Sass Record Reviews
I thought it would be fun to do a collection of reviews on some of my favourite records – ones that have been influential and instrumental in my pantheon of musical gods and goddesses.
This is a selection of the ones I’ve done so far – please enjoy, give them a listen, and remember to turn them up .. LOUD!!!!
1. David Live (David Bowie At The Tower Philadelphia)
This record reeks with the stench of a city gone rogue. It throbs to the beat of dystopian gloom before dystopia was even a thing. In the mid-seventies, my best friend V and me were planning our overthrow of the Kingdom of Rock from her family’s living room in Westmount, Montreal. We had her parents fancy cabinet turntable, a ton of seminal records that were current at the time, a very loud speaker and a LOT of hash.
Bowie was our fearless leader, menacing and elegant with his skeletal frame and tendrils of cigarette smoke curling up the wicked planes of his cocaine – chiseled visage. He wasn’t just ‘gender -fluid’, he was ‘human -fluid’, – bordering on alien. His low pitched voice exuded passion and a deep world weariness – before we even knew what that was.
The stand out track for me on this brilliant record is the extraordinary “Sweet Thing/Candidate”. When he wails ‘well you see – that I’m scared and I’m lonely’ he pretty much speaks to an experience that all of us are familiar with – and somehow he makes it less lonely.
2. Outlandos d'Amour (The Police)
The first time I heard Roxanne, I was in the back of a car in Montreal, heading to a gig with my band, The PinUps. It pretty much changed everything for me, because Sting made the bass cool for the mainstream – and I was the bass player in my band. From the beginning chime of Andy Summers’ guitar, to the first note of Sting’s iconic bass line, Stewart Copeland’s graceful and insistent vigor – not to mention that crazy haunting vocal line…. I was instantly riveted – mesmerized by what was clearly a trailblazing new sound.
It’s roots were in reggae, of course, but the strange hybrid of white boy punky pop mixed in with it was one of the most compelling things I’d ever heard up until then – and to be honest, even to this day. The whole record still smells of teen spirit and revels in an innocence that I just don’t hear anymore. Definitely on the desert island list. StandOut tracks: Next To You – So Lonely – Roxanne – Hole In My Life – Can’t Stand Losing You.
3. Closer Together (The Box)
Montreal natives The Box were one of my earliest employers. In the 80’s I was working on getting my first solo record together, and I needed to get some live singing into my life and under my belt again. What better way to do it than to go out with someone else shouldering the responsibility for everything? All I had to do was sing and have a great time! On top of that, they were great people, and I LOVED the music.
Eclectic and weird – they had this kind of strange, haunting medieval tone to some of their songs, along with some of the greatest pop melody sensibilities I’ve ever heard – and all of this from a bunch of French dudes. They made the album Closer Together during my tenure with the band, but the girl singing on the title track is Quebec chanteuse Martine St. Clair, not me -which confused a lot of people as I am featured in the video, along with Montreal singer, Sylvie Daviau.
We shot that in the Dominican Republic, in an old fort near Puerta Plata- and nobody remembered to bring water to drink on the shoot – so we were forced to drink the only potable liquid that was available – cold beer! We were completely HAMMERED for most of that shoot, and the next day’s hangover was epic – but I was young and it was worth it – that video epitomizes the 80’s for me. StandOut Tracks: Closer Together – Tell Me A Story – Crying Out Loud For Love.
4. Beat Tape 2 (Tom Misch)
Wicked – cool – laid back – chill out – but NOT BORING music to swan around to. This is called R & B these days – not the R & B I grew up with, but – whatevs. It’s smoking just the same.
Addictive beats, liquid guitar lines, sinuous melodies with some funky girl and boy vocals, and a smattering of British accented rap. I almost like the instrumental track The Journey the best of them all, but on the other hand,
I love every song. It’s the kind of music you can play on an island holiday with a tequila lime in your hand, watching the sun is go down as you’re about to get ready to go out to dinner at some local hot spot with the crew… It doesn’t irritate your ears or step on your toes – it gently moves your head and hips, grooving to the soft island breezes and the feeling that all is well with the world. The whole record is perfect… Peace, out.
5. Seventeen Seconds (The Cure)
“Sad Cure – sitting in cold rooms – watching clocks” – best quote ever from a British music critic regarding the content of this delightfully dismal record by one of my favorite bands of the 80’s.
Fronted by the Goth Goblin, Robert Smith, it winds its way through the wasteland of grey sky and cold steel factories that small towns in the UK invoke. His arresting whiny – nasal vocals sound like they could never hold a candle to those who seem to be much better singers – but he CRUSHES it – every time. You cannot ignore a voice like Robert Smith’s. Love it or hate it, it is so powerfully personal, like the voices in your dreams, that you absolutely can’t ignore it.
This record sounds almost disturbingly minimalist now, especially the drum machine sounds, but it got me through many cold, cold Montreal winter nights – being sad – sitting in cold rooms – watching clocks. The song, Seventeen Seconds, is a Cure masterpiece, in my opinion.
6. Neopolitan and Bedbugs (Odds)
Who ever thought that a geeky Canadian band could be so sexy? This band came out of the blue and kicked me in the ass – fantastic songwriting, killer hooky harmony vocals, haunting powerpop melodies, some seriously raunchy guitar moments, and an amazingly humorous, tongue in cheek type of outlook , all mixed up with a heartfelt, searingly earnest emotional honesty.
I had the great good fortune to tour with them back in the early 90’s – we had such an amazing time – they were cheeky bastards and they killed it every night, at every show.
The last show of the tour they came out dressed in nothing but strategically placed socks – a rather stunning display of their gender. 😳
If you want to hear something that will surprise the shit out of you and make you happy to be alive – give it at least 2 whirls around the turntable – and pay attention – these records will not disappoint.
StandOut Tracks: King of The Heap – Wendy Under The Stars – Love Is The Subject – Jack Hammer – Sweetness and Love – Heterosexual Man – Car Crash Love – Do You Know?
7. Thunder And Lightning (Thin Lizzy)
Montreal, summer… 1983. Hot AF. The only thing that makes sense is to hang out in the basement with the turntable and a cold drink. It’s dark, cool and humid. But there were a couple of records that lit up the gloom and changed the way the roots grew on the tree of rock. This was one of them. From the thunderous growl of the title track to the final, poignant lyric of the last song they would record, Heart Attack, this album is pure genius.
Phil Lynott’s world weary and broken soul is screaming out for help, and the band is ferocious and brutal, as if they are trying to prove their solidarity with his self-inflicted hell. They give EVERYTHING they’ve got on this masterpiece, and it is a constant thorn in my side that Lizzy never received the accolades that I feel they so richly deserved.
The song that most people know them for is the anthemic “Boys Are Back In Town”, which has been used in every context from sports to Gay Pride, but the true brilliance and trailblazing of the band has been mostly overlooked. There is even what I would consider a female empowerment song from this collection- Someday She Is Gonna Hit Back. And, thinking about it now, I think Brian Downey is one of my favorite rock drummers. If you loved Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Accept, Rainbow, or any of the 80’s metal bands – you need to give Thin Lizzy another listen.
One of my desert island picks. Standout Tracks: Thunder and Lightning – This Is The One – Someday She Is Gonna Hit Back – The Sun Goes Down – Heart Attack.
8. In Color (Cheap Trick)
Hello there Ladies and Gentlemen! If you’ve never had the singular pleasure of a full Cheap Trick experience – start here.
This was the first one I got into – and it doesn’t disappoint – ear candy at it’s finest. Rick’s buzz saw guitars, Tom’s symphonic bass lines, Robin’s crazy Beatles Baby voice and Bun E’s instantly identifiable drumming – it’s a classic. It features the original studio version of I Want You To Want Me, which is cool, but not my favorite.
Check out You’re All Talk – a perfect example of the Tricksters getting a little more sinister – it was THIS shit that made me love them so much- dirty, nasty and menacing – the opposite of the bubblegum fairies that some people thought they were. This is the way they ensnared the unsuspecting listener – the happy, poppy sweetness of IWYTWM suddenly diverges into the plaintive Oh Caroline, then the killer chorus of Southern Girls, followed by the singalong seduction of C’mon, C’mon… this stuff is pure youthful angst from a time before the internet skewered the sensibilities of the newer generations of kids. STANDOUT TRACKS: Downed – You’re All Talk – Oh Caroline – So Good To See You.
9. Steve McQueen / Two Wheels Good (Prefab Sprout)
Nothing compares to this. (Sorry, Sinead). This is one of those weird, unicorn – type records – a once in a lifetime deal. Strangely,Paddy McAloon is now a dead ringer for a latter day Leon Russell, but he couldn’t be further away from him, musically. This collection of songs is so other-worldly beautiful, delicate, sensitive, gentle, poetic and breathtaking as to be almost impossible to talk about. A quote from the song Desire As, sums it up: “It’s perfect as it stands – why then crush it, in your perfect hands?” It also contains the line “I’ve got 6 things on my mind – you’re no longer one of them” – which, to my mind, is the ultimate breakup line of all time. There is a water – color mutedness to this record, which renders it more insidious than the in-your-face kind of emotional bludgeoning attack that we are used to. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course – but this was such a welcome relief, a respite, if you will. The songs are so well constructed, with gorgeous, lush instrumentation and hypnotic vocals, all structured around some of the best lyrics on love and loss that you’ll ever hear. Another desert island pick for me. STANDOUT TRACKS: Desire As, Appetite, When Love Breaks Down, Bonny.
10. Hysteria (Def Leppard)
What do you want ? I want rock n’ roll !!! The soundtrack of the 80’s – courtesy of one of the most brilliantly crafted acts of that decade. Robert John Lange a/k/a Mutt, pretty much defined the signature sound for that genre in the 1980’s – and this was his muse. Well, Def Leppard and Shania – but needless to say, I was more of a Leppard fan, and to be fair, they predated the Shania stuff. I interviewed them shortly after their High and Dry release – and they were a hungry, sarcastic bunch, even then. These songs are forever etched in my mind as a sonic map to my early 20’s – they blazed the path – and I would have followed, had I been a man. They referenced some of the coolest Brit Shit from the 70’s – Bowie, The Stones, Mott the Hoople, Sweet, T Rex, The Beatles, McCartney & Wings, Slade … the list goes on, I’m sure. This record epitomizes all that was great about 80’s hair metal – super soaring choruses, anthemic chants, and gorgeous vocal harmonies. The drum and guitar tones were not my favorite, but the clever songwriting made up for it. STANDOUT TRACKS: Rocket, Animal, Love Bites, Pour Some Sugar On Me.
11. Stand Up (Jethro Tull)
From the opening notes on the menacing riff of “A New Day Yesterday”, you are instantly transported into the world of the Jester of Rock, Ian Anderson. There is NOTHING innocent about the Tull. They were always intensely worldly, frighteningly grown up, but mysterious, magical and hugely compelling. You know the feeling when there is something the grown ups don’t want you know, but you are absolutely fixated on finding out what it is? That is how Jethro Tull made me feel. The first song I ever performed on a stage was Bouree, with a drummer, a bass player, and me on flute. The Westmount High School talent show. It was my entry into a world of sound – magic and mystery, where I have remained ever since. And Jethro Tull personifies the fantasy of that forbidden world. They are like time travellers, with a touch of the medieval, and that fantastic flute – ONLY Ian Anderson was capable of making the flute ROCK. My pal, the comedian Dean Delray, despises what he jokingly calls ‘flute rock’, but to me, it is the echo of Middle Earth and the world of witches, warlocks and wizards – the precursors to the magical spell – casters of rock n’ roll. The rest of the band is exemplary (OMG the drumming) on this recording – truly one of the finest collections of songs I have ever found. One hundred percent on my desert island list. STANDOUT TRACKS: Nothing Is Easy, Bouree, Fat Man.
12. The White Album (The Beatles)
I’m 12 years old when I hear this record. It’s a game changer. Early 70’s Montreal. A segregated reality. The French on one side, and the English ghetto on the other. “Dear Prudence, open up your eyes” – I swear John is talking to me – he’s just got my name wrong. And Paul’s bass … bouncing around in perfect counterpoint. This shit is sophisticated, and it makes me feel sophisticated. I essentially have no idea what the hell these grown ups are talking about, but it sounds important, and it sounds like something I need to be a part of. It’s like the ultimate handbook on adult human relationships – told through a musical lens. The palpable difference in the energy of the four players is extraordinary- John, Paul, George and of course, the much dismissed Ringo. It’s cos he was the least of the singers, and as I was destined to sing, it was the singers that I most related to. And, of course, the words that they sang. And when they played an instrument as if they were singing through it, I was their forever fan. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is the perfect example .. even though it is the master, Eric Clapton, at the guitar controls. This record is an essential in any collection. The music is far more eloquent than anything I can say … ALL TRACKS ARE STANDOUT.
13. Journeyman (Eric Clapton)
Despite the fact that this record could almost be the poster child for that late 80’s early 90’s homogenized sound, it’s still an absolutely stellar example of songwriting and musicianship. Clapton positively glows with his newfound sobriety here, and the relief he seems to feel at coming out from under the fog of addiction is almost palpable. It infuses the music with a density, wisdom and maturity that really stands the test of time. One of the coolest rhythm sections of all time shows up on my favorite track – Bad Love – written by Clapton with Foreigner’s Mick Jones, and featuring the extraordinary Pino Palladino on bass with the unstoppable Phil Collins on the kit. This record just pulses with the mastery of musicians at the top of their game. When you have people like Chaka Khan, Phil Collins, George Harrison, Daryl Hall, Linda Womack, Tessa Niles, Tawatha Agee and Katie Kissoon on backing vocals, you know it’s gonna be a party! I remember meeting the producer of this glorious work, Russ Titelman, back in NYC in the early 2000’s. We were all going to see a band, and when someone asked him what type of music the band played, he just looked at them quizzically and replied ‘they play music – type music’. Amen. STANDOUT TRACKS: Bad Love, No Alibis, Old Love…
14. Black Messiah (D'Angelo)
When this guy burst onto the scene in the late 90’s with Brown Sugar, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The music was everything I’d ever loved about R&B, wrapped up in a new approach – pushing the envelope of what was considered proper musical etiquette. He sang so far behind the beat that it was almost confusing – until you suddenly got the groove – and from then on, it was perfection. His voice is like liquid gold; sinuous, sultry and steaming with an exotic scent, like a drug slowly entering the system. The music pulses with the sap of the trees hanging with Spanish moss in the Deep South – it is undeniable and addictive. D’Angelo is a master at weaving musical webs, and he’s one of the most incredible live performers still alive. Black Messiah, which he released in 2014, after a long absence, is a wickedly powerful and compelling piece of work, replete with some of the greatest musicians and production in contemporary music. The stunning bass player, Pino Palladino is featured in his band, and that right there is pedigree enough to make me sit up and listen, but paired with The Man, it’s wildly entertaining and some of the best music out there, in my opinion. Not to undermine any of the other musicians and singers on the record, because honestly, they are all brilliant. It’s a gorgeous piece of work. STANDOUT TRACKS: Sugah Daddy, Really Love, Betray My Heart…
15. HTP2 (Hughes Turner Project)
This one was released in 2003, the year after I toured with Glenn and Joe in The Voices of Classic Rock, and features some of the best of hard, riff driven rock from the early 2000’s, with 2 of the best singers in the genre. If you love loud, riffy rock guitars, super solid crush ‘em drumming (from Canadian Shane Gaalaas) wickedly tight thunderous bass lines – all this alongside killer vocals and some mighty catchy melodies – then this is for you!! Custom. Starring the mellifluous golden silk tones of Joe Lynn Turner, the piercing, laser like ferocious intensity of the mad soul of Rock, Glenn Hughes, and guitar wizardry from the Swedish monster, JJ Marsh, this one just about crushes pretty much anything else that would have been considered it’s contemporary. It seems to have flown under the radar, like many other wonderful pieces of work, but now is your chance to find this amazing record and revel in the joy of real riff rock brought to you by some of the Masters in the field.