RECORD STORE TALES MkII:
Getting More Tale
- OLD DIRECTORY OF REVIEWS (not updated – use search)
By 1993, Ratt had broken up and Cinderella split with their drummer. Singer Stephen Pearcy and drummer Fred Coury then joined forces in a new hard rock band called Arcade. Promoting their debut album, Arcade played RPM in Toronto on July 17 1993 — their only Canadian date. They stopped by MuchMusic’s Start Me Up program (one of the only shows still playing rock music) for a quick chat with Michael Williams, who was introducing them on stage later that night.
With former bands never mentioned by name, Arcade discuss their current lineup and the Toronto Grand Prix. Was Pearcy wasted?
There are many versions of Strictly Commercial available in different territories, but the North American Rykodisc edition is familiar to most. The beauty of Strictly Commercial is that it can appeal to anybody. For those who are not ready to stomach a full Zappa album proper, Strictly Commercial compresses some of his most appetising music into a tight 77 minute listening experience.
With a flourish, “Peaches En Regalia” opens the disc as it did 1969’s Hot Rats. “Peaches” is one of Frank’s most accessible compositions, with clear melodic themes. This instrumental courts jazz rock fusion while projecting images like a cue from a movie soundtrack. The horn section is both goofy and dignified at once, and the percussion is out of this world.
Great googly moogly! Speaking of goofy, it’s “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” (a single edit) which never fails to put a smile on the face. The twisted storytelling is as clever as it is ridiculous. Jabs of brilliant lead guitar act like aural illustrations. Brilliant guitar on this one, as is the single-ending xylophone solo. Into “Dancin’ Fool”, Zappa then lampoons a guy who can’t help but hit the disco even though he stinks at dancing. Social suicide indeed! Classic, memorable Zappa with a beat you can dance to. “San Ber’dino” is more rock than blues but certainly has ingredients from both. This is an easy entry point.
All the songs flow into the next, and “Dirty Love” has a slow rock groove and a blasting wah-wah solo. This is a suitable lead-in to “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama”, one of Frank’s catchiest numbers. A classic rock composition, it must be pointed out how perfect Jimmy Carl Black’s beats are. They are hooks unto themselves.
“Cosmik Debris” has more blazing guitar, and a healthy dose of scepticism for the mystical. “So, take your meditations and your preparations, and ram it up your snout,” sings Frank with a sly smile. Then back to 1966 and Frank’s debut album Freak Out! with “Trouble Every Day”, the socially conscious track that is still relevant today. With a beat-blues bent, Frank croons “Hey you know something people? I’m not black but there’s a whole lotsa times I wish I could say I’m not white.” Frank Zappa — triggering people since 1966!
Disco people fall victim to the Zappa wit once again with “Disco Boy”. “Leave his hair alone, but you can kiss his comb.” It certainly recalls scenes from Saturday Night Fever. “Fine Girl” is about a girl who isn’t so fine, but it has irresistible elements of soul mixed in with a little bit of everything. Then the purely instrumental “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace” lets us just enjoy Frank soloing for three and a half minutes. Here he becomes the expert bluesman, with adventurous twists and turns that only a Zappa could muster.
“Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” is essentially comic opera, a silly number with munchkin voices that never fails to raise a smile. It’s over quickly enough so we can get back to more electric guitar nirvana. “I’m the Slime” is funky horn-laden fun.
If Zappa’s music has been too performance oriented for your tastes with not enough hooks per minute, then “Joe’s Garage” will do the trick for you. As one of Frank’s most immediate songs, it draws from 1950s doo-wop. A track that fits in any music collection. It gets heavy on “Tell Me You Love Me”, perhaps the closest song Frank has to metal. So of course that had to be followed by the story of a dental floss tycoon with “Montana” (single version). Brilliant xylophone is only overshadowed by Zappa himself.
Spoken word tracks can have a limited lifespan to the listener, and for many people that’s “Valley Girl”. Moon Unit Zappa’s performance as the titular character is brilliant but quickly worn thin. It could probably stand to lose its last minute or so. Focus on the playing (especially that wicked bass by Scott Thunes). Doo-wop returns on the lovable “Be In My Video”; sax solos galore!
Finally, Frank answers that age-old question: cupcakes, or muffins? Certainly one of Frank’s most charming songs, “Muffin Man” ends the disc. Yes, there is a clear preference and plenty of wicked guitar playing too. Captain Beefheart on “vocals and soprano sax and madness”! Goodnight Austin Texas, wherever you are!
Strictly Commercial might not be the album that convinces you of Frank Zappa’s mastery of guitar, or of composition. But it is carefully designed to lure you in and whet the appetite for more. From here you can explore many more of Frank’s in-depth albums, or just enjoy this brilliant run through his most fun and easily enjoyed.
GETTING MORE TALE #862: Strictly Commercial & Adventures in OCD
When I was working at the Record Store, I was even pickier about the condition of my CDs than I am today. Everything had to be pristine, including the case. No scratches on the disc, and few to none on the jewel box. I’d wanted some Frank Zappa for a while, but was never satisfied with the condition of those unique light green Rykodisc cases. As trade-ins, they were always scratched, cracked or completely broken. You never saw the obi strip on the top intact in a used copy. Tired of waiting for one that met my exacting standards, I decided to buy it new.
It was fall in the late 90s, and I had the house to myself that weekend. Everybody else was at the cottage. This was during a time when I’d rather be home than at the lake. I preferred to stay in town, hang out with T-Rev, hit the malls, watch some movies and listen to some music. Not just new music, but new bands for my collection. Along with Frank, I decided that I needed to add Journey to my collection that weekend. It was going to be a great couple days off.
I’d already heard plenty of Zappa in-store and from buddy Tom up in Waterloo. He was getting into Läther, a recent Zappa triple CD set designed to replicate a four record box set that Zappa originally envisioned back in 1977 but was forced to release scattershot instead. Specifically I remember Tom hyping over “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary”, a 21 minute track about a pig. I absolutely needed an artist like Frank Zappa in my collection if that’s the kind of thing he was about. How could the girls resist me if I put a song like that on the stereo?
I knew HMV at Fairview mall would have Strictly Commercial: The Best of Frank Zappa in stock. They always did. T-Rev didn’t understand why I had to do this. “I have a copy here right now,” he told me on the phone. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It plays fine, it’s in great shape.”
“But it doesn’t have the green case or that little obi strip that goes on top,” I countered.
“I guarantee that you cannot listen to a green case,” said T-Rev simply. He was right.
But I was determined; there was nothing he could do to talk me out of the much more expensive new copy. So that day I plunked down my $21.99 plus tax and bought my first Zappa. With green case, unscuffed, and obi strip intact.
Trevor was right that I couldn’t listen to that green Ryko case, but there was also a certain satisfaction in seeing such a pristine one in my collection. I made sure to protect it by carefully cutting the cellophane in such a way that I could slide the case in and out. Although the cellophane has ripped a little in the two decades plus since then, it still protects the pristine green Ryko case beneath.
Although I do have a couple more green Rykodisc cases in my Zappa collection today, Strictly Commercial (review tomorrow) is the only one I insisted on buying new. Having one was enough. I was content to have less-than-perfect Zappas for Hot Rats and Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch. You have to be practical about such things after all!
If 2020 is indeed the Age of Fear, then at least Storm Force have brought us the album that we deserve for all our suffering. Released before the pandemic but with some eerily relevant lyrics to our current time, Age of Fear is one of the most kickass discs you are going to hear this year.
Storm Force features the stellar talents of former Brighton Rock guitarist Greg Fraser, powerhouse singer Patrick Gagliardi, drum monster Brian Hamilton, and groovin’ bassist Mike Berardelli. Fans of Brighton Rock (R.I.P.) will recognize the tone and stylings of the six-string magician they call Fraze. That said, Gagliardi’s arena-sized vocals cords are what will draw you in to this band immediately.
Storm Force waste little time cutting to the chase. The single-ready “Because of You” opens with some epic sci-fi keyboards that might have you feeling you’re at the intro to a progressive concept album. But then Fraze hits you with a cool stuttery riff, and Patrick’s in your ears with a classic hard rock voice with grit and range to spare. But you want hooks? Storm Force deliver on “Because of You”, a song that would have been a massive hit in an earlier time.
Without letup it’s the title track “Age of Fear”, ushered in by the mountainous drumming of Brian Hamilton. He and Mike Berardelli are locked in. The riff has a bit of Darkness and the melody has shades of Dio. It’s an uptempo blast through midnight, but even that is just a warmup for the third track “Breathe”. With guest vocals from Serena Pryne, it’s a full-on epic. Keyboard accents lend it appropriate drama. This song is massive, powerful and perfect. In another universe, a hit. Watch for a music video coming soon.
“Ember Rain” gives us the first true ballad. The ringing acoustics and storytelling guitar solos recall some of the best of late 80s Whitesnake. Listen to the bass roll, and how the sparingly and effectively the drum fills are used. After a ballad, it’s best to chase it with a heavy headbanger. “Ride Like Hell” is a vicious road tune that Axl Rose wishes he wrote. The chorus nails it home, and the solos are eloquent.
“Dirty Vegas” was the first Storm Force video and you can hear why. With a title like “Dirty Vegas” you can count on a party tune. With bite, and a chorus that goes on for days. Music like this is what we need right now.
Storm Force know you need a comedown after a track like “Dirty Vegas” so an upbeat acoustic-based tune called “More Than You Know” is there to sooth your aching rock hangover. But it’s only temporary as “Marshall Law” has come to bust the door down! It takes a real singer to deliver on a track like this and Gagliardi is world-class. Truly one of the hottest on the scene today and one listen to “Marshall Law” is all it should take to convince you.
These guys know how to pace an album, and a piano ballad called “Different Roads” occupies the all-important second-to-last track. The vocals on this one are on a whole ‘nother level! Gagliardi can do so much with his voice that I could probably convince you that he is actually two singers. For penultimate tracks, “Different Roads” is one of those ballads that could close a record in its own right, but actually sets you up for one more knock to the skull. “Ringside”, like its title suggests, is not a ballad. It’s a high velocity adventure in heavy metal histrionics. And that closes the album with a slam!…
…Unless you’re one of the lucky who owns a Japanese CD (or an iTunes download). The bonus track on those formats is “Weight of the World”, a song certainly equal to the others on the album. A solid rocker, “Weight of the World” might express how some of us feel right now. “The weight of the world is tearing out the heart of me.” Ever felt that way?
Expertly constructed songs. Thoughtful lyrics. World class production by Darius Szczepaniak. Veteran performances by artists at the top of their craft. An album we desperately needed in 2020. Get Age of Fear.
If you missed it, check out our live interview with Storm Force from September 4 2020 starting at the 0:16:50 mark. Thanks to Superdekes for helping setting that up.
My dad has a few favourite jokes. Here’s an old one he told me when I was a kid.
“What’s the difference between a place you go to drink, and an elephant’s fart?”
“One’s called a bar room, and the other goes BAR-ROOOOOM!”
An epic six-member panel! Mega mega movie lists! Another great show in the books.
Music movies were the focus of the Nigel Tufnel Top Ten tonight, and we brought you so many that your head will spin. In a good way. Like a record. Thanks to everyone for coming on tonight:
Here are your timestamps for various parts of the show:
We hope you find at least one new music movie to watch and enjoy!
The LeBrain Train – 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano
Another week, another list show, and this one comes courtesy of the founder of the Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list, Uncle Meat himself. Music Movies — with one caveat. No documentaries. Those would make a fine list on their own.
If there’s one thing you can count on, even in 2020, it’s that Helix keep on keeping on. 46 years running, and a new compilation CD on the shelves called Eat Sleep Rock. Sounds a bit like Brian Vollmer’s life story! Helix have given us two new songs and nine previously released numbers. As has been the case recently, the cover art is by former guitarist Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.
We love Helix, but opening with “The Story of Helix” is a bit of a misfire. I get that it would be a great opener for Helix’s acoustic gigs (it even has band member intros), but it’s a sluggish start to an album. On this track, Brian Vollmer takes us through Helix history, with the odd musical segues through “Billy Oxygen”, “She Loves You”, “Heavy Metal Love”, and “Lick It Up” among others as the story progresses. Even “Teen Spirit” in the 90s, “when everything went to shit”. But what didn’t kill them made Helix stronger and they’ve certainly made great albums since. Some of their best in fact. Eat Sleep Rock contains shining gems aplenty of post-grunge-era Helix rawk. But “The Story of Helix” should have been left for the last track on the album.
The good news is that Vollmer proudly proclaims he will “NEVER” retire! And if the second song, “Eat – Sleep – Rock” is any indication, that’s a good thing. This is a HEAVY Helix. Produced by Daryl Gray, with guitars aided and abetted by Sean Kelly, this one smokes. There ain’t no rest for the wicked, as “Eat – Sleep – Rock” resoundingly demonstrates. Long-time Helix fans are going to love this newbie that recalls the fire and fury of 1984 all over again.
As mentioned in “The Story of Helix”, the 90s were not kind to Kitchener’s favourite band. That said, they still put out three excellent albums in that decade, the last of which was 1998’s half-ALIVE. It was the first Helix release in five years and included some new material to go with the live side. “Shock City Psycho Rock” and “Wrecking Ball” (both heavy hitters) are two of the best. “Shock City” is an upbeat boogie, and “Wrecking Ball” just slams. Giving these two songs fresh attention is a good thing.
Brian Vollmer’s solo album When Pigs Fly (1999) is a Helix album in all but name, so “I’m A Live Frankenstein” is a valid addition. This grinder has a hint of industrial rock and Helix alumnus Brian Doerner on drums. It sounds a little out of place, but as Vollmer alluded, the 90s were a weird time.
“Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)” is a scorcher originally from the excellent Bastard of the Blues (2014). That album is criminally forgotten, and it’s actually under-represented here. The guitar hook and chorus melody will gnaw away at you until it’s right in your brain. “Cyber Space Girl” (from 2007’s The Power of Rock and Roll) hasn’t been on a compilation before. It’s another great tune from a tragically forgotten album. The Power of Rock and Roll was loaded with heavy melodic tunes, and “Cyber Space Girl” definitely deserves a revisit. Even better though is “When the Bitters Get the Better of You” from the superb Vagabond Bones (2009). That was the first Helix album to feature Daryl Gray, Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and Doctor Doerner since the 90s. They loaded it with top-notch songs and “Bitters” is just one of many. It’s another boogie, so get down!
Later, in 2017, Helix issued a bitchin’ 12″ single for “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” and “The Tequila Song”. Both those songs resurface here. I’ve said it before, but Helix have written a better song about tequila than Sammy Hagar ever has or will. As for the classic metal sounds of “Devil”, it has a positively beastly bass groove. These are both great tunes. Now you can get them affordably on CD. And of course, “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock Is Dead” (from 2016’s Rock-It Science) still stands up. It ran the risk of being a novelty, but holds up in the present. Gene did proclaim rock to be dead, many times. I’m glad he was wrong. If he wasn’t, then Brian Vollmer couldn’t still Eat Sleep Rock today! But he can, and so the Helix band keep putting out worthwhile new material.
The track listing for this CD was well chosen as there is minimal overlap with other compilations (with three in common with Rock-It Science). It spotlights songs that haven’t have their rightful day in the sun. The only thing I’d do is move “The Story of Helix” to the end. Minor quibble aside, if you haven’t bought a new Helix album in a while then now’s the time.
Yes folks is my first “Covideo” since April. Why? Why not. C-19 is back in Ontario for a second wave, and so are my Covideos!
In this video you can check out a couple Amazon unboxings (one toy, one CD) and get updated on the live streaming. Just a fun video, with hopefully improved production values over the ones I made in March and April.
GETTING MORE TALE #861: Fall(ing Down)
The air is cooler, the leaves are changing colour, and I am sort of keeping it all together.
Six months ago we all went into lockdown, with the optimism of summer still ahead of us. We didn’t know what summer would look like, but it had to be better than lockdown, right? For most of us, it was. We got outside, basked in some sun, watched the numbers go down, and dared to have some hope.
Now the days are shorter, the sleeves are longer, and the numbers are climbing once again. As it gets colder, our options for getting out of the house are fewer. Some people love this season. They love the leaves, the sweaters, the blankets. I dislike the cold, the dark, the misery. Now we have to deal with the uncertainty of the future too. Thanksgiving? Halloween? No guarantees. Some will participate, some will be unable.
Fortunately, music will be there. It always has been and always will be.
There are plenty of albums that I consider “autumn albums” even if they are not.
Savatage are a good band for fall and winter. They might be from Florida but albums like Dead Winter Dead and Handful of Rain have a cold, dark aura. Early Sabbath fits the mold. Queensryche’s Rage For Order. Radiation by Marillion. It’s all very subjective but as much as summer music really activated my memory circuits, the same can happen with winter tunes. This is something to look forward to.
Yes, there are some things I can look forward to. When I’m hunkered down indoors staying dry and warm, the VHS Archives will return. I find this to be a good project to work on in the colder months. Pulling out old VHS tapes, converting them and putting them on YouTube just seems to work better in the winter. It’s also a good time for buying and trying new tech. I’m going to try and teach myself some Photoshop this year, so I can give you better images for this site. This winter I’ll also have live streaming. That will continue as long as necessary. I look forward to it and so do the viewers.
I’ll try to focus on what I can do during the winter, and not what I can’t. Not the traffic, not the wet, not the mess, not the inconvenience. I will try. I never believed in what Yoda said. “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” I understand the point of it — don’t let failure enter your mind, focus only on completing the task. I just never bought into it. I’ve given myself some goals, and I will try.
Maybe I can even use some of that negative stuff that I hate. Do you want to see videos of driving around in the snow to the music of Max the Axe? Do you want to see me attempt to live stream outdoors from a snowy porch? It’s likely that both will happen!
There’s one last brick in this fortress of mental health that I am attempting to build that I have not mentioned. And that is you. For almost nine years you’ve been there waiting for the next chapter, review, or video. You’ve shared your thoughts and ideas, and opened your hearts. Without the loyal reader (or lately, viewer), I might have given up writing a long time ago and done something else. I am grateful. So thank you!