Thursday, December 1, 2011
Scorpions - Tokyo Tapes
Another week, another review of a double live album. I could have sworn I wrote this one up a year or so ago for Ripple but was amazed that I did not. Good thing, too. I've been looking for a cheap copy of the LP to replace the one that went missing over 25 years ago and finally tracked one down last week. 5 bucks for this muther at a used place on Long Island in a bin full of crappy metal like Americade and Kane Roberts. I've had the remastered CD for many years, and it sounds great, but when it comes to double live albums you just gotta have the gatefold sleeve. For fans of 70's heavy rock, Tokyo Tapes is an essential companion piece to Unleashed In The East, Strangers In The Night, Made In Japan and Live & Dangerous. Next time you're having a party put all those albums next to the turntable, rotate playing sides from them and watch the chicks magically disappear. Works every time!
Tokyo Tapes captures the Scorpions at a key point in their career. Guitar wizard Uli Jon Roth had already made up his mind to leave the band (check out his song "I've Got To Be Free" from his last studio album Taken By Force) but honored their touring commitments in Japan. Recorded live in 1978, this captures the end of Uli's Hendrix inspired version of the band before they evolved into a more conventional and commercial hard rock/metal band in the 1980's. Most fans of the popular era are either unaware or flat out don't like this version of the Scorpions. The truth is that most Scorps records until the mid-80's are pretty solid and they remain a kick ass live band to this very day. The Scorpions have announced that they will be retiring so if you've never seen them, you better do so soon. The next best thing would be to check out the great live DVD of their show at the Wacken Festival from 2006 with special guests Uli Roth and Michael Schenker.
Getting back to Tokyo Tapes, opening song "All Night Long" is one of their best. It was never on any of their studio albums and is one of the few (maybe the only one) written by Uli and vocalist Klause Meine. It's everything an opening song should be - fast, loud and with a killer groove. Uli's solos are incredible but so is Rudolf Schenker's kick ass rhythm guitar. Rudy really pushes the band hard and he's a very underrated player. The rhythm section of Francis Buchholz (bass) and Herman Rarebell (drums) are pummeling. "Pictured Life" and "Backstage Queen" get massive reactions from the Japanese crowd and the band delivers tight renditions. As always Uli's lead guitar work blazes.
Uli really lets loose on the slower and more Hendrix influenced songs like "In Trance," "In Search Of The Peace Of Mind," and, especially, "We'll Burn The Sky," co-written by Monika Dannemann, the woman who Hendrix was involved with when he died. The Scorpions met her when they played the Marquee Club in London and she became Uli's companion until her death in 1996. "We'll Burn The Sky" is credited to being written by Rudy Schenker and Monika but Uli owns this song. His guitar playing is out of this world. Next to Robin Trower, Uli is one of the few to have been able to incorporate Hendrix's playing into a unique style. As great as Uli's playing is, sometimes his singing isn't so great. Especially on "Polar Nights." It was actually dropped from the CD version of Tokyo Tapes to keep it a single disc but is a bonus track on the CD of Taken By Force. Still, it contains a great solo and is not worth getting up off your bean bag chair to move the needle when playing the LP. His vocals on "Dark Lady" are much better mainly because he lets Klaus handle the high notes on the chorus.
Another fun aspect of Tokyo Tapes is the between song banter. Klaus addresses the Japanese audience in English with his thick German accent. Who knows if anyone understood each other but one of my all time favorite stage announcements is when he says "I hope we get a good feeling together" and then yells out a few words in Japanese. The crowd really goes wild when they do a version of the Japanese song "Kojo No Tsuki." That must have earned the band a huge amount of respect. Another classic Klaus moment is when he shrieks at the crowd "do you like rock n roll" before they launch into a high energy meddley of "Hound Dog" and "Long Tall Sally." They were probably inspired to dust these off as a reaction to Deep Purple's usual encore of "Lucille."
The front cover is a classic with Rudy bending waaaaay in front of the bass player. Sure it looks a little gay, but can you do that in giant, white platform boots? There are great photos in the inner sleeve and almost everyone in the band has ridiculously big platforms. Probably the main reason why if you see photos of them today they're wearing sensible shoes. Back in the 70's everyone wore those giant shoes, kimonos and had massive fog machines on stage and the world was a better place.