Canadian Rawk week continues with a double dose of HELIX! Boppin at boppinsblog reviews the same record today. For his review, click here!
HELIX – Wild in the Streets (1987 Capital, 2011 Rock Candy remaster)
Before this handy-dandy 2011 Rock Candy reissue, Wild in the Streets was an exceptionally hard album to find on CD. By the time I started working at the Record Store in 1994, it was already long deleted. I had a pretty neat cassette version, with a glow in the dark shell, but the sound was pretty muddy and warbly. The CD finally fell into my lap thanks to a kind hearted customer named Len, who picked it up for me at a rival store. The full story of this rare item and the quest to find one was told in Record Store Tales Part 234: Wild in the Streets. Since I’ve already told that story, no further background is necessary and we can cut to the chase.
It has been well documented, both in Brian Vollmer’s book Gimme An R and the fine liner notes in this CD, that Wild in the Streets was not an easy album. This album had to make it, or Helix’s deal with Capital wasn’t going to be renewed. They had trouble coming up with songs. They recorded overseas with a disinterested producer (Mike Stone). The album was mixed and remixed again, until Stone had to demonstrate to the guys that they had lost perspective and couldn’t tell one version from another anymore. Other stressors added to the pressure, but finally some singles were selected and videos filmed. Time to rock!
The action-packed video for the title track made quite an impression. The high-flying Helix were (and are) one of the most exciting live bands around. The video perfectly fit the music, an unforgettable rock anthem about turnin’ on the heat and going wild in the streets. It was written by guitarist Paul Hackman and his friend Ray Lyell, a Canadian solo artist gaining success at the time. This kickin’ track represented a high point for Helix; never before had they combined the rock with catchy melody like this. MuchMusic gave it plenty of exposure, but it failed to jump the border and make an impact down south.
To make up for a shortage of originals, Helix recorded some covers. FM’s “Never Gonna Stop the Rock” was a funky dud. According to the liner notes, the band didn’t particularly like the song either. Manager Bill Seip chose it among many submissions, and on the album it went, because nobody had any better ideas. Nazareth’s “Dream On” was a much more natural fit. Helix always had a way with tender ballads; witness their success with “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”. An inspired choice like “Dream On” works well as a Helix song, in fact up here in the Great White North, I daresay the song is associated more with Helix than Nazareth. It’s hard to say who plays the subtle keyboards and piano, as three players are credited on the album: Sam Reid from Glass Tiger, the legendary Don Airey, and Helix bassist Daryl Gray. Dr. Doerner brought up his huge doubleneck for the video, an image burned in our memories. Doerner had to be the coolest looking guy on the scene, he had the star quality.
“What Ya Bringin’ to the Party” is the question, on another Lyell/Hackman original. The slicker production of Wild in the Streets doesn’t really do it any favours. If it had been on an earlier album like No Rest for the Wicked (and been a teensy bit faster), it could have been a sleezey rock classic. “High Voltage Kicks” is better because it delivers what it promises. This sounds like Helix to me. It’s fast, high-octane, and recommended for head banging. You’ll want a breather afterwards, which is good because it’s time to flip the album over to Side Two.
Ready to “Give ‘Em Hell”? Helix are, and this is a good quality album track to do it. It fits that mid-tempo rock niche that Helix often call home. It’s back to hot flashy rock on “Shot Full of Love”, a Vollmer/Doerner co-write with some pure lead guitar smoke. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s his twin brother Brian laying waste on the drums. Brian Doerner is one of four drummers credited, including Mickey Curry, Matt Frenette, and of course Helix skinsman Greg “Fritz” Hinz. “Love Hungry Eyes” is one of the strongest songs in the bunch, and I think if there was to be a third single, it would have been “Love Hungry Eyes”. Brian Vollmer kicks this one right in the ass. I don’t think Helix get enough credit for their background vocals, but all five members sing. Brent Doerner has a unique voice and when the Helix backing vocals kick in on the chorus, you get a whallop of the Doctor right in the ears. That’ll cure what ails ya.
Joe Elliot of Def Leppard contributed “She’s Too Tough”, but then the shit hit the fan. Leppard’s label (Polygram) were terrified of Elliot competing with the soon-to-be released Hysteria album. Even though “She’s Too Tough” never passed the demo stage and was never in consideration for Hysteria, the label was so afraid that they were going to force Helix to remove it from their album. A compromise was reached: Helix could keep the song for their album, but could not release it as a single. As such, you’ve probably never heard Helix’s version of it. Leppard eventually recorded a proper version for a single B-side (“Heaven Is“) and it has become the more famous of the two. That’s too bad, because Helix’s version is far more adrenalized, pardon the pun.
“Kiss It Goodbye” inspired the infamous Helix tour shirt that I would never have been allowed to buy or wear to school! The song, another Doerner/Vollmer rocker, was unforgettable in concert. It’s still a barnstormer on CD, certainly one of the most memorable tracks from this era. The album is over and out in under 40 minutes, but you’ll probably have lost a couple pounds in sweat, if you were rocking out properly during those 40 minutes.
Unfortunately for Helix, despite a great live show featuring their fancy new stage set, the album failed to perform and the writing was on the wall. Morale took another blow when Brent Doerner told the band that he was leaving. The guitarist had been there since 1975. He was integral to every album they made, and he was a charismatic personality on stage. What were a band to do? If you’re Helix, you do what you have always done. You keep on givin’ ‘er. They responded to this dire time with one of the best albums of their career.
Wild in the Streets was the end of an era. It was also the last Helix album of the 1980’s. With the benefit of hindsight, Wild in the Streets capped the decade off properly. Mushy production aside, it was a strong collection of songs that probably could have been presented better. Too bad!