MCA Records, 1968

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


About two months ago, an e-mail conversation I had with fellow review panel member Eric E5S16 got me interested in '60s heavy metal stalwarts Steppenwolf again - and of late, I've been listening to albums that for one reason or another I haven't touched in a few years. A prime example was when I was digging through the Pierce Archives (New Jersey Nets fans, two words: bye-bye) for a tape we'll be reviewing tomorrow, and I ran across their self-titled debut.

John Kay and crew achieved immortality on Steppenwolf with the biker anthem "Born To Be Wild," but there are many other songs which are even better on this album - and it has successfully survived the test of time.

Kay (who had fled East Germany with his parents, eventually moving to Canada) proved himself to be more than just an "image" fronting the group. His lyrics often reflected social issues and angst and anxieties we all face. (For the social commentary, go to the last track, "The Ostrich" as proof.) Even as Steppenwolf were providing anthems for a generation of drug experimentation, their cover of Hoyt Axton's "The Pusher" seemed to take an anti-drug stand (never mind the opening line's, "You know I smoked a lot of grass / Oh Lord, I've popped a lot of pills"). And Kay seemed to step up as the voice of a generation who lost their ideals on "Desperation": "Take my hand, if you don't know where you're goin' / I understand - I've lost the way myself". Ka-pow.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Even Steppenwolf's venture into blues knocks me out - their cover of "Hootchie Cootchie Man" is still one of the best I have ever heard. Just to hear Kay say in an unearthly groan, "Oh, baby, I'm gonna mess with you" is worth the wait.

Sure, a few songs have a little bit of dust on them - "Everybody's Next One" has a little bit of the hippy-trippy '60s in it, and "A Girl I Knew" could be a hidden gem from this band. But with rare exception, Steppenwolf pleases from start to end. The only track I'm not particulary fond of is "Berry Rides Again," a tribute to the rock pioneer that just doesn't ignite.

Now, maybe Steppenwolf was never comprised of the best musicians in the world - on Steppenwolf, they make the best out of their talents. Jerry Edmonton's drumming is solid, as is the organ work of Goldy McJohn. (Frankly, I'd prefer to stop the lineup listing here, only because my cassette has no liner notes, and I've seen conflicting stories of the lineup of this album from two books I use as sources. I'd rather shut up and be safe than list a line-up and be wrong.)

And as much as "Born To Be Wild" has been played to the point of overkill - so much so that I turn off the radio when it comes on - Steppenwolf is still an album I don't get tired of listening to. Even when "Born To Be Wild" comes on, it sounds very natural in its own environment.

Someday, when my daughter is old enough and starts asking about rock music, Steppenwolf will probably be one of the first albums I introduce her to - even for someone my age, every time I listen to it, it's an education for me. Maybe this time, I won't let this tape get buried in the Archives.


Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.