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.