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Piece Of Mind (Capitol/EMI) was not the first time I had heard of Iron Maiden, for my Uncle David was the Iron Maiden fan first. He had the debut album, along with Killers and the Maiden Japan EP, so outside of sitting down and holding the record covers so I could be introduced to the band’s mascot, Eddie, I was able to hear the rough and rugged heavy metal from a band fronted by Paul Di’Anno. However, I would say that my first proper introduction to the band was through the music videos that played on MTV in 1982, specifically from the band’s third album, The Number Of The Beast. MTV would play “Run To The Hills” and the title track like crazy, and I remember thinking to myself “this is a new singer”. That new singer would be Bruce Dickinson, and his voice was clearer and perhaps more… I don’t want to say operatic but he was truly a singer opposed to Di’Anno’s primal wails, which I liked but Dickinson was better. My uncle also had The Number Of The Beast, and I enjoyed not only the songs I was familiar with, but also “The Prisoner” and to this day, out of nowhere, I will say “who is number one? You are number six. I AM NOT A NUMBER, I AM A FREE MAN! Ah ha ha ha ha…”
The first Iron Maiden I ever bought was released in May of 1983. Piece Of Mind was cool to me because as a kid who was raised with Loggins & Messina albums, I knew of the song “Peace Of Mind” from the Sittin’ In album. But this was Piece Of Mind, as in someone is taking a chunk, a sliver of brain matter and it was going to be offered. At least that’s what I thought when I was 12. In the spring of 1983, the album was made known by its first single, the great “Flight Of Icarus”.
The video was different from the videos that the band had made so far, for now the group were shown in a recording studio creating the song. The video also introduced to the world new drummer Nicko McBrain, who may have also portrayed the character of Death in the video as he looks down at an ocean shore, and who also offers the camera a very big piece of brain to the camera. Nonetheless, the song seemed not so frantic as “Run To The Hills” or “The Number Of The Beast”, or at least to me it wasn’t frantic. It had a nice groove to it, and I loved it. I thought “yes, I have to get the album”.
Piece Of Mind was also the first Iron Maiden album I would immerse myself in, for while I enjoyed the hard and torrid sound of their music, I found some of the songs on this new album to be more developed and, at times, progressive. Their early albums (at least in the U.S.) were released on Harvest Records, whom I always associated with Pink Floyd. The new album was released on Capitol proper, and yet there seemed to be a move towards trying to make their songs a bit more dramatic thematically powerful. “Still Life”, with its backwards spoken word introduction (which says ” “What ho said the t’ing with the three ‘bonce’, do not meddle with things you don’t understand…” as spoken by McBrain), is an example of the direction the band felt like exploring and would do for many years to come.
“The Trooper” was the album’s second single, where the video seemed to be a slight throwback to the old film footage used in “Run To The Hills”. This was the energetic I loved where bassist Steve Harris played his instrument like a jazz pianist, while the twin guitar power of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith was like a more electrifying version of the type of bluesy Southern Rock the Allman Brothers Band had made famous in the late 60′s/early 70′s. One might not immediately think of The Allman Brothers Band while hearing Iron Maiden but the proof is there in the riffs and solos. On top of that, McBrain’s drumming showed more versatility than that of previous drummer Clive Burr, and that’s not taking away anything from the greatness Burr made in his time with the band, but McBrain was (and is) on another level with his playing, and “The Trooper” was proof of this.
The album’s opening track, “Where Eagles Dare”, came off like the Iron Maiden from the first two albums, with that type of juggernaut attack that Murray, Smith, and Harris had made famous throughout Europe, Japan, and South America, and slowly throughout the United States, and Dickinson was showing that he could easily do the type of singing comparable to Ronnie James Dio. “Revelations” shows why the band became representatives of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), where it sounded like they enjoyed the progressive rock energy of early Judas Priest, the uncut sexual prowess of the Scorpions, and the bluesy bite of Led Zeppelin and turned it into something that hadn’t been done in this fashion before. One can listen to it now and go “oh, that’s King Crimson flavored” or “that could be something Rainbow tried in the late 70′s” but now it was becoming the Maiden song, which would lead countless teenagers to want to form their own bands and rock out in their own way. “Die With Your Boots On” continued to show the band’s fascination with the military and being involved in wars and sacrificing their lives for the love of country. What I loved about the song is Dickinson’s background vocals during the bridge where he sings “and you’re gonna die”, he does it differently from his normal singing voice but does it with a bit of bravery and snide sarcasm, as if to say “I’m dying for you, what are you going to do for me?”
The album ends with “To Tame A Land”, a song where the band go through a number of different textures, emotions, and song structure, something they would take to higher levels with “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” (from their follow-up album Powerslave) and the title track to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. It showed that the band were more than capable of exploring new worlds and themes, taking the listener into deeper thought processes that in truth was always there since the first album. Except this time, it was on a progressive rock label that most heavy metal bands of that time were not doing. It was something that the next wave of metal groups, specifically those of the thrash and speed metal varieties, would take to heart, especially groups like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, Dark Angel, and Death Angel (with the fantastic 10 minute instrumental, “The Ultra Violence”, oddly enough used recently for a string of commercials for the Carl’s Jr/Hardees burger chain).
As with most heavy metal bands, Iron Maiden were championed by headbangers throughout the United States, they were something new that was not Black Sabbath, who despite now having Dio as a vocalist, was still considered old school, but a champion of the old and cherished ways. Iron Maiden represented a new breed of hard rock that England always embraced, and they were considered pioneers of the genre. What made Piece Of Mind different was that it was the first Maiden album to be majorly pushed by MTV promotion. Sure, MTV did place two videos from The Number Of The Beast into heavy rotation but MTV also played Def Leppard, Dio, and Rainbow videos within Haircut 100, Culture Club, and Joe Jackson videos too. The difference is that the new album could be promoted with help from MTV, a deliberate push because after almost two years of existence, MTV were proving to be the way to get music to as many people as possible in one time. It used to be where radio promotion meant dealing with local and regional program and music directors, MTV essentially cut that out and went directly to the millions of people who had cable (or who lived in homes that had cable) and got into their consciousness that way. While Piece Of Mind only had two singles/videos, it was more than enough to get the word out about its existence. That didn’t make them an MTV band the way Def Leppard were becoming at the time, for Def Lep’s pop qualities helped crossed them over. Piece Of Mind may have arguably had some pop touches, but barely, and if Def Leppard became the hard rock band the ladies could like, then Iron Maiden would remain the music of the working man or, to add to existing stereotypes, “hard enough for the ladies to love too”, as if women couldn’t love aggressive metal. Shame on them.
In rock’n'roll, it is known that if an artist makes it to a third album, they may remain successful for the rest of their careers, however long they plan on taking it. As the band’s fourth album, Piece Of Mind showed a group that may sound comfortable but they also had something to risk with a new drummer in their lineup. It is the Dickinson/Harris/Murray/Smith/McBrain lineup, started with this album, that would take the band around the world many times over and keep them on the top of the heavy metal chain for years. The group may have taken a risk by sharing a piece of their minds with listeners, but it proved to be a very successful risk, and one that they have done and continue to do very well.
In that era of music in the 1990′s that was alternative friendly, it’s still sad that The Muffs were not on the top of the game. Then again, if that meant being MTV darlings and having massive product endorsements… well, The Muffs were briefly apart of that when “Everywhere I Go” was used for a Fruitopia commercial, but despite being on a major label (Warner Bros.) and being able to rock out in anyway possible, they did not achieve the kind of fame and stardom their contemporaries were able to obtain. Sure, part of the industry were signing anything and everything that was Seattle, which lead to countless bands actually moving to the Seattle area, wearing lumberjack flannels, and adjusting their looks to “be Seattle”. The Muffs were born and raised in the Los Angeles, and were proud of this fact, but for whatever reason, their music did not catch on to the masses/them masses. More for fans.
I believe I had first heard about The Muffs in an issue of Flipside, when they were one of the hot upcoming bands of the L.A. scene and I’d read their concert reviews and occasional interviews. To me, they came off as energetic and powerful, all without me ever hearing a note. The articles would always mention that vocalist/guitarist Kim Shattuck and guitarist Melanie Vammen were original members of The Pandoras. They were a band I was familiar with only by name, as I had remember seeing them neitoned a few times in Rip magazine but I had never made the effort to listen to or buy their music. I had always felt that it was odd that The Pandoras were mentioned in a magazine that was primarily hard rock and heavy metal, but the early issues of Rip were a bit more diverse than what they would become, as I would eventually hear about groups like The Goo Goo Dolls, Flaming Lips, and whatever Henry Rollins felt like doing. Nonetheless, The Pandoras were a thing of the past, and The Muffs were something completely different. On top of that, what band would actually name themselves The Muffs? Was it a pubic reference? Something for the ears? Maybe a guitar pedal of voice? When I heard The Muffs were going to be signed to a major, I thought that was ballsy because here was a band with that name, going to be pushed by a major label. I felt that was awesome. On a selfish note, Shattuck and Vammen were attractive to me but I thought cool, if these ladies are rocking, I want to hear it. Bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Criss Crass: not attractive at all, but what do I know? In May of 1993, the CD arrived in the mail and I pressed play.
The Muffs is a 17-track album (or in truth, 16 tracks plus a bonus hidden track at the end of the album) that defined Shattuck, Vammen, Barnett, and Crass as a powerful punk band with incredible pop tendencies, reflective of the music of the short-but-sweet songs of the late 50′s and early 60′s but with the power and volume of the late 70′s and early 80′s. None of the songs went over four minutes, with a few clocking in at under two, and the lyrics touched on personal experiences that related to love and relationships, but done in a fashion that sounded extremely passionate in a rock’n'roll way. “Lucky Guy”, the opening track on the album (and the second single from the album) touched on a man who was doing nothing but being a bum at home and living “the good life” in his own mind, while Shattuck found grief in someone who felt like he could “do anything in life and taking it easy”, as if all that mattered. The second scream Shattuck does when she says “I don’t know why” sounded horrifying, and from that moment I had a feeling that this album would be quite good.
On the same note, a group out of New York called Luscious Jackson were signed to the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label, and had come out with the In Search Of Manny EP. They had a song on their called “Life Of Leisure” that also spoke of a man who was asked “why you wanna waste away, lover of the life of leisure” and it felt like the perfect 1-2 punch for all men who wanted to be in a relationship with someone but didn’t want to do anything but be lazy. Had The Muffs and Luscious Jackson toured, it would have been perfect.
After the megablast of “Lucky Guy”, it is followed up by a track that perfectly compliments the negative energy of what came before. “Saying Goodbye” comes off as a song of sorrow, but Shattuck’s optimistic vocal performance has a hint of partial sarcasm and full on happiness. The bitter sweetness of it almost has the feel of a girl group sound going the wrong way, but in the end becoming the right and only way.
“Everywhere I Go”, the first single released off of The Muffs, could easily stand alongside songs by The Breeders, Belly, The Replacement, and Throwing Muses, with a chorus that touches on someone loving the fact that her man is there, but the lack of space and breathing room causes her to wish for some quiet time. In a way, one could say it was her talking to Sting’s character that he created in The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, the man who had an urge to watch his woman everywhere she chose to go.
“Better Than Me” is a rough and rugged song with wicked guitar work from Vammen, as Shattuck looks over the lack of equality of the sexes, and how she wishes to do her thing on her own terms, so she indirectly states that he needs to steer clear of her path.
Track 9 was “Big Mouth”, the third and final single from the album, and one clocking in at a nice and wholesome 1:51. The song is a not-so-healthy exchange of words that have to do with the words passed between one another, and how a negative experience leads to blame and anger.
The rest of the album is a rollercoaster of emotions, with songs that touch on everything from jealousy, envy, fear, and a bit of hope. In fact, by the time the album reaches “I Need You” (originally released as a 45 in Sub Pop’s Singles Of The Month series in 1992), it seems the anger that begins the album has turned into the opposite, with desires wanting to be met but with the kind of fierce screams from Shattuck that may make listeners go “holy shit, this woman is insane” but it is those insane screams that was one element of The Muffs’ charm, where Shattuck was able to go back and forth between being infuriated while also asking for what she wants out of a relationship, in her own way. In a way, fans of the band could appreciate this because these were not songs relating to teen love, this was grown-up stuff, what could lead to fights at a nightclub or at the apartment. Maybe their songs were the soundtrack to a number of relationships in the 1990′s, or it may have been a guidebook of sorts on what to expect in moments of love, for better or worse. If anything, Shattuck’s vocal and lyric strength came off as someone who wasn’t about to stand there and have shit thrown her way. She was going to fight it out because she wanted to be heard. If, as Stacy Lattisaw once said, love was on a two way street that was lost on a lonely highway, Shattuck had no problem in finding another route to get to a destination of choice.
The group did a healthy amount of touring for their debut album, but by the time they released their second album two years later, they were a trio, with Vammen leaving the band and Crass being replaced by Redd Kross drummer Roy McDonald, who has remained with the group to this day. The Muffs ended up staying with Warner Bros./Reprise for two more albums before becoming independent, where the band has released only a small handful albums but each having the same kind of passion, power, and fortitude (sure, let’s add vim and vigor in there as well) that has made them stand out from the rest. Sure, maybe one of the band’s biggest glories was being on the soundtrack to Clueless doing a cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” or having their sticker seen on Billie Joe Armstrong’s guitar in the video for Green Day’s “Longview”:
but I’d like to think that their fans know that the output they have managed to release in 20+ years is glory in itself, and I’m proud to still be one of their fans.
As a Prince fan, I had been waiting to find out what his follow-up to Sign ‘O’ The Times would be. Sign ‘O’ The Times was an album that had to grow on me in the first month I was listening to it, perhaps because his previous album (1986′s Parade) was one I got into completely. There was a lot of territory covered on Sign ‘O’ The Times that I had to, as he says in “Slow Love”, take my time in listening to things. Up to the release of Sign ‘O’ The Times, there was a lot of coverage in Rolling Stone magazine about the album he was working on, and how that was scrapped and turned into the record we now know. When the singers were released and Prince was ready to try something new, more news in Rolling Stone surfaced that he was working on a grittier, dirtier, and raunchy album, perhaps even more filthy than his earlier works, or at least it was compared to the Prince of yesteryear, before he was embraced by the mainstream post-Purple Rain. I was highly looking forward to this new dose of dirty music, but as time moved on in the early spring of 1988, there was word that Prince was not happy, that he allegedly rejected this submitted album, almost as in a way to say “if I were to die, I don’t want this to be my last statement”. However, review copies of The Black Album were sent to journalists and that became the hot item to have. Except most people didn’t have it or couldn’t obtain it, at least not yet. Eventually, Warner Bros. Records revealed that Prince would be releasing something that would be more acceptable/accessible to the public. No black cover, no raunchy songs, and with the exception of one song, no trace of anything that was on The Black Album.
When Lovesexy was released on May 10, 1988, “Alphabet St.” was the first single from it, promoted by a video that looked like it was shot on a public access cable show with the cheapy graphics to match. The song was incredibly funky with a nice pop shine, but due to how irresistible it was, fans loved it enough to help get it into the Top 10 of Billboard’s Singles chart.
As with most first singles, this was the entry way into an album that, in effect, represented The Black Album‘s replacement album, but people seemed to be taken aback by him sitting nude with a photograph of a flower behind him. Some had felt the flower featured a phallic component that represented its penis, which made things worse for stores who refused to sell the album. In some cities, the album cover was censored while other stores would sell them behind the counter, the old school practice way of selling something to the public that was considered offensive. In some cases, the album would not be stocked which resulted in lower-than-expected sales, which is sad considering how good Lovesexy is.
The album was supported by three singles: the aforementioned “Alphabet St.”, “Glam Slam”, and “I Wish U Heaven”. “Glam Slam” was one of Prince’s great efforts at making pop, right alongside “Raspberry Beret”, and the video featured him and his group performing at the warehouse in Chanhassen, Minnesota that was his rehearsal space at Paisley Park studios. The song is meant to be a representation of love and beauty in the way Prince does it best, but it did not do as well as a single as “Alphabet St.”, at least in the U.S.
The third and final single was the short and sweet “I Wish U Heaven”, another pop gem that seemed to be influenced by everyone from Sly Stone to Larry Graham to Curtis Mayfield, with nice gospel overtones heard in Prince’s own multi tracked background vocals. As quirky as the song was, with its 1960′s pop single length of 2:43, it seemed to be pure perfection. While Prince was a master of releasing extended performances of his songs, a song like “I Wish U Heaven” very much showed that there was someone who was very much the king of pop in his own right, when he could be.
Even in the seven months following the release of Lovesexy, I always wondered if Prince made the right choices in singles. While “Glam Slam” is a decent song, “Anna Stesia” is far more incredible although perhaps the spiritual overtones of the second half may have been considered a threat to pop radio, even though I’d like to think it would have been a massive hit on the black charts. It’s a song where he proudly finds a love he can’t get enough of:
“Anna Stesia come to me
Talk to me, ravish me
Liberate my mind
Tell me what you think of me
Praise me, craze me
Out this space and time”
The second half of the song almost seems like a much lighter version of “Temptation” from Around The World In A Day, but again, not released as a single. Nonetheless, it was a moving way to end Side 1, and the opening song on Side 2 should have been released as a single too. “Dance On” was irresistible from the moment he yells “PICK IT UP”, but at a time when R&B music was not this deep in the pocket, it may have been too much. The only song from The Black Album that survived on Lovesexy was “When 2 R in Love”, a beautiful ballad that might have thrown off some fans, who knew this was from the raunchy album but outside of talking about things that shouldn’t be forbidden and taboo, it seemed fairly safe for a Prince song. A video was made for it, but like the album it was originally meant for, it consisted of nothing but black.
Lovesexy ends with “Positivity”, with the line “have you had your plus sign today?” a part of its chorus. It seemed to be the antithesis to what The Black Album was supposed to represent, a bit of Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde, a Prince with two personalities, one feeling completely guilty of the other. For the time being, no one had heard The Black Album and had nothing to compare it to. However, by the summer of 1988, cassette copies were being circulated by fans, some of which were sold in stores as the real thing. For many, The Black Album was the real thing, or at least better than the “thing” that fans felt was Lovesexy, the untouchable album that few wanted to hear, yet alone hold in their hands. The speed of distribution and bootleg sales were so strong, it moved a group of anonymous British musicians to perform The Black Album note for note and pass it off as being a dub of the album. The most noticeable differences is when you hear British men say “2 Nigs United 4 West Compton” with a British accent. Did underground sales and distribution of The Black Album do better than Lovesexy? Some will say yes, but it didn’t stop Warner Bros. from finally releasing the album six years later.
Looking back at “Alphabet St.” and its success, would “Anna Stesia” and “Dance On” have been more successful than “Glam Slam” and “I Wish U Heaven”? No one would ever think “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “U Got The Look” (from Sign ‘O’ The Times) would become hits in their own right, but they were. Lovesexy should not be looked at as the replacement album, because now that we do have The Black Album available, it can be placed between Sign ‘O’ The Times and Lovesexy. Or just like countless hip-hop artists, consider it his street album, which is exactly what it is. Prince may love being uptown, but The Black Album was his downtown release. Lovesexy holds up quite well despite the flaws I may have felt upon first listen, and is arguably the last bit of glory in the 1980′s before he released Batman and Graffiti Bridge in 1990. Was this the start of Prince running out of ideas or coming up with great songs? It’s easy to debate about it, but Prince would eventually come up with tracks like “Joy In Repetition”, “Scandalous”, “Thieves In The Temple”, “Money Don’t Matter 2 Nite”, “Diamonds & Pearls”, “Strollin’”, “Live 4 Love”, “The Morning Papers”, “Blue Light”, “Come”, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”, “Dolphin”, and “Had U”, and these songs barely skim the surface of what Prince has done in the 25 years since Lovesexy. If one is to look at Prince’s discography, you can either love the hits and only the hits, or take him on for the duration. Prince has tested the limits of not only his fans, but very much himself, and Lovesexy is barely an album that people should complain about it. We’re still talking about its music 25 years later, and he should be proud of that fact. Yet most likely, he spends less time talking about what was and continuing on with what will come next. Maybe Prince himself.
My introduction to Public Enemy came through the Less Than Zero soundtrack, released on November 6, 1987. I was a fan of rap music, but I was also a headbanger, saluting the almighty power of heavy metal. The soundtrack was promoted as featuring tracks by Aerosmith, Danzig, Poison, and Slayer, and it was the latter’s cover of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” that made me want to buy it so I could play it on the high school radio station I was a DJ for. The format of the radio station was hard rock/heavy metal, along with classic rock. I’d play the songs by Aerosmith, Poison, and Slayer, and enjoyed doing so, being the only station in the area that played these songs.
Then I decided to flip the record over to side 2.
I had never heard of anything quite like “Bring The Noise”, the horns coming down like elephants running on a field, followed by a loud “YEAH BOYYEEE!” and a deep tone voice that said “BASS!” WHOA, what is this? I loved the force of the vocals, and I absolutely fell in love with the multi-layered sounds. Up until that point, a rap song had one primary sample and a scratch, maybe two primary samples but no more. This song felt like entering a vulgar room where everyone seemed to be speaking at once, or at least Chuck D.’s voice, Flavor Flav’s quick spits, and the samples going on all at once felt too much to take, but I wanted to take it. This lead to Flav feeling exactly what I was feeling when he said “I don’t understand what they’re saying
but little do they know they can get a smack for that, man” and out came Chuck saying “never badder than dad cause the brother is madder than mad at the fact that’s corrupt as a senator”. HOLY SHIT! The wicked drums (courtesy James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”) pounded out doubles, and out came “soul on a roll, but you treat it like soap on a rope ’cause the beats in the lines are so dope”. Did I understand what he was saying at the time? Absolutely not, it would take months before I could figure it out, but what I also loved was that Chuck D. did each of the verses different from one another, the flows were not the same. The rhythmic patterns seemed complex, or at least hard to grasp upon first listen.
Then it came to the third verse, and I about freaked out when someone in rap had mentioned Sonny Bono and Yoko Ono. As someone who always admired the underdog, it seemed Chuck D. was putting himself amongst these two underdogs. Not mentioning Cher, not mentioning John Lennon, but going for other. I loved it. I caught the references to Eric B. and LL, but then came the great line “wax is for Anthrax”. Hold up. HOLD THE FUCK UP. Did Flavor Flav just give a shout out to Anthrax, and did Chuck D. just say that they also could rock the bells. I loved Metallica, but I LOVED Anthrax and I know I put the needle back to make sure I heard things correctly. From that point on, I realized that this was a group that could do this, like Brutus, because they themselves always knew this. I must have played “Bring The Noise” over and over for a solid hour, and from that point on I avoided playing the rest of the album.
When Spin magazine wrote a year-end rap up, one of the reviews touched on some new released on Def Jam. One of them was Original Concept’s Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High. The other was Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show. I was a Def Jam devotee, so I was freaked out when I learned Public Enemy had an album out. I bought both, loved both. When I first heard the “get down” in “Miuzi Weighs A Ton”, I initially thought it was a Joe Walsh/James Gang sample. I found out it was Flavor Flav, but I learned that later. I later read an article about the 12″ for “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, which people were buying because of its B-side, “Rebel Without A Pause”. I eventually found a copy of that, and I loved the song immediately. I loved the loop and how it seemed to keep on going and going and going, almost felt endless. It was meditative, it was mind blowing, it was mind numbing. When the scratches kicked in, it was heaven.
In March 1988, I had heard about the group releasing a new single off of their forthcoming album, but the way I interpreted the review, “Prophets Of Rage” was the A-side. When I bought the 12″ at Eli’s, I played and listened to it as such, and always played “Don’t Believe The Hype” as a bit of a sloppy B-side. (It wasn’t until later in 1988 that I learned the song was the A-side, after reading how the song was used as introduction for athletes.) I was two months away from ending my senior year in high school when I decided to play one of these songs on the radio station I was on. Keep in mind that it was a hard rock/heavy metal station, so the only way I could play it was on April Fool’s Day, as a “joke”. However, I had a different motive. When I played a rap song on the radio, it was never as a laugh, it was a way to play the music I also loved, to perhaps turn on fans to this group that I had only known from “Bring The Noise”, “Rebel Without A Pause”, and their first album. I’m glad to say that I may have been the first person to play “Prophets Of Rage” on a radio station in eastern Washington state.
Even if “Prophets Of Rage” and “Don’t Believe The Hype” were mere cues of what was to come, nothing could have ever prepared me for the reality of what would be.
I bought my copy of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back on the week of the release date. My version of the cover was the yellow B-boy target with red outline and a green line between the words PUBLIC and ENEMY. Two men in a jail cell, looking bad ass, not afraid, always confident. The back cover featured a photo of Chuck, Flav, DJ Terminator X, Professor Griff and the S1W’s standing in a jail cell while stepping on the American flag. I enjoyed the social politics that John Lennon touched on in his music and life, and while I was far from an activist, I liked knowing about what some musicians would do to speak out on things that mattered to them, and things they were against. That photo was surrounded by shots of screenshots taken from a surveillance camera. This seemed serious, and it was time that I put the record on my turntable.
Still, I was not ready.
“Hammersmith Odeon, are you ready for the Def Jam tour, let me hear you make some noise!
In concert for BBC Television tonight and the fresh start of the week, let me hear you make some noise for PUBLIC ENEMY!
The crowd goes nuts, and then it happens. The siren.
“PEACE. ARMAGEDDON HAD BEEN IN EFFECT, GO GET A LATE PASS. STEP!
THIS TIME AROUND, THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED. STEP!
CONSIDER YOURSELVES… WARNED!”
Then “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” from the first album starts, followed by Griff yelling out “alright, let’s make some fuckin’ noise! C’mon, let’s break this shit out and get busy!” before it fades. I still wasn’t ready.
Malcolm X is then heard talking about how when it’s “too black”, it means it’s “too strong”. It is played a second time, slightly louder. Then “Bring The Noise” comes in. It’s the first full song on the album, and it hits things off beautifully. I know this song, and yet it fits perfectly as the starting point on this journey. I was slightly comfortable, but barely. This would lead to “Don’t Believe The Hype” and as an album cut, it fit quite nicely too. Chuck D. and Flavor Flav’s flows were quite nice bouncing back and forth when needed. This felt like a track of information, where one was able to listen to one page of their agenda, their manifesto. It was their way of saying that whatever you ear, don’t believe the bullshit, or cut through it and discover the facts for yourself. The one line from the song that remains very strong in my mind is “suckers, liars, get me a shovel”, and I’ll spring that out at any given them when necessary.
The next track was a fun track, the first solo song by Flavor Flav, and after getting bombarded with serious information, it was time to get down and funky for a few minutes as he drops
“live lyrics from the bank of reality
I kick the flyest dope maneuver technicality
To a dope track, you wanna hike get out your backpack
Get out the wack sack
I’m in my Flavmobile cole lampin
I took this G upstate go campin’
To the Poconos, we call the hideaways
A pack of franks and a big bag of Frito-Lays”
Did it matter what he was saying, and that he just seemed to be rattling off shit like crazy? No, but did it sound good? As the samples in the song said clearly, “YEAH!” This song was the first to truly establish Flavor Flav’s steez, and everyone fell in love with what William Drayton was all about.
“Terminator X To The Edge” of panic was not the first song to present their DJ in music, but it was the first song where he was mentioned in the song title, and with a sample that was merely the sample source of “Rebel Without A Pause” flipped backwards, it just seemed that Public Enemy were wanting to pull in people into their world, in whatever way worked. “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?” was a line that stood out like a pitchfork into the skull, pretty much stating that one does not need an award to achieve a level of success, or to complete a mission that involves making a statement.
“Mind Terrorist” might seem like a minor interlude, but it seemed to present It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back as a concert performance, and this was a brief intermission before the next movement.
“Louder Than A Bomb” opened up with a Kool & The Gang sample before Flav spoke on how Public Enemy are from hell, and if someone ever said he and the group would celebrate the 4th of July, it is very much a “worldwide lie”. Some of Chuck D.’s lyrics in this, including about his phone being tapped, pave the way for the next song, but until that is heard, Chuck is about telling the untold stories once and for all, and his messages are going to be offensively loud.
The first Side ends with the incredible “Caught, Can We Get A Witness”, where Chuck talks about stealing a beat in the name of sampling, and how people are after people like him for taking music to create another song. 25 years later, hearing Flav talk about how no one can copyright beats seems a few world’s away, and yet this was the start of the industry and lawyers looking at the value of rap music not for its lyrics or messages, but as a means of violating copyright. By the end of Side 1, Public Enemy have accumulated enough ammunition for a battle, but again, I was not ready.
Side 2 begins with another interlude, “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got”, which may be a way to re-introduce the listener to the program that is the album, but for listeners to come back from intermission, to let everyone know that with every side, there is a flip side, the B-side.
I loved when I first heard “She Watch Channel Zero?!”, as it starts with Flav’s message to his lady about watching garbage on television. Then the music begins and it’s a sample of Slayer’s “Angel Of Death”, flipping the original meaning of the song and showing that TV’s perceived angelic ways could slowly lead to a mental death. Kerry King’s and Jeff Hanneman’s guitar riffs, mixed in with the repetitious “she watch” looped vocal sample, was one way of entering the lure of the boob tube and trying to get out before one is fully trapped by the ways of the cathode ray. Everything about this song is excellent, a solid piece of genius where the music is a drone duplicating the ugliness of TV. Flav has a simple solution: “read a book or something, read about yourself, learn your culture.”
“Night Of The Living Baseheads” touches on the evils of drugs, specifically the crack epidemic that was pulling in a lot of people in the mid to late 1980′s, specifically the black community in the inner cities of the United States and England. While it did reach the higher levels of corporate America, crack was hurting millions of people because this new cheap means of a high was pulling people down below the doldrums. The entire song is structured as a dialogue from the introduction of crack to its destruction, complete with Chuck D’s “how low can you go?” sample being scratched all over the place before Chuck himself answers his own question by looking at the faces of crack’s downfall.
“Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” is one of the highlights of the album, where Chuck finds himself in prison because the government wanted him to join the U.S. Army, and he refused to enroll. Upon finding himself homeless in prison, he comes up with a plan to escape beyond the wall. It features metaphors that include the Underground Railroad, but one could also say that the United States itself is a prison and one must escape its ways in order to find a home and some sense of sanity. With each verse, Chuck covers his plan by step-by-step, bringing the listener in as if they are at one with he and the the “53 brothers on the run”. The moment when Chuck D. says “and we are gone” and Flav is cheering with passion, it’s easily one of the boldest statements ever made in hip-hop, because like the Native American in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen in “Deacon Blues”, “this brother is free” and we’re all in support of someone obtaining the freedom many die trying to grasp.
“Security of the First World” is another interlude, a temporary intermission that allows the group and listener to regroup after the blast of “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”, only to pave the way for the album’s three song finale.
“Rebel Without A Pause” comes out of hiding from its presence as a non-LP B-side to becoming a solid album track, also adding to the pieces of the It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back puzzle. The bass is deafening, the saxophone is numbing, and the power of James Brown (and JB-related) samples is causing a mean ripple effect that is like you looking at yourself in a mirror looking at yourself, looking at yourself looking at yourself until its infinity is too much to bare. When Chuck D. says “we’re on a mission, y’all”, we then realize that we the listener are being exposed to the blueprint, and we’re close to finding where all of this will lead.
“Prophets Of Rage” turns the corner, and every emotion that was built with “Rebel Without A Pause” continues with a revelation of who and what these songs are for:
“With vice, I hold the mic device
With force I keep it away, of course
And I’m keeping you from sleeping
And on the stagem, I rage and I’m rolling
To the poor, I pour in on in metaphors
Not bluffing, it’s nothing that we ain’t did before
We played, you stayed, the points made
You consider it done by the prophets of rage”
Flav then tells Griff and the S1W’s to proceed with the completion of the mission by adjusting their coordinates, leading to the eventual proclamation of the master plan.
“Party For Your Right To Fight” ends the album by revealing the master plan, the manifesto, the moral of the story. While hip-hop music may have originated as a party vibe, they turn the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” and turns it into something much more serious than just drinking and getting wasted for the hell of it. In the mind of Public Enemy, one should use their minds to turn the world into a better place for themselves and all. Both Chuck and Flav rap the entire song together, both rapping in their own styles and Flav dropping in a few ad-libs along the way. By combining Sly & The Family Stone, Bobby Byrd, and Bob Marley in the mix, they mention the origins of their commitment to the rights of themselves, and in turn, all. It is the third and final verse where Chuck and Flav mention what they are fighting for:
To those that disagree, it causes static
For the original Black Asiatic man
Cream of the earth and was here first
And some devils prevent this from being known
But you check out the books they own
Even masons they know it but refuse to show it, yo
But it’s proven and fact
It takes a nation of millions to hold us back
It’s about fighting for recognition, for honor, for respect, for everything that someone else doesn’t want to provide, or will take away, from the other. If no one fights, the presence of a people and consciousness will disappear, or be re-interpreted by someone else, or perhaps completely disappear from existence.
While I am not of African descent, I also listened to this album as a way to describe what it means to be Hawaiian. I looked myself as someone who now represents less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population, and while I am not a full-blooded Hawaiian, I like to think i remain an element of the land I came from and the people who made me who I am today. While my views may be different from those who are back home, I remain someone who wishes to be recognized for who I am and for what I do before I and my people no longer have a chance.
I wore a Public Enemy T-shirt during high school, and when catching the bus home, I was asked by the driver “so, you’re a public enemy?” I said, “yes, I am”. She gave me a small smile and I sat down. I was the only kid in my high school with that P.E. shirt, and I was looked at by everyone. No one understood me or where I was coming from, so in a very small way, I did feel like a public enemy, or at least an outcast. As a 17-year old high school student angry at the world, angry at my situation and fighting for a way to want and demand more, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was an album that showed that one can’t sit around and allow the world to pass you by. Sometimes we get stuck on a dead end street, but it’s never late to fight, even if that fight feels like a one-man battle. Throughout life, one learns that those fights are sometimes not good when done alone. Whether it’s a million, or ten-thousand, one hundred, or five, nothing can hold us back but ourselves. Whether it’s for Africa, for Jamaica, for Japan, for Germany, for Thailand, for Brazil, for Argentina, or for field workers throughout California, that “nation” once talked about by Chuck D. and Flavor Flav is very much a worldwide thing, a Marley style “one love” if we allow it to be. The fight discussed throughout the album may not have been my own, but I felt I could appreciate it as one that was very similar to mine. It was with this album that I learned about people that were not discussed during high school, including Louis Farrakhan and Assata Shakur, so to have these references flying out in lyric form was like hearing audio sidebars, so that I could remember them for future use.
25 years later, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back remains my favorite hip-hop album of all time because of its message, its musicality, its strength and power, and its inclusion into music creativity. For some of us, getting that late pass mentioned by Professor Griff was a passage way towards a door which lead to another message: “you want to know more, or keep your head in the ground?” There have been a number of hip-hop albums that have followed in the spirit of, but none will match the aftershocks that came after the siren made itself known on this record. It will forever be a benchmark, an album that should always be discussed as an important document in hip-hop.
Everyone has their music origins, and I definitely remember some of the first records that were in my parents’ collection or in the house of my uncle. Santana’s Abraxas, Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and El Chicano’s Viva Tirado were albums favored by my mom and dad, while Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality was what I craved when I had to stay next door with my Uncle Wayne. These records had a big influence on my outlook of not only music, but album covers and how art and design had a role in how music was interpreted. In my case, I was a three and four year old having to figure out what these images were and what, if anything, they had to do with what was coming out of the speakers. I’ve talked about how John Rowles’ “Cheryl Moana Marie” and Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” also played roles in my life as something that was more than records found within the box of 45′s that were near our stereo in California. Yet looking at everything I’ve ever listened to, there is one album for me that reigns near the top as the monarch of everything.
Houses Of The Holy was my introduction to Led Zeppelin, and what an introduction. It was a record that was played loud everywhere I went, and when records were played loud, I couldn’t help but to listen. I’d sit in the living room as a three year old, with the album cover in my lap and wondering who these naked kids were. Where are their parents, I’m sure I asked myself. Where are they going? What are these holes they’re coming from, and where is this mysterious place? Who is that man on the inside, and is he going to throw the girl down the mountain? How come everything is orange, yellow, blue, and green? So many questions but no answers were to come upon staring at this cover for 40 minutes at a time.
As I approached the double digits in age, I would have a few more Led Zeppelin records, including Led Zeppelin III and the (untitled 4th album). In my early teens, I had all of their albums on cassette, specifically the Atlantic reissues from the late 70′s. It had come as a shock when I discovered drummer John Bonham died, which meant I could never see them in concert. From what one of my uncles had told me, Led Zeppelin had played in Honolulu a number of times before they were banned for life. That was his story, and for years I believed it. I later discovered that those Honolulu shows were done before and including the (untitled 4th album) but once they reached a certain level of success, they were not to return to Hawai’i for shows ever again. In turn, Led Zeppelin created a mystique which lead to false rumors, until I discovered how to find out the truths of these rumors for myself.
In my teen years, I had a Houses Of The Holy door poster. My first LZ CD was Houses Of The Holy, specifically the West German target pressing. I read Hammer Of The Gods, watched The Song Remains The Same and went through many articles about the band, and how the music on the (untitled 4th album) had become a classic in itself, partly due to the success of “Stairway To Heaven” and how the album was eventually purchased as a single since the U.S. didn’t release the song as a 45. I understood it and respected it, but while I’ve gone through their music many times over, bought and raided bootlegs to hear them go through the motions in many combinations, I found myself always returning to the record that made me a fan in the first place.
Instead of analyzing each song from start to finish, I’m going to start at the end and move backwards to the beginning. “The Ocean” ends the album in a glorious way because the band compared the throng of their audiences to an ocean, as they heard the oceans roar. This is also a song where Robert Plant offers a song to “the girl who won my heart/she is only three years old, and it’s a real fine way to start”, lines which could never exist today without parental groups or someone online tearing Plant, Led Zeppelin, manager Peter Grant, and Atlantic Records apart. Who was this mysterious three year old girl, or was Plant just pulling something out of the air just to see if people would say something? In truth, the three year old girl was Plant’s daughter Carmen, who was three at the time the band were in the studio recording the album. The count-in from Bonham is a nice touch, the vocal overlays from Plant stand out, and the band switching over to doo-wop for the song’s final vamp is perfect as a means to say “we did it, we’re going to rock out for you one more time.”
Listening to “No Quarter” was always the trippy and moody part of the album for me due to its tempo, it’s vibe and groove, the tone of Jimmy Page’s guitar solo, John Paul Jones’ organ work, and the eeriness of Plant’s vocals, which came from the entire track being pitched down just a notch for its final mix. I’d always look forward to hearing this, the third song on Side 2, when I played the album because while I grew up with songs on the radio and those “little records” (i.e. 45′s) my parents had, this was a means to explore a song. I’m sure I wondered how anyone could play that long, but I found it to be cool and soothing. It would be awhile before I had a full understanding of the lyrics, some of it direct, some of it left to the interpretation of the listener:
Walking side by side with death
The devil mocks their every step
The snow drives back the foot that’s slow
The dogs of doom are howling more
They carry news that must get through
To build a dream for me and you
They choose the path that no one goes
As a kid listening to a Led Zep album that had a lyric sheet, I had no idea what any of this meant or what they were referring to. I just thought that they were going somewhere, they’re walking on some kind of sacred ground, and now they’re going to places unknown. “Oooh, that’s cool”. Mix that up with how the band presented the music itself, and it was a seven-minute joy ride, one that we could always return to from the start at any time.
“D’yer Mak’er” was always one of the few “fun” songs the band had made, one that seemed to sound funny to me as a kid because of its rhythm, even though I had heard similar rhythms before: Paul Simon’s “Mother & Child Reunion” and Nash’s aforementioned “I Can See Clearly Now”. I would not know the term “reggae” until I was nine or ten (maybe 11), but I liked how it sounded different to me. Plant’s lyrics were very lighthearted, one that didn’t involve any interpretation of deciphering, and I think that not only made it easy to listen to, but why radio stations played it back then, and still do to this day.
“Dancing Days” opened Side 2 in a glorious way with those guitar riffs from Page that always killed me. As I would eventually get into Indian classical music, I realized that those chords had an Indian or Middle Eastern flavor, especially that swooping drone that made it sound like nothing I had ever before. I think the line “dancing days are here again” are self-explanatory, but what to make of a verse like this: You told your mother I’d get you home
But you didn’t say that I got no car
I saw a lion, he was standin’ alone
With a tadpole in a jar
What kind of innuendo is that? Regardless of what it meant (or doesn’t mean), I always loved Page’s guitar and the Jones/Bonham rhythm section, before the song ends with a slight “spring”-ish feel.
“The Crunge” is one of the other fun Led Zep songs, as the band get into a nasty James Brown groove while Plant gets gritty on the vocals. It always amazed me that while Bonham was said to not be able to get a reggae tempo on time (thus the reason why “D’yer Mak’er” sounds the way it does), he was always able to capture the funkiest moments in his drumming, due to him being a huge fan of James Brown’s records. He definitely gets down throughout “The Crunge”, especially the open drum break which has been sampled numerous times over the years. As for the bridge, no one knows where it is.
“Over The Hills And Far Away” begins acoustically and it could easily be a nice folk song before Page drives up his acoustic guitar before moving it to the side for electric splendor. Plant gets slightly mystical and mythical in the lyrics, almost as a puzzle or limerick for people to figure out, or at least to think of when the moment arises: Mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing
Many many men can’t see the open road.
Many is a word that only leaves you guessing
Guessing ’bout a thing you really ought to know
My favorite part of the song is when the band fades out and all you hear is a guitar and its distant echo, before you hear another guitar and accompanying bass, taking us finally over the hills and towards a new home.
“The Rain” Song is one of two 7+ minute tracks on the album, and this comes after the album’s opening bombastic blast (more on this later), so by being positioned as track 2, it is meant to be a calming effect of sorts. According to Wikipedia, George Harrison had questioned Bonham on why they have never recorded any ballads. This was what they offered, and it is said that the opening two chords in “The Rain Song” were borrowed from The Beatles’ “Something”, as an ode to their Beatle friend.
Even though this is their ballad, a very mellow one at that, there are a lot of things to get out of this. Wikipedia also states that the band used “Slush” as a working title for this song due to it having an easy listening arrangement, which also makes sense considering Jones’ piano work (specifically around the part of the song where Plant says “talk, talk, talk, talk”) sounds like something from either an easy listening album or a country record. It comes out of nowhere and almost doesn’t fit at first, but due to the tone of the lyrics and that rise in mood, it seems to fit in a unique manner. It then leads to the band wrapping up the song until that powerful echo closes Page’s guitar solo.
Then the album begins.
Each time I would enter my uncle’s house, it would always lead to music. I’m sure there was a hello or “want to eat some food?” but my greatest joy was to be able to sit next to my uncle’s stereo and hear the record he had to offer. For a good year, it was Houses Of The Holy that was played first, and of course it always started with Side One. Those opening chords sounded like a calling of sorts, a welcome to the music that is about to be played. Bring in the bass and drums that collide during the guitar, and after six seconds, the band are one. Page’s guitar work is perfect here before Jones walks down a slightly different path, and eventually Page digs nastily as if he’s crawling in dirt, looking for some soil to create something new, followed by another brilliant solo. This eventually leads into some furious Jones bass swoops and Page jingle/jangling his guitar, all anchored by the weight of Bonham’s drums before Plant is finally heard almost 90 seconds into the song: I had a dream, oh man
Crazy dream, oh…
Anything I wanted to know
Any place I needed to go
Hear my song, now, people won’t you listen now
Sing along, oh… you don’t know what you’re missing now
Any little song that you know
Everything that’s small has to grow
and it always grows
The band soon rise once again as Plant sings “push, push it… aaaaah!” and as a kid, I had no idea what was going on but it sounded great. As I got older and would listen to “Whole Lotta Love” and other songs, was this one of Plant’s many orgasmic moments in song? The band went back into the groove that started the song, but with a different guitar solo from Page. Jones went higher with his bass notes, all while Bonham is pounding the hell out of his kit, but this is nothing. All of a sudden, Plant yells out a “nah nah nah nah naaaah” and he offers up the song’s core, the centerpiece of everything: California sunlight
sweet Calcutta rain
Honolulu star bright
The song remains the same
I was born and initially raised in California, and for the longest time I could never figure out the other words. It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 that I realized that he was saying “Honolulu star bright” and I thought oh, that’s where I live. I loved the reference to Calcutta rain, and as I was getting into Indian classical music for the first time through The Beatles, I found the reference to be one of mystery but one I thought could be soothing in the right frame of mind. By the end of those four lines, it seemed that no matter where you were, there you are. Fair and simple, you make do with things and live and love.
The band get into yet another groove, and as someone who was raised near a beach and the ocean, hearing the way this song goes into valleys and reaches peaks is like someone surfing. There’s a bit of calm waters before you catch yourself waiting for the ocean to rise again and you’re in the tube, waiting for a hopefully powerful ride. It gets that way after the 3:40 mark, as Page seems to dance around a bit, before things get incredibly bombastic in strength and volume after the four minute mark. Plant lets out a quick moan (another thrust?) before the band get ready for the swell of another wave. All of a sudden, that wave rises again and the band are once again on top as Plant sings something that sounds like “oh, are we gonna do it now?” before he unleashes his final statement: Sing out Hare Hare
Dance the Hoochie Koo
City lights are oh so bright
as we go sliding…
Do these lines really mean anything in the grand scheme of things? I know Plant was known for coming up with random lyrics, often from other songs, during live performances, but did he actually write these words down and said “I’m going to sing this with all of my heart”? Yet referring to California, Calcutta, and Honolulu earlier in the song, somehow these lyrics make a small bit of sense, as he is revamping what was established before ending the song with a ride towards the ocean shore. Also, who exactly is this “we” and what are they sliding down on? The answer, like the location of the bridge, remains unknown.
For me, the excitement of “The Song Remains The Same” and the thrills heard within make it my favorite Led Zeppelin song of all time, which associates itself with the seven other songs on Houses Of The Holy that make it an album I can and will never live without. It begins with Plant wondering about a dream and ending with a dance with his daughter. Can these songs be the houses, and are Led Zeppelin the holy ones? Or do the holes refer to the houses where the naked brother and sister on the cover live? Or is the “holy” reference meant to be something secretly sexual? What does it mean? What does it not mean? Regardless, the color tones on the cover design help to create the auras heard in the music, which in turn helps the listener look at the world in a very different way, perhaps more powerful, more glorious, more elegant. With a smile.
Oddly enough, while the band did record a title track for the album, it was not used until the group put together Physical Graffiti two years later for their first album on their own label, Swan Song. Perhaps its lyrics tell the tale of what they tried to accomplish with the album:
From the houses of the holy, we can watch the white doves go
From the door comes Satan’s daughter, and it only goes to show
There’s an angel on my shoulder, In my hand a sword of gold
Let me wander in your garden and the seeds of love I’ll sow
Or maybe not.
Even though it could easily be placed within the album’s eight song line-up, the world now knows that it will never fit. It may fit perfectly to separate the sides (i.e. between “The Crunge” and “Dancing Days”) but someone who has grown up with this album will never fiddle with the sanctity of this album, with these eight songs, in the exact order. For me, the holiness of Led Zeppelin will always and forever be found here, at Giant’s Causeway, climbing naked as children until our youth ends as we all grow up to climb over to explore the great unknown.
There was a period in my youth where I was obtaining Pink Floyd’s entire album discography on cassette. I had loved Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall, fell in love with Meddle, Wish You Were Here, and Animals, and found a fascination with More, Ummagumma, and Atom Heart Mother. Then there was a break that made me wonder what was going on. Sure, the band had approved the making of a film for The Wall but it still wasn’t new music.
When The Final Cut was released, I looked to my source for music reviews: Rolling Stone magazine. I remember going through it and wondering what kind of album would this be. I was not aware of politics outside of the country, yet alone national politics, and this just seemed very different from the Pink Floyd I was used to hearing. My rock station in Honolulu was 98 Rock, and I do remember them playing “The Gunner’s Dream” but other than that, it almost seemed as if the album didn’t exist. I could hear Journey all the time, but Pink Floyd? This was my group. MTV barely touched the music videos either, although I remember when public access played some of the clips, including “The Final Cut”. I could see Roger Waters was in the video, but that was it. Is this really Pink Floyd?
I’d have that question answered a little over a year later, when my family and I moved from Honolulu to the Pacific Northwest. One day we were walking around at K-Mart and I saw the cassette for The Final Cut, the only Floyd album I didn’t have in my collection. I did the usual asking and pleading to my mom, and it was obtained. I popped in the tape at home and it seemed eerily slow, as if the band were taking time to energize themselves. It seemed very boring, and even the heavier/louder moments seemed overwhelmed by the majority of the album, which was more tame and delicate, at least musically. The lyrics were anything but. I remember the Rolling Stone review where Kurt Loder said Waters was on the verge of releasing a solo album. I looked at the cassette’s J-card and read the album credits: there were more non-Floyd members listed, while David Gilmour’s and Nick Mason’s name seemed lost. This sounded more like a Waters solo album than a group effort, and my view was simple: I didn’t like it that much. I’d play other Floyd tapes, but The Final Cut was a once in awhile thing.
I didn’t get back into the album until I joined a local radio/TV production class in high school, which involved learning how to be a disc jocket. This was my childhood dream becoming reality, once I knew this class existed, I had to be in it. A fellow student named Dave Valiant was the big Pink Floyd freak of the class, a grade above me, and while I didn’t introduce myself as such, I more or less let him know that I was a Floyd freak too. He would play certain songs on the air from The Final Cut and because of this, I found myself examining the songs differently than before. Plus, I was a bit more aware of the world around me and I felt it was time to listen to the album again. While still very different from what the band had done before, I finally understood and loved it. It was dark, sarcastic, and bitter at times, but that’s not any different from a good amount of Pink Floyd music.
Upon first listen, I thought that this had to be the sad and pathetic end to one of my favorite groups. Once I understood the music, I had hoped there would be more. By then, Waters had left the band and while he assumed his departure would mean there would be no Pink Floyd, David Gilmour had other ideas. The new Pink Floyd would create A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, which lead to a tour, which lead to me seeing my favorite band live for the first time, on December 8, 1987 at the Kingdome in Seattle. It still remains one of my favorite concerts. Earlier that year, Waters had released Radio K.A.O.S., which was (at the time) better than The Pros & Cons Of Hitch Hiking, an album where the album cover was far more interesting than the music. I’ll always remember reading the review in Rolling Stone and seeing the magazine give it a 1-star rating out of 5. Is it really that bad? Well, it’s not dreadful but it can be a difficult listen at times. Yet there was still The Final Cut, and I was more than certain that that Floyd album was essentially Waters’ solo album, using the other band members as session musicians. Yet what happened? Did things really change for everyone? As Waters said himself in “The Gunner’s Dream”, “what’s done is done”.
If The Final Cut is truly Pink Floyd’s final album, what to make of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and The Division Bell? Those are Floyd albums too, but the debate can continue in any combination, just as some will tell you that Pink Floyd truly ended when Syd Barrett was no longer in the group. Barrett made two solo albums before he faded out from the world. That means approximately a fantastic 15 year collaboration between Waters, Gilmore, Mason, and Richard Wright that continues to amaze and astound in every way.
I think what I love about The Final Cut is how personal it is, how deeply hurt Waters felt by the demise of England, how it loosely touches on some of the concepts heard in The Wall and how it can be considered the ultimate conclusion of sorts to the story lines he bad been using throughout his time with Pink Floyd. It’s dark, sure, but that’s the whole point. With a title like “Two Suns In The Sunset” it might be assumed that the album would end on a happy note but it’s definitely not the case here. One must deal with the sorrow of a holocaust and a nuclear explosion, but there is a bright side to his tale with the closing lyrics:
“finally i understand
the feelings of the few
ashes and diamonds
foe and friend
we were all equal in the end”
At the time, I was going through a bit of changes in my life, dealing with life as a struggling teenager trying to get buy with school, friends, and what the hell I’d be doing after high school. I found Pink Floyd’s music to be a bit of comfort when nothing else would do, so Waters’ darkness did have an indirect positive effect, at least on me. As he stated at the end of “The Gunner’s Dream”: we cannot just write off his final scene
take heed of the dream
Those are lyrics that pop up every now and then in my mind, as I still hope to find that dream that will keep me going until my own final credits are rolled.
Its proper release date has a number of answers. Some sources say March 1, 1973. One online source says March 17th. Wikipedia says its March 24th. What we do know for sure is that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon (Harvest) made its debut on the Billboard Album Chart on March 17th, which would mean that the album may have been released on March 9th, at least in the U.S., as albums were released on a Friday. The album would eventually go number one, but for only a week. Just a week. The power of the music and lyrics would help it stay on the Billboard Album Chart for 736 weeks, or a little over 14 years. It then fell off of the chart for the first time. No album in an artist’s catalog had stayed on the chart for that long. Usually an album might have a good year if lucky, but after that year, it would quietly fall off the chart, as the chart itself awaited a new album. It remained there for 14 years, but Billboard essentially created a separate chart for catalog albums, the Top Pop Catalog Chart Dark Side Of The Moon made its presence known there as well, where it remained for 759 weeks, or 14 1/2 years.
40 years after it was recorded, mixed, and released, Dark Side Of The Moon still hits the mind, heart, and soul of millions of listeners. Classic rock radio may split the songs into handy singles, but in the UK there were no singles for it. The band’s U.S. label, Capitol, did release “Money” and “Time” as handy singles, with “Money” becoming the band’s first entry into the Top 20 of Billboard’s Singles Chart. “Time” was released as a single 11 months after the album’s release, so while pop radio did appreciate the music to a degree, it was free form FM radio stations that loved it even more, due to all of the songs being a non-stop segue, so one could take a cigarette break for 20 minutes at a time. FM radio definitely helped, as it brought the music to more ears, those of which who would go into a record store and by the album on vinyl, 8-track, quadraphonic 8-track, and cassette. Yet why does it hit the mind, heart, and soul in a way that many albums are not able to do?
I remember the album always being around, but not in my home, at least not initially. My uncles always had the album, so when I’d go over to one uncle’s house, or another uncle’s apartment, its mysterious black cover was there alongside Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality and Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy. There were no words on Dark Side Of The Moon. It was a black cover with a triangle, one beam of light leading into (or out of) the triangle and on the other end, a rainbow. It would be awhile until I learned that it was a prism. Did the side of the triangle with one beam of white light represent the dark side of a moon? Again, I was a kid trying to figure out why these album covers had cool graphics, enjoying them but not knowing what they meant, if anything. I was realizing before the age of 10 that covers were created for a reason, sometimes being nothing more than descriptive, but I found some of my favorite albums were the one with the best covers. The design continues on the back cover and in the gatefold, where the rainbow reveals a pulse, the heartbeat that opens and ends the album. It was there one could read the lyrics as the album went along.
I would often hear songs like “Breathe”, “Time”, “Money”, and “Us And Them” on the radio as a kid, but the first time I heard it was when I was 9 or 10, maybe 11. I had already been a fan of Pink Floyd, as I loved “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)”. Everyone in my 4th grade class loved it because of the lines “we don’t need no education”, but our teachers didn’t like it. I once brought the 45 with the picture sleeve to my glass, and all my friends thought it was cool. I had “the record”. The song was taken from their double album, The Wall, although since it was a double record, it was too expensive for my parents to get me. It would be an album I had to “work for” in order to get it, which generally meant good grades or begging.
Nonetheless, I clearly remember the moment I listened to Dark Side Of The Moon. I was at my Auntie Hannah’s home in Wahiawa on Oahu, she was one of the best friend’s of my Omama (grandmother) and we would go there a few times a year to visit and talk story. She was a favorite of my mom, and I just remember it being distinctly Austrian, with its pictures, a painting or two, and the furniture. It was nothing like what I would see on my dad’s side of the family, and there was also a unique scent. I don’t know if it was food or cleaning products, or a mixture of both, but it was like going into an office. Since the only other kid there was my sister, I would often just sit on the couch. Sometimes I would get a chance to play outside, looking for “friends” but there weren’t any. Auntie Hannah had a son who was living with her at the time, and on his desk was a copy of the Dark Side Of The Moon album on cassette. Next to the tape was a Walkman. Or to be honest, I don’t remember if it was a Sony Walkman proper or a knockoff, but it was a portable cassette player similar to the Walkman. As soon as I saw it, I probably looked at it as if it was “the object” from Led Zeppelin’s Presence cover, and my mom probably asked me “what are you staring at?” I nicely asked if I could take a listen to the tape. Auntie Hannah said something to the effect of “it’s my son’s, and he may be coming home soon, but you can take a listen to it if you don’t break it.” I sat on his bed, rewound the cassette on Side A, and pressed play. Here came the heartbeat. Then a male voice saying “I’ve been mad for fucking years”. It got louder and louder, and then came what I interpreted as a wicked laugh, as if it was the wicked witch on The Wizard Of Oz. Then came the music. I loved it, as it was laid back and it made me feel good. I was listening to the words but not really concentrating or interpreting them, but then the song switched tempo. This was “On The Run”, and it was the song that made me become a fan. I had heard many instrumentals before, but I had never heard one that involved dialogue and sound effects. Not only that, but these sound effects were moving left to right, right to left. As I would listen to the album at my uncle’s apartment, I would look in the album’s credits and wondered what a VCS3 was, and felt I had to have that one day.
Then comes a sinister laugh, leading to an eruption. A crash? I’d then hear someone still walking, leading to a few clocks ticking and then…
I loved what I was hearing. I don’t think I got through “Time” in my first listen, but I remember asking my parents for this album, I had to have it. Soonafter, I would have my copy. It was the Capitol pressing with the XDR sound “burst” that opened and ended most Capitol-related albums on cassette in the early 80′s.
By then, I had to have more and I eventually would have all of Pink Floyd’s albums on cassette, with Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and A Saucerful Of Secrets being available back then as A Nice Pair. I found myself enjoying progressive rock a lot, because of the sound, the volume, the lyrics (most of which I didn’t understand completely), and most of the time, the time signatures. For years I could never figure out Yes’ “Five Per Cent For Nothing” until I realized it was just 4/4 with unique accents. However, I found myself embracing Pink Floyd like crazy. When The Final Cut was released, I had to have that, even though I felt at the time it was weird and not-too-musical, or at least I felt Roger Waters would often sing off-key. I remember when Rolling Stone magazine gave the album a terrible review, I thought “this might be something I should listen to. It can’t be that bad.” I consider it to be a personal favorite, and as for being off-key? Well, that’s just Roger.
Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall would become Pink Floyd’s equivalent to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road, the two pillars in their catalog that would become a litmus test for fans, leading to the “either/or” question and never really coming up with an answer. The Wall, an incredible album from start to finish, is a very weighty listen and one I have to be in the mood to listen to in full. Dark Side Of The Moon doesn’t feel weighty upon frequent listens, but due to the subject matter, one realizes that it is weighty and intense.
While not a proper concept album, it is an album with a running theme, one that involves the concept of time. It’s primarily focused on the time we use to live our lives, and the time left in our lives, how we’re constantly measuring up to one another in a race towards the inevitable finish. The song titles pave a partial path as to what’s going on in the album: “Breathe”, “Time”, “Money”, “Us And Them”, “Brain Damage”, “Eclipse”. We are listening to someone’s life in 42 minutes, and in time, we realize that we are also using our time to listen to an album about time. Over the years, we look back at our personal time and realize we have always been on the path towards the inevitable. It is then we begin to truly listen to the song for clues, maybe a bit of guidance, towards something. It doesn’t answer it directly, but the messages are there. One needs time to do what needs to be done, or find there’s no more time.
The song that always hits me is “The Great Gig In The Sky”, where keyboardist Richard Wright plays a bluesy piano while David Gilmour moves along with a slide guitar. The vocals of Clare Torry used to be just that, a woman belting her heart out about “a concert in the heavens”, but then somewhere down the line, I started to listen to it differently. In my mind, I hear Torry as a woman singing to a loved one who has died, as he is in a casket. The song is a personal love song towards him, and her voice comes off as that expressing loss, heartbreak, warmth, and slight eroticism, as there’s a moment where she sounds like she’s having an orgasm, leading to a bit of laughter. Then she moves away upon her last note as the casket moves down into the ground but oh… not quite yet, there’s a slight snag in the coffin going down in the ground, represented by the tape slightly speeding up the piano before returning to its proper key. It moves back down, someone holds Torry as she’s crying, and the song ends.
Not bad for a song where she was told to simply sing, and after a few tries came up with the wordless song that would end up breaking a lot of hearts, including mine. It is such a sad song, and one only snaps out of it upon flipping the album over and hearing a cash register. Ch-ching!
While two separate songs, you can’t have “Brain Damage” without “Eclipse”, they are meant to be heard one after the other. The one thing that struck me about “Brain Damage” is what happens after Waters sings “the lunatics are in my head”. There’s the recording of someone laughing, and I always found that to sound exactly like the laughter my dad had. Even though I don’t have any tape recordings of my dad, there’s not a time when I play or hear that song and I don’t think of him. When it reaches that moment, it’s as if he’s there, at least in sound.
The album closes with the glorious, gospel flavored 3/4 gem that is “Eclipse”, establishing the album’s moral to the story. It’s theme touches on the fact that everything you create and/or destroy will not only mean something to you, but can have an effect on everyone around you. It sounds bold and grand, and it seems to be ending beautifully: All that is now
All that is gone
All that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
You’re thinking yes, everything under the sun is at one with one another. I lived in Honolulu, I’m surrounded by great sunshine, I completely understand what’s going on, but then there’s one more line: …but the sun is eclipsed by the moon
The heartbeat returns, and there’s one last voice which closes the album, the true moral: There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.
It would be years until the dialogue’s true ending was revealed. It’s true final words, as spoken by Abbey Road Recording Studio doorman Gerry O’Driscoll, are: There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark. The only thing that makes it look light is the sun.
If you’re someone who likes to play around with Pink Floyd’s means of musical and lyrical continuity, it could be considered a nice link from “Fat Old Sun” or “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. However, without the use of the line “the only thing that makes it look light is the sun”, Dark Side Of The Moon seems to end on a bleak note, and deliberately so. But life, and a heartbeat, goes on, at least for a little while more.
While I enjoy hearing this album through great speakers, it is very much a headphone album, one of the things that is appealing to people, or at least to me. Regardless how one listens to it, either one will find this to be a complete bore or one of the greatest albums ever made. It can be played to enjoy and get emotional over, or to judge one’s time with the time mentioned. We are slowly becoming “shorter of breath, and one day closer to death” as the “years are getting shorter”, claiming that we can’t find the time to do things. One of the great revelations about the album was what Wright said in the Classic Albums documentary, where he revealed part of the melody in “Breathe” was heavily influenced by Ray Charles. If Torry’s singing in “The Great Gig In The Sky” couldn’t be any more soulful, the Charles revelation shows that the band’s smoothest album is the one that had not only a soul, but soul, or at least the essence of soul.
I hope to be listening to it when the album celebrates its 50th and 60th anniversaries. I do know that if I do have family and friend’s when I die, and they feel warm enough to offer me a service, I’d like to have “The Great Gig In The Sky” played as one of my last songs. While I am not a believer of the heavens, I think the song’s sadness and its metaphorical title would suit the moment, and would honor my love of a group that opened many doors to other music to listen to throughout my life, in the time that I used to listen.
By February 1983, I had been an avid viewer of MTV: Music Television for almost 15 months, after making its Honolulu debut on December 25, 1981 with video, no audio. It made its true presence known on December 31, 1981, when audio and video were finally synched. Back then, MTV was delayed by a week but outside of concert dates, it didn’t matter too much. But I became addicted to the ways of MTV, for now I was able to see artists move, 24 hours a day, all day in stereo. One band that received a lot of airplay was Journey. To their credit, most of their videos were live performances of songs I had regularly heard on the radio. I got to see videos for “Wheels In The Sky” and “Lights”/”Stay Awhile”, plus lip synched performances of “Just The Same Way” and “Anyway You Want It”, the latter with its luscious recording studio count-in. What changed Journey’s career forever was the release of their 1981 album Escape. Journey already had radio hits, Top 20 hits as a matter of fact, and that was very different to the band’s progressive rock roots on their first three albums. In fact, I clearly remember going to record stores as a kid and seeing the first Journey album where the band appear to be jumping in the air, with mountains in the distance and thought “wow, this looks cool. Is this really Journey?” It was, but it would be a long time before I heard it and the other albums they had started out with in their career. When I started the 6th grade, “Who’s Crying Now” was slowly rising up the charts, and then “Don’t Stop Believin’”. “Open Arms” was getting a small bit of airplay as well, but by late 1981/early 1982, it was possible to hear Journey songs on pop radio. Back then, that meant hearing their songs on an AM radio station, opposed to the rock stations on FM. This was a big deal, because it meant Journey songs were being heard by more people.
What made a bigger impact was this new network called MTV, for they were showing live performances of a show Journey had done in Houston, Texas. Specifically shot for MTV, one was able to see energetic performances of “Who’s Crying Now”, “Don’t Stop Believin’” (“born and raised right here in Houston!”), “Stone In Love” (complete with vocalist Steve Perry bombarding a cameraman), the new single “Open Arms” (perfect timing) and other songs they had done that night. It wasn’t new for MTV to show live performances, but they had started to have shows shot specifically for them. As Journey’s singles kept on getting radio airplay, more people bought the album, and they were one of the first staples of the music video cable network. If there was such a thing as Journeymania, it existed in 1982 and would last throughout the year until Michael Jackson released Thriller.
With the kind of success Journey received with Escape, where the band received a great promotional push through MTV, one wondered how they could top it. The hit success the band now had with the inclusion of Perry as the front man could not be ignored, so now it was time for the group to show people what was next. While waiting, MTV would show projects by Schon and keyboardist Jan Hammer like “Talkin’ To You” (from their 1981 album Untold Passion and “No More Lies” from their 1982 album Here To Stay.
Frontiers was released on February 22, 1983 with “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)” as the album’s first single, complete with a video that has since been mocked and parodied. It might seem foolish for the group to be hopping around near a harbor and drummer Steve Smith jamming on barrels, but keep in mind that this was Journey’s first “big budget” video. They now had stylists, and this was the way they wanted to present themselves, with a theme involving a woman walking around ignoring the five men in the band, but still having them close to her heart when the end of the video reveals she is listening to their music with… a Sony Walkman. Product placement? Very much, and it would be when Sony would eventually purchase the band’s label, Columbia Records, in the future but I’m jumping ahead of myself here. As basic and silly as the video was, it seemed brighter and a fresh approach to Journey’s music, and it let people know that the band had released a new album.
I loved “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)” for a number of reasons, but I thought Jonathan Cain’s keyboard intro was cool, Neal Schon’s guitar riff was awesome, and the Smith/Ross Valory rhythm section was awesome. There’s also a moment before the last chorus where Cain’s keyboard solo sounded like, to me at least, Alcatrazz’s “Kree Nakoorie”, but maybe that was due to the listening habits of my Uncle David. I also believe Alcatrazz’s debut album was released a few months after Frontiers, but I was making those kind of musical links back then.
My dad, who worked as an electrician in Pearl Harbor’s shipyard, would have access in buying music from the military base. This was new to me, because we were not a military family but the idea that someone could buy music with a one to two-dollar discount was appealing to me. My dad had taken pride in the cassette deck he had in his cherry red Karmann Ghia, so when he was able to, he’d get a few tapes. He was able to get for me the Frontiers album on cassette, and it was not on the day of release, but probably a month after. I clearly remember the cassette J-card being able to fold out, which was somewhat of a first since most cassette J-cards were either blank or just had the song listing. This one had the lyrics for the album in what seemed like, at the time, microscopic lettering. With cassettes now a growing format, the recording industry wanted to find ways to show how special cassettes could be, so having the album cover graphics and lyrics on the J-card was a way to say “look, a compact version of that big record.” Back then it seemed cool, and while I did not have a Sony Walkman (I’d always have some cheapy knock-off), once I carried an album on cassette in my pocket for a few weeks, it was “for life”. Or at least I felt it was a lifelong commitment even though it was a few weeks or maybe a month. I sported my cassettes in my pocket as if they were a pack of cigarettes, hoping someone would say “got a light?” No, but I got Journey. Of course, I was only 12, no adult would ask a kid for cigarettes but then again, we felt like we were freewheeling, and we wanted to prepare for such incidences. Never happened, but I had Journey in my pocket.
Journey quickly followed up the “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)” video with two videos that appeared to have been shot at the same time: “Chain Reaction” and “After The Fall”, with the latter showing the band jumping around and falling, as if it was their first album. These were shot in the same studio with a few arrangements in scenery, and both songs were given a decent amount of radio airplay, especially “After The Fall”. When the videos kicked in for “Chain Reaction”, Schon’s vocal reminded me a lot of Gene Simmons’ vocals, and it could have easily been a Kiss song, in the vein of “I Love It Loud”. Compare that to a more sensitive Perry in “After The Fall”, and perhaps one could see why one became more of a hit over the other.
They were not as popular as “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)” but it didn’t matter too much for by the time airplay started to fade, the group followed it up with “Faithfully”. This was “the ballad”, and the video showed the group braving the ruthlessness of the mistress known as the road. The group were on tour to support Frontiers so a film crew tagged along to show the band at their best. It wasn’t a live performance video, but it included live footage of the band which was synched with the album’s audio. We did get to see Perry shave (whoa!!) and what it was like to be on a Journey tour bus, and the line “they said that the road ain’t no place to start a family” would be one of many reasons why countless hard rock and heavy metal bands would create music videos showing the tortured life of a touring artist. Cue Bon Jovi’s “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” as proof. Nonetheless, “Faithfully” was a song about a man who had to brave the road but knew that his lady would stand by him, and wait impatiently for her man to return home… faithfully.
I get a bit sentimental when it comes to the song that Journey would release as their last single and video for Frontiers. When I first heard the album in full, it was the second song on Side 1 of the tape, following “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)”. As a 7th grader attending an intermediate school, becoming more aware of the girls around me, “Send Me My Love” was a song that said to me “this is what love might be like”, the idea that if you depart and travel somewhere, that person will never forget you, and you will never forget them. I loved everything about the song: the sweeping intro, the drums, that flowing bass, the guitar, and the piano/keyboards, all before Perry begins to sing. Even if a love departs, “broken hearts can always mend” so was that words of guidance and/or assistance? I don’t know, my 12-year old mind simply said “this is what love might be like”.
Upon its release as a single in Upon its release in September 1983, my dad was no longer a part of my life, as he had died three months earlier. My dad had made plans to move us to Canada, as he wanted to find “something better”, but my mom had chosen to move to Washington State to be closer to her sister. I had just started the 8th grade in September 1983 so while I was feeling a bit down and out after the death of my dad, I was realizing that I would soon be departing the place I grew up in, the place I loved, the place that made me. Everything I would be experiencing would be essentially a “last” something, and I’d often tie it in with what the song was saying about how “memories remain” “roses never fade”, and then comes the heartbroken bridge:
“Calling out her name, I’m dreaming
reflections of her face, I’m seeing
it’s her voice that keeps on haunting me”
Schon follows it up with a very mournful guitar solo that has pinches of optimism, or at least the optimism once had before he departs with one final goodbye, which always does it for me. In time, “Send Her My Love” would become my mythological song to Hawai’i, hoping it would remember me as much as I remember her.
As for the video, it too would become a stereotype for many videos to come: the band on the road, showing how weary the group are but still rocking out strong, aerial shots showing the success of the tour. Also notable: the shot of original MTV VJ Alan Hunter at 2:31 and for me, I always wanted to know the conversation going on between the lady at the front and an unknown recipient of said conversation which lead to the “oh my God!” expression at the end. Let’s not forget the obligatory of the crutch during this section of the video
By the end of 1983, as a student of the music video, I thought it was great that Journey had made videos for all of the songs on Side 1 of Frontier. While a small handful of artists were creating video albums (where they’d create clips for each song on the LP), it seemed to be common practice for an artist to make two or three videos for it and never do anymore. The single would come with a video, and a video generally meant single, so for Journey to make five videos? Awesome!
This is not to ignore the strength for Side 2, for we’re talking awesome songs like “Back Talk”, “Troubled Child”, “Edge Of The Blade”, “Rubicon”, and a song I felt should have been released as a single, the title track. I always loved Perry’s vocal performance in it and its use of reverb, and the track was a nice way of saying “this is what the album was all about, now let’s everyone join together and find new frontiers”. Those songs on Side 2 are genuine rockers and should receive the kind of airplay that the hits do today, but sadly that hasn’t happened.
The release of Frontiers also lead to the Journey arcade video game and pinball machine, and for those of us who would spend hours in game rooms, playing something Journey seemed very cool in between bouts of Asteroids and Moon Cresta. Having a video game named after you, in the first mega-era of video games, was a huge honor and while no one was talking about bit rates or anything like that, I’m certain many of us spent a few quarters on them.
By the time airplay slowed down a bit for the Frontiers album, I was about embrace a new world known as the mainland, and find a new home in the Pacific Northwest. The album would become one of the last my dad bought me, but the power of the music has not overshadowed this fact. It did (in my mind at least) mark the end of the Perry/Schon/Smith/Valory/Cain of the band, which turned them into mega superstars. Valory and Smith would be given the boot, Perry would find success as a solo artist with “Oh Sherrie”, “Strung Out” and “Foolish Hearts”. Before the band released their next album, they would release a few songs from the Frontiers sessions onto soundtracks. When they returned with Raised On Radio in 1986, it seemed everyone had/needed to be on MTV to be heard, so giving their album that title seemed less futuristic than previous albums and almost as if they were accepting that they were slowly becoming a thing of the past. It didn’t stop the band from getting hits like “Girl Can’t Help It” and e “Be Good To Yourself”, but it just felt different. Maybe I was getting older, I was officially a teenager looking at a world from “teen eyes”, or I had to deal with the culture shock of new surroundings. Then again, it was much more than that.
No matter. Frontiers is the peak of an incredible time in Journey’s discography, a record that remains as timeless today as it did when I knew it would be a classic in 1983.
The first album by Van Halen: February 10, 1978. I do not remember the exact day, for I wasn’t caring about taking notes at the age of seven but I do remember the moment I heard my first note of Van Halen. Early 1978, my family and I went to Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu. While my dad probably went to the book store to look at car, motorcycle, or bodybuilding magazines, and my mom went to look for fabric or whatever she looked for at Ala Moana, my sanctuary was the record store. There were a few “record sections” at Ala Moana in the late 70′s but my haven was DJ’s Sound City, because:
1) I wanted to be a radio DJ
2) It was a sound city. This was my playground.
I was looking around, as I always did, and looking towards the entrance from the back (which most likely meant I was going through jazz and eying animated titties on Miles Davis album covers), I heard what sounded like traffic, as if I was on a freeway. All of a sudden I heard a pounding bass note, and then that guitar.
The music sounded nothing like the hard rock I listened to as a kid, this sounded like it was on the “next level”. I don’t know if it was the guitar, the bass, the drunms, or the wild singer. I just remember standing there going “what is this?” or whatever I said at seven years old. I don’t remember hearing “Eruption” or “You Really Got Me” just yet, for my dad came to get me, but what I did look for was the cover of what was playing. I saw a smiling man holding a guitar with electrical tape wrapped on it. On the turntable was the Warner Bros. “Burbank trees” label. That moment has been embedded in my mind forever.
My Uncle David would buy the album for himself, as he was the guitarist who found himself in countless bands so whoever were the hot guitarists, he had their album. I don’t remember sharing a moment with my uncle where he played the album while I was at his apartment, but the album was played religiously on the radio from the start. Then again, radio in the late 70′s seemed a bit more free, or at least the type of radio stations I listened to. It may not have been a format to my mind, but 35 years later, Van Halen is still played religiously, not bad for an album that wasn’t a bit success on the charts. On the radio, though: I couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing “Eruption” always attached with “You Really Got Me”, “Jamie Crying”, “Feel Your Love Tonight”, “Ice Cream Man”, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Atomic Punk”, and the others. As I would eventually get into reading hard rock/heavy metal magazines, I realized that Eddie Van Halen became the era’s new master, and who didn’t want to worship the man?
As I was still someone who tagged along with my parents wherever they went, I would still see new Van Halen albums in the tracks. I clearly remember seeing Women And Children First at the GEM department store on Ward Avenue in Honolulu, and may have seen Fair Warning and Diver Down there too but it was these first five VH albums where I got to know about their music, at least from a distance. I never bought these albums until after the fact, but as an early viewer of MTV, the first VH videos I saw were “So This Is Love” and “Unchained”. I remember watching the video for “Intruder/(Oh) Pretty Woman” and wondering who the woman was (only to discover later that year that the woman was a man), and also hearing whatever hit single Warner Bros. released. “Dancing In The Streets”? All over the radio. Yet the first VH album I bought was 1984. These days, having that album be my first VH album might seem odd since most will say that the first five albums had “the better songs”, and arguably that’s true, but there were a lot of good songs on 1984. Same with OU812 (for I skipped 5150, even though I really liked “Why Can’t This Be Love”), but… no matter.
As a high school radio DJ, Van Halen were the kings. It did matter that David Lee Roth went solo and Sammy Hagar became the new singer, but it was also the first time I really got to soak myself into the music, and regardless of the power of “Dance The Night Away”, “Romeo Delight”, “Beautiful Girls”, “Hear About It Later”, and of course “Hot For Teacher”, “I’ll Wait”, “Panama”, and “Jump”, all roads lead to the band’s glorious 1978 debut. I always loved how on the cover, Alex Van Halen looked demonic while Anthony just held the bass like a military man. Roth, as always, looking lovely and gorgeous as he always is. Inner sleeve: everyone looking exhausted, with AVH smiling devilishly. Roth: still lovely and gorgeous. If England would have the NWOBHM, then Van Halen was America’s equivalent of that, and it also marked the revolution of what was to come from hard rock and heavy metal in the 1980′s.
On the audio side of things, I always liked the gold 24k CD that DCC made, where the album was remastered by Steve Hoffman. However, finding U.S. pressings of the album with the Warner Bros. “Burbank trees” label are fairly easy to find and shouldn’t cost you any more than $5, and recent Warner Bros. remasters will do you just as good.
2013. A new year like previous years, but for me it feels different. When it comes to music, looking back at specific anniversaries allows me to look back at my life, what I’ve achieved (and haven’t achieved) since I first heard something. Even if it’s music I did not listen to upon its initial release, I can look back and see how that music affected me.
2013 marks 25 years that I ended my time in high school, and I look at that ending of one chapter of my life with the beginning of another with the release of an album by Public Enemy. In five years, I had felt that hip-hop was going through a few changes, some good, some not so good. Then a certain album was released in November 1993 which lead me to say “everything I ever wanted in hip-hop, I found in the Wu”. Public Enemy allowed me to look forward, while the Wu-Tang Clan allowed me to look back with its barrage of pop culture references and kung fu metaphors.
2013 will mark the 30 year anniversary of a collection of sounds from England that would move me to want to become a music producer. Initially I had viewed these sounds as the creation of one spectacled man, but in truth it was his production team, or “theam”, that would help create a dominant style of production for the remainder of the 1980′s. While my production work has not been as prosperous or as influential, I found that what he and his production team were doing is what I wanted to hear in this music that would be called hip-hop, but also opened my interests in electronic and synthesized music.
2013 marks the 40th anniversary of two albums that were and are not only hugely influential in electronic and synthesized music, but on pop music in its entirety. One begins and ends with a heartbeat, while the other could morph itself into a chameleon.
2013 also marks a significant time in my life. On the positive side, some of my earliest memories happened 40 years ago. Ten years later, my father died. My parents’ love of music are essential to me, as my curiosity of their sounds lead to my interests in music, which was the seeds of a much greater curiosity which continues today. On my dad’s musical tastes, I’m left with a few voids but I realize he passed along some information in the time I got to know him.
In 2013, I will honor many of the albums that made me the music numb nut I am today, and I hope you will come with me for the ride, as I feel it is an important part of my life’s journey so far.
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Discovered this book review blog when someone had posted a review of a music book. Went through it and saw a number of books I immediately put on my want list. Created by Maria Popova and features a number of contributors.
Cool slew of goodies from books and diaries to T-shirts, bags and soaps. Now based in Portland.
The show is no more, but you may explore the archives of this great Portland-based podcast while you can. You may now listen to Cort & Bobby in Welcome To That Whole Thing, listed below.