I’ve always talked about the virtues of the ZZ Top album Eliminator, about how it is the perfect desert island pick, and how you could bring it to any party and make someone happy, as it is simultaneously an 80s classic, and a country album, and a disco/dance album, and a bit metal, too. But a secret I have not mentioned is that the same album always reminds me of pornography, because at the time when I first got a copy of Eliminator and listened to it pretty much constantly on a small, one-speaker tape recorder like the kind they use in labs in elementary school in the 70s or whatever, but it was also the first time I ever saw a naked picture. My buddy Jim Manges came over one day with a Hustler ripoff magazine, some kind of third-tier skin mag like Oui or something, stuffed inside of his coat, claiming he had naked pictures of Princess Diana. Him and his brother used to go to this dump to steal wood to make treehouses and soapbox cars (even though we never really succeeded in building either) and they would occasionally find some nudie mags, drenched in rain and then re-dried so the pages were all shaded and warped and smelling like a worst-case scenario basement. But lo and behold, he pulled out the pages from this magazine, and there was this chick with short blonde hair who vaguely resembled Lady Di, and Jim was whispering, “see, it’s really fucking her!” as we both stood against the door to make sure my sisters or mom didn’t barge in to see what the fuck was going on, because every time we ever shut a door for like three seconds to play some D&D and maybe listen to the new Ratt album, someone would fucking barge in like it was a fire drill and bother us. I stared at the photos, both amazed at the female form, and the fact that I recently thumbed through a Life magazine special containing pages and pages of glossy, formal photos of the royal wedding, and now Manges had a picture of her bending over backwards and displaying her vertical hatchetwound for all to see. It wasn’t until years later that I put two and two together and realized it was probably just some 19-year-old heroin addict that had a similar haircut. But now, twenty years later, I put in “Got Me Under Pressure” on the way home from work, and that was the first thing that crossed my mind.
That also reminds me that I’ve had a great appreciation for drummers who tap out time with their hihat cymbal. I thought of this on the way to work, because I listened to a Chris Poland solo album and it ended like one subway stop before mine, and I needed some tracks of pure energy to get me out of the tube, across the street, and up two blocks to the office and somehow get me awake and ready to roll. So I put in this Grand Funk live album (just called Grand Funk Live), something I learned about ages before when I was going through all of my stepdad’s old vinyl and trying to find the hard rock that influenced the stuff that I was already into, the stuff like Hendrix, Zeppelin, Cream, and so on. In retrospect, I probably found a hell of a lot of pot in those albums, twenty-year-old stems and seeds and crap that I probably thought were parts of houseplants or something. Anyway, I memorized that album back when I was a teenager, so I skipped right to the song “Mark Say’s Alright” (their misuse of the apostrophe, not mine), which is an instrumental jam right before Don Brewer goes into his drum solo. This album was minimally produced, like they dumped the original tapes straight to master, with the bass rumbling and tearing through stacks of amps and the guitar thrashing out tons of feedback and pulling it back into the nonstop soloing of Mark Farner. But as Brewer flails away on a tiny drum kit, swapping back and forth between cymbal and snare and throwing in the occasional odd notes just to make it sound a little more complicated, he keeps tapping his left foot to close the hihat and it puts down this constant click that is almost like it’s telling people, “this is the 4/4 and look what kind of shit we’re doing outside of it.” It’s so cool, and the other time I really remember it is the first time I really knew I’d love the CD.
Okay, it was 1987. The CD had been out since… what, 1982? I guess they were just starting to get big, though. Like, SuperSounds in the Concord Mall had two whole racks with long boxes of CDs, mostly crap like Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson and Wham, but there were a couple of ‘Floyd CDs, and both Metallica and Iron Maiden had stuff out, plus all of the old Rush albums were rolling out. I decided that summer, the summer of my first car, that I absolutely had to find out how to get one. I got a shit job at Taco Bell, taking shit from customers at the front register while I wore a maroon apron and one of those stupid visor hat things over my uniform. I cleaned bathrooms, cooked reconstituted bean paste, swept the dining room, took out trash, and made a solid $3.35 an hour. After two weeks, I cashed my first check, and ran across the street to K-Mart, where I bought my very first CD player. It was a Toshiba toploader model that was roughly 1.5 times wider than a portable, but it was hard-wired to an AC plug. I think I paid $110 for it, and then had to go home and take a bunch of quarters and change from my asshole stepdad’s change box to get the $17 or whatever to buy my first disc. I had to think hard about it, but I picked up Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time. About six months before, Derik Rinehart loaned me the tape, and it really got me started on Iron Maiden and “heavier” metal stuff, after a long period of being stuck on stuff like GTR and Yes. So I got home and wired the little black box into my home stereo, and listened to the album (I’m still stuck on that term…) and was simply amazed at the small fact that I could PAUSE and REVERSE and SKIP TRACKS! I went to the second-to-last track, called “Deja Vu”, and there’s this part where the drums sort of stop and it’s just a snare drum bit, a “da da dada da da da dada da da” sort of thing, and I listened close, and their drummer Nicko McBrain was KEEPING TIME with his left foot! The cymbal wasn’t even audible at all on the cassette version, but there it was, clear as day and straight as a 4/4 arrow. It both made me love the fact that not all complex drum things need to be an all-out Neil Peart artillery attack to be good, and that this compact disc thing would consume every fucking dollar I ever made because I would need to get as many of them as possible.
And I was right!