journey

REVIEW: Journey – Greatest Hits (1988, 2008)

JOURNEY – Greatest Hits (Originally 1988, 2008 expanded reissue)

It’s OK if your first album by anybody was a “greatest hits” of some sort.  Over 15 million people bought Journey’s Greatest Hits in the US alone, and you can be guaranteed that several of those millions were buying Journey for the first time.  Hundreds of thousands more copies still sell annually.  This has to be considered one of the most successful hits compilations by a rock band.

Even if you were a Journey diehard back in 1988, you still wanted Greatest Hits.  It had two huge Journey hits from movie soundtracks:  “Only the Young” (Vision Quest) and “Ask the Lonely” (Two of a Kind).  These songs were not meant to be obscurities; both were slated for the Frontiers album.  These are two awesome songs with insanely catchy choruses, one a rocker and one a soft burner.  Two gigantic peaks of the Jonathan Cain era of Journey, who co-wrote both songs.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” doesn’t need any additional commentary, except this:  listen to the drums.  That’s Steve Smith, the wizard of tempo.  There is a reason that Smith can often be found filed in the Jazz section.  Listen to his creative hits, cymbal work, and timing.  Yet not a lot of snare.  Same with “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”.  This is not typical rock drumming, and this is something that his replacements have had to recreate as faithfully as they could.

Greatest Hits ignores the first three Journey albums (pre-Steve Perry), and justifiably so.  Those first three progressive rock albums, as fascinating as they are, bore no hits.  “To Play Some Music” peaked at #138.  The earliest tracks are the radio staples “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky” from 1978’s Infinity.  Incidentally these are the only tracks without Steve Smith, featuring his predecessor Aynsley Dunbar.

In 2008, Sony a series of budget-priced reissues including Journey’s Greatest Hits.  This version has one additional bonus track from Journey’s reunion album Trial By Fire from 1996.  This is a fantastic album, but the ballad chosen (“When You Love a Woman”) tips the album too far on the scales to ballads.

Through all the hits you know, and maybe a couple you don’t (“Girl Can’t Help It”? “Send Her My Love”?) you will get a clear picture of some of Journey’s facets.  But only some.  Little of their instrumental wizardry, which continued into the Steve Perry era with songs like “Dixie Highway”.  You also will not hear many hard edged moments, like “Stone in Love”.  You will however get a taste of Steve Perry’s soul, and the excellent hooks that he concocted with Neal Schon and Jon Cain.  You will absorb some awesome Schon tone.  On the later tracks, like “I’ll Be Alright Without You” and “Be Good To Yourself”, you will hear the slickness and groove of Raised on Radio.  But there are so many more key Journey tracks, as good if not better than these.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Minoru Niihara – One (1989)

MINORU NIIHARA – One (1989 Triad)

Original Loudness vocalist Minoru Niihara was let go in 1988 so they could have a stab at a success with an American singer.  While they went their way (and did not cross over onto the charts as they hoped), Niihara recorded his first solo album appropriately titled One.  He worked at Cherokee studios in Hollywood, where there must have been a lot of rock stars hanging out.  The credits on One include:  Mark Slaughter, Reb Beach, Doug Aldrich, the rhythm section from Journey (Steve Smith and Ross Valory), Kal Swan, David Glen Eisley, and the Tower of Power horns!

That being said, you might expect a straightforward hard rock album right out of 1989 like so many you remember from that year.  You’d be partly right.  However the lyrics are mostly in Japanese, and while the intent might have been to make a straight-ahead commercial rock record, it goes a bit sideways on some tracks.

It sounds like some of the same opening sounds as on Alice Cooper’s Trash album (also 1989) are used on first instrumental “Overture”.  Then it goes soft rock, with guitar strings tinkling like a fragile piece of glass, backed by heavenly keyboards.  In a jarring shift, the first proper song “Let’s Get Together” doesn’t meld well with this intro.  It also sounds a bit out of time, a relic from a couple years prior.  But Minoru is on top of it.  “Let’s get together! Have fun tonight!” goes the boppin’ English chorus, with plenty of the expected thick backing vocals from the Hollywood cast and crew.  Although it already sounded dated for 1989, “Let’s Get Together” is a fun track clearly aiming for a party concert vibe.  Not bad — production is clunky, and there are a couple key changes that sound off, but it’s otherwise a fun song that does what it’s there to do.

American rock vibes dominate “Stand Up to the Danger”, sounding a bit like “Loud and Clear” by Autograph.  That could be Reb Beach just rippin’ it up on the solo, but the track is very standard for the genre.  A neat ballad follows, the Journey-like…ahem…it’s a case of a language barrier, I’m sure, but the song is called “Come Over Me”.  Very much like a Journey ballad, and it’s probably Valory and Smith on bass and drums respectively.  Maxine and Julia Waters on backing vocals.

A cool 80s bass groove sets the tone on “I Can’t Wait”.  This mid-tempo car-cruiser is an album highlight, and a track worth getting in your ears.  Great solo too (Doug?).  Coincidentally, Minoru’s replacement in Loudness was a fellow named Mike Vescera, and he later recorded a different song called “I Can’t Wait” with Yngwie J. Malmsteen.  One of Minbru’s weaknesses (and it probably comes down to English as a second language) is a reliance on cliche song titles.  “I Can’t Wait”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “Dynamite”, and “Fool For You” are all song titles you’ve heard before.

Speaking of “Dynamite”, the next track on the disc — it’s a little more unique.  With a bluesy opening, it soon lets loose with a blast of saxophone.  The chorus is full-on pop.  A little clunky in construction and production, but different and still cool.

A soft keyboard ballad called “You Can Do It” sits right in the middle of the album.  Even though vinyl, and  especially cassettes were big in 1989, One only saw release on CD.  No “side one” or “side two” with this album.  Once more the ballad would sound appropriate on a Steve Perry album, and the guitar solo is really smooth.  Good song; Minoru’s style of singing is a bit overblown for a soulful ballad, but you can certainly tell he loves singing this way.

“Bluest Sky” is cool, acoustic and stripped back but “Stayin’ Alive” really scorches.  It’s the closest thing to classic Loudness.  It is the only clearly heavy metal track on the album.  Probably Reb Beach ripping up his fretboard and whammy bar on the solo.  Definitely Mark Slaughter on the chorus.  The horn section returns on “Fool For You”, but Minoru’s over-the-top singing does not suit the funky metal stylings.  He does well on “Too Long Away to Reach”, a little more restrained.  But it is the third ballad that really does sound like Journey.  So much that you’d assume it was Neal Schon on guitar.

Finally Minoru closes his solo debut on one more ballad, “I’ll Never Hide My Love Again”.  This time it’s a big power ballad with a massive chorus, and because it’s dramatically different from the earlier ballads, it works.  Definite vibes of King Kobra’s “Dancing With Desire” (1985).

See what I mean when I say that One sounds dated already even for 1989?  That doesn’t make it bad, but not all pieces fit.  There are some obtrusive keyboard overdubs, some of the ingredients just don’t mix.  While Minoru is a fine vocalist, and he gives 110% here, some of the songs sound like they would work better if he laid back a bit.  Then again, that could be the language barrier; the words he is singing might be totally appropriate to his vocal output.  Everything in music is subjective anyway.  Regardless of interpretation, Minoru Niihara’s effort is no less than his whole heart, and you have to give credit for that.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Steve Perry – Traces (2018 deluxe edition)

STEVE PERRY – Traces (2018 Fantasy Records deluxe edition)

So what’s the story?  Does Steve Perry still “got it”?

He does.  We just might not agree on what exactly “it” is.

Traces is Perry’s first solo album since 1994’s For the Love of Strange Medicine.  He’s been keeping a low profile since leaving Journey after 1996’s Trial By Fire.  If you were worried that Steve Perry has gone “soft” and his voice has changed in that time…then you were right!

But that’s not a bad thing.  Steve Perry’s voice is one of a kind.  The soul cannot be copied; it’s just raspier now.  If you want the youthful range, go listen to Journey instead.   Or buy Arnel Pineda’s forthcoming solo album.  If you want an older, wiser but still the same Steve Perry, he is here on Traces.  He’s collected 10 slower songs, some more upbeat than others like the lead single “No Erasin'”.  Each one still retains Perry’s ability to compose memorable material.  These songs are honed, short, and to the point.  Even the ballads are pretty basic: quiet and contemplative, but with soft hooks.  All fat has been trimmed.  “We’re Still Here”, “No More Cryin'” and “We Fly” are among the best tracks, but “No Erasin'” is the clear highlight.

The deluxe edition, a Sunrise exclusive in Canada and Target for the US, has five more songs of varying styles.  “October in New York” sounds like a quiet piece from a stage musical.  “Angel Eyes” goes more for soul, while “Call on Me” has the tropical flavours you might remember from Journey’s “Baby I’m Leaving You”.  The fabulous “Could We Be Something Again” has a choir on it.  The good thing about the bonus tracks is you can tell the reason they were cut was not quality.  It was simply that they don’t fit in with the direction of the main album.

Traces is not for Journey fans who wanna rawk.  This is for fans of classy pop rock, soft rock, and the ballads on Trial By Fire.  If that’s you, get Traces (the deluxe of course) and take some time to dig a little deeper.

4/5 stars

 

#673: Message of Love

GETTING MORE TALE #673: Message of Love

The old saying goes “Better late than never”.  This is often true, especially in music.  It is never too late to discover an old band.  Be it Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, or Queen, it has been pretty easy for me to catch up.  As is my modus operandi, when I discover a band I tend to jump in headfirst and not look back.

I took a similar path with Journey.  Journey were never considered “heavy metal”, and although metal magazines did cover them, I was never exposed to their music as a kid.  If they were not on the Pepsi Power Hour in the 1980s, then chances are, I didn’t hear them until later on.

Prior to official “discovery”, I think I only knew two Journey songs.  “Any Way You Want It” was used on the Simpsons in a memorable scene.  I also remember hearing “Wheel in the Sky” on the radio while eating out with my sister and my grandmother.  “Who is this?” I kept asking.  The song was incredible!

I didn’t find out for many years that it was Journey, although I did form an idea of what Journey sounded like otherwise.  Dream Theater covered “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” on their Change of Seasons EP.  “I hate that song!” said T-Rev upon seeing the EP.  I didn’t care for it either.  But I was still curious why Joey Belladonna from Anthrax counted Journey as one of his favourite bands.  Something to do with the singer?

I really had no idea who Steve Perry was.  I heard of him.  I didn’t know he was one of the most influential singers of the 70s and 80s!  In 1994, his solo album For Love of Strange Medicine was released.  It was my first year at the Record Store and I still didn’t really know who he was.  I remember stocking the CD, but I kind of blew it when I sold my first copy to a customer.

“This is supposed to be great,” said the lady buying the Steve Perry CD.

“Yeah,” I said, trying to make conversation where I shouldn’t have.  “He’s a great guitar player.”  Wrong guess.

“He’s also an amazing singer!” said the lady with class, trying not to embarrass me.

I will never forget calling Steve Perry a great guitar player.  What a clueless poser I was!

My moment of discovery finally came in 1998.  T-Rev, Tom and I were in a mall in Burlington, as I recall.  The new Journey song came on:  “Remember Me”.  This was one a one-off track from the Armageddon soundtrack.  It was credited as “Journey (featuring lead vocals by Steve Augeri)”.  As I would later find out, Steve Perry quit the band and was replaced by a similar sounding Steve.  I didn’t care about that, because the song was incredible!  I looked forward to eventually getting the CD, which I would have been buying anyway for new Aerosmith and Our Lady Peace.

That was my gateway:  a soundtrack song with a replacement singer, from a shitty Michael Bay movie.  Embarrassing yes, but the truth it is.

My bosses and co-workers cringed as I jumped right into my new favourite band.  First up:  Greatest Hits, remastered of course.  Bought it, loved it.  It was a little light, with all those ballads, but I expected that.  It was songs like “Only the Young” and “Separate Ways” that slayed me.  To me it sounded as if Bon Jovi ripped off every trick he had right from Journey.  Early Bon Jovi, for sure.  Not everyone agreed with me on that, particularly Bon Jovi fans, but I don’t think it’s a stretch.

Next I acquired their Time3 box set, at which point I finally got a proper Journey education.   From their progressive jam band beginnings to a bitter ending at the close of the 80s, the Time3 box set got me up to speed.  Almost.

One thing was missing:  Journey’s 1996 reunion album with none other than Steve Perry.  Fortunately for me, one of my regular customers (whom the bosses hated because he chewed gum when he spoke) brought me a mint condition Japanese version of Trial By Fire, complete with bonus track.  Something about the album clicked with me, and to do this day — do I dare say it? — I think it’s my favourite Journey.  Trial By Fire is exceptional.  It is diverse, perhaps even more so than prior Journeys.  It is passionate, and Steve Perry’s seasoned voice is the real journey.

Of course all this new Journey love meant I was playing them in store, constantly.  One kid named Matty K absolutely loathed every time Steve Perry sang “Whoa-oh-oh oh” in any form.  Everybody else probably thought I lost my shit.  What can I say?  Journey’s music actually made me feel good.  Of course I wanted to play it often, and I’m sorry the others hated it.  And hate it they did!

Steve Perry didn’t want to tour after Trial By Fire and so was replaced by Steve Augeri for a couple releases…who was then replaced by Jeff Scott Soto in a killer lineup that didn’t last…and Soto was replaced by current singer Arnel Pineda.  His remarkable story is the stuff for a whole other article, but I still love Journey.

Since I missed out the first two times around, I would love to hear a Journey reunited with Steve Perry once again.  It doesn’t matter that his voice has changed.  There is nothing quite like hearing him sing.  Or play guitar?  I can’t remember!

#536: Obligatory Christmas Post 2016

This Christmas has been tinged with sadness.  Rick Parfitt, George Michael…and a man you haven’t heard of named Peter Cavan Sr.  I grew up with his son Peter Cavan Jr.  Pete was the best man at my wedding, and his dad Peter Sr. always treated me well.  The Cavans made me feel like part of the family.  In my first year of university, I decided to stay home from the cottage on Thanksgiving weekend, so I could study for my first exam undistracted.  Alone that Thanksgiving, Pete’s family had me over for dinner.  I’ll never forget their kindness.  I always enjoyed Peter Sr.’s stories, of growing up in Germany during the Second World War.  Those are tales you don’t hear every day.  And he was funny.  Peter Sr. was truly funny.  Whether intentionally or not, I knew his stories entertained us for many hours over the years.  I received the sad message on Christmas morning that Peter Sr. passed after a short battle with cancer, peacefully at home that morning.

So it is with profound sadness that I give you this year’s annual post-Christmas commentary.  My entire family knows and loves the Cavans, and we hope Pete and Joanne know we are there for them.


As it does every year, Christmas began early for me, at our office Christmas luncheon on November 25.  Just look at that food.  When you like the people you work with, an office Christmas party is a very rare and special chance to unwind with them.

My sister hosted Christmas Eve at her new place.  What a spread she put out!  Cheesey good appetizers, steak fondue, cheese fondue (the surprise winner), and chocolate fondue to boot.  The guests had a spirited debate on the merits of CD versus vinyl, with myself being the only holdout who still prefers CD.  (I know I’m not alone, just ask rock journalist Mitch Lafon which format he prefers.)  My sister did a great job of decorating her tree.  Have a gander.

And now, on to the good stuff.  Broken down into categories, let’s give’r!

Stuff You Listen To:

I have only played the Rik Emmett so far, given to me by Mrs. LeBrain who met Rik back in highschool as part of her guitar class.  Pretty cool!  It features a Triumph reunion on the bonus track, “Grand Parade”.  The Queen set is six discs of radio recordings.  The Rush set I am both grateful for and bitter about.  This is the third time I’ve received Rush 2112 as a gift in the last five years!  First as part of the Sector 1 box set, then the “deluxe edition“, and now this 40th anniversary edition which has some tracks not included on the deluxe (and a slew of artists covering Rush including Jacob Moon, Alice in Chains and Foo Fighters).  However, the 40th anniversary edition doesn’t include the 5.1 surround mix of the album, meaning…you kinda need both.  It’s sad that Rush reissues have become so exploitive.

The Keel reissue of The Right to Rock has a bonus track, a remix of “Easier Said Than Done”.  And this is my first time owning any version of Jethro Tull’s first album, This Was.

Stuff You Read:

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Stuff You Play With:

The Force Is With This Stuff:

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Stuff You Watch:

The Sopranos set I orchestrated myself.  Sometimes-contributor Thussy and I both always said:  “If the blu-ray set drops below $100, we’ll buy it.”  A few weeks ago he texted me that Amazon has it on for 24 hours only at just $80!  So this Christmas holiday, we will be enjoying some Sopranos and Italian food.

Stuff That Transforms From Stuff Into Robots:

Pictured below are the official Transformers Titans Return Astrotrain figure and a couple very interesting third party figs.  These are Masterpiece scale and heavy as fuck with plenty of die-cast parts.  Please meet Generation 1 Decepticon Reflector, incarnated here as KFC’s Eavi Metal series “Opticlones”.  Representing the Autobots is Dinobot Snarl, produced by the excellent Fans Toys in their Iron Dibots line as “Sever”.  I long ran out of room for more Masterpiece figures (especially Dinobots)…but who cares.

And finally…

Stuff That Flies:

I always wanted to try flying a drone.  My mom and dad surprised me with this starter drone, and is it ever a lot of fun.  I can almost get it to hover!  Getting it to fly in the direction I want is still a challenge.  So far there are no serious injuries.  Jen has a couple bruises.  I think my mistake was calling her into the room when I got it into the air, rather than when I figured out how the controls worked.  That was a lesson there.

 

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That’s another Christmas for the books!  I hope each and every one of you had a safe and happy holiday.  As I think of my friends the Cavan family, I ask you to remember that life is short.  Tell the people who matter that you love them.  Let’s try and make the world a better place in 2017.

LeBrain

REVIEW: Journey – Time3 (1992 box set)

scan_20161015-2JOURNEY – Time3 (1992 Sony 3 CD box set)

Very few box sets satisfy the way that Journey’s Time3 satisfies.  When it was released in 1992, Journey wasn’t even a functioning entity anymore.  Sony’s box set still represents the kind of care and attention to detail that makes for an extraordinary listen.  It is arranged (mostly) chronologically with ample rare and unreleased material.  What is most remarkable is how great this rare and unreleased material is.  Aerosmith did a similar looking box set in 1992 as well (Pandora’s Box), but their set isn’t as steady a listen as Time3 is.  Time3‘s ample wealth of worthwhile rarities rank it easily as the superior set.

From start to bitter 80’s breakup, every Journey member from 1975 to 1986 is included.  George Tickner, Aynsley Dunbar, Robert Fleischman, Randy Jackson, Mike Baird and anybody else you may not have known were in Journey are represented in this box.  There are ample liner notes and photos explaining the roots and branches.  (Humorously the notes claim the early Journey instrumental “Nickel & Dime” may have been the prototype that Rush ripped off for “Tom Sawyer”.)  Valuable early rarities include the unreleased jazz rock number “Cookie Duster” and an excellent vocal track called “For You” recorded  with Robert Fleischman singing.  Fleischman might be best known as the original singer for Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion a decade later, but in Journey he turned in a pretty powerful pop rock song.  This was just before Steve Perry joined the band as its first full-time lead singer.  Keyboardist Gregg Rolie took care of the vocals before Perry joined, in addition to performing several smoking organ solos included herein.

There is a distinct change between the early progressive jam rock tracks and “For You”.  When they hired on a lead singer, it was with the intention to get a big break, and Steve Perry was the final ingredient.  With Perry they recorded brilliant classics such as “Patiently”, “Anytime” and the unforgettable “Wheel in the Sky”, which unfortunately is only included here as a live version.  Indeed, the Journey box set’s only weakness is a substitution of (non-rare) live versions for studio originals.  “Lights” is another such substitution.

Just as the band were making this prog-to-pop transition, drummer Aynsley Dunbar left.  His style was more progressive and frankly too highbrow for the direction Journey were going.  He was replaced by another total pro, the feel-oriented Steve Smith, a jazzbo at heart who can play R&B like nobody’s business.  “Too Late” from 1979’s Evolution is a perfect example of what he did to the Journey sound, as things simplified.

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With Smith behind the kit, the hits kept pouring in.  “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” (also included live), “Any Way You Want It”, “Line of Fire” and many more burned up speakers across America.  The band very quickly went from “point A” to “point B”, but also with several exceptional looks backward.  Some of these lesser known gems include “Little Girl” from a rare Journey soundtrack album called Dream, After Dream done for the Japanese market.  There is also the live “Dixie Highway” from Captured that shows off some serious instrumental chops.  A rare highlight is the soulful and unreleased cover of “Good Times”, with full-on horn section, from 1978.  It’s one of the songs that make it worth buying a box set like this.

Rolie left after Dream, After Dream and did not appear on the one new Journey song on Captured:  “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”.  This brilliant pop rocker pointed the way towards the next era of Journey.  From The Babys came new keyboardist (and sometimes guitarist and singer) Jonathan Cain.  Cain forever brought Journey into the 1980’s, with modern keyboard accompaniment and serious writing abilities.  He has since become an indisposable member of the band, as important as founding guitarist Neal Schon himself.  Jon Cain’s first was the Escape album, which has sold nine million copies to date.  Not a bad little debut.  With “Don’t Stop Believin'” , “Stone in Love” and the smash ballad “Open Arms”, Journey ascended to the top of the mountain.  These tracks are all included as their studio originals.

There are a number of notable and great rarities from this period included in Time3.  “Natural Thing” was the soul-laden B-side to “Don’t Stop Believin'”, but feast your ears upon “La Raza Del Sol”, which snuck out as the progressive flipside of “Still They Ride”.  This blazingly recalls the arrangements of the early years with an unusually contemoplative lyric.  Check out Schon’s flamenco guitar solo.  There is the understated and brilliant rocker “Only Solutions”, from the 1982 Tron soundtrack.  These are valuable songs, that any Journey fan should enjoy completely.  Moving forward, “All That Really Matters” is a synthy demo with Jon Cain on lead vocals.  It doesn’t sound like Journey, but Cain fans will find it interesting.  Two more soundtrack songs are indispensable:  “Only the Young” from Vision Quest, and “Ask the Lonely” from Two of a Kind (both 1983).  Each song was significant enough to include on 1988’s Greatest Hits, so fans are well acquainted with both.  It’s incredible to think that Journey had songs of this quality to give to soundtracks.

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Towards the end, as bands often do, Journey began falling apart.  Steve Perry had a hit solo debut Street Talk (1984) and he returned to Journey more confident, imposing a soul/R&B direction upon the band.  Steve Smith and founding bassist Ross Valory were out.  Randy Jackson and Mike Baird were in.  Raised on Radio took forever to record and underwhelmed fans upon reception.  A live version of “I’ll Be Alright Without You” with the new members indicates that Journey had sanded off the rough edges.

Even at the end, there were still interesting happenings.  The liner notes reveal that even as the band was ending, they were winning awards.  Journey performed at the 1987 Bay Area Music Awards with a different singer — Michael Bolton.  One has to wonder where that could have gone.  The last music on this set chronologically comes in the shape of two unreleased instrumentals called “With a Tear” and “Into Your Arms”.  They were recorded in 1986 but not used for Raised on Radio, and so they were finished in 1992 by Schon and Cain for this box set.  Sadly these instrumentals are better than most of the tracks on Raised on Radio.  One is a ballad, and one is a rocker, but both are exceptional.  Journey started life with instrumentals, and so it’s fitting that Schon and Cain polished off the box set with a couple as well.

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This box set was reissued a number of times, but for the money you can’t beat the original 1992 printing with the long box and large booklet.  The liner notes are ample but the rare photos may even top them.  From the earliest days there are pictures of the band with original guitarist George Tickner and drummer Prairie Prince.  Prince was invited to join permanently, but chose to join the Tubes instead, a band he found more creative.  He was replaced by Aynsley Dunbar who recorded the first LP.  Also pictured within are some truly impressive hair styles, clothes, and moustaches.

With tracks this strong from start to finish, great packaging, and such a wealth of rare material, it seems Time3 should be an easy 5/5 stars.  However, that niggling issue of live tracks (particularly “Wheel in the Sky”) replacing studio cuts is really devious.  It’s unnecessary.  It all but forces casual buyers to also own Greatest Hits for the studio versions.  It seems very calculated.

Otherwise, proceed.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Journey – Look Into the Future (1976) #200wordchallenge

200 word


Scan_20160825 (2)JOURNEY – Look Into the Future (1976 CBS)

Journey began life as a progressive rock band that plied instrumentals and vocals.  Keyboardist Gregg Rolie (ex-Santana) was in charge of vocalizin’, and Look Into the Future is the second album from this era.  Guitarist George Tickner left the band after their debut, leaving Journey a quartet with Neal Schon (also ex-Santana) handling all guitars himself.  Tickner still has writing credits on two songs.

There are hints towards the rock and roll machine that Journey would one day become, most notably the Beatles cover “It’s All Too Much” which they adapted to their style.  By and large you can look forward to a decent, soulful album with a focus on musicianship.   All songs on this album are vocal, ranging from slower blues ballads (“Anyway”) to long blow-outs (“I’m Gonna Leave You”).  Songwriting is a tricky craft to master, and at this point Journey’s songs were more prototypes than full-fledged compositions.  There are even fledgling metal riffs, such as “She Makes Me (Feel Alright)”, probably the best track on the album besides the Beatles cover.

While this album will never be as highly esteemed as Escape or Frontiers, check it out if you’ve wondered what Journey were like before Steve Perry.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Journey – Captured (1981)

Scan_20160722JOURNEY – Captured (1981 Columbia, 1996 Sony SBM remaster)

Captured was a turning point for Journey.  After this, they went from mega to uber-mega.  It was their first live album, and their last with founding keyboardist and singer Gregg Rolie (who actually sang lead in Journey on their first three albums, before they discovered Steve Perry).  When Rolie left and Journey hired on Jonathan Cain, they went in an even more radio-friendly direction.  The live album captured (pun intended) the end of the Rolie era with basically every hit they had.  They were more of a rock and roll band back then, and this album shows it.

The scorching heat of “Where Were You” is the perfect track to prime the rock n’ roll BBQ.  Journey’s brand of rock is driving, but polished to a shimmery gleen.  This is partly due to the impeccable pipes of Steve Perry.  I’m not sure if Steve has even heard of a bum note, let along sung one.  But Perry was only one of two singers in Journey, and Rolie has his first lead on the mid-tempo pleaser “Just the Same Way”.  Although he is not comparable to Perry, he’s no slouch and the different singers gave Journey more dimension.

Blazingly fast, the gleeful “Line of Fire” is the hardest rocker on the album. “So don’t go sayin’ Stevie’s a liar!” he sings, and the crowd goes nuts. But Journey are probably better associated in the public eye with tender ballads. “Lights” live is a definitive version. It merges into another beautiful ballad, “Stay Awhile”. Perry’s singing here is so splendid, so perfect, so soulful and powerful that it’s hard not to just be amazed. Not to be outdone is Neal Schon with one of his most memorable guitar solos on “Lights”. A pretty version of “Too Late” makes it a trilogy.

Scan_20160722 (3)One of the coolest treats on Captured is a new song, “Dixie Highway”, that was never recorded on a studio album. Boogie with Journey down the Dixie Highway and listen to that blazing musicianship, more progressive rock at times than radio friendly AOR. Then it’s the Rolie/Perry duet “Feeling That Way”, an out-and-out classic. The combined sheer lung power on that stage that night could not be measured by science. It is said by some that all the canines within the city of Detroit suddenly perked their ears simultaneously at that moment, with a spill-off effect happening in areas of close proximity across the border in Canada. The University of Marysville is currently investigating these reports, hoping to calculate numerically just how much Steve and Rolie sang their fucking balls off that night.

Rolling right into “Anytime” and “Do You Recall”, the listener is treated to some lesser-recognized Journey classics that are as good or better than their biggest hits. “Do You Recall” in particular boasts the kind of melodies and smooth rock grooves that radio hits are made of. With that out of the way for now, they go into a blues jam with “Walk Like a Lady”. According to Steve Perry, “We got two of the best blues players in the whole world here tonight. Two of the best! We got Mr. Gregg Rolie on the Hammond B-3 and Mr. Neal Schon on the Stratocaster!” After a blazing Schon solo, Journey blast into “La Do Da”, another one of their lesser-known rock blitzes.  Bass solos!  (By Ross Valory!)  Drum solos! (by Steve “Machine Gun” Smith!)  And then the listener is rewarded for their patience with a string of their biggest hits:  “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”, “Wheel in the Sky”, and “Any Way You Want It”.

That’s a hell of a double live album right there.  No, Journey’s Captured is not remembered on the same level as Live and Dangerous, Frampton Comes Alive, or Kiss Alive (I or II).  Captured is certainly great, but somehow falls ever so shy from achieving the same lofty heights as the aforementioned.  It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why it’s not quite up there.  Perhaps it’s the perfectionist style of the band, because it’s certainly not Steve Perry.

It’s not over though:  Journey included a new song, and their first ever without Gregg Rolie on keys.  Studio cat Stevie “Keys” Roseman filled in, on the ironically piano-based “Hopelessly in Love”.   This unsung classic is one of the strongest Journey songs in the canon.  It’s too bad that it rarely gets pulled out for compilations, instead residing at the end of a near-forgotten live album.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Heavy Metal – Music From the Motion Picture (1981)

movie-soundtrack-weekHere we go with another week of movie soundtracks! It’s a case of the second one being even better than the first, so let’s start things off properly, shall we?

 


Scan_20160706HEAVY METAL – Music From the Motion Picture (1981 Elektra)

I’d never seen anything like Heavy Metal before.  It was a sci-fi cartoon with a bunch of guys from SCTV doing voices…but it wasn’t for kids!  I probably saw my first animated genitalia in Heavy Metal.  It was also the first time I heard Sammy Hagar.

Sammy’s title track opens the now-legendary soundtrack, which like many others was deleted in the 1990s and commanded heavy prices on the second hand market.  When I worked at the Record Store during that period, there were always plenty of names on the wish list for this album.  There were tracks on here that were hard to find anywhere else.  This version of Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” is different from the one on Sammy’s Standing Hampton LP, and it was not the only such exclusive.  “Heavy Metal” is one of Hagar’s best tunes, simply legendary.  It’s a pummelling good time!

The rest of the album is equally awesome.  Riggs (Jerry Riggs, later of the Pat Travers Band) has a Hagar-esque rocker called “Heartbeat” that is definitely good enough for rock n’ roll.  You might not expect DEVO to be on an album called Heavy Metal, but what’s not to like about “Working in the Coal Mine”?  I’m sure more than a few metal fans would have skipped this one back in 1981, but when compared to the next song by Blue Öyster Cult…what’s the big deal?  B.Ö.C.’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” leans just as heavily on synthesizer, so purists be damned.  “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” is a classic, through and through, a dark apocalyptic ballad that can’t be touched.  Some would say it was the last gasp of B.Ö.C. before a long period of mediocrity.  Cheap Trick utilised synth too, but their “Reach Out” is a rocker.  Cheap Trick were another band in a period of decline, following the departure of original bassist Tom Petersson. “Reach Out” was a damn fine tune, and not on one of their albums at the time.  (It’s hard not to notice that Tod Howarth ripped off the verses of “Reach Out” for his own song “Calling to You” with Frehley’s Comet.  Howarth later played with Cheap Trick as a sideman.)

Don Felder from the Eagles isn’t the kind of guy you’d expect to hear do a song called “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)”.  It’s an Eagles-metal hybrid and it’s pretty cool, more metal than Eagles, but you can hear them in there.  He’s followed by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen who presents the interesting “True Companion”.  It’s progressive jazz light rock nirvana.  The punks will hate it, but the same guys who dig Captain Beyond will appreciate it.  Quite daring to include tracks like this on a CD primarily made up of rock and metal, but this helped open the minds and tastes of many metal heads over the years.  Nazareth re-centers it back to rock and roll, with “Crazy (A Suitable Case for Treatment)”.  It’s not among Nazareth’s best but it’s always such a pleasure to hear Dan McCafferty gargling glass.

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Riggs returns with “Radar Rider”.  Heavy riff in hand, it’s a slammin’ good track.  But it is overshadowed by the bombast of “Open Arms” by Journey, one of the biggest ballads in the history of balladry.  You know what’s funny?  Even though I have heard this song 106,941 times as of this morning, I still smile upon hearing it.  There must be something timeless to it that I can’t explain.

Grand Funk were in a decline (like a few of these bands), and “Queen Bee” from Grand Funk Lives was their contribution.  Good track, though it does not sound much like the Grand Funk I know from the 1970s.  And then it’s Cheap Trick again, with a noisy throwaway track called “I Must Be Dreaming”.  It’s a bizarre track from the high priests of rhythmic noise, but they do bizarre just as well as they do catchy.

There’s one band that I think blew the doors off the album.  One band that, to me, is always associated with this album.  One band that defines the phrase “heavy metal”, and that one band is Black Sabbath.  If you listen to fools, the mob rules!  This was brand new Black Sabbath at the time; Mob Rules wouldn’t be out yet for a couple months.  I have always preferred the soundtrack version of “Mob Rules” to the different recording that made it onto the album.  This could be because it was the first version I owned.  Regardless, to my ears it sounds faster and livelier…and more “Geezer-er”.  Not that it matters, because no matter how you slice it, “The Mob Rules” is a shot of adrenaline right to the heart.

Don Felder takes it back to a slow groove with “All of You”, a good rock ballad with some seriously cool funky bass.  All told, the Heavy Metal soundtrack has some damn fine playing on it from all of these bands — just incredible musicianship in these grooves.  Things wind down with Trust, and a very heavy track called “Prefabricated”.  Nicko McBrain was in Trust in 1981, but this does not sound like Nicko on drums.  The song would have been better without the vocals.  Especially when it’s followed by Stevie Nicks, one of the most iconic voices in rock.  “Blue Lamp” was recorded for her solo debut Bella Donna, but not used.  It’s certainly not outtake quality.  In fact it’s pretty damned classic.

That’s what the Heavy Metal soundtrack is:  a classic.  If you like heavy metal, but don’t like soundtracks, then you should still own this one.  Make it so.

4.5/5 stars

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Like many movies with a rock soundtrack, there was also a score for Heavy Metal released.  I asked our friend Rob Daniels from Visions in Sound for a few words on this score in the interests of being complete:

“It’s a great score by the late Elmer Bernstein who is best known for a lot of 80’s comedic scores including Ghostbusters, Animal House and Airplane. His score fits perfectly within the metal music atmosphere, weaving its way through the various stories and songs to the Taarna story. The “Taarna” theme was actually first written for the Farrah Faucett character in the 1980’s film Saturn 3 but was not used. It includes an unusual instrument called a Ondes Martenot, similar to a Theremin but with a physical keyboard. Bernstein used the instrument quite a lot in his scores. While a lot of people know Heavy Metal for the songs in the film the score is of equal note and probably one of Bernstein’s best.”

HMSCORE

 

 

REVIEW: Journey – Live in Houston: Escape Tour 1981 (CD/DVD set)

Christmas gift review!  This one came from my sister and husband Melvin.

JOURNEY – Live in Houston: Escape Tour 1981 (2006 Columbia CD/DVD set)

Released in 2006, the Live in Houston CD/DVD set by Journey chronicles the band at their peak.  This is a vintage MTV concert finally released for sale. Opening with the brand new title track from the brand new album Escape was a good idea.  Its fast paced pyrotechnics fire up the crowd appropriately.  Steve Perry is resplendent in his tuxedo jacket, jeans, and animal-print T-shirt.  Now this is a fucking concert.  If the guy couldn’t sing like the angels, then he couldn’t get away with that shit, but it’s Steve Fucking Perry.  At his peak.  A great frontman with the classic voice.  His vocal acrobatics rival the furious fretwork of his bandmate Neal Schon.  Personally, I think Bon Jovi owes a lot to Steve Perry’s schtick.

Not letting up, the opening salvo is concluded with “Line of Fire” before it’s time for the ballads.  It’s a great little rock boogie that gives the band a chance to play hard.  Perry then informs the band that they are recording a live MTV special (as if you couldn’t tell by Schon’s MTV T-shirt).  If that can’t get a crowd screaming for “Lights”, nothing will.  This kind of song isn’t my thing really, but it is always a pleasure listening to Steve sing.  Live, he’s that much more entrancing.  Superhuman, really.  “Lights” merges with the ballad “Stay Awhile”, which I think is the better song.  Listen to that fucker sing!  Then it’s time for a new ballad, “Open Arms”.  This is where I step out to pee.

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Neal Schon’s favourite new song from Escape was “Mother, Father”, a dramatic heavy ballad.  Perry kicks this song in the ass, but it’s the anthemic chorus that you can’t forget.  And people — Steve Perry hits every single one of the high notes at the end.  Every. Single. One.

New kid Jon Cain takes a moment for a piano solo, while Steve Perry no doubt drinks something cold and soothing!  I like that Jon tucked his sleeveless animal print shirt into his jeans.  Gotta look presentable, of course.  New ballad “Who’s Cryin’ Now” is greeted by high pitched screams, indicating the crowd really know this one.  Perry has lost the tux jacket, revealing that he is not a T-shirt tucker.  Schon’s solo is epic, in how it builds from one simple melody into something completely different and blazingly fast.

The crowd goes nuts for the rocker “Where Were You”, on which drummer Steve Smith absolutely blows the doors off.  I love watching him play with classic grip.  He’s the next member to get a solo, and I can’t help but notice he has tucked his T-shirt into his jeans.  Interesting.  I didn’t expect that from the drummer.  The solo is a scorcher, leading directly into the new rocker “Dead Or Alive”.  Steve Perry looks a lot more awkward dancing to this one, but his voice leaves no doubt.  Nobody else could sing the song the way Perry did.  Nobody.

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Steve announces from the stage that Escape just went #1 in the US a mere three weeks before.  The crowd then goes insane for the opening keys of “Don’t Stop Believin'”.  As on the album, I love Steve Smith’s cymbal work; it’s just overpowered by the live sound of the band.  You can tell that the sound wasn’t tampered with, as Neal hits a bum note in the solo and it was left in.  The lush backing vocals seem to be provided live by Schon, Valory and Cain.  Then it’s time for “Stone In Love”, another newbie.  This hard rock classic features Jonathan Cain abandoning the keyboards and joining the frontline on guitar.  This allows Schon the ability to throw in more solos and licks; meanwhile when piano is needed, Steve Perry jumps behind the keys!  Then it’s time for “Keep On Runnin'”, again with Cain up front on guitar.  It’s another solid rock song, although a bit of a throw-away compared to the rest of Escape.  Schon then gets his chance to solo, as a lead in to “Wheel in the Sky”.  It’s a note-perfect live version, and full of energy.

For encores, it’s the annoying “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” and “Anyway You Want It”.  The only good thing about “Lovin’, Touchin'” is the guitar solo with some tasty slide for added flavor.  “Anyway You Want It” is ragged.  It’s a hard song to sing to begin with, but Perry is running around so much that it’s bound to fall apart at times.   It’s a magnificent finish.

The CD version has a bonus track: “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”.  I don’t know why it’s not on the DVD version.  I think it’s one of Journey’s best also-rans.  Maybe the film had deteriorated too much to use for that one song?  Who knows.  Anyway (you want it), you can get it on CD.

It’s also worth pointing out that three songs (“Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Open Arms”, and “Who’s Cryin’ Now”) were all re-released on the remastered Escape CD.  So if you’re browsing at the store thinking, “Hey, look, it’s Escape with bonus tracks, I need that,”…no you don’t.  Just get this.  Always better to have the full concert!

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The bonus interviews are pretty neat.  Members discuss how they found their way into Journey via manager Herbie Herbert.  Neal Schon is almost hilariously young looking.  Perry sports the shadow of a moustache, appearing as if he would have had trouble growing a full one.  Bassist Ross Valory speaks of the band’s earlier preference for instrumental music, supplanted by a switch to vocal songs.  The interviews are broken up topically and are made up from a variety of sources. In the section about touring, Steve Perry reveals that after being driven around everywhere in a limo, when he gets home from the road he feels like he’s forgotten how to drive!  It’s worth it, though: all their best songs were written on the road.

The DVD also includes a photo slide show that nobody will watch.  It’s only a minute or two long.  Some of these pics, I’ve seen before.  Neal Schon does make great “guitar faces”, possibly the best ever.  The original TV ad for the Escape album is hilarious in its 80’s cheesiness.

4/5 stars