The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – An Overview

SAHBAlbums In My Collection

– The Joker Is Wild (released as “Alex Harvey”)
– Framed
– Next…
– The Impossible Dream
– Tomorrow Belongs to Me
– Live
– The Penthouse Tapes
– SAHB Stories
– British Tour ’76
– Fourplay (released as “SAHB Without Alex”)
– Rock Drill

An Overview

It’s a rare occasion when a band pops onto the music scene that so thoroughly defies description, is so unexpectedly different in more ways than one, that no future band ever comes close to fitting the same mold no matter how hard it tries. It all comes down to a trio of necessary traits that I like to refer to as SSI—Sound, Style, and Image. Many bands excel at one or two of the “S’s” but perhaps lack innovation when it comes to the “I.” On the flip side, other bands may successfully create their own unique “I” but either one or both of their “S’s” is nothing new.

Certainly some bands introduced a truly innovative sound (like Jethro Tull or Gentle Giant or Led Zeppelin), some bands developed a unique style of playing instruments or arranging songs as to influence scores of future musicians (such as Van Halen or Dream Theater or Rush), while other bands possessed an off-the-wall image that provided a shocking treat for the eyes (like Alice Cooper or Kiss or New York Dolls). Yet it’s a beautiful rarity when a band is simultaneously innovative in all three SSI areas. The Beatles, Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention, and Genesis immediately spring to mind, and all three bands were originally considered “out there” by both music industry insiders and the listening audience when they started generating a buzz. Some, like the aforementioned bands, eventually became household names, while others, however, continue to remain nothing more than “cult status acts” with their names seemingly destined to slowly disappear into the annals of time.

One such talented band falls—unfortunately and unfairly—into the latter category…

During my youth, never had a band been so “out there” as to leave an immediate and an enduring impression on me than The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. The band’s name alone (dripping with arrogance and presumption) was enough to make it a bit different and arouse my curiosity. And better still, the band certainly fit the same mold as The Beatles, The Mothers Of Invention, and Genesis, being innovative in all three SSI areas as mentioned above…

1) SAHB’s sound was certainly “out there,” with the band successfully merging so many genres into its albums—from Hard Rock to Progressive Rock, from Blues Rock to Cabaret, from Glam Rock to Vaudeville, etc. etc. etc.—that the listener never knew quite what to expect with each subsequent release. And…

2) SAHB’s style of playing with certainly “out there” when it came to its off-the-wall instrumentation, often bizarre arrangements, and a highly dramatic singer with a thick Scottish brogue and sandpaper gruffness to his tone. SAHB were also prone to add wailing saxes or harmonicas or brass sections or bagpipes as aural surprises on several tracks. The lyrics were typically creative, humorous and highly sardonic, usually spitting on the fine line between naughtiness and political correctness. To sum up, the phrase “stunningly campy” accurately describes SAHB’s overall style. And finally…

3) SAHB’s image was definitely “out there” when it came to a theatrical aspect—I mean, what other band boasted an auburn-haired guitarist always adorned in photos and on stage in clown makeup who could easily twist his face into cartoonish expressions, not to mention a lead vocalist who happily donned various costumes or used props on stage to dramatize the stories within the often-silly lyrics?

Yes, SAHB possessed a healthy dose of SSI for certain, and was nothing if not unique.

Now, to be perfectly honest, Alex Harvey was not exactly the most talented crooner. As a “straight” singer, his tone and accuracy left a lot to be desired, so his appeal had its limitations. But what he did possess was a wicked sense of humor and an enviable sense of the dramatics. So with a talented group of musicians behind him, individuals who had a wide range of influences in their arsenal and readily embraced the theatrical side of music, Alex’s vocal style fit in quite nicely and seemed somehow appropriate. And of course, like most bands, it took SAHB several albums before its sound and image fully developed and gelled.

The band’s debut platter, The Joker is Wild, appeared back in 1972. Because the album was released under the name “Alex Harvey,” though, it’s typically not recognized as an official release by the band, even though the five individuals (Alex, along with Zal Cleminson on guitar, Hugh McKenna on keyboards, Chris Glen on bass guitar, and Ted McKenna on drums) all performed on it. On this disc, the band plays predominantly Hard Rock and Blues Rock. Although with the band including quite a few cover songs on this album (as it would often do in the future…re-imagining songs from other artists and making them sound like SAHB creations), you have a hint of what would eventually become SAHB during its heyday. Therefore, The Joker is Wild is an “okay” album, nothing great to be certain, but there are a few whimsical moments and, overall, solid musicianship on display.

Framed was released the following year, becoming the first “official” SAHB album. The band’s growth is immediately noticeable. Although some of the tracks are still heavily steeped in Blues Rock (the title track, for one, along with “Buffs Bar Blues” and a cover of the classic Muddy Water’s track “I Just Want To Make Love To You”), other songs flaunt additional musical genres. The track “Isobel Goudie” is heavily dramatic (almost Prog-Rock in its arrangement with Alex singing/speaking the words “Coitus Interruptus,” of all things), the song “Hole In Her Stocking” is a rollicking Boogie-Woogie tune, “Midnight Moses” and “St. Anthony” are a mixture of Hard Rock and Glam Rock, and “There’s No Lights on the Christmas Tree Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight” is a song with almost a cabaret flair. The humor pours through on just about every track, and this wit would continue throughout the remainder of the band’s releases.

Later that same year, Next… appeared, and by this time, SAHB had fully developed its unique and bizarre style of camp-rock. “The Faith Healer” is one of the album’s highlights, another semi-progressive theatrical excursion that would remain part of the band’s live set for many years to come. The title track (a remake of Jacques Brel’s cabaret ditty) is admittedly a strange choice for inclusion on a Rock album. “Swampsnake” and “Gang Bang” are a mix of Hard Rock and Blues Rock with a “glam” aura. “Giddy Up A Ding Dong” is a cover of a Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys’ track with a 1950’s feel. Several additional tracks add extra strangeness and styles.

The Impossible Dream came in 1974 and remains one of my favorite SAHB albums. Now, fully embracing their campy style, the band slammed forward into full-fledged Rock ‘N’ Roll shenanigans. “The Hot City Symphony” kicks off the album in grand fashion, with “Part 1 – Vambo” being a heavy “glammish” rocker (and another live favorite) and leading into “Part 2 – Man In The Jar,” another stunning example of Theatrical Rock/Glam Rock, with Alex playing a Sam Spade-like detective investigating “the man with no face.” Silly, fun, and highly entertaining with a killer guitar solo, a jazzy and driving rhythm section, along with a full brass section added for extra dimension. Also included on this album was “Tomahawk Kid” (another more theatrical song that also remained a part of their live set), several glam rockers (“Long Haired Music,” “Weights Made of Lead,” and “River of Love”), a quirky 1920’s “flapper” song called “Sergeant Fury,” and the Celtic-sounding “epic” entitled “Anthem.” And also let’s not forget the title track, which is, believe it or not, a brief rocking rendition of the famous song from the musical Man of La Manchia. Holy Crap, talk about a highly diverse collection of tracks!

Striking while the creative fire was hot, Tomorrow Belongs to Me arrived in record stores in 1975 and, like the previous two albums, it featured wonderfully eclectic tracks in various styles. This was the first SAHB album I ever purchased, and it also remains one of my favorites due to a handful of stand-out songs—”Give My Compliments to the Chef,” another Glam-Rock gem with a hint of Prog-Rock, “Shark’s Teeth,” including a frantic opening guitar riff, some jazzy keyboard leads, some rhythm changes and an odd ’30s/’40s sounding middle section (along with an unexpected mention of actor Richard Widmark), and the album’s epic “The Tale of the Giant Stoneater.” This latter track, probably the most ambitious the band ever attempted with all its different segments and orchestration, has to be heard to be believed. Some glam rockers (“Action Strasse,” “Ribs and Balls,” “Shake That Thing,” and “Snake Bite”) fit nicely alongside a Blues-Rock track “Soul In Chains” and the title track, an old German folk song, featuring an accordion, brass section, and gang vocals near the end, sounding as if it’s being performed inside some Bavarian pub. Too weird.

In the latter half of 1975, the band released their “official” Live album (sadly, only a single album when a double or triple album would have been much better). On it, you can hear the way Alex interacts with the crowd and has them eating out of his hand. He was nothing if not a superstar of the stage. Simply fascinating. Besides the terrific performances by every band member, the album also features a version of the Tom Jones’ classic “Delilah.” Worth hearing!

The band soon went back into the studio for the 1976 release The Penthouse Tapes. This time, the band included only three of its own tracks, and for the rest of the album, it recorded renditions of cover songs, including “Crazy Horses” (Neil Young), “Love Story” (Jethro Tull), and “School’s Out” (Alice Cooper). Of course, as only SAHB could do, the band also chose some unlikely songs to record, namely Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene,” and Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek.” As always, SAHB put its own trademarked “twists and craziness” on each song.

Next, in 1976, came SAHB Stories, an album of nearly all original songs and probably my favorite of all SAHB albums. There are so many great tracks in the Hard Rock/Glam Rock genres, including “Dance to Your Daddy,” “Sultan’s Choice,” and “$25 For a Massage,” along with one of SAHB’s theatrical-esque songs, “Dogs of War.” But the finest track (oddly, the only non-SAHB original) is “Amos Moses” (made famous by Jerry Reed). SAHB turned this country track into a kick-ass rocker, featuring perhaps Zal Cleminson’s finest guitar solo ever put to tape. Killer!

Something odd (even odd by SAHB’s standards) happened next…in 1977, while Alex was busy on a side project, the band recorded and released the album Fourplay without him. Indeed, the album was even released under the name “SAHB (Without Alex)” and showed only the four musicians on the front cover (and Zal without the usual clown makeup). But, in only SAHB’s “wink-wink/nudge-nudge” fashion, the back cover shows a bound and gagged Alex Harvey kneeling beside a trunk in which he was presumably held captive while his band recorded the album without him. Hilarious! Anyway, although Fourplay has some decent tracks, and the band plays as wonderfully as ever, the album doesn’t do much for me. The “normal” (or “abnormal”) SAHB style is obviously lacking without Alex, so it’s more a “novelty” album for me, a pleasant listen, at best.

A year later, an important change occurred in SAHB with the exit of long-time keyboardist Hugh McKenna, to be replaced by Tommy Eyre for the Rock Drill album. It wasn’t a truly noticeable change when it came to SAHB’s overall sound/style, but it was an omen, and unfortunately this would end up being the band’s last album. Here again, SAHB includes some outstanding rockers (“Rock And Rool” and “Nightmare City”), loads of naughty humor (as in “Who Murdered Sex?”), a few more epic-laden tracks with Prog-Rock leanings (“Rock Drill,” “The Dolphins,” and “King Kong”), and some strangeness (“Water Beastie” and “Booids”). Despite the change in keyboardists, the quality holds up. And even though it’s a shame the band fell apart after this album’s release, at least it went out on a high note.

After SAHB disbanded, Alex formed another group (Alex Harvey – The New Band) with only Tommy Eyre coming with him and new musicians hired to replace the others. This band released an “average” album (The Mafia Stole My Guitar) in 1979. Several years later, at the time of his untimely death in 1982, Alex had just recorded his last album, The Soldier on the Wall, with a whole new set of musicians. The album was released posthumously the following year. (Note: To me, neither album matched the grandeur of the original SAHB, but are both worth investigating anyway.)

I, for one, miss Alex dreadfully. And the sensational band just as dreadfully.

Alex Harvey will always remain a legend, and like most legends, he left behind a legacy of awe-inspiring material by which any musician would be proud. Meanwhile, SAHB remains one of Hard Rock’s most exciting acts to have “ever been,” and a band that sadly is also one of the most-forgotten acts to have emerged from the 1970s. Instead, the band deserves to be honored and revered for its creativity, wackiness, and overall uniqueness. The SSI factor in full, dynamic force.

Oh, and one final thing…Vambo Rules!!!

(Fans of SAHB will know what I mean.)

 

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Regal Worm – An Overview

RegalWormAlbums In My Collection

– Use and Ornament
– Neither use nor ornament (A small collection of big suites)

An Overview

At first, I was preparing to write a review of only one of the albums by Regal Worm. But then I got so caught up in the music and soon came to the conclusion that both the debut release, Use and Ornament (2013), and its follow up Neither use nor ornament (A small collection of big suites) (2014), are so damned similar in style, tone, production, and quality that writing a review of either album could actually apply to both since it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between the two. Therefore, I decided to write a general Band Overview instead.

Well, let me tell you, no matter which album is playing, it’s instantly apparent that Regal Worm is truly bizarre and generally off-the-wall. Talk about eclectic Prog-Rock!

To me, these albums sound as if a musician so outrageously brilliant and twisted such as Frank Zappa had joined forces with the group Gong or another of the more experimental Canterbury Scene or Psychedelic Rock Prog bands, which then merged with Frogg Café, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Jumbo, then asked Brian Eno or Robert Fripp for production assistance, who then gathered together a bunch of Burt Bacharach “bah bah da ba day” type of background singers from the 1960s to perform some sort of demented, maniacal, and wacky Broadway show or movie soundtrack.

Each Regal Worm release includes so many styles, so many instruments, so many segments within every song, with some spoken parts, some vocals parts, and tons of musical eras merged into one, that it’s hard to keep track of all the various influences, the shifting rhythms, the number of odd time signatures, and all the strange sounds tossed into each track. With musical moods, themes, and atmospheres changing seemingly at 1000 miles per minute, you will certainly find zero time to relax during the proceedings.

The result is nothing short of interesting, often jaw-dropping, sometimes highly enjoyable, but mostly just a bit—no, not just a bit, but REALLY strange. I mean, seriously, how many bands today (or even in history) can boast of including not only the usual guitars, bass, drums, and just about every type of keyboard imaginable (including Mellotron) on an album, but also just about everything else imaginable from sax, flute, clarinet, and trumpet, to harp, vibes, violin, even whistles? Not many, I’m sure. One definitely has to wonder if even the kitchen sink is also being used somewhere in the background. Perhaps one of the many unusual percussion instruments to appear? We may never know the answer to that, but you certainly have to give the band credit for its originality and diversity.

Regardless, when you see song titles such as “Cherish That Rubber Rodent” and “6:17 PM The Aunt Turns Into An Ant,” or “Confession From a Deep and Warm Hibernaculum” and (the zaniest, and my favorite) “Odilon Escapes From the Charcoal Oblivion but Endeavours to Return and Rescue the Cactus Men,” you know you’re in for one wild and goofy ride. It’s like a musical version of the Marx Brothers on crystal meth. So if you’re adventurous enough to listen to either of Regal Worm’s albums, be sure to hang on to your seat belts or you might find yourself with a nasty case of whiplash.

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Lucifer’s Friend – An Overview

LucifersFriend_revisedAlbums In My Collection

– Awakening
– Banquet
– I’m Just A Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer
– Good Time Warrior
– Lucifer’s Friend
– Mean Machine
– Mind Exploding
– Sneak Me In
– Sumo Grip
– Too Late To Hate
– Where The Groupies Killed The Blues

An Overview

Lucifer’s Friend is probably one of the most unique bands in rock’s history, seeing that, early in their career, they kept altering their style with each new album.

Formed in Germany back in 1970, they blasted onto the scene with their debut Lucifer’s Friend album, which made quite a few future metal-heads sit up and take notice (I certainly did when I first heard the album a few years later). The album featured wickedly heavy guitar and Hammond organ, driving rhythms, and a wide-ranged English singer by the name of John Lawton who possessed an instantly recognizable voice and could belt out the tunes (including producing killer screams) in a style similar to both Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) and Dave Byron (Uriah Heep). And like those other singers, I consider John Lawton one of my favorite rock singers of all time. On this album, the band chose to also deliver eight tracks in the style of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, only with darker, more eerie undertones (probably to fit the name of the band and to match the bloody, sinister-looking cover featuring their hook-handed mascot…a cover that gave me nightmares, therefore I loved it, of course). To my mind, this is probably one of the best early metal albums in history, rivaling Purple’s In Rock and Heep’s Look At Yourself albums, and today, it’s considered a classic Krautrock album. It’s probably one of the best albums I bought in my earliest days of collecting records (and at full import price) way back in the 70s. A perfect 5-Star affair if I’ve ever heard one! Unfortunately, the band never produced another album with the exact same sound.

Instead, they decided to make the first of many changes to come when, in 1972, they released their second album, Where The Groupies Killed The Blues. Here, the band abandoned the Deep Purple/Uriah Heep Hammond-heavy metal of their debut in favor of tunes with more complicated arrangements, the addition of piano & synths, acoustic guitar, strings, etc. and many of the tracks have serious Progressive-Rock tendencies. The abrupt change in sound was jarring to many listeners, including myself, but the album was quite good nevertheless, and although it took some getting used to, it eventually grew on me.

The third album a year later saw yet another change in style. I’m Just A Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer is (for the most part) less complex, more straight-forward hard rock on many tracks, some jazzy influences on others, and a few off-the-wall songs tossed in that definitely lean toward Prog-Rock.

Then, in 1974, the band made the biggest, most jarring change in style yet. The Banquet album is a full-out foray into Jazz-Rock territory with the use of a brass section throughout. Hell, it’s basically Lucifer’s Friend meets Blood, Sweat & Tears. To be honest, I hated the album at the time. The cover was so misleading, showing the band, all dressed in black with their hook-handed mascot nearby, sitting at a banquet table in a gloomy Dracula-like castle, so I fully expected a return to the sound of the cherished debut album, of which I was still so enamored. Therefore, this foray into Jazz-Rock was a total shock to the system (and to my record needle) and everything just rubbed me the wrong way. Indeed, it took me three decades of letting the album sit on the shelf before I once again dared to give it another listen. And what do you think happened? I’ll be damned, but I actually loved it. Indeed, it’s now one of my favorite albums by the band, mostly due to two specific tracks: “Spanish Galleon” and “Sorrow,” both of the songs surpassing the eleven-minute mark and being absolutely the best vocal performances John Lawton ever delivered on vinyl. The rest of the band shines through also, with the energetic instrumentation, complex arrangements, and wickedly wild horn section just adding to the treat.

Then in 1976, the band’s next album Mind Exploding appeared. Thankfully, I remembered thinking at the time, it was yet another shift in style, this time a mixture of Heavy Rock with Jazz-Rock again included on several tracks, and with enough complicated arrangements so that it could probably be semi-classified as Prog-Rock, at least on a handful of tracks. This album grabbed me immediately, and it still remains another huge favorite of mine.

Shortly afterward, something unthinkable happened in the Rock World. Uriah Heep fired their original, long-time singer Dave Byron. But, no shock to me, they offered the job of replacing him to John Lawton. I felt him the perfect choice for Heep, since John’s voice could sound eerily similar to Dave Byron’s. But how would Lawton leaving Lucifer’s Friend affect the band? Would they continue?

Thankfully, they did, and yes, you guessed it, they had another change in style. For the albums Good Time Warrior (1978) and Sneak Me In (1980), the band hired singer Mike Starrs (Colosseum II), who had a voice occasionally similar to John Lawton’s, so that didn’t seem too troubling for me. And for once, the band adopted a similar style two albums in a row, this one more Hard Rock with AOR. And although these albums typically get rated low at various music-review websites, I have no problem with them. In fact, Sneak Me In is quite commendable in my eyes, with many of the songs on offer having memorable melodies. And on both albums, the musicians gave solid performances. Therefore, two decent albums that never got the plaudits they deserved.

Then, a year later, John Lawton left Uriah Heep, and where did he go? Sure enough, he returned to Lucifer’s Friend, replacing Mike Starrs, and once again the band altered their sound. On Mean Machine (1981) they returned with a harder rocking album again, not nearly as heavy as their debut release, but the heaviest album they’d produced in more than a decade. Unfortunately, the album wasn’t well-received and, eventually, the band called it quits. Temporarily, of course.

In 1994, I was shocked to learn of a brand new album from the band, this one named Sumo Grip (and released under the name Lucifer’s Friend II). And with good reason, since several of the long-standing musicians didn’t return for the reunion. John Lawton, however, did return, lending his vocal genius to the tracks, this time more in an lighter, AOR vein. Although the album is quite decent in some respects, I truly find it their weakest work of all. And that seemed to be the end of the band again.

But…

I’ll be damned, but in 2015, twenty-one years after that last album, the band has once again reformed, releasing a “best of” compilation album Awakening, which actually included four newly recorded tracks featuring John Lawton behind the microphone and a return to the Hard Rock style.

And blessing of all blessings, in 2016, a brand new, full-length album called Too Late to Hate emerged, with the band’s sound falling stylistically somewhere between the magnificent debut album and Mean Machine, Hard Rock bordering on Heavy Metal. In truth, this is one of Lucifer’s Friend’s strongest efforts since the early days, and it immediately found a place for itself among the Top 5 of my all-time favorites within the band’s catalogue of releases. Lawton’s voice is still recognizable, pristine, and emotionally charged, although he no longer shoots for the ultra-high notes, which is understandable considering his maturity, while the band’s instrumentation is still amazing, with the new keyboardist standing out as he employs a few unorthodox synth backgrounds that bring to mind the often-strange playing style of the great Colin Towns (ex-Gillan keyboardist). And on the majority of the twelve tracks, not only do the catchy melody lines stick in your head, but the band comes across as a fully revitalized and thriving force, still powerful and hungry to deliver more. Highly enjoyable!

Anyway, the band has been nothing if not experimental and diverse throughout its lengthy and patchy career. Some of their albums remain on my “best albums of all-time list” and I, for one, hope they stick around a while. But now one can only wonder if the band will release new material in future years. And if so, the most vital question remains…in what style will it be? Knowing the band’s unique history all too well, I wouldn’t even want to venture a guess.

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Hatfield and the North – An Overview

HaitfieldNorthAlbums In My Collection

– Hatfield And The North
– The Rotters’ Club

An Overview

Hatfield And The North were a rather fun band that didn’t seem to take itself too seriously, yet, sadly, the band didn’t last very long either.

Part of Prog-Rock’s “Canterbury Scene”—and created by former members of bands such as Egg, Caravan, and Gong, basically making them a “supergroup” of the genre—the band possessed all the elements and the talent to make for some exciting music—whimsical lyrics and vocals, highly complicated arrangements where each musician was given the chance to shine, the liberal use of sax and woodwinds, and even scores of odd time signatures/rhythm shifts. Jazz influences on many of the tracks also lent heavily to their overall sound, which sometimes reminds me of Zappa/Mothers Of Invention, Gentle Giant, National Health, Camel, Caravan, and a host of other truly creative acts of the era.

Of course, again because of the musicians involved—their experience both prior to Hatfield And The North’s formation or shortly after its quick demise—the comparisons to National Health, Camel, Caravan shouldn’t come as any great shock. The genre, as a whole, seemed to be quite incestuous, with many of its musicians joining together into various packs for brief periods of time, then disbanding, only to have those members create new bands with members from other recently disbanded packs, and so on and so on as the years advanced. This made for some interesting combinations of musicians along the way, and some terrific and unforgettable music, but many of the albums produced by one outfit sounded quite similar to those produced by other outfits due to this intermingling of musicians. The one thing Hatfield And The North had going for it is that the two mere albums the band produced before disbanding were truly memorable and exceptional. In other words, this particular combination of musicians didn’t stick together long enough to get boring or complacent and, for these two releases, were at the height of a creative peak.

Regardless of the band’s influences or each members’ individual histories, Hatfield And The North somehow created its own style/sound, its own identity, and often seemed ahead of its time. It amazes me that they aren’t better known and lauded more broadly within the Prog-Rock community, although perhaps their limited output has something to do with that.

Although I find the second album, The Rotter’s Club, a near masterpiece, both albums are nevertheless quite exceptional examples of the “Canterbury Scene” genre.  Even though both releases contain a slew of short tracks, most of them interconnect, running into each other and sandwiching a few lengthier pieces, giving each album the feeling of having only one long song gracing each album side. Not many other bands could pull this off successfully, but Hatfield And The North seems to have done it with ease.

And even though I find most of the band’s individual tracks fascinating, thus making it impossible to list my favorites, I must make special mention of the multi-part track “Mumps,” the undeniable “must hear” epic that takes up nearly the entire “B” side of The Rotter’s Club. If anyone wants a succinct lesson of what the entire “Canterbury Scene” of Progressive Rock was truly all about regarding its general sound, they need not hunt any further for a better example than this twenty-and-a-half minute track—it’s the entire genre presented in a nutshell of utter perfection. Every fan of Prog-Rock should own a copy of this track from this (occasionally) horribly overlooked band.

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D’AccorD – An Overview

DAccordAlbums In My Collection

– D’AccorD
– Helike
– III

An Overview

Upon first listen, one might think this current Norwegian band existed about 40 years ago, since their style is eerily reminiscent of a time in music when the sound of Genesis or Yes using a Mellotron, for example, inspired so many music lovers to jump on the Prog-Rock bandwagon. Along with the mighty Mellotron, the band also incorporates other vintage keyboard sounds (Hammond, electric piano, etc.), flute and sax, and heavy guitar reverb that tips a hat toward Pink Floyd atmospherics. Indeed, D’AccorD’s production brings to mind the olden days of analog recording equipment, and even the cover art on their albums looks retro.

The band is also not afraid of stretching its musical muscles when inspiration strikes, mixing some “normal” shorter tracks with a few extended pieces. Indeed, their second release, Helike, is comprised of only two tracks—”Helike, Part 1″ and “Helike, Part 2,” each surpassing the twenty-minute mark—which, combined, become one mega epic. But whether the songs are short or extended, no one can accuse the band of not being daring and even adventurous, as each track shows their capabilities throughout various styles and atmospheres, some powerful, some mellow, and all of them well-performed, ambitious, and full of musical depth.

The band has developed a sound that reminds me of a Prog-Rock act such as Birth Control, Jethro Tull, or Genesis melding together with a Hard Rock troop such as Deep Purple, Bloodrock, or Uriah Heep. In many ways, D’AccorD is similar to other “retro-sounding-bands” like Siena Root, Presto Ballet, Black Bonzo, or Hypnos 69, successfully incorporating the classic sounds and production techniques of bands from the 60s & 70s, adding a touch of Stoner Rock, a bit of Psychedelic Rock, some Jazz-Rock, a whole lot of Heavy Prog, and whisking music lovers back to the time when Prog-Rock began.

Hell, when listening to any of the band’s releases, you can almost smell the weed burning in the background…

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E.L.P. – An Overview

ELPAlbums In My Collection

– Black Moon
– Brain Salad Surgery
– Emerson, Lake & Palmer
– Emerson, Lake & Powell
– In The Hot Seat
– Pictures At An Exhibition
– The Return Of The Manticore
– Tarkus
– Trilogy
– Welcome Back My Friends…
– Works, Vol. 1
– Works, Vol. 2

An Overview

What can one say about E.L.P.?

With Keith Emerson’s extraordinary and unique style of playing and keyboard tones, along with Greg Lake’s instantly recognizable voice, and Carl Palmer’s sometimes insane percussion, the trio quickly developed a style all its own. (Granted, the sole album attributed to Emerson, Lake & Powell—with Cozy Powell stepping in for the missing Palmer—was the only actual clone of the original act.)

Their early days saw the band achieving almost instant success, and for good reason—not only did each of the three possess talent in spades, but they had a unique line-up, and their creativity stood almost unparalleled when it came to their contemporaries. “Karn Evil 9, Impressions 1, 2, & 3” anyone? Ah, the memories…

But unfortunately, like most of their contemporaries on the Prog-Rock scene (Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, etc.), when the popularity of the genre started to decline in the late 70s in favor of Punk and (groan) Disco (for hell’s sake!!!), the band attempted to reinvent itself, to alter their style to fit the times, and, for the most part, failed to stop their rapid descent. They finally called it quits after the less-than-stellar Love Beach in 1978 (where they even attempted to alter their image, looking like “hip pop studs”—or even disco studs—on the lame album cover itself).

Their brief reformation/comeback in the early 1990s with the albums Black Moon and In The Hot Seat was only a marginal success. I actually saw them several times on tour during those years, and although their lives shows were still terrific, the new albums were not. It was clear to most everyone that the old magic was generally gone. Those last two albums contained some pleasant, albeit lackluster and uninspired material. The days of the band releasing another side-long Prog-Rock epic such as “Tarkus” or “Karn Evil 9” had completely disappeared, with the band concentrating on  shorter songs in the AOR vein with only several tracks featuring any sort of nod to the glory days.

Nevertheless, the music of E.L.P. (whichever version—Palmer or Powell) inspired countless bands in the years to come (not to mention a score of future keyboardists and drummers especially). And more importantly, they left behind some of the most exciting material to have emerged from the early 1970s (the golden era of Prog-Rock), including the mighty, breathtaking, and perhaps all-around best album in their catalogue (and perhaps in all of Prog-Rock), Brain Salad Surgery.

Now, when it comes to the brief Emerson, Lake & Powell period of the band…

Although most people tend to write off this version of E.L.P. (or don’t even know about it, thanks to almost zero publicity when this sole album appeared in the mid-1980s), I find it quite enjoyable, especially after the Love Beach disaster.

Cozy Powell added some kick-ass spark to most of the tracks, and in my opinion, rejuvenated the creativity of Emerson and Lake. This sole album (especially on “The Score” and “The Miracle,” the two longer vocal tracks) showed that the guys still had something to provide the world of Prog-Rock and offered up a hopeful sign that the genre was not exactly as dead as all the American pop-loving idiot DJs and music critics claimed, despite the emergence of new music being offered by bands in the UK such as Marillion, IQ, Pallas, Twelfth Night, etc.

I, for one, embraced this brief comeback and was saddened the band (for whatever the reason) was unable to release more material. Regardless, their reappearance on the scene just after the New Wave Of Progressive Rock movement began was an added blessing to the scene and, somehow, made the NWOPR movement even more legitimate.

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Guru Guru – An Overview

GuruGuruAlbums In My Collection

– Dance Of The Flames
– Don’t Call Us, We Call You
– Guru Guru 5
– Hinten
– Kanguru
– Mani In Germani
– Tango Fango
– UFO

An Overview

I became aware of this Krautrock band back in 1974 when one FM station in Chicago used to have a 2-3 hour show one night per week called “Sounds From Across The Big Swamp.” The station broke from its normal hard rock format to feature obscure or underground bands from, despite the name of the show, both Europe and America. To me, that show was PURE GOLD and I listened religiously each week! I heard some amazing material from early Gentle Giant, Scorpions, Judas Priest, Amon Düül II, Epitaph, Lucifer’s Friend, Roxy Music, Birth Control, Jane, etc. And one of the odder bands to get featured was Guru Guru.

Then, as a teenager, money was of course scarce, and although I found many albums by all these amazing bands at my local record store, they were mostly shelved in the “Import” section, meaning prices were outrageous, well beyond my means. Therefore, Guru Guru’s releases were not something I would be able to grab anytime soon, to my complete dissatisfaction. But I held the band’s name in memory for many decades until something called the Internet came into my life as an adult and I was able to finally rediscover some of the music I had been craving since youth.

When thinking of Guru Guru again, I located the album I distinctly remembered from those days on that radio show, 1974’s Dance Of The Flames. I was able to download it and, damn it, the album was just as bizarre as I remembered. Since then, I’ve located other Guru Guru albums and have been able to delve into their history. And let me tell you, this is one weird-ass band.

Call them Prog-Rock, Krautrock, Psychedelic Rock, “Jam Band” Rock, or whatever, they were quite bizarre. Some of the material is hit or miss (“garage band/improvisational” type of stuff in the band’s earliest days), but for the most part, they are enjoyable.

Their earliest releases were almost free-form Psychedelic jam sessions, as if someone plopped them into a studio and said, “Okay, guys, fool around with whatever the hell idea strikes you.” Whereas other releases have more “actual” song-oriented tracks (since I like music better when it has some structure, these are the albums I generally prefer, although the “jammy” album Känguru is also one of my favorites by Guru Guru).

So, depending on your musical preferences or mood, you may enjoy their material or be disappointed by it. Either way, you’re sure to find some goofy (mostly instrumental) material when investigating them.

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3rDegree – An Overview

3rDegreeAlbums In My Collection

– Human Interest Story
– The Long Division
– Narrow-Caster
– Ones And Zeros: Vol. 1
– The World In Which We Live

An Overview

This New Jersey band is a bit odd, and I say that in a good way.

First off, they’re not traditional Prog-Rock, despite the fact they use a lot of traditional (classic) Moog sounds on many tracks. Their style, instead, is more akin to Prog-Rock bands such as A.C.T or Kayak, or Art Rock bands such as City Boy or Be Bop Deluxe, yet I also hear some Echolyn, Spock’s Beard, and Gentle Giant-type influences on occasion. It’s an interesting blend that, in turn, allows 3rDegree to have their own style.

The band also includes a nice balance of soft (acoustic) and hard (electric) tracks. Their melodies are usually quirky, yet engaging, so they have a strong pop sensibility in their approach, and even though the majority of their tracks are shorter pieces (no 20+ minute epics here), they still cram everything from Metal guitar, Mellotron, jazz touches, avant-garde chord patterns, and even some intricate tempo shifts into their arrangements. What may at first seem like a straight-forward pop song, for instance, will often change upon further listens when you discover some  truly complex instrumental passages lay behind the pretty melody.

Also, the band’s full and rich background vocals are quite excellent, often bringing to mind bands such as Queen, A.C.T, 10cc, or Sweet. And when they toss in some intricate, counterpart vocals, the arrangements are almost “Gentle Giant-like.” Just listen to a track such as “The Gravity” off the band’s latest album Ones And Zeros: Vol. 1, or perhaps the song “Exit Strategy” from The Long Division, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Again, excellent!

Also, I would be remiss to not mention the band’s lyrics, which are often sardonic, mature, and witty.

So basically, whatever the release, track by track, you just never know what to expect when each song begins. This band truly keeps you guessing, and although that’s not always a good thing with some bands, when it comes to 3rDegree, it’s usually entertaining and always well-played.

3rDegree just keeps getting better and better, and I look forward to hearing what they’ll create next.

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Toronto – An Overview

Toronto_logoAlbums In My Collection

– Get It On Credit
– Girls Night Out
– Head On
– Lookin’ For Trouble

An Overview

Here’s a rather obscure band from the ’80s that started to see some moderate success before suddenly dissolving into oblivion. Too bad, since this group had the potential to really make it big. Or rather, BIG!!!

Led by a singer with the silly name of Holly Woods—yet a singer who had a voice and a range equally as powerful as Ann Wilson from Heart fame—and a guitarist/background vocalist named Sheron Alton, the group’s third album Get It On Credit had some people, including myself, sitting up to take notice. I recall seeing them on the then-infant MTV with the video for the single “Your Daddy Don’t Know” (with its ultra-catchy chorus) and immediately fell in love with Holly’s voice.

This album, along with Toronto’s first two albums Lookin’ For Trouble and Head On, had some fairly decent material, AOR mixed with Hard Rock, sort of a combination between Heart, Pat Benatar, and the mighty Tantrum. And always, fantastic vocals and background harmonies.

One song that truly highlighted Holly’s amazing range was “You Better Run” from their debut Lookin’ For Trouble album (yep, the same song eventually recorded and made famous by Pat Benatar), and Holly’s ad-libs and screams at the end of the track are simply jaw-dropping—sorry, Pat, but Holly’s performance makes mincemeat of your tamer version.

Anyway, the songs “Break Down The Barricades” and “Run For Your Life” (among countless others) from Get It On Credit were especially powerful, and this album, as a whole, was way the hell better than average. Had the band continued in the same vein with their fourth album, things may have gone much better for them, especially since they had their all-important “MTV-boost.”

Unfortunately, that fourth album (Girls Night Out) seemed a major step down. The band started to sound more pop to me (and to many others, unfortunately), with much lighter material (aimed toward the MTV crowd, still in its infant stage), and it was a huge letdown after the strong Get It On Credit album.

Also note, Toronto seemed to have released a final fifth album a year later, but I learned about it only recently and have yet to hear any of the material (if I can even locate a copy of it). Needless to say, it didn’t make a dent in the charts.

Nevertheless, the band’s first three albums, especially the third Get It On Credit album, are still enjoyable after all these years. And for fans of female-fronted rock bands, this group of three albums are a “no-brainer”—get them, on credit—if necessary (all puns intended).

Another final note: Holly Woods, whether with Toronto or solo (she released one album on her own, Live It Up!—which could have easily passed for a “heyday” Toronto album—recorded back in the 80s yet released only in 2007), had killer pipes and deserved huge success!

In general, Toronto is yet another band that (for me) remains sorely missed.

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Cairo – An Overview

CairoAlbums In My Collection

– Cairo
– Conflict And Dreams
– Time Of Legends

An Overview

Back in the mid-90s, hungering for something new in the way of Prog-Rock (and new to the Internet) I chanced upon a website for Magna Carta Records, saw their focus on Prog-Rock bands, and immediately splurged on buying more CDs than I could actually afford. I can still remember the guilt I felt over that enormous purchase.

Regardless, one of those CDs was the debut release by Cairo and, upon listening to it and a host of other Magna Carta CDs, all the guilt I originally experienced for spending money on that gigantic purchase fled. This band, I felt, was great! The MG label had provided me with exactly what I had been craving for so many years, and Cairo stood out among the pack for their unique sound.

Okay, granted, they weren’t completely unique, considering their influences sprang from a healthy dosage of Yes and ELP, but to me, it was unique since only Dream Theater had truly made a dent in the fabric of Prog-Rock/Prog-Metal in America at that time, and this merging of the Yes and ELP sound, along with the inclusion of a terrific vocalist, had me jumping for joy. Synth-heavy Prog-Rock. A dream come true!

Yes, this was great stuff overall, and although nostalgia may be dictating my opinions as I write this review, I still believe this band had something truly special. Too bad they fizzled after their last 2001 (not-quite-as-good-as-the-others) release. Still, nostalgia does play a big part today, and I still enjoy the debut release by this band named Cairo, which I feel held such promise and, needless to say, I continue to miss them. I’m praying they will eventually reform and produce some more material since they certainly had the chops to make it—big time!

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