The Right to Rock

#643: Boom Boxes and Walkmen

GETTING MORE TALE #643: Boom Boxes and Walkmen

In the 80s, you had to have a Boom Box.  Or a Ghetto Blaster.  Or whatever you wanted to call a portable tape deck/radio.  Everybody had one, because they were awesome.

In order to make your Boom Box truly portable, you needed batteries.  There was often a place on the back where you could wrap up and store the power cable.  Then you’d load up the deck with batteries.  My first Sanyo stereo deck took about eight D-cells.  They’d last less than one afternoon of rock and roll.  When the tape started to slow down, you knew your batteries were dying.

Next door neighbor George liked to prop his Boom Box up on his shoulder as he walked, like the kid in the video for “The Right to Rock” by Keel.  It seemed cool at the time.

My second Sanyo was a dual tape deck with detachable speakers.  To make it portable, you just secured the speakers to the sides and plugged in those batteries.  This one took even more batteries than my first one.  In addition to the D-cells to power the music, it also required two AA batteries for the clock!  The truth is, a Boom Box was such a pain in the butt to make portable, that we tended to avoid it.  Sure, we could take it to the park and assault the tennis court with Black Sabbath, but it was just better to keep it at home.  A Ghetto Blaster, plugged into an extension cord in the garage, could still keep us entertained outdoors.  Parents would yell to “turn it down!”, so we would…for a little while before turning up again.

A Walkman was easier on batteries than a Boom Box.  The only problem with a Walkman?  Nobody else could listen in.  So that made it a little awkward and a lot funny when George would walk down the street with his Walkman.

George worked an early shift at Long John Silver’s, which was walking distance.  In the morning he could be seen strolling off to work, earphones on his head.  My sister and I would watch from the window.  As he walked forcefully down the street, suddenly he burst into song.  A lot of the time, you couldn’t tell what he was singing.  Most memorably though, he serenaded the neighborhood with “Love Gun”.

We watched him walk when he suddenly yelled, “ALRIGHT! LOVE GUN!” just as Paul Stanley did on Alive II.  And then George ripped into the chorus:  “Love Gun, Looo-ooo-ove Gun…”

It was hard not to laugh.  George singing in the mornings was a daily event, rest his soul.  We teased George a bit but he was a good person.  He was certainly unique and a non-conformist.

My parents bought me a neat little speaker set to go with my Walkman.  When fully packed up, it looked like a cylinder with the speakers on each end.  When you opened it, you could remove the speakers and set them up on your desk or shelf.  Just plug in a Walkman and you were good to go.  If you wanted to go portable, there was room inside the set for both speakers and your Walkman.  It too was heavy on battery use, but it was a very cool little set.  I brought it to school when I needed musical accompaniment to any of my OAC-level presentations.

Who misses stocking up on AA and D-cell batteries?  And don’t forget extras for when your Walkman slows down. You don’t want to be stuck without batteries! Isn’t it so much easier to just charge some USB speakers and plug them into your phone?  Sure is!

 

 

REVIEW: Keel – The Right to Rock (1985)

IMG_20150613_084127KEEL – The Right to Rock (1985 A&M)

From the Gene Simmons Song Factory, heeeeere’s Keel!

Like many Gene Simmons productions, Keel’s The Right to Rock bears his name on a few writing credits.  The rest of the songs are basically reworkings of tracks from Keel’s first album Lay Down the Law.  That album, like Ron Keel’s debut with Steeler (featuring one Yngwie J. Malmsteen) were on Shrapnel.  For the A&M Records debut, they pulled out the big guns.  They got Gene Simmons in all his wig-ness, and put out a very corny but tremendously fun music video.

It is “America 1989”, and rock and roll is outlawed. “Those who are apprehended suffer severe consequences.”  Can our young teenage Keel lookalike get away from the rock police?  Quiet Riot did something similar with their “The Wild and the Young” video a year later. It’s corny fun.

The song too is corny fun. I guess it’s a classic now. It has that stock heavy metal riff that you need: something Motley Crue or the Scorpions would be comfortable with. It has that rebellious rock theme that was so prominent in the 80’s. It has a shoutalong chorus. “You got it! The Right to Rock!” Hey, I grew up in a Catholic school. I know what this is about. “Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life!” I had a teacher call me out on the first day of school for wearing a Judas Priest T-shirt. I could relate to this song in a big way when I was 13.

It should be noted that Gene Simmons, as a producer, is not known for his sonics. The Right to Rock sounds pretty good for the period, but the drums ring shallow and weak. There’s not much presence for the bass guitar, and the backing vocals are the typical rock mush. That’s what you get with Gene behind the console.

“Back to the City” has a good Priest-like chug to it. I think Keel were going for something middle of the road with their music, like Priest-meets-Scorps-meets-Crue-meets-Kiss. If so, this hit the mark. Ron’s vocals are overwrought but that’s his style. If you don’t like that kind of vocal, you won’t like Keel.

Kinda stinky is “Let’s Spend the Night Together”. You know, I still gotta give the guys credit. They have made this into a pretty fine pop metal song. If you didn’t know the song, you’d assume it’s an original, in the pop metal genre. So from that perspective, I think it’s kinda cool. Stinky and cool — like good gorgonzola.

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“Easier Said Than Done” was written by Simmons/Weissman, the same team responsible for much of the Animalize album. The lyrics even reference “Russian Roulette”, a song title Gene had been toying with for years. (A song called “Russian Roulette” was finally release on Sonic Boom.) So, guess who “Easier Said Than Done” sounds like? That’s right — it is a dead ringer for Simmons-style Kiss. And it’s actually a pretty good song. The problem is Ron’s Gene impression. I can’t help but chuckle at his dead-on Gene vocals. I dare you to refrain from a giggle yourself. Same deal with “So Many Girls, So Little Time”. Kiss fans will recognize that’s a line recycled from the Kiss song “Burn Bitch Burn”.

Onto side two, “Electric Love” is a Keel original, but you immediately notice that the song isn’t as immediate as the two previous Simmons tunes. “Speed Demon”, another original, sounds exactly as the title implies. Quality-wise, it’s only at “Priest outtake” level (Defenders of the Faith era). Then it’s back to Simmons outtakes, with “Get Down”, the weakest of the Simmons songs by a long shot. “You’re the Victim (I’m the Crime)” is a Gene-like title, but this too is a Keel tune. It’s in the same vein as “Speed Demon”, and the same level of quality.

It’s fun to revisit The Right To Rock periodically…but sparingly.

3/5 stars