It's the year's oddest concept album: rock stars in the present tense singing songs made famous by solo stars or group members who died from drug or alcohol abuse. It's called "Stairway to Heaven, Highway to Hell," though it contains neither the Led Zeppelin nor AC/DC songs that give the album its title. Zeppelin, which lost drummer John Bonham in 1979, is represented by his "Moby Dick," performed by four drummers, including his son, Jason Bonham. The Who, which lost both drummer Keith Moon and Pete Townshend's hearing, is represented by two songs, "My Generation" (performed by Russian rockers Gorki Park) and "I Can't Explain" (by Scorpions). Motley Crue offers Tommy Bolin's "Teaser," Bon Jovi revives Phil Lynott's "The Boys Are Back in Town," Cinderella attempts Janis Joplin's "Move Over" and Ozzy Osbourne gets lost in Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." All the acts participated in last summer's Moscow Music Peace Festival (a jam from that event closes out the Polygram album).
Proceeds from sales will be split between the Make a Difference Foundation in North Carolina and the U.S.S.R.'s All-Union Society for Sobriety. The Make a Difference Foundation is a nonprofit group directing its drug and alcohol abuse fight toward youth through pro-responsibility messages. The album project was executive produced by Bon Jovi manager Doc McGhee, who was convicted in 1988 of helping to import 20 tons of marijuana into North Carolina. McGhee, who received a $15,000 fine and a suspended sentence of five years, goes on trial again in mid-February in Louisiana on related charges that could bring him 150 years in jail and a $400,000 fine. According to Billboard, both cases resulted from the federal probe that led to the indictment of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega; McGhee was charged with being a member of a large drug ring that allegedly conspired to import 1.28 million pounds of marijuana valued at $1.5 billion.
Another of McGhee Entertainment's acts appears on "Stairway/Highway": Skid Row, which revives the Sex Pistols' "Holidays in the Sun." The group's lead singer, Sebastian Bach, has been in the spotlight, and he hasn't looked good. In the February issue of Metal Edge magazine, the handsome, almost pretty rock star is pictured wearing a T-shirt that reads "AIDS KILLS FAGS DEAD," a mindless parody of the Raid pesticide logo. AIDS activists have lambasted the group, pointing out that its impressionable fans are mostly from the 15- to 24-year-old demographic, which has a reputation for promiscuous, unprotected sexual behavior, evidenced in the high rate of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and that Bach's stance suggests they are somehow unaffected by AIDS. Critics also berate Bach for promoting bigotry and violence against gays and lesbians in the wake of record levels of hate crimes. A letter to Metal Edge pointed out that the magazine would never have printed photos of a shirt haranguing "niggers," "kikes" or "wetbacks." On MTV, Bach tried to dismiss the controversy with the Ozzy Osbourne bat-biting defense, saying someone had thrown the shirt on stage during a show and he'd simply put it on. Bach said he realized "it's not cool to make fun of death. ... I guess nobody gets my jokes," adding, "Let me state this -- I do not know, condone, comprehend or understand homosexuality in any way, shape, form or size."
Bach does comprehend lawsuits, because he's now faced with one after a late December incident in Springfield, Mass. During a concert in which Skid Row was opening for Aerosmith, Bach was struck in the head by a bottle thrown from the audience. After shouting obscenities and apparently thinking he'd spotted the culprit, he threw the bottle back into the audience and then leaped offstage into the crowd. Unfortunately, the bottle hit a 17-year-old fan in the face and she was also caught in the middle of the brief brawl that erupted before Bach was hauled back onto the stage by his road crew. The girl was treated for severe facial cuts and bruises; Bach was arrested after the concert and charged with two counts of assault and battery, two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of mayhem. Freed on $10,000 bond, he's scheduled to go to trial in May. Unfortunately for Bach, a concert-goer shot the whole incident on tape, which has been airing on MTV with almost as much frequency as the group's current video, "I Remember You." In the meantime, Skid Row is still on tour with Aerosmith through March, and its debut album, having already sold more than 3 million copies since its release a year ago, is moving back up the charts, from No. 18 to No. 15. On Monday, Skid Row was named best new heavy metal band at the American Music Awards.
Cruising Up the Charts
Tom Cruise is proving to be to soundtracks what John Travolta was 10 years ago with the soundtrack from his latest film, "Born on the Fourth of July" -- it's vaulting up the charts to No. 111 in only its second week, with a little help from a quirky reading of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" by '80s flower child Edie Brickell. One side is made up of John Williams's score, the other of Vietnam-era tunes, though Don McLean's "American Pie" actually came out in 1971, two years after the action in the movie took place. This could turn out to be Cruise's fourth hit soundtrack, following "Top Gun" (which hit No. 31), "Cocktail" (No. 2) and "Rain Man" (No. 31). Travolta's hits were "Saturday Night Fever," "Grease" and "Urban Cowboy."