Classic Rock Throw Back Day

Today during my lunch break I was poking around on bookfayce and somehow ended up looking at some classic rock magazine site. There were a bunch of random articles that were about 10% of interesting, but I spent almost the whole hour there.

One article was the singer from 80’s hair metal band Warlock listing off the 10 albums that influenced her. Okay, I’ll bite. First on the list was Live In the Heart of the City by Whitesnake.

Now there’s a band that I probably should have liked back in the 80’s that I really did not like. Whitesnake more or less is David Coverdale, and he was the singer on one of my all time favorite albums. Burn by Deep Purple.

Coverdale made three albums with Purple between ’73 and ’75 (or was it ’74 and ’75, I used to know for sure but I’m old and senile now). Burn was the first one and it was amazing (apart from one song that’s just okay and one that is a complete dud. Everything else is outstanding, especially the title song). Stormbringer was the second. That’s the opposite of Burn. The title track is perfect and every other song on the album is about as interesting as listening to a toilet flush. The third album was Come Taste the Band and it’s divisive among Purple fans because it had Tommy Bolin on guitar instead of Ritchie Blackmore. I am not on the negative side of that fight. Tommy Bolin is a guitar hero of mine (so is Ritchie Blackmore) and I think the album is pretty good.

Now David Coverdale, in my humble opinion, is pretty good on those records. Not great, but good. There are times when Glen Hughes, the bass player and other singer at the time, shows him up but for the most part he’s fine. When you view them all as a whole you can see patterns emerge though, that were much clearer in Whitesnake during the 80’s.

David is a good singer, but he’s not the best lyricist. Yes, this is the pot calling the kettle black, and compared to me he’s freakin’ Shakespeare, but when compared to his lyric writing peers he does come up a little short. As a front man… well… it’s pretty clear that he saw Robert Plant when he was a kid and just decided to do that for a living. If Coverdale did something, it’s likely that Plant did it first.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the guy. He made Burn. He is in my personal rock music hall of fame. The guy gets an A+ for life in my book. It’s just… you know… compared to his immediate peers in both the mid to late 70’s and the hair spray 80’s… he comes up a little short, that’s all. Less so in the 80’s, I think, but… I mean… he did replace Ian Gillan who for my money is the best rock vocalist we’ve ever had… so even with a world class effort in Burn, he’s always going to be “the other guy.” I mean no offense, even though it seems like I am meaning offense. Seriously. Burn… you can do no wrong in my book after that, David. My hat is eternally tipped.

Anyway, I was talking about lyrics. Let’s just say that stylistically he is a little… repetitive. There are words and themes and such that he used A LOT on those three Purple albums that were still being hammered home in the mid-80s when Whitesnake broke in the US. He kinda seems to have a few binkies that he clings very tightly too, lyrically speaking.

So today I read that article where Doro Pesche… Peche… the singer from Warlock listed her favorite albums and that Whitesnake live album from 1980 or so was the first on the list.

Now we’ve made it clear that I love Deep Purple, and that I didn’t really love Whitesnake in the hair band phase in the 80’s. What about Whitesnake before then? I was always curious. Ian Paice and Jon Lord from Purple were also in the band for a while and those two guys are absolute giants in my book. Is it possible that 70’s Whitesnake would work for me in a way that Purple did and 80’s Whitesnake didn’t? I always wondered, but I never looked into it. They had a reputation for sleaze even before they sold any records to speak of in the US and my tolerance for sleaze rock is slim to none.

Now here we are in the quarantine wasteland that is 2020. Should I give ol’ David’s first post-Purple band a shot? Did Doro inspire me to do some digging in Apple Music?

Yes, yes she did.

While I was making dinner tonight I brought up that live album. I figured I’d play a little Mr Coverdale Bingo. I was assuming he’d use the phrase Rock and Roll in one of the first songs. Sure enough, it’s right there in the first chorus. I was a little more interested in another binky though. I asked myself, what’s the over under on the first time he says the word “gypsy?” Two songs? No, three. He’ll say it in the third song.

First song, second verse, first line. “It must be the gypsy in me.”

Oh, David.

I listened to about half of the record. It wasn’t bad. It was actually better than I thought it would be, though I wasn’t giving it the closest listen ever. It felt a little like Deep Purple Junior, which wasn’t too different from what I expected. One of the guitar players (David frequently gave the names of the soloists [thank you, David] and I may have missed them while prepping the quinoa, but I’m pretty sure there were two lead guitar players) was a little too fond of slide. The other guy was pretty good. Mostly though it just hammered home the undeniable fact that Ian Paice is pretty much untouchable on the drums, and Jon Lord is a god on the B3.

Anyway, that’s my very long and very pointless classic rock throw back story for today. Again, no offense to David Coverdale. Burn. Perfect. Enough said. I could listen to you sing “Might Just Take Your Life” or “Mistreated” all day long. Perfect. Coverdale and Hughes in harmony on “You Fool No One,” spot on. The two of them trading lines on “Lay Down, Stay Down” is basically a template for all rock bands with two voices that followed. “Sail Away”…. just 100% full on perfect.

Martin Birch

Martin Birch has passed away at the age of 71. Click the picture for a story (and also because it’s where I stole the image from).

You may not know who Martin Birch was, but I guarantee that if you listened to a radio at any point from 1970 onward, you have heard his work.

He was an audio engineer and a record producer. He first became well known for producing Deep Purple. Go listen to the Made in Japan album. That is probably the best sounding live album in the history of the universe and he was the engineer. He made that band sound incredible.

He was able to turn Deep Purple into an entire career. I wrote a paper on this once when I was in school. Remember those rock and roll family tree things that were popular for a while? Where it lists the names of all of the members of one band and then traces them all through every band they ever played in? Deep Purple spawned more bands than you could even believe, and every single one of them had 500 (approximate) members. Purple begat Gillan, Rainbow, Whiteshake, 100 bands that Glen Hughes played in, a couple of other things that Jon Lord and Ian Paice played for, and all of those bands had revolving door lineups and all of those people played in 100 bands each. It gets so ridiculous that eventually the Deep Purple family tree absorbs the Black Sabbath family tree. Don Airy played for Rainbow and Purple (and Whitesnake too? Maybe? Probably not) and he also played for Ozzy. Two Deep Purple members were, at different times, lead vocalists for Sabbath, and one Rainbow singer was as well (Ian Gillan, Glen Hughes, and Ronnie Dio, respectively).

This is important because Martin Birch produced pretty much all of them. All of the major ones at least. Rainbow, Whitesnake, Sabbath (during Dio’s tenure), and on and on. The guy was everywhere, and if the entire Deep Purple family tree isn’t enough famous business for you, he also produced Iron Maiden from 1982 (or was it 1981?) through 1992. Basically, all of that ground breaking music was filtered through his ears. The man is a legend and there will never be another like him.

For my money, if Made in Japan was the only record he ever worked on, he would still be a legend. Instead we have about a billion other brilliant sounding albums with his name on them.

Rest in Peace, Martin Birch.