Marillion – Misplaced Childhood 1985, fifteen years old. This album was sheer obsession. I had only about 50 records so they’d get spun a whole lot, time enough to sit with the liner notes and sing along with Fish. It’s almost freaky, how I still remember all the lyrics. Maybe it’s just me, but music just seems to be moving a whole lot faster now. Streaming wasn’t a thing, attention spans were likely longer and gratification wasn’t as instant, but it was better. In a drive-thru world, vinyl is a sit down meal.
Eden – Eden First ever vinyl reissue 2019 (Ltd. 500 Numbered Copies)
French weirdo synth prog! Originally released in 1978, French-language Québécois band Eden’s only album is a fine example of unusually synth-heavy symphonic prog rock featuring several ornate instrumentals, including a colourful cover of Fauré’s famous Pavane
Originalement paru en 1978, l’unique album de la formation québécoise Eden offre un rock progressif symphonique particulièrement riche en synthétiseurs avec plusieurs morceaux instrumentaux, dont une version audacieuse de la célèbre Pavane de Fauré
Bevis and Twink “Magic Eye” 1990. Woronzow Records. A prog-psych-garage collaboration by Twink (drummer for Pretty Things, Pink Fairies, Stars – with Syd Barrett – in the 60′ and 70′s and solo work since) and the Bevis Frond aka Nick Saloman (prolific songwriter and guitarist, head of Woronzow Records, active from the 80′s til present day). Magic Eye is a combo of trippy, spacey soundspaces (ie the brief instrumental “Eclipse” or the much longer jam “Gryke”) and hard rock, like my favorite track “Flying Igloos” as well as “Black Queen” (60′s garage meets Black Sabbath) and “Fractured Sky” where Twink lays down thundering beats over which Saloman wails and growls out weird-ass lyrics (“we’re sucking on our mutant fruit”) and throws in nuggets of heavy-metal though virtuosic tinged guitar solos.
Ars Nova “Ars Nova” 1968. Psychedelic prog rock from the short-lived 60′s band (they opened for The Doors once), named for a musical style from 1300′s popular in France and Low Countries (Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg) or perhaps named for the more general musical style of polyphony (music consisting of two or more simultaneous lines of melody). Either way, super-extra music nerdy. Not surprisingly, the main guys of Are Nova met at a music conservatory and they flex their vast instrumentation muscle with a ridiculous amount of variety: trombone! guitar! organ! piano! trumpet! and layers upon layers of sound. This is my first listen to Ars Nova; I’ve never even heard of them but we have stacks upon stacks of should-it-stay-or-should-it-go? LP’s so I’m slowly wading through them. I like psychedelic rock and am OK with some prog rock but this album is way too extra. The blasting and orchestrated horns put much of the sound closer to straight-up classical music and tracks like the opener “Pavan For My Lady” are too Celtic-folk-lords-a-leapin’ for my tastes (though the guitar work is technically perfect). The song “General Clover Ends a War” isn’t too bad, some hints at actual rough 60′s rock-n-roll on this one (with a LOT of trumpet), but I kinda started tuning out the rest of Side A. Side B starts off with “Fields of People” which is a blend of 60′s flower power and English folk (and again a LOT of trumpet) – not too bad, actually. “Automatic Love” is a jaunty track, that starts off 60′s garage-psych but then promptly dissolves into a vaudevillian/Benny Hill meets the Beatles cacophony. I wholeheartedly agree with this from Allmusic, “The songs – often linked by brief interludes – are a mixed bag, though, that seem to indicate a confusion over direction, or a bit of a psychedelic throw-in-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach.” I think this one is going to go.
Styx “Paradise Theatre” 1981. Continuing today with another guilty pleasure. Paradise Theatre used to be in my collection but at some point in the distant past I weeded it out; this copy is a recent replacement. My first acquisition was through the Columbia House record club, and an accident. I’m pretty sure I was trying to order Def Leppard’s Pyromania back in ‘83 but Columbia House kept fucking up the order and sent me Styx, twice, so I ended up keeping it. Until I got rid of it, of course. I don’t think I’ve listened to it since the early 80′s but I have to say I’m thoroughly enjoying it, well some of it anyway. I also don’t remember my original copy having the laser etchings on the B-side of the vinyl but it’s possible. Back then I wouldn’t have known to look for it.
Paradise Theatre was Styx’s 10th album, a concept album chronicling the imagined historical rise and fall of the Chicago Paradise Theatre* (and according to Wiki this was a metaphor for the changes in American society in the late 70′s). It also became the band’s most successful record, hitting #1 on the US album charts with several strong singles. Those singles are also the songs I like the most. The epic and anthemic lite-prog rock track “The Best of Times” was the first single from Paradise Theatre and it went to #3 on the US charts. The second single, “Too Much Time on My Hands,” is my favorite from the album and it hit #9 on the US Hot 100 chart and #2 on the Top Rock Tracks chart. (A couple of years ago Jimmy Fallon and Paul Rudd did a hilarious and spot-on re-creation of the song’s video.) I only vaguely remember the third single, “Nothing Ever Goes as Planned,” which isn’t surprising since it only went to #54 in the US. I do remember the final single, “Rockin’ the Paradise,” which went to #8 on the Billboard Rock Chart. It was also the 10th video aired by MTV when it launched in August ‘81. The rest of the album is kind of bland, again a commercially palatable, prog rock lite sound (though “Snowblind” is super-proggy and “Half-Penny, Two-Penny” is pretty rollicking), technically competent but not much heft or soul to keep me thoroughly engaged for the whole album, which is kind of the point of AOR. Apparently the band was in the midst of some bitter fighting during the writing and recording of Paradise Theatre, with competing songwriters and divergent directions, which explains some of the unevenness of the album’s concept and delivery.
*Since originally posting this, a friend of mine mentioned that her mom used to work as a candy girl at the real Paradise Theatre in Chicago, I’m guessing in the 50′s.
Queen “Jazz” released 40 years ago today in the US, November 14th, 1978, released on November 10th in the UK. Jazz was Queen’s 7th studio LP and as one of the biggest bands in the world in the 70′s it hit #2 in the UK and #6 in the US. It was often critically panned at the time of its release, called “dull,” “fascist,” “dumb” and – I love this summation from the website queenpedia.com “Critics were quick to lambaste the album for being overcooked and pretentious, though it should be mentioned that every album since Queen II received the same criticisms.” Of course in retrospect, and after the wild success of the album, Jazz is now viewed as sleek, sophisticated, fun, “wildly hysterical” and a gem of a record.
The first single from Jazz was a double A-side of “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race” (#11 UK, #24 US) which had “a bizarre marketing campaign, in which sixty-five naked women were perched atop bicycles rented from Halford’s Cycles and sent racing around Wimbledon Stadium. Video footage from the day’s photo shoot was later used for the accompanying promotional film for “Bicycle Race,” though it was a poster included with early releases of the album that caused the most controversy: banned in the USA, second run pressings included an order form to be sent off for the fold-out.” (Queenpedia). “Legend has it that the band borrowed the bicycles from a store (Halfords, according to the liner notes), but upon returning them were informed that they would have to purchase all the seats, as they had been used in an improper manner (i.e. without clothing).” (Wiki)
Queen released three other singles from Jazz though not globally. “Mustapha,” an up-tempo Arabic rocker (according to Circus magazine), was only released in West Germany, Spain, Yugoslavia, and – weirdly – Bolivia. “Don’t Stop Me Now,” a fantastically Queen-style anthem was a bigger release and went to #9 in the UK but only to #86 in the US; however it eventually became one of Queen’s best-known songs. Finally there is “Jealousy” which did not have a UK release, just US, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand and the USSR; it did not chart in any of those countries. Though not singles, I’m also fond of the big-rocking “Let Me Entertain You” and the wild-tempo’d “Dead on Time.” I’m not crazy about the only vaguely “jazz” track on Jazz, the New Orleans-ish bluesy “Dreamers Ball.”
Supertramp “Crime of the Century” released on this date, September 13th, 1974. I’m not a big Supertramp fan – this is a fairly recent acquisition – but lately the more proggy, AOR music from the 70′s has been appealing to me. I vaguely remember tracks from this record from early childhood playing on the AM stations but the most distinct thing I remember about Supertramp was a childhood friend telling me she was on the same airplane with the band and that they were really nice. (She had absolutely no idea who they were until they introduced themselves.)
Crime of the Century marked Supertramp’s breakthrough in the US; their first two albums didn’t do well and the band actually broke up and then reformed with new members before recording their third album. Crime of the Century charted at #38 in the US and #4 in the UK and eventually made it onto a few of best-of-the-70′s lists. The single “Dreamer” off of Crime of the Century was the band’s first big hit, making it to #13 in the UK and the live version hit #15 in the US a bit later. Its B-side, “Bloody Well Right” became the bigger success in the US, hitting #35 on Billboard’sHot 100.
Allmusic says “Supertramp came into their own on their third album, 1974’s Crime of the Century, as their lineup gelled but, more importantly, so did their sound. The group still betrayed a heavy Pink Floyd influence, particularly in its expansive art rock arrangements graced by saxophones, but Supertramp isn’t nearly as spooky as Floyd – they’re snarky collegiate elitists, an art rock variation on Steely Dan or perhaps a less difficult 10cc, filled with cutting jokes and allusions, best heard on “Bloody Well Right.” This streak would later flourish on Breakfast in America, but it’s present enough to give them their own character. Also present is a slight sentimental streak and a heavy fondness for pop, heard on “Dreamer,” a soaring piece of art pop that became their first big hit. That and “Bloody Well Right” are the concise pop moments on the record; the rest of Crime of the Century is atmospheric like Dark Side of the Moon, but with a lighter feel and a Beatles bent.”
Pink Flyod “Dark Side of the Moon” 1973. Today, September 6th, is Pink Floyd singer, songwriter, bassist Roger Waters’ 75th birthday (b. 1943). Hard to believe but this is a relatively recent acquisition, mainly because as children of the 70′s we were heartily sick of it (kind of still are); one of Joe’s older sister played the shit out of it when he was a kid and I heard it waaayyyy too much a bit later, in college at UW-Madison where it was favorite in many many dorm rooms. (Being an only child whose parents weren’t into psychedelic or prog, I thankfully missed out on Floyd saturation in the 70′s.) But it’s kind of one of those records that everyone should have a copy of I suppose – and it seems most people do having sold over 45 million copies making it one of the best-selling records of all time. It was on the charts for a staggering 741 weeks from ‘73-’88 and reentered the charts in ‘09 where it has been for over 900 weeks. It’s no wonder we’re sick of it! That said, it really is a musical masterpiece and going in for a listen, straining to have fresh ears, there are moments of pure, lush beauty. “Breathe” and “Time,” which start off the record, are gorgeous – but I still really cannot stand “Money” (released as the first single in ‘73, their first in the US where it hit #13 on the charts) and in fact just picked up the needle and skipped to the second song on Side B: “Us and Them,” a jazzy-prog atmospheric mashup with plenty of saxophone. That track is alright; Pink Floyd released it as the second and final single from Dark Side of the Moon and it charted at #72.
Allmusic says about the album “By condensing the sonic explorations of Meddle to actual songs and adding a lush, immaculate production to their trippiest instrumental sections, Pink Floyd inadvertently designed their commercial breakthrough with Dark Side of the Moon. The primary revelation of Dark Side of the Moon is what a little focus does for the band. Roger Waters wrote a series of songs about mundane, everyday details which aren’t that impressive by themselves, but when given the sonic backdrop of Floyd’s slow, atmospheric soundscapes and carefully placed sound effects, they achieve an emotional resonance. But what gives the album true power is the subtly textured music, which evolves from ponderous, neo-psychedelic art rock to jazz fusion and blues-rock before turning back to psychedelia. It’s dense with detail, but leisurely paced, creating its own dark, haunting world. Pink Floyd may have better albums than Dark Side of the Moon, but no other record defines them quite as well as this one.”
If pompous heavy krautrock from the early 70s is your thing, Grobschnitt might be worth digging into. That gatefold is worth the price of admission alone, the fact that it’s on Brain Records makes it somewhat desirable to collector types.
Rush “Permanent Waves” 1980. Yesterday, July 29th, was Geddy Lee’s 65th birthday (b. Gary Lee Weinrib, 1953) so I’m spinning the only Rush album we have – I’m not much of a Rush fan (though I did see them in concert once**). In fact, this is probably the first time I’ve played this LP but I’m not surprised that I recognize most of it, Rush being a staple on AOR stations like WAPL in my hometown and we’re guaranteed to hear at least one Rush song every time we visit.
Permanent Waves was Rush’s seventh studio release and it hit #3 in Canada and the UK, #4 in the US. The first two tracks are the ones I’m most familiar with as both were released as singles: “The Spirit of Radio” which hit #13 in the UK, #22 in Canada and #51 in the US; and “Freewill.” “Entre Nous” was also released as the final single from the LP. Allmusic says about Permanent Waves, “By 1980’s Permanent Waves, the modern sounds of new wave (the Police, Peter Gabriel, etc.) began to creep into Rush’s sound, but the trio still kept their hard rock roots intact. The new approach paid off – two of their most popular songs, the ‘make a difference’ anthem “Freewill,” and a tribute to the Toronto radio station CFNY, “The Spirit of Radio,” are spectacular highlights. Also included were two epics, the stormy ”Jacob’s Ladder“ and the album-closing ”Natural Science,“ which contains a middle section that contains elements of reggae. Geddy Lee also began singing in a slightly lower register around this time, which made their music more accessible to fans outside of the heavy prog rock circle. The album proved to be the final breakthrough Rush needed to become an arena headliner throughout the world, beginning a string of albums that would reach inside the Top Five of the U.S. Billboard album charts.”
**So I either saw Rush play at Alpine Valley in either June 1990 or June 1992. I looked at the setlists for both shows but this was of no help whatsoever because I don’t remember much beyond the parking lot. My friend Eric drove me and our friends Mike and Steve from Madison to the rolling hills of Wisconsin south of Milwaukee on a gorgeous summer afternoon. Upon arrival we proceeded to slam a bunch of beer, probably Budweiser which was Mike’s beer of choice, while loitering around the car because it was cheaper than buying beer inside and I know I was underage, not sure if the rest of the group was or not. So I was pretty drunk before we even got to our lawn “seats.” I think we met up with some other friends and at least a few them fired up a joint or two. Between that smell, the cheap beer and the laser show, I ended up spending the concert quietly puking on the lawn, neatly covering up my mess with a discarded nacho tray. Blech. I vaguely remember Rush playing “Tom Sawyer” but the rest is lost to me.