Tuesday, February 24, 2015


My introduction to the music of US '70s hard rock/heavy metal outfit, Mountain, came through a predictably roundabout route via a (fucking) SST record: The Blasting Concept II. On that very record from 1986 - and I believe I've repeated this story over the years to delighted rapture from no one - there was and is a cover of the Mountain arrangement of Jack Bruce's 'Theme From An Imaginary Western'. Here's a confession: up until Jack Bruce's passing late last year - and, boy, those first bunch of solo Bruce LPs are a gas - I didn't even know the damn song was penned by him. I always figured it was a Mountain original, and I was wrong. For that slight, I apologise. I would tell all and sundry of DC3's magnificent Mountain cover, sticking my foot in my mouth year after year, but really, no one noticed or cared, and Mountain's heavy-rock reimagining of Bruce's song is truly their own take on it, and obviously the better-known version. Onwards...

Much less known is DC3's. There's not even a Youtube link for the track, but for moi it remains the definitive version. DC3 - that's Dez Cadena's post-Black Flag outfit in the '80s, as if I need to say it - were pretty patchy, but on occassion delivered the goods. But back to Mountain: in their prime, which is from 1970 - '72, they were a monstrous musical proposition. Formed by bass player Felix Pappalardi and guitarist Leslie West in 1969, and joined by ace skin-hitter Corky Laing, they had 'form' and hit the heights in a heartbeat. West had been in the garage outfit the Vagrants and released a solo LP called Mountain; Pappalardi was classically trained and made his name as an arranger and particularly as a producer for Cream (hence the Jack Bruce connection). Throughout Mountain's on/off career in the '70s, Pappalardi continued to produce bands, notably the Dead Boys' flawed-but-still-great second effort, We Have Come For Your Children (and in this case, the flaws are all Pappalardi's: the band claimed he didn't get what the band was about and fudged it completely. I tend the agree, his gutless, guitar-lite production kills it), but had to cut back his musical duties by mid decade due to hearing problems caused by excessive volume (mostly c/o Mountain). He was later tragically shot by his own wife in 1983.

Much like Hawkwind and Black Sabbath, and the music of Mountain sits comfortably between the two, Mountain created a loose, fluid and organic blast, one based in 'the blues' but not bogged down in bogus white-boy appropriations thereof. The result is an absolutely crunching and particularly American-sounding brand of hard rock, despite the fact that their musical inspirations (outside of the blues itself) were obviously from Ol' Blighty (Cream, The Who, Hendrix - I'll include him and his Experience as Limeys by default). They sold a lot of records in the first half of the 1970s, when such a band could do such things, and such a predicament always gets me thinking: why did Mountain work in the record-buying market, at least for 3 or 4 years, while the likes of the MC5 and the Stooges tanked? Mountain's first two albums, the best ones, 1970's Climbing and '71's Nantucket Sleighride don't sound a whole lot different from the MC5's High Time LP from '71 (that band's finest hour, too) - high-energy rock & roll with some boogie, garage and primal metal in the mix - but Mountain made the FM waves and the MC5 sunk. Whatever. If you feel the urge to listen to a 'classic rock station' (I don't) playing the hits of yesteryear, you might, just might hear Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen', but ironically the likes of the Stooges and the MC5 now probably hold a higher public profile than Leslie West's band of yore. Ask anyone under the age of 30 about Mountain and wait for the response.

All this waffle brings me to an eventual point: Mountain were/are worth the time and trouble. Those first two LPs, and indeed 1974's live opus, Twin Peaks, are some of the great American hard rock/heavy metal albums of the pre-punk era. The band could rip out a 10-minute track simply called 'Guitar Solo', one which surfaces on several live albums of the time (there's a series of them worth a listen) and varies in form and substance from performance to performance, which actually doesn't make me want to skip the FFWD button. That's saying something.

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