KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Thirty Year Thursday – GTR “GTR”

[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]

Artist: GTR
Album: GTR

GTR - GTRThe 1980s aren’t generally regarded as the best decade for fans of progressive rock, but with the massive success of prog supergroup Asia and both Yes & Genesis breaking into the mainstream via a more radio-friendly sound, there was plenty to enjoy for those of us who didn’t mind a more streamlined approach to our favorite genre. Expectations were incredibly high when guitarists Steve Howe (ex-Yes/Asia) and Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis) announced their new collaboration, but even though GTR (“guitar” abbreviated) had a Top 20 album and single, they never reached their full potential and split up after the tour in support of their self-titled debut album. Many fans were turned off by the over-the-top production, courtesy of Howe’s former Asia bandmate Geoff Downes, and it’s hard to argue with that opinion even though I’ve always enjoyed this record. A more sympathetic sonic approach might have better served these songs, most of which are full of melodic hooks and incredible instrumental flourishes. Not only did the two guitar legends bring their A-games, but drummer Jonathan Mover proved himself to be an immensely talented player. Briefly a member of Marillion during their early years, Mover would make a name for himself during Joe Satriani’s rise to fame in the late-‘80s, and has since played with dozens of artists in numerous genres.  Lead singer Max Bacon’s voice was the perfect choice for GTR, echoing vocalists like Steve Walsh (Kansas) and Dennis DeYoung (Styx). Lead-off single “When The Heart Rules The Mind” was an excellent calling card for the album and still sounds great to me. Album closer “Imagining” is a propulsive gem. “The Hunter” and “Jekyll And Hyde” might be a little bombastic but their catchy melodies always linger in my head. Howe and Hackett each contribute an instrumental track, the acoustic “Sketches In The Sun” and the blistering “Hackett To Bits,” respectively, solidifying their reputations as guitar gods.

GTR (promo photo)
I previously highlighted GTR in Part 1 of my One And Done series about my favorite one-album artists. Here’s what I wrote about it back in 2014:

Ah, the mid’80s. For many music fans this was the nadir, a vast wasteland of drum machines, Fairlight synthesizers and all-around sterile productions. Having been a teenager & in my early 20s during that decade I had no problem with those sonic choices, but I also admit that many recordings from that time have aged more poorly than the music of just about any other era. In some cases, however, the production flourishes couldn’t take away from the performances, and the sole album by GTR is an example of that. A collaboration between former Yes/Asia guitarist Steve Howe and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, they embraced modern technology but surrounded themselves with musicians (drummer Jonathan Mover and bassist Phil Spaulding) and a vocalist (Max Bacon) who kept their melodic prog/pop songs grounded. This album isn’t for everyone, but if you like the slightly bombastic nature of Asia’s prog/pop hybrid from a few years earlier, you would find a lot to like here. “When The Heart Rules The Mind” was a Top 20 hit and, with a little more promotion, songs like “The Hunter” and “Imagining” could have had similar success. GTR is a rare example of an album that sounds dated & timeless in equal measure.

So, how do you feel about GTR? Were you a fan back in ’86? If so, does it hold up for you after three decades? Or maybe you never liked it in spite of the group’s potential. I look forward to hearing all points of view.

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38 comments on “Thirty Year Thursday – GTR “GTR”

  1. Kevin
    July 7, 2016

    Hey, Rich. We touched on this topic in an earlier conversation and I forgot to tell you that I went back and listened to it for the first time in probably thirty years! I remember really liking “The Hunter” despite its’ overwrought schmaltzy-ness, there’s a nice melody there. “Imagining” is great, though, and I wish more of the album was like it. All in all, I don’t think this record comes close to Asia’s debut or 90125, which it seems like it’s trying to do. Trying to hard, maybe.

    Like

    • Hi Kevin. I completely agree that this album isn’t in the same league as Asia’s debut or Yes’ “90125,” but there are still a number of excellent songs and great playing beneath the “overwrought schmaltzy-ness” (love that) which shows up on more than just “The Hunter.” I only wish they had stuck around for at least one more album, just to see what else they could come up with (and maybe a 1988 recording would have been more sympathetically produced). I’m glad you gave it another shot and enjoyed some of it. Thanks for checking in. Hope you’re having a good week.
      Rich

      Like

  2. boppinsblog
    July 7, 2016

    When you look past the awful dance moves, the Miami Vice suit jacket and t shirt look, and the 80’s keyboards you still have a decent album. Like the little kid trying too hard to hang with the older guys. He gets made fun of and does stupid things to try and impress, but still earns a bit of cred for trying. Eventually they would have been able to sit at the adult table, but they gave up too easy.

    Like

    • It does seem like a lot of things to look past, right? But in the end it’s worth the effort because the songs are good and the musicianship is superb (if sadly buried in the over-production). I really love your “little kid” analogy. Well-stated.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. mikeladano
    July 7, 2016

    JOnathan Mover – such a talented drummer, but apparently Fish just tormented him. Just made the situation intolerable for him.

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    • I’ve heard that about the Fish-Mover relationship. It’s hard to imagine Marillion without Ian Mosley behind the kit, but Mover would have done a great job with them. During my second trip to the UK, back in 2001, I was watching a late-night panel show where they were discussing sex addiction, and there was a long-haired American drummer named Jonathan who discussed his on-tour tail-chasing. I’ve never been able to confirm it, but I’m pretty sure that was Mr. Mover.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        July 11, 2016

        I have one live Marillion album with Mover. I fail to see what Fish was complaining about in his drumming.

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      • Which live Marillion recording did Mover appear on? I can’t imagine Fish could have a problem with his drumming and always assumed it was a personality clash between the two of them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        July 12, 2016

        Fish claims that Mover “bastardized” the song Punch and Judy with his drumming. Sounds fine to me….

        Mover is on a live box set (perhaps two) and the names are escaping me!

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      • You must be referring to the Early Stages 1982-1987 box set. A friend copied the discs for me and I listened to it a couple of times, but I was unaware that some of the recordings featured Mover. I assumed the drumming was done by either Mick Pointer or Ian Mosley. Will dig out that set soon and give a listen to the Mover recordings.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        July 12, 2016

        He might be on that. I’ve confirmed the one I have him in is Curtain Call, a 6 CD set.

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      • I never got that live set. How’s the quality?

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        July 12, 2016

        Just as good as the one you have in my opinion. Liner notes by Fish, and mine came with a Mark Wilkinson art print.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Vinyl Connection
    July 7, 2016

    Rich, your generosity continues to amaze. And if you were wondering whether you might get a response out of this 70s prog devotee… You’re right!!

    I remember being utterly underwhelmed by GTR when I got it at the time. ‘Sub-Asia’ I thought, and if that isn’t damning with faint praise I don’t know what is. So I sold it. Years later, picked it up again in a bargain bin and responded exactly the same way. If there was a group post on ‘Stinkers I have owned’, this would be a prime candidate.

    It is more than likely that the disappointment was due to the presence of such enormous talents as Howe And Hackett, who each have that most treasured musical attribute, a unique voice. But not here. Geoff Drowns (the sound). Blech.

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    • Bruce, I’m happy to amaze you any way I can. Haha. I understand that this album is divisive among prog fans so I’m not surprised at your reaction. I’m also a 70s prog devotee, as you know, but I also fully embraced the streamlined ’80s version in spite of the often-questionable production choices. Sure, it wasn’t the behemoth that it could/should have been considering the pedigree of the two guitarists and the impressive musicians they chose for the project, but within the confines of the overproduced mid-’80s I think they managed to write some solid songs (a few of which I consider “great”).

      I love your “Geoff Drowns (the sound)” comment. He did what he was hired to do, but another producer might have done a better job framing these songs. So, I guess you’re not a huge Asia fan either, eh? Their debut remains a thing of beauty and proved that prog could exist in the mainstream into the ’80s.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Vinyl Connection
        July 8, 2016

        Sure. ‘Within the confines of the overproduced mid-’80s’ is a telling (and accurate) phrase. I think it’s a confinement I tend to want to break out of pretty quickly!
        Despite slagging off GD, I really rather like the Yuggles album ‘Drama’, and indeed The Buggles. So points off for inconsistency I guess.

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      • Most music fans…myself included…are riddled with inconsistencies, so you can keep all the points you started with. Depending on my mood, mid-’80s productions can take me back to a happy place or make me cringe at the date-stamped nature of the music. Most of the albums featured in this series so far that succumbed to “Geoff Drowns” syndrome will always make me smile in spite of their sonic limitations. I am a huge fan of Drama…definitely in my Top 5 Yes albums…as well as both Buggles albums. How do you feel about 90125? With Downes’ Buggles bandmate behind the boards, I think they created one of the most distinctive…and somehow timeless…albums of the ’80s. For “Changes” and “Hearts” alone it has to be considered one of the best things released by any configuration of Yes.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Vinyl Connection
        July 10, 2016

        Entirely with you on 90125, Rich. Sure it’s ‘different’, but a fine example of what a ‘prog’ band could do to move with the times. And you’re right on the money – it is an example of that shiny production actually sounding enduringly good!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Glad we’re on the same page again. We’re inconsistently consistent.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. galley99
    July 7, 2016

    A phenomenal album; one of my all-time favorites!

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    • Happy to hear that you’re also a big GTR fan. I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews from critics & fans and, although I understand the criticisms, there are too many good songs and great performances on this record to consider it a failure.

      Like

      • galley99
        July 9, 2016

        There was a behind the scenes video on VHS. I was surprised that there wasn’t any keyboard synthesizers used on the album. All of the synth sounds were triggered by guitar!

        Like

      • I never saw that behind-the-scenes video but I did read recently about the lack of keyboard synths on the GTR record. I considered mentioning in this post but figured it was already wordy enough, so I’m glad you brought it up. From what I read, they had trouble replicating the album’s sound in concert so they had to hire an actual synth player to fill in those parts on the tour.

        Like

  6. Daddydinorawk
    July 8, 2016

    I thought you may get to this one Rich. It was kinda difficult in the mid 80’s to avoid any Genesis related acts storming the airwaves and this was no exception. I was incidentally thinking about this just earlier today. Even Tony Banks got on the viedowaves with songs from the film Quicksilver, now here was Hacketts bit of pie 😉

    My favorite song from this was probably Here I Wait, along with the two solo showpieces. An interesting release but as a Prog fan it leaves me a bit cold. Maybe the vocals are too mid rangey and lacking bite. Definitely a lack of bottom end on the production side. Still much worse things have happened in the 80’s, like Scritti Politti and Rick Astley!!! 😉

    Like

    • Phillip Helbig
      July 8, 2016

      Rick Astley is everywhere, even in the history of quantum mechanics.

      A few years ago, I heard an interview with him on the radio. He was still playing, in small clubs of course, and was a bit disappointed that many people think of him only in terms of the Stock-Aitken-and-Waterman plastic pop.

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      • I love that Rick Astley item, Phillip. Never knew Mr. Astely’s name would show up at KamerTunesBlog, but I’m happy to include him in the discussion. I’ve seen him on one of those UK ’80s festivals broadcast on TV here and he still sounds good. Not someone whose music I would choose to play but I always appreciated the songcraft & production. It’s a shame if he can’t appreciate that his notoriety will always be tied to the S-A-W era. At least he has that claim to fame.

        Like

    • I don’t remember seeing any Tony Banks videos back in the day, but I didn’t get cable until ’87 so my exposure to music videos came solely via one hour of Friday Night Videos every week. It was pretty much mainstream stuff, and it wasn’t until years later (thanks to VH1 Classic and the internet) that I finally started seeing all those lesser-played videos).

      I agree that “Here I Wait” is one of the strongest songs here. I also agree that the album as a whole has a cold, clinical feel (thanks to Geoff Downes’ production) but most of the songs struck a chord for me. I also love Max Bacon’s voice.

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      • Daddydinorawk
        July 8, 2016

        Yeah it was a video for Quicksilver Lightning with Roger Daltrey on vocals. I also remember one of the songs from Still getting a video as well. It may have been one with Nick Kershaw on vocals.

        Like

      • I remember that song with Daltrey but not the video. I’ve also enjoyed the various singers Banks has utilized over the years, including Nik Kershaw. I always liked Kershaw’s ’80s recordings but his work with Banks pointed me to his ’90s & ’00s work and much of it is fantastic.

        I will be searching YouTube this week for Tony Banks videos. Thanks for the inspiration.

        Like

  7. 80smetalman
    July 8, 2016

    Now you’ve brought back the memories. I was actually thinking about GTR and their one hit single. Will have to go and listen to it on Youtube now. When I get to 1986, I will post about the entire album and not list them as one hit wonders.

    Like

    • I’m glad this post brought back good musical memories. I look forward to your eventual series on 1986. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with including them under “One Hit Wonders” since that’s technically the case.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. segwaynz
    July 8, 2016

    The bass player is Phil Spalding, who had previously worked with Mike Oldfield, Toyah and Talk Talk (amongst others).

    Phil is slowly posting his memories from the era online, and it will be very interesting to hear what he has to reveal when he gets to the GTR era (he’s up to 1984 at time of writing).

    I’ve read a little bit about GTR online, and came away with the feeling the collaboration was somewhat cynical from the outset, intended more as a cash cow to milk, than a meeting of musical minds and creative spirit. Considering the individual talents gathered together, the resulting album is a bit of an oddity, for sure.

    http://www.philspalding.com/music-and-mayhem

    Like

    • It’s interesting that Spaulding worked with Oldfield prior to GTR and Max Bacon worked with Oldfield after GTR folded. Thanks for pointing me to that Spaulding website. I will definitely check it out soon.

      As for your feelings about GTR, I think you’re right about the initial intention for the band being more of a cash-grab than a true musical collaboration, but who could blame them. At least they chose some excellent musicians and put together a solid collection of songs. As I’ve stated before, the album is much more enjoyable if you keep your expectations low…which is difficult considering the talent involved.

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  9. I saw Steve Howe at Hammersmith Odeon a few years after the release of this album alongside Neil Schon, Alvin Lee and others and Howe played “Sketches…” and it was amazing to see.
    Agree you have to move beyond the production – I always rather liked the album and in that Steve Howe solo piece you have a real gem.

    Like

  10. Pingback: Thirty Year Thursday – IT BITES “THE BIG LAD IN THE WINDMILL” | KamerTunesBlog

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