Steve Hackett – Please Don’t Touch

“Please Don’t Touch” was the second solo album by Steve Hackett and his first after leaving Genesis.

Although Steve Hackett never achieved the mega-stardom that Genesis did, he has a strong, faithful following among music lovers. He is also regarded as one of the most influential guitarists in rock and roll. His guitar techniques have influenced numerous rock guitarists including Brian May of Queen and Alex Lifeson of Rush. Hackett was using the two-handed tapping technique in his solos years before anyone had heard of Eddie Van Halen. He has released 25 solo albums including 2017’s “The Night Siren”.

25 albums and this is the only one in my collection. There’s something wrong with that. I suppose I should do something about it…

…to be continued…

Queen – Live Killers

It’s kind of strange that when I first heard “Live Killers” by Queen I was disappointed, yet today it’s one of my favorite live albums. I think my problem back then, was that I was expecting carbon copies of what Queen had done in the studio played in front of an audience. That was not Queen’s intent for their first official live album. Like any exceptional live album, the purpose of “Live Killers” was to capture the energy, excitement, and atmosphere of Queen in concert; in that respect, this album kills it.

There are a couple sing alongs with the audience, a sit down acoustic set, lots of extended solos, and audience interaction; lots of audience interaction. Queen was a band that was all about performing. Whether it be in the studio or live on stage, they always strived to create something unique and original. And that’s what makes “Live Killers” so good. It is as original as Queen themselves.

I think that’s really why I had reservations about ” Live Killers” at first. I was expecting it to be a typical live album by a band. I should have known better. Queen is anything but a typical rock band. Why would I expect “Live Killers” to be anything like a typical live album?

Queen – The Game

Queen is one of the most versatile and creative rock bands ever.  Freddie Mercury has an incredible vocal range and knows how to use it. Brian May’s guitar extravagance in both tonal qualities and technical ability are unequaled. Roger Taylor has a unique drumming style that is immediately recognizable (for one, he loves to play the hi-hat just slightly behind the snare drum making it sound like one elongated beat) and John Deacon is absolutely solid on bass. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, they were a band that was never afraid to try anything new. Except for synthesizers.

Queen always seemed staunchly defiant to synths. Not to the point of ever talking negatively about them. But they did make a point on their first six albums to somewhere in the liner notes, point out that “no synths” were used on the albums.

Quite honestly, on those early Queen albums, synthesizers weren’t missed. It was actually quite amazing some of the sounds Brian May could wring out of a guitar, making tones and sonic fluctuations that many bands would need to use a synthesizer to even come close to. Then again the guy was a thesis away from a doctorate in astrophysics when Queen’s success took off, and did all his own guitar electronics, so it wasn’t that surprising that he could be pretty amazing. (He did finally write his thesis and receive his doctorate in 2007, and has since co-authored a book on the origins of the universe).

I don’t think any of my close friends would be surprised to know that I love reading liner notes on albums. I could say “the more the merrier” but that would be untrue. I don’t necessarily want to have the back cover or inner sleeve plastered in paragraphs of text, but it’s nice to have some interesting information about the songs or the band or the recording sessions – and lyrics are always nice. It’s all about the balance.

When I heard the opening to Queen’s seventh studio album, I knew – there was no doubt in my mind – I mean, Brian May could do some amazing things on guitar – but that was a synthesizer. And as I read the liner notes, there it was in black and white: “This album includes the first appearance of a Synthesizer (an Oberhein OBX) on a Queen album“.

There were no apologies or explanations given . Then again, none were really needed. Queen never denounced the use of synths. They just made it clear to those who paid close attention, that they didn’t use them. On “The Game”, they made it clear to that same crowd that on this album they were going to start.

The use of synthesizers didn’t ruin “The Game” – it made it a stronger album. Synthesizers allowed Queen to expand their sound beyond where they had gone before.

“The Game” went on to be one of Queen’s most successful albums, and one of my personal favorites by them. That’s in part, because they chose to use synths on it. “The Game” wouldn’t sound the same without them. Queen just had to know how to use them but not over do it. After all, it’s all about the balance.

Queen

One of the joys I’ve always had with record collecting, is going back and discovering earlier albums by bands I like. After first hearing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, all over the radio, I was enthralled by their originality. After buying the album “A Night at the Opera”, and hearing “Sheer Heart Attack”, which a friend of mine discovered in his uncle’s record collection, I felt compelled to check out other music by this truly original band. Queen only had four albums out at this time and I had already heard two of them, so I figured I pick up their eponymous debut.

From the opening song , “Keep Yourself Alive” with is heavily phased guitar panning from the left to right speaker, I knew this was going to be a unique record that, just like their later records, would take full advantage of stereo sound. The production was a bit rougher than their later albums that I had heard, but it had a huge amount of variety and experimentation – a very ambitious album, especially for a band coming right out of the gate. The lyrics covered a wide range of topics from the mystic and medieval to religion; from personal introspection to songs that were about just having a good time.

When it comes to bands I like, I’ve always appreciated originality and innovation over virtuosity and technical ability, but I still highly regarded the latter. Queens first album had an abundance of both. It will always be one of my favorite albums of all time.

Queen – A Night At The Odeon

Christmas eve, 1975. A sold out show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. One of the first times Queen played Bohemian Rhapsody live. A performance broadcast live on the BBC but never released (except as a bootleg recording) until 2015.

Queen was a band that not only did some incredible stuff in the studio, they knew how to put on one helluva show at their concerts. A Night At The Odeon is Queen captured live and in top form only a few weeks after the release of their fourth album, A Night At The Opera. In that short time, the album had already sold over one million copies, becoming Queen’s first platinum album, and Bohemian Rhapsody had just become the band’s first number one single in the U.K. 

From Brian May’s dual echo guitar extravagance in Brighton Rock to Roger Taylor’s blister pounding drum solo in Keep Yourself Alive. From John Deacon’s distinctly solid bass lines throughout to Freddie Mercury’s unbelievable four octave vocal range, this is Queen holding nothing back to give the audience, in the theatre and across the radio airwaves, a Christmas eve they would never forget.

Yesterday would have been Freddie Mercury’s 71st birthday. Sadly, he lost a long battle with AIDS at the way too young age of 45. 

Happy Birthday Freddie.  

Queen – News Of The World

Picking the songs on an album that are going to resonate with record buyers and give you a hit single can be a tricky thing, especially when you’re a band with songs as diverse as Queen. Sometimes the song you choose is right on the mark. Sometimes you pick one that goes nowhere and miss the one that could have been. Still other times, you get really lucky and pick a winner, but the throw-away you put on the B side becomes just as big of a hit.

“We Will Rock You” has become a song that almost everyone knows, yet Queen almost didn’t put it on their sixth album, “News Of The World”. In the end they decided to put it as the album’s opening song because it was short and seemed like a good prelude to kick the album off with; but surely not a hit single. They also decided to use it as the B-side to “We Are The Champions,” the obvious hit single to release from the album.

When radio stations received copies of “We Are The Champions,” they of course, started playing it. As anticipated, it resonated with listeners and became a hit for the band. But soon, radio stations also started playing the flip side to the single, “We Will Rock You,” because it was getting just as many requests from listeners. Since the songs were back-to-back on the album, when radio stations received copies it, they started playing both songs together, almost as if they were one song. So Queen decided to release “We Will Rock You” as a single as well, with “We Are the Champions” as the other A-side. Both songs are still played together regularly on classic rock radio stations and remains two of Queen’s most popular songs.

One song I always thought Queen should have released as a single off “News of the World” was “It’s Late.” It is one of my all time favorite Queen songs and perfectly highlights both the Freddie Mercury’s incredible vocal abilities and the guitar extravagance of Brian May.

Brian May and Friends – Starfleet Project

When Brian May went into the studio with Eddie Van Halen and Alan Gratzer (drummer for REO Speedwagon) to record the songs on Starfleet Project, he had no intention of releasing the songs from the sessions.  Because of his son, he had become a fan of a Japanese sci-fi show on the BBC, and had been wanting to record a hard rock version of the program’s theme song.  Fate be as it may, Eddie, and Alan happened to be in the same town as Brian one day – and they all had some down time away from their respective bands. So they hooked up with a couple well-respected session musicians and booked a nearby recording studio.

Of course, they all wanted to get a feel for playing together, so they warmed up by doing a couple improvised jams together. One was on top of a song Brian had recently penned and the other was a totally improvised, nearly thirteen minute instrumental blues jam. All three songs come across with such a loose feel, that it’s easy to picture them smiling at each other as they find their muse within each other. 

I’m just thankful that after hearing the songs, Brian’s family was able to convince him to release the songs from the sessions as a Mini LP.

Vinyl Jungle Trivia:  Brian May has a PhD in astrophysics and co-authored a book on the origins of the universe.