gerald mcghee

#604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

GETTING MORE TALE #604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

Now that vinyl is back in a big way, you may have noticed more and more heavy vinyl in your local record store.  180 gram vinyl records are very popular, particularly for reissues.  You’ll notice the front cover stickers touting the weight, but what does this all mean?

As it turns out, not very much.  Heavier weight vinyl is a preference, but not one that particularly pays off in improved sound quality.

Typical records are pressed on 120 grams on vinyl.  It starts as vinyl pellets, which are melted and expertly pressed between two plates.  A record is plenty thick enough to accommodate grooves pressed into both sides.  Thickness is not the issue.  Sound quality depends on other factors much more.  Virgin plastic, not recycled, is preferred by connoisseurs.  The quality of the presses, the experience of the engineers, and of course the mastering of the music for vinyl are all critical.  Thickness, not so much.  The groove in a record depends more on surface area in order to get a good sound, and that comes from width.  Sound issues arise when a side of a record is so long, that the grooves need to be squeezed onto that 12″ diameter.  Then you lose clarity and distinction.  A thick record might cut down on vibration from the turntable, but a good platter will do the same job.

200 gram vinyl.  Notice the thick edge.

Heavy vinyl feels amazing in the hand. 180 grams or even 200 grams are very common today.  Like buying a heavy-duty vehicle, you feel the weight and sturdiness and associate it with quality.  Generally, you would be correct.  When a label presses a release on 180 gram vinyl, it’s often the case that this is some special reissue.  Perhaps it’s been specially re-mastered for vinyl, or manufactured in limited quantities too.  Sometimes these come in special gatefold packaging.  If the remastering is done well and not overdriven like a lot of modern releases, chances are you’ll be getting a good sounding record.

120, 180, 200 grams…how heavy can these things get?  Is there an upper limit?  I asked Gerald McGhee, vice-president of Precision Pressing in Burlington Ontario.  He also sings in Canadian band Brighton Rock.

“You can go higher.   200 is in vogue right now.  140 is standard,  and 180 is getting more traction, but very little difference in sound quality,” says McGhee.

In theory you could take vinyl to absurd limits, but what would be the point?  Maybe if you’re Blink 182, you could do a special 182 gram release.  (Make sure I get my cut for the idea if you do.)  If you as a consumer buy heavy vinyl, you’re doing it mostly because you enjoy it for reasons other than sound.  Perhaps you buy them because you are used to getting a good mastering job with such releases.  Perhaps, like me, you also enjoy the satisfying feeling of handling such a record.  Perhaps you just like to collect variations.  But if you are not one of those, you may just want to save the extra few bucks and buy a cheaper version.

 

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REVIEW: Brighton Rock – Take a Deep Breath (1988)

BR TADB_0001BRIGHTON ROCK – Take A Deep Breath (1988 WEA)

Legend has it that Brighton Rock hated this album. Singer Gerald McGhee was on record saying that record company pressure forced his band to soften up the songs and his singing style. Yet, Take A Deep Breath is actually an excellent 80’s rock album, with unusual quality. Everything you loved about 80’s rock is here.

Brighton Rock’s sound was different from the crop of hair bands at the time. They always had a classier feel in their commercial rock. Witness, from the first LP, “We Came to Rock”. The synth strings made it different, a little more refined. Johnny Roger’s tasteful keyboard parts have always provided an interesting background texture to their vocal and guitar melodies. Gerald McGhee’s vocals were emotional and he had a powerful range. On this album, he doesn’t scream (that record company pressure), but that’s OK. It works out fine with these songs. His voice is strong enough, he didn’t need to show off how high he could go.

Strong songs:

  • “Can’t Stop The Earth From Shaking” (poppy, catchy and upbeat rocker)
  • “Outlaw” (dark and moody, great keyboards providing background texture)
  • “Rebels With A Cause” (guitars upfront, a good groove)
  • “Power Overload” (another guitar rocker with a great shout-chorus)
  • “Who’s Foolin’ Who” (best song on the album, sounds like we have some fretless bass here, a moody dark rocker)
  • “Love Slips Away” (dark and moody ballad, second best track here)
  • “Unleash The Rage” (the dark, metallic song that sounds more like the rockers on the first album)

Drivel:

  • “One More Try” (the unfortunate first single, a ballad…look at those doe eyes!)
  • “Ride the Rainbow” (the pop song Gerald says he wished he never wrote)

As you can tell, dark moods dominate Take A Deep Breath. You could probably tell that by the cover. Hugh Syme (best known for his work with Rush, although he’s also done Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Queensryche, and dozens more) did the picture of the little boy with the gasmask in the post-nuclear landscape. Because of this dark feel, Take A Deep Breath is unlike most of the pop rock records out at the time. Its darkness allows it to stand up to scrutiny today. When Brighton Rock ditched keyboardist Johnny Rogers so they could “heavy it up” for their next album Love Machine, it didn’t work. They lost that special quality and became just another band trying to sound like it was from LA.

Don’t listen to Gerald McGhee: Take A Deep Breath was an album for him to be proud of, not embarrassed by. It was the high point of this band’s discography.  Heck, Jack Richardson produced it — the same guy who recorded Universal Juveniles and the better Guess Who albums.   There is a level of quality here underneath the keyboards that is audible, even today.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Brighton Rock – Brighton Rock (EP)

BRIGHTON ROCK – Brighton Rock (1985 Flying Fist EP)

I first turned onto this band in the 10th grade.  MuchMusic kept playing the video for “We Came to Rock”.  It had a pop rock vibe to it, but the singer erased any accusations of being pop.  The screams!  The unholy screams!  Yeah!  That was definitely hard rock territory!

The singer’s name is Gerald McGhee and the band is Brighton Rock.  There’s a connection to the Record Store Tales, which is that later on McGhee started a music distribution company called Isotope Records and we used them as a supplier once in a while.  My boss told me that Gerry still had the hair.  (According to M.E.A.T Magazine he was also one of two Canadian singers to audition for Motley Crue in 1992, the other being Sebastian Bach.)

The selling feature of this band for me was the incredible voice of McGhee.  I’d never heard screaming like this before!  I remember my highschool classmates couldn’t handle it, the screams were too much for them.  But it’s not gratuitous; McGhee throws in screams strategically at key points to blow you to the wall.

Not that McGhee is the only talent in Brighton Rock.  Also notable is guitarist Greg Fraser, who ended up in Helix in 1993, and today fronts the Frase Gang with Brighton Rock bassist Stevie Skreebs.

BRIGHTON 5Before they released their excellent debut album Young, Wild and Free, Brighton Rock completed a four song EP, which is what we’re talking about today.  It’s no Young, Wild and Free, but we’ll be talking about that album (and Take A Deep Breath) in the weeks to come.   The EP Brighton Rock is a less-honed taster, but something I’d sought to own for a long time.  It’s never been released on CD, and contains one song (“The Fools Waltz”) that isn’t on any Brighton Rock album.  Bob had this on cassette when we were kids, but I finally recently picked up a sealed vinyl on eBay for dirt cheap.

Brighton Rock and their debut album contain the same opening song:  “Young, Wild and Free”.  This early version is musically identical but lacks the oomph.  Michael Wagener produced the album, and no doubt helped by his incredible work with Accept, got way more intense screams out of McGhee.  The EP however is produced by somebody named Steve Vaughan (with one track by Jack Richardson).

The second track is “Assault Attack”, which as the title implies is a combat zone of hooky guitars and thunderous toms.  Miles away from the ballady stuff like “One More Try” that the band would later become known for.  Song three is “Barricade”, which has a really cool and tricky sounding guitar solo by Greg Fraser.  It’s a heavy rocker., but the closing song “The Fools Waltz” eases up on the pace a tad.  It would be a stretch to call it a ballad.  It’s more like a Canadian radio rock song.

Of note:  the Brighton Rock EP is the only release with original keyboardist Martin Victor.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Rockhead – Rockhead (1992)

ROCKHEAD – Rockhead (1992)

  • Bob Rock – guitar
  • Steve Jack – vocals
  • Jamie Kosh – bass
  • Chris Taylor – drums

A lot of Rock-haters (people who hate Metallica’s output from 1991-2003) have no idea that the man is quite the musician himself. Canadians remember the Payola$ and Rock & Hyde, but then there was Rockhead. Bob Rock found a great Canadian punk rock vocalist named Steve Jack, who as it turns out, was also a great screamer. Some of the screams on this album are unreal — check out “Bed Of Roses”, “Heartland”, and “Chelsea Rose” for some awesome vocals.  Face it, Canada has some great screamers (James LaBrie, Gerald McGhee, Sebastian Bach!) but Steve Jack was a contender.

This album was born during the the difficult Motley Crue sessions (not to mention a Bon Jovi album), while Bob was going through a divorce.  This comes out in the song “Warchild”.  In fact it ACTUALLY comes out during that song:   Bob can be heard yelling and throwing stuff around the studio at one point, which he recorded after a painful phone call.

I don’t find there is a weak track on this album, and plenty of Bob’s buddies show up.   Art Bergmann, Billy Duffy, Paul Hyde, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora all contribute songwriting skills.  Duffy and Sambora also contribute solos.   From the screamy Aerorock of “Bed of Roses” to the metal of “Heartland” to the acoustic Zeppelinesque “Angelfire”, every single track is worth a listen.  It’s a diverse album actually, running the gamut from light to dark and embracing different sides of rock.   Boozy, bluesy, epic, acoustic, you name it.  Its roots are firmly planted in the 1970’s, but if this had come out in 1989, it could have spawned 5 singles.

Sonically if you like Bob Rock, you will like this.  It’s right in the ballpark of that Motley Crue/Keep the Faith sound he had going on during that period.  Big big drums, layers of guitars, a lil’ bit of keyboards here and there, but mostly, lots and lots and lots of guitars.

4/5stars