Saturday, January 28, 2012


Dedicated to the memory of Micheal Condello who committed suicide back in the mid 90s. May your music live on and may we forgive your foolish act of desperation.
Dedicated in a happier light to all my mates both from back in my younger years to all the new ones I have today and continue to receive support from.
Special thanks to my good friends and record gurus Bill "Pennies" Pacquin and Jerome Tomko- boy it's been a long ride we've had together and we're still together- God Bless.
  My story here takes place both now in 2012 and back 20 years ago in 1992 when I was turned on to 2 long standing brilliant records that captured my heart, body, mind, soul, and imagination back then defining over the years who I am. I have not lost sight of the dream I had when I was 16-19. I still believe in the philosophy of the 1960s counterculture. I merely have matured to see things broader and in a new light. Back in 1991 I was only listening to Frank Zappa. That was about it. I hadn't even begun to find a semblance of who I really was, but Zappa though he closed many doors at that time for me may have in time opened some by my seeing the 2 sides he had to his personality. Zappa's cynical, nasty, and self-loving philosophy that everything that wasn't him sucked out was unfortunately the same belief I held when I was 15 years old. Zappa also had a belief that music could cleanse the soul and enlighten people through sounds, vibrations, and compositions that would form a backdrop tapestry for their lives while they experienced his friendly, giving, generous side in concert. It is the latter side of Zappa, the latter belief that I still hold. My hatred of anything not Frank Zappa with very few exceptions back then was really through fear. Bill Pennies was trying to turn me on to psychedelic rock and progressive rock meeting with indifference or just all-out insulting what he loved from me. Bill had belief in me, though. He had a resilient belief in my intelligence and saw that I just needed nurturing. When he first tried with The Parlour Band he didn't succeed. He would in time win that battle and make me a lifelong lover of all things The Parlour Band AND The O Band (Also known as A Band Called O). When he first tried with Graffiti he also didn't succeed. I hated the album as it scared me like The Parlour Band had- both conjuring images of The Moody Blues. Bill could see I was a fairly timid, self-serious, and not with it kid then, but come the end of 1991 how things would change. Are you ready?
My whole personality started going through an upheaval in December 1991 and Bill finally won me over forever with the Swedish band Blond. Blond I gave a chance to. I let their music into my heart. I basked for hours in the warm glow of that beautiful album from a cold climate. It's a masterpiece of solid rock, psych, and dramatic pop that still has few equals. Were it not for Blond we wouldn't have had Abba- they broke through first with the international hit "Six White Horses," Abba following suit a few years later. I will skip over the trip to California, but that was a very important event for me. I have already documented it, though, so on to later on. In the August before my sophomore year at high school nobody was a better friend to me than Bill. I was taking every suggestion he had and he held the distinguished position of my mentor with my own growth taking off in a huge way to help. On a second attempt to get me into Graffiti he won straight away. I put the album on the turntable and fell in love with it. I called him up to tell him how much I loved it and he was really glad that he was making a lot of long leaps forward with me. It was in my sophomore year that I made all my best friends for the duration of high school adding and subtracting along the way. I no longer went after any kids who looked like or claimed to be "hippies". I stopped wearing insecure feelings on my sleeve abandoning them for confidence that was not ill-founded. I had lost big time as a Freshman trusting anyone way too much who pretended to be a hippy. Soon all that would change. Come that wonderful period of September 1992 to March 1993 I had the happiest time of my whole life. I was a winner. I was a musical encyclopedia, Bill was making lots of great suggestions, I had a group of kids who loved me to make all the white trash Grunge kids something I could combat more freely, and I had music taking me to new highs. During 1992 I discovered through Bill Graffiti and Condello and through my own accord much more. That I still love the madcapped multicoloured 1960s sounds today really shows something about strength through music, form, and melody.
   So on to the banquet of sound! Graffiti were the revelation that came first. Hearing them again just now I'm overjoyed. I can see things in them that I couldn't see then- echoes of other groups along the way that came later. No one has figured out where in the States Graffiti are from, but it has been agreed they were probably an East Coast outfit. They only made one album back in 1969 I believe, but it still resonates with a lot of power today. Clearly influenced by the British Mod bands (The Who, The Hollies, The Beatles, and lighter, breezier acts) and the early progressive inclinations of The Moody Blues they played a kind of highly adventurous transitory poppsych into progressive rock sound with most songs strung together by interludes. Multi vocal harmonies twist around scorching virtuoso guitar work, psyched out sound effects, and adventurous songs with lead vocalist Tony Taylor sounding uncannily like The Moodies' Justin Hayward. There are influences from The Beach Boys in the harmony work and complex arrangements, but that is where any sunshine pop ambitions end. Graffiti are firmly an intellectual band who don't sing much about flowery sunshiny California girls. Their sound is characterized by a dark, plaintive quality no better demonstrated than in the outstanding tracks "Father Protector" and the two part suite "(1) The Capture Of Me (2) Life Blood" which open the album. Also proof of their daring originality is "New Life" and the shocking rest of Side Two that follows it where conventional structures are thrown out the window. There is poppsych, hard rock, progressive rock, jazz influences, classical ambitions, art rock, bluesy pop all thrown together in a way that works brilliantly. The only misstep is the one commercial number "Jingle Jangle Woman" and with a title like that need I add anything? They probably were forced into it as it sounds like a joke that falls flat on its face. The rest of the album is pretty astonishing. Most of the songs are written by bass guitarist/keyboard player Steve Benderoth with George (Aka Jorge) Stunz (Lead guitar), Jon ST John (Rhythm guitar), and Tony Taylor (lead vocals) sometimes pitching in. Fantastic Mod raver type drummer Richie Blakin rounds out the group, but does not compose. "Father Protector" begins with one of the most complicated guitar intros ever- something to rival even Steve Howe in Yes. The classical grandeur of that Spanish inflected guitar moves into a song that is so powerful in feeling and emotion that it truly takes me by storm when I hear it still. Lyrically pretty dark it only offers an escape at the end with the lyrics sounding like Benderoth just had a bad experience with acid or a personality shake up that left him with something very unusual to write. The guitar is mainly played through a wah-wah pedal soaring around the arrangements while Taylor could easily be Justin Hayward in disguise. I'm reminded of The Moody Blues circa In Search Of The Lost Chord or To Our Childrens Childrens Childrens Children. Yes, it cuts that deep and is that good. Like The Moodies the album flows together like a concept, but just what that concept is I still haven't figured out. "The Capture Of Me" is another bitter take on society where he finds himself and loses everyone else. Clearly set at the time as he loses his place in society after growing his hair, that is the only reference here that is dated 1968/1969. Graffiti have a forward moving sound that you have to be in the same room with it to hear, but what a sound they have and what a masterpiece this is. I would only say as the one downside is that the ambitions of the band sometimes are so demanding that they'd need a full orchestra to get this by in the way they envisioned it. This leads to making you think they never performed once live, but that is a trivial downside with an album this impressive. You have to be very wary when buying this album as unless you play it you won't be able to tell that there is a pressing flaw on some copies where the song "Girl On Fire" repeats twice and leaves off "The Capture Of Me" even though it is printed on the cover/disc. You really need to hear "The Capture Of Me" and so you have to play the first side at the beginning of the second track to know if you're getting screwed or not. That it is the only precaution with this one.
   Condello were a project split between the songs of the late Micheal Condello who sang lead, played lead guitar, and keyboards and (lead!) bass guitarist/vocalist Ray Trainer. The two collaborated on a few while Bill Spooner (AKA Warren S. Richardson JNR and later in The Tubes) on guitar and Dennis Kenmore on drums rounded out the lineup. While Graffiti may have put me in touch with my intellectual ambitions Condello's music awakened my burgeoning sensuality. It would be painful to go into detail about that, so I won't say much about it as I was closeted in high school and my dreams, desires, and fantasies would have to wait till much later in life to come to the fore. The sliding, fat bottomed bass solos and bizarre structures where the descending bass solos take lead in "All You Need" and "The Other Side Of You" are the two tracks where Condello blow structure to ashes while the rest of the album goes all over the place in another way.  Micheal's soft trembling voice has a lilting McCartneyeque quality. There are even some shades of Badfinger before Badfinger here which is a little frightening given the fate of both groups ended in the suicide of the leaders. I would definitely say that Micheal Condello sounds fragile, but he doesn't let that intrude on his superb songwriting which is just like the best psych sound of the mighty July or SGT. Pepper period Beatles and he certainly can blow your mind with his frenzied fuzztone guitar leads. Phase One is an Apt title- there is so much phasing on this record it sounds like if The Small Faces or John Lennon went mad with the effect! Play the put down "Oh No" or the psyched "Dr. Tarr Professor Fether" to someone who doesn't know this and they'll ask you where in England these guys came from! Condello, however, wanted to fool more than a few people so they take a few stabs at other things. "Crystal Clear" by Ray Trainer is a light feathery ballad that begins this album on a soft baroque pop note while "Keep It Inside" is a stark rural rock slow building number very much like Badfinger's "Take It All" in an earlier form. The only dud is the country/gospel Ray Trainer number "He'll Keep Waiting" although Micheal's screaming heavy metal closing track "It Don't Matter" is so harsh it can't be played with every listening regardless of the high voltage power of that track. He all of a sudden screams like a young Rod Stewart in the Jeff Beck Group while Robert Plant would love this and the dual guitar blasts will have you reeling. Now, all the bands/artists I've mentioned came after Condello, but Condello share with all of them a letting loose of a very sensual sound where you can feel the music grabbing at you trying to shake you into action. You want to make out while you're hearing the bizarre "All You Need" or way even trippier prog track "The Other Side Of You-" it's kind of frustrating that you can't. I'd let my mind and I still will let my mind run wild with this one, but that's all I'm gonna tell you as although I am now for the past decade + a proud out of the closet gay that is the furthest I'll go. My privacy is private, especially in a blog anyone can read. I am arch myself. If anyone tries to stand in my way or if I see any kind of intolerance I won't stand for it. Music can't be made by a prejudiced hateful heart and since I've said that numerous times about most heavy metal it needn't be expounded on anymore here. Condello and July aren't equals, July is the best psych record in the world bar none except The Koobas, but they share much in common. Condello is your American July. There are several American bands, in fact many American bands loved the British sound, that sound like July, but there's something higher here- something like a secret partnership between countries and artists exchanging ideas. Condello's Phase One is a warm, friendly record. Mike's fragility, his unsureness of himself don't demolish anything on offer here and rather make him a meatier version of what would turn into the singer songwriter movement of the 1970s. Much of that, in fact most of it is bullshit, but in England the singer songwriter could be a great one man way of demonstrating perfect pop. No one did it better than Clifford T. Ward, but unlike the tragic songs of Clifford Condello is closer to Emitt Rhodes or the also way ahead of the game psych masterpiece by Saint Steven on Probe (another firm favourite). This album may bounce all over the place, it may be very strange, even uncomfortable listening for some, but it's a solid masterpiece and I love it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


The more I think about my musical taste and many of my favourite bands/artists/records the most shocking thing is how long I have been intrigued by and have loved certain bands/artists/records who I can say I go back well over 15 or 16 years with. I really became a collector and a follower in high school which coincided with a revelatory trip to California- Namely Haight/Ashbury San Francisco. While most SF bands are nothing to write home about musically at all the hippy lifestyle was one that I could fit myself into at that age of 16. I grew my hair long- starting with a mod mop top and then moving to a full head of long wavy dark brown locks. For all of high school I dressed outlandishly, but usually with taste. It didn't stop with looks. I became very much an individual and started making my own decisions and avoiding conformity like the plague. I was very rebellious and outspoken, but also very warm and affectionate towards anybody I thought deserved my respect. I could be naive, but aren't we all at that age. I would walk around the school in my psychedelic gear and flaunt my love of all things 1960s, but I had a real hatred of drug abuse. I tried marijuana. I got high the first two times and then it became such a bummer and I saw so much damage happen to my friends that for high school onwards I stayed firmly drug free. I lost many of my friends because they would fry their brain cells on pot then go on to acid and hard drugs. They told me our friendship was worthless because I wouldn't score drugs for them or take drugs with them. I stuck to my rigid anti drug philosophy and watched some very bright young people turn into serious casualties of substance abuse. I made up my mind that if I was going to live out the the 1960s it would be the values I still hold today, the music, and the open mindedness are the spirit of that decade. Unfortunately, after high school finished it didn't take long for my life to unravel. I would partially blame myself and my own shortcomings, but really it was and is something I will never quite grasp how I became such a mean person at 20/21.
 After the grim, horrible period of my early 20s around the age of 24/25  some things came back to life for me and I enjoyed a renaissance in rediscovering music and moving my life forward. I opened my mind to new ideas whilst looking fondly back at my "hippy" past. The most important thing musically was both to return to my musical roots and also to go forward. I still love all the classics of psychedelia- Kak, Gandalf, July, UK Kaleidoscope, The Parlour Band, Cream, Hendrix, The Doors first 2, Earth Opera you name it. The biggest upheaval against a musical mainstay would have to be a recent distaste for early Genesis because I way prefer Camel, Yes, King Crimson (although if you ask me Crimson were only great for two albums- Lizard and the first one In The Court Of The Crimson King). Genesis I don't hate, but I certainly think that I've lost interest in their brand of progressive rock. If there's ever a lowest ebb hit by a famous prog band it must be The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway although I could just as easily say everything by Gentle Giant and ELP was that bad. Perhaps in time I will go back to Foxtrot, Trespass, et all and find them just as intriguing as before, but as of now I just feel I need a rest from Gabriel's abrasiveness. One thing I'll say for Genesis- they really worked hard on their music and they toured all over England and Europe to make it. It would take till after Peter Gabriel left for their commercial breakthrough to really hit, but when they had him he was quite a spectacle. I related to him. I still do. An introvert in extrovert's clothing. You could say that Jim Morrison was an introvert who was extroverted too, so I found it easy to identify with someone who on the surface was flamboyant and beneath that very private. If I didn't want to be bothered back then I wouldn't make  a big deal of it usually I just would withdraw.
  I suffered periods of severe depression and it was only music that brought me out of it. Music has always been for me the greatest invention there is for self-expression and sound-alchemy. I go back way further than high school with bands like UFO because that kind of really charging yet ultra melodic rock could always bring the fight back to me and make me take on the world again. Also, a little before high school, but more so over the coming years The Kinks would become my favourite band. Ray and Dave Davis are for me even bigger than Lennon and McCartney and that's a tall order. Ray Davis is the most perceptive, most sympathetic, most advanced songwriter of the 20th century. Big words, but that is a fact. He practically created the most arch British kind of British rock that would lead to some of the most impressive songwriters to follow him such as the miraculous Roy Wood. Roy Wood would be my other fave. I've been listening to The Move for over half my life and if ever a band could follow in the wake of The Kinks with something EVEN MORE BRITISH then it must have been Roy and pals. While Roy was making millions another budding songwriter wasn't making anything- Jeff Lynne. Of course that all would change come Electric Light Orchestra who I will stand by to the end, but back in the Birmingham pop psych group The Idle Race his revolutionary combination of Beatles and Music Hall wouldn't yield even one hit. Spread across their first two albums The Birthday Party (1968) and Idle Race (1969) is a kind of melding of The Beatles with The Kinks, but a unique take on the lives of troubled and insecure people in England. He and Roy Wood openly wrote about mental illness and depression in a way that could be both comical and poignant. I could always find something deeper than just the wonderful whimsy in their writing. When Jeff Lynne left The Idle Race and joined admirer Roy Wood in The Move it was a whole different thing. The Move had always been heavy, very heavy, but with Jeff Lynne on board they took on Prog Rock. This would last for two albums of loud, melodic, bombastic, brilliant aural assault in Looking On and Message From The Country. It's enough to make one weep over good memories when I listen back to all these albums that have been in my life for so long.
 In high school other things were happening to my personality that would be of much importance later in life beyond just music. We were handed All Quiet On The Western Front to read and that book together with a lot of bantering about military might or lack thereof would change my life. The tragic, pointless suffering of the soldiers grieved me very much, but I also began to view soldiers not as adversaries as I had before high school, but as potential friends. I can remember like yesterday the war in the former Yugoslavia and how horrible that was. During the reading of All Quiet.. or just after I witnessed a British soldier of the then Cheshire Regiment sobbing over the discovery of mass graves on the news. I felt a calling to go help and comfort him and the other soldiers fully knowing this was impossible. I wondered about what would make boys not much older than my then age of 16 join an Army and fight. My friends and I talked often about soldiers and we all wanted to go over to Yugoslavia and pitch in. It was weird to have a belief so at odds with the countercultural take, but I felt it gave me a multifaceted identity. However, if somebody told me that years later some of the best times of my life, some of the most wonderful conversations, and some of the closest allies I have would be with British soldiers I don't think I would have believed them. One must have several interests and an open mind- otherwise you'll become anachronistic. You can't live in the past and this is something I am finally beginning to learn. As much as I love thinking of those happy youthful years you have to mature. Now I am open to anything. If somebody wants to be my friend I'm a little more cautious unless I have reason to let my guard down because it feels like the other person is completely honest, but I'm also much more caring about other people than just my own needs in a relationship. I believe in love and I would say I always did. It was for me the music, the protests against war and injustice, and the belief in the power of love that made the 60s for me- not the drugs. I am resolutely anti drug and also resolutely anti Bigotry. Take each person as they come as an individual and DO NOT generalize about anyone who may be less wealthy or of a different background or colour than you. I wish that racism would disappear. I also wish that people would not become so set into a narrow view that they can't move forward with their life. Give and receive. Have a past you can smile about, but be sure to have a future that will bring you even more joy than the past while you have a strong foundation for your present. I have come to know all these things and hope you can too.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Funky Puzzle Tree And Other Assorted Rubbish How Not To Make It In The World Of Music And Society

Rap is CRAP with the "C' taken out so funk its predecessor must certainly be referred to as junk spelled differently. The funny thing with funk is that it DOESN'T have to be bad and stranger all the more it is some white bands who have used the kind of slaps in the grooves of funkiness to make it into something worthwhile and worth listening to. I will freely and readily admit that I hate all Parliament/Funkadelic and that I see the only saving grace of that garbage as some of the fine guitar solos from Eddie Hazel. Eddie Hazel, though, is another Hendrix protege and far from the best. I'd give the best to somebody who can write songs as Jimi knew how to come up with some pretty amazing structures for his explosive guitar pyrotechnics. Prince took a surface level only dig at Hendrix and just gave us throwaway pop, funk, and misguided attempts at some kind of sweet soul with dirty sexually explicit lyrics. At the time it was outrageous and exciting, but it certainly has not aged well. Bad people have an equally bad tendency to latch onto something because they think it will make them cool and tough and superior to listen to it or watch it or do it when all they will end up doing is to become unbearable parasites. I know the type well. They think they know everything and you can't teach them a damned thing so don't even try to have a normal polite conversation with them because they're too cool for you. They aren't cool at all. They're just obnoxious losers trying to prove to themselves and the world that beating heads in solves a problem or being rude, callous, and selfish is the way to be. No way at all. I used to think of this as primarily a parasitic Jewish male disease, but can see that while it's a lot of that it can be anybody so you can't make rash generalizations. I've talked enough about metal and metal is another kind of clique that people will dive into joining when they are missing out on the best hard rock/metal just because AOR is a dirty word. I don't understand this and I never did. People have been obnoxious towards my overtly eclectic taste when in truth I KNOW and I CAN APPRECIATE ANY KIND OF GOOD MUSIC.
Funk doesn't have to be P Funk. I never could get into any of their stuff and just saw it as more Sly And The Family Stone trashy fake soul garbage. However, the first efforts to fuse soul with what would be funk yielded some classics. There's only one James Brown and at his least histrionic he was a true soul God. And not to forget the other greats like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Steve Winwood. Winwood turned the rock world upside down. He was a prodigy and his very sweet vocals were never icky sweet- he truly is about the greatest we have for soulful voiced rock and the artist all soulful vocalists should model themselves after along with Joe Cocker. Traffic began on a really brilliant note. They played psychedelic rock with R&B Mod overtones which was pretty unusual sounding- quite special. Unfortunately, come their 2nd album Traffic started moving into funk especially Dave Mason whose "Feeling Alright" is one of my very least favourite songs ever. This kind of disease to make more money than music would give us the horrid country plod rock of The Band and the smarmy histrionics of Blood Sweat & Tears. In the early 70s the music scene became flooded with horrendous imitations of both these said groups destroying the hopes of many a collector fooled by a great debut or an eye catching sleeve. On the other hand, music started to take off for far more adventurous territory with progressive rock/underground rock coming into play to combat the drivel that was top 40 radio at that time. However, even not all that was garbage. There is something about the perfect 3 minute pop single that can't be matched by anything else. A song like "Early In The Morning" or "Hitchin' A Ride" by the brilliant Vanity Fare or the clever perfection of all the material performed by Sweet at their best is to be looked at as the most perfect music in the world. Sweet would move on to progressive pop and eventually along with Electric Light Orchestra redefine radio hits. Sweet and Badfinger are two bands with tragic histories particularly the latter, but when looked at just for their music it will live beyond the tragedy and last forever.
In the 1970s pigeonholing became a really serious disease. It has lasted all the way since then right into the present. Radio and media want it all to be black and white and so does their Hollywood view of music. Music critics like Dave Marsh, Jon Landau, Robert Christgau would destroy rock and roll if they could, but thankfully there are people like me who don't give a fuck about cliques, critic's pens, and what we are force fed by major music publications. The worst thing you can do for yourself and music is to take life too seriously and take music too seriously. Come on and just have fun with it. Listen to what you love don't care what other people or those critics think.
 England/Europe and America have always had a language barrier when it comes to music or rather a culture barrier. I can see all the music for what it's worth and what it is, but in America narrow mindedness and funk fetching idiocies dominate the culture, the country, everything. The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scarcely made a dent in America. Patriotism is a plague and so the same mistake made during the British Invasion increased into even more of a disease. During the heyday of British Rock 1966 to 1980 bans were put on British Bands touring the States. Everyone trashed the British and Europeans leaving us with funk garbage, Bruce Springsteen, and the deplorable NRBQ. I know better than to buy into any of that nonsensical poppycock. If a band from the UK or Europe had a hit in the States in the 60s or 70s it led to a panic. If a band from England wanted to tour America they'd run right headfirst into a brick wall. Some Americans didn't like this. If a British band was their main influence they'd wear it on their sleeve just to spite the critics. This is the upside. The downside is that back then American rock needed nurturing that could have been helped by the outside, but it couldn't get it. When the polarization between teenybopper and AM radio shlock, bad "progressive" rock radio, and a quagmire of commercialization VS Progressive happened the end result was if you were a good quality band in the States before the Pomp/AOR era you were doomed. When the likes of Styx and Journey came along it was so relieving. To add to that Toto were a band who during their best years could bridge the gap between smooth creamy commercial AOR and even White Funk! So it could work. This whole thing with funky rock being done the right way is really an art. The fallout of R&B/Funk/Soul artists who had a brilliant crossover hit in the 80s was dreadful. So many wonderful artists just disappeared completely after their one or two great hits. I'm thinking the likes of Sade and Billy Ocean where Sade would try many times for a comeback that fell on deaf ears with MR. Ocean now currently in the "What happened to the guy" file. "Caribbean Queen" is a classic- I would love to hear it again after all these years. Lionel Ritchie was someone who began as funk and then in his solo career switched gears to smooth soul, but though it seemed his fame would last forever the inevitability of changing times left him with about 5 or 6 years of glory and that was that. Rock artists like Glass Tiger and The Cutting Crew made some of the best music ever, but for sustainable success it just didn't last after that one moment in the spotlight. A band like SHY or Magnum got caught right in the trap of poor promotion in America and this would damage the former more than the latter. Magnum unconditionally hate Americans which isn't a good thing, but at least it has made their English/European success everything they could wish for. At the end of a long hard slogging around trying to fit all these disparate things together my conclusion can only be this is a ruthless game- you probably won't win it and if you join the self-satisfied self-serious crowd then stay out of my life. There isn't room for funk done poorly in it and there most certainly is no room for the closed minded. Open your mind, open your world. Turn on to music not drugs, tune in, but don't ever drop out because you can't get through to people. It's you who matters in the end.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It's Time For BREAKFAST So Come On People Lick The RUSTIX Spoon!

Two new discoveries for me. And you can find these albums for not a whole lot of money and if you give them the chance they deserve to have you'll be rewarded a lot more than with many $$$ albums. In fact, it is the really good obscure stuff and deals you can grab at a good price that stay permanently in my collection along with some big ticket ones, but the shelf life of really expensive albums is a bit too short in my musical world of trading and listening. I no longer have Spermull, Rag I Ryggen, or Silberbart and that's just a few to be mentioned in the traded list. This is not to say I am downsizing or downgrading my collection by any means, just that sometimes I let go of things that have a high value on the collector's circuit for other collectable and often just fun obscure greatness.
Breakfast, like the first meal of the day, are up first and are kind of a unique band that I got for Xmas and was dying to have. I had seen them described as a rural early Kayak which is an odd cross by any means and to be honest I hear more of a pronounced soul influence, lots of California rock vibes, and NO KAYAK IN HERE AT ALL. It took me a few spins with this one. Their one album It's Time For Breakfast was released by this German sextet in 1976 on the Sky label- which is a hit and miss progressive label from the mid to late 70s primarily. Breakfast are not at all progressive unless I were to use that word very loosely as I do for Ecology by French Canadian band 25th Regiment or some other bands who have clever song structures, but no long tracks or drawn out solos. Breakfast have a tight, crisp, and melodic sound that emphasizes the guitar over keyboards and meaningful lyrics that often are also very upbeat or with a message as in "Starlight" which tells of a musician's rise to glory and fall back down to the dregs after a bout with arrogant nose-thumbing to all his friends who got him to the top. The sound here is extremely pastoral and cheerful with a very American LA rock sound that you wouldn't be surprised to hear from Player, Couchois, or the Eagles even, but much better than the Eagles. Closer to the Aussie/American soulful rock mix of Player and Scotsmen Blue than Eagles or Firefall this album is very warm and charming and you find yourself wanting to hear these melodic songs such as "Needing You" or "Let Me Love You" again once you get the taste for how unprogressive and completely wholly polar opposite Heavy Teutonic rock these guys are. I know nothing of this band, but I don't think they resurfaced in any other outfits and this album is a definite one off. Most German bands were one offs in the 70s. If they made more than one album it wasn't surprising for there to be a drop off in quality after the first, second, or third records (See Eloy and Epitaph). That said, I always wish a group like this could have been given a chance at making another record just to hear what direction they would have taken their music in.
Breakfast are essential if you're a fan of Westcoast styled melodic fuzzy guitars of which there is a huge amount circling around the song structures and adding some spice to the tight airy harmonies. The lead voice is strong, confident, and yet very laid back and friendly sounding. They occasionally remind me of a way, way improved Panta Rei from Sweden if that band didn't have poor vocals and only 5 drawn out tracks on their album. There are 10 tracks on It's Time For Breakfast and only the bluegrass come folkrock pop bubblegum of the closing track "Tramp" is a filler. That leaves us with 9 excellent tunes full of strong melodies and brilliant guitar work. There are some abrupt shifts in tempo and key, but aside from that the word "Progressive" doesn't quite work here. It's funny to hear something this upbeat and commercial coming out of Germany at a time when that country had become immersed in music that was arch its own unique influences and straying away from earlier flirtations with British and American overtones. Some German groups still sounded like they were taking England as a serious influence, but apart from Lake Breakfast are the most American sounding German band I've ever heard. That isn't a bad thing at all on this album as their influences sound like prime era sunny Coast rock and there never was anything wrong with that. Cheerful melodies and soulful overtones sit happily side by side with catchy Club band grooves to create an AOR leaning album of great melodies and excellent songs. A rare, but usually cheap record well worth tracking down.
  I've often wondered what The Koobas would have sounded like had they been from the States. It's an odd thought to have as The Koobas are among the very most British of British heavy/melodic psych and despite lots of Koobas echoes in other bands I can't really think of any other band who nailed the kind of subtle funkiness, earthy hard rock, and high humoured psychedelia quite as well as these Liverpool heroes. The Koobas were a band who drew on soul, psychedelic, beat, pop, and hard rock influences to create the ultimate British psych masterpiece- an album outclassed by none. Every time I'd search for some homegrown American equivalent I would come up with a band who lacked at least one of the Koobas key components. Is it that our only humour is Zappa? I don't know myself. Well, Rustix on their second album Come On People answered that question. This album is a minor heavy/beat/soul/funky psych/rock masterpiece and buy it right away no matter whether you like any or all of the influences I've just mentioned.  The humorous element is here alright, but not overt. In the track "Hey Mose" against Koobas alike hard edged fuzz guitars there is a lot of humour about people who are grouchy and take everything way too seriously which the band say they call "Mose." I don't know where that comes from, but it doesn't make a difference as these guys can do everything you need to do to make a great album all very well. The music is loud, passionate, melodic, catchy, thoughtful, cooking at a high temperature, and really gets into some killer grooves while avoiding dreaded white funk. For instance, the funk comes out a few times, but not in that stupid P Funk way, more in the way of the Koobas if they'd been less ill-advised with their version of "Piece Of My Heart." Rustix do it brilliant style on two long rearranged soul standards- "Do Right Woman Do Right Man" and "Hard To Handle." These are the only covers here, but Rustix are clever enough lads to really take them somewhere else and that's a damned hard thing to accomplish when you're competing with two of the greatest standards in any kind of music. "Do Right Woman" was made famous by Aretha Franklin when she twisted the standard around, but here the twisting around is to avoid doing this song like its a soul standard and instead making it into a slow burning sexy swaggering persuasive psych slow cooker. It's great. The vocals throughout the album are strong, solid, controlled, and very appealing with excellent lead and harmony work. The rhythm section have real firepower as demonstrated by an all round superb production job and when it comes to writing songs that span that Koobas melodic psych/hard rock/prog/pop/funky rock kind of eclecticism gone to an American band with Mod Soul overtones this is one of the best releases of the burgeoning underground scene of the early 70s. "Hard To Handle" is a song I cringe at covers of. It was bad done by The Black Crows as a hit and my motto is usually if it ain't Otis Redding don't even try to fuck with doing it. Poor Otis never would have had so many miserable cover versions if he had lived. He wouldn't have stood for it. Here Rustix excel again. A Latin percussion driven cool groove sets the pace for a high humoured and fun take on the song with no white soul posturings. It's instead just a good get down and with it grooving heavy easy solid sound. This version is driven by congas, timbales, strong yet not overconfident vocals, and more fine fuzz guitar. So with two excellent covers comes the question of the original material and I say it's no question at all. Every song on here is great. The originals show an eclectic intelligence, sense of fun, and excellence rarely heard on American records that straddle the line between late 60s commercial and early 70s harder psych rock. There's plenty of grit and driving wild fuzz guitar in a disciplined manner and also a lot of variety. Each track tries something different. If you give this album a chance it will likely for you become a fave if you have the same openness towards new things that I have. It's got a bit of that magic "Royston Rose" Koobas vibe and you can't beat that. Find it and give it a few spins to treasure another great one on the Rare Earth label which gave us some excellent music in the 1970-1972 era. 'Nuff Said.

Monday, January 9, 2012


To Mickey Jones- Rest In Peace.
My story with the band Angel is a long and complex one and when I think of how long it took me to appreciate them and also how long I've been a huge follower of their music it's staggering. One long, really wild, and really rewarding ride.
Angel get way too much adverse press and stupid insults just because they didn't make it as big as Kiss and because truth be told they were heavier, much more bombastic, and their music was/is so heavily British leaning that you could fool just about anybody into thinking Angel were not an American band if you played them for them. I have nothing against Kiss, but it typically stupidly seems that everyone thinks it's an "Either Or" you can't have it both ways. Kiss are great for what they do, but their rock and roll heavy rock boogie party time music just always leaves me wanting the darker, richer, more varied, and more adventurous pomp/progressive/metal/power pop sound of Angel.
Kiss never scared me. The blood spewing Gene Simmons with the huge tongue just made me laugh. Their music was always just about sex and throwing a great big party not that there's anything wrong with that, but I hungered for something else.
Having heard Angel's first album (Self Titled from 1975) the first time back in 1988  it was like my first experience with Diamond Head. I was terrified by it. This was the heaviest, hardest, most take-no-prisoners emotionally high charged music ever and I had only heard Giuffria- the horrid spin-off band formed by keyboard wizard Greg Giuffria who much later on in life I found out to be one of the kindest, nicest, and most warm and friendly people you could ever talk to.  Before getting into Angel I had heard Giuffria because of their not massive, but pretty substantial success in the 80s. Listening to them and the even worse, horrible House Of Lords it's bound to sound scary when you go from a deep yet non threatening singer like David Glen Eisley in Giuffria to the always high pitched sometimes all out devastating powerful voice of Frank Dimino.
Come Christmas of 1989 things were changing big time. I had become disillusioned with Kiss and had finally begun to develop a love for Angel. That Christmas I got the band's 2nd album Helluva Band as a present and I also magically learned how to draw. For my inspiration as an artist I thank 3 bands- Procol Harum, Angel, and Yes. I could add in the Scorpions and my beloved UFO too. These bands gave me courage, inspired me, made me try my hand at things I thought I couldn't do, and saved my life.
All of the above have stayed with me throughout my life, but that band here of the most importance in this entry is the mighty Angel.
Like Kiss Angel were around for a long time before Angel even happened. Singles and full length albums had been released. Dimino together with Giuffria, Mickey Jones (who died of cancer several years ago) on bass, Punky (Edwin Lionel) Meadows on guitar, and drummer Barry Brandt had all cut their teeth since the 1960s. Angel formed in Washington DC bringing together Frank Dimino from Boston and Punky Meadows from Virginia and were, like Kiss, something of a paid-our-dues supergroup. Taking their inspiration from Yes, Deep Purple, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath yet without copying any of the above Angel's first album hit the racks in 1975. At this stage the band were about to launch their outlandish never equaled stage show and image of white silk suited bombast, but the pictures in the inner sleeve showed the five of them in street clothes.
Angel's first album took me the longest. It's heavy metal with strong pomp and progressive rock inclinations and is way more of a prog/metal hybrid than Dream Theater, Iron Maiden, Queensryche or any of that bullshit. Angel took the high pitched metallic wailing of Frank Dimino and the talented vocalist merged this with some softer Jon Anderson alike vocals to great effect. Also a key component to Angel's unique sound is the over-the-top heavy guitar and keyboard attack with lush progressive  and thick toned Blackmore inspired guitar from master axeman Meadows. The album kicks off with two 7 minute epics "The Tower" and "Long Time" with both songs combining edge-of-your-sear intensity with beautiful melodic passages. Mellotron and synthesizers soar around the unpredictable tempo changes while the guitars cut deep with powerful solos and also add a firm foundation to Angel's songs.
There is a bit of both sides of Angel on their first 3 records. After the third On Earth As It Is In Heaven which may be my favourite Angel became a Godlike Power Pop/Pomp/AOR band. They would go on to make two of the most influential albums in this genre with White Hot and Sinful, but more on those later.
The first Angel albums mainly dealt with battles and English folklore- something so far removed from America that anyone could have mistaken them for a British band who would steal the crown from even the highest of progressive rockers Yes, Crimson, Genesis. The sometimes menacing lyrics and gripping sophistication could go from beautiful melodic passages and songs like the classic "Mariner" or Helluva Band choice cut "Feelings" to some of the darkest, heaviest, most over-the-top menacing molten hard prog ever. The peak songs for frightening power would be on the transitional On Earth...
with "Cast The First Stone" (about The Crusades or Medieval wars in general) and "Just A Dream" (about nightmares) while Helluva Band for much of the album found Angel dealing in all-out metal early Judas Priest or Deep Purple style with progressive flourishes. On their first 3 albums Angel finally honed progressive rock keyboards, strong soaring vocals, brilliant melodies, and virtuoso playing from all into songs that could be listened to over and over they are so special. They never went off into overlong solos and if a solo was long it usually had a purpose as on the grim tale of a Medieval hanging "The Fortune."
With two solid albums released and a stage show no-one could match Angel should have owned half the world. Unfortunately, the press would attack them throughout their career and the record sales of the first two were only moderate. Clearly sensing that they had gone as far ignoring potential great singles they could go some heavy changes appeared on On Earth As It Is In Heaven. This album drew from a strong Beatles inspiration with more nods to Britannia, but killer power pop songs like "She's A Mover," "That Magic Touch" which is simply beautiful, "You're Not Fooling Me," and the hit "Telephone Exchange" had so much melodic splendor as to make even McCartney, Roy Wood, or Jeff Lynne blush. A Left Banke/Baroque influence also came into play in a big way and with the perfect balance between pomp/pop heaven and heavier tracks Angel had now reached a real high point in their career musically.
On Earth.. had been a transition. Angel were about to drop the progressive Yes inspirations for all out power pop. Replacing Mickey Jones with Felix Robinson on bass and with Dimino no longer handling all of the backing vocals White Hot was released in 1978 and what an album it is. This is power pop/pomp rock at an absolute zenith- yet there still is that Angel uniqueness to it all. The Beatles influences come through in a big way and the melodic wall of sound that would come to be another Angel trademark got there before any other AOR band could even come within a hair length of Angel's brilliance. Every song is masterful, but still the sales just weren't giving Angel enough of the huge success labelmates Kiss were having. Sensing that their time was running out just as it had for The Zombies before ODDESEY AND ORACLE and The Koobas before them, Angel put everything they had into the masterful, amazing, and best power pop record ever made Sinful.
  Sinful would also be released yet quickly taken off the market as Bad Publicity with the title meant as a swipe against the obnoxious music critics who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground, but there is nothing mean spirited about this wonderful album. Songs like "Don't Take Your Love," "You Can't Buy Love," and the majestic closing track "Lovers Live On" are melodic rock heaven. The whole album was very commercial with no heavy lyrics and no screaming pyrotechnics from Frank Dimino, but the commercial overtones were no problem with soaring melodies, great playing, and a wonderful production job that made Angel shine like a power rock American Electric Light Orchestra or Pilot especially. Angel knew this was either gonna make them the stars they so rightfully deserved to be or it was going to be their swan song. Unfortunately, no hit singles came off the album which is staggering. Time was running out for them and although they still could draw crowds and they still had a huge cult following that wasn't what Angel needed. They had set out to conquer the world of Anglophile progressive/pomp and then just as English power pop. They had made the highest quality music ever recorded by an American band over their releases, yet the end was in sight and it was a sad loss when after the live double set Live Without A Net Angel were history.
Like bands before them and after them Angel would receive much praise, gain many new followers, and would be cited as a heavily influential band after their time had come and gone, but for me personally I'd like to say that Angel have an effect on me like no other band and they have helped me through both some of the worst times in my life and also I've shared some of the highest heights of joy with them. Angel are about the music. Angel are about love. Angel are a band no one can ever equal and anything said against them is a lie. Angel- you may not have made the record books with album sales, but you've made them with something much more important- very high quality music.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


In the mid to late 80s in Europe and just about everywhere there were an overwhelming number of glam/melodic metal/melodic hard rock bands eager to catch the same bus to success that had propelled Europe, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and Dokken to superstardom. Some of these bands had their own very distinctively different take on melodic hard rock and surpassed many of the ultra successful "hair" bands. The two best from my point of view are Treat from Sweden and Skagarack from Denmark- both bands had killer songs and a really fresh take on riff and melody ready hard hitting melodic rock. Why, even Steve Perry himself couldn't sound more perfect than Skagarack's masterful mastermind Torben Schmidt who clearly was highly influenced by Perry's melodic Sam Cooke impressions. Treat came across with a similarly melodic and somewhat more dangerous sounding attack and a full on glam image that would have made even Motley Crue and Poison really afraid about losing their record contract. While Crue and Poison played faceless, derivative, unprofessional copies of 70s glam best left to the masteful Sweet and Slade Treat were and are just as serious about their music as their image. Yes, these bands both of whom I'll discuss in depth soon are the best.
The worst? Remarkably some of the more popular bands I really have an issue with. Winger always got on my nerves. I couldn't believe such an ugly and idiotic guy could go so far. Warrant were far from the worst- in fact they always were better than they were given credit for. Poison and Motley Crue would be down near the bottom, but nobody could be worse than the two worst bands ever formed- TNT and Return. Both bands hailed from Norway although TNT's whining screechy voiced Tony Harnell came from America. TNT still record with the undeserved addition of Harnell swapped for Shy's brilliant Tony Mills. TNT managed to go pretty far- they were championed by MTV, but they were all whimper and no bang. Guitar drool fool Ronni (Rolf Amrid) Letekkro is without doubt the worst failure ever to pick up the instrument and certainly if TNT were supposed to be any heavier than White Lion forget it.
Return were something different. They were a 4 man band from Norway who could play just fine and who were a sort of melodic metal hybrid, but what makes them the worst are their viciously graphic and morbid lyrics which owe more to Dark Metal than melodic rock and a particularly lame lead singer.
Clearly we can't all be winners can we? Mostly I love this music. I find it a nice little niche to curl up in when I'm in the mood for something hard rockin' yet with all the melodic elements firmly in place. China lie somewhere in the middle and are a bit of a curiosity in that they were slated for stardom, but it never came to be. China's first bad decision was their band name. I don't know why a hard rock band from Switzerland would call themselves China and I don't mean that as a knock against the Country or the band I just find the name strange. It doesn't sound believable for a hard rock group who are hailing from Europe. There really are two Chinas- there never has been such a huge makeover in so short a period as what happened to the band between their first album in 1988 and their followup Sign In The Sky in 1989.
More on that now. I expected China to be THE BEST having heard two killer cuts off their debut and two more off Sign In The Sky. China's first lineup was built around the fierce dual guitar attack of Claudio Matteo and Freddy Laurence, the steady heavy bass of Marc Lynn, and John Dommen's excellent drumming. However, the showstopper was lead vocalist Math Shiverow. At a time when Krokus were on their way out China if they just had had a US release and a little more knack for melody could have become Switzerland's major import to hard rock and chased Krokus out of the running. There was much help from that band and with Krokus guitarist and main writer Fernando Von Arb contributing the brilliant melodic rock anthem "Back To You" China weren't Chinese- they were all the way European. Shiverow had a high pitched voice that didn't scream it just soared. He took the band to heights of brilliance on the best tracks and even on the few in between to middling more metallic ones he gave them an edge that most bands would die for. The production on the band's self-titled debut by veteran guitarist Dirk Steffens of the excellent band Tollhouse (more of a melodic soul/rock AOR sound from the late 70s) is excellent and the European edge is exotic. Most of the songs are very good. The guitars are tasteful and zoom around the hard hitting music. Highlights are "Back To You," "Wild Jealousy," "Hot Lovin' Night," and the rollicking opener "Shout It Out" is pretty heavy- I'd say heavier than most straight metal. A little nurturing and a little more time and these guys could have made their next one a masterpiece. Shiverow was really one hell of a great singer with the brilliance of the best. If they'd kept him and gone a little more melodic than metal look out. That wasn't to be....
Greedy for more recognition outside their homeland, possessed to change with the hair metal trend of 1989, out of luck, or just plain wrong in their decision Shiverow and Lynn were gone by the time Sign In The Sky came about and replaced by an American I'd guess in Patrick Mason as vocalist and a different Swiss bassist. Whenever a band go through a major change that major change is a major gamble. Many one off bands have that question of "what would the second have been like" or "wish they'd made another record." With China I think I'd rather if this were the direction they were to go in to have changed the name of the band. That is how drastic a change there is here. Patrick Mason lacks charisma. His voice is one of those very American very attitude fueled voices where the perfectness is too clean and the emotion doesn't shine through enough. He can sing and there is no doubting that, but he doesn't have personality. Occasionally his vocals are bad and get on my nerves- too much Axl Rose and too much Poison all at once is never gonna work as on the hideous yet hilariously bad "Animal Victim." He means to say "I'm Tough I'm Cool I'm Nobody's Fool," but a fool he sure is on that track and some of this album. Let's not lay all the blame on him, however. In fact with the huge shoes to fill and the clarity of Mason's voice he does a stellar job and on the best tracks such as "In The Middle Of The Night," "Second Chance," "Take Your Time," and the beautiful finale "So Long" as well as a magnificent title track this album could have been great. No, do not blame Patrick Mason for a hugely uneven record. The problem is a lack of focus which was also a less irritating problem on the first album, but made much worse here as many of the tracks sound like carbon ripoffs of every L.A metal band who had made the charts that year. There is a tendency towards too much show and too little substance. Manager/Producer/Co-writer of all the tracks Stephan Galfas does a horrible job in the production seat. He makes China sound pushed into a box rather than a studio and I would compare the rankness of the production, the depressing come down after brilliant recording to the infamous disasters of Goodnight L.A the one bad Magnum record and Misspent Youth the one bad Shy album. However, unlike those two Sign In The Sky isn't a complete catastrophe. As I said some of the album is quite good, but I always feel a bit let down by it. The worst thing here along with the production is the horrendous guitar wanking. Never have I heard such a drastically wrong move on the part of musicians as I hear on this album. Neither Laurence OR Matteo is on his game and rather the two of them go off the rails on horrid speed and noise soloing that makes me think of all those here one day gone in a flash idiots who came after Yngwie Malmsteen, but this is clearly much worse. The bands and the guitarists China are ineptly emulating are George Lynch/Dokken and Warren DiMartini/Ratt. With a musician as high of stature as George Lynch I would say if you ain't Steve Harris of Shy don't even give it a try. Forgotten are the melodic structures and the tunefulness of Lynch's playing and in its place is just a lot of pinch-harmonic whammy bar noise. I could laugh, but I feel too sickened by all of it too. There are bad mistakes that are funny,  but China's mistakes are all sad. I really wish that the band had thought about the consequences of what they were gonna do and spared us much of this album, but rather typically on the good tracks the playing is good too. This is real mixed record- a real hit or miss effort where when the songs are good they are great and when they are bad I feel sickened by it. China were never gonna make it with something this derivative and the production throughout sucks. I will say it that bluntly. The production is so bad, so empty, so over the top lame that China should have fired Galfas or never have had the lack of knowledge to employ him not just as producer, but as manager and co-writer. While some of this album is still so good it can survive one track springs to mind that seems to put the disturbing spin on what was afoot- "Don't Ever Say Goodbye." This track sums up China's decision- they don't want to be Swiss anymore they want to be American. They don't want to write songs they want to write product. It's all about how it can be marketed and not about music. I feel that around half this album is saved, The other half of it is so much rubbish I wouldn't recommend wasting your time. I am reminded of the staleness that crept in after the rush of inspiration in 1986/1987 when by 1991 everything changed for the worst and Grunge came right in and killed rock and roll. Blame albums like this.
So in my final assessment of China I'd say they were a band who also attended the melodic hard rock marathon, but sure as Hell Treat and Skagarack way beat them to the finish. China began as a band where they could have been front-runners and they could have been on that magical level, but they made all the wrong choices and what we are handed is so foul we ask to take it off the plate and only save the half of the album that isn't spoiled. Very sad, but very typical of a time and the changes in that time. They could have made the grade, but China fall short.