Monday, June 7, 2010

Book Review: Stairway to Hell (1991)

(As published in Rock & Roll Disc ... )

Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe
by Chuck Eddy
Harmony Books, $14
232 pp.

The chief pleasure among the many provided by Chuck Eddy's Stairway to Hell is the language. AC/DC's "This Means War" is an "ultra-compressed boner-dangling semi-'Turd on the Run'-rooted thrashboogie that drags Mick Jagger's Grecian-formulated tail, bleeding blue blood, all across the killing floor." The Godz "plow as if they've got stumps for fingers and write as if they've got stumps for brains, breaking for boogachucka amid dumbass Daltreychord distortion and safari solos that go absolutely nowhere."

It's a language that Eddy's fellow rockcrit at Creem, Richard Riegel, calls "microwaveable Lester Bangs," but you know what happens when you stick mettle as heavy as Lester's in a microwave: You get a ka-boom that sounds like White Light/White Heat (Heavy Metal Album #63), Fun House (#26), Belfegore (#318), and any of seven Motorhead albums (#'s 72, 98, 202, 233, 322, 357, and 364) playing simultaneously and at full volume.

Or maybe not. I've never tried it.

Anyway, Eddy is always a hoot. Other highlights of this, his first book, include two ineffably wise bonus lists ("25 Reasons Disco-Metal Fusion Is Inevitable in the Nineties" and "The 100 Best Heavy Metal Singles Not Available on Any of the 500 Best HM Albums") and such revelations as the following: Miles Davis made better heavy-metal albums than Deep Purple; Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods and the band for whom they used to open, the Osmonds, made better heavy-metal albums than Slayer; and Kiss, Foghat, Flipper, Grand Funk, and Mountain combined made lesser metal than Teena Marie, whose Emerald City features "fuzzers that roar toward internal combustion culminations like Hawkwind helping out Funkadelic" and therefore crash-lands way up at Number Nine on Eddy's list, one spot beneath Rust Never Sleeps, three above (Van Halen's) 1984, and two hundred above Highway to Hell.

And that's not all. Def Leppard (who "mean more to me every day," writes Eddy) and Queen (the "Secret Postmodern Influence of 1989-90") get extolled in all their undeniable magnificence. Art-punks (Sonic Youth especially) get shat upon. The grad-school novels White Noise and A Confederacy of Dunces and an actress who bared her twin peaks in Playboy (Sherilyn Fenn) get linked to Thurston Moore, Mountain, and Suzi Quatro respectively. And as King's X outnumbers King Diamond here two albums to zero, God gets proven more metallic than Satan.

We also learn that although Eddy is only 5'5", he isn't wild about Ronnie James Dio, and that although he's heterosexual, he digs Accept's Balls to the Wall. But back to the Osmonds: If you think they're not heavy metal, tell me why their Crazy Horses LP is the only album here whose entry number is marred by a typo and why that typo transforms the numeral 66 into--Mormons had better sit down--66.6!

The critical reader, however, will demand explanations for the following: How can Eddy think there is a noun, real is an adverb, and like is a subordinating conjunction when he's smart enough to observe that Guns N' Roses' "One in a Million" is "a lot like Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing--same fear of foreigners, same local color, same ability to stir things up"? How can he list Queen's barely metallic News of the World and not the much heavier Greatest Hits, Jazz, The Works, or even Live Killers? And how can he praise In the Court of the Crimson King (HM Album #460) by King Crimson and ignore the strikingly similar Emerson, Lake and Palmer, whose Pictures at an Exhibition Lester Bangs once accurately described as a "fullblown slashing, crashing, urping, burping, electronic freak-out ... not only a reprise of Whizz! and Whirr!, but also Boink!, Grrr!, Skizzrrll!, feedback and applause falling together like the walls of the Red Sea after Moses' troops tramped through"? And exactly what are Eddy's credentials? Well, he has admitted that Harmony paid him $10,000 to write the book, and if he got paid in coin, that's some heavy metal indeed.

But enough chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter 'bout schmatter, schmatter, schmatter. You want to know what HM Album #1 is right? Hint: "It's got finesse and weirdness and newness and noise and funk, it makes you sweat and makes you groove, it's the same as sex, it stops time and history and seems to last for hours, it's what the blues could never be."

For more information buy the book. Microwave not included.

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