Category Archives: Cassette Chronicles

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – SURVIVOR’S ‘VITAL SIGNS’

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.

SURVIVOR – VITAL SIGNS (1984)

I was scrolling through a Facebook music group that I’m part of last week when I came across a post marking the 40th anniversary of the Survivor album Eye Of The Tiger. Knowing that the rest of the material on that album is just as good as the monstrously successful “Eye Of The Tiger” song and that it had been almost exactly five years since I last wrote about Survivor in The Cassette Chronicles,  I made plans to write about that album for this week’s article.

But the best laid plans went for naught when I remembered that my cassette copy of the album doesn’t work anymore. I have the remastered CD edition of the release but since this series is all about cassettes, I don’t listen to other formats when doing these articles.

So instead, I’m going to be writing about the Vital Signs album. The funny thing for me is that while I am a huge fan of Survivor, it wasn’t until I bought this album on cassette that I owned any of the band’s albums. I loved “Eye Of The Tiger” when I first heard it but the only version I owned was the Rocky III soundtrack on vinyl. So Vital Signs was the first Survivor album I ever owned. (Yes, I own all the albums now!)

Vital Signs is the fifth album from Survivor, but it was the first one to feature ex-Cobra / ex-Target singer Jimi Jamison on vocals. I can’t remember where I read it so I can’t be 100% certain, but I think the reason Jamison had no writing credits on the album is because he was brought in very late in the writing/recording sessions. So all the songs were written by guitarist Frankie Sullivan and keyboardist Jim Peterik.

The album had four singles released from it and helpfully enough, those tracks are the first four songs on Side One of Vital Signs. The album opens with two straight up rocking numbers in “I Can’t Hold Back” and “High On You”. The latter song was a Top 10 hit for the band (the song peaked at #8). Both songs are still quite memorable and enjoyable all these years later and I think they stand out as “definitive” Survivor tracks alongside “Eye Of The Tiger”

As for the other two singles, the song “First Night” didn’t crack the Top 40 but I actually really like the song. It starts off like it is going to be a ballad, but after the song’s first verse of lyrics, the band bursts into a full-on kicking rocker. The guitar sound in the song is particularly good as well.

And with this album coming out in the 1980’s, you know that Survivor had a ballad on Vital Signs. However, instead of being my usual snarky self about the quality of said type of song, I have to say “The Search Is Over” is not only a fantastic ballad, but it still rings true to this day. I hear it every so often on the radio station I have to listen to at my job and I always get the warm fuzzies when it comes on. The music draws you in without being cloying and the lyrics are directly sentimental without becoming sugary dreck. Plus Jimi Jamison’s vocal performance is simply marvelous.

So that takes care of the songs that were released as singles. But Vital Signs has five “album” tracks on it and the first is the Side One closer “Broken Promises”. The mid-to-uptempo track showcases the deeper side of Survivor’s sound and lyric writing. While they are always going to be known for their big pop hits, when the band takes their music in a more dramatic direction, they always seem to deliver the goods perfectly. Such is the case with “Broken Promises”. The song’s main lyrical verses are slightly slower in tempo but when Survivor hits the chorus break, you get that big bold gang vocal sound that helps elevate the song along with the increase in the delivery pacing of the music. There is a “huskier” feel to the music and as you listen to the lyrics, I’m always reminded of how they can have a subtly deeper feel and/or meaning to them.

When you flip the cassette over to Side Two, you get one of my favorite tracks from the band in “Popular Girl”. I’ve always loved this song from the first time I heard it and think it is one of Survivor’s more underrated tracks. Making the song even more appealing to me is the fact you can listen to the vocals and interpret the lyrics in a couple of different ways. That might give you pause but surprisingly enough, whichever way you end up taking them, each version works.

The song “Everlasting” is another ballad, but unlike “The Search Is Over” which plays it mostly straight up in terms of how the song is performed, this track is purely a POWER ballad. There’s no mistaking the intent of the lyrics of course, but Survivor surrounds Jamison’s vocals with a huge musical soundtrack that quickly annihilates any doubts that a second ballad would prove inferior and serve more as an annoyance. It is just a damn good song!

The copy of the Vital Signs album I listened to in order to write this article is the one I bought nearly 38 years ago. And though the liner notes clearly state that Frankie Sullivan and Jim Peterik wrote all the songs on the album, when I first heard the song “It’s The Singer Not The Song”, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that it seemed a pretty ballsy statement for Jimi Jamison to “make” after just joining the band. Of course, he didn’t craft the lyrics so he didn’t actually make the statement but that’s just how my mind was working when I was 13 years old I guess. That said, I absolutely love this song! It’s a high energy rocker and Jamison does a great job selling the lyrics.

The Vital Signs album closes out with “I See You In Everyone”. The song title may suggest another ballad to you, I know. However, while the lyrics do fall in that general direction, this song is actually quite dramatically intense and rocking. It ends things on a huge high note and is just yet another song that showcases just how fantastic this album was at the time of its release. I don’t think I’m overselling things when I say that Survivor’s Vital Signs is one of the all-time benchmark albums of the melodic rock genre, period!

NOTES OF INTEREST: How much do I love the album? Well, I own it on vinyl, the cassette I used to write this article, the original CD release and the Rock Candy Records CD reissue as well. That Rock Candy reissue includes the song “The Moment Of Truth” as a bonus track. It was originally released on the Karate Kid movie soundtrack. The song plays over that film’s end credits.

Vital Signs is Survivor’s second biggest album. It peaked at #16 on the album chart and was certified platinum.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – Y&T’S ‘CONTAGIOUS’

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.

Y&T – CONTAGIOUS (1987)

Back In April 2020, I wrote about the Y&T album Ten for The Cassette Chronicles. Having loved the album, I wrote the following: “I have three other Y&T albums that I can write about in this series and Ten kind of makes me want to just dive into those albums as soon as possible so I can become an even more enthusiastic supporter of Y&T’s music!”

So much for the best laid plans, right? It has taken me a while to get around to writing about another album in the band’s discography for this series, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been resting idly in becoming more invested in the band’s music. I’ve been slowly acquiring Y&T’s back catalog on CD, purchasing it through the band’s website, and loving what I’ve been hearing that way.

But when it came to the Contagious album, I found that it is one of the albums they don’t offer for sale through their site. That leaves me with my cassette edition and thus I can write about it here and now.

But before I start talking about the album, I just want to send out my best wishes to Y&T’s main man Dave Meniketti. At the time I’m writing this, he’s engaged in a health battle against prostate cancer and I am looking forward to his full recovery.

Now, let’s take a trip back to 1987 and check out what Contagious is all about. And yes, the disclaimer from me here is that while I did hear “Eyes Of A Stranger” as part of the band’s set when I saw them live in 2019, I have no recollection of the material on the album otherwise. So I figured to get to experience this as essentially a “new” album. Of course, that pre-listen belief turned out to be a little incorrect. Somewhere along the line since its release nearly 35 years ago, I had heard the title cut as well.

Regarding that title track, I will say that Y&T wasted no time in getting the album off to a raucous start. With a collectively shouted “Hey” bursting out of the speakers, “Contagious” grabs you by the throat and throttles you with an explosively charged rocking soundtrack. Meniketti’s vocals have a great hook throughout but it gets particularly melodically inclusive on the chorus.

“L.A. Rocks” is another hook laden power rocking track. Great chorus and as I listened I could feel the blood rushing around my body, pumping me up big time! On “The Kid Goes Crazy”, the band is on point and on fire as they propel themselves through a relentlessly rocking soundtrack with a storyline about the “glitz and glamour” of life in the spotlight. This is just a phenomenal song!

I found that “Temptation” has a slower tempo for most of the song, kind of restrained in its delivery. But you can still feel the underlying power that comes out more to the forefront during the song’s chorus and towards the end of the song. The guitar solo caught my ear as well.

Side One of the album closes out with “Fight For Your Life”. The song starts out a little slow and might strike you as heading towards power ballad territory with that opening. But it quickly turns into a highly energetic anthemic kind of rocker.

Side Two opens with “Armed And Dangerous”, a track that much like the opening cut “Contagious”, bursts from the speakers with a kinetic spark that instantly gets you amped up. The band doesn’t hold back with the song being “in-your-face” throughout. Factor in a great solo and you have another winning track in my book!

That kind of fully upfront delivery continued on “Rhythm or Not”. It’s got a full course of electrified rock and roll with a strong soundtrack and a great gang vocal employed for the chorus, but there’s a little something extra that I can’t quite describe that gives the song an added dimension to it. If you listen, maybe you can tell me what it was that made me get into the song so much.

For a song where no one from Y&T had a hand in the writing, is it wrong that I enjoyed “Bodily Harm” so much? It’s a weird amalgamation of the harder rocking sound that you get with Y&T and the rather obvious thrust for a heavily commercially appealing hook and chorus. But while that might make for a song that was “trying too hard”, here it worked.

While I’m probably always going to think of Queensryche when I hear or read the song title “Eyes Of A Stranger”, I was kind of surprised at just how much I liked the Y&T “Eyes Of A Stranger” track. It’s very uptempo, but not quite as musically balls out as tracks like “L.A. Rocks” or “The Kid Goes Crazy”. Still, loved the way this one came together.

Contagious closes out with an instrumental called “I’ll Cry For You”. Though there are no lyrics of course, this is the track that comes closest to what you would call a power ballad. There’s a bluesy kind of guitar playing throughout and as the song winds its way toward its end, the intensity flares up and leaves you feeling quite fulfilled at the finish.

While Contagious may not have been the kind of commercial success that time and clarity suggest that Y&T so richly deserved, the quality of the band’s material didn’t waver on the album. This is a superbly crafted album that all these years later still has a drawing power that lives up to the album’s title.

NOTES OF INTEREST – The album, which peaked at #78 on the Billboard album chart, had 30,000 copies printed with the song title “Boys Night Out” on it. However, when Geffen Records (the label that released Contagious) put out a Sammy Hagar album with the same song title, Y&T was forced to change the title to “L.A. Rocks”.

While the band members were heavily involved in the songwriting for Contagious, there were a number of co-writers working on songs as well. Guitarist Al Pitrelli (Savatage) and bassist Bruno Ravel (Danger Danger) co-wrote “Temptation” with bassist Phil Kennemore. Meanwhile Taylor Rhodes, who has worked with Aerosmith, Kix and Celine Dion, co-wrote the album’s title track with Dave Meniketti as well as collaborating with Robert White Johnson (who also worked with Celine Dion) for the song “Bodily Harm”. He further co-wrote the “Eyes Of A Stranger” with Kennemore and Meniketti.

The artist Hugh Syme, best known for his lengthy collaboration with Rush, is credited for the art direction on Contagious.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – MARCHELLO’S ‘DESTINY’

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.

MARCHELLO – DESTINY (1989)

As we travel back to 1989 this week for a look back at Destiny, the debut album from Marchello, I find myself once again wondering just how this particular band fell through the cracks for me. It’s not just that I haven’t heard the music before but I can’t rightly recall even having heard of the band before.

And as I would discover, it is kind of a shame because I ended up enjoying the Destiny album as a whole. As I said, it was 1989 when the album came out. Heavy metal and hard rock was still on top of the musical heap. Led by singer and guitarist Gene Marchello, the album’s creation was also powered by Peppi Marchello. He produced the album as well as writing or co-writing most of the songs as well. While the shared last name indicates they are related, I couldn’t find out the exact relationship online.

As for the album itself, the song “Brown Eyes” opens things up with a quick and lively pace. It has a great catchy sound and once I stopped hearing the lyrics wrong in the chorus, I really got into the song. I was a little less enamored with the next track “Tight Pants”. The lyrics for that one would seem to be “of its time” but while that didn’t bother any sensibilities for me, the song just didn’t really strike me as being all that interesting.

The album’s title track had a kind of mood setting intro that quickly developed into a blast of amped up rock and roll energy. I liked the song for the most part but I will say that I thought the guitar solo was so over the top that it ended up being useless musical masturbation instead of fitting in with the rest of the song.

With a title like “First Love”, you can probably imagine that it would be a ballad. I mean, it was a near universal requirement at the time for bands to do ballads to get noticed. However, while the song does start off that way, it quickly becomes a heavier sounding uptempo number. In fact, before the first verse of lyrics is over, the band is rocking out.

The closing track on Side One of the cassette is a high flying rocker called “What If” and it was quite the earworm as I listened to it.

The second side of the album opens up in a similar fashion with “Living For #1”. It’s a fast moving hook-filled track that keeps you energized throughout. While that “First Love” song played with your ballad expectations, the song “Love Begins Again” is more of a straight up power ballad. The most striking part of this song is that while Gene Marchello’s vocals sound fine throughout the album, I thought they were rather thin-sounding on this one. Overall the song is OK but the strange way the vocals came out didn’t do the track any favors.

While the title of “Heavy Weight Champ Of Love” is spelled incorrectly, the song itself is actually pretty good. It’s got a hard-driving sound and the twist in the lyrical “story” is interesting given the era in which the song came out.

“She’s Magic” is pure adrenaline and while “Winners Never Lose” is another track that starts off as a ballad, the song’s pacing picks up throughout its run time and it was another pretty good song.

Perhaps the most surprising song on the album is the closing track “Rock ‘N Roll Rumble”. It surprised me because it is an instrumental, which is not always a good way to close out an album. But any hesitation on my part was quickly set aside. This is a fantastic track and while I mentioned that guitar solo that was over the top on the album’s title cut, the guitar playing here showcases Gene Marchello’s playing ability but tailors it inside the song perfectly..

It may have taken me more than thirty years to discover Marchello’s Destiny album, I was rather surprised to find out that it was a musically fulfilling release that had a good sense of the melodic with the large portion of its eleven tracks. Full on rocking overall, this new-to-me album and band made for great musical experience!

NOTES OF INTEREST – While the band recorded a second album in 1991 (entitled The Power Of Money), it was never officially released (to the best of my knowledge and Internet research) until 2012 when it came out via AOR Heaven with the new title The Magic Comes Alive.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – BRUCE DICKINSON ‘S ‘TATTOOED MILLIONAIRE’

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.

BRUCE DICKINSON – TATTOOED MILLIONAIRE (1990)

The release of the Tattooed Millionaire album came three years before singer Bruce Dickinson would leave Iron Maiden. It all came about after Dickinson had recorded the song “Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter” for the soundtrack of the NIghtmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child movie.

However, the Dickinson version of the song was scrapped from appearing on the original release of this album when Iron Maiden planned to record a version of the song for the No Prayer For The Dying album.

But you can’t keep a good idea down and so without that particular song came Tattooed Millionaire. I’ve owned the album for a number of years but it isn’t one that I’ve found myself listening to all that often. And I couldn’t really figure out why until I played the tape for this article. It’s not like there aren’t a lot of great songs that make appearances on live recordings and compilations. So I was stumped.

But once I played the album, I kind of figured out what the reason might be. You see, while Charles Dickens wrote A Tale Of Two Cities, Tattooed Millionaire is a tale of two sides…of the album.

Before I get into that however, the rather amusing fact I’d forgotten about was that guitarist Janick Gers played the guitars on Tattooed Millionaire. You’d think I’d have remembered that since Gers went on to join Iron Maiden and has been with them for decades at this point. But nope, I totally wiped that from my memory. He co-wrote all but two of the songs for the original album as well.

Getting back to the album, Side One is an absolute humdinger! You’ve got the opening track “Son Of A Gun” which starts out a bit slow during the intro but then breaks out into a killer sounding rock track.

And that’s not a mis-stating of musical styles by the way. This album was clearly intended to be more of a hard rock sound to differentiate the music from what Dickinson was doing with Iron Maiden.

The album’s title track remains to this day a full-on powerhouse. You’ve got the requisite power driven rock soundtrack but with a nice twist of melody mixed in. And then you add in Bruce’s vocals track which finds him practically spitting out the venom-laced lyrics. If this song didn’t get you pumped up back then, you just didn’t have a pulse.

There are many songs that I absolutely adore from Dickinson’s solo catalog, but one of the very finest examples of his songwriting comes in the form of “Born In ’58”. It’s a nostalgic look back at growing up surrounded by the people who taught you, as Bruce sings in the song, “Old fashioned stuff like wrong and right”. I love the entirety of the song lyrics for this track and as the music alternates between a midtempo beat and a more uptempo rocking style, this song is just perfect.

It’s the ripping and raw vocal delivery from Dickinson that powers “Hell On Wheels” through its pedal flat on the floor soundtrack. The song “Gyspsy Road” closes out Side One and while it does a pretty solid job at rocking out, there’s a slightly softer touch at times as well.

So the first side of the album is really great in my estimation. But when I flipped it over to Side Two, I found myself a little less enchanted with the material.

I thought “Dive! Dive! Dive!” had a lot of fun with its very tongue-in-cheek lyrics while walloping listeners with a hard driving musical rhythm. And though I don’t hate Dickinson’s cover of the Mott The Hoople song “All The Young Dudes”, I found I didn’t quite like it as much as I once did. I don’t know why I felt that way listening to the album now but it just didn’t hit home with me like when I first heard the song. Because of that change of heart, I kind of just wanted the song to be over.

But for whatever reason, despite each of the songs being hard rocking tracks, I just didn’t really get into the last three songs on the Tattooed Millionaire all that much. While “Lickin’ The Gun” does have an interesting delivery from Dickinson when singing the song title, I just couldn’t find my way to being more appreciative of the track.

Meanwhile, “Zulu Lulu” felt like a track that should’ve been left in the vaults. As I listened to it, it was almost like it was trying to be a funny song without actually including anything that would’ve brought a chuckle from me. The album closed out with “No Lies”, which just kind of laid there flat while I kept waiting for it develop into something more.

In 1990, Bruce Dickinson was already a global musical star so it’s not like anything I say in the here and now is going to damage his standing. And believe me, I think the first side of the album is proof positive that he was being highly creative at the time. But glancing back now, the second side of Tattooed Millionaire showed that even someone as great as Dickinson had room to grow.

NOTES OF INTEREST: After Tattooed Millionaire, Bruce Dickinson has released five more solo studio albums. The last one, Tyranny Of Souls, came out after he’d rejoined Iron Maiden. It was my favorite album of 2005.

The Tattooed Millionaire album has been reissued twice. The first one came in 2002 with five bonus tracks. An expanded edition was released in 2005 with a second disc that had eleven tracks on it.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – TWISTER SISTER’S ‘LOVE IS FOR SUCKERS’

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.

TWISTED SISTER – LOVE IS FOR SUCKERS (1987)

In 1987, the bloom was definitely off the rose for Twisted Sister. The commercial success of the band that came with the Stay Hungry album had faded and by all reports, the band members pretty much all hated each other. This is not exactly a conducive environment in which to write and record a new album.

And technically, they didn’t. The Love Is For Suckers album was actually supposed to be a Dee Snider solo album that was rebranded for Twisted Sister under record company pressure. Hell, drummer A.J. Pero didn’t even play on the material included.

But does the branding of the release make it better or worse? For me, I just love the music so regardless of what name it came out under, Love Is For Suckers is just a great collection of tracks in my mind.

I know that it is mainly focused on the more commercial sound that metal had going for it in 1987 with less of the edginess of some of the earlier Twisted Sister material, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting to me.

In fact, it’s hard to find anything I don’t like about the album. There’s ten songs and I love them all.

Side One opens up with “Wake Up (The Sleeping Giant)”, an anthemic giant middle finger type of song to the PMRC and their particular brand of evil from what is now considered back in the day. Dee Snider is well remembered for his calm, yet blistering, takedown testimonial in front of Congress. This song is the musical version of that. It’s got a kicking rock sound to it and the vocals are excellent.

That last sentence pretty much describes the rest of the material as well. Other than Side Two’s “You Are All That I Need”, each track is a hard rocking gem with plenty of fast-paced music combined with Snider’s sometimes snarling delivery of the lyrics. And even on the “You Are All That I Need” song, it’s really not too much of a ballad. Yes the lyrics are sentimental in nature (but not remotely sappy), but the music has more of an uptempo edge even if it is slightly slower in pace than the other songs.

As for the rest of Side One, “Hot Love” is a quick-stepping track fueled by lust-driven lyrics. The album’s title track features a pace that is practically blistering with Snider kind of spitting out the lyrics in such a way that your ears can’t help but be drawn to his delivery. And the mid-song more spoken word part of the lyrics is kind of hilarious to me (in a good way).

You can probably guess what “I’m So Hot For You” is about but along with the song “Tonight”, the song rocks and rolls to a strong finish for the first side of the album.

Side Two keeps the motor running with the anthemic rocker “Me And The Boys” and  “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)”. The latter song may sound like it is a ballad but it’s definitely a rocker that will keep the energy flowing through you.

My favorite song on the album has always seemed to be “One Bad Habit”. It kind of fits me in a lot of ways. The song moves fast but what makes the track for me is Snider’s vocals and the ode to a love of rock and roll with a heavy dose of realistic sarcasm to the lyrics at times. If I was ever to request Snider to play a song from this album, it would be “One Bad Habit”.

The album closes out with an anthemic shout out track called “Yeah Right!”. While the song lyrics aren’t going to win any praise about being masterful, I love the way the song brings the album to a rousing conclusion and leaves the listener (ME!) with an amped up feeling that I just want to play the album over again immediately.

The Love Is For Suckers album didn’t do much business for the band and after a brief tour in support of it, Snider officially left the band. It’s kind of the orphaned child of the band’s catalog. I can understand the reasons for why this is the case, but I don’t agree with them. Nearly 35 years after its original release, this is just great album that, to me at least, perfectly encapsulates the metal scene of the late 1980’s!

NOTES OF INTEREST: The Love Is For Suckers album was reissued in 1999 via Spitfire Records with four bonus tracks. Those bonus tracks got a separate EP release in 2021 under the title Feel Appeal: Love Is For Suckers Extras.

Beau Hill produced the album, which might account for the various guest appearances of Kip Winger and Reb Beach from Winger (though I’ve read stuff online that suggest they played on the album a lot more than credited for. Not sure if that’s true or not). Both Steve Whiteman and Jimmy Chalfant from Kix show up as well. Hill produced Winger’s debut album in 1988 and helped produce the 1985 Kix album Midnite Dynamite.

Joey Franco was the drummer who recorded the Love Is For Suckers album in place of A.J. Pero. He played in Widowmaker with Snider as well. TNT guitarist Ronni Le Tekro helped arrange the material for the album. And according to Wikipedia actor Luke Perry (Beverly Hills, 90210) made a guest appearance providing “additional shouts”.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – NUCLEAR VALDEZ’S ‘I AM I’

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.

NUCLEAR VALDEZ – I AM I (1989)

I’ve had the Nuclear Valdez album I Am I hanging around ever since I got it when I purchased the Big Box of Cassettes a few years back. I’d never gotten around to listening to or writing about the album and that led to me making an assumption about the album that turned out to be pretty much wrong on all counts. While most of the albums in the box are from the 80’s metal genre, the Nuclear Valdez album is clearly more of a straight up rock album. It may have come out in 1989 when heavy metal was still in it’s prime years but the band certainly didn’t go chasing too hard after that particular vein of glory.

So you can understand I was initially rather surprised when I listened to the album. Those wrongheaded expectations meant I had to work just a little harder to fully get into the album in order to write about it. But once I did that work, I had a much clearer picture of I Am I.

The band had a minor hit with the video for the opening song “Summer” and as I listened to it, I could understand why. It’s pretty uptempo and upbeat with a catchy hook that will draw you in. The music’s pacing is pretty relentless (and melodic) throughout. It will definitely grab your attention.

I thought the songs “Hope” and the side ending “Unsung Hero (Song For Lenny Bruce)” were decent enough but I definitely had to work at developing an appreciation for them. That didn’t happen at all with the ballad “If I Knew Then” which was simply a painfully drawn out exercise for me.

But the intriguingly titled “Trace The Thunder” was a fantastic song. Another faster paced track, I also found that the song sounded like something you might’ve heard from Canadian rockers Honeymoon Suite. This is most evident to me in the vocals from singer Froilan Sosa. It actually took me a while to figure out what band this song reminded me of but once I did, the song became even more of a winner in my eyes (I’m a big fan of Honeymoon Suite).

The second side of the album felt a little bit stronger to me. While “Strength” was decent enough, Nuclear Valdez really found a groove starting with the track “Eve”. Lyrically, the song might feel like it should’ve been a ballad, but I thought the much quicker rocking pace to the music elevated the song as a whole. The song “Apache” is a full on rocker that really appealed to me as well.

The band took a deeper lyrical turn on the songs “Run Through The Fields” and “Where Do We Go From Here”. For “Run Through The Fields”, the song moves from mid-to-uptempo in terms of musical pace. Musically, the song is excellent and assuming I’m not overthinking the lyrical content, the band is quite keen on driving a point home. (I’m going to let anyone who checks out the album figure out the specifics of what the band is singing about on their own). Oh, and that Honeymoon Suite sound seemed in evidence on this song as well.

As for “Where Do We Go From Here”, the song tempo moves a bit faster even with that same deeper lyrical take. And like “Run Through The Fields”, the song really takes hold of you.

The last song on the album is listed as a bonus track, but however you designate it “Rising Sun” is a solidly crafted uptempo number (with a guitar solo that I enjoyed a lot) that brings the album to a fitting conclusion.

I had some ill-conceived notions about the album before I listened to it but being a bit challenged by what I did end up listening to turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable in the end. While Side One of the album is not quite as strong as the second side, Nuclear Valdez’s I Am I is quite the new discovery for me!

NOTES OF INTEREST: The I Am I album was the band’s debut but they have released three more albums over the years: 1992’s Dream Another Dream, 2000’s In A Minute All Could Change and 2017’s Present From The Past.

The band got their name from a co-worker of bassist Juan Diaz. The co-worker reportedly had an explosive temper. Original guitarist Jorge Barcala left the band after the Dream Another Dream.

The I Am I album featured guest appearances by Bruce Brody (ex-Lone Justice) and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) on keyboards. Singer Meredith Brooks provided backing vocals on the song “Rising Sun”.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – LEATHERWOLF’S ‘LEATHERWOLF’

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.

LEATHERWOLF – LEATHERWOLF (1987)

I wrote about the Leatherwolf album Street Ready back in 2017 and it was an article that became one of the first that got rather enthusiastically shared by a band that I featured. In fact, the band shared the article when it first went up and then shared it again a couple years later.

I love that album and I have always wanted to revisit the band’s catalog with another of their releases. But while I’ve had the Leatherwolf album in my Big Box of Cassettes for a while now, I have only now gotten around to checking it out.

The strange thing is that while I know that they did a video for the song “The Calling” that got some airplay on MTV, I can’t rightly recall if I ever saw it back then. As I listened to the first side of the album, the song kind of sounded familiar but I can’t figure out if it is a memory from the distant past or if I’ve heard it over the years in other ways.

But what I know now is that “The Calling” is a pretty damn good song! It demonstrates the band’s grasp of hooking the listener into the song that would come to the forefront even moreso on Street Ready.

The first side of the album opening with “Rise Or Fall” gave you a real sense of heavy grandiosity and melody with a big vocal presence from Michael Olivieri. Plus the triple guitar attack filling up a lot of space lets you really experience a jam-packed musical soundtrack to each song.

The song “Share A Dream” lends itself more to a power ballad type song style, but still has something to it that makes it feel “heavier” still. As for the side closing “Cry Out”, the song’s slow start soon gives way to a far deeper and heavier sound that revs you up. There’s an excellent solo to be found here as well. A impressively cast backing vocal also amps up the song’s energy.

The second side of the album has an interesting cover song. Leatherwolf covers the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Bad Moon Rising”. I’m not fully versed in the CCR catalog but I do know their hits and I actually quite love “Bad Moon Rising”. And while I’m thinking that those CCR diehards will probably not like Leatherwolf’s version, I think what the band did with the song works perfectly. They turned it into a pure powerhouse metal track that finds the band just blowing the roof off the place as they rocket through their rendition.

As for the original songs on Side Two, the album opens with “Gypsies And Thieves”. While the song is pretty good overall, it is the song’s last part where the pace is given a shot of electricity where I think Leatherwolf really hit the groove for the song.

“Princess Of Love” has a killer rocking vibe to it and the song’s chorus really got into my head. Of course, when the kinetic ball of fire that is the song “Magical Eyes” burst out of your speakers you can feel yourself torn between doing the whole “bang your head” thing or maybe doing some Olympian level air guitar. An absolutely killer tune!

I love the last song on the album a lot too. “Rule The Night” has a relentlessly aggressive pacing to the music and the lyrics (the chorus in particular) does lend itself to being quite an anthemic call to arms.

While there were reports of a studio album due out in the spring of 2020, to the best of my knowledge that release has yet to happen. I’m guessing that’s due at least in part to the pandemic but it sure would be nice to hear a new album from the band after a mostly silent last 15 years. (They did release one new song on their Youtube channel in 2019 called “The Henchmen”).

Until then though, reaching back to 1987 to check out the band’s Leatherwolf album will certainly tide you over. Why? Because once again, Leatherwolf leaves you wanting more despite nine powerfully melodic (yet truly heavy) tracks that pack a full on assault in every note!

NOTES OF INTEREST – While Leatherwolf still hasn’t released a full length album since 2007’s New World Asylum, the band remains active. But their lineup has been a constantly changing thing. Singer Michael Olivieri has been out of the band since February 2019 with Keith Adamiak as his replacement.

Bassist Paul Carman also returned to the lineup in 2019. It is his fourth stint with Leatherwolf. He originally joined in 1986 as the replacement for Matt Hurich who had left to join Stryper.

The producer for Leatherwolf was Kevin Beamish. Other bands that he’s worked with include Saxon, Jefferson Starship, Y&T and Keel. He also produced five albums for REO Speedwagon, including their monster hit album Hi Infidelity (an album I wrote about for The Cassette Chronicles as well).

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – BADLANDS ‘VOODOO HIGHWAY’

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.

BADLANDS – VOODOO HIGHWAY (1991)

Back in August 2019, I wrote about the self-titled debut album from Badlands. I loved it and said it was one of the best debut albums of “The Metal Years”.

While there might be some kind of expectation for a second album slump, the release of Voodoo Highway instead only served to confirm just how great the band was. But what made this album seem that much more of a great thing is the circumstances it was made under.

I didn’t know it until I started looking up information about it for this article but the creation of Voodoo Highway was not without its problems. There was friction between guitarist Jake E. Lee and singer Ray Gillen. I’m not sure if the problems extended to bassist Greg Chaisson and new drummer Jeff Martin (replacing the departed Eric Singer) but when your singer and guitarist aren’t getting along, it can make for many a troubled day in the recording process. At least that’s what I would guess.

But for whatever behind the scenes problems the band had, it didn’t carry over to the music. It’s not much of a spoiler alert but I loved this album a lot! I’ve listened to it so many times over the last three decades so I’m quite familiar with the material. But I did find myself getting a new appreciation for a trio of the songs while I played the album for this piece.

The album opens with the song “The Last Time” and it does a pretty succinct job of getting the listener primed and ready for everything that is coming on Voodoo Highway. With Jake E. Lee producing the album with James A. Ball as well as co-writing most of the material with Gillen (Chaisson and Martin had a couple of co-writing credits mixed in as well), there seems to be a pretty clear-cut vision for how the album would sound.

The down-and-dirty hard driving blues rock sound that fuels “The Last Time” bleeds into the majority of the songs. That consistent feel makes for quite the entertaining start to finish listening experience.

The song “Show Me The Way” starts off a little bit slower with Ray Gillen’s voice taking on a kind of silken quality in the first lyrical verse. But that restraint quickly gives way after the first verse and the song takes on a sharper musical edge from that point forward. The song “Shine On” is a solidly energetic track as well.

The first song that I gained a new appreciation for is the track “Whiskey Dust”. It’s a full on rocker but the tone of the music and Gillen’s vocals give the track an extra dimension. Living up to the first half of its title, there’s a boozy, bluesy blast to the delivery and re-discovering that made this song stand out a lot more to me.

The brief Lee instrumental “Joe’s Blues” had a nice vibe to it and the song leads into the foot-stomping rocker “Soul Stealer”. There’s such a powerful undercurrent to the song that even all these years later, this one track stands out to me as one of the band’s better (if lesser known) songs.

When you flip the cassette over to the second side, you start things off with “3 Day Funk”, a real kick you in the pants uptempo number. And I love the scattershot musical delivery of the opening on “Love Don’t Mean A Thing” too. These two tracks really get the rock out for the listener.

Meanwhile, you’ve got Jake E. Lee providing a killer dobro guitar on the album’s title track. The song runs less than 2-and-a-half minutes but between the sound that Lee’s guitar has going for it and the whiskey soaked throaty rumble of Ray Gillen’s voice, the song packs more into that short time than some songs that are double in length.

That dobro guitar from Lee returns on the album closing track “In A Dream”. The song is probably the most different from the other tracks on the album given that it features just some slight guitar and a little bass from Chaisson playing along with a mostly a capella vocal turn from Ray Gillen. And the best thing about it is that it is just an incredible song. I liked it so much when I first heard it that it was one of the more instantly memorable tracks on Voodoo Highway. In fact, it might be the most well known of the Badlands songs because a version of it was performed on the American Idol TV show and people went kind of bananas over the song when Bo Bice sang it.

Speaking of cover versions, Badlands provides their own cover on the album when they perform a rendition of the James Taylor song “Fire And Rain”. I’m not sure how any Taylor fans that may have heard this version feel about it. But for me, the way the band turned this into a much heavier sounding rock and roll song really worked. It fit right into the way the whole album sounded and though it is markedly different from the original, it is a fantastic cover version.

I mentioned before that listening to the album for this article gave me a new appreciation for a couple of songs and both of those songs show up on Side Two. To be clear, it’s not like I didn’t pay attention or didn’t like these songs before. It’s just that listening to them at this point, something about them caught my ear in a way that I’d either forgotten about or they just hit me right this time out.

The first song is “Silver Horses”, a rocker that has a racing pace to the music and another great vocal take. The other song is “Heaven’s Trains”, which is just an all-out blistering rocker that finds the band just shredding all over the place and blowing away any preconceptions a listener could’ve expected before the song started.

According to what I read online, there were four singles released from the album. But none of them made any noise on the charts. The album itself only managed to peak at #140 on the album charts. But for all the in-fighting, bad timing and lack of mainstream success, the Badlands Voodoo Highway album strikes me as a completely immersive in-your-face hard rock musical experience. This is simply a FANTASTIC release that should’ve made the band a huge success!

NOTES OF INTEREST: After the immediate release of Voodoo Highway, Ray Gillen left the band. According to the band’s Wikipedia page,  Badlands hired a replacement singer in Debby Holiday. However, by the time the band got ready to head out for a UK tour, they had gotten Gillen back in the lineup for said tour.

The “Joe’s Blues” was reportedly inspired / written about future Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Joe Holmes who was working as Jake E. Lee’s guitar tech during the recording of Voodoo Highway.

Bassist Greg Chaisson came back on my radar in a big way in 2020. He was part of the band Kings Of Dust. The band released a self-titled album that sounded like a cross between a modern day rock and roll album and like something you could’ve heard from a 1970’s classic rock group as well. It was so good that it made my Top 10 list in 2020. Sadly, the band split up without recording another album when they parted ways with singer Michael Beck.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – TUFF’S ‘WHAT COMES AROUND GOES AROUND’

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.

TUFF – WHAT COMES AROUND GOES AROUND (1991)

In the more than three decades since the release of the Tuff debut album What Comes Around Goes Around, I have somehow managed to avoid ever hearing anything from the album. For me, Tuff is another one of those 80’s glam heyday bands that just fell through the cracks for me (and it would appear, many others).

I’d heard of them before but never got around to checking out their music. It wasn’t until their parody song “American Hair Band” that I ever heard the band at all. Funny how I love the one song from the band that isn’t quite meant to be taken seriously.

But with thirty years plus gone by, I figure now is a pretty good time to check out the album to see what I thought of it.

My first impression was that the band started off Side One of the album sounding exactly like you would expect a band to sound like circa 1991. Singer Stevie Rachelle, guitarist Jorge DeSaint, bassist Todd Chase and drummer Michael Lean certainly had the chops to craft the music of the day. But while I loved the rocking uptempo style of the songs “Ruck A Pit Bridge” and “The All New Generation”, I found they were relatively uninteresting to me lyrically. And I really didn’t like the outro of “Ruck A Pit Bridge” where the band cut out the rock and went with a more funky riven sound that just didn’t work for me.

When an album starts off that way, you might find yourself in for a drag of a listen but surprisingly enough, the band really started firing on all cylinders with the power ballad “I Hate Kissing You Good-Bye”. While a lot of ballads from the era don’t age well, it seems Tuff did a better job of crafting a ballad that doesn’t turn your stomach years later.

There’s a thumping groove threaded throughout the rocker “Lonely Lucy” that gives the song a bit of an extra kick in the pants musically. And though the side closing “Ain’t Worth A Dime” starts off a bit slow, it grows into a solid rocker and you can really hear the scornful inflection in Rachelle’s vocal delivery.

The second side of What Comes Around Goes Around is strong from start to finish. The main lyrical passages of “So Many Seasons” tread a more mid-tempo ground in terms of pacing but the chorus and the song’s outro feature much more of a rocking edge to the sound.

The title “Forever Yours” definitely sounds like a ballad. And the lyrics would be the kind you find in a ballad, but the song’s musical soundtrack is actually more of a rocker throughout and had the right combination of melodic hooks that further endears the song to me. Surprisingly enough, I thought of this one as one of the album’s highlights.

But we do get a true power ballad on Side Two in the form of “Wake Me Up”. It’s a great sounding track that finds the band outdoing themselves in terms of performance. However, they can’t get the full credit for this song as the liner notes list Poison’s Bret Michaels as the sole writer of the track. Bret wrote a hell of song and Tuff did it up right as yet again, I have to say that I really enjoyed the song.

The album closes out in rousing fashion with the blazing rocker “Spit Like This” and the heavily anthemic sounding (at least for the song’s shout out chorus) “Good Guys Wear Black”.

Okay, so once again I have completely missed the boat on a great sounding album from the good ol’ days when metal ruled the world. It’s annoying to discover “new” music so long after it came out because it means I could’ve had a lot more time to appreciate it. But appreciate it I do now that I’ve finally heard the album. What Comes Around Goes Around has at long last come full circle for me, and it is just a really fun enjoyable slice of rock and roll that gets to the heart of the kind of music I loved from back in the day right through to this very day!

NOTES OF INTEREST: The “American Hair Band” song was released on 2001 Tuff compilation The History Of Tuff. Not counting live releases or compilations, Tuff had just three all new studio releases to their name.

Ex-Alice Cooper guitarist Kane Roberts and ex-Fifth Angel / House of Lords drummer Ken Mary are listed among the names who sang backing vocals on What Goes Comes Around Goes Around. The album was reissued in 2012 with four re-recorded tracks as well as some new songs. It got a slightly updated title in What Comes Around Goes Around…Again! A second remastered edition came out in 2021 according to the band’s Wikipedia page.

Before Stevie Rachelle joined Tuff, the band was fronted for a year by future Nitro singer Jim Gillette.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – FIONA’S ‘HEART LIKE A GUN’

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.

FIONA – HEART LIKE A GUN (1989)

In all honesty, when it comes to the third Fiona album Heart Like A Gun, I didn’t remember much about it. I knew it existed of course, but I had never heard it before. I pretty much just remember this album being the one that made her a household name for five minutes or so. Due largely to the song “Everything You Do (You’re Sexing Me)”, the duet she did with Kip Winger. Of course, I don’t remember much about the song either. I know there was a video that if memory serves was considered “steamy” back in the day. But I thought the song was more of a ballad. Then I listened to Heart Like A Gun for the first time and was surprised that the song has much more of a rocker feel to it than I thought.

The song is the second one on the first side of the album so you do get the “hit” song out of the way pretty fast. After that, I had nine songs to dig into that were pretty much all-new to me.

Even though in 1989, with the idea of aiming music towards being as commercially accessible as possible being in full force, I was at least a little taken aback when the album’s opening cut “Little Jeannie (Got The Look Of Love)” struck me as way more of a pop song than a hard rock one. Well, at the beginning of the song anyway. As it progressed, the music had much more of rock edge to it. In the end, I did find that I quite enjoyed the song as a whole.

Whether a song was pure rock or geared towards drawing in a pop audience, I was actually rather intrigued by the first side of Heart Like A Gun. The song “Mariel” is a power ballad that actually emphasized a lot more of the “power” part of that song descriptor. Fiona’s voice really kicks things up a lot during the song. The remaining two tracks are more uptempo in nature with the music’s hard driving rhythms giving “Where The Cowboys Go” (the 2nd single from the album) and “Draw The Line” a nice little burst of crackling energy.

When you move over to Side Two of the cassette, you get immediately hit with two strong rockers in “Here It Comes Again” and “Bringing In The Beast”. Both of these songs double down on that kind of “fully cut loose” rocking fury. Fiona’s voice is incredible here and I really dug the “Here It Comes Again” song a lot. If push comes to shove, I’d say it’s my favorite cut on Heart Like A Gun.

The song “Victoria Cross” seemed to be a bit wanting when I listened to it. The power ballad just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. However, I did enjoy “Look At Me Now” a lot. It starts out a little bit more in a midtempo groove but it grows into a faster paced rocker over the song’s run time.

The album’s closing song “When Pink Turns To Blue” rides that midtempo vein from start to finish but I thought it worked perfectly as it gave Fiona’s voice a little bit extra room to convey a more dramatic vocal take without crossing over into melodrama.

As the Heart Like A Gun started playing, I was worried that I was in for an album that tried to make Fiona into some kind of pop princess. But I was rather keen to discover that the album was far more of an entertaining hook-filled rock and roll release instead. Forgive the cliche, but Heart Like A Gun ended up pretty much hitting the bull’s-eye for me and I’m going to enjoy listening to this album a lot more in the future to come.

NOTES OF INTEREST – I checked out the album’s Wikipedia page and besides singing on the “Everything You Do (You’re Sexing Me)” song, Kip Winger played bass on the Heart Like A Gun album as well. He was joined by fellow Winger bandmate Rod Morgenstein on drums. Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis played guitar. However, according to the actual liner notes on the cassette, David Glen Eisley and Dweezil Zappa were among a host of other musicians involved in the creation of the album as well.

The writing credits for the album is an eclectic and impressive group too. According to the album’s Wikipedia page, Mark Mangold, Mike Slamer, Martin Page, Aldo Nova, Foreigner’s Alan Greenwood, Blackhawk’s Van Stephenson and even actress Madeleine Stowe are listed among the co-writers for the album’s ten tracks.

In total, Fiona has released five solo albums. The last one, Unbroken, came out in 2011. She’s also worked as an actress, appearing in an episode of Miami Vice and was the female lead in the movie Hearts Of Fire opposite Bob Dylan.

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