There’s a small little area of L.A. north of where I live called Montrose, and every single time we drive by the exit for it on the 210, I make the devil horns and whoop “MONNNNN-TROSE!!” in honor of an album that was a staple of my teenage years.
Clearly one of the blueprints for the formula that made Van Halen global superstars (my beloved UFO was the other), Montrose was an fusion of big-ass riffs, dumb-ass lyrics and catchy songs. With an origin story not so different from Led Zeppelin’s — big session guitarist & bassist plus unknowns — Montrose featured Ronnie Montrose’s inventive guitar and the monster voice of a then unknown Sammy Hagar.
Yes. I know. Sammy Hagar. These days, he’s mostly known for tequila and replacing David Lee Roth in Van Halen, a choice that was artistically inversely proportional to how commercially successful it was, but Montrose the band and the album was where he made his reputation, and pretty much the only time I could ever stand him.
And even then, it was kinda dodgy: I wasn’t sure which song I was going to write about from Montrose, and for awhile, I thought it was going to be “Bad Motor Scooter,” — for the cool motorcycle noises Ronnie Montrose makes — until I realized that it was about a guy who was demanding that a chick ride for hours on the titular scooter over to her place so he could fuck her. So even then, he was kind of a scumbag. Though given that Sammy only knew one way to rock, she probably only did it once.
So of course, it had to be “Space Station #5,” because here at Certain Songs, we love songs about SPACE!!
“Space Station #5” opens with Ronnie Montrose’s guitar floating aimlessly around the heavens, stalled out, trying to get its engine going. To no avail. Floating, drifting, sputtering in the deep dark black void of space. And then all of a sudden, with one last chirp, the rockets are engaged.
And powered by one of the most monstrous, humungous guitar riffs known to man — ascending and ascending and ascending before finally resolving — “Space Station #5” takes off, zipping by whole solar systems in a blink, as Hagar lets us know it’s time to get off of this old planet. Or something.
Start with a Sun and move on out
The future’s in the skies above
The Heavens unfold and a new star is born
Space and time makin’ love
Or something. There’s a whole extended section in the middle about the dying of the Earth and the need to get off of the planet, but it’s the galaxy-sized (not brained) chorus — drummer Denny Caramassi is in five places at once — that makes “Space Station #5” so classic.
Oh, what a time we had
I move to station number five
See you next time around
The weird thing about “Space Station #5” is that Ronnie Montrose doesn’t really have a proper solo: its pretty much all riffs, or quick little riffs throughout the mid-section. Only at the end, does he start taking a solo, but thy then it’s too late, as the whole song suddenly gets sucked into a black hole, and speeds up until it collapses in on itself.
It was definitely Craig from across the street who turned me onto this album, because it wasn’t on the radio all that much, didn’t have any hit singles, and didn’t sell very well at all, only making #133. But over the years — no doubt driven by Hagar’s success as a solo artists and Van Halen — its reputation grew to the point where pretty much anybody who loved 70s hard rock had to check it out.
“Space Station #5”
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