This changed everything

It’s Throwback Thursday. I thought it would be fun to go back and listen to some ground-breaking music, if not historically ground-breaking, then personally ground-breaking to my own music habits.

It was 1971. I was fourteen, a year into my teens, but still rather innocent musically. That fall I would be entering high school as a freshman.

My dad took me to a record store. Until this day, my musical tastes were poppish and bubblegummy. On the more mature side, I listened to the Beatles, but on the still chikd-like side, I had the entire collection of The Archies albums. I also liked the Monkeys, and most Top 40 hits that were played on the local AM radio station, WOKY, the Mighty 92! (920 on your AM radio dial.)

So who knows what I was looking for when I went in there? The Beatles had broken up the year before, so there would be nothing new from them. The Monkees technically were gone for several years. I liked Creedence Clearwater Revival and their breakup was still a year away, so maybe something from them. 

Hard to say. So I just browsed, which is a lost art today considering there are no more record stores. You’d start at A and work your way along looking at all the album art. Because back then, album art was just becoming a thing. In the ’60s, most albums were just graced with a picture of the singer or the band. Boring. But the drug scene changed that and album art became psychedelic, in many cases it was real works of art able to stand on it’s own. 

Maybe The Beatles pioneered that, with covers like the White Album (“It’s literally, just a white album, man!” “Far out!”) Or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was a collage of many different pictures and great fun trying to find all the celebrities.

So often times while browsing you’d run across artwork on an album that was so compelling, you’d buy it even if you never heard of the band before.

Thus, when I got to the Bs, I flipped to this spooky cover. It was simple, really, just some woods, with a haunted looking house, and this blurry image of a green-skinned woman dressed like a witch. I was mesmerized. The only printing on the album were the words, Black Sabbath. What’s a Black Sabbath? I had to know.

“Are you sure?” My dad asked, who I have to believe knew about the band already because he was always kind of trendy.

Once home, I rushed up to my room and put it on my Realistic Clarinette II turntable. The album started with the gentle sound of falling rain, then thunder and the chime of a a bell, like a church bell bonging slowly as if announcing some impending doom. A moment later, the first deep, thunderous guitar note struck, reminiscent of the thunder that came before. Slowly, like a dirge, but powerful like a punch in the chest, the first three notes crashed against my senses and kept repeating, then they grew more soft accompanied by the drums, which were also soft like the rain.

Then came the vocals, deep, raspy like a death rattle, and they croaked out, “What is this, that stands before me? Figure in black, which points at me. Turn ’round quick and try to run, find out I’m the chosen one. Oh noooooo!”

It gave me chills. I could feel the terror of the song’s narrator. I was hooked! This wasn’t anything like The Archies at all! 

Even as I’ve grown in my music tastes, this is still my favorite. It has a strong blues influence, yet Tony Iommi’s guitar detuned a step and a half, gives an additional darker, scarier feel to it. 

In high school, I also discovered the writings of Robert E. Howard, specifically Conan the barbarian, King Kull, and Solomon Kane. It was like this music was made for it and I’d read those sword and sorcery tales while listening to Black Sabbath’s eponymous first album and also Vol. 4.

So today, when I listen to either of these albums, my mind makes a strong association with sorcerers, demons, black magic, and sword fighting. So strong is the association that I play them when I write in that genre because they not only make a great soundtrack to what I’m writing, but provide inspiration as well.

I mean, with songs like Black Sabbath, The Wizard, Behind the Wall of Sleep, and Sleeping Village, how could you not be inspired to write something demonic?

Here then, is that first album. To me, it still sounds as fresh as it did that day I first heard it as an innocent, pimply-faced kid back in 1971.

Enjoy.

Black Sabbath full album
#tbt #throwback Thursday

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Top 100 American Comic Book Artists

So, geek that I am, I was surfing for profiles on comic book artists, forget which one at the time, maybe Richard Corben or something.

In the process, I ran across a site dedicated to “The Top 100 Artists of American Comic Books.”

It is an interesting list, more so because it gives a brief biography of 100 artists than as a rating of those artists. They have a pretty narrow criteria for who makes their list and it leaves off people like Hal Foster, the late, great comic strip artist of Prince Valiant and Alex Raymond, known for creating the Flash Gordon strip. The list also leaves off Underground Comix artists completely, so there’s nothing on Richard Corben, Jeffrey Jones, or Robert Crumb.

I do enjoy the list, for nothing more than a historical perspective on the artists, what they did, and when they did it.

But I do have some disagreements with the list. I’ll give them props on their Top 20. There’s nary an artist there I disagree with and putting Jack Kirby at #1 more than makes up for any other errors in the list. Although I’m sure there are some that might think #1 and #2 should be switched and Will Eisner should be the Top Dog.

Although I could make a case that Bill Everett at #75, Joe Orlando at #74, and Bill Elder at #72 are all too low, my real gripe begins with Carmine Infantino at #65. Anyone who read DC in the 1960s, knew his work. He was nearly to DC what Kirby was to Marvel. In fact, it was Infantino who rang in the Silver Age, reintroducing The Flash to a new generation.

Another shame is Bernie Wrightson at #61. Bernie drew many great covers for DC, notably for House of Mystery and House of Secrets. His work on the first ten issues of Swamp Thing alone should have put him into the Top 25.

John Romita Jr at #52 and Jim Lee at #51 certainly deserve better. And I find it hard to stifle my anger over the fact that Jim Starlin, one of comic’s stellar artists, failed to even make the list.

But once you get to the Top 20, as I said, it’s hard to complain with such greats as John Buscema, Jim Sterenko, John Romita, Sr., Barry Windsor-Smith, Joe Kubert, Gil Kane, Al Williamson, Steve Dikto, Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, and Neal Adams.

So if you’re interested in seeing where your favorite artist falls on this list, or just want to reminisce about the history of comics, here’s the link to the list.

The Top 100 Artists of American Comic Books

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Goodbye, Will

One of the all-time great comics illustrators and humorists, Will Elder, passed away yesterday at the age of 86.

I remember him mostly from the Mad Magazine paperback reissues in the 60s. I was far too young to have seen his stuff first hand, but those paperback reissues were filled with hilarious brand of illustration. And on occasion, my dad would let me read (or I snuck) a Playboy or two to see Will’s cartoon feature, Little Annie Fannie.

I think what was most compelling about his drawings was the detail, no, the busyness of the artwork. You could look at any panel of his for the longest time because there was always something going on in the background, on the sides, everywhere. It was a gag within a gag within a gag.

Here’s a sample of his artwork, borrowed from Mad Professor.net:
Will Elder Restaurant

(Click on thumbnail for enlargement)

If you’d like to read more about Will and his bizarre sense of humor, there are some good anecdotes over at Wikipedia.

Now, there’s less laughter in the world. Goodbye, Will.

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