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.
HELIX – LONG WAY TO HEAVEN (1985)
It was just two weeks ago that I wrote about the Helix album Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge. In that article I mentioned how I had tried to listen to Long Way To Heaven a while back but the tape had imploded. I had planned to head off to a friend’s record shop where I knew he had another copy of that album. But that brief road trip turned out to be unnecessary. I was digging into The Big Box of Cassettes and was surprised to pull out another copy of Long Way To Heaven!
While it has happened before, I don’t typically make a habit of writing about the same band in back to back articles. But finding another copy of this album seemed like a sign to me and so here we are.
The Helix album Long Way To Heaven is the band’s fifth studio release. It falls in between Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge and Wild In The Streets. Since I love both of those albums, I had high hopes for this one as well.
And let’s just say that those hopes weren’t dashed against the rocks like a ship in a storm. Rather, I found this album to be pretty much in line with the albums that sandwich it in the band’s discography.
The album kicks off with “The Kids Are All Shakin'”, which was the second single released from Long Way To Heaven. It’s a lively ball of rock and roll energy with a nice hook to it, so I can see why it got released as a single. It’s a great way to start off an album.
Oddly enough, at least to me, the album’s first single was more of a power ballad. The song “Deep Cuts The Knife” is the second song on side one and it finds singer Brian Vollmer laying the vocals with a heaping helping of the emotions called for with the song’s lyrics. The music has the requisite tempo changes you’d expect from a ballad, with a more plaintive delivery in the main verses. But the chorus reflects more of a rocking pace. While I wouldn’t say that I was moved emotionally or anything, I did find myself actually enjoying the song as a whole.
If you are looking for that big rock anthem kind of song, you’d be remiss to pass by “Ride The Rocket”. I know that there’s a big double entendre in the reading of that song title but leaving that aside, the song is really good! You get the fast driving rock pacing but when you throw in the big backing vocal sound on the chorus, you get a pump your fist in the sky kind of feeling. I know that I got a burst of adrenaline as I listened.
The album’s title track was pretty rocking but I really dug the way “House On Fire” captured the band’s ability to rock your socks off. It’s a really great sounding performance that let’s the band’s combined abilities really shine through.
As for side two, I did like the opening track “Christine”, another bit of pure rocking energy. However, the second power ballad of the album, “Without You (Jasmine’s Song)” felt a bit off to me. Much like “Deep Cuts The Knife”, the music goes from slow balladry to a more rocking feel for the song’s chorus. But despite the similarity in musical template, there was just something I found missing with this song. Maybe it is just a case of just not liking the song rather than some deeper notion but either way, this track wasn’t for me.
But that bit of negativity aside, the rest of side two is damn good! On “School Of Hard Knocks”, the music starts off a bit slower (without drifting into ballad territory) but then picks up the pace and brings the some home to the listener.
Of course, even that track pales in comparison to the closing two songs on the album. “Don’t Touch The Merchandise” has a bit of that playful enticement I’ve noticed that Helix likes to put into their music and lyrics. It’s got that straight up rock pacing but gives you this groove to dig into at the same time.
Saving the best for last, the band finishes the album off with “Bangin’ Off-A-The Bricks”, which is just a killer rock and roll track with a touch of the anthem to it. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs on the album, one that I’d listen to over and over again without getting bored in the least.
It was a long road before I got to hear Long Way To Heaven for the first time but much like the other two albums I’ve written about in this series, I’ve come to quickly appreciate just how much Helix had going for them in the mid-1980’s. Discovering just how good their earlier material really was has me longing for the ability to travel back in time so that I could give the albums the appreciation they deserved back then.
NOTES OF INTEREST: Though the album was released in 1985, it wasn’t until 1999 that Long Way To Heaven got its first CD edition.
The video for “The Kids Are All Shakin” used a remix version of the song rather than the album version.
The band’s tour cycle for the album saw them open for Accept and Keel when not doing their own headline shows. According to the album’s Wikipedia page, they also did one off shows with Meatloaf and Heart.