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Old 07-17-2011, 10:56 AM   #81 (permalink)
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One way home --- The Hooters --- 1987 (Columbia)


Inspired by their hit single “Satellite”, I bought this album and thought the chances were that it would be a mixture of mostly mediocre songs, with perhaps one or two the calibre of “Satelite” mixed in. How wrong I was! This is a powerhouse of an album, and some of the tracks on it are so good that they leave the single, good though it is, in the dust. It's the Hooters' third album, and gets going with the aforementioned single, a great slice of commercial rock, with mandolin, harmonica, accordion and melodica giving it a very celtic feel. It's a stomping rocker, themed on the idea of Evangelist preachers who care for nothing but money, kind of the same idea explored by Genesis in “Jesus he knows me” on “We can't dance”, a decade later. ”Jump in the river and learn to swim/ God's gonna wash away all your sins/ And if you still can't see the light/ God's gonna buy you a sateliite.”

Lead vocalist Eric Bazilian has a raw, rough, raspy voice that reminds you of perhaps a younger Rod Stewart with hints of John Cougar Mellencamp, a voice that instantly grabs you from the moment he starts singing. “Karla with a K” deepens and expands the celtic influence, with a song the band wrote about an Irish street singer they met on their travels. It's not bad, but “Johnny B”, which follows it, is far better, with its powerful keyboard hooks and jangly guitar, not to mention its extremely catchy chorus. It is however “Graveyard waltz” which stands out as the best track on the album, its eerie story of dancing skeletons and witches underpinned by a swirling, bayou rhythm, and carried on the powerful keyboard work of Rob Hyman as he paints a lurid picture of straying into places where the living should not walk. ”We danced so close/ We were teenage ghosts/ Doing that graveyard waltz.” Spooky stuff!

After the splendour of “Graveyard waltz”, it's a bit of a comedown to hear “Fightin' on the same side”, which is rather ordinary, but then comes the title track, and we're back on, excuse the pun, track. A monster of a song, it's again carried by the punchy keyboards of Hyman, but joined more forcefully this time by Bazilian's guitar as a reggae beat carries it along. The only real ballad follows, and it's a corker. “Washington's Day” is a mandolin-introduced, piano-led song of wishing to be home with your loved one, and it goes along on a waltzy rhythm, just making you sway from side to side --- try it, you can't resist! ”When the wars that men wage are all through/ And their monuments all put on display/ Tell the hungry and stranded, the poor empty-handed/ We'll meet them on Washington's Day.”

The album winds up on a great little rocker, “Engine 999”, some glorious guitar and a fitting end to what has been a fairly consistently great album, something of a surprise considering I wasn't expecting that much, and had never heard of the Hooters up till then. If you like your rock tinged with a southern flavour and some interesting instrumentation, then you could do a lot worse than take a listen to “One way home”. Just don't go wandering off down any dark paths....

TRACKLISTING

1. Satellite
2. Karla with a K
3. Johnny B
4. Graveyard waltz
5. Fightin' on the same side
6. One way home
7. Washington's Day
8. Hard rockin' summer
9. Engine 999
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Old 07-17-2011, 12:37 PM   #82 (permalink)
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The Stranger --- Billy Joel --- 1977 (Columbia)




One of Billy Joel's most successful and celebrated albums, “The Stranger” has it all. From its signature whistling introduction to the title track (which also ends the album) to classics like “Just the way you are” and “She's always a woman”, there's something just about everyone who listens to this album will recognise. It kicks off with “Movin' out (Anthony's song)”, a great little rocker and the tale of leaving smalltown America behind to search for the bright lights. Some great horn parts in this opener, but it's the title track, up next, where things really ratchet up a gear. Introduced, as mentioned, by a solitary whistling tune paralleling a soft piano melody, the tune soon gets going with an uptemop beat and the tale of how we all ”Have a face that we hide away forever/ And we take them out and show ourselves/ When everyone has gone.” It's a powerful song with a lot to say, some cool guitar licks and a funky jazz/rock beat, but the enduring image is of the opening and closing piano/whistle melody. This leads into the classic “Just the way you are”, which is one of three ballads on the album, and which surely needs no real coverage: everyone will have heard this at some time or another, if not Billy's version then the cover by Barry White. Beautiful, understated ballad with a lovely message, some really effective digital piano and soulful sax helping lift this into the annals of the true classics.




More important though is the next track, and longest on the album, the seven-minute-plus epic “Scenes from an Italian restauarant”, which starts off slowly, as two friends share a meal with ”A bottle of red/ A bottle of white/ All depends upon your appetite” and then begin reminiscing about the days of their youth, recalling two old friends, Brenda and Eddie, as the music turns boppy and upbeat, showcasing Joel's piano playing skill, as the song charts the meeting, ill-fated marriage (Everyone said they were crazy/ Brenda you know you're much too lazy/ And Eddie could never afford to live that kind of life!”) and eventual and inevitable breakup of the couple, as the song winds back on itself, returning to the original theme of the opening and fades out.




“Only the good die young” is good fun, poppy and I guess quite controversial for its time, with its talk of Catholic schoolgirls and its references to perhaps underage sex. Again the horn section are in fine form here. Next we have another of the mega-singles, and the second ballad, “She's only a woman”, played acoustically on piano with no other accompaniment. The album ends on “Everybody has a dream”, the third ballad, then the theme from “The Stanger” fades in to close out the album. A true masterclass on how to create a lasting monument to your talent, “The Stranger” is Billy Joel at his best, and if you haven't heard it up to now, here's your chance. I heartily recommend it.

TRACKLISTING
1. Movin' out (Anthony's song)
2. The Stranger
3. Just the way you ware
4. Scenes from an Italian restaurant
5. Vienna
6. Only the good die young
7. She's always a woman
8. Get it right the first time
9. Everybody has a dream/ The Stranger (reprise)



Suggested further listening: “52nd Street”, “Glass houses”, “The bridge” and of course “Piano Man: the very best of Billy Joel”
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Old 07-18-2011, 01:43 PM   #83 (permalink)
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Out of the blue --- ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) --- 1977 (Jet)


One of the first albums I ever owned, ELO's “Out of the blue” was a huge success when it was released, garnering five hit singles from the double album, the most famous of which of course is the chart-topping “Mr. Blue Sky”. The album was composed entirely by founder member and creative force Jeff Lynne, was their seventh studio release and marked the end of their proper progressive rock and orchestral leanings which had been evidenced on earlier albums like “El Dorado” and “Face the music”. The next album, another huge success, “Discovery”, took the band in a whole new direction, so in many ways “Out of the blue” marks the end of a particular period in the band's history, and a subtle sea change in their musical aspirations.

Odd, really, when you think about it. This was their most successful album to date, and yet two years later ELO would release “Discovery”, a total departure from the sort of music featured here --- while still retaining the classic ELO sound --- which would go on to spawn yet more hit singles! You would think the old adage “If it ain't broke don't fix it” would apply, and yet that's exactly what they did. They had a hugely successful album, hit singles aplenty, and then they went and changed their direction for the next album, and THAT ended up being mega-successful, too! Could these boys do no wrong?

But to concentrate on this album, which starts off with a fade-in to the first track, a fast, boppy and very commercial number, “Turn to stone” was the first single released from the album, and features the by-then famous multi-vocals that were the trademark of ELO. Halfway through the song there's a very snappy section of vocal which could almost --- almost! --- lay claim to being the first instance of rap on a rock record. “It's over” is a sparse, tense ballad, equating a love affair with the passage of summer --- feeding in almost instantly to the overall theme of side three of the album, the weather. It begins with the end section of “Mr. Blue Sky”, again from side three, and it runs into the next single, “Sweet talkin' woman”, introduced on a violin opening before it takes off as a poppy and commercial song, perhaps continuing to explore the theme of the previous song, as Lynne searches for the woman (the “sweet talkin' woman”) he lost in that song. “Across the border” is a song written very much with the intention of conveying the impression of a steam-train, again with violin intro and kicking into a Spanish/Mexican theme which pulls the song along at a decent pace, with a real sense of urgency (”I gottta get that southbound train tonight!”) and ends with a thunder of drums and keys that sounds just like a train rocketing past.

On the original album (yes, I know, here comes Grandad again!) this was the end of side one, and side two begins with the sounds of traffic merging with an orchestral tune-up as “Night in the city” gets underway. You can also just hear, if you're nerdy enough, the end strains of the opener, “Turn to stone” merging into the first few bars. It's followed by “Starlight”, a nice, breezy little tune with some really nice keyboard, and thence into “Jungle”, which is enjoyable nonsense, with its African beats and its silly story about animals that can talk.

The orchestration ramps up then for “Believe me now”, a very short (less than a minute and a half) piece, mostly taken up by dramatic, powerful and stately music, with Lynne singing the only lyric through a vocoder right at the end, and that segues directly into “Steppin' out”, another ballad which rides along on an electric piano line with violin, but is then orchestrated, with more vocoder work and a reprise at the end. And so side two of the album, and record one, comes to a close.

Side three is taken up by a full symphonic composition, lasting in total over eighteen minutes, and broken into four movements. It's called “Concerto for a rainy day”, and the four parts are linked by the central theme of weather, and how it affects people. Opening with simple tinkling piano, a weird vocoder part naming the concerto and then (as might be expected) the sound of rain, and crashing cymbals to denote thunder, the first movement is called “Standing in the rain”, and is sung with some urgency, as Lynne laments waiting out in the downpour: ”Standing in the rain/ Getting soaking wet/ I'm doing my best/ But what do I get?” The orchestra really comes into its own on this, and throughout the concerto, leading into the second part, “Big wheels”, a slower, more restrained effort, still backed by the sounds of rain falling, and again using the “Mr. Blue Sky” theme to introduce itself, with more vocoder speaking the words “Big wheels, keep turning...”

The mood of “Summer and lightning” brightens as the weather begins to clear, and though we can still hear rain as the third movement progresses, it is getting lighter, until finally it is gone altogether, and the final movement, and one of ELO's biggest ever hit singles, “Mr. Blue Sky” brings the concerto to a glorious finale with its upbeat, happy, joyous celebration of sun and the summer. It's probably a good bet that just about everyone knows the song, but what I didn't know for years was that at the very end, as the orchestra winds down and the finale is played out, the vocoder message right at the very end says “Please turn me over”, and not as I had believed for decades, “Mister Blue Sky why”, or any variation on that. It is in fact an instruction to flip over the record and hear side four. Clever, but the idea will have been completely lost on today's kids... turn what over??

There's little doubt that “Concerto for a rainy day” marks the highpoint of the album, and although it's not quite all downhill from there, the final side contains not too much of interest, besides the clever and evocative instrumental “The whale”, and the closer, another hit single, the quite brilliant “Wild West hero”, with its cowboy themes and horsey sound-effects.

For nerds like me in the late seventies, this was one of THE albums to have. It was double, so expensive. It had the concerto on it, so you could feel superior to the kids listening to the likes of the Sweet or even Thin Lizzy, and it had one hell of a cool gatefold sleeve. Even listening to it now, over thirty years later, “Out of the blue” has stood the test of time, and whereas many ELO records now sound somewhat dated, the technology and themes on this album, and the way it was produced and put together make it seem years ahead of its time.

It's such a pity they went disco after this...

TRACKLISTING

1. Turn to stone
2. It's over
3. Sweet talkin' woman
4. Across the border
5. Night in the city
6. Starlight
7. Jungle
8. Believe me now
9. Steppin' out
10. Concerto for a rainy day
i) Standing in the rain
ii) Big wheels
iii) Summer and lightning
iv) Mr. Blue Sky
11. Sweet is the night
12. The Whale
13. Birmingham blues
14. Wild West hero



Suggested further listening: “Face the music”, “El Dorado”, “Time”, “Secret messages”, “Discovery” “A new world record”
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Old 07-18-2011, 05:17 PM   #84 (permalink)
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Babylon --- Ten --- 2000 (Frontiers)


I like concept albums. I've featured one or two here over the last few months. But then again, it's always helpful to understand the concept, and though I love this album, I find it very hard to tie down the actual story, and my internet searches have not helped (Wikipedia, how could you?!), leaving me with a basic idea of the concept, but not the whole thing. Sadly, the songs on the album don't offer much help in contextualising the plot either; though some obviously refer to and in some cases move the plot along, others appear just to be random songs. Nevertheless, this (admittedly big) problem aside, I find “Babylon” to be one of the premier Ten albums I have listened to.

For those who don't know who Ten are, they're a hard-rock/melodic rock/AOR band formed in Manchester in the mid-nineties by vocalist and frontman Gary Hughes and guitarist Vinny Burns. I have featured Hughes' solo meisterwerk, “Once and future king”, a kind of rock opera based around the Arthurian legend, early on in my journal, so if you end up liking this album go back and check his double-album out. Ten are generally lesser-known, and though they pop up from time to time in mags like Classic Rock presents AOR, you won't generally see them on the front page of, say, NME (is that still going?) or even Rolling Stone. Being somewhat unknown does not, however, necessarily translate into mediocrity, and to my mind, Ten have the quality, the passion and the musical ability that should have made them by now household names. But so it goes.

“Babylon” is their fifth album, and is, as I say, a concept, which is of a tragic love story set in the future. How far, I don't know, but it must be at least a hundred years on, as either the Earth, or a colony called Babylon, is protected from outside forces by a shield called the Dome, and referred to in the opening song. The story concerns a worker at the huge Cryotech Industries research facility called Lex, and his love for a woman who ends up being murdered. (Disclaimer: I am largely shooting in the dark here, as like I said above, hard facts and information on the story are tough to get, and so I am extrapolating from what I have gleaned from the songs and the links on the album, and tried my best to piece together the story. I may have got it wrong, and if any other Ten fan reading this has more insight, do please let me know.)

The album is a mix of power rockers and some beautiful ballads, the latter of which are really Gary Hughes' forte. Throughout the album, the narrative is maintained and moved along by the device of radio announcements and recordings from the Cryotech labs. The album opens up with the announcer, who works for Meridian, presumably the state radio station, as he refers to it as ”Meridian: the Voice of Babylon”, wrapping up the news bulletin, and the opening track “The Stranger” powers right in. It's introduced on a squealing keyboard line, then the guitars punch in, and the song gets going. It seems to be setting the scene, as Hughes sings of looking for ”A better life, outside the tomb.” He also mentions “carbon copies”, possibly alluding to clones, which it seems may form a large part of the workforce at, or on, Babylon. The song is a good rocker, solid, very catchy and with some great guitar from both Burns and John Halliwell. Hughes' voice sings out loud and clear as he paints a picture of discontent, a feeling of being trapped, and a yearning for a better life.

It's quite a long song, over seven minutes, the longest on the album though in fairness there are few tracks on this under four minutes, and not that many under five. As “The Stranger” comes to an abrupt, guitar-shredding halt, we hear the voice of the Cryotech Industries' computer as someone (presumably the hero, Lex) logs in to his workstation. The computer however only recognises him as “327”, lending further weight to the possibility that there are many clones of Lex, and other people, working here. The next track is another hard rocker: “Barricade” continues where the previous track left off, the vocals higher in the mix this time, and a nice bass line carrying parts of the song. This would appear to be the point at which Lex/327 meets his lover, and it's mostly a love song, or possibly more precisely a lust song as he realises ”I've seen the lightning/ Now I'm waiting for the thunder/ For I'm imprisoned by the spell/ She has me under.” Great guitar work again here, in fact the keyboards take a real backseat to allow Vinny and John to battle it out ---- the smell of burning fretboards is everywhere!

Another sudden end to this song and we're into the first slow song, though not quite a ballad. “Give in this time” is mid-paced (yeah, I love using that phrase, don't I?) and a very commercial song, just screams out for airplay, which it never got. Ten really display their AOR credentials here, and raise the bar with the first proper ballad, “Love became the law”, a dark, moody piece carried on heavy keyboards courtesy of the legendary Don Airey. The drumwork of Greg Morgan should not be understated here, either, as it really adds to the atmosphere of what could have been a sweet, sugary ballad, but comes across as more a song of defiance and perhaps forlorn hope.

We're back rockin' then with “The heat”, with some great guitar solos and again a really catchy chorus. (Sidenote: calling your band Ten is not a good idea. When searching for information, particularly on lyrical content, the term is too common to yield proper results. I kept getting links to Ten by Pearl Jam, the Ten best songs, and so on. VERY hard to research, so forgive the dearth of information and the possibly totally incorrect conclusions and observations here, but I had little to go on. They don't even have an offical website, or if they do, it's lost in the Web...)

Back to the story though, and the Voice of Meridian informs us that a young woman who worked for Cryotech has been found dead, and police are treating the death as murder. Her name is Jen Jarrak, and I can only assume that she is Lex's lover. This is borne out by the inclusion of the next ballad, the first true one really, the stunning “Silent rain”, as Lex mourns the loss of his woman. It's a powerful song, with some great lines --- ”There was once a time/ When true love drew man and woman together” --- hinting that relationships are perhaps less based on love in this city/planet of the future, and ”We would prove we were more/ Than just antoher fairytale.” Great work on the piano here by Airey really gives the song proper heart, really tugs at the emotions.

“Timeless”, up next, is a huge slice of proto-rock, a snarling beast that I would think is meant to put into words and music the feelings of Lex as he faces life without Jen. ”All cried out and raw inside/ I lie awake at night and wonder why/ Someone tore the miracle from my life.” It's clear Lex is determined to get to the truth about Jen's killing, and the somewhat erratic keyboards and wild guitar on this track underline his perhaps fracturing state of mind. In this state he decides to go to work, and set a plan in motion that could be seen as insane, if indeed I am right in my assumption that he is trying to create a clone of Jen from the database at Cryotech.

“Black hearted woman” is okay, but nothing special, and if he is trying to recreate Jen then I can't imagine why Lex refers to her in this way, unless Jen is NOT the lover, and was in fact instrumental in her murder? Hard to say, when there's no actual record of the plot to confirm or correct your suspicions. Doesn't spoil the enjoyment of the album, but I would like to know at some point if I've got it right or not. Anyhow, I would probably put this track as the weakest on the album. It IS good, just not as good as the others on the album, and I really don't see how it fits into the storyline.


We then hear the computer guiding Lex through what is obviously an illegal operation, to create a “holosuite disc” which he calls “Angel”, presumably the clone he is trying to create of his lover. We're then taken into the heaviest track on the album, where Greg Morgan really gets to hammer those drums, and Ten get as close to thrash metal as any AOR band I have ever heard! “Thunder in Heaven” is exactly that, heavy rock thunder, and it absolutely gallops along on smoking guitar and frenetic keyboard. It's a powerful track, and you feel fairly exhausted when it hammers to a close, but the best has been saved for last.

The next announcement tells us that two sons of the founder of Cryotech have been killed, and we can probably assume from this that Lex, having found out that Jen had been murdered by them, or on their orders, possibly for having an illicit love affair, killed them. The Voice of Meridian notes that “this brings the recent spate of killings at Cryotech to three.” But, prior to this, there had only been one murder, and one murder can't possibly be described as a spate. Hmm. As the album comes to an end, Lex enters the holosuite at Cryotech --- interestingly, the computer no longer calls him “327”, but Lex --- and is reunited, digitally, with his dead lover, leading to the heart-rending conclusion.

The album closes on without question one of the most beautiful, heartfelt, emotional and powerful ballads I have ever heard in my life. “Valentine” is carried on a mournful piano line, while Hughes outdoes himself on vocals, wringing every last drop of emotion out of the lyric: ”So let the world lament/ This precious time we spent/ Stars that came and went.../ Eternal requiem/ I'll never find the strength/ To love like this again.” The track could probably have gone through on piano and vocal only, but then the drums kick in and the guitars of Vinny Burns and John Halliwell provide a final, tortured solo that absolutely lifts this track to the realms of ballad heaven, and it closes as it began, on the lonely piano as Lex is left to his fate.

I just would love to know if I've interpreted the story correctly, but whether I have or not, this is one album that really deserves to have more people know about it, and listen to it. It still for me stands as one of Ten's best efforts, with some truly excellent tracks and great examples of a band who were at the top of their game, but just never got the break they deserved. Write them off as another AOR band if you will, call them overrated or whatever you like, but do me a favour first: click the link below and listen to this album. It may just surprise you.

TRACKLISTING

1. The Stranger
2. Barricade
3. Give in this time
4. Love became the law
5. The heat
6. Silent rain
7. Timeless
8. Black hearted woman
9. Thunder in Heaven
10. Valentine



Suggested further listening: “X” (also called “Self-titled”), “The name of the rose”, “Return to Evermore”, “The robe”, “Spellbound”, “The twilight chronicles”, “Far beyond the world”. I have not yet listened to their new one, “Stormwarning”, but I bet it's great. Oh, and dont' forget Gary Hughes' “Once and future king”...
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Old 07-21-2011, 11:52 AM   #85 (permalink)
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Third stage --- Boston --- 1986 (MCA)


Although by current standards today, eight years between albums is not seen as a particularly long hiatus, people had more or less given up on Boston recording a third album, after their excellent self-titled debut in 1976 gave us the superclassic “More than a feeling”, with follow-up and, in my opinion, much weaker album “Don't look back” hard on its heels in 1978. The wait seemed so long that when “Third stage” was pre-announced in the musical press in 1986 the tagline was “Third Boston album to be released --- this is NOT a sick joke!”

Indeed it was not, but as I said in the beginning, we had all more or less accepted the fact that two albums were all we were ever going to see from this American hard rock band, who would forever be known for THAT song. And no-one was particularly surprised: some bands released one album, some two, and were never heard from again. In fact, quite often the mega-success of a massive hit single like “More than a feeling” can have a negative effect on a band, forcing them to pull out every stop to try to equal or surmount that one classic, a feat which often is beyond their power.

But then, in 1986 came the promised third album, and it was called, appropriately enough, “Third stage”. In keeping with previous albums, the cover art featured a spaceship, though unlike the first two it was not a “flying saucer” and did not have the word BOSTON emblazoned across it. On the cover, it looks to be coming into orbit preparatory to land on a planet which looks similar to Earth, though it does seem to be a waterworld.

After all the fuss, I was expecting to be totally blown away from the start (or that it would be total and utter dog poo!) but instead we're treated to a soft, tender ballad, which really belongs more near the end of such an album. “Amanda” begins on acoustic guitar, then the electric comes in, and the distinctive voice of the late, lamented Brad Delp is heard once again gracing our speakers. It's a lovely song, concerned with a “seize the day before it's too late” theme, as Delp sings ”I don't think I can hide/ What I'm feeling inside/ Another day/ Knowing I love you”. The traditional Boston guitar sound is there too, and suddenly we're (almost) back in 1976, but things get going properly with the next track, “We're ready”, with the tempo kicking up and Tom Scholz's trademarked Rockman doing its thing. In fact, is there ANYTHING this guy doesn't do in this band? Here, he plays guitar, bass, piano, organ, drums, percussion, and Norwegian nose flute! Yeah, just kidding about that last one: it's a [i]Danish{/i] nose flute... What do you mean, there's no such thing? Would I make something like that up? I see. I had no idea you felt that way. Well then, there's nothing left to say, really, is there...?

Scholz also writes or co-writes almost every track here, and to be fair, there's not a bad one on the album. Even the next one up, an instrumental of sorts, called “The Launch”, being as it is initially made up of the sound of rocket engines firing and a solitary organ played by you-know-who, comes across as a really vital addition to the overall theme of the album, that of arriving somewhere new. Apparently, Boston wanted to call this album “Arrival”, but ABBA beat them to it... The guitars crash in for the second part of the instrumental, backed up by marching drums, and the whole thing comes across as very film-soundtrack-y. It leads into “Cool the engines”, another fast track dealing with the imminent destruction of the planet: ”We keep getting' hotter/ Movin' way too fast/ If we don't slow this fire down/ We're not gonna last!” Scholz's guitar is in heavy evidence again, but it's really Delp's incredible vocal range that carries the most weight on this song, pleading for calm in a world gone mad.


This is followed by a sort of reprise of the opener. “My destination” is exactly the same melody and lyrical structure as “Amanda”, and a lot slower with a more urgent vocal. Next is another instrumental, “A new world”, which is really nothing more than a short (less than a minute) guitar prelude to the second ballad --- if you count “Amanda” and “My destination” as essentially the same song. Even at that, “To be a man” is a powerful song, with snarling guitar and steady drums, and doesn't really stay a ballad for long. There's a really nice piano line that carries the verses, then we're into a real rocker, “I think I like it” which recalls the likes of “Rock and roll band” and “Long time” from the debut, showing once and for all that Boston are at heart first and foremost a rock band.

The penultimate track is split into two, the first part titled “Cant'cha say?” and starting off on an acapella chorus before the guitars get going, its theme balladic but its execution very firnly rocker, and here again Brad Delp shines, showing why he is such a great loss to the music world, and how few if any could ever hope to match his vocal range and power. This guy made Coverdale sound like Stallone! Part 2 is called “Still in love”, and is basically a very short ballad-type bridge in the song, before it goes back into “Cant'cha say” for the conclusion, putting the perfect finishing touches on a really great track.

And we end as we began, on a lovely little ballad.This time it's called “Hollyann” and gives Scholz yet another chance to display his prowess on the guitar and the Rockman before the band bid us farewell on a flurry of guitar riffs.

After waiting eight years to see if Boston could come up with a) another album and b) one of the quality of the debut, I was somewhat surprised and delighted to be able to tick off not just a) but b) as well, and quite comforably too. “Third stage” is, perhaps paradoxically, the album Boston should have made after their self-titled debut. They left it a little late, but in 1986 Boston were able to kick us in the ribs and say “Hey! We're still here you know, and we're more than just THAT song!” How right they were, and it was definitely worth the wait!

TRACKLISTING

1. Amanda
2. We're ready
3. The Launch
4. Cool the engines
5. My destination
6. A new world
7. To be a man
8. I think I like it
9. Cant'cha say/Still in love
10. Hollyann



Suggested further listening: “Boston”, “Don't look back”, “Corporate America”
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Old 07-21-2011, 02:29 PM   #86 (permalink)
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No more shall we part --- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds --- 2001 (Mute)


I became a fan of Nick Cave after hearing his albums “The good son” and “Henry's dream” play in a second-hand record store and rushing up to the counter to enquire who they were playing. Buying the albums on the spot, I was soon seeking out the likes of “Let love in”, “Murder ballads” and “The boatman's call”, though I must admit that although I did buy his earlier albums, I only listened to (and pretty much hated) “The firstborn is dead”, leaving such supposed classics as “Kicking against the pricks”, “Your funeral, my trial” and “From her to eternity” for another time. But what I have heard of Cave to date (the preceding notwithstanding) I have loved.

So when “No more shall we part” was released in 2001 I of course went right out and got it. I had hoped, in part, that it would continue the musical style and themes of “The boatman's call”, his previous album from 1997, and indeed I was not disappointed. In contrast to the earlier albums mentioned, Cave's albums have recently come across as more gentle and --- dare I say it? --- mainstream, which he would probably hate to hear, but even then, there are some downright weird tracks on this one! Given that Cave had managed to kick the heroin habit I suppose it's probably quite amazing that he managed to produce any sort of output. That he produced something of this calibre is nothing short of a miracle, and a testament not only to the man's genius and skill, but to his fortitude and his refusal to be defeated by his addiction.

It starts off with “As I sat sadly by her side”, a piano-driven lament in very Cave style, his heavy drawl, somewhat reminiscent of Bryan Ferry at times, giving the impression of a deathwatch vigil. The piano features heavily on this album, played by Cave, usually accompanied by Warren Ellis's sad and expressive violin playing, which really adds an extra layer of atmosphere and sadness to the songs. Cave is acidly critical of society in this, and other albums, but it really comes out here, as he sings ”Watch the one falling in the street/ See him gesture to his neighbours/ See him trampled beneath their feet/ All outward motion connects to nothing/ For each is concerned with their immediate need/ Witness the man reaching up from the gutter/ See the other one stumbling on who cannot see"

The title track is next, on which Cave somehow manages to make the joyous occasion of a wedding the subject of despair and dismay. Piano again carries this track, mostly on the bass side as he sings ”All the hatchets have been buried now” The song is totally acoustic, with nothing but Cave's vocal and piano for much of it until later it's joined by Ellis's violin and some percussion. A very disquieting song, to be sure, and yet very beautiful in that way Cave has of making the macabre and bizarre attractive, and what we would normally think of as pleasant being slanted to present a dark side, like the reflection of a beautiful woman glimpsed in a distorting mirror.

The album continues in this mostly sad and in some ways depressing and depressed vein, with songs like “Hallelujah” allowing something of the lunatic side of Cave's character show through. The song is again slow, with Ellis's violins moaning in the background as Cave snarls ”My piano crouched in the corner of the room/ With all its teeth bared.” The song is the tale of an old man, tended by a nurse, who gets fed up living in isolation, and who goes out for a walk and meets a woman who reminds him of what life is about, but unable to make the huge step he returns home to his living tomb. Yeah, Cave's lyrics are like that. Get used to it. Great backing vocals here by Kate and Anna McGarigle as they sing ”The tears are welling in my eyes again/ I need twenty big buckets to catch them in/ Twenty pretty girls to carry them down/ Twenty deep holes to bury them in.” Awesome, as they say.

“Love letter” is just that: a beautiful, tender, gentle ballad, as Cave tries to write the letter that will win his girl back, after he ”Said something I did not mean to say/ It all came out the wrong way.” It's a heartbreaking song of desperation and hope, and one of my favourites on the album. “God is in the house” is a sharp dig at middle America, while “Oh my Lord” is just eerie, disturbing and seems to concern the slow loss of identity and the disintegration of sanity. It radiates sweat, fear, desperation, panic and dread as it gets more and more intense.

As mentioned, the album is full of ballads and generally played in a low-key, slow fashion, though there are some exceptions, like the above and “Fifteen feet of pure white snow”, which accurately reflects the fear of being cut off in a small village by a snowstorm, and how it affects people. The biggest shock on the album is “The sorrowful wife”, which begins as a typical Cave ballad, as he laments the day he married his woman, but halfway through it absolutely explodes into a screaming attack of guitars and drums, Cave growling, shouting and snarling.


But perhaps one of the most effective ballads, and another contender for track of the album, is “We came along this road”, a bittersweet stagger down memory lane without the rose-tinted glasses. It has perhaps the best ever opening line: ”I left by the back door/ With my wife's lover's smoking gun.” Class! Again, Warren Ellis's violins help transform this track into a real stunner.

The album ends as it began, on a slow ballad, tinged with not only sadness but also nearly incandescent rage, “Darker with the day” is a song of closure, or the search for it as Cave sings ”I remembered all my friends/ Who had died of exposure/ And I remembered all the ones/ Who had died from the lack of it.” This whole album is driven by piano and violin, with most times a minimum of percussion, and above it all Cave's powerful, often understated, gravelly voice, dispensing judgement, ridicule, advice and satire like a younger Tom Waits. This is definitely one of his better albums, and a good introduction to the man's music, if you're thinking of getting your feet wet.

Just be warned: this is a road that only leads one way, and once you get sucked in, your feet will be forever on the path...

TRACKLISTING

1. As I sat sadly by her side
2. No more shall we part
3. Hallelujah
4. Love letter
5. Fifteen feet of pure white snow
6. God is in the house
7. Oh my Lord
8. Sweetheart come
9. The sorrowful wife
10. We came along this road
11. Gates to the garden
12. Darker with the day



Suggested further listening: “Henry's dream”, “The good son”, “Murder ballads”, “The boatman's call”, “Let love in”
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Old 07-21-2011, 05:32 PM   #87 (permalink)
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Trollheart's Handy Guide to Twentieth Century Music Technology

Since I'm a bit older (shaddup! No snickering!) than many of those who may be reading my posts, there are terms that I use which the younger generation may not recognise, as music was so much different back in my day. So, to clear things up and to avoid blanks looks I present here my alphabetised guide to the terms used back when I were a lad. No longer will you scratch your head when your uncle talks of turntables, or shrug when confronted with the term “C90”. Now you, too, can understand how things were, back before there was itunes, ipods, or anything else beginning with a lowercase I, and no internet! So come with me on a journey back to the past, to the heyday of vinyl, and the wonderful world of cassette tapes and record players.

Welcome to my world!


A

ALBUM:- More or less the same as today, an album was a record containing a certain amount of tracks (usually no more than 10 oe 12 altogether), with a hardcover sleeve, often gatefold, inside which resided the record, or album. Also see LP.

AMPLIFIER, or AMP:- An essential part of any audiophile's kit back in the seventies and eighties, the amp connected to the loudspeakers on your stereo, allowing the music played by the other parts of the system to be heard. If you had no amp, the only way to hear your music was through headphones (and I'm not talking earbuds here: we used to have to use big, heavy, ear-covering helmets back in my day, and sometimes they would have adjustable volume knobs on the actual headphones), assuming you had a “proper” stereo system, also called a “Separates” system. If you had a cheap all-in-one or MIDI system, the amp, such as it was, was built-in, but was vastly inferior.

ARM:- Part of the apparatus used to play the records on a record-player. The arm was mounted on a mechanical swivel, and when not in use clipped to the side of the record deck. When needed, it could be swung out over the record by simply lifting it gently and placing the stylus on the first track of the record. Almost always, when the record was finished, the arm would automatically return to its resting place, though on some albums it had been known to stick in the grooves at the end, and have to be lifted back manually. The arm was always placed down gently as the stylus could easily break if handled too roughly, also your record could suffer damage if proper care was not taken.

AUTOLEVEL:- When recording tracks, or a full album, onto cassette tape, it was usually preferable to set the recording level so that you got the best result. On some cheaper decks, however, the level was set to AUTO, and you were stuck with what you got. Then, as now, you got what you paid for, and if you were serious about your recording, you paid for a deck with adjustable recording level.

AUTO-REVERSE:- When this came out it was state of the art. While listening to your cassette tapes on your flashy new Walkman, you need not worry about turning the tape over when it got to the end of side one, as the system automatically snapped it over and began playing the second side. In reality, it did not physically turn the tape, which would have been impossible, but the motors engaged reverse heads on the deck which played the reverse of the tape. For those whose Walkmans did not have Auto-reverse, you had to either let the tape snap off on side one, or run it on to the end if the album did not fill the tape, open the cassette door, physically remove the tape and turn it over, close the door and press PLAY to hear the second side. What a palaver, eh?

B

BLANK TAPE:- In my time, for most of my youth, you had three ways of getting an album. You could buy it, hope to tape tracks off the radio if you were desperate, or, the favourite, borrow a mate's copy, tape it onto cassette tape and return the album to him or her. To do this, you needed to buy a blank tape, which was like a DVD-RW these days: you could record on it again and again, but after a while the strain of multiple recordings would begin to show and the quality of your music would deteriorate (see DROPOUTS). The good thing about blank tapes was that you could record a bit, take it out and play it on a Walkman or handheld tape deck, then later record more, and so on. Unlike DVDs, tapes did not have to be “finalised” before they could be used. You could also tape over previous recordings with initially no discernable loss of quality. Blank tapes in general were cheap, and we bought them in packs of five or ten at a time.

BLOWING DUST:- Not as you might think a euphemism: we actually had to do this. If a record had not been properly cleaned before playing --- with either a special antistatic cloth or, more usually in my case, the sleeve of my jumper! --- it could collect dust which would then transfer onto the stylus of the cartridge on the playing arm. So, as a precaution, every time we went to play a record we would gently lift the arm and blow on the stylus, thus removing any dust that might have adhered to the needle, and hopefully assuring a “clean” play. On rare occasions, particularly when there was more stubborn dust there that refused to be blown off, we would gently --- very gently! --- tap the stylus with the finger, though this was usually with a great deal of trepidation and only attempted if absolutely necessary, as styli were notoriously delicate, and could be expensive to replace.

C

C60/C90/C120:- Every blank cassette you bought had a specific recording time. Unlike DVDs today, one size did NOT fit all. The “C” obviously referred to the cassette, while the numbers were the amount of minutes of recording time available. So a C90 would have 90 minutes recording time, a C60 would have sixty, and so on. I think the longest recording time was 120 minutes, though my memory is not what it was... Recording time was split evenly per side, of course, so on the first, or “A” side of say a C90 you could record up to 45 minutes, and the same on the reverse. There was no sophisticated warning if you overran the tape: it simply shut off, and if you were in the middle of a song, tough. You'd have to get another tape, erase some other stuff off the tape or try “fading” the last track.

CARTRIDGE:- Another part of the arm, the cartridge was perhaps the most important as it held the stylus, or needle, in place. When you had to replace the needle you could do so, or if you had enough money you could replace the whole cartridge, which then came with a stylus attached. Although more expensive this way, it was often favoured as the art of replacing a stylus on its own was very tricky, and you needed watchmaker's hands to perform the operation: a stylus was about as long as a fingernail, and very thin and delicate.

CASSETTE:- Usually called “tapes”, cassettes were a small box-shaped flat case in which resided two plastic spools. Strung between these spools was a coil of magnetic tape, and when loaded into a cassette recorder or player the spools would be turned clockwise, winding on the tape and either playing what was on the ribbon or recording onto it. Cassettes had a nasty habit of getting jammed or twisted around the spools of the player or recorder, which usually meant they were ruined: you could, with some patience, expertise and a lot of luck, extract the tangled tape from your recorder, but in most cases it was then useless, though the VERY lucky or industrious have been known to have been able to rewind the tape, by hand using a pencil or other narrow stick-like object inserted in one reel and turned, back to the beginning and thereby save the recording. Such instances were few and far between though: a tangled tape was usually destroyed. Even if you managed to save it, chances were that little warps would appear on the tape and cause fluctuations in the music (see, again, DROPOUTS), or more often, the next time you used the tape it would either tangle again or even break completely.

Cassettes, though fragile and prone to failure, were for my generation the only way to get your music mobile. You would record your favourite albums, compilations, whatever onto the tape and take it with you to listen on the go. Your records could only be listened to at home. Cassettes were also great for making compilations, hence the origin of the word “mixtape”.

COWBOY HATS:- A euphemism this time, used to describe the annoying and unwanted effect of records warping. If records were stored incorrectly --- near heat, a strong magnetic source etc --- the vinyl of which they were constructed could bend and warp, so that when you put the record on the turntable it would undulate as it went around, looking like waves on the sea, or indeed, a cowboy hat. This phenomenon was also referred to as “waving goodbye”, as it normally meant the sad end of your album: there was no way to fix this. That notwithstanding, on a decent stereo it was possible to play a “Cowboy Hat”, but most people didn't risk it as the constant up-and-down motion could play havoc with your stylus, leading to breakage or replacement before time.

CRACK, POP, HISS:- No, not a breakfast cereal! Records were so intrinsically delicate that not cleaning one properly, or allowing it to become worn, or indeed playing it to death, could result in the needle catching imperfections in the vinyl, which would be relayed back to the listener as the above-named sounds. Sometimes this could be caused just by dust on either the record or the stylus, so stopping it and cleaning either could sort the problem, and there were procedures that could eliminate, partially or completely, this annoyance, though they did not always work. See SCRATCH, WEIGHTED ARM.

D

DIAMOND STYLUS:- The best, longest-lasting and of course most expensive stylus you could buy. The upside was that the abovementioned rarely if ever happened if you used a diamond stylus, and you seldom had to replace them.

DISCMAN:- An early stopgap between the Walkman and other hand-held tape recorders and the as-yet-decades-off ipod and other MP3 players, the Discman was essentially a small, portable CD player. It failed pretty miserably though, as the very smallest it could go was the size of a CD, and that's still pretty big, in terms of portability: much bigger than the Walkman. And CDs do not take well to being bounced around, so tended to skip and jump a lot. Not to mention that if you were going on a decent trip, you needed a good handful of CDs to get you by, and CD-Rs had not even been invented yet, so you only had a choice of albums!

DROPOUTS:- After recording onto cassette tape, if you had a) left the tape near a strong magnetic field, eg TV or loudspeakers, b) recorded on the tape many times previously or c) just got a bad batch, your recordings could suffer from intermittent moments where the music would either become muffled, or stop altogether, usually for about half a second. Such instances were called dropouts, as they resulted in the music, well, dropping out of the recording. A tape with dropouts was unrecoverable, and the more you played it the likelihood was the more dropouts would show up, sometimes to the point of completely erasing, over time, the recording.

DUST-COVER:- Unless you bought it second-hand (and often, even then) every album sold came with a plastic sheet that covered the cardboard sleeve. As the name suggests, this was to protect the sleeve, but more importantly the album itself, from dust. Typically, a sleeve would have the opening to the right, where the record would be slotted in, and the dust-cover would fit on in such a way that the opening would be at the top, thereby effectively sealing in the record. Of course, in practice it was never air- or dust-tight, but for our purposes it did the job. Whenever you played an album, you always made sure to replace the dust-cover. Some record shops actually sold dust-covers individually or in packs, for those worried record-owners who had either lost their original, or had bought a second-hand album that had come without one.

DUBBING:- Back in my day, this had nothing to do with hip-hop, rappers or DeeJays. Dubbing was simply the term given to the process of recording from one cassette onto another, via a double or twin cassette deck.

E

EP:- Short for Extended Play, this usually referred to a short, four to six-track single released by a band in advance of their new album. It would usually contain the first single from the album, with other tracks yet to be released. It was, in effect, a “taster” for the album, though in some cases it BECAME the album, as the EP was never taken any further.

F

FADING:- This was a process whereby, as described in the section on CASSETTES above, you could, if you had a deck with controllable recording levels, gradually reduce the volume at the end of a track, either so as to make it fit on a tape that was almost out of space, or to fade out applause on a live track, or even fade down one track which automatically segued into another, which you would not be able to separate one from the other any other way.

G

GATEFOLD SLEEVE:- Usually, but not always, on a double or live album, the gatefold sleeve would fold out, unlike other sleeves which would be one piece of cardboard, and often would have an extended picture running across both sides, half of which could only be seen when the sleeve was folded in. On a double album, there would usually be slots at both left and right of the unfolded sleeve, in which each of the records would reside. Gatefold sleeves were usually lavishly decorated and had things like lyrics or liner notes, or sometimes photographs inside.

GROOVES:- Tracks cut into the vinyl of a record, each one represented a song on the album. The needle would travel across these grooves as the record spun on the turntable. They were quite handy because you could identify each song by the groove, and so if you wanted to play say the third track in, but didn't want to hear the first or second, you could carefully place the needle down on the third groove. Hey, it was the best we had at the time, ok?

H

“HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC --- AND IT'S ILLEGAL!” :- Believe it or not, they actually printed this on the back and inner sleeves of many albums, trying to dissuade people from copying records onto tape. Hah! Bet they wish that's all they had to worry about now! But back then, it was actually considered illegal to copy an album you didn't own onto a blank tape. Quite how they worked out who taped their OWN albums, for mobile listening, and who copied their mates' albums, is beyond me. Anyway, like everything else the record companies tried, this failed. It was completely ignored in the same way those FBI warnings on DVDs are laughed at. Pathetic really: the idea that having taped an album you would not at some point want to own the original. Back then, the quality of tape recordings was nothing like the digital descendants of today, and anyway, we usually wanted the cool sleeves, lyrics, liner notes, and more importantly, we wanted the album (if it was any good) in our collection. Tapes just didn't cut it, and as mentioned earlier, were quite prone to failure.

I

INLAY:- The insert on a pre-recorded cassette tape of an album, essentially the sleeve, with the artwork and sometimes lyrics etc on it. Inlay cards were also used on blank tapes, where they could be reversed, written on and stuck back in so that you could see what was on the tape.

INNER SLEEVE:- A simple but effective protection for an album, the inner sleeve was usually a blank paper envelope in which the album resided. It sometimes had a circle cut in the middle, through which you could see the record label, and was open only at the top. As the actual album sleeve loaded the record via the right-hand side slot, this effectively produced a pretty clever and safe way of ensuring that a) the album did not fall out and b) it was protected from dust. Some inner sleeves had artwork on them, some lyrics, particularly lavish gatefold ones, but the larger percentage were plain white. Many people (myself included) often hand-decorated their favourites. The inner sleeve was also a handy device to get the record out of the sleeve without having to put your mucky fingers all over it, as explained in PLAYING PROCEDURE, further on.

L

LEADER TAPE:- The first few seconds of a blank magnetic tape were unrecordable, so if you started your taping from the very beginning of the cassette, you would miss the first few seconds of the music. We usually got around this by winding on, with a finger or a pencil in the spindle, past the leader tape, as it was called, to the first recordable part of the cassette. The leader was usually a different colour to the rest of the tape, but even if it wasn't, a turn or two was usually enough to get past it.

LP:- Short for Long Player, another word we used for an album. Kind of self-explanatory, but used quite a lot back in my day.

M

MEGAMIX:- A phrase coined in the eighties for a compilation of tracks, usually but not always of the disco variety, mixed together in such a way that they segued, though often there was a certain amount of cheating involved, as instead of actually matching the BPM (Beats Per Minute) as professional Djs did (and I think still do?) they would overlay the track with clapping, which confused the listener as the track faded from one to the other, and it was hard to hear if they were actually seguing together properly. To my knowledge, the first commercial, or at least charting, megamix was called “Stars on 45”. Then everyone was at it!

METAL TAPE:- The very best cassette tape money could buy, about four times as expensive per tape as normal cassettes, but reputedly of almost never-failing quality. If you had an album that you had borrowed and wanted to keep forever, you shelled out on a Metal Tape to record it on. The Rolls-Royce of tapes, indeed.

(Here we again run into the problem of having a character limit per post, and so I have to split this guide up into two parts. Apologies. )
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MINIDISC:- A great idea in theory, Minidisc was the forerunner to the ipod, which eventually done for it. Affording much greater recording options than cassette tape, or even the slowly-emerging CD-Rs, Minidiscs were probably worst let down by their own marketing. They were expensive to buy per disc, the players was also not cheap, the recorders even moreso, and to add to that, only a very small handful of albums were ever released to Minidisc. The sound was excellent though, and you could record --- apparently --- over 1000 times and still get the same high quality. They were also the first recording medium to offer the possibility of scrolling album, artiste and track data on an LCD screen. They were, so far as I know, the ONLY medium to allow you to move tracks, once recorded, around, so that your last track could be your first and so on, and to allow partial deleting of tracks without affecting the rest of the recording. They should have taken over the world, but like laserdiscs, they were overtaken by superior, or at least better marketed and affordable technology.

N

NEEDLE:- see STYLUS

P

PICTURE DISC:- Back in the days when albums and singles were released on vinyl, certain promotional, limited or special editions would not just be black vinyl (or in some cases, coloured vinyl), but would contain a picture, usually of the album or single sleeve artwork, on the actual record, so that you could watch it going around as the disc spun. Completely pointless, but very nice!

PLAYING PROCEDURE:- This was the big one! Back in t'olden days, to listen to an album you had to go through various steps.
Step 1: Remove the plastic dust sheet from the album cover by pulling it downward, or pulling the sleeve upwards.
Step 2: Gently slide the inner sleeve out from the right hand side of the album sleeve, being careful in case you had hastily repacked the album and the aperture was in fact at the edge rather than the top! Step 3: Take the record gently between both hands, holding it only by the edges, basically cupping it with the sides of your hands, as if offering a prayer or perhaps holding a goldfish bowl.
Step 4: Place the record, still holding it only by the edges, gently on the turntable.
Step 5: Lift the arm of the record player and gently blow any dust or dirt off the stylus.
Step 6: Check the speed, and adjust if necessary.
Step 7: Lift the arm, which automatically started the turntable moving.
Step 8: Carefully lower the arm down onto the edge of the record, so that the needle met the first groove, or track of the record.
Step 9: Sit back and listen, till side one ended and it was time to flip the record over and repeat steps 3-8, after which repeat steps 1-3 in reverse.


Select playlist and hit play? Hah! In my day, listening to a record was a carefully balanced art coupled with a militarily-precise operation!

PRE-RECORDED TAPE:- Simply put, an album on tape. This was the official version, as opposed to one you taped off your mate's copy. So in those days you had only the option of buying the album on vinyl (record) or tape. Pre-recorded tapes tended not to be of the greatest quality, and in fact, unless you really needed the original, it was far preferable to tape the album onto a blank cassette, even if you owned the album and just wanted to hear it on your Walkman. The only good thing about them was that they were usually one or two pounds cheaper than the record.

R

RECORD:- A vinyl disc, almost always twelve inches in diameter for albums, and usually seven inches for singles. The odd EP could be ten inches across, though those were rather rare. Record was also often used as a general term for any release, ie “this is the new record from Dire Straits” etc.

RECORDING LEVEL:- Most albums were recorded at different sound levels, some louder than others, some much quieter. If you wanted to get your tape recordings to sound correctly, you tended to use a tape deck with a recording level you could control, via a slider or knob. You would first do a “test record”, by having the tape deck in pause and record, then play the album, check the level, adjust as necessary, then return the needle to the start and release the pause. Yes, you would have to do this for each track off each album if you were doing a compilation, but then again, if you were just recording one full album the record level would remain the same throughout. You could also use the Recording Level to fade out (or even in) any track, by starting the level at 0 (to fade in) and slowly (but not TOO slowly: there was an art to it!) raising it by increments till it was at the level you desired, or doing the reverse for fading out --- very handy for those live albums where you wanted the middle track...


RECORD PLAYER:- Also known as a Turntable, this was the device on which we all spun our albums and singles. It usually consisted of a rectangular box, with a perspex or glass lid, under which was a round platter which spun mechanically and on which the records were placed, and a long arm which, when not in use, sat on a raised stand parallel to the turntable, and when in use would moveout and over the disc, touching its stylus to the vinyl which then reproduced the music. There was also a speed selector, and on some old, cheap or self-contained models, controls for volume, bass etc, though on decent systems these controls were on the amp.

RPM:- Or Revolutions Per Minute. Albums and singles were played at different speeds, 33 rpm for the former and 45 rpm for the latter (which led to the archaic term for singles, as “forty-fives”). Some Eps played at 33 as well, and if you had a really old record player you could have hours of fun for all the family slowing down records to 16 rpm for thaaaatttt reeeeealllllyyyyy slllllowwwwww feeling, or speedthemuptocrazyhighpitchedsqueals at 78! But none of us did that. Well, not much anyway.

S

SCRATCH:- Record players were not the shock-proof beasts of today, and it only took one misstep or fall against it and the needle would skip across the disc, usually tearing a scratch across its surface, often across several tracks. A stylus carelessly dropped onto a record could have the same result. Scratches, as you might expect, were not good and resulted in the record skipping, or popping, hissing or crackling. Scratches could also cause a record to stick annoyingly, so you could have the following effect: “She loves you yeah... loves you yeah... loves you yeah...” You get the picture.

SIDE:- Every record, whether a single, album or EP, had two sides, and each was recorded on, with the albums usually split evenly, with say 5 tracks per side. The first side, the beginning of the album, was always named Side A, while its reverse was Side B. Oddly, even a double or triple album would have each record labelled Side A and B, no C, D,E or F. This is also where a phrase you may have heard, the “B-side”, comes from, as singles were released with the hit, or expected hit, on side A, and another track, sometimes not on the album, sometimes a live version, sometimes an extended version, on the B-side.

SINGLE:- Same as today really: a track released from an album in the hope it will get into the charts was called a single, released on a small, seven-inch vinyl or often an extended twelve-inch disc.

SKIP:- As in SCRATCH above, damage to a record could cause the stylus to miss a certain point in the groove and skip over it, so you would get something like “She lo- you, yeah, yeah, yeah!” Badly-maintained or damaged records could have a few skips in them. These, like scratches, were in some small measure treatable, via a WEIGHTED ARM.

STICK:- Again, as in SCRATCH above. This could really bring your enjoyment of an album to an end, as the only way to get past a stick on the record was to carefully lift the needle out of the groove and replace it beyond the offending portion. As this was all done by line-of-sight and luck (mostly luck), invariably you would get something like this: “She loves,loves,loves,loves,loves... with a love like that, you know it can't be bad!” Very frustrating, which is another reason why we all tried to maintain our records to the best of our abilities AND always always ALWAYS checked carefully for scratches or any other imperfections on any second-hand albums we bought. And we bought many.

SLEEVE:- Or Album Sleeve. The crowning glory of any record, its outer face which was usually a painting, picture, design or concept in normally bright colours and often a real work of art. What is today laughingly called “album art” is a tiny copy of what we who bought the albums got for our money. An album cover was often the first thing that attracted us to a record, and I honestly doubt that anyone ever had a record in their collection, by choice, that had no sleeve. The sleeve was usually made of waxed card, and had a nice silky feel to it.

STYLUS:- Or Needle, the business end of the playing arm of a record player. The stylus travelled along the grooves cut in a record, allowing the music to be heard. A clean, undamaged stylus was something you had to have if you wanted to play records. The stylus was carried in the cartridge, which in turn formed the furthermost part of the arm. Styli wore out over time, and could be replaced. They had to be treated with care, as even dust or hair caught on one could cause it to skip across a record, stick in it or even scratch it, or if not actually do damage, it could also muffle the sound of the record.


T

TAPE:- See CASSETTE. Also the practice of recording, eg “I'm going to tape this new album”.

TAPE COUNTER:- A simple counter docked to the tape deck, which counted up (when playing or recording) or down (in reverse mode) a sequence of numbers from 0 to about 200 or so, depending on how long the tape you were using was. It did not, unfortunately, equate one point for one second, or anything, but you got to know how much to count up, how much of your tape was left or how far you needed to go back, based on the counter. Also very handy for dubbing.

TAPE RECORDER:- Also called Tape Decks, Cassette Recorders and Cassette Decks, these were the apparatus which spun the tape cassettes and allowed them to be either played or recorded, or both. Tapes would be slotted in by pushing the twin spindles of the cassette onto pinions in the deck, or in more sophisticated models, by slotting the cassette into the well of the door that opened, and then closing it, which connected the spindles with the pinions. Most decks had the following controls: PLAY, PAUSE, REW (Rewind), FF (Fast Forward), RECORD, STOP. Most often a tape would snap off, the STOP button being automatically engaged, when the tape reached the end, either playing or recording, though on some models the Auto-reverse function could be applied, meaning that when the tape reached the end of one side it would automatically start playing the other side. Tape recorders began life initially as hand-held ones with self-contained motors and speakers (you might see them in some very old police programs, or look at “Life on Mars” for an example) --- reporters used to carry them around,usually with a big bulky microphone attached. Then they became part of stereo systems, and finally they were released into the wild, as much smaller versions of their original selves, generally though incorrectly called Walkmans.

TRACK:- Single songs on albums were called tracks. This could also refer to the grooves cut into the vinyl, each of which was a track.

TURNTABLE:- Another name for the record player, but more properly describing the actual platter, round and usually made of metal, covered with a rubber mat upon which the record was placed, and which spun on a motor as the stylus moved across it.

TWELVE-INCH SINGLE:- As the name suggests, a disc which measured 12 inches across, however 12-inch singles, though the size of an album and usually played at 33rpm, usually contained extended versions of the single, as well as alternate versions, other B-sides etc. 12-inch singles were often Picture Discs or even Shaped Discs. Quite often, versions on the twelve-inch were not available anywhere else, not even on the album.

TWIN CASSETTE DECKS:- If you wanted to do proper dubbing, you had to have a twin cassette deck, also of course called twin tape deck. No prizes for guessing what this was: two cassette decks on the same unit, which allowed you to record one tape to another. Quite often on a twin deck only one of them would have a record facility, this being known as the dubbing deck, or deck B, while the playing deck was deck A. Again, to perform dubbing correctly, you really had to have recording level control. Also a feature on twin decks was AutoSync, which allowed you to either a) put your blank cassette in deck B, load in your original tape in deck A, select AutoSync and when tape A began playing tape B would automatically start recording, or b) listen to two tapes one after the other. When the one in deck A ran out, deck B would start up.

V

VINYL:- The plastic of which every record in the sixties, seventies and eighties was made, and which is to some extent still in production, and I believe may be coming back into vogue. Vinyl was relatively strong, as in, you could bend an album slightly and it would not crack, you could drop it and nine times out of ten it would not break. This was not, however, suggested practice. Vinyl was usually black, except in the case of picture/colour/shaped discs.

W

WALKMAN:- Specifically referring to the portable tape player created by Sony in the eighties, this term came to be applied to all small portable cassette players. For their time, they were revolutionary, about the size of an iphone (though much bulkier) and running typically on two AA batteries, with attached headphones. Some had radios, and some few had recording ability, though this was largely only for speech and the odd bootleg recording. Walkmans took our music and gave it legs. For the first time ever, we could listen to our music on the go. Of course, you had to have a few tapes with you if you were going a distance, but even then, one normal C90 tape would last you an hour and a half, which was not bad. Plus, unlike the unwieldy later Discmans, you could shove four or five tapes into your coat pocket or bag, and that gave you about seven hours listening time. You did have to change the tapes at intervals of course, but for us, this was the cat's pyjamas.

WEIGHTED ARM:- Some turntables (the more expensive ones, natch) came with a small knob or screw that could be turned, which increased the weight the stylus put on the record. This quite often was successful in repairing small scratches or skips (or, more correctly, allowing the stylus to move over them without getting stuck or jumping. The imperfections usually remained, just were not a bother to the heavier stylus). Some enterprising, and poorer, people achieved the same effect, with varying degrees of success, by sellotaping a penny to the head of the arm.

And that's my guide to twentieth-century music technology! If you're from my era, hope that brought back some memories for you. If you're a lot younger, then I hope you now appreciate what a special thing it was for us oldies to buy, play and maintain our record and tape collections. You kids today, don't know you're born, with digital downloads, itunes, Apple this, Microsoft that, Youtube, wasn't like that in my day, blah blah blah...
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Old 07-21-2011, 06:59 PM   #89 (permalink)
Ba and Be.
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
Yo Jack!
Weird: can't imagine why the link would be password-protected. It shouldn't be, and it isn't for me. I'll look into it.
Meanwhile, if you want me to reupload the album somewhere else (or your mail system can take it direct) let me know. Looking forward to your further thoughts, and thanks for the comments..

TH
Apart from a few too many keyboard flourishes that make certain passages sound very dated I really liked this album.

Lacking in pretension and with solid playing this is an album I have already passed around a couple of people with positive feedback
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Old 07-23-2011, 08:36 AM   #90 (permalink)
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That's great Jack, glad you liked it and are spreading the word. I can point you to the rest of their catalogue; if you enjoyed "Subsurface" you'll more than likely be into the rest of their albums.

Let me know if you need links.

TH
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