cassette

#891: Condition Critical

RECORD STORE TALES #891 Condition Critical

Allan Runstedtler was looking at my tape collection.  This was something kids did.  Every kid had a few tapes.  Maybe they even had a nice tape case to put them in.  I started the year 1985 with only one tape case.  It held 30.

Allan reached for my Quiet Riot.

Condition Critical?  What’s that?  I only know ‘Situation Critical’ by Platinum Blonde.” said Al.

I was never one of the cool ones.

There was this kid from school named Kevin Kirby.  One day I was in his neighbourhood and he introduced me to a friend of his.  Kevin asked me to tell him what my favourite band was.  I answered “Quiet Riot” and they both laughed.  I still liked Quiet Riot?  They were so 1983.

Not much time had passed, but Quiet Riot were already toast.  I felt cool for all of 3 months when Quiet Riot were big.  Metal Health was my first hard rock album.  I loved that album.  I still love that album.  I was the anomaly.  All my classmates (the few that liked Quiet Riot in the first place) had moved on.  Platinum Blonde were huge.  And rightfully so.  Standing in the Dark was a great album.  Their followup Alien Shores was also successful, going to #3 in Canada.  Platinum Blonde, however, were not for me.  They were not a hard rock band.  I didn’t even consider them to be a rock band.  I labelled Platinum Blonde with the same label I used on everything I didn’t like.  These loathsome artists were all dubbed “wavers”.  There was no greater insult to me than “waver”.  You were either a rocker or a waver.  There was nothing else in my eyes more wretched than “New Wave” music.

Quiet Riot were not wavers, they were rockers.  They had songs like “Party All Night” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”.  But they had made a “Critical” blunder.  They followed Metal Health with an inferior carbon copy in Condition Critical.  It was a collection of leftovers and it was obvious.  It even included a Slade cover like the prior album.  It still went platinum.  But Metal Health sold six times that.  It was seen as a critical and commercial failure.  Dubrow earned Quiet Riot no favours when he decided to trash other bands in the press.  That stunt misfired, gloriously so.

No wonder Allan had never heard of Condition Critical.  I tried to get him into some of my music.  I showed him the video for “Death Valley Driver” by Rainbow, which I thought was really cool.  He wasn’t as impressed as I was.

Going back a bit, I received Condition Critical for Easter of 1985.  Almost a year after its release.  I can remember a conversation with my mom about what kind of gifts I would like, and I answered “the new Quiet Riot, because I want to have all the albums by a band.”  Hah!  I had no idea, none whatsoever, that Metal Health was their third, not first.  In Japan, Quiet Riot and Quiet Riot II were released in the late 70s.  These featured the late Ozzy Osbourne guitar wizard Randy Rhoads on lead guitar, but I had yet to learn all these important details.  I wanted to have Condition Critical so I could have a “complete” Quiet Riot collection.  Something I’m still attempting to have.

Easter of ’85 was spent in Ottawa with my mom’s Uncle Gar and Aunt Miriam.  We all stayed in their house.  They were amazing people.  Uncle Gar was injured in the war, but always had a smile on his face.  He didn’t like my growing hair or my rock music, but I think he was happy that I turned out OK in the end.  I stayed in a little spare bedroom.  I brought my Sanyo ghetto blaster and my parent’s old Lloyds headphones.

I hit “play” on Quiet Riot not expecting to like every song, and I didn’t.  I enjoyed the two singles, “Party All Night” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”.  I thought the lead track, “Sign of the Times”, as as strong as the first album.  But I didn’t think much of “Scream and Shout”, “Bad Boy” or “(We Were) Born to Rock”.  And the ballad?  I was not a ballad kid, and I thought “Winners Take All” was even worse than “Thunderbird”!

I’ve softened on the ballads since (pun intended), but it’s true that this is just an album of soundalikes.  It’s not outstanding.  I knew I’d have to give it a bunch more listens, but even then I knew a “sequel” when I saw one.  Similar.  More of the same of what you like.  But not as good.

I kept giving them chances, though.  I had to.  They were the first band I wanted “all” the albums from.  When my buddy George told me that Quiet Riot were back with an awesome new song called “The Wild and the Young”, my excitement was restored.  “Kevin Dubrow even looks like Paul Stanley in the music video,” he told me.  Cool!

Of course we know how that ended.  A sterile, keyboardy comeback that fizzled out with Dubrow’s ousting.

There are bands I have given up on and never looked back.  Yet I keep buying Quiet Riot, loyally, album after album.  If they release another, I’ll buy that too.  And it’s all because of what I told my mom when she asked me what I wanted for Easter.  “The new Quiet Riot,” I answered, “because I want to have all the albums by a band.”

 

#886: Hand Me Downs

RECORD STORE TALES #886: Hand Me Downs

It’s funny.  Though my music playback setup today is completely different from my first, even today there’s still one thing they have in common:  both setups featured hand-me-down audio components from my parents.  And I hope one of those components continues working forever.

In Getting More Tale #796: Improvisation, I explained that we kids of the 80s didn’t have the luxury to buy whatever stereo equipment we wanted.  We had to make due with what we had, and improvise.  And that’s exactly what we did.  When I first started collecting music, I owned it on two formats only:  LP and cassette.  The classic duo.  Compact discs existed only in Japan.  We hadn’t even heard of them.  All that existed in our world were the vinyl record and the compact cassette.  That’s all I needed to be able to play.

Around 1985, my parents realized they weren’t going to be listening to records or 8-track tapes anymore.  The living room needed to be renovated and there was no more room for that giant Lloyd’s stereo system.  The 8-track player didn’t work anymore, but it was a single unit combined with a radio receiver and amplifier, which still worked fine.  The Lloyd’s record player could still plug into it and play normally.  I snapped them up.  Only George Balasz and myself were lucky enough to have record players in our bedrooms.  Everybody else on the street had to use their parents’ systems.

Don’t get me wrong:  it didn’t sound great.  I took my parents’ hand-me-downs and plugged them into my Panasonic ghetto blaster, which essentially was both my tape deck and speakers.   Not ideal, but good enough for a 13 year old.  I recall the sound was rather tinny.  But it worked after a spell.  If my mom wanted me to tape her old Roy Orbison LPs, I could do that.  (Spoiler:  my mom really abused her LPs.)

I used that setup for many years.  The Lloyd’s receiver lasted seven more.  It finally blew a circuit in early ’92.  A few weeks later, I replaced it with a small, affordable preamp.  It didn’t have a lot of power, but it enabled me to continue listening to records.  Of course, that old Lloyd’s turntable wasn’t in the best shape anymore.  The needle had never been changed, and I had really abused that thing, playing records backwards and trying to make funky sounds.  It was cool though, because it had four speeds:  16, 33, 45, and 78.  I didn’t own any 16’s or 78’s.  But I could play them.  And I kept it for well over a decade.  I only replaced it when I did a complete stereo system overhaul in the late 90s.  T-Rev and I went to Steve’s TV, and I picked out new everything.  Canadian made PSB speakers, a new Technics dual tape component, a Technics receiver to go with it, and a brand new Technics turntable.  Good enough for me, who had been living with a Frankenstein system his whole life.

The only thing I didn’t need to buy was a CD player.  And this is the last piece of hand-me-down tech incorporated into my still-current system.  (I actually have two systems today:  my 7.1 setup in the main room with blu-ray, and my stereo “man cave” with all my analog stuff.)

I call this CD player “the Tank”.  It is a 30 year old Sony five-disc changer and I more or less confiscated it from them when I moved out.  Once they had a DVD player, I didn’t think they needed a CD player anymore, so I made the executive decision to liberate it.  It wasn’t exactly a covert operation.  The Sony had been in my bedroom setup for a while.  I liked a numbers of its features.  It had a fader!  I could fade tracks in and fade out, which was perfect for recording live albums.  The timer was also a nice extra — you could use it to monitor the time remaining on a track, or even album.  This was great for tape-making.  It was also painlessly easy to program.  So I stole the Sony!  When I moved out, I just said “I’m taking this CD player.”  Mom grumbled a bit, but…here it is.  I successfully abducted my parents’ CD player with no casualties.

I’m glad I did.  Though the five-disc gimmick doesn’t work so smoothly anymore, the Tank can play any CD I throw at it.  That might not sound like a big deal, but it is.  You’d be surprised how many CDs you’ll have problems playing in your computer today.  Some players, and many computers, still won’t play weird stuff like DualDiscs.  I have an old DualDisc by The Cult that will not play properly in any computer ever invented by mankind.  Even regular CDs can be weird.  I have a Cinderella disc (multiple copies even) that no computer from PC to Apple will play correctly.

So I need the Tank.  Just recently, I was listening to a fantastic live album by King’s X given to me by Superdekes.  The last song (an acoustic version of “Over My Head”) refused to rip to my PC.  I booted up the laptop and ran into the same problem, same spot.  I didn’t need to try a third computer to know that this would be futile.  Only the Tank could play my King’s X.  I examined the CD up close for damage and saw nothing.  (Good thing too as copies today run just shy of $100!)  Deke sent me a good disc (and thank you once more for that!), but CDs can be fickle.

No issue with the Tank.  I powered up the Sony, inserted the King’s X and played the song through.  No issues!  I got a good recording of it in Audacity and exported the audio into the King’s X album folder.  Seamless!

Thanks mom and dad for giving me, and in some cases, allowing me to steal your stuff.  I kept it all working — I even still have the remote!

#885: Mono (II)

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 215:  Mono

RECORD STORE TALES #885: Mono (II)

I don’t know how I got mono, but it happened it the 8th grade.  Everybody was getting ready to graduate and move on to highschool, which was something I could not wait for.  I also can’t remember how long I was sick for.  I was home from school for a long time.  Weeks?  Felt like months.  I almost missed graduation.  I made it back to school for the last few days of the year.  I remember everybody was nice to me when I came back.  That was a first.  I only managed half a day upon my return, but felt well enough to do a full day the next time.  Then it was all over.

I didn’t mind having to stay home from school.  It kept me away from the bullies.  There wasn’t much to do except watch music videos on the Pepsi Power Hour.  That’s how my “music collection” grew, song by song.  One of the defining songs from that period in my life is “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top.  MuchMusic played that video a lot, and I captured a really good recording of it that I played incessantly.  I didn’t own any albums by the artists I was recording.  Anvil, Dio, Hear N’ Aid, Loudness — but I added the songs to my life.  “Metal On Metal” was what I craved.

The limitation here was that I could, in theory, only listen to these songs on the TV in the basement.  Like most people, we had an ordinary mono VCR and a TV with only one speaker.  It was a strange JVC machine, with a dockable remote.  I can’t find any pictures online of the exact model.  It looked cool but it had a potentially fatal flaw.  It was that dockable remote.  It was the only set of controls.  If you lost the remote, you were in trouble!

Like all kids, I wasn’t allowed to spend all day in front of the TV, even when I was sick.  But I wanted my tunes.  Songs like “Let It Go” by Loudness.  “Shake It Up” by Lee Aaron.  “Lay It On the Line” by Triumph.  I was just a kid; I didn’t have money to buy all the records.  I had enough to start collecting the core bands I loved, like Maiden and Kiss.  Not outliers like Loudness or Dio.

My buddy Bob taught me how to improvise.  I had a box of primitive wires and connectors.  At a very early stage, I realized I could connect the single “audio out” port on the VCR to one of the two “stereo in” jacks on my Panasonic dual tape deck.  This meant that the mono signal from the VCR was really going to be in mono on my tape deck.  One speaker only.  Left or right, it was my choice.  Neither was ideal.  But I could put my music from the Pepsi Power Hour onto a cassette, which could then be enjoyed in my bedroom.

I saved my allowance and my parents took me to Steve’s TV so I could buy a Y-connector.  It was a cheap, grey cable with one RCA connector on one end, and two on the other.  It split a mono signal into a fake stereo, which is exactly what I needed.

I recorded all my MuchMusic videos (the ones I didn’t own on album) to cassette in this way.  When I got around to buying an album, I wouldn’t need the recorded songs anymore.  I didn’t like to waste valuable cassette space, so I would record over any redundant songs.  I still have all these tapes, but the tracks today are a mish-mash of different years of recording and re-recording.  When we got a stereo VCR in early 1991, I was able to put the Y-connector back in the box for good.  No more need for fake stereo.  Now I had the real thing for every music video I recorded going forward.

Having so many great songs recorded in mono (often with truncated beginnings and endings) gave me a real appreciation for buying the albums later on.  Listening to my tapes made me want the really good songs that much more.  When I finally got them, in full stereo cassette glory, and I heard the songs come to life, it was like going from black and white to full colour.  Or 2D to 3D.  Albums versions were often longer than the edited video versions as well.  Buying the album was always rewarding.  But there were so many songs, and only so many dollars.  I had to pick and choose what to buy.  Sometimes I wouldn’t get around to them for years.  Or decades.

You just read a story about a kid with mono, listening to music in mono.  You can say you’ve done that now.

 

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

DAVID LEE ROTH – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

This cassette is a second generation, recorded from a buddy (with good equipment at least) in 1992.  My first bootleg.  It opens with a Van Halen-era interview with David Lee Roth about “precision rock”.  The crackle of original vinyl is audible.

A nice fade-in brings Steve Vai’s guitar to the fore, and then it’s wide open into “Shyboy”.  High octane, even though it’s just an audience recorded cassette with not enough volume on the guitar.  Without pause they rock into “Tobacco Road”. Gregg Bissonette’s toms a-thunderin’.  Vai certainly needs no help in hitting all the guitar hooks that he baked into the vinyl, just with more flair and energy.

Dave has never shied away from Van Halen hits or deep cuts.  “Unchained”, “Panama” and “Pretty Woman” are the first three.  The bass rumblings are unlike anything Michael Anthony played on the original.  The backing vocals are far more elaborate.  Like in Van Halen, “Unchained” is interrupted part way, but this time it’s so Dave can ask what you think of his new band!  Pretty hot.  After “Unchained” he stops to talk to a “pretty Canadian girl”.  “Panama” sounds a little odd with Brett Tuggle’s keyboards so prominent in the mix.  And it’s also way way way too long, with Dave trying to figure out who is reaching down between whose legs, but that’s Dave.  You don’t go to the show just to hear the music.  You go to see the whole schtick.  You put in the quarter, you gotta let the jukebox play the whole thing out.

“Pretty Woman” is zipped through fairly quickly (with one audience participation stop), going into Dave’s rabid “Elephant Gun” and the slick “Ladies’ Night in Buffalo?”  “Elephant Gun” features solos galore that would have been pretty awesome to see up close.  It sounds like there’s a vinyl side break before heading into “Buffalo”.  Vai’s guitar is the star here, in an extended solo backed only by Tuggle.  This turns into a dual bass/guitar call-and-answer.

When Bissonette starts on those tribal beats, you know it’s Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”  This great version includes a drum solo.  Next it’s “On Fire” from the Van Halen debut.  Dave asks for the guitars to be turned up – we agree.  “On Fire” with keyboards and Vai noodling is a different animal.  After Dave’s original “Bump and Grind”, it’s time to flip the tape.

Side two opens with some of Dave’s acoustic strummin’, and a story called “Raymond’s Song”.  It’s just an excuse for him to say “Toronto” a whole lotsa times before introducing “Ice Cream Man”.  Which completely smokes.  Vai puts his own space-age spin on it, and Tuggle adds boogie piano, but this is one wicked version!

Dave’s solo track “Big Trouble” has plenty of atmosphere and fireworks for the Toronto crowd, but “Yankee Rose” is just nuts.  Nothing but the hits from here on in:  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Goin’ Crazy!”, “Jump” and “California Girls”.  The heavy riff of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” sounds great in Steve’s hands, who doesn’t go too crazy with it.  Of course there has to be another long break in the middle (too many breaks at this point now).  This time it’s so Dave can get Stevie to make his guitar say “Toronto kicks ass, because the chicks are so fine”.  The rest of the songs are somewhat fluffy, the pop stuff, and rendered a little sweet with the added shimmer of Brett Tuggle.  “Jump” misses the deeper tone of Eddie’s Oberheim OBXA.

It’s worth noting that Roth closes with “California Girls”, not “Jump”.  His solo career is the point, not Van Halen, he seems to be saying.  This is the cherry on top.  Roth hands it to his new band several times in the show — he knew they had to deliver, and they did.  And he wants people to know that he has a band that can compete with his old group.

The show is complete,  and apparently Dave didn’t play “Just a Gigolo” on this tour.  The opening act in Toronto was Cinderella, supporting Night Songs.

Sometimes you wish Dave would get on with it and play the next song, but that’s only because this is a cassette bootleg being played on a Technics RS-TR272.  If you were there in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour, you’d be eating up every word Dave laid down.  He is the master of the stage.  Sure, it doesn’t always translate to tape but that’s the nature of Dave’s live show, isn’t it?  It’s precision rock — visually and audibly combined.

4.5/5 stars (for what the show must have been in person)

 

REVIEW: Max the Axe – Bodies of Water (1995 cassette)

MAX THE AXE – Bodies of Water (1995 independant cassette)

This has to be one of the rarest items I own.  I have acquired the only remaining cassette copy of the first Max the Axe release, a five song tape called Bodies of Water.  In a rare move, the cassette had the bonus track rather than the CD.  Back in 1995, Max the Axe didn’t have a drummer so the drums on this release are programmed.  That lends it a streetwise but quaint mid-90s nostalgia.

Opening intensely with “Hard Drive”, Max the Axe’s music defies genres from the first track.  Heavy sludge riffs, flute, saxophone, a keyboard orchestra!  Lead vocals on this track by Pam Hammond leap beyond expectation as she bellows powerfully over the complex track.  You get more sax (courtesy Rockin’ Randy Harrison) on “Where’s Pablo?” featuring Mickey Straight on lead vocals.  This has a cool, dirty street vibe groove.

The  cassette bonus track “Guns To Iran” is dead center, and features “Max the Swinging Axe” on distorted lead vocals.  Pure metal on electronic steroids.  I’m immediately reminded of “Manic Mechanic” by ZZ Top, but a thrash metal version.

“I’m Glad Now” has another singer, Tim Rolland, and a completely different vibe.  Straight noctural, memorable melodic hard rock with a growly singer.  But then the screamer “Fair Ophelia” ends the cassette on a seriously heavy note.  Pam Hammond and Max the Axe return on vocals, assaulting the ear with aggressive heaviness.  Max does the metal grunting while Hammond sings in classic screamin’ metal style.

This is good stuff and surprisingly well preserved 25 years later.  Max’s sharp jabs of guitar solo adrenaline still rock the speakers with intended impact.  Maybe the Axe will remaster and reissue his early tunes so the rest of you can hear them too.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Best of MusikLaden Live at the Beat Club

BLACK SABBATH – The Best of MusikLaden – Live at the Beat Club (1970 television performance)

When Black Sabbath released their Black Box in 2004 featuring all the original lineup’s studio albums in remastered form, they also included a bonus four-song DVD.  This disc was the oft-released television broadcast of a German show called Beat Club (later MusikLaden).  Sabbath made two appearances in 1970, and the Black Box was the most official release of them.  Before upgrading to the Black Box, I owned an earlier, unofficial DVD release.  I taped that DVD to cassette, and that’s what I’m listening to right now.

“Black Sabbath” is torrential, as intense as the young band was able.  Ozzy sounds as if possessed, truly terrified and warning us that something foreboding and terrible is coming.  “Paranoid” is strangely echoey and distant, but still as incendiary as 1970 Black Sabbath should be.  Interestingly, in this version it really does sound as if Ozzy is singing “end your life” instead of “enjoy life”.  A sparse “Iron Man” announces its arrival with evil Gibson guitar sonic bends.  This version of “Iron Man” is a little stiffer than others, but not for long.  Towards the end, Geezer Butler unleashes the hordes and the song stampedes to a close.

Finally and most notoriously is “Blue Suede Shoes”, a performance pretty much everybody has since disowned.  It’s not terrible, although it’s certainly uncharacteristic.  It’s as if Black Sabbath were suddenly encroaching upon ZZ Top’s territory.  Tony’s speedy solo is interesting if not typical, and the band really stepped it up.  I get why some would mock it; it’s kind of goofy and definitely not as impressive as the Sabbath originals.  But it’s…fun?  Is Sabbath allowed to be…fun?

3.5/5 stars