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Old 06-23-2022, 08:45 PM   #11 (permalink)
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I picked up First Signal's Closer to the Edge when it came out. Harry Hess does the vocals. His pipes are still in great shape after all these years.
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Old 06-24-2022, 10:19 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Oh. I assumed First Signal were a new band. So it's an ex-Harum Scarum side project or something?
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Old 06-24-2022, 11:53 AM   #13 (permalink)
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What is AOR?

And before you wiseguys give me the predictable answer, here's what I see as a basic, if not perfect, definition of this genre of music.

From what I read, it grew out of the practice of many of the FM radio stations in the USA for taking tracks from albums rather than just playing the singles, leading to its name, and acronym, which can mean both Album Oriented Rock or Adult Oriented Rock (and not, as I used to think, Airplay On Radio, though if you think about it that certainly fits. Then again, so does Awful Old Rock, so let’s say no more about it) which covered initially the radio format and then later became a catchall term for the genre. Essentially we’re talking rock here with a softer edge, rock with banks of keyboards, guitars that punch but don’t draw blood, and vocals that can always be understood. Another, perhaps less kind name for it might be Pretty Boy Rock, and in some ways AOR does share certain traits with what became known as Hair Metal. Not that there’s that sort of image in the genre - or indeed any image - but the idea of punchy, commercial rock finds its expression too in this genre.

Subjects are usually love songs, though not always, and some AOR can be downright political, but overall the bands tend to shy away from the more controversial subjects and go for the low-hanging fruit lyricwise. Not always of course, but it’s seldom you’ll see a protest song or anything necessarily politically relevant in an AOR song. Mostly AOR is about having a good time (or bad; crying into your beer in the ballads, or crooning outside your lady’s window in an attempt to woo her back) and much of it tends to look to the past, often wishing to undo mistakes. Doesn’t sound like much fun, eh? Well that’s the ballads mostly, though AOR has the ability to put sad/regretful lyrics into powerful songs - look at “Worlds Apart” by Journey as an example, or even (shudder) Europe’s monster “The Final Countdown.”

Anyway, if you want a better explanation of what AOR is, look it up on Wiki. I just wanted to give a basic idea of what I feel the genre is, what it encompasses, and what it is not. Overall, AOR is almost - but not quite, as we’ll see - exclusively a male-dominated area, even more so than metal, and therefore the lyrics tend to focus mostly on women, though again, this is not by any means all AOR is about. But if you had to describe the genre in three words, maybe “rock love songs” would not be all that wide of the mark.
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Old 06-24-2022, 12:15 PM   #14 (permalink)
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While the bulk of AOR comes from America and Europe (yes, yes, okay! Sweden is part of Europe! Happy?) as well as the UK and even my own tiny little home island, there are plenty of other countries where this music flourishes, and in this section I'd like to feature bands or artists who come from countries outside of the normal, the expected and the usual. For this reason, and not to get up anyone's nose, I've decided to call it

which, while it is obviously also the name of a very famous AOR band (it's one of their logos I'm using above, after all) also alludes to places where perhaps it might come as a surprise to find AOR, melodic rock thriving. It certainly does to me, in this first instance.

Look, I'll be honest. I don't know if I'm talking out of my arse here - would certainly not be the first time! - but when I think of Honduras, the images that come to my mind are rebel soldiers, invasions, coup d'etats and all that sort of stuff. I may very well be completely off the beam, but that's the image this country conjures up for me. Well, very quickly skimming Wiki it seems I may not in fact have been that wrong: Honduras was invaded by El Salvador and yadda yadda I don't care: this is not a history lesson. Still, look at where it is. My god, it looks like a tiny, tiny carbuncle being fought over by North and South America.

Anyhoo, the point is that when I think AOR bands, Honduras is not the first country that springs to mind. Nor the second. Or third. Not even the fourth, fifth or sixth. You get the idea. And yet I did just now come across a band from there, who sound, well, pretty rockin'. They're called Hearts on Fire (shut up; didn't you read my intro? Don't expect innovation or originality - they're mostly foreign words here) and it looks like they are one of only three bands of this type listed on Heavy Harmonies, the website that pretty much serves as the Bible for AOR and melodic/hard rock bands. Hey, that's three more than I had expected!

They look to have had one album, the rather grandiosely (or maybe hopefully) titled Call of Destiny, and this is a song from it called "Lonely Eyes".


Hearts on Fire - "Lonely Eyes"

Wow! That is crazy! Of the three AOR bands in this country, one of the others is one set up by ex-members of this one (Silent Tiger) which means that in reality there are only two bands there. Ay yi yi! Or something.
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Old 06-24-2022, 07:36 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Trollheart presents: the

of

A is for

Lee Aaron - "Barely Holding On" (1985) from the album Call of the Wild
Country: Canada


After Hours - "Stand Up" (2011) from the album Against the Grain
Country: UK


Alien - "Feel My Love" (1989) from the album Alien
Country: Sweden
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Old 06-24-2022, 08:52 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Quote:
Oh. I assumed First Signal were a new band. So it's an ex-Harum Scarum side project or something?
It's just a side thing with Harry Hess and a guy named Daniel Flores.

Quote:
Lee Aaron - "Barely Holding On" (1985) from the album Call of the Wild
Ahh, the Metal Queen herself. She's been around for some time.
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Old 06-24-2022, 08:53 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Quote:
From what I read, it grew out of the practice of many of the FM radio stations in the USA for taking tracks from albums rather than just playing the singles, leading to its name, and acronym, which can mean both Album Oriented Rock
That's always how I understood it. I suspect the term "deep cuts" came from that era too.
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Old 06-25-2022, 07:15 PM   #18 (permalink)
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A is for
Angel - "A Woman's Diary" (2005) from the album A Woman's Diary, Chapter 1
Country: Norway


Atlantic - "Power Over Me" (1994) from the album Power
Country: UK


Aerial - "In the Middle of the Night" (1978/1994) from the album The Complete Collection
Country: Canada
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Old 06-25-2022, 07:30 PM   #19 (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 release one album, some two, and are 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 this time it's too far away to see if the word BOSTON is emblazoned across it (probably is) and it's either taking off from or landing on some sort of orbiting space station.

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 Danish 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 comfortably 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!

TRACK LISTING

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
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Old 06-28-2022, 08:59 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Bad English - Bad English - 1989 (Epic)

What do you get when you put three Journey members together, add in John Waite and top it off with the bass player from Styx? Well, ostensibly an AOR supergroup, which is how Bad English were touted when they released their self-titled debut as the eighties drew to a close . I personally bought the album (second hand, of course) purely on the cool, rockin' cover, and was surprised to find once I had got it home that such luminaries were involved. I have to say the super in this supergroup cannot be overstated, and this stands for me as one of the best albums from that period. If you hate Journey, AOR, sweet melodies, hard rocking and great guitar solos coupled with swirling, punching keyboard runs, you're out of luck and you should seek elsewhere, because that's what this album delivers in spades. Every single track (every single track!) is a classic, and I could not really pick out one that was in any way substandard. Well, okay, maybe just the one. The same therefore has to be said for standouts, because just about every track here is as good as the one that precedes, or follows it.

Jonathan Cain and Neal Schon had of course both been in Journey, Dean Castronovo joining them later, and John Waite and Ricky Philips had been with Cain in The Babys, so everyone knew each other and they got together as friends trying out a project during a hiatus in which Journey effectively split from 1987 to 1994. They scored a number one and number five US hit with singles taken from this album, and the album itself shifted the units, however their second and only other album did not do anywhere as well, and after it Bad English decided to disband, Cain and Schon returning to Journey, Waite to solo work and Phillips back to Styx after a stint with Coverdale/Page. Castronovo, as already mentioned, would join Journey in 2001, having by then worked with Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Vai and Hole, among others.

And just in case you think this is just another Journey offshoot, that with Cain and Schon at the helm it's basically going to sound like a Journey album, don't count on it. I say this a lot, I've noticed, but here it seems particularly appropriate, that the whole of this band is very much more than just the sum of its parts. If you've heard John Waite you'll know he comes across as one of the quintessential AOR voices of the eighties, with just the right mix of power and tenderness, and the ability to turn it on at the drop of a hat. He has that scratchy, somewhat fractured voice you associate with people like Rod Stewart and Bob Seger, though he operates in a different arena to either of those, and he puts heart and emotion and passion into everything he does. The other two members of Bad English I must admit I don't know. I'm not familiar with much of the work of Styx, but anyone who could hold their own with two legends in David Coverdale and Jimmy Page has to be worth his salt, no?

It opens on what sounds like a full brass band, but must surely only be Cain's athletic synthesiser run, as no horns are credited, then a big heavy guitar sound from Schon and the pounding, crashing drums of Dean Castronovo punch in, and we're off to a great start with "Best of What I Got", a big, strutting, striding, swaggering (yeah, I know: I love my alliteration!) rocker that just bounces along as Waite takes the mike and completes the quintet. He's no Steve Perry, but I still find myself wondering what it might have been like had he replaced the Journey frontman. Still, after this album he seemed to want to go back to solo work, so I suppose it would not have happened. All the same... Anyway, there's little letup as we power on into "Heaven is a 4 Letter Word", a big grinding cruncher with a great hook in the chorus and a commanding vocal from John Waite. Most of the material here is written by a combination of Cain, Schon and Waite, with Philips adding to one or two of them.

Things slow down for the first time then for "Possession", the first of five ballads on the album, and it's a powerful, emotional song, with some great guitar work from Neal Schon, and a feature of this band, perfect, spot-on backing vocals that complement John Waite's solo voice and create a really full vocal sound throughout the album. One of the standouts next in the uptempo rocker "Forget Me Not", which blazes away at top speed and allows Castonovo to let loose on the drumkit, a human drum machine. It's the fastest track on the album so far and also of course features great interplay between the two Journey men (hah!) on keys and guitar, and was in fact the first single released from the album, just barely missing out on the top forty. The next one, however, blew it wide open.

It'll come as no surprise to those who know, or know of her, that Bad English's biggest hit single was written by Diane Warren. Taking the number one spot with ease, "When I See You Smile" is a tender ballad built on the tinkling keys of Jonathan Cain's piano, then joined by Neal Schon's powerful guitar, while John Waite sings the lyric with all the lovestruck awe he can put into his voice. Cain manages to make his keyboards sound like a full string orchestra at points in the song, and not to be outdone, Schon rips off a fine solo. This song had hit single written all over it from the word go, and so it proved to be. Oddly, it was not selected as the lead single - that was, as mentioned, "Forget Me Not" - but the second, whereupon it proved a massive hit.

It's the finest of AOR Heaven next with "Tough Times Don't Last", a real sense of mid-period Bon Jovi in the lyric; "Tough times don't last/ Lovers do/ Baby don't give up/ On me and you." Great keyboard melody laid down by Cain, then an appropriately haunting song in the shape of "Ghost in Your Heart", which qualifies as a ballad even though it's a little harder than you would normally expect ballads to be. More great keyboard runs and riffs set up by the Journey keyboardist, while another ballad, "Price of Love", which follows it, was to give Bad English their second - and only other - top ten single. A beautiful, emotionally-charged song based somewhat on the lyrical theme of Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer", though nothing like it musically, it's a stirring, effective power ballad that had the guys once again reaching for the top of the charts.

The rest of the album is heavy rock all the way, bar the closer. Castronovo's almost drum solo leads in "Ready When You Are", and Schon piles on the riffs in a staccato rhythm in part quite similar to the opener, while "Lay Down" is mostly driven on his bandmate's batteries of keyboards. "The Restless Ones" then opens on a soft, atmospheric keyboard line and a piano melody that starts off quite gentle but gets a little harder as the song develops, and if you thought it was going to be another ballad the guys soon disabuse you of that notion as it kicks into life. It has a great singalong chorus and a real sense of early Bryan Adams before he got all commercial (think Cuts Like a Knife or You Want it, You Got it) and rides along on Cain's frothy piano lines. The last hard rocker is the again aptly-titled "Rockin' Horse", which hands over control mostly to Schon on the guitar and features a powerful, urgent vocal from Waite, while Cain again sets up an almost orchestral sound on the keyboards.

The closer then is a little light ballad, somewhat out of place really among all these strong songs, and indeed apart from Diane Warren's contribution the only one on which none of the bandmembers have input to. It's co-written by King Crimson legend Peter Sinfield, but is probably the weakest track on the album, which is a pity, as I would have preferred a strong closer to end this extremely strong album. It's a small niggle though, and really there's very little negative I can, or would want to say about this debut album, apart from the fact that it was in the end the highpoint of the career of a supergroup who I would have liked to have heard more from.

TRACK LISTING

1. Best of What I Got
2. Heaven is a 4 Letter Word
3. Possession
4. Forget Me Not
5. When I See You Smile
6. Tough Times Don't Last
7. Ghost in Your Heart
8. Price of Love
9. Ready When You Are
10. Lay Down
11. The Restless Ones
12. Rockin' Horse
13. Don't Walk Away
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