picture disc

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – “Empire of the Clouds” (2016 Record Store Day picture disc single)

IRON MAIDEN -“Empire of the Clouds” (2016 Parlophone Record Store Day picture disc single)

The story of acquiring this single and RSD 2016 can be read right here, so without getting into the details again this is what you need to know:

  1. This was a Record Store Day exclusive (April 16 2016).
  2. There were only 5500 copies made.
  3. Everybody wanted one.

The picture disc and packaging are gorgeous.  The record is a depiction of the Eddie destroying the R-101 airship, but fear not, this is not how history actually unfolded!  This picture disc is ensconced in a die card cover with reprintings of the Daily Mirror newspaper article from the day following the disaster.  It’s a lovely keepsake for sure, but it also has an exclusive interview on the B-side.

Not that the A side is unimportant.  From my original review for The Book of Souls, I had much praise for “Empire of the Clouds”:

“Written solely by Bruce and coming in at almost 20 minutes, it is unprecedented in the Maiden canon.  Never before have the credits ‘Bruce Dickinson – vocals, piano’ been written inside one of their albums.  For the first time ever, the piano is a part of Iron Maiden’s makeup.  Maiden have used orchestras before, and the strings return as well.  ‘Empire of the Clouds’ is a peak accomplishment, something that they (and Bruce) can proudly proclaim, ‘we did that’.  The piano is a natural fit, in the way it is used to make an epic song even more dramatic.  Aviation has been one of Bruce’s favourite lyrical subjects for a long time, but ‘Empire of the Clouds’ might be his first song about airships.  You can trust him to instil it with all the drama and heaviness that you expect from Iron Maiden.”

Nicko McBrain and Bruce Dickinson discuss the making of the song, almost an album in itself, on the B-side “Maiden Voyage”.  The R101 was a massive airship (“the Titanic fits inside”) that was rushed into service and caught flame in 1930.  Bruce wrote the song on piano, which he had learned to play over the last three years.  He then researched the history of the airship and worked on the words.  The way he describes the incident on this interview track, it was a perfect storm of everything going wrong.  In its context, the airship was an expression of the ambition of the British Empire to stretch to all corners of the Earth and above as well.  Bruce says the crash was the end of this era.

Part of the story involves a storm, so Bruce came up with a piano part to depict that.  Before long he had enough components from his piano writings to build the different parts of the song.   One of the bits was written when Jon Lord (from Deep Purple) was ill with cancer.  After his death, Bruce used this piece for the part when the airship initially sets off.  It’s interesting that this era of British ambition inspired the most ambitious track that the singer had ever attempted.  This includes a musical “S.O.S.” in Morse code, something I picked up on upon first listen.

Bruce has particular praise for drummer Nicko McBrain in the building and recording of this song.  Nicko was not only a help in a technical respect, but also as a cheerleader keeping the band driven, so much was he into it.

Bruce Dickinson is a remarkable individual in heavy metal.  You don’t see many metal stars as well educated in history as Bruce, or as capable at communicating it to his audience.  Indeed, as a presenter on the BBC, Bruce has brought history to many diverse audiences.  You would think Iron Maiden fans would be one of the more challenging groups to reach, but Maiden followers are hungry for this kind of content.  We can only respect the band that much more when we realize the true depth of their work.  This coming from a licensed airline pilot, published fiction author, cancer survivor and amature fencer who also happens to be in Iron Maiden.  Extraordinary!

I’m not sure if this disc was worth the buying frenzy it spawned or the online prices you are about to see, but I’m sure glad I got my copy.

5/5 stars

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#478: Record Store Day (April 16 2016)

GETTING MORE TALE #478: Record Store Day (April 16 2016)

I thought Record Store Day was supposed to be a celebration of indi record stores.  That’s nice and all, but my first Record Store Day ever was at a chain:  Sunrise Records in a shopping mall.  I’m not sure what qualifies as “indi” but I do see a lot of similarities with Record Store Day and other much-hyped spending spree events, like Force Friday.  Overpriced items, not enough stock and waiting for stores to open seem to be the order of the day.  Having said that, I have never seen anything like Record Store Day 2016.  Nor did the staff at X-Disc-C in Kitchener, the store I chose to hit up this year.

I don’t always shop on Record Store Day, but when I do, it is for a good reason.  The first time I went was in 2011, for an AC/DC single featuring two then-exclusive live recordings.  That was a lot of fun, but imagine my chagrin a year later when these two songs were released on the Live at River Plate album.  It seems most RSD-exclusive items are either:

a) songs that get released on albums later on,
b) vinyl reissues of things you already have,
c) stuff that sits around for months or years after as shelfwarmers.

This year, my RSD holy grail list had only one item on it:  the 12″ picture disc single for Iron Maiden’s 20 minute epic “Empire of the Clouds”, from The Book of Souls.  Incidentally, that single was more expensive than the 2 CD album itself:  $33 with taxes.  What’s so special about it?  It has no exclusive music, but it does include a 21 minute interview with Bruce Dickinson about the R101 airship disaster that the song is based on.  That made it worth owning.   There were at least four stores in town carrying it.  Mill Pond Records in Cambridge were doing a big promotion on the radio with Darryl Law, offering big discounts and free CDs.  The had four copies of “Empire of the Clouds” in stock.  I wrote that store off the list first, gambling that it would be too busy.

I planned my strategy to acquire this very limited single (5500 copies).  Online prices later on will be far too high, at least for me unless I decide to sell my organs on the dark web.  Encore Records has long been the most reliable store in town, and they were carrying it (quantity unknown).  Failing that, just a few blocks away at X-Disc-C, there were three copies in stock.  The plan was for me to go to Encore while my wife Jen went to X-Disc-C.  We left the house at 8:15 for the 9:00 am opening.  That even left time for a coffee stop, at a way too busy Timmy’s on Weber St.  My only real concern at that point was parking downtown.  Kitchener is currently being ripped up to build a controversial light rail transit system.  The traffic tie-ups and difficult access points are only adding to the controversy.  Even so, and even with the Kitchener Farmer’s Market open since 6:00 am, parking was not a problem.  In fact there was plenty.

Encore Records was a couple blocks away, but I turned right back around as soon as I saw the line!  There were at least 40-50 people up there, waiting to get in.  I had never seen anything like that before, not on Record Store Day.  Not for records.  “Fuck this,” I said as I hiked back.  Re-joining Jen, we headed to X-Disc-C which was only a short jaunt away.  We knew they had three copies.  I had never been to this location before, tucked away on a side street near the market.  We knew we were getting near when we heard the sounds of Gordon Lightfoot serenading us on outdoor speakers.  This was followed by the new Wolfmother.  And we were first in line!  Iron Maiden would be mine!

I posted on Facebook, “First in line.  I am the line.”

About five minutes later another guy joined us, maybe a bit older than me.   We exchanged “good mornings” and chatted.

“I’m only here for one thing,” he hinted.

“Maiden?” I asked, and he nodded.  “Me too,” I said in response.  “He has three in there, so it looks like we’re good.”

“They’re already open over across the street,” he told me, referring to Encore.

“Really?  But did you see that crowd?  There were at least 40 people standing there.  Can that store even hold 40 people?”

I was surprised when he answered, “Yeah, I was second in line.  I’ve been waiting outside since 6:30 in the morning.”

Think about that for a moment.  That means there was somebody who got there even before 6:30!  People really wanted that Iron Maiden record.  Behind us, a small line began to form, young and old.

“I left to come here because I couldn’t see the Maiden when I walked into Encore.  Other people swooped in and they were gone before I could even see them.”  I expressed a little bit of surprise about the popularity of a record that only had an interview track on the B-side.  That doesn’t matter to everybody though.  “I’m not going to play it,” he said.  “I’m not even going to open it.  I’m going to frame it.”

A few more people joined us in line including one guy in an Iron Maiden T-shirt.  I don’t think he had a chance anymore.  There seemed to be two dominating artists that people in line were looking for:  David Bowie, and Iron Maiden.  Then the door opened.  I grabbed the first Iron Maiden, and the guy behind me got the second.  I did not see who got the third.

At X-Disc-C, they told me they had never seen a Record Store Day opening like this before.  They seemed unprepared as most of their items hadn’t even been priced yet.  I wonder if Encore Records also got slammed unprepared at opening.  They usually only have two guys working on busy days, and I think only three people even work there at all.  It’s great to see them so busy, but I wondered about the whole experience.

These stores probably don’t make much money on these Record Store Day exclusives, and these early birds were looking for specific items.  If they didn’t have it, they walked.  They didn’t stick around to browse, nor was there room to browse.  Two people walked out before I even paid for my Maiden!   The buying frenzy atmosphere isn’t the kind of record shopping experience most of us look for.  We like to take our time, check every nook and cranny, converse and enjoy it.  These limited Record Store Day items seem to create schools of sharks swooping in on very limited items, and when they’re gone the customer buys nothing and moves on.

I will open and play my Iron Maiden record, once.  I’ll record it, and only look at it henceforce.  It’s a gorgeous picture disc in a gatefold sleeve.  The cover replicates the Daily Mirror newspaper from October 6 1930, the day after the R101 burst into flames.  An awesome Eddie illustration from the picture disc is seen through the die-cut cover.  It truly is a beautiful collectible.

Record Store Day was fun, but I don’t think it does much to celebrate the indi record store.  It does bring out the hard core collectors, but the overall atmosphere feels too much like a bloody Black Friday sale than a true record shopping experience.

Come back tomorrow for a review of the “Empire of the Clouds” RSD exclusive single.

 

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REVIEW: Frank Zappa – Baby Snakes (1983)

Third review from Mike and Aaron go to Toronto…Again!  This Zappa bought at Sonic Boom for $10.99, original green Rykodisc case intact.

BABY SNAKES_0001FRANK ZAPPA – Baby Snakes (1983, 1995 Rykodisc)

Baby Snakes is the soundtrack album to the Zappa film of the same name, famously using clay animation by Bruce Bickford.  This bizarre landmark of a movie deserves a bizarre soundtrack, which Frank ably delivers with his ace band including Tommy Mars (violin) , Terry Bozzio (on two tracks),  Adrian Belew (guitar) and more.

Yet the title track is remarkably accessible.  Sure, there are the typical Zappa elements: high munchkin voices, low Zappa moans, eclectic and humourous lyrics…and playing out the wazoo!  There’s nothing wrong with these “Baby Snakes” as long as you can keep up with the time changes.  (This is an edited version of the same song from Sheik Yerbouti.)

Before you know it, you’re live in funky New York listening to “Titties and Beer”.  These live tracks were recorded Halloween 1977 at the Palladium.  Will Frank sell his soul to the Devil?  Is Frank rough enough to get into hell?  Does he have the style that it takes?  Listen to “Titties and Berr” and find out (I won’t spoil it).

“The Black Page #2” is infamously hard to play, so just listen up and hear how the pros get it done.  The percussion alone makes heads spin.  Another seamless transition goes into “Jones Crusher” which has a classic soul of rock.  The vocal parts are damn fine, the lyrics hilarious, and Frank’s outro solo smokes.  A rock and roll slant on “Disco Boy” is a tad faster than the studio counterpart.  This hilarious ode to vanity and ultimately masturbation is just fun, because who doesn’t love ripping on disco?

PUNKYSide two of the original LP was made up of just two tracks, both long bombers:  “Dinah Moe Humm” and “Punky’s Whips”.  The Ryko CD blends the two sides together without a break.  You can hear the band quote “Sunshine of Your Love”) at one point  in “Dinah Moe” (they quoted “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” on side one).  “Punky’s Whips” is a completely different deal.  Apparently, Terry Bozzio had a bit of a man-crush, or at least a fascination with Punky Meadows from the band Angel.  This satire poked a bit of fun at the expense of Punky, but who can blame them?  Who could blame anyone?  “Punky’s lips, Punky’s lips, his hair’s so shiny, I love his hips!”  I mean, how can you not make fun of this guy?  Even though the lyrics are distractingly hilarious, the music goes into epic soundtrack mode by the time Bozzio’s shouting “Jack it Punky, jack it faster!”  Frank ends the song with one of his signature guitar jams, a sound that this world truly does miss.

Of note: this album was originally released on 12″ picture disc.  The Ryko CD cover replicates this effect.  I like that.

5/5 stars

Part 279: Record Store Gallery Deux

RECORD STORE TALES Part 279:  Record Store Gallery Deux

I found another whack of old photos going back to the record store days.  Allow me to take you on a guided tour!

Gallery #1:  This would have been 2002.  The tragus was the most painful piercing I experienced.  It was the only time that somebody said, “he’s turning white, get him some juice to drink.”  The piercer was my friend Lois who works at Stigmata in Guelph.  She was apprenticing, with me as a test subject.  She even gave me the labret stud that they pierced it with, so the experience was free!  Note that Marillion shirt, and my then-sveldt shape!

Gallery #2:  A variety of sushi and fancy dinners with our Niagara Falls store owner Lemon Kurri Klopek, Guinness’ Book alumnus Sweet Pepper Klopek, the British piercer Sarge, and the mysterious man known only as Mr. Lebowski.

I look like a goth Leprechaun.

Gallery #3:  New arrivals! My birthday 2004! The Paul Stanley interview picture disc was from a friend in York, England named Kim. The Marillion singles were a birthday gift from a guy in France named Charly. And the Marillion Marbles deluxe edition was a gift for me, from me, that happened to arrive at the right time!

 

Last Words:  I love that this photo gallery contains three completely different facial hair styles:  A simple goatee, my Ian Paice mutton chops, and finally a full beard.  Cool!

Part 125: Syphon Remix (It’s T-Rev Appreciation Day…Again!)

RECORD STORE TALES PART 125:  Syphon Remix

(It’s T-Rev Appreciation Day…Again!)

Trevor’s in the habit of texting me whenever he sees something that I may want.  Which is more often than I can afford, as it happens, so I have to pick and choose!  I just received another box of goodies from T-Rev last week.  Inside I found the contents below:

     

     

Gotta love picture discs eh?  I’ll never play that Ozzy EP (all songs are also on his Prince of Darkness box set) but it sure looks cool.  (Look at Jake E. Lee!  Oh, Jake.)  Didn’t even know it existed.  That Grim Reaper one, I’d never seen the album cover before.  Never even knew what it looked like!  Sure love that title track though.  And I’m well on record for loving the Rage For Order LP by Queensryche!

Also in the box was a rare 12″ single by Kim Mitchell.  You know, the guy who teased your brains with Max Webster, and then your taste buds with “Go For Soda”.

Trev and I are both Kim and Max fans, but undoubtedly he’s the bigger fan than I am.  So it was with utmost gratitude that I accept this record:  “Go For Soda (Syphon Remix)” / “Love Ties”.  This was from his own personal collection.  As far as I know, neither of us have seen another copy.   I spoke to my buddy, that guy Craig Fee who works at that radio station Dave FM, and he’d never heard of it, let alone encountered it in his vast travels.

Anyway, Trev found this one, back in the record store days!  I don’t know when or where but maybe he’ll pop in with his remembrances!  But this is the kind of thing we lived for.  Finding something rare, cool, and previously unknown.

There’s no credit for who did the remix, essentially an extended version.  The song has a different intro and is beefed up from 3:26 to 4:59.  It’s a UK import, from Bronze records.  Mitchell’s stuff is released by Anthem over here in North America.  Bronze released Motorhead and Girlschool records in the 1970’s, I wonder if they commissioned this remix themselves.

So thanks Trev for another treasure.   This is the kind of thing that Trev was prone to finding.  I recall he had an etched Megadeth picture disc, and he also somehow scored me a double Bon Jovi 12″ single with 3 rare live tracks.

Must be the keen eye of a skilled Record Store Guy!  I salute you sir.

REVIEW: Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (deluxe edition)

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QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Rated R (2010 deluxe edition)

Any serious heavy rock fan worth his or her salt own at least one QOTSA album, usually Rated R. I mean, let’s face it…do you need integrity in your rock music? Could you give a crap about comercial stuff? Rated R is the album for you. While my personal preference is the Songs For The Deaf LP, Rated R is a close second.

This two disc edition is awesome and renders obselete any old versions you own. I happily gave away my previous UK only two-disc edition which came with the “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer” single and video. This new deluxe edition even replicates the colour scheme of the Rated X LP version which had the bonus track “Ode To Clarrisa” (included here).

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Every B-side from the Rated R years are included, live and studio. It also includes a concert, live at Reading from 2000, expertly captured by the BBC. That concert is awesome, containing QOTSA hits as well as the Desert Sessions classic “Millionaire”. (Later re-recorded by QOTSA on Songs For The Deaf as “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire”. Personally, I don’t think you can go wrong with live QOTSA, and this isn’t just live QOTSA…this is live QOTSA with Nick Olivieri still in the band. I lost interest to a certain degree after Nick was fired.

What of the album itself? Well, of course this edition sounds awesome. You should know some of these songs, especially “Feel Good Hit”. You may have heard “Monsters In The Parasol” from Desert Sessions or the QOTSA live album. Mark Lanegan’s vocal turn on “In the Fade” is awesome, and forshadows that singer’s awesome work on Songs For The Deaf. “Leg Of Lamb” is awkward but undeniably catchy. My personal favourite track is “Better Living Through Chemistry”, exotic, atmospheric and grooving. Perfect for late nights with a beverage by the campfire.

Noteworthy cameo:  Rob Halford (who was not in Judas Priest at the time, but in fact was in Halford).  He’s on “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”.  I couldn’t hear it at first, but, according to Uncle Meat:

Yes you can…put the song on right now…I am serious…do it!!  Listen closely at about the 2:03 mark … the little cuh-caine … about 2:03 or 2:04. Go do it!

He’s right!  That’s Halford!

Pick this up, if you’re only going to own one QOTSA album, this one is fully loaded and well worth the cash!

5/5 stars…rated awesome