Silverhead (Purple 001)
16 and Savaged (Purple 002)
Live At The Rainbow (Purple 003)
Three LPs of work by one of the glam rock period’s great forgotten bands, Silverhead, and its singer, later turned actor, Michael Des Barres, is surely one of the year’s most unexpected re-releases. Purple Records have done the honours, and included a wealth of bonus material in amongst the original music and artwork.
‘Silverhead’ appeared in 1972, at the height of the Glam Rock period, its cover styled in Art Deco interlocking frames and featuring singer Michael Des Barres in voluminous baggy trousers, his face a scary clown mask, his hands conjuring 7’’ records out of the air, and arranging them in an elegant arc to complete
Musically, it’s easily the best of these three LPs, opening with ‘Long Legged Lisa’, with its slow, choppy intro lick and salacious lyric. The slide guitar work is classy, but the band knew which way the wind was blowing in rock, and kept to the glam/trash model as far as they could. With its cast of character like ‘Sharp Shootin’ Sheila and the aforementioned Lisa, it’s hard to say whether this was all inspired by Marc Bolan, Muddy Waters or John Gay, but it’s good, trashy fun, so who’s bothered?
‘Underneath The Light’s steady rocker is brought to life with a good, tight lick and Michael’s in fine voice, with some capable screaming guitar riffs thrown in for good measure. ‘Ace Supreme’s exciting riff masks some horribly clichéd lyrics, but that was far from being a crime in the glam 70’s.
‘Johnny’ sees the acoustic guitar getting an airing, in a rather half-hearted lament that was an obvious play for a US FM audience. ‘In Your Eyes’ sticks with the mawkish sentiment, and rather shows up the limitations of Michael’s voice in this piano-led number. Such material would be best left to the expert in this field; your Elton John.
Happily, this introspective section is over with, and it’s back what Silverhead do best; the great, throwaway scuzzy rock of ‘Rolling With My Baby’. It’s a shame to follow this up with ‘Wounded Heart’, the band taking a walk on the Gospel side, and to no great effect. No matter, ‘Sold Me Down The River’ sees them back on the wrong/right side of the road again, with a classic turnaround for the traditionalists out there.
‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Band’ is surely to be regarded as Silverhead’s fighting song, a plea to be taken seriously, at a time when many lesser bands were achieving greater, often undeserved success. The short, sharp ‘Silver Boogie’ has a charm to it that puts you in mind of ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’, and is a fairly unique way to close this debut LP.
Bonus tracks have more going for them than most CD fillers; ‘Ace Supreme’s thunderous echoing sound shows what a great live prospect they were, and ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Band’ in the live arena is a revelation; great, scorching hot guitar licks pepper the lengthy take, and again the powerful sound showing evidence of no mean ability. The clearly audible female laughter suggests a surreptitious recording, somewhere in the audience, and all of Michael’s various attempts to fire up the crowd are there for posterity.
‘Sold Me Down The River’ has more desperate jollying up to its live outing, to little effect, and then we’re into the 7’’ versions of ‘Ace Supreme’ – a potent start-up, the homoerotic tale worked well, ‘Oh No No No’s tepid rocker and ‘Rolling With My Baby’s well produced, tighter sound, surely hinting at great things
‘16 and Savaged’, their second LP was released in 1973, and sporting the sort of cover image that would be unlikely to go down well in today’s more sensitive times. The LP’s nine tracks have been expanded to include live and unreleased material, more than doubling the musical content.
‘Hello New York’s guitar skids the LP into action, in a sub-Alice Cooper piece of jet-rock, and lets it settle in our brains by following it with a slow roller, ‘More Than Your Mouth Can Hold’ (ermm…) the US style vocal delivery perfect for this type of unashamedly dirty rocker. ‘Only You’ follows hot on its heels, some fine bluesy guitars leading up to a grand swell that reminds this listener of Humble Pie at their raunchiest.
‘Bright Light’ opens well with a swaggering guitar lick and rocks steadily throughout, but the shouted vocal turns out too jokey to carry what’s otherwise a good, steady roller. The generic 70’s stomper ‘Heavy Hammer’ doesn’t do what it says on the tin, but the wild ‘Cartoon Princess’ more than makes up for it. The talking guitar intro, topped off with ‘yacking’ vocal and punctuated with a neat bass turnaround keeps the momentum up, until the long lead out.
Sticking to what they know best, ‘Rock Out Claudette Rock Out’s title tells you all you need to know about this generic rocker, and it’s a shame that the chorus is as weak, with such a great title as this. The unfortunately named ‘This Ain’t A Parody’ sounds exactly like one, a slow blues with a predictable ‘crone’ voice, typical of many rock songs of the era. Closing track ’16 And Savaged’s powerful drum battery and slick guitar lick perfectly complement Michael’s performance as, at last, he lets his voice rip, in obvious 7’’ single material.
This is where the official LP ends, but the reissue extends to double the tracks, starting with a somewhat homoerotic tribute to the even then, much eulogised James Dean. It possesses some gritty guitar, a throaty vocal but cliché’d lyrics are all too evident. We continue in this vein with ‘Marilyn’, a standard rocker but with little else to recommend it.
Two Michael des Barres’ solo outings, and a change of pace in ‘Leon’, with its starry, Disney-fied opening, a little reminiscent of Elton John’s output of the time, it’s a gloomy tale of receiving news of a friend’s death in Amsterdam. The welcome bluesy rocker, ‘New Moon Tonight’, has the makings of a single in it, with a good, clean vocal sound and tidy backing. A brace of live tracks from the band follow, with an echoey sound that suggest ill-attended gigs in large, impersonal halls; either that, or the Nazareth/Uriah Heep headliner fans shoved off to the bar whilst Silverhead strutted their stuff. No matter; their guitars are strong, Michael’s vocal is helped by the weird acoustics, and the band play like their lives depended on it.
‘Live At The Rainbow London’ credited to ‘Michael Des Barres – Silverhead’ has only one cover version, the pugnacious, fuzzy closer of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, but there are riffs aplenty before we get there. ‘Hello New York’s hard, rocking guitars complement Michael’s harsh delivery well, into the steady chugger, ‘James Dean’, the voice far better than on record, and buoyed up by good guitar work. ‘Sold Me Down The River’ creeps in, Michael’s Jaggerisms well to the fore, and the song ends with a mild-dare I say it?-mellow ‘Man Of The World’-style riff.
‘Rock Out Claudette Rock Out’ is prefaced by a long and predictably lecherous explanation of the song’s genesis, doing nothing to help what is basically a reliable rocker of a song, followed by the slow lament ‘Only You’. ‘Ace Supreme’ turns up like the proverbial bad penny, fouling the air with its twin exhausts, and ‘Rolling With My Baby’s piercing guitar uproar rolls along well, but the strain on Michael’s voice is all too evident here. ‘Will You Finance My Rock And Roll Band’ has some excellent staccato guitar, and may well be Silverhead’s finest hour.
The second half, recorded at the Paris Theatre, London, opens with the great, driving ‘Hello New York’, tightly delivered, the announcer leaving us to wonder how Silverhead were ever placed on the same bill as Peel-endorsed, jaws harp enthusiast hippie duo, Medicine Head. ‘Rock Out Claudette Rock Out’ works tolerably well, but ‘Rolling With My Baby’ has the sort of chops we all came for, a standout live track. ‘Bright Light’ sticks to the template, closing with ’16 And Savaged’, given pepped up guitars and powerful drums to great success with the crowd, and the very old fashioned BBC announcer’s voice kept in, just for the hell of it. It’s not over; an alternative, highly aggressive take of ‘James Dean’ hints ta what might have been and the classic rocker, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ putting the tin hat on it.
Why Silverhead didn’t become stars, is a little beyond me. They had the look, the star quality and the chops, as the live LPs attest. What may have been their Achilles heel, was how they sounded in the studio. Compare and contrast their Live At The Rainbow (where they supported the mighty Nazareth) to the sound of ’16 and Savaged’; the latter is a pale shadow of their live thunder. Perhaps their sound just couldn’t be captured in the antiseptic confines of a studio. BUY HERE!