Weekend Edition: My First Review; What's New, Klaatu?

Once upon a time...........1979 to be precise, I answered an ad in the Village Voice looking for artists and writers for a new underground, counter-culture magazine - appropriately named The Daily Dope. I met with publisher Steve Becker, armed with a portfolio of art collected during my years majoring in cartooning at the High School of Art and Design. My primary objective was to start a little panel cartoon which would run monthly, not unlike some of the contributions I would see in the Voice. On a whim, I also brought along a couple of LP reviews (yes kids, I said vinyl!) I wrote of new releases.

I can still remember this burly bear of a man saying to me, "Hey Dave - I really like your drawings, they're good. Frankly, I've got a lot of artists contributing work for me to consider. But what I really dig is the reviews you wrote. I'd like you to write a music column for my magazine, with reviews and interviews. Would you consider that?" And that my friends, is how a budding cartoonist began his career as a music journalist.

I thought I'd share with you one of the first records I was asked to review: the debut release by The Knack, exactly as it appeared in those pages nearly 40 years ago - as if the near-40th anniversary of an album isn't enough to make me wax nostalgic. You can decide for yourself whether Steve's assessment of my work (and foresight to make me, at the tender age of 18, the Music Editor for a counter-culture rag) was sound editorial judgment. And Mister Becker, wherever you may be now, I wish to extend heartfelt thanks for believing in me: if not for you, I never would have connected with Gordon Baird, founder of Musician Magazine, Ted Drozdowski, Senior Arts Editor for the Boston Phoenix, or the Boston Globe, where Music Editor Steve Morse [I am happy to report that all three have become my Facebook friends] enlisted my services as a music correspondent for eight wonderful years. Godspeed, my brother. 😎



THE KNACK Get The Knack (Capitol) - 

A return to good ol' fashioned rock'n'roll is guaranteed for all on this debut LP by The Knack, a four-man, keyboard-less Old Wave band. Resembling the Fab Four on their back cover (a take-off on an early Beatles LP), their music is also reminiscent of the early Beatle days. Love ballads like "Your Number Or Your Name" and "That's What The Little Girls Do" illustrate this concept beautifully, whereas rockers "Let Me Out" (decidedly Cheap Trick if not campier) and "Frustrated" prove this is a group with more than three-chord progressions to its credit.

Berton Averre's pubescent falsetto can seem almost frighteningly McCartney-esque at times, and Prescott Niles' pre-70's bass riffs combine to create an ambience of rock and raunch. Lyrically, The Knack's lovesongs are just adequate. It's the band's outrageous rockers that interest me more, and frankly, they're much better. "My Sharona", the LP's single release (which debuted at Number 18 in the Top Twenty pop chart) is without doubt the best track on this album. Berton croons seductively: "Ooh, my little pretty one/When you gonna give me some time, Sharona?/Ooh, you make my motor run/When you gonna give up the lies, Sharona?"

There is a lot of talk about motors on this album (the Bruce Springsteen ideal personified), but these guys can be really hilarious and quite satirical when discussing man/woman relationships. In "Good Girls Don't", the conflict between innocent melody and outlandish lyrics truly comes across. As the frustrated lover, Berton sings of the girl of his heart: "She's your adolescent dream/Schoolboy stuff, a sticky sweet romance/And she makes you wanna scream/Wishing you could get inside her pants...", while his partner warns him that 'respectable young ladies' wait until Mr. Right comes along. The twist of the song is her response to Berton's advances - "Good girls don't........but I do!" Even the lads from Liverpool weren't this risqué!

Flaws do exist here, though. The Knack's more laid-back numbers take forever to grow on you. Some cuts just don't make it, particularly "Oh Tara" and "Maybe Tonight", which could come off successfully with a more urgent tempo and brisker arrangement. Songs like these assure you that while this is a strong debut LP, it is still just a debut - more work is needed on the composing and arranging end. "Heartbeat" (a Tom Petty cover) is redone in a more energetic, rather than romantic fashion, making for a nice contrast. "Siamese Twins", a tale of drug addiction (though you wouldn't believe it to listen to the melody), makes no sense, but then somehow it doesn't seem to matter. How can one object when they're having such a good time? Even studio laughter is dubbed in when the tune abruptly finishes.

"Frustrated", a perfect ending to the opening "Let Me Out", reigns as the most outrageous track on the album. Lyrics like, "C'mon, live it up/Long as you can get it up/Ooh, I wanna serve you/But I don't deserve you" are mimicked in a teasing fashion, which contrasts with the fact that it's the song's performer who is being denied. Jokingly, Berton advises "Call up Chicken Delight/'Cos the flesh is on the bone, and she aint giving you a bite!" - with Bruce Gary's persistent drumming adding to the air of finish in one of the album's more inspiring moments. As the drums begin to fade without warning, Berton tries to hang on by persistently pleading "I want it! I need it! I need it NOW!"

Get The Knack, produced by Mike Chapman (who you can thank for the success of Blondie's Parallel Lines LP) is one of the better premiere LP's of the year. By parodying the very pretentiousness they sing of, The Knack has found the right vehicle to transcend their adolescent madness. You can expect more frenetic and crazy antics from this band that combines the innocence of the 60's with the 'new morality' of the 70's. The question remains: will The Knack's sequel LP excel to loftier aspirations, or will it drown in a sea of repetition? It's far too early to tell at this stage; meanwhile, this is a first offering you can enjoy.  - David Gerard (Quick)


CATCHING UP WITH KLAATU - PART ONE: DEE LONG


Last Summer, I was privileged to connect with the musicians from one of the most underrated, talented, and misunderstood rock bands of the 70's.....Klaatu. I was even more astonished to find all three amenable to discussing their halycon days in the band, the songwriting and recording process, and bits of fanboy trivia. Dee Long and Terry Draper pursued solo careers post-Klaatu. And while John Woloschuk has gone on to other ventures, he too was accommodating with me in terms of what I was interested in knowing about the group and their discography. Consider these upcoming segments Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Klaatu, But Were Afraid To Ask, For Fear of Being Labeled a Prog-geek.


DG: Are there any current recording projects in the works for you, Dee?
DL: I have not done any recording of my own songs for some time - the last album, Life After Life was released seven years ago, in 2011. It included quite a few songs I recorded as demos about 40 years ago, which would have preceded my work in Klaatu. Some of those pre-Klaatu songs were originally presented for consideration within the band, but were never recorded. I wanted to revisit those compositions, employing a more contemporary sound and recording apparatus. 

Recently, I did collaborate with Elizabeth Racz on a tune entitled, "Negative Muse", with me writing the music, and Liz penning the words. I am planning to include that on my next solo outing, which I should be starting soon. Web design has been occupying the majority of my time these days, and leaves little time for music. However, I am about to retire from web design, and devote my time and creative energy back into the music, as long as I possibly can. I remember seeing some post on Facebook which said, "Don't die with your music still in you" [editors note: that quote is attributed to author and personal growth guru, the late Dr. Wayne Dyer.] I am hoping to take those words to heart, and possibly produce the best music of my life over the coming years.

It's worth mentioning that Life After Life did include some re-workings of classic Klaatu songs, including my personal favorite, "Little Neutrino." I was fortunate to have drummer Randy Cooke perform on that one. John Jones, a mutual friend (and Grammy Award-winning producer) took the time to record Randy's drums at his own expense, and I cannot thank them both enough. The song took on a whole new vibe, which was a blast to hear - thanks to their contributions. I intend on sitting down and writing a bunch of new songs, pick the best to record, and utilizing Randy, John, and hopefully some other amazing musicians I have the pleasure to know. With the advent of crowdfunding, I hope to properly compensate everyone for their time, energy and effort. With a little luck, things will all come together - it would be a great experience for me to get back into a full-scale studio environment, and working with my fellow musicians again........I'm long overdue for this!

DG: How has your method of recording evolved over the span of your career? What are you doing differently, if anything, from when you first started working in the studio?

DL: So much has changed in the music recording field over the years. I now use all computer gear, what is often referred to as recording and mixing in the box. When Klaatu first started recording at Toronto Sound, we were blessed to have access to state-of-the-art gear (at that time), as well as a top recording engineer (Terry Brown) to work with, and learn from. And believe me, we learned a lot! We had the very first Eventide Harmonizer in Canada - a hand-wired prototype. It was a revelation in that we could change pitch without changing tempo. I used it for more than 100 tracks of audio on Hope's "Around The Universe In Eighty Days." We quickly began experimenting, exploring crazy sonic ideas in the studio, and were able to find new ways to utilize the vintage gear we had access to as well.

Today, I find the plug-ins I work with inside my workstation environment do a great job of accurately reproducing the same aural artifacts of their analog counterparts. At times, you might lose 'a little something' - for example, I've yet to find a plug-in comparable to the Fairchild compressor. But what you lose in sound replication you more than make up for in flexibility, and the possibilities are almost limitless. So I let go of my nostalgic attachment to studio hardware, and found new ways to experiment that weren't available before. I tend to prefer recording all the parts on my songs myself, without having to rely on outside musicians - of course, even that way of working has its pros and cons. At the end of the day, nothing beats being in a room full of musicians who are in sync with what you are creating, and are all on the same page! I hope to bring that energy and synergy to my next album.

DG: What do you feel the present digital/online age has done for musicians in a positive way? What are the drawbacks?

DL: The digital age has made it possible for anyone to enjoy making music, without spending tons of cash. It has also opened up the doors for such things as 'granular synthesis' in synthesized music, such as EDM. And it's fantastic to have access to thousands of virtual instruments and sounds that cover just about every instrument known to man, with incredible accuracy....

DG: I know what you mean. A couple of years ago, I discovered IK Multimedia's Samplemoog - I've been using it in many of my ambient/electronic recordings, and I'm blown away by the emulations of all the classic Moog synthesizers I have at my disposal - I would never have had access to those instruments in the past, much less the money to afford/acquire them.

DL: Exactly! I have many synthesizer plug-ins I have yet to get around to trying......they can be loads of fun to explore and work with. The big problem lies in the fact that just pushing a few buttons can produce something that 'sounds like music', but lacks the complexity and emotion of a genuine artist. Personally, I think music really went off the rails when folks like Michael Jackson and Madonna proved you need little more than a catchphrase and a groove to create a hit song. By contrast, consider a band like (my friends) Duran Duran, who were using the same digital instruments at the time (if not earlier) to make great music - music I can still appreciate today. That's because Duran Duran actually knows how to write great songs! So you don't have to sacrifice creativity for technology.

DG: Thank you so much for saying that, Dee. I think Duran Duran are one of the most underrated pop/rock bands out there - they get this stupid rap for being "New Romantics" or "new wave", but their creativity and their songcraft prove otherwise. And not coincidentally, those guys know more than a thing or two about being unfairly maligned by the rock press. Nice to know I'm not the only one who recognizes how talented LeBon and Co. truly are.

DL: Agreed.

DG: So tell me, which artists (both past and present) do you glean inspiration from? Who were your most prominent influences during your days in Klaatu?

DL: There were many artists who inspired me back in the day - everyone from The Beatles to Hendrix, ELO, Badfinger, Led Zeppelin and others. I think the band that probably had the biggest influence on me would be the guys from Queen. Strangely, as much as I still dig The Beatles and ELO, it all sounds old hat to me now.......but let's face it, "We Will Rock You" still does!! As far as "current music" goes, I don't listen to much outside of music composed for tv or film. Ironically, the digital age of music has produced a dearth of good songs. Lots of show and some interesting sounding tracks out there, but nothing I would be particularly drawn to. But in retrospect, my parents thought Jimi Hendrix's music was just a bunch of noise. They didn't quite understand my fascination with him. And I suppose coming from their perspective, that was true.  But alas, nothing really stands out to me anymore.



Dee Long: "Collecting Icons"

In future installments, Mssrs. Draper and Woloschuk share their insights and inside stories from their tenure in Klaatu.






Comments

  1. Nice one, Dave! Here's one ICYMI: http://stephenkpeeples.com/blasts-from-the-past/klaatu-interview-with-stephen-k-peeples-may-1980/.

    ReplyDelete

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