I recently wrote about the 25th anniversary of Steve Vai’s amazing “Passion & Warfare” album this year, and I am planning on a little series for the blog on that, hoping to get that to happen.
However, there is another album-anniversary this year – “Not Of This Earth” by Joe Satriani is turning 30 this year. It was recorded in 1985, and released in 1986. Now, of course, “Surfing With The Alien” (1987) is the album that sent Joe through the roof, popularity-wise, and it was a big factor in getting instrumental rock back onto the radio back then… and it still is one of the most beloved and influential instrumental guitar-albums.
“Not Of This Earth” was Joe’s debut-album (even though there was the legendary EP before that), and I think it’s still a killer-album. It sounds a bit different from SWTA, even though you of course get tons of Joe’s trademarks – his tone, his sense for melody, chops, and some “alien-ess”
It sounds a bit “cleaner” than the follow-up, and maybe it’s also a bit less accessible. Still, it’s a wonderful guitar-album, and to this day, I remember buying it and listening for the first time. Back then, I had heard “Always With Me, Always With You” on the radio (a pivotal moment for me, kinda, as that track and especially the solo in it was one of the key moments that made me decide to buy a guitar), and so I bought anything by Satch I could get my hands on, as I didn’t know the title and what album it was on (yeah, things used to be like that before the internet happened).
IIRC, somewhere on the liner notes it said “Play it loud” or “use headphones”, and that’s what I did, and wow, what a sonic trip that was. The title-track, which starts off the album and is one great example for the use of Pitch Axis, sounded…odd, but wonderful. I had no idea what was happening, of course, but considering he was using Pitch Axis there, it’s amazing how catchy and melodic it sounds.
“The Snake” had this totally cool breakdown where Joe uses all kinds of techniques, melodies and riffs… fun.
“Rubina”… gee, what a beautiful ballad, with so many textures. To this day, it’s one of my favorite Satch-songs (on a long list of favorite Satch-Songs, I admit). I love the mellow, atmospheric intro (played with harmonics in a special tuning, which I used for the song “Crimson Sky” on my “Heavy Rootation” album). Still, to this day, after listening to this song so often, I get goosebumps when the distorted guitar kicks in and he plays those two notes… especially in live-versions, such as the beautiful version from “Live In San Francisco“.
“Memories” is a song that captivated me right from the intro, and I love those very memorable melodies, the reggae-background in some of the parts, and the solo, which is such a great legato-workout and has some scary licks in there.
“Brother John” is a beautiful little solo-piece with a certain medieval sound, which is quite hypnotizing. I have to admit that “The Enigmatic” was a song which, especially early on, I didn’t get. After all, the Enigmatic Scale this is based on is a bit odd and unusual, but then again, it makes sense, as Joe always was very much into theory and very educated about scales (as witnessed by his students, for example), and so it does make sense that he’d build a song based on such an unusual scale (C, D♭, E, F♯, G♯, A♯, B, C)
Next up is “Driving At Night”, which kinda foreshadows later, fast tracks based on speed and cars and bikes such as “Motorcycle Driver” and others. “Hordes Of Locust” sounds a bit like the older brother of “Ice 9” from “Surfing With The Alien”, with a heavy groove, and there is some Sitar and some of Satch’s trademark guitar maneuvers (harmonics along the strings etc.).
“New Day” is beautifully melodic, with a very nice dramatic “epicness” to it, and then, the album closes with the tapping-piece “The Headless Horseman”.
N.O.T.E. surely isn’t as popular as Surfing With The Alien, and several of the songs of SWTA got radio airplay and even music videos, and the album surely helped Joe gaining a lot of popularity. Still, his debut still is one amazing album with so much great playing, great songs and melodies and the tiny bit of wackiness that many of us love about Joe.
I still love to listen to this album every once in a while, and considering the way it was made (I recommend watching the “Satch Tapes” documentary for a bit more insight on the wacky production process, or reading Joe’s autobiography), it’s even more fun to hear the results. So if you haven’t, check it out… and happy birthday, “Not Of This Earth” =)