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#890: Top Ten Most Annoying Things About Listening Stations

A sequel to #444:  “Can I Listen to This?”

RECORD STORE TALES #890: Top Ten Most Annoying Things About Listening Stations

Although it seems like dystopian fiction now, there was once a time when if you wanted to sample an album before you bought it, the best way was going to a store and asking to listen to it.

I imagine even today, people walk up to the counter at Ye Olde Record Store and ask to hear something before they buy it.  I am certain the demand is not like it once was.  We used to have six individual listening stations.  Granted, we were lucky if three or four worked at any given time, but when we first opened, we had six brand new players.  And they were busy.  On a Saturday, all six would be in use at once.  With a couple more people lined up waiting to jump in when one was vacated.

Here’s how it worked.  Pay attention, because some people just didn’t get it.

It’s actually pretty simple.  You just look around the store, grab a few CDs you want to listen to, and bring the cases to me to load them up.  All the discs were kept safely behind the counter.  All I had to do was load them up, and lay them out for you to hear.

All our players were five disc changers.  I would load up the first five of your selections, and lay down the cases on the counter.  “This is the order they are in the player.”  Then I would give them a quick run-through on the remote control.  Play, skip, stop, skip disc…I would ask them to ignore the rest of the buttons.

Annoying Thing #1:  People who don’t listen.

“Sir!  This player isn’t working.”

Because you ignored my instructions and hit the “program” button.  Now you’re in program mode.  Let’s get out of that, and just press play this time.

Annoying Thing #2:  People who help themselves.

There was nothing more startling than finding a customer behind the counter with you!  These people think the listening stations are like self-serve gas stations.  They’d go behind the counter and start looking for the CDs to load up themselves.  I’m really not sure what possesses people to think they can do that.  There’s a counter.  It has a front and a back.  We used to have a divider chain, but it ripped out years before.

Annoying Thing #3:  Using the remote to open the tray. 

You don’t need to open the tray.  You’re not helping by hitting the “open” button.  More than once, I was picking discs that were stored beneath the CD players.  I stood up, and “CRASH!”  Right into the now-open tray of a CD player.  Thanks for that.  I’ve definitely had them open up on me while I was walking past, too.

Annoying Thing #4:  Audiophiles.

Quoting a prior chapter:

“These headphones suck.  I can’t hear the nuances in the music.”  That was a real complaint.  Since there wasn’t much I could do about it, I explained that the listening stations were there just so you could hear a song and decide if you liked it or not.  Not much thought was given to hearing the nuances.  But this guy insisted he couldn’t tell if he liked a song without the “nuances”, so no sale was made.

Yes the headphones sucked, mostly from years of use.  Another issue is that all the headphones were run through a little tiny volume box that was custom made for us.  This volume control was the real problem.  Knobs went staticky, came right off… Maybe it wasn’t the audiophiles that were the problem, maybe it was the shitty volume knobs.

Annoying Thing #5:  Gross remote controls.

I think I cleaned those things every day.  I don’t know what people are walking around with on their hands, but those remotes got disgusting.  The listening stations were always solidly disinfected from headphones to remotes, but they somehow felt…gross to the touch.

Annoying Thing #6:  “Is there a way to plug in two headphones?  My friend wants to listen.”

No!  Stop asking!  Yes, it would be “cool” if we could do it.  The single-output volume boxes were bad enough.  Imagine putting two in there.

Annoying Thing #7:  Singers.

Yes, sometimes, people sang along.  It wasn’t frequent.  Other customers would turn and look.  Usually you’d just ignore it.  Only twice did I have to cut someone off for singing too loud.  Once was two girls singing “This shit is bananas!” along with Gwen Stefani.  Another was an angry kid who, quite frankly, was starting to scare me.

Annoying Thing #8:  Kids treated them like toys.  

Young kids get bored in music stores.  Trust me on this.  Some liked to climb on top of the stools, grab the remote control, and…you guessed it…open and close the trays.  They’d just mash their fingers on a remote and yell “HOW DOES THIS WOOOOORK?”

I wish I was making this stuff up, I really was.

Sometimes, mom or dad would ask me to put on a kids’ CD for them to listen to, to keep them occupied.  That I was happy to do.  As long as they didn’t play with the remotes, or God forbid, put them in their mouths.

Annoying Thing #9:  High maintenance listeners.

Sometimes you had to help people skip tracks.  You could even show them on the remote where the button is, and they’d still need help.  “Which disc am I listening to now?”  Well, it says disc 2 on the display, and I put the cases down here in order, so that would be Garth Brooks.  “Well it doesn’t sound like him!”  And that’s because you picked his Chris Gaines album.

Annoying Thing #10:  No limits.

You could come to the counter with 25 discs, and I had no choice but to let you listen to them all if you wanted to.  And you could take as much time doing so as you liked.  Some gentlemen (often fans of jazz or electronica or both, but always men) spent an entire morning glued to a listening station.  They only moved to go and look for more discs to listen to.

I won’t lie to you, listening station service was hard work when you have a guy like that in the store while you’re busy.  It takes time to retrieve all those CDs from behind the counter.  It takes time to file them back when you’re done.  And then I still have to re-file the cases out for display.  For you it’s one easy step — just pick the discs you want to listen to.  For me, it’s three steps.  Get the CD from its specific location, put the CD back when you’re done, and re-file the case.

Some customers thought they were being helpful by re-filing the cases for me.  All that did was create more difficulty, because now I had to look each one up in the computer to see where the CD itself is supposed to go.  And that wasn’t always easy.  You know, sometimes there are CDs out there with nothing to identify the artist or title.  At all.  And after serving the guy 25 discs, you’re not gonna remember what it was.


There are other miscellaneous things that used to bug me.  People who would treat you like a servant.  Working as a listening station jockey for an afternoon was a pretty thankless job.  Of course there are exceptions.  The exceptions aren’t the memories that stick in your head for 25 years!

 

 

 

#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!

REVIEW: John Paul Jones – Zooma (1999)

JOHN PAUL JONES – Zooma (1999 Discipline Global Mobile)

Three words:  “Bass”.  “Heavy”.  “Groove”.

Purchased at Encore Records a short time after its release, Zooma by John Paul Jones blew me away from first listen.  If you’re wondering who the heavy influence in Them Crooked Vultures really is, it was Jones this whole time.   Just listen to the title track on Zooma.  You could be fooled into thinking it’s a brand new jam by the Vultures, so heavy is it.

Zooma is an entirely instrumental solo album, featuring Jones on most of the instruments.  On drums is Pete Thomas.  Trey Gunn and Paul Leary drop in for some guest appearances.  Otherwise it’s largely the JPJ show and his 4, 10 and 12 string basses!  What a heavy sound they make.

The second track “Grind” (featuring Gunn on touch guitar) is contrasted by bright highs and the deepest lows of the 12-string bass, all within a killer groove.  This track could blow a subwoofer, it’s so bass heavy.  The next track “The Smile of Your Shadow” takes things down to the acoustic level, with instruments like bass lap steel, mandola and djembe.  It’s the most Zeppelin of the tracks due to its acoustic, quieter nature.  “Goose” brings back the heavy groove again, this time on a 10-string bass.  The drums have that Zeppelin kind of beat to go with it.

But Jones is so much more than just groove (and Zeppelin references in reviews).  “Bass n’ Drums” brings out his jazzy side.  Denny Fongheiser on drums this time, and John Paul keeping is single with just four strings this time.  But that doesn’t limit his pallette at all, as he plays in a combination lead/rhythm style.  That’s just the one track though — Jones is back to 10 strings and a maniacal groove on “B. Fingers”.  It’s sonic controlled chaos…with a beat.

As tasty as the bass and grooves are, Zooma is not an easy album to digest.  It’s big, it’s large, and the tracks tend towards long and jammy.  The longest is “Snake Eyes”, with bass lap steel, organ solos, and members of the London Symphony!  It’s easy to imagine “Snake Eyes” as a modern day Led Zeppelin number, and it’s moments like this that will make the Zep diehard weep for what could have been.  But it goes on a long time, including a long orchestral outro that sounds like a soundtrack.  Brilliant but not for those with short attention spans.

“Nosami Blue” bears some superficial resemblance to the intro to “Absolution Blues” by Coverdale-Page, but this is just because both have the same roots:  the blues.  Most of the work here is being done once more on a bass lap steel.  After a long freeform blues jam, the drums kick in and we get back into a groove.  It’s like two songs in one.  And that brings us to the final song “Tidal”, which a manic and exhaustive bass workout to take the senses to the final extreme.  It is bonkers!

As a quaint leftover from the 1990s, this disc is “enhanced”.  That part of the package no longer works, but judging by the contents in the readme.txt file, it was a digital catalogue for DGM records – Robert Fripp’s label.  It appears you could actually order CDs from their catalogue right from this program.

In the Record Store days, I was instructed to stop playing this album as some tracks were too heavy.  That’s both an endorsement and a warning to you!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019)

LOUDNESS – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019 Ear Music)

In an unfortunate twist of events, Loudness drummer Masayuki Suzuki was sidelined by stroke and could not perform on the Rise to Glory tour.  Ryuichi “Dragon” Nishida filled in beat-for-beat and appears on the live album World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo.  This 2 CD/1 DVD combo set is compiled from three days in Tokyo, with a bonus:  the DVD features one track with Masayuki Suzuki from the fourth day.  His performance on “Loudness” is as if there was nothing wrong with him, and he appears delighted to be playing live again.

Live in Tokyo is an energized performance, focusing almost entirely on early Loudness.  This being a hometown crowd, many of the songs are performed with their original Japanese lyrics.  1985’s Thunder in the East takes the early focus on disc one with the first six tracks all being sourced from the “big” album.  These tracks are intense, with solos by Akira Takasaki that melt the face.  Classic Loudness with jagged riffs and still-powerful vocals from Minoru Niihara.

Oldies abound.  Disc 1 also includes “Loudness” (the version with Ryuichi Nishida on drums) from the 1981 debut The Birthday Eve.  A slick, well-received version.  There’s also a punishing “In the Mirror” from third LP The Law of Devil’s Land, and the memorable “Crazy Doctor” from 1984’s Disillusion.

The second disc spotlights two lesser-known albums.  First is The Law of Devil’s Land from 1983.  The first five heavy numbers (including a second version of “In the Mirror”) all come from that platter.  This is the heavy proto-thrash that Loudness were peddling at the start of the 80s, and vicious stuff it is.  But not without hooks!  The last five originated on Disillusion, regarded by some aficionados as Loudness’ best.  From “Crazy Doctor” through the ballad “Ares’ Lament” and the finisher “Esper”, these are some great metal songs.

 

Impressively, the third disc (the DVD) highlights another batch of songs missed on the first two discs:  newer material.  “Soul on Fire”, “Go For Broke”, “Until I See the Light”, “I’m Still Alive” and a pair of instrumentals from the new Rise to Glory (2018) stand up to the earlier material.  The awesome “The Sun Will Rise Again” from the 2014 album of the same name rounds out the freshest material.  The new tunes are still heavy, riffy and melodic, but with a very slight modern edge.  “I’m Still Alive” goes thrash metal, but that’s part of Loudness’ origins.  Besides the return of Suzuki on drums for one song, the highlight of the DVD is a ballad.  After so many brutal songs, Minoru breaks out an acoustic guitar for an unplugged “Ares’ Lament”.  This is completely different than the version on CD 2, which was done fully electric.

Any classic band from the 80s or earlier, still trying to pull it off today, has the same question to answer:  How good is the singer?  Minoru Niihara is excellent.  As if no years have passed.  None of the material presents a challenge.

Considering the mixture of material over the three discs, Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo would be a suitable entry point for any rock fan wanting to check out Loudness.  You’ll get the hits from Thunder in the East, ample early deep cuts, and a sampling of quality new stuff.  Value for the money and time invested.

4.5/5 stars

 

#874: Impossible to Display

A sequel to Getting More Tale #795:  A Case for Security

GETTING MORE TALE #874: Impossible to Display

Shoplifting accounts for over a third of inventory shrinkage in retail.*  At the Record Store we had numerous strategies to combat this, as discussed in prior chapters.  An alert staff can stop a staggering amount of theft, but the last line of defence for us was a magnetic security tag system.  Trying to lift a de-tagged item would set off alarms at the store.

Cassettes, one of of our lower-cost items compared with CDs and box sets, were protected with a single magnetic strip hidden on the seam on the shrink wrap.  These had to be de-tagged magnetically with a device — they were single use only and the tag left the store with the product after being disarmed.  Each tag cost five cents, and that added up.  Higher-cost box sets were protected with multiple tags hidden on the edges of the packaging.  CDs, which also carried significant cost but were the majority of our store, were protected by a double-edged sword.  They were housed in an unbreakable and re-usable plastic longbox, with the magnetic tag stuck to an inner edge.  These tags never had to be disarmed.  You just removed the security case with a special key and set it aside for re-use on fresh inventory.

Cassettes were checked weekly to re-secure loose tags.  We kept a close eye on everything and everyone.  Combined with good practices, the security gate at the front of the store prevented a lot of theft.  Still, there were certain items that were unfortunately hard to both a) protect properly and b) display properly at the same time.  Unusual packaging made some albums difficult to stock on the shelves with the rest of the catalogue.

December 6, 1994:  Pearl Jam – Vitalogy compact disc

Although we weren’t equipped to display records, we had no problems when Vitalogy was released on vinyl November 22, 1994.  We sold the five copies we stocked on the first day.  It was the CD release two weeks later that caused us grief because we ordered those en masse.

The CD release of Vitalogy came ensconced in a miniature cardboard book-shaped package.  It had the same dimensions as a normal CD case, just flipped upright on its short side.  You could put them in a CD security box no problem, but T-Rev discovered a weakness in its design.  Because it was thinner and more flexible than a standcard CD case, you could with a little effort force it out of the security box without unlocking it.  This meant we couldn’t safely stock it out on the shelves.

Instead, the boss man set up a small box under close watchful eye at the front counter.  He placed the Vitalogy CDs in it, with every fifth copy turned 45 degrees so he could easily count how many were in there at any given time.  If he knew that he had 20 copies in the box, but suddenly only counted 19, then he would see if anyone in the store was carrying one around to purchase it.  Eventually we just put it back in the security cases, assuming nobody would be as inventive as T-Rev in trying to get one out.

May 29, 1995:  Pink Floyd – p·u·l·s·e compact disc with flashing light diode.

The original CD release of Pink Floyd’s p·u·l·s·e had a unique gimmick.  The oversized cardboard shell contained the 2 CD album in a book-style case, plus a flashing light gimmick powered by two AA batteries in a hidden compartment.  When the CD was reissued without the light and space-consuming batteries, it could fit in a standard size CD security box.  However the full-on, limited edition original was too large to be stored in our shelving.  Once again we had to put them at the front counter, this time stacked in a pile.

What I remember most about the “pile of p·u·l·s·e” is that flashing light.  However many copies were in that heap at the front counter, the lights flashed incessantly.  You could not turn them off.  Once you purchased the CD, you could remove the batteries from the inside.  Safe in their shrinkwrap on our countertop, they just flashed and flashed away.  Never in synch.  No two copies were ever in synch.  I guess it might have depended on how much juice was still in those batteries.  Copies of p·u·l·s·e flashed for years without a battery change.

June 20, 1995:  Michael Jackson – HIStory double cassette in cardboard sleeve

Although cassettes were being slowly phased out, we still had to carry certain big releases on the format.  In 1995, Michael Jackson still sold impressive numbers.  Enough that we carried one cassette copy, which once again, was packaged in such a way that we couldn’t display it on our cassette shelves.  Unlike other doubles, which sometimes came in a “fat” double cassette case (like Phantom of the Opera) or two normal cases packed together (like The Song Remains the Same), Michael Jackson’s HIStory came with the two tapes face up, side by side, in a cardboard box.  It was dimensioned like no tape shelving system known to man.

Too cumbersome to take up valuable front counter space, HIStory was deigned be displayed without fanfare on a shelf behind the desk.  To buy a copy of HIStory on cassette from us, there were only two paths to a sale:

  1. The customer would have to notice it behind the counter when purchasing other items, and ask for it.
  2. The customer would have to ask if we carried it, and not everyone asks.

My solution was clever.  I had just acquired a computer program that enabled me to create perfectly formatted cassette J-cards for my tape collection.  I used it to print a sleeve that said “MICHAEL JACKSON – HISTORY – 2 CASSETTE SET – ASK AT COUNTER”.  I put that in an empty tape case, and filed it with the rest of the Michael Jackson cassettes.  It took forever but it must have sold eventually!  I don’t know if I was responsible because it didn’t happen on my shift.

We had a cramped little space and we made the best of it.  Given that we were constantly battling for every square inch, any time an artist came out with something that was impossible to display, it created a unique little headache for us!

 

* The other 2/3rds are largely staff theft and errors.

THREE-VIEW: KISS – Best of Solo Albums (Japanese CD)

  Best of Solo Albums (Originally 1979, 2020 Universal Japan CD)

Third review for this Kiss compilation here, but why?  A couple reasons.  For one, it’s the first-ever official CD release of this album!  It took 41 years for them to finally put out a CD, and yet only in Japan.  More remarkably, there is one track here that I’ve never heard before in this particular version.

That song is the incredible Paul Stanley epic “Take Me Away (Together As One)”.  On Paul’s solo disc, it fades away at the end of side one at 5:35 in length.  Here, it goes to 5:48, no fade, right to the end of the track.  It’s an ending I’ve never heard before.  This song isn’t even on the more common European version of Best of Solo Albums, just the Japanese.  And apparently the CD has an unreleased version without the fade.

“Oh boy!” you exclaim.  “I have to buy this import just to get 13 seconds of music I never heard before?”

No.  You don’t have to buy it.  I did, because I wanted a copy of this album on CD.  When I discovered the longer version of the track, I was ecstatic to unexpectedly get something extra for my money.

There’s no need to review this album track by track again.  I’ve done it twice, and I’ve also reviewed all four solos albums twice each.  There’s really no need to run through all the songs again, although this tracklist is quite different.  Unlike the European version, these songs are not arranged in three-track blocks for each member.  Additionally, seven of the European tracks were substituted with others.  That’s more than half the album!

Gene Simmons:  Instead of “Mr. Make Believe” and “See You In Your Dreams”, Japan used “See You Tonite” and “Living In Sin”

Paul Stanley:  “Move On” was replaced by the unreleased version of “Take Me Away (Together As One)”.

Ace Frehley:  “Speedin’ Back to my Baby” was removed in favour of the instrumental “Fractured Mirror”

Peter Criss:  All three of the Cat’s songs – “You Matter To Me”, “Tossin’ and Turnin’”, and “Hooked on Rock and Roll” were replaced!  I guess Japan didn’t care for those as much as they did “Don’t You Let Me Down”, “Rock Me Baby” and “I Can’t Stop the Rain”.

For me, I prefer the running order that Europe used, with each member of the band getting three songs in a chunk.  However, there are plenty of songs that I prefer on the Japanese version, such as “See You Tonite”, “Take Me Away (Together As One), “I Can’t Stop the Rain” and “Don’t You Let Me Down”.

It’s interesting that the solo albums are by and large panned by the masses, but nobody can agree on the “Best Of“.  Maybe those albums weren’t so bad after all, at least when you distil them down to the essential tracks.  The Japanese CD will become my preferred listening experience for two main reasons:  it sounds better than the vinyl, and I like more of the songs.  It would sound even better if I had an MQA decoder, a new-ish hi-resolution CD format from Japan, which will unlock an even better sounding version of the album, if you have a few grand to spend on upgrading your system.  If not, enjoy the disc and stellar packaging, with not one but two different covers to display.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – El Paso County Coliseum – The Classic Texas Broadcast -1980

ALICE COOPER – El Paso County Coliseum: The Classic Texas Broadcast -1980 (2016 Zip City)

At 80:33, the Alice Cooper Texas Broadcast CD release by Zip City is additional proof that you can indeed squeeze more than 80 minutes onto a CD!  The Flush the Fashion tour presented a whole slew of tracks that were rarely if ever played again.  Broadcasts of tours such as this are more than just curiosities to fans who already have all the official live releases.

An instrumental snippet of “Elected” precedes opening number “Grim Facts” from the current album.  It’s not the most outstanding song from an uneven album, but it does have a nice choppy guitar riff and solo.  Then it’s the familiar, slinky bassline that opens “Go to Hell“.  Alice’s vocal is a little erratic but of course you have to remember he’s moving around on stage, playing a part while trying to sing.  The audio is close to official live album quality, with very little excess noise.  From the same album, “Guilty” is a treat.  It’s one of the increasingly fewer rock-and-rollers that Cooper recorded after the original band split.  Alice can’t quite hit the note from the chorus hook, but that’s live music for you.  Better than an overdub recorded six months later in a little studio in another state.

Flush the Fashion boasted some really excellent tunes among the filler, and “Pain” is one of them.  Live it doesn’t punch as hard, but Alice delivers a passionate vocal.  “Talk Talk” is one of the new Alice tunes that took him into a Cars-like New Wave direction.  Filler for some, treasure for others.  Not as good as “Pain” for certain.

The first seriously classic dinosaur oldies rolled out are “I’m Eighteen” and, oddly enough, “Gutter Cat Vs. the Jets”.  Pouring on the melodrama, “Eighteen” is one for the record books, a top-notch version better than some of the official ones.  “Gutter Cat”, though?  What an odd one to pull out of the hat, and as soon as that bouncy bassline and quirky keyboard drop, we’re jumping up and down.  The arrangement’s been slightly modified from the School’s Out original but we’re just glad to hear it.

The set bounces back between old and brand new, and up next:  “Clones”, probably the undisputed best of the new Alice tunes and the only one that could be considered a hit.  Screams fill the air as soon as that synth riff hits.  A tight, feedback-laden version is rolled out in under three minutes.  Then it’s a bit of filler (“Nuclear Infected”) before they revert back to the oldies with “Billion Dollar Babies”/”I Love the Dead”.  Some blistering guitar work on “Billion Dollar Babies” would have you thinking this version was from a far earlier vintage.  Slicker than a weasel indeed!

Alice takes a break while the band do a long jam to some riffs from Alice Cooper Goes to Hell.  When Alice returns it is with an excellent rock & roll version of “Dance Yourself to Death”, far better than the Flush the Fashion original.  One dig at John Travolta snuck in, and from this point forward the Alice Cooper show is all about the classics.  The unmistakable “Only Women Bleed” provides a musical respite with understated drama.  Back to the rock with “Road Rats” from 1977 (OK, not that old by contemporary standards, but definitely of an earlier era).  The ode to roadies is seldom played but shouldn’t be.

“Sick Things”, “Is It My Body”, “Black Widow”, “Elected” and “School’s Out” are the final five, and yes that means Alice neglected a few hits.  There was no “Hello Hooray” nor “Welcome to My Nightmare”.  It doesn’t seem like anybody would have gone home dissatisfied.

The sound quality changes and improves partway through this CD, and a look at the actual setlist for this show reveals why.  Alice played “I Never Cry” that day between “Pain” and “Talk Talk”, and didn’t play “I’m Eighteen” until closer to the end.  He also apparently opened with “Model Citizen”, absent here.  He didn’t play “Billion Dollar Babies” or “I Love the Dead” at that show, but here they are.  That means this CD is not a single complete gig, but has been edited together from additional sources.

Given the rarity of most of the these tracks (many of these were the first time they were ever played live), buying this CD is a slam dunk win for any serious fan.  For the casual, you will hear a slew of well recorded Cooper classics and plenty of songs you won’t know but may end up loving.  It’s like a win-win.  Shame it’s not a full single show, but it’ll have to do for now.

3.5/5 stars

#829: Freestylin’ 6 – A Wasted Candy Script for Chaos

GETTING MORE TALE #829: Freestylin’ 6 – A Wasted Candy Script for Chaos

Buy local! That’s the mantra these days. The last time we went “Freestylin’“, I explained that I was going to try and buy as much of my music from Encore Records.  Having consumed the four albums I ordered last time, I decided to order four more!  Like before, I tried to (mostly) focus on albums I’ve never heard before.   At the same time I also wanted to pick up some music that people have been recommending to me.

First into the shopping cart:  Love/Hate – Wasted in America.  Your Heavy Metal Overlord was pleased that I enjoyed their debut album, Blackout in the Red Room, and so commanded me to acquire their second, Wasted in America.  Encore had in stock the Rock Candy reissue with two bonus tracks:  “Castles From Sand” and “Soul House Tales”.  I trust HMO with my dollars — he has rarely, if ever, steered me wrong.

My second purchase was Nita Strauss’ debut CD Controlled Chaos.  If you didn’t know, Nita plays lead guitar with Alice Cooper.  This one came highly praised by John over at 2loud2oldmusic.  “Nothing short of spectacular,” he said.  Funny enough, the last time he inspired me to purchase an album, it was another guitar instrumental:  Joe Satriani’s Shapeshifting.  I am looking forward to hearing a guitarist that, aside from live performances playing someone else’s songs, I’ve never really had a chance to listen to.  If Nita is as much of a beast in the studio as she is live, this oughta be a good album.

Uncle Meat has been telling me to buy some Cars studio albums for ages.  All I owned to this point was a Cars anthology called Just What I Needed.  Meat specifically recommended Panorama, but Encore had the expanded edition of Candy-O for just $16.99.  Maybe I’ll get Panorama next.  There is no point in getting the versions without the bonus tracks.  This one has a number of alternate versions, one B-side, and one previously unreleased song called “They Won’t See You”.

Because I ordered four CDs the first time I ordered from Encore, I randomly decided that I had to get four again this time.  My fourth was a re-buy, but a pretty mega re-buy.  The nice thing about this one is that it doesn’t replace the version I already own.  Rather, it complements the earlier version.  EMI already did a pretty excellent job when they reissued the Marillion catalogue in the 1990s.  Each of the first eight albums was stuffed with bonus discs packed with rarities and unreleased material.  My new copy of their debut, Script for a Jester’s Tear (4 CDs + 1 Blu-ray) duplicates only one track from the EMI original!

For the 2020 box set version of Script, the entire album is remixed, meaning I will need to hang onto my original.  The Market Square Heroes EP is also remixed.  The only song duplicated over both versions is “Charting the Single”, but here it is in a fresh 2020 remastering.  Discs three and four are an unreleased concert, Live at the Marquee Club.  “But I have that already!” you protest.  Do you?  No.  The concert on the Early Stages box set was recorded December 30, 1982.  This one was recorded the day before, December 29th!  While the setlist is identical, the concert is a completely unreleased one.

Finally the Blu-ray disc has the usual music videos and hi-def audio tracks, but most importantly it also has Script remixed in 5.1 surround.  It even includes the entire Recital of the Script live video (81 minutes)!   In other words, this version of Script is packed to the gills, yet amazingly without rendering your old copy obsolete.

Guitarist Steph Honde told me that the official Marillion website is sold out and he hasn’t been able to find a copy anywhere.  Fortunately the Marillion store says they will have more this week.

Thanks to Mark at Encore Records for keeping the rock rollin’.  This has been so important to my mental health.  I have always ordered new music to give myself something to look forward to in the mail.  The only difference in this new reality is that I sanitize the parcels thoroughly.  After too many weeks of no new music, ordering from Encore has been awesome.

Wonder what I’ll order next time?  Recommend four CDs to me.  If Encore carries them, there’s a possibility I might end up buying your favourite album next.

 

 

 

 

#823: A Cure for The Cult

GETTING MORE TALE #823: A Cure for The Cult

The Cult were big in highschool. “Fire Woman” debuted in the spring of ’89. It was an instant hit. Their momentum continued through the fall with “Edie (Ciao Baby)” and into the following year with “Sweet Soul Sister”. There was no stopping The Cult! With a new unknown drummer named Matt Sorum, The Cult toured the world and cleared up any remaining confusion that this was indeed a rock band.

The only Cult confusion that remained might have been with my friend Danesh.

Ian Astbury

I discovered that we both liked The Cult. I recall his amusement at the lyrics for “New York City” off Sonic Temple.  In particular he thought the aggrandizement “Hell’s Kitchen is a DMZ” was pretty funny.  It might have had something to do with the annual school trip to New York, that we didn’t attend but a friend of ours did.  Their bus was broken into and they had their stuff stolen.  Not particularly funny in and of itself, but I think we were amused because of who it happened to:  The legendary Brett Bowerman of Brett-Lore fame.  Indeed, in our highschool comic strip, the Geography teacher Mr. Robinson went to New York City to find a missing Brett!  This was inspired by us assuming Brett would get lost in New York and left behind.  In our sketches, Ian Astbury himself made a cameo.  This happened in a chapter titled “Brett Lore III:  Brett Takes Manhattan”.  In one panel, we find the Ayatollah Khomeini, a dead cat, and Skid Row (presumably because I didn’t know the difference between New York and New Jersey).  The Cult’s logo was scrawled on a wall, but scratched out.  Hell’s Kitchen is a DMZ after all!

Note that Elvis visited New York in 1989, apparently.  I also like that you can actually identify each Skid Row member by appearance alone.

Adding to the comedy, I recall that Brett purchased a samurai sword in New York.  I don’t remember if it was among the stolen possessions.  I think it probably was.

Back to the Cult.  Danesh was getting into rock music and wasn’t as well educated in the fine art of electric guitar as I was.  I think it’s very possible that he accidentally bought Disintegration by The Cure, confusing them with The Cult.  I do know that Danesh was terribly embarrassed about owning that Cure CD.  Compact discs were a new thing, and he owned up to having The Cure when we were listing some of the CDs that were in our collections.  I asked if he owned any discs that had “bonus tracks”.  The Cure did — two in fact.  That’s when he told me about it.  But he refused to tell me how he got it.  I had the Cure/Cult mixup theory, but he never confirmed nor denied.  To this day, 30 years later, I still don’t know!

Danesh really hated that Cure album.  When my family had a garage sale in 1991, he handed me the Cure CD to get rid of.  The garage sale was his only hope.  I put a sticker on there that said “BONUS TRACKS” and priced it at $12.  That was about half as much as you’d pay new.  But too much for garage salers.  I dropped it to $10 but no go.

Danesh was heartbroken when I returned the disc to him the following Monday.

“I would have been fine with a lower price if you called to tell me it wasn’t selling.”

Well, shit.  Sorry man.

I did feel bad.  I would have preferred selling it for him too.  But he still wouldn’t tell me why he owned it!  Was it a gift?  Did he like one song and then hate the rest?  Did he freak out when he saw what they looked like?  I remember his reaction the first time he saw a photo of Night Songs-era Cinderella.  It wasn’t positive!  The only album he owned was Heartbreak Station.  He didn’t know about Cinderella’s glam past and he wouldn’t let it go!

But these are just guesses.  For whatever reasons, Danesh would never tell me why he owned Disintegration by The Cure, nor would he tell me why he was ashamed of it.

As a final explanation, I’m going to go with the Cure/Cult mixup and consider this case closed.  An understandable mistake like that can be easily forgiven.

 

VIDEO: Kathryn Ladano album release – live performance of “Flow”

Enjoy music just a little different from the norm?  Here are Kathryn Ladano and opening act, combining members of Harp+ and Seagram Synth Ensemble at the TWH Social After Dark Space January 11 2020.  My Samsung couldn’t get a good image in the dark, but the audio is decent in full stereo.  Enjoy the track “Flow” from the new album Masked and clips from other tracks on the disc!

The synthscape of the opening act was quite awesome.  Now, I don’t normally drink, but I was with Max the Axe.  Before long I had a rum and Coke in me and I was taken on this wild synthesizer trip through the cosmos!  For roughly 30 minutes, a stream of music emanated through the room, like a slideshow of NASA photos from the 1960s.  Can’t wait to hear the Seagram Synth Ensemble’s album which was for sale and now in my collection.

Kathryn Ladano played interpretations of music from her album Masked.  “Interpretations” because the music is improvised and never the same twice, they just follow the same rough blueprints.  “It’s better live” whispered Max (you can hear this in the video), and Dr. Ladano agreed.

Great show, great venue, try and catch them live!