Saturday, October 24, 2015

Steppenwolf - 1970 "7"

Steppenwolf 7 is an album by the band Steppenwolf, released in 1970, and their fifth studio recording for Dunhill Records. It is the first Steppenwolf album with new bass player George Biondo. While the album featured Steppenwolf's trademark rock and roll sounds, none of the songs were able to make the Top 40. The album featured a cover of Hoyt Axton's "Snowblind Friend", their second cover of one of his anti-drug songs (the first being "The Pusher"). Along with "Who Needs Ya", it was one of two singles from the album which made the charts but fell short of the Top 40. The album track "Renegade" is autobiographical for lead vocalist John Kay, recounting his flight with his mother from East to West Germany in 1948.

Steppenwolf only recorded seven discs for Dunhill Records in the short span between 1968 and 1971, six of them studio albums, and one allegedly "live" -- though there was early Sparrow material recorded in May of 1967 not released by the label until 1972. Throw in a greatest-hits package along with Columbia's reissue of yet more Sparrow recordings, and how they came up with Steppenwolf 7 for the title of this, their fifth studio recording for Dunhill, is a question for hardcore fans of the band to debate (don't even bring the movie soundtracks into this equation). Richard Podolor has taken the production reins from Gabriel Mekler, as he did with Three Dog Night, but where the producer was able to take Hoyt Axton's "Joy to the World" to number one in a notable six weeks in 1971 with the vocal trio and labelmates of this group, the author of "The Pusher," Axton, is represented here by his "Snowblind Friend," a topic not likely to get Steppenwolf chart action. And that's the dilemma with Steppenwolf 7. This is a very worthwhile Steppenwolf recording, chock-full of their trademark sound, but nothing that was going to penetrate the Top 40. John Kay and guitarist Larry Byron (listed on the song credits as Larry Byrom and on the live album as Byron -- take your pick, he's a notable session player) co-write five of these nine tunes, "Ball Crusher" being what you expect, as is "Fat Jack," Byrom's only co-write here with new bassist George Biondo (and perhaps one of them on the vocals, as it certainly isn't John Kay). A nice, thick Goldy McJohn keyboard and solid beat still don't give this tune enough of an identity to be considered hit material. Kay and Byrom do a better job of heading in that direction with their "Foggy Mental Breakdown" and "Hippo Stomp," while Byrom's instrumental, "Earschplittenloudenboomer," had the attitude to be the next "Born to Be Wild," just not enough of the magic -- not explosive enough and no sneering Kay vocal to bring it home. What is happening here is that John Kay is heading in the direction of his 1972 solo disc, Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes, especially on the cover of Roth's "Forty Days and Forty Nights" and the country-ish "Snowblind Friend," which is the other side of Hoyt Axton's "The Pusher," the effect of cocaine on the victim/user. Kay and Byrom come back with more driving rock in "Who Needs Ya?," played well and listenable, but just missing the edge that gave "Rock Me" and "Magic Carpet Ride" their specialness. The blueish images of the bandmembers in a desolate area with two skulls above them on the album cover make an interesting statement. Steppenwolf 7 is an intriguing collection of album tracks showing the two sides of John Kay -- the hard rock singer and the artist setting his sights on interpreting other musical styles. It came at a moment when the band needed to redefine itself on the AM band, but opted instead to just put out a decent product and take few risks.  - "All Music"

I'm always puzzled with some of Allmusic's reviews. Although this is not the best Steppenwolf album, it contains some great songs. I was particularly disappointed because you didn't even spare "Renegade", this stunning autobiographical anthem (listen to the wonderful lyrics, but also the music is majestic). Allmusic does not even suggest this as an album highlight... "THEO KONTI"

 This is one of the greatest rock records ever recorded. Nothing sounds dated on it -- no gimmickry to tie it to the past. Just clean blues rock with John Kay and Co.'s amazing vision. Where did they get this stuff?? I would be hard pressed to pick favorites, but Renegade and Hippo Stomp are definitely right up there. Buy this record.

Forget the hits, forget the biker image, forget everything you think you know about this band. If you don't have this album, you are missing one of THE classic albums of the early 70's. Along with the perfection of their previous "Monster" album, 7 showed everyone just what a great band Steppenwolf were. I'm talking the concept of a BAND, not John Kay and whoever. The magic captured here is only possible because it features the perfect, strongest and probably best Steppenwolf line-up. From start to finish, this album is wall to wall attitude and conviction. They perform every song like their lives depended on it. I'm a little biased, since I've owned this on album, 8-track, cassette and CD. Graced by one of my favorite album covers of all time, the entire package spins an aura of darkness that has stood the test of time. It captures that moment in time when it was apparent that the dreams and hopes of the 60's had been shattered by the shadows of war and an increasingly turbulent America. 

Steppenwolf had a pretty good successful career in the late 60's and early 70's. Unfortunately, other rock bands came along such as Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Humble Pie and kind of knocked Steppenwolf away from the spotlight. However, that's what us reviewers are for. We're here to look back and admire the great artists that are becoming dangerously close to extinction.

This is one rock band that is absolutely phenomenal and I will do everything in my power to keep their memory alive, even 50 years from now if I have to. There's something extremely appealing about the way these guys were able to blend meaningful lyrics, emotional vocals, and fabulous musical ideas and have album after album of highly listenable material. A band that deserves to be defended and remembered. I don't wanna come across like some overblown crazy fanboy, but I really want the music of Steppenwolf to stay alive forever.

You know, someone once told me Steppenwolf was the ultimate motorcycle band until Blue Oyster Cult came along. I don't know how much truth there is to that, but the two artists are completely different. Steppenwolf was about meaningful Vietnam war lyrics and emotional and pretty melodies, whereas Blue Oyster Cult liked to dip into the psychedelic, gloom and doom style of hard rock. I'm a fan of both styles, but let's not compare the two bands when obviously they're completely different.

Anyway, Steppenwolf 7 is probably their best album. A roller-coaster ride of excitement, emotions, powerful lyrics, and beautiful arrangements. This is clearly NOT your typical hard rock band. "Ball Crusher" is a funky opener that should have become a classic by now but I guess those who play "Born to be Wild" until our heads spin won't agree with me. "Forty Days and Forty Nights" is another highlight because of the demanding rhythm and drumming of the vocal melody. It's amazing, no doubt.

"Renegade" is where the pretty and delicate side of the band comes in, with a touch of powerful lyrics coming along to really give you an incredible journey. I don't EVER forget songs like this one. They tell a story of a grim and unforgettable late 60's war scene, and the atmosphere will never leave my mind, ever. You don't have to have been around back in the late 60's to get into it, that's for sure. "Foggy Mental Breakdown" has brilliant vocals and a SUPER AWESOME harmonica solo in the middle. It's harmonica played in a sad way. I love it. "Snowblind Friend" continues the incredible emotions and atmosphere, and "Hippo Stomp" is a sort of funny pop song with a great chorus and verse melody. I love it. A classic hard rock album, no matter what anyone might say otherwise.

Track listing

    "Ball Crusher" – 4:52
    "Forty Days and Forty Nights" – 3:03
    "Fat Jack" – 4:52
    "Renegade" – 6:08
    "Foggy Mental Breakdown" – 3:54
    "Snowblind Friend" – 3:54
    "Who Needs Ya'" – 3:00
    "Earschplittenloudenboomer" – 5:00
    "Hippo Stomp" – 5:39


    John Kay - Lead vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica
    Larry Byrom - Lead guitar, backing vocals
    Goldy McJohn - Keyboards
    George Biondo - Bass, backing vocals
    Jerry Edmonton - Drums

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