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The Cassette Chronicles – McAuley-Schenker’s ‘Save Yourself’

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.

McAULEY-SCHENKER GROUP – SAVE YOURSELF (1989)

Though this article is about the second McAuley-Schenker Group album, I first need to go back to the group’s 1987 debut album Perfect Timing album.

In ’87, I was 16 and had a job where I was making my own money. I had very little in the way of bills and could spend the money I made any way I wanted to. Since this was before the Internet and the idea of hearing songs before the album was even released, I would on occasion buy albums just from seeing an advertisement in a magazine. And yes, you could go to the record store knowing that they’d have the album in stock, imagine that!

So I saw the ad for Perfect Timing and was struck by how cool the guy with the guitar looked with his long flowing hair (This would be at the time when I still thought that I could grow my hair long to fit in more with the look of the day). I say “the guy” because I had no idea who Michael Schenker was at the time. As you recover from that bit of musical blasphemy, let’s just say once I did get the album, I was blown away. The album sounded like everything I loved at the time. Commercially accessible sound full of flying guitar work, killer rock tracks and believe it or not, really great ballad tracks. I was hooked!

So when I saw the news that the band was releasing a second album, it went to the top of my list. And with Save Yourself, they didn’t disappoint in the least.

The album kicked off with the title track. The song opens with a kind of mood setting lone bell ringing in the background before Schenker lets loose with a killer opening riff/solo. The song then bursts into flames as waves of pure energetic rock flow over you. Describing the song as fast paced fails to do justice to how relentless it is. Unsurprisingly, the band shreds throughout the song and McAuley’s vocals are not only on point with rapid fire they are in the delivery, but they are also really gritty in the vocal inflections. I’l say that by this point, he’d become a singer I greatly admired at the time. I thought he was just a fantastic vocalist!

While “Bad Boys” is slightly less frantic in the delivery, it is still a pretty uptempo anthem that kept me on the edge of my seat.

When talking about Perfect Timing earlier in the article, I mentioned how I loved the power ballad tracks on the album. You can say that about those type of tracks on Save Yourself as well. The song “Anytime” gave the band their most successful track of their three album run in terms of chart recognition. And while I’m really down on ballads these days, it is a highly enjoyable song.

The more rocking side of the band returns with “Get Down To Bizness”. The first side of the album comes to a killer conclusion with more of a mid-tempo rocker called “Shadow of the Night”. The track settles quickly into a groove quickly and locks it in for the length of the song.

Every song on the first side of the album is superb, and it sets the stage for more rocking good music on side two. I will say that while the instrumental “There Has To Be Another Way” wasn’t quite necessary to be included, it is a pretty decent run through by Schenker and company.

Otherwise, the second side of the album features five more songs that further cemented my opinion of just how great the band was at the time. “What We Need” kicks things off, rocking its way into your head. The title of “I Am Your Radio” might seem a bit silly, but when you listen to the song, it’s an undeniable rocker that captures the imagination and if you are like me, it kind of served as a personal anthem at the time you first heard it.

“This Is My Heart” definitely falls under the power ballad classification but it has far more of an uptempo feel to it at the same time. The lyrical sentiments are what gives it the ballad feel, but I really appreciated the lack of complete slowdown musically.

Two more adrenalized rockers close out Save Yourself with “Destiny” being a blazingly fast and intense track and “Take Me Back” sealing the deal for just how great the McAuley-Schenker Group was. The musical partnership between singer and guitarist was a fertile mix of great guitar and vocals and had both the songs and musical chops to pull off this vastly commercial sounding project that is flush with great music that doesn’t give you the feeling that they were “selling out” for more of a chance at monetary success.

At the beginning of the McAuley-Schenker Group’s run, I didn’t realize that this more mainstream hook laden sound was not what Schenker was best known for. I know that the majority of his fans comes from Schenker’s time with the Scorpions, UFO and the Michael Schenker Group. But for me, the three McAuley-Schenker albums will always be what I most remember him for. My love for Robin McAuley’s vocals remains unabated as well.

If you love great guitar work with the more accessible sound of the mid-to-late 80’s rock and metal, you’d be doing yourself a great service by picking up Save Yourself and diving headlong into some of the most entertaining rock of the day.

NOTES OF INTEREST: I attended the May 10th, 2019, Michael Schenker Fest concert in Worcester, MA. The show featured Michael Schenker playing songs from throughout his career and included Robin McAuley singing three songs from Save Yourself (plus one from Perfect Timing) during the course of the show. In fact, given the band lineup for this tour, four-fifths of the lineup that recorded the Save Yourself album (including drummer Bodo Schopf and guitarist Steve Mann) were onstage during the performance! It was utterly awesome for me!

The album got a Japanese reissue in 2000 that included three bonus tracks. Two of them were the radio single edits of “Save Yourself” and “Anytime” but the third bonus cut was a previously unreleased song called “Vicious”.

The album was produced by Frank Fillepetti, who had produced Survivor’s Too Hot To Sleep album in 1988. Singer Robin McAuley would go on to front Survivor for five years between 2006-2011, though he never recorded any music with the band.

Iconic band The Zombies to play the Narrows Center in Fall River, MA

When it comes to influential 60s bands,iconic British rock legends The Zombies are right at the top with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. With their recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the band is celebrating this achievement with a special summer tour that will stop at the Narrows Center in Fall River, MA, on August 27th at 8 p.m. Purchase tickets HERE.

The Zombies is still led by founding members Colin Blunstone (vocals) and Rod Argent (keyboards), alongside Steve Rodford on drums, renowned session guitarist Tom Toomey, and new member, Søren Koch, who joined the band following the untimely passing of The Zombies’ beloved bassist Jim Rodford (formerly of Argent and The Kinks) in early 2018.

The Zombies scored U.S. hits in the mid- and late-1960s with “Time of the Season,” “She’s Not There,” and “Tell Her No.” Their 1968 album “Odessey & Oracle” is ranked 100 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The band’s live performances, described by Rolling Stone as “absolutely triumphant,” take fans on a journey through time, from their early hits…their 1968 masterpiece ‘Odessey & Oracle”…post-Zombies solo favorites such as Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up”…right to today with “Still Got That Hunger.”

The Zombies are also cited as being one of the most influential UK pop/rock bands of all time. Billy Joel, Paul Weller, and the band Badly Drawn Boy are just some of the artists that have been influenced by The Zombies. Their songs are covered regularly by artists such as Beck and Belle and Sebastian and have been used in numerous film and TV shows, including “The Conjuring” and “The Simpsons.” Aside from The Beatles and perhaps The Beach Boys, no mid-’60s rock group wrote melodies as gorgeous as those of The Zombies.

The Narrows Center is located at 16 Anawan Street in Fall River, Mass. Tickets can  be purchased online by clicking HERE or by calling the box office at 508-324-1926. Box office hours are Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and during show times.

The Cassette Chronicles – BONNIE TYLER’S ‘SECRET DREAMS AND FORBIDDEN FIRE’

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.

BONNIE TYLER – SECRET DREAMS AND FORBIDDEN FIRE (1986)

The sixth solo album from Bonnie Tyler was the follow up release to her platinum selling Faster Than The Speed Of Night release that featured her mega-hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Like many, this is pretty much the main connection I ever had with Tyler’s music. Yes, there’s one other song of hers that I remember, but essentially it was all about “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. As with the Faster album, this release was produced by Jim Steinman (best known for his work with Meatloaf). Unfortunately for both Tyler and Steinman, this album wasn’t the commercial hit they probably hoped for. Instead, it actually became the last Tyler album to make any kind of dent in the US and the reviews were apparently mixed at best.

After listening to the album, I can kind of see why it turned out this way. There’s an undeniable sense of time and place given the production of the music. At first, I was kind of annoyed by just how dated the music sounded. I liked some stuff, but it was like Steinman and company couldn’t resist the urge to toss in flourishes that failed to enhance the songs at all.

It’s kind of a sad thing too. I know that there was a certain way the pop/rock music of the 1980’s was “supposed” to sound but I think if at least some of the songs on this album hadn’t been buried underneath all the studio wizardry, opinions might’ve been different.

The makeup of the album depended on the format you chose to listen to. The vinyl release had just eight songs, the CD had one bonus track. But with the cassette version of the album, there were two bonus tracks to go along with the original eight tracks.

The album did have a big hit in “Holding Out For A Hero” but technically that came two years before the release of the album. The song was used for the soundtrack to the movie Footloose, which is where it became a hit. It’s the only other song I really ever remember hearing from Tyler. It closes out the second half of the album and remains a song that I find hard to resist the urge to hum along to it.

But what about the rest of the songs? Well, it is a bit hit and miss but I think there are a number of songs that might be better than people thought back then. The first side of the album opens with “Ravishing” which has a catchy musical sound but the decision to make Tyler’s endearingly husky vocals sound as if they were recorded inside of an echo chamber kind of killed the momentum.

I will say that the song “If You Were A Woman (And I Was A Man)” fared better than I thought it would. Decidedly uptempo, it had a nice pop sensibility to it. So did “No Way To Treat A Lady”.

As for “Loving You’s A Dirty Job But Somebody’s Gotta Do It”, it’s an intriguing mix. The track is a duet with Todd Rundgren and at first the song was overly sappy. You’d need to check your blood sugar levels for the beginning of the song. But I was kind of surprised that the song began to grow on me as it progressed. The performances left sappy behind and grew more intense. It developed somewhat of an edge to it and ended up being far more enjoyable than I would’ve ever given it credit for considering how it started off.

The first of the two bonus tracks on the cassette was the song “Before This Night Is Through”. It closes out the first side and is a ballad thought a bit faster in the performance than is standard. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can really say about it as it wasn’t much more than a trifle.

The second side of the album opens with a cover of the hit song “Band of Gold”. That song was first recorded by Freda Payne but unlike the original version, Tyler’s version didn’t become a hit single. The song moves pretty quickly but other than having familiarity with the song, I didn’t really think much of this version. I could say the same about the song “Lovers Again”. The ballad is backed with a slight musical score but is just flat.

The song “Under Suspicion” is the second of the two bonus tracks and the slightly hushed performance gives the song an air of mystery to it musically. I really got into the song as a whole. As for the song “Rebel Without A Clue”, the most straight up rocker on the album, things started off great. I found myself immersed in the song. But the song is over eight minutes long and features a long instrumental outro that makes the track feel as if it is meandering along trying to find an end to itself. If they’d cut at least a couple of minutes from the song’s running time, I’d be talking more positively about it for sure.

I can’t say that critics back in the mid-80’s were completely wrong to dump all over Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire for the inability to resist the more pompous aspects of the decade’s pop music indulgences. However, there are certain tracks that are way better than they were ever given credit for. For me, that makes the album an interesting one to take a look back on. I get to discover more about an artist that I never really paid much attention to and realize that there was more to her than just her one big hit.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Of the ten songs on the album, Bonnie Tyler had just a sole co-writing credit on the song “Under Suspicion”. Meanwhile, Jim Steinman wrote or co-wrote four songs. Noted 80’s pop writer Desmond Child wrote “Lovers Again” and “If You Were A Woman (And I Was A Man)”. Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance wrote “No Way To Treat A Lady”.

Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg from The E Street Band were some of the featured players who recorded the music for the album.

 

Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre to peform at Narrows Center

Martin Barre, legendary guitarist for Jethro Tull, returns to the Narrows Center in Fall River, Mass., on June 23, 2019, at 8 p.m. The concert will feature Martin Barre’s stellar band performing Jethro Tull classics, such as “Locomotive Breath” and “Aqualung,” and many deep tracks. Purchase tickets HERE.

Barre’s sound and playing have been a major factor in Jethro Tull’s success. Album sales have exceeded 60 million units and they continue to be played worldwide, representing an important part of classic rock history.

Barre’s guitar playing has earned him a high level of respect and recognition. He was voted 25th best solo ever in the USA and 20th best solo ever in the UK for his playing on “Aqualung.” His playing on the album Crest of a Knave earned him a Grammy award in 1988. He also influenced such contemporary guitarists as Joe Bonamassa, Steve Vai, Joe Satrini and Eric Johnson.

As well as numerous Jethro Tull albums, Barre has worked with many other artists including Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Gary Moore, and Chris Thompson and has shared the stage with such legends as Jimmy Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

In 2015, Barre put together a band to play the “classic” music from the Tull catalogue.  His band is a total commitment to give Tull fans and a broader audience the chance to hear tracks not performed for many years.

The Narrows Center is located at 16 Anawan Street. Tickets to his show can be purchase online HERE or by calling the box office at 508-324-1926. For those wanting to purchase tickets in person, box office hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 12 noon to 5 p.m.

Photo - Martin Barre CC
Martin Barre (of Jethro Tull)

The Cassette Chronicles – SLEEZE BEEZ’S ‘SCREWED BLUED & TATTOOED’

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.

SLEEZE BEEZ – SCREWED BLUED & TATTOOED (1990)

Hailing from The Netherlands, Sleeze Beez released a debut album Look Like Hell in 1987 with a different singer. But for this 2nd album they recruited English singer Andrew Elt. It was a fortuitous decision on the band’s part because Screwed Blued & Tattooed is the band’s most recognizable release.

While it didn’t make them platinum superstars or anything, the relative success landed the band a slot opening for Skid Row on the touring cycle for this album and had a hit single with the song “Stranger Than Paradise”.

I had never listened to the band before now so I really had no familiarity with the material. I was kind of surprised to find it pretty enjoyable. Living up to the first half of their name, the band’s sound has a sleazy rock sound to it. A coworker that heard the album while I was listening to it said that the singer reminded him of Axl Rose. I don’t hear that myself but regardless, Elt’s vocals are usually pretty strong on the album.

The opening number, “Rock In The Western World” kicks things off in rousing rocking fashion. The lyrics are an ode to what would be considered the modern day lifestyle of rock stars back in 1990. Of course, the song resonates now because the lyrics can serve as a look back at time when they were actually true to the statement they make. It’s nice to have that kind of second life in a song written nearly 30 years ago I guess.

As for the rest of the first side of the album, it’s not bad at all. The previously mentioned “Strangers In Paradise” is a very strong track. While most of the songs are straight out rockers, on this particular track the band still rocks out but there’s more of a dark edgy feel to the song in the main lyrical verses. It made the song seem that much cooler.

At first, I was iffy on “Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don’t”, but the song ended up growing on me by the time it was over.

The first side was really good as it crackled with a rock and roll energy throughout. I wish that had carried over a bit more for side two of Screwed Blued & Tattooed though.

It opens with a weird little intro for “Heroes Die Young”. The song is a bit of anthemic rock done as an ode to those heroes from our collective past. This lyrical tact would normally be something I was completely into but this song just didn’t do it for me. And while I don’t typically have any kind of problem with a song like “Girls Girls, Nasty Nasty” the song was constructed in such a manner that there was just nothing worthy of listening to it again.

Missing from the first side of the album was any kind of ballad track. If that had continued on side two it might’ve been a good move. But as was the custom of the time, Sleeze Beez put “This Time” on the album. While the music establishes a moody atmosphere, the song is, at best, mediocre claptrap.

It wasn’t all bad though, because I loved a couple of songs on the second side. “When The Brains Go To The Balls” might lack any sense of subtlety but it is actually a invigorating rocker. The chorus does get buried a bit in the mixing but doesn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the song that much

As for “Don’t Talk About Roses”, I first thought it was going to be another ballad when I saw the title on the album booklet. Therefore, I was pretty happy to find that it was a pure rocker that got me tapping my foot to the rhythm. I would say that it is my favorite song on the album and I can’t wait to listen to it over and over again.

While Screwed Blued & Tattooed might not have made the band into global rock stars, it remains their most successful release. There was some cutting room floor material that made it onto the album but for the stuff that really shined, Sleeze Beez sure found a nice solid groove to slide into at the tail end of “The Metal Years”.

NOTE OF INTEREST: The band released a total of four studio albums and a live album before splitting up in 1996. They got back together in 2010 for two reunion shows and released the live album Screwed Live! In 2017, the band were interviewed by Limelight Magazine to celebrate their 30th anniversary. (Click HERE to read this story.) Singer Andrew Elt is now fronting the band 7 Miles to Pittsburgh whose debut made Limelight Magazine’s top 10 albums of 2017. They recently released their second studio album earlier this month.

The Cassette Chronicles – Kiss’s ‘Hot In The Shade’

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.

Magazine advertisement for “Hot In The Shade”

 KISS – HOT IN THE SHADE (1989)

As I wrote in my Cassette Chronicles article about the Kiss album Animalize, I really have never owned that many albums from the band. I’ve started to gather up a few of them here and there but still haven’t fully committed to owning their studio album discography. Well, that is until a recent opportunity came up that will likely allow me to scoop a number of the albums up on CD at a relatively inexpensive cost.

But until that happens, I still have one more cassette album of the band that I can write about for this series and that is their 1989 album Hot In The Shade. The album came out the year I graduated from high school but other than the two best known songs on the album, I never paid any attention to this one.

Those two hit songs would be the rocker “Hide Your Heart” and the big power ballad “Forever”. I still find myself quite entertained on the rare occasion that I hear “Hide Your Heart” on the radio. I can’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy “Forever” when it was released as a single but hearing it now kind of makes my teeth grind against themselves. Still, it was a pretty successful single for the band, hitting #8 on the chart.

Of course, restraint has never been a huge part of the Kiss vocabulary. This comes into play when I realized that Hot In The Shade has a total of 15 songs on the album. And I don’t mean a couple of brief instrumentals padding the album either. These are all full-length songs. Of course, given how pedestrian to outright unappealing some of the songs turned out to be, perhaps a little restraint would’ve been a better choice for the band to make.

The first side of the album starts out with “Rise To It”. The song was the third of three singles released from Hot In The Shade. Though I don’t remember having ever heard the song before, I can see why it was chosen as a single. The intro to the song is a cool little piece of music in its own right, but as the song gets fully underway, you can feel your blood pumping to the rhythm of this rocking anthem.

For me, I loved the pacing of “Betrayed” but I also found that the song kind of grated on my ears after a while. Still, it is better than the three songs that followed in in the track listing. I found “Prisoner of Love”, “Read My Body” and “Love’s A Slap In The Face” to be completely inane and would’ve been better served being left in the band’s archive for all time. All three songs had a more uptempo style but that didn’t save them from making me want to fast forward through them.

I will say that the closing song on side one, “Silver Spoon”, was fantastic. It’s a real rocking number that made me want to play it over and over again a few times.

The second side of the album started off in superb fashion with another rocker in the form of “Cadillac Dreams”. The guitar work on “The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away” but found the song as a whole merely just “OK”. I’d probably describe my reaction of “King of Hearts” and “Little Caesar” the same way.

But I loved the song “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” a lot. The chorus was especially catchy. As for the closing track “Boomerang”, that was a killer rock track. When I was researching the album for this article, I saw that the song is described as flirting with speed metal. I’m not completely sold on that particular designation but the way it blazed with it’s race to the finish pace, I can’t discount it completely. If I was to pick a song from the album for the band to do on what is being billed as the final concert tour, I’d love to see this one performed just to see how hard it would come across in a live setting.

The album’s initial sales figures got it a gold certification in the US. And I think that overall it is a pretty good album. But if they’d eliminated four songs from the release and cut the track listing down to a more reasonable/manageable eleven songs, it would’ve been that much stronger collective whole. There’s plenty here to keep your fandom for the band burning bright and while I’m not an official member of the Kiss Army, the good outweighs the bad on Hot In The Shade and shows that the band still had some songwriting chops even in the days of their sound being more commercially accessible.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Current Kiss guitarist Tommy Thayer co-wrote the songs “Betrayed” and “The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away”.

As I’m sure most Kiss fans know, the song “Forever” was co-written by Paul Stanley and pop crooner Michael Bolton.

Eric Carr sang the lead vocal on the song “Little Caesar”. It was the first time he sang lead on an original track. He had song the lead vocal on a remake of “Beth” that appeared on the Smashes, Thrashes & Hits compilation.

The English Beat to celebrate 40 years at Narrows Center

The English Beat will be making their debut appearance at the Narrows Center in Fall River, MA, on May 22 at 8 p.m. The band continues to dish out two-tone, ska, reggae and new wave, while mixing social commentary with danceability. Purchase tickets HERE.

Founded in 1979 by Dave Wakeling, The English Beat is a band with an energetic mix of musical styles and a sound like no other. Their infectious sound, which crosses fluidly between ska, soul, reggae, punk and rock, has allowed them to endure for four decades and appeal to fans of all ages all over the world.

Throughout their career, The English Beat has scored multi-platinum record sales, sold out shows and, most importantly, universal fan approval because they kept “The Beat” alive.

The English Beat founder Dave Wakeling (Photo by Bryan Kremkau)

Along with their contemporaries The Specials, The Selecter, and Madness, the band became an overnight sensation and one of the most popular and influential bands of the British Two-Tone Ska movement. By Christmas 1979, The Beat were riding high in the UK charts with their first single, a smoking remake of the classic Smokey Robinson tune “Tears of a Clown.” Over the course of the next five years, The Beat toured relentlessly and released three studio albums: I Just Can’t Stop ItWh’appen, and Special Beat Service.

Following a lengthy hiatus, Dave Wakeling continued to keep the music alive and strong, touring the world as The English Beat.

Now in their 40th year, The English Beat is still lead by Wakeling with an amazing all-star ska backing band that will play all their signature tunes, such as Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Save It For Later,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “Hands Off, She’s Mine,” and “I Confess,” as well as some covers, songs from General Public, and their 2016 studio album Here We Go Love, the band’s first new release since 1982’s Special Beat Service.

The Narrows Center is located at 16 Anawan Street. Tickets can be purchased online at narrowscenter.org or by calling the box office at 508-324-1926. For those wanting to purchase tickets in person, box office hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 12 noon to 5 p.m.