Friday, February 21, 2020

THE BABYS/Silver Dreams - Complete Albums 1975-1980 (6CDs) review!



The road to ‘Fame and Fortune’ is riddled with tour buses and vans that had to pull over for some reason and never made it to their final destination. For many of these bands, talent was never an issue – loads of enormously talented bands never quite reached the big time. British rockers The Babys certainly made it to the ‘fame’ side of town but it went wrong somewhere along the way and they had to skip town before they really had a chance to warm up the jacuzzi. They arrived on the scene as a melodic Blues Rock band, evolved into Stadium-friendly AOR rockers and gave it their all, but they never achieved the world-dominating success that they were so worthy of.

This is not to say that The Babys failed – far from it.  They had bona-fide hit singles, influenced a lot of artists, and the members had successful careers after they split up in 1981. And now, 40 years after the original band’s final studio album, music fans are still talking about them. However, The Babys should have been way more popular and held up as an example of a great Rock ‘n’ Roll band.  The names Michael Corby (guitar/keyboards), Tony Brock (drums), and Wally Stocker (lead guitar) should be uttered with the same reverence as the band’s vocalist/bassist John Waite!. If any Rock band needs a critical and commercial re-appraisal, it is The Babys! Well, goodness gracious, look what has just been released! SILVER DREAMS: COMPLETE ALBUMS 1975-1980 is a six CD set that features everything you need to start that re-appraising, folks! And while I don’t want to reveal too much too soon so early in this review, you will most definitely want to order this right away!

Disc One features their self-titled debut album from 1976. This release was actually the second attempt at their debut album (the original 1975 ‘debut’ can now be heard in all its glory on Disc Six). Starting off with the heavy Rock stomper “Looking For Love”, THE BABYS is an album that is out for blood. Landing somewhere between Bad Company and Aerosmith with some cracking Pop melodies tossed in for good measure, the album travels down a few different musical avenues. “If You’ve Got The Time”, the band’s first hit, is Pop perfection. “Laura” is a Gospel-laced ballad. “Rodeo” blends the rougher edge with a great melody and is one of the band’s hidden gems. Drummer Brock takes over lead vocal duties on “Over And Over”. “Dying Man” is damn close to Hard Prog Rock. Overall, a solid debut that definitely rivals most of their contemporaries’ releases around the same time. The only negative is that Waite’s vocals are often drowned in echo, which makes it difficult to hear the majesty in his voice. The CD contains three bonus tracks.

Disc Two contains their BROKEN HEART album, which still features some of their Hard Rock thump but also adds in more Pop elements including mid-tempo tracks and ballads. It also has more spacious production thanks to Ron Nevison. Smoothing away the raw edges, on this album you’re greeted with the wonderful sounds of a string quartet, only to be knocked over by Corby and Stocker’s bluesy six stringin’. The album also features the first appearance of their semi-regular female backing vocalists (The Babettes). Waite’s vocals are clearer and more upfront, showcasing that amazing, one-of-a-kind voice. The ballads on the album are less bluesy than their debut, and certainly more melodic. It would be easy to say that the songwriting improved – which it did - but perhaps the band’s focus changed, creating a more defined direction to follow. Highlights include “A Piece Of The Action”, “I’m Falling”, “Silver Dreams”, “Wrong Or Right”, and the album’s title track. The album’s big hit single, “Isn’t It Time”, was written by outside songwriter’s Jack Conrad and Ray Kennedy but the band members offer up plenty of songs that match the quality. The CD includes four bonus tracks.

Disc Three contains the most popular album in their catalog: 1978’s HEAD FIRST. If BROKEN HEART heralded a poppier direction, then this album brings it all home. From rockers like “Love Don’t Prove I’m Right” and the glorious “Head First” to the Pop splendor that is “Every Time I Think Of You” (another Conrad/Kennedy composition), HEAD FIRST is an album that was embraced by FM radio as well as AM stations when it was released. The album appealed to fans of Classic Rock and Top 40 as well as some Alternative/New Wave stations who put “Head First” into heavy rotation. Some Power Pop kids even paid attention to the hook-filled rockers on the album. HEAD FIRST was not without drama, though. It was the first Babys album without founding member Michael Corby, who exited the band after the release of BROKEN HEART. This may explain HEAD FIRST's more commercial direction. Regardless of the reasons behind it, this is a stellar album that still stands the test of time. Other highlights include “You (Got It)”, “I Was One”, “California”, and more. The CD includes four bonus tracks.

Disc Four finds the band heading into AOR territory with 1980’s UNION JACKS. With the addition of keyboardist/composer Jonathan Caine and bassist Ricky Phillips, John Waite was able to set aside his bass and focus on being a proper frontman. Musically, the band moved further away from their British Hard Rock roots and recorded a batch of melodic rockers that sound closer to American Rock bands like Styx, REO Speedwagon, and – dare I say it? – Journey! While the stylistic change may have shocked early fans, anyone that followed their career knows that they were heading into this arena. Armed with a bunch of killer tracks including “Midnight Rendezvous”, “Back On My Feet Again”, “In Your Eyes”, and “True Love True Confession”, UNION JACKS is all rock, no ballads! Keith Olsen’s production was tight and direct. While this may have been a slight detour into new musical territory, it is a success! The CD includes nine bonus tracks.

Disc Five features the band’s final album, ON THE EDGE, which was released hot on the heels of UNION JACKS. By this time, Cain’s influence played a big part in the band’s sound. Perhaps their most commercial Rock album yet, ON THE EDGE almost completely abandons the band’s British Rock roots in favor of their new American flavor. The songs are sharp, focused, and aimed straight to the hearts of their devoted U.S. fans. Call it AOR, Stadium Rock, Classic Rock, Melodic Hard Rock, or whatever you want – The Babys had perfected the sound.   “Turn And Walk Away”, “Darker Side Of Town”, “She’s My Girl”, “Downtown”, and “Gonna Be Somebody” are highlights. The CD features two bonus tracks.

In 1981, after dealing with all the frustrations related to the music business, The Babys called it a day. Waite went solo, Cain joined Journey, Stocker and Brock joined up with Rod Stewart, and they all achieved a reasonable amount of success along the way. Waite, Cain, and Phillips would briefly work together again as 3/5ths of AOR supergoup Bad English in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Stocker and Brock reformed The Babys with new bassist vocalist John Bisaha and guitarist Joey Sykes. John Waite still records and tours as a solo artist – and that voice is still an amazing instrument!

But before I let you go, let me tell you about Disc Six in this box!

The first seven tracks – LIVE AT THE TOWER THEATRE, PHILADELPHIA (1977) – finds the energetic youngsters playing tracks from their first two albums to an appreciative audience. The electricity in the air can be felt when spinning these tracks some 43 years later. The next 10 tracks – THE OFFICIAL UNOFFICIAL BABYS ALBUM (1975) – is a bit of a revelation. Sounding closer in spirit to BROKEN HEART than their self-titled album, this set of songs shows that the band was already a seasoned Pop/Rock outfit and not quite as heavy as their debut album would lead you to believe. Sounding more like rough sketches than final mixes, these 10 tracks are great additions to your Babys collection.

OK, now you can rush out to your local shop or order this set online. You won’t regret that decision. Not at all.  Oh, and go catch The Babys live. And John Waite. And Journey. Support the band’s musical legacy and the individual members in any way that you can!

Your pal,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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