heavy metal

REVIEW: Steph Honde – Covering the Monsters (2017)

STEPH HONDE – Covering the Monsters (2017 Musik records)

Steph Honde is a French guitar player, best known for his work with Paul Di’Anno (Iron Maiden) and Hollywood Monsters (including such players as Don Airey and Vinny Appice).  He’s rocked with Jim Crean and Danko Jones.  He can write and play multiple instruments.  And he can sing!

Honde’s 2017 album Covering the Monsters takes on a diverse batch of rock and metal.  He plays everything but drums, and does a damn fine job of it.  What makes the real difference is a unique selection of covers.  Saxon’s “Waiting For the Night” comes from 1986’s Rock the Nations, which garners a lowly 2.5/5 over at Heavy Metal Overload.  Yet from a so-so record comes a stunning pop rock track!  Honde’s vocals will divide listeners, but his playing should stun everyone.

“Turbo Lover” is a slick choice, and “Bring Your Daughter…To the Slaughter” unexpected.  Vocal cords are shredded on “Bring Your Daughter” just like Bruce did on the original.  There are also ballads.  “Edie (Ciao Baby)” has to be one of the most underrated of the 1980s.  It’s fun to just listen blindly awaiting the next track.  Danzig’s “Mother” leads into Guns N’ Roses (“It’s So Easy”).  Not just Danzig, but also Michael Graves (“Crying on a Saturday Night”).  Love and authenticity are poured into each one.

The best track is the one you’d think would be toughest to cover — the epic ballad “Take Me for a Little While” by Coverdale-Page.  Honde captured what makes it a powerful song.

We exeunt to some Nazareth (“Not Fakin’ It”), obscure Sabbath (“Zero the Hero”), a little Ramones (“Something to Believe In”) and epic Winger (“Headed for a Heartbreak”).  It’s a very satisfying mix of song choices, though Honde really has to stretch for notes on “Zero the Hero”.  Mission accomplished.

Great covers album, and that’s saying something, because covers albums are often not.

4/5 stars

 

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GUEST REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes ~ Live (1995) Part Two – the VHS

BLACK SABBATH – Cross Purposes ~ Live (1995 IRS CD/VHS set)
Part Two: the VHS video by Harrison Kopp

As Mike’s VCR is currently stored away, he will be joined by Harrison, who was naughty and downloaded a 720p copy of the show when someone had it up on YouTube, and therefore will be reviewing the video half of this box set.

 

 

 


The video version is a great snapshot of the band at this period. The quality is quite good for a VHS, only betraying its origins with any large expanses of black shown. It also features some innovative action shots to capture the band, which is much appreciated as, although Geezer is still head banging away as usual, Bobby generally fades into the background and, as Mike has pointed out in other reviews, Tony Martin’s frontman-ship involves either singing up front or shaking his thinning hair by the drum riser.  As for Tony Iommi? Well he’s still the epitome of theatrical guitar playing.

The lighting is done well also, although the red occasionally gives the skin an overly pink tone. And for the first time, Geoff Nicholls is visible in the background of some shots, doing keyboards and backing vocals.

Puzzlingly, there is also a black and white filter used on a couple shots here and there, that really isn’t necessary. Those preceding niggles however, were only small nit-picks of a thoroughly enjoyable show to watch.

There are also three songs included on the video that aren’t on the CD and will be therefore be reviewed here. The first is fairly early in the set and is “Mob Rules”. Tony powers through verse after verse without fail. Although it inevitably falls short of the Dio renditions, it still deserved a place on the disc.

“Anno Mundi” is next. This is easily the best of the three. Tony Martin sings his heart out in an amazing performance of the only song from Tyr. This easily should have been on the disc as well.  (They all should have.)  On a side note, it’s really nice to see audience members head-banging and singing along to these Martin-era songs.  Last of these is a decent rendition of “Neon Knights” that just can’t compete with Dio’s versions. A couple subtle melody changes here and there don’t help it either.

Still, despite a couple small missteps:

4.5/5 stars, and Tony martin’s finest hour with Sabbath.

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes ~ Live (1995) Part One – the CD

BLACK SABBATH – Cross Purposes ~ Live (1995 IRS CD/VHS set)
Part One: the CD

Metal fans who recall the 80s and 90s will remember that Black Sabbath struggled to be relevant, in a time when they should have been dominant.  While Soundgarden soared up the charts with a sound that could never have existed without them, Black Sabbath limped along, with new lineups annually.  Singer Tony Martin has been relegated to the footnotes of rock — unfairly for certain — thanks to a successful Black Sabbath reunion with Ozzy Osbourne.  Fans in the know appreciate the Tony Martin era, and the tunes it produced.

With a lineup featuring original members Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, Sabbath rolled tape at the Hammersmith for a live video also featuring their newest drummer Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow) and longtime keyboardist Geoff Nicholls.  They were on tour supporting Cross Purposes, their first since an aborted reunion with Ronnie James Dio.  This video was released in 1995, packaged with a CD that was shortened by three songs.

Today we’ll review the audio, and tomorrow a guest will review the video.

Some context:  in some circles, Tony Martin was seen as a Dio clone.  Therefore, it was brave and somewhat cheeky for Black Sabbath to open the show with “Time Machine”, a song specifically recorded for the Dio reunion!  The whole Dehumanizer era was dicey to begin with.  Tony Martin supposedly recorded an alternate set of vocals for that album just in case it didn’t work out with Ronnie.  Cheeky or not, Tony Martin was more than capable of covering Dio’s song, though with less of Ronnie’s unmistakable grit.

Back to Master of Reality, “Children of the Grave” is bloody sharp with Bobby on drums.  Nothing against Vinnie Appice or Cozy Powell (or Eric Singer or Bev Bevan or Terry Chimes or Mike Bordin or Tommy Clufetos) but I think Bobby Rondinelli was absolutely perfect for Black Sabbath.  His hard-hitting style really turned up the heavy, and he also adapted it to the old Bill Ward songs better than some of the other drummers did.

Sabbath churned out album after album, year after year, and they always played new tunes live.  Cross Purposes was a remarkably solid album, probably due to Geezer Butler’s influence.  “I Witness” was worthy of the Sabbath canon, fitting perfectly among the speed rockers like “Neon Nights”.  Next in the set was “Mob Rules” which was cut from the CD for time, so we skip through to a pretty authentic and unabridged “Into the Void”.  With Tony Martin in the band, Black Sabbath were able to do songs from any era.  That’s due to his versatility and his ability to put ego aside.

“Anno Mundi” (from 1990’s Tyr) should be next but it’s axed for time and instead it’s straight into “Black Sabbath”, a song that makes fools out of most singers.  And truthfully, nobody but Bill Ward can capture the random madness that is his original drum performance.  Sabbath ’94 do OK.

Another track is edited out (“Neon Nights” of all songs; who chose these?) and an odd choice from Cross Purposes is left in:  “Psychophobia”, a stuttering metal slab of anger.  Aimed at Ronnie?  You be the judge, when Tony Martin howls, “It’s too late now, it’s time to kiss the rainbow goodbye.”  The groove is pretty unstoppable whatever the motivation.

The surprise plot twist is “The Wizard”, an Ozzy oldie that few singers have dared to attempt with Black Sabbath.  First time in 24 years, according to Tony.  The harmonica part brings it closer to the old blues that Sabbath began with, and Tony Martin does fine with his own take on it.  Then it’s time for the Cross Purposes ballad, a killer “Cross of Thorns”, though one gets the sense of anticlimax after a track like “The Wizard”.  It would have worked better early in the set, but it’s an example of the quality heavy rock songs that Sabbath were still writing.  Martin’s voice cracks raw at times from pouring it all in, and Iommi’s guitar solo is one of his most melodically enticing.

Back once again to the past, “Symptom of the Universe” is a smokeshow, including the oft-skipped psychedelic groovy outro.  It kills any version by any lineup except the original quartet, and that’s due to Tony Martin’s throat-destroying singing.  Bobby Rondinelli gets a drum solo before “Headless Cross”; not the first time he’s had to play drum parts originated by Cozy Powell!  “Headless Cross” is a rhythm-based song with or without Cozy.  Geoff Nicholls helps out Tony Martin for the impossible notes in the chorus.

“Paranoid”, “Iron Man” and a downtuned “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” make for a fine conclusion, but “Heaven and Hell” was conspicuous by its absence on this tour.  It was only played in form of a brief segue between songs.

The CD release is 71 minutes, so given time limits of the day, that was about as many songs as they could squeeze in.  If you want to be creative, why not find the other three tracks and add them as a bonus CD?  Until a complete deluxe edition comes our way, this will have to do for audio aficionados.  Our bonus CD is 16:08 of more Sabbath, though at a noticeably lesser quality.  Tony remarked that picking a setlist was near impossible, but that “Mob Rules” had a “fucking good place in this set”, so why not the CD?  It’s a full-speed cruise that is over before you can break a sweat.  “Anno Mundi” is a special treat, as it was only played on the UK tour dates.  Another fine example of underrated Martin-era material that wasn’t given a fair shake, but at 6:20 it takes a lot of space.  As for “Neon Nights”?  “This is a fucking good track,” says Martin accurately.  There’s a lot of speedy metal on Cross Purposes ~ Live, but two of the most important ones in “Mob Rules” and “Neon Nights” were not on the standard CD.  Surely a better series of cuts could have been made.

Tomorrow a guest reviewer will have a look at the VHS.  For the CD, the math is simple:

4.5/5 stars

– minus 1 star for the missing three songs equals =

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Led Zeppelin – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” (2018 RSD remix single)

Unreleased Led Zeppelin?!  You don’t say!

LED ZEPPELIN – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” (2018 Atlantic Record Store Day single)

The hype for Record Store Day exclusives is as strong as ever, but most of these releases are just empty cash grabs.  Coloured vinyl reissues of this, that or the other thing…nothing will compete with a mint original.  Sometimes you’ll see vinyl releases for albums that used to be exclusive to CD, but rarely will you be able to buy exclusive music.

Led Zeppelin saw to it that your Record Store Day dollars did not go to waste.

And as if you thought Led Zeppelin had “cleared the vaults” of unreleased material!  Here’s two more unheard mixes.  These cannot be found on the Zeppelin deluxe editions.  If you’ve collected all those already, then prepare to add two more tracks to your collection.  This is a pretty clear indication that Jimmy Page is not finished dusting off old tapes to sell.

There are no liner notes to explain when these mixes were done or by whom, but “Rock and Roll” was mixed at Sunset Sound.  Alternate mixes are fun for a fresh sound on an old favourite.  You can hear different nuances.  “Rock and Roll” has a nice clear heavy sound and maybe a little more echo.  “Friends” (from Olympic Studios) has a harsher sound, with the percussion part prominent in the mix.  The old intro is trimmed off in favour of a clean start with the acoustic guitar.

The yellow vinyl is a gorgeous bonus.  Add it to your Zep treasure chest.

4/5 stars

 

Thanks to Mr. James for picking this up for me.  You are a true gentleman, with a creepy Facebook avatar.

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – “Patience” (1989 12″ single)

GUNS N’ ROSES have announced an APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION deluxe edition coming in June.  While “Rocket Queen” will certainly be on it, it’s highly unlikely the interview track below will.

GUNS N’ ROSES – “Patience” (1989 Geffen 12″ single)

Fans of vintage Guns N’ Roses (what other kind are there?) should always be alert and eyes open for old singles.  Whether CD or vinyl, some of those old Guns singles have buried treasure on them.  One is “Patience”, released several months after the Lies EP from which it sprang.

Here’s some truth for you, and it’s rather strange.  “Patience” simply sounds better with the crackle of vinyl.  I can’t explain it but I sure can testify.  Just a little bit.  Just enough to transport you back in time to 1989 when people were spinning Lies on vinyl (or at least cassette tape) nightly.  The delicate strum of acoustics accentuate one another, and hot-damn, it’s hard to deny the timelessness of “Patience”.  The missus and I played it at our wedding reception and it was a highlight of the evening.  Almost every couple dancing to it that night is still together.  Magic, people!  It’s real.

But no, the real treasure is on side two, and it’s not “Rocket Queen”.  Don’t get me wrong!  “Rocket Queen” is an amazing showcase and could still today be the best tune Guns have ever laid to vinyl.  It’s heavy, it’s soft; it has a bit of everything.  I’d put it in my top five.  But you already have Appetite for Destruction, so you know this already.  What you have probably never heard before is the second track on the B-side, a vintage interview (7:44 long) with the elusive W. Axl Rose himself.

Conducted in his apartment among his broken platinum albums, Axl is asked some point-blank questions.  Did you know Duff had his own comedy version of “Patience” that could have come out at some time?  Axl even dropped lyrics from a new Izzy Stradlin song still two years down the road.  “Double talking jive, get the money motherfucker, ’cause I got no more patience…”  He also revealed they had a lot of ideas…anything from “10 songs to 30 songs”.  (Turns out, it was 30.)

Axl confessed that his violent streak comes from frustration and stress, and that he has always smashed his things.  It’s clear that this guy, sitting at the very top of the rock pile, needed some mental health care.  Bon Jovi, after all, didn’t smash his platinum albums.  He even went as far as to warn psycho fans to stay away or deal with the consequences of getting in his face.

It’s an odd interview, and revealing.  That’s why it’s a treasure worth seeking.  A single like this is valuable to fans who need to know these bits of trivia and minutia.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Sword – The Best Of (2009)

SWORD – The Best Of (2009 Unidisc reissue)

There are two versions of this CD:  a 2006 release on Aquarius, and a 2009 reissue on Unidisc.  Don’t waste your time on the 2006 CD, which is made up of previously released material.  Go for the 2009 disc, with three unreleased bonus tracks!

Sword (not The Sword) are a Canadian band from Quebec who released an impressive heavy metal debut album in 1986.  They gained the attention of Motorhead who took them out on tour.  They followed it in ’88 with Sweet Dreams, just as good as the first, but commercial success eluded the band.   They toiled away on a third album, but eventually the band dissolved leaving only singer Rick Hughes.   He returned in 1992 with Saints & Sinners, and a new hard rock sound, but that was fated to sell poorly too.  It was inevitable after grunge hit.

Rick Hughes remained active as a singer in Quebec and in 2016, he released a Sword live album, Live Hammersmith, recorded in ’87 on the Motorhead tour.   Then, unexpectedly in 2018, the original lineup reunited!  They have already played live gigs and are recording a new Sword album.  If you plan on catching up (and you should!) then check out the 2009 Best of Sword disc.  Besides the three unreleased demos, you’ll get a dozen rockers and thrashers that will melt skin.

The first salvo of “Stoned Again” and “F.T.W.” are a pair of killers.  They were the singles from the first album, well loved by Canadian fans of the Pepsi Power Hour.  “F.T.W.” is a smokeshow, with a blistering gallop and brain-burning chorus.  On the other hand, groove is all about “Stoned Again”, a surprisingly catchy number that is hard to forget.  Strangely, their final single “The Trouble Is” (from Sweet Dreams) isn’t on here.  “Life on the Sharp Edge” is also missing.

Omissions aside, The Best of Sword showcases the sound of the band with a lot of their best material.  More serious and topical songs like “Land of the Brave” will appeal to the thinking metal head.  Meanwhile “State of Shock” will rip skulls right off — be careful you don’t play it too loud!

The first of the bonus tracks, a song called “Get It While You Can”, might be a demo from the third album, before they transitioned into Saints & Sinners.  It’s the most “hard rock” Sword song of all of them.  It definitely sounds like a stepping stone to what would become the Saints & Sinners album.  The other two tracks are demos of “Runaway” and “Stuck in Rock” from the first LP, with different lyrics.

Because the first two albums are out of print, The Best of Sword is an easy way to sample their tunes before that third album comes.  Go for it — but only the full 15 track version.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Scorpions – World Wide Live (1985 vinyl)

SCORPIONS – World Wide Live (1985 Polygram, 2 record set)

The first waves of CD releases generally sucked.  Double live albums like World Wide Live, Live After Death, Stages and Exit…Stage Left were edited down to fit on a single CD. One way to ensure you got the complete album (with great sound) was to just go and buy an original vinyl.  That is still the best way to enjoy World Wide Live.

The Scorpions were at a peak in 1985.  The Love at First Sting tour was one of the biggest metal shows of the decade, but the band hit a speed bump after.  This double live album was culled from five shows (three in the US and two in Europe), and sequenced for impact.

“Coming Home” and “Blackout” are a pair of bruisers.  One can detect vocal overdubs (sounds like two or three Klauses singing at once on the choruses) but they are largely unobtrusive.  Surely most of the album must be live.  You can appreciate why the Scorpions were (and still are) huge.  Riffs slice from one side to the other, while Klaus Meine dive-bombs like a screaming Stuka.  They also had the music.  Love at First Sting produced a number of hits (all here).  Nothing from the early (Uli Roth) days though, which means the album leans towards the streamlined-style Scorpions.  Older stuff would have been nice, but also would have overlapped with their prior double live, Tokyo Tapes.  None of that material was in their current set either.

This is a minor quibble.  These are the ultimate live versions of classic tunes like “Loving You Sunday Morning”, “Make it Real”, “Coast to Coast”, “Big City Nights”, “Can’t Live Without You” and all the rest.  The ballads (“Holiday”, “Still Loving You”) are awesome too, and stacked together so you can get the ballads out of the way and back to rocking again.  Scorpions must surely be one of the definitive ballad bands in metal.  These two are legendary.

Side 4 is pretty epic:  “The Zoo”, “No One Like You”, and an extended “Can’t Get Enough” with Jabs solo.  Klaus Meine has an endearing German accent; everybody loves when he tells California that they really know how to partaaaay!  (This was immortalised by Sebastian Bach in Season 7 of Trailer Park Boys where he performs a killer Klaus impression.)

Your wisest course of action should be clear.  Pick up both Tokyo Tapes and World Wide Live, on vinyl, and get all the best Scorpions tunes done up live.  This is good stuff.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Past Lives (2002)

BLACK SABBATH – Past Lives (2002 Sanctuary)
(CD 1 is a reissue of 1980’s Live at Last (NEMS))

Black Sabbath’s Live at Last (1980) has been reissued so often that its Discogs listing shows 81 distinct versions.  Those don’t include the Black Sabbath live set Past Lives, of which Live at Last forms its first CD.  The second disc is all unreleased live versions, from shows in 1970 and 1975.  These consist of some of the big Sabbath numbers that weren’t on Live at Last (“Iron Man”, “Black Sabbath”) and more obscure material like “Hole in the Sky”.

“Hand of Doom” from Paranoid is an unusual though doomy way to open the CD.  It rolls from gentle bass to a roaring mania.  It is a taut performance largely because of Bill Ward’s enviable swing.  “Hand of Doom” was recorded in 1970, but jumping ahead to ’75, Ozzy’s intro to “Hole in the Sky” is cute.  It wasn’t out yet.  “Listen to it, you might like it, OK?” asks Ozzy.  Then, “Are you high?  Are you high?  So am I!”

Some Sabbath songs are like a brand new bulldozer, unrelentlessly heavy, yet shiny and cool.  “Hole in the Sky” is one such riff-monster, an indispensable slab of heavy metal.  It’s followed by another new one, and even heavier:  “Symptom of the Universe”.  Young, wasted Sabbath blast through it — and stay the fuck out of Bill Ward’s way!  The drummer is a tornado.  “Megalomania” makes it a perfect trifecta of new songs.  It’s an epic 10 minutes of different paces, riffs and melodies.  Unlike other metal bands, Sabbath often welded two or three unforgettable riffs together into mega-compositions.  Look at “Black Sabbath” for example — they could have made two songs out of it, but instead we have one massive monolith.  On stage, “Megalomania” is tense and never boring.  Ozzy shreds his voice to pieces.

As far as Past Lives goes, these three songs (“Hole in the Sky”, “Symptom of the Universe” and “Megalomania”) are the nugget of gold in the middle.  It’s a first official live release for most of them.  A live “Symptom of the Universe” was issued by a Tony Martin-era lineup on 1995’s Cross Purposes ~ Live, but that cannot compete with the vintage original lineup.*

It’s only oldies from there in.  “Iron Man”, “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Black Sabbath” (with unique Tony Iommi guitar intro) make up for their absence on Live at Last.  “N.I.B.” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” from the first Sabbath round out the set.  Nobody did them better than the original band in the 1970s.

Today we have more original Sabbath to choose from that just Past Lives; two complete concerts were included in the recent Paranoid 4 CD box set.  Back in 2002, this kind of release warranted bigger fanfare.  The audio is not pristine.  Flutter, static and amp hum are part of the deal.  If you’re into buying archival live material, you know what this is about.

The original digipack release of Past Lives comes with a booklet, a poster, and most importantly a guitar pick.  Collectors will probably want to hold out for a version with pick intact, though finding one might be a “holy grail” item.  If you don’t care about such things, a simple jewel case release is widely available.

4/5 stars

 

* Sorry Harrison.

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live at Last (1980)

BLACK SABBATH – Live at Last (1980 NEMS)

Although the Black Sabbath discography is not that complicated, we still struggle to know exactly how to file Live at Last.  Recorded in 1973 (Vol. 4 tour), it was shelved because the band were not happy with it.  Much later on (1980) it was released officially but without the band’s consent or knowledge.  They have shunned it, while Live at Last has enjoyed a number of re-releases and remasters.  For maximum fun, why not track down an old vinyl pressing with the singer’s name spelled as Ossie Osbourne?  (The vinyl pressing is also one way to get a completely unedited version; most CD releases lack at least the band intro.)

Live at Last was, for many many years, the only live Black Sabbath album with Ozzy.  Live Evil, released in 1982, had then-current frontman Ronnie James Dio.  Although considered a sub-par album, you didn’t have much choice back then.  Excessive Tony Iommi guitar feedback may be one reason the band weren’t happy with it.

Starting with new single “Tomorrow’s Dream”, Sabbath sound coked to the brim.  Iommi’s guitar pukes sonic sludge, Bill Ward floating behind, and Geezer playing bass melodies from another world.  “Sweet Leaf” continues the trip; Ozzy howling “I love you!” while the stoned band pummels through.  Original Sabbath has a looseness that no other lineup possessed.  It’s just something special that happens with those four guys, and Bill Ward had the swing to it all.

Brand new tune “Killing Yourself to Live” hadn’t been released yet, but it’s pretty intact in live form.  “Get high!” screams Oz.  The challenging song demonstrates Sabbath’s ability to meld multiple memorable guitar riffs together into a single whole.  “Killing Yourself to Live” has at least three distinct riff sections, each cooler than the last.  Unfortunately the recording doesn’t allow us to really hear how the audience responded to the new material.

“Cornucopia” alone could be responsible for birthing half of grunge rock.  The young band’s energy is remarkable.  “Snowblind” is a blast, with Ozzy shouting “CO-CAINE!” rather than whispering slyly. Closing side one, we come to “Embryo/Children of the Grave” and its unforgettable chug riff that launched many a metal band.  You can hear the crowd clapping madly at Ozzy’s command to “Embryo”, before the riff cascades down like the Biblical flood.  Bill Ward paces it faster than the album version by several notches.  “War Pigs” also swings, a little faster than album, but with an unusually jazzy touch.

For some serious swing, check out the 20 minute “Wicked World” medley.  Ward jazzes it up like nobody’s business, when he’s not crushing the heavy parts.  Tony Iommi has a varied guitar solo section, becoming “Into the Void”, then a blues jam and the old standard “Sometimes I’m Happy”.  That turns into “Supernaut” and a drum solo, before reverting right back into “Wicked World” for the finale!  This insane extended track is the one to buy the album for.

After asking the audience several times “What do you wanna hear?”, Ozzy closes with “Paranoid”.  Once again it’s quite fast with Bill ahead of the beat.  Osbourne tells the crowd that they’re beautiful and of course “we love you all!”  and that’s that — a one hour live album on a single LP, all done.  No “Black Sabbath”, no “Fairies Wear Boots” or “Iron Man”, but plenty of the blackest Sabbaths.

Recommended CD edition:  Black Sabbath’s 2002 Past Lives set, which includes a slightly edited version of Live at Last plus a whole CD more of unreleased live stuff.  It even has a sticker on the front that says “Live at Last…deluxe edition”!  Full review of that CD tomorrow.

3.5/5 stars

#672: “The”

GETTING MORE TALE #672: “The”

In the spring of 1996, the Record Store chain expanded to its third location. This was a life-changer for me, as it was my store — the store that I had been assigned to manage.  I spent eight years at that location, and that’s where most of Record Store Tales came from.  Myself and a young employee who was obsessed with Pink Floyd stocked the place.  It took weeks to manually clean, input and price thousands of used CDs.  We had fun working in a closed store away from the public, but the used CD stock we opened with was very monotonous.  It was just overflow crap from the other stores; a lot of the same-old-same-old.

When training the new young Floyd fanboy, the Boss told him, “When you enter a band’s name that starts with ‘The’, skip the word ‘The’.”  This makes sense for three reasons:

  1. Speed of data entry.
  2. Saving on the cost of expensive Dymo tape for the labeling gun (for the header cards).
  3. Alphabetical listings becoming much more tedious and cumbersome when scrolling through hundreds of “The” bands.

It’s pretty logical.

  • BLACK CROWES = The Black Crowes
  • FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS = The Fabulous Thunderbirds
  • FUGEES = The Fugees
  • KINKS = The Kinks
  • SEX PISTOLS = The Sex Pistols

This worked especially well with Fugees and the young guy’s favourite band, Pink Floyd.  Both artists had a “The” in their name in the past.  You don’t call them “The Pink Floyd” but it was certainly possible you’d see something when they still had the “The”.  Dropping the “The” on our header cards kept things simple.

The young fella got it, but followed it a little too closely.

One of his header cards said simply:

  • THE

“What is this one?” I asked and he showed me a CD by The The.

I told him to change it to The The, but he didn’t get it.  The Boss told him to drop the “The” on every header card.  But the header card didn’t make sense without it.  He wouldn’t change it, so I did it myself.

It seemed pretty clear to me then, and still does now.  The name “The The” just doesn’t make sense on a header card when it’s just “The”.  Tell me I’m wrong.

I was at Sunrise Records the other day, where I found The Best of Sword on CD. I eagerly put it under my arm, since I was missing the three previously unreleased bonus tracks.  (In case you didn’t know, Sword recently reunited and are recording a brand new studio album.)  But guess where I found the CD?  Or, rather, guess what two bands were filed together under the same name?

  • SWORD

Sword is from near Montreal, Quebec.  The Sword is another band altogether, from Austin Texas.  They both play heavy metal but are nothing alike.  In this case, there need to be two header cards, and one needs the word “The”.  It’s another rare exception.  The Sunrise store should have made these two header cards:

  • SWORD
  • THE SWORD

Even better:

  • SWORD (Montreal band)
  • THE SWORD (Texas band)

But clearly nobody who worked there knows enough about either band to see this.

A customer who enjoys The Sword could be very disappointed by picking up The Best of Sword.  Likewise, a fan of Sword might have thought the live Greetings From… CD was a reunion CD by the French Canadian metalers.

This is why it is critical to have staff who know music.  It’s the kind of proficiency that in our insta-knowledge internet era, most people don’t maintain anymore.  Proper header cards were a problem when I was managing the old Record Store too, and it was the same root cause:  It’s hard to find staff who know and care about this stuff.  And it’s not impossible to learn it.  The truth is, if I were a young The Sword fan today I would already know there was another band called Sword, because I would have stumbled upon their albums and looked them up on Wikipedia.

You could take this header card business too far, of course.  Just as you don’t need both “Pink Floyd” and “The Pink Floyd”, a record store doesn’t need two Queensryches or two L.A. Guns.  But you do need two Swords…with “The” and without.

* Here I am nitpicking about proper filing of header cards, when I should be complaining about the mistakes on this Sword CD.  Right there, on the back and inside covers, is a massive typo:  “Get It Whole You Can”.  Inside, the liner notes make the classic “there/their” screw-up.  Can’t believe nobody caught these before they went to print, but there it is.