promos

REVIEW: Van Halen – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 promo EP) “Van Halen turns 15!”

VAN HALEN – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner promo EP) “Van Halen turns 15!”

Stuff like this is in my collection not because it’s valuable to me, but because at one point in time I got it for free.  We ran across promos like these all the time, and couldn’t sell them, so they were free to take.  Because it was Van Halen, I hung onto it even though all five tracks are taken from the live album Right here, right now.  It disappears in your CD collection due to the jewel case without a back cover or spine.  For the sake of simplicity (and a shorter title), we’ll just refer to this EP as “Van Halen turns 15”.

It actually plays really well.  Without any filler or solos, it’s a tight CD packed with some of the best songs.  “Dreams” serves as a connection to the earlier pop rock sounds of 5150.  Live, it rocks with higher octane than the studio version.  “Judgement Day” was one of the better representations of the then-new For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge material.  Its modern groove was predictive of the kind of music people would want to hear in the 90s:  heavier with more edge.  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” is the one token DLR track, and then seemingly to balance things out, it’s Sammy’s “One Way to Rock”.  Whatever — the listening experience is perfect.

Because “Right Now” was the biggest thing since Crystal Pepsi, it’s inevitable that the live version was included on this CD.  If you find “Right Now” to be vomit-inducing, you can just hit stop.

Since this is a promo and should only be sought as a freebie, appointing it a score out of 5 stars is meaningless.   Radio stations are always ditching boxes of old CDs so it’s bound to turn up somewhere.

Whatever/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” (1995 single)

BON JOVI – “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” (1995 Mercury single)

It’s impossible to acquire a “complete” Bon Jovi collection; trust me on this. Even Jon Bon Jovi doesn’t have a complete Bon Jovi collection. Up to a certain point in time, it’s fun to collect as many B-sides and bonus tracks you can get your hands on.

The second single from “best of” album Cross Road (1994) was “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night”, and it was a pretty clear indication of where the band would go on their next album These Days.  But — surprise bonus — this single doesn’t have the studio version (that you already own) from Cross Road.  It has an uncredited live version instead!  Added bonus — Alec John Such on bass.  He had yet to be replaced (on stage, anyway) by Hugh McDonald.  This is probably the only live version of the hit with Such on bass.

Make no mistake, “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” is a great song.  There’s a Bon Jovi niche for acoustic rock songs with down-on-your-luck/inspirational lyrics.  “My life’s a bargain basement, all the good shit’s gone.”  This is Jon’s bread and butter.  He wouldn’t know a bargain basement if he was shopping for old Bon Jovi singles in one, but he does this kind of rock really well.  This is one of the last of his must-haves of the genre.

Another rare one, “Good Guys Don’t Always Wear White”, is a studio track with the well-worn cowboy motif.  It’s from the movie The Cowboy Way featuring Jon’s old Young Guns buddy Keifer Sutherland.  Unexpectedly, this one is an  intricate hard-driving rocker, with a Sambora riff that he could take pride in.  Tico Torres is absolutely on fire on the kit.  That guy can lay down a groove while throwing in challenging patterns just for fun.  Why can’t Bon Jovi rock like this anymore?  This track feels more honest than the hard luck songs.

Two more live songs finish the CD.  These two are from Montreal in ’94:  “With A Little Help From My Friends” (Joe Cocker style) and “Always”.  The reason Bon Jovi can get away with “A Little Help From My Friends” is Richie Sambora, who always brings the soul and the integrity.  That’s not to say that Jon sucks.  Check out the note he holds at 3:57.  The man had lungs back in 1994!  The demographics of the audience are obvious: “Always” is almost drowned out by a sea of high-pitched screams!  It’s one of their last ballads that really deserves that kind of cheering though.

A great single is one that you can list to independently of the album, and doesn’t sound like a bunch of miscellaneous bonus tracks.  This single is like that.  There’s no wasted space, no filler, and no tracks you can get on the albums.  The live stuff is high grade and the studio track is extremely valuable for its hard rocking nature.  This is more like an EP than a single, but it’s all semantics.  Let’s just call it:

4.5/5 stars

 

You say you don’t like my kind,
A bitter picture in your mind.
No, it don’t matter what I say,
I hear you bitchin’ when I walk away.
I’ll never be what you want me to be,
You tell me I’m wrong but I disagree,
I ain’t go no apology.
Just because I don’t look like you, talk like you, think like you,
Judge and jury, a hangman’s noose,
I see them in your eyes.
Good guys don’t always wear white.

 

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “Real Life” (1999 CD singles)

Forget Valentine’s Day…except when it’s good for traffic!  Back in my single days I used to call it “Bon Jovi Day” and listen to nothing but Jon & Richie.  Here’s some Bon Jovi for you!

BON JOVI – “Real Life” (1999 Reprise & promo CD singles)

There was an unprecedented five year interregnum between These Days and Crush.  This pause allowed Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora to get some solo albums out of their systems before the band re-convened.  In the buildup to the new album, Bon Jovi contributed a new single called “Real Life” to the movie EdTV.  Remember EdTV?  There were two movies out at the same time about a guy who had his whole life broadcast on television 24/7.  One, The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey, was a huge hit.  The other, Ron Howard’s EdTV starring Matthew McConaughey, was the also-ran.  EdTV might have been more interesting, but bombed.  This rendered the Bon Jovi single relatively obscure.  It’s not the first time a Bon Jovi movie track misfired.  Remember “Good Guys Don’t Always Wear White”?

“Real Life” was a decent tune, but it was a ballad at a time when Bon Jovi already had plenty.  There’s little to draw your attention, aside from Richie Sambora’s always alluring guitar and vocals.  The watery guitar tone is not far removed from These Days, but that album boasted the kind of ballads you’d never forget.  Songs like “Something to Believe In”, “These Days”, and “(It’s Hard) Letting You Go” are the kind of songs you carry your whole life.  “Real Life” is not.  In the wake of These Days, it was just another ballad.

Who is “Desmond Childs“?

This commercial single has two versions of “Real Life”, but there are actually four versions out there!  For the “album version”, if you don’t want the EdTV soundtrack, look for a promo single instead.  The differences between the album version and the radio mix are slight, but the album version has more guitar where the single mix has more piano.  The third version is an instrumental mix, which is nice if you want to listen to Richie’s guitar a little more.  The fourth and final version is an alternate mix that can be found on the box set 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong.

Finally, a live recording of “Keep the Faith” rounds out the single.  It seems to be a standby live B-side for this band.    They used another version on the 2013 single for “Because We Can“.  It’s certainly one of their most accomplished songs.  The bass groove and Tico’s busy drum patterns keep your feet moving.  It’s noncommercial and it strives to be something bigger.  It might be, in a technical sense, Bon Jovi’s most unapologetic and best hit.

Interestingly enough, “Real Life” is the only Bon Jovi video without David Bryan who was away on an injury.  I don’t think he missed out on much.

2.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Corrosion of Conformity – “Seven Days” (1995 promo single)

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY – “Seven Days” (1995 Sony promo CD single)

COC’s landmark album Deliverance spawned three singles, the least known of which was “Seven Days”.  The promo CD single contains a rarity that makes it worth tracking down.  It’s not expensive, and thanks to online stores not hard to find.

Deliverance is a heavy album even with a few slower songs on board.  “Seven Days” is one such track.  A slow, heavy dirge can often make for a good single.  This CD has two versions, the full-length album cut and a shorter single edit with a truncated fade-out.

The special track here is a “jam box tape” of “Fuel”, a track that was as yet unreleased.  COC recorded it properly for their next album, Wiseblood.  This early version is an identical arrangement, but way way more ragged.  Pepper sounds like James Hetfield on this one, but it has far more balls than the Metallica song of the same name.  Total smokeshow.  This is the proverbial “song you buy the single for.”

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Sven Gali – In My Garden (1992 Promo cassette)

SVEN GALI – In My Garden (1992 BMG promo cassette)

One of the great perks to a M.E.A.T Magazine subscription was getting free promo tapes in the mail.  One of the bands that M.E.A.T had been hyping was Sven Gali, who had a major label debut on deck with BMG for release.  We were all curious what Sven Gali sounded like…and then this promo tape arrived, previewing three of the tracks!

The lead singer can make or break a band, and Sven Gali had Dave Wanless.  Mr. Wanless had the power reminiscent of another successful Canadian, a certain Sebastian Something who was out there ruling the concert stages.  Wanless also had the right look, and of course a pretty good band!  From the ranks of Billy Idol came veteran drummer Gregg Gerson, joining with Dee Cernile (guitars, R.I.P.), Andy Frank (guitars), and “T.T.” (bass).  They could rock.  They had soloists arguably more interesting than the guys in Skid Row.  And, as evident in this tape, they could write hooks.

“Freakz” wasn’t the lead single, but it could have been.  Rebellious rock attitude, tires smoking down a dark alley, guns blazing…and just a pinch of funk.  “When you gonna learn, baybay!” screams Dave Wanless, and just know he’s got at least one fist raised when he’s singing it.

Up second is a track that did become a single, the dark ballad “In My Garden” (an edit version).  This world-class ballad has all the right ingredients including chorus hooks, a place to shout along, and perfect guitars.  In the early 1990s, if grunge had not derailed the rock n’ roll train, bands like Sven Gali (more aggressive than the 80s groups but not abandoning solos and choruses, and with an ear for musicianship) would have been the next wave.

The last track on the tape is the borderline thrash of “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”, ironic in hindsight since Sven Gali only managed two albums before being submerged by the flotsam of the mid 90s rock scene.  Skid Row comparisons are easy to make (in a positive way), but there’s one major difference between Skid Row and Sven Gali.  That is Sven Gali still have their original singer where Skid Row do not.  (They have a new track out called “You Won’t Break Me” to be followed by a CD in 2020.)  They might not have exceeded the fame of Skid Row, but they might just end up having more material with their original singer….

This cassette whet the appetite for the eventual album, which maybe suffered from too much material, but on tape these songs sound ace!

4/5 stars

Check out the credits.  Photos by famed photographer Floria Sigismondi, who took just about every memorable photo of every 90s band you can think of.  Today she’s a movie director!  She’s the reason this tape looks so cool.

REVIEW: Play It! ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation – Various Artists (1997)

Play It! Volume Seven – ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation (1997 EMI promo)

“Woah!  I own ‘Song 2’.  How about that.”

That was my first reaction upon revisiting this old promo CD from the Record Store days.  I really didn’t know that I had that song, and I’m sort of glad that I do.  This was a freebie, and not a bad one as it had some rarities on it.  In fact there’s only one artist on this disc I’d flat-out skip.  Let’s dive on in.

The first track is a rarity:  an unadvertized single edit of “Temptation” by the Tea Party.  “Temptation”, crossing the new sample-driven sounds of the late 90s with classic exotic Zeppelin, was huge.  The single edit snips off the extended intro.  Industrial rock band Econoline Crush is up second, who also had a big album (The Devil You Know) at the time.  “Home” was a memorable fast-paced single, but their big single “All That You Are”  is also included as track #14.  Far more mainstream, “All That You Are” was omnipresent in 1997.  It’s still a little too over-familiar to be enjoyable.

Skip Meredith Brooks.  I’ll be happy if I never hear the novelty song “Bitch” ever again.  Brooks has a second track on this CD, “I Need”, which suffers due to the spoken word verses.  No thanks.  Skip ’em both.  “I Need” reminds me of what I hated about 90s music.

Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench” and “Everlong” were two of the greatest singles of 1997.  Fast paced, drums-a-blazing, and perfectly rifftastic.  In ’97 Grohl could do no wrong.  He released one of the few perfect albums of the year.  ’97 was Peak Foo — prove me wrong.  Flawless songs, still not taxing on the ears.  Probably never will be.

Queensryche had a new album in 1997, the ill-fated Hear in the Now Frontier.  “You” wasn’t one of the most notable songs, and here on this mainstream compilation, doesn’t fare well.  I don’t think EMI knew what to do with Queensryche, so hey let’s pick a song with 90’s intonations and throw it on this store play disc.  A second Tea Party song, “Transmission”, is its full unedited length, combining the same ingredients as “Temptation” but at lower velocity.  “Song 2” follows that, I song I’m admittedly not bored with at all.  A second Blur track later down the line, “M.O.B.” boats a cool riff and pop sensibilities.

I Mother Earth were riding a wave with their second album Scenery and Fish.  I’m not a fan of that disc and I can usually do without “Used to Be Alright”.  Fortunately Megadeth bring some metal to the proceedings.  From the underrated Cryptic Writings comes “Almost Honest”, a hard rocking single with nary a glimmer of thrash.  Great song from a period when Megadeth were quite adept at writing mainstream metal.

Rarities ahoy!  Moist’s “Tangerine” is remixed here, a mix that is far more industrial than the album, but that’s why remixes go on weird compilations I suppose.  Always fascinating, Glueleg are up next with “Dragonfly”, one of their catchiest numbers, still maintaining their weird genre-bending tendencies.

Alice Cooper steps in with a live version of “School’s Out”.  This being 1997, that automatically means it’s the one from A Fistful of Alice.  It’s a little strange hearing “School’s Out” on a compilation of all-new material, but I suppose EMI didn’t have confidence that a new Alice song (“Is Anyone Home?”) would attract new buyers.  But they were more likely to hear Radiohead’s “Let Down” and buy OK Computer instead.  It’s a stunning ballad that might have been unfamiliar to those who hadn’t bought the album yet — the exact people this CD was aimed at!  The CD closes on the slide-inflected “Faded” by Ben Harper.  It’s choked by unnecessarily grungy production.

Record companies rarely sent us free CDs, because we were a used CD store and they assumed we’d sell ’em.  What they didn’t realize was that it was usually guys like the asshole at CD Plus that would be selling their free CDs.  We’d try to be educated about what we bought, and avoid the promos like this one.  If a customer left it behind for us to take for free, it was up for grabs.  As a store-play disc, this would have been pretty good, assuming we had all those albums in stock to sell.

2.5/5 stars

 

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

REVIEW: I Mother Earth – No One (1993 promo cassette)

“No one leaves the caravan.” – IME

I MOTHER EARTH – No One (1993 EMI promo cassette)

M.E.A.T Magazine was such an awesome resource for Canadians.  Their exclusive metal content really was second to none.  M.E.A.T was on top of virtually every new Canadian band on the scene.  Thanks to them, we knew all about I Mother Earth well before they were signed to EMI.

Then one day in early ’93, M.E.A.T arrived in the mailbox slightly thicker than usual.  Inside the envelope was a free cassette tape, a promo provided by EMI.  Time to see what this I Mother Earth band sounded like.  Would they live up to the hype that M.E.A.T was creating?

The full length album Dig was not released until later that summer.  Even the music video for “Rain Will Fall” hadn’t come out yet.  This EP, titled No One, was all brand new to me.  It received a lot of play.  Out walking with the Walkman, in the car, at home or at the lake:  I Mother Earth swiftly consumed me.  I felt pretty cool hearing all this music before the masses did.  They were gonna love I Mother Earth.

The cassette (repeated both sides) wisely opened with the chiming guitars of “The Mothers”.  Softer and more psychedelic than I expected.

“Listen…to the Mothers…” sings Edwin.  The track meanders on a little bit, not quite a full song but also more than just an intro.  “A surreal sound of eight-legged groove, a serving of today’s psycadellicasy.”  The clever words were written by drummer Christian Tanna, although I certainly couldn’t make them out on my own.

After a long 10 second gap, the uberfunk of “Basketball” crushes the speakers.  It’s almost too fast, but surely demonstrated that these Torontonians could play.  It’s more than just rock music.  The exotic percussion coupled with the tribal-sounding drums really took it all to another level, whether they were playing funky or psychedelic.  There’s always room for exotic percussion.

I called “No One” the centrepiece of the album, and so it is also the highlight of this tape.  Rather than hyperspeed funk, this one is built around guitar riffs.  There are two riffs in particular on this song that just steamroll.  When joined with the full-on groove of I Mother Earth, the riffs dominate your brain.  Then it gets quiet as Edwin chants “No one leaves the caravan…”, and this serves as a reset before the song comes back full strength for the kill.  Listening today, it seems almost impossible for a band to have a song this advanced on their first album.  It’s seven minutes of riff, percussion and melody yet there’s no fat to trim out.  You’d expect something like this on a third album, not a debut.

Interestingly, none of the songs on this EP were singles.  Dig ended up producing four singles.  Consider the strength of this promo tape, and you can extrapolate that Dig is probably a really strong album.  You would be correct.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – “Diamonds in the Rough” / Demos and Other Stuff….. (1989)

BLUE RODEO – “Diamonds in the Rough” / Demos and Other Stuff….. (1989 Atlantic promo EP)

Here’s the funny thing about “Holy Grail” records.  Most of the time, you don’t even know they exist until you find one!

Blue Rodeo is one of those bands for whom I collect “everything”.  Their box set filled a lot of gaps, but I am still missing a few things.  To the Discogs!

I was searching for one of the Blue Rodeo Live in Stratford albums.  There are two; I only have one, and it’s excellent.  While searching for that live album, I found this promo EP instead, at a good price and in great condition.  Upon reading the tracklist, it contained four Blue Rodeo tracks I didn’t have and didn’t know existed!

1989’s Diamond Mine is still considered one of the band’s greatest albums today, if not #1.  The “God and Country” demo that leads off Diamonds in the Rough is an acoustic rendering of one of its best songs.   “How Long” is a fully arranged demo, sounding live off the floor.  Since this record was cut for radio stations to play, it’s quite possible that you heard these versions at some point in early 1989.  I hadn’t, and neither is included in the box set.  Of course they don’t have the production value of the full album, but that’s part of the appeal of collecting rarities like this.

Side one closes with a live version of “Outskirts”, also not on any Blue Rodeo album.  However this version of “Outskirts” is from another “Holy Grail” promo, The Live CFNY Concert.  That record is a double and still out my reach, so this energetic live cut will have to do for now.  (I mean, I could buy it right now…but the copy in the condition I want is almost $100.)

Side two has the single edit of their big hit “Diamond Mine”.  The album cut is 8:18, full of psychedelic organ solos and Doors-like jamming.  A shorter single edit of this song is always handy, and you can’t get it on their Greatest Hits CD. It’s similar if not identical to the music video version.

As if all of the above wasn’t enough to make this promo a worthy “Holy Grail” item, there are two unreleased demos for songs that never made it onto the Diamond Mine album!  “Galveston” is a cover of the Jimmy Webb song made famous by Glen Campbell.  Blue Rodeo’s version is manically fast, with Jim Cuddy’s sweet voice maintaining what made the song special.  Finally it’s “Jig”, an acoustic instrumental with Bobby Wiseman on concertina. This is little more than an idea of a song rather than something fully written.  Regardless, these two unreleased goodies go to prove what a band of musicians Blue Rodeo is, particularly Wiseman and bassist Bazil Donovan, possibly the country’s greatest bass player on this side of Geddy Lee.

If this record only had “Galveston” as its sole rarity, it would be still be a Holy Grail item.  As it turns out, none of these tracks can be found on a Blue Rodeo CD today, so it really justifies its own purchase!

5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Queensryche – Speaking in Digital: A Conversation with Queensryche (1986 promo)

QUEENSRŸCHE – Speaking in Digital: A Conversation with Queensryche (1986 EMI America promo interview LP)

Here’s a nice little rarity for you, a full-length Queensryche interview disc from the Rage For Order era.  Promos are a funny thing for reviewing (and this is our second Queensryche promo review).  These records were never made for sale, therefore nobody reviews them.  Nobody…but us.  Is there any rock knowledge or collector’s value to be gleaned from this disc?  Let us find out.

It’s an attractive record, Geoff Tate’s digitally distorted face in black & white.  No Try-Ryche, but a neat digital Queensryche logo.  The interview is conducted by radio DJ Ralph Tortoro.  A very low-key Geoff Tate begins by answering general questions about the beginning of the band and their independent EP.  Chris DeGarmo is a bit more engaged and adds the details.  Shy Michael Wilton speaks up only on occasion.

You’ll also get bits and pieces of music:  Snippets of “Queen of the Reich”, “Warning”, and “Gonna Get Close to You”.  There are four full songs too:  a massive “Screaming in Digital” (so hot on vinyl!), “I Dream in Infrared”, “Chemical Youth” and “The Whisper”.

Interesting things I noted while listening:

  1. They hadn’t settled on the name Queensryche for the band until they had to print up the first EP, forced to make a decision.
  2. Maiden was one of their favourite bands to cover according to Chris.
  3. Tate clearly didn’t like being called “metal” even back in 1986.
  4. “NM 156” from The Warning is hailed as the track that showed the way of the future of Queensryche.
  5. Steve Harris loved The Warning and asked for Queensryche to open for Iron Maiden.
  6. Rage for Order is a “loose concept” album, examining order over three levels:  order in relationships, political order, and technological order.
  7. Other questions remain unasked.

The new digitally enhanced Queensryche of 1986 was destined to confuse people in the short term, gradually winning over fans as time went on and people “got” the album.  If you want to deepen your understanding of its themes, this record will help.  There’s more too; we won’t tell you everything.  As a fan, you should be able to decide if Speaking in Digital is the kind of thing you want in your rock and roll reference library.  The young, shy Queensryche interviewed on this LP are as cold as the machines that are striving for order in the lyrics.  It’s a dry but interesting listen.

3/5 stars