Roy Thomas Baker

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

 

REVIEW: Joe Lynn Turner – Rescue You (1985)

jlt-ryJOE LYNN TURNER – Rescue You (1985 Elektra)

Post-Rainbow, Joe Lynn Turner embarked upon a solo career.  With the last Rainbow drummer Chuck Burgi on hand, Joe debuted his solo self with Rescue You in 1985 on Elektra.  Roy Thomas Baker, best known for his work with Queen, worked on the production.  All songs were written by Joe and guitarist Alan Greenwood.  The direction was heavy on keyboards, and sampled drum sounds.  The only thing in common with Rainbow is the voice.

That voice cannot be mistaken.  Nobody can sing soul-driven broken hearted AOR rock like Joe Lynn Turner.  Opening track “Losing You” fits this description like a glove.  The samples and keyboards are occasionally distracting, but the melodies are strong.  Joe has always been a fine writer.  Perhaps Journey should have knocked on Joe’s door for some help when they were struggling to come up with Raised On Radio.  The second song, “Young Hearts” is pure pop rock like Steve Perry did on Street Talk in 1984.

“Endlessly” was the single/video, a keyboard rock ballad, and a decent one at that, but it is overwhelmed by the title track. “Rescue You” is once again very keyboard heavy, but rocks better than anything else on the album. It has a European flavour, sounding a bit like some of the material Glenn Hughes was doing in the 1980s. Back to the Americas, “Feel the Fire” is a bit limp, but sounds like something that could have been played on radio.

The LP continued on side two with “Get Tough” which isn’t that at all. The toughest thing about it is Burgi’s excellent drumming at the start. The bassline sounds like “Livin’ on a Prayer” but before that song was ever conceived. One gets the feeling that many of these songs could have been hits if only recorded by someone more famous. “Eyes of Love” is a decent moody mid-tempo song, and Joe sounds awesome on it. “On the Run” is a bit more upbeat, boasting a strong chorus that’s as good as anything on Slippery When Wet.  Moving into Purple territory, “Soul Searcher” could have fit in well on their Slaves and Masters LP.  One almost aches to hear what Blackmore and Lord would have added to it.  Going into the closer, “The Race is On” really has the life sucked from it with the keys and samples.  You can distinctly hear a heavy blazing rocker desperately trying to get out.  The recorded song sounds half-arsed, with those unnecessary keys taking up valuable sonic ground.

Not a bad solo debut from Joe, but certainly inferior to the Rainbow that came before and the Purple that came after.

3/5 stars

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Songs written by Greenwood/Turner except noted

“Losing You” – 4:25
“Young Hearts” – 3:52
“Prelude” (Newman, Turner) – 0:56
“Endlessly” – 3:40
“Rescue You” – 4:31
“Feel the Fire” – 3:28

“Get Tough” (Delia, Turner) – 4:33
“Eyes of Love” (Turner) – 3:49
“On the Run” – 3:53
“Soul Searcher” (Greenwood, Newman, Turner) – 4:08
“The Race Is On” – 3:23

REVIEW: Queen – Queen (1973)

Scan_20150816 (2)QUEEN – Queen (1973, 1991 Hollywood reissue)

I’m in a unique position for someone who was a newborn when this album came out.  By happenstance, this was my first Queen album.  My mom bought it for me.  She bought it at the store that I would one day spend over a decade working myself.  This just happened to be the one she picked.

A few weeks prior, I had been immersed in the latest issue of one of the big guitar magazines.  Queen were out there doing press for Innuendo, and this magazine did a run down with Brian May of the entire Queen discography.  I read it over and over again.  I knew the pop hits, but what of these other songs they were talking about?  “Stone Cold Crazy” had to be awesome for Metallica to cover it.  And this tune “Bohemian Something”…by the description alone I needed to hear it.

And then, only a month or two later, I was hanging out with my friend Andy watching music videos in the basement.  My mom came downstairs.  She had been up watching the news.

“Hey guys, sorry to interrupt,” she said, “But Queen just made an announcement.  Freddie Mercury has AIDS.”

“Oh no,” Andy and I said almost simultaneously.  The rumours were that he was very, very sick.  Although Brian May denied it only months before, fans feared for the worst.  Freddie hadn’t toured since 1986. He looked gaunt, frail, in the most recent photos.  We were both saddened to know the rumours were true.  The very next day, Freddie Mercury died.

That’s my story where it comes to the first Queen album.  It is an intensely personal love for me.

I was surprised how raw it sounds.  Yet although the guitars are rough by comparison to later Queen, the layering of vocals and instruments has already begun on “Keep Yourself Alive”.  It is one of the most brilliant Queen rockers of all time.  When I first heard this song, I recognized some gallop that was later ripped off by Iron Maiden.  Roger Taylor (credited as Roger Meddows-Taylor) even gets a drum solo!  First single, first song — drum solo.  Why not?  Brian’s layered guitar solos point the way to where he would go with the instrument.  It’s worth noting that Queen get a co-production credit.  I’m sure they had a lot to do with the way they wanted to hear the instruments and vocals.

“Doing All Right” begins as a tender piano ballad, but it soon goes into an acoustic section, before finally going fully electric and amplified.  The voices of Freddie, Brian and Roger have a distinct sound that is Queen.  Roger’s voice in particular gives it an edge.  All “Doing All Right” lacks is the intense focus that Queen would later acquire.

Queen’s first serious epic was “Great King Rat”.  Freddie wrote the song himself, and a complex number it is.  Vocally, melodically, and lyrically, it is a killer.  Brian’s wah-wah solo in the left speaker is an eargasm, but it’s fascinating to hear him playing against himself in the right speaker.  There’s a flamenco inspired part that hints towards a similar section on “Innuendo” many years later.  This song is dazzling in its resplendent luminosity.  Another Freddie song, “My Fairy King” follows, and shows of his operatic side.  Fingers dancing on the piano keys, Freddie leads the way through various tempos and textures.  There is nothing simple about it.  And so closed the first side of the first Queen albums.

Another Freddie epic opens the second side, which is “Liar”.  I always assumed “Liar” had to be a Brian song because of the heavy guitar riff, but it is a sole Mercury credit.  Roger’s drum work is stunning, but it’s Queen — everybody’s stunning.  Since we haven’t mentioned him yet, It should be noted that John Deacon (credited as Deacon John) is Queen’s secret weapon on the bass.  Not only is he always dead on, but he composes catchy bass lines that are subliminally absorbed into your cranium.  You’re not always aware of Deacon when you’re listening, but when you focus on the bass, you realize he’s always very melodic.  That’s probably important when Brian is laying down such heavy chords!

The acoustic guitar comes out again for “The Night Comes Down”.  It’s a pleasant ballad, nothing outstanding, somewhat lacking in focus in favour of atmospherics.  But is it possible that Queen invented punk rock with “Modern Times Rock ‘N’ Roll”?  Unlikely.  Still, there isn’t a better word to describe it.  It’s less than 2 minutes, direct, heavy and blazingly fast.  Taylor wrote it and sang it with his sandpaper raspy voice.  The only think un-punk about it is Brian May’s very rock ‘n’ roll guitar solo.  In no way is this a Queen classic, but I think it’s pretty fascinating.

Queen got some heavy groove going on with “Son & Daughter”.  “The world expects a man to buckle down and to shovel shit”, wrote Brian in the lyrics that Freddie sings.  Uncharacteristically Queen!  It’s heavy, short and to the point with great hooks.  Then comes “Jesus”, the story of Christ’s birth and performing of miracles.  Certainly this is unusual subject matter for a rock band like Queen.  Although it begins dramatic and hymn-like, it has a very heavy middle section with blazing May guitars; too many to count!  To me, this song proves that God loves rock and roll.

Queen closes with a preview for the next album, an interesting twist that you don’t see often.  “Seven Seas of Rhye…” is a short instrumental previewing the main piano hook.  Of course, “Seven Season of Rhye” as a full song on Queen II became a classic.  On Queen I it’s a curious but good closer.

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Every good CD reissue should have bonus tracks.  The 1991 Hollywood CD issue of Queen has three, while the cassette only had one, which was “Mad the Swine”.  This is an odd little song, an acoustic hippie track that you can sing along to but probably don’t want to.  “Corny” is an appropriate word.  Better is a remake “Keep Yourself Alive”.  The band tried out different instrumental bits on this version, especially noticeable in Roger’s busier drum part.  The vocals are also glossier and better defined.  The tapes were lost and then re-surfaced in time for the 1991 reissue.   I think it’s likely a track like this would have eventually been released as a B-side, had the tapes not been lost for so long.  It’s a great and very interesting version that can co-exist along with the original.

The unfortunate thing about the 1991 reissues were the inclusion of useless remixes.  If it were a vintage remix from an earlier period that’s one thing.  But these are 1991 remixes, done for the express purpose of creating bonus material for reissues.  The artistic value in them is questionable.  That said, “Liar” is pretty faithful to the original, but with mixing board tricks to draw attention to different parts.  There are some unheard guitar parts as well, which are fascinating.  Of the 1991 remixes, this is one of the better ones.  (Don’t even get me started on Rick Rubin’s remix of “We Will Rock You” with Chad Smith on drums and Flea on bass.  That atrocity was even released as a Queen single.  But I digress.)

That’s the last track on the CD.  I know what you’re thinking now.  “But LeBrain,” you are saying to yourself, “Isn’t there a more recent reissue with more bonus tracks?  Aren’t you going to tell us about those, too?”  Yes, there is a more recent version (2001, on Universal) with more bonus tracks (six total).  No, I’m not going to talk about that today.  Reason being, I don’t have it yet.  But Christmas is coming.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: The Darkness – “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again” (2004 mp3 single)

GYHOMWATHE DARKNESS – “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again” (2004 Atlantic mp3 single)

After the surprise hit Permission To Land (which was essentially just a released demo) The Darkness were determined to make a better sounding second album.  At first it was announced they were going to be working with one Mutt Lange; that didn’t pan out.  Up next was Roy Thomas Baker, of Queen fame.

Their first released collaboration was a re-recording of “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” re-titled “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again”.  It differs only slightly from the original.  Better sounding bass, better sounding drums, but almost identical otherwise.  There are only two moments were the song deviates from the original:  a 5 second piano break at 1:54, and a different, more abrupt ending.

This was released November 8 2004, for one month only, for 99p on the official Darkness site.   Since then I understand it’s been very difficult to find online.  I like when bands release stuff like this, even though for most people it’s fairly redundant.  A lot of bands test the waters by re-recording older material, Axl’s done that and so have others.  When they make it available for almost nothing for a limited time, sure, I’ll bite.  It’s a kind of immediate release that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Not to mention that this is just one of the Darkness’ best songs, ever.  Gratuitous language, hot riffs, screeching high vocals, ripping solos, and hooks for miles.  I was sold on the original song on first listen.  As for this re-recorded update, I like the better quality sound, but I don’t like the piano break or the ending.  Great tune, great sonics thanks to RTB, but I’ll stick with the original!

3.5/5 stars

Since you can’t take a picture of a non-physical product, here’s the CD single that I burned!