Thursday, October 27, 2011


Nazareth is a British hard rock band formed by a bunch of Scots from Glasgow and who could be called a B-list heavy band of the Seventies. They are still going, touring and releasing albums though their hey days were almost 40 years ago.

"Love Hurts" was the big hit that dominated South African airwaves in 1975 to the extent where I started hating the song, especially as I was not into ballads in 1975 and could not abide the endless repetition of it. I think is it was Ray Stevens who had a faster, lighter version of the song that briefly, sometime later, achieved a lot of exposure on local radio and I really liked what Stevens had done with the tune, though he made it seem less of an ode to heartbreak that the Nazareth version. Perhaps the upbeat rhythm of the Stevens interpretation was meant to contrast sarcastically or sardonically with the bitterness of the lyrics.

Anyhow, though Nazareth was supposed to be a hard rock act, their greatest success came from a sloppy ballad. They never quite repeated the ubiquity of "Love Hurts" but had a couple of hits after that, mostly still slow songs like "Place In Your Heart". As the harder rock tunes got no airplay on South African radio I had little idea what the rest of the oeuvre sounded like, except for Hair of the Dog, also from 1975.

My then mate Natie Greeff had quite a little collection of contemporary rock albums, such as Queen's A Night at the Opera, Deep Purple's Made in Japan, Uriah Heep's Live and Hair of the Dog. He also liked the Moody Blues.

I guess he must have bought the Nazareth album because of "Love Hurts", given that his musical taste seemed not cater for the more progressive end of rock and not to the quite basic grind of the hard rock practised by Nazareth on tracks other than the hit single. I was impressed by the title track's repetitive reference to a "son of a bitch" and Natie was very impressed by "Don't Judas Me", a slow building, emotive final track that aspired to grandeur and melodrama and would obviously have made a fine set closer at a concert. I just dug the big, hard, driving rock beat of the band and the screaming guitar solos. Natie pointed out how poetic the lyrics of some of the songs, like "Guilty" or "Beggar's Day" were. He and I did not exactly have a meeting of minds on why we liked music and why we liked what we liked.

I did not have the heart, or maybe I did have the circumspection, to confess to Natie that "Don't Judas Me" did not have the same appeal to me as it did have for him. He was into the poetry of rock and I was into louder, faster and damn the lyrics.

It would have been madness trying to explain Dr Feelgood to someone who believed that A Night at the Opera (which contained another pet hate of mine, "Bohemian Rhapsody") was some kind of pinnacle of artistic ambition and endeavour.

Even exposure to Hair of the Dog did not convince me to buy any Nazareth albums and nothing I heard on the radio persuaded me otherwise. The hard rock songs did not make it to any playlist and the soppy ballads were not my thing.

This attitude changed somewhere in the Eighties when I bought of double album of Nazareth's greatest Seventies songs. I guess I must have been inspired by a budget price and thought that the low risk monetary gamble would be worth it. For the life of me I cannot think of any other reason why I would have shelled out money for an album by a band that was by then no longer a front-line attraction and, for all I knew, had ceased to exist as a working unit.

The album, probably called something like "the best of Nazareth", turned out to have an excellent cross section of top class Nazareth tunes and all the favourites were, as they say, present and correct. There was "Razamanazz", a great live set opener of intent to rock, "Expect No Mercy", "Hair of the Dog", "Broken Down Angel", "Turn On Your Receiver", "Bad Bad Boy", "My White Bicycle" and many others I cannot recall now. When I heard "My White Bicycle" I realised I knew the song from somewhere, either in its Nazareth version or perhaps in the original, but it was familiar.

Apart from slower yet rocking songs like "Broken Down Angel", "Turn On Your Receiver" and "Bad Bad Boy", that fall in the category of power sing-a-long, with great guitar, the song that made the biggest impression on me was the interpretation of "This Flight Tonight", a Joni Mitchell songs I had heard many years before in her album version of it. Somehow Nazareth, and in particular Dan Cafferty's voice, turned the song into a truly affecting and effective plaintive cry of imminent disappointment mixed with lovelorn anticipation. Just a great, great performance and perhaps my top favourite Nazareth song.

The entire double album was a winner, the purchase price well spent. By that time I had matured somewhat and no longer had a knee jerk adverse reaction to ballad type tunes from rockers and I developed a fondness for "Love Hurts" as well. The performance and to a degree the sentiment too, are of a piece with "This Flight Tonight" and the two songs can probably bookend a story of doomed love.

I was still not persuaded to seek out any Nazareth albums but the best of collection was a treasured part of my record collection.

About a year ago (2010), and after I had given away all my records, I came across a budget priced CD called The Very Best of Nazareth, with a similar collection of Nazareth hits although, sadly, it was not an exact duplication. The biggest Seventies songs are there but there are also a number of tunes I had not heard before, and some of the interesting hard rock songs from the LP, such as "No Mercy", are not on this compilation, which probably is intended to represent a broader spectrum of the career. The previously unknown songs, such "Telegram", "Dream On" "When the Lights Come Down", "Star" and "Holiday", are as good as any other Nazareth track I'd heard before and confirm the quality of the output over the years.

It is still a great collection. For all I know just about every Nazareth song on every album of theirs is worth hearing and my yet surprise me but Nazareth is the kind of band where the hits compilation is the best representation of their oeuvre. The compilation is usually all killer and that makes for a very satisfactory listening experience without the risk of being exposed to clunkers hidden away on albums that you've paid good money for.

It seems that Nazareth is still a going concern and is touring and releasing albums as late as 2011. Not that one would find any recent product in the local CD store. Good for them, though. If Seventies dinosaurs like Uriah Heep. Deep Purple, Z Z Top, to name but few, can still be out there pursuing their careers, albeit at lesser wattage, there is no reason why Nazareth should not have more time in the spotlight too. AC/DC seem to be as popular and strong as ever, and they come from the Seventies too.

The good old-fashioned rock and roll that Nazareth plays, with tunes and memorable choruses along with the crunching guitars and danceable beat, is extremely satisfying and enjoyable.

This brings me to my latest Nazareth acquisition, a low budget CD called Nazareth Live, with the kind of packaging that gives one no information on when these recordings were made. I bought it, along with two South African rock albums, at a Cash Crusaders outlet and it cost met less than R10. The cover photograph shows us four middle-aged guys that make me think the live tracks could have been recorded during the last 15 years or so. For some strange reason studio recordings of "Broken Down Angel" and "My White Bicycle" have been added to the 14 live tracks.

The opening cut "Live From London, Intro" is a ridiculous James Last girl chorus type thing, redolent of the Swinging Sixties vibe, or perhaps a European imagining of that scene, from the days when London was the hip capital of the world.

After that "Telegram" kicks in and it is immediately distressingly clear that this is not prime late Seventies Nazareth, but more probably a band stuck in the time warp of Eighties big rock production values where the tough Glasgow grit is long gone and AOR reigns supreme. The band may be playing in a chintzy nightclub to a middle aged, middle class family audience. And hey, they look like their audience!

The torpor resumes with "Razamanaz" which was written as a rousing battle cry for rockers everywhere. It once got up and danced, now it kind of shifts around in its seat for a more comfortable position. The drums truly plod. Man, this is not good. No wonder the previous owner of the CD flogged it to Cash Crusaders.

J J Cale's "Cocaine" is the first of a couple of cover versions made more famous by other acts and the unique Nazareth interpretation is to give it a jazzy funk workout that gives the song truly bizarre new twist that does absolutely nothing for it.

"Teenage Nervous Breakdown" (Little Feat) also makes no sense, especially given the apparent age of the guys playing the song. It should be retitled 'middle-aged nervous tension.'

Dan Cafferty's ragged, somewhat over-used voice works quite well on "Love Hurts" because he now truly sounds world weary and disgusted with a huge dollop of resigned sadness. Maybe he has been through a truly unpleasant divorce. However, this version suffers from being probably being the thousandth time Cafferty has had to sing the big hit.

"Hair of the Dog" with its lengthy drum thud intro and vocoder section actually works. Whatever reservoir of viciousness the band still retains shows itself a little bit. Cafferty can't scream as he used to – I bet he protects his nodes – but there is a vestige of the younger man's ire and nastiness there.

I cannot say the same about "This Flight Tonight", great song as it is, and valiant as the attempt is to replicate old glories. This also sounds like one too many performance.

The album ends kind of weirdly. The band starts up "I Ain't Got You" and it fades inexplicably, to be replaced by the same stupid "Live in London" jingle that opens the set. Obviously some clever dick's idea of a framing device. The even weirder part though is that studio recordings of "Broken Down Angel" and "My White Bicycle" have been tacked on after the live recordings. These songs sound like the original versions from the Seventies and the intensity and rock power contrast sharply with the torpor and journeymen-like plod of the live set.

What is the purpose of this album? It sounds like a souvenir, of sorts, of a Nazareth tour or maybe a bootleg cheaply recorded for cheap release in countries where Nazareth never tours and yet is still a recognised name, at least if you are of a certain age. I would be surprised if Nazareth has made any significant money from this album; I would be surprised to hear that the band sanctioned the release of this stuff unless any buck earned is a buck earned, regardless of the source.

I'm glad I have the studio versions of the big Nazareth songs on CD. This live set sucks. Perhaps I should resell it to Cash Crusaders.

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