By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
Concept: Boy joins the service of God--or the king--or, I dunno, Phantom of the Park. What hope is there for the propagation of the species?
Worst Moment: Listen to Paul Stanley bellyache on "Odyssey" like Pavarotti after missing a meal, then try to imagine the simulated-castration special effects KISS would have no doubt crafted for the stage show if this turkey had become a huge hit.
Grand Finale: The anthem "I," where Paul and Gene shout out loud, "I believe in me and I believe in something more than you can understand." Like what--Crystal Light?
Paradise Theater (1981)
First Bad Sign: Any concept these insufferable Chicago shriekers commit to magnetic oxide would be a witches' brew for musical botulism.
Concept: How d'ya make the Depression more depressing than it was the first time around? Stick Styx in a time machine set for A.D. 1929, and people won't even wait for the stock-market crash to start jumping out of windows.
Worst Moment: Whenever singer Dennis DeYoung tries to sound guttural, he makes Pat Boone seem like Tom Waits. And he navigates around the word "honey" with all the uneasiness of a cloistered monk.
Grand Finale: My kind of Styx song: "State Street Sadie" is 25 seconds of barrelhouse piano played very, very far away.
Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)
First Bad Sign: Four songs, four album sides--you do the math.
Concept: Jon Anderson, with some free time in his hotel room before a show, dreams up Yes's waterlogged Waterloo based on a lengthy footnote in Autobiography of a Yogi that describes the four-part shastric scriptures, "which cover all aspects of religion and social life as well as fields like medicine and music, art and architecture." Why couldn't he just ball groupies before a show like normal rock stars?
(Note: Rick Wakemen reportedly quit the group in frustration soon after touring behind this album because people kept asking him what it was about and he didn't know.)
Worst Moment: Steve Howe slips the "Close to the Edge" riff into "Ritual" before quickly remembering, "Ah, wait--that was last album."
Grand Finale: "Ritual" features a drum-and-bass duel that's supposed to mirror life's struggle between the forces of evil and pure love--a struggle that's played out nightly on hundreds of creaky car backseats in far more lively fashion.
First Bad Sign: Lyrics by Neil Peart, with acknowledgments to the genius of Ayn Rand. Atlas must've shrugged before, during and after throwing up.
Concept: The title track is a twenty-minute opus in seven, or shall we say "VII," stages. Sometime in the not-too-joyous future, rock, roll and any musical apparatus more complicated than a kazoo is outlawed by an oppressive government. The hero of Rush's tale finds all this confiscated musical hardware in a cave behind a waterfall.
Worst Moment: Like the plucky girl who always goes back into the haunted house alone, this moron actually goes to the Temple of Syrinx with his guitar contraband and rocks out for the priests. To which the padres, in Geddy Lee's best Witchiepoo vocals, screech back, "Don't annoy us further!" Amen.
Grand Finale: Three Roman numerals after the above exchange comes "VII: Grand Finale," in which a robotic public-service announcement blares, "Attention, all planets of the Solar Federation. We have assumed control." What took you guys so long?
Kilroy Was Here (1983)
First Bad Sign: "Original Story and Concept by Dennis DeYoung." Everybody cower now.
Concept: Sometime in the not-too-joyous future, rock, roll and any musical apparatus more complicated than a kazoo is outlawed by an oppressive government. Hey, why does that sound familiar?
Worst Moment: "High Time," where DeYoung as Kilroy (an imprisoned rock star pretending he's a robot) sings, "I see the kids of a new generation/They're gonna bring back the rock and roll" and "We're gonna start a rockin' nation." Unfortunately, the years of enforced mind control prohibit Kilroy from rocking any harder than a Bubblicious commercial.
Grand Finale: The members of Styx, unable to follow up this grand-concept album, break up for twelve years.
1. Vanilla Fudge
The Beat Goes On (1968)
First Bad Sign: The liner notes hype this as being "like no album ever made. Above ground or underground. The music is that of Ludwig van Beethoven and Cole Porter and Stephen Foster and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Sonny Bono."
Concept: Vanilla Fudge sets out to tell two stories--the history of music and the history of time--in four phases. "Phase One" of the band's two-part pop-music lesson starts with reverent versions of "In the Mood" and "Don't Fence Me In," followed by lousy versions of "Hound Dog" and "She Loves You." Interspersed between the miniatures are jazzy, bombastic, classical and loungey renditions of Sonny and Cher's "The Beat Goes On."
Worst Moment: "Phase Three"--the hysterically historical "Voices in Time" segment, which features such bummer sound bites as FDR's and Kennedy's funeral processions plus Truman's announcement that he just dropped the atomic bomb against a musical bed consisting of--you guessed it--"The Beat Goes On." Can't you just hear the love-ins grinding to a halt?
Grand Finale: "Phase Four"--nine minutes of interview outtakes with members of Vanilla Fudge speaking their Vanilla minds while sitars play a little ditty to remind you that this album is indeed called The Beat Goes On. At one point, bassist Tim Bogert says that the music industry is "disheartening," and he's right--that no one in the business could talk the band out of this atrocity is disheartening indeed. Drop the needle anywhere on this record and you won't believe what you're hearing. The opus hasn't yet made it to CD--which is definitely worth giving thanks for.