brian vollmer

REVIEW: Helix – “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” (2017 single)

HELIX – “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” / “The Tequila Song” (2017 clear red picture single)

It’s been love for Helix and I since…many years!  Since Record Store Tales Part 2:  Gimme An R, at least.  As such, I may be a little biased when it comes to this band.  Maybe.  I truly believe their music deserves much more attention from the rock community, particularly the recent albums which are always excellent.  Helix mainman Brian Vollmer maintains a reputation as the hardest working man in Canadian heavy rock.  2017 sees the release of not just a new Helix single (and a lavish one at that), but also his second solo album Get Yer Hands Dirty.

Helix today is Vollmer on vox, Daryl Gray on bass, Fritz Hinz kickin’ the drums, and newer members Kaleb “Duckman” Duck and Chris Julke.  The inner sleeve is signed by all five members, which is just the kind of cool personal touch Helix are known for.  Also noteworthy, all but Hinz wrote the single A-side “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight”.  That makes it the first Helix song in years written solely by band members.  “The Tequila Song” on the B-side is composed by mainstay collaborators Gord Pryor, Steve Georgakopoulos and Vollmer.

Great tunes, these are, both party songs.  Each is a little heavier than you might usually expect from the Helix band.  “Devil” is possessed by a heavy-as-a-tombstone riff, and some exotic guitar noodlings that recall the good stuff from the metallic 80s.

I think “The Tequila Song” is even better.  I was known to drink tequila from time to time in my younger days, but I gotta say that Helix have written a better song about tequila than Sammy Hagar ever has.  Stomp to that riff as you “lick it, bang it, suck it, tequila!”  Even if you’re the designated driver, you’ll find the chorus infectious and party-ready.

Want a copy?  You know where to go – Planet Helix.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Helix – Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (1984, Rock Candy remaster)

HELIX – Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (1984 Capitol, 2009 Rock Candy reissue)

If you’re from Canada, then chances are you already know how to properly respond when somebody requests of you to “Gimme an R!”

You give them a fuckin’ R!

To quote Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, “Helix was a wicked concert. Fuck I sold a lot of dope at that concert. They had good lyrics, like ‘Gimme an R, O, C, K,’ and then the crowd yells ROCK really loud. Now that’s a fuckin’ concert.”

Bob Halligan Jr. wrote it, but Helix made it legendary.  In turn, “Rock You” put them on the map.  It’s pure arena rock:  “Don’t just sit there, come on get up and move!”  With a riff, a catchy tune and a shout-along chorus, “Rock You” was custom built for 1984.   The Pepsi Power Hour gave it regular play, and the boys toured relentlessly.  Helix’s rep as a down n’ dirty hard rocking band was secure.  The music video scared away my neighbor, David Dolph, a kid from across the street whose very Catholic parents wouldn’t let him listen to rock music or watch Dr. Who.   Instant street cred!

“Rock You” opened Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (their fourth LP) with a punch.  “Young & Wreckless” followed with a kick in the ass.  This chugging rocker is all about a good time.  Strangely enough, this track somehow frequently ended up on Kiss bootleg CDs.  Bootleggers most likely confused it with Kiss’ own “Young and Wasted” from 1983’s Lick it Up.  Needless to say, if you find a Kiss bootleg claiming to have an unreleased song on it called “Young & Wreckless”, it’s not Kiss.  It’s Helix.  And it kicks ass.

“Animal House” is a Helix concert classic, a bar-bustin’ rocker with a sweet slide guitar licks from Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.  He and gui-partner-in-crime Paul Hackman formed a formidable and underrated duo.   They supplied Helix with a seemingly bottomless well of riffage and tasty guitar hooks.  Meanwhile lead howler Brian Vollmer was in peak voice, driving the whole thing home.  Next up is “Feel the Fire”, basically a re-write of “Heavy Metal Love” from 1983’s awesome No Rest for the Wicked LP.  Though the songs are similar, both kick equal amounts of ass, so we will allow some self-plagiarism.  The first side was finished off with a real sledge:  “When the Hammer Falls”.  It’s a real headbanger in the classic sense, fast and loud.

“Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” kicked off the second side, a Crazy Elephant cover that became one of Helix’s most notorious music videos.  There was a TV version and a uncensored cut with full frontal nudity.  One of the girls in the video was an underage Tracy Lords.  Whoops!  Meanwhile, a 13-year-old me couldn’t take my eyes off the TV!  (A classmate of mine called Ian Johnson was known for his tall tales, and took credit for giving Helix the idea for the video!)  “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” was one of those instantly catchy songs that seemingly everyone dug, and check out Doerner’s killer solo.

The shot with Doctor Doerner kicking the lightbulbs is possibly the coolest of all time.

Helix want to tell you what turns them on in “My Kind of Rock”, but I think it’s the biting riffs.  Not a bad tune, but Helix have done better.  That’s just filler before the ballad “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”, a cover of A Foot in Cold Water.  Helix’s take is remarkably true to the original.  It’s considerably softer than anything else on the album, but that’s the function of a ballad on a rock album.  Vollmer’s performance helped make it a Helix favourite that’s still played live in concert.  Another track called “Six Strings, Nine Lives” is the only tune that should have been excised.  Good chorus, but without a song to go with it.  One of the best Helix originals was saved for the closing position:  “You Keep Me Rockin'”.  Dark and edgy, it’s a heavy and memorable tune to end Helix’s best selling LP.

Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge is a good record, but as is so often the case with the “big hit” albums, it’s not their best.  No Rest for the Wicked is the one to seek out for the “all killer, no filler” experience.  Razor’s Edge has some essential cuts, but a couple fillers too.  If you’re thinking about picking this up, the wisest purchase would be the 2009 reissue by Rock Candy.  This remastered disc contains rare photos and liner notes including an interview with Brian Vollmer.  It also has three must-have bonus tracks:  Live versions of “Young & Wreckless”, “Rock You” and “Animal House” from the uber-rare promo EP Live at the Marquee.  Since Helix were (and are) known for their blitzkrieg live shows, these tracks are well worth having on CD.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Live at the Marquee (1985 promo EP)

HELIX – Live at the Marquee (1985 Capitol promo exclusive EP)

Gratuity goes to two people:  Helix associate John Hockey who initially hooked me up with an mp3 rip of his copy of this Holy Grail rarity, and to Boppin for finding this original copy on vinyl!  Helix’s Live at the Marquee EP is one of those releases that lots of people have heard of, but few have heard.  First of all, it’s a promo, which means it was only distributed within the industry and never made available for sale to the public.  Promos can be very desirable collectibles, especially when they contain exclusive music.  Live at the Marquee was nothing but!  In 1985, Helix had released nothing in terms of live product, not even a live single B-side.  Live at the Marquee was the only one, and before the internet, few fans even knew about it.

For full disclosure, there is a rare Rock Candy reissue of 1984’s Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge, an unauthorized but valuable release that does contain three of the six Marquee tracks.  That 2009 release includes “Young & Wreckless”, “Rock You”, and “Animal House” from this EP.  The other three songs have yet to be reissued anywhere, so half of Live at the Marquee is still exclusive to the EP.

What you need to know about Live at the Marquee is that this is Helix at their prime.  The classic lineup was in full swing:  Brian Vollmer (vocals), Brent “Doctor” Doerner & Paul Hackman (guitars), Greg “Fritz” Hinz (drums), and Daryl Gray (bass).  They were performing their most popular tracks from the Razor’s Edge and No Rest for the Wicked LPs.  Starting with “Young & Reckless” and “Rock You”, it’s full octane in the tank and pedal to the metal.  Helix were and are known as a loud band, and this EP sure sounds like it.  They take a step back on the hit ballad “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”.  Helix could do love songs like that without sounding wimpy.

Side two continues with the single “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” (Crazy Elephant cover) which sounds like a blast.  Helix do not get recognition for the dual guitar alliance of Doerner and Hackman as perhaps they should.  Check out “Animal House” for more of their stellar interplay including a bit of slide.  Finally “Heavy Metal Love” closes the record, an enduring favourite today that sounds fantastic performed by the classic band.

Over the years, fans became widely aware of the existence of this release.  It would be listed and pictured among official discographies, but never found in stores.  Until/unless those final three recordings become available on CD, this record should be sought after by every serious Helix fan.  I’m happy to have a copy signed by Fritz Hinz.  Also awesome?  John Hockley hooked me up with a CD copy of the Rock Candy release of Razor’s Edge, signed by all four surviving members of the classic Helix band.  Thank you John, and rest in peace Paul Hackman.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Rockin’ in My Outer Space (2004)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

KITCHENER.

scan_20161215HELIX – Rockin’ in My Outer Space (2004 Dirty Dog)

This album was a long time coming. The last “true” Helix studio album (eg: not live, greatest hits or previously unreleased songs) was the excellent It’s A Business Doing Pleasure, twelve years previous to this one. A lot happened in those twelve years, including member changes, management and record company splits, and even a Brian Vollmer solo album (When Pigs Fly). That Helix came out with an album this good with no warning was a pleasant surprise.

Almost every song here is quality stuff, with only the instrumental opener “Space Junk” and the jokey closer “Sunny Summer Daze” not fitting in with the serious rocking going on here. A couple of these recordings had previously appeared on Vollmer’s solo CD (with Brian Doerner on drums), but this sounds more like a proper Helix album. The title track features a killer chorus (reminded me of “Rock You” a bit) with those recognizable Helix backing vocals. It’s also the most “party” of all the new songs, some of them being a little darker.  Glen “Archie” Gamble (drums) utilizes some interesting cymbal work, a little different from what you usually hear on a Helix record.  His playing gives this version of Helix a different rhythm.

“Six Feet Underground” has some nice acoustic work, and is extremely catchy. “Panic” has some irresistible vocals. “It’s Hard To Feel the Sunshine When Your Heart is Filled With Rain” might have an overly long title, but the song is amazing, as heard live in concert.  A wicked harmonica solo fills the spot with a guitar solo might normally fit.  “The Ballad Of Sam & Mary” is a jokey lyric as Helix have done before, but with some serious kick behind it. (Listen for a cameo by Brian’s wife Lynda Vollmer.)  It’s only when you get to the closer with its Hawiian guitar that you feel like the album just hit a speedbump. The final track’s saving grace is a guest appearance by former member “Doctor” Doerner on guitar.

This album represented a muscular return for Helix, one that kicked off a stream of new Helix records.  The band seemed revitalized even as lineups changed, as they continued to follow through with more quality rock and roll.  Rockin’ in My Outer Space is a pleasure for fans because it’s different. This is not party music. There are audible dark clouds and angry riffs.  The changes in heavy metal over the previous decade are obvious here.  The guitars are chunkier and dirtier, and no song has a party-hardy chorus like the days of old, though the title track comes close.  Helix are known for a certain brand of rock, and it’s nice when they choose to stretch out.

Fear not Helix fans. Brian Vollmer and his gang of little-known but excellent players did not disappoint when they finally decided to release a new album under the Helix Band banner. Aside from the first and last tracks, this is one you’ll be playing all the way through.

And heck, you get used to the the first and last tracks after a while.

4/5 stars

scan_20161215-3

Bonus:  In 2005, Helix returned to Sweden to play Sweden Rock.  iTunes have one song from their set available for download: “Rock You”  This track features the short-lived but very cool six-piece lineup of Brian Vollmer, Archie Gamble, Jeff Fountain (bass), Jim Lawson (guitar), Rainer Wiechmann (guitar and producer) and Cindy Wiechmann (vocals and other instruments). This is the version of Helix that supported this album, and fortunately it was captured live. Check it out for an idea of what this great lineup sounded like live.

Gallery: HELIX guitar picks

These.  Are.  COOL.

To promote their new album Rock It Science, Helix released this set of five custom guitar picks.  It is available at their site for only $10, and they feature the excellent album art (by Brent Doerner) on the front.  On the back, each pick has a photo of a band member:  Brian Vollmer, Daryl Gray, Greg “Fritz” Hinz, Kaleb “Duckman” Duck and Chris Julke.

Guitar picks are great to collect and here at LeBrain HQ, we can always appreciate a cool set of custom plectrums.  They’re fun, they don’t take up a lot of space (I’ll be storing mine inside the CD case) and they just look cool.  Feast your eyes upon these beauties and if you decide to go for a set, don’t forget to order the Rock It Science CD to go with ’em!

REVIEW: Helix – Rock It Science (2016)

NEW RELEASE


scan_20160930HELIX – Rock It Science (2016 Perris)

Helix just don’t stop!  Never have, never will.  They have been an ongoing property since 1974, steadily releasing albums with only minor gaps between.  They keep playing live, year after year.  They keep recording new music, ensuring there is always fresh product for fans to pick up at one of their unflagging shows.  The latest is a new “greatest hits” CD called Rock It Science, featuring a smattering of tracks from all over their career and one new song.

Bands and record labels are often guilty of exploiting their fans for one or two new tracks and a whole bunch of stuff they already own.  Helix fans generally don’t feel that way.  They want to support the band (“the hardest working band in Canada”), and it’s worth noting that most past Helix “hits” CDs are out of print now, and there is very little overlap in songs.  What overlap exists is usually limited to the “big hits” – songs like “Rock You” and “Heavy Metal Love”.  Incidentally, the hits from the Capitol years included here are the re-recorded versions from Best Of 1983-2012.  Fear not, they are very authentic remakes.  You gotta do what you gotta do to get paid!

Brian Vollmer has been good about including deeper cuts on his compilations.  “Billy Oxygen” and “You’re a Woman Now” from the first album are brilliant.  These are two of their best songs, period, and they commence Rock It Science brilliantly.  Any Helix CD that includes “Billy Oxygen” is better for it.  This jazzy little rocker is one of their more complex arrangements, written and sung by the “Doctor” Brent Doerner.  Speaking of Brent, he designed the artwork for the CD and directed the music video for “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead“.  That’s the new track on this CD (click the link for a review of the song) and a damn fine one it is.  Brian co-wrote it with his partner in crime, Sean Kelly, a brilliant musician in his own right.

A few other treasures worth mentioning are the lava-hot “Get Up!” from 2006, and the ballad “Good to the Last Drop” from 1990.  This is the single remix version of the song, which tips the scales as the slightly superior (and more rare) mix.  “Shock City Psycho Rock” (1998) is a pleasant surprise.  This is a track written by bassist Mike Uzelac in the early 1980’s but not recorded until the 90’s.  (When they recorded it, Uzelac was actually a missing person.  He has since returned to the land of the living, but I can remember meeting his brother back in the Record Store days and that is when I first heard the story that Mike hadn’t been seen by family or friends in years.)  Mike Uzelac was a talented writer and contributed lots of material to Helix.  “Shock City” is one of the fastest and most destructive tracks in their catalogue.  Finally, “Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town)” is a favourite, notable for its biting lyrics and brain-searing chorus.

So go ahead and give them an R.  The band is like an institution, a hard working gang of rockers that aim to please each and every time.  Buy the CD direct from the band and you’ll get a signed copy with some great liner notes detailing some rare band history.  Rock It Science would make a fine first Helix album for any collection.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead” (2016 music video)

HELIX – “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead” (2016 music video from the forthcoming album Rock It Science)

“I don’t need no god of thunder to tell me what is great.” — Brian Vollmer

Helix are back once more, with a new greatest hits album called Rock It Science.*  You gotta have a new song on a new greatest hits (teased previously as “Mystery Track”), and this new song is timely and sharp.  Gene Simmons does indeed say that rock is dead.  In fact he’s been saying that for over 25 years.  I have a M.E.A.T Magazine interview with Gene from 1990 where he professes that rock is indeed dead.  And he’s still saying it now.  But Brian Vollmer retorts, “Don’t believe it when Gene Simmons says rock is dead!”

Sure, lots has changed, but Helix keeps going.  It’s not the 80’s anymore.  Very few can sell 2,000,000 copies of an album today.  It’s hard to make a living just by selling records.  You have to diversify.  Everything has changed — but like many things, the more they change the more they stay the same.  Rock is not dead.  In many respects, rock is more popular than ever.  Helix are still producing great quality music, and “Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead” is one more gem for their rock crown.  Daryl Gray and “Fritz” Hinz are still there on the rhythm section.  Chris Julke and Kaleb Duck handle the axes just fine.  This could have been on an album like Back for Another Taste.

As far as the video goes, Brent Doerner directed this one.  The Gene impersonator is bang-on — I hope Helix don’t get sued for this!  The video celebrates the old school.  It’s performed at Speed City Records in London, Ontario.  (Look for cool posters of bands such as Gob and VoiVod, who Gene slammed in the 1990 M.E.A.T interview.)  I really dig Daryl Gray’s Helix logo bass guitar.  That looks like a bitch to play.  Brent captured the fun side of the band in the video.  It’s not glossy, but I think it does the trick.

There’s no release date yet, but Rock It Science should be available to purchase soon.  Check out the CD cover, also designed by Brent Doerner.

Rock is dead?  Hardly.  Gene’s been wrong before, and he’s wrong again.

4/5 stars

ROCK IT

*The title It’s ROCK Science, Not Rocket Science was a working title for 2009’s Vagabond Bones.

 

 

REVIEW: Helix – Vagabond Bones (2009)

STRAT

Welcome back to Canadian Rawk Week!

Scan_20160210HELIX – Vagabond Bones (2009 Universal)

2009 was an exciting time to be a Helix fan.  15-odd years of rotating lineups kept the band alive and in the clubs, but it was hard to grow attached to any band members when they only stayed for a couple years and were off elsewhere.  Helix main man Brian Vollmer had always maintained strong ties with former members, and guys like Brent Doerner often showed up on albums, or in the audience at local Helix shows.  It was still a surprise when Doerner, drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and bassist Daryl Gray all returned to the Helix lineup.  This completed the classic 80’s version of the band, or at least the surviving members thereof.  Paul Hackman was killed in 1993 in a tragic auto accident.  Replacing him in the lineup was Kaleb “Duckman” Duck, who had previously worked with Brent.

Vollmer was working on a new album (originally called It’s Rock Science, NOT Rocket Science!), writing with his partners Sean Kelly and Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness).   The final product entitled Vagabond Bones has a variety of different players on it.  Former Helix members Brent “Ned” Niemi and Rob MacEachern play drums, and guitar maestro Kelly (also briefly a Helix member) contributed to guitar and bass.  Also on the CD is Steve Georgakopoulos who played on a few past Helix albums.  You’d think it would be a case of “too many cooks” in the kitchen.  That’s not the case; Vollmer and Co. brewed a potent mixture of songs, with all the attitude and quality that you have come to expect from this band.

Immediately you’re hit over the head by the slick production work by Vollmer, Kelly and Aaron Murray. “The Animal Inside (Won’t Be Denied)” has the stamps of both Helix and Sean Kelly all over it, from the absurdly catchy chorus to the shredding solos. Vollmer sings powerfully, but his voice has so much depth character from years of training and road work.  Very few singers from the 70’s still sound the same, but Brian Vollmer is damn close!  “Go Hard or Go Home” has another powerful chorus, plus great catchy riff, and fun lyrics.  “Go hard, or go home, take your little whiny candy ass and go.”  Considering all that Helix has been through, Vollmer surely knows only the strong survive.  “No short cuts, no sweet deals,” he sings and he knows it!  The title track “Vagabond Bones” makes it three great songs in a row. It’s an instantly likeable good time hard rock boogie.

Helix really developed a knack for melody as they grew. One of the most pop moments is “Monday Morning Meltdown”, a song that Brian compared to Cheap Trick in terms of style.  You can hear it in the choruses, but it’s just a great pop rock song with another great Sean Kelly riff holding down the fort.  Very different for Helix, and very good.

Onto a fast vintage Van Halen style shuffle, “When The Bitter’s Got The Better Of You” is the fifth straight up great song in a row.  It too is very different for Helix.  It continues a theme of “down on your luck” songs, but always with a message to keep on givin’ ‘er.  That holds true on “Hung Over But Still Hanging In”, a sleeze rock duet with Russ Dwarf of Killer Dwarfs.  If you need a hard rocking party song, then this is what you want. It has the groove, the fun, and the lyrics so just hoist them wobbly-pops and rock on!

My personal favourite song has always been “Best Mistake I Never Made”. It has a classic 70’s rock aura, an acoustic guitar, and if I had to compare it to something else it would be Helix’s excellent 1992 single “That Day Is Gonna Come”.  That’s a trip down memory lane that I don’t mind taking.  “Make ‘Em Dance” is a fast stomper with a beat that strikes me as almost Disco.  It just rages though, I wouldn’t try dancing to it until you want to break your neck!

Ending the album on a funky rock vibe is “Jack it Up”. This is a really interesting song, because I used to hate it. You may have to let it grow on you because, like much of this album, it’s forging new territory for Helix. It’s still great party rock, but just a little laid back.

With sharp production, Vagabond Bones was certainly the best sounding Helix album, and the best overall in many a year. And that’s saying something, because 2007’s The Power Of Rock And Roll was very, very strong.  Hearing this album for the first time, I just smiled.  I had to.  Helix were back and pretty much better than ever.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Wild in the Streets (1987, Rock Candy remaster)

STRAT

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.

Scan_20160211 (2)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!

3.5/5 stars

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#468: The Lies of Ian

We will return to the Deep Purple Project after this instalment of Getting More Tale.

GETTING MORE TALE #468: The Lies of Ian

I feel blessed to have grown up in the 1980’s.  What an era!  It was the age of Star Wars, Van Halen, Dio, GI Joe, and Transformers.  We had the A-Team and Magnum PI fighting on the side of good.  By the end of the decade, hard rock had hit another major peak again (before being dethroned by grunge in 1991).  It was a good time to be in school.  In fact I would argue it was the best time to be in school.

I spent nine years, from Kindergarten to grade eight, in the same place:  St. Anthony Daniel Catholic school.  Or, as my sister used to call it, the “Hell Hole”.  I lived in a great time to be in school; too bad I went to a shite school!  The bullies were mean and the teachers did not give one shit — not even one.  In fact the teachers often exacerbated the situation by embarrassing the shy and fragile in obvious loud ways, giving the bullies more ammunition come recess time.

It was in this environment that I befriended Ian Johnson, a kid with a pretty wild imagination.  He was a good guy, we had birthday parties together and sleepovers and went to movies.  We played a lot of Star Wars.  His dad made Star Wars “tables”:  giant playsets of Dagobah and the Death Star, built out of actual tables with bits cut out.  Ian was definitely the only kid around who had one of those!  He was also the only kid in class who claimed to have ninjas training in his basement.

Ian Johnson lived in a townhouse.  He did not have a basement.

We would walk home from school together, usually in a small group with one or two other kids.  Ian was well known for his tall tales.  He would swear up and down that every word was true.  If that is the case, I have some startling news to share with the world!

1. It was not Walt Disney that came up with the ideas for Bambi.  It was in fact Ian Johnson who gave Disney the idea to make it.  Please don’t scrutinize the timeline of events too closely.  Ian said it; it had to be true.

2. Ian was a mathematician.  He was one of the world’s leading mathematicians.  When I asked him why he failed the math quiz in class, it was because he was “not an expert in math that hasn’t been invented yet.”  (That would be long division.)

3. He had a squad of ninjas training in his basement.  Below his townhouse, he had a training facility several storeys deep.  The exact depth changed from tale to tale.  The main takeaway from this is that Ian had a huge concrete ninja bunker full of the deadliest weaponry hiding under his townhouse in suburban Kitchener, Ontario.  This one, nobody bought.  We’d fallen for some of his lies before but this one was just too big and fat to swallow.  We nodded and smiled because to question Johnson’s stories would lead to endless arguing.

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4. Ian knew George Lucas.  He had read Star Wars episodes I, II and III.  He knew what happened in them and described it in great detail.  There was an encounter between Jabba the Hutt and Han Solo, setting up the bounty on Solo’s head.  The level of detail made this one hard to disbelieve.  Solo took a shot at Jabba with his blaster, who jumped out of the way, dodging the bolt.  Indeed early versions of Jabba the Hutt before 1983 did have legs.  He also described a sequence including creatures called “stonemites”.  Solo was hiding in a cave full of these things which could eat through stone like termites through wood.  It wasn’t until 2002 that I learned Ian had lifted these elements wholesale from Marvel Comics’ Star Wars issue #28, from 1979.  That’s why his descriptions were so clear and believable.  It was things like this that made it hard to tell when Johnson was lying or telling the truth.

5. Mixing half-truths with fiction, Ian told us all how he knew Brian Vollmer of Helix.  I later confirmed this part of the story to be true.  Back in Record Store Tales Part 2: Gimme an R! we talked in great detail about a time when Helix were local legends in these parts.  I confirmed with Vollmer myself that he did live on Breckenridge Drive in Kitchener, three doors down from Johnson, exactly as Ian described it.  He would often point to the Vollmers’ townhouse as we rode by on our bikes, but there was rarely anyone home.  Ian also described a Christmas card that Brian Vollmer received from Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P.  This also turned out to be a true story.  I recognized the card when Brian added a picture of it to the official Helix website.  Again, it was exactly as Johnson told us.  What was not true is that Ian took credit for the “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” music video.  “That music video was my idea,” claimed Ian.  “I was talking to Brian Vollmer and I told him, ‘what you really need is a video with lots and lots of girls in it.'”

I will give Ian Johnson credit for one thing, which is while I was still listening to Iron Maiden and Kiss, he had discovered a newer heavier band called Metallica.  They only had two albums out, Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning.  “Have you ever heard Metallica?” he asked me.  “You will.”  He brought the tapes to school and played a track or two.  Giving credit when it’s due, Ian was the first kid I knew to have heard of Metallica.  He was on top of his heavy metal.

That is, until 1986.  That is when Ian Johnson dropped the metal and went full-bore new wave.  “Girls don’t like heavy metal,” he explained to me during a heated argument.  Girls.  PAH!

This one is for Ian Johnson wherever you are.  I’m sure he’s still out there, consulting Disney on the new Star Wars movie backed by a squad of fully trained ninjas.