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Scorpions

An archetypal hard-rock band, SCORPIONS are to Germany what STATUS QUO are to Britain, similar in existence from the mid-60s and still going strong as of 2015. With a sound consisting of initially jazz-inflected lumbering riffs, punctuated with piercing solos and topped off with Klaus Meine’s strangely accessible English-spoken nasal whine, the band proved there was more to “kraut-rock” than TANGERINE DREAM, CAN and KRAFTWERK. And who could forget that ultimate hard-rock continental crossover ballad, `Wind Of Change’? Mmm…
Formed as a beat group in Hannover, Germany, in 1965, rhythm guitarist Rudolf Schenker would also sing until SCORPIONS captured Werner Hoyer (in ’67) and, in turn, Bernd Hegner (in ’68); the aforementioned Meine has held the mic since 1969. Drummer Wolfgang Dziony steadied the ship from the onset, while bassist Lothar Heimberg superseded original Achim Kirchoff (in ’67); the turning point was surely in ’69 when Rudolf’s 14-year-old lead guitarist brother Michael (who’d played on stage since 11) was hard to resist over Ulrich Worobiec and original Karl-Heinz Vollmer.
LONESOME CROW (1972) {*5} finally got the ball rolling, a sprawling set for Germany’s Brain Records that captured the essence of BLACK SABBATH, URIAH HEEP, et al, but not the future SCORPIONS sound; the closing title track for example lasted a prog-like 13 minutes. The LP would have many subsequent titles: “I’m Goin’ Mad…”, “Gold Rock” and “Action”, two out of three garnered from its song titles.
Losing their brightest star Michael Schenker to touring buddies UFO (in June ’73) was something hard to swallow for a band that showed lots of promise and talent. Defunct, Rudolf and songwriting crux Klaus wanted a fresh start and invited lead guitarist Ulrich Roth into the squad, but he declined their offer, preferring instead to stick with his newly-formed Dawn Road. Schenker and Meine duly merged with said Roth and other Dawn Road team members (sticksman Jurgen Rosenthal and bassist Francis Buchholz), signing a global deal at R.C.A. Records on the premise and understanding that they could use songs co-scribed with Michael as a sort of transfer bargaining deal.
Abandoning their unused Dawn Road moniker and looking to a new-look SCORPIONS, their follow-up was finally issued in the fall of ’74. FLY TO THE RAINBOW {*6} was sliced up three ways: Rudolf and Klaus on `Speedy’s Coming’, `They Need A Million’ and `This Is My Song’, Uli on `Drifting Sun’, and Michael’s farewell contributions `Fly People Fly’, `Far Away’ and the concluding 9-minute title track.
With Rudy Lenners coming in for Rosenthal on drums, SCORPIONS stirred up a little controversy on the cover-shoot of third album, IN TRANCE (1975) {*7}. Although subsequently blackened out, the original sleeve clearly exposed a bare-breasted model straddling Uli’s white Stratocaster – shocking if one hadn’t witnessed ROXY MUSIC’s “Country Life”. Still to emerge as Germany’s premier hard-rock act, the quintet brewed up a concoction of heavy numbers (`Top Of The Bill’, `Dark Lady’, and the title track among others) and other refined ballads (`Life’s Like A River’, `Evening Wind’ and `Night Lights’).
Produced by Dieter Dierks, again, VIRGIN KILLER (1976) {*7} also stirred up a hornet’s nest of friction, when its cover-shoot of a nude prepubescent girl was removed from circulation; BLIND FAITH’s debut set of several years back had obviously met with similar disdain. An idea of the record company to portray “innocence” rather than “murder”, SCORPIONS suffered in its wake, with only really Japan buying into the album when the offending sleeve was substituted by a picture of the hairy band. Of the album itself, Meine’s trademark screech and Roth chunky chops were all too present on the NAZARETH-esque `Backstage Queen’, `Catch Your Train’, `Pictured Life’, et al.
1977’s less turbulent TAKEN BY FORCE {*6} set introduced drummer Herman Rarebell (ex-STEPPENWOLF) into the fold, while this time the songs done the talking, of which opener `Steamrock Fever’, `We’ll Burn The Sky’, `The Sails Of Charon’ and the androgynous-addled `He’s A Woman’, She’s A Man’ came off best. The live-in-concert double-LP TOKYO TAPES (1978) {*6} closed another chapter of the group’s career; ULI JON ROTH subsequently departing to form ELECTRIC SUN, disillusioned at the band’s increasingly commercial direction.
Caught between a rock and a hard place when Michael split from UFO to join up again, which left his replacement Matthias Jabs out in the cold, the latter axeman was only too happy to take up his position again when Rudy’s young bro revealed it was only temporary; The MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP was formed soon afterwards.
1979’s LOVEDRIVE {*7} featured three cuts with Michael (`Another Piece Of Meat’, `Coast To Coast’ and the title track), while Matthias grappled with the remainder. Now signed to Harvest Records (Mercury in the States), SCORPIONS had produced their most radio-friendly collection to date, the album taking them into the middle echelons of the UK and US charts for the first time. And once again, it was the un-PC sleeve (by Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis this time) that reared its ugly head, depicting a well-dressed man in a taxi stretching sticky bubblegum from a woman’s breast.
On the other hand (so to speak), ANIMAL MAGNETISM (1980) {*6} clawed for attention, almost breaking the British Top 20, while stealing some limelight from the burgeoning NWOBHM; the record also featured anthemic favourites from their live repertoire: `The Zoo’ and `Make It Real’. No trouble with the photo-shoot this time, just a Doberman dog and a fawning female looking up to a man in tight beige jeans. Not at his most memorable, Klaus duly went through a successful throat operation.
Finally breaking fresh chart ground (Top 10) in both Britain and America, BLACKOUT (1982) {*8} achieved double platinum status. As always keeping it simple and easy on the ear for heavy-metal lovers, the balance was in power-driven ballads (`When The Smoke Is Going Down’ and `No One Like You’) and fast-paced out-and-out rockers (`Dynamite’ and the title track).
1984’s LOVE AT FIRST STING {*7} fared even better commercially, selling twice as much as its predecessor and spawning a US Top 30 hit single with the staccato riffing of anthem `Rock You Like A Hurricane’; other hair-raisers included `Big City Night’, `Bad Boys Running Wild’, the powerhouse `Coming Home’ and the closing heart-string-puller `Still Loving You’.
SCORPIONS were now seemingly tailoring their music for the American market, concentrating more on melody and hook-lines with each successive release.
Save for the massive-selling concert double-set, WORLD WIDE LIVE (1985) {*6}, it was to be a further four years before the group unleashed a fresh studio album. In the meantime, they became the first western rock group to play in the Soviet Union. SAVAGE AMUSEMENT (1988) {*5} consolidated the band’s reputation as power rockers elite. Experimenting slightly with synths, die-hard fans would salivate over minor hits `Rhythm Of Love’ (featuring Canadian LEE AARON on backing vox) and `Passion Rules The Game’.
The band’s anthemic rock continued to attract a larger audience Stateside than in Britain with the release of the Keith Olsen-produced CRAZY WORLD (1990) {*7}, while also securing an accompanying US Top 5 hit single (and global chart-topper) with the lighter-waving ballad `Wind Of Change’. Sadly, not referring to Klaus Meine finally cutting that awful mullet off, the song instead dealt with the sweeping changes in the Communist Bloc (a version was actually recorded in Russian!); other melodious tracks came by way of `Send Me An Angel’, `Tease Me Please Me’ (one of a handful penned with Jim Vallance) and the title track.
SCORPIONS continued to eschew tales of loose women and “crazy” nights for more serious political matters on FACE THE HEAT (1993) {*4}, exploring the social effect of their country’s reunification. Introducing new bassist Ralph Rieckermann and produced this time around by Bruce Fairbairn, the formula was wearing thin on the British public where it stalled just outside the Top 50; America rated it somewhat higher, while LIVE BITES (1995) {*4} stretched their hair-metal just a tad too far.
As massive as they’d ever been on home-soil, and with Curt Cress installed on the drum-kit, PURE INSTINCT (1996) {*3} was an ailing SCORPIONS by numbers, unwilling to bend and running on empty with fresh ideas for new masters East West Records. Subsequently cutting back to three core members (songwriter Meine, Schenker and Jabs) with a rhythm section of Rieckermann and James Kottak, the Peter Wolf-produced EYE II EYE (1999) {*3}, proved to be another damp squib.
In a time (pre-/post-millennium) that saw METALLICA-meet-orchestra for “S&M”, SCORPIONS re-worked all their best tunes for MOMENT OF GLORY {*4}, a live CD/DVD that featured The Berlin Philharmonic. In a similar fashion but minus the symphonic outlay, the unplugged ACOUSTICA (2001) {*4} – live at the Convento de Beato in Lisbon, Portugal – was another self-absorbed excess for Meine and Co, despite the inclusion of three interesting covers from KANSAS (`Dust In The Wind’), QUEEN (`Love Of My Life’) and The CARS (`Drive’). Something had to change, not just the wind.
Retaining Kottak and roping in Polish-born bassist Pawel Maciwoda, a reconvened SCORPIONS would round off their fifteenth set, the concept of sorts UNBREAKABLE (2004) {*6}. Moving their metal up a gear and into the 21st century, there was still room for improvement, although in fist-pumping songs `New Generation’, `Borderline’ and `Someday Is Now’, lessons had been learned.
Brave in their attempt at a follow-up concept album (DREAM THEATER and others had recently come up trumps), SCORPIONS worked with producer James Michael and veteran buddy/songwriter Desmond Child on HUMANITY: HOUR 1 (2007) {*8}. Prophesying a world where humans battle with robots, Child, futurist artist Liam Carl and the group presented something akin to a modern-day War Of The Worlds; BILLY CORGAN performed guest vocals on penultimate piece `The Cross’, John 5 played guitar for the opening `Hour I’ and guitarist Eric Bazilian featured on `Love Will Keep Us Alive’.
SCORPIONS had dug now themselves out of the sand-pit and, with the more conventional STING IN THE TAIL (2010) {*7}, they’d almost come full circle. Age only proved to be a number for 60-somethings Schenker, Meine and Co, although by Billboard Album Charts definitions, a highest position of No.23 looked just dandy. Selling over 200,000 copies in Germany alone, the mid-70s power-chord riff was restored on the likes of `Raised On Rock’, `Rock Zone’, `Spirit Of Rock’, et al.
On the back of two fan-friendly concert double-sets, LIVE 2011: GET YOUR STING & BLACKOUT (2011) {*6} and MTV UNPLUGGED IN ATHENS (2013) {*6}, plus a
COMEBLACK (2011) {*5} set of re-workings and covers, it was time for another SCORPIONS strike; note that heart-on-their-sleeves re-treads came by way of `Tainted Love’ (a hit for SOFT CELL), `Children Of The Revolution’ (T. REX), `Across The Universe’ (The BEATLES), `Tin Soldier’ (SMALL FACES), `All Day And All Of The Night’ (The KINKS) and `Ruby Tuesday’ (The ROLLING STONES).
Working on unfinished tracks, demos and basic ideas going back some thirty odd years, 2015’s RETURN TO FOREVER {*6} kept within the spirit and ethos of the band, while moving them forward at a slower rate. Not that songs `Going Out With A Bang’, `We Built This House’ and `Rock My Car’ were in any way slow, but the wholesome romantic ballad `House Of Cards’ was just that and, just might’ve been a pre-“Wind Of Change” hit had it been delivered in the 80s.
© MC Strong 1994-2001/GRD // rev-up MCS Feb2015

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