One can’t quite appreciate the influence Randy Rhoads had on the countless hard rock guitarists who followed in his footsteps until you gather a bunch of them for, say, a tribute show…or an album.
With the exception of Eddie Van Halen, no single guitarist (since Jimi Hendrix) had created quite the splash Rhoads did when he sounded off on Ozzy Osbourne’s 1980 solo debut. Titled after what was originally going to be the name of Osbourne’s new group, Blizzard of Ozz not only served notice that the former Black Sabbath front man was back—but that heavy metal had a new six-string savior.
Rhoads was barely out of his teens when he stood the world on its ear with his whiz-kid chops on such now-classic Blizzard songs “Crazy Train,” “Suicide Solution,” “I Don’t Know,” and “Mr. Crowley.” The LP would stand as Ozzy’s best-selling work for at least a decade, eventually being awarded quadruple-platinum status. Rhoads stayed on for follow-up Diary of a Madman, further adrenalizing FM radio with his jaw-dropping guitar prowess on “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again.”
But then Rhoads—the virtuoso with the polka-dotted Flying V—perished in a freak March 1982 plane accident, becoming a tragic textbook example of only the good dying young. No alcohol, no drugs, no mischief on Rhoads’ part. We had only the inexplicable hand of fate to blame for the prodigy’s sudden demise.
Ozzy paid homage to his fallen apprentice with the 1987 live album Tribute, the bulk of which was recorded in May 1981 at Cleveland’s Music Hall.
Raised in Santa Monica, Rhoads had taken to guitar and piano lessons very early on, plying his knowledge of folk chords and classical motifs to his growing interest in rock and roll. He honed his talent by playing Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper covers for a while, then decided to form a band with high school friends: Quiet Riot were bound for glory, too (their 1983 album Metal Health spawned the Slade cover “Cum on Feel the Noize”), but they initially had trouble securing a record deal in America. So Rhoads took the gig with the bat-biting Prince of Darkness.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, to mark the 35th anniversary of Blizzard (and Randy’s work thereon), UDR Records is releasing the all-star covers set Immortal Randy Rhoads—The Ultimate Tribute.
Due in March, the disc features ballsy interpretations of eleven Randy dandies (three with Ozzy and two with Quiet Riot) by a veritable who’s who lineup of guest guitarists, singers, and drummers. Produced by Grammy-winner Bob Kulick (KISS) at his “Office” studio in Van Nuys, the mixes are anchored by ace drummers Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell), Frankie Banali (Quiet Riot, WASP), and Brett Chassen (Bret Michaels, Velvet Chain).
Veteran bassist Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Geoff Tate)—who played with Rhoads waaay back when—has the distinction of being the only performer who appears on every track, his thumping rhythm a common thread stitching the vintage Rhoads material into a cohesive whole.
How’s the music?
We apply on a three-prong litmus test when evaluating covers. You’re probably familiar with it: Some covers are so good as to surpass the original in the public consciousness, often becoming the “definitive” version for many listeners. We’ll call these the A-listers. We’d place The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” Van Halen’s legendary “You Really Got Me,” and Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” into this category.
A second class of covers—the merely competent recreations—are those which pay respectful tribute to the source material (and can be quite fun unto themselves) but don’t quite “match” or eclipse the originals in one’s mind. These are the interpretations that make you go, “I guess they did it justice” (at best), or “At least they didn’t butcher it” (at worst).
Then there’s that final group: The plain old bad covers. These are the bastards that make you wish the guilty parties never heard the original, much less take it upon themselves to record their own interpretation for posterity. Such offenders are egregious and many in number throughout rock history, and we’ll refrain from mudslinging (and possibly drudging up bad memories) by identifying samples.
Except to say that Immortal Randy Rhoads does have at least one of these “third class” dogs.
We wish it weren’t so, but hey. Sugarcoating won’t help anybody.
Oh, alright. We’ll just say it—and be as diplomatic as we can about it: We don’t care for Serj Tankian and Tom Morello’s “Crazy Train.”
Granted, it’s the one Ozzy / Randy tune everybody knows, including folks who’ve never heard of Rhoads. So if there’s any one tune a large number of listeners might accuse the musicians of reducing to aural mincemeat, it’s this one.
So congrats, Serj and Tom.
We understand that System of a Down Fans like Tankian’s vocals. He’s a good singer…for them. But his cartoonish bellow sounds even sillier outside the confines of SOAD, and more so when substituted for one of the greatest, most recognizable metal vocalists of our time. Likewise, Morello was a perfect guitarist for his full-time bands, Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine (who did an entire album of covers back in the late ‘90s). But his toggle-twitching acrobatics call too much attention to themselves: We love Rage, and we know Morello’s an accomplished axe man (and huge Randy fan), but this is once instance where playing it straight would’ve gone a long way.
We’re not suggesting that Morello—or any of these Immortal guest guitarists—should’ve been held to note-for-note transcriptions of Rhoads’ celebrated solos. To do so would’ve deprived the artists the chance to make the songs their own; to work their way through them and leave their own little stamp on the music. The RATM sorcerer makes his mark on “Crazy Train,” alright; it’s just that his chainsaw sound effects are hard to reconcile alongside Rhoads’ legendary pedal-point riff, and sound a wee too patched-in. Conversely, Tom’s outro (which relies on “standard” metal licks rather than toggle tricks) is fluid and organic.
It’s Tankian’s who truly turned us off to this “Crazy” retread, from his off-key “Aye, aye, aye…” onward.
Things can only get better from there, and fortunately do with Diary of a Madman cut “Over the Mountain.” Former Judas Priest / Yngwie Malmsteen singer (and resident Ohioan) Tim “Ripper” Owens makes the first of several appearances here, setting his Rob Halford-like wails over some frenetic fret board work by Shadows Fall guitarist Jon Donais. Sarzo locks in with Quiet Riot mainstay Banali, who bludgeons his kit like it’s still the big hair ‘n’ spandex Eighties.
Testament front man Chuck Billy lends his guttural growl to “Mr. Crowley,” chronicling the notorious occultist’s “nocturnal rapport” with the dead as Children of Bodom six-stringer Alexi Laiho decorates the track with lickety-split fills, a no-nonsense solo, and lengthy neo-classical outro. The tune also features a mood-setting keyboard prelude courtesy Randy’s brother, Kelle Rhoads, who takes lead vocal on Quiet Riot’s “Back to the Coast.” Bruce Kulick (Bob’s brother, ex-KISS) successfully conjures the sleazy sounds of L.A.’s Sunset Strip, evincing gritty grooves (on power chords) and a clean pick attack (when playing lead). Kelle’s certainly no Osbourne, either, but unlike Tankian he actually sounds like he’s having fun singing.
“Ripper” comes back screeching on “Believer,” urging “another point of view” to negativity as Doug Aldrich (Dio, Whitesnake) injects speed-demon guitar antics into the Sarzo / Appice rumble. The Akron native also unleashes banshee vocals on “I Don’t Know” and “SATO,” with guitarists George Lynch (Dokken) and Dweezil Zappa providing Van Halen-like pyrotechnics. Not one to be kept behind the glass, Bob Kulick contributes rhythm guitar on the latter track.
Second Quiet Riot entry “Killer Girls” benefits from its Slade schlock and Queen bombast, with Owens testing his larynx against Joel Hoekstra’s (Foreigner, TSO) lightning-fast guitar legato. Greek guitarist Gus G. anoints “Goodbye to Romance” with a reverb-soaked arpeggio befitting the power ballad, and gunslinger Brad Gillis (Night Ranger, Rubicon)—himself a former Ozzy guitar man (1982’s Speak of the Devil) salutes his predecessor on familiar alcohol advisory “Suicide Solution.”
Immortal wraps with the tune that sent Ozzy soaring once more after his Sabbath dismissal: “Flying High Again” rocks thanks to strident riffing by Atomic Rooster guitarist Bernie Torme, killer percussion by Chassen, and buoyant bass from the irrepressible Sarzo.
Pre-order Immortal Randy Rhoads: The Ultimate Tribute on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/lz2v5l4
Sample songs from The Ultimate Tribute here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNJChKdGq74