Best of April 2012: Reader picks include Rush, John Wetton, Levon Helm, Journey, Squackett, Beatles

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A frank first-take conversation on a new song from Rush topped our April 2012 reader’s poll, followed by a heartfelt goodbye to Levon Helm, co-founder and voice of the Band.

Interest also ran high in a pair of forthcoming collaborations between signature figures in rock — one from former Journey bandmates Neal Schon and Steve Smith, as well as another between Yes co-founder Chris Squire and Steve Hackett, the famous 1970s-era guitarist with Genesis. In other prog rock news, John Wetton stopped by for a two-part talk on his 2012 projects with UK and Asia, as well as legacy projects with King Crimson and as a solo artist.

Elsewhere, you have to love a month that finds both Led Zeppelin and Barry Manilow topping the reader poll. Beatles fans rallied around — and vociferously argued about — our takes on both 1969’s Abbey Road, and the times when we felt their music fell short of, well, Fab.

And, now, the Top 10 reader-selected items from April 2012 on, based on your page views. Click through the titles for more …

No. 10

GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE THE BEATLES, WELL, SUCKED: Major discovery: Beatles songs themed on the word “long” are bad karma — as our heavily debated list includes both the perfectly titled “Long, Long, Long” and treacly “Long and Winding Road.” We called the latter, in a point of deep contention for many Beatles fans, “this syrupy ballad was a favorite for senior proms at least into the 1980s, sending everyone hurtling into morbidly depressive states — and thus permanently halting generations of young men at first base.” Even at three-and-a-half minutes, it seemed to be overly long and, yes, winding. Well, to us, anyway. (Originally posted on December 27, 2011, but still going strong with our readers.)S. Victor Aaron and Nick DeRiso

No. 9

ONE TRACK MIND: JOHN WETTON ON ASIA, KING CRIMSON AND STANDOUT SOLO SONGS: As John Wetton prepares for 2012 projects with UK and then with Asia, he took us inside the creative process on a decades-old album that, even today, Wetton says he’ll be hard-pressed to match. Find out how optimism has shot through Wetton’s work since he stopped drinking, and how the title track from King Crimson’s Starless and the Bible Black somehow ended up on the group’s follow up release. Oh, and what Asia’s mega-hit debut — the biggest selling album of 1982 — has in common with Adele’s current blockbuster release. — Nick DeRiso

No. 8

SOMETHING ELSE! SNEAK PEEK: SQUACKETT, “SEA OF SMILES”/ “PERFECT LOVE SONG” (2012): “Sea of Smiles” is, quite simply, a tour-de-force — this brilliantly collaborative narrative that underscores everything fans of both Yes and Genesis have been hoping for from the Squackett project by Chris Squire and Steve Hackett. Their voices, and then their instruments, tangle and untangle through a series of tempo and atmospheric changes — opening up a stirring vista of discoveries on repeated listenings. If “Sea of Smiles” finds Squackett fully combining the signature elements of both men’s legacies, the flipside to this advance single “Perfect Love Song” has the feel, at times, of a throwback to the MTV epoch — when both men buffed out the edges on their own convoluted prog tendencies, and found Top 40 success with hits like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “When The Heart Rules the Mind.” — Nick DeRiso

No. 7

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: MORE LED ZEPPELIN!: What’s the continuing attraction, in 2012, for the long-gone Led Zeppelin? From movie trailers to “American Idol,” these long-haired, often-shirtless heavy-metal rock-gods — disbanded since the turn of the 1980s, mind you — remain front of mind. Check out the promo reel for “Battlestar Galactica: Blood And Chrome,” and there’s Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” remixed by Trent Reznor. Stop by eBay, and you’ll find a rare first-pressing vinyl edition of Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut — which sold for approximately $1,890 recently. Meanwhile, Elise Testone can be heard unleashing a faithful rendition of Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love” on “Idol.” So, we figured, it’s high time for a revisit to this ageless musical force, highlighting both some familiar favorites and a few tasty deep cuts. — Glen Boyd, Nick DeRiso, Fred Phillips, Beverly Paterson and Jordan Richardson

No. 6

ON SECOND THOUGHT: THE BEATLES – ABBEY ROAD (1969): This album was simultaneously the Beatles at their best, and the sound of a band disintegrating. Such is the power and magic of Abbey Road. Just six years after bursting onto the scene with Please Please Me, they had come so far. The only place left to explore, it seemed, could be found in opposing directions. This would be their last album project. As such, Abbey Road would always have a twilit romanticism about it, a lasting talismanic power. One sweet dream, it’s true, came true that day. Still, its very complexity, as the album explores both the Beatles’ strengths and how those strengths tore the group apart, is what brings us back to this album again and again. — S. Victor Aaron, Nick DeRiso, Kit O’Toole and Beverly Paterson

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No. 5

ONE TRACK MIND: BARRY MANILOW, “BANDSTAND BOOGIE” (1975): When I went back to the SER watercooler with my cohorts following the news of Dick Clark’s death, we were all in a somber and reflective mood. Watching American Bandstand was a late Saturday morning ritual for all of us and probably for most everyone in the USA born from the end of World War 2 until about the close of the ’70s (the show ran from 1952 to 1989). That’s a lot of generations who, before the age of MTV, watched Bandstand as the main way they got to see their favorite music acts perform and kept an eye out for the next big thing. Seeing them sing their songs on TV didn’t kill the radio star; back then it bolstered them. And from 1977-87, that experience began right here — with Barry Manilow’s opening theme. On the day when the show’s eternally young host finally passed away nearly sixty years since his debut on that institution of popular music, that song comes rushing back into my consciousness, leading a flood of memories with it. — S. Victor Aaron

No. 4

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JOHN WETTON OF ASIA, KING CRIMSON AND UK: Coming off a well-received sixth solo project, John Wetton reunite with the trio-era members of UK for a tour to begin on May 2, 2012, then with his blockbuster 1980s prog-pop band Asia for an album and tour in the fall. The well-traveled Brit rose to early fame collaborating with childhood friend Robert Fripp in King Crimson between 1972-74, before co-founding UK in 1978 and then Asia in 1982; he has also worked as a sideman with Roxy Music, Wishbone Ash and Uriah Heep over the years. As he gets set to retake American and Canadian stages with Eddie Jobson and Terry Bozzio as UK for the first time in three decades, the singer-songwriting bassist stopped by to discuss reuniting with the progressive-rock era’s last supergroup, the enduring joys of collaborating with Geoff Downes and how turning away from alcoholism changed everything. — Nick DeRiso

No. 3

FORMER JOURNEY BANDMATES STEVE SMITH, NEAL SCHON REUNITE, FINDING ‘AN IMMEDIATE CHEMISTRY’: Originally invited to put down rhythm tracks for four tracks over two days, Steve Smith reconnected with Neal Schon on such a deeply resonant level that Smith ended up performing on 11 tracks as the session stretched into four magical days. Interestingly, the results don’t so much mirror their sound together with Journey – which coincided with singer Steve Perry’s arrival and a shift into platinum-selling arena rock in the 1980s – as it does the incendiary fusion of the group’s original incarnation with frontman Gregg Rolie and drummer Anysley Dunbar. Smith talked to us about reuniting with his former Journey bandmate, about the way his passion for jazz informed later forays into mainstream success – and just how underrated that initial fusion-inspired edition of Journey still is. — Nick DeRiso

No. 2

GIMME FIVE: CELEBRATING LEVON HELM, CO-FOUNDER AND VOICE OF THE BAND: As Levon Helm lost his long battle with cancer, we marvelled all over again on his towering achievements in music. The loamy voiced, rail-jumping rhythmic center point of the Band, Helm re-emerged in the last decade after an initial diagnosis to reclaim his mantle as yearning storyteller and timeless soul singer. Three straight Grammy awards followed, starting in 2008. Unfortunately, Helm’s third-act triumphs in the studio were matched pace for pace by his illness. Helm, 71, died last month, but the Arkansas native left behind a legacy for the ages. — Nick DeRiso

No. 1

SOMETHING ELSE! SNEAK PEEK: RUSH, “HEADLONG FLIGHT” (2012): Building off a hard-charging instrumental, the initial single from Rush’s forthcoming Clockwork Angels finds the trio referencing its storied musical past — in more ways than one. “Really good. The only thing I don’t care for,” our Tom Johnson says in a new watercooler conversation about “Headlong Flight, “are the blatant homages to past songs, like “Bastille Day” — why? Unless I’m missing something and it somehow ties that song into this album …” That may have been one of the more controversial comments we made about the seven-minute “Headlong Flight,” which was called “Take That Lampshade Off Yo’ Head” before the legendary trio added Neil Peart’s lyrics. That not only sparked a lively discussion at the SER Towers watercolor, it attracted the attention of a few angry Rush fans. — S. Victor Aaron, Glen Boyd, Tom Johnson and Mark Saleski

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