vinyl

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Breadcrumbs EP (2019)

ALICE COOPER – The Breadcrumbs EP (2019 Edel)

Alice Cooper wanted to do a Detroit garage rock record and pay homage to his roots.  And so we have The Breadcrumbs EP, six tracks of stripped down goodness, ironically produced by Bob Ezrin.  The 10″ vinyl is limited to 20,000 copies.  Somehow, by the grace of the black widow, we scored #48!

For these special songs, Alice is backed by the MC5’s Wayne Kramer, bassist Paul Randolph, Grand Funk’s Railroad Mark Farner, and Detroit Wheel Johnny “Bee” Badanjek. A remake of Alice Cooper’s “Detroit City” (from The Eyes of Alice Cooper) is an appropriate starting point:

Me and Iggy were giggin’ with Ziggy and kickin’ with the MC5,
Ted and Seger were burnin’ with fever,
and let the Silver Bullets fly,
The Kid was in his crib, Shady wore a bib,
and the posse wasn’t even alive.

That’s some rock and roll poetry right there.  Not one of Alice’s finest songs but worthy of a second chance.  Then “Go Man Go” is a new original composition co-written by Wayne Kramer.  It’s punk rock Alice, as authentic as the bands he’s paying tribute to.  Bob Seger’s “East Side Story” closes the side on a steady groove, right out of Hendrix’s version of “Gloria”.

A really funky “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” (Suzi Quatro) is the centrepiece of the EP.  Horns blastin’, Alice hasn’t been this funky since his dance-oriented Alice Cooper Goes to Hell in 1976.  “Devil With a Blue Dress On” (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels) is the soulful side that Alice occasionally shows.  It’s merged with “Chains of Love” (J.J. Barnes) which pulls everything back to rock.  Finally “Sister Anne” by the MC5 puts the snot on the nose and the grime in the rock.  Kramer’s simply awesome riff is perfectly complemented by Cooper.

If copies are still available, get one.  Cooper fans will love the change of pace, while rock and rollers will adore the authenticity.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Kathryn Ladano – Masked (2019 vinyl)

KATHRYN LADANO – Masked (2019 vinyl version – test pressing)

The new Dr. Kathryn Ladano album Masked will be out soon, and we just got our (very neat and clean) hands on a pristine test pressing of the vinyl LP.  We don’t have the sleeve, liner notes or CD bonus tracks.  However we can say, without any of the extras, that this is a remarkable sounding album.

You can hear Dr. Kathryn breathing, and you can hear the click of the key pads.  The album is completely solo improvisations.  What you hear is what was played in the moment, in the studio.  The fact you can hear the keys and the breathing makes it a very physical sounding album.

Isotope records did an excellent job with the actual cutting of the vinyl.  It will be interesting to hear a comparison with the eventual CD version (which will come with two more songs).  The bass clarinet is a diverse instrument, and it’s possible you won’t even know you’re listening to a wind instrument at times.  There are moments of dissonance that sound like an electric guitar.  Others sound like a broken theremin, Jason Voorhees, or a dog growling!  The second track is absolutely mental.  Ladano also goes full “Van Halen” with speed and frenzy in certain passages.  However it’s all executed with complete control and mastery of the instrument, and you can hear this.

The rich tones of the bass clarinet are evident in the more melodic material, which some listeners might find easier to digest.  The rhythms you can create with the bass clarinet are also pretty riveting.  Each track is different, which is good when you’re listening to instrumental music that is so far out in left field.  This album goes from left to right and all over the place, but rarely hangs around the middle.

As a whole, Masked plays out like the soundtrack to a science fiction film.  Something like THX-1138 or Blade Runner: 2049.  The only difference is that this is entirely performed on one acoustic instrument.  It sure sounds like many, though, because it’s hard to believe a woodwind can make this much noize.

4.5/5 stars

Here’s an interview with Dr. Kathryn by Ambush Schnauzer Paparazzi. She discusses the new album and artwork below.

#770: Encore!

GETTING MORE TALE #770: Encore!

I’ve been avoiding downtown Kitchener for the last couple years.  All that construction (five years’ worth) installing our new light-rail transit system…it’s been hellacious.  But that construction is now over, and the LRT train (called the ION) is running every 15 minutes.  Only two years behind schedule!  And guess where one of the stops is?  Right by legendary record store Encore Records.  Perfect!  No need to worry about parking.

Mrs. LeBrain and I hopped on a bus to the mall, and a few minutes later the train pulled in.  Using the free Wi-fi, I live-streamed myself making goofy faces on our new train.  The ride was quiet and fast since it only stopped a handful of times.  These new trains are lovely!  Now that they are finally running, I can see that the headaches will be worth it.  Clean and quick – I’d use the ION again.  It’s a shame but there are still people who hate the train so much that they would actually like to spend taxpayer money on ripping up the tracks!  What a waste that would be.  Let’s give this LRT a fair shake.

We disembarked the train at the City Hall stop, only a brief walk from Encore.  Not only was this my first ride on the train, but also my first visit to Encore since they moved from their old Queen St. location.  The new store, though not wheelchair accessible, seemed bigger and cleaner.  Old pal Al “The” King was there, happily still slinging the rock for us patrons.

We chatted a bit.  Al really enjoyed working at Encore.  There was a guy that I trained at my old Record Store about 15 years ago.  He left shortly after to work at Encore, and he’s still there!  When you find a place you enjoy working, I guess you stay!

Time to go look at music….

It didn’t take long for me to exceed my budget for the day.  First snag was from the new release rack:  The Beaches’ excellent new EP The Professional, $9.99.  A great recording; it will be getting a few spins this summer.  Next:  the used CD racks.  Plenty of stock as usual.  I came looking for old Styx, but there was no used Styx that I needed.  Instead I grabbed three Scorpions remasters:  World Wide Live (with DVD), Savage Amusement (with DVD), and Animal Magnetism.  $20 each.

Whoops!  I already owned Animal Magnetism.  No big deal; looks like some lucky person will be getting a free copy from me.  I really have to keep track of reissues better.  This is happening more and more frequently as my collection grows.

I still wanted some more classic Styx.  I’ve been playing my Styx albums repeatedly.  I needed some more classics to throw in the shuffle, so I moved on to the new CD racks.  There I picked up Pieces of Eight and Crystal Ball.  $9.99 each.  One by one and I’ll get them all.

Continuing through the racks of new stock, I spied two Kick Axe remasters by Rock Candy.  I’ve wanted both these albums for a long time:  Vices and Welcome to the Club, $22.99 each.  I’ve spun through both twice and was impressed with both the music and liner notes.  What an underrated singer George Criston is.  This sparked more Kick Axe purchases later on Discogs and Amazon.  The third album, Rock the World, is coming in the form of another Rock Candy remaster.  And thanks to the excellent liner notes inside Vices, I also tracked down some early Kick Axe on Discogs.  Debut single “Week-End Ride” / “One More Time” from 1981 is inbound!  Also coming, from the same year, is a compilation LP called Playboy Street Rock.  Kick Axe have a live track on that called “Reality is the Nightmare”.  It’s going to be cool hearing those early songs, which had a different singer.

It’s funny about Kick Axe.  One of the first buttons I ever bought for my jacket was Vices.  It only took close to 40 years to finally get the album.

Finally we closed the Encore trip with some vinyl.  A lovely reissue of Alice Cooper’s Zipper Catches Skin, on clear “black smoke” vinyl.  It looks and sounds great, and now I finally have all the Alice Cooper studio albums.

We bid farewell to Al and headed home again on the ION.  Now that the train is up and running, I do believe I’ll be making Encore a fairly regular weekend stop.

5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Vinyl Disc – a CD and a record all in one

VINYL DISC

If you love physical media (and chances are that you do or you wouldn’t be reading this) then you probably love it in all its myriad shapes and forms. Let’s be honest, when it comes to sheer varieties, there are far more weird vinyls out there than CDs. Picture discs, shaped discs, discs with liquid or actual objects inside the record, odd speeds, colours, thicknesses…you can take the vinyl LP in so many different directions. When you mess around with the CD format (shaped discs, enhanced discs, CD/DVD DualDiscs) you often end up with a product that won’t play in all players. Vinyl tends to be good to go for whatever turntable you have, though you will need a manual over an automatic when it comes to the Vinyl Disc.  That’s because it’s a 5″ disc, not a 7″, so you want to make sure you drop the arm on the media and not the platter.

When it comes to odd formats, Youtuber Techmoan (or Mat if you’re not into handles) is the expert.  When I saw his video on the subject, I knew I wanted to get a Vinyl Disc just for the novelty value.  This is a CD that has normal CD content on one side, but a groove on the other.  This groove can be played on a record player, revealing a bonus track.  I wondered if any bands I liked had ever released one.

It turns out, one had:  The Hellacopters, who are vinyl-mad in the first place.  I have a couple albums of theirs with vinyl-only bonus tracks.  I didn’t own the album Head Off, so I went to Discogs and got the Vinyl Disc version.

In his video, Techmoan complained of the poor sound quality on the vinyl side of the CD.  My copy of Head Off was factory sealed, but still suffers from pops.  Perhaps I should not have played the CD side first.  The vinyl side could have picked up dust from inside my computer.  I played the vinyl side twice, the second time after a light cleaning.  Both times there were loud, distracting pops.  You can see them clearly in Audacity.

The sound quality was never going to be as good as a real record, not with those grooves packed so tight.  And how deep can they actually be?  Of course it has to play at 33 1/3 RPM.  While it’s not as bad a flexi-disc quality, don’t expect much better performance than that.  It’s flat and indistinct.

You also end up with inner groove distortion over the entire song, simply because a Vinyl Disc is basically all inner groove.  Look at the pictures below.  The entire disc is well within the runout groove on an LP, being just a little larger than the label.  It’s darned close on a standard 45.  Point is, compared to real vinyl, this disc is tiny, and that has consequences.

Distortion and noise matters less with a band like the Hellacopters.  A little inner groove distortion sounds OK on them, but not for other groups.  So, the vinyl side of the Vinyl Disc is a novelty.  Serious record fanatics are not going to want to listen to it, because it won’t be up to par for them.

What about the CD side?  No issues whatsoever.  It plays exactly like it should, with no side effects that sometimes plague non-standard CDs.  In this case, the album is only 36 minutes long, which I am sure will have many people asking “then why bother with putting another song on the other side?  Why not put them all together on the CD side?”

A very good question.

Look, this type of CD was launched in 2007 and only lasted about a year.  There was a reason it didn’t catch on, and you can hear that reason.  For 99% of the population, all they would have needed was all the songs on the CD.  It’s the 1% of us nutters that love weird stuff like this.  There is a very, very low number of people who sit up at night thinking, “Would it possible to play a CD on a record player if it had grooves?”  But I promise you, we exist, and our questions have been answered.

Yes, it’s possible.

But no, there really isn’t a good reason to want to do it.  Oh, I suppose if you had an album that was just over 80 minutes, and you needed to leave a song off (like Extreme did), you could have put it all on one Vinyl Disc.  But for far less cost, you also could have just included two CDs.

The vinyl disc comes with a little spacer, like a foam donut, so the larger CD hole will fit nicely on a record player.  This ensures nice smooth play.

Whoever it was that figured out how to marry a CD to a record, they are unsung geniuses. They answered the questions of insomniac format-heads worldwide, and they got it to work.

Just because it doesn’t work particularly well doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it.


REVIEW: Helix – Icon (2018)

HAPPY CANADA DAY from LeBrain and Superdekes! HELIX double feature!

HELIX – Icon (2018 Universal vinyl)

New Helix vinyl?  Yes please.

The Icon series of compilations used to be a budget CD line that you could pick up for $5 or under.  Now, you can even get ’em on vinyl.  Buy ’em direct from Helix mainman Brian Vollmer and he’ll sign it for you.  This copy is signed by all five current Helix members, including a pre-injury Fritz Hinz.

As far as Helix compilations go, you can’t do much with just 11 tracks.  Even so, Icon has some surprises and plenty of pleasers.  There’s also enough difference from 2016’s compilation Rock It Science to justify it.  Opening with the one-two punch of “Rock You” and “Heavy Metal Love”, Helix top loaded this thing with their best known songs.  Perfect for the newcomer, or just a great party.

From there it’s “The Dirty Dog”, a long time Helix concert favourite.  This is followed in quick succession by some great singles:  “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'”, “Wild in the Streets” and the dark ballad “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  All three songs are considered to be Helix classics.  “Deep Cuts the Knife”, written by guitarist Paul Hackman, is a particularly powerful ballad.  The entire first side is from the Capitol Records years, featuring the best known Helix lineup:  Vollmer, Hinz, Hackman, Brent Doerner and Daryl Gray.

Side two has a different flavour.  Only the hit “The Kids are All Shakin'” originates in the 1980s.  This top Helix pop rock track is followed by the Helix of the 90s and today.  “Good to the Last Drop” is another ballad, but much brighter than “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  This is the original album mix, with minimal keyboards.  Then it’s “Runnin’ Wild in the 21st Century”, kicking your teeth in at lightspeed.  The last two songs feature some help from guitarist extraordinaire Sean Kelly.  A razor sharp “Even Jesus Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town” comes from 2014’s excellent Bastard of the Blues.  The aggressive rocker is based on the fact that Helix can’t even their new songs played on the radio in their home town of Kitchener, Ontario.  Finally, the 2016 single “Gene Simmons Says (Rock Is Dead)” tells the demon where it’s at!  Maybe Helix don’t get radio play in Canada but rock ain’t dead — not if Vollmer and Co. have anything to say about it!

When it comes to Helix compilations, they are so numerous that you can really take your pick.  If you really care about the band, then just buy ’em direct from Vollmer at Planet Helix.  There are loads to choose from, but only this one was ever made on vinyl.  Or, you can just go CD!  Either way, support the boys if you’re gonna buy some Helix.

4/5 stars

#763: L’Empire contre-attaque

GETTING MORE TALE #763: L’Empire contre-attaque

We didn’t have a VCR in 1980.  You could rent them; this was usually reserved for special occasions.   That meant, unlike today, we couldn’t just watch the latest Star Wars any time we felt like it.  The best way to re-experience the movie was on your own, with action figures and soundtracks.  The Empire Strikes Back was my favourite album at that time.  I played certain tracks on those records so often with my kid fingers that they started to skip.

I used my parents’ big living room hi-fi.  Giant wooden speakers as heavy as oak doors.  A turntable, an 8-track, and a receiver.  Once I discovered Star Wars, I think I used it more than they did.  The Empire Strikes Back came in a luxurious gatefold, with photos from the film, liner notes, and a generous booklet.  It didn’t take long for the rips and tears to set in; that record was well loved.  Usually, I would plug in the set of headphones and listen quietly while turning the pages of that booklet.  On weekends, my sister and I would probably set up a big battlefield and re-enact the movies, with the soundtrack playing in the background.  The most frequently played tracks were “Yoda’s Theme”, “The Asteroid Field” and of course “The Imperial March”.  Sometimes we would ambitiously re-enact the entire movie in sequence using the whole soundtrack.

We had to improvise.  There were lots of characters and vehicles we didn’t have.  When the Wampa ice monster attacks Luke Skywalker and knocks him off his tawn-tawn, we had to use Chewbacca as a stand-in for the monster.  Before we had a Boba Fett, we used a Micronaut with an actual missile-firing backpack.  We didn’t have an AT-AT, so we used my sister’s cardboard Jawa sandcrawler.  The centrepiece of our play time was usually my huge Millennium Falcon toy.

Before anyone gets too nostalgic for the good old days, I’ll remind you those Kenner toys were actually quite shit.  My two biggest toys, the Falcon and the X-Wing, both broke immediately out of the box.  The wings on the X-Wing never worked right and I had to wedge marker lids in the wings to keep them open.  The hinge for the boarding ramp of the Falcon snapped when my dad put it together.  He tried to glue it, but ultimately the door was held on by an ugly piece of masking tape.  Sturdy toys they were not, and parts were always popping off.  The guns refused to stay on the wings of the X-Wing.  The canopy of the Falcon always popped open mid-flight.  It too eventually got locked down by masking tape.

During these huge play battles, my sister and I would take over the entire living room floor.  There was a coffee table that usually acted as Imperial headquarters.  You could park a TIE fighter on the shelf underneath.  All the while, John Williams and the London Symphony spun behind us.  I’d flip sides and cue up another track, or just play “The Imperial March” again.

When we were done playing Empire, we would do our own original stories.  We usually set these “pre-Empire“, since Han Solo was frozen in carbonite at the end of the movie.   He was a favourite character and we had two Han Solo action figures:  original Han and Hoth Han.  I loved Hoth Han.  Not only did he look cool but he was the only figure you could take his gun and plug into a holster on his hip.  It was hard to really make good coherant “pre-Empire” stories though, because we also wanted to play with other cool figures like Lando, and Yoda.  It didn’t particularly matter because we had tremendous fun without a logical story.

I’ll say it again:  improvisation.  We built a custom multi-level Cloud City out of cardboard boxes.  It had sliding doors and sort of an elevator.  We made our own figure-compatible vehicles out of Lego.  Before I had a figure of Han Solo frozen in carbonite, I took my Solo and put him in a glass of water.  If I put him in the freezer for a few hours, I’d have a frozen Han ready to go for the next adventure.  My dad was bemused to go into the freezer and find Han Solo in there so frequently.

No matter the story or setting, the Millennium Falcon was there.  You could fit several figures in it, with two in the cockpit, one in the gunner’s chair, and several tossed into the opening rear compartment.  The cool thing about the gunner’s chair was that it rotated in sync with the top quad-cannons.  The Falcon’s rear compartment was equipped with a space chess table (called Dejarik), a Jedi training area (you know, for that one scene), and a smuggler’s compartment with secret hatch.  This made it more of a playset than a ship, but it did have several features that made it more a ship than a playset as well.  Close up the rear compartment, raise the working landing gear, and you are airborne.  The Falcon also had sound effects and a large battery compartment where the escape pod would have been.  While playing on the living room floor, if the track “The Asteroid Field” was playing, you just had to get the Falcon ready for take off.  Close the ramp, the canopy, and the rear compartment.  Raise the landing gear and you were space-bound!  Then I’d fly the ship around the living room in sync with the swells and crescendos of the theme.  It really felt like Star Wars at that point.

In 1981, the first Indiana Jones soundtrack was released, also composed by John Williams.  It was official then:  Williams was my favourite.  I didn’t have very many records; most of the others were “Story Of” soundtracks with full narration and dialogue.  That was another way to re-live a movie in a pre-VHS household, but I kept coming back to the actual movie scores.  I outgrew the “Story Of” records but not the scores.  Even so, nothing topped the original two-record set of The Empire Strikes Back.  When Return of the Jedi was released in ’83, it was only a single record.  It didn’t have as many memorable cues.  I loved and cherished it, but not as much as Empire.

Besides, in 1983 something else happened besides the end of the Star Wars trilogy.  I was getting older, and there was this new song out.  I heard four words — “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto“, and my world shifted once again!  But that, friends, is another story.

 

#757: The Demise of CD?

GETTING MORE TALE #757: The Demise of CD?

I don’t know if you’ve heard.  There’s this newfangled audio format that’s all the rage.  It’s called the “record”, or “long player”.  “LP” for short.  The technology is actually ancient.  It’s based on a needle running over a groove, picking up the vibrations, and converting it into sound.

Certainly not as sophisticated as the digital music that most of us consume today.  There are none of those pesky 1’s and 0’s being decoded.  It’s simple tech and maybe that’s why the LP has become so popular in recent years.  We’d never disparage the use of the LP.  It’s a physical medium, and it’ll last a lifetime if properly cared for.  Physical product is everything to the true music lover.

But what of the CD?  The compact disc has been our friend and companion since 1982.  Like many friendships, we have had our ups and downs.  For many of us, the CD still reigns supreme.  It’s smaller than an LP.  It’s easier to keep in mint condition than LP.  On a typical non-audiophile household setup, it sounds better than LP and is certainly superior to mp3.  For convenience, you can convert the CD to mp3 files and take it with you in just one click.  It’s a lot trickier to do that with an LP.  For many of us, the CD is the perfect format.  Plus they have all the bonus tracks, bonus discs, and musical extras that are rarely included on the LP versions.

Canadian comedian and rapper Tom Green recently announced his very first solo album.  It is being produced by Ship to Shore Phono Co.  It will be on green vinyl…but there will be no CD release.

Here we are in 2019, and Tom Green is releasing his solo debut…with no CD release.  This isn’t some indi artist.  This is a well known comedian who started in the CD age, made it big on MTV, and later became a fan favourite on Big Brother.  No CD release, just LP!  Cool, right?  Sure, but what does this mean for the beloved compact disc?

I’m not entirely sure.

These things go in phases and there is always a chance that CD will experience a nostalgia phase like LP is right now.  But it’s hard to get nostalgic about that little silver 5” disc.  Kids of today know them as those quaint things their parents had lying around but they weren’t allowed to touch.  Are these signals for the beginning of the end of CD?  Will there ever be a special “CD Store Day” for those of us who still think the silver discs are superior?

Time will tell.

#747.5: Girls With Guns and Friends With Records

GETTING MORE TALE #747.5: Girls With Guns and Friends With Records

If you’re keeping up on things, you know I’ve been downsizing.  When it’s stuff that I care about, I like to make sure it goes to a good home.  I gave Iron Tom his signed Iron Maiden poster back.  Some of my Lego made its way to a friend at work who has four kids.  The rest of my junk just went to Goodwill.

What to do with my rock magazines?  Ages ago, when I first got married, I gave my rock mags to an old buddy named Len.  I decided to do the same again.  Len is a massive Kiss fan, and most of my remaining magazines were Kiss.  I had some Kiss comics from the 90s in there too.  I knew he’d appreciate them.  I also had a stack of CDs to give to him; CDs that I replaced with updated versions, like Shaw-Blades.

Len popped over to pick up the magazines, bearing gifts in return!  Records, in fact.  Not just any run of the mill records either.  Rare ones.  Two of these records were on my “Holy Grail” list, once upon a time.  Wanna see what he brought?

“I know you’ve been really into Styx,” said Len.  He presented me with Tommy Shaw’s first solo album Girls With Guns!  Seven months ago, I got my first CD copy.  Now I have the LP, too.  When it rains it pours!  I’m looking forward to spinning it on vinyl, as it was originally intended.

Next:  something I’ve never even seen before.  An LP copy of 1977’s Quiet Riot I!  This is a somewhat puzzling record.  It’s definitely not an original Japanese LP, or the cover would be in colour and there wouldn’t be the notation “featuring Randy Rhoads”.  On the inner label, you’ll find the 1983 Quiet Riot logo used from Metal Health on.  Most likely, this is a bootleg LP.  The back cover has the song lyrics laid out the same as my bootleg CD.  There’s no CBS/Sony logo anywhere on the package.  Therefore, this has to be a bootleg.  Does that bother me?  No way!  This is just as interesting to me.  It will be fun to spin this one on vinyl for a change.  The first two Quiet Riot albums were the very definition of “Holy Grail” items for me, for many years!

Lastly, something I’ve never seen before:  a Judas Priest 12″ maxi-single from 1981!  This record is an official release on CBS, from Holland.  The song choices are perplexing:  older tracks from 1978 and 1979, nothing from British Steel.  “Rock Forever” and “Hell Bent for Leather” occupy side one, while the epic “Beyond the Realms of Death” takes up all of side two.

According to Discogs, this record was originally included as a bonus single with early copies of Unleashed in the East, but my copy is not one of those.  On the back it says 1981 CBS, so there is no way it was packed with Unleashed when it came out in 1979.  This copy is a later version re-released in the Netherlands, but it’s unclear why.  Anybody know?

Some cool stuff and head-scratchers here for sure!  These will be well loved in my collection.  Thanks Len!

 

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Crazy From the Heat (1985 EP)

DAVID LEE ROTH – Crazy From the Heat (1985 Warner EP)

Although David Lee Roth’s debut EP has been issued a few times over the years (including remastered on David Lee Roth’s 2013 Greatest Hits deluxe edition), there really is no better way of enjoying it than the old fashioned way:  vinyl!  Crazy From the Heat was made for the turntable.  At only 14 minutes long, the CD was a strange waste of space.

For me, this EP represents an interesting bit of personal history.  While it was cool seeing Roth on TV again, I felt like David had sold out his heavy metal past.  Van Halen were the first band I liked that split into two camps, and I was in Camp Halen.  Roth had not only sold out, but looked ridiculous.  He was wearing (gasp) two different coloured gloves in the video for “California Girls”!  I can’t stress how much that actually mattered to me at the time.

To people like my mom and dad, David Lee Roth was the superstar, Van Halen were just his backing band.  “Why is the band called Van Halen if his name is Lee Roth?” asked my mom.  “Because there are two Van Halens and only one Lee Roth,” I answered her simply.  No point trying to explain who Eddie Van Halen was!  Meanwhile, Van Halen chose the hard rockin’ Sammy Hagar for their new lead singer.  It seemed to me that a line had been drawn in the sand.  On one side, rock and roll integrity.  On the other:  David Lee Roth.  I was not yet 13 years old.

You can certainly see how Crazy From the Heat was so polarising.  The truth is, it’s just Dave having some fun with some old covers.  If Van Halen weren’t so uptight about it, maybe they wouldn’t have had to break up.  The really crazy thing?  This four-song EP produced two hit singles!

Edgar Winter’s “Easy Street” (1974) cooks like an egg on blacktop.  That’s Edgar on sax too, who all but steals the show from the consummate showman Dave.  It’s a masterful teamup.  “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” demonstrated Dave’s love and knowledge of old standards, if not his sheer ability to perform them!  It was obvious that Dave was influenced by that whole genre, going back to Van Halen.  The fact is, Dave’s the master of it.  His whole schtick is founded on that era of American music.

My parents and I used to have furious arguments over who was better:  David Lee Roth or the Beach Boys?  I didn’t see how anyone could say the Beach Boys.  They didn’t have Steve Vai or Eddie Van Halen on their songs.  But Dave did have Carl Wilson on “California Girls”, and maybe that’s how he managed to duplicate their surfing harmonies.  Dave beach babe music video for “California Girls” was so arousing that I felt guilty for watching it (over and over).  It reminded me of this deck of playing cards that my buddy Bob had. Each card had a different girl in a different bathing suit. (He kept the playing cards hidden inside an 8 track tape.) Now, nobody’s really saying that Dave’s version of “California Girls” is superior to the original.  They do, however, co-exist continually, in hearts and minds. Roth’s version is to some people what the Beach Boys original is to others.

The final track “Coconut Grove” was a Lovin’ Spoonful cover from 1966.  It was clear that Dave’s solo EP wasn’t going to challenge Van Halen for the rock crown, not with songs like “Coconut Grove”.  It’s so laid back you’ll drift away beneath the tide.  It’s very much at odds with the other colourful, fun songs.  As such, “Coconut Grove” wraps up the EP with a bow.  Crazy From the Heat has a very clear start, middle and end.

Back in 1985, I assumed that we had lost David Lee Roth forever, since “California Girls” became such a hit.  Fortunately I was wrong, and Dave returned to rock on his next LP (though not without losing his knack for oldies, covering “That’s Life” next time).  Crazy From the Heat might have pissed me off at the time, but Roth ended up with an EP that is surprisingly timeless and classic.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Hellacopters – Grande Rock (1999 vinyl)

THE HELLACOPTERS – Grande Rock (1999 Sub Pop vinyl edition)

Personally, it all began with Iron Tom Sharpe and Joe Big Nose Perry.  By 1999, everyone was well aware that the big Kiss reunion album, Psycho Circus, was a diluted compromise of the album they should have made.  “The Hellacopters made the real new Kiss album, man.”  Come on, Tom, quit yanking my chain.  “You’ll love it.  This is the album Kiss should have made.  No man, seriously, they even have a song called ‘Paul Stanley’.”   Joe stepped in by offering to pick me up a vinyl copy, which had a bonus track, at the Orange Monkey.  I gladly took him up on his offer and hoped to hear what Iron Tom was talking about.  Grande Rock was the Hellacopter’s third LP, but LeBrain’s first Hellacopters.

What’s this about Kiss then?  As “Action De Grâce” easily demonstrates, The Hellacopters can groove like the original foursome don’t even dare anymore.  This is Kiss circa 1976, but if they had taken a road other than Destroyer.  This is something like what they could have done if they wanted to take Kiss Alive! to the next step, and maybe taking some punk inspiration instead of disco.  “Move Right Out of Here” slams like Dressed to Kill on jet fuel.  “Alright Already Now” adds some harmonica, fuzz bass, and wah-wah.  The Hellacopters are not slavish like Klassik’78, they’re not trying to duplicate anything.  They’re going their own way with it, and it just so happens to be a lot better than Psycho Circus.  A lot of the vocals actually are closer to Steven Tyler circa Draw the Line.

A slower and darker vibe hits on “Welcome to Hell”, with some electric piano mixed in with Frehley-like solos and a little “Sympathy for the Devil”.  The punk rock builds on “The Electric Index Eel”, with stabbing guitar licks in under two minutes of length.  Clearly far beyond Kiss.  But then as if to get my attention back, there it is:  “Paul Stanley”, the song!  The riff must be inspired by Paul’s solo song “Tonight You Belong to Me”.  Wasn’t I telling you recently that Paul is one of rock’s most underrated riff writers?

The vinyl bonus track is right at the end of side one:  “Angel Dust”, which really sounds more like a top speed Appetite for Destruction outtake.  There’s a lot of Guns N’ Roses on this record too, particularly when there is a wah-wah solo or a blast of speed.

“The Devil Stole the Beat From the Lord” continues the rock and roll party on side two.  It’s pedal to the metal right through to “Dogday Morning”.  There’s a real gem in the middle of side two called “Venus in Force”, a big and grand riff with a song to go with it.  A more Kiss-like tempo in “5 Vs. 7” maintains a sense of variety.  Enjoy the flurry of guitars in the extended fade-out.  “Lonely” is a nice shorty by contrast, like a Gene Simmons love lament written in a hotel bathroom.  Closing position goes to “Renvoyer”, a killer outro jam.

Here is an interesting observation for you.  I used to think that Grande Rock had a great side one, but not much happening on side two.  However, I hadn’t actually listened to the vinyl for years.  I was listening to an mp3 rip of the 13 track album.  This time, I played the record and my perspective changed.  You have to get up and flip the record, and I happened to do something else for a few minutes before I dropped it back on side two.  That intentional break right there is everything.  There’s some sort of reset that happens, and you’re good to go for round two.

Grande Rock is damn near perfect for anyone craving a dose of the classic 1970s with a toe in punk rock too.  Vinyl is the way to go.  Don’t even bother with the CD, which taunts you with the fact that you bought the wrong version on the back cover by telling you that you’re not getting “Angel Dust”!  Awesome.

4.5/5 stars