Trick or Treat: Sweet Songs and Sour Notes from Rock’s Biggest Bands
Happy Halloween, Ultimate Classic Rock faithful! While we can’t hand out candy to each of you — and we swear to God we’re calling the cops on the next one of you who leaves a flaming bag of poop on our doorstep — we certainly do appreciate your readership, so we decided to celebrate the spirit of the holiday by reaching into the song stashes of five of classic rock’s biggest legends and grabbing their sweetest treats (along with their nastiest tricks). Here’s what was waiting in our bag when we got back to the office…
Treat: ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (listen here)
The opening song from 1969’s ‘Led Zeppelin II,’ ‘Whole Lotta Love’ kicked off the band’s hitmaking streak in earnest, selling a million copies and breaking the Top Five of Billboard’s singles chart. In retrospect, it’s a little hard to believe that this ended up being Zeppelin’s only Top 10 hit, but chart positions aside, there’s no denying the song’s pure rock power — or the sweet caterwauling of Robert Plant, whose Willie Dixon-inspired wailing was never more marvelously lecherous. “I had a riff, everyone was at my house, and we kicked it from there,” recalled Jimmy Page. The rest was history.
Trick: ‘Darlene’ (listen here)
To be fair, it’s very difficult to name one bad Zeppelin song, let alone pick their worst — and to be even fairer, it’s kind of wrong to make your choice from a collection of odds and sods released in the wake of drummer John Bonham‘s unfortunate death. But if we have to name a trick from the band’s pile of treats, we suppose we’d have to go with this non-essential footnote from the ‘In Through the Out Door’ sessions. Still better than most bands’ best, it just isn’t as satisfying as anything else in the Zep canon.
Originally recorded for Kiss‘ 1974 debut album, ‘Strutter’ initially appeared destined for the scrap heap; released as the third single from the record, it failed to chart, and — like just about everything else the band did for the first few years — offered little sign of the arena-stuffing behemoth that they’d soon become. Later revisited (as ‘Strutter ’78’) for the ‘Double Platinum’ hits set, it finally broke the Hot 100, and it’s gone on to become one of the more enduring numbers in the band’s concert set list.
Trick: ‘My Way’ (listen here)
Written and recorded during a fairly dire period in the band’s history, 1987’s ‘Crazy Nights’ is one of the lesser-loved entries in the Kiss catalog — and this song, co-written by Paul Stanley, Bruce Kulick, and frequent Lou Gramm collaborator Bruce Turgon, is a prime example of why. Containing lines about the “danger zone” and a place where “the heat is on,” ‘My Way’ might be the only Kiss track that borrows from Kenny Loggins and Glenn Frey. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you — but why did Kiss have to lift from two of the cheesiest soundtrack hits of the ’80s?
Treat: ‘Mean Street’ (listen here)
Rich with radio-ready hits and classic deep cuts, the Van Halen catalog is brimming over with treats; whether you prefer the David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar eras — and that’s a debate that we doubt will ever stop raging — there are plenty of great tracks to choose from. But since this is a Halloween-themed list, we decided to pick ‘Mean Street’ for our treat; after all, what night could be more appropriate for singing the line “At night I walk this stinkin’ street past the crazies on my block”? In fact, the record it came from, 1981’s ‘Fair Warning,’ is one of Van Halen’s darkest — once you’re finished with ‘Mean Street,’ you might as well just keep on listening all Halloween long.
Trick: ‘How Many Say I’ (listen here)
Gary Cherone takes a lot of flak for the way Van Halen’s career took a nosedive after 1998’s ‘Van Halen III’ was released, but the album’s real flaw was the fact that Eddie Van Halen had lost interest in playing the type of awesome hooks, riffs, and/or solos that made the band famous. Instead, the record was packed with meandering, self-indulgent songs like the truly horrifying ‘How Many Say I,’ featuring keyboard noodling and lead vocals from Ed. Significantly absent: a worthwhile melody. Here’s one to put on repeat when it’s time for your Halloween party to end and you’re having a hard time getting your guests to leave.
Treat: ‘Rats in the Cellar’ (listen here)
You can’t throw a rock at Aerosmith‘s pre-1978 catalog without hitting a classic cut, which might be why we decided to dip into 1976’s ‘Rocks’ LP for this nasty, harmonica-laced chunk of vintage rock and roll. Supposedly inspired by the death of the band’s drug dealer, ‘Rats’ didn’t do much when it was released as a single from the record, but that might have been because radio programmers were too busy spinning ‘Last Child’ and ‘Back in the Saddle’ from what would end up becoming a quadruple-platinum hit — and anyway, the song has aged as well as anything from Aerosmith’s early period, with some nasty lyrics that make it uniquely well-suited for our Halloween celebration.
Trick: ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’
All due respect to Diane Warren, who wrote a long string of huge pop hits during the ’80s and ’90s, some of which were directly responsible for prolonging the commercial shelf life of some of UCR’s favorite rock bands. There’s really no way, though, that this Warren-penned song should be Aerosmith’s sole No. 1 hit, and its unabashed reliance on the power ballad formula suggested that the band had become a little too focused on cranking out singles at the expense of, you know, rocking. Worst of all? The song’s key appearance in 1998’s ‘Armageddon’ movie means we can’t hear ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’ without being reminded of Ben Affleck and animal crackers. Shudder.
Treat: ‘La Villa Strangiato’ (listen here)
This lengthy instrumental is subtitled ‘An Exercise in Self-Indulgence,’ which makes it perfect for a night dedicated to collecting mass quantities of candy (or mass quantities of other stuff, once you’re a grown-up). It’s also one of Rush‘s finest moments — more than nine and a half minutes of smart, increasingly complicated musical interplay, divided into a dozen short movements. Think of it like a bag of fun-sized treats, and let it rock.
Trick: ‘Roll the Bones’ (listen here)
Okay, look — if you’re the type of Rush fan who bristles at the suggestion that the band has ever recorded a less-than-stellar song, we’ll be the first to concede that there really aren’t very many outright stinkers in the wily Canadians’ catalog. However, if we were to choose one trick from their legion of treats, it’d have to be the title track to 1991’s ‘Roll the Bones’ record, and every Rush fan knows why: Geddy Lee‘s rather ill-advised rap, which was performed by a sunglasses-sporting animated skeleton in the video. It’s fun for what it is, but let’s face it — this isn’t the first song you’d want to play for a Rush novice.