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.
TESLA – THE GREAT RADIO CONTROVERSY (1989)
It’s been a while since I popped in my copy of the Tesla album The Great Radio Controversy and I really don’t know why that is. But what I do know is that when it was released in 1989, it made a huge impression on me. What got me to put this cassette on and write about it now was that I’ve been watching videos on this guy Brendon Snyder’s YouTube channel and one of the videos he did was a ranking of Tesla’s studio albums. It got me thinking about my own collection of the band’s albums and the realization that I hadn’t spent a lot of time listening to the band in a while. And so, it was time to rectify that situation and get an article out of it at the same time.
While Tesla broke through in the decade of “hair bands”, they were never really part of that particular scene. And that was fine with me. I love various bands that made their bones putting on makeup and using Aquanet, but it wasn’t the only stripe of music I appreciated even in the midst of the decade where heavy metal ruled the world.
But as much as I loved the album back then, as I listen to it now I find that I have an even greater appreciation for it.
You can’t accuse the band of skimping on material here either, because there’s a monster thirteen songs on the album with nary a bad one in the bunch. The Great Radio Controversy had four singles released from the album and they ran the gamut from pure ballsy hard rock to the purely sentimental and appropriately titled “Love Song”.
The first side of the album features two of band’s single releases from the album. The first is the album opening “Hang Tough”, an in-your-face hard rocking track that is still instantly memorable all these years later. In fact, I found myself singing along with each song on the album despite not having listened to it in full for quite a while. You just don’t forget these songs! Oddly enough, I didn’t fully realize I was singing along word-for-word it until I was three songs into the album.
You get relentlessly paced rockers like “Lady Luck”, “Did It For The Money” and “Yesterdaze Gone”. Each song features an explosive musical soundtrack combined with singer Jeff Keith’s distinctively raspy vocals powering over the top of the music. Besides Jeff Keith, the lineup of Frank Hannon, Tommy Skeoch, Brian Wheat and Troy Luccketta are in top notch form throughout this album.
While “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights” is a bit more restrained in terms of tempo the song still packs a heavy punch. The other single from Side One is the song “Heaven’s Trail” (No Way Out)”. While “Love Song” may have given Tesla its biggest charting hit, it was this song that gave their hard rocking side the most visibility at the time. It’s a huge song and the use of slide guitar on the song’s intro and outro gave the song a bit of a different spin to help make it that much more memorable.
But I have to say my favorite song on Side One (and by extension the entire album) is “Be A Man”. It’s another fast moving rocker but it was the lyrics for the song that really hit home with me. If you listen to the song, I think you’ll understand why I liked the song so much.
The second side of The Great Radio Controversy starts off in a similar fashion as the first side did. Like “Hang Tough”, the song “Makin’ Magic” is a balls-to-the-wall rocker that gets you pumped up like you wouldn’t believe. That leads into another of the album’s singles with the song “The Way It Is”. While quite as hard driving as “Makin’ Magic”, it still holds its own as a rocking number.
I’ve mentioned “Love Song” a couple of times already in this article but I found that when I listened to the song here, it managed to retain the good feelings I had about it when it was originally released. The song hit #10 on the singles chart and I still like it to this day. The song has a longer than usual intro before getting to the main part of the song. And while it is overtly sentimental, it leaves out the excessive sappy feeling which lets the song age like a fine wine and remain an appreciated classic.
What really got me on Side Two was what would be considered the “album tracks”. “Paradise” starts off much slower, in a kind of mood setting musical exploration. Then as the song progresses it becomes a deeper and heavier tone until it finally just spills over into a huge rocking monster of a track. The album closing “Party’s Over” doesn’t waste any time on a build up. It just rocks out from the first note to last and brings the album to a fitting crescendo that leaves you eager to just listen to the album all over again.
All that said, the most surprising thing to me was the newfound love I discovered for the song “Flight To Nowhere”. I liked the song a lot when the album came out, my immature love of any song that used swears as lyrics saw to that initially. However, as I listened to it now, I saw it for the blazingly hot music featured in the song. It’s got the fire and fury you’d hope for but for a hard rock band, they give you one hell of a monstrously good “heavy metal” song. There’s no holding back on this song. The music is relentless and Jeff Keith’s vocal performance is out of this world!
I had heard songs from Tesla’s debut album Mechanical Resonance on the radio when it was released, but at the time I didn’t get around to buying the album. I didn’t get it until I heard The Great Radio Controversy and had been newly cast as a big fan of Tesla. So it was this second album from the band that served as my gateway to their music. As I listen to the album in the here and now, I’m reminded of just how important a release The Great Radio Controversy was for the band as it launched them into the stratosphere in 1989 and continues to resonate with their fanbase decades later and leaves Tesla in a position where they are still always ready to kick ass!
NOTES OF INTEREST: The Great Radio Controversy was certified double platinum. The liner notes for the album contain a brief summary about the fight over whether Nikola Tesla or Guglielmo Marconi was the actual inventor of radio. That fight serves as the inspiration behind the title of the album.
While guitarist Tommy Skeoch hasn’t been with the band since 2006, the rest of the lineup that made this album (with the addition of guitarist Dave Rude) are active today.
Among those thanked in the liner notes of The Great Radio Controversy are Def Leppard, David Lee Roth, Alice Cooper and Night Ranger.
I knew that I had seen Tesla in concert twice but until I checked my list I didn’t remember that both times were in support of The Great Radio Controversy. I saw them open for Poison in Worcester, MA. Tesla blew the headliners off the stage. I saw Tesla the second time when they were doing a co-headlining tour with Great White. They were alternating nights as the closing act and when I saw them at Great Woods (now the Xfinity Center) in Mansfield, MA, it was Tesla’s night as the headliner. With Badlands serving as the opening act, it was a huge triple bill of hard rock and each band was on fire that night.