Scorpions:Top Of The Bill (Book Review)
Released: 2013, Powerchord Press
Perception and marketability of a band can be an odd thing. Take Scorpions and Black Sabbath for example. Black Sabbath has an incredible back-story with a cast of characters who have lived,crazy, high-profile, and at times controversial, lives in the (Metal) public eye. People like to read about the antics of the Black Sabbath and accordingly there have been at least a dozen books about Black Sabbath. Scorpions on the other hand started earlier, have toured more, sold more, wrote more songs, recorded more albums, shot more videos and by all accounts are the more successful, popular band, world-wide. However, TOP OF THE BILL is the first biography of one of the world’s longest running, best selling, most influential bands of all time. On one hand, I’m not really surprised that it has taken this long, because Scorpions perhaps don’t have that same demand because of their low-profile and relatively uneventful lives (by Metal standards) compared to Black Sabbath. On the other hand I am surprised it has taken this long for a book about Scorpions to be written. I personally think it is long overdue and who better than young Master Popoff, the world’s foremost Metal Scribe to pen the first biography about ze Scorpions!
Neatly published on the 45th anniversary of the band (yes, their true infancy was in 1968) ON TOP OF THE BILL is a wonderful look at the Teutonic Titans. (Although Rudolph claims he was using the band name as early as ’65, most people agree it was around ’68 as is pointed out by Popoff.) Self-published on his Powerchord Press imprint, this compact book runs just over 250 pages and comes with dozens and dozens of photos from across the ages, many of them drawn from Popoff’s personal collection. As with many of Martin’s books, the format is elegant in it’s simplicity; album-by-album. Each chapter is dedicated to an album and tour rather than year-by-year which gets messy when a band starts recording (or touring) in one calendar year and continues, or stops in the next. There is also a pre-history chapter (pre-LONESOME CROW) and the usual credits, citations and brief introduction.
I did read Herman ‘Ze German’s autobiography last year (and reviewed it on the site back in April of 2012) and while interesting it was obviously much narrower in scope. TOP OF THE BILL is the complete and true history of the band. Martin has drawn from his extensive archives of interviews with various members of the band from over the years as well as producers, managers and many other industry-type people. While the 80’s era had been documented a bit more extensively in the media, I found the chapters on the 70’s very interesting and the chapters post FACE THE HEAT to be the most interesting. I’m glad that Martin gave equal time and treatment to all the albums and era’s. Martin is an older (original) fan and although he admits he grew away from the band over the years (essentially viewing the commercial years of 1984-1994 as a disappointment), I was pleased to see that he has come to appreciate the charms of albums like PURE INSTINCT and ACOUSTICA and also has an appreciation of the last brace of albums.
TOP OF THE BILL is just loaded with trivia and detail. The oft-hinted at but rarely discussed ejection of long-time band member and Manager Francis Buchholz is discussed in detail from both sides. The early 80’s Meine/Dokken connection is detailed as is the 1984, Jimmy Bain/Bobby Rondinelli vs. Buchholz/Rarebell, LOVE AT FIRST STING recording sessions controversy. Martin’s thrust is always the music. Song by song, album by album, (even live albums) are dissected, scrutinized and generally applauded for their various merits, and when albums like EYE II EYE have fewer obvious merits, Popoff keeps it professional. While reading this book, I listened to the first ten studio albums, chronologically (some of them for the first time in years) with fresh ears as Popoff ran down the entire catalogue with enthusiasm. I hinted at it before and I’ll say it again, its about time someone wrote a bio on Scorpions and until each member writes their own autobiography, TOP OF THE BILL will likely be an unparalleled look into this most intriguing international phenomena.