Metal Essentials II: Leather and Bell Bottoms (1976 - 1979) - Highway to Hell vs Strangers in the Night

vote for your FAVORITE songs

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  • Shot Down in Flames

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I like Motorhead, especially those early albums, but they really had no chance in this competition. Sometimes it's important to put yourself in the time and place that a particular piece of art came from to understand it better, and Motorhead is often one of those cases. Priest is too, but the difference is that Priest still holds up today. The stuff on Stained Class is cutting edge and shows that, at least at one time, Priest was one of the most adventurous rock bands. 8 - 2 for Priest.
Unsurprisingly, Priest wipes the floor with Motorhead 7-3. Motorhead put up a tough fight though. Almost every pairing was close.

For our next round, we will be taking a look at a couple more "traditional" hard rock albums. The 70s was a time for musical innovation in a variety of styles. Rock music was becoming more sophisticated, largely thanks to artists such as the Beatles who were pushing the boundaries of what rock music could be. Rock started to branch out into subgenres, such as progressive rock, psychedelic rock, Jazz fusion (a mix of jazz and rock), and, of course, Heavy Metal. While the genre branched out quite a bit in the 70s, Hard Rock was perhaps the most "pure" in terms of its stylistic connection the roots of Rock music in the 50s and early 60s. The Hard Rock bands focused on simple, guitar driven, blues-influenced songs. They were catchy and radio friendly. As the name suggests, it was a more aggressive version of Rock music, but the musical elements remained the same. Heavy Metal and Hard Rock are very closely linked, to the point where sometimes the lines become blurred. Was Zeppelin Hard Rock or Metal? What about Purple? It depends on who you ask.

Very few bands better personify the style of Hard Rock than Aerosmith and AC/DC. Both bands existed in the early 70's, although it wasn't until about 1975-76 that they began to receive international success. AC/DC had a good reputation in Australia, but their early albums were not initially released outside of their home country. Aerosmith, a Boston band, had a slightly quicker rise to fame. The albums represented here, Rocks, and Highway To Hell, are largely seen as creative peaks for both bands.

Released in 1976, Rocks was the followup to the commercial hit Toys In the Attic. At the time, it wasn't received quite as positively as its predecessors. In retrospect, however, it is regarded as one of their greatest albums. It was created while the band was deep in drug use and personal fighting. Normally elements for disaster, it seemed that the instability of Aerosmith was more of a boon to creativity. Several of the songs on Rocks, such as Rats In the Cellar and Combination, reference the current state of the band. The guitar playing, which is heavily rooted in the blues, is a favorite of rock music. While Joe Perry is one of the world's most famous guitar players, Brad Whitford is equally responsible for Aerosmith's legendary leads (he plays lead guitar on half of the album). Steven Tyler is, of course, one of Rock's most renowned vocalists. While not strictly a Metal band, Aerosmith had a large influence on Metal especially in America and especially in the 80s. They showed that rock music could be aggressive, dangerous, but also accessible. This is something many Metal bands would pick up on later as the style became less underground and more mainstream.

Highway to Hell came a few years later and similarly represents a commercial peak for AC/DC. However, where Aerosmith saw a decline and largely imploded not long after Rocks, Highway to Hell set the stage for continued success into the 80s despite the untimely death of vocalist Bon Scott shortly after the album's release. The band had been working hard throughout most of the 70s and was just now starting to achieve commercial success. They were beginning to make a dent in the UK, but were struggling in the USA. Highway to Hell was recorded largely with the purpose of breaking the band in the states. It was, of course, successful in doing just that. The album was a massive hit and its title track is a classic rock radio staple to this day. Its opening riff is one that every guitar player learned at one time or another.

In addition to being a huge moment for AC/DC, it was also the first major album produced by Mutt Lange. Lange would go on to be one of Rock's most innovative and influential producers. Lange actually wasn't involved in the project initially. The record label first hooked the band up with the legendary Eddie Kramer, with whom the band did not get along with.

Like Aerosmith, AC/DC became a staple in rock radio and, while not a Metal band, is freely discussed in Metal circles. The satanic themes, aggressive guitar playing, and the rough vocal style of Bon Scott are not far removed from what you would look for in a classic Metal band. AC/DC was also seen as being among the new generation of Hard Rock/Metal after the decline or disappearance of bands that were shaping the genre earlier in the decade. They also had a heavy influence on many of the NWOBHM bands that came later.

Every song from Rocks is represented. Get It Hot is excluded from Highway to Hell in order to maintain an equal number of songs. It was excluded based off of the AC/DC survivor results.
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Just a heads up @Mosh - the AC/DC song eliminated is called "Get It Hot" and the song in pair 3 should be called "Walk All Over You", as in "these boots are gonna".
This is going to be difficult. I’m only halfway through and so far...

- Aerosmith are far better musicians in every regard.
- AC/DC are far better at catchy hooks.
- Sick as a Dog sounds like The Tragically Hip
[9.5] Back In The Saddle V Highway To Hell [10]
[7] Last Child V Girls Got Rhythm [7.5]
[8] Rats In The Cellar V Walk All Over You [10]
[7] Combination V Touch Too Much [10]
[8] Sick As A Dog V Beating Around The Bush [8.5]
[8.5] Nobody's Fault V Shot Down In Flames [9]
[7.5] Get The Lead Out V If You Want Blood (You Got It) [10]
[8.5] Lick And A Promise V Love Hungry Man [8.5]
[8] Home Tonight V Night Prowler [8.5]

Highway wins 8-1-0​
  • Back in the Saddle loses to Highway to Hell, though this was the toughest match in the game.
  • Last Child is only slightly more interesting than Girl's Got Rhythm, and really only wins because of the lyrics of the latter.
  • Rats in the Cellar has a really cool outro and I dig the pace, whereas Walk All Over You is just meh.
  • Combination has some interesting parts but sounds unfocused, so Touch Too Much slides by.
  • Sick As A Dog makes me want to listen to The Tragically Hip, whereas Beating Around the Bush has one of the coolest AC/DC riffs ever and is very atypical as the tempo is at least 20 bpm faster than usual.
  • Nobody's Fault may be my favorite song here. This is from 1976?! Sure, the production sounds like it, but the composition is so heavy and atonal and metal that I'm shocked I've never heard it before in the same breath as Rainbow/Priest/Sabbath, etc. Shot Down in Flames has a great chorus and dynamics (as does every single samey AC/DC song), but it just can't compare.
  • Get The Lead not good. If You Want Blood (You Got It) takes this round by a mile.
  • I don't like either of these songs, but Lick And a Promise is actually somehow dumber than Love Hungry Man.
  • I don't really like these songs either, Home Tonight is just a blah song and Night Prowler only wins for that signature AC/DC swagger.
Rocks is a really solid album, but I think this will be a rout. Highway To Hell is one of my all-time favorite albums, period. I gave a slight edge to "Last Child" and "Nobody's Fault" primarily because I just didn't want to vote a clean sweep for AC/DC -- but either or both of them could easily have gone the other way.

Edit/side note: Mosh mentioned Mutt Lange, and I wanted to reiterate just how important he was. He is one of the best rock producers ever, and the production on both Highway To Hell and Back In Black is impeccable. One respected mastering engineer -- I am not 100% certain but it was either Barry Diament (CD) or Bob Ludwig (LP) -- said that Lange's master tapes for these albums were among the best he'd ever heard, true audiophile reference quality. (I personally prefer the heavily distorted guitar sound on Let There Be Rock, but whatever, the Lange albums indisputably sound great.) The production on those two albums is at least partly responsible for AC/DC's commercial mega-breakthrough. He worked the same magic for Def Leppard, Foreigner, The Cars (Heartbeat City, though Roy Thomas Baker produced their incredible debut), Bryan Adams, and Shania Twain (Mutt's wife).
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I'll give Rocks a listen again before voting, I like it but haven't had it for too long and am not instantly familiar with it in the way I am with highway to hell. I still expect Highway to Hell to probably get a clean sweep.
Clean sweep for AC/DC. Areosmith were unlucky on that tracks like Back in the Saddle and Nobody's Fault were up against strong tracks. Closest call was Rats in the Cellar and Walk All Over You
All updates are going to be on weekends cause that’s the only time I have to do it.
As long as you have a good rhythm and stick to it, this isn't the IE survivor, which has been going on so long that IE did a tour and then announced a layoff and a D&W tour started.
Both are excellent albums and I don't think Rocks deserves the shellacking, but Highway to Hell has quite a few more heavy hitters. I ended up only voting for 3 Aerosmith songs, although I probably enjoy those songs more than most, if not all, of the songs on Highway To Hell.
In what was the worst performance of any album in any round so far between the two Metal Essential games, Rocks was absolutely destroyed 9 - 0. I honestly thought these two albums would be more evenly matched. It'll be interesting to see how Highway To Hell performs against Stained Class. I have a feeling it might be close.

A hallmark of the 1970's was the live album. Live recordings certainly existed previously, but the 70s were unique in that a live album could often be a breakout success for a band. Sometimes a great live album would often be regarded as the band's best work period. That is certainly the case for the two live albums that will be facing off against each other this round.

Many bands lived by the reputations of their live performances. Perhaps the most well known of these acts is Kiss. Some critics argue that Kiss was successful only because of their onstage gimmick. Their first live album, Alive!, quite literally saved the band after 3 commercially disappointing studio albums. Alive was seen as a final hail mary and an attempt at capturing the band's live energy. At the time, Kiss was an opening act and had a reputation for blowing the headliners off stage. This resulted in them being frequently kicked off tours. The positive reception from audiences did not translate to album sales, however, and Alive was a successful attempt at changing that (although it wasn't actually recorded live). After the success of Alive, Kiss blew up and became one of the biggest acts of the 70s. They followed it with three successful studio albums, a massive hit song with Beth, and the creation of a merchandising giant. This all culminated in their second album, and the subject of this round in Metal Essentials: Alive II. The selection of songs on Alive II were chosen entirely from the previous 3 studio albums, meaning there wasn't a single repeat from Alive. Say what you will about Kiss, but it's certainly impressive that they were able to release 2 successful double live albums of entirely unique material. Most of the songs on both albums became live staples for the rest of the band's career. Like the original Kiss Alive, there is very little uncertainty about how much of the album is actually live. Regardless, the album was another success and really represents the end of Kiss' classic era. Following the release of the album, the band fractured and took some questionable music directions that ultimately led to a huge decline in popularity. This was also the last album that actually featured the original lineup (Peter Criss was credited on a few subsequent albums, but he did not actually play on them). That being said, the cracks were already beginning to show. Side 4 of Alive II consists of some new studio tracks as filler. However, Ace Frehley only plays on one of these songs. The rest feature Bob Kulick (brother of Bruce Kulick) uncredited on lead guitar. Following Alive II, the band went on a brief hiatus, filmed a TV movie, and each of the members released solo albums (a move that turned out to be a commercial disaster). Despite all this, Alive II gave the impression of a band that was larger-than-life and at the height of their powers.

Kiss flirted with heavy metal throughout various stages in their career. The most "metal" sounding Kiss albums probably came in the 80s and 90s, but they were still associated with Metal in the 70s. A lot of this could be attributed to their costumes and look, particularly Gene Simmon's demonic image, but their music was closer to the Hard Rock of bands like Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin. They certainly had heavy moments though. Kiss' biggest contribution to Metal in the 70s was probably the lead guitar work of Ace Frehley. Ace has been cited as an influence on guitarists such as Dimebag Darrell, Eddie Van Halen, and Scott Ian. It would probably be safe to say that Kiss' influence was stronger in America and you will often find that many Metal bands that cite Kiss as an influence are American.

On the other side of the Atlantic, we have one of the most important early Heavy Metal bands UFO with an album that is often regarded as one of the greatest live recordings of all time: Strangers In the Night. Like Kiss Alive II, Strangers In the Night represents the end of an era for UFO. It was the last album to feature Michael Schenker on guitar and was the last of a string of classic albums from the band. While Strangers is often considered UFO's best work, the band had already seen some success with their previous studio albums. UFO had a long history up until this point, having formed in the late 60s. They released a few albums before really settling into their Metal sound. In some ways, their history mirrors that of Scorpions, who were also connected through Michael Schenker. Their original music was much more of a space rock/psychedelic sound and very unlike what they would do later. With the addition of Michael Shenker (who had recently left Scorpions), the band's sound radically changed into something that could be considered as Heavy Metal. They also signed to a bigger label in Chrysalis, which allowed them to expand their audience. Strangers In the Night features all of UFO's most renowned songs and includes some blistering jams headed by the guitar wizardry of Schenker. Like Alive II and most live albums from this era, there are disputes over what is actually live, but it has been said that Schenker refused to record any overdubs for the album. Michael Shenker would go on to be known as one of the early "shredders" in the Metal genre, and this album is probably the first real taste of his talent. The album also features the talents of the great Phil Mogg on vocals and Pete Way on bass. The entire band fires on all cylinders and the album represents one of Rock's great performances.

UFO never really quite took off in America the way they did in Europe, sort of an opposite to Kiss' situation. They had some songs that still get played on classic rock radio, but they aren't quite as remembered as some of their contemporaries, including Scorpions. For actual rock fans, however, UFO is essential. They are actually one of the most influential bands in the entire game. Metallica, Guns n Roses, Rage Against the Machine, Megadeth, Slayer, and Testament are just a few American Metal groups who cite UFO as influences. Slash, in particular, calls Strangers In the Night his favorite live album.

Additionally, UFO had a huge influence on the emerging New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Their combination of heaviness, guitar virtuosity, and energetic songs with catchy hooks became characteristic of the emerging movement in Metal. Where many other Metal bands were floundering through the late 70s, if they were even still together, UFO was blazing a new path and laying the foundation for Metal's dominance in the 80s. Of course, UFO's influence was particularly strong on a group of still unsigned East Enders that were leading the NWOBHM movement. Steve Harris often cites UFO as one of his all time favorite bands and even wrote the liner notes to a reissue of Strangers In the Night. This album's version of Doctor Doctor is also played over the PA before every Maiden show. Consequently, voting against Doctor Doctor may be seen as a bannable offense.

From Alive II, all songs from side 1 - 3 are represented. Side 4 is omitted due to not being live and part of another recording session. Strangers In the Night's selection is based off the 1999 CD reissue, which features more songs and different track order. Considering these are both double albums, there is quite a bit more material here. I am willing to extend this round to an additional week, just let me know.
I'm not sure I'll have time to properly listen to the extra tracks from the 99' reissue of strangers and Alive II but I will try. Personally Strangers deserves the praise more than Kiss does...
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