Sony

REVIEW: Journey – Greatest Hits (1988, 2008)

JOURNEY – Greatest Hits (Originally 1988, 2008 expanded reissue)

It’s OK if your first album by anybody was a “greatest hits” of some sort.  Over 15 million people bought Journey’s Greatest Hits in the US alone, and you can be guaranteed that several of those millions were buying Journey for the first time.  Hundreds of thousands more copies still sell annually.  This has to be considered one of the most successful hits compilations by a rock band.

Even if you were a Journey diehard back in 1988, you still wanted Greatest Hits.  It had two huge Journey hits from movie soundtracks:  “Only the Young” (Vision Quest) and “Ask the Lonely” (Two of a Kind).  These songs were not meant to be obscurities; both were slated for the Frontiers album.  These are two awesome songs with insanely catchy choruses, one a rocker and one a soft burner.  Two gigantic peaks of the Jonathan Cain era of Journey, who co-wrote both songs.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” doesn’t need any additional commentary, except this:  listen to the drums.  That’s Steve Smith, the wizard of tempo.  There is a reason that Smith can often be found filed in the Jazz section.  Listen to his creative hits, cymbal work, and timing.  Yet not a lot of snare.  Same with “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”.  This is not typical rock drumming, and this is something that his replacements have had to recreate as faithfully as they could.

Greatest Hits ignores the first three Journey albums (pre-Steve Perry), and justifiably so.  Those first three progressive rock albums, as fascinating as they are, bore no hits.  “To Play Some Music” peaked at #138.  The earliest tracks are the radio staples “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky” from 1978’s Infinity.  Incidentally these are the only tracks without Steve Smith, featuring his predecessor Aynsley Dunbar.

In 2008, Sony a series of budget-priced reissues including Journey’s Greatest Hits.  This version has one additional bonus track from Journey’s reunion album Trial By Fire from 1996.  This is a fantastic album, but the ballad chosen (“When You Love a Woman”) tips the album too far on the scales to ballads.

Through all the hits you know, and maybe a couple you don’t (“Girl Can’t Help It”? “Send Her My Love”?) you will get a clear picture of some of Journey’s facets.  But only some.  Little of their instrumental wizardry, which continued into the Steve Perry era with songs like “Dixie Highway”.  You also will not hear many hard edged moments, like “Stone in Love”.  You will however get a taste of Steve Perry’s soul, and the excellent hooks that he concocted with Neal Schon and Jon Cain.  You will absorb some awesome Schon tone.  On the later tracks, like “I’ll Be Alright Without You” and “Be Good To Yourself”, you will hear the slickness and groove of Raised on Radio.  But there are so many more key Journey tracks, as good if not better than these.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Bonham – Mad Hatter (1992 Japanese import)

BONHAM – Mad Hatter (1992 Sony Japan)

The first Bonham album in 1989 was a critic’s darling.  Produced by Bob Ezrin, it sold well enough and made plenty of year-end lists.  For the year 1989, it was a breath of fresh air compared to the Motley Crue, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard tracks dominating the airwaves.  Those who thirsted for the rarified air of Led Zeppelin got some of that with Jason on drums and the incredible Canadian Daniel MacMaster on lead vocals.  It was easy to imagine that “Wait For You” was a new Zeppelin single built for that year.  But every band has to grow, and where would Bonham take it?  Further down the Zeppelin road, or try and find their own identity?

Bob Ezrin did not return, and most of the followup album Mad Hatter was produced by Tony Platt, with the rest produced by Ron Saint Germain.  The band grew from the debut, establishing more of their own groove.  It was a more diverse and challenging platter.  Unfortunately, the album arrived in 1992, amidst the Pearl Jams, Soundgardens, Nirvanas and the rising tide of grunge.  Despite the strong single “Change of a Season”, the album tanked.

What an opener “Bing” is, a word that doesn’t seem to be in any of the lyrics.  At first, it has a very old school Zeppelin groove, akin to “Candy Store Rock” meets “Black Dog”.  But then it goes to a completely different place on the chorus.  The sonics are clearer and sharper than the debut.  Jason’s drums are huge as the should be.

Yet it’s the title track that really shocks the system.  Opening with a blast of horns, “Mad Hatter” goes one of the few places Zeppelin never went:  full-on funk with horns.  This would be the Tower of Power horn section.  It would be lazy to compare “Mad Hatter” to “Get the Funk Out” from a couple years past, as it has its own vibe.  Ian Hatton on guitar proves himself to be diverse talent with licks-o-plenty.

Another direction is explored on “Change of a Season”, the shoulda-woulda-coulda single that would have been huge a year or two prior.  The melancholy ballad was simply the wrong temperature for 1992. The gothic tone of the video was cool, but the video got zip for airplay.  It’s the backing strings (synth) and epic chorus that make this song.  It sounds less like Zeppelin and perhaps more like something from David Coverdale’s Reptile Emporium.

Another cool direction is explored on “Hold On”, a unique song with elements from multiple genres.  Funk, soul, progressive, blues, and even bluegrass.  This is followed by another song with epic overtones, “The Storm”, a six minute track that takes the Zeppelin influences to the craggy progressive peaks of another land.

Although there’s no side break on a CD, there are a natural place for it as you can pause for a breath before plunging into “Ride on a Dream”.  A breaknace pace and metallic riff make it unlike anything else on the album.  Perhaps a band like the Scorpions could do “Ride on a Dream”, but even Klaus would be challenged by the outstanding MacMaster lead vocal.  This plutonium-fuelled track would give anyone a run for their money.

But after all that drama, you need something a little more laid back.  That would be “Good With the Bad”, a jazzy piano ballad and the longest song on the album.   It doesn’t remain in ballad territory forever, going to the swamps of Florida where Savatage reside halfway through.  The comparisons are easy to hear.  Next, we go to a bluesy, funky blast of Zeppelin-flavoured ale on “Backdoor”.  Another cool tune with a different vibe from the others.  Things drag a bit on “Secrets”, which tries to marry the funky side with a “Kashmir”-scale chorus but doesn’t really follow through.

Moving on to the end, it’s “Los Locos” in second to last position.  This is a tender blues guitar/violin instrumental with dark piano accents.  That would be bassist John Smithson handling those wicked violin licks and a lot of the keyboards.  Perfect track for this spot, setting up for the closer.  It’s up to “Chimera” to take you out, and it does with a shiny upbeat vibe.  Although it’s probably sheer coincidence, it sounds a bit like Marillion circa the same period.

Lo and behold, that is not all!  The Japanese fans got a little bonus on their CDs called “Waste No Time”.  It’s definitely not an also-ran.  It has a heavy bass groove that isn’t like the other tracks on the album.  MacMaster really lets it blast on the chorus too.  Definitely Zeppelin vibes come solo time.

This album was available with two covers.  The majority of copies have the surreal Dali-esque landscape that you see here.  The alternate cover was plain white with just the new Bonham logo.  Which looks rather silly without the proper cover art for context.  That’s the cover that retailers such as Columbia House sold in the 1990s.

In 1994, Jason Bonham reconvened with Ian Hatton and John Smithson, but not Daniel MacMaster.  The new singer was Marti Frederiksen — yes, that Marti Frederiksen, the one that writes massive hits for everyone today.  The band took on a new modern grunge sound, and renamed themselves Motherland.  ☮︎ For Me was the pretentious name of that album.  As a sad final coda, Daniel MacMaster died too young at age 39 from a strep infection that he thought was a cold.

At least we can say that Bonham with MacMaster really did outgrow the Zeppelin tag by the second album.  Still a part of the DNA, but expressing itself more rarely.  It’s a shame about the timing of the album, because had it sold like the first one did, maybe we wouldn’t have had the Motherland debocle.  Mad Hatter is a pretty fine second album that does all the things that second albums should do.  Shame it was the last.

3.75/5 stars

#886: Hand Me Downs

RECORD STORE TALES #886: Hand Me Downs

It’s funny.  Though my music playback setup today is completely different from my first, even today there’s still one thing they have in common:  both setups featured hand-me-down audio components from my parents.  And I hope one of those components continues working forever.

In Getting More Tale #796: Improvisation, I explained that we kids of the 80s didn’t have the luxury to buy whatever stereo equipment we wanted.  We had to make due with what we had, and improvise.  And that’s exactly what we did.  When I first started collecting music, I owned it on two formats only:  LP and cassette.  The classic duo.  Compact discs existed only in Japan.  We hadn’t even heard of them.  All that existed in our world were the vinyl record and the compact cassette.  That’s all I needed to be able to play.

Around 1985, my parents realized they weren’t going to be listening to records or 8-track tapes anymore.  The living room needed to be renovated and there was no more room for that giant Lloyd’s stereo system.  The 8-track player didn’t work anymore, but it was a single unit combined with a radio receiver and amplifier, which still worked fine.  The Lloyd’s record player could still plug into it and play normally.  I snapped them up.  Only George Balasz and myself were lucky enough to have record players in our bedrooms.  Everybody else on the street had to use their parents’ systems.

Don’t get me wrong:  it didn’t sound great.  I took my parents’ hand-me-downs and plugged them into my Panasonic ghetto blaster, which essentially was both my tape deck and speakers.   Not ideal, but good enough for a 13 year old.  I recall the sound was rather tinny.  But it worked after a spell.  If my mom wanted me to tape her old Roy Orbison LPs, I could do that.  (Spoiler:  my mom really abused her LPs.)

I used that setup for many years.  The Lloyd’s receiver lasted seven more.  It finally blew a circuit in early ’92.  A few weeks later, I replaced it with a small, affordable preamp.  It didn’t have a lot of power, but it enabled me to continue listening to records.  Of course, that old Lloyd’s turntable wasn’t in the best shape anymore.  The needle had never been changed, and I had really abused that thing, playing records backwards and trying to make funky sounds.  It was cool though, because it had four speeds:  16, 33, 45, and 78.  I didn’t own any 16’s or 78’s.  But I could play them.  And I kept it for well over a decade.  I only replaced it when I did a complete stereo system overhaul in the late 90s.  T-Rev and I went to Steve’s TV, and I picked out new everything.  Canadian made PSB speakers, a new Technics dual tape component, a Technics receiver to go with it, and a brand new Technics turntable.  Good enough for me, who had been living with a Frankenstein system his whole life.

The only thing I didn’t need to buy was a CD player.  And this is the last piece of hand-me-down tech incorporated into my still-current system.  (I actually have two systems today:  my 7.1 setup in the main room with blu-ray, and my stereo “man cave” with all my analog stuff.)

I call this CD player “the Tank”.  It is a 30 year old Sony five-disc changer and I more or less confiscated it from them when I moved out.  Once they had a DVD player, I didn’t think they needed a CD player anymore, so I made the executive decision to liberate it.  It wasn’t exactly a covert operation.  The Sony had been in my bedroom setup for a while.  I liked a numbers of its features.  It had a fader!  I could fade tracks in and fade out, which was perfect for recording live albums.  The timer was also a nice extra — you could use it to monitor the time remaining on a track, or even album.  This was great for tape-making.  It was also painlessly easy to program.  So I stole the Sony!  When I moved out, I just said “I’m taking this CD player.”  Mom grumbled a bit, but…here it is.  I successfully abducted my parents’ CD player with no casualties.

I’m glad I did.  Though the five-disc gimmick doesn’t work so smoothly anymore, the Tank can play any CD I throw at it.  That might not sound like a big deal, but it is.  You’d be surprised how many CDs you’ll have problems playing in your computer today.  Some players, and many computers, still won’t play weird stuff like DualDiscs.  I have an old DualDisc by The Cult that will not play properly in any computer ever invented by mankind.  Even regular CDs can be weird.  I have a Cinderella disc (multiple copies even) that no computer from PC to Apple will play correctly.

So I need the Tank.  Just recently, I was listening to a fantastic live album by King’s X given to me by Superdekes.  The last song (an acoustic version of “Over My Head”) refused to rip to my PC.  I booted up the laptop and ran into the same problem, same spot.  I didn’t need to try a third computer to know that this would be futile.  Only the Tank could play my King’s X.  I examined the CD up close for damage and saw nothing.  (Good thing too as copies today run just shy of $100!)  Deke sent me a good disc (and thank you once more for that!), but CDs can be fickle.

No issue with the Tank.  I powered up the Sony, inserted the King’s X and played the song through.  No issues!  I got a good recording of it in Audacity and exported the audio into the King’s X album folder.  Seamless!

Thanks mom and dad for giving me, and in some cases, allowing me to steal your stuff.  I kept it all working — I even still have the remote!

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Classicks (1995)

ALICE COOPER – Classicks (1995 Sony)

Here’s a bargain basement perennial that you may have missed but might want to reconsider. If you like Alice Cooper — specifically the five year span of 1989-1994 — then this compilation is for you! If you collect Alice Cooper — specifically rare live tracks that have been released on VHS but mostly unavailable on CD — then this compilation is for you!

Classicks isn’t a particularly bad CD, but its limited focus means limited appeal.  Sony only had the rights to a smidgen of Cooper albums so they made due with what they had.  That meant the albums Trash, Hey Stoopid and The Last Temptation, and the home video Alice Cooper Trashes the World.  Of those releases, only The Last Temptation is really given any kind of critical acclaim today.

Classicks begins promisingly enough.  “Poison” is indeed a classic, thanks to that lush Desmond Child vocal production.  The hooks never stop, but “Poison” is the only bonafide classic on the Trash album.  Nothing else comes even remotely close, though “House of Fire” (written by Bon Jovi for New Jersey) has its moments.  Missing is the ballad “It’s Only My Heart Talkin'” with Steven Tyler cameo.

Hey Stoopid‘s guest-laden title track lead single was phenomenal, if not quite as awesome as “Poison” from TrashHey Stoopid was a bit tougher in stature than Trash, and a couple more singles can be found here:  “Love’s a Loaded Gun” and the absolutely massive “Feed My Frankenstein”.  You can thank Wayne and Garth for that one; there is no other way that song was going to be a hit in 1992.  But it was, and you can quote every word of that Wayne’s World scene.  I know you can.

The material from The Last Temptation has stronger bones but not as many candy-coated hooks.  Three tracks total:  smoking first single “Lost In America”, ballad “It’s Me”, and the epic Chris Cornell duet “Stolen Prayer”.  While all three are good ones, “Stolen Prayer” is truly special.  Chris (who wrote the track with Alice) was in peak voice and when he lets it rip at the end, hold on!  An acoustic-electric classic, worthy of far more attention than it gets.

The rest of the CD contains live versions from Trashes the World, all oldies that Sony didn’t have access to otherwise.  The lineup here features some of the guys you saw in Wayne’s World, such as Al Pitrelli & Canadian Pete Friesen (guitars) and keyboardist Derek Sherinian.  Tommy Caradonna and the inimitable Jonathan Mover are the rhythm section for these tracks.  All tracks have those telltale 80s guitar accoutrements.  “Under My Wheels” is rendered a bit faster than usual, but the guitar solos shred.  Likewise with “Billion Dollar Babies”.  “I’m Eighteen” is slower and brooding.  Alice’s opening rap to “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is a gas, although the song’s played a little heavy handedly.  “Only Women Bleed” is reliable, and “School’s Out” is “School’s Out” is “School’s Out”.  “You better know this one,” as Alice says.

Tacked on at the end is Alice’s cover of “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix, not to be confused with his cover of “Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.  This B-side (to “Love’s a Loaded Gun”) wasn’t the best B-side available (that would be “It Rained All Night”) but at least it’s full of energy.  Whoever that is on guitar (Stef Burns?) rocks.

It’s obvious from the tracklist that this album was just Sony trying to cash in.  Cooper’s contract must have been up.  They tossed in the six live tracks to lure in any collectors who wanted them on CD rather than VHS.  Classicks can often by found brand new in the $5 range — pay no more than that.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – Power Up (2020 Light Box edition)

AC/DC – Power Up (2020 Sony “Light Box”)

FAQ:

  1. No, Malcolm Young doesn’t play on it.
  2. No, Axl Rose is also not on the album.
  3. Yes, it is as good as you’ve heard.

41 minutes is all it takes to rock the world.  We needed AC/DC in 2020, and we got it.  This isn’t the first time AC/DC have put guitars on magnetic tape without Malcolm.  That era began with 2014’s Rock Or Bust, but this album is better.  The riffs are Malcolm’s, and nephew Stevie Young performs them admirably as he always has.  As for Brian Johnson, he sounds as if time stopped back in 1995.

“Realize” is catchier than the average AC/DC, with a few guitar overdubs to sweeten it up.  “Rejection” is similarly fun, despite its title.  Good tunes.  Not immortal classics in the making, just good album cuts as AC/DC have done for decades.  Even the first single “Shot in the Dark” doesn’t sound like the kind of AC/DC tune that radio will be pounding out in 10 years, even though they sure are playing the crap out of it today.  Good songs all, but comparison to the back catalogue is a doomed endeavour.

The one tune that does sound like a future staple is “Through the Mists of Time”, a title that seems more like Zep than Acca Dacca.  Focused on melody and spare guitar picking, it’s a bit softer than what most people expect.  The “Ahh-ah” backing vocals sell it.  This is probably the song you’ll remember years from now.

Moving on down the tracklist, we have a few songs with potential to grow.  “Kick You When You’re Down” has some cool pickin’ rhythm.  Also cool is “Witch’s Spell”, another title that doesn’t seem like AC/DC at first.  It’s among the most memorable tunes thanks to a stuttery guitars and a fun chorus.  The mood changes on “Demon Fire”, an excellent song similar in style to “Safe in New York City” from 20 years ago.  It’s got that fast 4/4 beat, coupled with a low Brian Johnson growl (at first).

After “Demon Fire”, we’re in for a series of workmanlike AC/DC tracks without a lot of distinction.  There’s “Bad Reputation” (mid-tempo), “No Man’s Land” (slow and menacing), “Systems Down” (mid-tempo), “Money Shot” (mid-tempo with bite), and “Code Red” (slinky).  Power Up, like any AC/DC album since about Flick of the Switch, gets the job done.  The only true classic is “Through the Mists of Time”, but there is plenty of strong material headlined by “Demon Fire”, “Shot in the Dark”, “Realize”, “Witch’s Spell” and “Money Shot”.  It’s still early of course, and in three months you might have some clear favourites.  This album has room to grow.

Now, the $60 “Light Box” is…disappointing.  It’s a box, made of cardboard, with a sound chip that plays exactly 17 seconds of “Shot in the Dark” through a little speaker in the top, while flashing.  (I call it a “Seizure Box”!)  It stays lit for a few more seconds, and then stops.  You can push the button as many times as you like, because it comes with a handy-dandy USB charging cable.  (I bet you needed another one of those!)  So that’s all it does.  Inside is the standard CD digipack wedged between two sturdy foam slats.  On the left hand side with the button and charging port, a cardboard strip is attached to prevent the button from being pushed in the stores.  Removing this piece, which you need to do to recharge the box, is difficult and I tore mine.  I glued it back, but you can still see it.  $60 box, ripped just like that.  Bummer.

AC/DC sound like AC/DC the most when Phil Rudd is in the band.  With Phil, Brian Johnson and Cliff Williams all back for one more round, authenticity is not an issue.  This is an album that deserves multiple listens.  You’ll have your own favourites too.

3.75/5 stars

 

 

Awesome Music That Makes Your Skin Vibrate: Two Hours of Brent Jensen on the LeBrain Train

A million thank-you’s to Brent Jensen, the author of No Sleep’Til SudburyLeftover People: A Journey Through Post-Rock & Roll America and All My Favourite People Are Broken.  Chatting music is what we love to do here, and it was a privilege to speak with someone so saturated with musical knowledge, stories and connections.  When you watch this show, I hope you feel the kinship that we music diehards share.

Obscure format junkies:  Check out 0:24:10 of the video for info on a format Sony were working on called “The Cube”.  It would have been a six-sided format around the time of the compact disc.

You can buy Brent’s books at Amazon, and you can check out his podcasts at nosleeptilsudbury.libsyn.com.  (I’ll be checking out the Sandy Horne from the Spoons episode ASAP!)   If you’d like some merch, contact him directly and he’ll hook you up.  Details at the end of our video.

A million more thanks to Superdekes for setting this episode up.  My brother from Thunder Bay should be known as “Superfan” after his meticulous homework and attention to detail!

There will be no sleep tonight as I hit the web looking for all these tunes!  From Saxon, to Kick Axe, to Maiden (with and without Blaze), to Priest (with and without Ripper), please enjoy the music that makes our skin vibrate.

 

 

For those who missed it, here is the 11 minutes that Youtube missed, but Facebook had. Unboxings: Jeff Scott Soto, John Norum, The Black Crowes, Frank Zappa, Def Leppard.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Japanese import)

JUDAS PRIEST – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Sony Japan)

Fun fact:  in 1998, there were three Judas Priest live albums released.  First was the official ’98 Live Meltdown, featuring then-current singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.  There was also Concert Classics, an unauthorised CD from the British Steel tour that the band swiftly took legal action to remove from store shelves.  Finally, a CD called Priest, Live & Rare released by their old label Sony in Japan, featuring a smorgasbord of live B-sides.

Judas Priest’s B-sides don’t garner a lot of attention, but are worth looking in to.  Fortunately, a large assortment of them are collected on this compilation.  Covering a period from 1978 to 1986, Priest released a number of live B-sides (and one remix) that are included here.  Only two (“Starbreaker”, and a version of “Breaking the Law”) were released on CD in the 2004 Metalogy box set.  Because Priest were conscious of giving value to fans, the live B-sides are not the same familiar versions from live albums.

From the “Evening Star” single in 1978 comes “Beyond the Realms of Death”, Judas Priest’s “Stairway to Heaven”, or so some said.  It’s a rather weak comparison, but “Beyond the Realms of Death” does hold special status.  Glen’s solo, though imperfect, drips with the tension that comes from the live performance.  From the same gig, but lifted from the “Take on the World” single comes “White Heat, Red Hot” and “Starbreaker”.  You can hear the life in the songs, from Les Binks’ organic drum work to Rob’s impassioned performance.  The man is in top voice especially on “White Heat, Red Hot”.  Les Binks has an extended energized drum solo on “Starbreaker”.  These are fantastic live versions that need to be in a diehard’s collection.

The next single visited is 1981’s “Hot Rockin'”, with two live B-sides:  “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight” from that year in Holland.  The drum stool has changed hands from Les Binks to Dave Holland, and it is like the band has had a heart transplant.  The difference is notable given that on this CD, Binks went out on a drum solo.  It’s like a pacemaker has been installed and the pulse of the beast has been tamed.  But that’s 80s Priest for you, and with that said, these are two excellent versions of some serious Priest hits.  Refreshing to hear, after the same familiar ones over and over again.

Priest’s set at the 1983 US Festival has not been released on CD yet, but here are some for you.  (The Festival on DVD is not an issue — the deluxe Screaming for Vengeance contains the whole thing.)  Here you get “Green Manalishi”, “Breaking the Law” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”.  “Green Manalishi” is a fantastic version (at least for one with Dave Holland on drums!) and Rob is peak Halford.  These three tracks are sourced from a live 1983 Japanese “Green Manalishi” EP that costs some fair funds on its own.  (This is the version of “Breaking the Law” that you can also find on the Metalogy box set.)

“Private Propety” (originally from 1986’s Turbo) is a rare live take from St. Louis. It was originally released on the “Parental Guidance” 12″ single.  Therefore it’s not the same one from Priest Live, nor the Turbo 30th anniversary set.  This one predates the release of the others and has a nice untampered quality.  Finally, also from the “Parental Guidance” single, is the only disappointing B-side in this collection.  It’s the “Hi-Octane” extended remix of “Turbo Lover”!  Extended remixes were a popular thing in the 80s.  Every mainstream artist did them; for example Def Leppard, Kiss and Aerosmith.  “Turbo Lover” is one of the poorer such examples.  Were any dance clubs likely to play Judas Priest?  No, but the Priest did try.

Unweildy ham-fisted “Turbo Lover” aside, Priest, Live & Rare is a highly recommended collection to get 10 rare Priest B-sides in one fell swoop.  Definitely cheaper than tracking down all those singles.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith – Part Two – Special 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition and 2001 Remaster

For yesterday’s review of the original album, click here.  

JUDAS PRIEST – Defenders of the Faith (2001 Sony reissue, 2014 Special 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Let’s start this review by taking a quick look at the bonus tracks that were added to the 2001 Sony remastered CD.  The first is an acoustic ballad called “Turn On Your Light”.  With lead guitars overdubbed later on, this spare acoustic ballad would have been a sharp left turn for the band had it come out on the next album (Turbo).  It’s very light, even more so than the material that made the album.  On the other hand, given the musical climate of the era, maybe it could have been a hit that propelled Priest to heights previously unseen.  We’ll never know.  The second bonus track comes from Long Beach on the Defenders tour.  It is the duo of “Heavy Duty” and “Defenders of the Faith”, but we’ll get into it later as it’s also included (albeit remixed) in the 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition we’re about to discuss.  Important to note:  the 30th Anniversary does not include “Turn On Your Light”.  If you want to get that song, you have to get the 2001 version.

When I was a kid, around the time of Defenders of the Faith, I can remember listening to a live Priest concert with the next door neighbour George.  We were on his picnic table in the side yard, listening to it on the radio.  That must have been Long Beach, May 5 1984, the show included in the Anniversary Deluxe set.  Spread over two discs, it’s a full Priest show with nine of the ten new songs played.  Only the controversial “Eat Me Alive” was not played.

“Love Bites” is an unusual set opener, but of course they did use “Out in the Cold” on the following tour too.  The mix is bass-heavy with Ian Hill up front for some reason.  Barking Rob spits out the words like bullets.  Sticking with new material, it’s “Jawbreaker”, the second track on Defenders, performed at light speed.  Rob says hello to 13,000 heavy metal maniacs and then dives into the oldies.  Three well-received number from British Steel in a row:  “Grinder”, “Metal Gods”, and “Breaking the Law”.  Though robotic in tempo these songs were and still are landmarks for the band.  “Breaking the Law” is the most lively, with Rob acting as the cheerleader in concert.

They reach way back for “Sinner”, which again suffers from the Dave Holland treatment on drums.  It’s too fast and stiff.  Fortunately, Halford belts out the chorus in scream-form with earnest.  “Desert Plains” comes next, a song for which there are few live versions available.  It’s a bit too fast, with pulse of the original song lost, but strong nonetheless.

Another batch of new songs follow, all awesome in their own right:  “Some Heads are Gonna Roll”, “The Sentinel”, “Hard Hard Ride Free” and “Night Comes Down”.  It speaks to the strength and popularity of the album that the set looks like this.  These are ably performed, though Rob’s voice sounds very raw on “The Sentinel”.  The crowd goes completely nuts when, before “Rock Hard Ride Free”, he announces that five million people are listening live on the radio!  Unfortunately due to his sore-sounding voice, the version on Priest…Live makes for better listening.  “Night Comes Down” (issued in an alternate live mix on the Ram It Down 2001 remaster) is one of Priest’s most unsung triumphs, a ballad of sorts set in the dusk.  Try listening to it when the sun is going down some time.

Strangely, “Electric Eye” is the first song from the previous hit album Screaming For Vengeance, an album that is largely ignored here in favour of the new one.  Next it’s a last gasp of new songs in the form of “Freewheel Burning” and the anthemic duo “Heavy Duty” and “Defenders of the Faith”.  These are a treat.  Rob uses “Defenders” to get the crowd to do a singalong.  “Freewheel” is pretty manic, and then it’s into the set-ending classics.

“Victim of Changes” can’t help but be the centrepiece of the set.  It’s a serious Priest epic and isn’t rushed through like other songs.  This version is just a little bit different.  “Green Manalishi” is dutifully tough, though every version with Dave Holland is intrinsically and unfortunately inferior to the one with Les Binks.  The guitar solos are note perfect and full of sparks.  Moving on to “Living After Midnight”, it’s big blockheaded fun.  “Hell Bent for Leather” is a high speed thrill as always, and then Priest finally end it on “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and the inevitable and annoying “Oh-oo-oh-oo-oh-yeah” crowd singalong.

The 30th Deluxe has a booklet with several live pictures — none of former drummer Dave Holland however.  (If you don’t know why, Google him and guess.)  The remastering of the album itself may be new, but the real emphasis is on the complete concert.  The fact that the setlist contained almost all the new album makes it unique among Priest releases.  It’s a show worth returning to and playing again.  If Rob’s voice was less rugged that night, it might have been a live album in its own right.

3.5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Unleashed in the East (1979, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Unleashed in the East (Originally 1979, 2001 Sony reissue)

The best Judas Priest live album isn’t the biggest or the newest.  It’s the first:  the humble Unleashed in the East.  The first Priest album to be produced by Tom Allom, the last with Les Binks on drums…this is a special album for a number of reasons but most important are the songs.  It would not be going out on a limb to suggest that some of these tracks are now the definitive versions.

Like many live albums of the 1970s, it has been questioned how much of Unleashed in the East was redone in the studio.  Rob Halford has maintained that only the vocals were touched up, but it does not matter one iota when the needle hits wax or laser strikes plastic.  The band were at a musical peak in 1979, and with accelerated tempos, they attacked the best of their body of work, although neglecting the bluesier debut Rocka Rolla.

With “Exciter” (from 1978’s Stained Class) opening the set, this collection has more energy by comparison to the somewhat stiffer studio counterparts.  Les Binks has his foot on the pedal and the band is fully energized on this proto-thrash classic.  “Stand back for Exciter” indeed, as Halford has the Tokyo crowd in the palm of his hand, heavy on the echo.  “Running Wild” (1978’s Hell Bent for Leather) is extra caffeinated compared to the in-the-pocket original, giving the album the feel of a race.  KK goes bananas at the end, and then it’s his showpiece:  “Sinner” from 1977’s Sin After Sin.  Finally it sounds like Priest have stopped hurryin’ about.  About half of the track features KK taking his guitar to outer space in a trippy solo segment.

In its original form, “The Ripper” (1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny) was thin and stiff by comparison.  Here it is a beast, with Rob Halford fully unleashed and stalking the back-alley streets.  Easiest contender for most definitive version of a song on Unleashed in the East.  “Green Manalishi” also comes close, with this electrifying version containing the full-blown dual solo in fantastic, crisp, live glory in stereo.  Each part of the solo is an essential part of the song, just as “Green Manalishi” is an essential part of the album.  If you own the LP, this is where you flip sides and go straight into an adrenalized “Diamonds and Rust”, keeping the energy moving.  Binks’ double-bass work is fun as hell to listen to, like a kid who can’t stop tapping his feet excitement.

The Priest epic “Victim of Changes” takes its time to unfold, though mightily it does.  The live setting and the unstoppable Les Binks make this another definitive Priest live version.  It is the climax of the album, with the last two tracks “Genocide” and “Tyrant” unable to surpass its mountainous metal spires.  Regardless, both are far more fuelled than their seemingly crippled studio counterparts.  Halford is more expressive and engaging live, while the guitars riff on relentlessly.

This album would be 5/5 stars right here, full stop, no need to elaborate.  The already definitive Priest live album became even more definitive in Japan in 1979, and 2001 in the rest of the world, with additional bonus tracks.  On the 2001 remastered Sony edition, all the tracks blend into one another without fade-outs.

Most of the tracks originated on Hell Bent for Leather, with one from Sin After Sin.  “Rock Forever” and “Delivering the Goods” cook!  Not too dissimilar from the originals, these are nice additions that extend the album without weakening it.  “Hell Bent for Leather” was conspicuous by its absence from the album proper, so its restoration is significant.  Finally the lengthy “Starbreaker” occupies the final slot, including a Binks drum solo.  An odd positioning but a stellar version nonethless.  All said and done, the version of Unleashed with bonus tracks is just over an hour long.  By today’s standards that’s a bit short for a live album, but it certainly does feel more complete.

Though he was indeed a significant source of Judas Priest’s musical power both on stage and in the studio, Les Binks quit the band mid-tour to be replaced by ex-Trapeze drummer Dave Holland for the remainder.  Binks was never made an official member on paper and was dissatisfied.  To be sure, other Priest drummers can sympathise.  The only taint on this otherwise perfect “live” metal album is the absence of the departed drummer on the front cover.

5/5/5 stars

 

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Hell Bent for Leather / Killing Machine (1978)

JUDAS PRIEST – Hell Bent for Leather / Killing Machine (Originally, 1978, 2001 Sony reissue)

After producing “Better By You, Better Than Me” on Judas Priest’s Stained Class LP, James Guthrie was hired to do their next album.  This coincided with another step in Judas Priest’s evolution.  In the 1980s they would streamline and simplify their sound, but their earlier albums were darker and more complex.  1978’s Hell Bent for Leather (called Killing Machine in the UK) is the dividing line between the two sides of Priest.

A stuttering riffs opens “Delivering the Goods”, one of the best known tracks from this excellent LP.  A newly upbeat Priest does indeed deliver the goods on this bright rocker.  “Feeling like we’re ready to kick tonight, no hesitating, my bodies aching, looking for some action, satisfaction all right.” This is a far cry from “Saints in Hell” and “Dissident Aggressor”.  Now Priest are uplifting your rock and roll souls.  It’s a heavy, headbanging party track with solid gold riffage.  The outro is a showcase for drummer Les Binks, unfortunately on his final Priest studio album.  His loss would be felt through the entire 1980s.

Another simple hard rock classic, “Rock Forever”, is second in line.  Binks’ double bass work is like an impatient kid anxious to quit school for the day.  Part way through, a multi-tracked Halford turns into a cool choir of Robs.  Further in, “Evening Star” is a bit of a surprise.  Starting as a ballad, it quickly turns into a…rock and roll singalong?  As one of Priest’s most melodic songs, it could have easily swayed new fans onto this band.  It also could have turned off fans who liked their metal heavy.

Two tracks from this album have consistently been in the Priest setlists.  One is “Hell Bent for Leather”.  It has a delightfully dry sound, with guitars cranked and Binks on overdrive.  It was obviously good enough to close Priest’s shows going forward (mostly), with Rob riding out on his Harley.  It’s not Priest’s greatest song, but it is one of their most legendary.

Closing side one is “Take On the World”, sort of a prequel to “United” from British Steel.  With double tracked drums, it has a “We Will Rock You” quality, but done Priest style.  It’s clearly meant to be sung from the stage, to a screaming audience.  “Put yourself in our hands so our voices can be heard, and together we will take on all the world!”  Repeat, rinse, dry.

Side two’s opener is one of Rob’s naughty numbers:  “Burnin’ Up”.  The sexy groove on this one will nail you to your seat.  It’s an album highlight though it might leave you feeling funny, like that time you climbed the rope in gym class.  “You dish the hot stuff up but you keep me waiting, so I’ll play it dirty until your body is breaking.”

At this point, the US version of the album breaks into what I will call the greatest song Judas Priest have ever done.  It’s the second one that has remained in setlists.  And it’s not even one of theirs.  It’s Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”.  Rarely does a band make a cover song their own like Priest did with “Green Manalishi”.  Everything on this is perfect, from the impeccable tempo, to the immaculately composed solos, to the flawless riff.  Les Binks is right in the pocket, and it’s very telling that live versions with Dave Holland on drums were stiffer.  If you only ever get to hear one Judas Priest song in your whole life, make sure that it’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”.

You could put a fork in the album at this point and call it “done”, but there’s still plenty of awesome to go.

A funky Priest groove goes down on “Killing Machine”.  A menacing Halford warns, “I got a contract on you,”  backed by trademark Priest riff.  The middle section with the solo is a whole different beast.  A faster song,  “Running Wild”, pumps the adrenaline with chugging guitars.  “I take on all comers, they back up or they fall,” sings Rob with a challenge in his voice.  At this point I’m convinced that this guy could take on the world for real.  “I rebel but I worked hard, and I demand respect,” he sings with earnest.

There’s a respite here before the end, with a ballad:  “Before the Dawn”, which reminds of softer moments from Sad Wings of Destiny.  The guitar solo is legendary, but Rob Halford is the star on this melancholy masterpiece.  Finally, Priest go dirty again with “Evil Fantasies”.  Lock up your kinks, or just go with it!  It’s another sexy groove.  Rob knew how to write lyrics appropriate to the music.  “You pout, I snarl, you whimper.”  It’s like a Romulan having sex with a Klingon.  It shouldn’t be, but it is, and it’s cool!

Sony tacked on two completely unrelated bonus tracks, but review them we must.

“Fight For Your Life” is a demo of “Rock Hard, Ride Free” from Defenders of the Faith, almost identical except for some of the lyrics, and solo section.  Great bonus material for that album, but not this one.  Also unrelated is a live version of “Riding on the Wind” originally from Screaming for Vengeance.  This blitzkrieg is from the legendary US festival.

Bonus tracks quibbles aside, Hell Bent for Leather (with “Green Manalishi”) is essential metal.  Period.

5/5 stars

* The lyrics on the Japanese version were poorly translated:  “Feeling rock queers, ready to kick tonight.”

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS