Kicking off my dive into 1970s hard rock with this recommendation from Sea of Tranquility. I grabbed Detective on CD without hearing anything besides the description: a band that impressed Jimmy Page so much he immediately signed them to his Swan Song label. The band’s eponymous debut is a killer rock album that certainly hews close to late-period Zeppelin were putting out but contains some surprising detours along the way, making it a real catchy hard rock gem with enough of its own identity to (for the most part) keep the clone hounds at bay. In other words, here there be hooks, and they will most assuredly get into you.
Featuring Michael Des Barres from Silverhead on vocals and guitarist Michael Monarch from Steppenwolf (he also played on the amazing debut from Janis Joplin) you can hear why Page was interested from the first few bars of opener and single “Recognition” to my ears it’s a tuneful amalgamation of Steely Dan and Triumph. Monarch’s guitars are prominent, tossing a bevy of licks throughout the song, and the vocals are fantastic – great harmonies and a throaty wail that keeps the tune and remind me of Rik Emmitt. “Got Enough Love” is where folks will really start to get the Zeppelin comparisons: this could fit right in with Houses of the Holy or Physical Graffiti, except I don’t think Zeppelin were quite ready yet to feature so much keyboard or horns.
Maybe they should have, because the arrangements work wonders here. While the band were recording their debut Tony Kaye from Yes entered the picture, and though it’s unclear how much he was actively involved in the songwriting process, his hand is felt through the album. “Grim Reaper” brings the heaviness up a couple of notches, and the Zeppelin similarities become even more pronounced. This is where I really started to feel the influence and contribution of the rhythm section. John Hyde on drums and Bobby Pickett on bass bring a heavy swing that production-wise definitely cribbed from the book of Bonham and Jones, and Kaye’s keyboards bring an ominous wash over the middle section.
“Nightingale” is a deceptive track, lulling you into the false sense that this is the throwaway ballad. It does start on that track, and despite the strong production it’s the first indication of maybe the band not having the the chops to really deliver a full album of home runs. But just after the halfway mark Monarch rips into a great guitar solo, and the song takes a left turn into righteous upbeat rocker that salvages the entire piece.
And from there the tracks just keep landing, from the blues drenched “Detective Man” to the funky swagger of “Wild Hot Summer Nights” which if anything is at least one word longer than Van Halen’s ode to the same time of the year. having listened to Detective non-stop for the past few days I keep thinking of the great production to Hyde’s drums, Monarch’s electrifying guitar work, and Des Barre’s singing and I wish this was a bigger thing, and that the band went on to a bigger and better career. But what I’m increasingly learning as I dive into this period is that for every success (like Led Zeppelin) there are dozens upon dozens of almost-made-it bands…great bands that for one reason or another burned out too early, or just didn’t get that one moment in the sun that would have brought it all together.
Maybe we didn’t need anymore Detective. But as I put “Recognition” back on and prepare to go for another round with the record, I’m not so sure.