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Montrose

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★★★★★
(101 Reviews)

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  • Arguably the greatest American hard rock album ever, Montrose’s 1973 debut is a stunning display of instrumental and vocal prowess. As the prototypical 4-piece – guitar/vocals/bass/drums – they recorded one of the all-time essential slabs of heavy rock. Ronnie Montrose makes a tremendous leap from in-demand session musician to bandleader and legit guitar hero, Sam Hagar (wasn’t even Sammy yet) sets the standard for American rock vocals, Bill “the Electric” Church lays down some amazingly fat basslines, and Denny Carmassi smacks his drums with intense precision and manly vigor. Track by track rundown: 1) Rock the Nation is the boldest possible statement of purpose – fast, super hard, and highly energized. Like all the songs on this album, it features fiery guitar, strong vocals, walloping drums, and solid bass. 2) Bad Motor Scooter starts out with the guitar imitating a revving motorcycle, as Hagar wails about how bad he wants to see his girlie. Seething with energy. Brilliant lead playing. 3) Space Station #5 burns with intensity! Epic multi-tracked soloing, cool sci-fi lyrics about leaving a dying planet, and a crazed hi-speed ending. 4) I Don’t Want It – an in-your-face rocker sporting immortal couplets such as “…just quit my job/makin’ toothpicks outta logs” and “flowers make me sneeze/and prayin’ hurts my knees”. Hagar sings like he means it. Starting side two on the original LP, 5) Good Rockin’ Tonite revamps the old Elvis hit in a live-wire fashion. The overwhemingly massive 6) Rock Candy has the heaviest drums since When The Levee Breaks. Thick yet fluid bass, titanic drumming, powerful vocals, highly-sexed lyrics, massive Ronnie riffage. Big rock indeed. 7) One Thing On My Mind is a lightweight party song, advancing the literature on chicks and rockin’ out and kickin’ back. The anthemic 8) Make it Last closes out the album in a more “philosophical” mode, with some trademark Hagar lyrics about growing pains, loss of innocence, blah blah etc. Montrose is a truly groundbreaking album, wildly influential on future generations of hard rock and metal bands. Incredibly tight, musically exciting, with relatively short songs (for the era) Montrose forged a new, bracingly kinetic sound, fresher than the competition. Eschewing the lengthy jamming of Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, much less crushingly heavy than Black Sabbath, not needing the theatricality of Alice Cooper or Kiss or Queen, more talented and less over-reaching than Grand Funk, tighter than BTO or The Amboy Dukes, less overtly boogie/blues oriented and more streamlined than Foghat or the James Gang, less ponderous than Rush or Uriah Heep, less myopic than Mahoghany Rush, not at all scary like early BOC, more catchy than Cactus or Crow, harder rocking than the southern rock bands. Note: I honestly adore all (well, most) of the above-mentioned bands, I’m just using them for contrast. Important precedent – Their brand of commercially viable (yet still diamond-hard) rock and roll was the template for Van Halen. Van Halen used to cover Montrose songs in their LA club days. Montrose actually shares much more with VH: several albums released on Warner Bros Records, produced (with great clarity) by Ted Templeman and engineered by Donn Landee. The influence made it across the Atlantic – Iron Maiden covered at least two different Montrose songs. Sammy Hager and Ronnie Montrose managed one more album together (1974’s fine Paper Money, also including Carmassi) before collapsing under the weight of the two competing gigantic egos, but the debut album is the real classic. Montrose has always had a permanent high spot on my top-ten “desert island disc” list. Perpetually a steady catalog seller for Warners, a remastered cd version is long overdue. At least three songs (tracks 1,2 and 6) on this album still make frequent rotation on most hard rock and classic rock stations, at least on the west coast. Both Hagar and Ronnie Montrose admit it was a career peak. Say, how about a reunion album and US tour while we’re dreaming? Crank it on up!

    Posted on December 9, 2009