God Gave Rock And Roll To You

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Many people believe this is a KISS song.

Argent released two albums to crickets before they broke through. No one was waiting for the band, today they would have gone out as the Zombies, just like Led Zeppelin started out as the New Yardbirds, sans name recognition you’re starting at zero.

As for the Zombies?

They’d had legendary hits, but they were years before, except for “Time of the Season” from “Odessey and Oracle,” which Al Kooper rescued from the dustbin and made a hit after the band had broken up. Meanwhile, Rod Argent may have written “Time of the Season,” but Colin Blunstone was the frontman, the vocalist, then again all of the Zombies’ success occurred prior to the explosion of rock rags, back then most people hadn’t even heard of “Rolling Stone,” which might have launched in 1967 but truly didn’t hit critical mass until the seventies.

But Argent was a different band. In this case, the frontman was Russ Ballard, who was also the primary songwriter. And the end result sounded nothing like the Zombies, but there was a certain magic, which eluded the public.

The first album, the eponymous “Argent,” contained one of the best records of all time, “Liar.” Doubt me? Pull it up, the dynamics alone will close you. A year later, Three Dog Night” covered “Liar” and made it a hit, and that take is pretty good, but the dynamics, the ethereal sound, is absent.

As for the second Argent album, “Ring of Hands,” a year later Three Dog Night included “Chained” in their 1972 LP, “Seven Separate Fools,” but it wasn’t a single and…I’d see Argent albums in the bins, but I never ever knew anybody who owned one.

And then came “Hold Your Head Up.”

1972… Let me see, that summer also saw the release of “Thick as a Brick.” In the U.K., T.Rex was dominant, and David Bowie was exploding with “Ziggy Stardust,” never mind the debut of Roxy Music…but those acts took a long time to cross the pond. Interesting how they’re all English.

And so was Argent.

Now by 1972, every hamlet had an FM rock station. And free-form was history, the music was programmed. And what they were looking for was instant smashes, tracks people would get on one listen and clamor to hear again.

That was “Hold Your Head Up.” The ethereal squeal of the intro followed by the pounding drums entranced you immediately, and then when the guitar riff was introduced, you were completely sold. And then Russ Ballard emerged atop it all and the cake was baked, the whole concoction rose.

This was the era of the extended track. The album version was six minutes and seventeen seconds long, it was cut down to just over three for AM radio after it had such an impact on FM, it blared out of car windows ALL OVER THE WORLD, this is the rock that has been pooh-poohed by the critics, those rewriting history, but this was the music that dominated back then, when it became about bigger and bigger shows, when politics was fading and only the sound remained. All Argent had to do was follow it up.


“God Gave Rock and Roll to You”?

The title alone will swear you off the track. Sure, the Jesus movement had fomented, but tying in religion and self-congratulation, the power of rock and roll…it was all just a bit too over the top, to the point of appearing ersatz.

Needless to say, the track stiffed. And since Argent had little commercial history to speak of, so did the album, “In Deep.”

The act made two more albums on Epic, even one on RCA, but it was almost like they didn’t come out, there was no attention, no radio action, and Russ Ballard left after “Nexus,” the band’s 1974 follow-up to “In Deep.”

Ballard went on to be a songwriter, he also recorded, not that anybody seemed to know, but he’s got enough classics in his catalog to be living on royalties. Yes, in addition to “Liar” and “Hold Your Head Up,” he also composed “New York Groove” for Ace Frehley, “You Can Do Magic” for America, “Winning” for Santana, and even “I Know There’s Something Going On,” from my friend Frida’s first English solo album, produced by Phil Collins.

Rod Argent went behind the scenes to work with Tanita Tikaram, who had a big MTV track “Twist in My Sobriety,” and then promptly disappeared.

Argent’s cousin, bass player Jim Rodford, decamped for the Kinks.

And drummer Rob Henrit ultimately followed him, after doing some session work.

But then something strange happened, in 1989 the stoner comedy “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” was released and succeeded smashingly. And then there was a sequel, “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” in 1991, and this being the twentieth century, there were attendant soundtrack albums for both flicks, and the one for “Bogus” featured cuts from Slaughter, Megadeth, Primus and KISS. And the KISS track was a cover of what was now called “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II.” One can argue quite strongly this is perfect KISS fodder, over the top bombast, subtlety is excised, Paul Stanley is singing with all the power of his lungs, the band sludged through this forgotten song and gave it the attention it deserved, it was ultimately released as a single and also included in a subsequent KISS album. Today everybody knows “God Gave Rock and Roll to You”… Well, not Gen-Z. Maybe some millennials. This sound is out of fashion, but it still had dominance until the turn of the century.


So I was driving on the freeway today, twisting the steering wheel of my four-wheel drive car, not able to avoid the influence of “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” and I’m listening to the radio.

The news is scary and too often repetitive.

Howard’s on vacation, although I did enjoy hearing them beat up Memet again.

So ultimately I switched the channel to Classic Vinyl. And “Roadhouse Blues” started pouring out of the speakers, the subwoofer thumping as Jim Morrison got himself a beer and I contemplated how great this basic song is, played constantly on classic rock stations today, even though the album it opens, “Morrison Hotel,” was pooh-poohed by critics.

And then…maybe I switched to Deep Tracks, but on one of those rock stations, after pushing some buttons, I heard the inimitable sound of Argent’s “God Gave Rock and Roll to You.”

And now I’m really in the groove, I turn up the stereo, not only does this original version of the song sound fresh and exciting, I’m gaining new insight, even though the cut is almost fifty years old.

Yes, God gave us rock and roll, or maybe he didn’t, but we’ve certainly got it, but it doesn’t mean what it did back in 1973 when this cut was released.

As for loving our friend and our neighbor…a sixties hangover back then, an impossibility today, peace and love are out the window.

But it was the second verse that truly resonated.

“If you want to be a singer or play guitar

Man you’ve gotta sweat or you won’t get far”

That’s how it was, it’s not how it is. We saw the Beatles, we all wanted to be one, but the lift for almost all of us was too heavy. We had to learn to play, to write and we needed to be good-looking, we got guitars but most gave up, or turned into hobbyists, but not everyone…

The best song about this is AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll),” but art is not a competition, these tracks exist side by side quite nicely, both ultimately coming from the same spot, the same feeling.

But it was the line thereafter that stuck out.

Funny you can know a song by heart and then you hear it again and it reveals itself even further…

“‘Cause it’s never too late to work nine to five”

YES! You can sell out whenever you want. McDonald’s is always looking for workers. Never mind low level office jobs. If you want to give up, go straight, the world is ready for you, you’re not losing a step, because if you’re working nine to five there’s no upward mobility, there’s no career. And in truth, most of the English musical stars were facing work in the factory, that kept them focused on their careers. So why not stay the course?

“And if you’re young then you’ll never be old

Music can make your dreams unfold

How good it feels to be alive”

I don’t feel 68. I was in a Zoom conference with the immunologist yesterday and he mentioned my age and I thought to myself…THAT’S NOT ME! When someone verbalized it, I internalized it, I’m old, how in the hell did that happen.

But I only own one suit. One pair of real shoes. I’m living my fantasy life. Sure, the music business might have moved on, to dreck, but I haven’t, nor have so many of my brethren.

And I’m zipping along beyond the speed limit, not a cloud in the sky, enveloped in this wonderful sound and all I could think was how great it was to be alive.

Because someone gave me rock and roll. Maybe God, maybe Ike Turner, we can debate the origin story all day long, but it’s here…

And so am I!

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