Steppenwolf The Second


MCA Records, 1968

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Have you ever had the experience of going back to an album you really liked when you were younger, only to discover that the sounds you heard don't match up to the childlike ideals you set yourself up to hear?

Back when I was in high school in the late '80s, I got into Steppenwolf while I was in my metalhead stage. Having just gotten my license, I knew a great record store in Skokie that carried imports and was the be-all, end-all for finding the stuff that Sound Warehouse didn't (or wouldn't) carry. (This particular store is gone now; a bank stands in its place. My father never has gotten over the fact that where the record store-now-bank stands once was a place where he got the best, greasiest onion rings ever known to man. But I digress.)

One such album that I found in one of my numerous searches was Steppenwolf The Second, the heavy metal godfathers' second release of 1968. Best known for the single "Magic Carpet Ride," it was the obvious next step for me to pick up once I had digested their self-titled release - you know, the one that Sound Warehouse did carry.

Digging it out of the Pierce Memorial Archives over the weekend, something struck me about this album - namely, it had not aged very well. Sure, there were still some great performances on this album, but the inevitable "sophomore slump" strikes again!my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

John Kay and crew, of course, had the inenviable task of living up to the hype that "Born To Be Wild" had created. I mean, how do you top a song that is quickly becoming an anthem for a new generation of music listeners? The answer came in "Magic Carpet Ride," a song that mixed in psychedelia - and a pretty hefty dose, at that - with the bombastic rock that had made Steppenwolf famous that year. Thirty-one years later, it's still a great track.

But where Kay and company stumble on their tragic flaw is in their attempt to expand past the world of blooze-rock. Granted, they had tackled some lighter material on Steppenwolf on "Desperation" and "A Girl I Knew" - but at least the material was strong enough to carry the theme. On this album, Kay dips into the politically absurd with "Spiritual Fantasy," where Kay waxes poetic about ideals and the evils of the political system while Eastern-influenced guitars pluck in the background and a string chorus plays. Oh, please.

Most of the second half of Steppenwolf The Second becomes a mish-mash as songs interweave themselves into an all-out mess. Tracks like "Hodge, Podge, Strained Through A Leslie" and "Resurrection" are wastes of time. However, the last two tracks ("28" and "None Of Your Doing") save some face.

It should be noted that a second vocalist takes on some of the duties here, but the MCA reissue tape doesn't have any liner notes, and neither All-Music Guide or the official Steppenwolf page list who this vocalist is. Their work can be heard on "28," "Faster Than The Speed Of Life," and trading lead vocals with Kay on "Don't Step On The Grass, Sam". Any enlightenment from the audience would be appreciated - especially if John Kay himself happens to be reading.

This all isn't to say that Steppenwolf The Second is a major washout. "Faster Than The Speed Of Life," a live version of "Tighten Up Your Wig" and the pro-marajuana "Don't Step On The Grass, Sam" all do shine on this album. But it's interesting to hear Kay take on some of the old blues standards that have become more commonplace these days - I even heard him take a verse of "The Sky Is Crying" on near the end of the album, though the exact song slips my mind at the moment. Quite frankly, had it not been for Stevie Ray Vaughan's take on the song, I probably would never have noticed Kay's rendition.

Steppenwolf The Second is a relic of the psychedelic-heavy metal-birth generation, and does have moments that shows this band's brilliance. However, in the end, it remains an album that is "for the fans," or for those who want to hear more than what classic rock radio feeds us on a daily basis.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen 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 MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.