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Queen: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Crown Kings of Rock
Few bands in history can claim the amount of influence and reverence that Queen has. With over 300 million albums sold worldwide (according to the BBC), they’re almost universally loved and respected for their anthemic rock. However, the band’s place in rock aristocracy is sometimes overshadowed by tales of their excess. With Phil Sutcliffe’s Queen: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Crown Kings of Rock, the details of debauchery are put aside and the spotlight is focused on Queen and their ability to entertain thousands on any given night.
To tell the Queen story Sutcliffe, a renowned UK rock journalist since the ‘70s, uses every visual aid possible. From captivating live photographs and candid offstage shots—many rare and never before published—to handbills, backstage passes, concert posters, LP artwork and other Queen artifacts, he reveals a lot more about a band beloved by many than their overindulgence. In addition to the abundance of visual goodies, the book features a descriptive narrative by Sutcliffe, who covered the band extensively in its hey-day. Other contributors like Slash, Tommy Lee, and Billy Squier provide personal stories of their relationships with Queen, and former crew chief Peter Hince and producer Reinhold Mack talk about their first-hand experiences working and traveling with the band.
Not just musically brilliant, Queen also understood the importance of spectacle and the power of theater. This book showcases that brilliantly with its intense focus on presentation, recognizing that half of the Queen experience was viewing it firsthand. The attention paid to the band’s media and showmanship hoists this book head and shoulders above other Queen titles. Those wanting to learn more about the musical core of rock’s epic princes should find this hardback immensely informative and entertaining, as it covers an illustrative timeline from pre-Queen to their work with Paul Rodgers. —JW
Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones, Altamont, and the End of the Sixties
It was suppose to be grandiose. It was billed as the Rolling Stones’ biggest and most important US tour, capped with a headlining slot at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival—a westcoast counterculture answer to Woodstock. But as we all know, plans rarely go off without a hitch. Thanks to author and photographer Ethan A. Russell and his introspective lens, Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones, Altamont, and the End of the Sixties, gives the best second-hand all-access pass and captures every memorable moment—planned or not planned, good or not good.
Including the Stones, Russell was one of only sixteen traveling on the ’69 tour, and the only photographer. His photographs provide a fly-on-the-wall vantage point on what was witnessed only by a select group and Russell’s lens. He was waiting in the hotels, sitting on stages, observing rehearsals, partying backstage and watching The Ed Sullivan Show performance (where Mick is introduced as “Mike”). He snapped shots during all of it. Providing contextual layers beneath the provocative photography, Russell includes recollections (then and now) from band members, security, crew and the stars who crossed his path in ’69.
If Woodstock symbolized the counterculture’s hope, Altamont was the tide of reality that washed away their castle made of sand. In the final 50 pages Russell effectively tells the Altamont story (the build-up, the concert and the repercussions of its violent conclusion) with exclusive photos and disturbing first-hand accounts. Through all these rare, uncensored quotes and dramatic photos, Russell provides an all-access pass to the tour that started full of promise and ended in despair. —CK
Jimi Hendrix Gear: The Guitars, Amps & Effects That Revolutionized Rock ‘N’ Roll
It’s a known fact that Jimi used and abused Strats and Plexis with his magical hands. All the variables and the exact formula of his signal chain, however, is much like Bigfoot: speculative and elusive. Michael Heatley’s book Jimi Hendrix Gear: The Guitars, Amps & Effects That Revolutionized Rock ‘N’ Roll debunks the mysticism behind his gear and tone page after page.
Hendrix’s gear is on full display with specheavy captions and text that decodes and breaks down each of the tools (as Hendrix calls gear in the book) with mentions of his alterations, preferences and settings. The book is crammed with memorable Hendrix gear porn, including the first Strat that he set a blaze in 1967 at London’s Finsbury Park Astoria (also featured on the book’s cover). Other visual golden nuggets include the actual Octavia used on Are You Experienced, the Super Lead used at Woodstock and a slew of smashed guitar bodies. Some smashed bodies feature Hendrix poems or paintings— including the psychedelically painted ’67 Gibson Flying V that later was recreated by Gibson for the “Inspired By Series.”
With the help of effects guru Roger Mayer and biographer Harry Shapiro (Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy), Heatley navigates through all Hendrix’s historic guitars, amps and effects with descriptions that place each piece of gear into the given album or live situation where he was known to use it. This book is a must-have Hendrix guide, as it’s a practical reference book on the tools of a significant craftsman. —CK
Thin Lizzy — Are You Ready?: Live At Rockpalast
Live and Dangerous, released by rock legends Thin Lizzy in 1978, is regarded as one of rock’s best live albums and showcased the band firing on all cylinders. Are You Ready? is a live set by Thin Lizzy a few years later, shot for Rockpalast in Lorelei, Germany. It presents a slightly different story. While it does feature the incomparable guitarist Scott Gorham, and there are moments where the band really sounded locked together, this live set falls flat in some segments. Lynott’s substance abuse was nearing its height during this time, and his ability to project his voice and hit certain notes seems hampered. Lizzy newcomer Snowy White keeps up with Gorham, only flubbing a few times with an off-harmony note here and there.
While both guitarists occasionally groove in unison like trademark Thin Lizzy, White just looks dazed and confused when playing. Brian Downey’s drumming, however, is one of the DVD’s highlights—almost worth the purchase price alone. His tight drumming and occasional bombastic fill really give the songs the energy that they need, and the drum solo is a powerful representation of his abilities.
Those looking for impeccable sound and video quality will probably not be impressed, as it shows noticeable tracking lines due to the equipment in 1981. The bass frequencies drop out only a couple of times, but enough to make it mildly irritating when you’re really getting into the song being played. For die hard fans of Thin Lizzy, it may already be obligatory; for others who really want to hear the band at their best, Live and Dangerous might be a better place to start. —JW
Billy Idol — In Super Overdrive Live
Not many rockers 30 years into a career are willing to wear skintight- leather pants or take their shirt shirts off in front of a packed house. Then again, most rockers aren’t Billy-f***ing- Idol. Filmed in 2009 at Chicago’s Congress Theater, Billy Idol — In Super Overdrive Live captures Idol and long-time guitarist Steve Stevens on top of their game, nearly 30 years after their first collaboration. Both give the audience exactly what they’ve come to expect. Idol provides the “punk rawk,” raucous vocals and exuberates sex appeal, while Stevens plays riff after bodacious riff (gotta love the ‘80s). Stevens gets his Idol-tone through some Plexis and a wall of Marshall 4x12s. As for guitars, he switches between various Les Pauls (creamy white, pink and sparkle burst), two different Godins—Multiac ACS-SA and a custom Signature Series LGXT—and even busts out an Ernie Ball Music Man Axis. The DVD set list is 70 minutes of Idol’s biggest hits, including “White Wedding,” “Scream” and “Rebel Yell.” In addition, they perform two unreleased tracks “Touch My Love” and “Cry.” The high point of the DVD (no it’s not when Idol removes his shirt… twice) is when Idol digs back into his Generation X days and performs “Dancing With Myself,” “Ready Steady Go” and closes the DVD with X’s “Kissing Me Deadly.”
Some naysayers may cry foul with only 12 songs, hardly any B-sides and no bonus material, but the power and tenacity of Idol and Stevens in an intimate theater setting give you just enough of the ‘70s and ‘80s, before big hair and leather pants start to seem like a good idea… again. —CK
ZZ Top — Double Down Live
Like Kevin Bacon as Chip Diller in Animal House said, “Thank you sir, may I have another?” It’s the same sentiment when it comes to ZZ Top DVDs, and ZZ Top Double Down Live delivers just that… another. It features a remastered “Definitely Then…” set recorded at the Grugahalle in Essen, Germany, for Rockpalast in 1980 during their Deguello tour. The second disc labeled “Almost Now…” was shot throughout their 2008 European tour.
The 1980 Rockpalast concert showcases the tres hombres on top of their game. All three are as tight as spandex and play smooth like butter. They groove in between songs and transition to the next with only the slightest nod of acknowledgement—true masters of their craft. The disc includes 22 essential ZZ Top cuts like “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” “Cheap Sunglasses” and they even cover “Jailhouse Rock.” The first DVD is a real treat for tonehounds because the simplistic shooting and remastered audio provides a great lesson for Rock ‘n’ Roll 101.
The second disc is far less expansive with only 11 songs and includes many of the same as on the first. Some fresh cuts are “Got Me Under Pressure,” “Blue Jean Blues” and a cover of “Hey Joe.” Thirty years later the trio doesn’t move quite as much, but they can still show the fire that’s been in them since the ‘60s. Age is something that can be accounted for, but the high-octane, dramatic cuts and overhead zoom shots severely detract from the band’s performance, causing confusion and distraction. In today’s high-paced, low-attention-span world, other acts may need the flashy edits and vogue camera angles, but for an outfit like ZZ Top, we just want to see them rock. Although the second disc has some editing missteps, Double Down proves the power trio could and still can provide that boogie woogie blues we all know and love. —CK