Dec 122011

John Palumbo was becoming distanced from the rest of Crack the Sky – he wanted to concentrate on long epic songs while the others were pushing him to write more commercial and radio-friendly material. Palumbo planned the second album to be a rock opera about the Mounties of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In what was probably Lifesong’s only smart move, they (and to some extent the rest of the band) successfully objected to this concept, and Animal Notes was released in 1976 to reviews that nearly matched the debut in enthusiasm. The opening song (“We Want Mine”) was a thinly-veiled and bitter rant against Lifesong for withholding royalties from the group…

[audio:|titles=”We Want Mine”]

While the RCMP concept album idea was dead, a song about a young Mountie (“Rangers at Midnight”) became the epic centerpiece of Animal Notes

[audio:|titles=”Rangers at Midnight”]

Although Animal Notes was nearly as good as the debut, Lifesong showed themselves to be no wiser about promotion and the album stalled at #142 on Billboard while receiving virtually no radio airplay. Palumbo left the band for a solo career (which went nowhere) during the recording of their third album – 1978’s Safety in Numbers; however, a couple of Palumbo songs did make it to the record. The remaining members gamely carried on with writing songs (including the Mystery Date pick “A Night on the Town”) and acquiring a new lead vocalist. All things considered, Safety in Numbers, while still a dropoff in quality compared to the previous albums, was not the disaster it could have been. “Nuclear Apathy” – the closest CTS came to pure prog rock – is Palumbo’s exhortation to humanity to get its act together because aliens are sitting on the moon and laughing at us…

[audio:|titles=”Nuclear Apathy”]

While Safety in Numbers actually sold a little better than previous albums (reaching #126 on Billboard), the loss of Palumbo and the lack of financial success became insurmountable hurdles and Crack the Sky disbanded during 1978. Palumbo and a couple other members reformed CTS in 1980 and continued to tour and release albums for decades to come, but the window of opportunity was lost forever and the magic of the initial albums was gone. For those who wish to explore CTS further, a complete biography of the band can be found here. So what do we get on Classic Rock radio as representing 1970s American demi-prog? Kansas and Styx. Yuck. It should have been Crack the Sky, and it’s our loss.


  4 Responses to “Coulda Been a Contendah”

  1. Interesting backstory — demi-prog or art-pop? I remember Crack The Sky albums being a staple in the cutouts at Target in Minneapolis. Lifesong, I am pretty sure, also was the label Henry Gross, who’s had the Carl Wilson-inspired hit about the dead dog “Shannon.”

  2. pudman13

    OK, this is a band I know well, and I have a few comments about this history. I love the first album and agree that its a lost classic that well should have been much more renowned than it is. But I stop there and completely disagree with the critical POV about ANIMAL NOTES. The second album was a HUGE letdown after the first, and subsequent work was even worse (though I sure do love “Lighten Up McGraw” from the third LP.) As talented as they were, I’m just not sure they had long term songwriting inspiration in them. I should also note that they’re a rare band where you really do need to hear one of their live albums to truly understand them. The live albums are hit and miss with some embarrassing moments, but the mix of styles, interjection of comedy, and extended songs offer a completely new glimpse of who they are. Try to dig up a live version of “Ice,” which may or may not have been the best song on the debut, but when stretched to about twice its 6-minute studio length in concert, it’s absolutely positively their best song. It’s a shame they didn’t record the complete version in the studio for that album.

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    Not really my flavor, too much Kentonite nonsense in there. To my ears, like a combo of Rush, Cheap Trick and, I dunno, Yes or something. I mean, I don’t hate it, but all those Kansas-like harmonies just sorta hurt my ears after a while. Thanks for sharing, though — seriously!

  4. Really nice piece on a band worthy of some modern-day remembrance. The first two songs had a prock feel that made me think of my latent love for Be Bop Deluxe. Then the music takes a fascinating turn toward the, I’ll generously call it “ambitious” orchestral pop of Billy the Kid Joel. Musically that’s a giant YUCK for me, but i appreciated their reach and execution.

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