Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Musical Interlude: Trans-Am Rock

During my college years I spent my summers working in factories to make money for the school year. We could play a radio during my shift, and the classic rock station was usually on the dial, since I preferred it to country, and the country fans preferred it to modern rock. Despite my love of a great deal of the classic rock canon, there were certain groups that I just could not abide. Bad Company, Foreigner, BTO, and Foghat were the worst offenders in my book. Overblown, unsubtle, cock rocking bullshit like "Feel Like Making Love" really bugged me both for its silliness and its barely disguised misogyny. Nowadays, having been removed from the blue collar world of the factory floor, I've developed a certain soft spot for ridiculous music that can't be taken seriously. Perhaps since I listen to so much indie rock today, I need the occasional hard-riffed ode to sweaty coitus. Anyway, I like to refer to this particular mode of seventies blues-based hard rock as "Trans-Am Rock." In a lot of ways the Trans-Am is the automotive equivalent of Foreigner's "Hot Blooded": loud, over the top, and full of spunk. Here are some of my favorites of the genre.

"Slow Ride," Foghat. I just dissed this band in the intro, but I have been finding myself oddly drawn to this song, probably because of its hilariously spastic bass. It's hard rock's answer to the out of control disco bass on Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way," and a good way to stretch your jukebox dollar.

"Fire and Water," Free. On a total whim I picked up a Free album for five bucks at J&R's record store in downtown Manhattan, and I have not been disappointed. This deep cut has some bluesy Paul Rodgers singing before he became a self-parody, and a nice slow groove to boot.

"I Don't Need No Doctor," Humble Pie. Humble Pie are one of the great forgotten rock bands, featuring both Peter Frampton and Steve Marriot. Back in the seventies they were a huge live draw, which you can understand if you ever drop their killer double-live Rockin' the Fillmore on your turntable. It really is one of those albums that must be listened to on vinyl, preferably with a fifth of whiskey handy.

"Barracuda," Heart. It gallops forth like charging herd of mighty steeds. Need I say more?

"Stranglehold," Ted Nugent.  I can't stand Ted Nugent, especially his gun-toting, liberal hating, violent political rhetoric, and I feel icky just looking at the title of "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang."  That being said, the Nuge laid down some of the most classic Trans-Am Rock tracks of the seventies, this one included, which sounds like Foghat with an extra-dose of ass-kicking powder sprinkled on it.  God forgive me for being tempted by its foul charms.

"Neon Knights," Black Sabbath.  Early Ozzie-era Sabbath lumbered with the crushing gait of the Iron Man they so famously sang of.  When Ronnie James Dio entered the band, they turned up the throttle and ran on eight hard rocking cylinders powered by tales of wildebeasts and angels.  

"Mississippi Queen," Mountain. For this song Leslie West concocted the great bulldozer riff to beat them all, and added in a liberal dose of cowbell for good measure. I consider this track to be the only non-Foreigner song to approach the Platonic form of Trans-Am Rock.

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