The Scorpions, ah yes, the Scorpions. This is a band that I regularly argue about. The majority of musical tourists will assume that the Scorpions didn’t exist before “Love At First Sting,” the album that produced “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” but in my humble opinion, that was the end of the Scorpions. Perhaps that’s because I’m not a big fan of glistening, slick, pop-metal.
In the early days, 1972-78, the Scorpions were a hard rocking quintet with soaring, German accent soaked vocals and some of the hottest guitar playing on the planet thanks to Uli Roth. The album that I’m going to unearth in this edition of “Classic Rock Review” is “Lonesome Crow.” The band’s first, and I believe, best album.
“Lonesome Crow,” released in 1972, that’s right, 1972, was a very unique version of the Scorpions as it was the only album to fully feature Michael Schenker on lead guitar, a very young, teenage, Michael Scenker at that. What he didn’t have in stubble on his chin, he definitely had in guitar chops. In 1973 Michael left to join UFO who at that time was a huge European rock band. He briefly returned to play guitar on a few songs on the Scorpions’ 1979 release, “Love Drive.” What also makes this album stand out is its very psychedelic hippie-ish approach. Long songs full of extended spacey jams more akin to the Grateful Dead than the Scorpions. Although it did maintain a lot of the Les Paul/Marshall stack attack that you would expect making it a true delight for those of you who like jam bands but wish they would grow a pair.
The first track, “I’m Going Mad” starts out with a very cool rhythmic vamp revolving around great rhythm guitar tones by older brother Rudy Schenker. The song is really little more than a five minute guitar solo with the occasional vocal harmony by Klaus Meine. Michael Schenker shines on this song, laying down some amazing guitar work with very memorable melodies while mastering the forgotten art of guitar tone.
“It All Depends” pretty much follows suit with a scattering of screechy vocals and then a long winded solo section. Jam band heaven.
“Leave Me” begins as a very German sounding love song that has psychedelic guitar noise throughout until Michael Schenker decides once again to let that Les Paul sing with some very nice melodic passages and a rather creamy tone. I can’t make out what the lyrics are but it does sound like Klaus is feeling a bit sensitive. But just before you get all weepy, yep, you guessed it, full shred guitar jam. Nothing heals the heart like a 100 watt Marshall stack.
The next track is a true slice of Krautrock flavoured psychedelia filled with more blazing guitar work. Opening up with acoustic guitars, the song floats through many changes and emotions, Klaus Meine switching back and forth between high screeching vocals and a wonderful vibrato.
Side two continues the formula of short vocal passages with heaps of guitar solos, walking bass lines and solid band jamming. The album finishes off with the title track, which is a massive thirteen minute journey full of extensive jamming soaked with reverb and delay. There is a very strange middle section featuring only a sparse backwards drum beat and an odd ascending vocal line with no actual lyrics. Of course this section eventually winds into more classic Michael Schenker noodling and blasts off into outer-space.
All in all, a primitive, yet brilliant first step for a band that would go on to dominate a musical genre for many years. My only complaint, and this is a heavy bone of contention, is that the Scorpions didn’t continue in this vein. The Uli Roth years following started out in a similar fashion, but the days of epic songs packed with improvisation were gone. “Lonesome Crow” is an album that captures a young band, not so much concerned with structure and song writing but knowing that they were hot players and exploring the glorious heights that only improvisation can deliver. When you listen to this album, you can really feel the electricity and excitement of a band in a room playing together which is a refreshing change from the modern cut and paste perfect studio albums that glut the rock’n’roll market today.
review by Mike Maggot
classic rock review