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Monster

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★★★★½
(33 Reviews)

Steppenwolf Biography - Steppenwolf Discography - All Heavy Metal Bands

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No Description Available.Genre: Popular MusicMedia Format: Compact DiskRating: Release Date: 6-SEP-1988

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  • From my perspective the only real problem with Steppenwolf’s 1969 album “Monster” is that I never got around to listening to it until several years after I had worn out my copy of their 1970 “Steppenwolf Live” album. Compared to the energy and drive of that (apparently faux) live album, the studio recordings of the title track, “Draft Resister,” “Power Play” and “From Here to There Eventually” seem rather sedate. Especially on “Monster/Suicide/America” the tempo is clearly a bit slower. On the other hand, there is ample reason to believe that these were songs that were written because of how good they would be in live performance (ironically, that was the whole point behind the songs that R.E.M. would write for their own “Monster” album decades later).

    None of those four songs that appear on both “Monster” and “Steppenwolf Live” were ever hits. “Monster” is 9:16 and 9:56 on those two versions, which meant radio airplay was out of the question (even in the post “In-a-gadda-da-vida” period) except in a horribly cut down version that made it to #39 on the Billboard pop chart. But I think the other three, on balance, better than the group’s three Top 10 hits: “Born to Be Wild” (#2), “Magic Carpet Ride” (#3), and “Rock Me” (#10). Certainly they are much more political. Steppenwolf might even be better known for its songs commenting on drugs, “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” and “The Pusher,” but that is only another reminder that their political songs were largely overlooked.

    “Monster” is one of the most powerful songs that I remember from my youth.” “Monster” is actually the first part of the song and provides a history of the United States from the perspective of Sixties enlightenment: good Christians killing witches, slaughtering the red man, the insanity of the Civil War. Ultimately, the song is about America remember its true face:

    And though the past has its share of injustice
    Kind was the spirit in many a way
    But its protectors and friends have been sleeping
    Now it’s a monster and will not obey

    The “Suicide” section in the middle indicts the policies and practices of the American government at the time. If Billy Crystal thought at the Oscars last month that not much had changed from one Bush administration to the next, look at how much this verse relates to today:

    The cities have turned into jungles
    And corruption is stranglin’ the land
    The police force is watching the people
    And the people just can’t understand
    We don’t know how to mind our own business
    ‘Cause the whole world’s got to be just like us
    Now we are fighting a war over there
    No matter who’s the winner we can’t pay the cost

    The song ends with “America,” in which John Kay repeatedly asks “America, where are you now/ Don’t you care about your sons and daughters/ Don’t you know we need you now/ We can’t fight alone against the monster.” The net result is a powerful and largely forgotten protest song.

    What “Monster” proves is that there was more to Steppenwolf than their place in music history as the group that recorded the ultimate “gas’n'go” anthem with “Born to Be Wild.” But then the fact that this was a rock ground named after a Herman Hesse novel might have been a clue all by itself. “Draft Resister” obviously speaks to the Vietnam War, and I might be reading too much into the lyric but I think “Power Play” works better on a political level than it does as an interpersonal commentary. If I make the same mistake with the lyrics to “From Here To There Eventually” then that only goes to show how much “Monster” raised my political consciousness. Certainly in retrospect I can look back and see how it was Steppenwolf’s “Monster” that shaped by sense of political outrage more than Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, or Phil Ochs. They came later. For me “Monster” was there first.

    Posted on February 13, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • …–I still think that ‘69 was the turning point of the Nam Era. When the antiwar issue underwent its metamorphosis from the perceived petulance of immature malcontents (my generation at the time) as seen by the jingoistic World War II generation into a re-evaluation of that war by mainstream America as a whole. Steppenwolf’s entire historical image has changed over the years as well–most people nowadays focus on the earlier “Born To Be Wild” and consequently see them as the court minstrels of the ‘Sixties biker culture. These same people have no problem seeing Crosby Stills & Nash as protest music icons and forget that these guys were doing it when CSN were all members of other bands. The truth of the matter is that Steppenwolf has always been at their essence a blues rock band who are actually the true ancestors of Aerosmith when most people can only think of the Rolling Stones. In the case of this material here, it’s all too easy nowadays to look back at the doomsaying of “Monster/ Suicide/ America” and call it hysteria. Easier still to call songs like “Power Play” and “Move Over” collective self-pity about being on the wrong end of that era’s generation gap. For anyone who takes the easy way out so many years in the future to look back and say “they must’ve been … head cases in those days”, I’m going to fall back on this seemingly [bad] excuse; “That’s how it seemed to us back then”. I damn sure didn’t notice the inconsistency in the song “Draft Resister”. Here’s a guy who deserted the military to Sweden, but the first verse indicates that he wasn’t a draftee at all…”He had joined to seek adventureAnd to prove himself a man.”…the dude ENLISTED. So why did they name the song “DRAFT Resister? So I can spot stuff to critique in this album, too. My absolute favorite Steppenwolf album, you know? The moral of the story is that if you’re looking for here-and-now relevance, forget it, Jack–this was over thirty years ago. If you want to see this album as a historical document, that’s cool–as long as you remember that history shows some pretty glaring imperfections when viewed from the safety of the future. Above all, these are good numbers from a band that had a whole lot more going for it than status as a one-dimensional biker band.

    Posted on February 13, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Truly a classic in both music and lyrics, this is a powerful piece of work. My complaint is that the audio quality leaves A LOT to be desired. The record label seems to have just thrown the CD out there, complete with wrong song titles and several patches of bad CD transfer audio problems. If ever a record deserved the “Remastered” treatment, it’s ‘Monster’. C’Mon MCA, or somebody, re-release this title the way it should be….

    Posted on February 13, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • It is difficult some thirty years later to explain to younger listeners just how well this album articulated the sense of desperation and rage at the social system so prevalent among the sixties generation. Steppenwolf lead singer John Kay managed to provocatively employ the “Monster” analogy to perfection in explaining the terrifying existential dilemma the sixties generation found itself in, trapped by the injustice and stupidity of the military draft on one side, and the unknowing, uncaring, and patently dysfunctional material machinations of mainstream American culture on the other. All that said, this particular worldview informs one of the most outrageously brilliant song cycles in modern rock. Monster is a work of musical genius by John Kay, and is an under appreciated masterwork in that sense. The singularity of the lyrics, arrangements, and musicianship of this smash best-selling album is apparent from the opening bars of the trilogy of Monster/Suicide/America. It is highly political, but at the same time really rocks. By the way, although the lyrics may seem a bit stylized and anachronistic now, any one who lived through those years recognizes the predominating perceptions behind it, as well as the conviction many of us had regarding the patent evil that surrounded us. Moreover, the indictment of materialism and its woes is strangely still quite accurate and relevant, a cautionary tale one can easily apply to the problems still confronting America, a country that often seems for sale to the highest bidder. That itself is amazing, given all the changes that have occurred. But for simply stunning rock music, it is hard to beat songs like “Draft Resister” (my personal favorite), “Move Over”, and the Monster trilogy. Sit back, turn up the volume, and trip back with Steppenwolf to that super-charged political environment of the late sixties, and take your mind for a ride. Enjoy!

    Posted on February 13, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Although the quality of Steppenwolf’s output is a bit uneven, the group created a monster (yuk, yuk) in 1969. If we wanted to take a look at just one rock masterpiece, the title cut would surely make a deeply rewarding study. On many levels, it qualifies as one of the greatest rock tunes ever written. I’m not mincing words when I say that this song, after 33 years, can still put a lump in my throat. I’m not going to feed you any lines about this being a typical antiestablishment hippy tune from the 60s. No, this song is far deeper than that! The title cut is as glaringly apropos today as it was in 1969 – probably even more so. The music admirably supports the lyrics. The song builds tremendous tension and momentum so that when the first “America, where are you now…” chorus hits, it’s…well, breathtaking! Folks, this song qualifies as one of the greats of all time – not a dated artifact, but a timeless classic. The album continues with two more great songs (yes, they too make statements).This band could lay down a groove like no other. Part of it was the drummer, part of it was everyone else interacting both with and around the drummer. They’re smooth and sophisticated, sensual and alluring. The guitar work is ever so tasteful, often far more so than that of “name” players.”Move Over,” like the title piece, was a hit in ‘69 and I’m perplexed that this powerful gem is largely forgotten today. You never hear it on radio anymore, but that doesn’t surprise me: they’re too busy playing the same song over and over again. Anyway, “Move Over” doesn’t merely knock my socks off, it trounces me! For nearly three minutes, the song maintains the most throbbing, ecstatic energy you’re likely to hear – an electrified frenzy of an astonishing nature. This tune is so stimulating it’s dangerous. (And with today’s preoccupation with being overly safe, I might suggest wearing a helmet.) This album includes one instrumental. I’m often impatient with instrumentals, especially those that offer little in the way of impressive improvisation – which is most often the case in the world of rock. But this is a pleasant ditty that doesn’t overstay its welcome. A piano line rocks back and forth whilst a bluesy guitar croons about. It’s fine within the context of the album. (Actually, we need this break after the orgasmic “Move Over.”) “From Here To There Eventually” is another thought-provoking masterpiece – much overlooked. It’s about how many folks feel, still today, about the need for spirituality while being repulsed by church hypocrisy. I love this song. And it’s got one of those signature Steppenwolf “spaced-out” grooves toward the end. A fantastic finish to a fantastic record.Despite a very strong first album, I always thought – and still do – that this is their best work. All the great things that made this band unmistakable are here in abundance. Still today, it is pure ecstasy from start to finish. A powerful album, the impact of which never seems to wear off.

    Posted on February 12, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now