The one VHS tape I’m working on currently spans a period of recordings from about July 1986 to September 1987. This Hear N’ Aid special features a MuchMusic interview conducted by J.D. (John) Roberts. There’s lots of exclusive information in this valuable video, including a tidbit on bands who refused to be in the same project as Spinal Tap!
GETTING MORE TALE #721: Christmas Mix 2010
Making mix CDs was a lot of fun (and work). I used to make custom Christmas discs that didn’t suck, for my family and friends every year. Why did I stop? I ran out of good Christmas songs. Let’s face it: unless you’re one of “those” people, Christmas music is nails on a chalkboard. You can only take so much. If you’ve worked retail in the past (or present), you probably can’t take any at all!
2010’s Christmas CD is a good example of what I used to make. You’ll notice there’s no Trans-Siberian Orchestra on there. I used up all their best stuff on the previous instalments. I tried to avoid duplicating songs from previous years although Hawksley Workman’s Christmas album is so good that I made exceptions for him. Hawkley’s Almost A Full Moon is the best Christmas CD that I own, and probably the best one I’ve heard. I bought it twice. He reissued the album after only a year with two extra songs! I forgave him, because Almost A Full Moon is so warm and perfect.
What do you think of the Christmas 2010 CD? Would you have wanted a copy that year?
1. Bill Ward – “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Yes, that Bill Ward! The Black Sabbath drummer did a spoken word recording of the classic Christmas poem, and I opened the CD with it. I can tell you that when we played the CD at dinner time, this track was a failure. Nobody paid attention.
2. Kathryn Ladano – “Jingle Bells”. I got their attention back by putting on a track by my sister. This instrumental version on bass clarinet is from her CD The Christmas Album. Of note, her Schnauzer Ali is credited for barks on “Jingle Bells”!
3. Lemmy, Dave Grohl, Billy F. Gibbons – “Run Rudolph Run”. This breakneck Christmas carol is done in the Motorhead style. I played it in the car for sis. “This is shit!” she proclaimed. “Why do these guys get to put out albums and not me?”
4. Marillion – “Let It Snow”. This drunken favourite is from 2007’s Somewhere Elf. The spirit is intoxicating, as I’m sure they were!
Found some booze in a flight case,
And I’m afraid that we’re all shit-faced,
So I guess that we’ll have to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
5. David Bowie and Bing Crosby – “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth”. This is the David Bowie song that your grandma likes. It’s just lovely. I didn’t own anything with this song on it, so I had to download. That’s why it didn’t appear until 2010!
6. Helix – “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”. Yes, it rocks, but not too hard! Helix covered Lennon for their Heavy Metal Christmas. Singer Brian Vollmer is trained in the Bel Canto technique and he’s more than capable of singing songs for your Christmas dinner in mind.
7. Extreme – “Christmas Time Again”. My mom always liked Extreme, or “Nick Strean” as she thought they were called. This isn’t the greatest Christmas song in the world, but it doesn’t suck.
8. Hawskley Workman – “3 Generations”. Told you there would be some Hawksley. This touching song is about three generations of women in the kitchen making Christmas dinner together.
9. Elvis Presley – “Blue Christmas”. I must have downloaded this one too. I am a bit of a sucker for Elvis. I included Joe Perry’s instrumental version on a previous CD.
10. The Beatles – “Christmas Time is Here Again”. Not one of their best songs, but it’s the Beatles so it had to be included eventually. This version comes from the 1995 CD single for “Free As a Bird”. Relatively few have heard it, and I thought that would get people’s ears perked up, but by this time, the wine was out….
11. Steve Vai – “Christmas Time is Here”. This is from the first Merry Axemas. It’s a lovely track and not too shreddy. Remember this song from the Charlie Brown Christmas special? Steve does it on guitar, of course!
12. Jethro Tull – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”. This funky flute version will get the toes tappin’. Hard to believe that this is from Tull’s final studio album in 2003, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album! It would have been nice to get one more, but Tull’s Christmas Album is a good one to have around. If you need to tolerate Christmas music, you may as well listen to Tull jamming it out.
13. Brian Vollmer – “The First Noel”. Helix’s Vollmer put out a rare charity album in 2005 called Raising the Roof on Mary Immaculate. “The First Noel” is one of the best tracks. Vollmer is the first artist to get two appearances on my CD.
14. Ted Nugent – “Deck the Halls”. Much like “Run Rudolph Run”, this one smokes! It’s a guitar instrumental at full speed. Grandma didn’t like this one.
15. Twisted Sister – “O Come All Ye Faithful”. I really don’t like the Twisted Christmas album. This song was a hit though, and since it’s virtually identical to “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, I can…errr…take it.
16. Cheap Trick – “Come On Christmas”. My sister was a huge Cheap Trick fan at one point. She had this song before I did. Essentially just a Cheap Trick pop rocker with Christmas lyrics. Sounds like classic Cheap Trick to me.
17. AC/DC – “Mistress For Christmas”. I put this song on as the joke it is. I like to remind people that AC/DC did have a Christmas song. “Jingle bells, Jingle bells, jingle all the day. I can’t wait to Christmas time, when I roll you in the hay.” Hey, it counts.
18. The Darkness – “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)“. In my review, I said, “Even though the guitars are thicker than a good ol’ bowl of Thin Lizzy pudding, there is no mistaking this for anything but a Christmas song. It is a joyous rock re-imagining of a Christmas carol, with the unmistakable Justin Hawkins falsetto.” Plus, sis likes The Darkness.
19. Jon Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas”. I like this one. Fuck off.
20. Jimi Hendrix – “Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne”. From an EP called Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Jimi and band jammed out some impressive licks but the dinner party didn’t enjoy.
21. Jim Cuddy – “New Year’s Eve”. Cuddy’s solo debut All In Time is tremendous CD and comes highly recommended by this guy right here. It’s like listening to a Blue Rodeo album, but only the Jim songs. The sentimental “New Year’s Eve” is a lovely ballad that fits right in with the Christmas theme.
22. Bob & Doug McKenzie – “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. You gotta end with a classic. From 1981’s The Great White North comes the big Christmas hit. We used to hear this every single year on my mom’s old clock radio. We’d squeal with laughter trying to sing along. “A beer…in a tree…”
How would you rate this one? Trying to avoid overlap was previous instalments was my Achilles’ heel. I’d swap out a lot of the lesser songs for better ones, but it’s not bad. It’s listenable. It’ll do.
GETTING MORE TALE #648: “The Mall”
For the first 23 or 24 years of my life, Stanley Park Mall was my epicenter. If I said “Mom, I’m going to the mall!” she knew where I meant. It wasn’t the biggest mall, and certainly not the best. But it was my mall.
This very typical mall, on Ottawa Street in Kitchener, opened in 1969. It was nothing special. There was nowhere to buy music, until it expanded with a Zellers store circa 1973. As small children, we weren’t interested in music yet. Instead it was Zellers’ toy section that had us enthralled.
In 1977 my mother took me to Stanley Park to look for a birthday present for a neighbor named John Schipper, older brother of my best friend Bob. “Look mom! The movie we just saw!” I exclaimed as I laid eyes on my first Star Wars figures. My mom bought C3P0 for John, and R2D2 for me, so we could play together. Little did she know what she got me into, by buying my first Star Wars figure at that Zellers store. But to be fair, who could have known?
The mall also had a bank, and my dad soon transferred there as its manager. I used to feel like such a big shot, strolling into my dad’s office. He’d let us sit at his desk and play with his calculator and telephone. I can even remember helping him with spelling on an internal memo! Once, when my sister was sitting in his chair, she pushed the button for the silent alarm. “Hmmm, this doesn’t do anything,” she thought. After she left, the cops arrived in force to answer the alarm. My dad realised what happened too late!
With my dad working there, plus the Zellers store, it was our main destination for shopping or just being kids. It was walking distance from home. When I was old enough to cross streets by myself, my friends and I made regular trips on our bikes. The Little Short Stop store was our main hangout. We would buy candy, pop, chips, comic books, and Star Wars or Indiana Jones cards. I managed to get a full set of The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I got them slowly, pack by pack, and by trading with friends. There was a neighbor who had the one Indiana Jones card I still needed called “I Hate Snakes”. A trade was made and I completed my set. I wish I knew what happened to all the doubles and triples of those cards.
When I was older, that Little Short Stop was my store for amassing a huge collection of rock and wrestling magazines. Hit Parader was my main title and I had a complete set of every issue from 1987-1990.
The mall was also right close to our grade school. Many of my friends would “cut through” the mall as a short cut to get home. One fellow, Chris, tells me he was sometimes chased around by mall security. Naughty kid.
In 1987, something remarkable happened. Stanley Park Mall got its first actual record store: A&A Records and Tapes. Suddenly I had close access to all kinds of music, including 12” singles. I remember flipping through their Aerosmith and Europe singles, thinking “Woah, there are songs here I have never heard of.”
We still checked Zellers, but A&A became the place for us. In fact there were even A&A coupons on the back of every box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. $1.00 off tapes! We sure cashed in a lot of A&A coupons that year. I loved checking out their front charts too. Vinyl was still happening, and the front chart was a big huge display of records. Much larger and more eye catching than a CD chart. I remember rejoicing when Judas Priest’s Ram It Down was on it.
I have clear memories of Bob Schipper and I walking to the mall in early April of 1988 to pick up a new release. Two copies of course; one for each of us. Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was an album we had been looking forward to, and we both got it on that cold Saturday in April 1988. (It took a while to adjust to the new Maiden sound, but Bob’s immediate favourite was “Infinite Dreams”.)
In 1989 I got my first real job, and it was at that very mall. The grocery store Zehrs was my first pay cheque. I cut my hair short for that job and was teased for it at school. Not only that, but suddenly I also needed glasses! It was a pretty drastic image change. But it was a cool work experience. Not only was I working at Zehrs with my best friend Bob, but my dad was still working in the mall too. All three of us in one place!
I was pretty loyal to A&A during those years at the mall, but in 1990 they went under. The last thing I ever bought at an A&A (though a different location) was a CD of Steve Vai’s Flex-Able and some blank tapes.
Yet every cloud has a silver lining. A former employee of A&A Records at our mall location decided to open a business of his own. Guess who he went to for the bank loan? My dad! Six months after A&A closed, he opened his own record store in that mall. The rest is history. The store that I now call “The Record Store” hired me on in July of 1994. And he’s still in business in 2018, albeit not in that mall anymore which suffered a slow and steady decline in the 90s.
There are no record stores in the mall anymore. Zellers went under, and Walmart took over. Their tiny little entertainment section is the only place to buy a CD. The bank is still there, and so is the grocery store, but my Little Short Shop is long gone. There isn’t much left. No Baskin Robbins, no 31 flavors. Bargain shops and discount stores have replaced all the places I used to frequent as a kid. Sad, but not unexpected.
The strange thing is, as much as the mall has changed, I still get a huge shot of nostalgia when I walk into that Walmart that used to be my Zellers. Like a déjà vu, suddenly I am hit with the memory of finding a rare GI Joe, or flipping through Judas Priest tapes. The mall I knew from long ago is no longer the same, but the memory remains.
One thing I love about Christmas time is the ability to knock out all these Christmas album reviews. I can only listen to this stuff seasonally, and I wouldn’t subject you to it otherwise. In my quest to Review Everything I Own and Then Some, we must occasionally delve into Christmas music.
Rock bands doing Christmas tunes is…well, I mean it worked out OK for Elvis, and then later on Twisted Sister and the guys from Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Each of those artists had success with Christmas music for good reasons, but I think Twisted Sister’s was purely the novelty value of it. The humour. The nudge-nudge-jokey-ness of it. It wasn’t that they made a Christmas album laden with integrity. It’s a joke album as the intro implies.
The album commences with Dee & company singing a traditional acoustic version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. They are then interrupted by someone saying “This isn’t Twisted Sister!” It then goes metal with a dash a punk. “Ho ho ho! Let’s go!”
The biggest joke is that, apparently, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was always just “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” in disguise. This was the big Christmas hit that put Twisted back in the spotlight, and it’s certainly the most enjoyable track on the CD.
Songs follow vague heavy metal blueprints. “White Christmas” is imbued with an Iron Maiden gallop and a couple chords from “SMF”. One thing is clear, and that is Dee Snider’s voice still has it. The guy is a hell of a singer, period. He’s joined by Lita Ford on “I’ll be Home for Christmas”, in the style of Twisted’s original epic ballad “The Price”. Unfortunately this one stinks like Christmas cheese that should have been thrown out last year. A shouty “Silver Bells” is done with a splash of AC/DC, but ends up sounding more like Poison. Bassist/producer Mark “The Animal” Mendoza has a pretty kickass bass solo, though.
Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” is the foundation of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, and it is at this point that you realise a whole album of this stuff is a bit too much. “Let It Snow” is given the doomy treatment, as an amalgam with Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”. I suppose the doomy direction does go better with lines like “The weather outside is frightful”. Maybe Dee & company are on to something here, but I’m not too sure about the Sabbathy version of “Deck the Halls” with echoes of “War Pigs” and “Never Say Die”.
“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” is a little dull, and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is too long, as it often is. The only version of “Twelve Days of Christmas” anyone needs for a novelty is Bob & Doug McKenzie’s classic. That’ll make your party pop a lot better than Twisted’s version.
Let’s check some boxes. Is this album:
- Fun? ✓ (sometimes)
- Heavy? ✓
- Twisted? ✓
- Creative? ✓
All well and good. But will you:
- Listen to it more than once a year? ✘
- Enjoy as much as something else you could have played instead? ✘
- Be able to use more than one or two songs for your Christmas party? ✘
- Ever really look forward to hearing it again? ✘
It is good that A Twisted Christmas brought the band the kind of success they deserved, but it is truly a shame that it is the final Twisted studio album. They were always considered a joke to the critics, they shouldn’t have gone out on vinyl as a joke.
GETTING MORE TALE #508: The Weirdest CD that I Own
The size of my personal CD collection now has exceeded my ability to store it properly. I count it not in the hundreds but the thousands, my best guess right now being about 3500 titles on CD. As one would expect, with that many titles here, you’re going to find some odd ones. In fact, for the second-last chapter of the original Record Store Tales, Mrs. LeBrain brought out 10 of her favourite weird finds in my collection. She missed the strangest one of all.
This CD was given to me by a short-lived employee named Damien. Damien will forever be scorned in the annals of Record Store History, for he quit (to become a roadie for the summer) with zero days notice, on the day before my vacation. And boy, did I get in shit for going on vacation anyway. This was one more incident that caused my direct supervisor, the one I call the “office bully”, to stop speaking to me for three weeks straight.* The punishment far outweighed (and outlasted) the crime. Cut that shit out, act like a damned professional.
So I will always have memories surrounding this strange 2 CD set, Promos Volume 6 put out by a New York talent agency in the late 1990’s. It’s a free promo that has 87 samples of various performers such as Joy Behar and Stockard Channing showing off their voice talents. “Chevy Chase stars in Modern Problems, tonight on HBO!” says Behar. “Jack Lemmon starring in five movies, all day on Cinemax.” She has a bit for Comedy Central, and so on. Each voice talent name on these discs (the majority of which you’ve never heard of) has roughly a minute of samples to show off their skills.
None, not even Joy Behar, have anything on Dee Snider of Twisted Sister.
“From a frenzy of emotion, to a frenzy of violence. What happens when fans become fanatics? It’s an athlete’s worst nightmare: Being stalked by a fan whose devotion becomes obsession. [gunshot sounds] CNN presents: Fans who turn the field of sports, into a field of screams.”
Wow. Who writes this stuff? I can all but guarantee that any one of my readers can come up with a better tagline than that paid CNN employee! Snider delivers his lines with the sobriety necessary. But that’s nothing. Nothing at all, compared to Sexy Snider.
The scene is set with sweltering sax, to go with the velvet voice of Snider’s sultry seduction.
“Lifetime has what you’ve been waiting for. Spend every night of the week with a different man. We’re not talking boys here. We’re talking men, who leave you breathless. Richard Gere. Tom Cruise. Kevin Costner. Sean Penn. All this week, only on Lifetime.”
It’s great stuff and I’ve used it for filler at the end of mix CDs before, when I needed something less than a minute long to max it out. What I really love is how Snider’s New York accent really comes out when he says “Sean Penn”. Damien may have been a dick, but this one track 51 second in length has given me…many minutes…of enjoyment over the years.
The 2 CD set comes in a “fat style” case, taking up far too much room for its 51 seconds of dubious value. I wouldn’t trade it away for all the specials on HBO and Lifetime combined…but I also don’t need Volumes 1-5!
What’s the weirdest CD that you own?
* Three weeks was the standard waiting period for her to get around to speaking to me again. Pretty awkward when you work together every almost single day. This happened on multiple occasions.
When Twisted Sister split in 1987, I don’t think anybody ever really expected there to be enough demand for a reunion. How wrong we were! During the downtime when the band was acrimoniously separated, Dee Snider carried on with a low-key solo career. Widowmaker’s Blood & Bullets (featuring Al Pitrelli and Joey Franco) was heavy as fuck even compared to early Twisted Sister, but failed to make any sales impact.
A few years later (1995), Dee went on the road with the S.M.F.s (Sick Mutha Fuckers, of course) playing nothing but classic Twisted Sister. It went almost completely unnoticed, but a live album (recorded raw, straight to two track tape) was recorded and released as Twisted Forever. This hard to find disc is well worth having. Dee played a variety of Twisted material, some of which you’ll probably never hear live again. It was a surprisingly good album on some fly by night label, and an easy must-have for any Twisted fan that finds it in good shape.
Just like the good old days at the Marquee in England, Dee opened with “What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)”, one of the fastest tunes in the Twisted catalogue. Only the true fan will realize by listening alone that the band is not Twisted Sister. I don’t know any of these guys, but they are more than up to the task. As for Dee, the year may as well be 1981 for all the ferocity he pours into every shriek and every scream. With a double shot of early Sister, “The Kids Are Back” lives up to its name, and the crowd are behind Dee 100 fucking percent. “Stay Hungry” only gets them going more and more. The audio quality is good enough for rock n’ roll. Think of it as a great bootleg, a desk mix. You can hear the bass clearly, not always true for bootlegs, and the vocals are clear as a bell. What is also clear is that this is 100% live.
Dee Snider never changes and there is plenty of time for lightning-fast stage rants! “Am I in your way? Oh that’s OK, now the fucking BEER comes through here! NO! This is my fucking stage, do me a favour, and get the fuckin’ beer off the stage!” Then, “Yes, but I’ve mellowed with fuckin’ age. No I haven’t!” It’s true, though his schtick is probably at least partly done because it’s expected of him. (Later, he does a Cornholio impression, and rips into Al Gore. Ah, the 1990’s!) Dee even does some of the same song intros, such as “Destroyer”. “You got hands! Use ’em!” screams Dee as the riff begins. Now you can bring that tough New York street vibe into your living room.
Hit after hit, and fan favourites galore, Twisted Forever is especially desirable for some more obscure songs. 1985’s Come Out and Play was the album that more or less did Sister in. Dee can’t seem to remember when he recorded it (1987 he says). The Come Out and Play medley is an eight minute stream of tunes includes parts of the title track, “Leader of the Pack”, “I Believe in Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Be Chrool to Your Scuel”. A little bit later in the set is the awesome “Wake Up (The Sleeping Giant)” from 1987’s controversial Love is For Suckers. Dee says they do those tunes due to relentless demand from the fans. I believe it: “Sleeping Giant” is one of those hard rock songs that should have been a classic. All these tunes are heavier than the somewhat limp album versions, and Dee could still hit all the notes.
I think Twisted Sister is a band that were always better than people assumed they were. Their new film, We Are Twisted Fucking Sister, demonstrated just how driven they actually were, with care and craft put into their reckless music. These are songs that might not be known to the masses, but should be. I’d rather hear “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll” on the radio than the oft-played “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. There is so much emotion on this album. At one point, Dee stops to tell the crowd, “I’d appreciate it, if everybody would stop smiling for the next 30 minutes or so. You’re making it very hard for me to act mean on stage.” This particular moment is from a home gig in Long Island, and it sounds like a family reunion of the twisted kind. The climax of the CD is Twisted’s signature ballad “The Price”, and Dee didn’t even need to sing, the crowd could have done it all for him. All that’s left after a song like that is “S.M.F.”, over and out!
For my money you can’t beat a good raw live album recorded in a small club. Twisted Forever delivers. It might not be Twisted Sister…but when I listen to it I honestly don’t care!
EPIC REVIEW TIME.
Alice Cooper’s bizarre DaDa album was the end of an era. It marked the last album Alice recorded for his Warner Brothers contract, now complete. It was also the end of his experimental period that ran from 1980’s Flush the Fashion through to DaDa. It was the the last album Alice would make that he couldn’t remember making.
Alice mostly disappeared for the next three years. His activities were so low key that most people didn’t even notice them. He was hospitalized for cirrhosis of the liver caused by his blackout drinking. He got sober, for good. He also dealt with a divorce. Musically there was very little going on. In 1984, Alice starred in a very low budget horror movie called Monster Dog. He recorded two songs for the soundtrack: “Identity Crisises” and “See Me in the Mirror”. These two tracks are very much the conclusion to Alice’s early 80’s art-rock persona. “Identity Crisises” has a lo-fi, garage-y Iggy Pop sound. “See Me in the Mirror” is in the synthpop direction of DaDa: creepy, atmospheric and mostly electronic. These two songs were finally released for purchase on the legendary Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper boxed set in 1999.
Alice next emerged with one of the bands he inspired: Twisted Sister. Along with Brian Setzer, Clarence Clemens and Billy Joey, Cooper accompanied Twisted Sister on their single “Be Chrool to Your Scuel”. A very clever zombie-filled big budget horror-inspired music video was made for the song, which Alice co-starred in, as did Bobcat Golthwait (who was also in Sister’s “Leader of the Pack” clip). It should have been a big deal, with Alice getting equal screen time with Dee Snider. Unfortunately hardly anyone saw the video. MTV barely touched it. As a result it did nothing to aid Alice in terms of a comeback. It was good to note that Alice looked healthier than he had in years.
Alice regrouped and re-invented himself in a new persona. Taking inspiration from his Welcome to My Nightmare period, Alice went into “slasher film” mode. He recruited a massive muscle-bound heavy metal guitarist and songwriter, Kane Roberts, to be his co-pilot for this adventure. Also along for the ride was a hot new bassist and singer named Kip Winger, whose large mane hid the fact that the man was a classically trained musician. With producer Beau Hill, they made an album in tune with what was happening in 1986, and that meant heavy metal. Alice had always been a diverse, experimental artist, but this time the mission was pretty simple and the lines were clear.
Another horror film served to launch the next official Alice Cooper music: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Alice appeared in a brief cameo, but more importantly contributed two new songs to the movie soundtrack. They were the anthem “Hard Rock Summer”, and “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”, which served as the movie’s theme song. “Hard Rock Summer” was a bit of a throwaway, and was not used on the next Alice album. You can really hear the backing vocals of Kip Winger and Kane Roberts on it, but a classic it is not. “He’s Back”, and its very cool music video became synonymous with this new period of Alice Cooper’s life.
The new album, Constrictor, was finally released in September of ’86. With a snake in his mouth on the cover (not really; you can see it’s cheaply cut and pasted) it was pretty clear that Cooper was going for the scares. Opening track “Teenage Frankenstein” continues the horror theme, but combines it with Alice’s teen anthem style from the early 1970’s. “Teenage Frankenstein” is essentially an “I’m 18” for 1986. It’s not as memorable, inventive, or as good, but it gets the job done. It’s an Alice Cooper heavy metal anthem for pounding your fist to in concert. In lieu of a proper music video, a clip from his live show The Nightmare Returns was used, featuring Alice building a living robot monster on stage, which then turns against him! Alice was still one of the best live acts in the world.
It’s funny that DaDa is remembered as Alice’s “drum machine” album when it’s clear on “Give it Up” that a lot of the beats are programs and samples. “Give it Up” is a radio friendly hard rocker, nondescript but at its core not that different from the music Alice made in the 70’s. It’s even has some rock and roll piano. It’s just dressed up for the 80’s. There’s not much going on with “Thrill My Gorilla”, just a forgettable song with the shrill production that was so popular in the 80’s. Much better is the somewhat epic “Life and Death of the Party”. Slower, creepier and much more effective, “Life and Death of the Party” is the kind of song I like to point to as proof there was some mighty good material during this period. Unfortunately “Simple Disobedience” isn’t among that material. Like “Thrill My Gorilla”, there is little here to attract listeners today. The electronics and samples really are a drag. It is like there is a layer of distraction over the song that you have to penetrate through.
Flipping the record over (or pretending to since I own this on CD), “The World Needs Guts” isn’t a bad start to the second side. It could have been much heavier. It verges on the speedy power metal tendencies of bands like Accept, but the production keeps it from going all the way. As such it kind of sounds like a thin Judas Priest Turbo outtake with the synths stripped off. “Trick Bag” may sound familiar. It actually started life as “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”. There’s a demo version of “He’s Back” on the aforementioned Alice Cooper box set musically identical to “Trick Bag”. “He’s Back” was re-written, but the original music ended up as “Trick Bag”. It’s a decent album track but like much of Constrictor not particularly classic. “Crawlin'” is pretty close. With all the melody and hooks of an old 70’s Alice Cooper track circa Goes to Hell, “Crawlin'” is pretty good stuff.
“The Great American Success Story” is fantastic for two reasons. One is that it was originally written for the Rodney Dangerfield classic Back to School. Second, it’s like an updated “School’s Out” for the 80’s. Instead of celebrating the end of school, this time we are celebrating going to school. “He’s gonna take that plunge, gonna jump back in there.” Which, if you’ve seen the movie, you know is also a reference to Dangerfield’s character joining the diving team. “He thinks about the teacher in his literary class,” and I don’t blame him; it was Sally Kellerman! “Always been a brat, don’t get no respect” is another obvious reference to Dangerfield. But it’s a good song! It really should have been a single, and it probably would have been if it were in the movie.
Closing the album, we go full circle back to Friday the 13th and “He’s Back”. There’s little question that “He’s Back” is the best song on Constrictor. It actually bears more similarity to the synth-pop of DaDa than it does to the rest of the album. It’s brilliant because they stripped the song down to a very basic frame, which is a creepy digital pulse. There’s a little guitar but it’s mostly just horror pop of the finest quality. Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha…don’t turn out the lights.
Part of the problem with Constrictor is that Alice had a faceless, fairly bland group backing him. Kane Roberts can play guitar, and Kip Winger can play the bass, but did they have their own identities? No. Dennis Dunaway played bass on those early Alice Cooper albums like no other bassist in the world. Michael Bruce, Steve Hunter, Dick Wagner, and the other great players Alice worked with all had their own sound. There is none of that on Constrictor.
I want to give Alice and company an A for effort: for finally getting sober, for finally getting back there on tour, and also for going heavy this time. Unfortunately Constrictor was a comeback album that needed a bit more comeback in it. The good news is that Alice did eventually get back to full quality, but Constrictor is only about half an album. Therefore:
This is an incredibly difficult, but very important story to write. I did a draft back in November…put it in a drawer and didn’t want to see it again. Even now I don’t want to look at it.
There’s stuff in here that people don’t know, because I haven’t discussed it.
It’s clear to me now that finishing the original Record Store Tales without this chapter was a big mistake. It should have been in there, to explain how things went from “point A” to “point B”. Any questions left lingering after that ending should now be answered.
RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
Bullying is a huge issue today. Every week it seems we’re seeing kids kill themselves, because their bullies are everywhere. They don’t disappear. They’re online, they’re in the classroom, and they’re on the job. I tend to think that everybody has been bullied somewhat, so my story is no more important than yours. I’ve been criticized for talking about some of my experiences publicly. One or two people might not even believe me that these events happened.
The experiences are mine. I don’t want them buried. I want somebody to draw some kind of strength or inspiration from them. That’s how I have chosen to turn a negative into a positive. If you don’t like it, I invite you to read something else today.
Grade school was tough. Teachers turned a blind eye. One teacher specifically teamed me up with my bully in gym class. This kid had been picking on me straight from grade 2. I don’t remember anymore what started it. I probably tattled on him for talking in class, but who knows now. He focused on me like a laser beam, right from grade 2 up. I could not shake this kid. He was always there, picking on me, through grade school. My 7th grade teacher, knowing all this, decided to team us up in gym. God knows what she was thinking. Did she assume that because we had to throw a ball back and forth, we’d suddenly become friends? Bonding over ball throwing? I hated that teacher. I hated that bully. That guy was so persistent, that once we hit highschool, he skipped his own gym class and attended mine, just to continue. My highschool gym teacher was so out of it he didn’t even realize he had an extra student.
What got me through these things? Music.
I saw a guy like Dee Snider take a stand against his own bullies. They called him a “sick mother fucker”. He turned it around and showed them he didn’t care. “Yes, I am a sick mother fucker. Thank you very much.” Later on, Twisted Sister even named their fan club the Sick Mother Fuckin’ Friends of Twisted Sister. SMF’s for short. He took something negative, robbed it of its power, and created something positive from it.
Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, and especially Kiss had lyrics about not letting these guys bother you. I took them to heart, and listened to the music day and night. The fact that not one kid in my school liked Kiss, Twisted Sister, or Motley Crue only made me that much more fanatic. “If the others don’t like these groups, and I don’t want to be like them, then this music is meant for me.”
Around grade 9, the bullying finally stopped. I made it through the rest of my school life without incident. The bullies had dropped out of school. Or switched schools. The truth is I don’t know what happened to them, I was just glad to be rid of them.
My love for my music never died. It grew stronger as I became more obsessed. Music eventually lead me to the Record Store where, unfortunately, after time, bullying began again.
It happened again in 2000. I remember 2000 quite clearly. There were two or three separate incidents in 2000. One event is permanently emblazoned in my memory, never fading, always vivid as it was 15 years ago.
One person in the organization, who happened to also be my supervisor, had been working for weeks and months on our master CD pricing catalogue. [Some of us refer to this person as “She Who Shall Not Be Named”.] Shortly after the CD master had been completed, I was buying some CDs from a customer. I will never forget they were Roch Voisine discs. For some reason Roch was not in our CD master catalogue. I couldn’t find him under “V” or even “R”. The owner was in my store that day, so I asked him.
“Hey, I can’t find Roch Voisine in the CD master. It’s supposed to be done now right?”
“I’m not sure,” he responded. “Why don’t you phone her [She Who Shall Not Be Named] and find out?”
I called and asked the question to her, my direct supervisor. She somehow took this as an insult and me trying to undermine her seniority. “You’re just mad that your precious Steve Vai isn’t in the CD master!” she shouted at me. I’ll never forget the words, “your precious Steve Vai.” It underlined things that were wrong about this person being in authority: she was making it personal.
During this rant, I was told that I was trying to sabotage her position in front of the big owner. When this person eventually arrived at my store, she walked past me at the counter, scowled and told me that I was “so dead for this.”
What? So dead for what? What did I do? I noticed Roch Voisine was not in our master list. My boss asked me to find out why. So I did. I was accused of this “sabotage”, and had the Steve Vai comment thrown at me, and then told I was “so dead”? I was absolutely floored.
She stopped speaking to me for two weeks straight. My direct supervisor, working almost daily in the same location as me, completely ignoring me, for two weeks. The tension could be cut with a knife. One customer, witnessing the tension and action of my supervisor one day, said “I can’t believe they treat you like that at work.” I developed a nervous twitch in my left eye that would not go away for months. My sleep was disturbed nightly. I was a tense, stressed out disaster on a daily basis at work. Then two weeks later it blew over, as if nothing had happened. The supervisor was once again friendly as pie. I think that is one reason why some don’t believe me that these events happened. Not everybody got to see that side of her. Some did. I remember them. Lyne, who couldn’t hack it anymore and bailed to work at HMV. They knew what I was going through, because they went through something similar with the same person.
Another thing about being bullied – victims sometimes protect their bullies. Sometimes they don’t tattle. They pretend everything is fine. They do this to avoid more retribution, to regain favour of the bully, and to hide embarrassment at being bullied in the first place. I know because that’s what I did. I did bring it up to the owner once, and he asked me if I wanted him to speak to her about it. I reacted in terror. “No! Then I’m afraid it will get worse!” So nothing happened.
Then it happened again…and again. Repeating the same pattern of bullying at work. The worst was not being spoken to for weeks on end by my supervisor. The next time it happened, it lasted three weeks. I’d be asked by the owner, “Mike, why didn’t you get this done?” Because nobody told me to do it.
The second time was worse because it was personal. It had nothing at all to do with work. This supervisor had an acrimonious split with her fiancé, who also worked within the company. I knew them both. I won’t go into any details on this, because the people involved probably don’t want to be reminded of this epic shitstorm. In fact one of my bully’s friends emailed me three years ago when I first started publishing Record Store Tales, hoping I had no plans for writing about that very shitstorm. He said he was losing sleep over the thought. I told him I was not going to talk about it, because it had nothing to do with me, and I still have respect for some of the people involved. Suffice to say – there was a relationship that ended within the store, and even though it shouldn’t have, it affected the store. And me.
There was a show in town that I had attended one Saturday night. My supervisor also attended it, along with several staff members. After the gig, I said goodnight and told everyone that I was heading home, see you all Monday.
On the way home, I realized that it was her ex-fiance’s birthday, and that he was celebrating at a bar that was on my way. So I stopped in to wish him a happy birthday, and resumed my trek home.
On Monday, my supervisor confronted me about it! “You told me you were going home, but you lied to me! I found out you went to see him after the show! I don’t care if you see him! Don’t ever lie to me! If you ever lie to me again you are dead!”
I denied having lied to anyone, but she was on a roll. I was in tears when she was done. I knew that I was going to be treated to more weeks of silence and bullying, and it had nothing to do with work at all. It had to do with someone who was in a position of power, who was not able to keep her work and personal lives separate. Although the first bullying incident nearly destroyed me, the second one was worse, and I knew that there was no way I was ever going to shake this person as long as we both worked for the same company. I tried to out-last her, but she out-lasted me and I quit first. I broke the cycle by removing myself from it.
Someone once asked me, “Was it bullying, or just somebody being an asshole repeatedly?” It sure felt like bullying to me, although it took me years to admit it to myself. The pattern of protecting the bully and pretending everything was normal continued for six years, out of fear. It was like grade school all over again. It felt exactly the same. I consider myself a survivor. I made it through. I had to quit the store to do it, but I did it.
After leaving, I began to put the pieces together. That what I had experienced wasn’t “normal” like some seemed to think it was. Calling it something else didn’t change the fact that this person was a total bully. My bully. And like most bullies, she was good at wearing two faces. That’s why, I guess, some of her friends today choose not to believe me that it sucked as bad as it did. Just because she was nice 50% of the time didn’t negate the stuff they didn’t see. A bully can still be mean to you part of the time, even if they bring chocolates to work and act nice the rest of the time. It was an experience that drove me close to the point of nervous breakdown (or beyond), and nobody is going to tell me that it didn’t happen, or that it wasn’t as bad as it was.
It did happen. It made me a stronger person today.
I’m grateful that artists such as Paul Stanley and Dee Snider went through something like what I went through, and survived to sing about it. Now it’s my turn to tell you about it. Somewhere out there, I hope there’s a kid who decides not to take any more shit from their bully. Break the cycle.
I have disabled comments for this chapter. I want the story to stand on its own, and I don’t want to talk about “She Who Shall Not Be Named” any more. Thank you.
RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#399: Record Shopping in the Sticks
Summers in Kincardine, Ontario in the late 1980s and early 90s were beautiful, but to a teenage me they felt isolated. No phone at the cottage, no cable TV, and nothing that cityfolk would call a record store. We did have a few options. There were places that you could buy music, including one crummy music store that popped up for a brief while. Summertime is made for music, and one of my favourite childhood experiences was listening to brand new tunes in the summer.
We’d be at the cottage for two weeks straight every August, and I would usually pack my entire my tape collection to come with me (oh how my dad loved that). Having all my favourite songs with me meant I’d always have music for whatever mood I was in. Still, nothing could beat the rush of new music! New didn’t have to mean “new” per se; I was collecting the back catalogues of many metal masters too. There was always something to buy that would be brand new to me.
In the very early days, you could buy tapes at the local Stedmans store downtown. Stedmans sold everything from clothes to musical instruments to toys. Like many of these places, they are now closed. It was one store to buy new cassettes, and that is where I picked up Priest…Live! back in July of 1987. The other place to buy tapes at that time was an electronics store called Don’s Hi Fi. White Lion’s Big Game and W.A.S.P.’s Headless Children came from Don’s Hi Fi during the summer of 1989. I couldn’t wait until I got home and played them. We’d rip open the plastic and check out the pictures in the car, waiting to get back and hit play. The following summer, I bought Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory at the same store. We would also be able to find tapes in the cheapie bin at places like drug stores, and I picked up The Earthquake Album from such a bin.
Around 1988, an actual music store opened up in Kincardine. It was there that I purchased Painkiller by Judas Priest, and Exposed by Vince Neil. It was a small store and they didn’t have many catalogue items, but you could pick up new releases there and some key older releases such as greatest hits.
Beyond these few stores, you had to get out of town. Kincardine is a small place, but Port Elgin to the north offered a few more options. There was a Radio Shack there with a different selection of tapes. They also had 7” singles, of which we bought a couple on clearance.
In the summer of ’92 we made several day trips to Port Elgin. My sister and I were headed to a “cards & comics” store that we discovered. One afternoon my sister phoned them up to ask if they had any promotional Star Wars cards? They did – road trip! The first of many happy and successful trips to Port Elgin looking for goodies. (Yes, promo cards are collectible just like some promo CDs.)
On the same trip, we found this grungy record store on the corner of the main drag. Really scummy, really dirty. They bought and sold used tapes and records. My sister brought in a whole bunch of her cassettes for store credit, and walked out with Rod Stewart’s Out of Order and one or two others. My first purchase there was Black Sabbath’s Live at Last. I bought my original copy of Helix’s Wild in the Streets on cassette at that store. The tape glowed in the dark. I’ve never seen another glow-in-the-dark tape before or since! I also picked up Kiss’ Creatures of the Night (original cover) on vinyl, as well as Twister Sister’s Come Out and Play. You might remember that Come Out and Play had that awesome cover with the opening manhole? That was the reason I bought it.
Those stores in Port Elgin are both gone. Don’s Hi Fi still exists in Kincardine, but they don’t sell music anymore. I did buy a pair of earbuds there about five years ago, but things have changed so much. There’s no such thing as “isolation” anymore, not like it felt back then. Today I can sit on the front porch of the cottage, streaming live radio from home straight to the laptop. I used to pack my entire tape collection for the cottage, but now anything I want to listen to, I can search for on Youtube. It is simply amazing how much has changed in the last two decades, and I am sure that in another 20 years it will be just as startlingly different.
As long as I can still listen to my music there, I’ll be happy!
RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale
#329: Selling My CDs
We all end up with CDs that we no longer want or need. I very rarely sell my CDs anymore. I’d rather donate them to a new home, where I know they will be loved and appreciated. The money part is less important to me. The last time I decided to sell off some CDs, I decided to try Sunrise at Fairview Mall (now closed). I’d never tried selling there before, but I had bought plenty. Their pricing was more than fair, but the guy was very slow. He didn’t seem as knowledgeable as the people I was used to dealing with. For example, I sold him my original, non-remastered CD copy of Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry. He asked me, “What is wrong with this CD?” It seemed he didn’t know what remastered vs. non-remastered was, only that the bar code he had punched in came up as something “discontinued”. So I had to explain the remastered vs. original thing to him. He ended up giving me $5 for the CD which was good, and I took store credit (which was a little bit more).
Still, it took him a lot of time. I only had a handful to sell that day (10 CDs if I remember) and it took the guy more than half an hour to look at them. It wasn’t a bad experience; I ended up with enough store credit to buy a some things. The money was good, about the same as I would have got at my old workplace. It was a comparable total, and I was happy with it, but the wait was a little excessive. I used the store credit to buy my friend Peter the new Metallica live set for his birthday.
I have also sold my discs (CD and DVD) at garage sales, an experience so memorable that I’ve written a future Getting More Tale about that story. Stay tuned! I’m saving that one. Let’s just say that serious garage sale people are an entire species to themselves; the cheapest people you will ever meet in your life.
I don’t need to do any more major purges of my music collection, currently. Any time I need to weed things out (usually an old version of a CD that I have upgraded) I can always find them a new home. You might say, “Sure, but money is better.” Maybe, but my friends return the favor in spades, so I can’t complain. I’m often the recipient of used CDs and movies that are sent to me in repayment for the discs I gifted earlier. Nobody ever asks for repayment, we just seem to have created circles of friends who share the wealth. In fact I’ve acquired some really great collectible stuff just due to the charity of friends. Thanks!
What do you do with your old CDs? Sell ’em, trade ’em, gift ’em? I’m curious so let me know in the comments!