Here you will find a list of albums and musicians which have helped to mould The 109s’ eclectic style. It also functions as a pretty good guide to great ROCK music that has become lost slightly in the mists of time, so feel free to dive straight on in and get listening to the music here – every second of it has The 109s’ guaranteed stamp of approval.
High Time – MC5
Music is a tough old business, as exemplified perfectly by the story of Detroit rockers, MC5. Few bands have ever rocked quite like the MC5 (they coined the phrase “Kick out the jams”) but, thanks to a combination of radical political views and mind-bending quantities of drugs, they never really got the traction they deserved, and this 1971 album, their third and last, proved to be a total flop – which is surprising, as it captures the band in all its raw and raucous glory: twin guitar attack, brutal rhythm section and Rob Tyner’s impassioned vocals.
Forget the crap cover: this album was an essential component in helping to form the driving, balls-to-the-wall sound of The 109s.
Top tracks: Baby Won’t Ya; Over and Over
Black Sabbath – Vol. 4
Vol. 4 represents the culmination of Sabbath’s early classic sound, and is the only album I know of that has a dedication to cocaine dealers on the back.
Tony Iommi’s endlessly inventive riffs here are relentless, and his guitar tone monumental, while Ozzy comes up with some of his most melodic and memorable vocal lines. Geezer Butler and Bill Ward do what they do best, which is to keep the bass and drums rumbling and pounding along menacingly in the background.
The album’s appeal is not all about seismic, doom-laden riffage, though: tracks such as Changes and the instrumental, Laguna Sunrise, show a gentler, more experimental side to the band which would be further explored on their next classic album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
I loved Vol.4 from the moment I heard it, and learned it note for note. The principal thing it taught me is that choruses aren’t always necessary in songs – if the main riff is strong enough it can serve as the song’s hook, and you can hear Vol.4’s influence in 109s’ songs such as Leave a Light and No Shame.
Top Tracks: Tomorrow’s Dream, Supernaut, Snowblind
Smashing Pumpkins – Gish
I have always been extremely fussy about my musical tastes, and as a young man refused to listen to anything recorded post-1975.
Gish changed all that. From those first ringing F# chords of I am One, this listener was hooked. Over the course of the album’s ten tracks, Billy Corgan did everything I wanted to do with the guitar: brilliant riffs mixed with melodic, powerful lead guitar lines; interesting guitar tones and textures; and the brilliant use of a truly brilliant drummer. Corgan is a great guitarist and songwriter, but the real heart of this album lies in Jimmy Chamberlin’s ferocious drumming.
So, what did The 109s learn from this? As a guitarist, Gish showed me how to take influences from the classic decades of early rock and contemporise them. Corgan also uses a technique where riffs are played on the fifth and third string, sliding the resultant octave up and down the neck to create a distinctive, thick sound – you can hear that technique all over The 109s’ music.
Finally, Gish drove home the truth of the saying that a band is only as good as its drummer: it was no accident that the first musician with whom I got together when starting The 109s was not a singer or bassist, but the best drummer I knew, and the interplay between Steve Collings and I is still the aspect of the band’s music I most enjoy.
Top Tracks: Rhinoceros, Snail, Tristessa
Iggy and the Stooges – Raw Power
Ever heard of James Williamson? If you’re serious about rock guitar, you should have. In the first six songs of this 1973 album, Williamson takes rock guitar into a highly original, hyper-aggressive direction which foreshadowed the Sex Pistols by three years while effortlessly surpassing every punk guitarist that followed in terms of technical ability. I can’t think of any other guitarist who created such an influential sound in a single album.
First, there are the album’s rockers – “Search and Destroy”, “Raw Power” and “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell”. Williamson’s slashing chords are linked by riff runs played on the low strings which create a lead/rhythm hybrid that is far more accessible to a student of guitar than the dense webs woven by Hendrix, and in many cases, is far more driving and dynamic.
Then there are the slower songs, some played on acoustic guitar, where Williamson’s genius really shines as he takes the dirge-blues of “Gimme Danger”, “I Need Somebody” and “Penetration” and creates guitar lines that sound like nothing that has come before or since, mixing open strings with unusual chord voicings.
OK, so the last two songs on the album are almost unlistenable, but then The Stooges always had an avant-garde, art-rock noise edge to them. But as Johnny Marr said, Williamson ‘has the technical ability of Jimmy Page without being as studious, and the swagger of Keith Richards without being sloppy’ – the first six songs of Raw Power more than prove this.
Kiss – Alive!
The cover says it all: coloured lights, dry ice, flash bombs and Kiss in all their gaudy glory. But behind the greasepaint, spandex and platform heels, there lurked a ferociously good rock band, as proven by every one of the 16 songs on Alive!
By 1975, Kiss had three studio albums under their belts, so they could cherry pick the best songs for a storming live set. Controversy still continues about how much was really recorded “live”, but the simple truth is the versions of the songs on Alive! have a raw drive and power to them that the studio versions lack and, while the band’s lyrics straddle the divide between sexy and sexist, there is an enormous sense of fun to the music: the band clearly love the songs they are playing and are hungry for a greater audience, and this infectious combination of good times and relentless ambition is the core of the album’s appeal.
So, how did the album help shape The 109s’ sound?
Hearing the way Stanley, Simmons and Criss combine their voices on the album convinced me that harmony vocals were going to be at the heart of The 109s’ sound. The album also influenced my guitar-playing in a number of ways: the dual-harmony lines in “Watchin’ You”, the funky counterpoint in the verses of “100,000 Years”, the succession of riffs and dynamics that brings “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll” to its epic conclusion.
And then there are the solos. While Ace Frehley is far from being my favourite guitar player, he plays a no frills style of lead guitar that is relatively easy to learn, and from which fledgling guitarists can easily lift licks to add to their own palette.
I know I certainly did.
AC/DC – Powerage
An often overlooked classic within the DC canon, Powerage is the last album made with the Vanda-Young production team and, for an AC/DC album, contains a fair amount of experimentation. Check out the wandering bass on Gimme a Bullet (one of the few DC songs to lack a guitar solo), The Stones-style stomp of Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation (which comes complete with a maracas-and-handclap percussion section) and the slow-burn blues groove of Gone Shootin’. The album also contains two of the band’s heaviest songs in Riff Raff and Up to My Neck in You.
The influence of AC/DC is all over The 109s’ music, especially in the way we structure our guitar solos: although it may appear AC/DC solos are all about Angus Young’s showboating, listen a little harder and you’ll notice how the entire band contributes to the dynamism and excitement of the solos, often switching from staccato notes to open chords halfway through to add drive, or providing a subtle shift in the chord pattern.
Hopefully, listening to the music of The 109s carefully, you’ll hear the same techniques being used (Cut Me Loose being a prime example).
Iron Maiden – Killers
Some might be surprised by mention of this album as an influence, as The 109s’ music is clearly not Heavy Metal.
However, the songs on this album (the last recorded with original singer, Paul Di’Anno, who sang without the operatic warble of Bruce Dickinson) have a rawness, power and vitality to them that The 109s definitely try to emulate. Maiden were also one of the first bands to resurrect the (then) lost art of dual harmony guitar lines, which The 109s also use judiciously to add colour and substance to their songs.
Finally, the songs on Killers contain some amazingly dynamic changes in tempo and rhythm, and this is something that nearly every 109s’ song contains – we decided early on that we wanted to break free from the shackles of conventional song structure and really explore the skill of each musician in the band.
Up the Hammers!