Classic rock is a strange beast. Full of an array of colourful characters, misfits and weirdos, its history has been recorded in an array of different formats, with some of its most famous names living lives that are deemed to be so interesting that they are made into biopics. Whether it was really worthwhile or not is a different question entirely.
The classic rock era, as it has come to be known, gave us some of the world’s best known and best-beloved acts. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, you get the picture. The era spanned from the mid-1960s until the advent of punk in 1976 and gave us no end of rock ‘gods’.
With the guitar as the weapon of choice, these bands dominated the musical landscape, and over the course of classic rock’s supremacy, they went from being an organic breed of pioneers to becoming, well, caricatures of their former selves.
Regardless, the era defined as classic rock is attributed to the word ‘classic’ because, at its zenith, that’s exactly what it was. Irrespective of how it came to be regarded, for the time, it was nothing short of mind-blowing. What’s even more remarkable is the sheer volume of brilliant musicians that emerged. In each of the biggest bands that fall under this broad umbrella term, the individual musicians in these bands can be afforded the title of genius.
Take the individual members of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, and you will heed this point. What also characterised this epoch was the way in which every band seemed to know each other, and in most cases, be friendly with one another. It was a musical members-only club, if you will.
Although today it seems rather corny and outdated, at the time, it represented the most exciting realm of society one could imagine, a hedonistic set that no layman could ever dream of entering.
Whilst, this aloof kind of attitude is, in a way, what spurred punk on to destroy classic rock’s status quo, after the musical and cultural realm had processed the advent of punk, and with the old rockstars now 40-somethings, the late ’70s and beyond would see numerous instances where the rockstars of old used their connections for righteous and just causes.
The 1985 concert Live Aid is the one that instantly springs to mind, but there were others. These include the annual Secret Policeman’s Ball, Farm Aid and The Concert For New York City, to name just a few. However, it wouldn’t solely be concerts that the rockstars of old would undertake, and just like Live Aid, some would also make records for charity.
One of these charitable records was released in 1989, and it has largely been forgotten in the collective conscious. This is Rock Aid Armenia’s redux of Deep Purple’s 1972 classic ‘Smoke on the Water’ in aid of that year’s devastating Armenian earthquake. Described as “the greatest array of hard rock talent ever assembled”, it certainly makes a strong claim.
If we note just some of who played on the track, you quickly heed just how dizzying this list of legends is. It featured Ian Gillan, David Gilmour, Brian May, Tony Iommi, Alex Lifeson, Chris Squire, Bryan Adams and Keith Emerson. In short, it was a rock fan’s wet dream. Additionally, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin was credited with helping to produce the track.
Incredibly ’80s, the track gradually grows into itself, and you hear each musician giving their best licks in aid of charity. Furthermore, the fact you get each guitarist performing a mini solo is truly mindblowing. Who’d have thought that one day David Gilmour and Tony Iommi would play on the same track, let alone with badger saviour Brian May?
Although it is very dated, with mullets galore, it’s always worth a revisit, if only for the kitsch value. The chance to see some of rock’s titans team up in such a way is a pure delight. As it was for charity, it has to be taken as lighthearted fun as to take it as any other way would be truly soul-destroying.
Watch the titans of rock deliver and mammoth cover of ‘Smoke on the Water’ below.