What is the plural of Elvis? Doesn’t matter. Here are two for you:
- Bald Elvis (local guy)
- Fat Elvis (yours truly)
GETTING MORE TALE #721: Christmas Mix 2010
Making mix CDs was a lot of fun (and work). I used to make custom Christmas discs that didn’t suck, for my family and friends every year. Why did I stop? I ran out of good Christmas songs. Let’s face it: unless you’re one of “those” people, Christmas music is nails on a chalkboard. You can only take so much. If you’ve worked retail in the past (or present), you probably can’t take any at all!
2010’s Christmas CD is a good example of what I used to make. You’ll notice there’s no Trans-Siberian Orchestra on there. I used up all their best stuff on the previous instalments. I tried to avoid duplicating songs from previous years although Hawksley Workman’s Christmas album is so good that I made exceptions for him. Hawkley’s Almost A Full Moon is the best Christmas CD that I own, and probably the best one I’ve heard. I bought it twice. He reissued the album after only a year with two extra songs! I forgave him, because Almost A Full Moon is so warm and perfect.
What do you think of the Christmas 2010 CD? Would you have wanted a copy that year?
1. Bill Ward – “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Yes, that Bill Ward! The Black Sabbath drummer did a spoken word recording of the classic Christmas poem, and I opened the CD with it. I can tell you that when we played the CD at dinner time, this track was a failure. Nobody paid attention.
2. Kathryn Ladano – “Jingle Bells”. I got their attention back by putting on a track by my sister. This instrumental version on bass clarinet is from her CD The Christmas Album. Of note, her Schnauzer Ali is credited for barks on “Jingle Bells”!
3. Lemmy, Dave Grohl, Billy F. Gibbons – “Run Rudolph Run”. This breakneck Christmas carol is done in the Motorhead style. I played it in the car for sis. “This is shit!” she proclaimed. “Why do these guys get to put out albums and not me?”
4. Marillion – “Let It Snow”. This drunken favourite is from 2007’s Somewhere Elf. The spirit is intoxicating, as I’m sure they were!
Found some booze in a flight case,
And I’m afraid that we’re all shit-faced,
So I guess that we’ll have to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
5. David Bowie and Bing Crosby – “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth”. This is the David Bowie song that your grandma likes. It’s just lovely. I didn’t own anything with this song on it, so I had to download. That’s why it didn’t appear until 2010!
6. Helix – “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”. Yes, it rocks, but not too hard! Helix covered Lennon for their Heavy Metal Christmas. Singer Brian Vollmer is trained in the Bel Canto technique and he’s more than capable of singing songs for your Christmas dinner in mind.
7. Extreme – “Christmas Time Again”. My mom always liked Extreme, or “Nick Strean” as she thought they were called. This isn’t the greatest Christmas song in the world, but it doesn’t suck.
8. Hawskley Workman – “3 Generations”. Told you there would be some Hawksley. This touching song is about three generations of women in the kitchen making Christmas dinner together.
9. Elvis Presley – “Blue Christmas”. I must have downloaded this one too. I am a bit of a sucker for Elvis. I included Joe Perry’s instrumental version on a previous CD.
10. The Beatles – “Christmas Time is Here Again”. Not one of their best songs, but it’s the Beatles so it had to be included eventually. This version comes from the 1995 CD single for “Free As a Bird”. Relatively few have heard it, and I thought that would get people’s ears perked up, but by this time, the wine was out….
11. Steve Vai – “Christmas Time is Here”. This is from the first Merry Axemas. It’s a lovely track and not too shreddy. Remember this song from the Charlie Brown Christmas special? Steve does it on guitar, of course!
12. Jethro Tull – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”. This funky flute version will get the toes tappin’. Hard to believe that this is from Tull’s final studio album in 2003, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album! It would have been nice to get one more, but Tull’s Christmas Album is a good one to have around. If you need to tolerate Christmas music, you may as well listen to Tull jamming it out.
13. Brian Vollmer – “The First Noel”. Helix’s Vollmer put out a rare charity album in 2005 called Raising the Roof on Mary Immaculate. “The First Noel” is one of the best tracks. Vollmer is the first artist to get two appearances on my CD.
14. Ted Nugent – “Deck the Halls”. Much like “Run Rudolph Run”, this one smokes! It’s a guitar instrumental at full speed. Grandma didn’t like this one.
15. Twisted Sister – “O Come All Ye Faithful”. I really don’t like the Twisted Christmas album. This song was a hit though, and since it’s virtually identical to “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, I can…errr…take it.
16. Cheap Trick – “Come On Christmas”. My sister was a huge Cheap Trick fan at one point. She had this song before I did. Essentially just a Cheap Trick pop rocker with Christmas lyrics. Sounds like classic Cheap Trick to me.
17. AC/DC – “Mistress For Christmas”. I put this song on as the joke it is. I like to remind people that AC/DC did have a Christmas song. “Jingle bells, Jingle bells, jingle all the day. I can’t wait to Christmas time, when I roll you in the hay.” Hey, it counts.
18. The Darkness – “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)“. In my review, I said, “Even though the guitars are thicker than a good ol’ bowl of Thin Lizzy pudding, there is no mistaking this for anything but a Christmas song. It is a joyous rock re-imagining of a Christmas carol, with the unmistakable Justin Hawkins falsetto.” Plus, sis likes The Darkness.
19. Jon Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas”. I like this one. Fuck off.
20. Jimi Hendrix – “Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne”. From an EP called Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Jimi and band jammed out some impressive licks but the dinner party didn’t enjoy.
21. Jim Cuddy – “New Year’s Eve”. Cuddy’s solo debut All In Time is tremendous CD and comes highly recommended by this guy right here. It’s like listening to a Blue Rodeo album, but only the Jim songs. The sentimental “New Year’s Eve” is a lovely ballad that fits right in with the Christmas theme.
22. Bob & Doug McKenzie – “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. You gotta end with a classic. From 1981’s The Great White North comes the big Christmas hit. We used to hear this every single year on my mom’s old clock radio. We’d squeal with laughter trying to sing along. “A beer…in a tree…”
How would you rate this one? Trying to avoid overlap was previous instalments was my Achilles’ heel. I’d swap out a lot of the lesser songs for better ones, but it’s not bad. It’s listenable. It’ll do.
GETTING MORE TALE #488: Almost Cut My Hair
Whatever musical subculture you come from, if it has a uniform, then no doubt hair style is a part of that uniform.
Nowhere has this been exemplified better than the classic mohawk made famous by 1970’s punk rockers. Mr. T made it mainstream in the 80’s, rendering the punk shock value of it dead. On to the next thing! How about a a 1″ hole in your earlobe to keep it edgy? Hair cuts and music have a much longer association than that, of course. The Beatles were considered rough and shaggy for their hair that COVERED THEIR EARS! Can you imagine? On the other side of the pond, Elvis was popularizing the greaser look. All over the world, kids tried to look like these rebellious rabble-rousers.
The late Eric Carr, who served as Kiss’ drummer from 1982 until his passing in 1991, told stories of how he desperately tried to straighten his hair to look like a Beatle. He’d put pantyhose on his head overnight to try and get the curls out. Meanwhile, there are photos of young Gene Simmons with bangs down to his eyebrows and Paul Stanley with hair covering his ears. (Paul had a second motivation — one of his ears is deformed and he was eager to hide it.)
In America, another hairstyle was emerging, and it was strongly related to the funk, r&b and disco scenes: the Afro. It is the only hairstyle I am aware of that is probably measured in diameter, not length. In the 1960’s, the Afro was associated with the ripple effect emanating from the civil rights movement. Today it is a classic hairstyle, immediately adding strength and character to almost any face that it frames. The Afro is a beautiful thing, truly.
Almost as beautiful are the dreadlocks. In many cultures, dreadlocks are sacred. The association of dreadlocks with modern music is due to the emergence of Reggae. Rastafari (part of the Abrahamic family of religions) emerged in Jamaica in the 1930’s. Who in the whole genre of Reggae was more famous than Bob Marley? Marley was Rastafari, and as his musical fame grew, so did his locks. As far as pop culture is concerned, Marley is an icon, and the silhouette of his dreadlocked head is known all over the world.
I think somebody must have just invented hairspray at the beginning of the 1980’s. That’s the best explanation that I can provide for what happened next. Everybody lost their mind, and instead of measuring their hair in length or even diameter, they began to measure it in height. It also began to take on bizarre shapes. Like the wings of Mike Score, from the obvious example A Flock of Seagulls. Cultures clashed. Culture Club, a New Wave band, featured a cross dressing lead singer with braided hair! It was glam meets Rasta in all the wrong ways. Boy George today is happily bald. Meanwhile, across the pond in suburban New Jersey, Jon Bon Jovi was attempting to break the 12″ height record.
The hairstyle closest to my heart is the one most associated with rock music: the classic long-hair. It’s the perfect hair in almost every way. You can tie it back for the “I mean business” look, or just to keep it out of the way. When you need to unleash the rock fury, long hair is superior. The best part is, after a good solid thrash around, long hair usually looks better than it did before! Only dreadlocks can rival classic long hair for headbanging money-shot images.
I never liked getting haircuts in the first place, but when I started getting interested in music in the early 80’s, it seemed as good a reason as any to stop getting them. Besides, one kid at school named Ian used to chide me that I “didn’t look like a rocker” with my lame short hair. I wanted so bad to look cool like a rocker. Sure, there were some cool short haired rockers, like Rick Neilson, Alex Van Halen and Alec John Such, but they were a vast, sometimes teased, minority. My hair started to grow down past my neck. This caused clashes with my dad like you would not believe. You thought Darren McGavin made for some foul language in A Christmas Story? My dad can eat Darren McGavin for breakfast and ask for seconds. My dad invented many of his own swears. He even started singing in swears! One of his biggest hit songs with us kids was always “Shittily, Shittily, La La La”. And that is exactly how the lyrics went. Over and over! One day, he was singing “Shittily, Shittily, La La La” in public again. He must have been overheard, because the next thing that happened was a Jehovah’s Witness approached him. She handed him a Watchtower magazine, and told him, “I think you really need this.” But I digress. You can imagine how the hair battles in our house ended. Usually with us not speaking to each other for the next three days.
That’s not due to my dad, mind you. It’s due to me being a stubborn little shit. To be fair, I learned the “stop speaking to your parents” schtick from my best friend Bob who frequently stopped speaking to his mother. Bob too was attempting to grow long hair. His goal at that time was to be a redhead version of Eric Brittingham from Cinderella during the Long Cold Winter era. He thought that would have looked awesome. It probably would have, but eventually he had to get a job and cut it. He went with a classic crew cut, and a little bit of a fringe on the back: the mullet. This is what I ended up with as well, because instead of growing over my ears, my hair simply began curling and going back up again! My dad hated this but more importantly, wanted me to be employable. One day he came home to tell me that the manager of the nearby grocery store wanted to speak with me about a job opportunity. This I was not going to be stubborn about, so I went to the barber, cut it all off, and went in for a brief interview. I started that week.
The teasing at school was inevitable. Most of those kids had never seen me without some form of attempted mullet. The drastic sudden change also made my ears look (in my eyes) freaking huge. To me, I looked like another kid in our school named “Trophy”. Trophy was called that because his ears stuck out so far they made his head look like a big trophy. I was hideous! I was Samson without his locks. I had nothing. I attempted to grow a moustache. This was abandoned in less than a week when a girl at the grocery store that I liked named Kathleen recommended that I lose the ‘stache. It was hopeless. I felt…naked.
When grunge hit the ground running in the early 90’s, rockers one by one began to shed their locks. Many ladies of the 80’s fainted when Jon Bon Jovi went short in 1993 for Keep the Faith. Three years later, some thrash acolytes nearly had heart failure when not one, not two, not three, but all four members of Metallica included James Fucking Hetfield cut their hair short! The game was over. While many rockers such as Ozzy, Alice, and Nikki elected to keep their hair, they were overshadowed by the folks who let it go: David Lee Roth, Edward Van Halen, Tommy Lee, Paul Stanley (notably for Phantom of the Opera), pretty much all of Aerosmith except for Tyler and Perry….There were no magazine headlines that said “Alice Cooper Keeps His Hair Long”. But there were headlines to the effect of “The World is Ending — Jon Bon Has Cut His Curls!”
As rockers age, so do our styles. I thought Jon Lord looked very distinguished, with his silvery hair in a ponytail when he got older. Some of us have cut our hair, some of us have lost our hair. Some of us dye it and some of us shave it. In this day and age, it is very difficult to tell one’s musical affiliation by hairstyle alone. You can have long hair and be a DJ spinning samples on a laptop. A guy shredding lead electric guitar is just as likely to have short hair as long. Over there, that metal band has a bunch of people with dreadlocks, and that rap group does too! Mohawk with dreadlocks? Hello Doug Pinnick from King’s X! Sub-cultures continue to clash in ways both new and retro, and as with any style, music will always have a part in it.
Part 1 of 2 — First the tale, tomorrow the review! This tale itself is a direct sequel to Aaron’s story “Mail From Jedi Master LeBrain”.
RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#397: Face the Heat (Mail From Sydenham)
I collect Japanese imports, especially when there are bonus tracks afoot. A year ago, I found a Japanese copy of Scorpions’ Face the Heat CD with two such bonus tracks. I bought it from one of my favourite vendors, at the Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale. It was $15 and complete with obi strip. A steal. (Who says Japanese imports are very expensive anyway?)
Because I try to avoid redundant copies in my collection, I donated my original CD of Face the Heat to Aaron. He reviewed it and called it “a collection of strong songs that gets better as it goes along”. I played my Japanese copy, and filed it away without giving the album much thought until recently. Martin Popoff’s excellent Scorpions tome, Top of the Bill, reminded me of an Elvis cover that Scorpions did as a hidden bonus track.
The Scorpions almost recorded “His Latest Flame” back in 1989 for their hits compilation, Best of Rockers ‘n’ Ballads. It was between Elvis and The Who’s “I Can’t Explain”. “I Can’t Explain” won out, but the Scorps gave it another go in 1993 for Face the Heat. (Incidentally both tracks were produced by the late Bruce Fairbairn.)
“His Latest Flame” was one of the first “hidden bonus tracks” in my collection. It’s very unlike anything the Scorpions had done before, but they did a damn fine job of it in my opinion. I love the horn parts. I’m sure that was Fairbairn’s doing, a trumpet player. It was buried unlisted after the end of “Lonely Nights”, the final song on the CD, as part of the same track. When I read Popoff’s book, I realized, “When I gave Aaron my original CD, I didn’t check if the Japanese CD retained that bonus track…”
Indeed, “LeBrain” the Bonehead did fail to check if “His Latest Flame” was on the Japanese CD, and it is not. It’s very rare to find a domestic CD that has a bonus track not included on a Japanese version, but it does happen, and it did happen on Face the Heat!
Gratefully, when “LeBrain” the Bonehead asked if he could have the disc back, Aaron immediately said “no problem”! He knows the kind of collector I am. He sent it back to me as a part of a recent parcel exchange that we enjoy doing from time to time!
I do appreciate that he was willing to send this “gifted” CD back. It just goes to show how two collectors understand one another! As for Face the Heat, look for my review of both CDs right here tomorrow!
WTF Search Terms VI: Rock and Roll edition
Welcome back to WTF! Click here if you missed the last one. This edition collects some musical Google searches that somehow led people here to this blog. Enjoy these head-scratchers and WTFs!
This first guy’s obviously an idiot.
10. steve morse sucks
9. is paul stanley loosoing his voice?
8. i wouldl like to hear mob rules (why, how polite!)
6. black sabbath paranoid deluxe edition where is the 3 disc (right there.)
5. phrase from what tv show – it’s the final countdown!! (Arrested Development.)
4. puff daddy’s embarring habit
3. new kids on the block poster greatest hits
2. real elvis videos tumblr hornny holes
And this week’s winner:
1. marilyn manson with butt plug
Like the WTF’s? Then come back soon, or better yet, subscribe!
“I am the modren man…”
STYX – Kilroy Was Here (1983 A&M Records)
I was just 11 years old when I first heard of Kilroy.
Allan Runstedtler at school had it first. He was always talking about it…this cool song called “Mr. Roboto”. This album where the songs all told a story. It had robots in it, it was an album with pictures and a story…not unlike those Star Wars story soundtracks we used to listen to. In hindsight it seems obvious that Kilroy Was Here was my gateway drug to rock music.
I went over to Allan’s house, with my little Fisher-Price mono tape deck, as he put Kilroy Was Here on the hi-fi. I hit “record” and we all quietly left the living room…so as to not disturb the open air recording. Only once did we step downstairs, but this was only to flip sides on the LP and cassette.
You can see why it was so appealing. The robots didn’t look that dissimilar from the childhood classic film The Black Hole, plus there were robot vocals on the song, but it wasn’t guitar heavy or threatening. It was catchy though, “Mr. Roboto” being the song that hooked us in. We had the lyrics completely memorized (the handy lyric sheet was a revelation to us) and could sing any part of the song by heart.
With the benefit of hindsight, “Mr. Roboto” todays sounds quaint, a harmless boppy synth radio hit nothing like the Styx that emerged onto the scene over a decade earlier. Dennis DeYoung’s vocals are all spellbinding as ever, the man as identifiable on this as he was on “Lady”. Where’s the guitars from Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young? I’m really not sure. There are a few things here and there, fuzzy buzzy melodies that might well be guitars. Only once in a while in the course of a 5-minute-plus song can you really hear any sort of instrument that wasn’t programmed or played with keys!
Tommy’s “Cold War” was another upbeat one we liked as kids, and yes you can hear some guitar in the intro and chorus. There’s even a solo! Otherwise, it’s just a dreadful synth pop piece, with loads of those annoying synth-claps and other assorted sounds that are supposed to sound like percussion. Tommy plays a character named Jonathan Chance on this album, and “Cold War” reads like a manifesto from that character.
The album came with a story, so it was quite easy to break it down and figure out what was happening. It’s a dystopian tale, and the setting is…”the future”. Dr. Righteous (James Young) has risen to power, using a clever manipulation of media and government. Rock N’ Roll music…is banned! Robert Kilroy (DeYoung), a legendary rock musician, is jailed for a murder he did not commit. But Jonathan Chance (Shaw), a young rebel hoping to bring back Rock N’ Roll, is using Kilroy’s image and music as a rallying cry for his cause. One night Kilroy escapes prison, and disguises himself as a “Roboto”, the labor robots pervasive in this future world.
Got all that?
Drummer John Panozzo is credited as a character named “Col. Hyde”, and bassist Chuck Panozzo as “Lt. Vanish”. I have no idea who those people are supposed to be. There was a minifilm that went with the album and tour, and opened the live shows. It’s incredibly funny and campy, the Styx version of the Star Wars Holiday Special.
“Don’t Let It End”, a DeYoung ballad is a song we always skipped as kids. I played the ballads maybe once the whole time I owned the album! But it’s actually a pretty good tune, and you can see why it was a hit. This is followed by “High Time” with DeYoung, introducing the character of Dr. Righteous:
“I flip the switch on my laser video,
And there’s the man staring back at me,
He starts to speak in a voice so righteous,
About the sins of society”
It’s a fun song, upbeat, very showtune-y, with DeYoung having a chance to cut loose a bit. It’s alright, and it sounds like the horn section are real horns, not some synth.
JY gets to be the one to bring the rock on “Heavy Metal Poisoning”. In this song, Dr. Righteous takes to the airwaves with the ironically hardest rocking song on the album.
What the Devil’s going on?
Why don’t you turn that music down,
You’re going deaf and that’s for sure,
But all you do is scream for more!
We were always amused by Dr. Righteous using heavy metal music as his musical vehicle to attack heavy metal music, and wondered if there was a hidden message there? Something about hypocrisy. Righteous complains that rock and roll will lead to sex and drugs, while punishing his guitar with some seriously heavy riffing and a smoking solo. Unfortunately, some goofy keyboard bits detract from the song and keep it from being a pure heavy rocker.
“Just Get Through This Night” is a ballad we skipped as kids, but in retrospect this is a great dramatic ballad. Tommy wrote this one, a long, atmospheric meandering 6 minute piece that would have been too long to hold our kiddie attention span anyway. Even though it didn’t do anything for us as kids, it stands as one of the bright spots on an album that so often just gets too goofy. Tommy’s guitar solo, recorded backwards, is a highlight on this song.
Our second-favourite song was next: “Double Life” written and sung by JY. It’s certainly one of the highlights on the album, a menacing, dark stomp with the synths this time supporting rather than fighting the song. No idea how this fits into the story, but who cares!
Tommy’s final ballad, “Haven’t We Been Here Before” is kinda skip-worthy, although it’s nice when Dennis accompanies him on the chorus. There’s also a nice harmony guitar solo, but loaded down with effects, blunting its edge. Fortunately, the album ends with “Don’t Let It End (reprise)” which is actually a reprise of “Mr. Roboto”, but with Tommy singing and more guitars. The album ends on a bright note, as Jonathan Chance seemingly takes the mantel of rock leadership from Kilroy, vowing to keep Rock N’ Roll alive! Then Dennis comes in, doing his old rocker schtick, sending up Elvis, Little Richard and many more, and that’s the album. Great finish.
I think if we were to discuss this album in 1983, I would have raved and rated it 4/5 stars. I also probably would have overused the words “awesome” and “cool-a-mundo”. That was 30 years ago…man. That’s a long, long time. Listening to it now…
RECORD STORE TALES Part 109: The Summer From Hell
I had one really, really awful summer at the store. My full-time backup had quit, and head office made the decision not to hire a replacement until the Christmas gear-up season. Instead, they decided to spread out the part-timers to cover the hours. They were always eager for hours, but not necessarily weekend hours!
I was required to work two Saturdays a month anyway. That summer, I had to pull a lot more than that. Saturdays, Sundays, the odd 12 hour shifts…I didn’t get to the cottage very much that summer. Allegedly, one head office staffer was overheard saying to another, “It’s going to be funny watching Mike try to work all summer without a full-timer.” Good to know they had my back.
I was furious. But I was also defeated.
I had one weekend booked off in July. I couldn’t miss that weekend. My grandma’s 80th birthday party was that weekend. There was no way in hell that I was going to miss my grandma’s 80th birthday party. It was a 2 hour drive away, in Kincardine Ontario. I only have one grandma (88 this year!), but wouldn’t you know it? Nothing ever went smooth for me….
I had a date the previous night (Friday), with this girl who was originally from Thunder Bay. We went out and we had a nice meal followed by a night of drinks. I woke up slightly hungover, but eager to hit the lake, and say hi to grandma. Then, my phone rang. Not a good sign.
My least reliable employee, Wiseman, was calling in sick. The truth was more likely that he was calling in wasted. Somebody had to get the hell over there and cover him. And that someone was me.
I pulled in, unshowered, unshaven, and pissed off. I had never been so mad at Wiseman in my life. It was becoming a far, far too regular occurrence that he was always “sick”, and someone had to cover for him. You can’t expect every part time employee to give up their Saturday plans and work on no notice, but a manager had to.
To her credit, there was one head office person on duty that weekend, and she came in to take over. I will always be grateful to that person for covering me on my grandma’s 80th birthday weekend. If memory serves, my great aunt Marie, her sister, made it that weekend too. I think that was the last time I ever saw her, she passed away not too long after.
My relationship with head office people was rocky to say the least, especially after that “It’s going to be funny watching Mike try to work all summer…” crack. But she did cover me when I needed it. I won’t forget that, and I’ll always be grateful.
The rest of the summer was what it was, weekend after weekend of working, the same grind and drudgery. The musical light in the tunnel that summer was the release of Marillion’s double Marbles CD. It is my favourite Hogarth-era Marillion to this day, and when I received it that summer, it got me through. We didn’t carry it in stock in our store, but it was in my car, and on my home player, all summer. It brightened the mood, it kept me going, waking me up in the morning and getting me out the door. The Summer of Hell’s bright spot was Marillion, and my grandma.
I would like to dedicate this installment of the Record Store Tales to that one head office person who stepped up and covered for me that day. We had many knock-down-drag-out arguments over the years, and I’m sure that her side of many events differ from mine. Regardless, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been present for my grandma’s 80th, and for that I owe her a debt of gratitude.
Thank you. It meant a lot to me.
Below: the soundtrack to that summer