Montrose ‘Paper Money’

 

Today’s Cool Album o the Day (#843 in the Series) is Montrose, Paper Money.

I’m writing this on  March 3rd, a year to the day that Ronnie Montrose left us for what many believe is a better place. So for today’s Cool Album Of The Day we are honoring  Ronnie with a piece on Paper Money,  his second Montrose band album which was released in 1974.

People ALWAYS mention the genius of the Montrose debut album which was released just a year earlier. That is completely legit however Paper Money certainly deserves its own accolades. Featuring the same lineup as the debut (with the exception of Alan Fitzgerald taking over bass duties for Bill Church) and the same capable recording duo of Ted Templeman producing & Donn Landee engineering, Paper Money rocks with all the same aplomb, piss & vinegar as its predecessor. Following up such a monster of a debut is not an easy thing to do, but with a few exceptions which we’ll discuss, this album very nearly equals its older brother.

Why didn’t this release attain the status of the first Montrose album. What could be wrong? The huge walls of 70s hard rock guitars are there. The fierce guitar solos & riffs that only Ronnie could muster are there. Still got Sammy Hagar on vocal. The same brilliant production team, so you know the sonic quality is up to snuff for a hard rock album. The album was released only a year after the debut, so it wasn’t like time had passed them by because they took too long to get the follow-up out.

So what was the deal? I’ve always believed it was something as silly as the sequencing order of the tracks. The lead off track “Underground” while certainly a capable mid-tempo rocker wasn’t even an original song by the band and to make matters more difficult, the second song “Connection” wasn’t original either and was a slow ballad. When your debut album kicks off with the triple kick of “Rock The Nation,” “Bad Motor Scooter” and “Space Station #5,” for better or worse, the fans will be expecting the same on your next release. With Paper Money, the listener had to be patient to get to to the really, really good stuff, but man, when the good stuff hits the fan, it’s a glorious racket!

This album is a product of the 70s. This means it was recorded using analog tape. No digital recording software, no Pro-tools, and for the listener no computer speakers and no earbuds. In the 70s people had massive stereo systems with big speakers that thumped the low end bass frequencies and moved some air. So the album is recorded, mixed and EQ’d differently from most of today’s music. So the very first thing you need to do before pressing “Play” is to reach over and turn the volume up. That’s it. Now turn it up some more. You need to get it so that you can feel that bass and kick drum thumping you in the chest. Trust me, it’ll feel really good and it’s honestly the only way to properly listen to this, or any Montrose album.

Part of the genius that was Ronnie Montrose was his ability to take an obscure pop song that was barely listenable, and totally make it his own. He did this several times throughout his illustrious career. As I mentioned earlier, the album kicks off with a cover of the Chunky, Novi & Ernie penned “Underground”. While lacking the immediate impact of the opener from the debut, the previously mentioned “Rock The Nation” it is a very capable rocker, featuring a shuffling almost boogie beat. A dreamy chorus gives the track a nice shift in tempo. While it would have been a great deep album track, it probably failed its purpose as the lead-off track. Click here to check out the original C,N&E version of the song to fully understand the talents Ronnie had in interpreting songs by other artists.

The Jagger/Richards penned “Connection” follows, and as mentioned earlier fails to jump start the album. Really nothing wrong with the song at all. It features some beautifully played acoustic guitar by Ronnie and an honest heartfelt vocal by Sammy. I remember as a kid listening to this album for the first time, being impatient with this song, wanting to hear the heavy stuff. Listening to it these days with a more mature ear, I think it has a greater depth to it than previously thought. Again, had it been a deeper cut on the album, the impact would have been more pronounced.

Finally, it’s time to rock! It’s here, 3 songs in that this album starts to match the fury and magic of the debut. “The Dreamer” kicks with all the thud, thump & sludge of a Sabbath classic. This is what 70s hard rock is all about. Fat power chords, lumbering drum fills and leather lunged vocals. If you turned that volume up properly as instructed, by now you’re feeling that thumping in your chest. Feels good, doesn’t it?

The album continues to proceed kicking your ass hard rock style with the trifecta of “Starliner” (an instrumental), the high water mark of “I Got The Fire” (Ronnie once told me that this was his favorite track from this album) and “Spaceage Sacrifice”. If you’ve heard this album before, these songs need no descriptions from me! This is the kind of music Ronnie Montrose laid down as the foundation for his well-deserved and deeply respected legacy as a pioneer in the field of classic hard rock guitar. With regards to hard rock, this really does equal anything you want to put up against it.

Slowing down for a ballad, “We’re Going Home” is probably the only somewhat weak piece on the album. While wonderfully recorded and featuring a beautiful sounding clean guitar track (not to mention a thoroughly blazing guitar solo), the song lumbers on just a bit too long. However, since Ronnie’s passing, the lyrics to a lot of these songs, including the weaker tracks, seem to take on a deeper more profound meaning. These days I’m more appreciative of the tracks that I tended to overlook in my naive youth.

Properly finishing up the album, we’re back to the heavy rock with the title track “Paper Money”. Rolling drum beats, that wall of guitar distortion, wailing feedback and a rollicking slide guitar solo, we’re treated to the pure classic Montrose sound that by now we’ve all grown to love and respect.

So that’s it. A respectable earnest follow up to the tremendous, iconic debut album. With a few changes in track sequencing to appeal to the hard rock sensibilities of the fan base and maybe just a little bit of luck, this album could have been held in higher regard and spoken of with the same awe as the debut. As it stands, most feel it doesn’t quite match up as an equal to the first Montrose release. I have to say, you’d have a hard time convincing me of that.

It’s interesting to note that while the debut peaked at only 133 in the Billboard Top 200 album chart, the supposedly lesser regarded Paper Money peaked at #65. They both peaked at #1 in MY Top 200.

– Bill Harper, Seattle, Washington, USA

Track Listing

Side One

  1. “Underground” (I. Rappaport)  – 3:33
  2. “Connection” (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) – 5:42
  3. “The Dreamer” (Sammy Hagar, Ronnie Montrose) – 4:05
  4. “Starliner” (Montrose) – 3:36
Side Two
  1. “I Got the Fire” (Montrose) – 3:06
  2. “Spaceage Sacrifice” (Hagar, Montrose) – 4:55
  3. “We’re Going Home” (Montrose) – 4:52
  4. “Paper Money” (Hagar, Montrose) – 5:01

Personnel

  • Sammy Hagar – lead vocals
  • Ronnie Montrose – guitar, lead vocals
  • Alan Fitzgerald – bass guitar
  • Denny Carmassi – drums
Additional Musicians
  • Mark Jordan: piano
  • Nick DeCaro: mellotron

Related Links

Give it a listen via the multiple song playlist below

Here’s some live video from Midnight Special

Posted by Larry Carta


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