Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – Z

As in ZED for my American friends.

And 26 weeks later we reach the end of the alphabet and we have only scratched the vinyl surface. We will be back next week to do it all over again with more tall tales and bands you may have forgotten (or never heard of). Maybe I will give some numbers a chance next week before we take it back to the A’s. Thanks for all of your responses and comments, it has been pretty interesting to see how far these columns reach.

Zager & Evans

My “Summer Of 69’” did not include Bryan Adams but it sure included Zager & Evans. Ten years old, my main source of music was 1050 Chum and you would wait hours to hear your favourite song on your transistor radio. Using that god awful one ear plug that never stayed in (and turned ear wax orange), transistor hidden under your pillow and hoping to god you wouldn’t fall asleep or have your batteries die before you heard “that song”. There was always that song. Some of the groups you knew everything about from your older sister’s copies of Tiger Beat or 16 (The Monkees, The Partridge Family or Herman’s Hermits) but others you had no mental image of. That didn’t matter. From The Royal Guardsmen (“Snoopy Vrs. The Red Baron”) to Napoleon XIV (“They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!”) you didn’t need to know anything about the artist, you just needed to hear that song on your radio. That’s what I felt about “In The Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)” by Zager & Evans. The Lincoln, Nebraska duo were the only locals to ever have a number one hit on Billboard (sorry Matthew Sweet) and their epic about the future of the human race went on to sell well over a million copies worldwide. For a doom and gloom ditty with no chorus the song certainly hit a chord. It is interesting to note that the single sat atop the singles chart the day that Neil Armstrong stepped upon the surface of the moon (July 20, 1969). It was not until yesterday that I had ever seen an image, or performance, by the band, and it just didn’t matter. It was always about that song, it was in your gut and in your heart, nothing else mattered.

The song has been covered hundreds of times. Steve Strange and Visage gave it a failed shot in the early eighties and if there was ever a band that should have been able to pull off a decent version of the song it should have been them. Nope. The song was also parodied on the TV show “Futurama” as they passed through the year 252525. Sorry Bob, but I have never liked this show or found it the slight bit amusing. (Editor’s Note: Kiss my shiny metal ass, Meatbag.)

Our Nebraska heroes never charted again and that might have been a result of their follow-up single “Mr. Turnkey”. This lovely ballad was a first person confession of a rapist who ends up nailing his hand to his cell room wall. Oh well, at least they gave us one memorable song.

Zoom

There are classic examples of a single being flipped over and the B-side becoming a hit record. Back in the day when the 45 was king the A-side was the hit and the B-side was usually a throwaway track. Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” was the flip side to “Reason To Believe” and “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley was originally the B-side to “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town)”. Now this was not a problem for the Toronto-based band Zoom but for what it’s worth I always preferred “Massacre At Central High” to the A-side “Sweet Desperation”.

Zoom predated the Toronto punk scene and were regulars at the Beverley Tavern on Queen Street West in 1976. The Queen West of today does not resemble the days when the strip was a wasteland of butchers, fabric stores and diners. The Ontario College of Art (now OCAD) was around the corner and a few local establishments catered to the students and were happy to let them have the run of the place as long as the draft machines were in constant pour. The Bev was the early home of a lot of the forerunners of the Toronto scene (along with the swankier Peter Pan). Zoom were Kris Hate on vocals and guitar and Johnny 7 on drums and background vocals. They released their single “Sweet Desperation” on Riot Records sometime in 1976. “Sweet” featured Kris, doing his best Marc Bolan vocals, on top of a paper thin production. To say it is sparse would be an understatement. “Massacre At Central High” with it’s cheesy tommy gun meets handclap intro sounded like an homage to their contemporaries The Dishes. Good luck finding this one on vinyl.

With Viletone Steve Leckie a regular at The Bev it did not take Kris long to jump ship and become a member of the greatest line-up of The Viletones along with Nazi Dog, Motor X and Freddy Pompeii. Johnny 7 became John Hamilton and took his place behind the throne as part of the Diodes. Rumour has it there is a Segarini/BB Gabor produced Zoom album somewhere on a shelf that I would love to hear one day.

Hamilton and Hate would play together in the future when they left The Diodes and The Viletones and formed The Secrets with Freddy Pompeii and Mike Anderson. These guys went back to their old school roots and were more a cross between doo-wop and rockabilly then actual punk.

The Zombies

The Zombies were a little bit before my time. I heard their singles on the radio growing up and always thought they were a little more sophisticated than a lot of the other British Invasion tunes. “She’s Not There”, “Tell Her No” and “Time Of The Season” have weathered the years a little bit better than “Do The Freddie” or “Henry The VII”.  I was more of a fan of Argent, the group that keyboardist Rod Argent formed after The Zombies and their hit “Hold Your Head Up”.

This is a story about Zombie’s guitarist Paul Atkinson. When I took over the A&R gig at MCA Records in Canada, Paul was the head of A&R at MCA in the United States. Now we had autonomy to sign whoever we wanted in Canada but most bands also wanted a deal in the U.S. as this was where they thought the big money would be. To enable that I needed Paul on my side. I pitched everything that moved, I remember his  response to The Tea Party was “they sound like The Doors playing Zeppelin” (which was why I wanted to sign them). I finally piqued his interest with The Age Of Electric. I loved that band. You had Ryan Dahl and his brother Kurt and John Kerns and his brother Todd. They had a few hits as AOE but have since gone on to greater things. Todd (TK) is now the bass player for Slash, Kurt is the drummer for The New Pornographers, Ryan releases solo albums and Limblifter albums and John has played with Robin Black amongst others. Would love to see them tour one more time just to hear “Aphrodisiac Smile” one more time live.

I was pretty thrilled that Paul was going to come to Riley’s in Saskatoon to see a show. I got in to town a few days earlier and made sure the boys were well prepped and bought them new strings and sticks and a couple of hearty meals. After three flights and a full day of travelling Paul, in his dapper English style, arrived at the hotel. He asked if we had a car to take us to the gig and I informed him that Saskatoon was a pretty small place and Riley’s was only a couple of blocks away. As we walked he turned and looked at me and said “Cameron, the last time I was in Saskatoon I believe, was in 1964 on Dick Clark’s Cavalcade Of Stars”. I felt honoured to be in his presence and to have his ear. We lost Paul eight years ago this week and I never has the chance to thank him for his insights and knowledge. Thank you Paul.

As always if you are in Toronto and looking for a cool rock’n’roll diner please visit our friends at Shanghai Cowgirl 538 Queen Street West. It is right beside the world famous Bovine and around the corner from Cherry Cola’s.

Cam’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

One Response to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – Z”

  1. Cam,
    Drop John Hamilton a note (I believe he’s on Facebook). I’ve heard the Zoom album…as it was pitched to me in 2007 or 2008 for my now defunct Bullseye label. Or talk to Ralph Alfonso…he’s on top of all Diodes projects and side projects.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: