Seattle… What a scene that was. Those bands. Brings back memories of wall-of sound guitars played by long haired sensitive rockers who wore embarrassing make up in photos.
By the time of my sixteenth birthday in 1986, my record collection had moved on a bit. Six months earlier I had ten records. One by ZZ Top, one by Genesis and eight by Status Quo.
But the weekly purchase of Kerrang! had pushed things along and a cover featuring Queensryche – promoting their Rage For Order LP – caught my attention. In truth it caught my attention for all the wrong reasons. The words described a band who were a thinking rock fan’s band. Their music was futuristic. Intelligent. Political maybe.
All this was well and good, I thought, but why did the photos accompanying the article depict a bunch of burly builders wearing their mum’s dresses looking as if they had tried to apply make up to themselves after drinking a bottle of scotch on a bumpy train ride in the dark? They looked like they had just been on a particularly dreadful hen weekend in Blackpool and were remembering the drunken and misguided texts they had sent to their ex-boyfriends at 3am the previous night.
At least they had the good grace to look embarrassed in the photos. The looks on their faces (just visible through the make up) revealed overwrought souls: as though they had just silently broken wind in a lift in which the other two occupants were the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
At the time, this all went somewhat un-noticed by the mainstream press. But looking back, it is clear that these photos were a nadir in Rock Photography. Never had a band been made to look so accidentally foolish on the cover of a magazine. And given we are discussing the field of a) Rock n Roll and b) Heavy Rock in particular, Queensryche were up against some pretty stiff competition for that honour.
I have previously looked at The Top Ten Worst Dressed Rock Stars, and perhaps only Raven’s American-Football-meets-Heavy-Rock costumes even come close.
The reaction to the shoot was immediate. The letters page in Kerrang! the following week was particularly unsympathetic. “At least we know where the first part of their name comes from” perhaps being the most Wildean comment. The general consensus was: “I don’t care how good they are, I’m not buying their record if they look like that”. These were less enlightened times. Or perhaps people were just a bit more straight-talking.
Ignoring this tweak of the nose of fashion and good taste, I nevertheless hopped in to Our Price. The photos did knock my confidence a bit – I asked to hear Rage For Order at the counter first on the turntable. But two songs in and I was sold.
I remember telling a friend about them in the pub once. I said they sounded like a cross between Judas Priest and Pink Floyd. It wasn’t a great description but it was the best I could do. Rage For Order was a classic. The songs featured odd sound effects, it was futuristic and slightly tech-y, whilst remaining firmly (what we now call) classic rock in style. Singer Geoff Tate sounded ethereal and menacing on the creepy, yet epic Gonna Get Close To You. Imagine Every Breath You Take sung by an operatic Fred West (without the West-Country burr). Actually, don’t imagine that. Ludicrous and unpleasant image. Sorry.
However, another friend of mine detested Queensryche. He’d seen the photos in Kerrang! Magazine. Not a good start.
He also disliked my favourite song, Neue Regel (check out the rather pseudo-serious title) on the basis that Geoff Tate’s voice sounded like Metal Mickey with his nuts tightened for the first minute. However, to my ears the song itself was a tour de force of prog-metal and marked the band out as very different and a bit special.
Formed in 1981, the band first sprang to prominence with the Queensryche EP in 1983 the lead track of which was one of the heaviest and finest metal songs of the eighties. The frantic riff and guitar sound was extraordinary: not dissimilar to Accept’s Fast As A Shark in its power. Lead singer Geoff Tate came from the Bruce Dickinson / Rob Halford school of air-raid-siren singing and the twin guitars recalled Judas Priest at their finest. Debut LP The Warning was a bit more thoughtful and prog-y. Second effort, the aforementioned Rage For Order was critically acclaimed and paved the way for breakthrough LP Operation Mindcrime and follow-up Empire – which were both creative and commercial successes.
The band have been in the music press recently following a highly acrimonious rift between the band and singer Geoff Tate. Handbags at ten paces stuff. We should ignore all that. There’s a new album (with a new singer) out in 2013 whilst Tate does his own thing. In the meantime, why not listen to a bit of Rage whilst you try to think of a more disastrous magazine photo shoot. If you do, let me know in the comments section below – I’d love to hear about it.
Record #135 : Queensryche – Neue Regel
Record #136 : Queensryche – Queen of the Reich