by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Senior Columnist —
Given the perspective of the last 36 years, Whitesnake is perhaps one of the most fascinating bands to look at from many different points of view. Even though the personal changes within the band’s line-up were more than frequent, the quality of the music was always maintained. Throughout the years, Whitesnake always remained the ensemble of musicians extraordinaire, led heavy-handedly by one of the most charismatic frontmen of the 20th century. Another eyebrow-raising factor is the sound-related shifts Whitesnake has gone through within a little less than four decades of its activity. Having flirted with what is infamously dubbed hair metal on 1987 and Slip Of The Tongue in the late ‘80s, the band is still mostly associated with this MTV-friendly incarnation of theirs. Their rough blues rock beginnings are thus often dismissed; as a careful close-up upon their early albums reveal – undeservedly so. One of these early Whitesnake albums somewhat dwarfed by the commercial success of their latter follow-ups is Ready An’ Willing, a number three in the band’s overall discography released in 1980.
Funnily enough, the Ready An’ Willing line-up was in half comprised of… the ex-Purple musicians: Coverdale, Jon Lord on keyboards and Ian Paice behind the drum kit. Together with ex-Colosseum II bassist Neil Murray and guitarists Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody – a duo perhaps not as spectacular as Vandenberg/Vai, but of an equal talent and genuine bluesy feeling – they formed a line-up of seasoned, renowned musicians. An effect of their collaboration was Whitesnake’s early, raw bluesy sound – perhaps even a bit unwonted in the days of NWOBHM and punk.
Ready An’ Willing starts with a track that’s iconic to Whitesnake’s entire repertoire. Although “Fool For Your Loving” is still widely connoted by an average listener with its updated 1989 version, there’s something unique to the original. The sound is obviously blues-infused and more raw – thus much more authentic than the re-recording laden with late ‘80s metal clichés and Vai-esque tricks. And there couldn’t have possibly been more genuine vocal performance of this particular song than of the angst-driven Coverdale back in 1980, as he belts out what is now a classic heartbreak song and what, at the time, must have been his own personal declaration of independence.
Even though the evolution of blues rock throughout the last decades has somewhat deprived it of its rootsy, raw vibe, it remains immortalized in pieces such as the track number two, “Sweet Talker” or the groovy titled track. The former gives exposure to some keyboard wizardry from Jon Lord himself as well as Micky Moody’s slide guitar. The latter, on the other hand, captures the flavor of catchiness that will resurface in Whitesnake’s sound especially from Slide It In onward. “Carry Your Load” slows down a bit gravitating towards more ballad-esque manner, featuring another excellent performance from Coverdale.
“Blindman” is clear proof that even within the early Whitesnake the politics of re-recording previously released songs was somewhat a norm, the fifth track from Ready An’ Willing being an updated version of a song from David Coverdale’s first solo album White Snake released in 1977. In comparison with the original, there’s a bit more richness to the instrumental parts in the 1980 re-recording, yet – what remains one constant is the emotional input, unique feeling and vocal expressiveness. While looking upon the early Whitesnake albums with a bit of time perspective, it is no wonder now why so many singers – coming from different musical backgrounds, from blues to metal – cite Coverdale as their primary influence quite unanimously.
From the acoustic-driven opening part to the fire of the guitar-laden final, “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” is perhaps not the first track to reveal the excellence of an underrated Marsden/Moody duo, but one of the finest anyway. And although it’s a kind of secular tradition among the reviewers to somewhat dismiss the final three tracks on the album, there’s something exceptional about the sultry, slow groove of “Love Man” and the certain “live” vibe to the feisty, boogie-infused “Black And Blue” that still sounds as if it was recorded in a low-class joint somewhere down the Mississippi delta. Even more feisty is the final track “She’s A Woman,” its funk-ish dynamism even more emphasized by the rich input from Jon Lord as well as Ian Paice’s thunderous work behind the drum kit.
Apart from the basic track list comprised of nine songs, the 2006 remastered version of Ready An’ Willing featured also five bonus tracks. “Love For Sale” was the only studio track among them, a dynamic piece of groovy blues rock that fits the rest of the material like a proverbial glove. The rest of the additional material was assembled from the live recordings from Whitesnake’s performance at the Reading Rock Festival that took place in August 1979, the Coverdale-fronted band billed alongside the likes of Molly Hatchet, The Ramones and Peter Gabriel. The quality of the recordings was obviously improved digitally, but even if still slightly detached from the clean-cut bootlegs of the modern-day era, it’s thus even more authentic, a splendid testimony to Whitesnake’s Ready An’ Willing era line-up.
There’s surely something magnificent about the seven minutes of audience’s singing along to Price/Walsh-penned “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City”. But still, it pales in comparison with David Coverdale reaching back to his Purple days in almost fourteen minute-long rendition of “Mistreated”. Embroidered with rich instrumental duels within the rhythm section and equilibristic showcases of Marsden and Moody’s extraordinary guitar playing (a surprising improvisation part on talk-box included), and completed with Coverdale’s soaring voice, it’s simply stunning even after all those years. And with the music slowly fading out towards the end of “Mistreated,” the first verse of Deep Purple’s legendary ballad “Soldier Of Fortune” is to be interwoven into it by Coverdale, to the audience’s absolute swoon. The fiery rendition of “Lovehunter” (a title track off Whitesnake’s 1979 album), and heavily Purple-sque “Breakdown” (of the 1978 Snakebite EP) remain the rest of the additional tracks.
Thirty four years after its initial release, Ready An’ Willing definitely stands the test of time. Even though released on the threshold of the new decade, the album captures the rough, rich, blues-infused essence of the previous years rather than exploring new sounds and spheres. It reaches right back to the roots of rock, combining the bluesy ruggedness with fine melodies that herald the latter-day era of Whitesnake. Competent, solid musicianship adds much color to the album and so does David Coverdale in his best vocal shape, delivering a handful of genuine, emotionally-laden performances culminating in the album’s highlight “Blindman” that is a worthy successor of Purple’s “Soldier Of Fortune.” And even though Ready An’ Willing is not a groundbreaking album for Whitesnake (at least in a commercial sense) as well as for 1980, it surely remains one of the finest records released that year and an exceptional one within the history of music.
Genre: Blues Rock, Hard Rock
David Coverdale – vocals
Micky Moody – guitars
Bernie Marsden – guitars
Jon Lord – keyboards
Neil Murray – bass guitar
Ian Paice – drums
1. Fool For Your Loving
2. Sweet Talker
3. Ready An’ Willing
4. Carry Your Load
6. Ain’t Gonna Cry No More
7. Love Man
8. Black And Blue
9. She’s A Woman
2006 remastered version – bonus tracks:
10. Love For Sale (previously unreleased)
11. Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City (Live at the Reading Festival 1979)
12. Mistreated (Live at the Reading Festival 1979)
13. Love Hunter (Live at the Reading Festival 1979)
14. Breakdown (Live at the Reading Festival 1979)
Label: Mirage, Atlantic, Polydor, reissued by EMI International