I bought the 1982 LP “Blackout” by The Scorpions on cassette back in the summer of 1985, and it was amongst the first albums I bought totally by myself (as opposed to by my parents as gifts for me when I was little). The Scorpions are still touring today and listening back to Blackout over and over the years I never fail to note just how sonically excellent it is. I mean I know The Scorpions are a quirky Teutonic metal band responsible for “Wind of Change” (classically appropriated by Chris Morris in the Day Today) and Blackout is steeped in crotch thrusting spandex clad cock-rockery, but the blend of instruments they concocted when they mixed this LP is totally perfect.
The double-tracked whining-helium vocals of Klaus Meine (delivering missives on drunken excess, how much he loves the hard-rock crowd, and how much he misses his woman when on the road) is mixed to perfection with Matthias Jabs’s guitar licks which crop up on nearly every song, answering his vocal melodies at the end of each line before taking flight into the most blistering solos. Jabs’s tone is supreme, simultaneously gutsy, rasping, liquid, and sinuous. He favours playing right up to the 22nd fret, an effortless master of this difficult to tame end of the guitar neck, and as such has the core of hard rock’s screaming, secret weapon hanging by its tail and begging for mercy (for what is rock if it isn’t saturated by screaming guitar solos akin to the death cries of a mutant Jovian space-panther?). Moreover, that’s just the tone of his instrument. Just the pure sound has my eyes rolling in the back of my head every time, never mind the notes. But, if we must, well, the notes he plays are something else altogether – exquisitely executed, fluff-free and at once flamboyant, glowing and sensitive yet seething with lethal power (imagine Gwyneth Paltrow driving a monster truck).
Meanwhile rhythm guitarist and Flying-V master Rudolph Schenker plasters the background of the songs with high-precision riffola, like endless ribbons of thirty storey diamond encrusted pebble-dash, alternating with plush crimson drapes quilted amidst barbed wire. At the core of “No one like you”, a paean to the rock wife who is left behind whilst the boys play around the world, is a clean arpeggioed electric guitar figure, doubled on acoustic but mixed to such a degree of symbiosis that the two sounds are only heard as one, the electric carrying the melody whilst the acoustic peeps out at the end of each note like fresh mint on new potatoes.
My tape of this LP (long since transferred to minidisc) bears the scars earned from the slings and arrows of years of repeated playing, with only a ragged fringe remaining from the top-end, and sonic pock-marks bearing witness to the dropouts of oxide along the way. But somehow that’s how I like it. I want that grit and patina that fogs over well-loved music, and it sounds best on well-matured hard rock. The drums, spot on with their caveman anti-sophistication, inhabit a thousand dollar 1980’s stone-roomed universe, where the hi-hats pish like hairspray, the ride cymbals ding like Swiss musical movements, the bass drum clicks rather than, erm, boofs, the tom-toms are soaking wet in bass, and the snare is thick and stodgy like half-eaten birthday cake. This is what the Roland 707 and 505 drum machines were designed to sound like, and it’s from this genesis that we got the sound of Michael Douglas stomping over his crumbling life in Falling Down, a decade or so later.
Let us not forget that somewhere in there is some bass, anonymously underpinning everything and tonking about in Fender Precision territory. Who’d be a rock bassist? (Well, maybe me).
A few years later Bon Jovi and Guns ‘n’ Roses would use this template to dominate the airwaves and pub jukeboxes of the late 1980’s. But whilst I had a soft-ish spot for Jon Bon (he was good for parties after all, getting everyone together for the “Whoah-oh!”s in the cheese of ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’) I hated GnR, and still do. Gimme Scorps! Yeah!