Planet P Project – “Planet P Project” (1983)

planetpThis was more or less a solo project of Tony Carey.  Following a few years playing keyboards for Rainbow, Carey found himself adrift when the label putting out his solo work, Rocshire, was shut down by the feds due to some shady money-handling practices.  Carey signed two separate deals with Geffen, one for his third solo album Some Tough City and the other for his new concept, Planet P Project.  Ironically Some Tough City came out a year after Planet P Project.  He put out two albums in the early 1980s under the Planet P Project monicker, later returning to it for the Go Out Dancing trilogy in the mid-to-late 2000s.  Planet P is said to be a reference to a planet in Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers, a forward base of the nemesis Arachnids.

Musically Planet P Project is synth-pop tinged with just a dash of prog.  “Why Me?” popped up for air, making it to #64 on the Billboard Hot 100 and a small splash on MTV with it’s “Major Tom”-esque theme, sounding like the soundtrack to the training sequence in some kind of 1980s movie about space exploration.  A bit dated, to be sure, but with 80s-style synths making a comeback it has a retro-contemporary vibe.  Interesting, probably most appealing to fans of the era.

“Masters of Metal” Compilation (1984)

If you’re a burgeoning codger like me, you remember this decade we had back in the day referred to as “The Eighties”.  Women wore lots of make-up and used lots of hairspray, and they wore outfits that involved massive shoulder pads and often ankle boots with heels.  Dudes used colorful bandanas as fashion accessories, doing so unironically, and the one-earring look seemed highly rebellious and edgy. (♥)  MTV was changing the game, and in the early part of the decade we were still buying our music on vinyl and cassette because CDs were still trying to get a piece of the market and Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet yet.  If you wanted music you could either hear it on the radio, see it on MTV, or had to go down to the store and actually buy it.

Of course, buying music was also a challenge when you were a young teen living out in the sticks a 20 minute drive from anything in a place that didn’t even have a bus stop you could reasonably walk to.  You had to wait for those opportunities when you could tag along with your mom or dad when they went into town or, very rarely, to the mall.  Those were not to be passed up, especially if you wanted to buy something on your own, and music wasn’t one of those things you could trust your parents to get for you.  Given the cover art, I don’t think my mom would have bought me a Dio or Mötley Crüe album even if I’d begged; shoot, I was lucky I once convinced her to pick me up a copy of Judas Priest’s Defenders of the Faith – “Judas Priest?  What the hell kind of name is that?”  At that point there were still albums I had to sort of hide to make sure they didn’t meet an untimely demise at the hands of a room-cleaning mom.

Which leads me to how I came to own a copy of Masters of Metal when it came out in 1984.  It was one of those tag-along trips with one or both of my parents and I’m pretty sure we ended up at a Pay ‘n’ Save store.  If you grew up in the Seattle area, you know what I’m talking about.  If not, think of a huge drugstore version of K-Mart.  They carried a bit of everything, so at the very least you had stuff to look at while your parents shopped.  And what they also had in a locked rotating case up by the cash register were cassettes.  Cassettes!  This was an unexpected opportunity!  Unfortunately they were all locked away behind pexiglass, so while I could read the artist and album names there was no way to check out the cover art or see the names of the songs.  And since you had to have a manager come over and unlock it for you, it’s not like you could just stand around and look at one after another while he stood around and waited, especially if you were just some punk kid.  So I convinced my parents to let me by Masters of Metal based entirely on the title.  It was probably the first time I did a musical roll of the dice.

mastersofmetal

Masters of Metal was put out by K-Tel, a brand that, if you’re of a certain age, you remember for putting out all kinds of music compilations, as well as all kinds of other “As Seen on TV” type products back before “As Seen on TV” was an actual thing and brand of it’s own.  You can check out some of their old commercials on YouTube, including for some of their later metal comps – and they’re absolutely stunning, so perfectly 80s that it hurts.  But anyway… Masters of Metal‘s 13 tracks were a combination of bands I knew (Van Halen, KISS, Twisted Sister) plus a bunch more I hadn’t heard of (Y&T, Zebra, Krokus), and it became sort of my primer into the world of heavy metal, expanding my horizons with classic bands like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. (♠)  Of course, it lead me down a couple of dead ends too, for example making me think that the post-Ozzy / post-Ronnie James Dio “Trashed” was in some way representative of Black Sabbath’s style.  But hey, I still like “Trashed” even if Born Again is a pretty widely despised album.  Regardless, this was the closest thing to a heavy metal encyclopedia that I could put my hands on.

I’ve been looking for a copy of this for the last two or three years, always checking the rock and metal compilations sections no matter where I find myself.  And every time I got shut out.  So the other night after a couple of cocktails I said “screw it”, found a nice copy on Discogs and ordered it.  Turns out it came to me from some guy just down the highway in Federal Way, Washington.  I wonder if he bought this copy at a Pay ‘n’ Save too…

Master of Metal has an interesting roster of bands, and possibly an even more interesting selection of songs.  The tracks were all contemporary, with 10 dating from 1983 and the others (♣) from either 1981 or 1982.  Black Sabbath was hardly relevant at the time but their inclusion can be excused as giving the comp some sort of old-school cred, even though it did come off a much-maligned album.  KISS had arguably been in decline during the period until they took off the make-up and scored a big hit with “Lick It Up,” so that one makes some sense.  Twisted Sister was still on the verge of their mega-breakout album Stay Hungry, so I can’t fault the selection of “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll.”  Y&T, Zebra, and Rainbow were bands I’d never even heard of up to that point, which may say more about my tenuous connection to the early 80s metal scene as it does about those individual bands.  Which brings us to the last song on side B, Van Halen’s “Dancing in the Streets.”  First of all, I never understood how anyone ever thought, even for one second, that Van Halen was metal.  I get it – lots of people did.  But outside of the intricate technical guitar work of Eddie Van Halen there is nothing even remotely metal about the band, and that goes double for their sound on “Dancing in the Street,” a cover of the 1964 Martha and the Vandellas hit that had already been covered previous by the The Mammas & The Pappas, The Kinks, the Grateful Dead, and Black Oak Arkansas (and was covered again in 1985 by David Bowie & Mick Jagger).  Sorry kids, but there’s nothing metal about any of that.

Did I mention, however, how absolutely awesome this comp is?  It was so pivotal in my life that I quite literally wore out my copy I played it so many times.  To this day I can’t hear “Run to the Hills” or “Who’s Behind the Door?” during an all-80s weekend on the radio without belting out my best falsetto.  I love this record.  I used to trace the cover art into my school notebooks.  Lasers.  Bad-ass font (before I even knew what a font was).  Killer metal.  Songs about drunk driving, women who treat you like crap, the massacre of Native Americans at the hands of the US cavalry… uh… huh… not sure I actually recognized those themes at the time… a bit darker lyrically than I remember… But that’s metal, baby.  Throw the horns!

There are so many high points on Masters of Metal.  The guitar riffs on “Mean Streak” and “Breaking the Chains”; the vocal power of “Rainbow in the Dark”; the folk-ish “Who’s Behind the Door?”; the synths on “Street of Dreams”.  Look, I get it, this isn’t what metal sounds like today.  But it IS what metal sounded like in 1984 or so.  The first wave of thrash was only just starting to bubble under the surface, but that was considered extreme at the time and not getting any mainstream attention.  And I could buy it at the local Pay ‘n’ Save, which was about the best I could do in 1984, until I finally got to high school and there was a shopping mall across the street that had not one but two actual music stores in it.

Thank you, whoever at K-Tel who put this thing together.  It meant something to a lot of us.

(♥)  The decade came to an end with both genders primarily wearing flannel shirts and hiking boots.

(♠)  K-Tel put out a Canadian version of Masters of Metal the same year and with the same cover, though with a few changes to the roster.  Triumph and Van Halen were replaced by Mötley Crüe and the Canadian metal band Helix, while Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” was ditched in favor of “The Trooper”.  They released similar metal comps in the UK and New Zealand in 1986. 

(♣)  The other three were Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” (1981), Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” (1982), and Van Halen’s “Dancing in the Street” (1982).

Rainbow – “On Stage”

I know that it’s technically “Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow”… but isn’t the band less famous for its namesake, former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, than it is for its short-time lead singer, one Mr. Ronnie James Dio?  If you don’t believe me, just listen to the song “Man on the Silver Mountain.”  It’s OK.  I’ll wait.

Done?

Ronnie James Dio scared me when I was in the sixth or seventh grade.  Not because he was a tiny dude with big hair and massive heavy metal pipes throwing up the devil horns.  Which he was.  No.  It was because of the album covers by his band Dio, specifically 1983s Holy Diver, which freaked me the hell out.  I’d never even heard the music before, but I can remember seeing it at whatever chain record store used to be in whatever mall it was I used to go to in Columbia, South Carolina back then.  It wasn’t your run of the mill stuff, man.  That demon thing was whipping a priest with a chain!  Good thing Ronnie James changed his last name though… because a band called “Padavona” wouldn’t have sounded as evil.

rainbowlive

Back to On Stage.  I bought this album for two reasons.  First, it’s live… so there’s a cool factor there.  But also because it contains one of the great rock/proto-heavy metal songs of all time, “Man On the Silver Mountain,” which I’ve written about before.  That song was flat out ahead of its time, standing as a prequel to the hair metal of the early 80s, but better.  And the version on On Stage doesn’t disappoint.  It appears on the first side of this double album, one that starts oddly with the opening notes of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” (get it… rainbow… like the band name!) something too preposterous to make up.  But man when they turn up the speed to 11 and crank into “Silver Mountain” it’s pure rock ‘n’ roll.  It is a bit odd, though, that that rock attack is followed immediate by a slow blues jam and some seriously sad bastard acapella on “Starstruck”… at least before it breaks back into “Silver Mountain” and rocks out again!  Oh Rainbow, you tricksters!

There were still three more sides to go after that, and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the rest of the material, being unfamiliar with it.  Side B is given over entirely to the nearly 16-minute “Catch the Rainbow,” which is a pretty epic, wandering prog rock tune and not a song about Skittles.  It actually reminds me a tad of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” (but the end is very “Stairway to Heaven”).  A lot of fancy guitar quasi-soloing here, but it’s still Dio that separates Rainbow from the rest, his soaring voice, the passion, the clarity of it.  You left us too soon, Ronnie James.  RIP.

Side C is also one long track, the 13-minute “Mistreated.”  Once again, Ronnie James brings it, singing about how once again his baby has mistreated him.  Ronnie wants you to feel the pain with him, his struggle, the agony.  The music tries to match his passion but can’t.  This is a man’s struggle, and music can’t do it justice – only the human voice can.  Side D is more of the same with “Sixteen Century Greensleeves” and “Still I’m Sad.”

All in all, On Stage is a bit of a one trick pony for me.  It’s not that it isn’t good – it’s just that the intensity of “Silver Mountain” isn’t there on most of the songs.  But if you can find it used at the right price, give it a spin.

The Heavy Metal Box from Rhino

I woke up this morning with one of those cravings that only rock ‘n’ roll can cure.  I don’t get how the whole “ear worm” thing happens, but scientists in secret offshore government labs have been studying it for decades looking for ways to use the phenomenon to implant Judy Garland songs into the brains of people like Kim Il Sung and drive them completely insane (or barring that, totally docile) with little success, so no reason to think I have any amazing insights.  Other than to recognize that the second my eyes opened this morning I needed to hear “Man on the Silver Mountain” by Rainbow.

Why “Man on the Silver Mountain”?  Hell if I know.  I’d guess I haven’t heard it in months, but there is something amazing about how Ronnie James Dio sounds on this song.  The dude had some pipes, and that my friends is not open to debate or discussion.  Fortunately I have a copy of that song as part of The Heavy Metal Box set of four CDs released by Rhino back in 2007.

I assume The Heavy Metal Box was released as a retail item, but I don’t know that for sure.  I got mine from a guy I know who knows a guy… sort of a my best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with a girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night kind of thing.  Anyway, that’s not important.  What is important are the 70 songs crammed onto the four CDs inside the amp-themed box (which as you can see goes to 11… no, don’t touch it… don’t even look at it…) that are a sort of heavy metal history lesson going way back into the 60s to the OGs of the genre.

 

I’m not going to bother giving you a listing of all the songs.  It would take forever to type out and there are lots of places on the web where that info is available, like HERE.  The CDs are more or less chronological, with the oldest material on Disc 1 and the “newest” on Disc 4 – though to be fair, if you’re expecting new metal you’ll be disappointed since most of the stuff on the last CD looks like its from the 80s.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because I love me some 80s hair metal.  But it ain’t new.

Once I exorcised “The Man on the Silver Mountain” out of my brain (Someone’s screaming my name / Come and make me holy again!), I took a closer look at this set.  I’d forgotten how good it is.

Disc 1 is old school metal – from the opening salvo of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to Deep Purple, Hawkwind, UFO, Girlschool, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, it rocks like a mofo.  This isn’t speed or hair metal.  It’s super heavy rock ‘n’ roll, and it can still get you to bang your head.  These are the classics that paved the way for the next generation.

Disc 2 starts the way every heavy metal compilation should begin – with “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead.  We’re hanging around in the late 70s and into the 80s here with some pretty cool and unusual selections.  Sure we’ve got Judas Priest, Dio, and Iron Maiden; but we also have Diamond Head, W.A.S.P., Tygers of Pan Tang, and Mercyful Fate.  The songs are getting faster, and I’m cranking up the volume a bit more.

Disc 3 is straight up hair metal.  The Scorpions, Ratt, Yngwie Malmsteen, and even Spinal Tap (“Big Bottom”!) make the cut, but the kids over at Rhino snuck a few harder bands in as well with Anthrax and Megadeath.  No dogs here.

Disc 4 is the transition from hair metal to the heavier stuff.  It opens with Whitesnake, Great White, and Poison, but we quickly move on to Slayer, Metallica, Pantera, and Sepultura.  I’m not sure who put “Cowboys from Hell” immediately after “Youth Gone Wild,” but whatever.  I’m not afraid to admit I was WAY into 80s hair metal, and I still like it.  So sue me.

If you’re a long time metal fan of a certain age (probably late 30s to late 40s, like me) who is into the roots of the genre, The Heavy Metal Box is pretty cool.  I checked eBay, and these things pop up from time to time and it looks like a few have sold in the $20-40 range, which is pretty reasonable for 70 songs, none of which are dogs and a few of which are deep cuts.  I mean, Black Sabbath isn’t represented by any of their classics, but by “Neon Knights,” and while Metallica’s first big chart hit “One” is included, “Whiplash” was the second song selected.  There’s a lot of variety here too – it looks like only three bands have more than one song in the box, with Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest each contributing a pair.

So grow your hair out, throw up the devil horns, pick this bad boy up, and rock out.