An Introduction To Musicianship (or How I Stopped Worrying, and Learned To Love The Bass)

In spite of a rather keen interest in music, I wouldn’t classify myself as a well-disciplined musician.  I’ll pick up one of my basses or guitar every so often, but more of my time is spent noodling around the fretboard trying to figure out a song or do some sound experimenting of my own.  It’s my technical knowledge that is rather lacking, which is why I do most of my music discussion here in relatively layman’s terms.  I can find notes around the neck well enough, but let’s just say I’d still make a better student than a teacher.  However, I still have distinct and fond memories of where I started to play a musical instrument for myself.

How does a guy decide to play bass in the first place?  It was actually a fairly quick decision.  The year was 2001, if I’m to age myself slightly.  My brother had taken up guitar playing, and had been at it for a few months.  When talking about it with another friend of ours, the idea of forming a band came up.  Both my brother and this guy played guitar, so a third wouldn’t be required.  I always had an interest in drumming, but we had another friend that could fill that role, and I couldn’t squeeze a proper drum set into the house if I wanted to (I can’t do so in my apartment either).  What did that leave?  None of us envisioned a keyboard player because none of the music we enjoyed at the time featured it heavily.  That left bass.

I was told by my friend that bass is like guitar, only easier. I don’t know how much that statement resonated with me (it definitely doesn’t now for several reasons), but I’d happily take the job on for the sake of our goal.  I should note that the band turned out to be a short-lasting ambition, just one of those many fleeting ideas that cross teenager’s minds.

I did not wait long to get that bass in my hands.  I had limited funds, so I was off to the local Cash Converters, which was a chain of pawn shops across Canada.  It still exists in the same shopping centre in Oshawa (next to the popular Teddy’s Restaurant & Deli), though now under the name Cash Connections.  I still poke my head in the store once every couple of months, yet I prefer to remember the store with the ugly maroon signage, but that may be the nostalgia for my high school’s colours showing.

If I’m totally honest, I was thinking in terms of the price tag, so I’m fortunate to have found a solid instrument to get started with.  My weapon of choice was a black Yamaha RBX 300 model bass.  The price tag said $200.  Anything more than that would have been too big a stretch for my no job-having ass.  In fact, even that would be a hard hit to my wallet. Thankfully, my sixteenth birthday was coming soon to provide a little extra funding.  Still, realizing this, my father went to bat for me.

‘Hard-Bargain Harold’, they’d call him (and by they, I mean me retroactively).  He talked the sales guy into throwing in a protective cloth case and dropping the sales tax.  That impressed the hell out of me that he was able to do that!  It may not seem like much, but to this day, I seldom get in the practice of haggling while at brick and mortar stores.  Flea markets are a different beast altogether, where haggling is the social norm.  Here’s an obligatory Monty Python clip to show you how NOT to do it.

I no longer have this Yamaha bass in my possession, but still think you couldn’t go wrong starting out with one.  One thing that I can appreciate about the instrument was that it had generous spacing between strings, making it an easy instrument to learn how to slap and pop notes in a percussive fashion.  None of my current basses are as comfortable for playing in that style, but I never got into the habit of fine-tuning that particular skill.  My mom must have a picture of me playing the Yamaha somewhere, but I wouldn’t know where to look for it.  To make up for it, here’s a photo I stole to fill the void.  Maybe if I plug the man’s website, he’ll be more forgiving.

My strap was nowhere near as cool

What was the first riff I learned when I brought the bass home?  ‘Freak’ by Silverchair.  Since my brother was around five months deep into guitar playing, he knew of some of the easier songs to get us to start jamming together.  The standard tuning of a bass is (from lowest to highest note) E-A-D-G, but this riff is played in drop-D tuning, bringing the lowest string (the only one needed for the riff in question) down a whole note.  The main riff consists of just two notes, D and E, then the second riff in the song adds an F note.  That was about the biggest curve ball I could have handled at the time.  I didn’t even learn the rest of the song, but you have to crawl before you can walk.

The Cash Converters was close to the public library, so I went there to find some instructional material for the bass.  The library was limited in that category, but I was fortunate to locate two VHS tapes featuring bassist John Patitucci.  He was listed as the bassist in the Chick Corea Elektric Band, one of the more notable jazz-fusion bands of the 1980s.  Chick Corea was one of those musician names I’d been exposed to as a kid, but knew nothing about him other than the fact he has a funny-sounding name.  My dad told me that the band were great musicians, so I believed him.  He was right.  If you’ve ever looked for instructional videos at a music store, you’ll likely have spotted one starring any given member of this quintet.  They know what they’re doing.

I have since acquired them both Patitucci tapes, now compiled onto a single DVD.

Like most videos of this kind, these can be found for free viewing on YouTube, though I still like collecting ones that interest me.  The first tape was interesting to digest as a novice bassist, with Patitucci covering a wide variety of grooves in the context of different music genres.  I didn’t encounter much head-scratching material until watching the second tape, specifically in the section he starts breaking down major chords, and singing scales and arpeggios over top of chord voicings.  Once he started to improvise melodies based on his instructions, I lost the plot rapidly, and went back to playing ‘Freak’ before you could say “Don’t quit your day job” (which was, fortunately, an honour-roll student).

Regardless of my inability to immediately pull much of use from Patitucci’s tapes, I was floored by his fluid playing and the numerous solo compositions shared throughout (which are pulled from his first two solo albums).  This newfound appreciation made him arguably the first bass hero of mine, with perhaps only Cliff Burton of Metallica preceding him.  It was also the first time I saw a bass player using a six-string bass, which I didn’t even know existed at the time.

I talked to Patitucci very briefly before his show with the Wayne Shorter Quartet last year, and was tempted to bring up my experience with his videos.  Seeing as the conversation was a mere couple of sentences exchanged, it may have come across as slightly awkward if I attempted to blurt this story at him as we briefly passed one another.  Besides, if he asked if I’ve mastered the concepts since then, I’d have put myself at the risk of being reduced to tears in front of a personal idol.  I’ll take the “I’m looking forward to the show” comment or whatever other generic utterances I made over that potential emotional collapse.

I’m still not a great improviser or a masterful technician on my primary instrument, but I don’t let it stop me from having fun making music.  Remembering some of the struggles I had as an introductory-level musician has got me thinking about ways I can approach my playing heading into the future.  I’ve thought of revisiting old compositions I penned years ago, creating files on my computer in which to transcribe some songs of bands like Rush, Led Zeppelin, or Aerosmith (I may get the itch to join a covers band one of these days!), or re-opening my ‘Groove Journal’ concept of trying to write a memorable bassline each time I pick up the bass (should be easy enough, though I’m highly critical of my output).  Buying a new instrument always re-invigorates an interest in playing, but I really should be careful with my money.  I’ve got a house to save up for.

Is it wrong that my home ownership dream centres around finally fitting a drum set into my living space?  Of course not.  Silly rhetorical question!!


Call the Warrant Hotline!

If I were to nominate a single image to summarize the excesses of the hair metal genre, this one would certainly be up for consideration.

I found this clipping in the back pages of one of my Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics issues.  In comic books from the late-80s and early-90s, I’m more accustomed to seeing advertisements for video games like Bonk’s Adventure or junk food like those fold-in Barq’s Root Beer ones with the rub-on tattoo promotion.   As this one came out of a music-themed comic book, I shouldn’t have been surprised, yet I was.  If I gave it a little more thought, I really shouldn’t have been.

For young people who only know of the 90s through Simpsons references, you now know where the Corey Hotline idea came from.  Not from Warrant specifically, but hotlines were a big promotional tool for a range of things, from fans getting ‘access’ to favourite celebrities (like the Coreys) to sports gambling tips (also parodied on The Simpsons).  Who in my age-group can’t remember at least one late-night spent on the couch, half-drunk, barely-awake, watching one of those late-night “Call Me!” infomercials featuring voluptuous beauties who want to talk to, out of all people, YOU!!!

I can’t really comment much on Warrant as a band.  Their peak in popularity was a few years prior to my interest in music truly started to develop.  My main memory of them comes through their song ‘Cherry Pie’, which would get quite a bit of replay on various VH1 Classics programs.  Aside from that, I do remember my dad handing my brother and I a copy of their Dog Eat Dog album when we were in high school.  I can’t recall how much of the CD we sampled, or if it was even in working condition seeing as it was a used copy he somehow obtained (it definitely wasn’t from his own collection).  I’ve heard a few other Warrant songs since, and while I can enjoy some music in the glam/hair metal genre, they aren’t for me.

I thought hair metal bands were the fun ones who were actually encouraged to smile and laugh in press photos.  In this image, it’s like they couldn’t come to a consensus on what was the best way to pose. The two on the left look as if they saw Dracula rise from his grave, Jani Lane is Dracula rising from his grave, while Erik Turner rocks the eternally-cringey finger-gun stance.  Steven Sweet seems to be doing the most typical rock star thing, going with a come-hither scowl that surely lured somebody to call, with the hope that Steven whispers sweet nothings into their ear.

I wonder if you’d see this sort of thing a few years down the line, say, in 1993, when the grunge craze was virtually inescapable.  If so, Alice In Chains could have attempted to cash in on this twice.  For those not aware, let’s just say there was a pretty good reason why they named their debut album Facelift.  However, out of all bands lumped into the grunge scene, I can picture the Melvins going forth with something like this.  They have never been a group that takes themselves too seriously, and they may not be the most photogenic guys out there, but if I’m going to pay some crazy rates for a phone call, I might as well get a truly unique experience out of it.

On that note, this seems tome to have been a completely unnecessary expense made by Warrant, or at least an expense that their management made on their behalf.  Would they have even hit a break-even state on this venture?  I’ve never set up a 1-900 number, but I can’t imagine it to be all that cheap to maintain.  If I was a Warrant fan, I would have opted to send them a letter in the mail.  As ugly as some of the bickering can get on Twitter or in YouTube comment sections, at least those outlets and ones like them are much more cost-effective ways for fans to reach out to celebrities.  It’s not as if paying for the phone service was a guarantee that the band would actually listen to the recorded messages.  Did they have a method of communicating back to the callers?

After quickly attempting a reverse phone number lookup, I can’t say if 1-900-234-5100 is an active number at this point.  I was hoping that even though Warrant gave up the number that I could confirm that it was still in good hands.  Nonetheless, I can sleep a bit easier tonight because lists it as a low-risk spam number.  That’s good enough for me!

Alternate Album Cover Art II

No need for a long-winded explanation of this post (see my first edition of this series here). I’m back with five more album cover variations I have encountered while exploring different musical avenues, so I’ll get right to it.

Genesis – From Genesis To Revelation

Even though I own From Genesis To Revelation, I often forget that Trespass is not their debut album.  Trespass is the first album in their highly recommended 1970-1975 box set, which is what leads me to the confusion.  I know that this album was produced rather heavy-handedly by Jonathan King, so Genesis consider Trespass to be their true first album since they were more in the driver’s seat.  They are entitled to that opinion, but I don’t see a debut as something you can retroactively shove aside and bury.  A few bands that I championed in high school were similarly wary of their early material: Slipknot, with their ‘demo’ Mate.Feed.Kill.Repeat. that they once allegedly considered a proper album, and then there’s Pantera, who wanted you to forget all about their first four independent albums.  All artists go through growing pains, and while they may not be pleased with their early results, any hard feelings you have about them likely served as motivation to strive for greater acclaim on subsequent recordings.

Anyway, let’s look at the original cover for Genesis’ debut.

Would this image have stood out, demanding the record shopper add the album to their collection posthaste?  I wouldn’t think so.  It’s rather bland, but looks very biblical from the font to the colour or lack thereof, which I’m certain is what they were going for.  Odds are that it was done in ‘bible black’, but I haven’t studied colour and shading, so I’m only hazarding a guess.  Black is black to me.  There was a version of the above cover with Genesis stamped diagonally across the front in the same font as the title, which made identifying the band an easier task, but in my opinion did little else for it aesthetically.

My copy of the record has significantly more colour, but not in a good way.

Rock Roots is technically not the exact album, but it does have all the same tracks in addition to a single edit of ‘The Silent Sun’.  Rock Roots was a series of compilation albums released by Decca Records, some of which compiled singles, and others (like Genesis) had a full album’s worth of songs. Other artists in the series included Procol Harum, The Zombies, The Small Faces, and Van Morrison’s early band, Them.  The covers all looked virtually identical to one another, save for tweaks to the backdrop and record player colours.  Slapdash, discount bin releases.

In addition to Rock Roots, From Genesis to Revelation has been re-released under several names: In The Beginning, Where The Sour Turns To Sweet, In Wonderland, and The Peter Gabriel Years (which would disappoint those looking for the likes of ‘Watcher of the Skies’ or ‘The Cinema Show’).  It could very well be a public domain release at this point because it’s sure treated like one.  Of the whole lot of these variants, here’s my favourite, which features art somewhat in the vein of Genesis studio albums three, four, and five, albeit inexplicably confined to relatively small dimensions on the sleeve.

Miroslav Vitous – Infinite Search (or Mountain In The Clouds)

As much as I dig the jazz fusion pioneers Weather Report, I recently learned while listening to JazzFM that I have been mispronouncing their original bassist’s name for years (apparently, it’s Vi-TOOS and not Vit-US).  Regardless, it’s the appreciation of his work that matters most, and I was delighted to find his premiere solo album at a flea market one day.

Here is what Infinite Search looked like when it debuted in 1969.

Not a very inspiring image, but it’s not uncommon for labels to release jazz or fusion albums with a simple photo of the artist, while patting themselves on their backs for a job well-done.  In this case, it has the same flaw of Genesis’ In The Beginning with all that wasted space.  However, I can actually appreciate the simplicity here.  The black and white balance works nicely, and if you approach it from a collector’s perspective, this would be a great sleeve to get autographed.

Infinite Search was also released under the name Mountain In The Clouds.  While the outside looks drastically different, they opted to use the same picture of Vitous within the inner sleeve.

Conceptually, this vaguely matches the album’s title, with the cloud-saturated sky above the mountain-like peaks of roller coaster.  However, would it have been all that difficult to locate a suitable picture of an actual mountain range?  Then again, Vitous very well could have been inspired to pen the title track on an enlightening day at an amusement park.  I’ve heard that Elvis Presley recorded ‘All Shook Up’ after a particularly thrilling ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl, so there may be some precedence (I didn’t actually here that).

An extra track, ‘Cérečka’, was included on this and many other reissues, including the version in my collection.  The inclusion of the album’s lineup is a nice aid for potential listeners, bringing the cover more in line with what several jazz recordings made practice of in previous decades.

How about my copy?  Well, you get elements of both the above designs, and at three dollars, I wasn’t going to be choosy over what the cover looked like.

Silver would still have been hard on the eyes on a mint condition album, but these records seem highly prone to scuffing.  This version is part of the That’s Jazz series that repackaged previously released albums, numbered as the 34th volume atop the silhouette of an upright bassist.  Part of me likes seeing a consistent look in album covers that all came from the same record label.  The goal may have been to get more jazz albums into public libraries like you would commonly see with classical records having uniform covering.

The track listing on this version was twisted around a little bit, but the title remained intact.  The most amusing aspect of this pointless rearrangement is that they stick an ‘Epilogue’ as the third track.  I find that more of an annoyance than anything.  And, yet again, they pulled the picture of Vitous from the original release.  Now that you see his entire face, he looks like he’s getting tired of the constant tampering of his first album as band leader.  It’s as if nobody ever thought to ask poor Miroslav what he wanted.

Accept – Restless and Wild

It took this career-spanning video posted by Razorfist on Youtube for me to give a full Accept album a proper listen (he also convinced me to finally grab some Ramones as well as Alcatrazz).  In case you haven’t heard them, I’d call their sound part Judas Priest and part AC/DC to give you some more mainstream points of reference.  Restless and Wild was a breakthrough album for the German metal band in several European markets, though they are best known for their follow-up, Balls To The Wall.

Here’s the album cover in it’s original form.

I’ve seen other groups using similar motifs of flaming guitars, but I don’t think the concept was completely played out in 1982.  Heck, Yngwie Malmsteen was still a teenager, and the era of the shred guitarist had yet to fully evolve as a quasi-genre in hard rock and metal.  There’s not much to argue with this one, except for the flames perhaps not looking as real as they could be.  If I was in the band, I don’t think I’d want to risk burning one of those Flying Vs either, especially if the sales were underwhelming.

For one reason or another, most markets did not originally receive the above image.  It was the 80s, so it was probably thought to have satanic overtones or it was seen as a bad influence for impressionable youths.  Instead, most would see something that, while not as attention-grabbing, still makes for an iconic image in it’s own regard.

The main point of protest from me comes from the fact that any on-stage photography on a cover leads me to believe that the album is live.  Granted, I do like the photo. I can’t quite tell what exactly vocalist Udo Dirkschneider is doing to bass guitarist Peter Baltes, but it almost looks as if he is strangling him.  A highly inappropriate action for maintaining band harmony, but it sure makes for a great snapshot.  Kind of a similar stage pose to that shown Scorpion’s Tokyo Tapes, and a mere guitar impalement away from matching the intensity of AC/DC’s If You Want Blood You’ve Got It.

Some copies feature the band’s logo captured in it’s natural position as the stage backdrop (which, in my opinion, makes it difficult to read), and some edition feature the band’s logo in different locations or the album title in a different font.  My CD copy falls into the latter category.

I think this one looks much sharper, but the band’s name is listed needlessly above the logo.  Was this in case you couldn’t read it?  Come on, now!  It’s not exactly Korgonthurus, is it?

Yes – Time and a Word

On the sophomore release by progressive rock legends Yes, they must have felt they needed to make a statement.  Judging from the image below, it appears they sure gave it their damnedest.

Is this a random frame from one of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus animations?  The result of an art student’s fever dream?  Or is is it just an experiment in the theory that titties can sell anything?  It’s not as if the music isn’t enticing enough already, as both of their first two albums easily fall into the underrated category of their otherwise much-analyzed discography.  One day, I’ll need to re-watch their Classic Artists documentary to see if anybody can give this artwork a proper explanation.

What ever you make of the above cover (which featured only on UK editions initially), I’d take it any day of the week over either of the other two I’m about to show you.

What.  A.  Mess.  Where to start…

The album title is difficult to read, for one. It would be much more legible if shifted down a few millimetres so that it fits right along the bottom edge of the structure, and I would also darken it to a navy blue.

Also, it is far too cluttered and busy-looking for my tastes.  Did the photographer catch them in the middle of shopping for stage props for the upcoming tour?  Their sour-puss expressions lead me to believe they didn’t quite find what they were after.  I have to admit, though, that their V-formation is a winning formula.  It sure got the Mighty Ducks out of a few jams.

I had been meaning to grab this record for years, and finally grabbed the edition below at a decent price.

Any astute Yes fan can spot what’s wrong with this cover almost instantly.  Steve Howe is shown on the cover.  Steve Howe does not play on Time and a Word.  He joined slightly after the album was released.  His uneasy-looking glance off-camera may be giving us a hint about misgivings he’d have of his inclusion on a work he had no part in. The label were at least gracious enough to let the recording’s actual guitarist (Peter Banks) remain on the back cover.  Some may think this cover was shoddy treatment for the departed Yes man, but at least things didn’t escalate to how the Osbourne camp handled Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake.

Slayer – God Hates Us All

I have to squeeze this one onto the list for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m super excited about finally getting the opportunity to see Slayer live this May on their ‘farewell tour’ (yet how many bands have broken that promise?).  Second, this album represents my entry into Slayer fandom.  For a teen at the time who was still very early in my Metal 101 lessons, I found this record to be a devastatingly heavy discovery.  And that was all without even pressing ‘Play’ on the CD player.

This was a cover my brother and I would do our best to avoid leaving out in the open in fear our parents would see it.  We went to Catholic school from kindergarten through Grade 12, and were fairly frequent church attendees at the time, yet my parents (to this day) don’t really seem all that religious.  I don’t really know what we were dreading.  They knew we were clever enough kids that had not, and would not, cause them much real trouble.

In retrospect, this seems like one of those covers that is trying a bit too hard to be rebellious or controversial.  Guitarist Kerry King apparently wasn’t all that pleased with the final product either.  I bought into the concept as a 16-year old, but now it’s an image that I could take or leave.  The album’s title, which is a lyric in the song ‘Disciple’, conjures up a myriad of imagery ideas, be they the plagues of the Old Testament or more present-day examples of human suffering.  Settling on something like this feels like a missed opportunity.

Of course, being one of those bands that never struggled to attract controversy, they needed a Walmart-friendly alternative to the blood-soaked Bible.

In some cases, it appears that this was used as a cardboard slipcase to go over top the existing cover.  I’ve never seen it at the stores, but I do remember seeing versions of God Hates Us All that featured this cover placed on the booklet within the jewel case.

Leaving other potential concepts previously mentioned to the side, I think a combination between both of these covers would have worked the best.  While it would defeat the purpose of the censorship, some red blood stains would have breathed a bit of life into this dull compromise.  I guess this is similar to the original From Genesis To Revelation in that they were going for a realistic biblical look, but I think I’d still prefer there to be the recognizable Slayer logo on the top.   On the other hand, Seasons In The Abyss didn’t need to list their name on the front, and it is considered one of their finest works.

Be on the look out for a third edition of this series if you’ve found these interesting.  I may not write these blogs at the pace of other writers, but I’ll try not to pull a Chinese Democracy.


Crate Digging Discovery – The Lists Of Mystery

Digging through record crates can bring about some unusual discoveries.  Some digs may lead you to pick up an album for it’s absurd cover image alone, others for a band name that is so bad-ass that you wish you came up with it, and a record or two may grab you for one song only among the other dozen you could otherwise take or leave. This time, my vinyl shopping path brought me something I didn’t expect.

Inside of my recently acquired copy of Journey’s third album (Next), there was something of an Easter egg.  Accompanying the ring-worn liner notes were some other papers of interest.  Given the hippy-looking, mustachioed men on the album cover, along with the mellowness of the record (particularly Side One), I might have expected rolling papers.

Of course, Cheech & Chong did deliberately include such leaf wrappings in an album of theirs, but that type of thing never really appealed to me.  These papers, on the other hands, opened my decidedly non-bloodshot eyes as I pondered their origins.  The sheets contained handwritten notes from whom I assume to be the album’s previous owner.  From the look of it, these came from a rather organized music fan.  The lists contain rows of albums and songs beneath a date, which span the range of February 5, 1990 to April 3, 1991.

Don’t get me wrong, I was planning on buying Next regardless, but you don’t see something like this too often when music shopping.  Their intention is a complete mystery to me, so I can only hazard guesses.

The first thing that is obvious is that there are more than enough hints that these notes are from within the country.  There are far too many listings of Rush, Blue Rodeo, Kim Mitchell, and other Canadian artists of lesser stature to be a coincidence.  Not only that, turning to the back of some of these sheets revealed a page from a Canada-centred World War I history test, and a partial map of Niagara-On-The-Lake.  Records have been known to cross borders, but this eliminated the slight possibility that they came from a foreign land.

Further more, some of the sheets are addressed. The most prominent of these addresses is 48 Church Street, which happens to be an extremely common street name.  Given the area I’m from and where I located the record, it could potentially be pinned to downtown Toronto, which Google Maps directs smack-dab in the middle of the Church/King intersection, or in Ajax, the current location of a podiatrist’s office.  That still ignores dozens of other potential locations.  One sheet also points to another address, which appears to be an apartment building in Welland, Ontario.  More questions than concrete answers, I’m afraid.

Is this a list of records that this person acquired on each date?  How would this account for any duplicate occurrence on the list, unless he or she liked having multiple copies of albums.  Possibly, this is a list of a record dealer or a store owner.   Much of what is listed seem to be albums that were relatively current to the dates written such as Jethro Tull’s Rock Island, INXS’ X, and Sting’s The Soul Cages, which could explain the frequency of their being in-stock.

There also happen to be a few recordings that I have been meaning to get a hold of, like Peter Murphy’s Deep, Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, and Thin Lizzy’s Bad Reputation.  It contains several other items I haven’t even heard by name, so in a way,  this is as if someone wrote me a shopping/recommendations list 27-28 years ago.  This could be an unexpected source for me to expand my horizons further, which I’m always appreciative of.  Thanks, stranger!

This person may simply have been tracking a radio station’s playlist.  There are a couple key terms that point me in that direction.  References to ‘Album Feature’ are found next to the likes of Brand X’s Product and Strawbs’ Hero and Heroine (my favourite find on the lists thus far), as well as the words ‘Album Replay’ next to a repeat listing of Steve Hackett’s Voyage of the Acolyte.

The list seems like a blend of progressive rock, pop, new wave, goth, post-punk, and hard rock, so I’m not sure which type of station would spin such eclectic tunes.  I know little about the workings of the Canadian college/university radio programming habits, but could these playlists have originated from some on-campus source?  That would be my best bet.

I still consider this to be an open case as several questions continue to spring to mind:

Why, of all places, was the sleeve of Next chosen to stash these notes?

Was it because it’s an album that would remain hidden deep within the owner’s collection?

Or was it the opposite, a record regularly in the rotation?

Did this person stuff notes in other Journey albums?

Did he or she think Journey ‘sold out’ when they hired Steve Perry as lead vocalist?

Am I wasting too much internet space even pondering this whole thing?

Should I just chuck the bloody things in the garbage bin, and get on to matters of more importance?

Music Meets Gaming – Revolution X

I’ve got that bug back.  The video game bug.  In addition to the Super Nintendo Classic Edition I threw some Christmas money at, a recent Kickstarter campaign is bringing back the old cartridge format that I grew up loving, with a new Genesis/Megadrive game titled Xeno Crisis.  Does this have any relevance to a music blog?  You’re damn right, it does!  Savaged Regime is handling the score to this shootem-up, and the guy knows his way around a sound chip, let me tell you.

Music soundtracks are one of the key factors in setting the atmosphere of a game.  Without any background music in a game, it seems incomplete, at least with games in the past thirty-odd years anyway.  The musical accompaniment to games can come in the form of original scores (such as Nobuo Uematsu’s majestic Final Fantasy themes), a collection of existing songs, and several games in the X-Box era of consoles introduced the idea of customizable soundtracks that allowed gamers to put their favourite songs into select games.  No matter how you slice it, music and games are intertwined, and in my opinion, they should always be.  So it should be no surprise that some musicians would eventually go on to become the stars of video games themselves.

Many musicians spend time developing either a sound or a look that give them an almost other-worldly vibe that could naturally lend itself to the world of gaming.  I could see shock-rockers such as Alice Cooper or King Diamond thrusted into the digitized gothic worlds portrayed in the Castlevania series, or even (to go less mainstream) Chakan: The Forever Man.  How about the lads in Devo whipping their way through a River City Ransom style beat’em up?  A B-52s-themed flight simulator?  My computer programming skills are far too primitive to create such games for my own enjoyment, so I have to make due with what is already in existence.  I’ve had exposure to a number of games that feature musicians prominently in them, so I’d like to talk about some of these games, and give my personal insights and experiences surrounding them.  Let’s start with Revolution X.

I originally heard of this game through a friend in high school. It was one of the first times I had ever heard of a musician or band starring in their own video game, though I had probably been aware of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style around that same time.  This was in the early 2000s, when video game emulation of console games was becoming highly popular on computers, so this made for a rapid discovery of games we overlooked or couldn’t afford as kids.  My friend told me not so much about how the game plays, but more on how the band worked their way into the plot.  In particular, he mentioned one cut scene in which singer Steven Tyler tosses you the keys to Aerosmith’s car (which I guess the band all shared for penny-pinching reasons).

I wasn’t a big Aerosmith fan around that time because I mostly knew of them from their pop ballad phase in the 90s, learning to slow dance to the likes of ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ as an awkward eighth grader.  It was until around my senior year in high school that I got a beat-up vinyl copy of Toys In The Attic, and discovered these Boston boys could legitimately rock hard.  Still, the idea of this game piqued my interest.  I’m not quite sure why, but I wouldn’t put secretly pining for an Alicia Silverstone / Liv Tyler appearance past me at the time.

I never got in the habit of using emulators regularly, so I waited a bit on grabbing this game, and eventually acquired the PC port in a bundle of games my dad picked up at either an auction or flea market.  I thought it was a novel concept, but I doubt I played it any more than five times.  However, I did grab the Sega Genesis port within the last year.

I could tell right away that this version was, in a way, inferior to the PC disc I possessed a decade earlier.  In both versions, you get Aerosmith’s music playing along with you.  This is where the most obvious differences can be found, along with the darker colour palette.  On the PC, I can distinctly remember the song ‘Eat The Rich’ playing through the opening level when you are in the nightclub.  The Genesis version makes deciphering their songs into more of a guessing game.  You get the songs to the best of the programmer’s ability to translate it.  While my ears can identify ‘Rag Doll’, the ability to mimic the electric guitar still comes across sounding like a warm fart.

The plot is both simple and convoluted all at once.  You basically have an organization, the New Order Nation (N.O.N.), that wants to pick on the youth by getting rid of all the fun things that they hold near and dear.  The first thing on their evil deeds checklist is abducting Aerosmith, a band that (ironically) the typical arcade goer’s parents would have held in higher esteem than the gamers themselves.  Anyhow, you travel across the world to thwart this organization and their leader, Head Mistress Helga (portrayed by the same woman that modelled as Sonya Blade in Mortal Kombat 3, Kerri Hoskins), and help put an end to the various prison camps and mind-control tactics that N.O.N. have introduced on a world-wide scale.

Not much is mentioned about how N.O.N. arose to their intimidating and oppressive stature, other than it being an alliance between government and big business, the two of which of course are never bedfellows in the real world. But really, the plot of this game isn’t too important because it’s not as if it is needed to critically think your way through the levels.  Basically, you are shooting at building exteriors and vehicles for most of the game.  Oh, and at bikini-clad hostages, who are also played by Kerri Hoskins.

One of the most enduring references to this game comes in the form of the slogan “Music Is The Weapon!”.  That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for a band, is it?  If you want baddies to cower in fear over a barrage of tunes, there would be more effective ways of doing so.  Aerosmith’s grooves are infectious!!  I’d think something along the lines of ‘Buried Secrets’ by Painkiller is more likely to clear out a room than ‘Love In An Elevator’, but that’s just the average music connoisseur talking.

Keeping that slogan in mind, yes, music is the weapon!  Amongst your arsenal are compact discs that you can launch towards enemies.  If we’re to assume that these CDs are Aerosmith albums, encouraging their use as projectile objects is an innovative way to help boost their album sales.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen beat-up copies of Get A Grip that look like they’ve been used as drink coasters or scratching posts, but now I know that they could potentially be relics of the epic Revolutionary X War of 19XX.

I remember the Middle East stage of the game always game me difficulty.  I’m not sure I ever advanced past it because I don’t remember playing the final stage of the game, which takes place in Wembley Stadium.  The object of this level is to stop a bus from taking people to a re-orientation camp.  Thankfully, you can select between the Amazon Jungle, Middle East, and Pacific Rim levels in any order you choose, allowing you to save this hair-pulling passage to the end.  It didn’t help me much because if I was their last hope, those kids would be licking Helga’s street-walking boots as we speak.

Speaking of Helga, I never did had the pleasure of fighting her in the game since she is the final boss. As much as some misogynists out there would have delighted in bloodying up this strong, powerful female (granted, I’m pretty sure she’d deserve it), they wouldn’t quite get the chance to do so. As much as I don’t like referencing movies I haven’t seen, a The Crying Game-like twist would lead to an unexpected showdown.

Dude looked like a lady

An interesting rumour regarding Revolution X was that Public Enemy were either the original planned stars of the game or considered for a sequel (internet articles on the subject are lacking in detail), which relieves me to hear that it was yet another band with a steady career under their belts that was considered.  It’s not like they’d give Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch a video game, right?

Speaking specifically for the Sega Genesis port, this would have been an ideal game to play with the Menacer accessory.  There were only two games released in North America that made use of this light gun (T2: The Arcade Game and the 6-in-1 game cartridge that was bundled with it), so the public were surely hungry for another one.  The arcade version had the guns, but did any of the home editions think of including it?  Not from what I’ve seen.  Without it, Revolution X feels somewhat broken.

While arguably not even in the league of the 8-bit console first-person shooters like Duck Hunt or Hogan’s Alley, any Aerosmith fan could find a small place in their heart for Revolution X.  It can join your collection for the cost of a few cups of coffee, so not a bad price for a good laugh.  You could do worse for a video game, but you can do much better.

Dream Notes – Don’t Touch My Vinyl!!!

This was one of those dreams that took place within ten minutes of my alarm clock sounding, just after peeking at my cell phone for the time, and attempting to cram in one last adventure before resuming my normal life activities.  The events of this dream took place in an environment in which I shared a house with a bunch of other guys, not too different from in my university days.  I cannot remember who my housemates were aside from my brother, but I think I had probably pulled a few faces from some random places in my life.  What would possess us to invest in real estate with some dude I was stuck behind in line at a Canadian Tire and a background character from Old School, I have no idea.  Dreams work in mysterious ways!

It all began with a knock at our door.  We must have known who was on the other side because it put us into a panic.  I wouldn’t say that the person banged on our door particularly aggressively, but it was no “Shave and a Haircut”, that much I remember.  We saw the stack of mail next to the coat rack, and instinctively knew that’s what all the commotion would be over.  You see, the mail was not addressed to us.  It was seemingly a random collection of packages for a variety of people with a variety of addresses on them, yet we somehow possessed them.  Someone grabbed a medium-sized cardboard box, and buried the mail within the it, using an assortment of DVDs to further cover them up.  With everything set, I opened the door, and was lightly shoved aside.

Ice-T was among the group of men who came in to search the house, and there may have been a few actors from The Wire as well, which would make sense considering one of the hidden packages was addressed to Avon Barksdale.  I didn’t dream up the entire backstory of why these men arrived.  Did one of us take the mail from their doorstep, and was spotted?  That would make the most sense.  Anyway, as they were searching the place, they’d make light verbal jabs at the furnishing and décor. They’d get dangerously close to locating their mail, but would delay their search whenever an interesting DVD made its way into their hands.  Who could blame them?  Everyone likes Goodfellas!

After a few minutes, the place was literally packed with people, most of which had nothing to do with the original search of the premises. Hell, I don’t even know if the first wave of men located their mail because I would soon become side-tracked. It was now developing into a party-like atmosphere, which may have to do with the fact I watched Office Christmas Party the night before.  It’s a shame there were no women at this party.  Even in my dreams, to paraphrase David Brent, I’m so unlucky I could fall into a barrel full of tits and come out sucking my own thumb.

Naturally, some of the uninvited guests were eyeing my vinyl collection, and one of them made himself right at home.  He looked rather familiar. He was, in fact, one of the cast of the sketch comedy show The Birthday Boys, Matt Kowalick.  Like Ice-T, I’d normally be thrilled to meet him, but he was meddling with my stacks.  He had pulled out one of my records (the comedy album Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny Fellow Right!), and took a pair of sewing scissors to trim off the original, partially intact shrink wrap that remained on the album.  I wasn’t having any of it that day.  I told him to to put the scissors down.

“I was just tidying it up!” he protested.

I took it as an insult in my ability to upkeep my media collection.

“Well, then get out of my house.” I utter calmly.

After giving me a puzzled look, I repeat.

“Get out of my house.”

I rapidly close the distance between us and proceed to strong-arm him towards the front door.

“Get out of my house. Get out of my house! GET THE F*** OUT OF MY HOUSE!!!”  I conclude with a volume I’ve never approached in my life, and with a rage I’ve never even seen Susie Greene unleash on Larry David.  All eyes are on me, and my cell phone alarm finally sounds to end the scene.

For those who are more picture-oriented, here’s an illustrated version of a quality one might expect to find on a third-grader’s book report.  I’m the only person with eyebrows given that I was the only one acting overly emotional.  The house was also more crowded and furnished, but my Cleric t-shirt is about as good as it’s gonna get for detail.

It got me thinking what would get me to fly off the handle in terms of someone tampering or mishandling my records, CDs, or other items I collect.  I wouldn’t miss my Bill Cosby records of all things were it to get damaged or lost.  I’d still find many of the bits funny, but the recent headlines he has made haven’t given me that urge to spin them. Even if Cosby retained his family-friendly image, many of his albums could be found for a buck at thrift stores.

I’m usually careful with my collection.  In general, I try not to lend out albums or movies to people because I’ve been burned in the past.  Some people don’t return them, don’t treat them as if they were their own, and I’ve also come to realize that the convenience of internet resources makes physical lending no longer a necessity.  I still make exceptions if I really want to introduce something to somebody, and I find it hard to say no if I get asked directly.

In this particular case, I would probably still have a significant amount of anger.  Not enough to peel the paint off the walls, but anger nonetheless.  It would have more to do with the situation (my house being invaded by strange men) than what he did to the record, which I could shrug off in most cases.  If it was a favourite album of mine that was hard to come by, I’d definitely be more upset, but the brunt of the damage would have to be on the record as opposed to just the packaging.  I collect, but with the intent of listening 99.9 percent of the time.

It was a rather odd dream, but I only woke up with one regret.  Why didn’t I think of showing Ice my vinyl collection?  I’m such a rude host!!

Mega Metal Trading Cards

Most people grow out of it, but I still collect sports cards.  It did make a bit more sense to do so as a kid or a young teenager, giving me another outlet with which I could gaze upon some of my heroes.  I have long gave up aspirations of playing professional sports in any capacity, plus I can’t be the next Mario Lemieux if I’m approaching my mid-thirties, nearly a foot shorter than him, and can hardly skate.  However, I can still relate to the musicians I grew up listening to whenever I pick up a guitar or bass.  The first musicians that I really began to obsess over as a teenager were in heavy metal bands, and thankfully, there was a trading card set out there to satisfy all the little headbangers out there.

Mega Metal trading cards are so metal that they needed a bad-ass logo to match.

Well, at least they tried. Is that a skull with a spike impaling it, or is that a mohawk?  Alas, poor Yorich.  I knew him HELL!

Unlike the Brockum Rock Cards set I covered previously, I didn’t know this set existed until this past year.  The set was produced by the company Impel in 1991, the year where pretty much everything under the sun had a trading card set made.  I don’t know much about the manufacturer, but I also own a card set they made of the World Championship Wrestling league (WCW).  That set had no musical affiliation, but did feature a Sting and Sid Vicious of a different breed.  It had plenty of sweaty mullets too, but I cower in fear over the thought of encountering ‘Dirty’ Dutch Mantell in a moshpit.

I’ll start by showing you what first attracted me to these cards.  Feast your eyes on these babies!

Did I purchase a whole set of cards just for five of King Diamond?  Maybe I did, maybe it didn’t.  What’s it to you?

All the Diamondbangers out there should recognize his makeup design from the Conspiracy / The Eye era of his career.  It may be disappointing to some that the set doesn’t feature the rest of the band, though the state of the lineup at the time may explain the company’s decision.  These cards is that it commemorate a non-album lineup of the band that many may have been unaware of if they never saw him on tour for The Eye.  Following the album’s recording, guitarist Pete Blakk and bassist Hal Patino (who re-joined the band with Abigail II: The Revenge and be on the outs again following Give Me Your Soul Please) were replaced with Mike Wead and Sharlee D’Angelo respectively.  Both would go on to join King on future Mercyful Fate albums, and Wead has played in King Diamond’s solo band since Abigail II.  I don’t think this lineup ever had any proper promo photos taken because King would soon shift his focus back towards Mercyful Fate.

Let’s move beyond the King, and give you a taste of what to expect on both sides of the cards.

If you’re a Led Zeppelin / Robert Plan kind of guy, count yourself lucky with this set as you get eight cards featuring the legendary vocalist.  As a person not too familiar with Plant’s solo material, I appreciate the insight provided on his cards, ranging from discussion of his lyrics, the Zeppelin days, and the creation of what was his latest album at the time, Manic Nirvana.

This is an aptly titled set of cards. When they say Mega Metal, they generally mean Mega Metal.  Outside of Billy Squier, the artists within are universally considered to be metal in some form or another, whether it be hair metal, thrash metal, or straight-up ‘classic’ metal.

If you’re a fan of Iron Maiden, you won’t be disappointed flipping through their sixteen cards in this collection.  Each band member gets a card, as does each of their albums, all of which feature Derek Riggs’ memorable designs of his beloved creation, Eddie.

Can you truly call a set Mega Metal without including one of the undisputed godfathers of the genre, Ronnie James Dio? “No, you can’t!” is the answer to that rhetorical question.

You get exactly one card of him, as well as one for each of his band mates (minus the bassist, who must have recently left the band), and a band pic.  I’m a little surprised that they didn’t throw in a couple more of Ronnie himself seeing as he is Dio.

The main set also contains fourteen cards each for Judas Priest and Bon Jovi, nine for L.A. Guns and Vixen, but a whopping seventeen for Skid Row Cards, I’ll share a few. There were also seventeen Slaughter cards produced, but the only thing of theirs that ever grabbed my attention was their cover of Stick It To Ya (of which there is a card in this set).

Here’s a nifty factoid found on one of the Scotti Hill cards: he is listed at 5’ 11” and 135 pounds, which puts his body mass index very close to the underweight categorization.  Yes, I know that BMI doesn’t tell us an entire picture of a person’s fitness, but I just find it amusing they even needed to list this information on a card.  Why not list this info for everybody in the set like you would on a sports card?

In addition to the base set, each pack originally included a hologram card highlighting a metal band logo.  Here’s the L.A. Guns card, which shows a band photo on the back with the band roster listed beneath.

For some reason, the Judas Priest one only shows Rob Halford, KK Downing, and Glenn Tipton as members.  I know the rhythm section don’t get involved in their songwriting with few exceptions, but that’s no excuse for their being excluded.  They even decided to make a hologram with the Mega Metal logo on it, which they were so proud of that they list ordering information on the card’s back to sell t-shirts featuring the design.

The ‘Mega’ potion of the Mega Metal title is where this set falls short.  Mega, to me, should imply a significant size.  This is a set of only 150 cards.  I’m not saying they need as inclusive as those 792-cards Topps baseball sets I’m accustomed to, but nearing the 250 to 300 range doesn’t seem like an unreasonable task.  There were several hard rock and metal bands flirting with a bit of mainstream success who would have loved to be featured in a trading card set.

On that note, there are a few unlikely bands that managed to squeeze themselves into the stack. For example, I’ve never heard of The Front, who get a pair of cards in the set.

The back of one of The Front cards (that sound a bit like the Who’s On First sketch, doesn’t it?) describes a collection of their songs as “Alice Cooper meeting the Doors with CNN on the tube and little sister ducking out the back with Eddie Haskell”.  I didn’t even need to listen to the songs in question (‘Sweet Addiction’, ‘Ritual‘, and ‘Sin‘) to know that whoever crafted that description needs to go read the book A Beginner’s Guide To Writing Similes, but I did listen anyway.

Of all the bands in the set, things gets the most obscure when it comes to the thrash metal bands.  You may just get a single card of Dark Angel (the first to feature the drumming talents of Gene Hoglan), but you get a number of cards featuring two New York-area thrash acts, Nuclear Assault and Method of Destruction (M.O.D.), both of which can be tied to the Anthrax side-project Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.).

Neither band comes close to fitting into the Big Four of thrash (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax), nor would they fit into the next tier of major thrash bands of the 80s (which would include the likes of Exodus, Testament, Overkill, and possibly German-based bands like Kreator or Sodom).  You’re getting fairly deep into an already fairly underground genre for a modestly-sized set, so that is rather surprising to me.  Each Nuclear Assault member gets an individual photo on a card front, yet the only member of M.O.D. getting one is bassist John Monte, when most would expect that if anyone would get one it would be vocalist Billy Milano.  Perhaps this thrusting of a bassist into the limelight is to make up for Dio’s band lacking of one, but this seems like an odd choice in hindsight.

Here’s a few more shots of some card backs to round out this post.

It’s interesting to note that some of these cards have signatures at the bottom of their cards, and others do not.  Perhaps there’s a valid reason for this.  Is Michael Schenker less likely to sign an autograph for a fan than David Bryan?  Maybe an autograph collector out there could confirm or deny my theory.

It doesn’t feel right to end it like that.  I’ve got to close this out on a more decidedly metallic note.  Here’s my favorite Priest card in the lot, and with possibly the best action shot in the set.  It’s not even a scratch-and-sniff, but I swear I can smell that leather…