The Cassette Chroncles – Lionel Richie’s ‘Can’t Slow Down’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

LIONEL RICHIE – CAN’T SLOW DOWN (1983)

It’s time for another curveball folks! Yes, this series mostly focuses on rock and metal releases but I do have a love of 80’s pop music in my background as well and occasionally I pull out an album from that time that struck a nerve with me back then and still resonates with me to this day.

I’m not sure if I remember much about Lionel Richie’s time with The Commodores. At least not before I became as fan of his solo work. But while I probably learned more about his time with that group after he hit it big with Can’t Slow Down, it has definitely been more about his solo music that has had me hooked all these years.

And boy did he hit it big with this album! Can’t Slow Down has reportedly sold over 20 million copies, got a 20th anniversary 2-disc reissue release, won the Grammy for Album of the Year and had five top ten singles. Realistically, most artists would take a lengthy career to receive the kind of success he enjoyed with this album alone.

I’ve had this cassette in my collection for a long time, probably pretty much since it was released. But while I’m very familiar with the five classic tracks, it isn’t like I play the album a whole lot.

So, it was a bit of a surprise to me to realize that the album opening title track seems to be a huge missed opportunity. While certainly not a rule, I’ve kind of felt that a title track should generally serve as a way to sum up an album as a whole. Well, if you judged the album by this one’s title track, you’d dismiss it out of hand. The song is totally undersold and Richie’s vocals are barely above a whisper as if they were “accidentally” recorded and added to the musical score. It completely throws off the song and any hope for the track to be a more memorable one.

But the great thing is that the album rebounds strongly from that point. As I said, it had five top ten singles and given that Can’t Slow Down only had eight tracks on the original release, this makes for an almost hilarious level of great music to listen to.

Two songs made it all the way to #1 on the singles chart. The first one was “All Night Long (All Night)” an uptempo track with a party-slash-celebratory vibe to it. Truth be told, from the first notes of the song, I am always drawn into the song. It makes you feel great and sweeps you up into the party atmosphere.

The other #1 hit is the ballad “Hello” which closes the album. In 1983, MTV was actually still playing music videos and I remember the video for this song vividly. It is one of the better storyline videos I’ve seen and unlike most 80’s rock power ballads, I find the ballads on this album to be of a superior quality. Now I love this song but you know what kind of amused me as I listened to it for this article? If you combine the song with the video, it actually comes off as a little bit stalker-like in this day and age. I suppose it is all how you look at the song as an individual but in the right light (or perhaps a more sinister light), I’d say The Police song “Every Breath You Take” might just have a companion piece. I know, way to ruin a song for you, right? Feel free to ignore all that because if you love the song, I’m right there with you.

If every song has its fanbase, I’d like to ask those who like the song “Love Will Find A Way” what makes it work for them? The midtempo pacing makes the song feel like it is just wandering around the musical landscape looking for some kind of meaning.

Eh, but enough about that. Let’s get back to the hits, shall we?

The last two songs on the first side of the album are both rather successful ballads. “Penny Lover” was a #8 single and “Stuck On You” went to #3. These are also great songs and intriguingly enough, as I listened to them I could actually sing (okay, lip-synch) the entire set of lyrics for each one. I don’t know if that loses me points with metalheads, but I don’t really care. I feel not a bit of shame for enjoying the non-cloying sentimentality each of these songs conjures up. It must be true…I’m not always a cold and heartless SOB!

While it wasn’t released as a single, the song “The Only One” is actually a pretty decent song. The main lyrical verses are good but I found that the chorus has a great hook to it. I read online that the song is still played during Lionel Richie’s concerts to this day.

Perhaps the song that resonates with the part of me that loves mysteries is the #7 hit “Running With The Night”. It’s got a real uptempo pace to it but at the same time, there’s an edgy sense of atmosphere in regards to how the song is presented. Listening to the lyrics, I got the feeling that if Richie had been writing a crime novel, he’d have a keen grasp of noir conventions.

While he is probably more noted the last few years for being a judge partly responsible for foisting mediocre at best “talent” on the unsuspecting general public via the American Idol TV show, Richie’s place in music history is secure. Turning out a wide array of successful pop songs, love ballads and just get up and dance numbers (No, I didn’t actually do that), the Can’t Slow Down album is likely the masterwork of his catalog and shows that regardless of genre, greatness always shines through.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Singer Richard Marx sang backup vocals on four tracks on the album: “All Night Long (All Night)”, “Love Will Find A Way”, “The Only One” and “Running With The Night”.

Also providing backing vocals on “All Night Long (All Night)” was singer-songwriter Kin Vassy, who was a member of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition in the 1960’s. The video for the song was produced by ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith.

Toto members Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukather featured on Can’t Slow Down. Porcaro played drums on “Running With The Night” while that song featured a guitar solo from Lukather. Lukather also played guitar on the song “The Only One”. The video for “Running With The Night” features singer-percussionist Sheila E. as a bridesmaid.

The Cassette Chronicles – SCORPIONS’ ‘SAVAGE AMUSEMENT’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

SCORPIONS – SAVAGE AMUSEMENT (1988)

“Welcome to a trip into my hurt feelings.” – Klaus Meine

That opening line to the song “Walking On The Edge” sums up my reaction to the research I did on the Savage Amusement album as I prepared to write this article.

I say hurt feelings because it seems that this album is not all that fondly looked upon at all. Which is a mystery to me because I love it. Coming off the twin successes of Love At First Sting and the World Wide Live releases, I think Savage Amusement is a phenomenal follow-up. But it sold less than its immediate predecessors and seems to suffer from claims that it was chasing the trends in metal that ruled the day back in 1988.

To that, I say “PHOOEY!”.

When the album opens up with the rocking “Don’t Stop At The Top” track, the band has a song that pretty much sums up their place in the metal pecking order at the time. The Scorpions had everything going for them.

The first single released from the album was “Rhythm of Love”. While it isn’t all that bad of a song overall, it is rather bland compared to some of the other material on the album.

Meanwhile, “Passion Rules The Game” featured lyrics that could get anyone up for a challenge and it lends itself well to me on a personal level as a way to sum up the passion I once had for coaching basketball. You can’t try to do something and be good at it without a hefty dose of passion.

I know that the Scorpions aren’t looked to for in-depth lyrical exploration of themes, but sometimes you can find some meaning or equivalency to a real world situation. Case in point, check out the lyrics for the rocker “Media Overkill”. Those lyrics are insanely on point for today’s world. When you combine it with a strong music score, you have a great song. I bought the album when it was originally released and I noted that I always loved the kind of clipped delivery that Klaus Meine had when saying the song title. It’s just a small thing that bears no real significance but it has always stuck with me for some reason. Plus, it is just a really cool sounding song.

While the band found huge chart success with the album closing ballad “Believe In Love”, I thought it was actually the aforementioned “Walking On The Edge” that was the better of the two power ballad tracks on the album.

I thought the lyrical slant of “Every Minute Every Day” was overdone but I liked the music portion of the song which helped overcome that weaker set of lyrics.

The second side of the album is where the band seems to cut loose in terms of all out musical fury. “We Let It Rock…You Let It Roll” is lightning fast and really gets your blood pumping. And the song “Love On The Run” keeps that blood pressure rising with it’s relentlessly fast pacing.

And that’s kind of what I remember most about Savage Amusement, it is just a hard rocking album that has great hooks to draw you in and it is the total package you could desire for a metal album of its day. I’ve never been able to see The Scorpions in concert but I do think Savage Amusement is an album that coincides with my hopes for the band’s live show where the band just leaves you feeling fully satisfied and thoroughly entertained!

NOTES OF INTEREST: When the band reissued a large chunk of their catalog to celebrate their 50th anniversary, Savage Amusement contained seven bonus tracks. There were six demo tracks and the band’s cover of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain”. (By the way, if anyone knows where I can get a copy of this version of the CD release without breaking the bank, let me know.)

Canadian rocker Lee Aaron provided backing vocals on the song “Rhythm of Love”. Ex-Accept bassist Peter Baltes did the intro vocals on “Every Minute Every Day”.

FILMING LOCATION SPOTLIGHT – “DARK SHADOWS” (1966-1971)

On the second and fourth Friday of every month in 2020, Limelight Magazine spotlights the filming location site(s) we visited for some of our favorite (and not so favorite) films. Today we spotlight one of the filming locations for the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows which aired on ABC from from June 27, 1966, to April 2, 1971. The top photo is a screen shot taken from the series while the photo underneath is what the location looks like today.

This filming location used for the Collinswood Mansion, the home of vampire Barnabas Collins, is the Carey Mansion, located in Newport, R.I.

 

The Cassette Chronicles – Quiet Riot’s ‘QR III’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

QUIET RIOT – QRIII (1986)

Though this album is titled as if it were the third release from Quiet Riot, QRIII is actually the fifth album the band put out. Confusing I’m sure but I think fans have had plenty of time to figure things out considering this album was released just about 34 years ago.

QRIII is an album that I have never heard before now. I am vaguely familiar with the song “The Wild And The Young” though. It was released as the album’s single but I don’t really recall hearing the song at the time of the original release. I’m pretty sure that the reason I know the song is because I’ve heard it on various specialty heavy metal radio shows.

The first thing I noticed about the song when listening to it is that while I like the track, it does seem to go out of its way to ruin itself about midway through with some cutesy but ineffective studio tricks. It’s a bit heavier and obviously anthemic in nature. There’s a decent hook but the production on the song kind of echoes throughout each of the songs on the album.

By that I mean the sound of the album is very overproduced. It isn’t just that it has that “80’s sound” that is so identifiable to many records released in the decade. When I started playing the album, the first song “Main Attraction” made me think that the production stripped away a lot of the more metallic side of Quiet Riot’s sound. The weird sounding keyboard intro to the song didn’t help matters either.

Regular readers of this series will recall that I do seem retroactively down on a lot of ballads for the albums featured. Would it surprise you to learn that the two ballads on QRIII struck me as being surprisingly decent? Side One’s “Twilight Hotel” does pick up the pace during the song’s running time but it is definitely a ballad. The song “Still Of The Night” is on Side Two and I really enjoyed that one a lot.

The last two songs on Side One of the album are “Down And Dirty” and “Rise Or Fall”. Both tracks are straightforward rockers.

The second side of the album was interesting for a number of reasons. It opens strongly with another action-packed rocker in “Put Up Or Shut Up”. I thought it was one of the better songs on the album. That was followed by the “Still of the Night” ballad.

Following a brief instrumental called “Bass Case”, the song “The Pump” was an uptempo song that got ruined by what seemed to me a muffled sound. “Slave To Love” was pretty good and “Helping Hands” closed out the album on an anthemic high.

The “Helping Hands” song was also interesting for being the song playing when the tape slot in my stereo decided to crap the bed. It was about halfway through the song. Thankfully it is a double tape deck so I switched slots and finished the album. But it was still a bummer that another piece of equipment died on me.

The QRIII album kind of finished off Quiet Riot as a major force in the music world. Sales were bad and after listening to the album myself, I can see why it didn’t generate much buzz. I liked a bunch of the songs but the way the album was produced made it seem like the band was chasing trends instead of charting their own course, sonically speaking. It is by no means a bad album but things just felt “off” with it at times. Still, it is worth a listen if for no other reason than for you to make up your own mind about where QRIII stands in the band’s catalog.

NOTES OF INTEREST: The comings and goings for this band were particularly intriguing. This album was the last to feature singer Kevin Dubrow before he returned to the lineup for the Terrified album. Also, this was the first album where bassist Chuck Wright, whose previous contributions to the band came as more of a hired gun, was an official member of the group.

In the liner notes, Bobby Kimball (best known for singing with Toto) is credited with backing vocals on the song “Still Of The Night”. Meanwhile, “Weird Al” Yankovic is listed in the album’s Thank You section.

 

The Cassette Chronicles – Tora Tora’s ‘Wild America’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

TORA TORA – WILD AMERICA (1992)

It has been a pretty long and winding road that led me to finally hearing Tora Tora’s second album Wild America.

I’d written about their debut album Surprise Attack for The Cassette Chronicles back in early 2018. In doing so I actually discovered that the band had released Wild America and recorded a third album (Revolution Day) which ended up not being released until 2011. But I didn’t know any of that before writing that first article on the band. Then in 2019, Tora Tora released the phenomenal album Bastards of Beale and I got to see them live in concert (and met them before the show) in August 2019. I had such a great experience reviewing both that album and show that I started seeking out the two missing albums. I thought that I’d had a line on getting CD editions for both releases but that fell through on me. And the online auction sites either had them for a big cost or not at all.

And then comes my record shop owning friend Roger. He purchased a large collection of CDs and cassettes recently and sent me some photos of cassettes he got and there in the bottom of one stack was Wild America! I HAD TO HAVE IT!!!

The day after I picked up the cassette, I got up and once I puttered around the house for a bit I popped the cassette in the stereo to get my first listen to an album I’d been eagerly anticipating to say the least.

Let’s just say I was not disappointed. I vaguely recall reading something online that said Wild America showed the band in a much more mature light in terms of songwriting. I’d be hard-pressed to argue with that contention because the album is just marvelous.

Seriously, the band kicks off the album with the title track and never really lets up from there. The “Wild America” song is a fast rocking and butt-kicking track that gives the listener a jolt of energy which is continually replenished throughout the album’s 11 tracks.

The mix of hard rock with bluesy soulfulness blends together seamlessly as the singer Anthony Corder’s vocals range from shout it out loud to a whiskey soaked inflection depending on the needs of the song. Guitarist Keith Douglas, bassist Patrick Francis and drummer John Patterson can rock out with a metallic fist or a velvet glove and do so effortlessly.

I loved the song “Amnesia” which has an up-tempo kind of swinging rhythmic feel to it. Corder’s vocals and the big backing vocal sound on the song’s chorus help enhance the song as a whole.

The Memphis Horns are featured on the song “Dead Man’s Hand” and that really gives the song an extra edge to it. There’s a sweetly rocking groove to the song and the solo from Keith Douglas is fantastic.

While most of the material on Wild America leans towards the more rocking side of the band’s nature, when the slow things down on songs like the lyrically contemplative “As Time Goes By” or the heavily bluesy sounding “Nowwhere To Go But Down”, I found them to be just as intense even if they were lacking in the pure adrenaline feel of their faster material. On “Nowhere To Go But Down”, I loved the way the opening verse was a spare musical arrangement with Corder’s vocals before the full musical soundtrack kicked in.

That blues rock side of the band gets more of a spotlight throughout the album but I thought the intro that fueled “Lay Your Money Down”, combined with a rather impressive vocal take made the song one of the stronger highlights for the album. There’s a strong rocking groove on songs like “Dirty Little Secrets” and “Faith Healer” as well.

And though I don’t want to be seen as diminishing any of those songs in the least (because I’m not), I really came away impressed when the band just fed the listener a blazing rock number too.

You had songs like “Shattered” which hit that benchmark but I think it really all came together on that particular songwriting front with the song “Cold Fever”. It is an aggressively rocking tempo that finds Tora Tora bleeding fiery fury. The killer chorus for the song also ups the amperage on the song too.

I really can’t say anything bad about this album. I didn’t have any kind of nitpicky issue with any of the eleven songs and the performances are seamlessly blended together to show just exactly what Tora Tora had going for them at the time. I know that I say this with the benefit of being nearly three decades removed from the original release of the album but good is good no matter when you hear it. And I find that Wild America surpasses the “good” designation with barely a sweat broken. Instead, this is a GREAT album and I’m glad that I’ve finally gotten to hear it because it has only increased my ever-growing fandom for the band.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Stan Lynch, best known for his work as part of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers co-wrote the songs “Dead Man’s Hand” and “Nowhere To Go But Down”.

The late Jimi Jamison contributed backing vocals to the Wild America album. However, he’s credited as Jim Jamison in the liner notes.

 

FILMING LOCATION SPOTLIGHT – “The Fast and the Furious” (2001) and “Nightcrawler” (2014)

On the second and fourth Friday of every month in 2020, Limelight Magazine spotlights the filming location site(s) we visited for some of our favorite (and not so favorite) films. Today we spotlight two of the filming locations for The Fast and the Furious (2001). The top photo is a screen shot taken from the movie while the photo underneath is what the location looks like today.

This filming location used for the Toretto home is located at 722 N. East Kensington Road, Echo Park, CA, while “Toretto’s Market and Cafe” (Bob’s Market) is located at 1230 Bellevue Ave, Los Angeles, CA.  

Bob’s Market was also featured in the movie Nightcrawler (2014).

The Cassette Chronicles – Accept’s ‘Death Row’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

ACCEPT – DEATH ROW (1994)

The Death Row album is the 10th studio album from Accept and it is jam packed with a lot of music. This is both good and bad in my view. When this album came out I wouldn’t have said that I would count myself as anything more than perhaps a casual fan of the band. Despite loving the song “Balls To The Wall”, it took me a while to get around to becoming a full-fledged member of the Accept fan base.

But now that I am a huge fan of the band, I’ve acquired most of their studio albums and get to enjoy what I may have missed out on the first time around. What I found with Death Row and its 15 song track listing is that much like a novelist who turns in a book that is entirely overwritten, the band could’ve used an editor to prune the album of its weakest parts.

The album does get off to a strong start. The title track opens the album with a relentlessly pounding soundtrack and there is an oddly effective kind of rhythmic swing to singer Udo Dirkschneider’s vocal performance on the track.

On the rest of side one, songs like the rocket-fueled “Sodom & Gomorra” and “Guns ‘R’ Us” help give the album some of its highest points. On “Guns ‘R’ Us”, guitarist Wolf Hoffman has a particularly fantastic solo.

But then you have songs like “Dead On!” and “Like A Loaded Gun” which never felt all that fully-formed to my ears.

Still, the side closing “What Else” is a pretty solid track and I love the song “The Beast Inside”. That particular song starts out with a slow intro that helps establish a moodier atmosphere to the track. Even as the pace of the song picks ups, that ominous tone remains throughout and helps give the song that much more of an epic feeling.

Side two of the album found me discovering it is probably not a good idea to listen to an album first thing in the morning when you had a mediocre night of sleep. I actually nodded off in the middle of the music and had to rewind the tape to listen to the two songs I missed.

Side two opens strongly with aggressively attacking numbers like “Stone Evil” and “Prejudice”. The lyrics for the latter song are anti-racism in nature but while the sentiment is strong that message doesn’t detract from the song as a whole. That is the true sign of a great song in my book.

Death Row features just one slow song that might be mistaken as a ballad. For all their metal bonafides and the gravelly rip your throat out vocals from Dirkschneider, I almost always find myself impressed when they pull out a song that is slow and dramatic in presentation. The focused clarity of the vocal performance on “Writing On The Wall” is pretty affecting.

The song “Generation Clash II” felt like a stab at a sci-fi angle to the band’s songwriting but it came off for me a bit pedestrian. I can live with that but I am utterly confused about the decision to close out the album with the instrumentals “Drifting Away” and “Pomp And Circumstance” (yes, the music you hear played at high school graduations). Neither song is particularly intriguing and these are definitely songs I would’ve cut from the release.

The volcanic rocking from Accept is best demonstrated on Side Two with the songs “Bad Habits Die Hard” and “Bad Religion”. Fast paced and relentless, you will not get a second’s rest.

I suppose that when you have 15 songs on an album, there’d bound to be a clunker or two. It is likely the nature of the beast when it comes to songwriting. But in the final analysis, Death Row is a solid album that could’ve been even greater if Accept had been a bit more judicious selecting what songs they included on this release.

NOTES OF INTEREST: On the cassette edition of the album, the song “Bad Religion” is listed on the physical cassette but is eliminated from the track listing on the liner notes. On the CD edition, it is included in the printed track listing. The lyrics are included in the CD booklet but not on the cassette insert.

Stefan Kaufmann recorded the album’s drum tracks except for the songs “Bad Habits Die Hard” and “Prejudice”. Those were done by Stefan Schwarzmann, who took over as the drummer for the tour supporting the Death Row album when Kaufmann stepped down due to health problems.

Drummer Carmine Appice is mentioned in the thank you section of the liner notes.

The Cassette Chronicles – Journey’s ‘Evolution’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

JOURNEY – EVOLUTION (1979)

This week’s random draw out of “The Big Box of Cassettes” was a bit of a surprise for me. I actually already owned a copy of Evolution on cassette but this copy came to me courtesy of my friend Jeff from Georgia.

The funny thing about this copy for me was that it had never been opened. The plastic wrapping was intact and still had the $4.99 bargain bin price tag on it from a Woolworth’s store. Of course, there was a $2.99 price tag on the front of the album so you know this came cheap.

But hey, a brand new copy to listen to for this article is always a good thing in my book. And it is pretty hard to go wrong with a Journey album once they started writing some hit songs. And let’s face it, Steve Perry has one of the signature vocal sounds of all time. When you hear him sing, you KNOW it is him!

I know that this album’s release year of 1979 falls just outside of my usual range of material to cover but it does show what was to come when the band really took flight in the 1980’s. While I started my musical love for the band’s music with the Frontiers album, I went back and bought as much of their earlier albums as I could find at the time. But the further back you go, the less interesting the music was to me. The earliest Journey albums are ones that I don’t think I’ve listened to after initially buying them. They just weren’t my cup of tea.

But when Steve Perry joined up for the Infinity album, the band’s sound became much more accessible and the hits started coming. That lead into Evolution and a bit of a re-discovery for me.

Whenever I hear a Journey song on the radio, it is a welcome few minutes. But because I hear them on the radio all the time, I kind of forget what songs come from what albums. While I’m really familiar with Evolution songs like “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” and “Just The Same Way” given their standing as all-time great Journey tracks, it was finding out (again) that so many of the songs on the album were songs that I just loved. Oh, and I’d forgotten that Gregg Rolie sang the majority of the lead vocals on “Just The Same Way”.

The album opens with the one song I didn’t care for, the instrumental track “Majestic”. I found myself thinking, “Come on…get on with it willya?”

But after that speedbump, boy did the fun kick off! I think I’d forgotten about the song “Too Late” but I loved hearing it and being reminded of just how much I enjoyed the song. And I think that I’d classify “City of Angels” as one of the more underappreciated songs in the band’s catalog.

But what I really liked about the first side of the album was the last two tracks. “When You’re Alone (It Ain’t Easy)” is a pretty up-tempo track that got me pumped up and though I know I’ve heard it before, “Sweet and Simple” felt like a brand new song to me and I really got into that track a lot.

The band’s more in-your-face rocking style on the opening track of side two gave “Lovin’ You Is Easy” an extra bit of heft for me. I thought the guitar work on this song as well as “Just The Same Way” was pretty striking.

While both “Daydream” and “Lady Luck” are solid tracks that I enjoyed a lot, the song “Do You Recall” was a song that I quite frankly didn’t recall much at all. But the fast pacing and just pure song craft got me to invest in the song a lot. It was like hearing the song for the first time and liking it right from the start.

There’s no denying that I am a huge fan of the band’s glory days. They gave you some of the best rock and roll has to offer. The version of the band that exists today is an utter embarrassment of public pissing contests and dueling lawsuits that have left more than a little tarnish on their legacy. However, Journey defined what was once “arena rock” and is now mostly referred to as classic rock. Evolution is a pretty good representation of all that the band had to offer and a great starting point for both new and old fans alike.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Evolution sold over three million copies and was the highest charting album for the band at that point in time. The album was the first to feature Steve Smith on drums. He was hired to replace Aynsley Dunbar who had performed on the first four Journey albums.

Roy Thomas Baker produced Evolution as well as its immediate predecessor Infinity. He’s had a legendary career working with Free, Queen, Nazareth, Foreigner, The Cars and many more acts.

The Cassette Chronicles – JOHN CAFFERTY AND THE BEAVER BROWN BAND’s ‘TOUGH ALL OVER’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

JOHN CAFFERTY AND THE BEAVER BROWN BAND – TOUGH ALL OVER (1985)

Back in 2018, I wrote an article in this series about the John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band album Roadhouse. As I said then, I know that they will always be most famous for the song “On The Dark Side” from the first Eddie and the Cruisers movie. But then again most musicians would kill to have even one song that stands the test of time.

I admit that I come to my own fandom for the band because of the movie soundtracks but hearing the stuff not tied to those films, I can see just what people seem to have missed out on. After the smash success of the first movie soundtrack, the band’s second album might not have had the same level of commercial success but Tough All Over is a pretty damn solid piece of music.

The pure rock and roll sound the band captures in their music always seems to grab me whenever I listen to their music. The soulful and powerful vocals and the driving rhythms and pounding beat are further enhanced with that sweet saxophone sound cutting through the mix. The keyboards give the material an added dimension and when you mix in that all-female backing chorus employed on a couple of the album’s songs, the material on Tough All Over just becomes a bit of magic.

Side One opens with three of the four singles that were released in support of the album. “Voice of America’s Sons” has a quick up-tempo pace and there is a strikingly good guitar solo. In fact, the guitar work from Gary Gramolini is pretty damn enticing throughout the album.

The title track became a Top 40 hit for the band as a single and it is one of those “story” type songs that lets the band’s ability as chroniclers of “small town hopes and dreams” shine bright. I know that is the bread and butter of Springsteen but surely there’s always room for more than one artist to mine that particular vein of songwriting, yes?

The third song on Side One is “C-I-T-Y” which was a Top 20 hit for the band on the singles chart and believe me, the zesty driving beat to the song is all you could ever hope for when it comes to a fun, get the party started rock and roll anthem.

The entire first side of the album is actually chock full of one upbeat and up-tempo rock and roll song. Cafferty’s vocals are always the immediate draw. He’s got a sound that becomes imprinted on the listener and whenever you hear him sing, you immediately recognize that sound. Those first three songs may be the hits but when you listen to “Where The Action Is” and “Dixieland”, you understand just how good he is at making the lyrics come alive for you.

The second side of the album is a bit of a different breed in comparison to the first side. It opens with a rocking “Strangers In Paradise” but then things kind of slow down. The material hits the only real speedbump for me on “Small Town Girl”. The song was the fourth single from the album and I just really couldn’t find any way to appreciate the track. I was bored, plain and simple.

On “More Than Just One Of The Boys”, the songwriting-slash-storytelling comes to the forefront once more. I’ve said before how much I like stories of any kind and this is the band once again proving they’ve got those authorial chops.

After being fueled up with all the rocking anthems and stories, I think the slow pace of “Small Town Girl” was part of what made me dislike the song. But given that Tough All Over‘s closing song “Tex-Mex (Crystal Blue)” was similarly paced, I was a bit flabbergasted that the song drew me in far more than the other track. It may not have been an adrenaline burst in terms of pacing but the band’s focused musicianship melded together with Cafferty’s emotive vocal take to envelop the listener and transport them to the Lone Star State.

You may dismiss John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown band as a Springsteen substitute or as a soundtrack band, but you are doing both them and yourself a huge disservice. They have a rock and roll sound that draws in the listener and Tough All Over shows that they are more than just their career highlights.

NOTES OF INTEREST: The song “Voice of America’s Sons” was used on the soundtrack to the Sylvester Stallone movie Cobra. John Cafferty had a solo track called “Heart’s On Fire” on the Rocky IV soundtrack. The band’s music has also been used for movies like There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber To.

While the original release of album featured a cover shot of the band standing on a street, the album was given a reissue with a new cover that featured artwork from the Eddie and the Cruisers movie as well as the added tagline “The Voice of Eddie and the Cruisers”.

The Cassette Chronicles – Ted Nugent’s ‘Penetrator’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

TED NUGENT – PENETRATOR (1984)

The recent passing of vocalist Brian Howe made me want to seek out the one bit of his discography that I had never heard before. This was an idea easier said than done however. The Ted Nugent album Penetrator was Howe’s first US gig and judging by what I’ve read online, this album is not looked upon all that fondly by the press or Ted Nugent’s fanbase. Making matters worse, when I tried to find a CD edition of the album online, it seemed I would have to give up an arm or a leg to afford the asking prices.

But the day was saved by my friend Roger. He arranged to drop off his cassette copy of the album in my mailbox (social distancing, don’t you know) so that I could listen to it.

I know you might wonder why I’ve never heard this album before now. Much like a lot of what I’m going to write about this release, I find myself going a bit against the grain when it comes to Ted Nugent. The truth of the matter is, I wouldn’t say that I’m all that much of a fan. Sure, I like the stuff you hear on the radio like “Stranglehold”, “Free For All”, “Wango Tango” and “Cat Scratch Fever”. I even liked the title track to the Little Miss Dangerous album. But I’ve never once felt the need to buy any of his solo music. In fact, the only material I own that features Ted Nugent are the two Damn Yankees albums.

The fact that I’m a huge fan of Brian Howe’s voice compelled me to finally listen to this album and while the research I did for this article suggests that it isn’t all that good and suffers from trying to sound like everything else coming out in the mid 1980’s and not quite getting there, I found that I kind of liked the Penetrator album. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by that feeling though. So often I hate stuff other people like and then when everyone is hating on something, it turns out that I like it. I guess that’s just a bit of my contrarian nature coming through.

I will admit that the album does sound a little dated. It is pretty easy to realize that it was released in the 1980’s. It has “that” sound which marks the era. But from the start, there’s a wildly reckless energy to a lot of the songs.

That sense of the energetic starts right at the top with “Tied Up In Love”. Given Nugent’s predilection for sex, it is no surprise that most of the material could be seen as having plenty of double entendres. But the smoking hot guitar and Howe’s vocals keep this song rocking from start to finish.

The first four songs on Side One of the album are all pretty fast-paced. I really liked the solo on “(Where Do You) Draw The Line” but I thought the keyboards through the song off a bit. That song was written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, which made me chuckle to think of the guy who sings balladry like “Heaven” having one of his compositions performed by the Motor City Madman. I also liked the solo in the expressively up-tempo “Don’t You Want My Love”. Say whatever you want about Ted Nugent, the man can shred his butt off on the guitar.

I think my favorite song on Side One might just be the rocker “Knockin’ At Your Door” which was written by Andy Fraser, the bassist for Free. I don’t know what it was but this was just a really cool track to me.

The closing song on the first side features a slightly slower pace as they seem to be going for a bigger sense of the dramatic. The keyboards (from Billy Squier’s Alan St. Jon) heavily influence the song here.

Brian Howe’s vocals graced the tracks on Side One, but when you flip the tape over you are immediately hit in the face as Ted himself once again steps up to the mike. You might tend to forget that you are listening to a Ted Nugent album when it is someone else singing the lyrics. But then Ted’s vocals kick in and you remember it’s “Uncle Ted’s” world and we’re all just witnesses to it.

While the Side Two opener “Thunder Thighs” pushes right against the line that marks when a song crosses over into a comedic self-parody, the maniacal guitar playing and ballsy vocal take elevate this song into a kind of interesting full-blown rocker. There is absolutely no sense of subtlety here but I have to admit that as the song played through, I didn’t care.

I did care more about the song “Blame It On The Night” though. Brian Howe was back on vocals for this song but it didn’t quite work for me because I thought the track could’ve done without the keyboards in the mix. That could just be me, but I thought it held the song back from reaching for what could’ve made it a potentially better song.

I loved the down and dirty grind of “No Man’s Land” and the self-congratulatory nature of the blazing “Lean Mean R&R Machine”. Both of the songs are flat out rockers and I thought they came out pretty damn fantastic.

And in a bit of a reversal, there was some restraint and subtlety on the album’s closing song “Take Me Home”. It is the only song that could legitimately be considered a ballad. While the tempo does increase a bit during the course of the song, it really does surprise that you. The funny thing is I went looking for the official lyrics only to find that none of the online lyric websites seems to have them. A few of them simply say “We’re sorry but the artist has decided not to disclose the lyrics for this song”. I don’t know if there’s some kind of story behind that decision or not but given the lyrics that are online for some of Nugent’s other songs, it was a bit amusing.

My entire reason for wanting to hear this album was because Brian Howe sang the majority of the songs on it. As I stated when I wrote about the Bad Company album Holy Water, I’m a huge fan of his voice. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect to find when I started listening to Penetrator given my less than full-throated support for Ted Nugent’s career. I know that the prevailing opinion about this album seems to veer towards being overwhelmingly negative, but Howe’s vocals and the fantastic music from Ted and company gave me a different opinion.

After listening to this album, even with it’s hiccups, I found the album to be surprisingly enjoyable. You could’ve probably knocked me over with a feather when I realized that fact. Now if I can just find myself a copy of my own that doesn’t require me to sell off a body part to afford it.

NOTES OF INTEREST: The album and the tour for it were the beginning and end of Brian Howe’s time with Ted Nugent. According to Howe’s Wikipedia page, a dispute over the lack of writing credits on the album (The song “Tied Up In Love” is specified) and financial matters led to his departure.

The drums on Penetrator were performed by Billy Squier drummer Bobby Chouinard who also played with Cher, Alice Cooper and Peter Wolf amongst his credits. Peter Wolf is credited on the Penetrator album as providing percussion and sequencing. The artwork was done by noted fantasy artist Boris Vallejo.

While I’ve never seen Ted Nugent in a solo concert, I did see him live as a part of Damn Yankees when they toured for their self-titled debut album. I remember being pretty impressed by his playing then. I wrote about that album for a previous article in The Cassette Chronicles series.

Music and entertainment coverage since October 2006!