Atomic Rooster came out with a couple of very powerful early seventies albums. They sounded great, but unless denim, leather, Afghan coats, long lanky hair, mutton chop sideburns, and droopy moustaches are your thing, they probably aren't the best looking band in the world. Not when compared to the three little girls in Atomic Kitten. However, the music... well, it probably will not stand the test of time as well as this incredible collection of songs do. The music, not the mutton chop sideburns as in the pictures of Atomic Kitten, will still look good. In thirty years these guys now look a little dated, but then this Dog has been waiting years for the shaggy dog look to come back.
So who and what were "Atomic Rooster"? They were formed in mid 1969 by keyboard wizard Vincent Crane and Carl Palmer, one of the most bombastic drummers on the planet, after the collapse of "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown" and in the middle of an American tour. (Arthur Brown had one hit which was a number one "Fire", but that was it. Brown went on to lead Kingdom Come and released three very weird albums in the mid-seventies. He still makes a living to this day as a celebrity, hosting parties and festivals whilst singing the odd verse of "Fire".) Adding Nick Greenwood on bass, an album was recorded and released with the confusing title of "Atomic Ro-O-oster" . After a period on the road they had built a strong cult following, but then started a revolving door of musicians coming and going. (Mostly going in the early days. John Paul Jones was asked to join, but wisely took the offer of Jimmy Page's to join 'Led Zeppelin'. Jack Bruce decided to stick with his solo career, although fellow Cream band mate Ginger Baker turned up in "Atomic Rooster" in the eighties. Rick Grech was also asked, but he had just joined Ginger Baker along with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood in "Blind Faith". Most bizarrely a meeting was set up between The Rooster boys and Brian Jones, who had just left the Rolling Stones. He was found drowned in his swimming pool the day before the meeting was set for.)
First to abandon ship was bass player Nick Greenwood. He was replaced by guitarist Paul Ducann, whilst Crane took up bass duties using the bass pedals of his trusty Hammond organ. Then prior to going into the studio to record the all important second album, Carl Palmer was lured away from the Rooster to be the "P" in E.L.P. Are we talking Spinal Tap here or what? To any other band this would of been the death knell, but not to the Rooster. Vincent Crane simply recruited gangly powerhouse drummer Paul Hammond (possibly influenced by his surname), dived into the studio, and came out with this classic slab of awe inspiring music. One of the forerunners to form the music that is now called Heavy Metal. Although it was really Crane's band and the sound of the keyboards is dominant in the same way as say Jon Lord was in Deep Purple or Ken Hensley in Uriah Heep, there was still room for the other two to shine. In fact, Ducann wrote three songs on the album as well as getting a credit for the title song. Paul Hammond got to show his spurs on final track "Gershatzer", a number written specially for him by Crane with a fine three minute drum solo. Still today probably one of the best drum solos recorded specifically in the studio by a Rock 'n' Roll drummer .
Opener and title track "Death Walks Behind You" has a haunting spaced out piano intro before breaking into its sledgehammer riff and demonic vocals. It also features the first of musical jousting between guitar and keyboards, again drawing comparisons to Deep Purple. Second in is "Vug", a studio jam that was fortunate to be played whilst the tapes were rolling, so caught in all its fresh excitement. Next up was the much desired hit single "Tomorrow Night", a catchy little number played here to its frantic climax, whereas for the single the record company had faded out to make it a round little three minutes for radio play. The three Ducann songs follow, giving beautiful light and shade to the album whilst retaining Rooster's hard edge, before returning for two more Crane numbers with "Nobody Else" being as close to a ballad as Rooster were ever likely to get. Then "Gershatzer" brings us to a rousing conclusion.
"Death Walks Behind You" reached the top twenty in England, putting the Rooster alongside Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones. Peter French was then recruited as vocalist for the next album, "In The Hearing Of", which also charted "Tomorrow Night" peeking at no 11 and follow up single "Devils Answer", charging past that to reach no 4. The table seemed laid for world domination, but no in true Strange Fruit style, they even managed to bodge it up from there. Within twelve months of recording this classic, French, Ducann, and Hammond left claiming Crane's impossibly high standards as impossible to live up to. In the eighties Crane was quoted as "I always demand a band that's got a pretty A-plus standard every night". Crane recruited new guys and carried on, but the magic was gone. They reformed in the mid eighties, but the timing was wrong and they ended up being little more than a nostalgia act with Ducann and Crane being the only stable part of the lineup.
Tragically Vincent Crane, who had always suffered from bouts of manic depression, took his own life on Valentine's Day in 1989. A sad story of "If Only"...
But when the Roosters strutted their stuff, they were magnificent. Enjoy a bit of Atomic energy, but leave the Kittens alone.
Mott The Dog.
"Death Walks Behind You" is everything a good rock album should be: at times thunderously heavy and blazingly loud, at other times soft and pensive. I don't think comparisons with other bands of the time are useful in this case, but suffice it to say that if you dig early Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Sabbath, Uriah Heep or Jethro Tull you will probably enjoy this album. Great production values, with a full drum sound, chunky bass, thickly distorted guitar and colorful organ. Sort of gothic and gloomy at times (cool artwork on the back with the band sitting in a graveyard); at other times very uplifting and life-affirming, still others it's mournful and sad.
The whole album is good, but the standout tracks are the title track, "Tomorrow Night," and "Seven Streets."