Thursday, December 17, 2015

Destination, Dream Street: Janet Jackson - The Early A&M Years - Part of 2

If Janet's self-titled album, released in 1982, was a representation of salvaged sounds from the previous decade (late 1970's disco) integrated with the burgeoning electronic funk/R&B sounds of the early eighties, then DREAM STREET is a representation of eighties indulgence: excessive drum machine programming and a plethora of synthesizers. Yes by 1984, the synthesizer was the predominate choice of instrument, and a "sound" that quickly went on to define the neon-fused decade. In between her self-titled debut and DREAM STREET, released October 1984, it was inevitable that these sonic textures would come to dominate her next musical outing. 

Original album cover.
DREAM STREET, although critically maligned and commercially unsuccessful at the time of its release, is an album that should be revisited but not only fans of old school R&B, but more particularly, for those Janet fans who choose to have perpetual myopic vision towards this release, choosing not to delve deep beyond anything that precedes CONTROL (1986). However, It has more to offer that what any contemptuous critic has ever written about. 

Perhaps we should focus on the main fact: it was predominately produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, the production team responsible for many of Donna Summer's biggest records (Bad Girls, Live & More, I Remember Yesterday, just to name a few). As well, Giorgio himself was experiencing a career spike in the early 80's as an in-demand producer, thanks to such immensely successful film soundtracks like AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980), CAT PEOPLE (1982), and, of course, the Grammy and Academy Award winning soundtrack FLASHDANCE (1983). Giorgio's involvement constituted more than fifty percent of the album's content, somehow, however, as with the album reputation, it was sorely overlooked.

Images from the "Dream Street" album photo shoot.
Album credits plastered on the back jacket of the vinyl canvas elevated the profile and appeal of what laid beyond the wax. The problem with the digital age, particularly with archive recordings of this sort, is that there is NO album credit information. With physical formats, I was one that would explore an album's back jacket and further delve into its offerings based on musician/producer involvement that was indicated on the reverse. Mike Chapman (Blondie, Shandi, Pat Benetar) and Narada Michael Walden (Whitney Houston, Angela Bofill, Stacy Lattisaw) are just a few examples of producers who have, just by name recognition alone, have lured and sueded me into exploring other artists work, whether it be known or unknown. Strangely, I only recognized the Moroder credit on DREAM STREET well after purchasing the album. However, if one were to isolate the five tracks from the other four (produced by Marlon Jackson and Jesse Johnson respectively), you will hear the signature Moroder production sound that came to be synonymous with this time period of his music-producing career: gated electronic euro-drum beats, Roland synth programming, and more notably, the Ritchie Zito layered (doubled) guitars solos, which have become a predominate presence in Moroder's early-mid 80's production. Just listen to the SCAREFACE soundtrack, or Toni Basil's self-titled album, or France Joli's ATTITUDE album...coincidentally all released in 1983, the same time DREAM STREET went into production. For those familiar with these recordings, will find some redeeming aspects within this album.

The title track, along with "Hold Back the Tears", and "If it Takes all Night" are some of the best, unacknowledged Moroder-produced tracks. The production for each of these tracks are commanding, freezing the audience and luring them into an infectious musical landscape, occupied by dramatic chord progressions, master synth-programming, and yielding hooks. If I were to isolate a few tracks from this release as a recommendation to the curious, these would be it. The other two Moroder/Belotte tracks, "Communication" and the duet track featuring pop-vocal veteran Cliff Richard, "Two to the Power of Love", are enjoyable to the extent of production and vocal performance values, but could have been much more had the "powers-that-be" elected someone who was closer to Janet's age...say Howard Hewitt (Shalamar), or even her husband at the time, James Debarge (of DeBarge). Perhaps the pairing was a creative decision influenced by her father/manager, Joe Jackson? Evidently, a slight misstep. 

Janet during the recording sessions of "Dream Street". Circa 1984
Since Moroder/Bellotte constituted fifty five percent of the production pie, the remaining forty-five percent was delegated evenly to two other producers; First up, Marlon Jackson, sibling and member of The Jackson 5, contributed production talents to "All My Love to You" and the Billboard R&B Top Ten Hit, "Don't Stand Another Chance", which featured backing vocals from The Jacksons (5), including Michael, which is distinctly heard at certain segments of the track. Indeed, it's decision to feature it as the opening track on the album is a testament to how sonically appealing it is to the ear, and a way to garner attention to the listener. However, it is important to note that the track was not built from ground zero: the rhythm track was recycled from a John Barnes produced Cheryl Lynn track, "Love Rush", which was featured on her 1983 album, PREPPIE. In fact, if one were to play the two tracks back to back, one would observe their distinct similarities, almost to the extent of "karaoke instrumental", but further observation would reveal Marlon's "punchier" multi-layered rhythm track, bolstered by enhanced electronic drums, dominating, synthetic bass and lead keyboard arrangements. Janet's sings with a slight ferocity, perhaps to bring emphasis to the subject matter at hand. She takes command, while her brothers provide musical backing support, more prominently her brother Michael, with his signature howl, swooping in just before the instrumental break. "All My Love to You", the second of two tracks produced by Marlon, opens with an quick, rolling acoustic piano before giving way to various electronic sound-pleasures. Rhythmically, one cannot help think of Michael Jackson's own material with this track. It has an "OFF THE WALL" vibe to it...more specifically, the track "Working Day and Night". In a post-disco setting, the track is energetic and upbeat, accentuated by tight keyboard and guitar rhythms. One notable musician on this track is Jazz/R&B/Funk artist Greg Phillinganes, who extends his hand by providing synthesizer/keyboarding programming. The Jacksons (5) once again provides backing vocals, with Michael squeezing in one of his many signature vocal affectations into the mix. Despite his limited appearance as producer on the album credits, these two Marlon-produced tracks stand out as the album's highlights (aside from the Moroder tracks). A shame that a fully-produced album by Marlon never materialized. Nonetheless, it adds flavour to an already interesting musical platter. 

Pretty in Pink...Janet during the "Dream Street" photo shoot. The image on the right was included in the inner sleeve of the album.
Former The Time guitarist, Jesse Johnson, serves as the album's third producer on the remaining two tracks, "Pretty Boy" and "Fast Girls", the latter which was released as one of the album's few singles. With Giorgio's euro-post-disco production on one side of the spectrum, Jesse Johnson's delivers the "Minneapolis Sound" on the other, which is a hybrid of the funk, R&B, synth-pop and new wave genres. Idiosyncratic in style, and a sound popularized by Prince, Jesse's keyboard and drum programming are consistent to what one would later hear on Ta Mara & The Scene's 1985 self-titled album. Heavy on rhythms and instrumental breaks,  It's a sound that places strong emphasis on the synthesizer, supported by mechanical drum programming and percussion. Coincidentally, Janet's association with Jesse could be perceived as a precursor to Janet's association with the Minneapolis Sound, embraced wholeheartedly with her next studio album, CONTROL, propelled by her long-time collaborators, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis of Flye-Tyme Productions. 

DREAM STREET  is not a complete throwaway as some fans/critics have voiced over the years, however it is perhaps a touch jagged upon first listen. But rest assured, something musically redeeming emerges from this journey: an electric group of credible musicians and producers delivering something that will ultimately be worth the musical journey...destination: eclectic street.


"Don't Stand Another Chance - produced by Marlon Jackson

"Hold Back the Tears" - produced by Giorgio Moroder & Pete Bellotte

"Dream Street" - produced by Giorgio Moroder & Pete Bellotte

"All My Love to You" - produced by Marlon Jackson

*Click here for part 1 of 2*

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Like a Stranger...No More

The existence of LA-based band Kitten came to my attention not by way of oral recommendation from another music enthusiast, not by way of spontaneous sound-identification via Shazam, but by way of of an unpredictable source: browsing the thumbnail pages of, an online digital art community where users post their modified renditions of artists' album artwork. The user in question, Koalesse, posted a stunning reworking of the band's self-titled album artwork that instantly caught my eye -- the piece exuded an early 1980's post-punk underground aesthetic. Lead singer Chloe Chaidez adorns the cover, front row and center, with her faux-fur coat, tousled hair, and tenacious pose.
Reconfigured album artwork conceived by Koalesse,
Courtesy of

Visuals aside, the bands sound was a complete mystery to me. However that mystery immediately transformed into intrigue, after stumbling upon "Like a Stranger" online (the band current single). Sixty-seconds in, I found myself completely immersed in the musical gestalt characterize by pulsating synths, heavy electronic base, bouncing rhythm guitar, and Chloe's prowl-like "ha-hoo-hing" vocal affectation, before it surrendered to her lead counterpart, which would come sweeping in and take command of this musical affair. At this juncture, I descended deeper into my curious state, wanting to explore what lies beyond this "Stranger".  So I did...

One of the benefits of living in the "streaming music online" age (via Rdio, Spotify, or more recently, Apple music) is the ability to use it as a tool to fully preview albums. If it meets the criteria of being "vinyl worth", which is, an album that can sustain the listener's appeal, front to back, without bypassing a single track, and more importantly, bears repeating, then I will go to great lengths to seek it out on vinyl format. Fortunately, "Like a Stranger" was no fluke, and after three rounds of their 2014 full-length self-titled album via Rdio, I was hooked! Next stop, vinyl city...

Produced by Chad Anderson and Gavin Mackillop, KITTEN (the album) is an amalgamate of new and previously released material: eighties-infused "Like a Stranger', "Doubt" and "I'll Be Your Girl" formerly appeared on their 2013 EP release, LIKE A STRANGER, while nineties alternative-rock drenched "Cut it Out" and "G#", were lifted off their 2011 EP release, CUT IT OUT. These five tracks are presented here in unaltered, original form. "Kill the Lights", a track that originally appeared on the band's first EP release, 2010's SUNDAY SCHOOL, is the only recycled track that has been subjected to a serious reconstruction in sound. However, the results are stellar, and far superior to the original recording. Chloe's re-recorded vocals display more range and gusto, as they ride the waves dictated by the stark nature of the song's lyrics and symphonic arrangements.  It packs a vigorous punch each time it escalates and lands in the chorus region. Amped-up guitars and dynamic drums collide with Chloe's high-powered vocals, while sparse electronic church bells dance lightly in the background. With each listen, you can ensure a spine-tingling reaction (or two). A definite album highlight.

The vinyl edition of KITTEN contains a lyrics insert,
as well as a voucher to download the entire album
in MP3 format, bonus track "Lia" is included.
As for the newly-committed to wax tracks: "Sex Drive" and "Devotion" perpetuate the sexually-charged stride exemplified in "Like a Stranger" and "I'll Be Your Girl", engulfed in a neon-wash of eighties sonic landscapes; "Sensible" duels between a cacophonous  environment accentuated by distorted-incoherent punk vocals,  and erratic instrumentation, but occasionally seeks refuge to more calmer grounds, painted by a pacing kick-drum, rhythmic guitar and bass line, allowing Chloe's wistful vocals to momentarily breath and plea, before succumbing to another thunderous assault of sound; "While I Wait" and "Cathedral", bookend the placement of "G#" on the record, create a sequence that explore more delicate grounds: lighter-raising, swaying, mild-motion head banging grooves that anchor the listener in, and allowing them to drown in a sea of passionate decrescendos and crescendos. "Cathedral" features a spine-tingling saxophone solo that culminates graciously by the second run, one cannot help but raise their hands in the air by the sound of this, particularly the climatic build-up and crashing of percussion that illuminate the track, moments before it takes it grand exit. "Apples and Cigarettes" is the albums closer, with it's minimalist execution, reminiscent of a acoustic coffee-shop confessional.

A magnificent introduction to a band that has been making its rounds since 2010, KITTEN, the album, perfectly encapsulates sonic textures that the band has a penchant for: eighties-style new-wave, synth-pop tinged melodies, juxtaposed to the hardness and rawness of nineties alternative-rock. One can easily forgo what came before this release, however it will eventually be of interest if the listener is keen on tracking the evolution of the Kitten sound. Rolling Stone has taken notice of the band, particularly this release, but adding it to their top pop albums list of 2014, placing the record at number 16 on the list. That's just reinforcement though, perhaps enough to ignite interest and encourage the reader to get acquainted with this stranger that dwells somewhere in the congested, current musical landscape.

Like a Stranger (below), Sex Drive, I'll Be Your Girl, Devotion

Kill the Lights (below), Cathedral

Friday, August 28, 2015

Drastic Measures

Before music streaming, browsing used music shops was a great source to feed my appetite for "new" tunes back in the mid-late 90's, during a time when the CD format was king, and my love for the vinyl format was criticized and ridiculed by my peers.

Before the resurgence of vinyl records in the mid-late 2000's, used records were in abundance, cheap and unaffected by "hipster prices". For a fair price (0.50 - $2), one could easily take a chance on sampling "new" sonic territory (Note: I use the term "new" loosely as it does not stay within the confines of what is associated with the current calendar year, but redefining it as a concept of prior ignorance towards the existence of something previously unnoticed, and the joys of discovering it for the first time).

Lisa Dal Bello's 1981 album, Drastic Measures, stands at the forefront of my mind as the first album that I took that chance with, without having previous knowledge of who she was, what she did, and what she had accomplished in her musical career.

The album artwork was what caught my eye: Lisa with her off-the-shoulder zip-up sweater, sporting a chunky couldn't help but draw comparison to Olivia Newton John's Physical album cover, coincidentally, released the same year. My preconceived notions were, based on the album artwork alone, was that this album would be a full-blow, synth-drench musical affair, ideal to accompany aerobic activity. However, after a few rotations, the phrase "never judge a book by its cover" resonated louder than ever.

Original album cover

The first four tracks on Drastic Measure pack a fierce punch, all showcasing Lisa's robust, high-powered vocals, accompanied by tight-rhythmic, rolling percussion, punctuated by gritty electric guitars and light trickles of new-wave style synthesizers...all on a foundation of meticulously crafted chords and melodies. Jim Vallance, known for his songwriting partnership with Bryan Adams, lends basic production skills to three of the albums stand out tracks: "Just Like You", "Dr. Noble" and album closer, "Stereo Madness", which is perhaps one of the best tracks off the album with it's eerie, hovering synth pad presence, slow burning melody, and of course, Lisa's sultry vocal delivery, which is also showcased on the rock-ballad "She Wants to Know". "Stereo Madness" ultimately crescendos to an irresistible doubled guitar solo that takes the listener right to the fade out (who can resist a fade-out). Other stand-out tracks are the hard-rock driven, head-banging melody of "Bad Timing" and "It's Over", with it's icy robotic, vocoder solo, a perfect accompaniment to the apathetic lyrics. 

Bryan Adams contributed his co-writing talents to three of the track ("Never Get to Heaven", "You Could Be Good For Me", "She Wants to Know"), as well as her mother, Yolanda Dalbello ("Princess Telephone", "Dr. Noble"). Guest musicians on this record are Canadian songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Ben Mink, who provides a wonderfully raw and upbeat electric violin solo on "Just Like You"; Bruce Rob (formerly of the Robbs) electronic Organ solo [Hammond B-3],on "It's Over"; and Jeff Baxter, known for his work with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, adorns the tracks "She Wants to Know" and "What Your Mama Don't Know" with his seasoned guitar skills, worthy of the engagement of "air-guitaring".

Alternate US album cover
Clearly a product of it's time with the asymmetrical, torn construction paper, grid design..

This marvelously overlooked pop/rock gem was produced by Bob Esty (for Fave Rave Productions), who is best known by disco music aficionados for his contributions to soundtrack work (Roller Boogie) and musical acts like The Pointer Sisters, Donna Summer, Cher, Paul Jabara and Barbra Streisand. Although his name is predominately associated with the Disco genre, Bob Esty was just as skilled at crafting energetic sharp, pop/rock numbers as he was with pulsating, disco tunes.

Why is this record worth checking out? For one, it's littered with home-grown talent. Plus, Lisa Dal Bello is one of those Canadian artists that I feel is grossly underrated. Only a handful of people, specifically music enthusiasts, know who she is and will acknowledge her incredible talents. As well, Drastic Measures is, to put it simply, an "all killer and no filler" record. It is one of those albums that will creep up to you when you least expect it, and you will find yourself repeating tracks/sides, and ultimately, caught in the web of its musical spell.

I might have been drawn in by the album cover - and hey, with a $2 price tag - worth the gamble.  This gamble paid off - like so many others I will be writing about in the future. Take a chance, discover great music and expect the unexpected.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Welcome to WAX CANDY... soon to be prominent home of the lesser known and obscure, audibly irresistible nonetheless.

Like visual art, musical tastes are exteremly subjective. What is critically praised from one end, can be maliciously torn to pieces on another. And in some cases, some things fall completely off the radar, but picked up by those who notice something redeeming and worth praising. Example, Velvet Underground & Nico's 1967 self-titled release, largely ignored by critics and the public upon release. However, it was the power of "word of mouth" that brought this record to the forefront, praised and acknowledge by (aspiring) bands. Allow me to illustrate with an excerpt from

"It was not until a decade later that the album started to receive almost unanimous praise by numerous rock critics, many of whom made particular note of its influence in modern rock music. Robert Christgau in his 1977 retrospective review of 1967 said "it never stops getting better".[22] In The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (1998), Colin Larkin called it a "powerful collection" that "introduced Reed's decidedly urban infatuations, a fascination for street culture and amorality bordering on voyeurism."[23] In April 2003, Spin led their "Top Fifteen Most Influential Albums of All Time" list with the album.[28] On November 12, 2000, NPR included it in their "NPR 100" series of "the most important American musical works of the 20th century".[29] Rolling Stone placed it at number 13 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time in November 2003 calling it the most prophetic rock album ever made."

So, perhaps the objective of this blog is to revisit not the "know" classics, but those records that are "lesser know", records (albums) that exude an infectiously indomitable quality that will make one consistently flip sides, repeat tracks and/or potentially bring a little more joy to someone's life and possibly inspire :)