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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Lick It Up (1983)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 23:

  Lick It Up (1983 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

On September 18 1983, Kiss publicly unmasked on MTV.  They each appeared with a name tag at a desk and answered questions from the press.  Their first album with their bare faces on the cover was just released on that day:  Lick It Up.  With two non-original members now in the band, and their fortunes fading, it seemed like the best move commercially and artistically.  According to writer Robert V. Conte, the Kiss press conference was overshadowed by an MTV special on Van Halen, broadcast the same evening.

It would be easy for skeptics to dismiss Kiss’ unmasking as a mere stunt, and in many ways they would be right, but it was not a decision made lightly.  Kiss had legitimate fears about how they could carry on without the makeup and costumes.  They came to realize that they could just continue doing what they do – playing their songs live as they always have.

The new album, Lick It Up, was brilliant. It is “exhibit A” in the case of “Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?”  With eight out of ten writing credits, all of them great, it certainly appears that Vinnie gave Lick It Up a swift kick in the afterburner.

The stark white cover featured Kiss in their street clothes.  It was a minimalist cover with the only clue to their identities being Gene’s tongue.  In Japan, a full cover obi retained the band in makeup (including Vinnie) until you opened the package and saw the white cover inside.  This led to an urban legend that Japan actually had a rare makeup cover on their edition of Lick It Up.

Strangely enough, even though Lick It Up was Vinnie’s official debut as a Kiss member, He didn’t play the solo on opening salvo “Exciter”.  This was unknown to fans at the time, but “Exciter” was performed by Rick Derringer after Vinnie couldn’t nail the right vibe in the studio.  It was an ominous warning of things to come.

Otherwise, “Exciter” ushered Kiss into the 1980s with a sound that fit.  It had a chunky guitar chug, and killer melodic chorus, and left the sound of the 70s far behind.  Perhaps most importantly, it had no outside writers.  Nothing on Lick It Up required outside writers now that they had Vinnie in the band.

After the blowout opening of “Exciter”, Gene Simmons grinds it down slow with one of his heaviest tracks to date: “Not For the Innocent”.  Gene adapted his singing style to include a Demon scream, and “Not For the Innocent” features lots of it on the outro.  “Not For the Innocent” built on the heavy Kiss of Creatures of the Night and pushed it heavier.

The first single was the successful and surprisingly simple “Lick It Up”.  It’s basically a textbook guitar chug with verses and a chorus – no solo.  It was enough to go top 40 in the UK and Canada and has since become a concert staple.  In fact it’s the only Lick It Up song to remain in the set beyond the 80s, and it’s a pretty good song for what it is.

Simmons returned to the fore on the frenetic “Young and Wasted”, an example of speedy 80s Kiss keeping up with their metal compatriots.  Fortunately, Vincent provided a kicking riff.  Live, “Young and Wasted” was often given to Eric Carr to sing.  The studio version is the one to beat.  Then it was Paul Stanley’s turn in the driver’s seat with “Gimme More”, keeping things rolling in a non-descript top gear.

One of the most interesting tunes on Lick It Up is the side two opener and second single “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose.”  It was begun as a Zeppelin-y riff by Eric Carr, and finished by all four members – only the second Kiss song ever credited to all four members.  It became, in Eric’s words, a “rock and roll rap song!”  That’s not quite so, though Paul’s talk-singing in the verses evokes the basics of rap.  No worries though; this is one brilliant Kiss song that really deserved more exposure.  One worth buying the album for.

The Simmons-dominated second side of Lick It Up is where most of the treasures are found, but Paul had one more kick at the can.  Paul’s “A Million to One” is an unsung classic.  A defiant Stanley tells an ex that her chances of finding a better lover are “a million to one”.  With such an awesome song backing him, Paul makes a convincing argument.  He hits a homerun with melody and angst.

A trio of Simmons tunes ends Lick It Up as one of Kiss’ heaviest album.  “Fits Like a Glove” is speedy-Kiss again, hyper-caffeinated and playing as fast as they can.  Gene’s barking out the words, chewing them up, spitting them out and taking no prisoners.  Then, he brings it back to a groove on “Dance All Over Your Face”.  It’s a song you might not know, but you should.  Kiss’ deep cuts from the 80s have some rare diamonds, and this is one of them.

The closer was an apocalyptic rocker called “And on the 8th Day” which was based on a Vinnie Vincent demo.  The verses of that demo became “And on the 8th Day”.  The choruses became a later Vinnie Vincent Invasion track called “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, which we will look at later on.  The two songs share DNA but have little else in common.  The Vincent demo is the kind of speed rocker that dominated Lick It Up.  Meanwhile the Kiss song “And on the 8th Day” has the slow monster plod, a killer riff, and a chorus that goes on for days.  Although it’s never seen the light of a concert stage, it really should have.

Though Vinnie Vincent co-wrote the songs that may or may not have saved Kiss, he was a real problem.  His personality didn’t mesh, and his ego got the better of him.  He couldn’t come to an agreement with Kiss over his contract, and in fact never signed one to become an official Kiss member.  This caused him to be let go at the end of the European Lick It Up tour.

Finding a replacement for Vincent wasn’t easy, and he was re-hired for the American tour, though he still delayed signing a contract.  Issues with Vinnie grew on this tour, as he grabbed more of the spotlight from his bandmates.  Like Ace Frehley before him, Vinnie was given a five minute solo spot, but sometimes Vinnie dragged them out well into overtime.  This caused plenty of tension, especially when he once broke into an impromptu solo leaving the band on stage not sure what to do.  The issue of Vinnie’s contract became a non-issue when he was let go permanently.  The band have had very little good to say about Vinnie Vincent since then, especially when the lawsuits began.  Despite this, Lick It Up was not to be Vinnie’s final collaboration with his former band.

Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?  This argument will go on as long as there are Kiss fans to discuss it.  Vinnie certainly did provide Kiss with some grade-A songs, both here and on Creatures of the Night.  However he wasn’t the kind of guitar player they needed, who could play the old stuff authentically and also shred with the new kids.  If Vinnie hadn’t come along, another talented writer would have, and Kiss would have continued.  This doesn’t do anything to discredit Lick It Up, a damn fine “comeback” indeed.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

3.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  After my scathing review of Creatures of the Night, I wasn’t sure how to approach this Lick It Up Meat’s Slice. I guess I’ll start with March 15, 1984. My buddy Scott Hunter and I went to Maple Leaf Gardens to see Kiss on the Lick it Up tour, with supporting act Accept! This was to be my second Kiss concert, as we were also at Maple Leaf Gardens for the Creatures tour on January 14, 1983. A concert in which we didn’t know until well after that it wasn’t Ace Frehley on guitar…but none other than Vinnie Vincent. Of course Vinnie was on guitar for the Lick it Up tour as well. Great show with openers The Headpins. Before my 15th birthday, I had now seen Kiss twice. I am 47 now and haven’t seen them live since.

Kiss had taken the makeup off between these albums. Years before I remember seeing a People magazine in my grandmother’s bathroom, while taking a shit, that showed Gene Simmons with a bandana over his face just over his nose. Up until now I had not seen any Kiss member without makeup. So there they are on the Lick It Up cover and all I can think is…”Damn…wish they still had makeup at least for that really ugly dude,” (Vinnie).  The title track of the album has become a bit of a Kiss classic and is still a great song. Not a lot of this album is exceptionally great in my opinion, but there are some good gems in there. The best of which I think is “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, which I have always loved and still do. Other than those two songs? The album lies somewhere between Meh and Good for me.

Funny Vinnie story for me though. Many years ago our makeshift band at the time were playing a Christmas assembly at St. David’s High School in Waterloo here. I was standing behind the soundboard as my guitar player was on stage doing a sound check. The sound guy asked my buddy Dave to play a bit to get a starting level. As per usual, Dave went ripping into some heavy metal bullshit soloing. After a few seconds of that I could see the sound guy waving his hands in the air in front of me, and after getting Dave’s attention, says into the microphone at the board, “Okay Vinnie Vincent…Settle down there.”  Always found that kinda defined the Vinnie Vincent Invasion.

Favorite Tracks: “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, “Lick It Up”

Forgettable Tracks: I don’t know about forgettable, but the rest isn’t that memorable.


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/20

 

 

 

 

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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Creatures of the Night (1982/1985)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 22:

  – Creatures of the Night (1982 Casablanca, 1985 Polygram reissue, 1997 Mercury remaster)

The internal problems with Kiss continued full-bore into their next album, the surprisingly powerful Creatures of the Night.  Ace Frehley was on the cover, and in the music video, but like Peter Criss before him, he didn’t play a note.  In the midst of recording with new producer Michael James Jackson (Red Rider), they were also auditioning new guitarists to replace the Ace.

As a result of the embarrassing failure of their concept album fiasco Music From the Elder, Kiss had little choice in what to do next.  If they had any hope of survival as a musical entity, they had to return to rock.  What may have come as a surprise given their recent history including two pop “Kissco” albums was that their new music was really, really heavy.  Kiss were unleashed and went full-bore heavy metal.

Aiding and abetting this:  drummer Eric Carr was unchained on Creatures of the Night.  His drum sound, inspired by the massive slam of Zeppelin’s John Bonham, was completely off the hook.  These are by far the biggest sounding drums on any Kiss album.  Also helping the band get heavier:  a new songwriting partner.  Vincent Cusano wrote and played on several tracks on Creatures.  His talent was evident to all.

In fact there is a school of thought today regarding Mr. Cusano, later redubbed “Vinnie Vincent”.  A large vocal group of fans proclaim today that “Vinnie Saved Kiss”.  And that theory does hold some water.

Other contributors to the LP included Canadian writing team Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.  Adam Mitchell and Mikel Japp also wrote with Paul and Gene.  Guitarists Robben Ford, Steve Farris and Adam Mitchell lent chops and solos to the album.  One guy who Gene claims came to the studio, but did not play, was one Eddie Van Halen.  According to Gene Simmons, Eddie came down and poured his heart out complaining how miserable he was in Van Halen…and then asked to join Kiss.  Believe it…or not?

The incendiary title track “Creatures of the Night” is powerful and instantaneous enough to be used as a concert opener.  The metallic chug was new to Kiss, but not alien to them.  This anthemic Paul Stanley rocker had the goods.  Kiss were back, and in a big way.  Just listen to those opening drums!  It’s as if Kiss knew that Eric Carr still needed a more suitable introduction, and they gave it to him.

Creatures is notable for one major “first”.  It was the first of many Kiss studio albums to only feature two lead singers, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  Gene’s debut on Creatures is the incredible “Saint and Sinner”, heavy but low-key and based on a killer verse melody.  “Get me off this carousel, you can do as you please…you can go to hell,” sings an angry Demon.  And that’s Vinnie, absolutely smoking with a brilliantly melodic guitar solo.  What a player…but only when he can control his instincts to play too fast.

Paul turns up the sex on “Keep Me Comin’” (har-de-har har!), a sleazy Kiss rocker with a heavy Zeppelin groove.  While not quite filler material, “Keep Me Comin’” and another Paul track called “Danger” are definitely on the lower rungs of this album.  “Danger” is the prototype for a kind of speed metal Kiss rocker that Paul threw on all the albums from this point to 1985.

One of Paul’s best songs, and longest lasting in concert, was the ballad “I Still Love You”.  This is one heavy ballad, but Paul’s singing is completely over the top.  Again, it’s more like a heavy Zeppelin blues ballad.  A track like this proves why Paul is considered one of the greatest hard rock singers of all time.  Not too many can do it like Paul on “I Still Love You”…and that’s Eric Carr on bass, by the way.  Gene doesn’t play bass on most of Paul’s songs.  Jimmy Haslip (ex-Blackjack featuring Michael Bolton and future Kiss member Bruce Kulick) and Mike Porcaro took over bass duties on “Danger” and “Creatures” respectfully.

As for Gene, Creatures really sounds up his alley, with tunes like “Rock and Roll Hell”, “Killer”, and “War Machine” suiting his dark persona.  And what tunes these are, particularly “Rock and Roll Hell” which simmers with a midnight intensity.  The song rides the basic bassline with not much in the way of additional crunch, into chorus time.  The interesting thing is the song is actually a thorough re-working of an old Bachman-Turner Overdrive song written by Jim Valance.  In fact, Valance claimed that Simmons only insisted on reworking the song in order to get writing royalties.  Either way, “Rock and Roll Hell” just burns like an ember.  Then in another interesting twist, the song was later covered by Ace Frehley (Origins Vol. 1)!  A Kiss cover of a Kiss song he never played on.

“Killer” reeks of Vinnie Vincent.  One of the key guitar riffs sounds quintessentially Vinnie, and kind of similar to his later solo track “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”.  It’s a brilliant track, right up Gene’s alley, with intense speed and hooks.  The female backing vocals in the outro are a surprise.  “War Machine” on the other hand sounds purely Gene, even though it’s a co-write with Valance and Bryan Adams.  Something about it personifies the “monster plod” sound that Gene specializes in. It’s apocalyptic Kiss metal for your nightmares.  It’s strong and relentless.

The single was, of course, the overplayed “I Love it Loud”, which in turn was transformed into a killer music video featuring Ace Frehley miming Vinnie Vincent’s guitar.  “I Love it Loud” is insanely catchy and unshakeable during its first several listens.  After that, it’s too simple to maintain interest too long.  It’s kind of baffling how this song has remained in set lists well past its sell-by date, especially when tracks like “Killer” and “Saint and Sinner” are not.

In 1985 this album was reissued with new non-makeup cover art.  On the cover they replaced Ace Frehley, who never played on the album, with Bruce Kulick…who never played on the album.  Three songs were remixed:  “Creatures of the Night”, “War Machine”, and “I Love it Loud”, but only “Creatures” was included on the 1985 album.  The remixed “I Love it Loud” was later issued on a compilation, and the remixed “War Machine” has yet to be released.  The remixes by Dave Wittman generally toned down the awesome drum sound, weakening the experience overall.

Vinnie Vincent joined the band officially after Creatures was recorded, and was given his own makeup design:  The “Ankh Warrior”.  A strange choice for a new character; perhaps Kiss were plain out of ideas or just didn’t care.  It’s the only Kiss makeup design to never be seen on an album cover.  Then, Kiss embarked on their first American tour in years, the 10th Anniversary Tour.  It featured a stage with a tank for a drum riser.  “Killer” indeed!

Today’s rating:

4.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  When Creatures of the Night was released in 1982, Kiss had been on the back burner for me for a couple years.  Obviously still loved the classics, but 12 year old Meat was starting to become a huge fan of Heavy Metal music.  Two different friends of mine and I were discovering new music together.  Albums like Ace of Spades, Maiden Japan and Saxon’s Denim and Leather were the gateway drug for me on my way to being addicted to Heavy Metal. So when Creatures came out I recall being so into it, primarily because this was a “Heavy Metal” Kiss record.  What’s not to like?  The video for “I Love it Loud” was awesome and renewed my love for the band at the time.

So I listened to Creatures from stem to stern the other day, 35 years after it was released, and my take on this album is now quite a different story.  I am expecting that many will disagree with my slice on this one, but circumstances dictate my review.  Metal music just doesn’t inspire me the way it used to.  The love is still there but the lust is gone.  Obviously there are staples that I will always love, and new exceptions pop up all time time, but the truth is I would rather put on stuff like Steely Dan, Sly and the Family Stone, Grand Funk Railroad, Yes, Steve Earle, Drive by Truckers etc etc.

If I would have done these Meat Slices let’s say…20 years ago?…I probably would have panned Unmasked and praised this album.  But now it is the opposite.  The album’s title track, “I Still Love You” and “I Love it Loud” are still enjoyable to me, but pretty much every other song sounds very forced and downright boring to me.  This is what happens when a band, who was used to ruling the world, tries to regain said status by joining the new Heavy Metal revolution.  Trying to be something they are not.   The albums previous (with maybe the exception of the song “The Oath”) and the albums that followed were not Metal albums.  The following albums have some heavy songs, but are definitely not Heavy Metal records.  You have to fast forward a decade until they released Revenge, and even that album had some different styles within it.  It’s so strange to me that a Kiss record that sees Kiss trying SO HARD to be a heavy metal band, turns to Bryan Adams for inspiration?  What’s Metal about that?  Hello.  McFly?

Rating this album was tough for me. I had to consider how much I loved it when it came out, and that the Creatures of the Night tour was my first Toronto arena concert.  I can’t say I dislike the album, but I can say that of all the Kiss records I have revisited doing these slices, it’s this album that truly disappointed me because I went into the listen looking forward to hearing it again.

My final thoughts are this.  Would diehard Alice Cooper fans consider Flush the Fashion a classic Alice Cooper record?  It’s an album I owned on vinyl and I like the album, but it’s a blatant grab at the New Wave market and sounds nothing like the rest of his career.  Celtic Frost has done everything possible to erase the memory of the deplorable Cold Lake, since it is a very un-Celtic Frost like record for the band.  Creatures of the Night is not genuine to me.  Most of the album sounds like the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s album, Smell the Glove. Especially the song “Heavy Duty”, and not surprisingly it was released not long after this in 1984.  So, to end this slice I will refer to the immortal Derek Smalls and put it like this.  Creatures of the Night is a disingenuous collection of head banging bullshit that to me is forgettable.  It sounds square, clunky and has way too many forgettable songs on it.  I would rather listen to Bryan Adams’ 1983 album Cuts Like a Knife.   But Kiss…I still love you.

 Favorite Tracks:  “I Love it Loud”, “Creatures of the Night”, “I Still Love You”

 Forgettable Tracks:   The rest


LeBrain’s rebuttal:  You’re Wrong on Creatures

For this Kiss Re-Review series, I have purposely avoided reading Uncle Meat’s reviews, and vice-versa, until they are ready to post.  We wanted to avoid influencing each other.  Creatures is an exception.  Meat sent this to me a couple weeks ago, long before I even started my review.  And now that I have read it…I feel like crying a single solitary tear of sadness, just like the one Gene shed in the video for “A World Without Heroes”.

Uncle Meat has a point about the switch to heavy metal music seeming like an act of desperation.  I don’t doubt that if The Elder had been a hit instead of an abject nearly career-ending failure, Kiss would have continued in that direction.  But we are talking about Kiss here.  This is a band that have usually been followers, not leaders.  Were they the first to wear makeup and heels?  No.  Did they invent disco with “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”?  No.  Going forward into the future, you will see Kiss continuing to chase other people’s sounds, such as Jon Bon Jovi and Alice in Chains.  Even Revenge, which Meat mentioned above, seemed like an effort to bring things in line with what was happening in rock and roll.

Having listened to Creatures again for what must be the 30,000th time, my love for it is still strong.  I’ve bought Creatures five times over the years.  Every time I play it, I’m a 13 year old again.  I sink into the guitar tones, which Vinnie just nailed on this album, and enjoy the booming echo of the drums.  “I Love it Loud” no longer pitches my pup tent, but mostly due to overexposure.

On this, the Meatmaster General and I will have to agree to disagree.  It’s something we often do when it comes to music, but the benefit is that it generates rich discussions, just like this one.  — LeBrain

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/28

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Killers (1982 import)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 21:  

  Killers (1982 Casablanca, German and Japanese versions)

No matter how you feel about Kiss’s concept album Music From the Elder, it was a commercial dud.  It was Kiss’ first serious flop as a band since hitting the big time in 1975 with Kiss Alive!  More significantly, it was part of a trend:  Kiss chaos.  Since the solo albums, Kiss were fragmented.  The band weren’t playing on all the songs anymore, and members were leaving.  They had strayed from their music roots and become a comic book novelty act.  The Elder was not so much an album that people didn’t “get”, but one they didn’t care to “get”.  Fans were moving on.

The European record label, Phonogram, was in damage control mode.  They drew up plans to issue an album consisting of new and old songs; a compilation to put some money back in the coffers.  They weren’t mucking around.  They wanted a batch of new rock songs, but Kiss had effectively become a trio.  Ace Frehley hadn’t left the band officially, but he was no longer involved creatively.  Filling the guitar slot again was Bob Kulick.  As he did on Kiss Alive II, Bob played lead guitar on the new songs.  A 1988 book called Kiss: Still on Fire also named Ratt’s Robbin Crosby as a guitar player on the new songs, though this is a claim not backed up in any other source.  Paul provided the new songs, written with old and new friends:  Mikel Japp, Adam Mitchell, and some Canadian guy named Bryan something.  Bryan Adams?  Cuts like a knife indeed!  Adams co-wrote the lethal “Down On Your Knees”, and it wouldn’t be his last songwriting credit with Kiss either.

The best new tune in the batch was called “Nowhere to Run”, and it was one of the rockers that Kiss were working on before they decided to do The Elder instead. The sheer quality of this Stanley-penned underdog really supports the theory that doing The Elder was a mistake.  “Nowhere to Run” was classic Stanley, as good as anything on his solo album and exactly the kind of song that Kiss should have been doing.  In an alternate universe where The Elder never came out, what could have happened to Kiss?  Unfortunately the new compilation called Kiss Killers was never released in North America.   “Nowhere to Run” could do very little to change Kiss’ fortunes without being released in their native country.

The second-finest of the new songs is a little ditty called “I’m a Legend Tonight”.  Paul has somewhat disowned these songs since, but it is really hard to understand why.  This is a hard hitting Paul rocker, as only Paul can do.  It’s all innuendo and hot guitar licks.  The riff is simple and hooky, while Kulick plays for all he’s worth.  No longer was Bob being told to “play like Ace”.  His signature scorch really makes these new songs sound like a continuation of the Paul Stanley solo album.  Then there is “Down on Your Knees”, the one with Bryan Adams’ fingerprints on it.  It’s hard to tell, although it’s not outside the Adams ballpark.  It’s a sleazy rocker, spare and sounding great.  The new tracks were produced by Michael James Jackson, who finally captured Eric Carr’s drums properly.  Bob Ezrin buried them under mud on The Elder.  Kiss Killers sounds more like the real Eric Carr debut album.  The last of the new songs, “Partners in Crime”, is the weakest of the four.  Paul takes it down to a slow sexy grind, but “Partners in Crime” lacks the charisma of the other three.

As far as the new songs could be considered a “comeback”, it’s close but no cigar.  There’s no discernable Demon.  Where is Gene Simmons?  The lack of any audible Simmons vocals makes you question whether he even played bass on the new songs.  Regardless, Kiss is about a balance between Gene and Paul, and Killers represents the first heavy skew towards Paul.

 

The hits on the record make for great listening.  Most of the key bases are covered:  “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout it Out Loud”, “Love Gun”, “God of Thunder” and even “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”.  There are no Peter Criss songs, and the only Frehley is “Cold Gin”, which Gene sings.  The only ballad is “Sure Know Something”, a minor hit in Germany where this album was issued.  In a cool touch, the record closes with the “live” (quotation marks!) version of “Rock and Roll all Nite” that made them superstars.  It is the more well known, and arguably superior version.  (Some of the other tracks are edits or single versions.*)

Kiss’ very first Japanese bonus tracks were on Killers.  The Japanese version is an even better listen.  They put a bonus track in the second-to-last position on each side:  “Shandi” (massive hit in Australia) and “Escape From the Island” (previously unreleased in Japan — it wasn’t included on their version of The Elder).  “Shandi” is just a great fucking song, and “Escape From the Island” is a cool inclusion because of a) its obscurity, and b) its total Ace Frehley shreddery.  It is interesting to note, that only Japan had tracks from the two most recent Kiss albums, Unmasked and Music From the Elder.  The rest of the world did not.  Were Kiss already trying to bury those records?

Periodically, the new songs on Kiss Killers have reappeared on single B-sides, compilations and box sets.  The best way to get them is just to pick up a copy of Killers.  Choose your format, sit back and rock!

Today’s rating:

4/5 stars

* “Shout it Out Loud” is a single version with a different mix on the lead vocals and an early fade.  “Detroit Rock City” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” are edited versions.

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/27

#471: Canadian Rawk

STRAT

GETTING MORE TALE #471: Canadian Rawk

What do you think of when you read the words “Canadian rock”?  Perhaps you imagine the vocal shrieks and drum thrills of Rush?  If you have a negative impression of Canadian music, no doubt your mind drifts to the sultry sounds of Nickelback.  Landmark artists from the golden age that you know would include Neil Young, the Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Joni Mitchell, Steppenwolf and countless more.

Canada has always had an inferiority complex when it comes to our southern neighbours, the Americans.  In the music world, this is manifested in “CanCon”.  Simply put, Canadian radio broadcasters must play at least 40% Canadian content.  Starting in 1968, fears that American artists would flood our airwaves resulted in the first CanCon rules.  If you have ever bought a Canadian CD, perhaps you have seen the letters MAPL on the back.  MAPL is an acronym that determines if content does indeed qualify as Canadian.

MAPL

M:  Music.  Did a Canadian write the tune?
A:  Artist.  Is the primary artist a citizen of the Great White North?
P:  Performance.  Was the recording made in Canadian, in a Canadian studio?  Or for live albums, was the concert on Canadian soil?
L:  Lyrics.  Separate from the music qualifier, this determines if the lyrics were written by a Canadian.

Controversy erupted in 1991.  Bryan Adams had the biggest record of his career, Waking Up the Neighbors, which was co-written by Robert John “Mutt” Lang and recorded overseas.  Under the MAPL rules (since tweaked to avoid this situation), Adams did not qualify as CanCon.  His manager Bruce Allen was quite vocal against these rules.  Allen was never one to mince words, but he sparked a discussion on CanCon rules and how they ultimately hurt Canadian artists.  Flooding the airwaves with Canadian songs that weren’t that good was one issue commonly discussed. Another was that some international artists qualified for CanCon by recording in Canada with some of our most in-demand hit-makers such as Jim Vallance or Bruce Fairbairn.   Finally, these rules implied a lack of confidence in the strength of our own music.

Some feel that there is a stigma in being Canadian.   Though controversial, some feel there is such thing as a “Canadian sound”.  While this is obviously not universal, I do think there is something to it.  There is a commonality in Canadian bands that defies description.  To my ears, the Tragically Hip sound Canadian.  BTO and the Guess Who sound Canadian.  So does Bryan Adams.  I can’t explain it nor do I want to open that can of worms.  I think the roots of Canadian rock, going back to Neil Young and the Guess Who, are basic folksy traditional origins.  I think this has somehow been passed on in our DNA.  This is not always considered a good thing.  The alternative rock band I Mother Earth put out their debut album Dig in 1993, utilizing Mike Clink as producer and hoping to break open in the American market.  They were hyped as “the next Jane’s Addition”, but they did not want to be openly identified as Canadian in promo materials.  They felt that there was indeed a Canadian stigma and they would have more success if their citizenship wasn’t brought up.  M.E.A.T Magazine covered this story but were firmly in the pro-Canadian camp.

Here at mikeladano.com, we don’t have to follow CanCon rules, but Canadian content has dominated regardless.  I believe that our music is strong enough to stand proudly on its own.  We have so much talent in this country.  So many incredible songs have emerged from the frozen tundra.  Countless incredible, under-appreciated, creative artists:  VoiVod, Paul MacLeod, Sloan, Death From Above 1979, Blue Rodeo, Strapping Young Lad, the Trews, Sarah Harmer, Big Sugar…the list truly is endless because great new performers emerge every day.  When I worked at the old Record Store, we were fiercely proud Canadians.  We put a little Canadian flag sticker on the header cards of every Canadian artist.  A lot of customers would say, “I didn’t know that singer was Canadian!”

This week, join me each day for a close look  at some good Canadian Rawk albums that you may have missed over the years.  Trust me, you do not want to miss these reviews or you may miss a future favourite record.  Grab a Timmies or a wobbly pop and get ready to rock!

 

#404: Report: Aux 33 Tours in Montréal

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale Report: Aux 33 Tours in Montréal

My sister, bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano, just completed the east coast leg of her Canadian tour last month. This was followed by a western leg, but while returning home from the east there was a stop in Montréal. Kathryn is a collector too, though not to the extent that I am. She doesn’t need the physical musical media in her daily life like I do. She still collects some of her favourite bands, and has recently started buying vinyl. While in Montréal, she visited a record store called Aux 33 Tours, located at 1373 Mont-Royal Est.  According to their website, it is the largest record store in the city.  She emailed me the following day, May 27, raving about the store. I’ll let her take it from here! Enjoy the pictures.

I found the most amazing record store in Montréal yesterday! I found almost all The Spoons’ albums on LP, including ones that aren’t available on CD. I also found a promo live album by them that didn’t have a proper cover because it wasn’t supposed to be sold. They were all dirt cheap – like $2 – $7. ‎One of them was autographed and personalized “To Martin”! [Fortuitously, her husband is also named Martin!] I also got Kid A on record. Kid A and Sgt. Peppers are reissues with heavy packaging. They had an original Sgt Peppers, but the reissue was cheaper, so I got that.

I spent about $140. Which I think is good for that many albums! ‎Note: the Simon and Garfunkel and Gord Downie ones are Martin’s.

I’d also like to point out how rare that Bryan Adams single is.  He really tried to bury that song!  Watch the video, you’ll hear why.  (They sped up his voice which gives him a Chipmunks sound.)

And finally, gratuitous photos of Schnauzers and Starfleet collars:

Part 138: Remembrance Day [Reblog]

This is a reblog of last year’s RECORD STORE TALES Part 138: Remembrance Day.

 

Every November 11 at the store, I always killed the sound at 11:00 am for one minute.  I remembered going to the cenotaph every year when I was a kid, and watch my Grampa with the other old soldiers laying the wreaths.  I plugged my ears when the canons fired!  The least I could do as an adult is kill the music for one minute.

This one is for my Grampa and veterans everywhere.

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REVIEW: Rock Aid Armenia – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions

ROCK AID ARMENIA – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions (2010 Edel CD/DVD set)

When some of the biggest names in both British and Canadian rock combined together to re-record “Smoke on the Water”, as a mega-collaboration charity track, I don’t care who you are:  You gotta listen!   Originally released as “Smoke on the Water ’90” on The Earthquake Album, it didn’t garner the attention of, say, a Hear N’ Aid, but it’s definitely a noteworthy track.  The Earthquake Album contained just the radio mix, which was an edited down version lacking Paul Rodgers.  This package on the other hand is a CD/DVD combo set including all 4 versions of “Smoke ’90” and a documentary.

The region 0 encoded DVD is 40 minutes long, and filled with incredible behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews.  First, an explanation of the cause:  rebuilding a children’s music school in Armenia, destroyed in a 1988 earthquake.  Then, the musicians arrive!  Roger Taylor (Queen) is first in the door.  Can’t do anything without the drums!  He shows off his considerable chops while warming up.  Chris Squire (Yes) is next, who reveals that all egos have been dealt with in advance of the recording.  Brian May turns up with a broken arm (skateboarding accident) to offer his support; he would return to record after the arm has healed.  The recording takes place over five separate sessions.  One benefit of this arrangement was that it enabled Ritchie Blackmore to show up, without having to see Ian Gillan!

IOMMI MAYOh, to be in that room…

Soon to arrive:  Tony Iommi.  Paul Rodgers.  Bruce Dickinson.  David Gilmour.  Alex Lifeson.  Two keyboardists:  Keith Emerson and Geoff Downes.  Even Bryan Adams sings some backing vocals, after he turned up just to check out the recording studio!  (Gilmour can’t help but take a stab at Rogers Waters during the interview segments.)  Incidentally, I found it cool that Rodgers recorded his vocals with a hand-held mike.

I’ve always been a fan of this version of “Smoke”; in fact this was the first version of that I ever heard, 23 years ago.  The band was dubbed Rock Aid Armenia.  They got together in late ’89, and recorded this updated sounding cover.  Gillan, Dickinson and Rodgers handled the lead vocals, in that order.  It’s great to hear Iommi playing those chunky chords again.  Chris Squire’s bass work is fairly simple, but perfect.

The CD includes an updated 2010 remix that cuts down a lot of Keith Emerson’s cheesey keyboards.  Emerson stated that he wanted to put his own stamp on his parts, based on ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”.  He probably wouldn’t be happy to be mixed down on this version, but his keys always stood out like a sore thumb to me.  The 2010 mix adds in a lot more previously unheard guitar fills instead. Other extras include a previously unreleased version of the song, with an entire Ian Gillan vocal take.

This is a great little-known recording, and I’m glad an obscurity like this has finally been reissued properly.

4/5 stars

Footnote:  In 2011 and 2012, Gillan and Iommi followed this with a single and compilation album under the name WhoCares; also featuring Nicko McBrain, Jon Lord and Jason Newsted!

Part 138: Remembrance Day

RECORD STORE TALES Part 138: Remembrance Day

Every November 11 at the store, I always killed the sound at 11:00 am for one minute.  I remembered going to the cenotaph every year when I was a kid, and watch my Grampa with the other old soldiers laying the wreaths.  I plugged my ears when the canons fired!  The least I could do as an adult is kill the music for one minute.

This one is for my Grampa and veterans everywhere.

 

Part 130: The Bargain Bin

RECORD STORE TALES PART 130:  The Bargain Bin

The Bargain Bin was where we sold our overstock — discs we had three or more copies of — at $5.99 per disc.  Which was cheap by 1996 prices.  New discs went from $16.99 to $24.99 at the time.

I think it was Trev who made the sign for the Bargain Bin.  Trevor was the resident sign-maker because he had some artistic ability, where my boss couldn’t read my handwriting let alone my signs.  It was originally called the “Bin O’ Bargains”.  It was a big red sign, and it looked something like this:

Bin ‘O Bargains.  But yet 90% of customers couldn’t read it.  They would always say, “What’s in your Bin Bargains?”

“Bin Bargains”?  That doesn’t even make sense!

The Bin O’ Bargains, as mentioned, was a hodgepodge of overstock.  Any type of music was fair game, from Alan Jackson to Hammer to Lionel Richie to Hole to the Pumpkins.  $5.99 each.  We later lowered this, but at the start everything in there was basically the same price.  We figured, that was simplest.

Simple to us, but not to everyone else.  The Bin O’ Bargains created many questions and problems for both customers and staff!  I mentioned that it was for stuff we had three or more copies of.  That’s an oversimplification of things, but there were also things that we’d NEVER throw in the bargain bin.  For example, if by some weird coincidence, we had four copies of a Queen album:  Staff would think maybe, “OK, that’s plenty of copies, I’ll put this copy of The Miracle in the Bin.”

Nooooo! No no nononono!

Queen, Metallica, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Lightfoot, …doesn’t matter how many copies we have or what we paid for them.  You never, ever, ever bargain bin bands like that.  If we happened to have a bunch of used copies, that’s just pure chance!

You’d also never throw a greatest hits CD in there, because they were good sellers.

Err…except those cheapie greatest hits discs that you can get new at the grocery store for around $5.

Try teaching all that to a highschool kid who just wants to work at a record store to be cool.  We ended up selling all kinds of stuff for $5.99, by mistake, instead of stockpiling it.   I remember once a kid handed me a copy of Metallica’s Black Album that he found in the bin at $5.99.  Lucky kid!  That CD never should have been in there, since it was a regular easy sale at full price.  (It doesn’t matter what you think of that album, it was huge, people wanted it all the time.)

So, there was that.  There was always the confusing aspect that since our Bargain Bin was overstock, you’d find the same album on our regular shelves for $11.99.  So people would logically ask:

“This copy is $5.99, and this copy is $11.99.  Is that because one is scratched more?”

Oooh.  Hated that question.  It required a set response that both stated our quality policy (all discs are guaranteed and scratch free) and a quick explanation of overstock.  People were often confused and who could blame them?

After you explained the Bin O’ Bargains to them, they’d hold up the $5.99 copy.  “So…I should buy this one, right?”

Yes.  Yes you should.

Since the bargain bin was a hodgepodge, we just threw stuff in there — nothing was alphabetized.  Which caused us problems with lazy customers who didn’t want to flip through the treasures within.

“The other day you had Bryan Adams in here.  Can you help me find him?”

ARGH!  Why didn’t you buy him the other day?  Yeah, I’ll help you find him.  Flip flip flip.  Flip flip flip.  Flip flip flip.  I could flip the whole bin in around 5-10 minutes, but still…tedious.

We did brisk business out of the bin.  The markup was decent and we might have sold 20 out of there each day.  Some people used it to take chances on new music, others to pick up long-ignored albums.  It just boggled my mind how many people complained about such a great deal!

“I can’t search through this bin…it’s completely random!  I’m not wasting my time.”

“Can you give me a deal if I buy 5?”

We also had this frequent buyer card like a buy-10-get-one-free type of card, but it specifically said, “Not applicable with any other special deals.”  The Bin O’ Bargains was already a special deal, so we weren’t allowed to stamp the card with it.  Which pissed people off.  Which made me wonder, “What are you complaining about?  You’re already getting a CD for a quarter of its regular price.”

When the Bin O’ Bargain was full to the brim, and sales were slow, we’d have a Bargain Bin sale.  Something like buy two from the bin, get one free.  We were still making money and stuff cleared out of there quickly.  It was one good way to get rid of all those Lionel Richie Louder Than Words discs.

But don’t worry, the Bin would fill up again in short order.  There were always people looking to get rid of their Lionel Richie.

Always.

REVIEW: KISS – Creatures of the Night (1982, 1985, 1997 editions)

Part 19 of my series of Kiss reviews, leading up to the release of Monster!

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KISS – Creatures of the Night (1982, 1985, 1997)

Creatures Of The Night is one heavy, over the top & loud Kiss album. Very very loud. Hot on the heels of The Elder and Killers, Creatures was a defiant “we’re back!” from a band who was written off by the end of 1981.

It is important to note that there are several versions of Creatures floating around. At one point in 1985, shortly after Asylum, it was reissued with new (non-makeup) cover art with Bruce Kulick  instead of Ace Frehley. Interestingly, neither played on Creatures. The reissue with the non-makeup cover has the songs in a different order, and they were remixed to bring down the loudness of the drums. I guess someone in the mid 80’s decided the album was just too loud, and the remix was done. Thankfully, the original loud drum mix was remastered in 1997, finally available on CD.

Interestingly, the 1985 remixed version featured a picture of Gene’s ass in leather pants on the back cover!  See below for a gander at Gene’s buttocks.

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And yeah, the drums are loud alright! They sound awesome, like John Bonham shooting cannons off the back of the stage. They are the cleanest, most powerful, natural and clear drum sounds this side of Led Zeppelin, and Kiss had a lot to be proud of. Just listen to “I Love It Loud”. Wow.

Creatures really is a stellar album featuring songwriting by Bryan Adams, Mikal Japp and a guy named Vincent Cusano, better known by his stage name Vinnie Vincent. Guitars were by Paul Stanley, Bob Kulick, Vinnie Vincent, Rick Derringer, Steve Ferris, and who-knows-how-many-others. Kiss claim to have lost track due to the process of auditioning and recording at the same time. Eric Carr, who had no songwriting credits this time, played bass on Paul’s “I Still Love You”.

“Creatures Of The Night” is an amazing fast paced opening, starting off with a barrage of Carr’s toms. I think The Elder was a dissapointing way to introduce the new drummer. Creatures overcompensates, and I am sure Carr was very happy. The main riff and guitar lick in “Creatures” is driving and catchy, and the chorus will stay in your head for days. This is Kiss’ statement of purpose.

Gene takes the tempo down a bit with “Saint & Sinner”, a rebellious one about standing your ground: “Get me off this carousel, you can do as you please, you can go to hell.   Put my back against the wall, well, I’m not gonna fall on my knees, no, not at all.”  At this point Gene was trying to sing in his low “monster” voice more, and this is such a great song. Shame it has not been resurrected live.

“Keep Me Comin'” is a pretty self-explanatory Paul title. The riff is very Zeppelinesque, and Zep was a seemingly huge influence on this era of Kiss. It has some serious groove to it and Paul sings his ass off.

“Rock And Roll Hell” was a song that was played live a couple of times on the 1982 tour. I would describe this Gene song as a slow burner. It seems to be about a kid who “might even steal a guitar” to get out of his rock and roll hell, and make the big time. Very cool groove and lyric.

“Danger” is probably the weakest song on the album. It’s another fast Paul track with a somewhat weak chorus.  It would be followed in the exact same album slot (last song side 1) by similar Paul songs on later albums:  “Gimme More” on Lick It Up, and “I’m Alive” on Asylum.  All three songs are below standard and interchangeable.

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Side 2 begins with “I Love It Loud”. Everybody knows “I Love It Loud”. Your grandma knows “I Love It Loud”.  At the time as a kid, I thought this was the greatest Kiss song ever. That drum beat, that chanting, and Gene’s awesome lyrics about taking no crap — yeah! That’s what every grade 8 student felt like! Unfortunately the novelty wears off after a couple of days and today I feel it’s one of Kiss’ most boring songs. After all, there’s not much to it. Shame it still finds its way into setlists in 2012, while other songs have fallen by the wayside.

The sole ballad “I Still Love You” is next. When Kiss used to play it live (the last time was the 1995 Unplugged concert), it became Paul’s vocal centrepiece.  It’s a slow with not enough dynamics, but Paul again sings his ass off.  As mentioned, Eric Carr on bass.

“Killer” (probably written at the same time as Killers?) is a really cool Gene Simmons song that has lots of interesting riffs and twists. I can’t believe how cool this song still is today. It’s fast, it has interesting backing vocals, and is insanely catchy.

The album ends with Gene’s plodding epic, “War Machine” which still gets played live to this day, despite being retired briefly during the reunion tours. Gene wrote the song with Bryan Adams which would be a surprise to Adams fans. Who knew he could get so heavy? The lyrics are pure, vintage Gene: “Strike down the one who leads me, I’m gonna take his place, I’m gonna vindicate the human race.”

Creatures wound up being the first Kiss studio album to have only two lead singers:  Gene and Paul. Sadly this would remain the case until Eric Carr got his first album vocal much later in 1988. I am glad that the Kiss of today have decided to let all four members sing, as that was one of the factors that got me into the band in the first place.

This would also prove to be Kiss’ final album in makeup.  They had grounded themselves musically once again, while their biggest change was yet to happen….

5/5 stars