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Essential Series – Purist AOR Volume 1

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Here is the very first Volume of our Essential Series – Purist AOR.

Written by: gdmonline

ARTICLE: Essential Series, Purist AOR Volume 1
YEAR: 2018


I could sit here and discuss the merits of our favourite sub-genre of music AOR until I’m blue in the face. So I won’t, suffice to say that the category means different things to different people. What are the boundaries between AOR and melodic hard rock for instance? Why do the Japanese lump what we call in Western Society ‘west coast’ and re-label it AOR over there?

Does the term mean: Album Oriented Radio or Album Oriented Rock? Why does a guy like Neal Schon totally denounce the term, when his band Journey created one of the AOR templates of all time? That album is mentioned in my list below.

There are so many imponderables, and yet after nearly three decades, AOR is a term that is still widely used in the industry. Including eBay I might add, when hawkers and sharks will try and sell their wares for megabucks and include the tag ‘AOR’ in their listings, knowing full well that it will attract buyers (with loads of cash perhaps?) to go and waste their money on CD’s that definitely has nothing to do with AOR.

Just about every CD sold on eBay that originates from 1993 to 1999 that is marginally melodic rock will have the tag ‘AOR’ thrown in to try and generate a sale. How many of those have you seen over the years? Anyway, let’s not muck around.

The Essential Series list below can generally be acknowledged as some of the best AOR albums ever released. Some may cross over into melodic hard rock, like the Bon Jovi release, but I think, by and large, these can be attributed to the AOR category without too much hard thinking and head-scratching.

Really though, this is the tip of the iceberg, as so many other pearls and gems could easily have swapped out some of those items listed. No doubt we’ll be seeing more Essential Series volumes in the coming weeks and months. Let’s go.

The Albums

Billy Satellite – 1984 Billy Satellite

When someone asks me about a definitive AOR album, I’ll always point them in the direction of this one. 1984 was truly a great year for the sub-genre, and this was at the top of the heap. I recall buying this in a downtown and temporary store space by the legendary Colin Morris Records, who was the equivalent of Shades (London) and Utopia Records (Sydney) in Wellington NZ. I spent a bucketload of money at that store.

But for Billy Satellite, I think I paid $4.99 for a promo LP. I also picked up both Spys, Zappacosta, White Sister, Rail, Helix, Luba and a few others, for which my memory slips. What a great day that was!

Billy Satellite – I Wanna Go Back

Billy Satellite - I Wanna Go Back

Michael Bolton – 1985 Everybody’s Crazy

The great man may have since disowned this LP, and refuses to play anything off it these days, but at the time, this record was the bomb. Tracks like ‘Save Our Love’, ‘Can’t Turn It Off’, ‘Everytime’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over’ still sound great today as it did then. Not forgetting the title track either. Big hair, great AOR approved attire, it didn’t get better than this!

Michael Bolton – Everybody’s Crazy

Michael Bolton - Everybody's Crazy

Orion The Hunter – 1984 Orion The Hunter

The second half of the Boston guitar duo, but over the years, you just wonder what the real deal was with the guys that played on that first Boston record. How much involvement did Fran Sheehan and Barry Goudreau actually have in the studio? Tom Scholz will say ‘not much’. This is a shame really, as it explodes the mythical status I had of the band back in 1976 heading into 1977. So, Goudreau moved on, an ordinary solo LP in 1980, but he struck paydirt in 1984 with this essential slab of AOR. Another of my Shades import purchases to NZ, I played this religiously during 1984.. ‘Dark And Stormy’ is an absolute classic. Glad to see this got regularly reissued over the years. I think I have all versions.. lol

Orion The Hunter – So You Ran

Orion the Hunter - So You Ran [Official Music Video]

Dare – 1988 Out Of The Silence

I didn’t know too much about Dare during 1988. I couldn’t count on Kerrang nor Metal Forces for help, because they were six months out of date by the time they arrived on NZ shores. I originally bought this as a cassette, as that was the only format I could find, so it got a fair thrashing in my car before I landed the CD. Just about every track is a winner. Need I say anymore? I remember tweeting Prof Brian Cox about this on Twitter last year. I was glad that he (grudgingly) acknowledged his participation, much to the surprise and shock of his many science/astronomy fanboys.

Dare – Abandon

Dare - Abandon (1988)

Bon Jovi – 1984 Bon Jovi

‘Ooh, she’s a little runaway’. I remember hearing this song one Sunday morning on Kasey Kasem’s Billboard Top 40 singles. This new band called Bon Jovi just scraped into the show at #40. I was hooked. Thankfully, the album was a local release in NZ and I was in like a rat up a drain-pipe. There is not one sign of filler on this epic LP, everything works to perfection. The Lance Quinn production was also epic. Superlatives flow everywhere on this album. I’ve said it before, I would’ve been a happy man had they retired at this point as a one-release band. Unfortunately, they went downhill from there. Just kidding.

Bon Jovi – Runaway

Bon Jovi - Runaway

Journey – 1986 Raised On Radio

This release just snuck in, with other contenders nipping at its heels. It’s probably the most radio-friendly album they ever released, and looking back, Neal Schon could be forgiven for asking: ‘what the fuck was I doing?’ By this stage, Journey was Steve Perry’s band and he called the shots essentially. Still, you can’t dismiss tunes like ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’, ‘Suzanne’, ‘Happy To Give’ and ‘I’ll Be Alright Without You’. Despite playing this quite a bit during 1986, I still preferred listening to ‘Infinity’ and ‘Departure’ more.

Journey – I’ll Be Alright Without You

Journey - I'll Be Alright Without You (Official Video - 1986)

Strangeways – 1987 Native Sons

For me, this ranks as one of the best AOR albums ever. Perhaps ranked #1. I only got to hear this for the first time in 1990, a full three years after its release. I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. Still can’t. The follow-up ‘Walk In The Fire’ is great too, though different in style. Tracks like the essential ‘Goodnight L.A’, ‘Shake The Seven’ and ‘Face To Face’ are incredible, and the guitar solo from Ian Stewart on ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ is one in a million. They don’t make records quite like this anymore.

Strangeways – Goodnight L.A

Strangeways - Goodnight L.A. (Official Video) (1987) From The Album Native Sons

Van Zant – 1985 Van Zant

This band could easily have slid into the Southern Rock category, if their prior albums were anything to go by. However, with a label change (from Polydor to Geffen), a name change, an image change and a noticeable musical change from southern rock to commercial AOR, then these guys land in this category. Some great tunes here, and an album that deserves hunting down on CD. Easy to find, through a Unidisc Canadian reissue. ‘Midnight Sensation’ is a qualified classic.

Van Zant – I’m A Fighter

VAN ZANT - I'm A Fighter [Official Music Video]

Asia – 1985 Astra

The band at this point were suffering from over-exposure and personnel problems. ‘Astra’, though not a commercial success was a fantastic sounding record, thanks to Mike Stone’s mastery behind the dials. Unfortunately, the band jacked it in at this point, and resurfaced five years later as Asia 2.0. I love this album, and I have admiration for the previous two as well. ‘Too Late’? Never.

Asia – Go

Asia - Go (Official Music Video)

Le Roux – 1983 So Fired Up

A band I still adore, and when they dropped their bayou/swamp rock persona for AOR, I was in heaven. ‘Up’ and ‘Last Safe Place’ are essential albums for your collection, but this 1983 beauty is the pick of the bunch. Bringing in Fergie Frederiksen on lead vocals was a masterstroke, but let’s not forget the contribution that Jeff Pollard made to the band, but he had departed by this stage. ‘Lifeline’, ‘Carrie’s Gone’ and ‘Turning Point’ are absolute belters.

LeRoux – Carrie’s Gone

LeRoux - Carrie's Gone (1983, US # 81)

In Summary

To wrap up, there are so many good albums in this category that I never found room for this volume. Riggs, Signal, Preview, Airborne, I-Ten, Michael Stanley Band, Aviator perhaps, and of course that second Balance album. More to come, so many gems yet to highlight. Stick around for the next installment of the Essential Series Purist AOR.

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