaunches always do, especially when marketed as a return to tradition (DC: Rebirth, anyone?). But only in the short term. Eventually, Marvel will have to address the above issues, but for now, they can take the easy way out and still look like the good guys: "Of course we like diversity. We were on the right side of history. We love women. It's those damned readers! Like it or not, we have to make a profit! *sigh* Oh well. We triiiiiiiiiied......"
I would love to be wrong about this, of course. But unless and until Marvel extends the diversity from their fictional universe to their real-life writing staff, stops putting out superfluous "event books," and figures out a better way to market their titles, they have only themselves to blame for lost readers.
Thin Lizzy are generally considered a one-hit wonder in America, where a run of bad luck prevented them from touring extensively in support of "The Boys are Back in Town." As a result, that single remained their only radio hit in the States. However, the band achieved huge success as a top 20 radio presence and legendary live act in the UK, continental Europe, and Asia, becoming the first internationally famous Irish rock group in the process.
Much of the credit for this success belongs to Philip Parris "Phil" Lynott, the band's charismatic lead singer, bassist, and primary songwriter. Born in 1949 to a white Irish mother and a black airman from British Guyana, Lynott was raised by his materal grandmother in Dublin, where he developed a lifelong fascination with celtic mythology and Irish literature which strongly informed his songwriting. After playing in several local bands, Lynott formed Thin Lizzy with drummer Brian Downey, an old school friend, and Eric Bell, a guitarist from Belfast. Despite scoring a top 10 UK hit in 1972 with a rearrangement of the traditional ballad 'Whisky in the Jar," album sales didn't pick up until Bell's departure and subsequent replacement by American Scott Gorham and Scotsman Brian Roberston in 1974. This represents the start of Thin Lizzy's "classic period," which ended with Robertson's departure in 1978, though the band remained commerically successful until their dissolution in 1983.
Lynott thrived as Thin Lizzy's creative force, able to compose tender ballads and scorching rockers with the same apparent effortlessness. But while he projected the public persona of a charming, reckless bad boy, Lynott was privately haunted by insecurity, childhood trauma, and addiction, which culminated in the anticlimatic breakup of Thin Lizzy, followed by Lynott's tragic death shortly afterwards.
Thin Lizzy's influence on well-known hard rock and heavy metal acts, together with the growing mystique surrounding Lynott's life and death, have made them increasingly popular in Ireland and around the world in the 30+ years since they disbanded. Their pioneering dual-lead guitar style, poetic lyrics, and working-class authenticity have cemented their place as one of the greatest rock groups of the twentieth century.
Here are all twelve Thin Lizzy albums, ranked:
Famously the first band to accept and embrace the previously derogatory term "heavy metal" to describe their sound, this English group bridged the gap between the hard rock pioneers of the early Seventies and the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) explosion a decade later.
Judas Priest (named after a Bob Dylan song) were formed in Birmingham in 1970 by singer Al Atkins, guitarist Ken "K.K." Downing, bassist Ian "Skull" Hill, and drummer John Ellis. After a few unsuccessful years and several personnel changes, the core Priest lineup stabilized with Downing, Hill, co-lead guitarist Glenn Tipton, and vocalist Rob Halford.
Any hard rock band from Birmingham could hardly help but be influenced by the bluesy rock of Led Zeppelin or the doom-laden riffs of Black Sabbath, but Judas Priest also borrowed heavily from progressive rockers Wishbone Ash and genre-defying musical giants Queen in their early sound, patterning their twin lead guitar sound on the former, and the operatic flamboyance of their more ambitious tracks on the latter.
As the seventies came to a close, the group quickly transitioned from a talented-if-unremarkable blues/prog rock outfit to the proto-typical heavy metal group for the eighties: catchy riffs on distorted guitars, piercingly high vocals, and sci-fi/fantasy lyrics, with plenty of leather and studs to go around. Between 1977 and 1990, their most successful period, Priest sold around 50 million records worldwide.
Despite undergoing an extended hiatus, more lineup changes, and the seemingly unavoidable cratering of album sales symptomatic of heavy metal's post-eighties mainstream decline, Judas Priest continues to record and tour as of 2016, enjoying a relatively small but loyal following in the US and still drawing massive crowds in Europe, South America, and Japan.
It's indisputable that they are influential, but does Judas Priest's body of work actually justify the eternal reverence of metalheads the world over, or are they legends simply because they kicked open the door for other groups to do it better, later?
(it's the first one)
Here are all seventeen Judas Priest albums, ranked:
One of the most successful rock groups in the world, with sales exceeding 100 million records, Def Leppard has come a long way from the working-class band formed in Sheffield, England in 1977. Despite an early association with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) sound of the late 70s/early 80s, the members of Def Leppard have always maintained that they have more in common musically with glam rock acts such as Sweet, Mott the Hoople, and T. Rex, than their contemporaries in Iron Maiden, Saxon, and the Tygers of Pan Tang.
With that in mind, it's really not surprising that they quickly embraced the more melodic, commercial elements hinted at on their first record, steadily built a fanbase in America, and ultimately abandoned the DIY aesthetic typical of early NWOBHM rockers. The "classic" Def Leppard sound soon became instantly identifiable: emotional ballads and midtempo rockers, layered vocal harmonies, power chords, electronic drums, and exhaustingly meticulous production (courtesy of superstar producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange).
Although the singles from 1983's Pyromania and 1987's Hysteria dominated American radio, Def Leppard's commitment to "perfect" production values, and a number of personal tragedies prevented them from releasing more than those two albums at the height of their popularity. The 90s treated them better than most of their "glam" contemporaries (at least in terms of sales), and they have since settled into a comfortable schedule of international touring, only recording new music sporadically as their 40th anniversary as a performing group looms.
So, now that they qualify as a band with a legacy, let's discuss whether that legacy is good or bad. Here are all 10 Def Leppard studio albums, ranked:
Often referred to as the world’s first heavy metal group, Black Sabbath formed in Birmingham, in the Midlands region of the U.K. While their background was in the blues and jazz, the band ended up pioneering a much heavier and darker sound than their contemporaries by largely discarding those early influences.
A unique convergence of circumstances are responsible for Black Sabbath’s sound. The industrial, working-class character of Birmingham certainly played a part, as did bassist/lyricist Terence “Geezer” Butler’s disillusionment with hippie culture and growing obsession with occult themes. More dramatically, guitarist Tony Iommi’s bloody accident on his last day of work at a sheet metal factory cost him the tips of two fingers and forced him to start drastically downtuning his Gibson SG in order to continue playing.
Together with Drummer Bill Ward’s unorthodox beats and singer John “Ozzy” Osbourne’s unique voice, these influences resulted in a unique hard rock sound built on riffs and a gloomy atmosphere. Sabbath are often lumped in with Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple as England’s “Unholy Trinity” of proto-metal pioneers, though they came from a very different direction than the blues-based hard rock of the former and the neoclassicism of the latter.
It may not be entirely accurate to call Black Sabbath the first heavy metal group. After all, in the early 70s “Heavy Metal” was still used chiefly as a pejorative, and Sabbath initially avoided associations with the term. However, there is no mistaking their influence on future bands that would proudly self-identify as metal (fittingly, fellow Brummies Judas Priest were among the first to do so, only a half-decade after Sabbath’s debut).
Just as Zeppelin provided the template for straight-ahead blues rock and Deep Purple birthed the neoclassical power metal so popular in Scandinavia and continental Europe, Sabbath were most directly responsible for heavy metal subgenres like doom metal, stoner rock, and sludge. While it would be safe to say that heavy metal does not exist solely due to Black Sabbath, a good portion of its character would certainly be missing without them.
It is tempting to state definitively that, after second vocalist Ronnie Dio’s exit in 1982 (and some fans would say earlier than that),Black Sabbath ceased to record anything worthwhile. Certainly they experienced a dramatic commercial decline and recurring problems with lineup stability after the early 1980s, but whole point of these essays (or whatever they are) is to examine every single album by a band, and in doing so I have been pleasantly surprised by several of the albums in this band's late period, which is exactly why I enjoy doing these projects so very much.
So, with apologies for that longer-than-usual introduction, here are all nineteen Black Sabbath studio albums, ranked:
Josh Brolin. John Malkovich. Michael Fassbender. Michael Shannon. Aiden Quinn. Upon reading those names, one could be justified in assuming that I just listed the cast of a well-acted, award-winning film. If you just made that assumption, I apologize for misleading you, because Jonah Hex is not that type of movie. It's more of the joyless, grating, incredibly stupid, heartbreakingly disappointing type of movie. The tragedy? It totally didn't have to be. Let's talk about the sad, sad, tale of a great comic book antihero and the terrible movie he didn't deserve.
Some Jonah Hextory
Jonah Hex, created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga, is a beloved and very unique DC Comics character from the 1970's. At the same time that the Western genre of film was transitioning to its revisionist period (Jeremiah Johnson, Little Big Man, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller all came out during the 70's), Western comic books were also following the trend and becoming more violent, cynical, and melancholy.
Introduced in the pages of All-Star Western before landing a starring role in Weird Western Tales and eventually his own eponymous title, Jonah Hex was a rough character. He was raised by Apaches, he fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and he unintentionally got his fellow soldiers killed when he tried to surrender to Union forces. Later, half of his face was hideously scarred in a duel to the death with an Apache warrior. These experiences hardened Hex into a cynical loner, and he became a ruthless bounty hunter. And yet he often tried to do right by good people when he came across them, which usually ended up causing more suffering for everybody. Hex was on the run from his past and he didn't much care for his future; he was just trying to make an honest day's living by killing people who deserved it. Like a lot of revisionist Western fiction, Jonah Hex defied the traditional American view of the Old West as a heroic place full of noble, hard-working men who embodied simpler, purer times. If you've seen The Outlaw Josey Wales, this description might remind you a bit of that movie, but interestingly enough, Jonah Hex first debuted in 1972...four years before Clint Eastwood's masterpiece! I'm not saying that Hex was the inspiration for it, but it IS an intriguing idea, yes?
Anyways, Hex has continued to be a favorite among comic readers. His original title was cancelled in 1985, but he starred in a very strange series (simply titled Hex) that had him time-travel to a post-apocalyptic future and fight zombies; in my opinion, it's worth a read just for the weirdness. In the 90's, he starred in several miniseries that followed the precedent set by Hex and combined Western and supernatural/horror themes (In one such miniseries, called "Riders of the Worm and Such," the creators parodied two famous albino musicians, which led to a lawsuit and...oh, just look it up here if you want the details. This is getting too weird).
In 2005, a new critically-acclaimed Jonah Hex series was started, and it introduced a lot of new fans to the character. When DC cancelled all of their titles for The New 52, they brought back the old All-Star Western series, which stars Hex. Even though he didn't regularly interact with DC's modern-day superheroes, Hex has appeared through flashbacks and time-travel in the original Batman cartoon, as well as Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and his own DC Showcase short film (I believe it was included with the DVD of Batman: Under the Red Hood). So there you have it. Comic fans love him. Western and action film buffs SHOULD love him. Sounds like a good idea for a movie, right?
Love them or hate them, few rock bands had more influence on the 80s than Van Halen, which began as an unpretentious, working class SoCal bar band and has gone on to sell over 80 million records worldwide. They laid the foundation for the L.A. glam metal scene and set the template for the commercially successful American hard rock group: showboating frontman, technically-minded guitar wizard, and underrated rhythm section. Over the years they have also set a precedent for the successful replacement of said charismatic frontman with minimal negative consequences and garnered a near-legendary reputation for vicious infighting.
Most of the above information is agreed upon by Van Halen’s fans and critics alike, but where the former see a much-needed reinvention of rock and roll for a new decade, the latter note a simple-minded obsession with partying and the triumph of style over substance. Who’s right? Well..both, sort of:
In the wake of the original Star Wars trilogy, the late '70s and early '80s saw a wave of movies attempting to cash in on the public's renewed interest in science fiction and fantasy. On the plus side, we got a revitalized Star Trek franchise. But then, we also got Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, so...yeah, mixed bag. See, the vast majority of movies inspired by the success of Star Wars were low-budget ripoffs devoid of originality. And most of the ones that did turn out well, like The Last Starfighter, still weren't exactly original. But there were a few such films that stood out, and one in particular that (in my opinion) REALLY stood out. I am of course referring to the awesome Sci Fi/Fantasy mashup that is....KRULL!
so what exactly is krull?
Good question. Krull is a movie set on a distant planet (also named Krull) that exists in a heretofore unknown galaxy. I know what you're thinking. "A long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away? How original." And perhaps you'd be right, if Krull were a desert planet, or one with futuristic technology. But it's not. Its people use swords and other Medieval-analogous weapons; they live in castles and cottages and caves; some of them practice magic (with varying levels of success, but more on that anon). Yeah, that's right: Krull is a world of high fantasy. At least until...
In this episode of our (mostly) weekly podcast about Nic Cage, we discuss the Cage/Connery action film directed by Michael Bay. Check it out on our official website here.
Our guests for ep 25 are Andy and Ronnie of Funnecessary Media. You can find them on Twitter, Facebook, and their YouTube channel.