ALBUM: GRAND (RE)OPENING
BAND: THE KEYS
ZERO HOUR RECORDS
reviewed by nadja dee
Originally released 1986 (Re-release December 17 2018 on Zero Hour Records)
Musicians: Bob Koenig: Vocals, Guitar
Ken Schaefer: Drums, Percussion
Steve Glavas: Bass
John LoPiccolo: Bass, Backing Vocals
Bob Hardy: Guitar, Backing Vocals
Dave Fuller: Guitar, Backing Vocals
George Kohler: Bass, Backing Vocals
Greg Winter: Keyboards
Barry Waller: Guitar, Bass
Mark Gaide: Keyboards
Mike Jordan: Guitar, Bass
Chris Anderson: Keyboards
Vinny Martucci: Keyboards
Note: Various musicians have played on these selections of songs on this re-release
Producers: Ken Schaefer
Note: Various producers appear on these selections of songs on this re-release
If you search for The Keys or even The Keys Band in Wikipedia, you’ll come across an English band who were connected to Paul McCartney and Joe Jackson. There's also a Keys Band, a country band out of New Mexico. In fact, there's quite a few bands who have used the name. But those are completely different bands from this band, The Keys from Long Island, NY. In fact, it’s quite a challenge to locate any real information on this particular set of Keys unless you’re lucky enough to get the Rob Leonard liner notes included with this new re-release, The Keys Grand (Re)Opening on Australian Zero Hour Records. (Someone needs to create a Wiki page for them. Who will be their Huckleberry?)
In it, you’ll find that The Keys were founded by Bob Koenig (Guitar & Vocals) and Ken Schaefer (Drums), who met in music school in 1980. They added Steve Glavas (Bass) and formed the group Abandon Here. Once Abandon Here was, uhem...well abandoned, they became The Keys and released the 6 song EP Grand Opening under their own label Keywhole.
But a lack of online presence doesn’t mean a lack of respect especially in the underdog world of Power Pop music. The Keys are a vital part of the Power Pop music scene, doing what keys should do by opening doors to many bands that have followed. Plus they're nice guys. In fact, it was Bob Koenig himself who contacted me in the first place, not much after the December 2018 re-release had beeped under my Power Pop radar. I knew that I needed to purchase and study this long-lost Power Pop gem. Bob was kind enough to offer me a complimentary copy, but I had already purchased the album. So, it came as an overwhelming surprise when I received an entire Keys & Bob Koenig delivery as I can only describe as a “care package from a Power Pop uncle.” In it, Bob sent several live interview and performances, photos and flier art, a copy of the FemForce issue #50 comic book with flexi disc, Bob’s solo release and the original Grand Opening on vinyl! It’s enough to make this Power Pop girl feel like she won the Power Pop lottery.
With all that swag, you would think that this reviewer has to give a glowing review like a paid off politician receiving dirty money and guaranteeing a political favor down the line. But, that's not the case. If Hop On Power Pop doesn't like an album, we just won't review it, regardless of the payoff. We want our reviews to be upfront and honest. I mean, why bother to take advice from a reviewer if every review is rave after rave? Right?
That being said, I have to admit that Grand (Re)Opening had to marinate in my music mind for a bit before it took hold of my brain stew. You see, it arrived at the same time another newly recorded 2019 release came banging on my eardrums. Unfortunately, I compared it to a new album recorded with the latest technology at its disposal. It’s an unfair comparison at best. After getting some sage advice from another Power Pop luminary I respect, (Thanks Spaz!) I decided to re-listen to the album with a renewed perspective. (That's a great name for an album by the way, "Renewed Perspective." Take it, that's a freebie from Me to You!)
I found that once you take into consideration that this album was made over 30 years ago, it begins to stand on its own. The album itself has many stellar moments, and I'd even go so far as to call them outright hits. Let’s talk about the successes starting with Change of Seasons. Written by Bob Koenig, this song just leaps off the album, voted “Best Unknown Track of the 90s” by Good Times Magazine. It’s a driving, rocking rhythm song that never slows down from start to finish. It classic Power Pop and I love it.
There’s When It Rains It Pours, which is a toe tapper, again with that driving, rocking rhythm that makes you want to get up and dance. Even the lyrics are on the hopeful, positive side, “When it rains it pours, but the sun keeps shining on you.” Just like Power Pop music should,
Let’s talk about a few songs that reminded me of other songs. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially in this day where there's more recorded music than there's hours in a lifetime to listen to it. With millions of songs to choose from, they're bound to remind you of other songs. It Doesn’t Bother Me At All has the same vibe as the song The Beatles gave Ringo to sing, the cover of the Luther Dixon, Wes Farrell penned song Boys, also made famous by The Shirelles.
There’s Poison Pen which starts off like Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein, albeit with lyrics, in a higher key and a surf guitar edge. Next we trip back to a 1950s sock hop hoedown where in an alternate reality, Herky Jerky Love (Lane Steinberg) is played in place of the Hokey Pokey. (An improvement if you ask me.)
There’s a decent cover of Badfinger’s Baby Blue, which seems to rock regardless of who covers it. Maybe Courtney Love should give this song a try and leave Big Star’s Thirteen off her setlist. But Baby Blue is a good choice for a Keys cover song. They also cover Todd Rundgren’s classic Couldn’t I Just Tell You and The Rollers (Formerly The Bay City Rollers) song Elevator, just in case they needed to cement their footing deeper into the Power Pop genre. (They didn’t). And if that wasn't enough to convince you of their Power Pop roots, just listen for what I call the special spice of every fab inspired band's song, the early Beatles signature chiming guitar ending, like at the end of Captain Universe.
Probably my favorite track on the album is the FemForce Theme song, also known as Something Special and appearing at Track 2 & 13. There’s a great video on YouTube which marries the theme song to images from FemForce. Femforce is a comic book published by AC Comics that began publication in 1985, detailing the adventures of the titular team: the "Federal Emergency Missions Force" or "Femforce", some of them original creations, while others originated in the 1940s and 1950s.* It’s a great track that couples well with the song Captain Universe. Maybe we need a comic where a member of FemForce, maybe Miss Victory marries Captain Universe? I also like that Captain Universe is usually female, but then she would become Mrs Victory. Nevermind.
My only complaint of the album is that I wish there was more low end to the album. I strained to hear the bass guitar and at times the drums felt buried. Having just seen the legendary Bob Mould, I’m reminded how he intentionally buries his vocals deep in the song and you have to strain to hear them from the song. I felt like the low end was sandwiched too far in the higher mid treble section and I wish it was a little more pronounced as I think it would add more power to the pop.
Coming in at 20 songs, the re-released Grand (Re)Opening is over 3X the length of its predecessor. You definitely get your value for the buck! I like how the (Re)Opening has rearranged the song order, placing the original 6 songs at track numbers 1, 6, 5, 2(13) and 4. It has a nice flow to the album, which is something most band's today seem to have lost the finesse for doing. It's an age of single song digital downloads, and song shuffling at a finger's touch. Band's used to calculate their song order and take into account the vinyl album flip. Apparently, the original album track Angry Man was left off the re-release because it was more country and not a great fit to the rest of the album's Power Pop theme.
The Keys have actually achieved the near impossible by being the only band, I know about, who have made a name for themselves after only releasing 2 EPs! Did you hear that? They only released 2 EPs, not LPs. I would say that's not just keys, that's a set of Skeleton Keys! So, it’s quite an accomplishment in their short 4 years together.
I recommend you attend this Grand (Re)opening by buying your copy and adding it to your Power Pop collection. If not for the great songs I mentioned above, then for the fact that you simply couldn’t get ahold of these songs which have been long out of print. Plus you’d be supporting independent music and that’s always reason to celebrate. I feel like part of The Keys FemForce and I urge you to pick up this album.
*Taken from Wikipedia under FemForce
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DISCLAIMER: HOP ON POWER POP doesn't give stars, a grade or any sort of quantifiable rating. What HOP ON POWER POP does is let you know what H.O.P.P. thought of the music by the band at this particular time. If an album isn't to our liking or fitting into the Power Pop genre enough, we simply won't review it.
The Keys in FemForce Up Close #1
The Keys in FemForce Up Close #1