styx

REVIEW: Styx – Caught in the Act – Live (1984)

For Deke’s review at Arena Rock, click here!

 

STYX – Caught in the Act – Live (1984 A&M, 2018 BGO reissue)

“Hey everybody it’s Music Time!”

Sorta, anyway!  Styx were just about toast after “Mr. Roboto“, and Tommy Shaw didn’t want to sing any more songs about androids.  (Mars, however, was fine.)  He departed to check out some Girls With Guns, but not before Styx put out one more product before hiatus.  That would be the traditional double live album, which was actually Styx’s first.

Styx have lots of live albums now, but only two with Dennis DeYoung.  Caught in the Act is essential for a few key reasons.  It sounds great although there are clearly overdubs in places.  It is the only one with the classic lineup of DeYoung/Shaw/James “JY” Young/Chuck Panozzo/John Panozzo.  And it has plenty of classic Styx songs that still shake the radio waves today.

Like many live albums, Caught in the Act contained one new song.  Dennis DeYoung wrote the uppity “Music Time”, a very New Wave single without much of the punch of old Styx.  Shaw was so nauseated that he barely participated in the music video.  “Music Time” isn’t one of Styx’s finest songs.  It’s passable but clearly a misstep.  No wonder it was a final straw of sorts for Tommy Shaw.

With that out of the way, on with the show.  Styx opened the set with “Mr. Roboto”, a mega hit that got a bad rap over the years until nostalgia made it OK to like it again.  Fortunately only two songs from Kilroy Was Here were included, the ballad “Don’t Let It End” being the other.  Live, “Roboto” pulses with energy, far more than you would expect.  The disco-like synthetic beats complement the techno-themed lyrics.  Every hook is delivered with precision.  With the human factor that comes out in a live recording, “Roboto” could be one of those songs that is actually better live.

Styx have always been a diverse act, and this album demonstrates a few sides of the band.  Shaw and Young tended to write rockers, and “Too Much Time On My Hands”, “Miss America”, “Snowblind”, “Rockin’ the Paradise” and especially “Blue Collar Man” are prime examples of the best kind.  Long nights, impossible odds…yet a killer set of rock tunes.  Then there are the ballads.  “Babe” is a slow dancing classic, and “The Best of Times” is even better.  Finally, the tunes that verge on progressive epics: “Suite Madame Blue”, “Crystal Ball” and “Come Sail Away” have the pompous complexity that punk rockers hated so much.  This album is a shining live recreation of some of rock’s most beloved music.

The 2018 CD reissue on BGO Records sounds brilliant with depth, and has a nice outer slipcase.  You’ll also get a nice thick full colour booklet with photos and an essay that goes right up to 2017’s The Mission.  BGO is a well known, respected label.  This reissue is a must.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

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REVIEW: Styx – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004)

STYX – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004 A&M)

Styx need to get their albums remastered and reissued pronto.  In the meantime, you can Come Sail Away with The Styx Anthology.

The great thing about the Styx Anthology is that it covers virtually all Styx history, even the first four albums on Wooden Nickel records.  Each one of those early albums is represented by a track (two for Styx II).  Those early albums had some good material on them that usually only diehards get to hear.  “Best Thing” and “You Need Love” are bright and rocking, just like you expect from Styx.  “Winner Take All” and “Rock & Roll Feeling” are consistent toe-tappers.  The jovial harmonies, and lead vocals (by Dennis DeYoung and James “JY” Young) on these tracks could easily be mistaken for later, more famous Styx.  Don’t forget the original version of “Lady” from Styx II, their first big ballad.  Styx’s flair for the dramatic was there right from the first.  (Remember “Lady” as performed by the Dan Band in the movie Old School?)

Shortly thereafter Styx signed with A&M.  1975’s Equinox boasted hits galore.  You should know “Light Up” and “Lorelei”.  But Equinox was their last with founding guitarist John Curulewski.  He was replaced by a guitarist with prodigious talent and a voice to go with it:  Tommy Shaw.  Shaw’s “Crystal Ball” is one of the best songs from the album of the same title.  “Mademoiselle” and “Shooz” are not far behind.

Styx enjoyed an abnormally long period of great, classic albums in a row.  After Crystal Ball came The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre.  With a solid lineup they continued to crank out radio staples.  Their music became grander and more conceptual thanks to Dennis DeYoung.  Tommy Shaw and JY tended to provide balance with rockier songs.  Songs like Dennis’ “The Grand Illusion” are balanced out by Young’s “Miss America” and Shaw’s “Renegade”.  Sure, Shaw could write a ballad or two, but his are more rootsy like the acoustic “Boat on a River”.

Through “Come Sail Away”, “Babe”, “The Best of Times” and “Too Much Time on My Hands”, it is impossible to understate how hit-laden this CD set is.  “Blue Collar Man”, “Rockin’ the Paradise”…it’s seemingly endless!

Until it ends, right after “Mr. Roboto”.  Though their lineup was stable, Styx were volatile.  DeYoung was fired at one point for being too controlling.  Shaw threatened to quit if the song “First Time” was ever released as a single (it wasn’t and it’s not on here).  It came to a head for real with “Roboto”, from 1983’s Kilroy Was Here.  Though it went to #3, the tour did poorly and the band were not happy with DeYoung and his rock operatics.  Tommy Shaw stated that he couldn’t get into songs about robots (long before he wrote an album about Mars).  The Styx Anthology cuts you a break by not subjecting you to their last single before splitting, “Music Time”.

When Styx reformed in 1990 it was without Shaw, who was doing very well in the supergroup Damn Yankees.  He was replaced by singer/guitarist Glen Burtnik.  Burtnik’s single “Love is the Ritual” is a jarring change.  The seven years between it and “Roboto” are audible, as Styx forged a clear hard rock sound with the single.  Sporting synth bass and shouted “Hey!’s”, you couldn’t get further from the core Styx sound than “Love is the Ritual”.  With the new member singing, it’s hard to hear any similarity to Styx at all.  Dennis’ “Show Me the Way” has proven to be a more timeless song.  Although it resonated with Americans at the time of the Gulf War, today it is just a great song about keeping the faith.

Styx split again, but reformed with Shaw in 1995.  Unfortunately, founding drummer John Panozzo died from years of alcohol abuse and was replaced by the incredible Todd Sucherman.  “Dear John” is Sucherman’s first appearance on the disc, a tribute to Panozzo.  The somber Tommy Shaw ballad (from 1997’s Return to Paradise) simply had to be included on a Styx anthology.  The only Styx studio album ignored on the set is 1999’s Brave New World, and rightfully so.  Instead we leap ahead in time for the final song, featuring yet another lineup change, and one of the most significant.  Dennis DeYoung was let go and replaced by Canadian solo star Lawrence Gowan.  This has proven to be a fortuitous undertaking for both Styx and Gowan.  Gowan plays keyboards on “One With Everything” (from 2003’s Cyclorama), an epic six minute Tommy Shaw progressive workout.  It’s a brilliant song, and a perfect indication that for Styx, a whole new chapter had opened.*

Do yourself a favour. Go and buy Styx’s new album The Mission, and put The Styx Anthology in the basket too.  Then enjoy, and congratulate yourself for a great start on your Styx collection!

5/5 stars

* Two more lineup changes:  when bassist Chuck Panozzo fell ill, he became a part time bassist for Styx.  Glen Burtnik returned on bass this time and played on Cyclorama.  When he left again, he was replaced by Ricky Phillips from Coverdale-Page.

 

REVIEW: Styx – Styxworld Live 2001

STYX – Styxworld Live 2001 (2001 Sanctuary)

There are plenty of live Styx albums, the majority with current singer Lawrence Gowan.  2001’s Styxworld is as entertaining as the title implies.  It really does represent the world of Styx:  oldies, solo hits, and obscure tracks too.  Because the Styx lineup in 2001 included guitarist/singer Glen Burtnik, there are a couple songs he wrote that Styx don’t play anymore.

Styx have had a credible career, post-Dennis DeYoung.  Adding Gowan, a solo star in Canada, was a brilliant move.   Though Gowan and DeYoung don’t sound alike, Lawrence is capable of performing Dennis’ more dramatic hits like “Come Sail Away”.   You wouldn’t want that song dropped from the set!  But Gowan also adds his own solo material:  “A Criminal Mind” (from 1985’s Strange Animal) is more than welcome.  A great song is a great song, and “A Criminal Mind” has since become a part of Styx.

Credit should be heaped for including lesser-heard classics like “Boat on a River” in the set, just as good as any of the missing songs.  You’ll also hear “Rocking the Paradise”, “Miss America”, “Sing for the Day”, “Crystal Ball”, “Half-Penny, Two-Penny” and “Lorelei” (James “JY” on lead vocals).  Essentially the setlist was whittled down to songs co-written by Tommy Shaw or James Young, with “Come Sail Away” being the only solo DeYoung-written song.

You could fill a whole other album with missing songs like “The Grand Illusion” or “Renegade” but what makes Styxworld strong are the songs included in their place.  Like it or not “Love is the Ritual” was a minor hit for Burtnik-era Styx, and an effort seems to have been made to include everybody’s material.  A big hit (though not by Styx!) is “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” by Patty Smyth and Don Henley…written by Smyth and Burtnik.  It’s cool to have a Styx version though it’s shortened for the stage.  Of course there’s “Criminal Mind” by Gowan, and even the ballad “High Enough” by Tommy Shaw’s Damn Yankees.  Though it seems like a ballad-heavy set, there is plenty of rock and roll.

Check out Styxworld for a taste of this period of Styx history.  If you like Gowan, it’s a win.

4/5 stars

 

#626.4: The Big Lists of 2017 Part Four: LeBrain brings the reign

LeBrain’s Top Lists for 2017

2017 was, from almost every angle, a shit year.  Another onslaught of losses in music, entertainment and sports (another list on its own).  2017 was as devastating as 2016, but perhaps all that loss was turned into musical dividends.  Before the year was even half over, I had already found my #1 album of 2017 from a surprising corner.  I knew as soon as I heard it that it was something remarkable.  I pencilled it into the #1, wondering who would topple it.  Over the months, no-one did.  Though my annual Top Five Albums list was not finalised until last week, the #1 album never changed.

Before we get to albums, however, let’s check out some winners in other categories!

BEST BOX SET

MAX WEBSTER – The Party

I put my reputation on the line when I recommended The Party to everyone I knew.  I only got good reviews in return.  For the record, it was our own Uncle Meat, back in July, who broke the news of this box set.  He knows someone involved with the remastering and was aware of the project well before the public was.  Though the packaging was bare bones, the reissue otherwise hits all the bases.

BEST REISSUE

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria 30th anniversary edition

What was probably my #1 album for Christmas 1987 is my favourite reissue in 2017.  In a year featuring fantastic reissues by Marillion (Misplaced Childhood) and Whitesnake (1987), none brought me back in time like Leppard’s Hysteria did.

 


TOP FIVE ALBUMS OF 2017

In case you doubt, check out Deke’s list over at “Arena Rock”.  One of my favourite rock scribes agrees with me on most of these releases.  ‘Twas Deke who turned me onto the #5 album — thanks bud.

Normally I exclude live albums from my lists, but this has been a special year.

 

5 1/2 IRON MAIDEN – The Book of Souls: Live Chapter

5. STEPHEN PEARCY – Smash

4. ALICE COOPER – Paranormal

3. THE DARKNESS – Pinewood Smile

2. GRETA VAN FLEET – From the Fires

1. STYX – The Mission

I haven’t cared so much about Styx since I was 10 years old!  What an incredible album The Mission is.  And I’m counting it as CanCon, because of singer/pianist Lawrence Gowan (but you can call him Larry).


 

Other fun categories!

BEST NEW ARTIST – Greta Van Fleet

BEST SOUNDTRACK – John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

BEST SOCIAL MEDIA – Michael Sweet (Stryper)

BEST ARTWORK – Deep Purple, for InFinite

MOST IMPROVED BEHAVIOUR – W. Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses)

BEST COMEBACK – Quiet Riot, for Road Rage

BEST GUITARIST – Tom Morello (Prophets of Rage)

BIGGEST DOUCHEBAG – Gene Simmons (KISS)

SECOND BIGGEST DOUCHEBAG – Kid Rock

BIGGEST MISTAKE – Black Sabbath and Bill Ward not playing together at all before The End, a wasted opportunity to set things right.

 

#615: “Shhhh! Be quiet, we’re recording!”

A prequel to Getting More Tale #344:  Childhood Recording Sessions.

 

GETTING MORE TALE #615:  “Shhhh, be quiet, we’re recording!”

 

Kids today have it easy!  Want a song?  Just copy and paste a file.  There’s no skill in it.  Not like we had to do it when we were really young.

My old Sanyo tape deck didn’t have audio in and audio out jacks.  It didn’t have a dual tape deck.  It had a headphone plug and that was it.  You couldn’t record anything except with the built-in microphone.

Like kids of the 80s always would, we improvised and did the best with the equipment we had.  Recording back then required planning and discipline for pretty shoddy results.

How did we do it?  In the most primitive way imaginable.

Step one:  Phone a friend who also had a tape deck.

No dual tape deck?  No problem, all you needed was a friend who also had something to play music on.  Come on over!

Step two:  Shhhhhh!  Be quiet!

We’d find a space in the house without a lot of commotion.  In our house, that was the basement.  We’d set up two tape decks, facing each other, about three or four feet apart.  One for playing, one for recording.

We’d tell all parents and younger siblings to “be quiet” and “stay out”!  Once this message was received we could begin recording.  Press “record” on one tape deck and “play” on the other.  Then, very very quietly, step out of the room let the tapes run until the whole side was recorded, open air style, in glorious mono.

The end product was usually awful, but as pre-teens we didn’t know any better.  You could usually hear us whispering at the start or stop.

This is how I first got Styx’s song “Mr. Roboto”.  It’s how I made copies of my Quiet Riot Metal Health tape for my friends.  I sold them for $1 per copy.  I thought I was some kind of entrepreneur!  I even recorded the audio of Star Wars off the TV so I could listen to it, before we had a VCR.

Hard to imagine this was the best we could do, but for years we made it work!

 

#587: Jean’s Stormy Weekend Vinyl Tales (With Video)

GETTING MORE TALE #587: Jean’s Stormy Weekend Vinyl Tales

Another long weekend in Ontario has come and gone.  Yes, international friends, the first weekend of August is a long weekend for we Ontarians.  Despite a stormy start, it was just a lovely time.

Every holiday weekend needs its weekend music (unless your name is “1537” or some similar number).  The car trip commenced with the finish of a double live album called Black Masquerade by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  This 1995 concert features Doogie White on lead vocals.  We enjoyed it as a contrast to the newer Live in Birmingham 2016 with Ronnie Romero singing, which had been in the car during the week.  On the whole, I think I prefer Romero to White in Rainbow, but that’s not an easy choice to make.  Both are very talented and charismatic frontmen, but with very different voices.

When Black Masquerade came to its natural closing point with “Smoke on the Water”, I switched the deck over to the new Styx.  Don’t be surprised if you see the new Styx album The Mission on many 2017 year-end lists.  It’s been a favourite of mine the past few weeks, and Mrs. LeBrain was very impressed herself.  “And this is their new album?” she asked, since it sounds straight out of the 1970s at times.

We got to the cottage Friday night.  A storm was blowing through.  It was too cold for funnel clouds to form, but as you will see in the video I put together, it was gale force weather.  And then the next day?  Completely calm.

Brand new video!

For weekend entertainment, I brought with me some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.  Thanks to Mr. BuriedOnMars, who has been reviewing the MCU films in order, I have been re-watching the early ones again.  This weekend I chose Iron Man 3 and The Avengers, because neither are on (Canadian) Netflix at the moment.  Both were enjoyable entertainment, but Iron Man 3 is just too gosh darn long and weakly plotted.  And of course there was more music to be heard.  Some friends down the road were partying to George Jones.  It reminded me of the old days when my Grandpa would have done the same but maybe with Kenny Rogers instead.

Mom and dad provided the meat for the weekend, and I did the cooking.  Jen did up her potatoes and I took care of the steaks.  On the holiday Monday, we hooked up with old buddy Peter and his sister Jo.  Regular readers may recall some of my adventures with Peter, particularly Getting More Tale #559:  Hotel Hobbies.  It was fantastic catching up with the two of them at the newly renovated Jean’s for breakfast.  Jean’s is bigger and just as busy.  It’s one of those reliable breakfast places that we have been going for years.  Still reliable!

Peter told me something at breakfast that did surprise me.  I noticed that the old Record Store in which I worked was now buying used vinyl again.  In the past, only Tom‘s store stocked used vinyl but times they-are-a-changin’.  Sadly Peter’s dad passed away late last year.  He had some old vinyl.  Not a lot, just about 20 records or so.  Pete’s dad would have had old German music, nothing of any particular monetary value.  Peter decided to give my old store a call to see if they’d take them off his hands.  What he was told was so strange:  He’d have to send them into the head office, and they’d take a look and get back to him within one month.

One month?  Peter took the old records to Value Village and dumped them there.

I don’t know what the story is with the one month thing.  Maybe they realized the records weren’t their thing and were trying to brush him off?  Seems a bizarre answer.

I’m sure if Peter’s dad somehow had any rare German Scorpions records, he would have let me know, as unlikely as that is!

Great to see old friends again.  After breakfast the weather was starting to turn rotten, so we made our way home.  And what a musical ride it was!  All of Deep Purple’s Purpendicular album.  All of Rush’s Moving Pictures.  Side one of the next album, Signals.  It was a smorgasbord of so called “smart-guy rock”!

Hopefully we’ll make it up a couple more times before the summer is over.  There are still quite a few new albums here at LeBrain HQ that need road trip testing.  Styx’s The Mission passed the road trip test, securing a big point in this year’s Best Album stakes.  To be continued….

 

 

#583: Rock and Roll Shooz

GETTING MORE TALE #583: Rock and Roll Shooz

How rock and roll are shoes?  Not very.  But certainly some rock bands have had some exceptional footwear over the years.  The wild, multi coloured cowboy boots of Poison, Cinderella, Bon Jovi, and the gang…remember those?

In a world where image matters, you needed a cool pair of shoes to complete the look.  Glam rock bands went with cowboy boots, while thrashers and punks tended to go for skate shoes.  But who has the best shoes in rock?


  1. Robert Plant

Robert Plant?  For reals?  Yes, for reals!  Robert is about the only rock star to make sandals cool.  Sandals are about as un-rock as shoes can get.  But if you’re Robert Plant, it matters not.  A bare-chested long-haired blonde blues screamer in sandals is still rock and roll.  The sheer un-rock-ness of sandals combined with Robert Plant makes them infinitely rock and roll.


  1. Lady Gaga

You might not consider her very rock, but she did perform with Metallica.  Her outrageous footwear hasn’t caused her any broken ankles…yet.  Hiking in high heels?  Why not.  She’s done that.  In a Gaga world, anything goes.

 

 


  1. Elton John

Before there was Kiss, there was Elton John.  People remember the outfits, wigs and glasses, but don’t forget the silver platform kicks!

 

 


2. Chris Cornell

In honour of former customer Nancy who was obsessed with Cornell and his boots.  RIP Chris!

 

 

 


1. Gene Simmons

Dragon boots.  Enough said!

 

 

 


I had my own pair of goth platform boots in the Record Store days.  I remember I had them delivered right to the store, because I was never home to receive packages.  When they arrived one of the bosses asked “Where do you think you’re going to wear those?!”  Fuck you, that’s where!  The boots were the centerpiece of my Paul Stanley costume.

At work, running shoes were the most comfortable.  We were not allowed to sit, so you had to stand for your whole seven hour shift.  The first time, it takes a little getting used to.  After that you’re golden, but comfy kicks are the key.  Lady Gaga could not work a shift at the Record Store.

When I was hit with a 12 hour shift, which was more frequent than you might imagine, I discovered that changing your shoes halfway through the shift helped.  I’d bring a spare pair with me and change at the middle point of the day.  It helped with the pain and felt like a fresh burst of energy.

Today I have a pair of heavy steel-toed boots at work and they’re great for the leg muscles.  They are nice heavy shoes.  Walk around in those all day and you will build some pretty awesome leg muscles.  Not very rock and roll, but definitely heavy metal.


REVIEW: Styx – The Mission (2017)

STYX – The Mission (2017 Universal)

Did anyone in 2017 expect Styx to come out with one of the best albums of the year?  Even though Styx have successfully carried on with Lawrence (But You Can Call Me Larry) Gowan on keys and vocals, nobody really predicted this!  Yet here it is:  The Mission, surely one of the best albums of the year so far,* and the best Styx in decades.

Here’s another unexpected twist:  The Mission is a concept album about colonizing Mars!  It has a coherent story and recurring hooks.  In many ways The Mission sounds like a lost album from Styx’s progressive rock heyday.  But you wouldn’t guess that if you only heard the Gowan-sung lead single “Gone Gone Gone”.  Although it’s about a rocket launch, you might not catch that on first listen.  The year is 2033.  “Light it up, let’s get this show on the road!”  This hard rocker came out of nowhere as one of the big surprises this summer.

“Hundred Million Miles From Home” (vocals by Tommy Shaw) has a funkier 70s groove.**  When the band harmonizes together, it sounds like vintage Styx.   “Hundred Million Miles” is a great song and also fairly accurate.  Mars was 100 million miles away from Earth as recently as the 2012 opposition.  Problems happen on “Trouble at the Big Show” (vocals by James “JY” Young), a slower groove with killer bluesy guitar work.  This moves into the ballad “Locomotive”, about the brave pilot of the ship Khedive.  Shaw pours passion into it, as he does the next one “Radio Silence”.  Just as interesting as the actual music is the spacey backing sounds.  It certainly adds atmosphere to an excellent vintage sounding song.  “Radio Silence” recalls some of Shaw’s 70s hits like “Boat on a River” at times.

Gowan returns to the microphone on the lovely piano ballad “The Greater Good”.  It sounds like quintessential Styx; hit quality material with soul.  Things start to get upbeat again on “Time May Bend” (another Gowan vocal).  If you’re not familiar with Lawrence Gowan, he is not a Dennis DeYoung clone, sounding closer to Steve Hogarth of Marillion.  (He even looks a little like “H”.)  Listen for a subtle musical “S.O.S.” signal in the backing track.

There are musical segues and radio voices between some tracks, but  “Red Storm” is the next full song. It’s a very progressive song with all the trimmings.  It’s based on Tommy Shaw’s excellent acoustic work, and it paints a picture.  The crew of the Khedive must brave a dust storm on the surface of Mars.  “Carry what you can, there’s no turning back, gonna make it to the mothership.”  There are avante-garde flashes of guitar noise that emulates the squeals of a radio, or perhaps metal on metal.  Then a rocking riff and solo…”Red Storm” has it all.

Gowan absolutely proves his mettle on the piano opus “Khedive”.  The blur of piano recalls classical compositions, and the guitar solo is pure Queen.  The minimal vocals continue the story:  “Onwards!  Onwards!”  Then we revisit the sounds of the 80s on “The Outpost”, the triumphant conclusion to the story.  The 80s synth and beats remind of the classic “Mr. Roboto” period of Styx, but it rocks solidly too.  Listen for a reprise of the “Overture” music from the start for the album.  Finally “Mission to Mars” is the denouement, a bright and lively end.

The Mission is brilliant for a number of reasons.  First and foremost — great songs.  You will play The Mission over and over, simply because it has great songs, as good as the days of old.  Second, although Lawrence Gowan has his stamp all over the album, it sounds like Styx and nobody else.  Having Gowan more involved is a good thing.  He has a 40 year career in Canada, and he didn’t have enough time on the Cyclorama (2003) album.  But this sounds way more like Styx than Cyclorama did.  Finally, this album is loaded with incredible playing by all the members.  This is easily the best lineup Styx have had since Kilroy Was Here (1983).***    Fans of the guitar (both electric and acoustic) will find many moments of musical ecstasy.

For Styx, this is mission accomplished!

5/5 stars

* One of the best album covers too.  Is that a port hole, or a turntable?  You decide.  

** Bassist Chuck Panozzo plays the funky bass on “Hundred Million Miles From Home”, his only appearance.  Chuck, the other original member besides JY, is only able to make sporadic appearances with Styx due to his battle with AIDS.  Ricky Phillips plays the rest of the bass parts, meaning Styx have two official bassists!

*** Lawrence Gowan (piano/vocals), Tommy Shaw (guitar/vocals), James “JY” Young (guitar/vocals), Todd Sucherman (drums), Ricky Phillips & Chuck Panozzo (bass)

#520: Musical Firsts

GETTING MORE TALE #520: Musical Firsts

What are your “musical firsts”?  Here are mine!  Let’s start with concerts.

  • First concert: Johnny Cash (1983)
  • First highschool concert:  Free Fare (1986)
  • First rock concert:  Helix (1987)

Who remembers Free Fare?  They billed themselves as “the band from Florida” (there was only one?) and toured highschools all over the US and Canada.  They played Grand River Collegiate in my grade nine year, performing popular covers and giving away Free Fare bandanas.

FREE FARE

 

How about your first musical instruments?

  • First instrument played – bass guitar
  • First instrument bought – electric guitar
  • First instrument smashed – the same electric guitar, smashed by my sister

 

Finally I’m sure you all remember your first albums.  Here are mine:

 

Leave a comment with some of your memorable musical firsts!

REVIEW: Damn Yankees – Damn Yankees (1990)


Scan_20160525DAMN YANKEES – Damn Yankees (1990 Warner)

Now here is an album I haven’t played in a long time!

When the supergroup known as Damn Yankees first emerged in 1990, they quickly became my favourite new band.  Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw (Styx), Jack Blades (Night Ranger) and drummer Michael Cartellone emerged with one of the hottest new albums of the summer:  Pure radio-ready hard rock, but with the integrity added by the Nuge himself.  All aboard!

(I like that Ted is in the credits also as “security”.  You can picture it.)

So what is Damn Yankees?  Light rock, Great Gonzos, or a mixture?  The answer is:  all of the above.

The predominant direction is radio-ready hard rock circa the time. Even though all these guys had been around for a while (especially Ted), if you didn’t know who they were it was easy to mistake them for the new hot band.  Their lyrics are geared to the young.

Dressed to kill and lookin’ dynamite,
With her high-laced stockings and her sweater so tight,
I asked her name,
She said her name was ‘Maybe’…

Oh come on guys!    Jack Blades was 36 years old when he sang that.  We already have one Gene Simmons.  Thankfully, the lead single “Coming of Age” was musically impeccable for hard pop rock.  Lyrically, there is nothing of any value here, just meaningless male drivel.  The Van-Hagar like licks of “Coming of Age” are enhanced by the aggressive lead guitar work of Terrible Ted, who probably thought the lyrics were pure poetry.

The bluesy riff of “Bad Reputation” screams Nugent, but the vocals of Blades and Shaw blend as if they have always been a vocal team.  Of course as we all know, Damn Yankees led to a long and very productive partnership for the two, with Shaw-Blades being a personal favourite album.  The most remarkable thing about Damn Yankees is indeed the blend of vocals.  Just listen to that bridge in the middle of “Bad Reputation”.  Two rock singers rarely complement each other as well as Shaw and Blades.  But just when you thought it was going too folksy, Ted returns with a fluttering blitzkreig of strings and (probably) freshly killed meat.

“Runaway” features some of Shaw’s great slide guitar work, on a mid-tempo rocker with an unforgettable anthemic chorus.  Damn Yankees is often forgotten for its guitar work.  Think about it though:  Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent are two of America’s best from the old school.  While the songs are simple pop rock, the solos are simply awesome.

By the time fall 1990 rolled around, it was time to drop a ballad for a single:  “High Enough”.  In the year 1990 there were a number of acoustic ballads that were all very similar sounding:  “Silent Lucidity”, “More Than Words”, and “High Enough”.   There is no better way to describe “High Enough” than “sounds like summer 1990”.  Unfortunately it does not stand out or have any qualities that make it more memorable than the other ballads out that year.  The saccharine strings just do me in.  I get ballad-fatigue. And let’s not even talk about that awful music video.

The band’s namesake track “Damn Yankees” sounds like a Nugent song.  It has a chunky, ballsy riff, though nothing to write home to mother about.  Unfortunately the lyrics are terribly dated, the kind of pro-American intervention sentiment that went out fashion many years ago.  With references to Manuel Noriega and the Middle East, this is all much less glorious with the benefit of hindsight.  There’s a lesson to be learned there:  avoid overly politicizing your lyrics, young rockers.

For a better ballad than “High Enough”, check out side two’s opening track “Come Again”.  This one is old-school, sounding something like Styx’s “Boat on a River” colliding with the Nuge on “Stranglehold”.   It builds into a frenetic solo section that is just to die for, Nuge seemingly doing his best Eddie VH impression.  Then on “Mystified”, Ted brings the blues while Tommy gets down on the pedal steel.  This is a great little blues rock jam of the kind ZZ Top are comfortable with.  I’m certain Rev. Billy would approve of the Nuge’s blues licks, authentic as they come.

“Rock City” ain’t bad at all, accelerated for your pleasure and name-dropping Jimmy Page in the lyrics.  It’s not the heaviest song on the album — they save that for the end — but it’s definitely second.  There is little doubt, based on interviews with the band, that the heaviness came from Ted.  Let’s all take a moment now to thank Ted Nugent for rocking so damn hard.  Thank you, Mr. Nugent.  Penultimate track “Tell Me How You Want It” is a pretty good mid-tempo song, with classy vocals from Tommy and Jack.  Had they released more singles from the album, this one would have been up for the job.

And then finally…

A blues lick, and Ted speaking:  “Nice lick!  I have a feeling this is gonna be a rhythm and blues song…nice, real nice.  Tasty.  WAITAMINUTE!”

“Piledriver” is just a dumb sex song, but it’s also pure Gonzo Ted, the Ted you knew was hiding somewhere on this album.  You wanna hear Ted go friggin’ top gear for four and a half minutes?  “Piledriver”, baby!  Tommy and Jack on the backing vocals even drop an F-bomb!  Can you believe it?  They’re the nice guys of the band!  But let’s not forget Michael Cartellone on the drums, hammering relentlessly, not only keeping up with Great Gonzo but setting the freakin’ pace!  Even without headbanging along (strongly recommended), you’re exhausted by the end of the tune.

I say again, thank you Mr. Nugent.

As it turns out, Damn Yankees is still an entertaining listen 26 years later.  I didn’t properly appreciate the smoking guitars on it at the time.  Back then, I was interested in ballads and singles and catchy tunes.  Even so I still liked “Piledriver” back then…because it’s awesome.  The album’s real flaw is on the lyric sheet.  I know these guys can do better than some of these tracks.

3/5 stars