queen

REVIEW: Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody – The Original Soundtrack (2018)

QUEEN – Bohemian Rhapsody – The Original Soundtrack (2018 Hollywood Records)

“Best Queen greatest hits yet,” said a trusted fellow Rock Connoisseur.  “Nahh”, I thought, remembering the red and blue CDs I grew old with.  But his theory might just hold water.  For fans new and old, listening to the Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack from start to finish is very satisfying.

The movie’s getting torn to shreds by the critics.  Don’t let that scare you away from the album.  Worth the price of admission for die hard fans is the new Queen version of the “20th Century Fox Fanfare”.  Who needs an orchestra when you have a Brian May?  Then it’s “Somebody to Love”, which you can imagine playing over the opening credits, can’t you?

“Doing All Right…revisited” is a pre-Freddie version of the Queen song, by the pre-Freddie version of the band, called Smile.  This is a first for collectors, and is hopefully a taste of more Smile music to come.  Moving on chronologically, it’s the scorching classic “Keep Yourself Alive” from the legendary Live at the Rainbow ’74.  Because Queen was one of the greatest live bands of all time, having live tracks mixed in with hits won’t phase the old fans.  Folks out there who hate live versions (yes they exist) will whine that the originals aren’t included.  That’s OK because sometimes Queen live was actually as good or better than Queen in the studio.  “Keep Yourself Alive” is one such track.

One can’t fault the song selection.  “Killer Queen”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Under Pressure”, “Another One Bites the Dust” and “We Will Rock You (in a movie remix) represent the radio perennials.   Other favourite Queen songs are present in a mini-set from Live Aid.  It’s not the whole set, unfortunately, but a large slice:  “Bohemian Rhapsody” (also present earlier on the CD in its studio version), “Radio Ga-Ga” “Hammer to Fall” and “We Are the Champions” are stellar performances from an historic concert.  No one is poorer for having these.

You may question your need to own a remix of “Don’t Stop Me Now” with too much guitar, or a live “Now I’m Here” from the Night at the Odeon album.  Well, you’d do it to get “Fat Bottomed Girls”, which was chopped from the Live Killers album, or “Love of My Life” from Rock In Rio in front of 500,000 people.  It’s a trade-off with you as the winner.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Queen – Hot Space (2011 bonus tracks)

QUEEN – Hot Space (Originally 1982, 2011 Hollywood 2 CD set)

Once upon a time, a band called Queen put a note in the credits of their first album: “And nobody played synthesizer”.

By 1982’s Hot Space, this credo was long gone.  In its place, a slick new sounding Queen that did not resonate with Americans the same way old Queen did.  Hot Space still bore a fair share of hits, though very different sounding ones from the olden days.

“Staying Power” opens the album with blasts of horns and funky synths.  On tracks like this, without any bass guitar, John Deacon played rhythm.  “Staying Power” represents the shape of Queen to come.  It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1989’s The Miracle.  The horns give it the needed punch.  Then Brian May’s “Dancer” slinks over, a disco rock tune with some (just some) trademark layers of Queen guitars.

If you feel like gettin’ down on the dancefloor, then “Back Chat” is the song for you.  It’s in the same vein as disco Kiss, but with the kind of funky authenticity that Queen can bring to the party.  “Back Chat” is the album’s first completely memorable song, provided by John Deacon.  Fortunately it has real bass, to keep that groove dirty.  As a single, it didn’t perform as well as “Body Language ↑⬱”, though it’s a superior song.  “Body Language ↑⬱” is all synth with no meat.

Roger Taylor’s funk rocker “Action This Day” boasts a cool sax solo, but the synth drums are lifeless.  It’s much better live (find this version on CD 2) with real instruments.  Brian May’s “Put Out the Fire” is a welcome return to traditional Queen instrumentation.  “Put Out the Fire” is the only song that sounds like “classic” Queen.  If you heard it for the first time, you sure wouldn’t assume it was from Hot Space.  It’s what you would call a “stock” Queen rocker.  No embellishment, no quarter.

Going topical, Freddie tackled the difficult subject of the recently murdered John Lennon.  “Life is Real (Song for Lennon)” is composed like a John song, with piano being the main musical support.  May’s solo is one of his most tender and warm, but the song is not their most memorable.  Taylor’s “Calling All Girls” is far catchier, and would probably be considered a classic if it were better known.

Brian’s ballad “Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love)” received worldwide attention at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992, performed with Zucchero Fornaciari. In this case, the synths work with the song and not against it. They create a dreamy landscape, perfect for Freddie’s plaintive singing. This fantastic ballad is up there with the more famous Queen classics.

“Cool Cat” was recorded as a duet with David Bowie, who was unsatisfied. Although the Bowie mix made it to a test pressing, it was removed from the album and has yet to see a re-release. A dusky, slinky tune like “Cool Cat” would sound neat with Bowie aboard. David’s there for “Under Pressure” (obviously), which doesn’t need discussing because everybody knows that song. Or should. Immediately. It is rock magic, born of a jam between the five musicians. When magic happens, it can create songs as perfect as “Under Pressure”.

Hot Space is a bit wobbly, but the bonus disc evens things out a bit.  A soul ballad B-side called “Soul Brother” might have worked better on the album than some of the songs that made it.  The single remix of “Back Chat” gives us a chance to revisit the album’s most addictive song.  Check out the fast, very dexterous live version of “Staying Power”.  It is pretty impressive even if it’s not one of Queen’s greatest songs.  The performance on the live take is a lesson by the masters on playing live, so listen up.  Similarly, live versions of “Action This Day” and “Calling All Girls” get an injection of life on the stage.

Hot Space shouldn’t be too high on anyone’s Queen want lists, but it shouldn’t be ignored either.  Check out the 2 CD version for the worthwhile additions.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queen – On Air (6 CD box set)

QUEEN – On Air – The Radio Collection (2016 BBC 6 CD box set)

Go big or go home.  Why buy the 2 CD version of Queen On Air when you can go for the 6 CD smorgasbord?  If you love Queen, it is the only way to do it.  Having said that, if you only “like” Queen and wouldn’t give your own blood to buy a box set, then the simple 2 disc standard edition will probably suffice.  The first two discs in this set are the same as the standard edition.  Everything else is a bonus.

The contents of the first two discs are The Complete BBC Sessions, 24 songs in total plus some disc jockey chit chat.  Because these tracks come from multiple BBC appearances, some songs are played more than once, such as “Keep Yourself Alive”, “Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the epic “Liar”.  Most of the recordings are from the very early 70s — 1973 and 1974.  Queen were a rough and ready beast back then, but these versions are really not too far off from the original album tracks.  Because it’s the BBC, the recordings and fidelity are excellent.  This is a treasure trove of early Queen, all the best tracks, captured perfectly.  Any fan of the first three Queen albums will be more than satisfied with these discs.  Then, there’s a gap.  After the Sheer Heart Attack (1974) era, there is nothing until 1977’s News of the World.  That album is represented by four of the best tracks:  the fast and guitar-heavy version of “We Will Rock You”, plus “It’s Late”, “My Melancholy Blues”, and “Spread Your Wings”.

According to the liner notes, even though they were a new band, Queen were afforded unusual leeway at the BBC.  Everyone knew they were talented and capable, and so when Freddie Mercury demanded very high standards and everything just so, he was accommodated.  The pay off is that these recordings are stunningly good, and rival the official album versions for quality.  Apparently the BBC sessions were heavily bootlegged, and you will understand why.

Disc 3 contains portions of three concerts.  Shame it’s not the full shows.  I’m sure those will come one day.  In the meantime, enjoy this CD.  You will hear highlights from concerts in 1973, 1981 and 1986, again recorded by the BBC.  This makes for a diverse listen, including guitar solos and covers.  The 1981 recording from Sao Paulo, Brazil is the weakest in terms of sound, but still perfectly listenable.  The 1986 material from Germany is fabulous.  Freddie dropped an “F” bomb in “Under Pressure” as he was being recorded for radio!

This might be where most listeners have to check out.  The final three CDs are interviews with all four members of Queen — 210 minutes of interviews.  Did you know Freddie Mercury could speak Japanese?  Full concerts would be better than interviews, but here they are.  Also among the interviews is a chat with producer Roy Thomas Baker.  The interviews range from 1976 to 1992 and the tribute concert.  Queen never reveal too much, but the timeline of interviews provides a lot of detail surrounding Queen’s most celebrated albums.

The problem with the interviews isn’t so much the quality, but a matter of “when am I going to listen to all this” and “how often”.  The music is the meat of it.  This box set can be found affordably, so be aware of what’s inside and don’t pay too much.

3.5/5 stars

 

#645: Catching Up

GETTING MORE TALE #645: Catching Up

The last couple months were pretty crazy.  I was clocked out.  My wife’s cancer diagnosis and surgery really took their toll on me.  This resulted in me getting very sick right during Christmas holidays.  There has been so much chaos that I really haven’t paid attention to music.  I neglected my reading, I didn’t buy anything, and I didn’t listen to much either.  I’m just starting to get caught up now that Jen’s surgery seems to have gone so well.  She’s getting a little more independence back, and I’m able to take a little time to listen to music and write about it again.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my history with the band Queen.  I am on a Queen kick, but until recently I was missing two of Queen’s discs in the 2 CD format:  Hot Space and A Kind of Magic.  Eager to get back into the game, I ordered both from Amazon on a whim.  I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying Hot Space.  You wouldn’t think those synths and I would get along, but I’m digging the soul!  I already owned one version of A Kind of Magic, the 1991 Hollywood CD, but the extra disc has seven bonus tracks.

Soon after, the new CD by Mike Slayen called DUDE came by the post.  That enjoyed a couple spins, but I really wanted to go shopping again.  I haven’t been to a record store since the stress kicked in.  I had no idea what I was going in for, but I wanted to leave with a purchase.  There have been plenty of new releases that I missed, and reissues too.  The problem with new releases is, I don’t like to buy anything until I know what is on the Japanese version.  I want the maximum amount of bonus music.  So I decided to look at reissues instead and skip new releases.  Fortunately for me there was plenty going on in reissues.

Big Wreck’s 20th Anniversary edition of their debut In Loving Memory Of… was my first grab.  I didn’t think it was going to have bonus tracks on it, but it does:  “Ill Advice” and “Still Holding”.  I used to love that album, and I don’t know those two songs, so that was an easy buy.  For those who don’t know this band, check out the big single “That Song”.  Other hits you may know from this album are “The Oaf (My Luck is Wasted)” and “Under the Lighthouse”.

I then spied the recent 40th Anniversary edition of Rush’s classic A Farewell to Kings.  The 3 CD set was $30, so I tucked it under my arm.  Then I thought to myself, “You know what, I’d better check to make sure there isn’t another edition with more songs.”  Good thing I did.  Blabbermouth told me that there was a version with a brand new 5.1 surround mix by Steven Wilson on a blu-ray.  OK, then.  That had to be the one I get.  Via the Sectors box sets and other super deluxe editions, I already had every other Rush 5.1 mix.

How much?

$149.99.

Ahh, fuck it.  I earned this.

3 CDs, 1 blu-ray, and 4 LPs of vinyl, plus assorted goodies like a Rush turntable mat, a tour program and lithographs.  The CDs and vinyl include an unreleased (in full) concert, Live at Hammersmith Odeon – February 20, 1978.  A portion of this concert (11 tracks) was released in 1998 on a bonus CD to Rush’s live Different Stages.  This box set has the full 14 song (plus drum solo) performance, newly mixed by Terry Brown himself.  On blu-ray you will find the 5.1 and the stereo mix of the album A Farewell to Kings, in studio-quality clarity, plus three music videos.  Mixer Steven Wilson is generally considered one of the great masters of the 5.1 art.  The Sector 2 mix by Richard Chycki received a mixed to negative reception from fans, so I look forward to comparing.

And there’s still more:  new Rush covers by Dream Theater, Big Wreck (hey, Big Wreck again!), The Trews and Alain Johannes.  Plus a final mystery bonus track called “Cygnus X-2 Eh!”

It’s going to be fun digging into the Rush over  the next week or so.  But I wasn’t done catching up.  Because of all the shit that happened, I didn’t get to see Star Wars in the theatres.  Yes, I’m sorry folks, I’ll admit it:  Until now I only saw The Last Jedi online.  This, of course, could not stand.  I must see every Star Wars Saga film in the theatre three times, minimum.  For The Force Awakens, it was four.  Fortunately the Waterloo Galaxy still had a 3D screening, which has disappeared elsewhere in town.  Now I just have to see it two more times (2D will do fine).

I still have quite a few issues with The Last Jedi.  The slow motion is annoying as hell, and the Finn/Rose side story is still just a side story.  The ending is still at odds with set style of the saga Saga, and the movie could have used some editing.  In general I enjoyed the film more this time.  The Last Jedi is more poem than plot, but it has many rhymes.  I think it’s a fine Star Wars movie, and the fanboy overreaction is ridiculous.

Catching up feels great.  Music and movies still work as the best kind of escape.  I highly recommend both.

 

 

 

#633: Don’t Take Offence At My Innuendo

GETTING MORE TALE #633: Don’t Take Offence At My Innuendo

I didn’t understand Queen until it was almost too late.  When I was a highschool hair metal brat, Queen were “too pop” for my tastes.  Much of their music seemed to be novelty songs to me.  Highschool pep rally music:  “We Will Rock You”, “We are the Champions”.   In the late 80s, North America had all but given up on Queen.  My exposure to them was minimal until 1991.

MuchMusic began playing a new Queen video called “Innuendo”.  The animated short was intense with firey guitar histronics (courtesy of Steve Howe from Yes) and an exotic Zeppelin edge.  Having just got into Zeppelin big time, this was very appealing.  At school, old pal Scott Peddle concurred.  “That new Queen is quite the Zeppelin tune,” and I agreed.  As far as I was concerned, any band that could homage Zep’s “Kashmir” with their own unique slant, well, I had to check them out!

M.E.A.T Magazine had a new interview with Brian May that year, and so my learning began.  It was the first I heard of Freddie’s rumoured health problems.  Queen hadn’t toured since 1986 and this raised questions.  Little did I know, but the British tabloids were all over Freddie with candid photos and near-death pronouncements.  Brian denied the health concerns, but admitted that it was Freddie who didn’t want to tour.  This was because as singer, he couldn’t smoke, drink and party with the rest of the band.  He had to take care of his voice.  So went the interview.  Brian assured readers that Queen would continue, as they were already half-way through the next Queen album, eventually released in 1995 as Made  in Heaven.

The next chapter in my learning came during the summer.  In guitar magazine interview, Brian May ran through all the Queen albums one by one.  I drank in every word, as I got a rough outline of what this band was all about.  Diversity, mostly, and I liked that.  Zeppelin too was diverse, but I sensed that Queen took it to another level.  I made plans to begin collecting Queen.

After highschool, I managed to stay in touch with a guy named Andy.  Andy had an older brother with an extensive record collection.  Andy told me all about this song called “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  He was over one night when my mom came downstairs to tell us some bad news.  It was the 23rd of November, 1991.  Freddie Mercury had made a statement.

“Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease. My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue.”

There was such a stigma surrounding AIDS then, more so than today.  It is easy to be critical of Freddie’s decision to keep his illness secret.  Unless you were there in 1991, then you really can’t know how difficult it was for AIDS sufferers at the time.

Andy and I were shellshocked.  The rumours were true.  The denials were false.  Brian later admitted that he knew early on that Freddie was sick.  Still, Andy and I had no idea how serious it was.  We talked, we listened to Queen.  Freddie died the very next day (the same day as Eric Carr of Kiss).  I had hardly got to know him.

My mom was headed to the mall and she asked if I wanted anything.  “Yes,” I answered.  “The first Queen album please.”  She returned that afternoon with Queen, 1973.  It was my first Queen.  I intended to collect them in order.

Getting all the albums in original order went sideways shortly after.  Less than three months after Freddie’s passing, came a worldwide phenomenon:  Wayne’s World.

Overnight, Queen were everywhere again.  Everyone knew every word to “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  The few months’ head start that I had were meaningless.  Two weeks later, Hollywood Records released Classic Queen in North America.  This was essentially a revised Greatest Hits II from 1991, (which they didn’t even bother to release here) with older hits thrown in.  Later that year came a new version of Greatest Hits, with the track listing revamped to avoid overlap with Classic Queen.  Confusing?  Indeed, it must have been to old fans who already had the old Greatest Hits with the original cover art.  That immediately became a collectable.  To new guys like me, I was just trying to keep up.

Hollywood Records reissued all the old Queen albums as part of their 20 Years of Queen series.  There were bonus tracks.  I had begun my Queen collection on cassette, but I was irked to discovery that some of the CD editions had bonus tracks that were not on the cassettes.  And so, I already had to re-buy.  Interestingly, some of those old 1991 bonus tracks are remixes that are now out of print and not available on the newer Queen reissues.

It was a blessing that I stopped buying them in chronological order.  After all, I didn’t want to wait that long to get Innuendo, an album with more than the average amount of heavy Queen rock.  Next, I got News of the World.  Its bonus tracks was a pretty awful remix of “We Will Rock You” by Rick Rubin and featuring Flea.  Fortunately the album itself was much better.  Queen’s best?  Quite possibly, due to “It’s Late”, a Queen epic as regal as any.  The 6:27 Brian May workout is a clear highlight on an album of nothing but.  “It’s Late” sunk its hooks in me deep.

As it was difficult for Hollywood Records to to extract new releases from a defunct band, the reissues continued.  Queen At the Beeb was out of print, so it was re-released with new cover art as Queen at the BBC in 1995.  This collection of live oldies from Queen and Queen II were not what the hit-buying general public were interested in.  My copy was a cassette promo from the Record Store, intended for store play.  The boss never played it so I claimed it.

Working at the Record Store, I was able to fill in most of the blanks in my collection.  A nice find was a version of The Miracle with 14 tracks instead of the more common 13.  I still have that.  (The additional track was the 12″ remix of “Scandal”.)  It was ol’ buddy T-Rev who made sure I knew these things.

As the years passed, Queen releases became less important.  The long-awaited final album Made in Heaven became a shelf warmer at Christmas 1995.  Regardless of its deep emotional contents, people didn’t want to know.  The unfortunate effect of Queen’s sudden comeback in North America is that people lost interest a few years after they gained it.

Not me.  Made in Heaven became a dark favourite.  Two years later, Queen indicated they weren’t done yet.  The trio of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon regrouped for one last song:  the ballad “No-One But You (Only the Good Die Young)”.  It was a tribute to Freddie and Princess Diana, and released on a new compilation called Queen Rocks.

John Deacon retired, but then something strange happened.  The duo of Brian May and Roger Taylor reconvened as “Queen +”.  This moniker was used for a number of remixes on Greatest Hits III: Queen + Wyclef Jean, for example.  There was Five + Queen doing a new boy band version of “We Will Rock You”.  Queen + Paul Rodgers did an album (The Cosmos Rocks) and a number of tours.  But it wasn’t until a former American Idol TV contestant named Adam Lambert came on board that Queen regained mass public awareness.  Now, Queen + Adam Lambert are a hot touring commodity.

That might have to be enough.  Because nobody bought The Cosmos Rocks, Queen + Adam Lambert are unlikely at this time to record new music.  Instead they will be tearing up stages Down Under in 2018.  They promise all the favourites, and a few unexpected oldies.  Lambert is a versatile singer who can do it all, so Australia and New Zealand are now on alert:  Queen + Adam Lambert are coming and are promising a hell of a show.

  • Auckland – 17 & 18 February
  • Sydney – 21 & 22 February
  • Brisbane – 24 February
  • Adelaide (first Queen shows since 1984) – 27 & 28 February
  • Melbourne – 2 & 3 March
  • Perth – 6 March

 

REVIEW: Queen – Flash Gordon (with 1991 and 2011 bonus tracks)

Flash Gordon – Original Soundtrack Music by QUEEN (Originally 1980, 1991 and 2011 Hollywood CDs)

When mom and dad rented the movie Flash Gordon, we sat and watched it as a family.  “It’s terrible,” a family friend told us.  There were only so many movies available to rent at the local store (Steve’s TV), just one small wall of VHS and Betamax.  Flash Gordon came home with us one weekend, and because we tried to make the most of our movie rentals (including the VCR, also a rental) we watched it twice.

I have not seen Flash Gordon since that childhood weekend.  It really was awful.  Maybe we hoped for more because Max Von Sydow was in it.  Neither Sydow, nor Brian Blessed, nor a young Timothy Dalton could save Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon, New York Jets

Queen also could not save the movie, though their soundtrack is certainly one of the best things to come of it.  (Another is the movie Ted, basically a love letter to the original Flash Gordon).   All four Queen members wrote music for the film, and recorded it as a band.  Brian May wrote the lion’s share of material, though Freddie Mercury was responsible for “Vultan’s Theme”, later ripped off for an Atari video game called Vanguard.  I wonder if Freddie ever saw a dime from that?  I knew Freddie’s song from the video game by heart, long before I ever heard the album by Queen!

The soundtrack gave us one Queen hit single, “Flash’s Theme” written by May.  The 2011 double CD has a single version, and a live cut from Montreal in ’81 (also on Queen Rock Montreal), as bonuses to the album track.  “Flash’s Theme” is sparse but catchy, featuring movie dialogue that makes it seem like the film should be much better.  Queen’s bombast was ideal for this.  When Roger Taylor sings the highest notes in the chorus, it’s sheer musical delight.

The album plays like a soundtrack, with lots of atmospheric keyboard instrumentals and movie dialogue.  Because of its ambient nature, you might not at first recognise some tracks as Queen.  Some is similar to the ambient work that closed their last album, Made in Heaven.  The music is far more grand than its onscreen imagery.

One of the most memorable instrumentals is “Football Fight”, a Mercury synth workout.  Perhaps sometimes we forget what a great keyboardist Mercury was, simply because he was such an amazing vocalist.  “Football Fight” is super fun, and you can also get it in a piano-based demo version on the 2011 CD.  Check out a Queen-tastic version of Wagner’s famous “Wedding March” performed by May on guitar.  Finally there is the rock track “The Hero”, a riffy song with full vocals by Freddie.  It reprises some prior themes from the soundtrack, such as “Vultan’s”.  Queen is augmented by an orchestra on “The Hero”, which is as grand as you would expect.  Like “Flash”, you can also get “The Hero” on disc two in live form, in Montreal 1981.

A long forgotten bonus track for this album was released on the 1991 Hollywood Records CD.  A remix by somebody called “Mista Lawnge” starts off well enough, with a grinding beat synched to May’s guitar.  It goes downhill when somebody starts rapping, “Flash, one time!  Flash, two times!”  Note to all remixers:  Never, ever add random rappers to rock songs.  Don’t.

Rest assured, no matter which version of Flash Gordon you pick up, there are some definite musts on the album.  Much of it will only appeal to fans of soundtracks.  If that sounds like you, take a ride with Flash to planet Mongo and get down with some Queen.  Skip the movie!

4/5 stars

BOOK REVIEW: The Show Must Go On – The Life of Freddie Mercury by Rick Sky (1992)

Old review from the archives (revised).  This book has long been ejected from the collection.

RICK SKY – The Show Must Go On – The Life of Freddie Mercury (1992 Fontana)

This book is shallow to the extreme. If you ever wanted to know how much money Freddie Mercury spent on lavish parties, then this is for you. If you want to learn anything at all about Queen and their music, you will have to look elsewhere.

While the book dwells far to long on Freddie’s fabulous friends and fantastic parties, I did find the closing chapters regarding his death very sad and heartfelt. It puts you in the moment. There were also some interesting bits about his childhood and youth. Not enough to redeem this book, which just isn’t up to snuff for any fan, serious or casual.

1/5 stars

REVIEW: Queen – The Game (1980, all bonus tracks)

QUEEN – The Game (Originally 1980, 1991 & 2011 Hollywood recorded reissues)

When Queen released their devastating debut album Queen in 1973, the liner notes proudly stated “And nobody played synthesizer”.  A mere seven years later, Queen introduced the electronic instrument to their sound on 1980’s The Game. This did not in any way hinder the album from becoming a massive success, nor weaken the Queen sound.  The synth was just another colour in the Queen pallette.  It would be fair to argue that The Game contains no clunkers, no songs that should have been discarded.

All you have to do is fall in love.  Everybody play The Game.

The Game eventually spawned five brilliant singles:  “Play the Game”, “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Need Your Loving Tonight” and the grandiose “Save Me”.  Anybody who has some decent Queen “hits” albums should know at least four of those songs.  But that’s not all, of course.  Funky bass and sharp danceable beats make “Dragon Attack” one not to miss.  The production of Mack and bass of the incredible and underrated John Deacon really cut through.  Rock albums that sound as good as The Game do not come around often, and “Dragon Attack” must be considered a prime example of why The Game is tops.    On album, it’s followed by Queen’s best known funk jam “Another One Bites the Dust”.  Dancefloor overload, baby!

Speaking of John Deacon, not only did he write “Another One Bites the Dust”, but also “Need Your Loving Tonight” which is good and hard rock and roll.  It could have been a Paul Stanley track.  As far as “rock and roll” goes, “Crazy Little Thing Called Long” is definitive.  The walking bassline and black leather jacket vibe are perfect.

The Game‘s second side has the deep tracks.  “Rock It (Prime Jive)” combines the synths with a scorching Roger Taylor hard rocker.  This cut is well worth getting acquainted with.  You’ll want some “Prime Jive”!  Then there’s the track I vaguely remember hearing on a radio as a kid, “Don’t Try Suicide”.  Good advice, and a strange and snappy little bopper to singalong to.  “Don’t try suicide, you’re just going to hate it,” was the line I found strangely amusing as a child.  “Isn’t that obvious?” a nine or ten year old me wondered.

Then there’s a song I first became acquainted with via Guns N’ Roses.  Axl, an unabashed Queen fan, used to do a bit of “Sail Away Sweet Sister” on piano in concert.  In my mind, it doesn’t matter how you first heard a song, as long as you eventually hear it.  The Queen original is a somber ballad sung by Brian May and featuring stunningly beautiful guitar work.  Another winning combo that sounds a bit Kiss-like is the rhythmic “Coming Soon”.   Don’t be surprised that Taylor penned it.

That is a tight ten songs, half of which were singles.  A damn perfect album.  Of course today there are expanded experiences to choose from.

When this album was reissued in 1991 by Hollywood records for their Queen “Twenty-Year Reign” series, they added a remix of “Dragon Attack”, now deleted.  Adding unnecessary loops, samples and raps brings nothing to the song.  Only collectors need seek this out.   Instead, you should search for the 2011 double CD remastered edition.  This one adds five bonus tracks.  “Save Me” and “Dragon Attack” are live, and the liner notes state that “Save Me” from 1981 could be the “ultimate” rendition of that song.  (It certainly is impressive.)  Then there is a first take of “Sail Away Sweet Sister” before all the words were in place.  The most fascinating demo is a spontaneous recording of what would later become “It’s a Beautiful Day”, finished for 1995’s Made in Heaven, the final Queen album.  History buffs will be delighted to discover a B-side written by Roger Taylor called “A Human Body”.  This unusual song is about the doomed Scott expedition to the South Pole in 1912.

They were talking in whispers,
In bear skins and fur,
Captain Scott and his heroes-to-be,
To have laboured so long,
To have made it this far,
Ooh it’s been such a long ride,
Ooh you know it’s been a long way,
For a human…human…human,
For a human body you see.

Indeed, Robert Falcon Scott was considered a hero of the British Empire, though he was beaten to the pole by Roald Amundsen of Norway and died on the way home.  Scott’s story is a tragedy of human error, ego, Imperialism, and the sheer deadly ability of the south pole to render a man lifeless in minutes.  Taylor’s quirky track does not convey this, and so it remains an odd curiosity.

However you get The Game, you will be delighted by the core 10 tracks.  The 2011 bonus CD is highly recommended.  All hail John Deacon, the boss of the bass.

5/5 stars

#555.5: A Short Visit to Sonic Boom

GETTING MORE TALE #555.5: A Short Visit to Sonic Boom

Yesterday I took Mrs. LeBrain to Toronto to see a neurosurgeon.  It was a great meeting; very positive, but we will get more into that in a future tale.   (Look for an upcoming Getting More Tale story called “Seize the Day” if you want to know more.)   After the meeting with the doctor, she had some tests.  I didn’t need to be around for the those, so with a couple hours to kill, I went down to Sonic Boom on Spadina.  I was accompanied by Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom, who insisted we cab to the store.  It was a rainy miserable day outside.  Wet, cold, windy and unpleasant.  The cab ride wasn’t unwelcome.

I’m glad I shaved my beard down to a goatee the other day, because almost every dude in that store looked the same.  Bearded hipsters buying vinyl, left right and center, lookalikes all!  I tuned out the background noise and focused on the cool.  Upstairs they had two colouring books I almost considered getting.  Do you know anyone who is a huge fan of either James Franco or Benedict Cumberbatch?  If so, I am happy to report that Sonic Boom had colouring books of both.  (They also had Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.)  I spied the new Mastodon among the new releases, but headed downstairs where the real treasures usually lay.

Although I put in a Herculean effort, there was little to be found.  Maybe I have too many CDs, because everywhere I flipped it seemed to be “got it, got it, got it, got it…”  Aaron asked me to look for Danny Michel and a few other titles.  Nothing to be found.  I was struck by how just about everything seems to be reissued on vinyl today.  The Spice Girls’ first album, Spice.  I fail to comprehend.  It doesn’t compute.  I considered buying some Kiss reissues, but I didn’t really want to come home with something I already owned.

With some persistence I did liberate three titles:

  1. The Sword – High Country (CD, used, $9.99)
  2. Queen – The Game (2 CD remaster, used, $9.99)
  3. Rush – Agora Ballroom, Cleveland Ohio, May 1975 (vinyl, new, $32.99)

The Queen set was in the recent arrivals, and that is a nice score.  I’m nowhere near complete with my Queen remasters, but when I can pick them off one by one, used?  That’s the best way.  The Rush on the other hand is something of a chance I’m taking.  This is a radio broadcast vinyl, and I’ve never bought one of those before.  They had several available.  I don’t have anything live from Rush in 1975, so that was the key factor.  Also a non-album track:  “Bad Boy”, a Larry Williams cover.  180 gram coloured vinyl to boot.  Should be good times.

Not a knockout shopping excursion, but not a waste of time either.  We walked back to the hospital (although Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom would have preferred a cab) and got soaked, but it’s good to stretch the legs when it’s a long day of driving and sitting.  Besides, we enjoyed looking at the Toronto scenery.  The fruit and vegetable markets smelled great.  They even had bonsai trees.

Back in the hospital waiting room, I was able to do a little research for my Kiss Re-Review series in progress.  Guess which album I have to write up next.

I don’t want to use the word “disappointing” for this Sonic Boom trip, because I am very pleased with my new albums.  I told Uncle Meat I wanted some more The Sword, and Sonic Boom delivered.  I’m more surprised than disappointed that I was only able to scrounge up three finds this time.  Every visit is different, and I’m sure that next time I return (either in the fall with Aaron, or sooner for more tests) it will be another story.  Sonic Boom is still an absolute must for any music fan visiting Toronto.  Don’t miss out, and be sure to check out the new arrival bins.  They are often the key to many great finds.

As always Sonic Boom gets 5/5 stars.  And so does Mrs. LeBrain for being a tough-as-nails trooper.

 

#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