hard rock

REVIEW: Whitesnake – 1987 (30th Anniversary Edition box set)

WHITESNAKE – 1987 (30th Anniversary Edition Rhino box set)

Back when I reviewed the original “Deluxe” edition of Whitesnake’s 1987, I said, “Great album, but this reissue could have been so much better.”  And so here we are.

Let’s get right down to it.  You already know the story of Whitesnake 1987 or you wouldn’t be here.

The main feature is the 2017 remaster of 1987, which actually sounds pretty great.  In this day and age, if you’re seeking the warmth of a vintage vinyl experience, you can go and have that experience for far less money than this box set costs.  For a compact disc, this might be as good as we’ve gotten so far.  If you look at the Audacity waveforms below, you can see the 2017 remaster (top) has roughly the same levels as a previous one from Whitesnake Gold.

I’m still hanging on to my original UK version of 1987, but for compact disc, this is probably it.


David Coverdale wanted to adapt Whitesnake to the 1980s with this album, and this lineup with John Sykes, Neil Murray, and new drummer Aynsley Dunbar was certainly able to deliver.  The album was always loud, especially compared to their 70s output.  Sykes provided the squeals that the kids wanted.  David was back in top voice.  The album they delivered is legendary for how it changed Whitesnake’s fortunes.

The running order on this box set is not the original UK or US, but the combined running order as used on the previous 20th anniversary edition.

“Still of the Night” blows the doors in, a tornado in the night, mighty and sexy too.  Whitesnake had never been this aggressive before, but “Give Me All Your Love” lulls the listener back to something easier to digest on first listen.  “Give Me All Your Love” was a successful single because it’s melodic pop rock with guitars.  But then the band scorch again with “Bad Boys”, top speed right into your daughter’s headphones!  Whether it was Aynsley Dunbar or just the songs that they wrote, the pace is high gear.

“Is This Love”, a song that David was writing with Tina Turner in mind, was another massive hit.   John Kolodner (John Kolodner) insisted that they keep it for themselves, and he was right as he often was.  For a big 80s ballad, “Is This Love” really was perfect.  It tends to work better in a stripped back arrangement, since the original is so specifically tailored to that era.  Still, Sykes’ solo on it has to be one of his best.

Speaking of hits, “Here I Go Again” is the one that Sykes didn’t want to do, and look what happened.  That humble pie probably tasted no good to Sykes when he found himself fired by Coverdale after the album was completed.  His replacement, Adrian Vandenberg (Vandenberg) actually played the guitar solo, so dissatisfied was Coverdale with the one Sykes produced.  “Here I Go Again” was of course a minor hit from Saints & Sinners, but deserving of a second shot in America with production more suited to their tastes.  Don Airey on keyboards; though Whitesnake did without an official keyboardist this time.

“Straight For the Heart” is a great also-ran that perhaps could have been another single if they kept trottin’ them out instead of stopping at four.  High speed but with incredible hooks, it’s impossible not to like.  “Looking For Love” is the second ballad, but actually originally unreleased in the US.  It’s toned down from the style of “Is This Love”, and Neil Murray’s bass is pronounced.  He was a huge part of the groove on this album, if you really settle in and listen to the rhythm section.  His bass has a certain “bop” to it.  “Children of the Night” returns the tempo to allegro and the lyrics to dirty.  I can’t imagine too many fathers of the 80s wanted their daughters to go to the Whitesnake concert if they heard David cooing, “Don’t run for cover, I’m gonna show you what I’ve learned, just come a little closer, come on an’ get your fingers burned.” Another UK exclusive, “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again” cools it down slightly, but that Sykes riff is hot like a torch!

“Crying in the Rain” is held back to second-last in this running order, even though it opened the US album.  Another re-recording, “Crying in the Rain” was suggested by Kolodner because he knew Sykes could give it that massive blues rock sound that it had in the live setting.  Again, he was right.  “Crying in the Rain” is massive — perhaps the most sheerly heavy piece of rock that Whitesnake ever dug up.  Finally the CD closes with the last ballad, “Don’t Turn Away”, which closed the US version.  It’s a fine song indeed, and a really good vibe on which to end Whitesnake 1987.


The second CD in this set is called Snakeskin Boots:  Live on Tour 1987-1988.  Presumably, these are recordings from throughout the tour, assembled into a CD-length running order.  The “boots” in the title implies bootleg quality, but it certainly sounds better than that.  Soundboards maybe?

The studio lineup of Whitesnake dissolved and David got Vandenberg in, followed by Vivian Campbell (Dio) and the rhythm section of Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne).  This new lineup was not based in the whiskey blues of the old band(s), but in the flashy stylings of the 1980s.  Vivian and Vandenberg were both capable of shredding your brain.  That’s generally how they do it on these recordings.  Opening with “Bad Boys”, the manic tempo is maintained while the guitars reach for the stratosphere.

Sounds like it was a hell of a show, rolling into the groove of “Slide it In” and “Slow An’ Easy”, and the good news is the 1987 band can play the 1984 songs too.  David Coverdale is the ringmaster, the veteran, confident and in prime voice.  All the songs are from either 1987 or Slide it In, with only one exception:  the slow blues “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” from the original 1978 Snakebite EP.  Sounds like Vivian Campbell accompanying David on this slow, classy blues.  No Deep Purple in the set; but my old pal Rob Vuckovich once said he went to the Toronto show on this tour bearing a flag that said “PLAY PURPLE”.  He also claimed David acknowledged it by saying, “We’re not playing any of that!”

“Here I Go Again” comes early on the CD, fourth in line, and it’s excellent.  “Guilty of Love” is a nice surprise, and “Love Ain’t No Stranger” is more than welcome at the party.  “Is This Love” is well received, and works well in the live setting without too much extra production.  Adrian can’t top the Sykes solo, though he gets within very close range.  Vivian and Adrian get a feature solo with a keyboard backdrop, and it’s quite good — more like an instrumental than just a solo.  It leads into a brutally heavy “Crying in the Rain”; Tommy Aldridge literally beats the shit out of it!  The CD closes on “Give Me All Your Love” with David substituting the word “baby” in the opening line with “Tawny”!

There’s little question.  For most fans, the major draw of this box set will be this live CD.  If that is you, you will not be disappointed by Snakeskin Boots.


Disc three in this monolith of a box set is the 87 Evolutions.  This is an interesting concept but not one that you will be craving to have a listen regularly.  This disc is intended for deeper study.  These tracks are the album’s songs in various stage of demoing.  “Still of the Night” for example starts as a living room demo, with David slapping his knees for drums, and only the most basic of lyrics.  Then this demo fades seamlessly into a more advanced full band arrangement, with the lyrics still unfinished.  There’s a funky middle solo section here that is more jam than song, but a blast to hear.

That is the kind of thing you can expect to hear on 87 Evolutions.  No need to spoil what you should enjoy discovering yourself.  This is for the hardcore of hardcore fans, those that want every squeal that ever came from Sykes’ axe.  You are gonna get it.  Incidentally, I think I prefer David’s original, rough slow bluesy version of “Give Me All Your Love” to the glossy pop song it became.

This disc ends with a “Ruff Mix” of the completed “Crying in the Rain” from Little Mountain studios.  All the parts are in place, the mix just needed that modern bombast that David was aiming for.


The fourth and final CD, 87 Versions, is a collection of alternate remixes released on various singles, and brand new remixes as well.  These are really cool bonuses.  The 2017 mix of “Still of the Night” has a really dry sound, allowing you to really hear the spaces between the instruments.  A lot of these remixes have a different balance of instruments, so you will hear different things yourself.  There are two remixes of “Give Me All Your Love” on this CD:  the 2017 with the original Sykes solo, and the highly coveted alternate with “new” solo by Vivian Campbell.  There are also two remixes of “Here I Go Again”, including the old “Radio Mix” with a completely different group of musicians and a much more pop arrangement.

Among these remixes is something called the 1987 Versions:  Japan Mini-Album, proving that Japan always get the best stuff.  This apparent EP contains the B-sides and bonus tracks that you couldn’t get on the album.  “Standing in the Shadows” was another song re-recorded for 1987, though left as a B-side.  “Looking For Love” and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again” are also included, since back then you could only get them in the UK.  “Need Your Love So Bad” was a previous Whitesnake B-side, remixed in 1987 for a new B-side!  It’s an absolutely stunning ballad, quiet with only keyboard accompaniment.

With all these tracks included, pretty much every track associated with the 1987 album and singles is covered.


Whitesnake: The Videos is the fifth disc, a DVD.  It’s really just an add-on, nothing substantial (like a 5.1 mix).  First on the menu:  “More Fourplay”, the classic MTV videos that set the world on fire in 1987.  Some behind the scenes footage too.  MTV was a huge part of this band’s success (hopefully Tawny gets paid a royalty from this reissue?).  These glossy videos are…well, they didn’t age as well as the album did.  Why does Rudy always lick his bass?  You just gotta laugh at “Here I Go Again”; the pretentious image of the three guys (Viv, Adrian, Rudy) playing keyboards passionately side by side…utterly silly.  But yet iconic.  “Is This Love” has the band playing on evening rooftops, Rudy wielding a double-neck bass.  Why?  Doesn’t matter; in 1987 we thought it was awesome.  “Give Me All Your Love” is a notable video, being a “live on stage” type, but also with the brand new guitar solo cut by Vivian.  For his solo, Viv chose to play on the wang bar a bit too much, but at least David let him do one.  It remains Vivian’s only studio appearance with Whitesnake, ever.  Unannounced but cool just the same, “Love Ain’t No Stranger” (from Slide It In) is used in whole as the end credit song for the “More Fourplay” segment.

Next up is a 28 minute documentary about the making of the album.  David has clear recollections and is always a delight to listen to. (Some vintage Coverdale interview footage is actually from a MuchMusic piece with Denise Donlon.) Interestingly, he claims that the “Still of the Night” riff is one that he found in his mother’s attic, that he wrote back in the tail of Deep Purple.  “Still of the Night” could have been a Purple song, but it took John Sykes to make it what it became.  We then move on to the assembly of the touring lineup, dubbed the “United Nations of Rock”.  Tommy and Rudy are also interviewed in vintage clips, with Tommy proudly proclaiming that they want to bring musicality back to rock and roll.

The “Purplesnake Video Jam” (whut?) video of “Here I Go Again” is basically a brand new music video using alternate footage from the time.  The mix is similar to the old single mix, but spruced up.  Finally there is the “’87 Tour Bootleg”, and woah!  It’s pro-shot multi-camera footage.  You only get half of “Crying in the Rain”, and all of “Still of the Night”.  Why not more?  Is this a tease for some kind of upcoming DVD?  The footage reveals a band of their time, but a good band.  Not the best Whitesnake lineup ever (Sykes gets that), but a good lineup with something special together.  They were tight, they could all play their nuts off, and present a high energy 80s stageshow, especially Rudy.  By the end of “Still of the Night”, David is actually dodging panties being thrown at his head.  I kid you not.


As per usual, any box set worth its own respect is packed with added stuff usually made of paper.  In this case, a nice hard cover booklet, a smaller softcover lyric book, and a poster.  Posters have to be the biggest waste of money in a set like this.  Who’s going to hang it?  I’m probably never even to unfold mine once.

Now that you have all the details, you should be able to decide if this box set needs to be in your collection.  It needed to be in mine.  And guess what — Slide it In is next!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert (1997)

JOE SATRIANI, ERIC JOHNSON, STEVE VAI – G3 Live in Concert (1997 Epic)

It took me 21 years to finally buy this CD.  Why?  It was hard to get excited about three live Satch songs, three live Vai songs, and so on.  But a collector needs to catch ’em all, and it’s actually a pretty fabulous listen throughout.

Joe Satriani opens the set with “Cool No. 9” from his self-titled blues album.  Blues to Joe Satriani is a different kind of animal.  It’s trick-laden and thick with notes, although this doesn’t mean light on feel.  His landmark classic “Flying in a Blue Dream” is more what people expect from Joe.  I like to describe his albums as regular vocal rock records, just with the lead guitar singing the melody instead of a person.  I think I stole that description from Joe himself.  You can’t really call “Flying” a ballad but it sure is epic.  Finally it’s “Summer Song”, Joe’s big 1992 hit from The Extemist.  It doesn’t get more accessible for instrumental guitar rock.  Joe’s actually the perfect artist to open this CD for that reason.  His music, more than most instrumentalists, is door-opening for listeners.

The sublime Eric Johnson is in the middle position.  “Zap” is a tour-de-force of instrumental prowess, built into the framework of a nice shuffle.  Though you can certainly bop along if you like, the musicianship here is not for the timid.  “Camel’s Night Out” is a busy groover.  One of Johnson’s best tunes ever has to be “Manhattan”, which goes down unbelievably smooth live.  The playing is lyrical and warm.

Steve Vai’s threesome includes “Answers” and “For the Love of God” from Passion & Warfare.  “Answers” is one of Vai’s more challenging songs, fast and funky with weird tones and melodies.  This is probably the most blistering song on the whole disc, including a solo that isn’t in the studio version.  For all that, “For the Love of God” is the most awe-inspiring.  This ballad puts the passion in Passion and Warfare.  This is the one with Steve’s soul in it, every bend and every beat.  “The Attitude Song” is an oldie from the first Vai album Flex-able, just a solid rocker with some shredding.  Live it is much heavier than the tinny studio cut.

Finally, there is a trio of tunes with the three maestros playing together, as is the G3 tradition.  The blues standard “Going Down” is a typical jam, with Joe on vocals.  Then a tribute to Steve’s mentor, Frank Zappa, on “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” with everyone singing…and shredding.  Finally, Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” finishes the CD with Eric Johnson on lead vocals.  Of these three tracks, “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” smokes the other two.

May as well pick up the original G3 CD if you find it in the wild.  It’s good stuff.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Jim Crean – Greatest Hits (2018)

In a surprising turn of events, Jim Crean has been named the new singer for Vinnie Vincent! So it is a perfect time to review Jim Crean’s Greatest Hits.

JIM CREAN – Greatest Hits (2018 Visionary Noise)

Buffalo’s Jim Crean has four solo albums under his belt.   That’s a good minimum before you release a greatest hits.  There is enough material here for a solid listen, including two new songs from Crean’s forthcoming fifth album.

Several of the best tracks are hard rockers from Crean’s Insatiable. “Touch” remains a standout, a great song any rock songwriter would be envious of.  Not to mention Crean’s power-pipes lay waste to the chorus.  Check out the metal riffing on “Follow Your Heart”, too.  These taffy-sweet tracks claw into your cranium via your ear canal.  All you can do is surrender to it.

Crean’s also capable of standout ballads.  “Make It” and “Can’t Find My Way” (a duet with Mike Tramp) are fantastic.  Then he goes vintage Aerosmith on “She Goes Down”, a song that could have fit nicely on an album like Toys in the Attic.

There are a handful of covers on the 16 track album, and interesting choices too.  “Caught in the Middle” is, of course, Dio, performed with Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice.  “Over the Edge” is early 90s L.A. Guns, an excellent groove.  Crean also covered fellow Buffalo band the Goo Goo Dolls with the acoustic “Cuz You’re Gone”, one of the Goo’s finest ballads.

What about the new songs?  “Scream Taker” sounds like a Ronnie Dio tribute, with the lyrics cut and pasted from Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio songs.  “Scream Taker” indicates that Crean has gone heavier on his fifth record.  The other new song, “Conflicted” has a strong traditional metal riffy vibe.  (Is that Billy Sheehan on bass?)  Both these new songs hint at a great album to come.  Guitarist Steph Honde, who plays on both new songs says that while the new Crean album will be a bit heavier, there will also be some great ballads.

Don’t have any Jim Crean yet?  Pick up his Greatest Hits to catch up.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (2015 vinyl box set version)

As we gear up for this year’s release of the next Queensryche album The Verdict, let’s look back at a different edition of their last album Condition Hüman.  For our original 2015 review of Condition Hüman, click here!

QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (2015 Century Media 2 LP, + 7″ single coloured vinyl box set)

It is almost customary now.  When a band comes out with a new album, there has to be a crazy deluxe edition with vinyl and CD.  The best of these editions are the ones that include exclusive music.  In the end, all the posters and booklets in the world add up to only paper.  Exclusive music is the thing of real value.

Queensryche did well with their Condition Hüman deluxe.  It was available in a variety of colours.  This one is yellow, number 659/1000.  There’s a cool turntable mat inside, and a double sided poster.  For music, the album is split onto two coloured 180 gram vinyl records, including the Japanese bonus track “Espiritu Muerto” on Side D.   (The D-side is also etched with the Queensryche logo in the empty space.)  For your convenience, the entire album including Japanese bonus track is duplicated on the CD inside.  Then for the diehards comes the true exclusive:  two more songs on a 7″ single, not on any other version of the album.  This is the real reward for spending the extra money on the deluxe.

“Espiritu Muerto” chugs heavily along, punishing the skulls of unbelievers.   On the 7″ record, the two exclusive songs are fairly non-descript. “46° North” is B-side-ish, like a leftover written for Empire but dropped in favour of something more commercial.  “Mercury Rising” is on the other side, with a vaguely psychedelic metal vibe and science fiction lyrics.

Condition Hüman itself is a strong metallic album, though with hindsight perhaps too “metal” for its own good.  There was a time, not so long ago, when fans would have begged and pleaded with Queensryche to write just one new song in the vein of Condition Hüman.  Now that we have two albums solidly back in the metal genre, it would be nice to hear real diversity in Queensryche again.

That said, Condition Hüman is a damn fine album for what it is.  The Queensryche of today, fronted by Todd La Torre, has been determined to retain trademark elements from Queensryche’s 80s heyday.  That includes strong riffs, dual harmony solos, and screamin’ vocals.  These are all delivered with gravy on top.

The vinyl experience of Condition Hüman is actually superior to that of CD.  It was always a long album, with the standard edition being 53 minutes of pretty relentless stomping.  On vinyl, you’re forced to pause and flip the record three times before even getting to the single.  These brief respites allow you to breath and absorb.  What I’ve absorbed is that Condition Hüman is still a damn fine collection of songs, if a bit too single-minded.  One gets the impression from this album that, though good, Queensryche can still do better.

4/5 stars

LP-A1 Arrow Of Time
LP-A2 Guardian
LP-A3 Hellfire
LP-A4 Toxic Remedy

LP-B1 Selfish Lives
LP-B2 Eye 9
LP-B3 Bulletproof
LP-B4 Hourglass

LP-C1 Just Us
LP-C2 All There Was
LP-C3 The Aftermath
LP-C4 Condition Hüman

LP-D1 Espiritu Muerto

7″-A 46° North
7″-B Mercury Rising

REVIEW: Chickenfoot – “Divine Termination” (2017 single)

CHICKENFOOT – “Divine Termination” (2017 Edel coloured 7″ single)

For a band with only two albums, Chickenfoot sure do milk it.  After a single debut album, they did a live DVD called Get Your Buzz On.  Two albums in came a live album called Chickenfoot LV.  (Get it?  LV can mean both “live” and “55”, Sammy’s notable hit.)  Then another package called Best + Live, mixing the “greatest hits” with a new song and an audio release of Get Your Buzz On — which, by the way, was mined for five songs already on the previous LV album!

It’s all too much.  We like Chickenfoot here; really we do, but enough is enough.  Instead of buying all that stuff, we decided to just go for a 7″ single for the one “new” song called “Divine Termination”.  That seemed the most logical purchasing option, all things considered.  It’s a nicely packaged 45, on clear pink coloured vinyl.  The side A label depicts Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony.  Side B has Joe Satriani and Chad Smith.  It feels nice and heavy in hand.

Unfortunately, it’s not all rose-coloured.  These guys had five years to come up with one good new song.  “Divine Termination” is not it.  Although it does have a neat, vintage sounding Deep Purple riff, the Chickenfoot hooks and harmonies are missing.  The chorus has no meat.  “Divine Termination” is forgettable even though Joe Satriani plays as brilliantly as ever.

On the flipside is another release of “Highway Star”, the Deep Purple cover.  It’s available on Best + Live, but its first issue was on Re-Machined, the Deep Purple tribute album.  Too bad the B-side isn’t something exclusive, but it does blow away the A-side.  Listen to Joe somehow make his guitar resemble Jon Lord’s Hammond Organ.

Maybe Chickenfoot were too creatively spent after years of solo and other projects to come up with a memorable new song.  There’s talk of a third Chickenfoot album in the future.  If so, it has to be better than “Divine Termination”.

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – The Lost Session (2018)

DEF LEPPARD – The Lost Session (2018 iTunes)

Cast your memories back to 2012.  Def Leppard re-recorded some very high quality “forgeries” of some of their classic hits for iTunes.  Three of these iTunes singles were released:

  1. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” / “Rock of Ages”
  2. “Acoustic Medley 2012”
  3. “Hysteria 2013”

The iTunes exclusive concept dried up for Def Leppard afterwards, but in 2018 we got six more tracks, from a 2006 “lost session”.  The rest of the songs don’t sound like “forgeries”, as the first ones did.  These are listed on iTunes as “live”.  They are not.  They are also not meticulously recorded recreations.  They lie somewhere between:  not fully live, but raw in a way that Leppard rarely are.

There are a number of surprises in the re-recordings.  First and foremost:  “Let It Go”!  Any Leppard fan will tell you that the 1981 High N’ Dry LP is Leppard at their early, heavy best.  While nothing can compete with the Mutt Lange produced original, the re-recording is still razor sharp.  It gives you a chance to hear Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell on lead guitar.  The pair do not attempt to imitate Pete Willis and Steve Clark, instead blazing their own trail.

You don’t have to wait for the second surprise, a baffling one indeed: a re-recording of “Rock On” from 2006’s covers album Yeah!  Why do Leppard keep playing this song?  (It was even on their recent Best Of.)  Considering how they’ve beaten this dead horse, it’s actually not much of a surprise after all.  It was a boring song to start with, and Leppard can’t save it just by throwing down more guitars.  “When Love and Hate Collide” is another surprising choice to re-record.  The guitars are pretty incredible, but it’s just a ballad from a 1995 greatest hits CD.

“Foolin'” from Pyromania is missing the atmosphere of the original, but otherwise hits all the notes.  Joe Elliott still has an enviable voice.  Then it’s “Promises” from Euphoria, their best song from a dreary era.  Sure it’s a formulaic rewrite of their best hits rolled into one, but it works.  This re-recording is closest in sound and spirit to the original (from 1999).  Finally “Bringing On the Heartbreak” is a smokeshow as the closer.  It’s hard to really call it a ballad; there is some heavy rocking here too.  The guitars sound fabulous.  Def Leppard may no longer be the band they were in the 80s, but Phil and Viv are two of the best players in the game.  They don’t show off, so people rarely think of them when listing great guitarists.  But they are.  The outro solo (sounds like Vivian) nails it!

Def Leppard’s Lost Session is perfect for the fans who have it all.  Re-recordings are almost always very dicey cash grabs.  Leppard’s are worth the purchase.  They’re not cheap knock-offs.  New slants are fused with the old classics, so take these songs out for a fresh spin.

3.5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Nobody Said it Was Easy (2018 vinyl reissue)

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Nobody Said it Was Easy (originally 1991 Def American, 2018 vinyl reissue with bonus tracks)

Though defunct for well over two decades, the Four Horsemen are like the gift that keeps on giving.  When they bit the dust, all they initially left behind were two albums and an EP.  Today there are a set of reissues with bonus tracks, live releases, and a “lost” second LP that was never released before.  In 2018, another handful of unreleased tracks came to light on a brand new vinyl reissue of Nobody Said it Was Easy.  This is the second reissue of the album now, the first (on CD) having three completely different bonus tracks (“She’s Got It”, “Homesick Blues (harmonica version)” and “Born to Boogie”).  The vinyl replaces those with a bunch more you didn’t have.

First, about the album Nobody Said it Was EasyWe reviewed it back in 2016 and stand by every word.  It was a shining beacon of rock n’ roll when it was in danger of drowning in a sea of grunge.  Rick Rubin gave the album an edgy, loud and crisp sound.  The band had a dirty vibe at odds with the Poisons and Motley Crues on the charts.  And they boasted one of the greatest unsung frontmen ever:  Frank C. Starr.  A real life bad boy, there was nothing phony about Frank, nor any of the Four Horsemen.  The nucleus was the man known as Haggis, ex-The Cult, ex-Zodiac Mindwarp.  His slippy-slidey guitars melded perfectly with the southern soloing of Dave Lizmi.  On bass was a chap named Ben Pape, but the secret weapon was drummer Kenneth “Dimwit” Montgomery.  This mountain of a man, a Canadian punk rock veteran, had presence and a deep Bonham-like beat.  The Four Horsemen couldn’t be touched by anyone in their field.  The 12 songs that made up Nobody Said it Was Easy sound derived in equal parts from early AC/DC and the American South, with a healthy dose of sleazy intent.

“My name is Frankie, let’s fuck up the place!”

The three singles are flat-out indispensable.  I wouldn’t want to live my life without “Rockin’ Is Ma Business” any more than I would want to live it without “Let There Be Rock”.  “Tired Wings” is a greasy southern revelation, while the title track has more hooks than a tackle shop.

As an added bonus, this package also includes the first Four Horsemen EP, Welfare Boogie.  It was available separately on a remastered CD with bonus tracks, but now you can get it on vinyl right here.  The four EP songs were pretty high octane.  “Hard Loving Man” remains a ridiculous highlight.  Tattooed pecker indeed!

Onto the unreleased tracks, of which there are six:  five songs and an interview.  All of these are exclusive to this LP; nowhere else.  The interview is a vintage road call from a humorous Haggis to a Calgary radio station, but it’s inconsequential at only 2:30 long.  (My copy of the second LP has the sides labelled incorrectly.)

Check out the original open-G tuning of “Tired Wings”.  It’s remarkable how changing the tuning made the difference between a good song and a great one.  Now it’s timeless.  Frankie did a completely different lead vocal on “’75 Again”, without the screaming (some of the guitar bits are missing too).  I think I prefer the screaming version when you hear them side by side.  An alternate version of “Can’t Stop Rockin'” is a different take, also without screaming (or backing vocals).  These versions that ultimately didn’t make the album are as well produced as the record, but ultimately it’s a matter of taste which you prefer.  It’s certainly startling to hear different versions after this many years.

“The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” is an instrumental, recorded Christmas Day 1991.  This certainly foreshadows the direction the Four Horsemen would go on their “lost” second album, Daylight Again, which was more Band than AC/DC.  Finally it’s an extended 8:32 live jam on “Can’t Get Next to You”, a non-album rarity.  Another version can be found on the CD/DVD set, Left For Dead.  Dave Lizmi really gets to cut loose on this.

It doesn’t really matter which version of Nobody Said it Was Easy you end up with.  The original 12 track CD was 5/5 stars then and now, but which is best?  The remastered CD gives you unreleased tracks exclusive to the format, so there’s that.  This LP gives you even more, plus the original Welfare Boogie EP, but it is limited to just 500 copies.  Better act fast before it’s too late.

5/5 stars

MORE FOUR HORSEMEN:

  1. Record Store Tales #224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business
  2. Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  3. Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  4. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  5. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By (1996)
  6. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  7. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)

 

 

 

REVIEW: AC/DC – Can I Sit Next to You Girl (1974 radio broadcast)

AC/DC – Can I Sit Next to You Girl (1974 radio broadcast on Laser Media)

Very few things in this world kick as much ass as vintage live AC/DC.  If you need a taste, or everything you can get your hands on, then Can I Sit Next to You Girl will help.  The sound quality is alright, feedback notwithstanding.  The five included tracks are solid classics.

“She’s Got Balls” takes too long to get going (two whole minutes) and suffers a bit from feedback throughout.  Once you tune out the noise, you can appreciate one of the greatest rock frontmen of all time in Bon Scott.  “Soul Stripper” is slinky good, with Bon at his sassy best and Angus ripping it up delightfully.  On with the show:  a very raw “Show Business”.  Angus Young has solos after every verse, the energy palpable.  Moving on, next it’s “Can I Sit Next to You Girl” (the band’s first single with Dave Evans on vocals).  Bon snarls and Angus shrieks.

Perhaps best of all is the extended jam of “Baby Please Don’t Go”.  When AC/DC play for 10 minutes straight, it’s not like other bands.  It’s the relentless AC/DC groove machine, with Angus doing his thing as no other guitarist can.

Pick it up (cheap) and rock on, baby.

3/5 stars

#724: Balls to Picasso

GETTING MORE TALE #724: Balls to Picasso

In 1993, Iron Maiden announced the departure of Bruce Dickinson, and my world was shattered.

“Oh no.  Not Iron Maiden too…”

I found out via M.E.A.T Magazine, and because of print magazine lead times, the actual announcement came weeks before I found out.

All the big bands seemed to be losing their key members.  Both Motley Crue and Judas Priest were dealing with it, and nobody knew if those bands would survive.  Maiden hurt the most; they had been with me the longest.  What could Maiden do without Bruce?  What could Bruce do without Maiden?

The band tried to keep up appearances, but the split was not amicable.  We wouldn’t know this for years.  In the meantime, my life changed when I was hired at the Record Store.  Though I loved the job, it was starkly obvious that in 1994, heavy metal was passé.  Nobody was buying it, while Soundgarden dominated our rock sales.  No matter how it panned out, both Bruce and Iron Maiden would be facing uphill climbs.

Bruce’s solo outing Balls to Picasso was released in June.  I was surprised that we were carrying it at all, but it wasn’t selling.  I hadn’t got it yet; the review in M.E.A.T stated that the Japanese version had a bonus track.  Drew Masters claimed the bonus acoustic version of “Tears of the Dragon” was better than the album cut, so I was trying to hold off until I could find the Japanese.  All I knew is the album in general was supposed to be very, very different from Iron Maiden.

I never found the Japanese version.  In 1994 it was virtually impossible to find Japanese imports, though I asked the boss to try to order one for me.  HMV in Toronto carried rare imports, but I didn’t know that.

When a used CD copy of Balls to Picasso was traded in, I waited for the boss to leave for the day and then I eagerly put it on the store player.

Where are you going?
What are you doing?
Why are you looking,
At the cameras eye?

By the first chorus of the first track “Cyclops”, I knew I was going to like the album.  Different indeed!  Growling guitar sounds backed by exotic percussion were new twists.

There were two songs that sold the album to me immediately.  I did not want to live my life any longer without the songs “Change of Heart” and “Tears of the Dragon”.  Both songs spoke to me.  I was dealing with the fallout from a nasty breakup and the lyrics seemed to apply to my life.  Not to mention, the music was brilliant!  If Bruce had to leave Iron Maiden to put out a song like “Change of Heart” then so be it.  I played the song over and over.  I even told the boss how good the album was.

“I was playing the new Bruce Dickinson in the store the other night,” I said, “and it’s really good.  Not what you’d expect.”

“Isn’t that too heavy for the store?” he semi-scolded.

“No,” I semi-lied.  “It’s pretty light.”  I obviously didn’t tell him about the white hot “Sacred Cowboys”!

For some reason I chose to buy the cassette, and I played that tape everywhere.  I jammed it in the car for my buddy Aaron.  He particularly liked “Shoot All the Clowns” because he’s terrified of clowns.  Shooting all the clowns was a sentiment he could get behind.

What I liked about the album was that it was modern sounding (“Shoot All the Clowns” had funk and rap!).  I could get away with store play, but yet it had the sterling musicianship and guitar solos that I craved.  I could play it for younger friends like Aaron, who would appreciate the modern production and maybe get past the operatic vocals.

Playing “Change of Heart” today is not the same.  I’m no longer the heartbroken sad sack of shit.  It’s still a brilliant track but I don’t hang on every word anymore.  In 1994 it seemed like every line was for me to sing.  The feelings it used to stir don’t exist anymore.  But man, what a song!  The unusual drumming, the guitar work, the singing…it is one of Bruce’s very best, including those he wrote in Iron Maiden.

I can’t say that I am as passionate about Balls to Picasso in 2018 as I was in 1994.  I still love it, but I daresay Bruce has made better solo albums in his amazing career since.  Still, Balls to Picasso is historically important.  It introduced many of us to Roy Z for the first time, and it may have put him on the map.  Roy’s work in metal since has been highly respected by connoisseurs worldwide.  And then there’s that personal history.  I played this album so much during that cold, depressing winter.  It still stands up today, with a timelessly clear production and some very strong material.

Obviously things eventually worked out between Bruce and Iron Maiden.  He’s been back fronting them for almost 20 years.  Things worked out OK for me too.  Balls to Picasso was a step in both Bruce’s journey, and mine.

 

WINNER WINNER! Max the Axe CD draw!

“Hey Winner winner, love that chicken dinner, put it in a briefcase to go!” – Max the Axe, “Next Plane to Vegas”


WE HAVE A WINNER the Max the Axe CD draw!  Congratulations to…

LEAH from Waterloo, age 8!

 

Way to go Leah!  She was even able to name Max the Axe by his real name, Mike Koutis!  We’re not saying she had any help with this, but even if she did, it wasn’t against the rules!

Your Max the Axe Status Electric CD and Nancy Vicious button are on their way!*

* Mail strike notwithstanding!