Montrose: Paper Money (1974)

Montrose Paper Money cover

–MONTROSE: Paper Money (1974)

There’s something about the dynamics omnipresent in great 1970s rock that never fails to inspire. Standing in stark contrast to today’s over-processed, over-produced and over-mastered digital recordings, the great hard rock records of yesteryear were vibrant, breathing, organic beings that pulsated and flowed over the plains of gorgeous melody and crunchy rhythms. Balance was the order of the day, and an album would usually include tremendous contrasts in volume as well as in moods. It was the way music was supposed to be played, like the ebb and flow of a classical symphony, and the nascent heavy rock movement was all the better for it.

Paper Money was just one such album. Released in 1974, Montrose’s second record is an underappreciated, subtly-powerful contribution to the ‘70s rock canon. California-based Montrose was the namesake of session guitarist-extraordinaire Ronnie Montrose, who had previously played some lead guitar for Van Morrison, Herbie Hancock and was a former member of The Edgar Winter Group (“Come on and take a free ride”). Aside from Ronnie’s quite noteworthy guitar skills, the band is best known for being the first recorded output of Sammy Hagar, who sang on the first two Montrose albums before heading off for his solo career. The first, self-titled Montrose record came out in 1973 and featured the hard-rocking and still well-known hits “Rock Candy” and “Bad Motor Scooter” and is purportedly a much heavier and more metallic offering than its successor. I personally have yet to find or hear the whole debut record, but my eyes continually are peeled for a used copy on either CD or vinyl. Amazon, here we come, one of these days.

But this space is reserved for Paper Money, and I intend to give it its just desserts. The album lacks the (modest) radio hits of the debut, and it is traditionally considered a watered-down and weaker version of Montrose’s harder-edged rock. I can’t speak for these comparisons, but I do believe that Paper Money rocks in a dynamic-yet-powerful manner. In the early 1980s, Iron Maiden apparently thought so too, having covered “I Got The Fire” in their early club shows and recording it as a “B” side. Maiden’s Steve Harris is a big fan of Montrose’s proto-metal styling, and so am I. Paper Money deftly showcases Ronnie Montrose’s versatile guitar-work, the pristine high-range vocals of Hagar, and the intricate rhythm section of bassist/keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald and drummer Denny Carmassi. While the record doesn’t overwhelm the listener with speed or crushing heaviness, it still offers a “free ride” of an inspirational journey through a melodic and emotional soundscape.

Take the first half of the disc, starting with the driving opener, “Underground.” The first track showcases a young Hagar’s impressive vocal range, soaring atop the alternately crunchy guitar riffs and fluid bass lines of the verses and chorus before the clean guitar arpeggios dominate the brief interlude section. It’s a nice warm-up tune for the emotional roller coaster that is Paper Money, continuing with the band’s gorgeously mellow, Arpeggio-driven cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Connection.” Hagar again shines on this beautiful, country-tinged track, which segues into the crushing groove of the Sabbath-esque “The Dreamer.” “Starliner” is the album’s centerpiece instrumental, which with its pulsating bassline, synthesized space-rock effects and intricate guitar arrangement sounds a bit like a combination of The Who’s Quadrophenia, Hawkwind and The Edgar Winter Group.

The muscular main riff of “I Got The Fire” gets Paper Money cooking in a much more metallic direction, with Montrose’s alternation between clean and distorted chords adding more dynamics to a generally aggressive track. Switching gears yet again, “Spaceage Sacrifice” features a laid-back groove and clean chords in the verses before Ronnie turns up the wattage for the chorus and delivers more tasty guitar leads throughout. It’s a touching paean to daring pioneers and the first space-travel visionaries. Equally powerful is the slow and somber ballad, “We’re Going Home,” which features Montrose’s strong, mid-range lead vocals amidst the backdrop of organ, mournful harmonics and catchy guitar melodies. The closing title track is a bit of a pedestrian conclusion to Hagar’s last effort with Montrose, though the slide guitar solo and swinging rhythm delivers some rocking satisfaction.

As for Paper Money? It’s still valid in this day of plastic credit and digital sounds, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

–Tracklisting: 1.) Underground 2.) Connection 3.) The Dreamer 4.) Starliner 5.) I Got The Fire 6.) Spaceage Sacrifice 7.) We’re Going Home 8.) Paper Money

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on October 7, 2009.

2 Responses to “Montrose: Paper Money (1974)”

  1. I absolutely love this album…one of my favorites. thanks for the flashback!

    • You’re welcome. It’s an album I’ve just discovered in the last few years, and I thought it deserved some more recognition. Thanks for reading!

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