Monday, May 30, 2016

Various Artists - The 98 Rock Album (1978)

Last week was "Big City Soul" week on this blog, where I posted nothing but that series of vintage soul collections. This week I'm designating as "Vintage Baltimore Music Week" and I'll be posting out-of-print Baltimore music. I came of age in the area and have accumulated a good number of forgotten records. I may also throw in a little-known vintage treasure from nearby Washington D.C. when the week is done.

Now onto the main topic. This is the first of several collections of local music put out by a hard rock station in Baltimore known as 98 Rock. For decades, "98," as it's colloquially called, has been an institution among the town's rock fans. They've supported regional favorites like Kix and Crack the Sky and helped break countless national rock and metal acts locally.

When I happened upon a mint copy of this album, it piqued my interest for obvious historical reasons. Baltimore's become a popular indie music town since around the year 2000, but this album offers a look into the local scene back when it got virtually no national attention.

One reason for that is that most of the groups tended to copy sounds from the mainstream and didn't go in for boundary-breaking new genres of music. Although this LP came out in '78, there is nary a trace of punk rock or new wave on it, even though both of those musical styles were what was happening in more, er, happening towns like Boston, New York, and Los Angeles.

Remember those Rhino Records "D.I.Y." collections from the 1990s that looked back at what each city was doing when punk rock broke? Well, there could never have been sets for Charm City like there were for Boston (Mass Ave.) or Los Angeles (We're Desperate). Baltimore's punk scene just wasn't big enough to warrant one.

This probably has to do with Baltimore's roots as a blue collar town. When you're in a working class environment, playing music that has little chance of making you much money from local gigs seems frivolous. Why play weird stuff to twenty fanatics at the VFW when you can kick out the jams and fill up clubs and bring home some real money?

This isn't a criticism; just an analysis of why Baltimore's music scene developed the way it did. I'll also note than when the steel worker jobs faded and Baltimore became both more Yuppie-oriented and more of an African-American town, the music changed as well. Soon after, groups like Wye Oak, Dan Deacon, and others took a more artsy, indie approach for a new artsy, indie audience.

The blue collar aesthetic that held sway throughout the '70s and '80s is also probably the reason Baltimore got so little national attention. Music magazines like Trouser Press and Creem tended to focus on trendy groups, not ones who were doing what Led Zeppelin or Styx had already done -- even if those bands were beloved by people who came out every weekend to see them. Meanwhile Rolling Stone generally only covered big-time acts. So Baltimore didn't get much love, nationally speaking.

OK, end of history lesson. Beyond all that, most of this music still sounds pretty good. Granted, some of the songs on the first side of this album (tracks 1-6) are derivative of rock acts that were popular at the time. Heck, the band names like Kashmir and Fly By Night show where these groups were coming from. But several songs on the second side show some originality and real songwriting craft.

Tony Sciuto was a singer-songwriter who was -- for some reason -- primarily big in Japan. His Steely Dan-like "Captain Wonderful" makes you wonder why he didn't catch on in the U.S. A band I'd never heard of before called Springwind checks in with a breezy acoustic number called "Look at the Stranger" that also sounds like it had hit potential.

Orange Wedge, Apricot Brandy, and Appaloosa are names that anyone who grew up in Charm City should know because they performed a lot around the region. Orange Wedge ended up becoming something of a cult band when people in Europe discovered their earlier prog albums decades later (go here for an interview), but their number here sounds (to me, anyway) like journeyman '70s rock.

Apricot Brandy contributes a cool prog track, "Reach for the Sky," which would be better if the quality of the tape they submitted had been better. And Appaloosa reminds me of Boston or Foreigner (or a band like that) with "Hold Me," which I think is pretty damned catchy even if it's not the type of music I really took to back in the day.

Needless to say, this album hasn't come out on CD. I can't even find it listed on the Discogs Web site, although the follow up albums from years later are on there. If anyone knows anything about some of the more obscure groups featured, like Basement Floor, Jack of Diamonds, or the Jim Sellers Band, feel free to drop some knowledge into the comments section.

Several musicians who still play in the area are on here, including Kyf Brewer, Glenn Workman, and Jim Ball. The album includes info on each group on the back cover which I've made easy to read by doing high-quality scans. The music, of course, is also ripped at high quality (320/48) like all my other rips. And like all the rest, I made no alterations whatsoever to the sound. What you hear here is what was on the record. Period.

Also included is a scan of an "insert" -- a sheet of paper that was one of those iron-on t-shirt thingies. Iron it on and you get a 98 Rock t-shirt. Hey, I have an iron. Wonder if it'll still work all these years later?

Related posts:
Various Artists - WKTK Presents Baltimore's Best Rock (1978)
Various Artists - The 98 Rock Album (1978)
Various Artists - Music Monthly Music Vol. 1 (1999)
Young Caucasians - Pop Quiz (1983)
Growing Up Different - A+B=C (1985)
Red Tape - Red Tape (1986)

Track list:
1. Kashmir - Texas City
2. Climbadonkey - Don't Blame Me
3. Basement Floor - Sexy Woman
4. Fly By Night - Wrecked My Room
5. Apricot Brandy - Reach for the Sky
6. Appaloosa - Hold Me
7. Tony Sciuto - Captain Wonderful
8. Jack of Diamonds - Come Sweet Darlin'
9. The Jim Sellers Band - Sixty Miles Southwest
10. Springwind - Look at the Stranger
11. Orange Wedge - Bye Bye Baby


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