In Classic Rock 200 we counted down the 200 greatest songs of the magazine's lifetime, 1998-2014. Over the next few days, our writers will tell stories about some of these these songs, and about the bands that made them.
Four songs from 200: Part One
Blackberry Smoke, Alejandro Escovedo, Rival Sons, The Darkness
Blackberry Smoke — Ain't Much Left Of Me (2013)
There was this writer, Lee Marlow, wrote for some regional newspaper, liked the mag, would occasionally pitch ideas. One of them was about a Scottish guy called Phil Campbell, a singer-songwriter I couldn’t make my mind up about (and who, years later, ended up fronting The Temperance Movement). Another was about this band of yokels from the South, Blackberry Smoke. They were no hopers, clearly – never gonna play the UK, never gonna amount to much, far too much hair – but the music was good and we prided ourselves on Classic Rock for championing good music, regardless of the politics.
Turns out Marlow knew his shit. Blackberry Smoke have since been signed by Earache, toured the UK and played the Classic Rock Awards Aftershow. In the 80s, Marlow woulda been a rich A&R man by now, living in Laurel Canyon with a hot tub full of winsome ladies and a beard down to his knees. (Instead he still works for the Leicester Mercury and occasionally writes for CR: you might remember his last ever interview with Jon Lord, his tragicomic Pete Way feature or great Deep Purple in Dubai cover story.)
Alejandro Escovedo — Castanets (2001)
Castanets is cursed, of course. When it was revealed as one of President George W. Bush favourite tracks, Escovedo sent the song to Guantanamo (well, dropped it from his set) for what remained of that little weasel’s coup. The song came through the whole ordeal unscathed, of course, but the question remains: what does it mean to like the same music as Ol’ Dubya? Is there something wrong with me that my taste overlaps that of one of modern history’s greatest shitehawks? I dunno the answer to that. Let me call Dick Cheney and get back to you.
Rival Sons — _Keep On Swinging _(2013)
I faked enthusiasm for Rival Sons at first. They had the right sound, but the songs didn’t blow me away. They were from LA but had been signed by Earache. They were an outside bet, at best. Pressure And Time upped the game, but still I was sceptical. I’m a tough crowd. When they played main stage at our very own High Voltage festival in 2011, I thought they failed to carry it off on the big stage – looked overwhelmed, with neither the songs, the experience, or the charisma. Later in the day, a band cancelled on the Metal Hammer stage (their flight had been delayed). So Rival Sons stepped in. I watched a bit of Judas Priest and then wandered over. This was a different Rival Sons. On a smaller stage, in the dark and with nothing to prove, the band stretched out. Here, their psychedelic freak outs made sense, didn’t seem indulgent. The crowd swelled – and the band seemed to grow before my eyes too. (Fresh from crossing America with The Union where I was writer and photographer I had a camera in my hands and took some pictures on the stage. This is them below.)
The Darkness — _I Believe In A Thing Called Love _(2003)
When we were putting The Darkness on the cover for the release of second album One Way Ticket… Sian, Geoff Barton and I were summoned to the penthouse suite of some swanky London hotel, plonked on a couch and blasted the record on a very expensive high-end stereo. But before we listened to it, a hyperactive young man (I think you’d call him, what’s the term, oh yeah, ‘a twat’, that’s it) banged on at us about how the company was very excited about this release, that it had great cross-market potential, about deliverables and sustainability and the need to calibrate expectations in the relevant sectorzzzzZZZZ. Thankfully he eventually fucked off, leaving us to listen in peace, but remained in plain sight, pacing the balcony the whole time, barking into his mobile phone about market penetration and the single customer view or some shit. It was a good record and I blame any negative reviews it may have gotten on this odious dick of a man, whoever he was.
The reason Warners smelled money was of course I Believe In A Thing Called Love, the single that not only put The Darkness on the map and made Permission To Land a multi-million seller, but also one of the few songs in recent history that immediately became a bona fide rock classic, leapfrogging its way on to rock radio playlists and elbowing the likes of UFO off of those Greatest-Dad-Rock-Album-In-The-World-type compilations available in service stations everywhere. Some old school rock fans sneered “novelty” or worse (“piss-take!”) and Lemmy had a go at Justin Hawkins for having a ridiculous voice (a bit rich, you could say, from a man who sings like an emphysemic badger) but they took it too seriously, the old stick-in-the-muds. Knowing, epic (three guitar solos!), silly, and deliriously infectious it deserves its status as one of the few modern rock songs you’ll ever hear played at a wedding.
You can view the entire 200 tracks in issue 200 of Classic Rock, which can be ordered online from MyFavouriteMagazines. ** **
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