Monday, September 16, 2013

The Day After The Sabbath 91: Forced Landing [AOR Special pt.1]

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This volume mines a time period and style that I don't often concentrate on, the latter part of the 70s and what is often called AOR. Here I am using the term as defined by RYM:

"[Adult Oriented Rock]...characterized by a rich, layered sound, slick production and a heavy reliance on pop/rock hooks, which led to its huge popularity in the late 70s and early 80s".

This volume could also be seen as a document of where US/Canadian rock was going in the latter part of the 70s. Don't worry, it's not a sea-change for the blog, just an interesting diversion in all things 70s.

Setting the scene - some background as I see it to rock in the US in the late 70s
By this time, the rock and roll industry had come of age. The corporate promotion/recording/touring machine was firmly in place, as was the actual machinery; radio/vinyl and the new kids on the block, 8-track, cassette tape and the ultimately unsuccessful quadraphonic sound were established. Bands were becoming more adventurous with their stage setups and newer/bigger arenas were being filled. Cultural influences in music and art were changing; Vietnam war sentiments and hippy ideals were fading and the new record-buying "me" generation's attention was drawn in more materialistic directions. Music got closer to becoming just another cynically-marketed, "safe" product. Lyrical and conceptual themes were dumbing-down as a result of record label's construction of money-making bands. Music tastes were changing as they always do, new recording techniques and improved technology was making slicker-sounding, multi-faceted and bigger-sounding production the norm. Though not directly influential in an artistic sense, innovators like Pink Floyd were inspirational with their ever-increasing commercial success using these new widescreen soundscapes. Queen was a direct influence, their strident pomposity and multi-harmony arrangements were important to the pomp of AOR.

In the UK, Punk was the resulting antithesis to these times, and while punk existed in the US too, it didn't have as much impact in American culture. In the US, simplified riff-based bands like Kiss and the UK's Bad Company were pointing the way for popular hard rock. The well-known American bands that pioneered the typical AOR sound took influences from UK/European progressive rock like Yes and made them commercially viable and palatable for the masses who were tuning in to the burgeoning FM radio stations of the American midwest where this sound was largely evolving. These early bands include Chicago's Styx and Kansas (from Kansas strangely enough). Illinois's REO Speedwagon started very early too but remained a hard rock band for a while (See final track on Vol53). Other famous AOR names will all be familiar to you; Boston, Journey, Foreigner et al.

So....back to volume 91!
It's mostly fun, catchy, uplifting music. I have tried to choose the heaviest cuts, from albums that are all found at the obscure end of the sound and all worth investigating further, which was quite difficult as while searching for this kind of stuff I frequently encountered the situation of an album having one or two great tracks while all the others were sub-par. There's a mix of US and Canadian tracks here, as Canada seemed to have a knack for it too and produced a lot of great bands. Canada seemed particularly adept at turning out pomp-rock, pushing the limits of AOR with grand bombastic arrangements, heavy use of swirling synths and super-melodic lead guitar melodies. As usual, it's impossible to pin down any collection of bands to just one genre and on here are some bands that mix things up, Hounds is a great example with their mix of Queen-ish pomp and new wave rock they show what a big influence Queen had on pomp-rock. Rex Smith was an aspiring star who ended up with the lead role in the 80s 'man and machine' TV show Street Hawk, and the Californian 'Masters of the Airwaves' had a guitarist who used a double-neck 32-string steel resonating guitar for their distinctive sound.

Intro over....I must give another quick thanks to the members of the TDATS fb group, especially Marc Joseph (of Vitamin X), for some top AOR tips. There was also one site which I returned to again and again, and not just because Google searches were frequently pointing me there; GloryDaze Music, an amazing resource for AOR/Pomp rock (they cover other genres too).

01. Groundstar - Forced Landing / It's All The Same (1978)
       from album 'forced landing'
02. Rex Smith - Dead End Kids (1976)
       from album 'rex'
03. Tantrum - Applaud The Winner (1979)
       from album 'rather be rockin'
04. Lynx - Lucifer (1976)
       from album 'missing lynx'
05. The Hounds - Angel Of Fire (1979)
        from album 'puttin' on the dog'
06. Network - Sundown (1978)
       from album 'nightwork'
07. Gamma - Solar Heat / Ready For Action (1979)
       from album 'gamma 1'
08. Masters of the Airwaves - Light Up The Heavens (1974)
       from album 'masters of the airwaves'
09. Striker - Hard On Me (1978)
       from album 'striker'
10. Wheatstone Bridge - Live Each Day (1976)
       from album 'bad connection'
11. Morningstar - Turn Out All The Lights (1978)
       from album 'morningstar'
12. Rose - Ride Away (1977)
       from album 'a taste of neptune'
13. Airborne - Optimystical (1979)
       from album 'airborne'
14. 1994 - Keep Ravin' On (1979)
       from album 'please stand by...'


Groundstar LP 1978
Groundstar LP (1978)
Groundstar were from Fresno, CA, and made one privately-pressed album in 1978 that was re-pressed in 1980. It has some entertainingly theatrical intros that set the scene of a band who are being transported on a space cruiser when it hits an emergency. The band members are listed as Sharon Jordan (vocals, strings), Doug Watkins (vocals, strings), Chris Smith (guitar), Gilbert Jones (guitar), Sam Arnold (bass) and Ron Holt (drums). The album was given a CD release in 2012 by Retrospect Records. More reading on Groundstar here.

Rex Smith LP 1976
Rex Smith LP (1976)

Rex Smith is the brother of Michael Lee Smith, singer in Starz, who I included on TDATS 14 and were managed by Kiss's manager in their early days. Rex was an aspiring star and pin-up who made a few attempts at musical success before becoming better known as a TV presenter and actor. His 1976 debut album (produced by Eddie Leonetti of Angel & Legs Diamond fame) was backed by a solid hard rock band comprising Orville Davis (bass), Mike Ratti (drums), Lars Hanson (guitar, vocals) and  Lou Vandora  (guitar, vocals). There's a few really great tracks on it, including the one I used here 'Dead End Kids'. Rex has a great voice here, but equally good are his backing band who played convincingly cool hard rock and though I haven't spent any time looking into it yet, I presume that Orville, Mike, Lars and Lou must have had some experience and other connections in rock. Rex's career veered further into pop music on later albums and he had a hit in 1979 with 'You Take My Breath Away', which appeared on an album and TV movie called 'Sooner Or Later' but he still included a few rocking tracks here and there and his final album was in 1983.

Tantrum 1979
Tantrum band photo 1979
Tantrum were from Chicago and had seven members, fronted by three girls on vocals; Pam Bradley, Sandy Caulfield and Barb Erber. The rest of the band was guitarist Ray Sapko, keyboardist Phil Balsano, bass guitarist Bill Syniar, and drummer Vern Wennerstrom. The song I have used here may well be my favourite in this comp, it is fantastic. At this time I don't know which one of the girls is singing this particular track but the vocals and the guitar work are just amazing. They released two albums and recorded a third in 1980 that was not released until 2005. The band has resurfaced for live shows recently, and I found film of them performing at a Chicago show called the Haymakers Reunion, at which another band appearing later in this comp played called Hounds. Their 1979 album 'Rather Be Rockin' was a lot tougher than their pop-rock debut and the track 'Applaud The Winner' I used here was also included on a record called 'Striktly for Konnoisseurs'. This was a compilation put together by Kerrang magazine staff in 1984 and having only just found it recently I realise it included a few other bands I have used before, like Moxy (Vol2), Starz (14), Angel (18 & 24) and Legs Diamond (29).

Lynx - "Missing Lynx" LP 1976
Lynx - "Missing Lynx" LP 1976
Toronto's Lynx are the first Canadian band to show up. They made three albums between 76-79 and this track is taken from the first, 'Missing Lynx'. This debut sounds different to the next two. It has a few AOR pretensions but these are nicely counterpointed by some heavy tracks with guitar distortion and vocal aggression that was ejected for the next two albums, as was the entire original lineup of the band save for keyboardist Tony Caputo and Guitarist Rob Swartz. There is a good account of Lynx's history here at

The Hounds
The Hounds
The Hounds were another band from Chicago. They played a heady mix of hard rock, glam and pomp rock with a hint of new wave/post punk which was unique and they didn't really fit in with any particular scene of the time. They managed to get two albums out in 78 and 79 with out much more than local success. I have taken a track from the second of these, 1979's 'Puttin' On the Dog'. There is more reading on Hounds here and here and in those reviews the debut album is favoured, but 'Angel of Fire' from the second album is my pick as it's a great example of all their skills in one song. That said, the first album is equally good, maybe even slightly heavier and better over-all, and you should definitely seek out both of them! The pure pomp of the rousing intro and outro bookends this great track, which is made even more memorable by the unusual vocals of charismatic keyboardist/vocalist John Hunter. The Hounds performed live in 2012 at a reunion show at which the afore-mentioned Tantrum also played. Here is them playing Angel of Fire.

Network 'Nightwork' LP 1978
Network, from rear cover of the Nightwork LP (1978)
New York's Network included the talents of Michael Ricciardella (drums, vocals), Richie Cerniglia (guitar) and John Vinci (vocals). They were all in late 60s heavy psych band The Illusion which I used back on Vol66. The band also included Mike Coxton (keyboards, guitar), Howard Davidson (bass), George Bitzer (keyboards), Jean Paul Gaspar (percussion) and B.C. Gibson (vocals) during it's short life, with B.C. taking on vocals on the 2nd album 'Nightwork' which is where I found track no 6 here, 'Sundown'.

Network, Nightwork LP
Network's 'Nightwork' LP (1978)
This is a great, involving song with impassioned performances all-round, lush orchestration and a wild-west theme, it really plays out like a story. It's not the heaviest from their second, but it's my favourite. In general the album was a dramatic improvement over the self-titled debut, which was way too slick and commercial for me to use here. Something changed (maybe the producers?) on LP no2 and they played a set of harder rocking songs, Star Gazer being another good one. Previous to Network, Richie Cerniglia and Mike Ricciardella were in 'Wiggy Bits' who made one 1976 album which had a few good tracks on it like 'I'll Write You Off'. Reviews of both Network albums can be found here and here.

Gamma 1 LP 1979
Gamma 1 LP (1979)
Halfway through volume 91 now and we come to a name that has appeared on TDATS before, Ronnie Montrose. He started out as a session guitarist who worked for notable names like Van Morrison, Herbie Hancock and Gary Wright. Throughout the 70s, along with solo releases, he recorded with a hard rock band called 'Montrose' and also recorded with The Edgar Winter Group. In 1979 Ronnie started a new band with a more modern AOR sound called Gamma. The singer was Scotsman Davey Pattison who had recently arrived in the US and previously sung in band Kid Gloves with former members of Peter Frampton's band, The Herd.

Gamma Band
Gamma band
During Gamma's prime they made three records with the additional musicians Jim Alciver (keyboards, 1979-81), Alan Fitzgerald (bass, 1979-80), Skip Gallette (drums, 1979-80), Glenn Letsch (bass, 1980-82), Denny Carmassi (drums, 1980-82) and Mitchell Froom (keyboards). I have used the track 'Ready For Action' from the debut. Bolted on the front of it is part of the preceding instrumental 'Solar Heat'. These two together are a great example of the spacey/proggy effects that AOR bands often overlaid their hard rock with, and Ronnie had tried doing something similar before with tracks like 'Space Station #5', which appears on Vol87. The atmospheric scene-setting gives way to some of Ronnie's blazing guitar skills as 'Ready For Action' kicks in, ready for action indeed.

Masters of the Airwaves band
Masters of the Airwaves band shot
California's Masters of the Airwaves only made one album. I will quote directly from RDTEN1's review at RYM, you can read the whole thing with a track-by-track breakdown here: "The short-lived Masters of the Airwaves was built around the talents of lead guitarist Jimmy Berick.  Berick had been kicking around the Northwest music scene playing in a number of local bands when his unique double-necked, 16 string, steel guitar caught the attention of Epic Records.  Signed to a contract in 1973, Berick turned around and recruited singer Jon Flak, who he'd previously worked with in the experimental band Acejet and Heatray.  At the time Flak was playing in the Oregon-based blues-rock band Silverhill.  Flak jumped at the opportunity, bringing Silverhill drummer David Rada and bassist Randy Rand along with him. 

Masters of the Airwaves LP (1974)
Settling on the hopeful name Masters of the Airwaves, the quartet went into Sausalito's Record Plant studios with producers Jorman Kurban and Michael Sunday (who was responsible for signing Berick to Epic).   Released in 1974, "Masters of the Airwaves" featured a set heavy on originals written or co-written by Berick (including two tracks with the infamous Kim Fowley's fingerprints on them).  On the surface this was a fairly conventional mixture of mid-1970s AOR with occasional progressive nods,.  The album mixed the usual formulaic young-horny-guys-suffering-from-an-overdose-of-lust rock songs ('In It for the Thrill') with a couple of pop-tinged numbers ('Highway To Hell').  Flak was certainly a decent lead singer who seemingly picked up most of his cues from listening to the likes of Paul Rodgers and Robert Plant, though he had a tendency to turn shrill (think John Waite) whenever he pushed himself too hard.  About all I can say is that in the lead vocalist department you've certainly heard worse and you've certainly heard better.  To his credit, most of Flak's performance grew on you after awhile.  The band's rhythm section was more than proficient with bassist Rand turning in some impressive moves (check out his work on 'Light Up the Heavens').  Still, the band's not-so secret weapon and major draw was guitarist Berick whose 'rocked-up' steel guitar made for some unique and entertaining material - imagine the sound of a Hawaiian slat-key guitar fed through the biggest fuzz guitar pedal you've ever heard.  It probably doesn't sound all that promising, but the man certainly generated some interesting sounds hat should readily appeal to any Jimmy Page fan out there. 

The band toured in support of the album, including some  Midwest opening slots for the band Kansas, but sales were dismal.  Your typical personality conflicts subsequently kicked in and Flak was promptly kicked out of the band which quickly folded. On first listen nothing special, but this is one of those albums that rewards a listener's patience.  Definitely worth the price of admission, if only to hear Berick's unique guitar. 

Under his given name Randy Schuchart, Randy Rand played in he metal band Autograph. Over the next two years Flak struggled on with a number of outfits including Redding, Acejet, Masters, and The Morgan Blackwood Group.  In 1976 he dropped out of music, got married, and joined the Air Force where he was trained to repair F-111 Aardvark electronic warfare boxes.  In an ironic move, he auditioned for a job singing with an Air Force band and closed out his tour of duty touring worldwide for the military.  He's still active in music, fronting a three piece named Man Up."

Striker Band Promo
Striker (l-r): Scot Rosburg, Rick Taylor,
Rick Randle, Rick Ramirez
Striker were a Seattle band that made one s/t album in 1978. They evolved from the band 'Randle-Rosburg' which started in 1971 and guitarist Richard "Rick" Ramirez has appeared on TDATS before, in the band Boomerang way back on Vol9 which also included Vanilla Fudge keys man Mark Stein. It seems that although Randle-Rosburg was around for a few years they did not release. The rest of Striker was Scott Rosburg (Bass, Guitar, Vocals), Rick Taylor (Drums) and Rick Randle (vocals, keyboards, guitar). Norm Lombardo and Rick Troppman are also listed as bass players. The album is a solid, if unremarkable collection of AOR-ish hard rock, but a good example of such. A hard rock band at heart, with the sheen of AOR added as popular tastes were maybe presumed to demand. I picked the track 'Hard On Me'  (huhuhuh, he said hard-on), and 'We Got The Power' is a good one too. There's a great collection of pictures of Randle-Rosburg here and Striker here & here.

Wheatstone Bridge - Bad Connection LP (1976)
Wheatstone Bridge - Bad Connection LP (1976)
Wheatstone Bridge are probably the most obscure band in this volume. I came across the album on the Robots For Ronnie blog ages ago and have been saving them up for a suitable comp, and this is it! There's a definite Bad Company sound to this one with it's pleasant verses breaking into the rock solid chorus. Certainly good enough to forgive some of the most hilariously bad album art I have ever seen haha! I will quote Robots For Ronnie directly as I cannot add anything further: "Wheatstone Bridge are one of those bands that few people have any information about. Aside from the fact that the band were based out of Kankakee, Illinois and recorded this LP in 1976 at Bob Millsap's Ironside Studios in Nashville, there are precious few historical traces left behind. Guitarist, Joe Bright was presumably the creative force behind the band, given that he is credited for almost all of the album's songwriting. It is also safe to say that Bright sang the material, although drummer Kim Berry and producer George Marakas were also credited for some vocal assistance as well. "Bad Connection" was issued in 1976 by Marakas' publishing/management company, SanRon Music. The album failed to break nationally but in hindsight has found a second life in collector's circles. Acid Archives featured a flattering review of the album and obscurity lovers have raved about if for years.

Musically, the band are a tight well-oiled machine. There's a slight British influence happening in some of the arrangements and a nice blend of distorted and clean guitar tones. Tracks like "Bad Connection", "Make It Rhyme", "Dance The Whole Night Long", "Thunderock" and "Nightflight" all featuring blistering guitars and stand among the best material on the album. There are a couple of ballads present as well that lack the immediacy and impact of the heavier tracks. The production is solid and crisp and the writing is nice and compact. This is definitely one of the better 70's private pressings I've heard in quite awhile. I have no doubt lovers of old-school melodic hard rock will eat this up. Dig this sweet vinyl rip.."

Morningstar LP art (1978)
Morningstar LP art (1978)
Morningstar were from Kansas City, Missouri. They made two albums from 78 to 79 and had a fair amount of local success, though not enough to overcome the issues that broke them up. The band comprised Rick Bacus (guitars, keyboards, vocals), Jerry Chambers (guitars, vocals), Michael Edmunds (guitars, vocals), Greg Harris (drums, percussion, vocals) and Greg Leech (bass, bass synthesizer). I chose a track from their debut s/t album, the most successful song from the album was the 'Premeditated Rendezvous' and it's certainly good, but I prefer the hard grinding riff of 'Turn Out All The Lights'. There is a revealing interview with Rick Bacus over at GloryDaze which throws some welcome light on things, and the band have a website here. Here's the brief intro paragraph from the site: "Talk about bad timing. Morningstar started their recording career in the late '70s, a time when disco was going strong and punk rock had just started to change the rock 'n' roll landscape. Rock artists that started their recording careers earlier in the decade (Styx, Journey, REO Speedwagon, e.g.) were changing to a more pop rock sound in an effort to retain airplay. Record companies seemed to be dropping artists who didn't fit into these categories. Morningstar was no exception. After two great rock albums, Columbia/CBS and Morningstar parted ways."

Rose lineup in 1977
Rose lineup in 1977
For track 12 the second Canadian band appears. Rose is one of the oldest on the comp, having started in the very early 70s and released their debut 'Hooked on a Rose' in 1973. At this point they were nearer the sound of Deep Purple on their heavy tracks (exemplified by this storming track; "Ride the Subway") which is understandable as the LP was produced by John Stewart who had reportedly worked with Deep Purple & Jon Lord (though I have been unable to deduce which records as yet).

Earth, Air & Water LP (1973)
Earth, Air & Water LP (1973)
It seems that 1973 was busy for Rose as they also worked on an unusual ecological record for kids called 'Earth, Air & Water', which was commissioned by marketing company Young & Rubicam for their 50th anniversary. It wasn't advertised as a Rose record but RYM lists it in the Rose discography and the label shows writing credits to Lalonde & King, who I presume were Gary Lalonde (bass) and Ken King (drums) of Rose. For Rose's final two records Ken King was replaced by a new drummer called Jim Fox who drummed on the Rose track I have chosen; 'Ride Away' from their 1977 record 'A Taste of Neptune'. It's a great track that mixes the sounds of older-70s, Deep Purplish rock with the newer AOR and Pomp embellishments, especially in some of the keys work. Jim Fox, Brian Allen and Gary Lalonde from Rose all went on to the AOR band 'Toronto' which existed until 1984 and made around five albums. More reading on Rose here and Toronto here.

Airborne 1979
LA's Airborne were a band that made only one album, but it was top notch, good enough to compete with the best out there at the time. It has the glossy AOR production but at the same time the performances are stella and most importantly the playing is solid and heavy while being melodic and catchy as well, which is basically what you want from good AOR eh? The members names are listed as David Zycheck (lead guitar, vocals), Mike Baird (drums, vocals), John Pierce (bass guitar, vocals), Beau Hill (electric guitar, keyboards, lead vocals) and Larry Stewart (lead vocals, electric guitar, keyboards). The LP has recently been issued on CD by Rock Candy and here is the information they have supplied on their site: "We here at Rock Candy love to champion the underdog, acts that slipped beneath the radar before disappearing altogether. It’s a murky and sadly depressing world, one occupied by some of the world’s most talented musicians robbed of success by factors outside of their sphere of influence. 
Airborne LP (1979)
Airborne LP (1979)
Airborne were one such act. They were an amazingly proficient band crafting some of the best melodic rock that had ever been crafted yet somehow their fate was sealed when record company politics reared its ugly head. Featuring future producer Beau Hill (Ratt, Winger, Warrant), and signed to Columbia Records, this highly gifted five piece band recorded the debut album under the superior production guidance of Keith Olsen (Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield, Sammy Hagar), in Los Angeles and London (AIR studios) resulting in one of the era’s most compelling and streamlined records. Comparable with the best work of Styx, Touch and Foreigner the accent was on lovingly constructed songs underpinned with meaty guitar riffs and exquisitely crafted vocals, layered to perfection. 

Originally issued in 1979, the album attracted a slew of favourable reviews but just when things were looking to take off, including a proposed tour with the Cars, the President of Columbia Records jumped ship leaving the band high and dry with the new regime deeming Airborne as yesterday’s news. It was, in effect, a knockout blow. However we still have their sole album to remind us what could have been."

1994's "Please Stand By..." LP (1979)
1994's "Please Stand By..." LP (1979)
We reach the closer, and it's the second band here with great female vocals. 1994's track "Keep Ravin' On" is raw and punky in it's delivery, especially Karen Lawrence's performance, while maintaining a melodious edge. This is another band that has had recent CD re-issues on Rock Candy and here are some 1994 excerpts from RC's site: "Fronted by the voluptuous Karen Lawrence, 1994 were one of the greatest North American hard rock bands that time and tide has indeed forgotten. Signed, in a blaze of publicity, to the mighty A&M label, produced by seventies studio wizard Jack ‘Aerosmith’ Douglas and hailed as the next big thing, the band never quite made the commercial impact all had hoped for. Critically, however, their music was bestowed with fervent praise attracting rave reviews both at home and abroad"

1994's band photo from debut LP (1978)
1994's band photo from debut LP (1978)
"This [Please Stand By...], their sophomore album, was released in 1979, Geoff Barton, then writing for Sounds magazine, and now, of course, Editor At Large of Classic Rock, made no secret of his love for 1994’s music and the charms of Karen Lawrence, going so far as to acclaim them as a veritable cracker box of explosive guitar based rock topped off by a stellar performance from one of the best (female) vocalists of the era; a deadly yet cool combination of Heart and Aerosmith. Produced by the dynamic duo of Eddie Leonetti (Angel, Legs Diamond) and Jack Douglas, the album was lavished with fervent praise, attracting rave reviews both at home and abroad."

Thanks for listening!, Rich.

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  1. This might be your best ever!! Awesome stuff, especially Tantrum!

    1. Thanks, I agree, the Tantrum track is killer! The band could have been huge if they had maintained this quality.

  2. great place for great sounds thank you

  3. I grew up outside of Seattle, saw Striker when I was a kid.

    1. Great, so they were quite popular then?

    2. Well I wouldnt put it that way, they bubbled up, played around a bit and then disappeared.

  4. Great post, thanks so much (-:

  5. Thank you very much excellent collection.

  6. Outstanding work on this compilation mate. And your site is excellent, plenty of info.
    I run a blog myself (specialized in rare AOR / Hard Rock) and also do my own compilations too.
    It would be really cool to exchange links...

    Have a great New Year.