Thursday, June 30, 2005

Top ten of 1985

This is going to be a very short post and it is more of a notice. I am actually just wanting to write something now and the other topics that I am working may take a few days to finish. Over the next few months I am planning on listening to a lot of metal albums from 1985 with the objective being to establish my current top 10 metal/hard rock albums of 1985. I have a top 10 now, but I want to go back and listen to these albums and other contenders and determine who really deserves a spot on this list and why. My belief my current top 10 of 85 will look a whole lot different than it did twenty years go. I will post this list in December after my record review for that month. This will give me an ongoing project to work that is in the same style as my reviews. My hope is this will cause me to really re-evaluate my opinions and to become a better listener because now I will actually have to justify my opinions in print. So who knows, an album that I have known for years might suddenly make my top ten for that year or an old favorite may not hold up and it may very fall out of my top ten.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Dokken-Under lock and key

Background-This was Dokken's third release and I believe it came out in the fall of 1985. The band's previous release Tooth and Nail had done quite well as they received some radio airplay and they locked onto a major tour opening for the Scorpions. I first heard Under lock and key when I borrowed the tape from a friend and that was probably within a month of it's release. The last time I heard the entire album was probably at least 1989 so it has been a while.

First opinion/current opinion- My opinion upon hearing this one in 85 was it's alright, but no Tooth and nail. I felt there were too many sappy songs and not enough heavy ones. Right now I stand by that view because it was the same view I had the last time I heard it.

Okay, now I want to briefly go over my rules before I begin with the review. I listen to the album straight through and I am listening to see if it is any good on it's own and why, but not how it compares to other albums by this band or the work of other bands. So I will try to avoid terms like describing someone as "sounding like Van Halen" or something like that. I will rather try to be a little more specific and I will use comparison terms only if it the absolute best way to describe something. My writing will probably be more like a simple analysis of what is actually going on rather than a flowery review. I am writing down my reactions to the songs and try to be as to the point as I can. After the review I give a final verdict which be whether it is better or worse than I thought back in 1985 and in the final verdict I can then use comparison terms as I give my final words on the album.

Review- This morning I did something I have never done before while listening to music, I took notes. Yes, I must be getting old to do that, but I want to be accurate with what I say here and I want to capture my initial reactions. So I pulled out my vinyl copy of Under lock and key which I purchased in a lot of albums a few years ago from ebay. I had to clean the dust off of it first although it is quite good shape. I put the needle on and then set down next to my notebook and I wrote notes for each song in between feeding my daughter her breakfast and drinking my coffee. I don't know if I will always do these review as song by song, but I felt it would be the most accurate way at least for me to get started. Please keep in mind that I am not a writer, but just a fan so I am probably running on steam more than on any talent.

Unchain the night-Okay, here comes the opening track which comes on with a brief intro that consists of a few simple notes from George Lynch as it builds up to the beginning of the song and launches into a medium heavy pace. Don Dokken comes in with the vocals and it goes from there. Overall a good song with a solid beat and it doesn't overstay it's welcome. Lynch's solo is sharp without being too showy so that's a plus.

Hunter-This opens with a flurry of notes from Lynch and settles down fast. Don's voice takes on a real low quality through most of this song and I'm not sure it really suits him because it sounds somewhat out of place here like he is trying to be very serious. The solo comes earlier than expected and it's smooth and really fits with the overall feel of the song. About two thirds of the way through the repetitiveness of the chorus is really getting to me and finally it comes to an end.

In my dreams- It opens with a group chorus in kind of a breathy type of singing. The opening riff is actually quite solid although a bit subdued. The vocals come in and it's very apparent that Don probably wrote this because his voice really suits this song and vice versa. The song overall has a smooth if not powerful feel to it. Lynch's solo seems to be a few fast runs, but what I liked more than the solo was the cut it made straight back into the main rhythm, very smooth. As they repeat the beginning chorus and the song heads to end I am left thinking that Dokken really hit everything right on this song.

Slippin' Away- Slow beginning and right away I realize it's another ballad and it's trying to be oh so serious. The music rises slightly and Don's vocals begin to get syrupy, but not exactly overdone. The solo is kind of simple for Lynch with more just bends and holding several notes and it's actual fairly short which suits the pace of the song. It's not bad, but it seems a bit like the first filler song I have heard so far.

Lightnin' strikes again- The opening riff is just the guitar and the bass and drums kicking in and then Don. It's the heaviest song so far, but extremely repetitive. The vocals just really seem like he is trying to make the song seem heavier than it is. Good for a change of pace at this point in the album, but it's not their best songwriting. So ends side one, time to flip it over and hear what's there.

It's not love- Simple intro leads into the first song of side two. It's not bad, but it's nothing I didn't hear on the first side of the album. Don seems to be trying to hit a different range, but it doesn't quite work. The solo just seems to happen with no real flow into it and that's the first time that has happened on this album. The best thing about this song is the drum beat which is solid and clear.

Jaded Heart-This song starts out very simple with a few notes then it builds slowly with the vocals and bass joining and finally the drums. It's a great mix with everything blending very good as the song builds and then goes back to the simple beat again. The solo is short and not too spectacular, but that doesn't matter because this song doesn't need a flashy solo to make it good. This is not a song that will jump out at you, but if you are listening to it then you will hear why it is so good. It is not a showy song and not entirely original, but just very solid all the way through.

Don't lie to me-Straight into the song with a medium heavy beat and then it tapers off a bit into a very even flow where the guitar part is really going with the vocals instead of just backing them up. Then it goes into the same type of group chorus that has already been done in a few previous songs. George does probably his fastest so far although the most effective thing he does here is holding some notes that really add to the sound. This is not a standout track, but certainly not a throw away either.
Will the sun rise-This song right away sounds a bit like an anthem which is something Dokken don't normally do. It's a very simple song with not many pace changes, but it has a very smooth feel to it. Not spectacular, but the fact that it's different from the rest of the songs on this side helps it. Good solid rhythm from Brown and Pilson here as with most of the songs. We hear the chorus again right and the end of the song.

Til the livin' end- The openers on each side started with intros so the closers on both sides are the two fast songs. I guess they did that to space the songs out, but it feels more like bookends. This is the fastest song on the album and at one time that might have sounded like a great thing. However, it's not the heaviest because the music sounds tones down a bit despite the pace. The song actually flows pretty nicely, but it just really sounds a bit forced. I just get the impression they felt they needed a metal song and they tacked one on the end for good measure. George has his longest solo on the album here, but far from his best. It even has two parts, but there's just nothing to it that really makes it stand out or even sound that much like George Lynch. Finally the song ends and the album is done.

The final verdict- I put my notes away and think about what I heard. The final verdict is that Under lock and key is better than I thought back in 1985, but not really for the reasons I would have guessed. This album was not as sappy as I remember and George's solos were shorter than I remember. Unfortunately, the fast songs were not as good as I remembered. The best thing I can say about Dokken on this album is that they were overall competent. You are probably saying (in a sarcastic tone) "Whoa, Metal Mark, don't be so overwhelming with your compliment!". On the contrary, I think being competent in commercial metal goes a long way and everyone in Dokken were certainly competent. It wasn't the fast songs that stood out here, but rather it was the songs where they played to their strengths and when Don was singing what he was comfortable doing. Lynch's best solos weren't the longest or the fastest, but rather it was the ones that tried to match the feel of the song and the ones where he really squeezed a lot out of the simplest notes. The down side on this album and all of their albums except Tooth and nail was this feeling of just trying to be too serious and I really think that's why they never made it bigger than they did. The other thing I would have like to have seen more of was they should have played to their strengths and play what they are comfortable playing. When they did this in songs like Jaded Heart and In my dreams then it was very effective. However, they were trying to break through at this time so their were songs that either they or the record company probably thought should be on the album whether the band liked them or not. I won't be singing Unchain the night in the shower any time soon, but there is a good chance I will listen this album again this year.
There it is my debut review and I feel better after getting it out of my system. I promised one of these the first week of each month so now I have turn around and do another one next week. It's late in the summer of 1985 and a New York metal band is about to release their second album. Their debut came out in 84 and got some good reviews, but they have changed their singer and bass player since then. This is a band who was into Kiss, rap and hardcore bands. Of course it's Anthrax and I will have my review of Spreading the disease out next week.

Friday, June 24, 2005

High price of old metal

Where would be without eBay? Well, a whole lot richer that's for sure. Now the name of this blog is the Heavy Metal Time Machine, but you know eBay is a bit of a time machine as well. Any stuff from your past that you had and lost or remember from your past can now become yours for a price and sometimes it is some price. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I didn't have a lot of money to spend on albums when I was in high school, but I did my share of looking. I remember spending a great deal of time looking, no sometimes it was actually staring at album covers as if I had some x-ray vision that could allow me to see the quality of the music just by gazing non-stop at the cover art. If I had a nickel for every minute of my life that I spent staring at the cover of an Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath or Motorhead album then I would be rich enough to buy some of these metal albums going on eBay. Now I will admit right away that I have not paid an enormous price for any album or cd on eBay. About the most I have ever paid for an album on eBay was may $5.00 and maybe $15. 00 for a cd, but I do browse to see what is out there. Now generally rare metal albums don't fetch as great a price as rare cd's, but I have seen some go for high prices. I saw a Warren DeMartini solo album on cd (Japanese only release) go for up around $90.00 a few years ago. If Warren owned a box of those then he could just sell them on eBay and make more than he made from touring with Ratt over the last six years. Just this week I saw a cd of Laaz Rockit's second album for sale. Now I have it on lp, but I was curious to see if I could find any of their stuff on cd. Apparently most of their albums were released on cd and are now out of print. Now I got into Laaz Rockit early on and they were on a major by their third release, but they were never that well known. Still that copy of No Stranger to danger went for over $80.00 and had over ten bids. I guess the whole thing is that people who were teens back then (like me) couldn't afford everything they wanted. Now we have jobs and we have some money so I guess a lot of old metal fans are going back and sometimes paying a high price for a piece of the past. A few years ago I was searching through eBay and looking for an album by an old band and I found someone selling a cd for this band. Now the two albums I knew of where not released on cd, but upon reading the description I discovered this was a release of a third album that was recorded ten years earlier. I was interested and the price was cheap so I bid and won. When I got the sellers information, I quickly realized he had been the drummer for this band. I won't mention the name of the band because I am not passing any judgement and you probably wouldn't know who they were even if I said there name. However this did make me wander if any of these old metal guys were selling fliers, bootlegs and other stuff from their old band on Ebay. My guess would be that this was going on more than I thought. Is this wrong? Well it's not wrong, but it is a bit sad at least to me. At least I have not seen any of Blackie Lawless's animal print cod pieces or Lemmy's mole for sale so eBay isn't exactly like a big heavy metal flea market.
You can occasionaly find some bargains on Ebay and I believe if you wait long enough you will find what you are looking for and maybe even for a fair price. I was looking for an album called Cyclone- Brutal Destruction (who?). It's a real speed metal gem from an obscure 80's band, but I looked and looked for this on lp as it was never released on cd. It oftentimes went for over $10.00 for a used album and that was too rich for my blood. Then finally I must have hit it at the right time because I got one in great shape for $4.00. Another thing to remember is that items can be re-issued. A friend of mine told me about someone he knew paying $40.00 for a cd on Ebay a few years back. Then I saw where it was re-released with another album on a cd where it was $15.00 for both cd's new. I almost bid on copy of Malice's second lp a year or so ago, but I gave up when it got over $10.00. Now it has been released on cd with bonus tracks for $12.99 at most places. Overall Ebay sometimes offers some options to those of us who are searching for albums we want back or albums we never got to hear. If you have the money and the time then you can probably find what you are looking for. So good luck and happy bidding!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ratt mirror in my living room?

No, there is currently no Ratt mirror hanging on my living room wall, but at one time I thought there might be. Summer is here and carnivals are going on so this made me think of carnival prizes and one summer years ago. If you have to a carnival then you know the type of cheap prizes they often. Some of the prizes years ago long neck, twisty bottles with colored water, tacky pillows and of course mirrors of rock bands. Now these things look pretty cheap now if you have somehow managed to hold onto one and it hasn't broken or turned some weird color. However, back then these mirrors were shiny and new maybe a bit like the carnival itself with all the bright lights and the excitement that comes from a once year event. Now the carnivals around here are run by the local fire departments which means the games are legitimate unlike some traveling carnivals. I am not sure that is a good thing or not because they means you might actually win some of this stuff have to take it home with you and find a place for it. When you are a kid or a teen then you wanted this stuff and knew where you were going to put it in your room and you knew just how cool (you thought) it would look in your room. So it was just a matter of playing the game and winning the prize, right? Not so easy as I would have hoped. Yes, they are legitimate so you can win, but they still make it hard to earn these hunks of junks. I went to a few carnivals with my father when I was little, but the first and I believe the only one I went to as a teenager was when I was 15 years old. It was late in the afternoon and my father asked me if I wanted to the carnival that night and of course I wanted to go like there was much else to do except sit around, sweat and watch TV. At least at the carnival I could walk around, sweat and try to earn tacky prizes. Well my father gave me some money and told me he would be off playing bingo and we agreed to meet outside the bingo tent in two hours. Lots of time to walk around and see what was going on. It didn't take me long to find the games with the metal prizes. There was one where you have to throw darts and pop balloons, but I forget how many you had to throw to win a prize. The other game was a ring toss with a bottle you had to get the rings around. Neither game looked easy, but without looking much at the prizes I decided to try the darts first because it looked easier. Again I am afraid that I have forgotten exactly how many balloons you had to pop to get a prize, but you had to get several to get any prize. Then there were levels of prizes like if you got a couple balloons popped then you get a tiny rock mirror which was actually just a very small mirror maybe the size of two baseball cards and it had a very cheap sticker slapped on it. I seem to remember ones like Duran Duran and Wham (yes it was that bad) and the best one they had was David Lee Roth, but it was like a green and white Diamond Dave that looked like his face was kind of warped. The best prize at this stand was a Twisted Sister muscle shirt and I was set on earning one. I do not throw darts very often, but after several tries I was getting the hang of it and after about $3.00 I had won a Twisted Sister shirt. So now I had a major prize, I had some confidence and most importantly I had money left. So I was ready to attempt the ring toss and see what else I could win. I stood back a minute and watched some other guys trying the ring toss. Again I cannot remember the specifics, but it seems like the hardest part was that the ring had to go over the bottle and then go all the way down to the floor. The bottle did not make this easy and rings would catch half way down hang there taunting you, but they wouldn't go all the way down. I was ready so I began playing and was struggling right away. I tried to relax, but I was spending a lot of money and winning nothing. Then finally a break through, had won one of there small prizes. These mirrors were different because they actually just a wooden frame with glass over a small poster so it was at least a real image rather than a green David Lee Roth. I selected a small Twisted Sister mirror so maybe it was time to quite. Wait a minute, wait a minute, they were changing some of big mirrors and bringing out some different ones. There I saw it, the Holy Grail of carnival mirrors, it was a large Ratt-Out of the cellar mirror. Yes, it had the cover of Out of the cellar in all it's glory and as a bonus it had the Ratt logo that had the rat with wires connected to it's head down in the corner of the mirror. My mind was set, I had to have that mirror and oh, yes it would go on my wall! I knew it would be hard to convince my parents to let me put it up. If I won a big mirror then maybe I should play it safe and pick a Van Halen mirror or the Scorpions because they just had the band rather than the woman on the Ratt mirror. No, I must have the Ratt mirror because it was calling to me well, actually I think being a teenage boy is what made me want that mirror. It took about $4.00 more, but I won that Ratt mirror. So for a mere $10.00+ I won a shirt that would fade bad after two washings, a small Twisted Sister mirror and the king of all carnival prizes the Ratt mirror. After many attempts of pleading I was able to talk my parents into letting me hang this Ratt mirror in my bedroom. Although I one day believed that I would have it on the wall of my living room like some trophy. I had it up in my bedroom for maybe a year before I took it down because my musical tastes were changing and Ratt were no longer towards the top of my list. The mirror set in my attic for several years and then in the early 90's I passed it on to Bob telling him to take good care of it because one day I might want it back for my living room. I have never wanted it for my living room, but I am greatly relieved to know that Bob still has it and it is still safe. Who knows, maybe in another 20 years I will want it back to put in my living room. Well, then again maybe not.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Heavy metal and hay bales

I wish I could say I grew up around some great metal scene and that I went to all these concerts when I was teenager, but unfortunately I cannot say those things. I grew up outside of a small town in central Maryland and there was no metal scene at all. However you could buy the metal magazines at the convenience stores and local bookstores and I certainly did. In 1985 the mall was still two years away and at the beginning of the year I think there was only one record store in my area and it was Sound Waves. Then in late spring of 1985 a record store popped up closer to where I live. It was a small independent store and the owner was a big metal fan. I think I spent way too much time reading metal magazines and believing that there were was this metal lifestyle out there that metal fans in LA and New York were living. My reality as a metal fan was more like a cross between Green Acres and a bad episode of the Twilight Zone only with heavy metal mixed in. This new record store did give me the chance to buy tapes and albums more often because we went there more often than to the other record store. Trust me when I say that I spent more money than I should have at this store between 85 and 88. Now the heart of this post is about the summer of 1985 and what my summer was like. My love for metal had grown during freshman year, but unfortunately I didn't have a lot of money and my allowance was fine, but slim in terms of album spending money. When summer of 85 rolled around, my plans were to watch a lot of television and eat as much as possible because I was fat kid. I admit it and have no shame in doing so, that's just the way it was and I figured I would eventually grow out of my fat so I didn't worry about. I choose to do those two things largely because:
A) I lived out in the country where there was not a lot to do.
B) My parents did not take vacations and I mean not at all. Going to the record store was a big deal at that time because I did not go out all that much.
One of the coolest things about that summer was the radio. I had been listening to the radio for some time at that point, but at the beginning of the summer my local station started playing the syndicated show the Metal Shop on Saturday nights and on Friday night they had Friday Night Metal which was an hour of all metal songs with very few commercials. During that Summer these two programs introduced me to Motorhead, Metallica, Raven, Armored Saint and many other bands that I not heard before. I really looked forward to these two shows each week that summer and it was a bit of a highlight for me. I know that may be sort of sad, but I certainly enjoyed it. I still remember laying on my bed with the window open and holding my small radio waiting for these two metal shows to come on and then I would just look out the window at the lightning bugs or the sky while I listened. I couldn't go to concerts because I wasn't old enough to drive and neither were any of my friends and I certainly wouldn't have enough money to go to concerts at that time either. So the only scene I had was listening to these bands on albums and the radio plus reading about them in Hit Parader and other metal magazines.
Outside of the radio there was the chance of getting new tapes and albums. There was one way for me to make more money during the summer so I could buy more albums and tapes. I had to work for it and the work was loading hay bales onto a wagon (while it is moving) and unloading them in a barn. If you have ever done either or both then you know they are not fun and the level of difficulty depends a lot on the weather. A cool or cloudy day and it is just a matter of hard work, but a hot, humid day meant it was going to be a long, tiring day. Unfortunately all of the days I remember doing this work that summer fall into the late weather category. The people I worked for were either neighbors or people I knew from church. So here I would be out in the field moving my fat body along and picking up these hay bales while the twine rubbed into my soft hands and then I struggled to toss the bales onto the wagon. This was the easy part because there was usually air and some sort of breeze. The rough part was the unloading because it was normally in a hot barn with no air flow whatsoever and hay dust going down your back and in your mouth while you worked. However, one thought kept me going and that was thinking about what metal albums I was going to buy with the money I made. Well, actually there were two thoughts pushing me on and the other thought was what was I going to eat that night? I seriously spent the whole work time going through the possibilities of metal albums in my head. Yes, you can obviously see how deep of a thinker I am. So at the end of the day, I would wash the dirt, hay dust and other assorted grime off my body and look at the money and hope that I would get to go to the record store soon before the money burnt a hole in my pocket.
I did get a few tapes with the money I made tossing hay bales that summer. I remember buying Dio's The last in line and King Kobra's Ready to strike and others that I am afraid I don't remember. No matter what the motivation, it did keep me working and that is something I needed at the time because I was kind of lazy as a teenager. I was probably more obsessed with metal than I should have been and I probably could have used the money for better things, but I have no regrets at all. It was a fairly fun summer and it was way better than being in school. Bottom line was I enjoyed it and I wasn't hurting anybody else and it did in some small way help shape who I am now, for better or for worse.
I have decided to try to squeeze in one review for the month of June. So I will be listening to a record this weekend and I will try to have my first review up next week. I can't keep a surprise so I will say that it's an LA band with a flashy guitarist, big hair, tacky outfits and they did some goofy videos. I know, you are saying "That could be any LA band from the 80's, narrow it down more". Okay, I will be reviewing Dokken's Under lock and key and I am actually excited about doing this so we will see how it turns out next week.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

In the beginning (well, more like 1985)

I never thought I would get up the nerve to do a blog, but I have so here I am. I am not a real open minded person when it comes to music, but I have been making efforts towards at least giving different kinds of music a chance. My idea for this blog stems from my love of music and my desire give a chance to give albums (yes, this term does date me as over 30) a fair chance. I am a big fan of heavy metal and hard rock and have been so since 1984. With bands from the prime days of metal popping up once again, I began to think about back in the day and all these bands and albums that I liked and didn't like. One thing that came to me right away was that there are a lot of albums that I have not heard in a long time yet I was still telling myself how sure I was that a certain album was very good or very bad. Now I have changed over 20 years and so have my opinions on other topics like politics and sports so maybe my views on some of these albums from way back when have changed well. So my main idea was I will first pick a metal or hard rock album that was released 20 years ago and it will be one that I first heard around that time. Before listening to it I will write down a short introduction telling briefly any background information about when I first this album and then maybe two or three sentences about how I feel about the album now before I free my mind and give it a listen. Then I listen to it from start to finish, no skipping or fast forwarding like I oftentimes do in my car. During this time I will try to listen to it as if I have never heard this album before and never heard anything by this band before. I will listen to find out simply "is this album good?" and then determine is it better, as good as or worse then I remember and of course I will justify why it falls into one of those categories. During the review, I will not compare this album to other albums by this band or get off into what this band did before or after. I want the review to reflect my gut reaction to one fair listening and I don't want it swayed by any other album. My hope is to be honest for myself and if an album I have been championing for years suddenly looks as dated as a pair of parachute pants then so be it. The reverse is true as well because if I should realize an album I have been bad mouthing for years suddenly isn't so bad then I will admit that as well. My review may have to come in two or three parts if I get too windy or my fingers get tired form typing.
Now to the albums and how I do choose them. My hope is to start in July and do one of these per month and hopefully it will be at the first week of the month. If I start in July then I can do six albums from 1985 to finish out this year. My idea for choosing the albums is this, I make a list of albums from 1985 that I really think I like and then I make a list of albums from 1985 that I didn't like or found disappointing. Then I will choose three from each list and when next year rolls around I will be choosing six from each 1986 list to do for 2006. It would be easy for me to just listen to bands I love, but it would be dull and no challenge for me to do that. I will listen to albums that I may have to dragged kicking and screaming to the stereo before I listen to them, but I vow to give them a chance. I will also try to mix up styles of metal so there will hard rock, glam metal, solid metal, power and speed metal. There will be big major label bands, major independent bands and maybe even a band or two you never heard of.
So let's get ready for the journey and set up some background for our destination year. Metal was generally on the rise after just finishing 1984 which had to be the golden year of metal. The year of 1985 was a little slim for releases from major bands mainly due to the fact that so many of them released albums in 1984, but 85 was still a year that saw more bands getting signed and a number of independent labels like Metal Blade and Combat were releasing a lot more albums. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene was dying down fast and the LA scene was heating up. In 1985, we would see David Lee Roth gone from Van Halen, Vince Neil served a very brief jail term, the original members of Black Sabbath reunited on stage for the first time in six years at an event called Live Aid and debut albums from such bands as Exodus, Metal Church, Overkill, Megadeth and Kreator were released. It was a year where Motley Crue went from big to huge, speed metal was on the rise and videos both on MTV and on vhs where becoming mediums for bands to promote themselves. So put on a tight black concert t-shirt, comb your hair down (if you are bald like me then just pretend) and get ready to go back to 1985. I have not written my first review or listened to the album yet, but I vow to listen to it soon and have my first review up some time during the first week of July. In between these reviews I do hope to make other posts mainly talking about metal bands past and present, albums and other related topics.