Warner Brothers Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


In 1996 I described the debut album from hard-rock pioneers Montrose as a "personal classic," as distinguished from a consensus classic. The implication was clear: I love this album, but your mileage may vary. Fair enough, but isn’t that a given?

So, no qualifiers this time around. Montrose is a hard rock classic, period.

The massively thundering herds of overdubbed guitar from maestro Ronnie Montrose are one reason (though I also enjoy the subtler purposes to which he put his superb musicianship on later solo albums like Open Fire). The clumsy but sincere explications of adolescent fervor and angst from singer "Sam" Hagar (soon to be Sammy, as in the shaggy fellow with a raft of moderately successful solo albums and a platinum-selling stint with Van Halen) are another. Pounding rockers like "Rock The Nation," "Bad Motor Scooter" and especially Hagar's chord-crunching anthem "Make It Last" provide a raw, clear vision of life easily embraced by hormonal, melodramatic seventeen-year-olds (and still fondly recalled by some of us now traversing middle age).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I admit, today some of the lyrics on this album sound slightly goofy to me ("One Thing On My Mind"? Gee, what do you think that could be?). But its simple message of enjoying life and reaching for your dreams while ripping out a few choice air guitar riffs remains even now a powerful antidote against adult-style angst. I mean, just listen to their Chuck-Berry-with-the-volume-on-ten take on the Elvis nugget "Good Rockin' Tonight." This band -- Montrose, Hagar, Bill Church on bass and Denny Carmassi in a career-making performance on the drums -- is having so much fun it'd be criminal not to join in.

Plus, standing tall in the midst of this eight-song blitzkrieg (no greasy power ballads here, no sir, leave that shit for the hair bands) are a couple of absolute pillars of American hard rock. First comes "Space Station #5," its spacy, effects-laden intro exemplifying the sonic experimentation that was to become an enduring theme of Montrose's work. At least, that's your focus until the intro explodes into one of the most memorable, propulsive riffs in guitar hero history. You've got to love the finish, too. Some bands fade out; this band fades up. As in, the closing jam accelerates faster and faster until another bit of sonic trickery launches the melody off its moorings and phase-shifts it from speaker to speaker until it breaches the upper atmosphere.

The patient yang to "#5"'s hyperactive yin is the immortal skin-pounder "Rock Candy." Sure, they might've come up with something a little subtler for a refrain than "You're rock candy, baby / You're hard, sweet and sticky," but the music is five minutes and seventeen seconds of thumping, grinding greatness, one of the transcendent hard rock performances of all time. It's one of those rare songs where an audience hearing it played live will sing along not just to the entire lyric, but to every note of the guitar solo. I mean, DUDE.

This band and this album, heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, in turn influenced bands from Van Halen (that virtual Montrose tribute band) to AC/DC. It might not be brain surgery, but it is beyond any doubt some of the fist-pumpingest, lighter-snappingest party-heartiest guitar rock ever, and for me personally, it's a link of memory to places and friends and moments I'll carry with me forever. Rock and roll doesn't get much better than that.

Rating: A

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© 2002 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.