Metal will always be with us, even for those of us who don't listen to it as often as the true believers do. Case in point, 20 years ago when I listened to 3WK Classic Rock Radio and they played a great 60's pop song called "Sunshine" by the legendary English band Gun. I liked it so much I bought a used copy of it on eBay. What I didn't reckon was checking out the phenomenal flip side, an insanely wild metal romp called Race With The Devil.
Gun were probably smitten by Cream judging by the choir-like harmonies which provide the fanfare in this song. It then blasts into a furious galloping boogie tempo with that blazing guitar line made immortal by Adrian Gurvitz and worshiped by all metal fans worldwide. The lyrics read like some incendiary western pulp novel: "You better run, you better run from the devil's gun. Strange things happen if you stay, the devil will get you any way...." and then Gurvitz rips out a maniacal laugh reminiscent of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The addition of horns in the production never comes off as too obtrusive; it actually punctuates the rhythm quite well. Great stuff!
Gun didn't really strike it big in America, but the Gurvitz Bros. continued making records in the power trio format, even forming a band with ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker called the Baker Gurvitz Army. After all was said and done, nothing could top Race With The Devil. Not long ago an old broadcast video of Gun performing the song (it was probably Beat Club) was available on You Tube, but has since been taken down. Drat!
Black Oak Arkansas
Black Oak Arkansas play a comparatively loose version of the song. The three guitars harmonize prettily, taking a little bit of the edge off the song. Jim Dandy Mangrum sings in an almost Las Vegas croon, recalling David Lee Roth. No big surprise as Mangrum was a heavy influence on Roth in the early Van Halen days, both visually and musically. While I wouldn't call this the definite cover version (unless you're a serious Ethel Merman fan), there's something almost irreverent in the way they refuse to take the song too seriously. Everything's a party with these guys!
Girlschool make up for their lacking vocal talent with their powerful guitar interplay and in this regard acquit themselves rather well. I like the tempo on this version, too, although other live videos on You Tube show them dragging the beat. Just like Black Oak the fanfare is carried by the guitars rather than with vocals, a good call by them. This is probably the best live version by them I've seen so far, and here they are in top form.
Ah, Judas Priest. Nobody can rock a cover tune like the Priest, whether it be a brooding Fleetwood Mac song (The Green Manalishi) or a moody Joan Baez ballad (Diamonds And Rust). Rob Halford puts his balls to the wall and flawlessly tackles the Nordic God fanfare all by himself with enough operatic relish to strangle Wagner himself. Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing bring the hoary Sixties classic straight into the Eighties with an awesome, modern guitar sound, never losing the intensity of the tune.
Metal will always be with us, whether we like it or not. There's something unshakable about it. Even if you don't like it you'll discover a song or two so pure and honest in its vision that you'll find yourself listening, anyway. It doesn't care about your age or politics or even what the fuck you're wearing. And that's the key to its universality.
Here in L.A. we have lots of billboards promoting a new TV comedy on FX called Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, complete with faux Never Mind The Bollocks lettering. While I haven't seen the show and know nothing about it the billboard bothers me a great deal. I have nothing against comedies, I love 'em to death. What bothers me is the way Hollywood has perpetually depicted rock bands through the years as a bunch of clods who haven't got a brain cell to split between them.
I wish I was in on the joke about rock bands being bozos, because the truth is more rock musicians commit suicide than any other kind of artist. Try to find the humor in that!
I suspect that the real reason why filmmakers are always spoofing rock bands is because they're secretly jealous of the power bands have over shitty movies and TV shows. Behind every shitty screenwriter and director is a guy who wishes he could play badass guitar or front a band. Get over yourselves, Hollywood. A two-hour high octane action film will never hold anyone's attention the way a powerful, rockin' two minute song can.