Author: mikeladano

Metal, hard rock, rock and roll! LeBrain's Record Store Tales & Reviews! Poking the bear since 2010.

#796: Improvisation

GETTING MORE TALE #796: Improvisation

When I need a particular piece of audio hardware today, I just have to decide what I want and order it.  It’ll be at the house two days later.  Oh, I need some more RCA cables to plug my tape deck into my PC?  No problem.  What colour and how long?  We have become soft and spoiled today, with the convenience of everything we desire at our fingertips.  Want a frozen turkey delivered to your front door?  No problem.  I’ll get you a turkey.  Or RCA cables.  Anything.

In the 1980s, we had to improvise.

When I first discovered music, the second most important music-related activity (after listening of course) was taping.  It was the easiest, cheapest way to get new music and there was a social aspect to it as well.  You had to borrow an album from someone, go to their house to tape it, or vice versa.  Most kids had a budget price dual tape deck.  I had a single-deck Sanyo, eventually getting a dual deck boom box for Christmas of 1985.  By today’s standards, recording tape-to-tape on a cheap deck yields horrendous results.  In 1985, it was the next best thing to owning the album yourself.  If you were in a hurry, you could use the high speed dubbing feature but that always created speed and warble issues that we could even hear as kids.  Regular speed dubbing was the only acceptable way to copy a tape.  However sometimes we had to think outside the box.

The most notable instance of improvising with what we had was using speakers as impromptu microphones.  It’ll work if you have nothing better to use.  We used speakers as microphones frequently back then, but what about copying music tape to tape?

Let’s say I was making a mixed cassette, and that mix was going to have some live songs on it.  There was no practical way to do a fade-in or fade-out on a low end dual tape deck.  In this case, I would use a Walkman as an audio input to my recording deck.  The sound was, shall we say, harsh.  But you could do it.  You could take a cable and go right from the headphone jack to the microphone-in jack on the deck, but that sounded pretty terrible.  A better way was to use a cable that had a headphone jack on one end, split to RCA left and rights on the other.  But I didn’t have one of those.  I had to make it myself by splicing one to the other.  Improvisation!  We couldn’t just buy everything we wanted.  Cables are still expensive today and finding the right ones in stock at a given time wasn’t a guarantee.  You made due with what you had until you could afford to do better.  Using the Walkman’s volume control, I could now fade in any live track I wanted.  A small thing, but I was already ambitious.  I enviously eyed pictures of mixing boards in guitar magazines.

Another issue I had was recording vinyl.  I had never heard of a preamp.  But I realized that my old turntable sounded better when plugged into something else first.  My parents had an old receiver with an 8-track deck and radio.  The 8-track didn’t work anymore but I used that gigantic unit to boost the signal from my turntable, before going into my tape deck.  The sound was messy to say the least, but at least I was able to listen to and record my LPs.

I had a little shoebox full of stuff I needed to push my audio capabilities, a small but mighty toolbox of essentials.  A tape head demagnetizer.  Isopropyl alcohol and lint-free wipes.  A record cleaning kit.  A little magnetic screwdriver for taking apart cassette tapes.  A gnarly pair of grey RCA cables that were the top of the line that I could afford.  My prized possession:  an RCA Y-connector.  That baby enabled me to take a mono signal, like from the family VCR, and split it to faux-stereo for recording to cassette.  Until we got a stereo VCR in the early 1990s, that Y-connector saw weekly usage on my Saturday mix tape sessions.

I had a little soldering kit that I could use to splice wires together, but one thing that I could never fix was a cheap set of Walkman earphones.  The kind with the little foam earpieces.  Utter shit, but that’s what we all had.  The headphone jacks on those things would not take long to start shorting out.  You’d go from a stereo signal to a mono signal to no signal back to mono without even moving it around.  I tried everything and could never fix those damned shitty earphone cords.  So you’d buy a new pair for $10 at the local Bargain Harold’s.  Those would be good for about a week before starting to give you problems.  Otherwise, everything that broke had to be fixed.

Maintaining your tape deck at home was essential, hence the isopropyl alcohol.  Hold your breath, dab some of that on a lint-free cloth, and gently clean the rollers and capstans inside your treasured boom box.  It would be remarkable how black that cloth could get.  I used my tape deck a lot.  I was constantly cleaning it, but it always had speed issues.  This was probably more due to poorly made, tightly wound cassette tapes than the deck itself.  Still, those old Sanyo tape machines were not designed to be worked as hard as I worked mine.  If I had known what a Nakamichi Dragon was back then, I might have been more motivated to get a part-time job!  But such machines were not available on an eighth grade allowance, nor was such a beast even known in these parts.

Using my limited resources, I was able to listen to and record from every format I had.  My turntable was so old that I could even play 16 and 78 rpm records (not that I had any).  Then a new format came along that slowly but surely digitised my entire world:  the compact disc.  I received my first CD player/tape deck for Christmas 1989, a mere four years after my first dual cassette.  An eternity in teenager time.  A significant fraction of my life to that point was spent meddling with tape decks and cables trying to get them to do what I wanted them to do.  Now this compact disc comes along, allowing me to hear the most perfect audio I’d even been exposed to.

My first CD player on top of an old Lloyd’s 8-track/radio/receiver.  The old setup!

I remember playing one of my first CDs, Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood, for my buddy Bob and his brother John.  I skipped ahead to “Time For Change”, and then fast-forwarded to the fade out.

“Just listen to that!” I said with a proud look on my face, as I cranked the volume all the way to 10.

After a pause, John asked “What are we supposed to be hearing?”

“The silence!  Listen to that silence!”  There was no static on the digitally recorded, mixed and mastered fade out.

Bob and John weren’t as excited as I was, but the compact disc represented a new standard.  The stuff I had wasn’t going to cut it forever.  Soon, as long the source was digital, I was making mix tapes that sounded better than store bought.

As much as the results were often dicey, improvising with audio equipment was tremendously fun.  Working with your hands, the satisfaction of getting something to work the way you wanted…it was a fun way to spend a Saturday in the 80s.  Even if the only people who got to hear your handiwork were a handful of your neighbourhood friends and classmates.

 

Sunday Chuckle: Kanye’s Konference

Please welcome Kanye West to his first appearance on the Sunday Chuckle!  A man of priorities.

 

REVIEW: Play It! ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation (1997)

Play It! Volume Seven – ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation (1997 EMI promo)

“Woah!  I own ‘Song 2’.  How about that.”

That was my first reaction upon revisiting this old promo CD from the Record Store days.  I really didn’t know that I had that song, and I’m sort of glad that I do.  This was a freebie, and not a bad one as it had some rarities on it.  In fact there’s only one artist on this disc I’d flat-out skip.  Let’s dive on in.

The first track is a rarity:  an unadvertized single edit of “Temptation” by the Tea Party.  “Temptation”, crossing the new sample-driven sounds of the late 90s with classic exotic Zeppelin, was huge.  The single edit snips off the extended intro.  Industrial rock band Econoline Crush is up second, who also had a big album (The Devil You Know) at the time.  “Home” was a memorable fast-paced single, but their big single “All That You Are”  is also included as track #14.  Far more mainstream, “All That You Are” was omnipresent in 1997.  It’s still a little too over-familiar to be enjoyable.

Skip Meredith Brooks.  I’ll be happy if I never hear the novelty song “Bitch” ever again.  Brooks has a second track on this CD, “I Need”, which suffers due to the spoken word verses.  No thanks.  Skip ’em both.  “I Need” reminds me of what I hated about 90s music.

Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench” and “Everlong” were two of the greatest singles of 1997.  Fast paced, drums-a-blazing, and perfectly rifftastic.  In ’97 Grohl could do no wrong.  He released one of the few perfect albums of the year.  ’97 was Peak Foo — prove me wrong.  Flawless songs, still not taxing on the ears.  Probably never will be.

Queensryche had a new album in 1997, the ill-fated Hear in the Now Frontier.  “You” wasn’t one of the most notable songs, and here on this mainstream compilation, doesn’t fare well.  I don’t think EMI knew what to do with Queensryche, so hey let’s pick a song with 90’s intonations and throw it on this store play disc.  A second Tea Party song, “Transmission”, is its full unedited length, combining the same ingredients as “Temptation” but at lower velocity.  “Song 2” follows that, I song I’m admittedly not bored with at all.  A second Blur track later down the line, “M.O.B.” boats a cool riff and pop sensibilities.

I Mother Earth were riding a wave with their second album Scenery and Fish.  I’m not a fan of that disc and I can usually do without “Used to Be Alright”.  Fortunately Megadeth bring some metal to the proceedings.  From the underrated Cryptic Writings comes “Almost Honest”, a hard rocking single with nary a glimmer of thrash.  Great song from a period when Megadeth were quite adept at writing mainstream metal.

Rarities ahoy!  Moist’s “Tangerine” is remixed here, a mix that is far more industrial than the album, but that’s why remixes go on weird compilations I suppose.  Always fascinating, Glueleg are up next with “Dragonfly”, one of their catchiest numbers, still maintaining their weird genre-bending tendencies.

Alice Cooper steps in with a live version of “School’s Out”.  This being 1997, that automatically means it’s the one from A Fistful of Alice.  It’s a little strange hearing “School’s Out” on a compilation of all-new material, but I suppose EMI didn’t have confidence that a new Alice song (“Is Anyone Home?”) would attract new buyers.  But they were more likely to hear Radiohead’s “Let Down” and buy OK Computer instead.  It’s a stunning ballad that might have been unfamiliar to those who hadn’t bought the album yet — the exact people this CD was aimed at!  The CD closes on the slide-inflected “Faded” by Ben Harper.  It’s choked by unnecessarily grungy production.

Record companies rarely sent us free CDs, because we were a used CD store and they assumed we’d sell ’em.  What they didn’t realize was that it was usually guys like the asshole at CD Plus that would be selling their free CDs.  We’d try to be educated about what we bought, and avoid the promos like this one.  If a customer left it behind for us to take for free, it was up for grabs.  As a store-play disc, this would have been pretty good, assuming we had all those albums in stock to sell.

2.5/5 stars

 

#795: A Case for Security

A sequel to #424: How to Stop a Thief

 

GETTING MORE TALE #795: A Case for Security

Back when people used to actually steal physical CDs instead of just stealing a download, extravagant measures were taken to secure our precious inventory.

We had a magnetic tag security system.  At the entrance stood an electronic gate that would go into alarm mode any time one of those magnetic tags was near.  Every item we had in-store was tagged.  The system was not cheap.  I believe the tags cost 5 cents each (in 1994 dollars).  They were the cheapest ones available and they quickly added up.  The tags were not re-usable.  Once they were de-magnetized they were done.  Also, because they were sticky tags, if you ripped one off you wouldn’t be able to re-apply it very well as the sticky side got less sticky.  You could put it back on with tape, but no matter what you did, over time the tags would always start to peel off on their own.  We did a “tape check” every week to make sure every cassette still had a security tag firmly attached.

There was a different method for securing CDs.  To cut down on the use of the magnetic tags, we used plastic CD long boxes.  The magnetic tags were fitted inside, didn’t peel off, and could be re-used time and time again.  You couldn’t get the CD out of the long boxes without a key, or you’d destroy what was inside.  The key was kept behind the counter.

Like anything at the Record Store, this security measure had its pros and cons.  Storing those long boxes when not in use was a constant struggle.  We always seemed to be bursting at the seams with them.  We had cabinets underneath the CD shelving that were usually packed full.

The biggest “pro” was reducing the cost of the magnetic tags.  Since you could use the same case over and over again with the magnetic strip intact, you didn’t have to keep buying new ones.  The long boxes were also an added deterrent.  If you wanted to steal a CD you had to hide the long box under your jacket.

This didn’t stop people from trying.  One day, somebody from the mall came into the Record Store and told me that they found half a dozen broken long boxes in the trash outside.

“I think someone has been stealing from you,” she said.

I was immediately worried that someone managed to rip us off on my shift.  Fortunately that wasn’t the case, though Zellers were not as lucky.  Upon seeing the broken long boxes, I could tell they didn’t belong to us.  They came from Zellers, who used a similar system.  Someone managed to beat it.  How?

If nobody was looking, you could lift the CDs right over the magnetic gate.  That was the easiest way, and at Zellers, chances are nobody was looking.  Another method (supposedly anyway) involved lining the inside of your jacket with aluminum foil.  Apparently this would allow you to shoplift anything with a magnetic tag.  The urban legend, which may have been true, is that a local gang of CD thieves used this method.

The gang were known locally as “Pizza Guys”.  The cops were always two steps behind them.  The main detective on the case gave us pretty clear instructions.  We were to buy everything the “Pizza Guys” brought in, record it, and get their ID.  We were to flag any “shady” purchases but otherwise they told us it was business as usual.  I don’t know if the detective ever caught the “Pizza Guys”, but years later their leader Aristotles (real name!) went to jail for selling ecstasy, meth and heroin.  Quite a large step from stealing CDs!  According to the news, he got just six years in jail.

I don’t think the “Pizza Guys” were shoplifting CDs normally.  I think they were getting them from someone on the inside.  We’ll never really know.  We used to joke that one day we’d be in an HMV store minding our own business, when Aristotles would pop his head out of the stock room.  “We’re out of Big Shiny Tunes again!”

Even though the “Pizza Guys” usually brought in what you would call good titles (usually new releases), we all hated dealing with them.  As time went on without getting caught, they got more and more cocky and difficult to deal with.  It was good to know the cops were on our side, but I’m not a detective.  My job was not to fight crime in the city of Kitchener.  My job was to sell music, and these guys didn’t make it a pleasant experience for us.

 

REVIEW: The Tragically Hip – We Are the Same (2009)

THE TRAGICALLY HIP – We Are the Same (2009

“Later” records by bands are often overlooked in favour of a handful of classics, usually released early in a band’s first decade.  Here is one that should not be ignored:  We Are the Same, The Tragically Hip’s mellow 2009 offering.  Sure, the Hip had plenty of late career highlights.  But something about We Are the Same just connects.  It’s like plugging your soul into the great wide Canadian open, autumn-coloured maple leaves tossing in a cold breeze.  The rustling is accented by a softly wafting smell of coffee.

We Are the Same sounds (for a largely acoustic album anyway) absolutely massive.  Thank you, Bob Rock.  Perhaps there’s even a concept to this Gord Downie-driven album: it opens with a song called “Morning Moon” and ends with “Country Day”.  From the beginning, the chords of the Canadian prairies jangle on acoustic guitars.  Familiar hints of Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot fill the room, while Downie sings of a golden Labour Day.

You’ll hear lush string and piano accompaniment all over We Are the Same (piano by Barenaked Ladies‘ Kevin Hearn).  Take second track “Honey, Please” which is as pop as the Hip were ever likely to get.  Johnny Fay’s snare drum splashes are the only recall from the old days.  Then, one of the most luxurious tracks.  It’s also one of the best: album highlight “The Last Recluse”.  It delivers strange melodies wrapped in lonely imagery.  “Who are you? The last Canada goose”.

Geoff over at 1001albumsin10years says “I  have argued it is the best side 1 in the catalogue.”  I wouldn’t dare disagree.

“Coffee Girl” with its loop-like drums and trumpet solo is one of the more unusual, but also most successful compositions.  Downie had a miraculous way with words.

Your favourite mixed tape,
You popped it into the deck,
Don’t care if it’s out of date,
Old Cat Power and classic Beck.

The first big rock chords come crashing down on “Now the Struggle Has a Name”, also adorned with regal strings.  As great as it is, it’s just preamble to a Hip epic:  “The Depression Suite”, a multi-parted masterpiece.  It sparkles and growls, brilliantly and eloquently through a maze of quintessential Gord travelogue lyrics.

Peaking with a track like “The Depression Suite” only means the second half of the album has much to live up to.  An Aerosmith-like “The Exact Feeling” (can’t you just hear “Jaded”?) is the first song that feels like a drop.  But then “Queen of the Furrows” is a gentle acoustic song with delightful picking.  Until an explosive chorus kicks in, drawing your attention again.  Cool noisy guitar solo to boot!

The final four tracks are consistent, with “Frozen in My Tracks” being the strangest and heaviest, and “Love is a First” the strongest.  Its’ beat poetry and sharp bassline are the main hooks, but the chorus is a blast.  Yet it’s still clearly a case of the final few songs living in the shadow of the first.

An album this brilliant needs to be enjoyed over time, but do be sure to add it to your collection.  [See below for our recommended edition.]

4.5/5 stars

…Since you’re going to need this album one way or another, our recommended version if you can find it, is the “Kollector’s Krate”.  Kool Krate’s were an inconvenient way to store discs, but here’s one with a Tragically Hip logo on it.  Stuffed inside: a We Are the Same T-shirt, and a rare live bonus CD.  Whether Live From the Vault Vol. 4 is worth over $300 or not, that’s between you and Discogs.  (And that’s just the CD, without the Krate or T-shirt!)

 

 

#794: “Hockey Sticks”

GETTING MORE TALE #794:  “Hockey Sticks”

Though Jimi Hendrix is responsible for the invention of the “hockey stick” guitar, it was my old guitar instructor Gary Mertz who coined the phrase.

In the 1960s, it was difficult for Hendrix to find good guitars for a lefty like him.  Ned Flanders’ Leftorium store was still decades in the future, so what was a young Jimi to do?  Like many things in his life, he got inventive.  He simply flipped a right-handed Fender Stratocaster over, restrung it for a lefty, and played it.

Flipping the guitar not only enabled Jimi to play a Strat, but also gave him some unique advantages in his quest for new sounds.  In this new orientation, the strings were now over the pickups in unusual locations, and had different tension than intended.  The long strings — the highest — were now the shortest strings.  Since the high E was shorter it didn’t have to be as tight, and this made it easier to bend.

This arrangement also had the effect of making Jimi look even cooler.  The iconic image of Jimi playing the upside down Strat became world famous.  With tuning pegs facing down, young righties were envious of this cool new look.

When those young righties grew up and signed to big labels themselves, they popularized the flipped headstock for righties — the “hockey stick” neck!  You can see it, can’t you?  Look at this photo below, of Criss Oliva from the band Savatage, and Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken from the movie Slap Shot.

That’s a high sticking penalty.  Incidentally, the character of McCracken inspired Marvel’s Wolverine.  You see that too, don’t you?

It wasn’t always players with the calibre of Oliva playing these hockey sticks.  For every Criss Oliva there was a C.C. DeVille.  You knew C.C. wasn’t doing it to gain any string-bending advantage.  He was doing it strictly for image, and that’s one thing my old guitar teacher hated about it.  I think he also hated the sharp jagged headstocks on those Charvels, Jacksons and B.C. Rich’s.  Turning them upside town made them to look even more ridiculous to him.  Like you were about to hit the street for a little two on two ball hockey.  Utterly ridiculous.

 

I always had rock magazines and videos playing in the basement, so when Gary came for lessons he would often comment on what I was listening to at the time.

“Oh no, you don’t like those hockey sticks, do you?”

Sheepishly I said that I did.  I thought they looked cool, like a weapon.

But a guitar is a musical instrument.  The subtle curves on a Fender Strat echo those of a classic violin, not a melee weapon or a piece of sports equipment.  Regardless, by 1989 both Criss Oliva and Christopher Caffery were playing hockey sticks in Savatage!  They looked lethal in the video for “Gutter Ballet”, wielding those implements of both rock and high-sticking.

Although I wouldn’t fully confess my deep love of hockey stick guitars to Gary, I found drawings in my old school books that prove it beyond a shadow of doubt.  See below, this page removed from a grade 11 history note book.  I found three hockey sticks on one page alone!

I clearly liked the shape.  The proof is in the puddin’, or in this case, the 30 year old notebooks that I kept for occasions such as this.

Whammy bar, too.  Floyd Rose, no doubt.  Two open-coil humbucker pickups and a single coil in the middle.  Not a very common arrangement.  Was I trying to combine the best properties of a Fender and a Gibson?  Or was I just doodling?  The latter, most likely.  I screwed up the tuning pegs.  For all I remember, that mysterious top pickup might have just been for flash bombs like Ace Frehley’s.

The guitars do look a little silly today, but the 80s were a different time.  Every band had a shredder and you had to do whatever you could to look different.  Savatage’s dual hockey sticks complemented their jagged logo and looked damn cool being foisted in the “Gutter Ballet” video.

Raise a goblet of whatever you’re drinking, and let’s salute the hockey stick.  With all due respect to Gary Mertz, looking cool, young and lethal on stage used to mean something.  We all wanted to stand out, and a hockey stick was one way to add to an image.  I always wanted one!  Just watch your bandmates’ eyes when you’re swinging it around.  Taking an eye out is a lot worse than high sticking!

REVIEW: British Whale (Justin Hawkins) – “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” (2005 single)

BRITISH WHALE – “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” (2005 Atlantic CD single)

In 2005, while we anxiously awaited a new Darkness album (and they changed producers from “Mutt” Lange to Roy Thomas Baker), Justin Hawkins decided to do something on his own.  The rumour mill was going on about how the new Darkness was going to be an 80s-fest.  Justin’s solo single under the name British Whale certainly conveyed that sound.

“This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both Of Us” is a Sparks cover, previously tackled by Faith No More.  The original track was from 1974, but Justin’s rendition really did sound like the 80s.  Russell Mael’s high pitched vocal was exaggerated by Justin, with the cheese-whiz poured on thick.  It’s the kitchen sink approach.  But a classic pop song cannot be sunk and it’s quite listenable.  Faith No More’s cover would win in a one-on-one competition, but Darkness fans will obviously want to hear Justin’s take. The music video was popular because it featured world darts champion Phil Taylor (no relation to the Motorhead drummer).  Some fans expressed disappointment that the music video wasn’t included on the single, but in 2019 it matters not.  (The video was included on a DVD single, along with a “making of”, but that DVD did not include the B-side “America”.)

Perhaps better than the A-side is the more Darkness-like B-side.  It’s a tribute to the USA, its weather, and trees.  According to “America”, Justin really likes the scenery!  He sounds very sincere in his high-pitched praise.  There’s gui-board (or “keytar”) and a guitar solo that sounds like a cross between Brian May and Thin Lizzy.  It’s a bit of goofy fun.  Actually an excellent track, even containing some music from the “Star Spangled Banner” in the well-constructed solo.

These two songs really seem to convey that Justin really wanted to have some fun, blowing off steam with pop music in 2005.  In a way these songs are “peak Justin”.  You just can’t imagine anything more Justin than this!  (British Whale did another single called “England” in 2006 that never saw a physical release but we’ll cover that another time.)

British Whale can be bought on CD for ridiculously low prices.  If you’re a Darkness fan, you have no excuse.  Dive on in!

3.5/5 stars

#612: Remembering Their Sacrifices [Reblog]

At the the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Armistice was signed, ending the fighting in the Great War. At least, they called it the Great War, or “The War to End All Wars”. Today we just call it World War I, because even greater horrors followed.

My grandfather “Sam” (Crawford) fought in World War II, helping bring an end to the evil of Hitler and Nazi Germany. I think my grandfather would be disgusted today to see Nazis being referred to as “very fine people”. What did he fight for, if we are to casually welcome that evil back to the streets?

“Gar” and “Sam” Winter

We can never forget the sacrifices those soldiers made. My grandfather survived and came home to raise a family with my grandmother. His brother wasn’t so lucky. He lived, but was injured in the trenches and he never walked right again.

I tend to think of the veterans and the soldiers of the present year round. My wife goes out of her way to thank veterans any time she sees one in uniform.  I think of them every time I am free to write whatever I want to, in this great land of Canada. Had the Nazis won, there would be no freedom here. On November 11, at 11am, we have a moment of silence to honour all the soldiers from every war in which they fought and died for our freedom. That is an important tradition to keep. But I think we should think of them more often.

“Sam”

My grandfather rarely told war stories around the kids, but I do remember one night when he told my dad about looking up and seeing a Panzer tank coming. “I shit my pants,” he said and I think he was being truthful. Imagine those young guys — kids, really — in a country far from home, running from a tank. The bravery is awesome. I can’t even imagine.

My grandfather died (cancer) when I was too young to appreciate what he did. I knew he fought, and I got to watch him lay a wreath at the cenotaph every November 11. I didn’t understand the significance of what it means to be a soldier until I was older. If I were a little older, I would have tried to get him to tell me about it.

Bryan Adams’ 1987 album Into the Fire has the best song about Remembrance Day that I know.  This very special track was made into an emotional music video.   In 2014, The Trews came out with something almost as good:  a song called “Highway of Heroes”.  The Highway of Heroes is an actual highway (the 401), given this nickname for the stretch of road on which the bodies of fallen soldiers are brought home.  The Trews’ song is a touching tribute.

Check out these two songs and remember why you’re even able to listen to them.  Because of the Heroes.

 

 

 

Sunday Chuckle: Philip Anselmo meets “Lips” (GUEST SHOT)

Guest shot by Max the Axe’s Stunt Double.  Who, apparently, could also be the stunt double for Lips from Anvil.


 

 

Phil Anselmo meet and greet in Hershey, Pennsylvania. As soon as I walked up, he told me I looked like Lips from Anvil. The greatest compliment I could have ever received! After all the pictures were taken, everyone took a group shot. I quickly showed him a picture of me and Lips together. He shouted “DUDE ITS HIM AND LIPS, HE LOOKS LIKE LIPS!” That alone was worth every penny.

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Come Out and Play (1985)

“Twisted Sister…come out and play!”  Happy anniversary to Come Out and Play released on this day 34 years ago.

 

TWISTED SISTER – Come Out and Play (1985 Atlantic LP & Spitfire CD remaster)

What was a band at the proverbial crossroads to do? Continue along the commercial path of the 3 million copy selling Stay Hungry?  Or revert to the tried and true heavy-as-an-SMF sound of yore?

There was only one dissenting vote.  Bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza felt that putting “Leader of the Pack” on the new album was a mistake.  The other four voted “yes” but some grew to regret it.  Both Dee Snider and J.J. French have since realized the error of their ways.  Today, Come Out and Play is acknowledged as the beginning of the end, though it has its fans and some sturdy tracks to support it.

Twisted Sister recruited Scorpions producer Dieter Dierks and enlisted high profile guest stars like Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, Brian Setzer and Clarence Clemons.  They were top-loaded onto a old-time rock and roller called “Be Chrool to Your Scuel”, and the gamble backfired immediately when MTV banned the music video for its zombies and ghouls.  It’s an interesting track at least.  You don’t hear a sax solo on a Twisted Sister song every day, nor the kind of plucking that Brian Setzer deals in.

“Leader of the Pack” was a failure as well, actually a re-recording of a track that debuted on the Ruff Cuts EP.  The video (starring the then-hot Bobcat Golthwaite) further painted Twisted Sister as a novelty band.

Tensions, especially between Mendoza and Snider, were amplified.  The songs that sound like they were meant to be “hits” fall far short.  The impression you get from “You Want What We Got” is that it was intended to be a specific kind of hit.  Unfortunately it’s just a repetitive anthem.  “Lookin’ Out for #1” is similarly filler, a song that never quite clicks.

Some tracks maintained a heavy rock presence. They include the anthem “I Believe In Rock and Roll”.  It’s a manifesto for the PMRC generation; a decent attempt that just misses the mark.  “Come Out and Play” features A.J. Pero nailing down a speedy beat, but the production of Dierks neutered the powerful drummer.  Dierks introduced keyboards to some of the tracks, watering them down needlessly.  “The Fire Still Burns” works better than some of the other songs, and despite the production you can hear A.J. is just crushing the kit.  If the backing vocals sound unusually lush, that’s Don Dokken and Gary Holland.  “Out on the Streets” trades the speed in for plaintive melodies, and is the better for it.  Finally “Kill or Be Killed” does what it promises.  Unbelievable that A.J. could play at such a relentless velocity, but he was an absolute beast.

Strangely, some of the best tracks are the ballads.  Dark ballads.  Ballads of depression, of loneliness, of alienation.  “I Believe in You” is the first of two, bolstered by strong melodies and Dee Snider’s enviable pipes.  The one that impresses the most is the CD and cassette bonus track “King of the Fools”.  Although “Kill or Be Killed” ends the album just fine, this coda adds some substance.  Sounding like a man destroyed, Dee sings the melancholy lyrics.

What kind of kingdom has no throne?
No crown or castle do I own,
I don’t have silver gold or jewels,
Yet I’m the king, king of the fools.

It’s surprisingly thoughtful songwriting, complimenting the mournful melodies.  Yet there is a defiant, powerful streak in the choruses.

King of the fools,
Who are these people to cast stones?
King of the fools,
Better a fool than just a clone.

Dee Snider has always resonated with the underdogs, the bullied, the downtrodden.  “King of the Fools” might be the most honest of all those songs.  Some regal guitar melodies by J.J. French and Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda show that they were picking up what Dee was laying down.

Here’s the catch though.  If you’re buying this album, you need “King of the Fools”.  To get it, you’ll want the CD.  But Come Out and Play might be most notable for the album cover you can only get on vinyl.  Open up that manhole cover and out pops Dee Snider in all his…all his…rags.

Heeere’s Dee!

Do what I did.  Get CD and LP, just for the cover.  Everybody needs a pop-up Dee Snider.

2.5/5 stars