By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Concept: Boy joins the service of God -- or the king -- or, I dunno, the 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 no doubt have crafted for the stage show if this turkey had become a huge hit.
Grand Finale: The anthem "I," in which 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 of musical botulism.
Concept: How do you make the Depression even more depressing than it was the first time around? Stick Styx in a time machine set for A.D. 1929.
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 in the distance.
Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973)
First Bad Sign: Four songs, four sides -- you do the math.
Concept: Jon Anderson, with some free time in his hotel room before a show, dreams up this waterlogged Waterloo based on a lengthy footnote in Autobiography of a Yogi that describes the four-part 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 Wakeman reportedly quit the group in frustration soon after touring behind this release 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 in the back seats of cars in far more lively fashion.
First Bad Sign: Lyrics by Neil Peart, with acknowledgments to the genius of Ayn Rand. Atlas must have 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 the 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, 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 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?