Primitive Origins: Highway Robbery’s ‘For Love or Money’

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

Man, one and done here from US trio Highway Robbery, who put out the hot-rockin’ For Love or Money in 1972 and then that was it, the group leaving the world with minimal impact but one pretty great record that today we’re going to examine in detail.

Although it contains slightly less proto-metal elements than other releases we’ve explored in this column, the band make up for it with tons of energy, which is an important part of what we look for in these early releases. There are at least three songs here that hit hard and could connect with the modern-day extreme-metal fan, so read on and find out what the little-discussed Highway Robbery were all about.

Mystery Rider” starts things off with some mixed messages, the riffs rockin’ and the drums bashin’ but those relentless backup vocals a bit more lite-weight than the current Decibel readership might tolerate. Still, dig the energy, especially from that crashing drumming, the song a very cool psych/hard rock affair, a solid enough way to start the album.

Fifteen” is up next, and things get heavier, more frantic, the psych going sideways into hard rock that knocks on proto-metal’s door although stops just short of inviting itself in. Love the jarring chorus, the guitar work alternating between rockin’ and bad-trippin’, things looking promising, and they’re only going to get better soon enough here.

All I Need (To Have Is You)” pulls out the falsetto vox for the obligatory sensitive-guy tune that only kinda works, and would probably work better if this was the summer of ’73 and we were all baked out of our minds, but none of that is reality, so best to move on.

Lazy Woman” immediately hits hard with the heaviest riff of the album yet, one that would do heavy Zep or lighter Sabbath proud, definitely proto-metal approved. The Crosby, Stills, etc. vocals are getting to me, but that raucous solo helps matters, this song the highlight so far for those looking for proto-metal gems. Love that main riff.

Bells” starts off side B of the original vinyl innocently enough, a polite psych rocker that gets the job done with no ragged edges to speak of. Kinda comes and goes but is oddly soothing while playing.

Then it’s “Ain’t Gonna Take No More,” the band dropping the second-heaviest cut so far, unruly slide guitar work and the most sinister vocal yet, the vocals here actually a soaring highlight, going deep, going high but not wimpy, man, I wish they sounded this aggressive throughout the whole album. Plus, check out the speed as the song nears its climax, the band suddenly dropping into crust-punk bpms. Maybe a hair less heavy than “Lazy Woman” but a bit more off the charts with energy and a touch more fun to listen to. These two cuts would make a killer proto-metal 45.

I’ll Do It All Again” is a slow bluesy dirge, which reminds me how happy I am that no stale blues or ill-advised covers have reared their unfortunate heads yet on this LP. This one is a great example of how blues-based rock can be heavy, not cliche, and powerful. Good tune, one of the best examples of blues-based hard rock/proto-metal that I’ve come across so far.

Promotion Man” ends things off on a classy note, the band coming out swinging and rocking, impassioned vocals, more great guitar work, the whole thing combining for a rowdy, upbeat psych rocker that borders on hysterical in all the best ways. Another highlight on an album that is damn near full of them, the band just going faster, faster, faster as this wildly enjoyable song—and record—comes to a satisfying climax.

Highway Robbery’s For Love or Money The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: No.

Heaviness factor: A couple songs flirt proto-metal but this isn’t, strictly speaking, all that heavy.

Obscura Triviuma: Once played a gig with Cheech & Chong.

Other albums: Aside from a “Mystery Rider” promo 45 (which contains that song on both side A and B), nothing.

Related bands: Boston Tea Party, Atlee, Crowfoot, Manitoba Hugger, Linda Ronstadt, The Marc Tanner Band, Pan, Wha-Koo.

Alright, fine, if you must: Get baked out of your mind and pretend it’s the summer of ’73.