Tuesday, August 11, 2009

PILOT/The Reissues; Available NOW on RPM/Cherry Red


Here in the U.S. of A., PILOT are best known for their hugely successful 1974 hit "Magic". I must admit that, 35 years after the single's release, it remains one of my all-time favorite songs. EVER! I've never been able to get enough of it and no matter how many times I've heard it, I want to hear it again. It'd be safe to say that I've heard the song more times than I've heard any other song in my life bar The Beatles and Elvis Presley catalogs. On average, I play the song no fewer than 100 times a year (probably twice that), which is more than almost any other song in my entire collection!


So, when the chance came up to review RPM/Cherry Red's remastered reissues of the first three PILOT albums, I jumped on it. I almost couldn't sleep for the week or so it took for the CDs to arrive. Once I had them in my grubby little hands, I couldn't sleep for another week until I had full absorbed them again into my system. I still can't sleep since they songs are constantly spinning in my head, day in and day out!


While some folks have compared Pilot to 'Power Pop' outfits like Badfinger, The Raspberries and Big Star, I tend to think of them as closer to classic song stylists like Emmit Rhodes, Nilsson, 10cc, Gilbert O'Sullivan and, of course, solo Paul McCartney. It's not that they band are world's away from 'Power Pop', but that term, to me, conjures up a guitar-based sound, whereas Pilot were all over the map yet relied more heavily on piano than chiming or crunchy guitar chords. Harmony-wise, Pilot were right up there with the best of them.


Initially, Pilot were a trio consisting of David Paton, Billy Lyall and Stuart Tosh. These three gents had spent their formative years separately as session musicians and played in many a live band, but they never tasted real fame until they joined together as Pilot. In two short years, the band recorded their first three albums and made a real impact on the music scene in the UK, Japan and across Europe. The U.S. fully embraced their debut single, "Magic", but the band were never able to tour and capitalize on their success over here and they sadly remain a one-hit wonder in the States.


Those first three albums have just been reissued on RPM, which is distributed by Cherry Red, and they've never sounded or looked better. And with a handful of demos added to each of the albums, they are essential purchases for anyone looking for smart, creative and melodic pop music, '70s or otherwise...


From The Album Of The Same Name, originally released in 1974, was the band's debut album (released as Pilot in the U.S.) and features the mega great "Magic", which is reason enough to own this album! It doesn't hurt that the album is chock full of other great Pop songs that are just as commercial and appealing as anything Macca or Nilsson were releasing at the time. While "Magic" is certainly the highpoint of the album, there are so many fine moments on this album that it's kind of hard to keep track of them: the pure pop of "Just A Smile", "Lucky For Some" and "Sooner Or Later", the music-hall stomp of "Over The Moon" and the rockin' "Never Give Up" are just a few highlights from the original album. In regards to the four bonus tracks, there's a b-side from their single as Scotch Mist, two excellent demos of unreleased tracks plus the original version of "Magic", which is absolutely stunning. This recording is less bombastic and sounds like it might have been recorded in a different key. The arrangement is very similar to the released version, but the melody really stands out more on this version. I've already listened to it at least 100 times and love every moment of it..... The album was produced by Alan Parsons, who really knows how to layer vocals and instruments and create a perfect pop soundscape....



Parsons was back in the producer's chair for the band's sophomore album Second Flight, released in 1975. By this time, guitarist Ian Bairnson had joined the band full time (he only appeared on a few of the debut album's tracks) and Pilot were temporarily a quartet. Second Flight is a satisfying Pop album, but doesn't reach the highs of the debut, chiefly due to the fact that the band was rushed back into the studio some six months after their debut was released. In modern times, even a semi-successful band will toil over one track in the studio for over a year, but Pilot wrote and recorded two albums worth of material in that same amount of time. Second Flight is far from a failure, though. With more delicious hooks dripping out of the speakers, it's almost the equal of the debut, but doesn't quite get there. "January", their biggest hit outside the U.S., is delightful. "Call Me Round" does get close to Badfinger territory (more Tom Evans than Pete Ham, though). The bonus tracks feature demos of three of the album's tracks and a demo of the non-album single "Lady Luck". My only complaint is that they didn't add the single version of "Lady Luck", which means I need to track down a Pilot compilation in order to add that song to my collection. And I am a collector, so the search beings after I'm done writing this blog...



By the time Pilot released Morin Heights in 1976, Lyall had departed the band and Pilot was a trio again. Musically, things were different, too. Parsons was out of the producer's seat, replaced by Roy Thomas Baker, best known for his work with Queen and, later, The Cars. His production lifts the band from the Pop ranks, throwing them in alongside the harder Rock bands of the time without losing any of their charm. The harmony vocals stray a bit from being Beatles-influenced and sound closer to Sheer Heart Attack-era Queen than anything the Fab Four ever recorded. The songs on Morin Heights are excellent, matching the consistency of their debut and placing the album a few notches above Second Flight. All of this was intentional, since the band was hoping to break out of their teeny-bop 'singles' band image and be taken more seriously as an album-oriented outfit. While initial sales were disappointing, they achieved their goal in spades. Morin Heights remains an excellent slice of Pop/Rock that certainly deserves the reappraisal it will hopefully receive due to these reissues. Highlights include "Canada", "Penny In My Pocket", "Steps" and "Running Water". Of the four bonus demos, three are previously unreleased tracks more than worthy of your time....



After Morin Heights, Tosh quit the band and joined 10cc and Pilot, as a duo, recorded one more album before splitting up....


If "Magic" is all that you know by Pilot, then do yourself a favor and check these reissues out pronto! You won't regret it!


Ho, ho, ho, it's magic, you know!

Stephen SPAZ Schnee

No comments: