Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Milk Crate Classics #1: Prism

Take a picture of this: It’s August 1978, the 1st anniversary of Elvis’s death. There’s a Chaucerian pilgrimage taking place. Thousands of devotees are walking to Graceland to have an idol before Him. Meanwhile, the Memphis police are on strike, a strike that s sometimes violent (as strikes involving people who have guns are probably want to be), and the National Guard have been called in to keep the peace. What happens when those pilgrims walk smack into the National Guard? I bet the answer your searching fro is not ‘one of the finest moments on Canadian rock history.’ Yet that’s what happened, as Vancouverites Prism happened to be helicoptering over the fuss on their way to a concert (things were apparently so hairy that a helicopter was the only way to navigate Memphis that day). The scene below struck them as Armageddon, and one of those pieces that define an era was born.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Those first couple of Prism albums in the late 70’s (“Prism” in 1977; “See Forever Eyes” in 1978; and “Armageddon” in 1979) had a sound that was fresh and alive. The heavy emphasis on keyboards, without abandoning the guitar as Gary Wright had done on “Dreamweaver”, led you to think this was what was to come. The first single from the first album, Spaceship Superstar, with it’s Won’t Get Fooled Again synthesizers and Ballroom Blitz like guitar chorus made you think they had what it was going to take to stay alive in rock and roll’s electronic future; and led you to believe they knew that themselves. Ultimately, however, they were a transition between the guitar rock of the 70’s and the guitar rock of the 90’s: Depeche Mode with attitude.

Between Spaceship Superstar in 1975 and lead singer Ron Tabak’s untimely death of police stupidity in 1984, Prism put together some of the most memorable tripe in Canadian music history. Night to Remember, It’s over, Take me to the Captain, N-N-N-No, American Music and Open Soul Surgery mark some of Canada’s better musical moments; Spaceship Superstar and Armageddon mark some of rock and roll’s.

Prism, however, deserves to be remembered for 1981’s Don’t Let Him Know, the first hit penned by the young team of Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, a writing duo that would put Canadian music on the map over the next decade. They deserve to be remembered for that; they will be remembered for Armageddon. It was simply too good to forget.

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