Tuesday, February 21, 2017

ROCK CANDY: Home to some of AOR's finest albums!

Rock Candy Records is a label after my own heart. 

However, it is difficult to explain the majesty of AOR to people who think that the genre – also known as Stadium Rock – is built entirely on clichés. To be honest, I wasn’t a total AOR believer back at the beginning of it’s commercial heyday either. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I too considered AOR a cliché’-ridden, mullet-infested musical style that I didn’t want anything to do with. I was into Punk, New Wave, Power Pop and Mod and I didn’t trust any band that featured a member with a moustache. Or a mullet.  Or a striped sleeveless t-shirt. The combination of the three gave me a panic attack. Oh, dear…

But somewhere in the mid-‘80s, I grew up.  I opened my mind, expanded my horizons and let it all sink in. I realized that ALL music is derivative and clichéd if you looked at it from the outside. However, once you stepped inside and learned to appreciate it, you became part of it and it became part of you. The clichés became signposts of a formula that was rich in melodies, layered with harmonies, and driven by walls of testosterone-fueled guitars, big thumping drums and, if you were lucky, huge swaths of keyboards.

So, for years, I not only collected LPs by all the big AOR bands – Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Survivor, etc – I also would grab albums (on the cheap) by bands I never heard of just to satisfy my insatiable appetite for music. (I also did this for every other genre I was into but I’m focusing on AOR for this post.)  I’ve always had a desire to hear as much music as I possibly can so I’d start with the big bands and work my way down.

When the CD age came around, all the big-selling bands would get reissued on that shiny new format. Then they’d get remastered and reissued again. Then remastered and expanded. Then remastered and expanded even more. It never ends…  But what about all those great lesser known bands that the major labels didn’t want to bother reissuing? Well, that’s when labels like Rock Candy step in. 

Rock Candy knows that there’s a market for AOR and Melodic Rock because they personally have a passion for it and they understand the wants and needs of AOR music fans. And thankfully, they allow us to experience (or re-experience) some great obscure Rock albums again in shiny compact disc form.  Before I delve a little deeper and mention some of my favorite Rock Candy reissues,  I do want to inform you that Rock Candy specializes in reissues by the bigger bands as well. The label’s catalog is filled with AOR and Hard Rock legends like Survivor, REO Speedwagon, Rick Springfield, Ace Frehley, Lita Ford Ambrosia, Toto, The Babys, Krokus, Billy Squier, Ratt, Montrose, Dokken, Damn Yankees, Eddie Money, Georgia Satellites, Kansas, Mr. Mister, Quiet Riot and others. Please note that Rock Candy remasters their releases so their reissues sound much more vibrant than the U.S. versions, which are usually budget releases that haven’t been remastered at all (for example: REO Speedwagon, Ratt, Eddie Money and many others).  Plus, the Rock Candy reissues feature excellent liner notes as well. Better still, some even have bonus tracks! So, for example, if you want to crank NINE LIVES by REO Speedwagon and experience it the way it should sound, I suggest you invest in the Rock Candy version.

I’d like to introduce you to some of Rock Candy’s finest reissues.  These are bands that may have had a following in their home towns/states but sadly never achieved the astronomical commercial success that they deserved.. There are a lot more than what I have listed below, but I have bills to pay so I simply cannot afford to buy everything I want.  But I’ll continue to keep you posted on other great AOR releases when I’m able. 

In no particular order...

AVIARY/Aviary (1979)

Simply put – one of the most astonishing AOR reissues on the label, this self-titled album from this relatively unknown band was released in 1979 and sounds like a mutant mix of Queen, Cheap Trick, Sparks and even a little 10cc.  More Pomp Rock than straight ahead AOR, Brad Love was one of the most unique songwriters and frontmen of his time.  Stunning.

ZEBRA/Zebra (1983)
ZEBRA/No Tellin' Lies (1984)
ZEBRA/3.V (1986)

Unfairly written off as Led Zeppelin-lite, Randy Jackson and Zebra were certainly influenced by Led Zep but they add their own flavor to the mix.  Writing them off for wearing their influences on their sleeves is kind of like writing off the entire Power Pop scene because they were influenced by the Beatles! With that being said, those that love Zeppelin will find comfort in Zebra, if only for the first listen or two.  Once you spin it a few times, you’ll discover that the band truly does put their own spin on things.  No Tellin’ Lies is the follow-up and while not a victim of the sophomore slump, it isn’t as strong as the debut.  But 3.V is a fantastic album that adds more keyboards, slicker production and plenty of hooks galore.  A very commercial album indeed, but there is so much depth in the songs.  All three are worth your time investigating but this guy recommends 3.V and Zebra.

HARLEQUIN/Love Crimes (1980)
HARLEQUIN/One False Move (1982)

This Canadian band were a straightforward Rock band that dabbled in AOR, Pop, New Wave and every other genre that suited their fancy. Thankfully, no matter what they did, they managed to keep their own distinct personality. Their albums are filled with great songs that pulsate with an adventurous spirit. At the end of the day, they can easily be classified as AOR yet are not limited by any genre. Both of these albums are highly recommended. Hopefully, Rock Candy decides to reissue their other albums as well.


BALANCE/Balance (1981)
BALANCE/In For The Count (1982)

Technically, Balance was an AOR band. However, this East Coast outfit – much like Toto – had roots in Jazz, R&B, Rock, and Pop and their sound was big and bold, slick and smart. Both albums are filled with great melodies, expert musicianship, great vocals and plenty of heart and soul. Yes, they were seasoned pros but their songs certainly rise above the ‘AOR by numbers’ formula that some bandwagon hoppers were guilty of.  Balance certainly had it all.  Well, apart from fame and fortune…

SPYS/Spys (1982)
SPYS/Behind Enemy Lines (1983)

Although the band featured former Foreigner members (Al Greenwood and Edward Gagliardi), the band’s sound shared little in common with Mick Jones and Lou Gramm’s iconic outfit. More of a mix of AOR, Pomp Rock and New Wave, Spys had great songs and a unique vocalist (John Blanco) but didn’t exactly set the charts on fire. The fact that the band didn’t achieve more success was certainly based more on their label’s inability to market them properly. With that being said, the band were certainly original and sometimes, it is tough to sell a unique band to an audience that is more familiar with formula. Hmmm… that can be said about ALL of the bands featured here!  But it is never to late to let the Spys come in from the cold….

707/707 (1980)
707/Megaforce (1982)

It must be frustrating to be in a band with so much potential but never soar as high as you are clearly capable of.  Such is the case with 707, a band who recorded one of the greatest singles of the early ‘80s – “I Could Be Good For You” – yet were never able to capitalize on the momentum of it’s success thanks to various record company issues. The band had some great material that veered from Beatle-esque (“Lifetime Lover” would make Power Pop fans drool) to hard rockin’ gems and everything in between.  The song was always the most important thing for the lads in 707. But the band suffered major setbacks: losing their keyboardist after their first album, their second album released in the midst of the disintegration of their label (Casablanca) and, finally, their next label (Boardwalk) thrusting a lead vocalist into the band when their two songwriters/vocalists were already ace… it was enough to kill the spirit of any band. But 707 survived it all. They wrote great songs, kicked ass and they are still remembered as legends by AOR and Rock fans alike. Now, if only more people would take notice.  Maybe Rock Candy’s 2017 reissues of their first three albums will do the trick?  We can only hope…

BAD BOY/The Band That Made Milwaukee Famous (1977)
BAD BOY/Back To Back (1978)

Bad Boy were rockers through and through. Simple, edgy and melodic, the band had all the key elements that make Rock music passionate – apart from an ‘image,’ which, sadly, has always been important when it comes standing out in a crowd of other Rock bands. Even back when Bad Boy ruled Milwaukee, image was more important than the tunes.  And trust me, Bad Boy were the bomb when it came to handing out some rockin’ tunes. Many of their songs were hopped up Blues rockers with some great guitar riffs – think Aerosmith crossed with a little Cheap Trick and The Stones - while others were glorious slices of Pop heaven. “Machines” wasn’t that far from the UK Glam Rock scene from a few years before. 

CONEY HATCH/Coney Hatch (1982)
CONEY HATCH/Outta  (1983)
CONEY HATCH/Friction (1985)

Perhaps the hardest rocking band in this list, Canada’s Coney Hatch were equal parts melodic Metal and AOR.  At times, their gloriously bombastic noise inches close to Iron Maiden territory but they manage to reign it in and pull out some cracking tunes. By their third album, they were giving early Foreigner a run for their money when it came to their mix of Hard Rock and melodies. If you came to the Coney Hatch party early, you were already used to their melodic flair but if you arrived late (by Friction), you were getting Coney Hatch in all of their glory – power and proper tunes.  Some fans may have wanted more Rock and less hooks, but as the songwriting got better, so did the melodies. And I won’t complain about that at all.

Keep on truckin'!

Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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