Kilroy Was Here

#720: Domo Arigato

Join me for some   for the rest of this week!

GETTING MORE TALE #720: Domo Arigato

It was grade 5, and Allan Runstedtler was to blame for my first rock and roll album.

At school, I played a tape I made with three songs on it.  It was a clear blue 120 minute Scotch cassette.  “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC was first, followed by “The Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann.  The third might have been “Ooby Dooby” by Roy Orbison.  AC/DC was my favourite because of the chorus.  “He sounds like he has a frog in his throat!” I squealed.  We just referred to Bon Scott (we didn’t know his name) as “the guy with the frog in his throat”.  I thought the song was hilarious, and that went double for “Big Balls” since it had “Balls” in the title.

“You have to hear ‘Mr. Roboto’,” said Allan.  “It’s by a group called Styx.  But it’s not spelled like ‘sticks’.  It’s spelled S-T-Y-X.”

Cool!

I went to his house one afternoon with my trusty Fisher-Price mono tape deck.  That thing was built like a tank.  Wherever it is, it probably still works beautifully.  Allan had the Styx LP, Kilroy Was Here, featuring “Mr. Roboto” as the lead track.  He explained the concept of the story to me:  a futuristic world where rock music was outlawed.  We familiarized ourselves with the characters.  Kilroy, the protagonist, was played by someone named Dennis DeYoung.  Jonathan Chance, the secondary hero character, was Tommy Shaw.  Meanwhile the evil Dr. Righteous was portrayed by the sinister looking James Young.  We scanned the album credits and figured out who sang each song.  (The Panozzo brothers were Lt. Vanish and Col. Hyde, but we couldn’t figure out their roles in the story.)  The LP came in a deluxe gatefold, with full lyrics and pictures from the video (which we had never seen).  On the cover were the masks of two “Robotos” that reminded me of the centurions from the movie The Black Hole.

Since that time, I learned that Kilroy was a Dennis project and the other guys weren’t too happy with it.  As kids in the moment, the whole thing seemed custom built for us!  The music was (mostly) good (I’ll get to that) and there were robots and heroes and good vs. evil.  There was a story to follow along.  There was production value in the packaging.  This wasn’t just stupid rock music to us.  It seemed part of something much bigger.  At Allan’s house, I recorded the album on my tape deck, open air style.  We quietly crept upstairs while the LP side played so we wouldn’t ruin the recording with noise.  When we heard the music stop, we went back down and flipped the record.  Tiptoeing back upstairs to the sound of “Heavy Metal Poisoning” is a one-of-a-kind memory.

We poured over the liner notes.  I observed, “It’s weird that Dr. Righteous is against heavy metal music, but he’s fighting back using a heavy metal song.” The hypocrisy was not lost on Allan and I.  “Heavy Metal Poisoning” was Dr. Righteous’ message to the kids of future America.

What the devil’s goin’ on,
Why don’t you turn that music down,
You’re going deaf and that’s for sure,
But all you do is scream for more.

It was the heaviest song on the album, and at that point probably the heaviest music I ever heard in my life!   And I had a good point.  Dr. Righteous was clearly against heavy metal music, but here he was presenting his message in a heavy rock song!

I brought the tape home.  I was so excited to have some music of my own.  “I can’t wait to play my new tape for Grandma,” I said to my mom for reasons completely unknown to me.

“I’m sure she’ll be thrilled,” mom deadpanned.

Even at that age, a taped copy wasn’t good enough.  I had to get the album.  The pictures, the lyrics, the liner notes…it was all necessary.  Mom took me to Zellers at the mall where I purchased my own copy, and my very first rock album.  It sat in my collection next to my beloved John Williams soundtracks.  After all, Kilroy Was Here is a soundtrack of sorts!  Only this time, the movie was in our imaginations.  Allan and I used to discuss what that movie would be like.

I memorized every word to “Mr. Roboto”, not to mention every “ooh” and “ahh”.  I sat in the basement and wrote them out on paper.  I also figured out that I didn’t like every song equally.  Allan and I were pretty much on the same page as to the good/bad songs.

My list of the “good” songs, in order from best on down:

  1. “Mr. Roboto”
  2. “Don’t Let It End (Reprise)”
  3. “Double Life”
  4. “High Time”
  5. “Cold War”
  6. “Heavy Metal Poisoning”

I never listened to any of the ballads.  We were simply not interested.  “Don’t Let It End” was nothing like the reprise version, which was essentially “Mr. Roboto” over again!  In my kid-sphere, I was oblivious to the fact that in the larger world, “Don’t Let It End” was a hit.  I just didn’t care.  Couldn’t have told you how “Haven’t We Been Here Before” or “Just Get Through This Night” went if you paid me.  For Allan and I, Kilroy Was Here just had six songs.  Well, five songs and a reprise.

Sad to say, but I temporarily “outgrew” Styx.  The “moment of clarity” was when I first heard Iron Maiden.  I tuned into heavy metal exclusively at that point, and discarded my old music.  (Which wasn’t much — just some soundtracks and a Springsteen tape.)  I remember playing the Styx album during the start of the heavy metal years, and it was suddenly too soft and pop for me.  I lost the record at some point, either in a move or at a garage sale.  I didn’t hear Kilroy again until a friend picked up a copy for me in Toronto, on CD.  I was 32.

Guess what!  I don’t mind the ballads anymore.  “Just Get Through This Night”, in particular, is outstanding.

To Allan I would like to say:  domo arigato, for getting me into Styx!

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#520: Musical Firsts

GETTING MORE TALE #520: Musical Firsts

What are your “musical firsts”?  Here are mine!  Let’s start with concerts.

  • First concert: Johnny Cash (1983)
  • First highschool concert:  Free Fare (1986)
  • First rock concert:  Helix (1987)

Who remembers Free Fare?  They billed themselves as “the band from Florida” (there was only one?) and toured highschools all over the US and Canada.  They played Grand River Collegiate in my grade nine year, performing popular covers and giving away Free Fare bandanas.

FREE FARE

 

How about your first musical instruments?

  • First instrument played – bass guitar
  • First instrument bought – electric guitar
  • First instrument smashed – the same electric guitar, smashed by my sister

 

Finally I’m sure you all remember your first albums.  Here are mine:

 

Leave a comment with some of your memorable musical firsts!

Part 0: A Few Words for Days Gone By…

I decided to do something special for Part 250…by not doing Part 250 at all.

This isn’t one of those bullshit prequels, like when George Lucas says, “Oh, Episode I, I had that written for decades,” when it was pretty obvious he was making it up as he went along!  Nope, this isn’t like that.  I started writing the Record Store Tales over 10 years ago, and what you see below is the original first chapter.  It existed solely for the purpose of background and context, but I excised it in favour of starting things faster with the second chapter, “Run To The Hills”.  Since that became Part 1, it makes sense that this earlier introduction should be Part 0.  With hindight, I kind of wished I’d kept it in, so here it is!  And don’t forget to check out my new complete Table of Contents, should you wish to read  more!

KATHRYN GEOFF MIKEYeah…don’t ask. That’s me on the right.

A Few Words for Days Gone By…

What is childhood made of? In my mind, when you’re a kid, life consists of two things:

1. School
2. Summer Holidays

That was the cycle.  To break it down to the core, to an 11 year old life was 10 months of school followed by two months of glorious, warm sunny freedom.  Sure, you’d get to go home at the end of the day, but you were never truly free until the end of June. No more pencils, no more books, all that stuff.  It was way better than Christmas holidays.  The Canadian winters offered such fun treats as shoveling, besides snow pants, parka, boots (laced up too tight), and mittens which prevented you from using your fingers.

Our summers were boisterous. My sister Kathryn and I were like peas in a pod. We would play some kind of game every day, usually under my leadership. I would declare that today, we were going to play Star Wars. Other possible declarations included building fleets of Lego ships and cars, and having a giant war. Or inventing a new ball game.  Once GI Joe came along, we’d dig trenches in the yard, as well as forts and garages of twigs and leaves, and have an entire day (or week) dedicated to Cobra Commander’s new secret weapon. Aside from an occasional rebellion from my sister, our summers were mostly uninterrupted merriment.

STAR WARS

My sister and I both clearly remember one such rebellion, where she wanted to do things her way.  It involved our Star Wars figures.  We were already mid-battle.  I was setting up a perfect counter-offensive. The Millenium Falcon would sneak attack Vader’s base, take out his Tie Fighter early in the melee, while Luke would take out Boba Fett. Leia and Lando had to distract Jabba The Hutt, so that he couldn’t stop Luke when he eventually confronted the Emperor. Game over! The plan was perfect. Now I just needed my sister to coordinate the battle with me, under my command of course.

Much to my disappointment, she had moved around some of the figures and now had them seated.  Luke and Vader were next to each other. “Why are Luke and Vader sitting there? Luke is about to attack and Vader should be getting into his ship.”

My sister continued playing with the figures, and without looking up, replied, “Luke and Vader want to be friends now. They’re having tea.”

It didn’t matter that half the figures were hers, if she didn’t know how to play Star Wars right. So I’d yell a bit, act like a big brother usually does, and eventually she’d go along with the plan, or cry and leave.  The evil Empire would be defeated once and for all, thanks to my brilliant leadership and strategy.  We were definitely pals, growing up.

For years, this was the way of the summer holidays. We’d be doing something awesome at home, or at the cottage, but it would always be something cool. It didn’t matter where we were: games continued wherever we went.  We’d make a game out of anything.   You give us a pile of junk and we’ll make a game out of it.

STYX FRONTAll things do come to an end. The Star Wars trilogy ended in 1983 and something needed to fill the vacuum. While GI Joe and later Transformers would temporarily take its place, I was getting older.  My attention was drifting.  I was looking for something cool, new, and exciting.  Video games didn’t hold my attention and neither did sports.

Starting in 1983, several things happened in a short time frame.  Styx released a single called “Mr. Roboto” that some of my friends at school were obsessed with.   Then I heard a song called “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC, and it was pretty cool too.  Then, a newer band called Quiet Riot came out with an album called Metal Health that would go on to sell three million copies.  This was my first rock cassette purchase when I was in the 6th grade.  Something connected…

AC/DC.  Van Halen.  Ozzy Osbourne.  Black Sabbath.  Def Leppard.  Motley Crue.  Iron Maiden.  Who were these people? I had a lot to find out.

Continued in Record Store Tales Part 1:  Run to the Hills

REVIEW: Styx – Kilroy Was Here (1983)

“I am the modren man…”

STYX FRONT

STYX – Kilroy Was Here (1983 A&M Records)

I was just 11 years old when I first heard of Kilroy.

Allan Runstedtler at school had it first.  He was always talking about it…this cool song called “Mr. Roboto”.  This album where the songs all told a story.  It had robots in it, it was an album with pictures and a story…not unlike those Star Wars story soundtracks we used to listen to.  In hindsight it seems obvious that Kilroy Was Here was my gateway drug to rock music.

I went over to Allan’s house, with my little Fisher-Price mono tape deck, as he put Kilroy Was Here on the hi-fi.  I hit “record” and we all quietly left the living room…so as to not disturb the open air recording.  Only once did we step downstairs, but this was only to flip sides on the LP and cassette.

You can see why it was so appealing.  The robots didn’t look that dissimilar from the childhood classic film The Black Hole, plus there were robot vocals on the song, but it wasn’t guitar heavy or threatening.  It was catchy though, “Mr. Roboto” being the song that hooked us in.  We had the lyrics completely memorized (the handy lyric sheet was a revelation to us) and could sing any part of the song by heart.

With the benefit of hindsight, “Mr. Roboto” todays sounds quaint, a harmless boppy synth radio hit nothing like the Styx that emerged onto the scene over a decade earlier.  Dennis DeYoung’s vocals are all spellbinding as ever, the man as identifiable on this as he was on “Lady”.  Where’s the guitars from Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young?  I’m really not sure.  There are a few things here and there, fuzzy buzzy melodies that might well be guitars.  Only once in a while in the course of a 5-minute-plus song can you really hear any sort of instrument that wasn’t programmed or played with keys!

Tommy’s “Cold War” was another upbeat one we liked as kids, and yes you can hear some guitar in the intro and chorus.  There’s even a solo!  Otherwise, it’s just a dreadful synth pop piece, with loads of those annoying synth-claps and other assorted sounds that are supposed to sound like percussion.  Tommy plays a character named Jonathan Chance on this album, and “Cold War” reads like a manifesto from that character.

STYX INNER

The album came with a story, so it was quite easy to break it down and figure out what was happening.  It’s a dystopian tale, and the setting is…”the future”. Dr. Righteous (James Young) has risen to power, using a clever manipulation of media and government.  Rock N’ Roll music…is banned!  Robert Kilroy (DeYoung), a legendary rock musician, is jailed for a murder he did not commit.  But Jonathan Chance (Shaw), a young rebel hoping to bring back Rock N’ Roll, is using Kilroy’s image and music as a rallying cry for his cause.  One night Kilroy escapes prison, and disguises himself as a “Roboto”, the labor robots pervasive in this future world.

Got all that?

Drummer John Panozzo is credited as a character named “Col. Hyde”, and bassist Chuck Panozzo as “Lt. Vanish”.  I have no idea who those people are supposed to be.  There was a minifilm that went with the album and tour, and opened the live shows.  It’s incredibly funny and campy, the Styx version of the Star Wars Holiday Special.

“Don’t Let It End”, a DeYoung ballad is a song we always skipped as kids.  I played the ballads maybe once the whole time I owned the album!  But it’s actually a pretty good tune, and you can see why it was a hit.  This is followed by “High Time” with DeYoung, introducing the character of Dr. Righteous:

“I flip the switch on my laser video,
And there’s the man staring back at me,
He starts to speak in a voice so righteous,
About the sins of society”

It’s a fun song, upbeat, very showtune-y, with DeYoung having a chance to cut loose a bit.  It’s alright, and it sounds like the horn section are real horns, not some synth.

JY gets to be the one to bring the rock on “Heavy Metal Poisoning”.  In this song, Dr. Righteous takes to the airwaves with the ironically hardest rocking song on the album.

What the Devil’s going on?
Why don’t you turn that music down,
You’re going deaf and that’s for sure,
But all you do is scream for more!

We were always amused by Dr. Righteous using heavy metal music as his musical vehicle to attack heavy metal music, and wondered if there was a hidden message there?  Something about hypocrisy.  Righteous complains that rock and roll will lead to sex and drugs, while punishing his guitar with some seriously heavy riffing and a smoking solo.  Unfortunately, some goofy keyboard bits detract from the song and keep it from being a pure heavy rocker.

“Just Get Through This Night” is a ballad we skipped as kids, but in retrospect this is a great dramatic ballad.  Tommy wrote this one, a long, atmospheric meandering 6 minute piece that would have been too long to hold our kiddie attention span anyway.   Even though it didn’t do anything for us as kids, it stands as one of the bright spots on an album that so often just gets too goofy.  Tommy’s guitar solo, recorded backwards, is a highlight on this song.

Our second-favourite song was next: “Double Life” written and sung by JY.  It’s certainly one of the highlights on the album, a menacing, dark stomp with the synths this time supporting rather than fighting the song.  No idea how this fits into the story, but who cares!

Tommy’s final ballad, “Haven’t We Been Here Before” is kinda skip-worthy, although it’s nice when Dennis accompanies him on the chorus.  There’s also a nice harmony guitar solo, but loaded down with effects, blunting its edge.  Fortunately, the album ends with “Don’t Let It End (reprise)” which is actually a reprise of “Mr. Roboto”, but with Tommy singing and more guitars.  The album ends on a bright note, as Jonathan Chance seemingly takes the mantel of rock leadership from Kilroy, vowing to keep Rock N’ Roll alive!  Then Dennis comes in, doing his old rocker schtick, sending up Elvis, Little Richard and many more, and that’s the album.  Great finish.

I think if we were to discuss this album in 1983, I would have raved and rated it 4/5 stars.  I also probably would have overused the words “awesome” and “cool-a-mundo”.  That was 30 years ago…man.  That’s a long, long time.  Listening to it now…

2/5 stars