Wednesday, 31 August 2011

School House Rock, Part Two

Part two of my School House Rock songs to commemorate the opening of school next week.  Three more songs featured below starting with a double dose of Alice Cooper. 
Great American Success Story, Alice Cooper
Today I am presenting a pair of Alice Cooper tunes to the list.  I am beginning with the lesser known of the two from the 1986 album Constrictor.  The song is an upbeat rocker that tells the story of a down and out person trying to turn his life around, clean up and go back to school.  As the song progresses it appears he certainly did make it back to school.  However, once he is there it appears he simply gets infatuated with his female teacher.  I always liked this song and I always liked this album.  I only recently learned that Kip Winger, from the 80’s band Winger played base on Constrictor. really do learn something new everyday. 
School’s Out, Alice Cooper
This song most definitely has to be on any list of school rock songs.  It is a rock anthem that I probably should be writing about in June at school’s end and not now.  The song was originally included on Alice Cooper’s fifth album of the same name released in 1972.  This was when Alice Cooper was known as a band and not a solo artist.  In a school I worked at for 8 years we would play this one through the P.A. system as the students would exit the building on the last day.  Some of us would be standing in the doorway with high fives, handshakes and the occasional hug.  I would see the gleam in the eyes of my students and I know they saw the same in mine.  With much mutual respect for each other (I hope) we smile, bid farewell and at the same time have an understanding that we are glad to be taking a break from each other too. 
Teacher Teacher, by 38 Special
38 Special released this song in 1984 as part of the movie Teachers soundtrack.  The song is a great catchy rock track and if you watch the movie it is actually played in just about its entirety during the opening credits.  I re-watched this moving this summer and I loved it.  Some of it hits school life dead on and some of the themes ring through to this day.   As for 38 Special, this is my favourite song by them although they’ve had other catchy radio friendly singles such as Caught Up In You, Hold on Loosely and Back Where You Belong.  A friend of mine had a greatest hits CD and it was a decent collection of songs.  As an aside I have used the song Teacher Teacher as one of my custom ring tones for anyone who is a work colleague of mine.  
One more installation of School House Rock songs to come!

Monday, 29 August 2011

School House Rock, Part One

I am a teacher and I love my work immensely, but yes one of the perks with the territory is a lengthy summer vacation.  Summer 2011 is about to come to a close and in a matter of days I will be back in the classroom with my students.   In honour of the reopening of school I thought all week I would feature some songs with school, students and teachers as part of the themes somehow.

The songs that will be featured are a collection of songs that I recall hearing at some point in my life quite frequently.  When I decided to do this I quickly jotted down a list, there are tons more.  After I completed my own list I did a quick google search and there are hundreds, many of which I had forgotten about.
In any event, here are the first three from my musical memory repertoire.  I started with three songs about school all of which in some way deal with promiscuity.  Stayed tuned for others throughout the week.

High School Confidential, by Rough Trade

This smooth moving song was one of Canadian band Rough Trade’s biggest hits. Rough Trade was essentially a duo featuring Carol Pope and Kevan Staples.  This song came from their 1980 album Avoid Freud and proved to be their commercial break through.  The song’s music and lyrics has a very sexy and provocative feel to it.  Apparently, the song met some controversy at the time because of some lesbian themes.  Being I was only 9 years old when this song hit the airwaves I didn’t pay too much attention but later when I was in high school and attending university I would hear this song a lot.  Anytime there were older guys around at parties with one of their mix tapes this song was often played.  The band Rough Trade had some success with a couple of albums that followed but since the late 80’s/early 90’s have just played in a serious of reunion shows. 

Hot for Teacher, by Van Halen

Keeping with the provocative themes on the first set of school related songs is this rocker from Van Halen from the hit album 1984.  I love Van Halen and I love this album.  This cassette was in my first dozen or so purchases when I started to become a serious collector.  This song is classic Van Halen, the opening drums, the lead in classic Eddie Van Halen guitar and David Lee Roth screams.  The video itself was fun too, much of it set in a classroom where the students ogled over their scantily dressed teacher dancing on her desk.  The eighties....

Don’t Stand So Close To Me, by The Police
Keeping with sexual tension comes this one from The Police but with more serious themes and lyrics.  This song first appeared on The Police’s third album Zenyatta Mondatta.  The track tells of a student’s yearning for her young teacher and perhaps some yearning of him for her too.  The tension between the two ensues and as result there is much talk, rumours and accusations around the classrooms, hallways and staffroom.   The song was re-recorded as part of a 1986 greatest hits package and is toned down particularly during the chorus, which was a little boppy in the original.  The music in this new version gives the song a more serious overall mood.

Back later this week with more School House Rock!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

My thoughts for the next Def Leppard tour

Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of one of the biggest selling albums of the 80s, Def Leppard's Hysteria. 
Some artists have decided to play an entire album from their repertoire on a tour.  Well here's a great idea for a tour next summer for Def Leppard.  They, like other bands, come under some criticism for not mixing up the setlist too much over the years.  That is an interesting debate in itself and one I will not get into right now.  I always thought they should play a few extra songs from Hysteria.  After all, it did sell over 10 million copies, so chances are a lot of people in your audience would be familiar with anything from that record. 
Well let's go one better than that and hit the road in 2012 and play the entire thing from start to finish.  The album clocks in at a little over an hour.  To be precise my old CD player used to display 62:40 as total playing length every time I loaded it.  The band could hit the stage starting with the opening chords of the first track Women and proceed through the 11 that follow until the last one Love and Affection is complete.  Assuming this would take them a little over hour it could allow for a brief intermission and they could return for another set of songs from the rest of their recordings including the other massively selling album, Pyromania.
Some cons to this could be that although Hysteria had 7 singles released, 6 of them would be played during the first 30 minutes or so of the show.  Tracks one through six were all singles, the only exception being the title track, Hysteria, the tenth song on the album.  Normally there would be some build up to signature songs such as the number one smash Love Bites and the massively popular Pour Some Sugar On Me, but here they would be songs 4 and 5 respectively.  Of course they could always mix up the playing order too, but that would take away from the purity of playing a classic album live. 
There would still be plenty to hang on four if it is just the hits you are there for.  The second set could contain staples from Pyromania such as Rock of Ages, Foolin’ and Photograph.  There are also songs such as Do you Wanna Get Rocked, Two Steps Behind and Bringin on the Heartbreak from their catalogue for more sing-along moments. 
Playing Hysteria in its entirety just makes sense to me.  It should satisfy fans who want to hear all the hits.  It also causes them to change their setlist slightly and maybe silence some (some) of the critics.  And it deservedly marks the anniversary of one of the most recognizable and successful rock albums in the last 30 years. 

So come on Def Leppard let's hit the road again next summer and do this thing.  I think it would be very well received.  Here's my proposed setlist for you.  The first set being the Hysteria album and the second being some staples and some personal favorites thrown in.

Set One: Hystreria album in its entirity
Women, Rocket, Animal, Love Bites, Pour Some Sugar On Me, Armageddon It, Gods of War, Don't Shoot Shotgun, Run Riot, Hysteria, Excitable, Love and Affection.
Set Two
Let It Go (from High N' Dry), Foolin (from Pyromania), Rock On (from Yeah!), Wasted(from On Through the Night), Promises(from Euphoria), Nine Lives(from Songs from the Sparkle Lounge) , Two Steps Behind(from Retro-Active), Bringing on the Heartbreak(from High N' Dry), Photograph(from Pyromania), Rock of Ages(from Pyromania)

Encore:  Do you Wanna Get Rocked(from Adrenalize)

I am torn to what the opening number of the second set should be, as always, Rock Rock til you Drop (from Pyromania) is a good choice used by them as an opening many times.  Other candidates could also be Stage Fright(from Pyromania) or Undefeated(from Mirrorball) being used on their current tour as their concert opener.

Friday, 19 August 2011

What a Rush!

Turning the clock back on two classic albums from a classic band.

After spinning 1975’s Welcome to my Nightmare by Alice Cooper for a few listens I got inspired to stay in that decade and moved on to Rush’s 2112 also released in 1975, which further inspired me to stay with the band and spend some time with 1981’s Moving Pictures.

Hailing from my homeland Canada, the trio of musicians have been a mainstay in the business for over 30 years.  On a recent poll by Rolling Stone magazine they were voted the number one prog rock band of all time by a landslide.  Rush continues to have an allegiance of loyal fans and they continue to tour the world to large crowds putting off electrifying performances. 

The album 2112 is their forth release and a concept album, sort of.  It opens with a twenty plus minute track titled 2112.  This is the concept piece of the album.  It is broken down into seven parts each with its own subtitle.  The song tells the story of a futuristic world ruled by the priests of Syrinx where there is no music, among other things.  The protagonist of the story finds a guitar, learns to play it and presents it to the priests hoping for change. 

The song is certainly one of my favourites.  Musically it moves in many different directions and I have always enjoyed the story written by lyricist and drummer for the band, Neil Peart.  One of my favourite parts of the song is when vocalist Geddy Lee is singing in the voice of two different characters, the protagonist who has found the guitar and the priest who quickly dismisses and condemns the discovery.  Geddy sings the part of the guitar’s discoverer in a more mild tone and then switches to his trademark high pitched shrill as the priest continues to condemn the finding.  This musical conversation goes back and forth for some time.

After the opening number is complete there are five additional stand alone tracks that do not relate to the concept of the opening number.  Each one is a solid Rush song in its own right.  The album clocks in at just under 40 minutes.

Next up is 1981’s Moving Pictures, their most successful release to date.  It contains only 7 songs and in total also clocks in under 40 minutes .  They don’t make them like this anymore.  I would much rather hear an album with less songs if they are all stellar.  I like the days of 10 songs per album.  I guess as time moves on I am getting more and more old school all the time.  I digress…

Back to Moving Pictures.  The album opens with arguably their most well known song, Tom Sawyer.  It keeps moving from there with my favourite song on the album called Red Barchette.  Although not an epic piece like 2112's Overture, Red Barchette has plenty of imagery created by the songs lyrics and music and also tells the strory of a futuristic world where some vehicles have been outlawed.  The next track shows off the band's musicianship again with a great instrumental number called YYZ.  Next up is another of their signature and well known songs, Limelight.  There is also another lengthy piece next, clocking in at called The Camera Eye.  I love the lengthy epic songs that we don’t see enough of anymore either.  The album closes out with two final numbers, Witch Hunt and Vital Signs

The album, like 2112 showcases the talents of the band, lyrically and musically.  On their most recent tour Moving Pictures was played in its entirety.  I would love to see the same for 2112 sometime too.  Both are fantastic records but I will give the slight edge to 2112.   

Grade:  A +
Favourite Tracks:  Hard to pick one here, but all of the 2112 track, A Passage to Bangkok and Lessons.

Moving Pictures
Grade A
Favourite Tracks: YYZ, Red Barchette and The Camera Eye.

Although I select favourtite tracks here I recommend setting aside some time and playing each of these albums from start to finish. 

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Welcome to My Nightmare

Anticipating Alice Cooper’s September release Welcome 2 My Nightmare got me in the mood to fire up the original 1975 release Welcome to my Nightmare.  I never actually owned a copy of this album until a couple of years ago.  I have followed Alice Cooper’s career and being an 80s teenager the first album I ever owned by Cooper was 1986’s Constrictor.  It contained the single He’s Back (the Man Behind the Mask) which was featured in Friday the 13th Part VI:  Jason Lives.      

I enjoyed this album and picked up some other Alice Cooper recordings, but a couple of years ago when perusing a used CD store I cam across 1975’s Welcome to my Nightmare.  I went home, lay back with my head phones on and listened to it from start to finish.  I had heard most, if not all the songs before, but this was the first time I listened to the concept album in its entirety in one sitting.  I have several times since and it very quickly became a favourite of mine.  In addition to being a concept album centering around the tribulations of a character named Steven it has some great Alice Cooper music.

There are different styles, instruments and sounds throughout the album.  It makes for a very intriguing and enjoyable listen.  Your hard rockers are on here with tracks such as Devil’s Food, Black Widow and Cold Ethyl.  Your ballads are there including the well known Only Women Bleed.  Then are your strange and quirky songs with that B-movie or haunted house sounding keyboards such as Steven.  You will also hear horn sections and other assortments of sounds and effects including a spoken word narration from Vincent Price.  Alice himself changes his voice at times singing in a high pitched creepy childlike voice assuming the role of Steven. 

All in all there is never a dull moment on the record.  I enjoy listening to the music, the concept and the imagery Alice creates.  Of everything I’ve heard from Alice Cooper this one is far and above my favourite. 

Grade:  A +

Favourite Tracks:  Hard to pick but I will go with Devil’s Food, Black Widow and Department of Youth.  But for me this album is best enjoyed as a complete package.

Friday, 12 August 2011

RIP Jani Lane

There are many tributes all over today for the passing of former Warrant front man Jani Lane at the age of 47.  Like most I was first introduced to Lane in 1989 when Warrant released their debut album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich.  I was vacationing in Florida at the time and saw the video for Down Boys on MTV and was instantly hooked.  I left our hotel room walked to a store and bought the CD.  This album turned out to be one of my favourites from the opening 32 Pennies, to the first single Down Boys, the power ballads Heaven and Some Times She Cries and the hard rockin’ title track.   The disc got lot of play from me and continues to be one my favourites from that era, an all round fun feel to it.
Watching the videos at the time it was obvious that Lane was a great performer and front man.  He had the look, the moves and the voice.  Although I never embraced any of Warrant’s releases as much as their debut I continued to follow their career, including Lane’s solo efforts. 

Unfortunately we have heard the last of Lane's musical efforts.  Condolences extended to family, friends and band mates. 

Jani Lane and Warrent music video for Down Boys. 
Long live the spirit of the 80's and the spirit of Jani Lane
and others who have left us too soon.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

More Good Reading, Sammy Hagar's Red

I recently finished Sammy Hagar’s life tale that he titled, what else but Red of course.  Hearing about the life of the Red Rocker from his own perspective proved to be another great read.  Sammy takes us through it all from his childhood and family life, to his days with the band Montrose, his first solo albums, his first stint with Van Halen, their split, the reunion, life after the second split and everything in between.

I enjoyed every chapter in this book.  The beginning pages of such books that talk about the childhood can sometimes bore me.  Let’s face it; we want to hear the stories about the making of the albums and tales from the road.  But I enjoyed Sammy’s early memoirs too.  From the early beginnings you can start to see Sammy’s strong work ethic that is evident throughout the rest of his book and his entire career. 

Throughout the book you will also learn about Sammy Hagar, the businessman.  I knew he had successful businesses but I didn’t know he was an entrepreneur so early in his career.  There are stories of him attempting such ventures in the mountain bike business, a clothing line and many others, some successful and some not.  I found all these stories entertaining as well. 

But there is no denying the meat of the book contains the rock and roll tales which make up the bulk of it.  As you would expect it isn’t too kind to Eddie Van Halen.  But Sammy appears honest enough giving Eddie his due throughout.  He speaks of Eddie’s charming nature and brilliant musicianship, but also the opposing stories of his outlandish behaviour, controlling nature and alcoholism.  Then of course there is a chapter discussing the tour when he and David Lee Roth went out on the road together, both as solo artists.  Again, not a lot of kind words shared about Roth. 

He doesn’t spare himself either and shares stories of his own debauchery from the road of a rock and roll star.  But all in all Sammy holds it together through good times and bad.  Today he sits on a fortune with successful business ventures and has found new musical happiness with the bands the Wabos and most recently Chickenfoot (new album due out in September).

If you enjoy these rock and roll biographies I highly recommend this one.  Before I read this one I finished Nikki Sixx’s Heroin Diaries.   There are less jaw dropping moments in Red (although there are a few), but I found it to be just as interesting and enjoyable of a read.

Since finishing this book I have already turned to reading Nikki Sixx’s latest book, This is Gonna Hurt, details to follow. 

Friday, 5 August 2011

Rock and Roll Blood!!

I had a road trip today with my two sons.  Me and my nine year old visited one of my favourite music stores to buy a CD for part of the drive.  It has an extensive used section and we were both flipping through seeing if something would catch our eye.  I told my boy he could pick something out.  He found a Black Eyed Peas’ disc, Avril Lavigne and a greatest hits Twisted Sister CD. 

The first two pop selections he found in the stacks he would know from school and the radio.  But his familiarity with Twisted Sister comes from my own version of the school of rock. I have spent hours with my sons going through my CD collection, listening to the old tracks and sharing stories with them.  Dee Snider’s face from my Stay Hungry disc is unforgettable and thanks to Sponge Bob he was more than familiar with I Wanna Rock.  If you are unfamilar in one of the final scenes of the Sponge Bob movie he wails this song.  I also played We’re Not Going To Take It for him on more than one occasion.

Well, I held the three selections in my hand, swallowed hard, and said he could have whichever one he wanted.  After a very brief pause, which played out a little longer in my mind, he selected Twisted Sister.  He said he liked the music he heard by them more.  I was so proud.  I walked to the checkout with a lump in my throat, paid for the purchase and we were on our way.   

On our drive, in addition to the anthems We’re Not Going to Take It and I Wanna Rock we listened to songs I haven’t heard in years such as Stay Hungry, Leader of the Pack, Under the Blade, You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll and I’ll Never Grow Up, Now.  I enjoyed every song of the hard grinding straight up in your face metal to the fullest. 

I don’t know if my son’s selection was my influence or Sponge Bob’s, but I’ll take the credit (no disrespect to the Sponge).  In honour of Twisted Sister I am including this Blast from the Past.  I don’t think this song is one of their more well known ones, but I was always fond of it.  It is not on our new CD and I googled Twisted Sister’s recent setlists and they don’t play it.  It is a song titled Hot Love from 1987’s Love is for Suckers album.  As always, long live rock and roll!

Twisted Sister, Hot Love from 1987's Love is for Suckers.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Everything Old is New Again

A few upcoming releases from classic rockers that I am looking forward to!

Welcome 2 My Nightmare, Alice Cooper
Coming in September is Alice Cooper’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, the sequel to the 1975 release Welcome to my Nightmare.  The original Nightmare release was a concept album that took us through the nightmare and/or life of a character named Steven.  I had heard the original Welcome to My Nightmare a few times but never owned my own copy until a couple of years ago.  It was only then that I gained a true appreciation for it and it quickly became a favourite. 

Alice’s most recent release, 2008’s Along Came a Spider, was also a concept album that tells us the story of a serial killer going by the name of Spider.  Interestingly, the character of Steven is mentioned on a few of Alice’s albums and again during the spoken word epilogue on Along Came a Spider.  Some speculate that Spider and Steven are the same person.  Both these albums are favourites of mine.  Check out my review of Along Came a Spider by clicking here. 

Welcome 2 My Nightmare is due out in September and is said to be about what else but another Nightmare, but this one worse than the first promises Alice.  (Aside:  I turn 40 in September, is this some sort of omen?)  Will we see the return of Steven?  Spider?  Going to be interesting to see what Alice has in store for us this time. 

I hope to see Alice perform in concert someday but I am not holding my breath.  I have attempted to see him in concert three times and twice had tickets purchased!  Different life circumstances prevented me from attending all these concerts.  I think over the next few days I am going to break out the original 1975 classic and the 2008 Spider album (his 25th release) and have a listen to both.

Van Halen
Next up is another of my all time favourite bands, Van Halen.  A new album is apparently recorded and back is the original line up with David Lee Roth on the vocals.  Well not really the original line up because out of course is Michael Anthony on the bass and in is Eddie’s son Wolfgang making a triple threat of Van Halen’s in the band with brother Alex still on the drums. 

There is some talk and information starting to leak around the Internet about the album that is now apparently now in the mixing phases.  There is talk of a return to that classic Van Halen sound from those early recordings.  I hope so.  I love those old songs and to this day I still find myself needing an occasional fix of tunes such as Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love, Janie’s Crying, Unchained, And The Cradle Will Rock among others.  As much as I like Sammy Hagar I rarely revisit the albums recorded with him with the exception of 5150 at times.  I am excited to hear this new Van Halen release and hopefully some new classic sounding songs for me to add to that list of old favourites.  This release will also no doubt bring about a tour that I would love to see.

Next up is another Aerosmith album.  The boys are currently recording their 15th studio release.  It wasn’t too long ago we were wondering if we would ever see this.  It has been quite a career and quite the few years for Aerosmith.  There was the public feuding between guitarist Joe Perry and vocalist Steven Tyler causing us to speculate if Tyler’s days with Aerosmith were done.  Of course Tyler remained in the spotlight with his much talked about fall off the stage during a concert and his newest job as a judge on American Idol.

I was first introduced to Aerosmith in 1987 when they appeared on MTV and Muchmusic (in Canada) with RUN DMC singing their classic hit Walk This Way.  Soon after they released what I consider to be classics of that decade, Permanent Vacation and Pump.  Both were fixtures in my CD player for years.  I also went back and experienced older releases from the band including the classic 1975 release Toys in the Attic. 

Thankfully the boys got themselves together and I am looking forward to hearing what they have to offer up this time.  If you pay attention to some of their comments on the Internet and on Twitter things are apparently going well and they are having a great time making new music.  This is another band that I have not seen perform and are on my lists of concerts. 

What are the chances of me achieving a hat trick of the concerts above this year?  What a great 40th birthday gift it would be!  For now it’s back to listening to some older efforts of all three and enjoying the final full month of my 30s.