poison

#922: Running Through Alberta (1990)

RECORD STORE TALES #922: Running Through Alberta (1990)

A long time ago, in a constitutional monarchy not far away, prices were lower.  The despised goods and services tax (GST) kicked in January 1, 1991.  This federal tax added a 7% levy to your average purchase.  In the before-fore times, in the Canadian province known as Alberta, there was no such thing as a “sales tax”.  What you saw on the sticker was what you paid.  It was an exhilarating time and place to be.  The GST wrecked that, but our last trek out west before the hated tax kicked in was nothing short of glorious.

School was out for summer, and I quit my part-time job packing groceries to hang out at the cottage and take a special trip to Calgary.  It was time for a visit with cousin Geoff, formerly known as “Captain Destructo”.  The most important things to do on any trip were two-fold:

  1. Pack appropriate music for the journey.
  2. Buy music on aforementioned journey.

I had just received two albums that were brand new to me from the Columbia House music clubSchool’s Out, by Alice Cooper, and Come An’ Get It by Whitesnake.  As my newest acquisitions, they had to come along.  I also brought Steve Vai’s Passion & Warfare which I was recently obsessed with.  Finally, I carried enough cash from my job that I had just quit, to buy as much music as I could find.  Stuff that none of the stores in Kitchener had in stock.

The clear memory of driving through the mountains with School’s Out blasting in my ears brings a smile to my face.  While some moments were undeniably weird (“Gutter Cat vs. The Jets”), I couldn’t believe how catchy the album was.  I still can’t.  Alice Cooper records were not necessarily designed to deliver catchy songs.  They were twisted, and School’s Out was like a Twizzler.  Regardless, “Gutter Cat” was entertaining while being unforgettable.  I couldn’t wait to share it with my best friend Bob.  He loved cats!  Another track that took me by surprise was “Alma Mater”, but I couldn’t get it out of my head.  The fact that I’d be graduating in a year was scary.  But the roaring “Public Animal #9” just made me sing along.  I also dug “Blue Turk” although I had no idea how to categorize it.  To me it sounded like something from an old musical from days gone by.  Here I was discovering this ancient music for the first time while the Rocky Mountains zipped past me in the back seat of a minivan.  I like to appreciate moments like that.  I just stared out the window while Dennis Dunaway buzzed my ears with bass.

Next up was Whitesnake.  I still love Come An’ Get It; it’s probably my overall favourite Whitesnake.  A few songs don’t click, such as “Girl”, but lemme tell you folks — “Child of Babylon” is another one of those songs that you just have to  experience while driving through the Rockies.  Bob and I were slowly discovering old Whitesnake.  He was the first to have Saints & Sinners, but I was the first to have Come An’ Get It.  It was something of a “blind buy” for me, since I didn’t know any of the songs.  By the end of the trip, I’d already love “Wine, Women An’ Song”, “Come An’ Get It”, and “Lonely Days, Lonely Nights”.

Two favourites in the making, it was already turning into a memorable vacation.  I enjoyed shopping at corny gift shops.  I bought some goofy round sunglasses with flip-open lenses.  Alberta is dinosaur country, and so I bought a casting of a Tyrannosaurus tooth.  At another gift shop I bought a totem knick-knack.  I remember Geoffrey and I climbing the modest mountains around the hoodoos at Drumheller, and finding a cave near the top where we paused and caught some shade.

When we hit the Calgary Zoo, Geoff showed us how to put coins on the train tracks to be crushed into minature copper and nickle pancakes.  They had a little train that took tours of the park.  It ran on a regular schedule so we always knew about when we should put the coins on the track.  I had heard that copper guitar picks were the best, but they were hard to find, so I crushed a couple pennies.  I turned them into guitar picks once we got home.  We didn’t crush anything more valuable than a dime, but sometimes you’d lose the coin if it went flying off the track.  (Incidentally, you can’t derail a train with a penny, that is a myth.)  We could tell the conductor knew what we were doing and was getting annoyed, so we cut it out.

When we finally hit a music store in a Calgary mall, I was elated.  I was always on the lookout for singles, and here I found a few notable ones.  Aerosmith’s The Other Side EP was an easy “yes”.  It had a number of remixes that, while not great, were exclusives.  It also had something called the “Wayne’s World Theme” live.  What was this “Wayne’s World”?  I knew not, but it wasn’t on the album, so I was happy enough.

Poison were hot on the charts with their brand-new album Flesh & Blood.  Bob was already raving about the album, and one song he pointed out was “Valley of Lost Souls”.  I found the cassette single for “Unskinny Bop” which included this song and an instrumental pretentiously called “Swamp Juice (Soul-O)”.  I never particularly cared for “Unskinny Bop”, but it was the current Poison hit, and “Valley of Lost Souls” was as good as advertised.  I also located Jon Bon Jovi’s solo single “Blaze of Glory”.  I didn’t know it yet but this single had some slightly edited versions of the album cuts — another exclusive.

The purchase I might have been happiest with was a re-buy.  Although it seems ridiculous that at age 18 I was already re-buying albums, it had begun.  My cassette of Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny was shite.  For all intents and purposes, it only had one channel.  I owned Rocka Rolla on vinyl, but didn’t really have a good way of playing it and making it sound decent back then.  I knew there was a cassette on Attic records with both albums on one tape, and I found it in Calgary.  I was glad to finally have a copy of Sad Wings that I could properly listen to.  I even gained new appreciation for Rocka Rolla on those mountain drives.  “Caviar and Meths” sounds amazing drifting through the mountains.

Not only did we find some cool stuff we couldn’t easily locate in Ontario, but we paid no tax.  Since Alberta had no provincial sales tax, everything we were buying, we were buying cheaper!

I wanted a cowboy hat.  We went shopping for them, but I was having a hard time deciding and then Geoffrey told me about an Alberta saying.  Something about “everybody in Alberta has an asshole and a cowboy hat.”  Either that or “every asshole in Alberta has a cowboy hat.”  Same difference.  Either way, I was dissuaded.

Geoffrey could be exhausting and I really wanted nothing more than to lie down and listen to some new tunes, so I was granted a couple hours of privacy.  We traded tapes back and forth for listening.  My sister Kathryn had the new single for “Can’t Stop Falling Into Love” by Cheap Trick so I listened to that while she borrowed my Poison.

Here’s a funny detail.   For the car trip with Whitesnake and Alice Cooper, I can remember being on the left side of the vehicle.  For Rocka Rolla, I seem to remember sitting on the right.  The view was always great.  Nothing like Ontario.  The air was different, and even the weather was unusual to us.  People left their doors unlocked, we were told by Uncle Phil.

Auntie Lynda spoiled us and took us on all these day trips; it was fantastic.  It was the last great summer holiday.  I know I kept a journal of the trip, which seems to be unfortunately lost.  Great trip though it was, I looked forward to coming home and seeing my friends.  Showing off my new purchases and sharing my new music.  The flight home was uneventful and we arrived late at night and exhausted.  I didn’t sleep much that night — I had recordings of WWF wrestling matches to catch up on.  The last great summer holiday was over, but never forgotten.

REVIEW: Poison – “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (1988 3″ CD single)

POISON – “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (1988 Capitol 3″ CD single)

This is a beautiful item that I’m happy to have in my collection.  3″ CD singles were uncommon, but you’ve probably seen one before.  What is less common is the clamshell 3″ case that this Poison single came in.  A lot of 3″ singles came in regular 5″ cases, or a cardboard sleeve.  Clamshells are rare.  This one, called a “Gem Pak” (patent pending) was specifically made to house a “CD3”, another outdated term.  It’s made of white plastic and the artwork is in the form of a sticker which covers the front, back and spine of the case.  The Gem Pak’s flaw (patent pending!) is that it does not hold the disc in securely.  It wants to pop out.  Take care when handling one of these that the disc doesn’t fall out when you open it.

I’m a defender of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”.  I loved it as a kid.  I remember some people saying it might be “too country”, which is wasn’t.  It’s just an acoustic ballad but a well written one and deserving of its success, if not its notoriety.  It tended to spawn a generation of soundalikes, a fuzzy swarm of late 80s acousti-balladry that ultimately only served to take bands like Poison down, while ushering in the grunge era.  “Every Rose” broke down walls for Poison, but the backlash was inevitable.  When Bill & Ted quoted it to get into heaven in 1991, it was already all over.  I can hear all that history when I listen to this single.  It’s an excellent song, and even C.C.’s solo, as inarticulate as it is, still fits like an electrically heated glove.

The B-side “Livin’ for the Minute” shows off the heavier side of Poison.  Fans might forget that Poison liked to really spit one out every now and then.  C.C.’s solo is bonkers on this one, but perfectly suited to the frantic tune.  Bret really cuts loose too.  Poison actually have some pretty cool B-sides.

These tracks are both available on the remastered Open Up and Say…Ahh!! CD, but you gotta snap this one up if you find it in the wild.

3.5/5 stars

#813: Ringers

GETTING MORE TALE #813: Ringers

There’s a sports phrase in the parlance of the profession:  a “ringer”.  It means boosting your team with a player who who’s above your league, usually with accusations of dishonesty or bad sportsmanship.  If you had a beer league hockey team, and your friend’s son happens to be Connor McDavid, and he substitutes for your usual center Big Jim McBob, then you have a ringer.

I was watching some live music on YouTube and wondered if there is a rock band equivalent.

Though it’s not considered cheating, did Queensryche pull a ringer when they got Todd La Torre to sing?  Todd is a fine vocalist who enables Queensryche to perform the old material properly; stuff with notes so high that only a young singer can really pull it off.  Journey did something similar with Arnel Pineda.  They wanted to play the original songs in the original keys, not tune them down for an older singer.

Original Queensryche singer Geoff Tate’s voice has changed over the decades.  That’s nature.  He can be hit or miss when singing the high stuff, so he tends not to anymore.  He’s able to steer around difficult notes and still play the song.  La Lorre has no issues with them however, adding some of his own grit to the screams.  Todd La Torre is 45 years old.  Geoff Tate is closer to his old bandmates at age 61.  If Queensryche were to look for another singer in his 60s, they wouldn’t be able to find one able to scream the opening to “Queen of the Reich”.

Go back in time further, to the early 1990s.  One band that absolutely hired a ringer was Poison when they acquired Richie Kotzen to replace C.C. Deville.

Without being too unkind, C.C. and Richie are not playing the same sport when it comes to guitar.  C.C. is a WWF wrestler, hammering you over the head with loud sloppy moves and tricks.  Richie is like a light boxer with heart, a fast contender with a feel for it.

When Poison picked up Kotzen, they plucked someone from the upper echelons to replace somebody who was basically still in the garage.  While it failed to win fans in the “get serious 90s”, it did give them an album that they never would have been able to create otherwise.  Eventually they were forced to bring C.C. back, but they can never perform material from the Kotzen album.  They’d sound ridiculous.

It could be argued that Kiss hired ringers with almost every replacement member in their band, from Eric Carr to Vinnie Vincent to Eric Singer and Bruce Kulick.  All of these guys are, on a technical level at least, lightyears better players than the original members.  But on the other hand, none of those replacements could capture the sheer vibe of the original band either.

Think about it.  When a veteran band loses an original member, do they ever replace them with a peer?  Very rarely.  Deep Purple replaced Jon Lord (age 61 at retirement) with Don Airey (54 at hiring).  But Black Sabbath replaced Bill Ward (age 71 today) with Tommy Clufetos (40 today).  No matter what Bill claims, Clufetos is simply in better physical condition.  He’s a ringer.

What is your take on this subject?  Are these guys ringers, or just regular hired guns?  Is there really a difference?

REVIEW: Poison – “Stand” (1993 promo cassette)

POISON – “Stand (CHR edit)” (1993 promo cassette single)

What is a “CHR edit”?  It’s a special single edit of a song specifically intended for “contemporary hit radio”.  In other words, Top 40.  So, when “Stand” by Poison was selected to be the first single from 1993’s brand new Native Tongue album, it had to be trimmed for length.  Getting Poison on the radio was going to prove to be an impossible task, so why make it harder by giving them a 5:16 long track that they definitely wouldn’t touch?  “Stand” was shortened to 4:21, with much of Richie Kotzen’s delightfully idiosyncratic guitar licks getting the axe, along with some of the choir.

The cassette you see here contains two edited versions of “Stand”:  the 4:21 “CHR edit” and another at 4:30 simply called “edit”.  The differences are in the guitar solo which starts to deviate at the 2:28 mark.  It’s in interesting curiosity, a peak inside the minutia of thinking that goes into marketing a song.  “Hey, this format needs another nine seconds of song, leave in some guitar solo.”  Is that how it worked?

The tape has both edit versions on both sides…twice.  2x2x2=8 times total, that you will hear “Stand” by Poison, if you play it all the way through.  Call the CIA and let ’em know I have this cassette; they can use it with their enhanced interrogation techniques.  I’ll sell.

On that note I can all but guarantee this cassette has never been played through, ever.  It was sent to the Record Store about a year and a half before I started working there.  The owner hated Poison.  Hated — with a passion.  There is no way he played this tape in store, ever.  I rescued it from a giant, forgotten stack of promos that were stuffed into a bin.  All garbage.  “Don’t take any of those,” said the owner.  Eventually all that junk was slated to be thrown out when the only location that sold tapes changed formats at the end of 1996.

This tape is valuable for one thing:  it reveals the true North American release date for Native Tongue.  Currently (August 2019), Wikipedia claims Native Tongue was released on February 8, 1993.  That’s impossible because the 8th was a Monday.  New releases came out on Tuesdays.  This promo cassette clearly states on the back that the forthcoming album Native Tongue was retailing on February 16 — a Tuesday.  You’re welcome, internet.

Otherwise, this cassette is fairly useless.

1/5 stars

VHS Archives #57: Rikki Rockett of Poison live interview (1993)

Did you check out our Poison album list today, as we counted ’em down from worst to best?

I have a surprising amount of Poison interviews on my VHS tapes.  They must have been an extremely media friendly band.  From the Native Tongue period alone, I have three separate interviews on my tapes.  The first was the best Bret Michaels interview I’ve seen, on Kitchener’s Metal Mike show in 1993.  The next will be a sit down with Bret and Richie Kotzen in the MuchMusic studios.  This one, however, is a rare live interview with drummer Rikki Rockett.

There are awkward moments, like when he lies about the album selling “really good”.  Hear all about the “party cage” and other tour goings-on.  He also talks about growing up in a musical family, which is probably the most illuminating part.

Check out Mr. Rockett on live TV!

 

#744: A Poison-ous List

GETTING MORE TALE #744: A Poison-ous List

Over 30 years of being a band, and yet Poison only have a handful of albums!  We won’t get into the whys and wherefores, for they are many.  In terms of studio music, Poison have:

  • 6 full studio albums
  • 2 live albums with about an EP’s worth of new songs
  • 1 covers album

That’s it.  There are more live records and greatest hits, but Poison don’t have much music to show for such a long time in the business.

Naturally, anybody with an opinion has their own list of worst-to-first Poison albums.  The only thing special about mine is my conviction that I’m right and everybody else is wrong!

 

 

#9:  Hollyweird 2002

Poison’s last album of original songs was not a letdown at all.  To be disappointed, you have to have expectations.  I don’t think anybody expected much out of Poison in 2002.  This dull, bland album had no hits for a good reason.  Was Bret saving his best material for his solo career?

#8:  Power to the People 2000

Part live, part studio, this album should be included as it was the first new Poison material with C.C. Deville in a decade.  Shame that the studio songs are largely forgettable.  All but “I Hate Every Bone in Your Body but Mine”, sung by an autotuned C.C., which you’ll wish you could forget.  Nobody asked for this, nor the live guitar and drum solos.  In concert, Poison need to play long solos so Bret Michaels can take his insulin.  On album, there is no excuse for including such boring solos.

#7:  Swallow This Live  1991

This album is plagued by the same problem as Power to the People:  horribly long live solos that should have been omitted.  At least the studio side was decent.  There were two pretty good songs, and one excellent single called “So Tell Me Why”.  Possibly their best single, actually.  Unfortunately you had to wade through 2 CDs of crap to get to it.

#6:  Poison’d!  2007

Kinda sad that Poison’s last album was a covers album over 10 years ago.  Still, it was a surprisingly good covers album.  Just delete the Walmart bonus track “SexyBack” and you’re all set for nothing’ but a good time.  Incidentally this is the easiest place to find Poison’s first recorded cover, “Rock and Roll all Nite”!

#5:  Crack A Smile…And More!  2000

In 1994, Poison began working on their first album with new guitarist Blues Saraceno.  It sat unreleased for another six years.  When it finally came out, it was beefed up with two new B-sides, the cool and unfinished “Crack A Smile” demo, an old B-side with C.C., and four songs from MTV Unplugged (also with C.C.).  Hence the “And More!” tag in the title.  Saraceno is a wiz on the guitar, and with Poison he wrote some cool songs.  Just not enough for such a long album.  There’s a bit of filler on Crack A Smile, but for guitar playing it’s one of their best.

#4:  Look What the Cat Dragged In  1986

I know, I know, it’s their “classic” debut, right?  But it ain’t produced so good, and there’s some filler in those grooves.  The singles, however, are all great, with “Cry Tough” joining “So Tell Me Why” as one of their all-time best.  Poison had an adorable rawness and party attitude, but like many bands they got better as they went.

#3:  Open Up and Say…Ahh!  1988

This is when Poison really started getting good.  By my measure, this album only has one filler song, “Bad to Be Good”.  There’s actually some stunning material here, including non-singles like “Love On the Rocks”.  It has the big ballad (and only one ballad!) as well as the unforgettable “Nothing But a Good Time“.  Open Up and Say…Ahh! is definitely the best of Poison’s “party rock” albums.

#2:  Flesh & Blood 1990

A lot of people consider this to be Poison’s best, and while that argument can be made, I just can’t get past “Poor Boy Blues”.  That song is so awful it leaves a limburger-like aftertaste.  (It’s even worse when it’s extended on Swallow This Live.)  “Unskinny Bop” is painfully dumb, a fact we recognized back in 1990.  It didn’t fit the more mature sound Poison were going for with new producer Bruce Fairbairn.  “Why is this song the single?” we asked each other, as we discovered way better material buried inside.  “Valley of Lost Souls”, “Sacrifice”, and “Life Loves a Tragedy” were never singles but certainly catalogue highlights.  Flesh & Blood also boasts two of their best ballads, “Something to Believe In” and “Life Goes On”.  It’s a tough album to beat.

#1:  Native Tongue 1993

But Native Tongue does surpass Flesh & Blood,  thanks to the supernatural talents of Mr. Richie Kotzen.  On paper, it was a slam dunk.  Poison were never taken seriously as musicians, but with Kotzen, suddenly that bar was raised.  That tone!  Earthy and hot.  He was a shredder, and a soulful singer/songwriter.  He dominated Native Tongue.  Unfortunately the personalities didn’t mesh (or so we will word it).  It was a weird fit, but it resulted in a very special album.  Most of the songs are clearly Richie’s, with Bret Michaels singing.  (It’s possible that Richie played other instruments as well, but we’ll leave that to speculation.)  Kotzen brought to Poison a real soulful bent that they simply didn’t have without him, although they sure did try on Flesh & Blood.  His raspy voice didn’t hurt.  The good time rock isn’t gone either, though there’s less of it.  “Ride Child Ride”, “Strike Up the Band” and “Seven Days Over You” are as fun as the old days, but with a richer more musical palette.  Poison also went heavier than ever before.  “Scream” and “Bring it Home” groove harder than anything before or after.  Perhaps this album should be disqualified from the list as it’s more a Kotzen record with Poison as his backing band?  Nope, it’s my list and this is #1.

VHS Archives #55: One of the best interviews with Bret Michaels of Poison that you’ll find (1993)

“Richie takes a little getting used to.  He’s a strange cat.” — Bret Michaels

In 1991, a new cable access show catering to metalheads hit the local airwaves:  The Metal Mike show, with host Mike Coughlin.  Since MuchMusic’s Power 30 was declining in quality, there was a vacuum for another good metal show.

Check out this terrific interview with Poison frontman Bret Michaels in 1993.  The band had parted with C.C. Deville and were re-emerging the middle of the grunge era with Native Tongue. Today it’s considered to be their best album, but nobody cared in ’93.

Metal Mike eases Bret in comfortably but then hits him up with a tough question:  what really happened with C.C. Deville?  And Bret doesn’t hold back.  Fist fights, drugs and alcohol all came into play, and the trainwreck MTV Awards appearance all contributed.

They move on to finding Richie Kotzen.  Pay attention and notice that the fit seems awkward.  The clues were there.  “He sometimes can be kinda weird,” says Bret of his new bandmate.  There was no question of the man’s chops, however, nor his stage presence.  Check it out.

 

VHS Archives #44: Power Hour Bumpers collection!

This one goes out to good pals Mars and Sarca Sim!  I know they love the nostalgia of old MuchMusic bumpers.  Here’s a collection of them that I assembled into one mega-bumper!

The bumpers are generally somebody saying, “Hi, I’m [insert name] from [insert band], and you’re watching the Power Hour on MuchMusic!”  Some flub their lines (Craig Goldy), some put in that extra 10% (Poison) and some do both (Anvil).

It’s either they got only one take, or these are the best ones!

Check out these hilarious rock star ads below, including (in order): Mark Metcalf, Motorhead, Poison, Lita Ford, Anvil, Dio, Rik Emmett, David Coverdale and a couple surprises.

 

 

 

VHS Archives #37: The Girl With the Poison Tattoo

Speaker’s Corner was a place where anyone could get on TV!  You would step into the recording booth, pop in some coins, and record a brief video.  If you were lucky, you’d be chosen for the Speaker’s Corner TV show.! The Barenaked Ladies got their start by playing a song on Speaker’s Corner (“Be My Yoko Ono”).  There were lonely people looking for love, there were eccentrics and even LeBrain and his pals (though I don’t know if our video was ever broadcast).  There were also recurring people, like Brie.

Funny thing.  A guy I used to work with at the Record Store named Joe Perry once said to me “I know a girl with a Poison tattoo.”  He was shocked when I answered, “Is her name Brie?”

“How, how the hell do you know that?” he asked.

How could Joe have known that I was taping Speaker’s Corner the day she showed off her Poison tattoo!

You gotta give the girl credit for getting a Poison tattoo in the 1990s.

 

VHS Archives #32: Vintage Sam the Record Man TV ad (1988)

Possibly the only video on the internet with both Megadeth and Poison?

Specially priced! $8.99 for cassette or LP, $18.99 for CD!

For a great look at the Poison album, check out Deke at Arena Rock!