Category Archives: Cassette Chronicles

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – COREY HART’S ‘fIRST OFFENSE’

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.

COREY HART – FIRST OFFENSE (1984)

It’s funny how some songs stick with you even with the passage of decades without giving much thought to the artist who performed it.

For better or for worse, that’s how it works for me regarding singer Corey Hart. He had a monster hit from this debut album in the song “Sunglasses At Night”. The song went to #7 on the Billboard singles chart and I can distinctly remember loving the song as it climbed the charts each week on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 radio program.

I won’t admit to wearing sunglasses whenever I heard the song during the night as I would either sing or lip-synch along to the song, but if you want to assume that I did, I probably couldn’t truthfully argue with you about it. The song was just a really cool track. The funny thing is that I can’t remember the video at all. I know it got some heavy rotation on MTV but even after reading the Wikipedia information about what goes on in the video, I can’t recall it. This seems strange to me since I usually have a good memory regarding videos from the 80’s.

This is another one of those albums that I never got around to buying back in the days when I barely had started working so I wasn’t exactly flush with cash to buy everything I might’ve wanted. So when I listened to First Offense for this article, I was surprised that the album isn’t merely a pop music album. It’s got some decent rock and roll sounds to it. While the only other song released as a single was the ballad “It’s Ain’t Enough” (#17 on the singles chart), there are actually a number of songs that struck my fancy.

On the first side of the album “Lamp At Midnite” and “She Got The Radio” are strong tracks while I found “Peruvian Lady” to be a bit of a drag despite the quick moving pace of the song.

The second side of the album opens up with an incredibly strong rock track “Does She Love You”. It’s not only got a great rock vibe but the guitar work on the song is fantastic. Setting aside the strength of the album’s two singles, this is probably my favorite track of the rest of the album.

The song “Cheatin’ At School” was a bit less interesting but there’s some more strong guitar work in the song, particularly the solo. I wish I could say even that much about “The World Is Fire” but I just didn’t like that one all that much.

I’m about as uncoordinated and lacking in the necessary rhythm to be anything but an embarrasment to myself and others on the dance floor but the jaunty pace and delivery of the song “At The Dance” does get your foot tapping and if you were inclined to dance, this would be a song you might’ve heard on the audio system back in the day. It’s a get up and go type of rhythmic track and despite my inability to dance, I enjoyed the song.

It’s funny how you sometimes make connections that make no sense between songs. When I first heard the opening of the album’s closing track “Jenny Fey”, I was reminded of the song “Jenny of Oldstones” that was featured in the “A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms” episode of the TV series Game of Thrones. I don’t know why my brain tied the songs together because the tracks really don’t share much in common beside the name “Jenny”. But the connection was made nonetheless. Whatever the reason, I found the ballad to be quite intriguing and it made for quite the all-encompassing way to end the album for me.

It isn’t always a good thing to revisit the pop music of the early-mid 1980’s. There’s been an album here and there that made me question why I had ever liked that track or group back in the day. But I have to say getting the full album exposure to First Offense was a pretty good experience for me. Sure, it’s not perfect but it is rare that any album is and despite a couple tracks that I found wanting, this is a pretty darn good release.

NOTES OF INTEREST: The First Offense album has three versions. The first two were Canadian releases in 1983 before the US version (all three are slightly different) came out in 1984. The US release is the version of the album I have. The US release was certified Gold.

Corey Hart was nominated for four Juno Awards (the Canadian Grammys) in 1984 and won for “Best Video”. He was also nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy Award for the same year.

The song “Jenny Fey” features Eric Clapton making a guest appearance on the Dobro guitar.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – LOU GRAMM’S ‘ READY OR NOT’

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.

LOU GRAMM – READY OR NOT (1987)

Having previously written about Lou Gramm’s solo album Long Hard Look in this series, I was pretty thrilled to find myself a copy of his debut solo album on a recent shopping trip. While it is obvious that Gramm is singularly thought of from his time fronting Foreigner, it is hard to argue against the notion that he’s had some seriously good solo music as well.

Even though Gram has had so many hits with Foreigner, it is hard not to think that the song “Midnight Blue” can hold its own against any of them. The song is the commercial highlight of the album. It became a Top 5 single hit when it was released and I can remember singing along to it whenever it played on the radio. Time has not dulled the sharpness of the song for me either. It’s a pure slice of melodic rock and I think Gramm was at the top of his game with this particular performance.

The funny thing about the song for me while listening to it on the cassette is that I thought it sounded just a bit different than I remember it. I wonder if there was a radio edit version of the song or something. Of course, it is more likely that my ears were playing tricks on me. Either way, I loved hearing the track.

The album itself opens with the title cut. The song was the second and final track released as a single from the album but it didn’t fair nearly as well as “Midnight Blue”. I’d never heard the album before so as an objective first time listener, I can see why it didn’t have the same level of success. The song ranges from mid-to-uptempo in pace, but I just didn’t get that much of a heady buzz off the song as a whole.

Guitarist Nils Lofgren plays lead guitar on nine songs and his playing is pretty damn impressive. That shouldn’t be surprising or anything but it still bears mentioning here. Solos on songs like “Heartache” and “Arrow Thru Your Heart” are quite the energetic romps.

The song “If I Don’t Have You” features a varied tempo to the music but it still comes off more as a ballad. There’s sense of shading to the stylistic delivery of the track but it doesn’t quite work for me. On side two of the album the song “Until I Make You Mine” is decent but I found myself enjoying the chorus more than the main lyrical passages.

It’s been reasonably well documented that the reason for Lou Gramm’s first departure from Foreigner was due to friction with guitarist Mick Jones over the direction of the band’s music. Gramm wanted to stick with the more rock-oriented approach while Jones wanted to do more softer type material.

For me, while Lou Gramm’s voice is perfectly cast for the best ballads from Foreigner, Ready Or Not makes a pretty strong statement that Gramm’s desire to rock out was the better approach. It is the aggressive rock and roll on the album that stands out the best to me. Besides “Midnight Blue”, there’s a trio of hard rocking tracks that had me kind of breathless over the overall quality of the album. “Chain Of Love” is a fascinatingly intense track while the strong guitar work woven throughout “Time” gives the song an instant vibe for the listener to click with.

But best of all is “She’s Got To Know”. There’s an immediacy to the way the song’s in-your-face delivery grabs you. There’s a killer groove to the music and I thought Gramm’s vocals were particularly well done. While “Midnight Blue” is always going to be the showcase number of Gramm’s solo catalog, I’d argue that this song is amongst his best work.

While Lou Gramm’s solo work of the 1980’s consisted of just two releases, they are stunningly good examples of just how much Gramm brings to the table as a singer and songwriter. Much like with Long Hard Look, the Ready Or Not album showcases Lou Gramm at the peak of his powers and delivers the goods in a melodically fluid and hard rocking fashion. 

NOTES OF INTEREST: The Ready Or Not album went to #27 on the Billboard album chart and received a lot of critical acclaim. The album came out in January of 1987 with Gramm still part of Foreigner when the band released the album Inside Information in December of the same year.

Eight of the ten songs on the album were co-written by Bruce Turgon. He played bass on eight of the songs and lead guitar on the song “Lover Come Back”. He previously worked with Lou Gramm when both were a part of the band Black Sheep.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – SLADE’S ‘KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY POWER SUPPLY’

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.

SLADE – KEEP YOUR HANDS OF MY POWER SUPPLY (1984)

What’s that saying about life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. For all the success that the band Slade had in the 1970s (after forming in 1966), they were really only big in the UK and Europe. They hadn’t achieved much of any kind of breakthrough in the US.

And then came their huge smash hit song “Cum On Feel The Noize”…well sort of. While the song was a huge hit (reaching #1 in 1973) in the UK, it wasn’t until Quiet Riot recorded their own version of the song in 1983 that Slade became an accidental household name in America.

The Quiet Riot version of the song rose to #5 on the US charts and made their Metal Health album a worldwide smash. Also in 1983, Slade released an album called The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome in the UK. Wanting to capture whatever bit of lightning in a bottle it could given the band’s sudden rise in profile in the US, CBS Records signed Slade to a US deal to release that album here in the US.

Funny how things work out though, right? By the time the album made its way onto shelves in the States, it was a far different version of itself. The album had been renamed obviously. But the track listing had been re-ordered from the UK version as well. Two songs (“Cocky Rock Boys (Rule O.K.)” and “Razzle Dazzle Man”) had been replaced by different songs (“Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply” and “Can’t Tame A Hurricane”) that had been used as B-sides for the UK single version of “My Oh My”.

I should point out that while I did love the two singles released from this album, I never got around to owning any version of the album until I found this particular cassette in a newly purchased batch of albums at my friend’s record shop. I had tried to avoid spending any more money at the shop one day but couldn’t resist the lure of new albums I never owned before and ended up leaving with three more cassettes for the Big Box. But I did own a Slade compilation on CD called Get Yer Boots On, so I had the songs in my collection at least. Sadly, I don’t typically listen to that album as often as I probably should.

The album itself opens up with those two singles that helped break Slade big in the US. “Run Runaway” had been a big hit when released in the UK, but it made the Top 20 in the US and the video for the song was in heavy rotation on MTV. It’s a bouncy Scottish jig with a heavy rock soundtrack. Even now, whenever I hear the song I just get a feeling of fun that the song creates. Heavily melodic, it catches your ear and it always makes me smile.

The second single was “My Oh My” and it made the Top 40 chart as well. It’s a power ballad but it shows off Noddy Holder’s voice pretty nicely. The main lyrical passages are subdued a bit musically and then the song’s chorus is where it gets a bit more heavy sounding.

And for me, that’s it. I really don’t remember much about any other songs on the album. Apparently the song “Slam The Hammer Down” (a song that really does live up to its name), was released as a single as well but didn’t make any dent in the charts. This is a sad thing because it sure as heck showed off the band’s heavier side.

Given that Slade is best remembered for the more glam rock aspects of their 1970’s work, the more metallic (however melodically influenced) sound the band had for this album, you might think they were just going along for the ride with the trends of the early 80’s rock scene. But they had some serious chops going on here.

With all the music written by Holder and Lea, the album doesn’t suffer from a lack of focus. The other two songs on the first side of the album are “High and Dry” and “In The Doghouse”. Both of those songs are hard-hitting rock numbers and make the opening side of Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply a rousing success in my eyes.

I have to say that I was a little less taken with some of the material on the second side of the album though. The title track opens up Side Two and while it’s decent enough lyrically, I thought the music came off a bit overdone and kind of spacey.

While both “Cheap ‘N’ Nasty Luv” and “Can’t Tame A Hurricane” were both pretty speedy numbers, I couldn’t help feeling they were just kind of “THERE” without really doing much to set themselves apart from any number of tracks out there at the time.

“(And Now – The Waltz) C’est La Vie” was another power ballad for the band and it featured the requisite rise-and-fall tempo in the main lyrics versus the chorus. But again, it just didn’t endear itself to me.

Okay, I know you get it. I just didn’t get into the second side of the album that much. But I will say that the album’s closing track “Ready To Explode” was a monster track for me. It does indeed “explode” out of your speakers. The song is over eight minutes long and it is an ode to a love of motor racing. The song is technically divided into four sections (“The Warm Up”, “The Grid”, “The Race” and “The Dream”). It is a glorious cacophony of rock and despite the presence of an annoying spoken word call of a race breaking things up, this song was a real big winner for me.

Overall, I like the album despite what I feel is a significantly weaker batch of songs on Side Two. But that’s just my opinion and it’s not like I’ve never been wrong before. Still, on the strength of those two singles that lead off Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply, I can’t help but feel a bit of joyous nostalgia whenever I hear the songs. Slade may have been best known for being the band that accidentally made it possible for Quiet Riot to become kings of the heavy metal world for a time, but this album does show off the band in their own right and just how good they were themselves.

NOTES OF INTEREST – According to the album’s Wikipedia page, the band was supposed to hit the tour trail in America opening for Ozzy Osbourne. However, when bassist Jim Lea collapsed after the first night of said tour and was found to have hepatitis, the band ended up cancelling the rest of their dates with Ozzy. It was said Lea’s condition combined with the end of singer Noddy Holder’s marriage were cited as the reason for the cancellation.

The Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply album made it to #33 on the Billboard album charts. In 2007, there was a remastered version of The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome released with 6 bonus tracks which would likely give fans the most complete version of the two individual releases.

Noddy Holder left the band in 1992 with bassist Jim Lea leaving at the same time. The band is still active to this day with a long and winding history that you can read about by looking up the band online.

The Cassette Chronicles – Scandal’s ‘Warrior’

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.

SCANDAL FEATURING PATTY SMYTH – WARRIOR (1984)

To file the band Scandal under the “one-hit wonder” category might be strictly accurate, but it also does the band a bit of disservice. Or at least so I have now discovered for myself.

In 1984, the Warrior album was released and based on the title track being used as the lead single, the album would go on to achieve the platinum sales mark. The song “The Warrior” was a huge hit both on the radio and on MTV. The radio airplay saw the song become a top-10 hit while the video was in heavy rotation on the video channel. The fact that there was such a striking visual component in the video makes it memorable even now. (Though I think I remember seeing on that VH-1 Pop-Up Video program that the band hated the way they were done up for the video shoot.)

While I was a huge fan of the song, I never really thought much more about the band. I would venture to say that a lot of people thought the same way because when the band released the songs “Hands Tied” and “Beat Of A Heart”, neither one made the Top-40 chart.

Scandal quickly disappeared from my radar after “The Warrior” song had faded from the pop charts. As it turned out, due to band and label issues, the band broke up after a tour that ended in 1985.

So I think it is understandable that it wasn’t until just recently that I even owned a copy of this album. I found it in a stack of cassettes at a record shop and couldn’t resist picking it up.

Not having heard the album or any of the songs besides the title track before, I don’t know what I was expecting as I popped the cassette in my player. What I found out was that Scandal’s only full album is one hell of an enjoyable melodic rock album.

After the title track opens up the album, the rest of side one is pretty intriguing. The music for “Beat Of A Heart” is pretty fast moving but there is a dramatic shading to the way Patty Smyth’s vocals are presented on the song that gives the song a much more intriguing feel to it than I would’ve expected. I loved the lyrical line “Sometimes the innocent pay for an old man’s sins”. I also liked the way “Hands Tied” sounded.

Those were the three singles from the album so every other song essentially became “album tracks”, but it doesn’t lessen their impact to me. I know that it is 36 years after the fact but the catchy uptempo drive of “Less Than Half” got my feet tapping. The vocal track for the song is really good.

Now, I had said just a bit earlier in this article that I hadn’t heard any of the other songs besides “The Warrior” before. However, that was kind of a half-truth. See, the last song on side one is “Only The Young”. If you recognize that title and wonder if it is a cover of the Journey song, you’d be kind of right. The song was written and recorded by Journey in 1983 but got pulled from their album Frontiers. The band apparently sold it to Scandal who recorded their own version and released it for the Warrior album. But Journey did an about face and released their version in 1985 on the Vision Quest movie soundtrack and saw the song become a Top-10 hit.

Scandal’s version of the song might be pretty much lost in the shuffle these days but there’s enough of a twist (particularly given the vocal differences between Smyth and Steve Perry) that I loved this version of the track as well.

Side Two of the album opens with “All I Want” and “Talk To Me”. Both songs feature the band putting forth a very rocking sound with each track and truth be told, they are two of my favorite songs on the release.

Surprisingly enough, the one pure ballad track on the album, “Say What You Will” was a decent performer. The song pulls on just the right emotive strings for the listener without making you cringe. The album closes with two more rocking numbers in “Tonight” and “Maybe We Went Too Far”. Each of those tracks helps provide a solid sense of satisfaction with the album as a whole.

There may not be a whole lot to write about Scandal giving how brief their actual recording career was. I mean, an EP and one studio album don’t generally make for a legendary career. But despite the small output and various conflicts for the band, once you listen to Warrior, you will realize (however belatedly) that it is an AOR classic!

NOTES OF INTEREST: Rock Candy Records reissued the album on CD in 2014 and included the original Scandal EP as bonus tracks.

Despite breaking up in 1985, the band got back together in 2004 (prompted by an appearance on the VH-1 series Bands Reunited) and have been performing together since then. However, they’ve released no new music save a cover of the Christmas song “Silent Night” in 2011.

Three of Scandal’s original members have died over the years. Bassist Ivan Elias (cancer in 1995), drummer Frankie LaRocka (after surgery in 2005) and keyboardist Benjy King (car accident 2012). The current lineup of Scandal features only Patty Smyth and guitarist Keith Mack from the original lineup. While guitarist Zack Smith started the band, he was only a part of the reunion period from 2004-2006.

The Cassette Chronicles – Poison’s ‘Look What the Cat Dragged In’

 

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.

POISON – LOOK WHAT THE CAT DRAGGED IN (1986)

My personal renaissance with Poison continues this week! I’ve looked at both the Open Up and Say…Ahh! and Flesh & Blood albums in the series in recent weeks. I had planned to write about this album sooner than this but the two previous cassette copies I’d purchased were damaged beyond use so I had to dig to find another copy before I could finally write about the album.

The first thing I realized when looking at the liner notes was that it was released the same year as Iron Maiden’s Somewhere In Time album. This struck me a little funny because it at least explains why I definitely gave Look What The Cat Dragged In such short shrift when it was released. Well, at least in part anyway. I’d venture to say the excessive makeup the band wore probably played a part in why I didn’t really become an overly vocal fan early on.

But I will say that as I listened to the album here, I can recall how I would listen to the various songs from the album (when they’d play either on radio or MTV) in the comforts of my house and sing along to the lyrics. This would be a good thing for all involved since I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

Since I never owned this album before now, it was a bit of a surprise to me to see how front loaded the album is. The album saw four songs released as singles and three of those tracks are the first three songs in the album’s running order.  Also surprising is the fact that the album is barely more than 30 minutes long.

While “Cry Tough” didn’t chart as a single, it’s lead slot on the album is noteworthy because it is a damn good song. I actually found that I enjoy it better than some of the band’s more successful songs. “I Want Action” was moderately more successful but still wasn’t on the Top 40 singles chart. Still, that song could pretty much sum up the early part of Poison’s career and songwriting focus if you wanted to do so. As with all bands in the decade of “hair metal”, Poison had a big ballad track on the album and that was “I Won’t Forget You”. It was the fourth of the four singles and ended up going to #13 on the singles chart.

Taking just those three songs alone, you’d have a solid album side for sure. Of course, you had two more tracks to go on Side One. I thought the rocker “Play Dirty” was energetic enough but there was something about the song that just didn’t really jibe well with me. But the album’s title track is a different matter. I wonder why the song wasn’t chosen as a single because the fast rocking pace and incredibly catchy chorus seems tailor made for chart success in the 1980’s. To this day, I still here it on specialty radio shows and it brings back many memories of growing up in the decade where metal ruled the world.

The second side of the album kicks off with one of Poison’s biggest hits “Talk Dirty To Me”. If there’s one song to single out as grabbing the public’s attention, I’m sure this song is the one that would be chosen to represent Look What The Cat Dragged In. I may not have been too effusive in my love of the song when it was released but I’m sure my 15 year old brain couldn’t get enough of this one.

Since I never owned the album before, it was particularly noteworthy to me when I realized that after “Talk Dirty To Me”, the rest of Side Two featured songs I can’t recall ever hearing before. These “new-to-me” discoveries included “Want Some, Need Some”, “Blame It On You”, “#1 Bad Boy” and “Let Me Go To The Show”. The first three of those songs are pretty good rockers but I can understand why they are pretty much album tracks. But I thought the really speedy delivery of “Let Me Go To The Show” had a little something extra working for it. It’s got that necessary driving rhythm but tons of melody with an almost tongue-in-cheek set of lyrics. I think if I’d heard it before now, I would’ve really enjoyed it a lot.

According to the Wikipedia page for the Look What The Cat Dragged In album, singer Bret Michaels called or calls the album a “glorified demo”. I can kind of see what he means because there is definitely a slightly rawer cast to the band’s sound as opposed to their later releases. But I think it works to the band’s favor, even nearly 35 years later.

The story of Poison is extremely well known by this point but it is definitely worth the look back at their beginnings to see just where it all started for them. And if you are like me and only really knew the stuff that saw airtime on radio and MTV, you get a fuller picture of all the material on the album. For me, that paid off quite handsomely as I got to see just what they had to offer from the get-go.

This renaissance I’ve been on with the band has proven to be a rather exhilarating experience and I’m glad that I’ve taken the time to do it. What did that cat drag in? One of the better representatives of the entire 80’s metal genre it would seem!

NOTE OF INTEREST: The album has sold over four million copies since its release. A 20th anniversary edition was released in 2006 with three bonus tracks including a cover of the Jim Croce song “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”.

 

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – TED NUGENT’S ‘IF YOU CAN’T LICK ‘EM…LICK ‘EM’

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.

Full page magazine advertisement for Ted Nugent’s “If You Can’t Lick ‘Em…Lick ‘Em”

TED NUGENT – IF YOU CAN’T LICK ‘EM…LICK ‘EM (1988)

After talking about the Ted Nugent album Penetrator a little while back in this series as a means of paying tribute to singer Brian Howe, I wasn’t sure if (or when) I might hear another album from “Uncle Ted”. But then I was sent a copy of this album and I knew that sooner or later I’d get around to writing about it. Obviously now is that time.

The album was released in 1988 and would end up being his last solo album for seven years. It was just two years later, in 1990, that the first of the two Damn Yankees albums would come out and Nugent was occupied with that band for a while.

We all know that Nugent’s reputation as a wild man of the guitar probably leads us to assume that his music is all kinds of over-the-top guitar driven histrionics with a host of single and double entendres thrown in as song titles and lyrics.

While the latter half of that statement still rings true with If You Can’t Lick ‘Em…Lick ‘Em, I was kind of surprised that the album was less like his 1970’s output and instead featured a distinctly directed focus on the more melody driven rock you would later hear Nugent be a part of with Damn Yankees. There’s plenty of guitar driven uptempo rockers here but you can hear far more melody than you might expect if you mostly know Nugent by reputation rather than a deep knowledge of his catalog.

The first side of the album is a bit hit and miss for me overall but there are some rather outstanding tracks at the same time. The opening song “Can’t Live With ‘Em” seemed a bit muted to me on first listen but when I listened again, I really found myself getting into the uptempo rocker and that feeling that the song was somehow muted and just waiting to bust loose disappeared.

“She Drives Me Crazy” was another rocking bit of music but I didn’t quite connect with the track all that much. As for the album’s title cut, I loved the long guitar solo that played out over the end of the song but if the song was meant to be some kind of anthem, it missed the mark a bit and came off sounding somewhat half-assed. It didn’t work for me at all, which is a shame since I thought the guitar playing was top notch.

But that slight disappointment was overcome by the last couple of songs on Side One. The more riotous feel you might expect from Nugent is amply evident in “Skintight”. The lyrics are not the least bit subtle and yet the song is simply marvelous.

The sex-drenched aspect of Nugent’s songs and lyrics are on full display with the song “Funlover”. That song has a lyrical line that would seem to sum up his philosophy with a nice little bow on it. I mean, there isn’t a whole lot of hidden meaning in a line like “Explicit sex /It ain’t my cup of tea / unless of course/ it’s happening to me”. And yet, between the totally unapologetic lyrics and the incredible soundtrack the vocals are combined with, I can’t help but absolutely love this song.

As for the second side of the album, the biggest shock for me was the first song “Spread Your Wings”. It’s a straight up ballad from start to finish. I kept waiting for a ballbusting burst of rock and roll to change the song’s tempo but Nugent played it straight. His vocal performance was pretty interesting too. Here again, he played it straight. Now, I don’t know if there was some hidden double entendre to the songs lyrics or title that I missed (which I suspect is entirely possible) but I really enjoyed this track a lot because it seemed to show that Nugent can go a little deeper than I would’ve expected. The fact that the song doesn’t go for the more wimpy side of balladry is another strong point in its favor.

Of course, that potential softer and straighter side of Nugent is just a brief moment when you consider the last four songs on the album are straight up rockers. There’s the breakneck speedy rocker “The Harder They Come (The Harder I Get)”. The guitar playing gets your blood pumping and Ted’s vocal growl enlivens the lyrics like “You’ve got 31 flavors…they’re all good enough to eat”. I almost feel ashamed of myself for just how much I loved this song. Pure lust driven rock and roll to liven up your musical playlist, that’s for sure.

“Separate The Men From The Boys Please” is solid but it is the last two songs that really capped off this listening experience for me. “Bite The Hand” has some fantastic guitar work and really got me jazzed up as I listened to the song. The closing track is “That’s The Story Of Love”. It’s a hard rocking song with a very cool vibe to it and there is a great chorus that really helps sell the song to the listener.

However you may feel about Ted Nugent the person, you can’t help but recognize his talents as a musician. I know that Nugent’s work from the 70’s is his bread and butter and that it seems like this period of his music catalog is pretty much ignored but I can’t help but say that I actually quite enjoyed the If You Can’t Lick ‘Em…Lick ‘Em album. It’s a great rock and roll album with an ample dose of pure melody and despite a couple of tracks that didn’t work for me, it was an eye-opening experience for me. Discovering more about this side of Nugent’s musical personality kind of makes me want to explore more of this part of his career to see what else there might be waiting to jump out at me.

NOTES OF INTEREST: The album closing song “That’s The Story Of Love” was co-written by Ted Nugent with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora.

The If You Can’t Lick ‘Em…Lick ‘Em album was the first album to feature Ted Nugent as the sole lead vocalist. He also played the bass part on the title track.

Chuck Wright, who is best known as the bassist for Quiet Riot, played bass on eight of the album’s songs. The late Pat Torpey (Mr. Big) played the drums for the album. Rhythm guitarist Dave Amato would go on to play with Jimmy Barnes, REO Speedwagon, Cher, Richie Sambora among others.

The Cassette Chronicles – Meliah Rage’s ‘Solitary Solitude’

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.

MELIAH RAGE – SOLITARY SOLITUDE (1990)

When I wrote about Meliah Rage’s debut album Kill To Survive a couple weeks ago, I was immediately taken with the album. I got into the music from the first song’s intro and kept being drawn back with each successive track.

In the case of Solitary Solitude, I found that a little more work was required for me to have a really good grasp on what I thought about the album.

This was the band’s second studio album but it was actuallly their third release following the 1989 EP Live Kill. It starts out with the title track and while I was pretty impressed with how the music sounded for the song, I had some trouble getting into the vocal take from singer Mike Munro. I’m not quite able to put my finger on why the vocals initially felt off to me, but it is definitely a failing on my part. I say that because after a few plays of the album, the song does grow on you and the vocals do blend in rather seamlessly with the music.

The album’s second track is “No Mind” and that one was just a killer track. Fast and powerfully thrashing about, there was no holding back on how much I loved the track at all.

While all bands are almost assuredly hoping that their music stands the passage of time, I can’t think they expect individual songs to be so completely relevant three decades later. Since 2020 is the 30th anniversary of Solitary Solitude, I think even Meliah Rage would be surprised that the lyrical content of “Decline Of Rule” would be so powerfully connected by what is going on in the world today. The song is still chock fully of thrash metal goodness but there’s also a notable methodical feel to the music at the same time. A lot of the credit for how good the album sounds has to be credited to the guitar work from both Anthony Nichols and Jim Koury.

The final song on the first side of the album is “Deliver Me” and it is an outlier of sorts given the makeup of the rest of the material on the album. This track is pretty slow moving with a sparse musical soundtrack. The somewhat understated feel to the song made it quite intriguing to me.

The second side of the album starts off with the spectacular song “The Witching”. I found it to be more of a straight forward heavy metal song as opposed to more of thrashing neckbreaking tour-de-force. Replete with lyrics that seem straight out of horror movie, this was the song that the band made a video for in order to promote the album.

I wasn’t crazy about the first part of the album’s closing song “Razor Ribbon”, there’s some spoken word set up in the intro and then the lyrics are kind of whispered until FINALLY, the song breaks out in a more frenetic explosion. The second half of the song is really great but it has to work pretty hard to overcome the first part which made me want to hit the fast forward button on my player.

Still, songs like the anti-drug rant of “Lost Life” and the burning metallic rhythms of “Swallow Your Soul” (which features a pretty strong and enveloping lyrical chorus) help tilt the balance of the album towards the positive side of the ledger.

While I had to work a little harder with this one, overall I think Solitary Solitude is a damn good follow up to the band’s debut album. It had a couple of bumps in the road but I still loved hearing the album for the first time. And while I don’t have any more cassettes from the band to write future articles about, I am going to track down the rest of their albums on CD because I find myself becoming quickly enamored with the music of Boston’s own Meliah Rage!

NOTE OF INTEREST: Solitary Solitude was co-produced by Meliah Rage, Tony Moussali and Tom Soares. Tom Soares worked as either a producer, mixer or engineer with other bands such as Pro-Pain, Scatterbrain, Merauder and Wargasm.

The Cassette Chronicles – IRON MAIDEN’S ‘SOMEWHERE IN TIME’

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.

IRON MAIDEN – SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1986)

By the time I  discovered Iron Maiden, the band had already released five studio albums and completed the massive and exhausting “World Slavery Tour” in support of the Powerslave album.

Then came album number six and the band hit my radar and has never left it since. The Somewhere In Time album is where it all began for me and while I have gone backwards and forwards regarding their recorded output, this album remains an important touchstone in my evolution as a metal fan.

It’s no spoiler alert or anything but I absolutely love this album! Iron Maiden is my favorite active band and for me, “the boys” remain as vital today as they have ever been.

So what was it about this album that struck such an enduring nerve with me? I think it was the first time I’d heard stuff that featured such a sense of the thematic. While the album isn’t a conceptual piece, there is a recurring theme about space and time woven into a number of the tracks.

But since I have a love of stories, I loved the way they drew from myths, books and history to tell the stories in their songs. This album might’ve been the awakening point for me for lyrics that went beyond sex, drugs and rock and roll. They adapted the book (that was later turned into a film) The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner into a song for this album which was just a new experience for me.

The majority of the eight songs are full on metallic crunchers, relentlessly paced in execution. Some of the songs start off a bit slow by way of an intro but then kick off into that break-neck pacing. The songs are hard-hitting from start to finish and from 1986 to now, the impact each track made on me remains constant.

The nominal title track “Caught Somewhere In Time” kicks things off and from there the band just grows stronger with each passing song on the album. The band had discovered and employed guitar synthesizers for the first time which gave a new dimension to what they could do.

The funny thing to me is that Iron Maiden has always been a huge international success despite enjoying little, if any, radio airplay (in the US at least). The band may not have made the singles chart their home, but they did release two tracks from Somewhere In Time as singles. The first was the song “Wasted Years”, which oddly enough is the only song on the album that doesn’t use those synthesizers I mentioned. It’s a phenomenal song that still manages to find its way into Iron Maiden’s concert set list from time to time. It was written by guitarist Adrian Smith. The other single was “Stranger In A Strange Land”, which anyone familiar with the works of science fiction author Robert Heinlein would think was another literary inspiration for an Iron Maiden song. But this time, you’d be wrong. The song shares the title but has nothing to do with the book. Still, the admittedly incorrect assumption that I made when I saw the title when I first got this release was still an eye-opener for me.

The band may have been more than a little burned out after the previous tour but once they got rested, they seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Except maybe singer Bruce Dickinson who had no writing credits for the album. I looked up the album online to learn some history about it and apparently whatever material Dickinson wrote got rejected by the band. The bulk of the writing came down to bassist Steve Harris and Adrian Smith. Guitarist Dave Murray co-wrote “Deja-Vu” as well. But regardless of who wrote what, as a unit the band was as one in the finished product. Dickinson sang his ass off and there isn’t a song on the album that feels like filler. While most of the songs aren’t played live anymore, I still hope to hear any (or even all of them) when I attend a Maiden show.

Everyone knows that Steve Harris founded Iron Maiden and is the driving force of the band. I’m no musical expert but I love when I can pick out his contributions in a song. The way his bass lines in “Sea of Madness” help imbue the song with a galloping across the landscape feel deepened the musical soundscape for me.

As for the last song on Side One, I always thought “Heaven Can Wait” would’ve been a pretty good single for the band.

It wasn’t just the music that drew me to the band. Yes, it was the primary reason but the band’s artwork is so visually striking that you can’t help but be drawn into it. I remember sitting in the lunch room in high school and talking to this guy I knew (I think his name was John but don’t hold me to that) and he was the one who told me about what we now call “Easter eggs” in the cover art for the Somewhere in Time album. As if the main image itself wasn’t enough of an eye-catcher, if you look deep you can find so many little nods to the band members, their past albums and songs, and a whole lot more. I never really bothered to look up what John was telling me about back then. But as I was researching the album I discovered that the Wikipedia entry for the album has a very extensive listing for all the various hidden images within the finished artwork. The legend that is the band’s mascot Eddie has been a key component of the band’s history.

For me, even though I love all the songs on Somewhere In Time, the one track that I connect with the most is the album’s closing number. “Alexander The Great” is the band’s musical history lesson about the Macedonian king and general. I mean how many bands could pull something like this off and make it both interesting and musically relevant? I don’t think there are many that could do it. Iron Maiden has written many songs that draw from historical events or people in those events but for me “Alexander The Great” is the best of them.

It’s almost a full thirty-four years since the release of Somewhere In Time and I still think it holds up as one of the band’s best albums. I know that it is certainly one of my personal favorites and the fact that it was my first experience with Iron Maiden makes it that much more special for me. In the ensuing three plus decades, I’ve seen the band four or five times, reviewed both albums and concerts they’ve done and pretty much bought any album (studio, live or compilation) they’ve put out. Hell, I remember watching a report on the news magazine show 20/20 back in 1987 about heavy metal that featured Iron Maiden! The video can still be found on YouTube I believe.

Iron Maiden is the preeminent heavy metal band to this day and the Somewhere In Time album is a great example of why they have not only reached the pinnacle but maintained their rule of the roost for so many years. I know that as long as Bruce Dickinson exhorts fans to do so, I will always Scream for Iron Maiden!

NOTES OF INTEREST: According to the Wikipedia page, the Somewhere in Time album has been certified platinum. I don’t know how accurate that is. I would’ve thought the album would’ve sold a lot more than that over the ensuing years from its release.

The 1995 reissue of the album included a bonus disc that contained four songs. Three were straight up cover songs while the track “Sheriff of Huddersfield” is listed as being based on the Urchin song “Life In The City” but the five members of Iron Maiden are credited as the writers of the “Sheriff” song itself.

One of the cover songs on that bonus disc is called “Reach Out”. It was originally done by a short-lived group called The Entire Population of Hackney. This group was a brief side project that featured Maiden’s drummer Nicko McBrain and guitarist Adrian Smith. It was Smith who actually sings on the track that was released on the Somewhere In Time bonus disc.

That “Reach Out” song was written by guitarist Dave “Bucket” Colwell, who was a part of that The Entire Population of Hackney project. Colwell has had an extensive career, playing with the early incarnation of FM, as well as the ASAP group founded by Adrian Smith. He played with Samson and recorded and toured with Humble Pie too. However, his most notable work for my own personal take was as a member of Bad Company. He had two stints with the band, appearing on four releases between 1993 and 2002.

The tour for the album was called “Somewhere On Tour” and it ran for a little over eight months. W.A.S.P. opened the tour during two months of dates in November and December 1986.

The Cassette Chronicles – MELIAH RAGE’S ‘KILL TO SURVIVE’

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.

MELIAH RAGE – KILL TO SURVIVE (1988)

While I’m sure there are other bands that fit this category for me, Meliah Rage is the first band that comes to mind where I’ve seen them in concert but had never heard their music on an album before now.

The Boston-based metallers are fittingly described as both power and thrash metal. The Kill To Survive album is their debut release. Though it comes in a bit short with just seven tracks on the album, it is the quality of the material that matters to me here.

Mike Munro’s vocals inhabit the band’s music and gives each track he’s featured on both an ominous and sinister feel. He has the requisite growl in his delivery but thankfully never quite fully descends into what you would call “cookie monster vocals”.

The music is powerful, brutal and at times kind of hypnotic. There’s no lack of metallic crunch but there’s a harsh edge of melody to each song at the same time. The guitar work (from Anthony Nicols and Jim Koury) is outstanding. Shredding the six string, the guitars give the material the fuel to go full bore right from the start.

The album opens with “Beginning of the End” which kicks things off in a gripping manner. The band’s ability to grab your interest right at the start gets the listener immensely fired up.

The band gets even heavier on “Bates Motel”, which should need no explanation for the inspiration behind the track.

The “Meliah Rage” song is an instrumental. I would normally bemoan the lack of vocals but for a song that clocks in at 7 plus minutes long, there isn’t a second where I wasn’t drawn into this track.

The more thrashy side of the band’s playing shows up best in “Deadly Existence” and “Impaling Doom”.

I know the term “slow” is relative when talking about thrash metal, but the album’s slowest track, “Enter The Darkness” is still pretty fast and I felt my blood pumping while it played.

Meliah Rage combines the heavy and thrash sides of their songwriting most effectively on the album closing “The Pack”. It’s brutal, unrelenting and displays a committed passion that sweeps you up into the song and slaps you around for the length of the track.

While I’ve known of the band’s existence for decades, the fact that I let their recorded output slip through the cracks for me is a pretty sorry admission to have to make. I have at least one more Meliah Rage album on cassette and I can lay hands on some CD editions of other albums. If they are anywhere near as brutally brilliant as the Kill To Survive album, I may just have found another new band to be musically passionate about for myself.

NOTES OF INTEREST – Godsmack frontman Sully Erna played drums for Meliah Rage and is featured on their Unfinished Business album.

I saw the band live in concert at the 2007 Locofest in Mansfield, MA. The day long concert was headlined by Heaven & Hell, Alice Cooper and Queensryche.

The title track to the band’s Barely Human album was featured in an episode of the TV series The Shield.

The Cassette Chronicles – Firehouse’s self-titled debut

 

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.

Full page magazine advertisement for the self-titled debut by Firehouse.

FIREHOUSE – FIREHOUSE (1990)

I HATE FIREHOUSE!

That was a rallying cry for me for any number of years. That gawdawful “Love of a Lifetime” ballad really killed any chance for me to like the band back in the day.

But a funny thing happened about 18 months or so ago. I finally got off my duff and listened to a full Firehouse album. I wrote about the band’s Hold Your Fire release for The Cassette Chronicles in December 2018 and overall, I really enjoyed it.

So the blind hatred softened a lot. But it’s been a while since I’ve been tempted to try and listen to any of their other releases. First off, they aren’t exactly easy to find on cassette these days and then there was the slight fear that Hold Your Fire would be a one-off exception to the admittedly self-made rule.

But on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the band’s self-titled debut album’s release, I figured it was about time I checked out where it all started for the band.

The Firehouse album ended up featuring four songs that were released as singles. While three of them did make some noise on the charts, it was the one that didn’t chart that I ended up thinking the most of overall. “Shake & Tumble” may not have thrilled the singles chart people but there is a darn good edginess to the song that made it stand out to me.

As for the other three singles, you had what have become some of Firehouse’s best known (and loved) songs like “All She Wrote”, “Don’t Treat Me Bad” and of course, the ballad which I mentioned at the top of this piece.

While “Love of a Lifetime” may have found the most success (it hit #5), you will never convince me that it is anything other than a total crapfest. Now you may chalk that up to the fact that I’m never going to be confused as a great romantic, but my skin crawls and my teeth ache whenever I hear this damn song.

But I will say that the other two songs have kind of grown on me a bit over the years. I didn’t think much of “All She Wrote” originally but I’ve come to appreciate the song a lot more than I ever did before now. With “Don’t Treat Me Bad”, there’s an undeniable hook to the song that gets inside you for some reason. Again, the song has grown on me over the years.

The strange thing about the first side of the cassette is how fast moving each song is. There isn’t much rest for the weary as each song rocks out. I didn’t think a whole lot of the opening track “Rock On The Radio”, which I might put down to the song’s overlong and boring intro. But when I got to the last two songs on Side One, I started thinking to myself that the strength of this album seemed to lay with the album tracks over the singles.

On “Oughta Be A Law”, the way the band used the big backing vocal sound to enhance the chorus really gave the song a lift. Meanwhile, “Lover’s Lane” was a purely killer aggressive sounding rocker. It ended up as one of my preferred tracks on the album.

The second side of the album started off a bit slow with the intro on “Home Is Where The Heart Is” but the song’s tempo picked up soon afterwards and it became a solid rock track.

I liked the more slow burning groove oriented feel to “Don’t Walk Away”. The instrumental “Seasons Of Change” was adeptly written and performed but I can’t help feeling it was a little out of place on this album for some reason. Still, it was a decent track and guitarist Bill Leverty certainly earned any and all kudos that comes his way for this track and throughout the Firehouse album.

As with Side One, the standout songs on Side Two were album cuts. Singer C.J. Snare’s elastic vocal scream at the start of “Overnight Sensation” got that track off to a rousing start that continued right to the finish. The album’s closing track “Helpless” is another ballsy rocker that brings things to a frenzied finish and quickly became another track I just couldn’t help but love.

So remember when I said that I was a card-carrying member of the “I HATE FIREHOUSE” club? I may have been overstating things a bit due to an overabundance of pure musical ignorance. While I am not a fan of the band’s ballads in the least, when they cut loose, they really come up with some fiery rock and roll songs that are full of aggressive hooks and loads of melody.

It may have taken me waiting 30 years to get around to it, but I think I just might actually like the band a hell of a lot than I could ever have imagined. You just need to listen to this album for evidence as to my evolving opinion about the band.

NOTES OF INTEREST: The band got loads of recognition and critical acclaim for the Firehouse album. The release went to #21 on the album chart and was certified double platinum.

The song “Don’t Walk Away” was used in the Mickey Rourke film The Wrestler.

The band has released eight studio albums, though they haven’t put a new release since 2011. There was a 1999 live album and there’s been three greatest hits releases as well.